Jan 292018
 
 January 29, 2018  Posted by at 8:02 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Lucien Hervé The Accuser, Delhi, India 1955

 

Tomorrow we have the State of the Union. Donald Trump will be gloating from ear to ear, but he’ll be subdued – by his standards. Expect perhaps $1 or even $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending to be announced, plus an immigration plan that gives Democrats much of what they want in exchange for some of the things Trump wants, as well as more on trade surpluses and deficits. The Democrats will attempt to turn it into a circus of sorts by bringing guests, and they will fail.

What America needs right now is dialogue, but it’s only moving further away from it. Anything that’s wrong with anything or anyone gets blamed on Trump. By half the population. That’s nice and easy and convenient, but it doesn’t lead anywhere.

This pic, even though it features a very dumb question, says a lot about where the country stands, and it’s not standing pretty. Everybody’s just busy confirming their own opinions 24/7, egged on by networks, newspapers and social media. It’s like Moses split the nation.

 

 

Watched the Trump speech in Davos last week. He made all the points you would expect him to. No scandals, nothing anyone could blame him for. In fact, it’s true that the US economy is doing well, in Trump terms. They’re not my terms, because they laud stock markets that quit being actual markets the moment the Fed and it global brethren killed off price discovery. But in Trump terms a record S&P 500 is all you need to know, alongside low unemployment numbers, even if the latter have everything to do with underpaid shit jobs robbed of all benefits American workers once fought so hard for.

In Trump’s view, that’s a good thing. In mine, it’s a recipe for mayhem. I was watching CNN in the build-up to the speech, and Trump’s denial of the NYT report that he had intended to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller was completely ignored. Like he never said it. At CNN, anonymous sources have -way- more credibility than the president. That’s a bit of a problem.

After the speech, all sorts of people were interviewed, and Joe Stiglitz of Nobel Memorial fame was one of them. He couldn’t muster anything better than that Trump is a bigot, a misogynist and a racist. That’s a terribly poor reaction to a speech like the one we saw and heard -which included not one word that would make any sane person think of these ‘topics’-, certainly from an economist.

 

The 1-year-old Donald Trump presidency has brought us a lot of new things, but none more significant than that Trump has been under investigation since day 1 (and even before that). This sets a dangerous precedent that will resound through US politics for a very long time to come, not least of all because today, one year into the presidency, none of the investigations has resulted in anything tangible, while they continue without a finish line in sight.

The problem with that is that if you can do it with one president, someone will do it with the next one and the next one after that as well. Which does great damage not to Trump, but to the entire US political system, and the Office of the President of the United States in particular. If the office cannot command sufficient respect on Capitol Hill to limit any such investigation to an absolute minimum, in deference to what it represents, why would anyone else, domestically or abroad, show such respect?

Obviously, some people may claim that the situation is unique, simply because it concerns Trump, but that argument doesn’t fly very far, because he was elected president, the culmination of a process that, given the powers endowed upon the office, should be close to sacred in the country. And if the very people (s)he must most closely work with, in the Senate and the House, are willing to subject a newly elected president to endless investigations without producing any results for a whole year, where and what are the limits?

It is at present of course all based on opaque accusations of the Trump campaign working with Russian intelligence to swing America’s election process in favor of the president. But to date, four different committees on Capitol Hill, plus Special Counsel Robert Mueller, have made nothing public that proves any such ‘collusion’. And Mueller’s investigation is not only unlimited in time, it’s also unlimited, in practical terms, in scope: whatever is deemed even possibly, perhaps, linked to collusion with Russia, goes.

 

The American empire was built, once it had acquired enough geopolitical, financial and military power, on invading countries and turning them into shithouses. It wasn’t and original idea, America wasn’t the first country to do it, but it’s certainly been no. 1 in applying the ‘tactic’ over the past 100 years and change. Which makes it curious that when its own elected president calls some countries shithouses, that is treated like the worst thing anybody could have said anytime in history. And racist too, allegedly.

The entire country was built on racism, and it’s still to his day almost exclusively run by white males. Much of the racism may be hidden by now, but it’s still very much there. Go look at Baltimore, Chicago, Milwaukee, and the long list of black kids killed by white cops. It’s not much use trying to claim that America is over its past. But Trump is singled out as a racist, though it’s unclear what would make him worse than others.

And on Martin Luther King Day, all Democrats and many Republicans fell over each other once again claiming they knew exactly what Dr. King stood for in his days, and what he would have said if he were alive today (the same they thermselves say). They don’t have a clue. The only way to honor MLK is to assume he would have been lightyears ahead of you. To assume he would have condemned all US foreign as well as domestic policy, and the likes of Bill Clinton, both George Bushes, Trump, and even Obama, wouldn’t even have had a remote chance of becoming president.

 

Allegedly Trump never said “shithole countries”, but instead talked about “shithouse countries”. Which would explain why he could say he never used the language he was quoted as having used (“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”) That a private conversation with lawmakers held in the Oval Office was leaked again within no time will not only frustrate Trump to no end, it also paints a dangerous picture of the future of US politics.

What used to be the exclusive domain of police officers and TV series, the catchy line “anything you say can and will be used against you”, no longer applies only to suspected criminals, from here on in it should be read to American presidents too. Trump and his successors will no longer be able to discuss policy in the White House, they must assume everything they say will be in the press within hours if not minutes. That is dangerous.

But let’s dig some more. And ask ourselves what is worse, let alone more racist: turning nations into shithouses or calling them that after the fact. Half the planet was encouraged to speak out in indignation at the use of the term, but where were all those Americans when the bombs and drones were unleashed upon Syria, Libya, Iraq? Where were the media?

Trump singled out Haiti and El Salvador. Two completely different ‘cases’. But also too complete basket cases (another word for shithouse) , compared to their potential. Haiti was the first slave colony to liberate itself, under black rule. That was in 1804, and if you know what Americans’ view of slaves and black people in general was back then, you can imagine how the former no. 1 global sugar producer was treated. By France, the country that had ruled it, but also by America. And you want to claim Haiti is not a shithouse country today? Go to Port-au-Prince and ask people living in the poor part of town how they feel about that.

As for African countries, the Congo is always a good example. The richest nation on the planet when it comes to natural resources, and one of the poorest when it comes to living standards. Long governed by a regime under Belgium’s King Leopold, matched in cruelty only perhaps by Germany in WWII, the Congo is still maintained as a hellhole to this day. So American and European conglomerates can dig up the metals and minerals almost for free. Not a shithole, a hellhole.

No, Trump is not going to solve that, but he didn’t make it what it is either. Generations of Americans did that. Yeah, we understand why they don’t want it named the way Trump has.

Perhaps the best illustration of how convoluted the entire issue quickly became after Trump said shithouse, which then became shithole, is this LA Times article, which starts out with the headline that Americans with African roots ‘should’ all be insulted, but then rapidly devolves into something else altogether, that insults them a lot more: the history of American involvement in their countries. Slavery, occupation, warfare, plunder.

 

For Black Americans, Trump’s ‘Shithole’ Comment Was An Insult To Their Histories

Kimberly Atkins, the Washington bureau chief of the Boston Herald, recently did a DNA test “that pretty much confirmed my heritage is 100% the result of the slave trade,” she wrote in a private message on Twitter. “Eighty-seven percent from western coastal African countries and 13% European, all migrated by way of the American South.”

She traced part of her heritage to an ancestor who fought in the Union during the Civil War to guarantee his freedom and the abolition of the U.S. slave trade. “My ancestors did not come from shithole countries,” she tweeted. “They were neither tired nor poor. They were forcibly brought here to live in a shithole created for them.”

Trump’s singling out of Haiti was particularly frustrating for descendants from the Caribbean nation, coming as the nation mourned the eighth anniversary of an earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of residents.

“Haiti is not unacquainted with racists or white supremacists. We defeated our share of them in 1804 when we became the world’s first black republic,” Haitian American author Edwidge Danticat wrote in a post on Facebook, expressing her frustration that Haitians’ mourning was being diverted by an insult from Trump.

Danticat’s father came to Brooklyn, N.Y., to drive a taxicab “sometimes sixteen hours a day, so that my three brothers (two teachers and an IT specialist) and I could have a better life,” Danticat wrote.

Danticat added: “We are also the country that the United States has invaded several times, preventing us from consistently ruling ourselves. If we are a poor country, then our poverty comes in part from pillage and plunder.”

Clint Smith, a writer and PhD candidate at Harvard University specializing in sociology and education, said that he hoped that at least the president’s remarks would prompt a fuller conversation about past U.S. and European involvement with the countries Trump mentioned — countries still troubled by the legacy of colonial rule and military interventions.

“You can’t understand the economic conditions in which Haiti exists now without understanding the centuries and centuries of direct imperialism and violence and economic exploitation that the country experienced after the Haitian revolution of 1804,” Smith said. “We can’t have a real conversation about what is happening, why Salvadorans are coming here, without discussing how the U.S. contributed to the civil unrest in that country.”

The larger conversation, Smith said, “is not often enough taking into account the way that U.S. policy directly contributed to the condition in which so many of these so-called shitholes are currently existing.”

 

The woman who says “My ancestors did not come from shithole countries” says it best. Before the slave traders came to ship their ancestors to Brazil and later America, their countries were not shithouses. But they did become just that after, and many if not most still are now.

From a less echo chamber-confined point of view, this little thingy is priceless:

 

 

That points to an aspect of all this that we can not ignore: the media. There has a been a profound shirt in that field, and it happened fast, it turned on a dime. The first signs were already there before the Trump presidency, but it’s all been going going gone out of the park since. Media organizations (for lack of a better term) like the New York Times, the Washington Post, MSNBC and CNN were anti-Trump from the get-go, but it was when they found out their attitude was commercially very interesting that they really went for it.

And in a way, that made sense; they all had big problems trying to adapt their business models to the internet age. Then they found that publishing one after another anti-Trump piece brought them tons of new subscribers and advertisement revenue. Also for their internet presence. One stone, two birds.

The problem is that all that revenue and readership comes from one half of America, and excludes the other half. You know beforehand that anything these firms publish about Trump will be biased, and not a little bit. Much of it is based on anonymous sources, not exactly a sign of solid journalism. But it sells. And they have a business to run. We get it.

For those outside of the echo chamber, however, they have become largely unreadable and unwatchable. It’s obvious by now that someone like me, who asks a few questions and doesn’t feel comfortable in an echo chamber, will almost of necessity be ‘accused’ of being a Trump supporter. Absolute nonsense, but that’s echo chambers for you. They’re deafening and they lead to brain damage in case of long term occupancy.

Perhaps even worse are social media, where untold numbers of people revel in the notion that many others think like them, and let that carry them away to ‘heights’ they would never have thought possible. In the case of Trump, many allow themselves to call him names -in writing- they never would have dared use before, but they see echoed back to them on Twitter and Facebook et al.

That their often insults of Trump in effect show their disrespect for America’s political system would never occur to them. It’s an us against them battle, and they feel greatly emboldened by the 24/7 presence of those that are like-minded. It’s entirely unclear where this is going in the future, but it should be obvious it won’t be anywhere pretty.

Neither Bob Mueller nor those 4 committees on Capitol Hill have presented anything of substance as of now, but it’s crystal clear that Donald Trump is not being considered innocent until proven guilty. Which not only goes straight against, and into the heart of, American values and principles of justice, it also doesn’t even begin to address the real problem.

The real problem, and it’s not new at all, is that both US political parties might as well be run by Tony Soprano. The presence inside party leadership of people like Steve Wynn is ridiculous, but so is that of John Podesta. That is undoubtedly blindingly obvious for a vast majority of Americans, but it’s not what they focus on. They focus on Trump instead, on the still contagious obsession with impeaching him, even though many understand that wouldn’t solve any of the underlying issues.

 

And then Trump gets to present great economic numbers tomorrow. The numbers are mostly fake, but they’re the same ones that the echo chamber media also use, so they’ll have to tackle him somewhere else. They’ll come up with something, don’t worry. Their audience will just wait to be fed the usual pre-chewed bite-size fare anyway.

America needs a dialogue. But all it has left is loud, echoing, deafening, monologues. And plenty shithouse counties and cities and neighborhoods within its own borders as well. For which, too, it’s useless to blame Trump. He’s just the logical conclusion of years of blindness, ignorance, greed, stupidity and neglect. All of which, as long as everyone focuses on him, are guaranteed to continue.

Trump is not what’s wrong with America. Rather, what is wrong with America is what has given it Trump. Someone asked God for a sign and He said: here you are.

 

 


Little shithouses for you and me

 

 

Nov 292017
 
 November 29, 2017  Posted by at 10:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »


Claude Monet The Manneporte (Étretat) 1883

 

VIX – From Fear Index To Greed Index (Tchir)
When VIX Trade Finally Blows Up, It Could Get Ugly All Over (MW)
DB’s “2018 Credit Outlook” – Bearish Not Benign Conclusion (ZH)
The GOP Tax Bill: Fuggedaboutit! (Stockman)
Number Of US Store Closings Triples From Last Year (Snyder)
Trump Deserves Some Credit for the Rally in Stocks (A. Gary Shilling)
Fed Chair Nominee Jerome Powell Says Too Big To Fail Is Over (BI)
Britain Close To Deal On Brexit Bill With EU (R.)
Former New Zealand PM John Key Lied About Mass Surveillance Program (NZH)
Senior Saudi Prince Freed In $1 Billion Settlement Agreement (R.)
Europe Needs a Way to Prevent the Next Greek-Style Debt Crisis (BBG)
Controversial Glyphosate Weedkiller Wins New 5-Year Lease In Europe (G.)
New Zealand Fault Line Wakes Up: “We Must Think Japan 2011 Ruptures” (SHTF)
Libya “Chose” Freedom, Now It Has Slavery (CP)
The EU Created Libya’s Migrant Abuses, Now It Must Address Them (CP)

 

 

The crazy idea of ultra low risk will be found out.

VIX – From Fear Index To Greed Index (Tchir)

We have all heard the VIX or volatility index referred to as the Fear Index or Fear Gauge. Rising VIX was meant to signal fear in the markets. That is how most investors have historically thought about VIX and traded it (directly or through Exchange Traded Products). I have gone back in time and combined the total assets under management of XIV and SVXY (two short VIX products) and UVXY and VXX (the two largest long VIX products). There are others and it doesn’t account for the fact that UVXY incorporates leverage, but the point is the same. The funds that in theory helped investors ‘hedge’ their portfolios went from being the dominant species to those that enable investors to sell volatility.


Short VIX Funds are Larger than Long VIX Funds (source Bloomberg)

This has rarely been the case. Typically investors had more interest in hedging their portfolios despite the evidence that the long VIX ETFs and ETNs had to continually perform reverse splits as their share prices drifted lower (some would argue “raced” lower is a more accurate description). While the products looking to benefit on a volatility spike still attract inflows (otherwise their assets under management would be even lower), they have lost the competition to the VIX sellers. The only other gap of similar size and duration was in late August 2015 – AFTER the market sold off and volatility spiked. This time, it is occurring as stock markets are near all-time highs and VIX is still close to the all-time low it set just a few weeks ago (VIX is only calculated since 1990). [..] A spike in volatility could be far more problematic than the market is prepared for as even a small spike could turn into a larger problem with so many people positioned the other way.

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“.. it has the potential to destabilize the entire financial system on its own.”

When VIX Trade Finally Blows Up, It Could Get Ugly All Over (MW)

Bitcoin’s face-melting rally toward $10,000 is the talk of financial circles these days. But if the digital currency is, indeed, the dangerous bubble many believe it to be, its inevitable implosion will pale in comparison to the potential damage caused by the demise of one of the best trades the Wall Street has ever seen: Shorting the VIX. You’d have to be living under a rock — or maybe just a normal person who doesn’t fixate on the stock market — to not notice the incredible lack of volatility in this bull run. This persistent trend has lined the pocket of any investor who’s been savvy/lucky enough to bet against the VIX. Count Seth Golden, a former Target manager, among those fortunate to be on the right side of it. He told the Times this summer his net worth exploded from $500,000 to $12 million in about five years thanks to his VIX shorts. This chart shows insane it’s been:

But all good things come to an end, and when this historic trend finally reverses, the fallout could be devastating. In our call of the day, Kevin Muir of the Macro Tourist blog warns that these people face getting completely “wiped out” when volatility returns to this market. And it won’t end there. “A VIX spike is dangerous not only for everyone that is playing in the VIX square, but for all market participants,” he explained in a recent blog post. “Given the size of the VIX complex, it has the potential to destabilize the entire financial system on its own. If the move is abrupt and large enough, it will not only bankrupt many different parties, but will cause a ripple effect in other markets.”

Muir went on to warn the real worry here is not just that those who have made enormous sums on shorting the VIX are about to give it all back. No, he believes they, as well as many others, stand to lose a whole lot more. “Shorting VIX, at these low levels, in the size they are doing, is not only dumb, but crazily dangerous, not only to the parties trading it, but also to the stability of the entire financial system,” he said.

Read more …

How can the VIX remain low in the face of this?

DB’s “2018 Credit Outlook” – Bearish Not Benign Conclusion (ZH)

Heading into 2018, Reid characterises risk assets as a tightrope walker who’s successfully negotiated a hire wire since the 2008 crisis. However, the confidence of our risk asset funambulist was always fortified by the knowledge that there was a huge safety net direct beneath him in the shape of the central bank put. In Reid’s own words. “The best analogy for our view on 2018 is that risk assets are like a highly skilled but still relatively inexperienced tightrope walker. Our tightrope walker started his career immediately after the GFC and earned his apprenticeship in very difficult conditions with lots of crosswinds but with the knowledge that a huge safety net existed beneath him. This allowed him to walk across the narrow line with slow but ever-increasing confidence, skill and aplomb. In our analogy the safety net is the central bank put that has continued to help financial markets’ confidence over the last several years in spite of very challenging conditions.”

As the tightrope walker steps from December 2017 into January 2018, he’s going to notice a disconcerting change in his safety net. “However in 2018 our tightrope walker will have to move onto the next phase of his career where the structural support of the safety net will likely be slowly weakened. Every time he looks down he’ll figuratively see a central banker loosen or take away a supporting rope. As such his skills and confidence are likely to be tested more than in recent years.” Reid is specifically referring to the growth in the size of the big four DM central bank balance sheets, i.e. the Federal Reserve, ECB, Bank of Japan and the Bank of England. At the end of 2017, the combined size of the big four’s balance sheets is estimated to reach about $14.9 trillion, an increase of about $1.8 trillion on the end of 2016. That’s about to change radically, as he notes. “Assuming fairly neutral and consensus assumptions, central bank balance sheet growth will fall sharply over the next 12-24 months from the near peak levels currently seen.”

The chart below shows that on a rolling twelve-month basis, growth will fall sharply, beginning in 2Q 2018. By the end of 2018, DM estimates that the rolling twelve-month growth will have declined about 75% from its 2017 level to about $450 billion. By August 2019, growth will have declined to zero according to DB’s estimate.

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Hope the GOP reads these missives.

The GOP Tax Bill: Fuggedaboutit! (Stockman)

The GOP has become so politically desperate that they might as well enact a two-word statute and be done with it. It would simply read: Tax Bill! Actually, that’s not far from where they are in the great scheme of things. The Senate Finance Committee’s bill is a dog’s breakfast of K-Street/Wall Street pleasing tax cuts, narrowly focused revenue raisers that will be subject to withering attack on the Senate floor, nonsensical vote-driven compromises and outrageous fiscal gimmicks – the most blatant of which is the sun-setting of every single individual tax provision after 2025. This latter trick is designed to shoe-horn the revenue loss into the $1.5 trillion 10-year allowance in the budget reconciliation instruction and also comply with the Senate’s “Byrd Rule” which allows a point of order to strike down a reconciliation bill that increases the deficit after year 10.

Save for these gimmicks, the actual 10-year cost of the Senate bill would be $2.2 trillion including interest on the added deficits. Nevertheless, this and other sunset gimmicks also underscore how threadbare the whole undertaking has become. To wit, the bill provides interim, deficit-financed tax relief of $1.38 trillion during 2018-2025 before these budget gimmicks kick-in, which is not a big number in the scheme of things: it amounts to just 4.2% of current law revenue collections during the eight year period, and only 0.8% of GDP. Since the bill doesn’t even really cut marginal rates during this interim period (the top bracket drops from 39.6% to 38.5%), its hard to see how a mere 0.8% “stimulus” to GDP is going to incite a tsunami of growth and jobs.

As we have frequently pointed out, the Reagan tax cut of 1981 – which had no measureable effect on the trend rate of economic growth – slashed marginal rates from 70% to 50% and as a total package paled the current Senate Plan into insignificance: It reduced the Federal revenue base by 26%, not 4.2%; and it amounted to 6.2% of GDP, not 0.8%, when fully effective in the later 1980s. Moreover, the “fully effective” part is especially salient because the Senate bill’s impact does not widen with time, as do most permanent tax cuts which require phase-in periods, but, instead, shrinks into virtual insignificance. Thus, the bill’s net tax cut amounts to $225 billion or 1.1% of GDP in 2019, but by 2022 the net cut shrinks to $199 billion and 0.9% of GDP – and then to just $145 billion or 0.6% of GDP in 2025 when the sunset gimmick kicks in.

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Changing the landscape.

Number Of US Store Closings Triples From Last Year (Snyder)

Did you know that the number of retail store closings in 2017 has already tripled the number from all of 2016? Last year, a total of 2,056 store locations were closed down, but this year more than 6,700 stores have been shut down so far. That absolutely shatters the all-time record for store closings in a single year, and yet nobody seems that concerned about it. In 2008, an all-time record 6,163 retail stores were shuttered, and we have already surpassed that mark by a very wide margin. We are facing an unprecedented retail apocalypse, and as you will see below, the number of retail store closings is actually supposed to be much higher next year. Whenever the mainstream media reports on the retail apocalypse, they always try to put a positive spin on the story by blaming the growth of Amazon and other online retailers.

And without a doubt that has had an impact, but at this point online shopping still accounts for less than 10% of total U.S. retail sales. Look, Amazon didn’t just show up to the party. They have been around for many, many years and while it is true that they are growing, they still only account for a very small sliver of the overall retail pie. So those that would like to explain away this retail apocalypse need to come up with a better explanation. [..] Of course the truth is that the economy is not doing well. The U.S. economy has not grown by at least 3% in a single year since the middle of the Bush administration, and it isn’t going to happen this year either. Overall, the U.S. economy has grown by an average of just 1.33% over the last 10 years, and meanwhile U.S. stock prices are up about 250% since the end of the last recession.

The stock market has become completely and utterly disconnected from economic reality, and yet many Americans still believe that it is an accurate barometer for the health of the economy. [..] So far this year, more than 300 retailers have filed for bankruptcy, and we are currently on pace to lose over 147 million square feet of retail space by the end of 2017. Those are absolutely catastrophic numbers. And some analysts are already predicting that as many as 9,000 stores could be shut down in the United States in 2018.

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Deregulation.

Trump Deserves Some Credit for the Rally in Stocks (A. Gary Shilling)

Reducing government regulation is tough. It’s resisted by all those who benefit, including government employees who administer the many programs. Every president since Jimmy Carter has attempted to lower the cost of regulation. At best, any cuts have been tiny and mostly centered on trimming paperwork. But less regulation is one campaign promise made by Donald Trump that is coming true. With tax and health-care reform problematic and given the president’s protectionist leanings, deregulation is probably a major driver of the stock market rally. The size and scope of the federal government give the president immense powers. In relation to gross domestic product, federal spending rose from 16% in 1946 to 22% in the 2017 fiscal year. Executive orders give the chief executive, in effect, legislative powers.

President Barack Obama issued many in his waning days, especially affecting power plants and oil pipelines. The Competitive Enterprise Institute last year found regulation cost American businesses $1.9 trillion, dwarfing the $344 billion in corporate taxes. About 56% of CEOs see overregulation as a major threat to their organization, more than cybersecurity (50%), rising taxes (41%) or even protectionism (27%). Whenever a new regulation is made or changed, it must be chronicled in the Federal Register. In the last years of the Obama administration, regulatory activity went parabolic, hitting almost 97,000 pages in a year. The annualized pace under Trump through July 31 was 61,330 pages, the fewest since the 1970s.

This year through June, the federal government had made 1,731 preliminary, proposed or final rules, the least since 2000 and down 40% from the 2011 peak under Obama. Many actions taken under Trump are reversals of earlier rules made under Obama. Of 66 completed actions at the Environmental Protection Agency, a third were rule withdrawals. Shares of banks have benefited, as those with more than $50 billion in assets are now able to merge without increased scrutiny. Scaling back the Volcker Rule would allow big banks to resume proprietary lending. The delay and likely alterations of the fiduciary requirement would aid brokers and insurers. The House has already approved a widespread rewrite of Dodd-Frank.

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I think he meant it.

Fed Chair Nominee Jerome Powell Says Too Big To Fail Is Over (BI)

Jerome Powell, Donald Trump’s nominee to replace Janet Yellen as Federal Reserve Chair, just made a frightening statement that suggests he is far too sanguine about risks in the US and global financial systems. During his confirmation hearing at the Senate on Tuesday, when pressed on the issue of whether any US banks are still considered too big to fail, Powell said simply: “No.” It’s the kind of blind optimism that could come back to haunt him during his tenure, which begins in February. Too big to fail, of course, is the financial crisis-era term for banks that the US government would be forced to bail out in a crisis because they might take the entire system down with them. Think of Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Goldman Sachs. They underpin too much of our financial network to be allowed to falter.

“Dodd-Frank did a lot of things, but ending Too Big To Fail can’t be listed among its accomplishments,” Isaac Boltansky, director of policy research at Compass Point, told Business Insider. “The system is far safer given the capital and liquidity rules, and new mandates such as living wills and orderly liquidation authority should blunt panic in a crisis, but I doubt anyone in Washington or on Wall Street truly believes the federal government would stand idly by in the event of another systemic banking crisis,” he said. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren also took issue with Powell’s opening statement, which talked about “easing the burden” of regulation for banks.

“I’m troubled that you believe the biggest problem with bank regulations is that they are too tough,” Warren said during the hearing, arguing that it was that kind of mindset that led to the financial crisis of 2007-2008. At that time, many large investment banks were rescued by the Treasury and the Federal Reserve after their investments in housing soured quickly as a historic boom turned to bust. Treating the banks as victims of burdensome rules — rather than perpetrators of a historic crisis in need of deeper and more constant supervision — could lay the groundwork for a repeat. When it comes, Powell is going to regret that he didn’t have more to say about this.

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The pound surged on this news, but without solving the Irish border issue, none of it is worth a thing.

Britain Close To Deal On Brexit Bill With EU (R.)

