Oct 262017
 
 October 26, 2017  Posted by at 9:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dalí Living still life 1956

 

The Current Bond Bull Market Is The Longest In More Than 500 Years (BI)
Get Ready For A ‘Substantial’ Slowdown In The US Economy – Natixis (CNBC)
America is in Worse Financial Shape than Russia or China – Kotlikoff (SMN)
Xi Has Built Chinese Economy On ‘Foundation Of Sand’ – Kyle Bass (BBG)
China US Buying Spree Prompts Move to Toughen Deal Reviews (BBG)
S&P: Britain’s £200 Billion Consumer Debt Boom Is ‘Unsustainable’ (BI)
Mario Draghi Is Preparing For His Final Act As ECB President (BBG)
Sydney Apartment Market Has Cracked (Aus.)
New Zealand To Ban Foreign Buyers Snapping Up Existing Homes (G.)
Almost 1,400 Companies Have Left Catalonia Since October 2 (ZH)
‘Schauble Has Reduced Europe To Rubble’ – German Foreign Minister (Tel)

 

 

Enough to make you nervous?!

The Current Bond Bull Market Is The Longest In More Than 500 Years (BI)

We’re currently living through the second longest bond bull market in recorded history, and the longest since the 16th century, according to a new research paper from the Bank of England. Written by Paul Schmelzing, a Harvard PhD candidate currently working with the bank, the paper, titled “Eight centuries of the risk-free rate: bond market reversals from the Venetians to the ‘VaR shock’” — explores hundreds of years of data around real rates and bonds. “This paper presents a new dataset for the annual risk-free rate in both nominal and real terms going back to the 13th century. On this basis, we establish for the first time a long-term comparative investigation of ‘bond bull markets’,” Schmelzing writes.

The paper — which started out as an entry on the Bank of England’s staff blog, Bank Underground — argues that the current bull market in bonds is only surpassed by one longer period of growth in recorded history. “The average length of bond bull markets stands at 25.8 years, and the range falls between 61 years (1451-1511) and 12 years (1718-1729). Our present real rate bond bull market, at 34 years, is already the second longest ever recorded,” Schmelzing writes. Here’s the chart (note that blue shaded areas represent periods of bull markets):

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“If US growth slows down markedly … equity valuation and share prices will start falling.”

Get Ready For A ‘Substantial’ Slowdown In The US Economy – Natixis (CNBC)

One investment bank is urging investors to prepare for the U.S. economy to roll over as early as 2018. “The US economy will in all likelihood slow down substantially: there is a limit to the rise in the participation rate and the employment rate; real wages are slowing down,” wrote Patrick Artus, chief economist at Natixis, on Tuesday. “Investors should therefore prepare for the consequences.” Consequences of this slowdown, notes Artus, include a brief rise in interest rates, a market sell-off and a depreciating dollar. Natixis is a French corporate and investment bank headquartered in Paris. Natixis Global Asset Management oversees roughly $950 billion, according to its website. The analyst also called the current level of corporate investment “abnormally high” and suggested a downward correction.

To be sure, the more mainstream investment banks on Wall Street are not nearly as pessimistic. Wall Street foresees a positive 2.5% change in GDP in the third quarter year over year, according to the consensus estimate collected by Thomson Reuters. The Bureau of Economic Analysis will release GDP number on Friday before the bell. And none of the major banks see a recession on the horizon. The American people are even more bullish. According to CNBC’s All-American Economic Survey, optimism about the economy hit an all-time high earlier this month. Forty-three% of the public believes the economy is in excellent or good condition while the four-quarter average for every major economic metric in the poll is at a record 10-year high.

Goldman Sachs is probably the most bearish on the U.S. economy among major firms, predicting 3.9% annual global growth through 2020, but that U.S. growth will decelerate to just 1.5% annually over that time. [..] Natixis has a warning for clients in the note, “If US growth slows down markedly … equity valuation and share prices will start falling.”

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Time to get things out into the open.

America is in Worse Financial Shape than Russia or China – Kotlikoff (SMN)

America’s 2017 fiscal gap will come in near $6 trillion, nine times higher than the $666 billion deficit announced by the US Department of the Treasury last week, says Laurence Kotlikoff, an economics professor at Boston University. “Our country is broke,” says Kotlikoff, who estimates total US government debts at more than $200 trillion, when unfunded liabilities are included. “We are in worse shape than Russia, China or any developed nation.” Worse, says Kotlikoff, who has testified before Congress, government officials are well-aware that many of America’s debts and accruing liabilities are being written off the books. However, for the most part, they are keeping their mouths shut.

The upshot is a de facto “two-tier” financial reporting system, in which politicians and insiders have access to key data buried in footnotes about unfunded liabilities, which indicate that there are huge problems in the economy. The public, on the other hand, in slews of Presidential and Congressional Speeches and publications, is led to believe that while things are tough, overall everything is OK. According to Kotlikoff, a long-time activist for fiscal rectitude, the problem stems in large part from the fact that the US government has been spending almost all of Americans’ approximately $795 billion in social security payroll taxes to pay current bills, rather than investing them to fund retirees’ benefits. The upshot is that on a net basis, the US government has no money to pay all the benefits that have been promised. Politicians know that defaults will occur, they just haven’t figured out how to finesse this.

Kotlikoff, unlike most, has a solution. He believes that the US government should adopt what he calls “fiscal gap accounting”, which involves putting all future receipts and expenditures on its books. The idea is that if Americans knew about all the money that their politicians were borrowing and spending, they would be able to make better decisions as to the usefulness of those policies. If the US government produced a financial statement that listed the $200 trillion in unfunded liabilities that Kotlikoff says it owes, workers might make different decisions about how much they will save for retirement. Sadly, current de facto US government practice – inspired by Keynesian thinkers such as Paul Krugman – is for governments to spend, tax, borrow and print as much money as possible, in an effort to keep the economy perpetually running at full steam. The idea is to leave future generations to deal with the problems.

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“Today Xi is celebrated in media reports, but when future historians look back, he will be blamed for recklessly building the Chinese economy on a foundation of sand..”

Xi Has Built Chinese Economy On ‘Foundation Of Sand’ – Kyle Bass (BBG)

Hedge fund manager Kyle Bass, who has been betting against the yuan and warning of a collapse in China’s banking system, said the nation will one day come to regret handing Xi Jinping more power than any leader in decades. “Today Xi is celebrated in media reports, but when future historians look back, he will be blamed for recklessly building the Chinese economy on a foundation of sand,” Bass, founder of Hayman Capital Management, said in an email Wednesday. “Xi desperately seeks credibility, but true developed economies do not impose severe capital controls or move short-term rates hundreds of basis points overnight in attempts to manipulate their own currency.”

At a twice-a-decade congress in Beijing, China’s ruling Communist Party enshrined President Xi’s policies alongside those of former leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Xi, who has sought to turn China into a global economic power and was the architect of the Belt-and-Road infrastructure drive, had his theories on “socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era” included in China’s guiding charter. Yet, some foreign investors have been less than impressed as China’s currency has remained sheltered behind exchange restrictions and curbs on foreign investment. They’ve also pointed to China’s ever-growing pile of debt, with borrowing swelling to 260% of GDP at the end of 2016, Bloomberg Intelligence data show. Moody’s and S&P both downgraded the nation this year on risks from soaring debt.

Bass, who has called for a 30% drop in the Chinese currency, said in an interview earlier this month that he expects the government to relax its grasp on the exchange rate after the National Party Congress. He said he believed once Xi consolidates power, he’ll allow natural economic forces to play out within the banking system. “China remains an emerging backwater when it comes to global currency settlements,” he said Wednesday.

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Tech.

China US Buying Spree Prompts Move to Toughen Deal Reviews (BBG)

Lawmakers in Washington, spurred by Chinese acquisitions of American firms, are moving to broaden the government’s authority to scrutinize overseas investment in the U.S. with bi-partisan legislation set to be proposed in the coming days, according to people familiar with the matter. The bill would expand the power of a national security panel to review investments by foreigners to include joint ventures and minority stakes in companies, according to documents detailing the legislation obtained by Bloomberg. Lawmakers say the current framework for reviews conducted by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., or CFIUS, misses deals that pose national security risks because the panel focuses primarily on full acquisitions of American companies even though foreigners conduct a range of deal types in the U.S.

“Many Chinese investments are coordinated state-driven efforts to target critical American infrastructure and disrupt our defense supply-chain requirements,” said Republican Congressman Robert Pittenger of North Carolina, one of the sponsors of the legislation. “Our bi-partisan bill strengthens and modernizes CFIUS to give the government the necessary tools to better track and evaluate Chinese investments.” The Defense Department has raised concerns about Chinese investors financing American start-ups that are developing leading-edge technology in sectors with military applications like artificial intelligence, augmented reality and robotics. Those types of investments generally avoid CFIUS scrutiny because they’re not full acquisitions.

The proposal follows a drumbeat of concerns from lawmakers about recent Chinese deals in U.S. technology, agriculture and financial services. Chinese acquisitions and minority investments in the U.S. peaked in 2016 at $45.9 billion, up from $17.7 billion in 2015, according to Bloomberg data. Chinese deals in 2017 so far are behind 2016’s pace at $23.6 billion. Several Chinese deals have fallen apart this year after encountering objections from CFIUS, an interagency panel that reviews foreign acquisitions of U.S. companies for national security risks. The panel is led by the Treasury Department and includes officials from the Defense, State and Justice departments among others. While CFIUS can impose changes to deals, only the president can block them.

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Wonder where Britain will be in 5 years, 10.

S&P: Britain’s £200 Billion Consumer Debt Boom Is ‘Unsustainable’ (BI)

Double-digit growth in UK consumer debt this year should alarm British lenders, according to credit rating agency Standard and Poor’s. S&P said in a report on Tuesday that consumer credit — which constitutes borrowing like car finance and credit cards — has climbed over £200 billion this year in a low-interest rate market, and warned that losses from lenders could lead to ratings agencies downgrading UK lenders. The agency added that while near-term credit risk remains low, “the recent double-digit annual growth rate in U.K. consumer credit would be unsustainable if it continued at the same pace.” The report also highlighted the Bank of England’s concern over consumer credit levels, which have grown by 10% this year while household income growth has grown by only 2%.

“The Bank of England’s recent assessment of stressed losses on consumer credit lending, brought forward as part of its annual stress test results, also indicates that the regulator is concerned that the resilience of these portfolios may be reducing,” it said. S&P Global Ratings credit analyst Joseph Godsmark said lenders had not been seriously tested on their ability to pull back lending since the 2008 financial crisis. “Although we consider that near-term credit risk remains low, past experience shows that lenders find it hard to avoid inherent cyclicality in consumer credit, and the impact can be severe,” he said.

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End of an era.

Mario Draghi Is Preparing For His Final Act As ECB President (BBG)

Mario Draghi is preparing for the final act in his dramatic tenure as ECB president. The ECB’s meeting on Thursday to discuss how and when it should bring large-scale bond purchases to an end is one of the most keenly anticipated by investors and economists since early 2015 when the program was unveiled. The decision will be announced at 1:45 p.m. in Frankfurt and Draghi will speak 45 minutes later. It’s something of a crossroads for the ECB chief, who faced down the sovereign-debt crisis and near-deflation in the euro area but may end his term in October 2019 without reaching the central bank’s inflation goal or raising interest rates. The Governing Council looks likely to cut monthly asset purchases from 60 billion euros ($71 billion) and stretch them out for as long as capacity allows while it waits for consumer-price growth to pick up.

The president won’t want to repeat the mistake of his predecessor Jean-Claude Trichet who raised interest rates twice in his final months in charge in 2011, only for Draghi to reverse the hikes shortly after taking office. Economists in a Bloomberg survey foresee a nine-month extension of quantitative easing at around 30 billion euros a month, starting in January. There are a range of potential outcomes though – with some officials pushing for QE to end sooner, Bloomberg economists expect a six-month extension at €40 billion. Most commentators expect the ECB to keep its pledge to extend the program further if needed. The central bank is also considering highlighting a related measure: the reinvestment of the proceeds of bond holdings as they mature. That additional spending, which will average about €15 billion a month in 2018 and could run for years, could work as a shock absorber amid any market concerns about the pullback in stimulus.

Economists don’t expect any change to the forward guidance that interest rates will remain unchanged until “well past” the end of net asset purchases. They foresee a rate hike, which would be the first under Draghi’s presidency, only in the first half of 2019 at the earliest. A critical factor for the ECB is the amount of debt still available under its own rules. Some officials see room for little more than €200 billion of purchases in 2018, which would bring total holdings to around €2.5 trillion.

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It’s happening. It’ll be painful.

Sydney Apartment Market Has Cracked (Aus.)

As readers know I have been warning the nation that our banking industry is undertaking a property credit squeeze on a scale not seen for decades. For the most part the regulators and the bankers are inexperienced and are operating in silos so have not understood the combined power of the weapons they are using. Many will be shocked at the results of their actions and by what is to come. In putting numbers to the extent of the fall readers need to understand that the cracking process has been sudden and parts of the Sydney apartment market and other Sydney residential property markets have yet to receive the impact. Many will not fall as much as the big Sydney apartment estate markets, which also led the rise. If you want a headline figure, apartments sold as used apartments in the big Sydney apartment estates have fallen by at least 20%.

The fall rate for individual sales can rise to 25%. These are huge declines by any measure although in Melbourne 18 months after the 1987 share crash falls of 50% were common. However the price fall in new apartments bought either off the plan or as the developer sells a completed apartment are down in the vicinity of 12%. As I will describe later there are good reasons for the difference. And so a hypothetical apartment bought by an investor or a residential buyer for, say, $1 million in the boom (most two bedroom apartments were selling for between $1.2 million and $1.4 million) is now selling for $800,000 — a 20% decline. If I want to buy that hypothetical $1 million apartment off the plan or as a completed unit it would cost about $880,000 — a 12% decline.

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She has to amend TPP to get it done.

New Zealand To Ban Foreign Buyers Snapping Up Existing Homes (G.)

New Zealand is planning to ban foreign buyers from purchasing existing homes in an attempt to tackle a housing crisis by halting a trend among the world’s wealthy to snap up property in the country. The restrictions announced by the prime minister-designate, Jacinda Ardern, are likely to be closely watched by other countries around the world also facing housing shortages and price rises driven by foreign investors. At 37, Ardern has become New Zealand’s youngest leader for 150 years. New Zealand has become a destination for Chinese, Australian and Asian buyers and has gained a reputation as a bolthole for the world’s wealthy – who view it as a safe haven from a potential nuclear conflict, the rise of terrorism and civil unrest, or simply as a place to get away from it all.

The country has become a hotspot for wealthy Americans seeking an escape from political upheaval elsewhere, who view it as a stable nation with robust laws and far from potential conflict zones. Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal and a Facebook board member and donor to Donald Trump’s campaign, is among those to have purchased property in New Zealand. Global financiers have been increasingly snapping up properties in the country. Speaking at the annual gathering of the world’s elite in Davos, Robert Johnson, the president of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, said: “I know hedge-fund managers all over the world who are buying airstrips and farms in places like New Zealand because they think they need a getaway.”

Reports by Bloomberg and the New Yorker have suggested dozens of Silicon Valley futurists are secretly preparing for doomsday, acquiring boltholes in the country. Jack Ma, the man behind Alibaba, China’s answer to Amazon and its richest man, is also reported to have shown interest in buying a home there. Land sales to foreign buyers are booming in New Zealand, with 465,863 hectares (1.16m acres) bought in 2016, an almost sixfold increase on the year before. That is the equivalent to 3.2% of farmland in a country of 4.7 million people.

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The price of freedom. Pray for peace.

Almost 1,400 Companies Have Left Catalonia Since October 2 (ZH)

A total of 1,394 companies moved their headquarters from Catalonia to other regions of Spain between 2 and 23 October, according to data from the Association of Commercial Registrars of Spain. On Monday, a total of 92 companies emerged, after recording highs at the end of last week. As El Economista reports, the vast majority (1,255) of the companies that left Catalonia had their headquarters in the province of Barcelona, while 25 left Gerona, 57 moved from Lleida and 57 did so from Tarragona. In the period between 2 and 9 October, the number of companies leaving Catalonia was 219 entities, while this figure rose to 551 companies until day 11, to 700 companies until October 16, to 805 until day 17, 917 until Wednesday 18, 1,185 until Thursday 19 and 1,302 until Friday 20. With the departures of Monday 23, there are already 1,394 companies.

The days with the greatest number of transfers of headquarters of Catalonia were 19 of October, with 268; on October 9, with 212 outgoing entities, and on October 10, with 177 companies. After the rebound experienced from day 16 (68 transfers), when the trend was that each day increased the number of exits, to the maximum of 19 (268 transfers), on Friday decreased the number of companies that changed their registered office outside of the community (117), a decline that continued this week (92 on Monday). Without taking into account weekends or holidays, every 15 minutes and a half leaves a company from Catalonia. For its part, a total of 55 companies from outside Catalonia moved their headquarters to the region between 2 and 23 October, 48 of them to the province of Barcelona. We wonder how that ratio will change after today…

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They’ve been in the same government for years. Gabriel should have spoken out sooner.

‘Schaeuble Has Reduced Europe To Rubble’ – German Foreign Minister (Tel)

Germany’s foreign minister launched an extraordinary attack on the country’s outgoing finance minister on Tuesday, exposing deep divisions within Angela Merkel’s government of the last four years. On the day Wolfgang Schäuble was elected speaker of the German parliament, Sigmar Gabriel accused him of “reducing Europe to a pile of rubble which has to put back together by others”. In an interview with several German newspapers, Mr Gabriel said the former finance minister had “succeeded in turning almost all EU member states against Germany” with his hardline stance against Eurozone bailouts. What made the outburst more remarkable was that Mr Gabriel served alongside Mr Schäuble as economy minister and vice-chancellor for much of the period he was describing.

Mr Schäuble has long been a divisive figure in European politics. As Mrs Merkel’s long-serving finance minister, he is feted in Germany for presiding over a period of economic strength. But he is hated in countries like Greece for his deep-seated aversion to bailing out the poorer performing economies of southern Europe. The foreign minister’s outburst is the first sign that Mr Schäuble’s policies were disliked much closer to home — within Mrs Merkel’s government. Mr Gabriel led his Social Democrats (SPD) into coalition with Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) in 2013 — only for his party to suffer its worst ever defeat in last month’s election. Although the SPD has announced it is going into opposition, Mr Gabriel and other ministers are staying on in a caretaker government while Mrs Merkel holds talks on putting together a new coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens.

The 75-year-old Mr Schäuble agreed to become speaker to free up the finance ministry, which the FDP is widely expected to demand as the price for its support. He was elected unopposed in Tuesday’s first sitting of the newly elected parliament. But in a sign that Mr Gabriel had spoken for many in his party, his nomination was not applauded from the SPD benches, against tradition.