Britain has offered to pay much of what the European Union was demanding to settle a Brexit “divorce bill”, bringing the two sides close to agreement on a key obstacle to opening talks on a future free trade pact, EU sources said on Tuesday. The offer, which British newspapers valued at around 50 billion euros, reflected the bulk of outstanding EU demands that include London paying a share of post-Brexit EU spending on commitments made before Britain leaves in March 2019 as well as funding of EU staff pensions for decades to come. A British government official said they “do not recognize” this account of the talks going on ahead of a visit by Prime Minister Theresa May to Brussels this coming Monday.

EU officials close to the negotiations stressed that work was still continuing ahead of May’s talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and his chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. But EU diplomats briefed on progress said the British offer was promising and that, on the financial settlement, the two sides were, as one said, “close to a deal”. Nonetheless, others cautioned that Britain had yet to make a fully committed offer and that essential agreement from the other 27 member states could not yet be taken for granted. The EU set the condition of “significant progress” on three key elements of a withdrawal treaty before it would accede to London’s request for negotiations on a free trade pact that could keep business flowing after Brexit in 16 months.

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See you in court.

Former New Zealand PM John Key Lied About Mass Surveillance Program (NZH)

Sir John Key’s story of how and why he canned a “mass surveillance” programme are at odds with official papers detailing development of the “Speargun” project. The issue blew up in the final days of the 2014 election with Key claiming the programme was long-dead and had been replaced by a benign cyber-security system called Cortex. Key always claimed the Speargun project to tap New Zealand’s internet cable was stopped in March 2013. But new documents show development of Speargun continued after the time he had said he ordered a halt – apparently because the scheme was “too broad”. Instead, they show Speargun wasn’t actually stopped until after Key was told in a secret briefing that details were likely to become public because they could be in the trove of secrets taken by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

With days to go until voting in 2014, Key found himself accused by some of the world’s most high-profile and outspoken surveillance critics of secretly developing a mass surveillance system with the United States’ National Security Agency. It was high stakes for Key, also Minister of the GCSB, as he had previously promised the public he would resign as Prime Minister if there was ever mass surveillance of New Zealanders At the Kim Dotcom-organised “Moment of Truth” event, journalist Glenn Greenwald and Snowden claimed our Government Communications Security Bureau spy agency had developed the “Speargun” project to tap New Zealand’s internet cable and suck out masses of data.

Key denied it, saying Speargun had been canned in March 2013 because it was too intrusive. He said: “We made the call as government and I made the call as the Minister and as Prime Minister, that actually it was set too broadly. “What we ultimately did, when it comes to Speargun, in my opinion, I said it’s set too far. I don’t even want to see the business case.” The NZ Herald has found – after three years of refusals and information going missing – that the former Prime Minister’s version of events doesn’t match that of documents created at the time.

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As if MbS is any different.

Senior Saudi Prince Freed In $1 Billion Settlement Agreement (R.)

Senior Saudi Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, once seen as a leading contender to the throne, was freed after reaching an “acceptable settlement agreement” with authorities paying more than $1 billion, a Saudi official said on Wednesday. Miteb, 65, son of the late King Abdullah and former head of the elite National Guard, was among dozens of royal family members, ministers and senior officials who were rounded up in a graft inquiry partly aimed at strengthening the power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The official, who is involved in the anti-corruption campaign, said Miteb was released on Tuesday after reaching “an acceptable settlement agreement”. The amount of the settlement was not disclosed but the official said it is believed to be the equivalent of more than $1 billion.

“It is understood that the settlement included admitting corruption involving known cases,” the official said. According to a Saudi official, Prince Miteb was accused of embezzlement, hiring ghost employees and awarding contracts to his own firms including a $10 billion deal for walkie talkies and bulletproof military gear worth billions of Saudi riyals. The allegations against the others included kickbacks, inflating government contracts, extortion and bribery.

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Easy: let the banks take the losses, not the people.

Europe Needs a Way to Prevent the Next Greek-Style Debt Crisis (BBG)

If there was ever a textbook example of how not to handle a sovereign debt crisis, it was Greece. Nearly a decade since Athens first asked for help from its euro zone partners and the IMF, the Greek economy is still struggling to recover. Even after a steep restructuring, sovereign debt remains unsustainable. If Greece is not to be crippled by its debt load, European governments will have to accept further debt-reducing measures, on top of the maturity extensions and the cut in interest rates they have already agreed to. So it’s no surprise that one of the key debates on the future of the euro zone relates to how sovereign debt restructuring should be made easier. There is little doubt that forcing losses on creditors at an earlier stage, as some propose, would increase the chance that a program of financial assistance is successful.

However, the euro zone should be wary of automatic triggers; they risk bringing on the very crisis they are designed to avert. The debate on the future of debt restructuring in the euro zone largely involves two positions. The first, which is widely shared in Germany, sees an orderly debt restructuring mechanism as an essential next step for the currency union. When a country applies for financial help from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), creditors should face some form of debt restructuring immediately. This would ensure a better distribution of risks between debt-holders and the ESM. The threat of a haircut will make investors more discerning in their lending, contributing to fiscal discipline within the euro zone.

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Because Bayer is a German chemical company with very deep roots in Berlin, and it’s buying Monsanto. Ironically, the only party that can stop that purchase is the EU… German media say Merkel was angry at the German representative for going it alone on Germany’s decision to support this stance. So let’s see her reverse it.

Controversial Glyphosate Weedkiller Wins New 5-Year Lease In Europe (G.)

Glyphosate, the key ingredient in the world’s bestselling weedkiller, has won a new five-year lease in Europe, closing the most bitterly fought pesticide relicensing battle of recent times. The herbicide’s licence had been due to run out in less than three weeks, raising the prospect of Monsanto’s Roundup disappearing from store shelves and, potentially, a farmers’ revolt. Instead, an EU appeal committee voted on Monday to reauthorise the substance despite a petition by 1.3 million EU citizens last week calling for a ban. In 2015, the World Health Organisation’s cancer agency, the IARC, famously declared glyphosate “probably carcinogenic to humans,” although several international agencies, including Efsa, subsequently came to opposite conclusions. Monsanto insists glyphosate is safe.

The EU health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said: “Today’s vote shows that when we all want to, we are able to share and accept our collective responsibility in decision making.” However, the approval falls far short of the 15-year licence the commission had originally sought and Conservative MEPs lashed out at what they called “an emotional, irrational but politically convenient fudge”. Ashley Fox, the Conservative party’s delegation leader in the European parliament, said that the vote “simply prolongs the uncertainty for our farmers, who are being badly let down. They cannot plan for the future without long term assurances about the availability of substances they rely on.”

A re-run of the struggle to reauthorise glyphosate will now begin again in two years’ time, with a new safety assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa). Greenpeace EU food policy director, Franziska Achterberg, commented: “The people who are supposed to protect us from dangerous pesticides have failed to do their jobs and betrayed the trust Europeans place in them.” The Green party called it “a dark day for consumers, farmers and the environment”.

[..] Traces of glyphosate are routinely found in tests of foodstuffs, water, topsoil, and human urine in amounts way above safe limits set by regulators. Ben & Jerry’s recently introduced a new line of organic ice cream, in a bid to sate public concern. Campaigners say Monsanto ghostwrote research papers for regulators, enlisted EPA officials to block a US government review of glyphosate and formed front groups to discredit critical scientists and journalists, citing documents revealed in a US lawsuit by non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma sufferers. More than 280 similar lawsuits are now pending against Monsanto, according to the US right to know campaign.

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A tad scary?!

New Zealand Fault Line Wakes Up: “We Must Think Japan 2011 Ruptures” (SHTF)

The devastating Kaikura earthquake in 2016 has resurrected the Hikurangi subduction zone where two tectonic plates clash and one is pushed down. Geologists are now warning that this trench could cause a massive earthquake on the ocean floor, and could trigger other 9.0 magnitude earthquakes and tsunamis that will reach the western coast of the islands in just seven minutes. The Australian plate is heading north while the Pacific plate is heading west, and the combination of these motions means that the Pacific plate, which includes much of the South Island, is moving relative to the Australian plate at a rate of about 40millimeters each year in a southwesterly direction. Ursula Cochran, from the science firm GNS, told The Marlborough Express: “We need to think Japan 2011 basically, because if our whole plate boundary ruptured it would be a magnitude-9 earthquake.”

The Great East Japan Earthquake and resulting tsunami smashed through the country’s north-eastern coast killing almost 16,000 people and destroying the lives of thousands more. It also triggered a major ongoing crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant. “One of the biggest hazards of that kind of earthquake is the tsunami that is triggered by a fault rupture offshore.,” Cochran added. “We know from tsunami modeling from a hypothetical earthquake from the Hikurangi subduction zone that the travel times could be very short to the coast, so seven minutes for some of the south Wairarapa coast.” One year after it struck, scientists are also warning that the Kaikoura quake was not the “big one” for the Hikurangi subduction zone. The quake on the Hikurangi subduction zone was devastating. The magnitude 7.8 that destroyed houses, lifted the Kaikoura seabed by 2m, tore apart farmland, and wrecked kilometers of State Highway 1, may be minor compared to what could come, Cochran said.

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Has the west ever ended slavery?

Libya “Chose” Freedom, Now It Has Slavery (CP)

NATO’s military intervention in Libya in 2011 has justifiably earned its place in history as an indictment of Western foreign policy and a military alliance which since the collapse of the Soviet Union has been deployed as the sword of this foreign policy. The destruction of Libya will forever be an indelible stain on the reputations of those countries and leaders responsible. But now, with the revelation that people are being sold as slaves in Libya (yes, you read that right. In 2017 the slave trade is alive and kicking Libya), the cataclysmic disaster to befall the country has been compounded to the point where it is hard to conceive of it ever being able to recover – and certainly not anywhere near its former status as a high development country, as the UN labelled Libya 2010 a year prior to the ‘revolution’.

Back in 2011 it was simply inconceivable that the UK, the US and France would ignore the lessons of Iraq, just nine years previously in 2003. Yet ignore them they did, highlighting their rapacious obsession with maintaining hegemony over a region that sits atop an ocean of oil, despite the human cost and legacy of disaster and chaos which this particular obsession has wrought. When former UK Prime Minister David Cameron descended on Benghazi in eastern Libya in the summer of 2011, basking in the glory of the country’s victorious ‘revolution’ in the company of his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy, he did so imbued with the belief he had succeeded in establishing his legacy as a leader on the global stage. Like Blair before him, he’d won his war and now was intent on partaking of its political and geopolitical spoils.

Cameron told the crowd, “Your city was an inspiration to the world, as you threw off a dictator and chose freedom.” The destruction of Libya by NATO at the behest of the UK, the US and France was a crime, one dripping in the cant and hypocrisy of Western ideologues for whom the world with all its complexities is reduced to a giant chessboard upon which countries such as Libya have long been mere pieces to be moved around and changed at their pleasure and in their interests – interests which are inimical to the people of the countries they deem ripe for regime change.

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Europe’s politicians care only about their careers.

The EU Created Libya’s Migrant Abuses, Now It Must Address Them (CP)

Revelations into Libya’s awful migrant detention centres showed the humanitarian emergency that occurs within them. The international community – particularly the European Union, has not only failed to address this problem, but is responsible for causing it. After Libya descended into chaos following long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi’s fall in 2011, the nation became a major hub of slavery and migrant-trafficking. For the hundreds of thousands of those fleeing war-torn areas in Sub-Saharan Africa, Libya serves as a strategic point to reach the safe havens of Europe. However, those who fail to reach Europe face equally dire circumstances to their homeland after being detained by Libyan authorities, as part of an EU-deal with the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) penned in February.

This deal entails the Libyan coastguard stopping migrant vessels leaving Libya. It was quite rightly slammed as ‘inhumane’ by the UN recently. Due to lack of protections for migrants from in this deal, migrants are either brutally tortured, abused and even sexually assaulted by Libyan authorities in camps, or are sold into slavery by unscrupulous smugglers. A CNN investigation showed the true horrors of human-trafficking. Migrants are treated like cattle, sold for as little as four hundred dollars, and sometimes moved from one slave master to another. Others on the scene report migrants in camps showing signs of torture, burns, lashings, and other abuses. An Italian doctor Pietro Bartolo slammed them as ‘concentration camps’. “You must realise that in Libya, black people are not considered human beings, they’re seen as inferior, you can do whatever you want to them,” Bartolo told Euro News.

Observers foresaw the humanitarian consequences soon after the deal with Libya was agreed. German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel warned in April that thousands of men, women and children would face “catastrophic conditions”. It turns out Gabriel and other’s predictions were correct. The EU must therefore accept the blame for creating this crisis, for backing these unregulated, barbaric camps with the Libyan authorities. However, Europe has a clear geopolitical aim: to contain migrants, rather than help them – even if their suffering is enhanced. In doing so it uses Libya – a frail nation itself, as a dumping ground, to rid itself of the migrant issue. It has no regard for the human rights of those in detention centres.

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Aug 282017
 
 August 28, 2017  Posted by at 9:01 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Lou Reed New York City 1966

 

Harvey’s Cost Reaches Catastrophe: Only 15% Of Homes Have Flood Insurance (BBG)
Gasoline Surges, Oil Holds Near $48 as Harvey Shuts Refineries (BBG)
Mammoth Flood Disaster in Houston: More Rain Yet to Come (WU)
The Coming Collapse Of China’s Ponzi Scheme Economy (SCMP)
What’s Driving The Growth In US ‘Shadow Banking’ (CBR)
Volatility Makes a Comeback (Rickards)
YouTube “Economically Censors” Ron Paul (ZH)
Should The Rich Be Taxed More? (G.)
The West’s Wealth Is Based On Slavery. Reparations Should Be Paid (G.)
Danone Sends 5,000 Cows to Siberia in Quest for Cheaper Milk (BBG)

 

 

The real tragedy takes place below the surface. Sort of literally. Much more rain to come.

Harvey’s Cost Reaches Catastrophe: Only 15% Of Homes Have Flood Insurance (BBG)

Hurricane Harvey’s second act across southern Texas is turning into an economic catastrophe – with damages likely to stretch into tens of billions of dollars and an unusually large share of victims lacking adequate insurance, according to early estimates. Harvey’s cost could mount to $24 billion when including the impact of relentless flooding on the labor force, power grid, transportation and other elements that support the region’s energy sector, Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research, said by phone on Sunday. That would place it among the top eight hurricanes to ever strike the U.S. “A historic event is currently unfolding in Texas,” Aon wrote in an alert to clients. “It will take weeks until the full scope and magnitude of the damage is realized,” and already it’s clear that “an abnormally high portion of economic damage caused by flooding will not be covered,” the insurance broker said.

[..] Most people with flood insurance buy policies backed by the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program. As of April, less than one-sixth of homes in Houston’s Harris County had federal coverage, according to Aon. That would leave more than 1 million homes unprotected in the county. Coverage rates are similar in neighboring areas. Many cars also will be totaled. “A lot of these people are going to be in very serious financial situations,” said Loretta Worters, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute. “Most people who are living in these areas do not have flood insurance. They may be able to collect some grants from the government, but there are not a lot, usually they’re very limited. There are no-interest to low-interest loans, but you have to pay them back.”

The federal program itself is already struggling with $25 billion of debt. The existing program is set to expire on Sept. 30 and is up for review in Congress, which ends its recess Sept. 5. Costs still will likely soar for insurance companies and their reinsurers, biting into earnings. As Harvey bore down on the coastline Friday, William Blair, a securities firm that tracks the industry, said the storm could theoretically inflict $25 billion of insured losses if it landed as a “large category 3 hurricane.” Policyholder-owned State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance has the largest share in the market for home coverage in Texas, followed by Allstate, which is publicly traded. William Blair estimated that, in that scenario, Allstate could incur $500 million of pretax catastrophe losses, shaving 89 cents off of earnings per share.

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Most shutdowns so far are precautionary. But…

Gasoline Surges, Oil Holds Near $48 as Harvey Shuts Refineries (BBG)

Gasoline surged to the highest in two years and oil was steady as flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey inundated refining centers along the Texas coast, shutting more than 10% of U.S. fuel-making capacity. Motor fuel prices rose as much as 6.8%, while oil held gains near $48 a barrel. Harvey, the strongest storm to hit the U.S. since 2004, made landfall as a hurricane Friday, flooding cities and shutting plants able to process some 2.26 million barrels of oil a day. Pipelines were closed, potentially stranding some crude in West Texas and starving New York Harbor of gasoline. Gasoline prices are going to continue to rise this week as we expect another three days of rain in the Houston area,” Andy Lipow, president of consultant Lipow Oil in Houston, said by phone.

“With pipeline operators beginning to shut down their crude oil and refined product infrastructure, I expect to see further curtailment of refinery operations. A spike in gasoline and diesel prices will drag up crude oil prices.” Oil has traded this month in the tightest range since February as investors weigh rising global supply against output cuts by members of OPEC and its allies. As Harvey led to widespread flooding, Shell shut its Deer Park plant, while Magellan Midstream suspended its inbound and outbound refined products and crude pipeline transportation services in the Houston area. Gasoline for September delivery climbed as much as 11.33 cents to $1.7799 a gallon on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the highest intraday price for a front-month contract since July 2015.

It traded at $1.7621 at 12:36 p.m. in Hong Kong. West Texas Intermediate oil for October delivery fell 16 cents to $47.71 a barrel after advancing 0.9% on Friday. Brent crude’s premium to WTI widened to the largest in two years with the global benchmark trading at as much as $4.96 above the U.S. marker. Brent for October settlement gained 18 cents, or 0.3%, to $52.59 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange.

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Waether Underground is probably the best source.

Mammoth Flood Disaster in Houston: More Rain Yet to Come (WU)

Harvey’s winds are expected to remain modest, and it could become a tropical depression at any point, but winds are not the problem here. The NOAA/NWS National Hurricane Center now predicts that Harvey will inch its way into the Gulf of Mexico—though just barely—by Monday night, then arc northeast and make a second landfall just west of Houston on Wednesday. The 12Z GFS and 00Z European model runs agree on a general northward motion for Harvey across eastern Texas, beginning around midweek. At this point it may make little difference whether Harvey stays just inland or moves just offshore, since rainbands would continue to be funneled toward Houston either way. The fine-scale particulars of this outlook may shift over time, but the overall message is consistent: Harvey will be a devastating rainmaking presence in southeast Texas for days to come.

Harvey’s circulation is located in a near-ideal spot for funneling vast amounts of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico toward the upper Texas coast. Here, converging winds at low levels have been concentrating the moisture into north-south-oriented bands of intense thunderstorms with torrential rain. Since Harvey is barely moving, these bands are creeping only slowly eastward as individual cells race north along them—a “training” set-up that is common in major flood events. Mesoscale models, our best guidance for short-term, small-scale behavior of thunderstorms, show little sign of relief for southeast Texas anytime soon. Convection-resolving mesoscale models, which have a tight enough resolution to depict individual thunderstorms, are an invaluable tool in situations like this. The mesoscale nested NAM model predicts that 20” – 30” of additional rainfall is likely through Tuesday across the Houston metro area, with even larger totals at some points.

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Hmm. But what if China manages to unload all its overcapacity on the Belt Road, and makes other countries pay?

The Coming Collapse Of China’s Ponzi Scheme Economy (SCMP)

Friends who have a greater interest than I do in reading the tea leaves in Beijing tell me that the emphasis in relations with Hong Kong from now on will be on one country rather than two systems. I think this phrases things the wrong way. The one country bit was never in issue. What they actually mean to say is that Beijing’s system of state command of the economy will become dominant and Hong Kong’s more freewheeling system will fade away. I don’t think it will happen. In my view human society is so dynamic that no command system can last long in charge of an economy. Attempts at this particular form of hubris inevitably end in either war or financial crisis. For the Soviet Union it was financial crisis. I think the same fate awaits Beijing.

Consider crude steel production, a test-tube example of how command economies get it wrong. In the mainland this stood in June at an all time monthly record of 73 million tonnes, five times the total production in all of Europe. Steel was recently targeted for a reduction in capacity but then a regime of easy money intended to help the industry overcome a difficult period of contraction instead stimulated production. It has happened across the mainland’s rust belt industries. Why is so much steel needed? Simple. It is needed to build more steel mills so as to build more shipyards, ports, railways and bridges so that more ships can be built to carry more iron ore to more ports and thence along more rails and bridges to more steel mills so as to build more shipyards, ports, railways …

What we have here, in short, is a giant Ponzi scheme. In a Ponzi scheme you pay out the winnings of the first entrants with what others later pay into it. As long as it keeps growing everything is fine. When it stops growing it collapses. In this case you justify production with demand based purely on more production. As long as you keep pushing production up everything looks fine. At its peak in 2014 China turned out 30 times more cement than the United States, and the latest production figures are only a smidgen less than 2014’s.

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What do you think? A good sign? It isn’t in China….

What’s Driving The Growth In US ‘Shadow Banking’ (CBR)

In the wake of the 2007–10 financial crisis, there’s been sizeable growth of “shadow banking”— companies without banking charters entering lines of business traditionally associated with deposit-taking banks. Hedge funds that make direct loans to midsize businesses, online mortgage originators, peer-to-peer lending platforms, and payday lenders have all been on the rise. What’s behind this? According to Chicago Booth’s Gregor Matvos, Booth PhD candidate Greg Buchak, Columbia’s Tomasz Piskorski, and Stanford’s Amit Seru, much of the growth is due to regulations that have pushed banks out of traditional lending businesses. The researchers also attribute some growth to online technology that has lowered the barrier to entry in markets where lenders once needed networks of physical branches to have any hope of building business.

The researchers focus on the US residential lending market, the largest consumer loan market in the country—and the market that drew the most attention from regulators after 2008. Between 2007 and 2015, shadow banks nearly tripled their market share, from 14% to 38%. They gained the most in the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage market, which serves lower-quality borrowers and is where shadow banks’ share rose from 20% to 75%. Traditional banks retreated from sectors of the mortgage market where the regulatory burden grew the most, the researchers note. Traditional banks have been particularly hindered by rules that increased monitoring of balance-sheet holdings and constrained what banks could hold in their own accounts.

Their retreat helped shadow banking succeed in the riskier FHA market and in more-traditional, conforming mortgages. The researchers also separated shadow banks into those that did and didn’t originate loans online. During the study period, lenders that originated loans online (fintech lenders) saw market share rise from 4% to 13%—but that remains less than half of the shadow-banking sector.

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Super spikes.

Volatility Makes a Comeback (Rickards)

Volatility has languished near all-time lows for months on end. That’s about to change. For almost a year, one of the most profitable trading strategies has been to sell volatility. Since the election of Donald Trump stocks have been a one-way bet. They almost always go up, and have hit record highs day after day. The strategy of selling volatility has been so profitable that promoters tout it to investors as a source of “steady, low-risk income.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, sellers of volatility have made steady profits the past year. But the strategy is extremely risky and you could lose all of your profits in a single bad day. Think of this strategy as betting your life’s savings on red at a roulette table. If the wheel comes up red, you double your money. But if you keep playing eventually the wheel will come up black and you’ll lose everything.

That’s what it’s like to sell volatility. It feels good for a while, but eventually a black swan appears like the black number on the roulette wheel, and the sellers get wiped out. I focus on the shocks and unexpected events that others don’t see. Right now looks like one of those highly favorable windows when the purchase of volatility is the right move. You could collect huge winnings as the short sellers scramble to cover their bets before they are wiped out completely. The chart below shows a 20-year history of volatility spikes. You can observe long periods of relatively low volatility such as 2004 to 2007, and 2013 to mid-2015, but these are inevitably followed by volatility super-spikes. During these super-spikes the sellers of volatility are crushed, sometimes to the point of bankruptcy because they can’t cover their bets.

The period from mid-2015 to late 2016 saw some brief volatility spikes associated with the Chinese devaluation (August and December 2015), Brexit (June 23, 2016) and the election of Donald Trump (Nov. 8, 2016). But, none of these spikes reached the super-spike levels of 2008 – 2012. In short, we have been on a volatility holiday. Volatility is historically low and has remained so for an unusually long period of time. The sellers of volatility have been collecting “steady income,” yet this is really just a winning streak at the volatility casino. The wheel of fortune is about to turn and luck is about to run out for the sellers. It will soon be time for the buyers of volatility to collect their winnings, big time.

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Sliding scales. One step before large tech is declared utility?!

YouTube “Economically Censors” Ron Paul (ZH)

Former US Congressman Ron Paul has joined a growing list of independent political journalists and commentators who’re being economically punished by YouTube despite producing videos that routinely receive hundreds of thousands of views. In a tweet published Saturday, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange tweeted a screenshot of Paul’s “Liberty Report” page showing that his videos had been labeled “not suitable” for all advertisers by YouTube’s content arbiters. Assange claims that Paul was being punished for speaking out about President Donald Trump’s decision to increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan, after Paul published a video on the subject earlier this week. The notion that YouTube would want to economically punish a former US Congressman for sharing his views on US foreign policy – a topic that he is unequivocally qualified to speak about – is absurd.

Furthermore, the “review requested” marking on one of Paul’s videos reveals that they were initially flagged by users before YouTube’s moderators confirmed that the videos were unsuitable for a broad audience. Other political commentators who’ve been censored by YouTube include Paul Joseph Watson and Tim Black – both ostensibly for sharing political views that differ from the mainstream neo-liberal ideology favored by the Silicon Valley elite. Last week, Google – another Alphabet Inc. company – briefly banned Salil Mehta, an adjunct professor at Columbia and Georgetown who teaches probability and data science, from using its service, freezing his accounts without providing an explanation. He was later allowed to return to the service. Conservative journalist Lauren Southern spoke out about YouTube’s drive to stifle politically divergent journalists and commentators during an interview with the Daily Caller.

“I think it would be insane to suggest there’s not an active effort to censor conservative and independent views,” said Southern. “Considering most of Silicon Valley participate in the censorship of alleged ‘hate speech,’ diversity hiring and inclusivity committees. Their entire model is based around a far left outline. There’s no merit hiring, there’s no support of free speech and there certainly is not an equal representation of political views at these companies.” Of course, Google isn’t the only Silicon Valley company that’s enamored with censorship. Facebook has promised to eradicate “fake news,” which, by its definition, includes political content that falls outside of the mainstream. Still, economically punishing a former US Congressman and medical doctor is a new low in Silicon Valley’s campaign to stamp out dissent.

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The most prosperous times of our societies coincide with the highest tax levels for the rich.

Should The Rich Be Taxed More? (G.)

The past four decades have been extremely kind to those at the top. They have seen their incomes grow faster than the rest of the population and hold a far bigger share of wealth in the form of property and financial investments than the rest of the population. Over the years a bigger slice of national income has gone to capital at the expense of labour, and the rich have been the beneficiaries of that, because they are more likely to own shares and expensive houses. The trend has been particularly strong in the US, where labour’s share of income has fallen from a recent peak of 57% at the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency to 53% by 2015. The Gini coefficient – a measure of inequality – has been steadily rising since 1970 and is now at levels normally seen in developing rather than advanced economies.