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Apr 122017
 
 April 12, 2017  Posted by at 9:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Elliott Erwitt Trocadero, Paris 1950

 

The Tesla Ponzi Is Not ‘Inexplicable’ At All (WS)
Millennials Are Abandoning Postwar Engines of Growth: Suburbs and Autos (CHS)
Slowdown in US Borrowing Defies Easy Explanation (WSJ)
US Companies Now Have $1.6 Trillion Stashed In Tax Havens (Ind.)
Trump Declines To Endorse Bannon, Says US ‘Not Going Into Syria’ (MW)
Beware The Dogs Of War: Is The American Empire On The Verge Of Collapse? (JW)
A Breakthrough Alternative To Growth Economics – The Doughnut (G.)
The Commodification of Education (Steve Keen)
The Fed Could Use Less Book Learning and More Street Smarts (Ricketts)
Spectre Of Russian Influence Looms Large Over French Election (G.)
Moment Of Reckoning In Turkey As Alleged Coup Plotters Go On Trial (G.)
Greece: Cash and Apartments for Refugees with UNHCR Aid (GR)
Why The Human Race Is Heading For The Fire (G.)

 

 

People tend to forget that there are no functioning asset markets left. But there really aren’t.

The Tesla Ponzi Is Not ‘Inexplicable’ At All (WS)

Electric cars have been around for longer than internal combustion engines. When they first appeared in the 1800s, they competed with steam-powered cars and horses. What Tesla has done is put them on the map. That was a huge feat. Now every global automaker has electric cars. They all, including Teslas, still have the same problem they had in the 1800s: the battery. But those problems – costs, weight or range, and time it takes to charge – are getting smaller as the technology advances. And the competition from the giants, once batteries are ready for prime-time, will be huge, and global. So in March, Tesla sold 4,050 new vehicles in the US, according to Autodata. All automakers combined sold 1.56 million new vehicles in the US.

This gave Tesla a record high market share of an invisibly small 0.26%. Volume-wise, it’s in the same ballpark as Porsche. GM sold 256,007 new vehicles in March, for a market share of 16.5%. In other words, GM sold 63 times as many new vehicles as Tesla did. For percent-lovers, that’s 6,221% more. Even if Tesla quadruples its sales in the US, it still will not amount to a significant market share. Then there is Tesla’s financial performance. It lost money in every one of its 10 years of existence. Here are the “profits” – um, net losses – Tesla racked up, in total $2.9 billion:

We constantly hear the old saw that stock prices reflect future earnings and/or cash flows, and that looking back ten years has no meaning for the future. Alas, after 10 years of producing losses, Tesla shows no signs of making money in the future. It might instead continue burning through investor cash by the billions. Based on the logic that stock prices reflect future earnings, its shares should be at about zero. This chart compares Tesla’s net losses (red bars) and GM’s net income (green bars), in millions of dollars. Over those eight years going back to 2010, Tesla lost $2.7 billion; GM earned $47.1 billion:

[..] In comparison with GM, Tesla is ludicrously overvalued. But it’s not “inexplicable.” It’s perfectly explicable by the wondrously Fed-engineered stock market that has long ago abandoned any pretext of valuing companies on a rational basis. And it’s explicable by the hype – the “research” – issued by Wall Street investment banks that hope to get fat fees from Tesla’s next offerings of shares or convertible debt. The amounts are huge, going back ten years: Last month, Tesla raised another $1.2 billion, after having raised $1.5 billion in May 2016. There will be more. Tesla is burning a lot of cash. Investment banks get rich on these deals. The bonuses are huge. So it’s OK to hype Tesla’s stock and sell it to their clients. Everybody wins in this scenario – except for a few despised short sellers who’re hung up on their silly notion of reality.

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They simply can’t afford it.

Millennials Are Abandoning Postwar Engines of Growth: Suburbs and Autos (CHS)

If anything defined the postwar economy between 1946 and 1999, it was the exodus of the middle class from cities to suburbs and the glorification of what Jim Kunstler calls Happy Motoring: freeways, cars and trucks, ten lanes of private vehicles, the vast majority of which are transporting one person. The build-out of suburbia drove growth for decades: millions of new suburban homes, miles of new freeways, sprawling shopping malls, and tens of millions of new autos, trucks, and SUVs, transforming one-car households into three vehicle households. Then there was all the furnishings for those expansive new homes, and the credit necessary to fund the homes, vehicles, furnishings, etc. Now the Millennial generation is turning its back on both of these bedrock engines of growth.

As various metrics reveal, the Millennials are fine with taking Uber to work, buying their shoes from Zappos (return them if they don’t fit, no problem), and making whatever tradeoffs are necessary to live in urban cores. Simply put, the natural progression of this generation is away from suburban malls, suburban home ownership and the car-centric commuter lifestyle that goes with suburban homeownership. Saddled with insanely high student debt loads imposed by the rapaciously predatory higher education cartel, Millennials avoid additional debt like the plague. Millennials have relatively high savings rates. As for a lifetime of penury to service debt–hey, they already have that, thanks to their “I borrowed $100,000 and all I got was this worthless college degree” student loans.

Consider the secondary effects of these trend changes. If Millennials are earning less and already carrying heavy debt loads, who is going to buy the Baby Boom’s millions of pricey suburban McMansions? The answer might be “no one.” If vehicle sales decline, all the secondary auto-related sales decline, too. Auto insurance, for example. Furnishing a small expensive urban flat requires a lot less furnishings than a 3,000 square foot suburban house. What happens to sales of big dining sets and backyard furniture? As retail malls die, property taxes, sales taxes and payroll taxes decline, too. Many cheerlead the notion of repurposed commercial space, but uses such as community college classes pay a lot less per square foot than retail did, and generate little in the way of sales and payroll taxes. Financial losses will also mount. Valuations and property taxes will decline, and commercial real estate loans based on nose-bleed valuations and high retail lease rates will go south, triggering significant financial-sector losses.

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I’d think it couldn’t be easier.

Slowdown in US Borrowing Defies Easy Explanation (WSJ)

One of the great mysteries and biggest concerns in the economy right now is the slowing growth in bank lending. Economists are searching for answers but none are entirely satisfying. Total loans and leases extended by commercial banks in the U.S. this year were up just 3.8% from a year earlier as of March 29, according to the latest Federal Reserve data. That compares with 6.4% growth in all of last year, and a 7.6% pace as of late October. The slowdown is more surprising given the rise in business and consumer confidence since the election. And it is worrisome because the lack of business investment is considered an important reason why economic growth has remained weak. Loans to businesses have slowed most sharply, with the latest data showing commercial and industrial loans up just 2.8% from a year earlier, compared with 8.9% growth in late October.

Economists at Goldman Sachs estimate the slowdown in commercial and industrial lending alone equates to a $100 billion shortfall in loans. Investors may start to get more clarity on what is causing the slowdown when banks start reporting first-quarter earnings on Thursday. One explanation is that many companies have been tapping corporate bond markets to lock in low rates, and in some cases to pay down more expensive bank debt. In the first quarter of this year, corporate bond issuance rose by 18% from a year earlier, according to the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association. But one reason for the increase is that the first quarter of 2016 was dismal because of market turmoil. The rise isn’t enough to explain the entire shortfall in lending.

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The Trump tax plan is way off schedule.

US Companies Now Have $1.6 Trillion Stashed In Tax Havens (Ind.)

The 50 biggest US companies stashed another $200bn of profits in offshore tax havens in 2015 alone, taking the total to approximately $1.6 trillion, according to new analysis. Donald Trump’s plans to slash taxes for corporations and wealthy individuals and impose a border tax will harm average consumers further, Oxfam said in a report published on Tuesday. The 50 largest companies disclosed use of 1,751 subsidiaries in countries classed as tax havens by the OECD and the US National Bureau of Economic Research, an increase of 143 on a year earlier, the charity found. The true number may be far higher as only “significant” subsidiaries have to be disclosed. Big multinationals such as Google, Amazon and Apple have come under fire for routing sales through countries such as Bermuda, Ireland and Luxembourg, which offer them low tax rates.

While this is legal, critics say it does not reflect where the firms actually do business. The top rate of US corporate tax is 35% – one of the highest rates in the world, incentivising many companies to hold billions offshore. Mr Trump has pledged to reduce this to 15% and a one-off rate of 10% for money currently held abroad. That will hand a $328bn tax break to the 50 biggest companies, with Apple, Pfizer and Microsoft the biggest gainers, accounting for 40% of the total, Oxfam estimated. While some have welcomed the move as a sensible way to bring profits of US companies back to the country, Oxfam warns that it risks accelerating a race to the bottom that will harm consumers in America as well as the world’s poor as global tax rates plummet.

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Scott Adams forecast three phases for opinion of Trump. First people would call him Hitler, then incompetent, then ‘competent but I don’t like it’. Is he on track?

Trump Declines To Endorse Bannon, Says US ‘Not Going Into Syria’ (MW)

President Donald Trump declined to give top adviser Steve Bannon a vote of confidence during a New York Post interview published Tuesday, in which he also said the U.S. was not headed toward a ground war in Syria. There have been reports of discord among Trump’s top White House advisers, and rumors that controversial chief strategist Bannon may be on the way out. Last week, Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, were reportedly told to iron out their differences. When asked Monday by Post columnist Michael Goodwin if he still had confidence in Bannon, Trump didn’t exactly give a ringing endorsement: “I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late. I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve.”

“I’m my own strategist and it wasn’t like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary.” “Steve is a good guy, but I told them to straighten it out or I will,” Trump said. In the same interview, Trump told Goodwin that, despite last week’s airstrike, U.S. policy toward Syria has not changed. “We’re not going into Syria,” Trump said. “Our policy is the same — it hasn’t changed. We’re not going into Syria.” Trump also acknowledged a growing rift with Russia — “We’re not exactly on the same wavelength with Russia, to put it mildly” — again called the nuclear deal with Iran “the single worst deal ever,” and said of the worsening nuclear situation with North Korea: “I knew I was left a mess, but it’s worse than I thought.”

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Cue Rome.

Beware The Dogs Of War: Is The American Empire On The Verge Of Collapse? (JW)

Waging endless wars abroad (in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and now Syria) isn’t making America—or the rest of the world—any safer, it’s certainly not making America great again, and it’s undeniably digging the U.S. deeper into debt. In fact, it’s a wonder the economy hasn’t collapsed yet. Indeed, even if we were to put an end to all of the government’s military meddling and bring all of the troops home today, it would take decades to pay down the price of these wars and get the government’s creditors off our backs. Even then, government spending would have to be slashed dramatically and taxes raised.

You do the math.
• The government is $19 trillion in debt.
• The Pentagon’s annual budget consumes almost 100% of individual income tax revenue.
• The government has spent $4.8 trillion on wars abroad since 9/11, with $7.9 trillion in interest. As the Atlantic points out, we’re fighting terrorism with a credit card.
• The government lost more than $160 billion to waste and fraud by the military and defense contractors.
• Taxpayers are being forced to pay $1.4 million per hour to provide U.S. weapons to countries that can’t afford them.
• The U.S. government spends more on wars (and military occupations) abroad every year than all 50 states combined spend on health, education, welfare, and safety.
• Now President Trump wants to increase military spending by $54 billion.
• Add in the cost of waging war in Syria, and the burden on taxpayers soars to more than $11.5 million a day. Ironically, while presidential candidate Trump was vehemently opposed to the U.S. use of force in Syria, and warned that fighting Syria would signal the start of World War III against a united Syria, Russia and Iran, he wasted no time launching air strikes against Syria.

Clearly, war has become a huge money-making venture, and the U.S. government, with its vast military empire, is one of its best buyers and sellers. Yet what most Americans—brainwashed into believing that patriotism means supporting the war machine—fail to recognize is that these ongoing wars have little to do with keeping the country safe and everything to do with enriching the military industrial complex at taxpayer expense. The rationale may keep changing for why American military forces are in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and now Syria. However, the one that remains constant is that those who run the government—including the current president—are feeding the appetite of the military industrial complex and fattening the bank accounts of its investors.

Case in point: President Trump plans to “beef up” military spending while slashing funding for the environment, civil rights protections, the arts, minority-owned businesses, public broadcasting, Amtrak, rural airports and interstates. In other words, in order to fund this burgeoning military empire that polices the globe, the U.S. government is prepared to bankrupt the nation, jeopardize our servicemen and women, increase the chances of terrorism and blowback domestically, and push the nation that much closer to eventual collapse. Obviously, our national priorities are in desperate need of an overhauling.

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Interesting but hardly a breakthrough. It’s not all that hard.

A Breakthrough Alternative To Growth Economics – The Doughnut (G.)

Raworth begins by redrawing the economy. She embeds it in the Earth’s systems and in society, showing how it depends on the flow of materials and energy, and reminding us that we are more than just workers, consumers and owners of capital. This recognition of inconvenient realities then leads to her breakthrough: a graphic representation of the world we want to create. Like all the best ideas, her doughnut model seems so simple and obvious that you wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself. But achieving this clarity and concision requires years of thought: a great decluttering of the myths and misrepresentations in which we have been schooled. The diagram consists of two rings. The inner ring of the doughnut represents a sufficiency of the resources we need to lead a good life: food, clean water, housing, sanitation, energy, education, healthcare, democracy.

Anyone living within that ring, in the hole in the middle of the doughnut, is in a state of deprivation. The outer ring of the doughnut consists of the Earth’s environmental limits, beyond which we inflict dangerous levels of climate change, ozone depletion, water pollution, loss of species and other assaults on the living world. The area between the two rings – the doughnut itself – is the “ecologically safe and socially just space” in which humanity should strive to live. The purpose of economics should be to help us enter that space and stay there. As well as describing a better world, this model allows us to see, in immediate and comprehensible terms, the state in which we now find ourselves. At the moment we transgress both lines. Billions of people still live in the hole in the middle. We have breached the outer boundary in several places.

An economics that helps us to live within the doughnut would seek to reduce inequalities in wealth and income. Wealth arising from the gifts of nature would be widely shared. Money, markets, taxation and public investment would be designed to conserve and regenerate resources rather than squander them. State-owned banks would invest in projects that transform our relationship with the living world, such as zero-carbon public transport and community energy schemes. New metrics would measure genuine prosperity, rather than the speed with which we degrade our long-term prospects.

Such proposals are familiar; but without a new framework of thought, piecemeal solutions are unlikely to succeed. By rethinking economics from first principles, Raworth allows us to integrate our specific propositions into a coherent programme, and then to measure the extent to which it is realised. I see her as the John Maynard Keynes of the 21st century: by reframing the economy, she allows us to change our view of who we are, where we stand, and what we want to be. Now we need to turn her ideas into policy. Read her book, then demand that those who wield power start working towards its objectives: human prosperity within a thriving living world.

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Hungry for knowledge, or hungry for a paycheck? Our education systems are a giant failure.

The Commodification of Education (Steve Keen)

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A real life consequence of Commodification of Education. Intellectual Yet Idiot.

The Fed Could Use Less Book Learning and More Street Smarts (Ricketts)

I’ll bet pundits and pollsters will forever ponder how Donald Trump got elected. For me, it’s straightforward: The American people—or at least enough of them to propel Mr. Trump into office—wanted to infuse practical business experience into the government. To borrow a phrase from my friend, the economist Larry Lindsey, voters rejected the political ruling class in favor of real-world experience. Which brings me to the Federal Reserve. In 2012 Jim Grant, the longtime financial journalist, delivered a speech at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. “In the not quite 100 years since the founding of your institution,” he said, “America has exchanged central banking for a kind of central planning and the gold standard for what I will call the Ph.D. standard.” Central banking, in other words, is now dominated by academics. And while I don’t blame them for it, academics by their nature come to decision-making with a distinctly—you guessed it—academic perspective.

The shift described by Mr. Grant has had consequences. For one thing, simplicity based on age-old practice has been replaced by complexity based on econometric theory. Big Data has played an increasingly prominent role in how the Fed operates, even as the Fed’s role in the economy has deepened and widened. Rather than enlisting business leaders and bankers to fulfill the Fed’s increasingly complex mission, the nation’s political and monetary authorities turned primarily to the world’s most brilliant economists, who can be thought of more and more as monetary scientists. “Central bankers have invited politicians to abdicate leadership authority to an inbred society of PhD academics who are infected to their core with groupthink, or as I prefer to think of it: ‘groupstink,’” argues former Dallas Fed analyst Danielle DiMartino Booth in a new book.

Ten of the 17 current Fed governors and regional bank presidents have doctorates in economics. Few have much experience in the private economy. Most have spent the bulk of their careers at the classroom lectern or in Washington. This is a sea change. In past decades, Fed members and governors frequently had experience in banking, industry and agriculture. Do the results indicate that our pursuit of intellectual horsepower has produced a stronger economy? Today’s labor-force participation rate is lower than at any time since the late 1970s; an oven from Sears that cost $160 in 1975 would cost more than $400 today; and despite unprecedented intervention in the economy, America has experienced its worst recovery since the Great Depression.Given the cumulative genius of the leaders of the Federal Reserve System, and the highly sophisticated quantitative tools and policies the Fed has developed under their direction, why aren’t we doing better?

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Just one example of how deluded the UK, like the US, has fast become when it comes to Russia. ‘Putin Did It’ is very much alive. It’s getting mighty tiresome.

Spectre Of Russian Influence Looms Large Over French Election (G.)

The golden domes of one of Vladimir Putin’s foreign projects, the recently built Russian Holy Trinity cathedral in the heart of Paris, rise up not far from the Elysée palace, the seat of the French presidency. Dubbed “Putin’s cathedral” or “Saint-Vladimir”, it stands out as a symbol of the many connections the French elite has long nurtured with Russia, and which the Kremlin is actively seeking to capitalise on in the run-up to the French presidential election. France is an important target for Russia’s soft power and networks of influence. The country is a key pillar of the European Union, an important Nato member and home to Europe’s largest far-right party, the Front National, whose leader, Marine Le Pen, is expected to reach the 7 May run-off in the presidential vote and has benefited from Russian financing.

Le Pen took the extraordinary step of travelling to Moscow to meet Putin in March, just a month before the French vote, to boost her international profile and showcase her closeness to the Russian president’s worldview – including his virulent hostility towards the EU and his vision of a “civilisational” clash with radical Islam. Yet she is far from being the only presidential candidate to favour warmer relations with Russia, nor to reflect a certain French fascination with the Kremlin strongman. [..] Russian meddling in elections has become a hot political topic in the US, and there has been much speculation about Russia’s attempts to favour Brexit as well as anti-EU parties in the Netherlands and Germany. But France is now widely seen as the key country where Russia has a strategic interest in encouraging illiberal forces and seeking to drive wedges between western democracies.

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One shudders to imagine what happens if Erdogan loses the Sunday April 16 referendum. And also what happens if he wins.

Moment Of Reckoning In Turkey As Alleged Coup Plotters Go On Trial (G.)