Hatgioannides, Karanassou and Sala seek to take account of these profound changes in the distribution of income and wealth. They do so by dividing the average income tax rate of a particular slice of the US population by the%age of national income commanded by that same group and by their share of wealth. They then look at whether by this measure – the fiscal inequality coefficient – the US tax system has become more or less progressive over time. The findings show quite clearly that it has become less progressive. In terms of income, the poorest 99% of the US population paid nine times as much income tax as the richest 1%, both when John F Kennedy was president in the early 1960s and when Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter in the 1980 race for the White House. By 2014, they paid 21 times as much.

Similarly, the bottom 99.9% in the US paid 28 times as much tax as the elite 0.1% in the early 1960s and the early 1980s, but by 2014 they were paying 76 times as much. The same trend applies – although it is not pronounced – when income tax is divided by the share of wealth. The bottom 99% paid 22 times as much income tax as the wealthiest 1% in 1980 but were paying 47 times as much in 2014. The bottom 99.9% paid 58 times as much income tax as the top 0.1% before the onset of Reaganomics; by 2014 they were paying 175 times as much. [..] As the authors note, since 1980, economic policy making has been dominated by the idea that deregulation, less generous welfare and tax cuts will stimulate higher investment, higher productivity, higher growth and higher living standards for all. None of this has occurred and, what’s more, the social mobility in the decades after the second world war has been thrown into reverse. The great American dream – the notion that anybody can strike it rich – is dead.

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They won’t be.

The West’s Wealth Is Based On Slavery. Reparations Should Be Paid (G.)

Malcolm X explained that “if you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, that’s not progress. If you pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. The progress comes from healing the wound that the blow made”. Instead of attempting to fix the damage, we are completely unable to progress on issues of equality because countries such as Britain “won’t even admit the knife is there”. It is the height of delusion to think that the impact of slavery ended with emancipation, or that empire was absolved by the charade of independence being bestowed on the former colonies.

[..]It is not just governments that owe a debt; some of the biggest institutions and corporations built their wealth on slavery. Lloyds of London is one of Britain’s most successful companies and its roots lie in insuring the merchant trade in the 17th century. The fact that this was the slave trade has already led to civil action being taken by African Americans in New York. The church, many of the biggest banks, much of the ironworks industry and port cities gorged themselves on the profits from human flesh. It is clear that it would be just to pay reparations, and it is also possible to calculate the amount that Britain and other nations owe. A lot of work has been done in the United States to determine the damages owed to African Americans. The figure owed comes to far more than the “forty acres and a mule” that were promised to some African Americans who fought in the civil war.

The latest calculations from researchers estimates that for unpaid labour, taking into account interest and inflation, African Americans are owed anywhere between $5.9tn and $14.2tn. It would not be prohibitively complicated to work out the debts owed by the western powers, or the companies that enriched themselves off exploitation. The obviousness of the issue is such that a federation of Caribbean countries (Caricom) is now demanding reparations, as is the Movement for Black Lives in America and Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe. In many ways the calls for reparatory justice do not take go far enough. Caricom includes a demand to cancel third world debt, and the Movement for Black Lives for free tuition for African Americans.

Both of these are examples of removing the knife from our backs, rather than healing the wound. Third world debt was an unjust mechanism for maintaining colonial economic control and; allowing free access to a deeply problematic school system will not eradicate the impacts of centuries of oppression. In order to have racial justice we need to hit the reset button and have the west account for the wealth stolen and devastation caused. Nothing short of a massive transfer of wealth from the developed to the underdeveloped world, and to the descendants of slavery and colonialism in the west, can heal the deep wounds inflicted.

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Cows to Qatar, cown to SIberia: the new backpackers?!

Danone Sends 5,000 Cows to Siberia in Quest for Cheaper Milk (BBG)

President Vladimir Putin’s ban on European Union cheese imports has driven up milk prices in Russia by so much that French yogurt maker Danone is transporting almost 5,000 cows to a farm in Siberia to ensure it has an affordable supply. The Holstein cows are traveling as many as 2,800 miles (4,500 kilometers) in trucks from the Netherlands and Germany, boosting the herd on a farm near the city of Tyumen, according to Charlie Cappetti, head of Danone’s Russian unit. That should protect the company from the increase in raw milk prices, which are up 14% this year, he said. “Milk prices have been going up steadily,” Cappetti said in an interview in Moscow. “That puts products such as yogurt under pressure.” While the French dairy company doesn’t normally invest in agriculture, it made an exception for Russia.

After Putin’s ban on dairy imports took hold in 2014, demand for milk surged as local cheesemakers rushed to replace French camembert and Italian pecorino. That has exacerbated the inflationary effects of the ruble’s weakness. Danone invested in the 60-hectare (150-acre) farm with local producer Damate, Cappetti said. The first cows started to provide milk for Danone in May, and a final shipment of cattle is due to arrive in September. “We hope that Russian milk inflation will slow down next year,” the executive said. The difference between supply and demand is narrowing as new milk is coming to the market, including from the Siberian farm. While easing milk inflation may help the Russian dairy market rebound in volume terms, Danone isn’t expecting a fast economic recovery in the country, according to Cappetti. Sales in Russia have been growing in line with inflation in the first half and should rise in 2018, he said.

Read more …

Jul 312017
 


Elvis Presley with parents Gladys and Vernon 1937

 

Whatever It Took To Save The Euro (BBG)
US To Cut 755 Us Diplomatic Staff In Russia, Says Putin (AFP)
Despite Appearances, The Idea Of Social Progress Is A Myth (Satyajit Das)
China Bond Buyers Quiz Taxi Drivers to See If Credit Good (BBG)
Uber, Lyft Mangle Rental Cars & Taxis. Other Sectors Next (WS)
Pence Sketches Possible Patriot Deployment In Estonia, Vows US Support (AFP)
How Immigration Is Changing Italian and European Demographics (Sp.)
Greece’s Road to Bailout Exit: 140 Reforms Down, Many More to Go (BBG)
Greeks Can’t See Any Light At The End Of Any Tunnel (G.)
Greece: A (Basket) Case Study In Savage Globalization (Nevradakis)
‘Human Life Is More Expendable’: Why Slavery Has Never Made More Money (G.)

 

 

Cute, funny. But the real cost is much higher. It’s not just the ECB.

Whatever It Took To Save The Euro (BBG)

So how much did it end up taking after ECB President Mario Draghi memorably said five years ago he’d do “whatever it takes” to save the euro? About €1.2 trillion ($1.4 trillion). That’s the amount that the ECB’s balance sheet has expanded in the half-decade since Draghi made those remarks at a conference in London (an ironic location from today’s post-Brexit perspective.) Deutsche Bank analysts including Luke Templeman go on to note there’s several things that have changed by that magnitude – €1.2 trillion – in the past five years, in an eerie Da Vinci Code-like confluence:
• The euro region’s gross domestic product has risen about €1.2 trillion
• The Federal Reserve’s balance sheet has also climbed the equivalent of roughly €1.2 trillion
• The combined market cap of the FANG stocks – Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Alphabet – has jumped about the equivalent of €1.2 trillion

Templeman and his colleagues warn against making too much of the symmetry. After all, for the U.S. numbers to be related, it would suggest “every bond the Federal Reserve bought drove people to spend more time on these websites.”

Read more …

Think uranium.

US To Cut 755 Us Diplomatic Staff In Russia, Says Putin (AFP)

President Vladimir Putin on Sunday said the United States would have to cut 755 diplomatic staff in Russia and warned of a prolonged gridlock in its ties after the US Congress backed new sanctions against the Kremlin. Putin added bluntly that Russia was able to raise the stakes with America even further, although he hoped this would be unnecessary. A US State Department official denounced the move as a “regrettable and uncalled for act,” adding that Washington was now weighing a potential response. On Friday, the Russian foreign ministry demanded Washington cut its diplomatic presence in Russia by September 1 to 455 people – the same number Moscow has in the US.

“More than a thousand people – diplomats and technical personnel – were working and are still working” at the US embassy and consulates, Putin said in an interview with Rossia-24 television. The US State Department would not confirm the number of US officials serving at the mission. Putin added that an upturn in Russia’s relations with Washington could not be expected “any time soon.” “We have waited long enough, hoping that the situation would perhaps change for the better,” he said. “But it seems that even if the situation is changing, it’s not for any time soon.” Putin warned that Russia could further ratchet up the pressure, but he hoped this would not be needed.

Read more …

“If you are not busy being born, you are busy buying”.

Despite Appearances, The Idea Of Social Progress Is A Myth (Satyajit Das)

The undeniable improvement in living standards over the last 150 years is seen as evidence of progress. Improvements in diet, health, safe water, hygiene and education have been central to increased life spans and incomes. The lifting of billions of people globally out of poverty is a considerable achievement. But many of these individuals earn between $2 and $10 dollars a day. Their position is fragile, exposed to the vicissitudes of health, employment, economic conditions and political and societal stability. As William Gibson observed: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed”. Economic progress also has come at a cost. Growth and wealth is increasingly based on borrowed money, used to purchase something today against the uncertain promise of paying it back in the future.

Debt levels are now unsustainable. Growth has been at the expense of existentially threatening environmental changes which are difficult to reverse. Higher living standards rely on the profligate use of under-priced, finite resources, especially water and energy, which have been utilised without concern about conservation for future use. Current growth, short-term profits and higher living standards for some are pursued at the expense of costs which are not evident immediately but will emerge later. Society has borrowed from and pushes problems into the future. The acquisition of material goods defines progress. The concept of leisure as shopping and consumption as the primary economic engine now dominate. Altering Bob Dylan’s lyrics, the Angry Brigade, an English anarchist group, described it as: “If you are not being born, you are busy buying”.

[19th-century Thomas Carlyle], who distrusted the “mechanical age”, would have been puzzled at the unalloyed modern worship of technology. Much of our current problems, environmental damage and pollution, are the unintended consequences of technology, especially the internal combustion engine and exploitation of fossil fuels. The invention of the motor vehicle was also the invention of the car crash. Technology applied to war continues to create human suffering. Mankind’s romance with technology increasingly is born of a desperate need for economic growth and a painless, cheap fix to problems such as reducing in greenhouse gas without decreasing living standards.

[..] Pre-occupation with narcissistic self-fulfilment and escapist entertainment is consistent with Carlyle’s concern about the loss of social cohesiveness, spirituality and community. His fear of a pervasive “philosophy of simply looking on, of doing nothing, of laissez-faire … a total disappearance of all general interest, a universal despair of truth and humanity, and in consequence a universal isolation of men in their own ‘brute individuality” … a war of all against all … intolerable oppression and wretchedness” seems modern.

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Taxi drivers and shoeshine boys. There’s your peak.

China Bond Buyers Quiz Taxi Drivers to See If Credit Good (BBG)

In China, taxi rides aren’t just a form of transportation any more. They’ve also become useful for bond buyers doing due diligence. Dining out at restaurants is also helpful. It’s all part of a boom in field trips by market participants coming to grips with a new reality in China: the potential for bond defaults. After decades when authorities effectively provided blanket assistance to keep troubled companies from going under, the Communist leadership’s focus on shuttering unproductive assets has upended the market. A total of 45 onshore corporate bonds have defaulted since the start of last year, a surge from the eight recorded in 2014 and 2015 – which themselves were the first since the market was established in the 1980s. While China has the world’s third-largest bond market, corporate financial transparency can be limited, forcing investors to get creative.

“If you just sit in the office, you would never know if an issuer has actually closed business,” said Xu Hua at Colight Asset Management in Shanghai. “When you go to the local places, be sure to have a chat with taxi drivers or restaurant customers after talking to the issuer – ask them if they have friends working for the company. Has their friends’ pay been cut or raised this year? Has the company delayed paying salaries? What’s the local reputation?” Recent incidents have showcased concerns about corporate governance and disclosure standards. The onshore bonds of two China Hongqiao units slumped in March after the world’s biggest aluminum maker said full-year results may be delayed because of issues raised by its auditor. Bondholders of China Shanshui Cement are still trying to recoup most of their money – at one point the company said it couldn’t repay interest without a company seal.

Read more …

We really want monopolies? They’re calling it freedom, and beneficial, but…

Uber, Lyft Mangle Rental Cars & Taxis. Other Sectors Next (WS)

Rideshare companies – mostly Uber, but now also Lyft elbowing into the scene – are changing the way business travelers look at ground transportation. In the process, these worker bees, who’re spending their company’s money, are not only crushing the taxi business but also that end of the rental car business. The collapse of business travel spending on taxis and rental cars is just stunning. And there is no turning back. Uber’s and Lyft’s combined share of the ground transportation market in terms of expense account spending in the second quarter has soared to 63%, with Uber hogging 55% and Lyft getting 8%. The share of taxis has plunged to 8%, now equal with Lyft for the first time, according to Certify, which provides cloud-based expense management software.

Uber hit that point in Q1 2015, when expense account spending on Uber matched spending on taxis for the first time, each with 25% of the market; rental cars still dominated with a 50% share. But that was an eternity ago. Note that the share of rental cars and taxis has declined at roughly the same rate. Uber’s growth in the business travel ground transportation market has continued despite its constant drumbeat of intricate debacles in the news, but the rate of growth has slowed. And Lyft’s rate of growth has surged. The chart above shows this surge in the growth rate of Lyft, which caused its share to jump from 3% a year ago to 8% now.

Read more …

We all know of teh US promise to Russia to not expand NATO.

Pence Sketches Possible Patriot Deployment In Estonia, Vows US Support (AFP)

US Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday raised the possibility of deploying the Patriot anti-missile defence system in Estonia, one of three NATO Baltic states worried by Russian expansionism, Prime Minister Juri Ratas said. “We spoke about it today, but we didn’t talk about a date or time,” Ratas told state broadcaster ERR after Pence began a visit to the tiny frontline state. The Patriot is a mobile, ground-based system designed to intercept incoming missiles and warplanes. “We talked about the upcoming (Russian military) manoeuvres near the Estonian border… and how Estonia, the United States and NATO should monitor them and exchange information,” Ratas said.

Relations between Moscow and Tallinn have been fraught since Estonia broke free from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991, joining both the EU and NATO in 2004 – a move that Russia says boosted its own fears of encirclement by the West. Concern in Estonia and fellow Baltic states Latvia and Lithuania surged after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and stepped up military exercises. Pence, in remarks to journalists in the Estonian capital of Tallinn, spoke in strong but general terms about US support for eastern European countries. On Monday, he heads to Georgia – a non-NATO member that is also worried about Russia – and then to Montenegro, which became NATO’s 29th member on June 5. “President (Donald) Trump sent me to Europe with a very simple message. And that is that America first doesn’t mean America alone,” Pence said.

Read more …

This is not going to be smooth. Throw in a fierce financial crisis and what do you get?

How Immigration Is Changing Italian and European Demographics (Sp.)

Some European countries, namely Italy, Germany, France and the UK, are facing the so-called “substitution of nations,” where the national ethnical majority is disappearing physically and biologically, and is being substituted by migrants, according to a recent report. Sputnik Italy discussed the issue with Daniele Scalea, the author of the report. The recent report of the Italian-based Machiavelli Center of Political and Strategic Studies, “How immigration is changing Italian demographics” has revealed that a number of European countries are facing the “biological and physical extinction” of their national ethnicities. Ethnic majorities in such countries as Italy, Germany, France and the UK, are gradually turning into ethnic minorities, while being “substituted” by incoming migrants. Sputnik Italy discussed the issue with Daniele Scalea, an analyst at the center and the author of the report.

Migration is drastically changing the habitual course of life in Italy, he told Sputnik. The reason for the influx of African migrants into Europe is not wars or catastrophes, but an explosive demographic increase on the African continent, from 9% to 25% of the global population throughout the last century. While Europe, which accounted for over a fifth of the entire world population in 1950 (22%), is expected to make up just 7% of the world population in the year 2050, the%age of the African population will make a sweeping rise from 9% to 40%. Italy’s fertility rate is less than half of what it was in 1964, the analyst explained in his report. It has dropped from 2.7 children per woman to just 1.5 children per woman currently, a figure well below the replacement level for zero population growth of roughly 2.1 children per woman.

As of the first half of this year, Italy had over 5 million foreigners living as residents, a remarkable 25% growth relative to 2012 and a whopping 270% since 2002. At that time, foreigners made up just 2.38% of the population while 15 years later the figure has nearly trebled to 8.33% of the population. Moreover, even the children being born in Italy are overrepresented by immigrants, whose birthrate is considerably higher than native Italians, the study revealed. It is “unsurprising,” therefore, that Italian regions with the highest fertility rates are no longer in the south, as was usual the case, but in the Italian north and in the Lazio region, where there is a higher concentration of immigrants. If current trends continue, by 2065, first- and second-generation immigrants will exceed 22 million persons, or more than 40% of Italy’s total population.

By comparison, it was only in the not far-off 2001 that the percentage of foreigners living in Italy crossed the low threshold of 1%, which reveals the speed and magnitude of demographic change occurring in Italy, a phenomenon “without precedent” in Italy’s history, the study asserts.

Read more …

Waterboarding. Disregard all stories of recovery.

Greece’s Road to Bailout Exit: 140 Reforms Down, Many More to Go (BBG)

Greece’s hard times aren’t over. A return to the bond market last week, the pledge of 8.5 billion euros ($9.5 billion) in new loans from euro-area creditors, the possibility of more money from the International Monetary Fund and a S&P Global Ratings outlook upgrade have coalesced to bolster investor sentiment that Greece has turned a corner. Trouble is, much depends on the country implementing reforms — dozens of the 140 measures agreed to are in various stages of application and more than 100 additional actions are needed to access the remaining 26.9 billion euros in funds before the current bailout program ends in August 2018. While the evidence of belt-tightening is everywhere in Greece, from falling incomes to rising poverty, the country has less to show in terms of structural overhauls.

Creditor demands for more measures threaten to become politically explosive as Greek citizens and businesses count the cost of the financial crisis that has thrown their lives into turmoil over the last seven years. Over the years, creditors have imposed reforms that have affected the daily lives of Greeks, from requiring receipts for tax breaks and e-prescriptions for patients to prevent abuse to pension payout cuts of as much as 50%. While Greece’s record of implementing reforms hasn’t won it any kudos, it is now hitting against even more challenging structural measures aimed at profoundly changing entrenched habits. The real problem is with reforms like fixing the tax system and the judiciary that require “long implementation,” said Gerassimos Moschonas, an associate professor of comparative politics at Panteion University in Athens. Belt-tightening measures have had a dramatic effect on life, making further long-lasting reforms difficult, he said.

“The income of an average household has decreased at least 40% during the crisis, poverty risk has increased 35.6%, pension cuts are enormous and there is over-taxation,” he said. Since Greece became the epicenter of the European debt crisis in 2010, the country has agreed to austerity measures to restructure its economy, which has shrunk by more than a quarter over the period. In exchange, euro-area creditors and the IMF have provided more than 260 billion euros in bailout funds to keep Greece afloat. “Progress with structural reforms has fallen far short of what is needed to allow Greece to succeed in the euro zone, but the program foresees some intensification of efforts,” the IMF said in its report on July 20.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government is struggling to squeeze pensions even more, allow Sunday openings for stores – which could threaten the livelihoods of small mom-and-pop shops that dot the country – consider further taxes and change labor laws that would make it even harder for employees to go on a strike. “There’s no serious implementation,” of difficult structural reforms, said Moschonas. “The Greek state has failed” to put them in place even after they were voted in parliament because of a lack of political will and the absence of technical expertise, he said.

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Got them by the balls.

Greeks Can’t See Any Light At The End Of Any Tunnel (G.)

Athens, like most urban centres, has been hardest hit by a crisis that has seen the country’s economic output contract by a devastating 26%. A study by the DiaNeosis thinktank found that 15% of the population, or 1,647,703 people, in 2015 earned below the extreme poverty threshold. In 2009 that number did not exceed 2.2%. The net wealth of Greek households fell by a precipitous 40% in the same period, according to the Bank of Greece. Unemployment, austerity’s most pernicious effect, hovers around 22%, by far the highest in the EU, despite a 5% drop in the last two years. Although the worst is over in terms of fiscal adjustment, few believe Greece will be able to escape a fourth bailout even if Athens regains market access when its current EU-IMF sponsored programme ends in August next year.

“It is very difficult to see the country being able to make a clean exit [from international stewardship] and raise the sort of money it needs to refinance its debt,” said Kyriakos Pierrakakis, director of research at DiaNeosis. “It will almost certainly need a new financial credit line, a bailout light, and that will come with new conditions.” In such circumstances, faith in government claims that the country has turned the corner – based as much on last week’s market foray as completion of a landmark compliance review and disbursement of €8.5bn in bailout funds – is in short supply. “Greeks can’t see any light at the end of any tunnel,” said Christodoulaki, shaking her head in disbelief. “They won’t believe anything at this point until they see it for real in front of their eyes.”

Across town in the communist party stronghold of Kaisariani, municipal authorities are already preparing for winter. In the giant 1960s concrete town hall, the social services department has lined up fundraising events, including concerts and theatre performances, to finance food donations that local stores and supermarkets can no longer afford to make. “Needs have grown exponentially,” said Marilena Christodoulou, her office wall adorned with the slogan “poverty is not a crime”.

Read more …

Last bits of a really good piece from a Greek American.

Greece: A (Basket) Case Study In Savage Globalization (Nevradakis)

Jean-Paul Sartre once famously stated that “a lost battle is a battle one thinks one has lost.” The tragic reality in Greece today, most Greeks, beaten down by the crisis and by the effects of what can be described as savage globalization, are plagued by feelings of collective guilt, self-loathing, hopelessness, feelings of inferiority, and apathy. The “inferiority” of Greece and the Greek people, and their “guilt,” are accepted as “facts of life.” It is, therefore, no surprise to see Greece ranked fourth worldwide in Bloomberg’s misery index for 2017. When one believes they have lost a battle, that means that they also recognize some other entity as the victor. In the case of Greece, that victor could be recognized as the EU and countries considered by average Greeks as “superior” and “civilized.” Writing in 1377, North African historian and historiographer Ibn Khaldun provides us with insights which could help explain Greece’s “xenomania” and nationwide Stockholm Syndrome today:

“The vanquished always want to imitate the victor in his distinctive mark, his dress, his occupation, and all his other conditions and customs. The reason for this is that the soul always sees perfection in the person who is superior to it and to whom it is subservient. It considers him perfect, either because the respect it has for him impresses it, or because it erroneously assumes that its own subservience to him is not due to the nature of defeat but to the perfection of the victor. If that erroneous assumption fixes itself in the soul, it becomes a firm belief. The soul, then, adopts all the manners of the victor and assimilates itself to him. This, then, is imitation.” It is, unfortunately, this very imitation that one observes in crisis-stricken Greece today. A society where the majority whines and complains, or simply gets up and leaves, but does not demand.

A nation that is demoralized; defeated; consumed by hopelessness; devoid of pride, self-respect, and self-confidence; paralyzed by fear; hampered by ignorance; and gripped by feelings of inferiority, cannot deliver change. This situation, of course, suits the powers that be magnificently. A society of self-loathers, a nation that is defeated and demoralized, will not pose a threat to those responsible for that oppression, while other “civilized” countries reap the ancillary benefits of the crisis, as the economic beneficiaries of the mass exodus and “brain drain” from Greece. This is savage globalization in action. In other words, Greece is a prime candidate for, in the words of Oscar López Rivera, the kickstarting of a decolonization process. His words may have been intended for Puerto Rico, but they are similarly applicable to Greece. But will the people of Greece heed Oscar’s words?

Read more …

21 million slaves. And we talk about Scaramucci’s rants.

‘Human Life Is More Expendable’: Why Slavery Has Never Made More Money (G.)

Slave traders today make a return on their investment 25-30 times higher than their 18th- and 19th-century counterparts. Siddharth Kara, a slavery economist and director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard Business School, has calculated that the average profit a victim generates for their exploiters is $3,978 (£3,030) a year. Sex trafficking is so disproportionately lucrative compared to other forms of slavery that the average profit for each victim is $36,000. In his book Modern Slavery, to be published in October, Kara estimates that sex trafficking accounts for 50% of the total illegal profits of modern slavery, despite sex trafficking victims accounting for only 5% of modern slaves. Kara based his calculations, shared exclusively with the Guardian, on data drawn from 51 countries over a 15-year period, and from detailed interviews with more than 5,000 individuals who have been victims of slavery.

The first move to eradicate slavery was made in 1833, when the British parliament abolished it, 26 years after outlawing the trade in slaves. Nonetheless, at least twice as many people are trapped in some form of slavery today as were traded throughout the 350-plus years of the transatlantic slavery industry. Experts believe roughly 13 million people were captured and sold as slaves by professional traders between the 15th and 19th centuries. Today, the UN’s International Labour Organisation believes at least 21 million people worldwide are in some form of modern slavery. “It turns out that slavery today is more profitable than I could have imagined,” Kara said. “Profits on a per slave basis can range from a few thousand dollars to a few hundred thousand dollars a year, with total annual slavery profits estimated to be as high as $150bn.”

Read more …

Mar 032017
 
 March 3, 2017  Posted by at 1:41 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  14 Responses »


Leonardo da Vinci Head of a Woman 1470s

 

This is turning into a very rewarding series, it opens up vistas I could never have dreamed of. First, in “Not Nearly Enough Growth To Keep Growing”, I posited that peak wealth for the west, and America in particular, was sometime in the early ’70s or late ’60s of the last century.

That led to longtime Automatic Earth reader Ken Latta, who’s old enough to have been alive to see it all, writing, in “When Was America’s Peak Wealth?”, that in his view peak wealth for America was earlier, more like late ’50s to early ’60s, a carefree period for which Detroit provided the design, and the Beach Boys the soundtrack.

And I know, for those who wrote to me about this, that there’s quite a bit of myopia involved in focusing on the US, or even the western world in general, when discussing these things. But at the same time, we’re all at our best when talking about our own experiences, something this thread has made abundantly clear. That said, I would absolutely love to get a view from other parts of the world, China, Latin America, Africa, Eastern Bloc, on the same topic. I just haven’t received any yet.

What I’ve absolutely adored is how -previously- anonymous Automatic Earth readers and commenters have felt the urge to share their life experiences because of what’s been written. This happened especially after Ken’s follow-up to his initial article, “Peak American Wealth – Revisited”, which saw many of his contemporaries, as well as younger readers after I ‘poked’ them, relate their views.

Then there was distinguished emeritus professor Charles A. Hall, who took offense with neither Ken nor I including energy as an explicit factor in determining wealth. Of course he was right. I have the creeping suspicion he often is. So Charlie wrote “Peak Wealth and Peak Energy”. Which not only set us straight, it also generated a -privately- emailed response from Belgian scientists- also Automatic Earth readers- about work he has earlier published on EROI of for instance Spanish solar PV (2.45:1? That must hurt!). As of this morning, it looks as if this may lead to further cooperation. What’s not to love?