Turkish prosecutors are laying the groundwork for large-scale trials of hundreds of people accused of participating in a coup attempt last July, an undertaking that is already transforming society and will be a reckoning of sorts for a nation that has endured much upheaval in recent years. Authorities say the trials will shed light on alleged links between the accused and Fethullah Gülen, an exiled US-based preacher with a vast grassroots network. The onset of the trials has refocused attention on the large-scale purges of Turkey’s government, media and academia after the coup attempt, in which tens of thousands of people – many with no known links to the Gülenists – were dismissed or jailed. Meanwhile, Turkey is preparing for a referendum on Sunday on greater presidential powers, which could prove the most significant political development in the history of the republic.

“What happened on 15 July [the day of the attempted coup] and what is now happening for months is completely transformative for Turkey,” said a journalist who worked for a Gülen-affiliated media outlet and requested anonymity for fear of reprisals. “One big part of society has been subjected to extreme demonisation in a process that cost them their jobs, reputation, freedom or ultimately their lives. Another part of the society has been filled with anger and radically politicised. “Nothing can be the same as before 15 July any longer – ever,” he added. Turkish courts have already begun several parallel trials over the coup attempt. Last month prosecutors demanded life sentences for 47 people accused of attempting to assassinate the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on the night of the putsch, and the largest trial yet opened on 28 February in a specially built courtroom outside Ankara filled with more than 300 suspects accused of murder and attempting to overthrow the government.

About 270 suspects, including Gülen, went on trial in absentia in Izmir in January, and an indictment issued in late February alleges that Gülenists infiltrated the state and charges 31 members of the military with attempting to overthrow the constitutional order. The state intelligence agency, the National Intelligence Service (MIT), has sent prosecutors in Ankara a list of 122,000 individuals who allegedly used a secure messaging app, ByLock, which security officials say was widely used by the Gülen network for communications.

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Handing out money and housing to refugees while Greeks themselves are hungry and homeless. Great plan.

Greece: Cash and Apartments for Refugees with UNHCR Aid (GR)

Migration Deputy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas announced on Monday that refugees will be getting cash instead of free meals and will be staying in rented apartments in order to decongest migrant camps. In a joint press conference with the participation of Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Greece Philippe Leclerc, President of Union of Municipalities of Thesssaly Giorgos Kotsos and Larissa Mayor Apostolos Kaloyiannis, Mouzalas explained the project of decongestion of migrant camps and relocation of refugees in urban centers and smaller municipalities. Mouzalas said that refugees will be getting cash in hand for their meals instead of rations and will be staying in apartments under the UNHCR program, so that they will be getting primary care. The program applies for 10,000 asylum seekers in 2017 and another 10,000 in 2018.

The deputy minister clarified that the apartments will be rented by owners under free market conditions and the municipalities will assist the implementation of the program. This way, he said, local communities will benefit financially. The program will apply provided that the EU-Turkey agreement for refugee returns will continue to apply. This way, Mouzalas continued, the 40 camps across Greece that host 40,000 asylum seekers will be reduced to 17-20 with a maximum of 500 people each for 2017. In 2018, another 10,000 asylum seekers will be relocated under the program. The project will start with 500 refugees leaving the Koutsohera camp and moving to Larissa, a municipality that expressed interest in the program. As the program progresses, the camps in Thessaly (Koutsohera, Volos and Trikala) will eventually close and refugees will relocate in municipalities.

“The UN will help in the expansion of the hospitality program for refugees in apartments to improve their living conditions,” Leclerc said. The program has already been implemented in Athens, Thessaloniki and Livadia. The president of the Union of Municipalities of Thesssaly underlined that the program gives municipalities the opportunity to inject money to local communities through the leasing of the apartments and the cash the refugees would spend on food. The Larissa Mayor said that “The municipality of Larissa will work in this direction. Previously there was pressure to accommodate migrants in apartments, but it was too early. Today we are not afraid to do it.”

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The green movement condemns itself by offering only half solutions. Saving the planet would require drastic changes to everyone’s lifestyle and comfort. Instead we get CON21.

Why The Human Race Is Heading For The Fire (G.)

The future for humanity and many other life forms is grim. The crisis gathers force. Melting ice caps, rising seas, vanishing topsoil, felled rainforests, dwindling animal and plant species, a human population forever growing and gobbling and using everything up. What’s to be done? Paul Kingsnorth thinks nothing very much. We have to suck it up. He writes in a typical sentence: “This is bigger than anything there has ever been for as long as humans have existed, and we have done it, and now we are going to have to live through it, if we can.” Hope finds very little room in this enjoyable, sometimes annoying and mystical collection of essays. Kingsnorth despises the word’s false promise; it comforts us with a lie, when the truth is that we have created an “all-consuming global industrial system” which is “effectively unstoppable; it will run on until it runs out”.

To imagine otherwise – to believe that our actions can make the future less dire, even ever so slightly – means that we probably belong to the group of “highly politicised people, whose values and self-image are predicated on being activists”. According to Kingsnorth, such people find it hard to be honest with themselves. He was once one of them. “We might tell ourselves that The People are ignorant of The Facts and that if we enlighten them they will Act. We might believe that the right treaty has yet to be signed, or the right technology yet to be found, or that the problem is not too much growth and science and progress but too little of it. Or we might choose to believe that a Movement is needed to expose the lies being told to The People by the Bad Men in Power who are preventing The People from doing the rising up they will all want to do when they learn The Truth.”

He says this is where “the greens are today”. Environmentalism has become “a consolation prize for a gaggle of washed-up Trots”. As a characterisation of the green movement, this outbreak of adolescent satire seems unfair. To suggest that its followers become activists only because their “values and self-image” depend on it implies that there is no terror in their hearts, no love of the natural world, nothing real other than their need for a hobby.

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Nov 252015
 
 November 25, 2015  Posted by at 10:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing F Street, Washington, DC 1935

European Banks Sitting On €1 Trillion Mountain Of Bad Debt (Guardian)
If China Killed Commodities Super Cycle, Fed Is About to Bury It (Bloomberg)
US, German Manufacturers Can’t Shake The Slowdown In China (Forbes)
China’s Latest Economic Indicators Make For Gloomy Reading (Bloomberg)
Iron Ore Rout Deepens as Rising Supply, Weaker Demand Feed Glut (Bloomberg)
Presenting SocGen’s 5 Black Swans For 2016 (Zero Hedge)
Elite Funds Prepare For Reflation And A Bloodbath For Bonds (AEP)
Russia: Ankara Defends ISIS, Financial Interest In Oil Trade With Group (RT)
Russia Ready For Joint Command Against Islamic State: Paris Envoy (Reuters)
VW Faces Fresh Probe Over Tax Violation Claims in Germany
This is The Day We Say Farewell To All That Was Good About Britain (Murphy)
UK Consumer Borrowing Binge Troubles Bank Of England (Guardian)
Consume More, Conserve More: Sorry, But We Just Can’t Do Both (Monbiot)
EU Countries Diverting Overseas Aid To Cover Refugee Bills (Guardian)
EU Refugee Numbers Drop for First Time This Year as Winter Nears (Bloomberg)
Rate Of Refugee Arrivals in Greece Picking Up (Kath.)
Greece Spends €800,000 On Migrant Healthcare With EU Funding Absent (Kath.)

All it takes is one spark.

European Banks Sitting On €1 Trillion Mountain Of Bad Debt (Guardian)

European banks are sitting on bad debts of €1tn – the equivalent to the GDP of Spain – which is holding back their profitability and ability to lend to high street customers and businesses. According to a detailed analysis of 105 banks across 21 countries in the European Union conducted by the European Banking Authority (EBA), the experience of Europe’s banks to troubled customers is worse than that of their counterparts in the US. The €1tn (£706bn) of so-called non-performing loans amount to almost 6% of the total loans and advances of Europe’s banks, and 10% when lending to other financial institutions are excluded. The equivalent figure for the US banking industry is around 3%.

Piers Haben, director of oversight at the EBA, said that while the resilience of the financial sector was improving because more capital was being accumulated in banks, he remained concerned about bad debts. “EU banks will need to continue addressing the level of non-performing loans which remain a drag on profitability,” Haben said. Banks in Cyprus have half their lending classified as non-performing while in the UK the figure is 2.8%. Capital ratios – a closely watched measure of financial strength – had reached 12.8% by June 2015, well above the regulatory minimum, as banks held on to profits and also took steps to raise capital – for instance, by tapping shareholders for cash. In 2011 the figure was 9.7%.

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“Without fail, every single industrial commodity company allocated capital horrendously over the last 10 years..”

If China Killed Commodities Super Cycle, Fed Is About to Bury It (Bloomberg)

For commodities, it’s like the 21st century never happened. The last time the Bloomberg Commodity Index of investor returns was this low, Apple’s best-selling product was a desktop computer, and you could pay for it with francs and deutsche marks. The gauge tracking the performance of 22 natural resources has plunged two-thirds from its peak, to the lowest level since 1999. That shows it’s back to square one for the so-called commodity super cycle, a hunger for coal, oil and metals from Chinese manufacturers that powered a bull market for about a decade until 2011. “In China, you had 1.3 billion people industrializing – something on that scale has never been seen before,” said Andrew Lapping, deputy chief investment officer at Allan Gray Ltd., a manager of $33 billion of assets in Cape Town.

“But there’s just no way that can continue indefinitely. You can only consume so much.” If slowing Chinese growth, now headed for its weakest pace in 25 years, put the first nail in the coffin of the super cycle, the Federal Reserve is about to hammer in the last. The first U.S. interest rate increase since 2006 is expected next month by a majority of investors, helping push the dollar up by about 9% against a basket of 10 major currencies this year. That only adds to the woes of commodities, mostly priced in dollars, by cutting the spending power of global raw-materials buyers and making other assets that generate yields such as bonds and equities more attractive for investors.

The Bloomberg Commodity Index takes into account roll costs and gains in investing in futures markets to reflect the actual returns. By comparison, a spot index that tracks raw materials prices fell to a more than six-year low Monday, and a gauge of industry shares to the weakest since 2008 on Sept. 29. The biggest decliners in the mining index, which is down 31% this year, are copper producers First Quantum Minerals, Glencore and Freeport-McMoran. With record demand through the 2000s, commodity producers such as Total SA, Rio Tinto Group and Anglo American Plc invested billions in long-term capital projects that have left the world awash with oil, natural gas, iron ore and copper just as Chinese growth wanes. “Without fail, every single industrial commodity company allocated capital horrendously over the last 10 years,” Lapping said.

Oil is among the most oversupplied. Even as prices sank 60% from June 2014, stockpiles have swollen to an all-time high of almost 3 billion barrels. That’s due to record output in the U.S. and a decision by OPEC to keep pumping above its target of 30 million barrels a day to maintain market share and squeeze out higher-cost producers. A Fed move on rates and accompanying gains in the dollar will make it harder to mop up excesses in raw-materials supply. Mining and drilling costs often paid in other currencies will shrink relative to the dollars earned from selling oil and metals in global markets as the U.S. exchange rate appreciates. Russia’s ruble is down more than 30% against the dollar in the past year, helping to maintain the profitability of the country’s steel and nickel producers and allowing them to maintain output levels.

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“..not only affecting our business in China but also in the other international operation markets outside of China because these economies are so dependent on China..”

US, German Manufacturers Can’t Shake The Slowdown In China (Forbes)

You wouldn’t know it from looking at stocks, but the US manufacturing sector came darn close to contracting in October. Readings above 50 indicate expansion in the ISM gauge of manufacturing activity, and the October reading of 50.1 was the lowest in 29 months. Overall manufacturing activity has expanded for 34 straight months, but the pace of growth in the main ISM gauge has deteriorated for four consecutive months. There is reason for optimism. Factories saw new orders come in at a faster pace and production was strong. But, other than that, the ISM details were far from impressive. Not surprisingly, the prices paid index came in below 40 for the third consecutive month, reflecting the deflationary headwinds flowing through the economy.

More importantly, the employment details showed a sharp contraction, down to 47.6 versus 50.5 in September. The market is more concerned about non-farm payroll figures, but this sure seems to be a leading indicator, especially when you consider the weakness from September’s NFP report. It’s the same story in Germany, where mechanical engineering orders slumped 13% Y/Y in September, hit by an 18% drop in foreign demand. In a sign that the weakness in September wasn’t just a blip, foreign orders from outside the eurozone were down 7% in the nine months through September from the same period a year earlier, hit by a slowdown in developing economies that account for around 42% of Germany’s plant and machinery exports. It’s clear that most of this industrial weakness is being driven by China.

Domestic orders for Germany’s mechanical engineering industry were up 2% in the nine months through September from the same period a year ago, while eurozone demand rose 13% over this period. European demand looks ok, it’s just not strong enough to offset the weakness driven by China. German car maker Audi said Monday that falling Chinese demand is forcing it to slash production of Audi models at a plant in Changchun nearly 11%. General Motors Chief Executive Mary Barra last month said the slowdown in China, the world’s second-largest economy, “is not only affecting our business in China but also in the other international operation markets outside of China because these economies are so dependent on China.”

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The divergence between the two indicators should be stunning, but we’re used to it.

China’s Latest Economic Indicators Make For Gloomy Reading (Bloomberg)

China’s economy is still showing a muted response to waves of monetary and fiscal easing as of the half-way mark for the last quarter of the year, some of the earliest indicators suggest. A privately compiled purchasing managers’ index and a gauge based on search engine interest in small and medium-sized businesses deteriorated this month, while a sentiment indicator dropped sharply from October. Combined, the reports make gloomy reading ahead of official releases, the earliest of which will be manufacturing and services PMI reports due Dec. 1. Six interest-rate cuts in a year and expedited fiscal spending have yet to revive growth as overcapacity and weakness in old drivers like manufacturing and residential construction weigh on the world’s second-biggest economy. If official data confirm the sluggishness, Premier Li Keqiang’s growth goal may be missed for a second-straight year.

Here’s a look at what the economy’s earliest tea leaves show: The unofficial purchasing managers indexes for manufacturing and services sectors both declined, snapping increases in the two previous months. The manufacturing PMI declined to 42.4 in November from 43.3 in October, while the non-manufacturing reading fell to 42.9 from 44.2, according to reports jointly compiled by China Minsheng Banking and the China Academy of New Supply-side Economics. Numbers below 50 signal deteriorating conditions. “China’s economy hasn’t bottomed yet and downward pressures are mounting,” Jia Kang, director of the Beijing-based academy and former head of the finance ministry’s research institute, wrote. “We expect authorities to step up growth stabilization measures.” The Minxin PMIs are based on a monthly survey covering more than 4,000 companies, about 70% of which are smaller enterprises. The private gauges have shown a more volatile picture than the official PMIs in the past year.

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Overleveraged overcapacity.

Iron Ore Rout Deepens as Rising Supply, Weaker Demand Feed Glut (Bloomberg)

Iron ore has taken a fresh beating, with prices sinking to the lowest level in six years as output cuts at Chinese mills hurt demand while low-cost supplies from the biggest miners expand. It may get worse. “The key problem for iron ore is oversupply: the iron ore heavyweights have overestimated China’s appetite,” Gavin Wendt, founding director at MineLife in Sydney, said after prices dropped on Tuesday to the lowest level since daily data began in 2009. “Further price weakness is inevitable.” The commodity has been hurt this year by increasing output from the biggest miners including BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Vale and faltering demand for steel in China, where mills account for half of global output. Goldman Sachs said last week that the global market is oversupplied, with steel consumption in China remaining weak. Mills are battling sinking prices that have eroded profit margins.

“We’re going through a very difficult time,” said Philip Kirchlechner, director of Iron Ore Research. “It was always expected that it would come down to the $40s again, but not over a sustained period,” said Kirchlechner, former head of marketing at Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. Ore with 62% content delivered to Qingdao fell 1.9% to $43.89 a dry metric ton on Tuesday, according to Metal Bulletin Ltd. The commodity is headed for a third annual retreat, and the latest fall eclipsed the previous low of $44.59 set in July. The steel industry in China is reaching a critical point, according to Andy Xie, an independent economist who’s been bearish for years and sees a drop below $40 before year-end. Mills will have to cut production, said Xie, a former Asia-Pacific chief economist at Morgan Stanley. Crude-steel output in China will drop 23 million tons to 783 million tons next year, according to the China Iron & Steel Association.

Last month, the nation’s leading industry group reported wider losses and noted that while official interest rates in China have been cut, mills faced higher funding costs. The biggest miners are betting that higher production will enable them to cut costs and raise market share while less efficient suppliers get squeezed. Rio’s Andrew Harding, chief executive officer for iron ore and Australia, said this month the company will keep defending market share and if it cut output, volumes would simply be taken by less efficient rivals. Kirchlechner said that the onset of winter in China may bring something of a reprieve for prices as local ore producers are forced to curtail supplies, spurring increased demand for cargoes from overseas.

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Not sure either Tyler Durden or SocGen defines ‘black swan’ right: they’re the things you’re not supposed to see coming, so how can you predict them?

Presenting SocGen’s 5 Black Swans For 2016 (Zero Hedge)

In its latest quarterly Global Economic Outlook, SocGen takes a look at five political and economic black swans that could touch down in 2016 and also warns that “high levels of public sector debt, already overburdened monetary policy, still high debt stocks and on-going balance sheet clean ups in a number of economies leave the global economy will a low level of ammunition to deal with new shocks.” Here’s the latest SG “swan chart” which is “dominated by downside risks”:

As we and a bevy of others have pointed out, QE is bumping up against the law of diminishing returns and it’s no longer clear that doubling and tripling down on monetization will do anything at all to boost aggregate demand, juice global trade, or raise inflation expectations (but what it surely will do is continue to inflate asset bubbles). In this environment, fiscal stimulus may be the only “solution.” As SocGen puts it, “in the event of a major new significant shock, our baseline scenario remains that both the US and Europe would opt first for further monetary policy stimulus. Later on, however, as this proves inefficient, we would expect fiscal stimulus to be considered.” China, of course, has already gone this route, boosting fiscal spending by 36% in Ocotber as the country’s credit impulse disappeared despite six rate cuts in less than a year. From SocGen:

• Brexit at a probability of 45%, remains our highest probability risk. At this time, a date has yet to be set for the referendum but 3Q16 seems a likely timing, based on the idea that Prime Minister Cameron will want to hold the referendum within a reasonable timeframe on concluding an agreement with his EU partners (which could come as early as the December 2015 Summit, but more likely in March 2016).

• China hard landing remains a significant risk at 30%. Medium-term, we set an even higher probability of 40% on a lost decade scenario. As opposed to a hard landing, however, such a risk scenario would manifest itself only gradually. The most likely trigger for a China hard- landing is policy error with miscalculation of how much financial risk management or structural reform the system can absorb. We identify three main triggers. In practice, a combination thereof seems the most likely cause of such a risk scenario.