And then all this has fired up Ken Latta to write yet another article, this time on ‘freely available’ energy before the age of oil -and after it!-, in the form of human slavery. In all of its forms and shapes, including wage slavery. Is it a coincidence that at the end of the age of oil, America’s -former- middle class appears to be descending -once more- into wage and debt slavery? Or is something entirely else – and darker- going on, as Ken seems to suggest below: The currently observable rapid decline in demand for wage slaves just happens to coincide with global peak energy.

Here once more is Ken Latta:

 

 

Ken Latta: Responses to the recent Charles Hall posting at the Automatic Earth, “Peak Wealth and Peak Energy”, parried with the idea that slaves were the original black gold that allowed society to build great wealth. Not only is that a fair statement, but what the finest historians tell us is that it was always thus. It seems that whenever a cluster of mud huts went up, taking slaves was soon placed on the to-do list.

When uncoerced human power is the highest EROEI source available, usually not much gets done beyond procuring food and making basic necessities. For such societies, peak wealth occurs when a herd of grazing animals happens by. The first rule of civilization building is: find a bunch of people you can force to do things they wouldn’t otherwise be inclined to do.

In antebellum America (USA that is) there were three kinds of coerced laborers. Chattel slaves (held as real property) were the abducted Africans that made the plantation economy of the southern states possible. Something that was not well known was the practice of our colonial masters trading guns, powder and lead to the “Indians” to purchase captive natives for slave labor. They proved to be unwilling workers and frequently escaped back to their tribes.

Indentured servants were not property. Their coerced labor was legally imposed to work off a debt. Many of our ancestors got to the US by contracting to work for someone that would pay their fare. The main difference from chattel was that upon settlement of the debt they were free to leave.

 

That brings us to the thing known to wags in recent times as wage slavery. Us wrinklies may remember a bumper sticker [I can’t be fired, slaves must be sold]. Wage slaves are free to come and go and quit any time. They may also be fired. When they are trying not to be fired and not ready to quit, they must pretty much do as they are told and thus coerced labor. There could be a fourth class, in that some people refer to entrepreneurial souls as the self-exploited.

Once the infrastructure to fully exploit fossil fuels was in place, the most repugnant forms of forced servitude fell out of favor. The president known as Old Hickory outlawed chattel slavery. Not necessarily because he so loved his African constituents, who were politically considered to be two-thirds of a person, but in hopes they would do what they could to hinder the Confederate war effort.

The newly self-owned citizens often ended up doing much the same work as before except as either indentured or wage slaves. Most wage slaves have progressively gotten less back breaking work to do, though not necessarily less monotonous. Some have gotten to do quite exciting and satisfying work.

They also worked up to the point of having some effective leverage in dealing with their would-be slave masters.

 


James Gibson Group of contrabands [runaway slaves] at Foller’s house, Cumberland Landing, Virginia 1862

 

Wage slavery is categorically different in that its prevalence correlates with non animate sources of energy. Wage slaves have served as overseers of the energy slave economy according to the instructions of the bosses. Sadly, what this implies is that as fossil energy production declines, the demand for wage slaves also declines. We are observing it happening. The stagnation of wage earnings began at the time US oil production peaked. The currently observable rapid decline in demand for wage slaves just happens to coincide with global peak energy.

The actual rate of energy decline is accelerated by the associated trend of impoverishment of wage slaves and the growing pool of would-be wage slaves. And thus we will get to see the effect of Ugo Bardi’s Seneca Cliff. Named for 1st century Roman citizen Lucius Annaeus Seneca and based on this quotation:

“It would be some consolation for the feebleness of our selves and our works if all things should perish as slowly as they come into being; but as it is, increases are of sluggish growth, but the way to ruin is rapid.”
– Lucius Anneaus Seneca, Letters to Lucilius, n. 91

Demand for energy is falling faster than production, causing even the mightiest producers to teeter on the edge of insolvency. The prediction a few years ago by petroleum geologist Jean Laherrere that the Bakken fields would be played out around 2020 appears to be on target.

The great NY Yankees catcher Yogi Berra is said to have quipped that “predictions are hard, especially about the future.” I agree, but sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind.

Ugo Bardi, an estimable professor, and a whole pack of fellow academics joined by the usual crowd of entrepreneurial hustlers are pushing a pipe filled to the brim with Hopium that ruination can be avoided or mitigated by works worthy of a sorcerers apprentice.

We just have to assemble a vast armada of solar panels and wind turbines, plus a few billion tons of rechargeable batteries and turn every suitable topographic feature of the landscape into pumped storage, et voila!, energy slaves forever.

An admirable dream, but I’m gonna let that bandwagon go on down the street without me. I share the opinion that boat sailed for NeverneverLand quite a long time ago. What already exists and whatever still gets built will keep some lights on for awhile, but preservation of industrial civilization seems to me unattainable.

 

There must be a consequence right? Yes, I think there is and nobody is gonna like what I think it will be. At some threshold level of wage slave unwagedness the perfumed princes of the shrunken “protected class” (pace Peggy Noonan) will regretfully determine that a return to indentured servitude is necessary for the maintenance of moral fabric (and the preservation of their class). Rumor has it, this is already emerging as a feature of the injustice system. The next obvious step would be press gangs grabbing people off the streets and in their homes (hovels?) to sell at auction or gift to a powerful enemy, etc.

Sounds too far fetched? It is approximately what happened in Nazi Germany. The unemployed were rounded up and forced to work on public works projects. Jews weren’t just sent to camps to be gassed, they also went to camps next to industrial facilities to work as slaves to sustain the German economy and war effort. Even Auschwitz was a slave labor camp. Famous sign over the main gate says “Arbeit Macht Frei” (work makes free). If it isn’t already happening, something similar seems likely to emerge in the Nazi glorifying madhouse called Ukraine.

This was difficult to write. It can’t have been easy to read. But, to paraphrase one of recent history’s real shitheads, we must live the dark ages with the human species we have, not the one we might wish we had.

There is an ageless quip about not shooting the messenger, but who else ya gonna shoot when he’s the only one standing there.

Let the 10 minutes hate begin.

 

 

Feb 282017
 
 February 28, 2017  Posted by at 10:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle February 28 2017


Ben Shahn L.F. Kitts general store in Maynardville, Tennessee 1935

 

A Hole in the Head (Jim Kunstler)
Trump’s Fed Can Start a Central Bank Revolution (BBG)
Trump Puts Final Touches on Speech Focusing on Economy, Defense (BBG)
Number Of Distressed US Retailers At Highest Level Since Great Recession (MW)
The Housing Crisis (Renegade)
China’s Continuing Credit Boom (NYFed)
ADB Says Emerging Asia Infrastructure Needs $26 Trillion by 2030 (BBG)
Greece Said to Expect Revised Bailout Proposal for Tuesday Talks
French Court Probes Leave Le Pen Unscathed as Fillon Bid Falters (BBG)
Shell 1991 Film Warned Of Climate Change Danger (G.)
Britain’s Child Migrant Program: Why 130,000 Children Were Shipped Abroad (G.)
Slavery Claims As UK Child Sex Abuse Inquiry Opens (AFP)

 

 

Theory vs practice is a worthy discussion….

A Hole in the Head (Jim Kunstler)

We need a new civil war like we need a hole in the head. But that’s just it: America has a hole in its head. It’s the place formerly known as The Center. It didn’t hold. It was the place where people of differing views could rely on each other to behave reasonably around a touchstone called the National Interest. That abandoned place is now cordoned off, a Chernobyl of the mind, where figures on each side of the political margin fear to even sojourn, let alone occupy, lest they go radioactive. Anyway, the old parties at each side of the political transect, are melting down in equivalent fugues of delusion, rage, and impotence — as predicted here through the election year of 2016. They can’t make anything good happen in the National Interest.

They can’t control the runaway rackets that they engineered in legislation, policy, and practice under the dominion of each party, by turns, going back to Lyndon B. Johnson, and so they have driven themselves and each other insane. Trump and Hillary perfectly embodied the climactic stage of each party before their final mutual sprint to collapse. Both had more than a tinge of the psychopath. Trump is the bluff that the Republicans called on themselves, having jettisoned anything identifiable as coherent principles translatable to useful action. Hillary was an American Lady Macbeth attempting to pull off the ultimate inside job by any means necessary, her wickedness so plain to see that even the voters picked up on it. These two are the old parties’ revenge on each other, and on themselves, for decades of bad choices and bad faith.

[..] Something like this has happened before in US history and it may be cyclical. The former Princeton University professor and President, Woodrow Wilson, dragged America into the First World War, which killed over 53,000 Americans (as many as Vietnam) in only eighteen months. He promulgated the Red Scare, a bit of hysteria not unlike the Race and Gender Phobia Accusation Fest on the Left today. Professor Wilson was also responsible for creating the Federal Reserve and all the mischief it has entailed, especially the loss of over 90% of the dollar’s value since 1913. Wilson, the perfect IYI of that day.

The reaction to Wilson was Warren Gamaliel Harding, the hard-drinking, card-playing Ohio Main Street boob picked in the notorious “smoke-filled room” of the 1920 GOP convention. He invoked a return to “normalcy,” which was not even a word (try normality), and was laughed at as we now laugh at Trump for his idiotic utterances such as “win bigly” (or is that big league?). Harding is also known for confessing in a letter: “I am not fit for this office and should never have been here.” Yet, in his brief term (died in office, 1923), Harding navigated the country successfully through a fierce post-World War One depression simply by not resorting to government intervention.

Read more …

… also when it comes to the Fed.

Trump’s Fed Can Start a Central Bank Revolution (BBG)

President Donald Trump will select three members of the Federal Reserve board during his term in office, including a replacement chair for Janet Yellen when her appointment expires early next year. He should seize the chance to refresh the Fed with faces from the business community, adding executives to the roster of PhD economists who currently run monetary policy in most of the world. The Fed appointments come at a key juncture in U.S. economic policy, one that makes business knowhow an even more valuable commodity for a rate-setter than usual. Trump’s fiscal policies will set a new backdrop for the monetary policy environment, given his intention to cut personal and business tax rates and boost investment in the nation’s infrastructure.

So appointing executives to the Fed who’ve had to take fiscal and monetary policy into account when making decisions on where and when to build new factories or make other capital expenditure decisions makes sense. Torsten Slok, the chief international economist for Deutsche Bank, sent around a chart last week showing how the composition of the Fed has become increasingly focused on PhD economists: It’s little wonder that in this populist age central bank independence is under attack. As Bloomberg News reported on Monday, the rise of populism is putting pressure on central banks as “institutions stuffed with unelected technocrats wielding the power to affect the economic fate of millions.” Leavening the boards of policy makers with executives who’ve made hiring and firing decisions and have helped build companies would be a way to address the perception that decisions about borrowing costs are made in ivory towers by economists who’ve all read the same textbooks but don’t inhabit the same world as the people they’re supposed to serve.

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Entertainment 2017-style.

Trump Puts Final Touches on Speech Focusing on Economy, Defense (BBG)

President Donald Trump was still working Monday evening on the final touches of an address to Congress that will focus on economic opportunity and national security, administration officials said. The officials, who briefed reporters on the eve of the address on the condition of anonymity, said the speech will offer a vision of where Trump wants to take the country as well as an early accounting of campaign promises he has already delivered on through executive actions such as the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. They declined to say whether the president would offer more concrete proposals on major goals, such as rebuilding U.S. infrastructure, rewriting the tax code and replacing the Obamacare health plan.

Trump’s speech comes as the new president tries to stabilize his administration after a turbulent start marked by struggles implementing an initial flurry of executive orders and a controversy over contacts between Trump advisers and Russian officials that led to the resignation of his national security adviser. While Trump’s inauguration speech offered a gloomy portrait of an America racked by violence and economic decay, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said earlier Monday that the address to Congress will strive for an optimistic vision focused on “the renewal of the American spirit.”

Surveys show a deep partisan divide over the president’s performance. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Monday showed Trump’s approval rating at 44% – a record low for a new president. But 85% of Republicans see Trump favorably, versus just 9% of Democrats. National security was the key theme of an early glimpse of the budget the White House offered on Monday. Administration officials said the president’s first budget would seek to boost defense spending by $54 billion – offset by an equivalent cut from other discretionary spending.

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How to kill a city part 827.

Number Of Distressed US Retailers At Highest Level Since Great Recession (MW)

The number of U.S. retailers ranked at the most-distressed level of the credit-rating spectrum has more than tripled since the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and is heading toward record levels in the next five years, Moody’s Investors Service said Monday. The rating agency is the latest to weigh in on the state of the sector, and has 19 names in its retail and apparel portfolio, 14% of which are now trading at Caa/Ca. That’s deep into speculative, or “junk,” territory. It’s also a percentage close to the 16% considered distressed during the 2008/2009 period, said a Moody’s report led by retail analyst Charles O’Shea. The rise is part of a wider trend affecting sectors across Moody’s coverage that has retail replacing oil and gas as the most-troubled industry.

Retailers are in the midst of a secular shift to online sales led by juggernaut Amazon.com and that’s forcing many of them to spend heavily on their e-commerce operations. At the same time, mall traffic has slowed dramatically as consumer behavior changes, forcing many to discount heavily, hurting profit margins. The 19 issuers on Moody’s list have more than $3.7 billion of debt maturing in the next five years, with about 30% of that total coming due by the end of 2018. The number is even higher when private credit is included. “While credit markets continue to provide ready access for companies spanning the rating spectrum—allowing many to proactively refinance debt and bolster balance sheets—that could change abruptly if market conditions or investor sentiment shift,” said O’Shea.

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How to kill a city part 828.

The Housing Crisis (Renegade)

Why is UK housing now so out of reach for so many people? Yes, property has been a safe bet, but we ask what are the economic risks and the social side effects of ever-increasing house prices? Host Ross Ashcroft is joined by Dr Rebecca Ross and economist Professor Steve Keen.

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These numbers are beyond fantasy.

China’s Continuing Credit Boom (NYFed)

Debt in China has increased dramatically in recent years, accounting for roughly one-half of all new credit created globally since 2005. The country’s share of total global credit is nearly 25%, up from 5% ten years ago. By some measures (as documented below), China’s credit boom has reached the point where countries typically encounter financial stress, which could spill over to international markets given the size of the Chinese economy. To better understand the associated risks, it is important to examine the drivers of China’s expansion in credit, the increasing complexity of its financial system, and evidence that its supply of credit may be growing more rapidly than reported. Note, however, that there are several features of China’s financial system that reduce the threat of a financial disruption.

Nonfinancial debt in China has increased from roughly $3 trillion at the end of 2005 to nearly $22 trillion, while banking system assets have increased sixfold over the same period to over 300% of GDP. In 2016 alone, credit outstanding increased by more than $3 trillion, with the pace of growth still roughly twice that of nominal GDP. As a result, the “credit-to-GDP gap”—the difference between the debt-to-GDP ratio and its long-run trend—has reached almost 30 percentage points. The international experience suggests that such a rapid buildup is often followed by stress in domestic banking systems. Roughly one-third of boom cases end up in financial crises and another third precede extended periods of below-trend economic growth.

As seen in the chart below, rising nonfinancial sector debt was driven initially by a surge in corporate borrowing in response to the global financial crisis. This additional debt was comprised mostly of medium- and long-term corporate loans related to infrastructure and property projects.

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Better start printing then.

ADB Says Emerging Asia Infrastructure Needs $26 Trillion by 2030 (BBG)

Asia’s infrastructure race is just getting started. Emerging economies across the region will need to invest as much as $26 trillion on building everything from transport networks to clean water through 2030 to maintain growth, eradicate poverty and offset climate change. That’s according to an Asian Development Bank report released Tuesday that highlights the need for massive construction and upgrading of public works and for much greater private sector investment. Leaving out spending to mitigate climate change, some $22.6 trillion will still be needed over the same period, the ADB said. Big-ticket investment of $14.7 trillion is needed for power, $8.4 trillion for transport, $2.3 trillion for telecommunication costs and $800 billion for water and sanitation, adjusted for climate change.

The bulk of infrastructure work is needed in East Asia, which accounts for 61% of the ADB estimate. As a percentage of GDP, the Pacific leads all other sub regions needing investment valued at 9.1% of GDP, followed by South Asia at 8.8%. The new projection of a $1.7 trillion annual infrastructure need, adjusted for climate change, is more than double the $750 billion that the Manila-based development bank estimated in 2009–though the latest report looks at 45 of the ADB’s developing members compared with 32 last time and uses 2015 prices compared to 2008 ones.

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Hard to see how this sadistic play can survive the various elections.

Greece Said to Expect Revised Bailout Proposal for Tuesday Talks

Greece’s auditors are pulling together a list of policies the country needs to implement to unlock additional bailout funds as they prepare for the resumption of talks with Athens on Tuesday, two people familiar with the matter said. Greece has asked European lenders for a draft Supplemental Memorandum of Understanding and the IMF for a Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies as it braces for details of creditor demands, the people said, declining to be identified as negotiations between the two sides aren’t public. The government expects an accord in March or early April, but the scale of pending issues raises concerns they may be politically hard to sell at home, they said.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government last Monday agreed to legislate structural reforms demanded by the IMF that will lower the threshold of tax-free income and amend the pension system by 2019, effectively crossing what it had once characterized as a red line. The government says the deal won’t increase austerity since the new legislation will include stimulus measures in addition to belt-tightening reforms. Tsipras told lawmakers on Friday that the bailout review can be completed by March 20 when euro–area finance ministers are set to meet in Brussels. It could drag on to the next Eurogroup meeting on April 7th given the number of outstanding issues that need to be resolved, the people said. Greece is looking for a “global deal” by May that would also include potential decisions on medium-term debt-relief measures and the inclusion of Greek bonds in the ECB’s debt-purchase program.

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Because Fillon is the establishment.

French Court Probes Leave Le Pen Unscathed as Fillon Bid Falters (BBG)

Prosecutors’ interventions in the French election have so far done more damage to the establishment’s one-time champion than the nationalist firebrand vowing to overthrow the system. The Republican Francois Fillon and National Front leader Marine Le Pen both say the criminal probes they face are political plots against them, but it’s only Fillon, a church-going 62-year-old former prime minister, who has been set back by the allegations. Le Pen’s suspected misuse of her allowance from the European Parliament hasn’t hurt her at all. “The National Fronts is seen as persecuted by the system so their supporters think that if everyone else has gotten rich of the system, it’s good for them to get some of that money back,” said Jean-Yves Camus, a political scientist linked to the Jean Jaures research institute.

“Fillon tried to use the conspiracy angle but it doesn’t work because he’s from the system.” On Tuesday, a committee of lawmakers in Brussels will consider a request from the French courts to strip Le Pen of her parliamentary immunity over two separate cases of defamation and publishing violent images of Islamic State killings on Twitter. The committee is due to release its recommendations to the EU parliament next week, and the full chamber will vote on the issue later in March. Le Pen is battling a range of mainstream politicians asking for one more chance to address voters’ concerns about lackluster economic growth and the perceived threat of immigration and terrorism. Instead, she’s offering voters a chance to upend the status quo by putting up border controls, stopping mass immigration and pulling out of the euro.

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This is a surprise to anyone?

Shell 1991 Film Warned Of Climate Change Danger (G.)

The oil giant Shell issued a stark warning of the catastrophic risks of climate change more than a quarter of century ago in a prescient 1991 film that has been rediscovered. However, since then the company has invested heavily in highly polluting oil reserves and helped lobby against climate action, leading to accusations that Shell knew the grave risks of global warming but did not act accordingly. Shell’s 28-minute film, called Climate of Concern, was made for public viewing, particularly in schools and universities. It warned of extreme weather, floods, famines and climate refugees as fossil fuel burning warmed the world. The serious warning was “endorsed by a uniquely broad consensus of scientists in their report to the United Nations at the end of 1990”, the film noted.

“If the weather machine were to be wound up to such new levels of energy, no country would remain unaffected,” it says. “Global warming is not yet certain, but many think that to wait for final proof would be irresponsible. Action now is seen as the only safe insurance.” A separate 1986 report, marked “confidential” and also seen by the Guardian, notes the large uncertainties in climate science at the time but nonetheless states: “The changes may be the greatest in recorded history.” The predictions in the 1991 film for temperature and sea level rises and their impacts were remarkably accurate, according to scientists, and Shell was one of the first major oil companies to accept the reality and dangers of climate change.

But, despite this early and clear-eyed view of the risks of global warming, Shell invested many billions of dollars in highly polluting tar sand operations and on exploration in the Arctic. It also cited fracking as a “future opportunity” in 2016, despite its own 1998 data showing exploitation of unconventional oil and gas was incompatible with climate goals.

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What nation kicks out its own children…

Britain’s Child Migrant Program: Why 130,000 Children Were Shipped Abroad (G.)

More than 130,000 children were sent to a “better life” in former colonies, mainly Australia and Canada, from the 1920s to 1970s under the child migrant programme. The children, aged between three and 14, were almost invariably from deprived backgrounds and already in some form of social or charitable care. It was believed, they would lead happier lives. Charities such as Barnardo’s and the Fairbridge Society, the Anglican and Catholic churches and local authorities helped with the organisation of the emigration. Once there, the children were often told they were orphans to better facilitate their fresh start. The parents – many of them single mothers forced to give up their child for adoption because of poverty or social stigma – believed this was giving them best chance in life, though often did not have details of where their offspring were sent to.

The reality, for some of those children, was a childhood of servitude and hard labour at foster homes: on remote farms, at state-run orphanages and church-run institutions. They were often separated from siblings. Some were subjected to physical and sexual abuse. In 2010, the then prime minister, Gordon Brown, issued an official apology, expressing regret for the “misguided” programme, and telling the Commons: “To all those former child migrants and their families … we are truly sorry. They were let down. “We are sorry they were allowed to be sent away at the time when they were most vulnerable. We are sorry that instead of caring for them, this country turned its back”. He announced a £6m fund to reunite families that had been torn apart. The last children sailed in 1967. But it is only recently, as their stories have been told, that details of the abuse, and the official sanction which made it possible, has become public.

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…only to have them enslaved and abused.

Slavery Claims As UK Child Sex Abuse Inquiry Opens (AFP)

England’s mammoth inquiry into historical child sex abuse was told of the “torture, rape and slavery” suffered by child migrants shipped to Australia, at its first public hearings on Monday. The wide-ranging Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse opened by looking at the schemes that sent thousands of vulnerable children to far-flung parts of the Commonwealth in the decades after World War II. David Hill broke down as he told the inquiry of the “endemic” sexual abuse at the school he was sent to in Australia. “I hope this inquiry can promote an understanding of the long-term consequences and suffering of those who were sexually abused,” he said. “Many never recover and are permanently afflicted with guilt, shame, diminished self-confidence, low self-esteem, fear and trauma.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May set up the inquiry in 2014 when she was interior minister. The British Empire sent some 150,000 children abroad over 350 years, according to a 1998 parliamentary study, although the probe started Monday by looking at use of the practice after World War II. It was justified as a means of slashing the costs of caring for lone children and providing disadvantaged young people with a fresh start, while meeting labour shortages in the Commonwealth and populating colonial-era lands with white British settlers. Between 1945 and 1970, youngsters were sent mainly to Australia, but also Canada, New Zealand and what is now Zimbabwe — often without the consent of their families.

But the promise of a good upbringing and an exciting new life in the sun was often, in reality, a world of forced labour, brutal treatment and sexual assault in remote institutions run by churches and charities. “They sent us to a place that was a living hell,” victim Clifford Walsh told the BBC. Oliver Cosgrove was sent to Australia in 1941, one of an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 children shipped there from 1922 to 1967. “Those who were abused tried in vain to tell others, who they hoped and believed might assist them. But they didn’t,” his representative told the inquiry. “This was a systematic and institutional problem.”

Read more …

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Xi Jinping is one nervous man right now.

The Big Short Is Back in Chinese Stocks (BBG)

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

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

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I think there’s more to it than that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Would anyone doubt it?

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

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

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

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How power rules.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Times editors’ curious timing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Germany has exported its unemployment to Greece and Spain.

German Unemployment Rate Falls to Record Low (BBG)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Who we are. Not including debt slaves.

More Than 45 Million Trapped In Modern Slavery (AFP)

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

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

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

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Mar 212016
 
 March 21, 2016  Posted by at 9:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


DPC Grace Church, New York 1905

Majority Fears Future Generations ‘Will Never Be Able To Buy A Home’ (G.)
When Older People Do Better Than Those of Working Age (WSJ)
ECB Doing Whatever It Takes Can’t Push Euro-Area Banks to Lend (BBG)
Emerging-Market Currencies Fall Back to Earth After Fed Euphoria (BBG)
China Central Bank Governor Warns Over Corporate Debt (FT)
PBOC See-Saws -Again- On Yuan Rate Guidance (CNBC)
China Has a $590 Billion Problem With Unpaid Bills (BBG)
TTIP: Fake Freedom Moves Closer To Open Slavery (Gerrans)
The New Class Warfare In America (Luce)
Great Barrier Reef Coral Bleaching Threat Raised To Highest Level (G.)
Greece Struggles To Enforce Migrant Accord On First Day (NY Times)
The EU Sells Its Soul To Strike A Deal With Turkey (Münchau)
More Than 50,000 Refugees Now Stranded In Greece (Kath.)
Nine Refugees Trying To Reach Europe Drown Off Libya (AFP)
Two Refugees Die On Arrival On Greek Island (AP)
Three Baby Syrian Refugee Girls Drown Between Turkey, Greece (AFP)

How QE will tear societies apart.

Majority Fears Future Generations ‘Will Never Be Able To Buy A Home’ (G.)

A large majority of people in Britain fears that future generations will never be able to buy or rent a home to settle down in. Research published on Monday shows three-quarters of people worry that long-term homes are out of reach, with the level of concern highest among members of generation X, now aged between 37 and 50, and generation Y, aged between 15 and 36. The poll by Ipsos/ Mori for the housing charity Shelter also found that 25- to 34-year-olds have moved more than twice as frequently per year of their lifetime as pensioners. Shelter said the findings were “alarming” and warned the country was at the “mercy of the housing crisis”, which has left millions facing a “lifetime of instability”.

The survey came as the average house price in England passed the £300,000 mark for the first time, increasing from £299,287 in February to £303,190, according to the property website Rightmove. Asking prices have jumped by more than £100,000 typically over the last decade, it said. In March 2006, the average price was £200,980. Average prices hit new heights across six regions. A typical home now costs £644,045 to buy in London; £399,680 in the south-east; £326,836 in east England; £292,251 in the south-west; £204,140 in the West Midlands; and £177,437 in the north-west. Rents rose on average by 4.8% last year across the UK, according to data from Homelet, an insurance company. They rose 7.7% in London, 6.7% in the east Midlands and 6.5% in the south-east.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said the nation’s housing system was broken. “The fact that vast numbers of people fear their grandchildren will never have a home to put down roots highlights the sad truth that this country is once again at the mercy of a housing crisis. Our current housing shortage means millions are facing a lifetime of instability and, understandably, people are giving up hope. But if our history tells us anything, it’s that together we can make things change. For the sake of future generations we cannot make this crisis someone else’s problem.” He added: “You have graduates starting on £40,000 to £45,000 in London, and they don’t take the jobs because they can’t afford to live in London or can’t afford to buy because it is so expensive. We are seeing a generation of people now in their 50s or 60s who are looking at their children, and their children will be worse off than they are. That is the first generation since WWII that we are seeing that happen to, and that is primarily because of the housing market.”