• Credit crunch: An intensification of capital outflows, a growing number of non-performing loans and an insufficient response from the PBoC could result in a credit crunch. Such risks could be further exacerbated by pressure coming from Chinese corporations’ foreign exchange denominated debt and overall high level of leverage.

• Dry-up in housing demand: Should a new housing shock emerge, triggering a buyers strike, then real estate developers (also burdened with foreign currency loans) could suffer renewed stress, triggering a significant scaling back of investment.

• Capacity overhang: The still-large excess capacity in the manufacturing sector would be further exacerbated in such a scenario, weighing on corporate margins and profits. The risk is to see bankruptcies and unemployment increase in such a bleak scenario.

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We watch bemused as Ambrose continues to make his case for optimism and inflation.

Elite Funds Prepare For Reflation And A Bloodbath For Bonds (AEP)

One by one, the giant investment funds are quietly switching out of government bonds, the most overpriced assets on the planet. Nobody wants to be caught flat-footed if the latest surge in the global money supply finally catches fire and ignites reflation, closing the chapter on our strange Lost Decade of secular stagnation. The Norwegian Pension Fund, the world’s top sovereign wealth fund, is rotating a chunk of its $860bn of assets into property in London, Paris, Berlin, Milan, New York, San Francisco and now Tokyo and East Asia. “Every real estate investment deal we do is funded by sales of government bonds,” says Yngve Slyngstad, the chief executive. It already owns part of the Quadrant 3 building on Regent Street, and bought the Pollen Estate – along with Saville Row – from the Church Commissioners last year. But this is just a nibble.

The fund is eyeing a 15pc weighting in property, an inflation-hedge if ever there was one. The Swiss bank UBS – an even bigger player with $2 trillion under management – has issued its own gentle warning on bonds as the US Federal Reserve prepares to kick off the first global tightening cycle since 2004. UBS expects five rate rises by the end of next year, 60 points more than futures contracts, and enough to rattle debt markets still priced for an Ice Age. Mark Haefele, the bank’s investment guru, said his clients are growing wary of bonds but do not know where to park their money instead. The UBS bubble index of global property is already flashing multiple alerts, with Hong Kong off the charts and London now so expensive that it takes a skilled worker 14 years to buy a broom cupboard of 60 square metres.

Mr Haefele says equities are the lesser risk, especially in Japan, where the central bank has bought 54pc of the entire market for exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and is itching to go further. As of late November, roughly $6 trillion of government debt was trading at negative interest rates, led by the Swiss two-year bond at -1.046pc. The German two-year Bund is at -0.4pc. The Germans and Czechs are negative all the way out to six years, the Dutch to five, the French to four and the Irish to three. Bank of America says $17 trillion of bonds are trading at yields below 1pc, including most of the Japanese sovereign debt market. This is a remarkable phenomenon given that global core inflation – as measured by Henderson Global Investor’s G7 and E7 composite – has been rising since late 2014 and is now at a seven-year high of 2.7pc.

In the eurozone, the M1 money supply is rising at a blistering pace of 11.9pc. A case can be made that the ECB should go for broke, deliberately stoking a short-term monetary boom to achieve “escape velocity” once and for all. The risk of a Japanese trap is not to be taken lightly. Yet even those who feared looming deflation in Europe two years ago are beginning to wonder whether the bank is losing the plot. If the ECB doubles down next week with more quantitative easing and a cut in the deposit rate to -0.3pc, as expected, it will validate the iron law that central banks are pro-cyclical recidivists, always and everywhere behind the curve. Caution is in order. The investment graveyard is littered with the fund managers who bet against Japanese bonds, only to see the 10-year yield keep falling for two decades, plumbing new depths of 0.24pc this January.

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Something tells me Russia’s info ain’t lying.

Russia: Ankara Defends ISIS, Financial Interest In Oil Trade With Group (RT)

Some Turkish officials have ‘direct financial interest’ in the oil trade with the terrorist group Islamic State, Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev said as he detailed possible Russian retaliation to Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane in Syria on Tuesday. “Turkey’s actions are de facto protection of Islamic State,” Medvedev said, calling the group formerly known as ISIS by its new name. “This is no surprise, considering the information we have about direct financial interest of some Turkish officials relating to the supply of oil products refined by plants controlled by ISIS.” “The reckless and criminal actions of the Turkish authorities… have caused a dangerous escalation of relations between Russia and NATO, which cannot be justified by any interest, including protection of state borders,” Medvedev said.

According to Medvedev, Russia is considering canceling several important projects with Turkey and barring Turkish companies from the Russian market. Russia has already recommended its citizens not to go Turkey citing terrorist threats, which have resulted in several tourist operators withdrawing tours to Turkey from the market. Russia may further scrap a gas pipeline project, aimed at turning Turkey into a major transit country for Russian natural gas going to Europe, and the construction of the country’s first nuclear power plant. Turkey shot down a Russian bomber over Syria on Tuesday, claiming it had violated Turkish airspace. Russia says no violation took place and considers the hostile act as ‘a stab in the back’ and direct assistance to terrorist forces in Syria.

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Including Turkey.

Russia Ready For Joint Command Against Islamic State: Paris Envoy (Reuters)

Russia is prepared to coordinate strikes against Islamic State militants in a joint command with the United States, France and others who want to participate, including Turkey, Moscow’s envoy to Paris said on Wednesday. French President Francois Hollande is trying to rally more international support to destroy Islamic State following the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris. He visited Washington on Tuesday and is due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday. “This coalition is a possibility,” Russia’s ambassador to France, Alexandre Orlov, told Europe 1 radio. “For our part, we are prepared to go further, to plan strikes against Daesh (Islamic State) positions together and to set up a joint command with France, America and any country that wants to join this coalition,” he said, noting that this included Turkey.

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Tax cases have been easier to make for prosecutors since Al Capone.

VW Faces Fresh Probe Over Tax Violation Claims in Germany

Volkswagen is facing a new criminal investigation after publishing incorrect emissions data that gave some drivers tax breaks that may have been unjustified. Prosecutors in Braunschweig, already looking into Volkswagen diesels, are now formally examining tax issues linked to faulty carbon-dioxide readings as well, spokesman Klaus Ziehe said by phone Tuesday. A separate probe was necessary because the accusations involve other cars and other people, he said. Five suspects are being investigated, Ziehe said, without identifying them. “German prosecutors like these kinds of investigations,” said Michael Kubiciel, a criminal law professor at the University of Cologne. “It’s easier to pursue charges under German tax law than under environmental protection rules.”

Volkswagen has said the people who bought the cars won’t have to pay the difference in taxes. The bill adds to the mounting tab of recall costs and regulatory fines the carmaker faces over irregular and falsified vehicle emissions, a scandal that began more than two months ago with Volkswagen’s admission to rigging diesel engines in 11 million vehicles worldwide. The CO2 issue arose Nov. 3, after the automaker said about 800,000 cars, mostly in Europe, had emissions of the greenhouse gas that didn’t match up with the levels promised. That matters because CO2 is a key measure for setting tax rates for motor vehicles in many European countries. Improperly labeled cars with higher-than-marketed emissions may lead authorities to reclaim the tax breaks.

Volkswagen estimated the financial risk of manipulating the ratings at about €2 billion. That sum includes paying governments for missing tax revenue. The carmaker already set aside €6.7 billion in the third quarter to fix diesel cars with engine software that allowed them to pass emission tests by illegally restricting pollution during testing. European regulators have approved Volkswagen’s proposals for how to repair about 70% of the diesel engines affected worldwide, Chief Executive Officer Matthias Mueller told a gathering of executives in Wolfsburg, Germany, on Monday. Meanwhile, Volkswagen’s Audi division will resubmit a revised version of software that the EPA and California Air Resources Board has targeted in its latest probe. If approved, the fix for 85,000 Audi, Volkswagen and Porsche cars with 3.0-liter diesel engines should cost roughly €50 million. EPA and CARB will review and test the revised software.

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The man behind Jeremy Corbyn.

This is The Day We Say Farewell To All That Was Good About Britain (Murphy)

I think that today we will say farewell to all that made the UK a compassionate, decent, fair and civilised society. After George Osborne has had his way I have a deeply uncomfortable feeling that this country will be more brutal, unequal, divided and profoundly individualistic. Once Margaret Thatcher said there was no such thing as society. Today I feel like George Osborne is trying to prove it. Tax is not going to be the focus of today, I suspect. It should be: if George Osborne wants to pursue the goal of a balanced budget (which has no economic merit, at all) then tackling the tax gap and cutting tax expenditures would be the obvious thing to do and that would deliver increased economic fairness and social justice. But those will not be at the heart of today.

Today is about shrinking the state. Apart from the economic illiteracy of this (at the macro level cutting government spending is the same as cutting GDP if there is spare capacity in the economy, and so the policy Osborne is pursuing makes it harder for him to achieve his goal) there is the massive social injustice that this entails to worry about. Social inequality will increase as a result of today. The disabled will be worse off again. The young will suffer disproportionately. The education of many will be harmed. Our long term prospects will be reduced. Those in need of care will have less available. Society will be more vulnerable. And yes, some will die as a result of today. That has to be said.

Those are all choices. And none of them is necessary. The policy of austerity is a political affectation designed to increase the wealth of a few, to favour large companies and to appease bankers. It cannot work, although I think George Osborne does not realise that although the evidence is obvious. And so the question as to why it has been adopted has to be asked. And that comes down to greed, a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and a blunt indifference to others.