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More of the above.

When Older People Do Better Than Those of Working Age (WSJ)

In deciphering the many forces behind income inequality, economists are flagging a widening shift in the economic fortunes of the old and everyone else. Older people typically have lower incomes than the general population because many of them have stopped working. But the gap between the incomes of those 65 and older and the rest of the population has narrowed significantly in Europe and the U.S. since the recession. The divergence is exacerbating generational imbalances in government pension systems while highlighting the wage struggles of younger workers. Seniors in the U.S. have recently enjoyed healthier income gains—from government and private pensions, investments and, for those still working, salaries—than their younger counterparts, census data shows.

In some countries, France and Spain among them, people 65 and older now earn more on average than younger people do. The average person 65 and older in the U.S. earns 77% of the income of the average citizen, up from 69% in 2008, at the start of the recession. In the U.K. the figure is 89%, up from 78%. In Spain and France, seniors now earn about 103% and 102% of the average worker’s income, respectively, according to an analysis of data from the EU’s official statistics agency. That’s up from 86% in Spain and 96% in France in 2008. This divergence between generations is in part a reflection of demographic shifts that have been brewing for years, as populations grow older and the wealthy postwar baby boomers in particular reach their golden years.

But it is also widening as a consequence of forces bearing down on the earnings of the young, creating a growing imbalance that threatens to undermine the promise that market economies will deliver rising living standards for successive generations. Younger workers are grappling with flat or falling pay, decreased job security and less-affordable housing, sapping the spending power that helps fuel the economy. As the elderly population increases, younger workers also face a rising bill for the extra tax dollars needed to fulfill past governments’ promises to retirees. In parts of Europe, especially, older generations’ incomes are growing in excess of their children’s, often as a direct result of postcrisis government policy, economists say. Consider the U.K. Between 2008 and 2014, the average annual income of seniors in Britain rose 7.3%, or £1,400. Over the same period, the average annual income of working households fell by 5.5%, or £1,600.

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ECB buys €60 billion (now $80 billion) per month, but: “..Lending to nonfinancial companies and consumers, excluding mortgages, has been stuck at about €6.8 trillion since June 2014..”

ECB Doing Whatever It Takes Can’t Push Euro-Area Banks to Lend (BBG)

The European Central Bank began charging banks interest on deposits in June 2014 to encourage them to lend more to companies and consumers. It hasn’t worked. Deposits at the ECB by euro-area banks in excess of required reserves have jumped sixfold since the introduction of negative interest rates, while lending within the currency bloc has barely budged. Of the €646 billion that banks added in assets during the period, about 85% has ended up as deposits at the central bank.

One reason banks are paying to keep money idle is a lack of demand for loans in an economy still recovering from a double-dip recession and a sovereign-debt crisis. Another is that banks saddled with bad loans or low capital levels and those in the midst of restructuring are reluctant to increase lending. Even the ECB’s latest offer to pay banks interest on money they borrow from the central bank may not do the trick. “They’re not profitable enough to substantially increase lending, so even the negative rate for lending by the ECB to the banks probably won’t help much,” said Jan Schildbach at Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt. “It’s not lack of liquidity or its price that’s the problem.”

Lending to nonfinancial companies and consumers, excluding mortgages, has been stuck at about €6.8 trillion since June 2014, ECB data show, despite the central bank’s liquidity programs to encourage more of those loans. Policy makers have looked at those figures when determining how much cheap money to provide lenders. Banks that increase such loans qualify for more funds. When it went deeper into minus territory on March 10, the ECB said it would use similar criteria to determine if a bank qualifies for negative rates on money it borrows from the central bank. That means the ECB is now willing to pay banks to borrow at the same rate it charges for excess deposits they hold there. And it’s willing to do so even if a bank isn’t increasing lending, as long as the firm is reducing lending at a slower rate than in the previous 12 months.

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Bubble.

Emerging-Market Currencies Fall Back to Earth After Fed Euphoria (BBG)

Emerging-market currencies retreated from multi-month highs as commodity prices fell and the dollar reasserted itself after the Federal Reserve’s dovish turn pushed it down last week. Malaysia’s ringgit led declines, falling from a seven-month high as a drop in Brent crude worsened the outlook for the oil exporter. Currencies from nations dependent on raw materials weakened, including South Africa’s rand and Mexico’s peso. China cut the yuan fixing by the most in three months, while South Korea’s won retreated from the strongest level since December as a technical indicator suggested it’s been overbought against the dollar. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index of stocks declined after entering a bull market Friday.

A gauge of the greenback against its major peers extended its rebound into a second day after slumping to a five-month low last week as the Federal Reserve pared its interest-rate outlook for 2016. That spurred a retreat in the prices of raw materials that have tracked gains in oil this month, damping the export outlook for many developing nations. While China’s economy has stabilized, the longer-term story of slowing growth remains unchanged, according to Bank of Singapore. “The market is making sense of the dovish Fed surprise and thinking that perhaps data in the U.S. will eventually force the Fed’s hand to raise rates more and faster,” said Sim Moh Siong at Bank of Singapore. “I don’t think emerging-market fundamentals have changed all that much.”

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Ouch!: “About one-third of listed Chinese companies owe at least three times as much in debt as they own in assets..”

China Central Bank Governor Warns Over Corporate Debt (FT)

China’s central bank governor has warned that the country’s corporate debt levels are too high and are stoking risks for the economy, just as highly-leveraged Chinese companies have gone on an overseas takeover binge. Adding his voice to a recent chorus of concern by senior Chinese officials, Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People’s Bank of China (PBoC), told global business leaders meeting in Beijing that the ratio of lending to gross domestic product was becoming excessive. “Lending and other debt as a share of GDP, especially corporate lending and other debt as a share of GDP, is on the high side,” he said, adding that a highly leveraged economy was more prone to macroeconomic risk. Corporate debt in China has risen to about 160% of GDP, while total debt is about 230%.

The Bank for International Settlements warned this month that a steep rise in private and corporate debt in emerging market economies -“including the largest”- was “eerily reminiscent” of the pre-crisis financial boom in advanced economies. Mr Zhou’s comments came at the end of a week of extraordinary dealmaking by Chinese companies overseas, with Anbang, the Chinese insurance company, bidding nearly $20bn for Starwood Hotels & Resorts and Strategic Hotels & Resorts. Total outbound Chinese merger and acquisitions spending since January is over $100bn, according to figures from Dealogic. Data from 54 Chinese companies that did overseas deals last year show that many are “highly leveraged”, according to S&P.

Chinese officials are concerned that the stability of China’s financial system could be threatened if Chinese companies are unable to repay a large amount of debt, which in turn can threaten economic growth. And as recent months have shown, instability in Chinese financial markets and risks to mainland economic growth rapidly feed through into global markets. [..] Last week China’s chief banking regulator announced a move to try to tackle the country’s bad debt problem by opening the way for the country’s lenders to use debt-for-equity swaps to rid themselves of some of the $200bn of bad bank loans on their balance sheets. Shang Fulin, chairman of the China Banking Regulatory Commission, raised the idea at the closing session of the annual meeting of parliament in Beijing.

The plan has been put forward as a way of tackling the trillions of renminbi of debt that have built up in the Chinese economy as a result of decades of debt-fuelled stimulus and easy credit. Chinese banks’ bad debts stand at Rmb1.27tn, according to official figures, although some analysts believe the real number is many times higher. About one-third of listed Chinese companies owe at least three times as much in debt as they own in assets, according to figures from Wind.

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Pushed it up to the highest this year on Friday, takes it down again today. Yeah, credibility…

PBOC See-Saws -Again- On Yuan Rate Guidance (CNBC)

Strategists are back to debating the direction of China’s currency after the central bank guided the yuan lower on Monday, having let it rise to its highest level of the year against the dollar on Friday. Jan Lambregts, Rabobank’s global head of financial markets research, told CNBC on Monday that he’s anticipating a ten to fifteen% depreciation over the next twelve months. The world’s second-largest economy is facing an unprecedented set of economic and policy challenges and in order to overcome them, the government will have to start making more bold moves in the currency, he explained. “We feel that [yuan depreciation] is a relatively easy step for China compared to the hard, structural reforms they need to do.”

Beijing is expected play down the significance of currency weakness but the country’s rising economic challenges, including a long-awaited restructuring of state-owned enterprises, leave policymakers with little choice, he continued. Following a volatile start to the year, the yuan hit a 2016 high last week following dovish remarks from the U.S. Federal Reserve but recent fixings by the People’s Bank of China revived speculation that authorities may prefer a weaker currency. Monday’s mid-point level was 6.4824 per dollar, 0.3% weaker than the Friday’s mid-point rate of 6.4628. China’s central bank lets the yuan spot rate rise or fall a maximum of 2% against the dollar, relative to the official fixing rate.

Like Lambregts, Michael Heise, chief economist at Allianz, said the yuan could drop to around 7 per dollar as soon as this year. In a recent CNBC editorial, he explained that would bode well with the government’s objective of a market-driven exchange rate.
Should these predictions come true however, it would further damage Beijing’s credibility in the eyes of global markets. Ever since the yuan’s landmark devaluation last August, speculation for further weakness was rife but Beijing has repeatedly shut down those assumptions, warning that it was not targeting more depreciation.

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Look, this is simply an economy in deep trouble.

China Has a $590 Billion Problem With Unpaid Bills (BBG)

Not since 1999 have China’s companies had so much trouble getting customers to actually pay for what they’ve bought. It now takes about 83 days for the typical Chinese firm to collect cash for completed sales, almost twice as long as emerging-market peers. As payment delays spread from the industrial sector to technology and consumer companies, accounts receivable at the nation’s public firms have swelled by 23% over the past two years to about $590 billion, exceeding the annual economic output of Taiwan. The raft of unpaid bills – bigger than at any time since former Premier Zhu Rongji shuttered thousands of state-run companies at the turn of the century – shows how cash shortages at the weakest firms threaten not only banks and bondholders, but also China’s vast web of interconnected supply chains.

With corporate bankruptcies projected to climb 20% this year, more Chinese businesses may be forced to choose between two unpleasant options: keep extending credit to potentially insolvent customers, or cut off the taps and watch sales sink. “There is a knock-on effect through the economy,” said Fraser Howie, the Singapore-based co-author of “Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise,” who has followed the nation’s markets for more than two decades. “Part of the end game is default and closure.” It’s easy to see why collecting payments is getting harder in China. Businesses and consumers have been squeezed by the deepest economic slowdown since 1990, while overcapacity has fueled an unprecedented stretch of declines in producer prices. Record corporate debt levels have left many firms struggling to meet their liabilities, with corporate insolvencies jumping by 25% in 2015, according to Euler Hermes.

The world’s largest trade credit insurer sees another 20% increase in Chinese bankruptcies this year, the most among 43 major markets. “It’s a big problem when you have rising insolvencies, a bad economic environment and less liquidity for small companies,” said Mahamoud Islam, the firm’s senior Asia economist in Hong Kong. Those headwinds are increasingly visible in Chinese financial statements, where the accounts receivable and sales entries allow analysts to calculate “days sales outstanding,” or how long it takes a firm to get paid. The median collection time of 83 days has climbed from 79 days in 2014 and 55 days in 2010. It’s higher than in any of the world’s 20 biggest economies except Italy, and compares with the 44-day median for companies in the MSCI EM Index. Chinese industrial firms take longest to convert sales into cash, at 131 days, followed by 120 days for technology companies and 118 days for telecommunications firms.

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“The reality is that TTIP is being pushed through in the EU by US authorities and we have no choice in the matter.”

TTIP: Fake Freedom Moves Closer To Open Slavery (Gerrans)

The new trade negotiations – TTIP – sound dull. It combines the US and EU markets to make the process of fleecing the sheep simpler and cheaper for the wolves. Standard procedure, you may say – and you would be right. But what is interesting is that any pretense at democracy has been dropped from the propaganda song sheet. The Telegraph summarized TTIP thus: “The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is a series of trade negotiations being carried out mostly in secret between the EU and US. As a bi-lateral trade agreement, TTIP is about reducing the regulatory barriers to trade for big business, things like food safety law, environmental legislation, banking regulations and the sovereign powers of individual nations. It is, as John Hilary, Executive Director of campaign group War on Want, said: “An assault on European and US societies by transnational corporations.”

The advantage of TTIP branding from a population-management point of view is that it sounds so boring; a bit like a truncated version of Tippex as envisaged by someone with dyslexia – how evil can it be? The answer is: more evil than drinking noxious white fluid designed to correct typing errors. Under TTIP, public services, education and health services will be open for tender. EU food and cosmetics standards will be brought in line with the much lower standards in operation in the US. What banking protections exist after the last collapse will likely be removed. The walls in data privacy will become porous between the two blocs. And since the US is party to NAFTA, it will mean that EU workers will be in competition with Mexico. Nothing will be allowed to stand in the way of making a buck.

As the Telegraph puts it: “One of the main aims of TTIP is the introduction of Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS), which allow companies to sue governments if those governments’ policies cause a loss of profits. In effect it means unelected transnational corporations can dictate the policies of democratically elected governments.” Put nicely, then, TTIP is a drive to the lowest common denominator between the laws which currently exist in the EU and the US combined with the creation of an unaccountable executive branch committed only to the interests of corporations. This means the workers in both areas will be on an accelerated race to the bottom, able only to compete on the basis of slave wages.

Put more generally, it is the creation of a mega-bloc designed to subsume the EU by stealth and place it in the thrall of the powers which control the US. Of course, those tasked with selling TTIP to the people it is going to fleece, claim nothing but upside. They cite the usual carrots: more jobs, higher wages, lower prices. But then they would say that, wouldn’t they? The reality is that TTIP is being pushed through in the EU by US authorities and we have no choice in the matter. This is where a modern commentator is supposed to be outraged: corporations and government cabals are in collusion – how could they! But I don’t see it that way. This isn’t a freak occurrence. Socrates placed democracy one step away from tyranny. What’s happening now isn’t democracy warping into something fiendish and weird. This is democracy’s natural pathway; where it was always going.

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The classes themselves are being redefined.

The New Class Warfare In America (Luce)

Say what you like about Donald Trump, he knows his market. “I love the poorly educated,” he said recently to cheers from those he loves. The rest of America inhaled sharply. Welcome to a very un-American debate. Once redundant, the term “working class” is now part of everyday conversation. In an age of stifling political correctness, the only people who are fair game in polite society are blue-collar whites. How absurd these people are, we tell each other, and how ignorant. Don’t they know Mr Trump was born rich? Can they really be so stupid as to fall for his con trick? The derision is not limited to liberal elites. Educated conservatives are just as scathing. Take the National Review, a flagship of thinking conservatives, that described Mr Trump as a “ridiculous buffoon with the worst taste since Caligula”.

In January it pulled together 22 intellectuals to condemn Mr Trump’s candidacy as an existential threat to conservatism. Their efforts had no impact on Mr Trump’s fan base. Now the magazine has switched to damning his supporters. By declaring open season on blue-collar whites, Kevin Williamson’s widely read essay on “white working class dysfunction” marks a turning point. Yet he is only putting into writing what many conservatives say. “The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die,” Mr Williamson writes. “Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible . . . the white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin.”

Margaret Thatcher’s acolyte, Norman Tebbit, once sparked fury by implying the jobless should get on their bikes to find work. Mr Williamson says America’s benighted working classes should hire a U-Haul and move on. As an exercise in condescension, Mr Williamson’s words rival the most inbred hereditary peer. As an economic prescription, it is wide of the mark. Millions of Americans are anchored to blighted neighbourhoods by negative equity, or other ties that bind. Their life expectancy is falling. Their participation in the labour market is dropping. The numbers signing up to disability benefits is rising. Opioid prescription drugs are rife. Those that are white tend to vote for Mr Trump. On Super Tuesday this month, the counties with the highest rates of white mortality – whether to overdoses, suicide or other symptoms of community breakdown – came out heavily for Mr Trump. The correlation was almost exact, according to a Wonkblog study.

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“..corals in the remote far north of the reef, where surface sea temperatures reached 33C in February..”

Great Barrier Reef Coral Bleaching Threat Raised To Highest Level (G.)

Australian environment minister Greg Hunt has been accused of going silent on climate change as the cause of dying coral in the Great Barrier Reef after a bleaching alert was raised to its highest level. Hunt, who surveyed the widespread death of coral in the far north of the reef by plane on Sunday, announced plans for more monitoring and programs to tackle run-off pollution and crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks. But critics including conservationists and the Queensland environment minister, Steven Miles, said Hunt’s response sidestepped the central role of climate change and heat stress as the cause of the bleaching. Miles said Hunt’s announcements were “window dressing” that duplicated state efforts and ignored the need for a “credible federal government climate policy to address the cause”.

The Great Barrier Reef marine park authority raised the threat level of coral bleaching to a peak of three on Sunday, triggering its highest level of response to “severe regional bleaching” in the northernmost quarter of the 344,400 sq km marine park. The authority’s chairman, Russell Reichelt, said corals in the remote far north of the reef, where surface sea temperatures reached 33C in February, were “effectively bathed in warm water for months, creating heat stress that they could no longer cope with”. “We still have many more reefs to survey to gauge the full impact of bleaching, however, unfortunately, the further north we go from Cooktown the more coral mortality we’re finding,” he said.

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Hey, it’s simple, you just redefine anything you don’t like: “..several European countries recently began screening Syrians to determine whether the cities they came from were buffeted by conflict or considered “safe,” meaning that not all Syrians will be eligible for asylum.”

Greece Struggles To Enforce Migrant Accord On First Day (NY Times)

Greece and the EU scrambled on Sunday to put in place the people and the facilities needed to carry out a new deal intended to address the refugee crisis that is roiling Europe, as hundreds of migrants in rubber dinghies continued to land on the Greek islands from Turkey. The accord, struck between the union and Turkey on Friday, set a 12:01 a.m. Sunday deadline for Turkey to stem the flow of people making clandestine journeys across the Aegean Sea to Greece in an attempt to enter Europe, and required Greece to begin sending back migrants who are not eligible for asylum. Yet processing centers on the Greek island of Lesbos and on several other Greek islands were not adequately staffed to comply immediately with the new measures, and officials said they were waiting for the EU to follow through on a pledge to send at least 2,300 European police and asylum experts to help.

By Sunday afternoon, around 875 migrants in rubber boats had reached the Greek islands since midnight, the government said, despite an operation in Turkey that began Friday to detain migrants and the smugglers who make their journeys possible. Many migrants landing in Lesbos on Sunday appeared to be unaware of the new policies and were reeling from their harrowing journey. Greek television showed black and gray rafts arriving at the island laden with people, some sobbing with relief at having reached Europe, and others nearly unconscious. Two little girls were found drowned, and two Syrian refugees died in the crossings over the weekend. On Sunday, the Greek government began clearing out more than 6,000 migrants who had been waiting at processing centers and camps on several Greek islands, and transporting them on large ferries to Piraeus, the port of Athens, and to Kavala, a port in northern Greece.

From there, they are to be sent to refugee camps recently set up around the country. Nearly 50,000 migrants are stuck on the Greek mainland at camps, in Piraeus and on Greece’s northern border with Macedonia. More than 10,000 people have been living in miserable conditions in the Idomeni camp, on the Macedonian border, after west Balkan countries sealed their borders last month to cut the flow of migrants making their way to Germany and northern Europe. Once emptied of their previous occupants, the migrant centers on the Greek islands are to be used only to process those who make it across the Aegean Sea through a phalanx of patrols run by Frontex, Europe’s border agency, as well as NATO and the Greek and Turkish Coast Guards The Greek authorities will register the migrants and process asylum applications.

Migrants who do not apply for asylum or whose applications are rejected are to be returned to Turkey within two weeks. Under the accord, for every Syrian refugee returned to Turkey, the European Union will resettle one refugee directly from Turkey. For the 10s of 1000s of other migrants stuck in camps around Greece, the situation is less clear. Many of them are Syrian and Iraqi nationals who, for the most part, are considered eligible for political asylum and a program that would relocate them across Europe. Yet governments in several European countries recently began screening Syrians to determine whether the cities they came from were buffeted by conflict or considered “safe,” meaning that not all Syrians will be eligible for asylum. In addition, around one-third of migrants in Greece are from Afghanistan. After several European countries last month abruptly reclassified them as “economic migrants,” most were disqualified from political asylum, and will most likely be repatriated. That process could be lengthy, even after help from other EU countries arrives in Greece.

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Sorry, Wolfgang, way ahead of you on this one.

The EU Sells Its Soul To Strike A Deal With Turkey (Münchau)

The EU had two assets I have always considered un≠assailable, however much I may have questioned various decisions. The first is a lack of alternatives. How else can Europeans confront climate change, a refugee crisis or an over-assertive Russian president if not through the EU? The second is the moral high ground. Compared with the majority of its member states, the EU is less corrupt, more principled and rules-driven. Whereas the world of national politics is full of tacticians out to seek short-term gain, the bloc manages a better mix of politics and policies. It builds broad coalitions and formulates strategic policy objectives. Its horizon extends beyond the life of a parliament. Within a few years those assets have been demolished. The mismanagement of the eurozone crisis made it possible to formulate a rational economic argument for an exit.

Then, on Friday the EU lost its other key asset. The deal with Turkey is as sordid as anything I have seen in modern European politics. On the day that EU leaders signed the deal, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, gave the game away: Democracy, freedom and the rule of law … For us, these words have absolutely no value any longer. At that point, the European Council should have ended the conversation with Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish prime minister, and sent him home. But instead they made a deal with him money and a lot more in return for help with the refugee crisis. Turkey will relocate some 72,000 refugees to the EU a one-for-one swap for every illegal immigrant whom the Turks pick up on smuggler boats in the Aegean Sea. In return, the EU is paying Turkey €6bn and opening up a new chapter in EU accession negotiations -this with a country whose leadership has just abrogated democracy.

The EU is further set to allow visa-free travel to 75m inhabitants of Turkey. The EU not only sold its soul that day, it actually negotiated a pretty lousy deal. I am not in a position to judge whether this deal complies with the Geneva Convention and other parts of international law. I assume that the European Council has made sure it would stand up in court. But even if it is judged to be legal, I have doubts whether it can be implemented. It will be interesting to watch whether the EU will renege on its promises to Turkey if Ankara fails to deliver. Even if the deal is implemented in full, it will not lighten the pressure much. The expected number of refugees making their way into the EU will be a large multiple of the 72,000 agreed with Turkey. A German think-tank has done the maths on refugee flows for this year and has come up with an estimated range of 1.8m-6.4m. The latter figure is a worst-case scenario that would include large numbers from Northern Africa.

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And counting fast.

More Than 50,000 Refugees Now Stranded In Greece (Kath.)

A total of 50,411 migrants and asylum-seekers are currently in Greece according to fresh data provided by the government. According to the data, which were made public Monday, 28,593 migrants and refugees are currently in northern Greece, 13,711 in Attica (Athens), 5,538 on the islands and the rest scattered around the country.

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The Libya route is (re-)opening for real. Terribly predictably. Even more drownings, it’s much longer.

Nine Refugees Trying To Reach Europe Drown Off Libya (AFP)

Nine migrants trying to reach Europe have drowned off Libya and hundreds more been rescued, the Red Crescent said on Sunday amid fears of an increase in crossing attempts as the route from Turkey closes. Leaders from six EU nations led by Britain held talks in Brussels on Friday on how to tackle the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean from Libya after a European naval task force plucked more than 3,100 from the water in just three days. The nine who died were among several hundred migrants who were discovered aboard dilapidated boats off the port of Zawiya, west of Tripoli, on Saturday, Libyan Red Crescent spokesman Malek Mersit said.

A total of 586 migrants were rescued, said Colonel Ayoub Qassem, spokesman for the navy of a Tripoli administration that has disputed power with Libya’s internationally recognised government since 2014. They included 11 children and 60 women, and were mainly Bangladeshis and Sudanese, he said. The drownings came just days after four migrants were killed in a boat fire off Libya and another 187 rescued. European leaders fear that a deal with Turkey to tackle the EU’s worst ever migrant crisis will spark an acceleration in the already large number of crossing attempts from Libya. Around 330,000 have landed in Italy from Libya since the start of 2014. The lawlessness that has reigned in the North African nation since the Nato-backed overthrow of veteran dictator Moamer Qadhafi in 2011 has made it a favoured jumping-off point.

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Saw some BBC coverage of this. Looked like heart attacks perhaps.

Two Refugees Die On Arrival On Greek Island (AP)

Two migrants have been found dead on a boat that arrived on the Greek island of Lesvos, on the first day of the implementation of an agreement between the EU and Turkey on handling the new arrivals. Medical personnel performed CPR on the two men but failed to revive them. The overcrowded boat was carrying dozens of migrants from nearby Turkey on Sunday, the first day for the implementation of the migration agreement between the EU and Turkey. It stipulates how the new arrivals from Turkey will be processed and returned. Some 2,500 migrants currently on Lesvos and other islands are being taken to mainland Greece where they are placed in shelters before EU-wide relocation.

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First thing that happened when the deal came into force. Lovely. Thanks, Europe, you make us proud.

Three Baby Syrian Refugee Girls Drown Between Turkey, Greece (AFP)

A 4-month-old baby girl drowned off the southwestern coast of Turkey when a vessel carrying refugees sank early on March 19, while two other girls, aged between 1 and 2 years-old, were found drowned by Greek Coast Guards off the tiny island of Ro. According to the Turkish Coast Guard, 21 refugees were rescued, but the infant was found dead. The refugee boat reportedly was en route to the Greek island of Chios when it sank off the coast of the Cesme district. Cesme is just 7 kilometers from the island of Chios, providing a tempting target for refugees mostly Syrians fleeing their country s civil war.

Two little girls were found drowned off Ro, while two Syrians suffered heart attacks on arrival at the island of Lesbos, Boris Cheshirkov, a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency, told AFP. Of the more than 1 million refugees who arrived in the EU last year, more than 850,000 arrived by sea in Greece from Turkey, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Up until mid-March, more than 144,000 arrivals to Greece by sea were reported by the UNHCR, while more than 400 people were reported either dead or missing perilous journey.

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May 082015
 
 May 8, 2015  Posted by at 11:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle May 8 2015


Gottscho-Schleisner New York City views. Looking down South Street 1933

Why Are Stock Prices So High? Borrowed Money (MarketWatch)
Break Up Big Banks (Senator Bernie Sanders)
Violent Bond Moves Signal Tectonic Shifts In Global Markets (AEP)
Bond Yields, Not Political Fallout, Should Be Worrying Us Now (Independent)
Rising European Yields Are A Worry For US Stocks (CNBC)
Stocks May Find It Tough To Wiggle Out Of The Bond-Market Mess (MarketWatch)
The Great German Government Bond Sell-Off Mystery (Guardian)
98% Of Q1 US Consumer Credit Was Used For Student And Car Loans (Zero Hedge)
China Exports, Imports Fall Sharply In April (CNBC)
Varoufakis Says Greece Ready to Take EU Impasse Down to the Wire (Bloomberg)
Greece To Rehire Cleaners, School Guards Laid Off Under Austerity (Kath.)
Five Years On, Doctor and Patient Split on Greek Cure (WSJ)
Greece’s Biggest Brain Drain Since The Death Of Socrates (MarketWatch)
Greek Bank Bailout Fund CEO To Stand Trial, Asked To Resign (Kathimerini)
Greece and Britain Test the Union (Kathimerini)
Greece Sees Massive Increase In Refugees Arriving By Boat (Guardian)
Hedge Funds Aren’t Casino Capitalists. They’re Parasite Capitalists (Ind.)
The British Press Has Lost It (Politico)
Angela Merkel Under Pressure To Reveal All About US Spying Agreement (Guardian)
Chinese Warships To Join Russian Navy Drill In Black Sea, Mediterranean (RT)
Modern Slavery In Australia: Labour Exploitation Rife In Agriculture (RT)
Nepal Quake Victims’ Families Not Allowed To Leave Qatar For Funerals (Ind.)
How Climate Science Denial Affects The Scientific Community (PhysOrg)

“Despite all the claims that U.S. companies are awash with cash and have “never had it so good,”[..] in reality Corporate America has “overspent” in recent years to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars.”

Why Are Stock Prices So High? Borrowed Money (MarketWatch)

Why are stock prices so high? Follow the borrowed money Maybe the bears and cynics and general party-poopers are all wrong. Maybe the stock market these days isn’t a giant Ponzi scheme. Maybe it’s a shell game. The cheerleaders on the Street of Shame won’t tell you this, but lurking behind the phenomenon of today’s skyrocketing stock prices is a surge in corporate borrowing. Companies have been borrowing money with both fists, and spend the money to buy back shares and in the process drive up their share prices. But what the stock market giveth, the bond market taketh away.

Despite all the claims that U.S. companies are awash with cash and have “never had it so good,” an analysis by investment bank SG Securities calculates that in reality Corporate America has “overspent” in recent years to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. Over the past five years, equity prices have almost doubled — but so has the net debt of nonfinancial companies. Both have outstripped a 60% rise in profits. Or, to put it another way, since March 2009, the cash pile of non-financial U.S. corporations has risen by $570 billion, but debt has risen by $1.6 trillion. Indeed over the past year net debt has risen about 20%,SG estimates — while gross cash flows have risen a more modest 4%. Indeed, “it is also those companies with the weakest sales growth that are buying back the most,” warns SG quantitative strategist Andrew Lapthorne in a new report for clients.

And that’s not all. The “net debt” figures for most of the stock market are even worse than many will tell you, for the simple reason that the overall figure is skewed by a handful of companies with big cash piles — such as Apple AAPL, +1.08% . When you remove those from the equation, the picture for the rest of the pack looks a lot worse. Many of those cash piles are sitting offshore, untaxed or lightly taxed. Net of tax, the levels are lower. And anyone who tries to give you comfort by pointing out that net debt levels aren’t too bad when compared to asset prices needs to offer a big caveat. Such ratios always look good during a boom, because asset prices get inflated. If or when the tide turns, the asset prices can tumble — but the value of the debt, alas, sticks around at its previous level.

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“The function of banking should be to provide affordable loans to businesses to create jobs. The function of banking should be to provide affordable loans to Americans to purchase homes and cars. Wall Street cannot be an island unto itself..”

Break Up Big Banks (Senator Bernie Sanders)

We don’t hear it discussed much in the media, but the reality is that the middle class of this country, once the envy of the world, is collapsing, 45 million Americans are living in poverty, and the gap between the rich and everyone else is growing wider and wider. Despite a huge increase in technology and productivity, median family income is almost $5,000 lower today than it was in 1999. There are 45 million people living in poverty and we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on earth. Half of the American people have less than $10,000 in savings and have no idea how they will retire with dignity. Real unemployment is not 5.5% – it’s close to 11%. Today, 99% of all new income goes to the top 1%.

During the last two years, the 14 wealthiest Americans saw their wealth increase by $157 billion, which is more wealth than is owned by the bottom 130 million Americans. In the midst of all this grotesque level of income and wealth inequality comes Wall Street.
As we all know, it was the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street six years ago that drove this country into the worst recession since the Great Depression. Millions of Americans lost their jobs, homes, life savings and ability to send their kids to college. The middle class is still suffering from the horrendous damage huge financial institutions and insurance companies did to this country in 2008. It seems like almost every day we read about one giant financial institution after another being fined or reaching settlements for their reckless, unfair, and deceptive activities.

In fact, since 2009, huge financial institutions have paid $176 billion in fines and settlement payments for fraudulent and unscrupulous activities. It should make every American very nervous that in this weak regulatory environment, the financial supervisors in this country and around the world are still able to uncover an enormous amount of fraud on Wall Street to this day. I fear very much that the financial system is even more fragile than many people may perceive. This huge issue cannot be swept under the rug. It has got to be addressed. Although I voted for Dodd-Frank, I did so knowing it was a modest piece of legislation. Dodd-Frank did not end much of the casino-style gambling on Wall Street. In fact, much of this reckless activity is still going on today. Yet, today, three out of the four financial institutions in this country (JP Morgan, BoA, and Wells Fargo) are 80% larger today than they were on September 30, 2007, a year before the taxpayers of this country bailed them out. 80%!

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“It is absolute pandemonium in the fixed income markets..”

Violent Bond Moves Signal Tectonic Shifts In Global Markets (AEP)

A wave of turmoil is sweeping through sovereign bond markets, setting off the most dramatic gyrations seen in recent years and threatening to spill over into over-heated equity markets. Yields on German 10-year Bunds spiked violently by almost 20 basis points to 0.78pc in early trading on Thursday as funds scrambled to unwind the so-called “QE trade” in Europe, with powerful ripple effects reaching Japan, Australia, Brazil and even US Treasuries. “It is absolute pandemonium in the fixed income markets,” said Andrew Roberts at RBS. “Everybody has been trying to get out of long-duration positions at the same time but the door is getting smaller.” German yields fell back just as fast to 0.58pc later, as bargain-hunters came back into the European debt markets, but are still unrecognisable from the historic lows of 0.07pc two weeks ago.

Ructions of this magnitude are extremely rare in government bond markets. Investors are nursing almost half a trillion dollars in paper losses in two weeks, a staggering sum in what is supposed to be a rock-solid repository for institutional investors. French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese bonds have all been sold off sharply over the past two weeks, obliterating the gains in yield compression since the European Central Bank unveiled a bond purchase programme of €60bn a month in January. “Anything over-populated is being cleared out. People got too exuberant and they’re coming back to reality,” said David Bloom, currency chief at HSBC. Peter Schaffrik, at RBC Capital Markets, said rising yields can be a healthy development if the global economy is picking up speed. It is a different matter if they suddenly jump at a time of sluggish growth and disappointing figures in the US.

“It is potentially dangerous. What worries me is that we don’t have a good macro-economic back-drop driving yields higher. We don’t see a reflationary recovery,” he said. Investors already face a changed world from early April, when deflation was still on everybody’s lips and Mexico was able to sell €1.5bn of 100-year bonds at a rate of 4.2pc. The worm turned two weeks later when bond king Bill Gross declared that Bunds had become unhinged and were the “short of a lifetime”, quickly followed by warnings from Warren Buffett that bonds were “very overvalued”. The sharp moves have been exacerbated by a lack of liquidity as traditional dealers withdraw from the market to comply with stricter rules. The Institute of International Finance said this week that thin liquidity had become the top issue in talks with central banks and regulators.

It said the new rules amounted to a “dramatic revolution” that had re-engineered the global financial system and pushed risk out into the shadows, storing up outcomes that are likely to be “pretty painful and certainly unknowable”.

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“..there is a timebomb ticking away in the bond markets, with the unwinding of QE, particularly in Europe, being more difficult and destructive than most people now appreciate.”

Bond Yields, Not Political Fallout, Should Be Worrying Us Now (Independent)

I am worrying about something. No, not what will happen in the UK in the next few days, though maybe that should be a worry. It’s that there is a timebomb ticking away in the bond markets, with the unwinding of QE, particularly in Europe, being more difficult and destructive than most people now appreciate. There are, as is usual after any long bull equity run, quite a few warnings around of a forthcoming crash in share prices, and there is in any case a good chance of a correction during the summer. But what has been happening in the bond markets is rather different. Bond prices are not as interesting as share prices: a 10-basis point move in 10-year German bund yields makes a worse headline than a 3% rise in the share price of HSBC when it says it may move its headquarters out of London.

But bund yields have an impact on the cost of mortgages across the eurozone (and to some extent here), whereas the price of HSBC shares really has not that much effect on anything. The easiest way to get one’s mind round what is happening is to start with 10-year government bond yields. US treasuries yielded 2.2% and UK gilts just under 2%. Many of us think these are far too low; what is inflation going to be over the next 10 years? Say 2%. So an investor would get no real reward at all. But while these are far too low, they are not ridiculously low. For that you look at German bunds. Yesterday they yielded just over 0.5%. At that level you are bound to lose money and would be far better with just about anything else: equities obviously, or maybe buying a flat in Berlin or even Athens, the latter being rather cheap right now.

Actually bunds yielding 0.5% represent some return to sanity compared with yields in the middle of last month. As you can see from the red line in the top graph, yields dipped to 0.1% for a short period. If you were nutty enough to buy at that level you would have lost quite a lot of money by now. You could argue that German yields make sense if you think the country will dump the euro and return to the deutschmark, for investors would make a currency gain. But that is some way off and in any case the argument would not apply to French or Italian bonds, yielding 0.9% and 1.9% respectively. So ask yourself this: which country is more likely to be able to pay its debt back in 10 years’ time, Italy or the US? Not many people would say Italy. Yet Italian yields are lower than US ones. This cannot be right. So why is this happening?

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“U.S. stocks will have to sing for their supper..”

Rising European Yields Are A Worry For US Stocks (CNBC)

Over the past three weeks, the yield on the 10-year German bund has more than tripled, albeit from incredibly low levels. And that’s sending up warning signs for investors, particularly in U.S. equities. “Low interest rates have supported global equity prices during a period of very slow macro growth,” Convergex chief strategist Nicholas Colas wrote in a note Wednesday to clients. “To hold stock prices constant—or see them rise—during a period of rising rates, you need to see tangible signs of economic growth and rising corporate earnings.” The basic issue is that low bond yields support rich stock valuations, as they reduce the attractiveness of alternatives to risk assets. But U.S. yields have risen alongside European ones lately, in a move than investors have long been anticipating. If rates continues to surge, stocks will need to show some serious earnings growth.

“U.S. stocks will have to sing for their supper,” Colas wrote. “It can be a nice tune about lower interest rates, sung in the European language of your choice. Or, it can be a robust march with verses promising a vigorous domestic economy.” Others also have some concerns. Technical analyst Todd Gordon sees the recent yield move as giving the Federal Reserve license to hike rates—which could be an issue for stocks. “Why are commodities rallying? Why are bonds selling off? Why is the dollar selling off? Everything from an intermarket point of view points to inflation. … So I wonder if the Fed’s going to be move sooner rather than later,” Gordon said. “I think that may be trouble for equities if we are in fact going to get a rate hike.” Forecasting inflation is a major departure from the market’s recent milieu: The big modern concern has been disinflation or deflation, rather than inflation.

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““The Fed are fully aware that ultra-low interest rates have been a huge factor behind U.S. equities hitting all-time highs..”

Stocks May Find It Tough To Wiggle Out Of The Bond-Market Mess (MarketWatch)

Look at it this way — someday, you’ll have some great financial war stories to tell. “The latter part of 2014 and the dawn of 2015 will probably represent one of those episodes in financial history when the fixed-income markets were gripped by a confluence of factors that is unlikely to be repeated over the next hundred years,” said Jefferies’s chief equity strategist, Sean Darby. There’s fodder for your future tales of battles past this morning, as Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen’s assets-are-bubbly comments continue to rattle global markets, which have already been duly freaked out by plummeting global bonds. She’s hit us at a tough time. While some shout, “Off with her head!”, over at IG, analyst David Madden says Yellen was probably just trying to ready investors for an eventual hike.

“The Fed are fully aware that ultra-low interest rates have been a huge factor behind U.S. equities hitting all-time highs this year, and the last thing the U.S. central bank wants is a crash when rates start to rise,” he says. Or maybe she and the rest of her Fed minions are as confused as the rest of us. That’s the theory from Ed Yardeni, chief investment strategist at Yardeni Research, who notes that Fed officials have been pretty silent since the last meeting. He says they’re probably struggling to work backups in bond yields and oil prices into their policy-making decisions. Hang on until summer, he says, when the Fed will get less confused and less confusing.

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“..the market in German government debt is meant to be deep, liquid and populated by grown-ups.”

The Great German Government Bond Sell-Off Mystery (Guardian)

It’s a head-scratcher. Why have investors suddenly decided to dump German government bonds? The sell-off, seemingly on no news, has been extraordinary, affecting the entire European bond market. Yields, which move inversely to the price of the bond, briefly hit 0.8% on 10-year German debt on Thursday. Then they fell to 0.57%, but even that represents a surge from 0.1% only a few weeks ago. A glib explanation is to say that the ultra-low yields were wrong in the first place. Deflation is a worry, not a probability, so isn’t lending to any government for a decade for a near-zero return a surefire way to destroy your capital? But that doesn’t explain the suddenness of the move: the market in German government debt is meant to be deep, liquid and populated by grown-ups.

Greece doesn’t offer a plausible answer. Grexit – if anything – seems more likely than it did a month ago, in which case you’d expect a rush into German debt. “Supply indigestion,” ran another idea – in other words, lots of European governments issuing bonds, trying to take advantage of the European Central Bank’s bond-buying programme. Possibly. But what will happen when bond yields start to rise for reasons that are easier to explain – for example, a return of modest inflation and higher interest rates. On the evidence of Thursday’s brief wobble in stock markets, it won’t be pretty for share prices.

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A sign of bankruptcy.

98% Of Q1 Consumer Credit Was Used For Student And Car Loans (Zero Hedge)

By now everyone realizes that Q1 will be the second consecutive first quarter to see a negative GDP print. Wall Street’s weathermen formerly known as “economists” have been quick to scapegoat harsh weather once again for this unprecedented “non-recessionary” contraction in the US economy, however what the actual reason for the drop is irrelevant for this specific post; what is relevant is that even in a quarter in which US GDP is set to decline consumer credit, according to the latest update from the Federal Reserve, increased by just over $45 billion. But how is it possible that with such a massive expansion in household credit there was no actual benefit to the underlying economy? Simple: 98% of the credit lent out in the first quarter, or $44.3 billion, went to student and car loans!

The amount of credit that actually made it into the broader, consumer economy, i.e., credit card or revolving credit: a negative $600 million, despite a jump in revolving credit in March, when it rose by $4.4 billion to $889.4 billion. So $889.4 billion in credit card debt: as a reminder this is the key credit amount that has to keep growing for consumers to telegraph optimism about their wages, jobs, and generally, the economy. The problem is that as of Q1, this amount was lower than both car debt, at $972.4 billion, and certainly student debt, which in Q1 rose by another $30 billion to a record $1.355 trillion! In other words, virtually every dollar lent out in Q1 went to such dead-end uses as bailed out General Motors and student loans keeping an entire generation away from the harsh reality of the labor market.

But the most troubling discovery in Q1 is that as we reported last month, America’s consumer banks, i.e. depositor institutions, have shut down the lending spigot after seeing a jump in consumer bank lending in 2014. In fact, in the first three months of 2015, depository institutions saw a $32 billion decline in the total amount of credit lent out. So who did lend? Why the US government of course, which was the source of over $39 billion in consumer credit, or the vast bulk, lent out in the first quarter. In other words, the US government lends out cash, so US consumers can either buy cars from Government Motors in one truly epic circle jerk, or stay in the safe, ivory tower confines of college, and avoid the reality of what is really going on with the US economy.

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Exports down 15% in March, another 6.4% in April. Where oh where is the 7% growth going to come from?

China Exports, Imports Fall Sharply In April (CNBC)

China’s exports and imports tumbled in April, dashing hopes of a seasonal rebound and underscoring concerns over the soggy trade picture in the world’s second biggest economy. Exports fell 6.4% in April from the year-ago period, coming in worse than the 2.4% rise forecast in a Reuters poll and following a 15% plunge in March. Imports dived 16.2% on year, also missing the 12% expected drop and after falling 12.7% in March. This brought the trade surplus for the month to $34.13 billion, compared with the $39.45 billion forecast and March’s print of $30.8 billion. The news dampened prospects for Australia, one of the mainland’s major trading partners, and the Australian dollar fell to fresh session lows on the news, easing to $0.7859.

Markets had been hoping April’s trade numbers will rebound from the depressed levels in February and March blamed on the Lunar New Year holiday. “This [Lunar New Year] effect should have fully dissipated last month, so it is slightly surprising that export growth remained in negative territory,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist with Capital Economics, in a note. “The trade data suggest that both foreign and domestic demand has softened going into the second quarter.” Weak external and domestic demand has been a key factor behind the slowing Chinese economy, which Beijing expects will grow around 7% this year.

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Every day this lasts hurts Brussels more.

Varoufakis Says Greece Ready to Take EU Impasse Down to the Wire (Bloomberg)

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said his government is prepared to go “down to the wire” in talks with its creditors as policy makers signal they’re losing patience with the country after months of brinkmanship. Varoufakis, who denies he’s been sidelined by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in the negotiations, said he expects an agreement in the next two weeks, though one is unlikely to be announced when euro-area finance chiefs meet on Monday. Greece has less than a week to prove to the European Central Bank that it’s serious about reaching an agreement with international lenders. Failure to make progress in bailout talks or repay about €745 million owed to the IMF on May 12 may prompt the imposition of tighter liquidity rules on its banks.

“Europe works in glacial ways and eventually does the right thing after trying all alternatives,” Varoufakis, 54, told BBC World on Thursday. “So we probably won’t have an agreement on Monday, but certainly we’re going to have an agreement in the next couple of weeks or so.” More than 100 days of talks between Europe’s most-indebted state and its creditors have failed to produce an agreement on the terms attached to the country’s €240 billion bailout. The standoff between Greece’s governing coalition and euro-area member states has led to an unprecedented flight of deposits from Greek banks and renewed concern over the country’s future in the single currency.

“To speak of Greek exit now is profoundly anti-European because it will begin a process of fragmentation in Europe that will actually be very detrimental to Britain, let alone Greece and Europe,” said Varoufakis. “The solution is to agree on a debt sustainability analysis and a fiscal consolidation plan that makes sense, unlike the ones in the past.” Varoufakis said that while there’s convergence between the two sides, the Greek government won’t bow to creditors’ demands for more austerity. “This cycle of debt deflation and insincerity has to end,” he said in the BBC interview. “We are prepared to go all the way down to the wire.”

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Good on them.

Greece To Rehire Cleaners, School Guards Laid Off Under Austerity (Kath.)

Greece’s parliament passed a law on Thursday paving the way for the government to rehire about 4,000 public sector workers who were laid off or earmarked for dismissal under austerity cuts imposed by international creditors. The move made good on a campaign promise by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who rode a wave of public anger against austerity measures to win January elections, and does not explicitly violate the terms of the EU/IMF bailout which allows Greece to hire one public employee for every five who leave. But the plan to rehire school guards, cleaning ladies and civil servants appeared to go against the spirit of the layoff scheme in the bailout, which says the firings were aimed at rejuvenating the public administration by bringing in new, motivated workers and ending the legacy of patronage hiring.

“This is an unorganised, irresponsible settlement of your party’s pre-election pledges,» opposition lawmaker Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the former administrative reforms minister who sacked many of those being rehired, told parliament. The previous government had intended for hirings this year to be focused mainly on the health and education sectors. Tsipras received a jubilant group of about 50 cleaning ladies – who protested against their dismissal outside the finance ministry for months – at his office on Thursday. “Even the Chancellor, in a meeting that we had and without me bringing it up, referred to how unfair what the previous government did to you was,” Tsipras told the group, in an apparent reference to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “Your fight was known abroad because it was a fair fight.”

An official at the administrative reforms ministry said the reinstatement of the workers would have an annual cost of €33.5 million that was already included in the country’s 2015 budget plan approved with last year. The 3,928 workers to be rehired include 2,100 who were fired outright and another 1,900 in a so-called labour reserve where workers received partial salaries while they waited to see if they would be moved into new jobs. The state was already paying salaries for about 1,000 school guards in the reserve, limiting costs involved in their hiring, the ministry official said. Greece has pledged not to make unilateral actions reversing bailout reforms it opposes while talks with its international lenders continue.

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“Syriza ministers and lawmakers believe they have a duty to Greece and Europe to fight, even if the odds are against them.”

Five Years On, Doctor and Patient Split on Greek Cure (WSJ)

Greece and its creditors, deadlocked over fresh financing, agree on at least one thing about the country’s mammoth bailout, launched five years ago this month: It hasn’t worked as hoped. But Athens and its lenders—the eurozone and the IMF—disagree diametrically on why the bailout program has flopped. This dispute about the past five years helps explain why the players so often seem to be talking past each other today, and why reaching agreement on further aid is proving so hard. Lenders, led by Germany, believe that the bailout’s blueprint was and remains correct, but that Greece failed to follow it. Rapid deficit-cutting was the only way to cure Greece’s debt problem. The rollback of stifling regulation and unaffordable social benefits and an injection of free-market competition were unavoidable if Greece was to grow sustainably.

German leaders such as Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble see Greece as the patient that didn’t take its pills, unlike others in the same hospital, such as Portugal and Ireland, who swallowed the same medicine and recovered. To many Greeks, however, the eurozone seems more like the psychiatric ward in the Ken Kesey novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” where a domineering “Big Nurse” controls the inmates through punishment and humiliation. In this view, Greece under Syriza is Europe’s Randle McMurphy, the rebel inmate who rattles Big Nurse Merkel’s regimen with constant provocations, encouraging others to stand up for themselves, too. Syriza ministers and lawmakers believe they have a duty to Greece and Europe to fight, even if the odds are against them.

There is little doubt that major economic overhauls were overdue in Greece, and that painful fiscal austerity was unavoidable. Athens had lost control of its budget and nobody was prepared to finance its deficits. But most economists, and some officials on the creditors’ side, say the bailout program always suffered from at least three design flaws. Firstly, the scale and speed of austerity were unique, and proved to be an overdose, many economists say. Greek spending cuts and tax-revenue measures totaled over 30% of gross domestic product in 2010-14, according to Greek and EU data. That 30%-of-GDP austerity effort improved Greece’s primary budget balance, excluding debt interest, but only by 11 percentage points of GDP.

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Still, many, like Varoufakis, have returned recently.

Greece’s Biggest Brain Drain Since The Death Of Socrates (MarketWatch)

Ancient Greece was once a magnet for the world’s intellectual elite. Scholarly work out of Athens contributed to everything from logic and philosophy to the politics that formed the basis of modern civilization. But as the Hellenic Republic struggles to strike an agreement to repay more than €300 billion it owes international creditors, it is also facing the depletion of its most important asset: human capital. A devastating brain drain is luring away the best and brightest of Greece’s workforce, several reports showed, with estimates varying between 180,000 and 200,000 well-educated citizens leaving the cash-strapped nation. At that rate, the exodus translates to about 10% of the country’s total university-educated workforce, said Lois Lambrinidis, a professor of economic geography at the University of Macedonia.

On a macro level, this movement is a clear brain drain, said Nicholas Alexiou, a sociology professor at CUNY’s Queens College who studies Greek immigration patterns. What differentiates a brain drain from other types of migrant waves is the high percentage of skilled and educated people who leave the country, Alexiou said. In other words, Greece is losing its “youngest, best and brightest,” as a European University Institute study dated March 2014 noted. According to the study, of those who have left 88% hold a university degree, and of those, over 60% have a master’s degree, while 11% hold a Ph.D. According to the EUI report, 79% of those who left Greece during the crisis were actually employed but felt that there was “no future” in the country (50%) or no professional opportunities (25%).

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It takes time to fight a corruption so deeply entrenched.

Greek Bank Bailout Fund CEO To Stand Trial, Asked To Resign (Kathimerini)

Greece’s government late Thursday asked the chief executive of its bank bailout fund to resign, after prosecutors ordered her to stand trial for her role in bad loans issued by defunct state lender Hellenic Postbank. Anastasia Sakellariou has been chief executive of the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund (HFSF) since February 2013. She was charged last year with breach of trust for restructuring loans issued by the state lender from 2008 to 2012 and was told to stand trial on Wednesday, according to court officials. Sakellariou’s resignation means the fund is now headless after its chairman, Christos Sclavounis, stepped down in March. The new leftist government of Alexis Tsipras has not yet replaced him.

“(The government) asked Mrs. Sakellariou today to hand in her resignation,” a government official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. The HFSF, funded from Greece’s €240 billion bailout by the European Union and International Monetary Fund, has recapitalised the country’s banking sector and also used its funds to wind down non-viable lenders. The HFSF has said that, in 2012, Sakellariou was a member of a Hellenic Postbank committee that handled the restructuring of two loans. HFSF has remaining funds of €10.9 billion in European Financial Stability Fund bonds, which were handed over to the European Stability Mechanism.

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Brexit, Grexit, bring it on sooner rather than later.

Greece and Britain Test the Union (Kathimerini)

Two very different countries are challenging the European Union’s cohesion and the outcome of this test will determine the future of the greatest experiment in democracy that the world has known. Britain, a former superpower, once said that the sun never set on its imperial domain, and it is still the EU’s second-largest economy; Greece, which has been plagued by bankruptcies since its independence, is the Union’s most troubled economy. Both present problems that demand a radical shift in the way that the EU has operated over the past decades, in order to protect all that it has achieved.

Whereas Greece’s need for its partners’ support stems from the country’s inability to reform its economy, public administration and political system so as to be a viable competitor in the global economy, Britain is putting similar pressure on the EU’s cohesion in the belief that it has to insulate itself from its partners, to safeguard what it considers its special advantages. The two countries’ political systems and economies are vastly different, as is their geopolitical stature. Greece has been an enthusiastic member of the EU since it joined in 1981 and is part of its inner sanctum, the eurozone. Britain has always been at pains to opt out from too much union, avoiding the euro and abstaining from Greece’s bailout.

During the crisis, Greece has benefited from the support (with painful strings attached) of its partners, while Britain has gained enormously – from money fleeing the European periphery for what is seen as the safe haven of Britain, and from the Bank of England’s independence from the austerity dogma imposed on the rest of the EU. Both Greece and Britain have contributed to the EU in their own unique way, and each one’s relationship with the rest of the Union also shows the great tension at the heart of every association: Even as every member needs the advantages provided by the group, each fears being absorbed by the others, to the extent that it loses its independence, its special characteristics and the freedom to exploit its differences to its own advantage. Greece cannot function without financial support, yet it also cannot accept the loss of independence that this entails.

Britain, which has gained much from being “in and out” of the Union, is in danger of getting too far from the center of gravity. But a total break will leave it on its own, unable to influence EU policy. In the EU the great question today is whether countries can place the common good above their national interest. The Greek elections in January intensified the push and pull between the country and its partners, with results that are still unpredictable. Whatever the outcome of Thursday’s election, Britain, too, will test the limits of membership and the Union’s cohesion. All players should remember two simple facts: Thanks to ever closer union, Europe has enjoyed 70 years of unprecedented peace and prosperity; pulling too hard can break any bond.

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“In the first four months of the year, at least 21,745 migrants arrived in Greece by boat, compared with 33,951 in all of 2014..”

Greece Sees Massive Increase In Refugees Arriving By Boat (Guardian)

The scale of mass migration across the Mediterranean has been revealed by new figures showing that record numbers of migrants are now arriving by boat in Greece as well as Italy. Just four months into the year, the number of arrivals in Greece is already two-thirds as high as last year’s total, highlighting the volume of migration in not just the central Mediterranean, between Libya and Italy, but also at its eastern fringes. Even as the UN security council mulls using military force against smugglers in Libya, the figures suggest migrants are increasingly using other routes to break into Fortress Europe. In the first four months of the year, at least 21,745 migrants arrived in Greece by boat, compared with 33,951 in all of 2014, according to figures from the International Organisation for Migration, and compiled by the Greek coastguard.

The numbers are even higher than estimates released earlier in the year, and show almost as many migrants are arriving in Greece as in Italy. At least 26,228 have reached Italy since the start of 2015, fractionally down on last year’s equivalent level. Aid workers in the Greek islands, where most migrants travelling by sea arrive from Turkey, say the rises are all the more surprising because the peak smuggling season has not yet started. Stathis Kyroussis, head of mission in Greece for Médecins sans Frontières, which provides support to migrants, said: “It’s not just an increase, it’s an explosive increase. It’s already five times up on last year. In one island – the biggest, Kos – last year we had 72 entries in all of April. This year we had 2,110. In Leros last April we had zero. This year we had 900.”

Kyroussis said the increase in arrivals in Greece seemed to have been caused in part by a rise in Syrians making the trip. “There is a higher percentage of Syrians travelling to the Greek islands: last year it was 60%, this year it is 80%,” said Kyroussis. “So part of the increase is a change in the route of the Syrians. Instead of Italy, they’re coming through Greece.” This analysis appears to be corroborated by further IOM statistics, which show that Syrians account for only 8% of arrivals in Italy this year, compared with 25% in 2014. Theories for the rise include the civil war in Libya, which may have put Syrians off travelling there; and the worsening situation in Syria, which has persuaded many Syrian refugees in Turkey that there is no longer point in waiting for Syria’s chaos to be resolved.

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“It might not matter so much if what these funds did was socially useful. But it is not.”

Hedge Funds Aren’t Casino Capitalists. They’re Parasite Capitalists (Ind.)

Adair Turner coined a neat phrase for many of the banking industry’s activities during the financial crisis. In a biting critique he opined that they were “socially useless”. He was right. But it’s not just banking at which his criticism could be aimed. Consider the bastard child of investment banking and asset management: the hedge fund industry. It is a place where a portion of the elite of both have found homes. Multiple homes, in fact, funded by salary packages which make even the dizzying rewards on offer at the height of the big investment banks’ insanity look modest. According to a list published by Institutional Investor’s Alpha magazine, the top 25 collectively gorged upon $11.62bn (£7.6bn) in 2014.

Their bumper paydays came in a year when the industry produced returns averaging in the low single digits, even though the S&P 500 stock market index – the most reliable US benchmark – would have produced nearly 14% in dollar terms had you tracked it. The New York Times reports that just half of the top 10 earners managed to beat it. These massive rewards for mediocre performance were in part due to the industry’s structure: typically managers skim 2% of their investors’ funds every year and 20% of their profits. So when they do well the rewards are staggering. When they do less well the rewards are staggering. Just a bit less staggering.

It might not matter so much if what these funds did was socially useful. But it is not. It is true that some provide a certain Darwinian screening process by attacking under-performing companies and their complacent boards. Elliott Advisors’ assault on Alliance Trust is an example that may ultimately prove to be of benefit to a legion of small investors. However, for every Alliance Trust there is an ABN Amro. Activist funds delivered the Dutch bank to a consortium made up of Royal Bank of Scotland, Fortis and Banco Santander in a transaction which left only the latter unscathed and the taxpayers of three countries to pick up the pieces.

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Propaganda.

The British Press Has Lost It (Politico)

Fasten your seatbelt: it’s going to be a bumpy ride. With the two major parties, Conservative and Labour, neck and neck in the polls; and two new insurrectionary forces, UKIP and the Scottish National Party, set to disrupt the two-and-a-half party system that’s dominated British politics for 40 years, Thursday’s election night is going to be fought constituency by constituency, sometimes recount by recount. There will be unexpected triumphs, unforeseen disasters (“Were you up for the moment when so-and-so lost their seat?”). Only one thing is for sure. This is the election during which Britain’s press ‘lost it.’ The press just haven’t reflected reality, let alone the views of their readers. For months polls have put Conservatives and Labour close with about third of the vote each, and smaller parties destined to hold some balance of power.

But there has been no balance in the papers. Tracked by Election Unspun, the coverage has been unremittingly hostile to Ed Miliband, the Labour challenger, with national newspapers backing the Conservative incumbent, David Cameron over Labour by a ratio of five to one. Veteran US campaign manager David Axelrod finds this politicization of the print media one of the most salient differences with the US. “I’ve worked in aggressive media environments before,” he told POLITICO, “but not this partisan.” Axelrod may have ax to grind as he advises the Labour Party, but even a conservative commentator and long-serving lieutenant of Rupert Murdoch has been shocked. “Tomorrow’s front pages show British press at partisan worst,” Andrew Neil, former editor of the Sunday Times rued. “All pretense of separation between news and opinion gone, even in ‘qualities.’”

And that’s the difference. The whole newspaper industry seems to be affected by the tabloid tendentiousness trade-marked by Murdoch’s best-selling the Sun when it roared, in 1992, “It’s the Sun Wot Won It.” The Daily Mail specializes in political character assassination and the ‘Red Ed’ tag was predictable. But when the paper went on from attacking Miliband’s dead father to a hit-job on his wife’s appearance, the politics of personal destruction sank from gutter to sewer. In this precipitous race to the bottom, perhaps the Daily Telegraph had the steepest fall. Known as a bastion of the Tory thinking, it had long been respected for separating fact from comment. During this election cycle is was caught sourcing its front pages direct from Conservative Campaign HQ, seeming to confirm the parting words of its senior political commentator, Peter Oborne, that it was intent on committing “a fraud on its readership.”

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It would be quite something if she refuses to. End of credibility.

Angela Merkel Under Pressure To Reveal All About US Spying Agreement (Guardian)

Angela Merkel’s reputation as an unassailable chancellor is under threat amid mounting pressure for her to reveal how much she knew about a German-supported US spying operation on European companies and officials. The onus on her government to deliver answers over the spying scandal has only increased with the Austrian government’s announcement that it has filed a legal complaint against an unnamed party over “covert intelligence to the detriment of Austria”. EADS, now Airbus, one of the companies known to have been spied on by the BND – Germany’s foreign intelligence agency – is also taking legal action, saying it will file a complaint with prosecutors in Germany. The BND stands accused of spying on behalf of America’s NSA on European companies such as EADS, as well as the French presidency and the EU commission.

There are also suspicions that German government workers and journalists were spied on. The Social Democrats (SPD), Merkel’s government partners, along with Germany’s federal public prosecutor, Harald Range, are demanding the release of a list of “selectors” – 40,000 search terms used in the spying operations – the results of which were passed on to the NSA. “The list must be published and only then is clarification possible,” said Christine Lambrecht, parliamentary head of the SPD faction. Merkel has so far refused to allow its release. Her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said she would make a decision on whether or not to do so only “once consultations with the American partners are completed”.

Thomas de Maizière, the interior minister and a close Merkel confidante, is under even more pressure than the chancellor over allegations he lied about what he knew of BND/NSA cooperation. On Wednesday he answered questions on the affair to a parliamentary committee investigating the row, but only in camera and in a bug-proof room. Among other alleged shortcomings over the affair, he stands accused of failing to act when the BND informed him of the espionage activities in 2008 when he was Merkel’s chief of staff. He has repeatedly been portrayed in the tabloid media with a Pinocchio nose.

Responding to journalists during a break in the proceedings, he once again vehemently denied the allegations. “As chief of staff in 2008, I learned nothing about search terms used by the US for the purposes of economic espionage in Germany,” he said. But he acknowledged knowing about American efforts to intensify the intelligence swapping, calling it “problematic cooperation”, and said the requests had been turned down by the BND.

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Balance.

Chinese Warships To Join Russian Navy Drill In Black Sea, Mediterranean (RT)

Two Chinese missile frigates will enter the Russian Black Sea naval base of Novorossiysk for the first time in history. They will then conduct joint exercises with Russia in the Mediterranean. The Linyi and the Weifang will enter the port of Novorossiysk on May 8 to take part in Victory Day celebrations, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. Each is a 4,000-ton vessel of the relatively new Type 054A (also known as Jiangkai II), which first entered service in 2007. They are accompanied by a support ship. This is the first time Chinese warships will have entered the Russian base. The ships will then head to the Mediterranean for joint drills with Russian forces.

“It is planned that the People s Liberation Army Navy warships will leave Novorossiysk on May 12 and relocate to the designated area of the Mediterranean Sea for the Russian-Chinese exercise Sea Cooperation-2015,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement. The exercise will take place from May 11-21. Nine ships are scheduled to take part in total in the first drill of its kind to happen in the Mediterranean. The drills’ goal has been stated as deepening friendly cooperation between China and Russia and strengthening their combat ability in repelling naval threats. The exercise comes at a time when NATO and its allies are holding a massive wave of military drills all across Europe.

Collectively codenamed Operation Atlantic Resolve, NATO commanders and European leaders have said the training sends a message to Russia over its alleged aggression and the crisis in Ukraine. Some states are also conducting their own training maneuvers parallel to Atlantic Resolve. Russia has been conducting a series of military exercises within its territory throughout winter and in early spring, including massive drills in the Baltic Sea, Black Sea, the Arctic and the Far East.

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“Third-world bondage” down under.

Modern Slavery In Australia: Labour Exploitation Rife In Agriculture (RT)

The Australian investigative journalism program “Four Corners” has discovered that Australia’s biggest supermarkets and fast food chains are supplied with food from farms exploiting workers in slave labour-like conditions. According to Four Corners reporters, who used hidden cameras and undercover surveillance to reveal the “third-world bondage,” supermarkets such as Woolworths, Coles, Aldi, IGA and Costco and such fast food outlets as KFC, Red Rooster and Subway are implicated in the exploitative practice. The workers who are being abused are frequently migrants from Asia and Europe. They are being routinely harassed, forced to work and underpaid. Moreover, women workers are often propositioned for sex or asked to perform sexual favours in exchange for visas.

Underpayment for migrant workers gives the farms a competitive advantage over their contestants. Supermarkets prefer cheaper suppliers without paying attention to the labour conditions on their farms. This leads to a paradox: suppliers who play by the rules lose market share to those who don’t, according to ABC TV. For instance, SA Potatoes, one of the largest potato suppliers in Australia, says it has lately lost some of its contracts. “It’s gutting,” said the company’s CEO, Steve Marafioti, “They’re cheating the system…It’s not the correct thing. It’s not the right thing. It’s actually changing the shape of our industry.” Migrants come to Australia on the 417 working holiday visa system which gives them an opportunity to stay in Australia for 12 months and to work up to six months with a single employer.

However, the system is very often used to supply cheap labour in such low-skilled jobs as fruit and vegetable picking. The Four Corners investigation has prompted outrage across Australian society. “We will be known as a country that exploits vulnerable people who are looking for a better chance at life,” labour law and migration expert Joanna Howe told ABC News. She says the 417 visa should replaced with a new low-skilled work visa. “Successive governments, Labor and Liberal, have turned a blind eye to the fact that both international students and working holiday makers are being used as a low-skilled source of labour for farmers and other people across the country,” Howe said. A low-skilled work visa “would allow the whole system to be better regulated,” she added.

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More slavery.

Nepal Quake Victims’ Families Not Allowed To Leave Qatar For Funerals (Ind.)

Tens of thousands of workers on the 2022 football World Cup in Qatar cannot get home to see their families and attend funerals in the wake of last month’s Nepal earthquake. Qatar’s strict worker rules, known as kafala, mean that many of the 400,000 Nepalese workers in the country have their passports taken by employers and find it difficult to get permission to go home. The international campaign group Avaaz has written to Qatari authorities demanding compassionate leave for workers with families affected by the earthquake; it has yet to receive a response.

Sam Barratt, Avaaz’s campaign director, said: “We’re calling for these workers to be granted amnesty to go home. They are working on World Cup related infrastructure projects. Qatar was built with Nepal’s cheap labour; the least they can do is allow them to go home and grieve.” A Nepalese worker in Doha, who asked not to be named, said that his wife and children were now homeless: “My family lives in a village outside Kathmandu. Since the quake I have not been able to contact them… Two of my relatives in Kathmandu have died in the quake. My wife and two little children are sleeping on the road. I am desperate to go back… but I can’t leave because my employer won’t let me go. I can’t leave the job because I have to pay back the loan I had taken to get to Qatar.”

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“..the recent modest decrease in the rate of warming has elicited numerous articles and special issues of leading journals.”

How Climate Science Denial Affects The Scientific Community (PhysOrg)

Climate change denial in public discourse may encourage climate scientists to over-emphasise scientific uncertainty and is also affecting how they themselves speak – and perhaps even think – about their own research, a new study from the University of Bristol, UK argues. Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, from Bristol’s School of Experimental Psychology and the Cabot Institute, and colleagues from Harvard University and three institutions in Australia show how the language used by people who oppose the scientific consensus on climate change has seeped into scientists’ discussion of the alleged recent ‘hiatus’ or ‘pause’ in global warming, and has thereby unwittingly reinforced a misleading message.

The idea that ‘global warming has stopped’ has been promoted in contrarian blogs and media articles for many years, and ultimately the idea of a ‘pause’ or ‘hiatus’ has become ensconced in the scientific literature, including in the latest assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Multiple lines of evidence indicate that global warming continues unabated, which implies that talk of a ‘pause’ or ‘hiatus’ is misleading. Recent warming has been slower than the long term trend, but this fluctuation differs little from past fluctuations in warming rate, including past periods of more rapid than average warming. Crucially, on previous occasions when decadal warming was particularly rapid, the scientific community did not give short-term climate variability the attention it has now received, when decadal warming was slower. During earlier rapid warming there was no additional research effort directed at explaining ‘catastrophic’ warming. By contrast, the recent modest decrease in the rate of warming has elicited numerous articles and special issues of leading journals.

This asymmetry in response to fluctuations in the decadal warming trend likely reflects what the study’s authors call the ‘seepage’ of contrarian claims into scientific work. Professor Lewandowsky said: “It seems reasonable to conclude that the pressure of climate contrarians has contributed, at least to some degree, to scientists re-examining their own theory, data and models, even though all of them permit – indeed, expect – changes in the rate of warming over any arbitrarily chosen period.” So why might scientists be affected by contrarian public discourse? The study argues that three recognised psychological mechanisms are at work: ‘stereotype threat’, ‘pluralistic ignorance’ and the ‘third-person effect’.

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Nov 182014
 
 November 18, 2014  Posted by at 1:09 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


Dorothea Lange Saturday afternoon, Pittsboro, North Carolina Jul 1939

Japan PM Abe Calls Snap Election, Delays Sales Tax Hike (CNBC)
Japan Prepares Stimulus to Strengthen 2015 Growth After Recession Hit (Bloomberg)
Japan’s ‘Abenomics’ Can Survive Quadruple-Dip Recession (AEP)
‘Godfather’ Of Abenomics Admits It’s A Ponzi Game, Taxpayers May Revolt (ZH)
ECB’s Draghi: Buying Sovereign Bonds Is An Option (CNBC)
Draghi Says ECB Measures May Entail Buying Government Bonds (Bloomberg)
Draghi Seen Bypassing QE Qualms to Hit Balance-Sheet Goal (Bloomberg)
Industrial Output in U.S. Unexpectedly Fell in October (Bloomberg)
Deutsche Bank Scales Back Trading in Credit Derivatives (Bloomberg)
Flash Boys Invade $12.4 Trillion Treasury Market in New Era of Volatility (Bloomberg)
Wall Street to Reap $316 Million From Day of Mega Deals (Bloomberg)
Australia’s Record-Low Rates To Head Further South (CNBC)
US Pension Insurer Ran Record $62 Billion Deficit (AP)
All Aboard The Instability Express (James Howard Kunstler)
The Secret History Of Corruption In America (Stoller)
UK Grocery Sales In Decline For First Time In 20 Years (Guardian)
1 in 5 UK Supermarkets Must Close To Restore Profit Growth (Guardian)
Putin Warns He Won’t Let Ukraine Annihilate Eastern Rebels (Bloomberg)
Shale Drillers Plan Output Increases Despite Oil Price Decline (Bloomberg)
3 Billion Gallons Of Fracking Wastewater Pumped Into Clean CA Aquifers (ZH)
Modern Slavery Affects More Than 35 Million People (Guardian)
Ebola Doctors: The Last Working Consciences In The Western World (Guardian)

It’ll give him the power to totally sink the nation. All that’s missing is a few nuke plants and a major quake.

Japan PM Abe Calls Snap Election, Delays Sales Tax Hike (CNBC)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called a snap election and announced a delay in the second sales tax hike by 18 months after the country fell into recession. The move announced on Tuesday comes after growth numbers on Monday showed the world’s third-largest economy shrunk by an annualized 1.6% in the third quarter after a 7.3% contraction in the second quarter, shocking the markets. “I have decided not to raise the consumption tax to 10% next October and I have decided to delay a consumption tax hike for 18 months,” Abe said at a press conference. Japan has suffered since the first consumption tax hike from 5 to 8% in April.

Abe said the rise in the sales tax “acted as a heavy weight and offset a rise in consumption”. A second consumption tax hike was set for October 2015 which would have seen a 2% increase to 10%. Abe also said the lower house of parliament would be dissolved on November 21 and an election would be called in a move to strengthen his mandate for “Abenomics” – his set of economic policies. The Japanese Prime Minister admitted that it will be a “difficult election” but said he wanted the public to back his package of reforms. “There are differing opinions on the structural reforms we have proposed and I have decided that I need to hear the voice of the Japanese public on whether or not we should go forward with these reforms,” Abe said.

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There are still ‘analysts’ around who actually believe this stuff: “Household sentiment should be relaxed thanks to the delay in another VAT hike, helping improve spending attitude and facilitate consumption recovery”. Spending in Japan has been down for years, nothing to do with sales taxes.

Japan Prepares Stimulus to Strengthen 2015 Growth After Recession Hit (Bloomberg)

With Japan’s slump into its fourth recession since 2008 threatening the failure of the Abenomics reflation program, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration is taking steps to shore up growth for the coming year. Economy Minister Akira Amari told reporters yesterday in Tokyo there’s a high chance of a stimulus package. Etsuro Honda, an adviser to Abe, said a 3 trillion yen ($26 billion) program was appropriate and should go toward measures that directly help households, such as child care support. Abe, who holds a news conference later today, is also considering a postponement of an October sales-tax increase until 2017 – a move that would add 0.3 percentage point to growth in the coming fiscal year, according to the median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg.

At stake for the prime minister is assuring re-election in a likely snap vote next month that may serve as a referendum on his policies. “Household sentiment should be relaxed thanks to the delay in another VAT hike, helping improve spending attitude and facilitate consumption recovery,” Kazuhiko Ogata, chief Japan economist at Credit Agricole SA in Tokyo, wrote in a note to clients yesterday, referring to the sales, or value-added, tax. “If Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party wins in the election, ‘Abenomics’ would be set” to be sustained until as long as until 2018, when he would run up against term limits as LDP head, according to Ogata.

Less than two years into Abenomics – a three-pronged strategy to pull Japan out of two decades of stagnation through monetary stimulus, fiscal flexibility and structural deregulation – the program has yet to spark sustained growth. An April sales-tax rise saw the economy sink into two straight quarters of contraction, a government report showed yesterday. Abe, 60, has yet to implement growth-strategy items from labor-market liberalization to the securing of a free-trade deal within the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership talks. Corporate-tax cut discussions have yet to see legislation enacted. In other areas, Abenomics has stirred Japan, achieving the end of 15 years of sustained deflation and spurring focus in the stock market on corporate returns on equity. The Topix index of shares has jumped 79% in the past two years.

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Once again, Ambrose is out of his league. And not as sure as the title suggests, since he also says: “This is a formidable task and may ultimately fail.” The rest is not arguments, but exclusively wishful thinking. And harking back to what Japan did in 1932 is cute, but also entirely hollow.

Japan’s ‘Abenomics’ Can Survive Quadruple-Dip Recession (AEP)

Abenomics is alive and well. Japan’s crash into its fourth recession since 2008 is a nasty surprise for premier Shinzo Abe but it tells us almost nothing about the central thrust of his reflation blitz The mini-slump is chiefly due to a one-off fiscal shock in April. Mr Abe defied warnings from Keynesian critics and unwisely stuck to plans drawn up by a previous (DPJ) government to raise the consumption tax from 5pc to 8pc. The essence of Abenomics is monetary reflation a l’outrance to lift the country out of deflation after two Lost Decades. The unstated purpose of this “First Arrow” is to lower real interest rates and raise the growth of nominal GDP to 5pc, deemed the minimum necessary to stop Japan’s debt trajectory from spiralling out of control. This is a formidable task and may ultimately fail. Public debt is already 245pc of GDP. Debt payments are 43pc of fiscal revenues. The population is expected to fall to from 127m to 87m by 2060. Given the grim mathematics of this, the inertia of the pre-Abe era was inexcusable.

Takuji Aida from Societe Generale said the tax rise was an “unnecessary diversion from Mr Abe’s reflationary goals” but will not have a lasting effect. The contraction of Japanese GDP by 0.4pc in the third quarter – following a 1.8pc crash in the second quarter – is certainly a public relations embarrassment, but less dreadful than meets the eye. The economy expanded by 0.2pc when adjusted for inventory effects. Machinery orders rose for a fourth month in September to 2.9pc. Retail sales jumped by 2.3pc. Danske Bank’s Fleming Nielsen says Japan’s economy will be growing at a 3pc rate again this winter. Mr Abe has shrugged off the tax debacle without much political damage. He is likely to call a snap election for December, win heartily, and suspend plans for a further rise in the sales tax to 10pc next October, ditching a policy he never liked anyway.

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Besides, Ambrose, the guy who thought it all up has this: ” .. there are always new taxpayers, so this is a feasible Ponzi game”. How bad can you get it when, as Ambrose himself said, ” .. the population is expected to fall to from 127m to 87m by 2060″? It’s a hopeless game.

‘Godfather’ Of Abenomics Admits It’s A Ponzi Game, Taxpayers May Revolt (ZH)

Koichi Hamada is a special adviser to prime minister Shinzo Abe and one of his closest confidants. That makes his comments, as The Telegraph reports, even more stunningly concerning. Focusing his attention on the fact that Japan must delay the 2nd stage of its planned consumption tax hike – for fear of derailing the ‘recovery’ – Hamada unwittingly, it seems, explains the terrible reality behind the so-called “godfather” of Abenomics’ perspective on the extreme monetary policy he has unleashed… Select stunning quotes that everyone should ignore and just BTFPonziD in Japan…

“The consumption tax hike is a great big turbulence to the Japanese economy. It may have erased almost two thirds of the benefits of Abenomics,” he told the Telegraph. “At the very least, a third of this great experiment is gone.” [..] “I used to say that we should wait until the third quarter figures are out. However, by various economic indicators, the GDP figures cannot be very optimistic,” he added. [..] “We should increase the consumption tax in the intermediate future,” he said. “This first shock starting in April has been countered by a monetary counter-move. But can we risk another shock in this way?” He also said that while he fully supported the Bank of Japan’s bond buying spree, he said there would be diminishing returns from quantitative easing the longer it went on. “I completely agree with Kuroda’s direction of policy, as well as his strategy of keeping quiet and surprising the market. Of course, if you repeat the same kind of action then the impact will be weaker,” he said.

[..] Marc Faber, the famous Swiss investor, has accused Japan of “engaging in a Ponzi scheme” because the BoJ is hoovering up most of the debt that has been issued by the government. While Mr Hamada agreed that Japan had created a “mild ponzi game”, he also said it was a “feasible” one because of Japan’s huge foreign reserves. “In a Ponzi game you exhaust the lenders eventually, and of course Japanese taxpayers may revolt. But otherwise there are always new taxpayers, so this is a feasible Ponzi game, though I’m not saying it’s good.” Mr Hamada said it was important that Japanese policymakers sent a clear signal that the government was willing to do whatever it takes to smash deflation and pave the way for wage increases for millions of workers. “I’m optimistic about wages, but the uncertainty is how long it takes,” he said. Business is still in doubt about whether Abenomics will continue. If they know it will continue and the profits of export firms are really soaring, they will start to share that with their employees.”

So to sum up… as long as the BoJ keeps buying stocks and bonds in ever-greater amounts (and Japan has more taxpayers to foot the bill) then the ponzi scheme can survive in its fiscally unsustainable way… what a total farce.

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Tell ‘im ee’s dreamin’.

ECB’s Draghi: Buying Sovereign Bonds Is An Option (CNBC)

The euro zone’s growth has weakened over the summer months, European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi told European lawmakers Monday, but stressed that he was willing to do more to stimulate the economy—including the purchase of government bonds. Speaking at the European Union’s Parliament, Draghi reiterated that the bank’s governing council remained “unanimous in its commitment to using additional unconventional instruments if needed.” He added: “The other unconventional measures might entail the purchase of a variety of assets, one of which is sovereign bonds.” The comments helped the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 close 0.5% higher on the day.

The central bank has already launched a slew of stimulus in an effort to boost the economy by easing credit conditions. These include cutting interest rates to record lows and announcing plans to purchase covered bonds and asset-backed securities (ABS) – and there are calls for the ECB to do more by launching a U.S. Federal Reserve-style sovereign bond-buying program. Further measures, “could include changes to the size and composition to the Eurosystem balance sheet, if warranted, to achieve price stability over the medium term,” Draghi added.

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“Data released today showed that officials accelerated covered-bond buying last week, with the total settled rising by more than €3 billion – up from €2.629 billion the week before.” Ahem: the goal is $1 trillion. At this rate, that’ll take 6 years.

Draghi Says ECB Measures May Entail Buying Government Bonds (Bloomberg)

ECB President Mario Draghi explicitly cited government-bond buying as a policy tool officials could use to stimulate the economy if the outlook worsens. “Other unconventional measures might entail the purchase of a variety of assets, one of which is sovereign bonds,” Draghi said in Brussels today during quarterly testimony to lawmakers at the European Parliament. In opening remarks both today and after the ECB’s monthly policy decision, Draghi stopped short of mentioning government bonds when he said that officials had been tasked with the preparation of further stimulus measures. His comments today come weeks before the institution’s critical December meeting, when it will publish new forecasts that are likely to incorporate a lower outlook for the economy and inflation. Draghi will succeed in boosting the ECB’s balance sheet back toward €3 trillion ($3.74 trillion), though he’ll have to override some policy makers’ qualms on quantitative easing to do so, according to a majority of economists in Bloomberg’s monthly survey published today.

Until now, the ECB has restricted purchases of assets to covered bonds, though asset-backed securities are now on its shopping list too. Data released today showed that officials accelerated covered-bond buying last week, with the total settled rising by more than €3 billion – up from €2.629 billion the week before. As Draghi spoke, Italian and Spanish bonds rose. The ECB president began his comments in the parliament by presenting European lawmakers with a list of policy resolutions for them to pursue in 2015 as he insisted his institution alone can’t fix the economy. “2015 needs to be the year when all actors in the euro area, governments and European institutions alike, will deploy a consistent common strategy to bring our economies back on track,” Draghi said today. “Monetary policy alone will not be able to achieve this.” “Monetary policy has done a lot,” Draghi said. “It can do more if structural reforms are implemented. It can’t do everything.”

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Not sure the Bundesbank and Nowotny will look favorable on being called ‘qualms’. 60% of Bloomberg ‘experts’ think Draghi will win, and they’re hardly ever right about anything.

Draghi Seen Bypassing QE Qualms to Hit Balance-Sheet Goal (Bloomberg)

Mario Draghi will succeed in boosting the European Central Bank’s balance sheet back toward 3 trillion euros ($3.75 trillion), though he’ll have to override some policy makers’ qualms on quantitative easing to do so. That’s the majority view of economists in Bloomberg’s monthly survey, who have become more optimistic that the ECB president will meet his goal. Most predicted he’ll have to buy more than covered bonds and asset-backed securities though, and 72% said any stimulus expansion will be against the wishes of some national central-bank governors. Draghi, who has faced opposition to his most recent measures, told European lawmakers today that an expanded purchase program could include government bonds, as he insisted the ECB alone can’t fix the region’s economy. He also reiterated his pledge to be ready with further steps should the outlook worsen, and 95% of respondents in the survey said he’ll act on that promise either this year or in 2015.

“If private-sector asset purchases are insufficient, then sovereign bonds will then likely be included,” said Alan McQuaid, chief economist at Merrion Capital in Dublin. “This will be a hard sell internally.” Resistance to Draghi’s recent loosening of policy has come primarily from Germany. Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann has repeatedly warned of the risks of large-scale asset purchases, known as quantitative easing, and Executive Board member Sabine Lautenschlaeger has said the balance between cost and benefit for some non-standard tools is currently negative. Austria’s Ewald Nowotny joined Weidmann in opposing the ABS plan. That didn’t stop a fresh reference by Draghi on Nov. 6 to driving the balance sheet back toward its March 2012 level via asset purchases and targeted loans to banks. 60% of the economists surveyed said he’ll succeed, which implies that close to €1 euros of assets will be added. In last month’s survey just 39% said he’ll achieve his aim.

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Yup, that’s that strong revovered economy for you.

Industrial Output in U.S. Unexpectedly Fell in October (Bloomberg)

Industrial production in the U.S. unexpectedly dropped in October, weighed down by declines at utilities, mines and automakers that signal manufacturing started the fourth quarter on soft footing. Output fell 0.1% after a 0.8% increase in September that was smaller than previously estimated, figures from the Federal Reserve in Washington showed today. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of 83 economists projected a 0.2% gain. Factory production rose 0.2%, matching the prior month’s advance that was also revised down. A pickup in manufacturing is needed to help bolster the expansion, now is its sixth year, as global growth from Europe and Japan to emerging markets cools. Rising consumer confidence and the drop in gasoline prices are brightening the outlook for holiday sales, indicating factories will get a lift in the next few months.

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When CDS dries up, there will be major problems in the markets. It’s in the size: ” .. the market that shrank to less than $11 trillion from $32 trillion before the financial crisis”. So much money is evaporating it’s scary: “requiring large swaths of credit swaps to be backed by clearinghouses, which are capitalized by banks and require traders to set aside collateral, or margin, to cover losses”.

Deutsche Bank Scales Back Trading in Credit Derivatives (Bloomberg)

Deutsche Bank will stop trading most credit-default swaps tied to individual companies, exiting a business that new banking regulations have made costlier, according to a spokeswoman. The lender will instead focus on transactions in corporate bonds, while maintaining trading in the more active market for credit swaps tied to benchmark indexes, Michele Allison, a spokeswoman for the bank said today. The firm also will continue trading swaps tied to emerging-market borrowers and distressed companies, she said. The derivatives are used by hedge funds, banks and other institutional investors to protect against losses or to speculate on the ability of companies to repay their obligations. Deutsche Bank is exiting a part of the market that shrank to less than $11 trillion from $32 trillion before the financial crisis, data from the Bank for International Settlements show.

Dealing in credit swaps, which have been blamed for exacerbating the 2008 financial crisis, has become more expensive for lenders like Deutsche Bank as regulators across the U.S. and Europe require banks to hold more capital to back trades, reducing the returns for shareholders. “When liquidity providers leave the market, it becomes really questionable if the market is functioning efficiently,” Jochen Felsenheimer, founder of XAIA Investment said in a telephone interview. “Regulators continue to dry out the CDS market by putting more and more constraints.” Among measures that regulators have enacted since the crisis is requiring large swaths of credit swaps to be backed by clearinghouses, which are capitalized by banks and require traders to set aside collateral, or margin, to cover losses if they can’t make good on the transactions. Much of the market, where the privately negotiated trades have typically been done over phone calls and e-mails, is also being shifted to electronic systems.

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What could go wrong?

Flash Boys Invade $12.4 Trillion Treasury Market in New Era of Volatility (Bloomberg)

In a flash, the bond market went wild. What began on Oct. 15 as another day in the U.S. Treasury market suddenly turned into the biggest yield fluctuations in a quarter century, leaving investors worrying there will be turbulence ahead. The episode exposed a collision of forces – the rise of high-frequency trading and the decline of Wall Street dealers – that are reshaping the world’s biggest and most important bond market. Money managers say the $12.4 trillion Treasury market is becoming less liquid, meaning securities can no longer be traded as quickly and easily as they used to be, thanks in part to the Federal Reserve’s bond-buying program.

“The way the market is set up right now, we’ll see instances like we did on that day,” said Michael Lorizio, senior trader Manulife Asset Management, which oversees $281 billion. “There’s going to be a learning curve as to how to handle that.” The development reflects unintended consequences of new financial regulation, as well as steps the Fed has taken to breath life into the U.S. economy. The implications, however, extend far beyond Wall Street, because the Treasury market determines borrowing costs for governments, companies and consumers around the world. When the day began on Oct. 15, an unprecedented number of investors were betting that interest rates would rise and U.S. government debt would lose value. The news that morning seemed ominous. Ebola was spreading. So was war in the Middle East.

At 8:30 a.m. in Washington, the Commerce Department announced a decline in retail sales. The shift came all at once. The sentiment that the Fed would raise rates reversed. Traders who’d bet against, or shorted, Treasury bonds had to buy as many as they could as quickly as they could to limit their losses. By 9:38 a.m., 10-year Treasury yields plunged 0.34 percentage point, the most in five years. Analysts such as Jim Bianco, president of Bianco Research LLC in Chicago, blame the herd mentality of electronic traders. “A lot of these guys are focused on speed,” Bianco said. “They’re all uncreative and write the same program. When the stimulus comes in a certain way, every one of them comes to the same conclusion at exactly the same moment.”

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And we’ll see this as a positive, shall we?

Wall Street to Reap $316 Million From Day of Mega Deals (Bloomberg)

The five Wall Street banks that advised on $100 billion of takeovers announced yesterday by Halliburton and Actavis could reap as much as $316 million in fees for their work. Goldman Sachs and Bank of America will take home the lion’s share of that, with roles on both the $34.6 billion purchase of Baker Hughes Inc. by Halliburton, and the $66 billion acquisition of Allergan by Actavis. Goldman Sachs was the sole adviser to Baker Hughes, while Bank of America and Credit Suisse advised Halliburton. The three banks are set to receive as much as $143 million in total, Freeman & Co. said. Halliburton, the second-biggest oilfield services provider, agreed to buy No. 3 Baker Hughes, taking advantage of plunging crude prices to set up the biggest takeover of a U.S. energy company in three years. Actavis’s deal to acquire Allergan, meanwhile, will help the target rebuff a hostile approach from Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc.

Goldman Sachs and Bank of America were also advisers to Allergan, for which they may share as much as $92 million, according to Freeman. JPMorgan, meanwhile, may receive as much as $81 million as adviser to Actavis. Yesterday’s deals firmed up Goldman Sachs’s status as the No. 1 adviser on M&A, with almost $814 billion of total value to its credit. Morgan Stanley which didn’t have a role on either of the two large deals, ranks second with $653 billion of deals to its credit. Citigroup, which also didn’t have a role on either deal, slipped a spot in the rankings to No. 4, while Bank of America rose to third from fifth. The ranking lists, called league-tables, are used by banks when they pitch their services to clients. A strong track record can help them convince companies to hire them as advisers. “We are extremely proud of the performance and momentum of our M&A franchise and the strategic advice and solutions that we have delivered to our clients in 2014,” Citigroup spokesman Robert Julavits wrote.

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Fingers in your ears, a big bang is coming.

Australia’s Record-Low Rates To Head Further South (CNBC)

Australia’s economy faces myriad headwinds that could trigger interest rate cuts from the central bank, taking borrowing rates further south from current historic lows. “Leading indicators suggest that a case can be made for further cuts: Confidence is low and consistent with weak growth, inflation expectations are falling and the unemployment rate is rising,” Credit Suisse wrote in a note Friday, arguing that rates could fall to 1.5%. Consumer confidence slumped over 12% on year in November, according to a joint survey from the Melbourne Institute and Westpac, marking the ninth straight month of pessimists outnumbering optimists – the longest slump since the global financial crisis.

Meanwhile, Australia’s official jobless rate rose to a 12-year high of 6.2%in October. Lower inflation also paves the way for rate cuts, Credit Suisse said. Headline consumer price inflation cooled to an annual 2.3% during the third-quarter, the lower end of the central bank’s 2-3% target band. Most importantly, markets have started to price in cuts, it said. The dominant view among major banks is still for the Reserve Bank of Australia to hike interest rates in 2015, but Credit Suisse says the behavior of the spread between 10-year bond yields and the cash rate is “abnormal” and doesn’t reflect that view.

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One of multiple problems in US pensions.

US Pension Insurer Ran Record $62 Billion Deficit (AP)

The federal agency that insures pensions for about 41 million Americans saw its deficit nearly double in the latest fiscal year. The agency said the worsening finances of some multi-employer pension plans mainly caused the increased deficit. At about $62 billion for the budget year ending Sept. 30, it was the widest deficit in the 40-year history of the Pension Benefit Guaranty, which reported the data Monday. That compares with a $36 billion shortfall the previous year. Multi-employer plans are pension agreements between labor unions and a group of companies, usually in the same industry. The agency said the deficit in its multi-employer insurance program jumped to $42.4 billion from $8.3 billion in 2013. By contrast, the deficit in the single-employer program shrank to $19.3 billion from $27.4 billion.

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“The global economy has caught the equivalent of financial Ebola: deflation ..”

All Aboard The Instability Express (James Howard Kunstler)

The mentally-challenged kibitzers “out there” — in the hills and hollows of the commentary universe, cable news, the blogosphere, and the pathetic vestige of newspaperdom — are all jumping up and down in a rapture over cheap gasoline prices. Overlay on this picture the fairy tale of coming US energy independence, stir in the approach of winter in the North Dakota shale oil fields, put an early November polar vortex cherry on top, and you have quite a recipe for smashed expectations. Plummeting oil prices are a symptom of terrible mounting instabilities in the world. After years of stagnation, complacency, and official pretense, the linked matrix of systems we depend on for running our techno-industrial society is shaking itself to pieces.

American officials either don’t understand what they’re seeing, or don’t want you to know what they see. The tensions between energy, money, and economy have entered a new phase of destructive unwind. The global economy has caught the equivalent of financial Ebola: deflation, which is the recognition that debts can’t be repaid, obligations can’t be met, and contracts won’t be honored. Credit evaporates and actual business declines steeply as a result of all those things. Who wants to send a cargo ship of aluminum ore to Guangzhou if nobody shows up at the dock with a certified check to pay for it? Financial Ebola means that the connective tissues of trade start to dissolve, and pretty soon blood starts dribbling out of national economies.

One way this expresses itself is the violent rise and fall of comparative currency values. The Japanese yen and the euro go down, the dollar goes up. It happens in a few months, which is quickly in the world of money. Foolish US cheerleaders suppose that the rising dollar is like the rising score of an NFL football team on any given Sunday. “We’re numbah one!” It’s just not like that. The global economy is not some stupid football contest. When currencies change value quickly, as has happened since the past summer, big banks get into big trouble. Their revenue streams are pegged to so-called “carry trades” in which big blobs of money are borrowed in one currency and used to place bets in other currencies. When currency values change radically, carry trades blow up.

So do so-called “derivatives” such as bets on interest rate differentials. When the sums of money involved are grotesquely large, the parties involved discover that they never had any ability to pay off their losing bet. It was all pretense. In fact, the chance that the bet might go bad never figured into their calculations. The net result of all that foolish irresponsibility is that banks find themselves in a position of being unable to trust each other on virtually any transaction. When that happens, the flow of credit, a.k.a. “liquidity,” dries up and you have a bona fide financial crisis. Nobody can pay anybody else. Nobody trusts anybody. Fortunes are lost. Elephants stomp around in distress, then keel over and die, and a lot of “little people” get crushed in the dusty ground.

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Looks like a good book to get.

The Secret History Of Corruption In America (Stoller)

If there s one way to summarize Zephyr Teachout’s extraordinary book Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United, it is that today we are living in Benjamin Franklin’s dystopia. Her basic contention, which is not unfamiliar to most of us in sentiment if not in detail, is that the modern Supreme Court has engaged in a revolutionary reinterpretation of corruption and therefore in American political life. This outlook, written by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in the famous Citizens United case, understands and celebrates America as a brutal and Hobbesian competitive struggle among self-interested actors attempting to use money to gain personal benefits in the public sphere.

What makes the book so remarkable is its scope and ability to link current debates to our rich and forgotten history. Perhaps this has been done before, but if it has, I have never seen it. Liberals tend to think that questions about electoral and political corruption started in the 1970s, in the Watergate era. What Teachout shows is that these questions were foundational in the American Revolution itself, and every epoch since. They are in fact questions fundamental to the design of democracy.

Teachout starts her book by telling the story of a set of debates that took place even before the Constitution was ratified – whether American officials could take gifts from foreign kings. The French King, as a matter of diplomatic process, routinely gave diamond-encrusted snuff boxes to foreign ambassadors. Americans, adopting a radical Dutch provision banning such gifts, wrestled with the question of temptation to individual public servants versus international diplomatic norms. The gifts ban, she argues, was evidence of a particular demanding notion of corruption at the heart of American legal history. These rules, bright-line rules versus corrupt-intent rules, govern temptation and structure. They cover innocent and illicit activity, as opposed to bribery rules which are organized solely around quid pro quo corruption.

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However you slice and dice it, that’s not a number from a recovering economy.

UK Grocery Sales In Decline For First Time In 20 Years (Guardian)

UK grocery sales have gone into decline for the first time in at least 20 years as a raging price war and the falling cost of food commodities hit Britain’s supermarkets. In good news for shoppers, the average price of a basket of everyday essentials such as milk, bread and vegetables now costs 0.4% less than it did a year ago, according to the latest figures from market research firm Kantar Worldpanel. But the figures highlight a painful few months for the UK’s biggest retailers with all of the “big four” supermarkets seeing sales fall back in the 12 weeks to 9 November. Tesco continues to be the worst performer with sales dropping by 3.7%, but Morrisons’ performance deteriorated at the fastest rate, with the slump in sales accelerating to 3.3%, from 1.3% a month ago.

Sainsbury’s trading figures also worsened, with sales down 2.5%. Asda’s sales also went into decline, for the first time in some months, although the Walmart-owned group was the only one of the big four to hold market share. Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar Worldpanel said: “The declining grocery market will be of concern to retailers as they gear up for the key Christmas trading season.” In a pattern that has continued throughout this year, the German discounters Aldi and Lidl continued to grow strongly, as did the up-market grocer Waitrose. But only Waitrose picked up the pace of growth, to 5.6%, shoring up its spot at the UK’s sixth largest supermarket. Aldi’s growth slowed to 25.5% from 29.1% last month, and more than 30% earlier this year, while Lidl’s growth slowed to 16.8% from 17.7% last month.

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Complaceny and hubris pay off.

1 in 5 UK Supermarkets Must Close To Restore Profit Growth (Guardian)

Supermarket chiefs need to take drastic action by shutting one in five of their stores if the financial health of the mainstream grocery chains is to recover from the damage being wreaked by altered shopping habits and the onslaught of the discounters, according to analysts at Goldman Sachs. A large closure programme is the only viable solution to bring about a return to profitable growth for the UK supermarket industry, the analysts said in a report. With 56% of Tesco’s stores bigger than 40,000 sq ft, the report concludes the market leader has the biggest problem on its hands. Profits at the three listed chains, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons, have gone into reverse as weak food sales are exacerbated by the runaway growth of Aldi and Lidl. Further pressure is coming from structural changes in the market such as the growth of online and convenience store retailing.

Last week Sainsbury’s reported a first half loss of £290m as it counted the cost of pulling the plug on 40 new supermarket projects and wrote down the value of its underperforming stores. Goldman Sachs analyst Rob Joyce was gloomy about the ability of the major players to bounce back if the fight was based on price cuts alone. “We believe that any major price investments by Morrisons, Sainsbury’s or Tesco can be exceeded by the discounters,” he wrote. The unhealthy industry dynamic prompted him to predict large stores would suffer like-for-like sales declines of 3% a year until 2020, unless the big chains embrace the need for major surgery. Too much focus on profitability allowed the “discounters to get too strong”, with incumbents, until recently, reliant on pushing up prices to combat falling sales?, according to the report. But even Asda, which was the first of the big four to take on the discounters with a £1bn price cuts campaign, has started to show signs of strain.

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It’s a simple story.

Putin Warns He Won’t Let Ukraine Annihilate Eastern Rebels (Bloomberg)

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned he won’t allow rebels in eastern Ukraine to be defeated by government forces as European Union ministers met to consider imposing more sanctions on the separatists. “You want the Ukrainian central authorities to annihilate everyone there, all of their political foes and opponents,” Putin said in an interview yesterday with Germany’s ARD television. “Is that what you want? We certainly don’t. And we won’t let it happen.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday the EU will keep its economic sanctions on Russia “for as long as they are needed.”

EU foreign ministers convened today in Brussels to discuss adding to sanctions that have limited access to capital markets for some Russian banks and companies and blacklisted officials involved in the conflict. New measures will likely target pro-Russian separatist leaders, the EU said. “Sanctions in themselves are not an objective, they can be an instrument if they come together with other measures,” European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters before the meeting. She said the EU’s three-track strategy consists of sanctions, encouragement of reforms in Ukraine and dialogue with Russia. “We are very concerned about any possible ethnic cleansings and Ukraine ending up as a neo-Nazi state,” Putin said according to an English translation of his remarks published by the Kremlin.

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They’re afraid if they cut production, investors may pull out. So they keep on the treadmill until they blow up the entire thing.

Shale Drillers Plan Output Increases Despite Oil Price Decline (Bloomberg)

Shale drillers are planning on production growth with fewer rigs despite a worldwide glut that has sent crude prices to a four-year low. Companies including Devon Energy, Continental Resources and EOG Resources said they expect to pump more from their prime properties while cutting back in their least productive prospects. That puts the onus on OPEC nations, led by Saudi Arabia, to cut output if they want to stem the slide in global oil prices. “There’s a lot more production coming online this year and in the first half of 2015,” said Jason Wangler, an analyst at Wunderlich Securities. “This isn’t a machine that you can turn on and off with a switch. It’s going to take months, if not quarters, to turn it around.”

Domestic output topped 9 million barrels a day for the first time since at least 1983, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said Nov. 13. West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. benchmark oil contract, sank 18 cents yesterday to settle at $75.64 a barrel. Prices fell to $74.21 on Nov. 13, the lowest since 2010. “Certainly if prices fall even further than they are now, it’ll have some impact, and it may slow the growth rate of U.S. production,” said Jason Bordoff, founding director of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy in New York. “I still think, unless they fall significantly further, U.S. production is going to see dramatic increases in growth.”

Lower prices aren’t stopping U.S. shale drillers. Devon Energy, which pumped 136,000 barrels a day of crude in the third quarter, will boost output by as much as 25% next year, said John Richels, the company’s CEO, in a Nov. 5 earnings call. That rivals this year’s expansion, even though Devon will idle four of its six rigs in Oklahoma’s Mississippi Lime prospect. Continental Resources, which produced 128,000 barrels a day in the third quarter, trimmed $600 million from its 2015 drilling budget by shelving plans to add new rigs. Nonetheless, the Oklahoma City-based company said in its Nov. 6 earnings call it will increase output as much as 29%. Pioneer Natural Resources in Irving, Texas, the most active driller in West Texas’s Permian Basin, said in its Nov. 5 third-quarter call that it plans to add as much as 21%.

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Anything for a buck.

3 Billion Gallons Of Fracking Wastewater Pumped Into Clean CA Aquifers (ZH)

Dear California readers: if you drank tapwater this morning (or at any point in the past few weeks/months), you may be in luck as you no longer need to buy oil to lubricate your engine: just use your blood, and think of the cost-savings. That’s the good news. Also, the bad news, because as the California’s Department of Conservation’s Chief Deputy Director, Jason Marshall, told NBC Bay Area, California state officials allowed oil and gas companies to pump up to 3 billion gallons (call it 70 million barrels) of oil fracking-contaminated waste water into formerly clean aquifiers, aquifiers which at least on paper are supposed to be off-limits to that kind of activity, and are protected by the government’s EPA – an agency which, it appears, was richly compensated by the same oil and gas companies to look elsewhere.

And the scariest words of admission one can ever hear from a government apparatchik: “In multiple different places of the permitting process an error could have been made.” Because nothing short of a full-blown disaster prompts the use of the dreaded passive voice. And what was unsaid is that the “biggest error that was made” is that someone caught California regulators screwing over the taxpayers just so a few oil majors could save their shareholders a few billion dollars in overhead fees. And now that one government agency has been caught flaunting the rules, the other government agencies, and certainly private citizens and businesses, start screaming: after all some faith in the well-greased, pardon the pun, government apparatus has to remain:

“It’s inexcusable,” said Hollin Kretzmann, at the Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco. “At (a) time when California is experiencing one of the worst droughts in history, we’re allowing oil companies to contaminate what could otherwise be very useful ground water resources for irrigation and for drinking. It’s possible these aquifers are now contaminated irreparably.”

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Our own countries are replete with mental slaves.

Modern Slavery Affects More Than 35 Million People (Guardian)

More than 35 million people around the world are trapped in a modern form of slavery, according to a report highlighting the prevalence of forced labour, human trafficking, forced marriages, debt bondage and commerical sexual exploitation. The Walk Free Foundation (WFF), an Australia-based NGO that publishes the annual global slavery index, said that as a result of better data and improved methodology it had increased its estimate 23% in the past year. Five countries accounted for 61% of slavery, although it was found in all 167 countries covered by the report, including the UK. India was top of the list with about 14.29 million enslaved people, followed by China with 3.24 million, Pakistan 2.06 million, Uzbekistan 1.2 million, and Russia 1.05 million.

Mauritania had the highest proportion of its population in modern slavery, at 4%, followed by Uzbekistan with 3.97%, Haiti 2.3%, Qatar 1.36% and India 1.14%. Andrew Forrest, the chairman and founder of WFF – which is campaigning for the end of slavery within a generation – said: “There is an assumption that slavery is an issue from a bygone era. Or that it only exists in countries ravaged by war and poverty. “These findings show that modern slavery exists in every country. We are all responsible for the most appalling situations where modern slavery exists and the desperate misery it brings upon our fellow human beings.

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That’s an excellent way to look at them.

Ebola Doctors: The Last Working Consciences In The Western World (Guardian)

Patients arrive at the Médecins Sans Frontières treatment centre in Sierra Leone 10 to an ambulance. The overcrowding means that by the time they get there, even those whose original symptoms may not have been Ebola will have been sufficiently exposed to catch it on the way in. Such is life in West Africa in the midst of the worst outbreak of the disease since it was first identified 38 years ago. Ebola Frontline – Panorama (BBC1) followed MSF doctor Javid Abdelmoneim – who, along with his colleagues, you can’t help but feel must be the owners of the last working consciences in the western world – on his month-long volunteer posting to the centre, treating some of the tens of thousands of people who have contracted Ebola since the epidemic began nine months ago.

Furnished with a specially adapted camera fitted to his goggles, one that can survive the chlorine sprayings and sluicings as part of the good doctor’s 20 minute decontamination procedure every time he leaves the tent full of his suffering and dying charges, we watch along with him as the disease plots its course through bodies, through families and through entire communities. People die quietly, for the most part. The loudest noise we hear is the wailing in grief of a woman who loses her sister. Their parents died before the cameras got there. Eleven-month-old Alfa is an Ebola orphan too, one of the estimated 10.3 million children directly or indirectly affected by the crisis. She dies alone, relieved of physical pain, Abdelmoneim hopes, by the morphine he gives her as her little body starts to fail, but “she looked frightened at the end”.

She is buried in a cemetery purpose-built for bodies that remain biohazards after death, one of hundreds of people marked only by patient ID numbers scrawled on paper labels attached to sticks driven into the ground. While the volunteer doctors, nurses and staff try to hold the line at the treatment centre – whose name they change to “case management centre” in recognition that all they can give is supportive, not curative care – the voiceover keeps us abreast of the rising death toll in Africa and the ponderous reactions and non-reactions of other nations to the crisis, and the delivery and non-delivery of promises and aid to the stricken regions. Last month the UN called for a twentyfold increase in help. Half of that has so far been donated. A plague on all our houses.

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