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First encourage them, then…

UK Consumer Borrowing Binge Troubles Bank Of England (Guardian)

Bank of England policymakers may need to take action to prevent a risky consumer borrowing binge as the economy recovers, the bank’s chief economist has warned. Appearing before the cross-party Treasury select committee alongside the Bank’s governor, Mark Carney, Andy Haldane warned that consumer credit, in particular personal loans, had been “picking up at a rate of knots. That ultimately might be an issue that the financial policy committee [FPC] might want to look at fairly carefully.” The Financial Policy Committee (FPC), created after the financial crisis, is meant to prevent a future crash by allowing the Bank to take action in particular markets without using the blunter tool of interest rates. Chaired by the governor, it has 10 members – but does not include Haldane.

The FPC has already stepped in to constrain mortgage lending but its powers to confront a credit bubble are untested. The latest data from the Bank showed the rate of growth of consumer credit picking up sharply. Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative MP who chairs the Treasury select committee, said: “The FPC has huge new powers which only small numbers of the public have so far been aware of, and it is particularly important that we hold them accountable. Many of these decisions were formerly the preserve of politicians.” Carney told MPs he was limited as to how much he could say about the FPC, as he was in “purdah”, as its next meeting approached; but he confirmed the rapid pace of credit growth was something it might need to look at.

He added that the separate monetary policy committee (MPC), which sets interest rates, has to take into account the historically high debt levels of Britain’s households as it made interest rate decisions. “Without question, more indebted households are more vulnerable,” he said. “The pressure on households because of the debt burden is significant. There is less margin for error.”

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The main focus of that worse-than-useless Paris climate summit.

Consume More, Conserve More: Sorry, But We Just Can’t Do Both (Monbiot)

We can have it all: that is the promise of our age. We can own every gadget we are capable of imagining – and quite a few that we are not. We can live like monarchs without compromising the Earth’s capacity to sustain us. The promise that makes all this possible is that as economies develop, they become more efficient in their use of resources. In other words, they decouple. There are two kinds of decoupling: relative and absolute. Relative decoupling means using less stuff with every unit of economic growth; absolute decoupling means a total reduction in the use of resources, even though the economy continues to grow. Almost all economists believe that decoupling – relative or absolute – is an inexorable feature of economic growth. On this notion rests the concept of sustainable development.

It sits at the heart of the climate talks in Paris next month and of every other summit on environmental issues. But it appears to be unfounded. A paper published earlier this year in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences proposes that even the relative decoupling we claim to have achieved is an artefact of false accounting. It points out that governments and economists have measured our impacts in a way that seems irrational. Here’s how the false accounting works. It takes the raw materials we extract in our own countries, adds them to our imports of stuff from other countries, then subtracts our exports, to end up with something called “domestic material consumption”. But by measuring only the products shifted from one nation to another, rather than the raw materials needed to create those products, it greatly underestimates the total use of resources by the rich nations.

For instance, if ores are mined and processed at home, these raw materials, as well as the machinery and infrastructure used to make finished metal, are included in the domestic material consumption accounts. But if we buy a metal product from abroad, only the weight of the metal is counted. So as mining and manufacturing shift from countries such as the UK and the US to countries like China and India, the rich nations appear to be using fewer resources. A more rational measure, called the material footprint, includes all the raw materials an economy uses, wherever they happen to be extracted. When these are taken into account, the apparent improvements in efficiency disappear. In the UK, for instance, the absolute decoupling that the domestic material consumption accounts appear to show is replaced with an entirely different chart.

Not only is there no absolute decoupling; there is no relative decoupling either. In fact, until the financial crisis in 2007, the graph was heading in the opposite direction: even relative to the rise in our gross domestic product, our economy was becoming less efficient in its use of materials. Against all predictions, a recoupling was taking place. While the OECD has claimed that the richest countries have halved the intensity with which they use resources, the new analysis suggests that in the EU, the US, Japan and the other rich nations, there have been “no improvements in resource productivity at all”. This is astonishing news. It appears to makes a nonsense of everything we have been told about the trajectory of our environmental impacts.

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Which will only lead to more refugees.

EU Countries Diverting Overseas Aid To Cover Refugee Bills (Guardian)

A report published on Tuesday by Concord, the European NGO confederation for relief and development, documents an emerging trend among member states to divert aid budgets from sustainable development to domestic costs associated with hosting refugees and asylum seekers. Some of the expenditure items EU countries report as aid do not translate into a real transfer of resources to developing countries or, ultimately, to people who are poor and marginalised, the report has found. This is not the first time that NGOs have reported that EU monies are increasingly being spent on tackling the refugee crisis and border security, rather than fighting poverty and inequality.

But this time the Concord AidWatch report contains data from the OECD CRS dataset complemented by updated national figures. In some cases, data from the European commission and Eurostat is also used. Concord says that some EU countries are misreporting some of their official development assistance (ODA) expenses by including costs which, under existing guidelines, should not have been counted. The reporting of non-eligible migration-related expenses in Spain and Malta, or the misreporting of refugee costs in Hungary, are among the examples cited. Inflated aid is calculated on the bilateral component of EU aid. Many of the components – imputed student costs, refugee costs, interest and tied aid – do not apply to multilateral aid.

The report found that in 2014, the EU28 and the European institutions inflated their aid by €7.1bn, which represents 12% of all aid flows. Some countries inflate aid more than others. While the percentage of inflated aid for Luxembourg is estimated at 0.3% of the country s total aid, and at 0.5% for the UK, it is, in contrast, 50.6% for Malta, 30.9% for Austria and 27.2% for Portugal. The EU institutions are no different from the member states, having ‘inflated’ their aid by 9.9%.

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See next article.

EU Refugee Numbers Drop for First Time This Year as Winter Nears (Bloomberg)

The number of refugees arriving in the European Union from violence-scarred regions of the Middle East and Africa is set to fall in November as traveling conditions worsen and member states looked to strengthen the bloc’s external borders. The number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach the EU this month fell to 116,579 through Nov. 23 compared with a record 220,535 in October, according to the United Nations refugee agency. The deepening chaos in nations from Libya to Syria has spawned an unprecedented wave of more than 860,000 people seeking shelter within the EU this year. The influx opened divisions within the bloc as German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted Europe must honor its asylum commitments while other leaders such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban complained of the strain on their communities.

The pressure on Merkel increased this month when jihadists who attacked restaurants and a music venue in Paris. At least two of the assailants are thought to have entered the EU as refugees. On Friday EU nations agreed to bolster controls on frontiers around the bloc. They agreed to start carrying out systematic registration, including fingerprinting of all migrants entering into the Schengen area. All travelers will have their passports checked when they arrive in Europe, extending the full-blown screening that is currently limited to non-EU passport holders. The number of people entering Hungary slowed to a trickle this month after Orban closed the country’s border with Croatia on Oct. 18. Austria overtook Croatia as the nation with most arrivals during the first two weeks of November as the number of people embarking on the journey to Europe declined.

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Betcha the Greeks know more and better than the UN.

Rate Of Refugee Arrivals in Greece Picking Up (Kath.)

After a brief dip in the number of refugees and migrants arriving on Greece’s eastern Aegean islands, an increase was noted on Tuesday in the quantity of boats reaching Greek shores from Turkey. The uptick came a day ahead of Frontex’s management board meeting in Warsaw on Wednesday, when it is expected that the European Union border agency will decide to move its operational office from Piraeus. The office has been located in the port city since 2010 and its removal would be seen as a diplomatic blow for Greece, especially given the current flow of refugees to the country. More than 60 dinghies carrying migrants arrived on Lesvos on Tuesday as Alternate Foreign Minister Nikos Xydakis and Immigration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas guided the ambassadors of European Union countries around the island so they could get a closeup view of the impact of the refugee crisis.

Greece has been under pressure to improve the registration process for arrivals and Lesvos is expected to host a so-called hotspot at the Moria camp, where authorities are hoping to register between 1,000 and 1,500 people a day. Police officials said they expect the hotspot to be ready in less than two weeks. The recent letup in the number of people reaching Lesvos allowed authorities in Athens, where migrants are transferred, to empty the sports hall in Galatsi, which is being used for temporary shelter, and move everyone to the Tae Kwon Do Stadium in Faliro. Tuesday’s arrivals on Lesvos included a yacht carrying 140 migrants who had each paid around 3,000 euros to travel from Turkey in its relative safety. Two bodies also washed up in the island pn Tuesday.

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How it this possible. Greece needs that money for its own citizens’ health care.

Greece Spends €800,000 On Migrant Healthcare With EU Funding Absent (Kath.)

Greece has so far this year spent more than €800,000 in healthcare for about 2,000 migrants and refugees, according to data from the Health Ministry. According to the data, which were presented by General Secretary for Public Health Yiannis Baskozos during a conference of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Rome on Tuesday, demand for the EKAV emergency medical assistance service has increased by 42% compared to 2014. Ambulance calls doubled between June – November – when the refugee crisis peaked – over the same period last year. “[Greece] has managed to fulfill the current healthcare needs for refugees and migrants notwithstanding the absence of EU funding,” Baskozos told the conference.

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Nov 162015
 
 November 16, 2015  Posted by at 10:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Pine Street below Kearney after the great San Francisco earthquake and fire 1906

Japan ‘Quintuple Dip’ Recession Delivers A Fresh Blow To Abenomics (Reuters)
Asia Pacific Shares Fall Sharply On Paris Attacks, Japanese Recession (Guardian)
Quiet US Ports Spark Slowdown Fears (WSJ)
Debt Market Distortions Go Global as Nothing Makes Sense Anymore (Bloomberg)
China’s Currency Path and the Dollar-Debt Time Bomb (WSJ)
China’s Banks Aren’t Feeling the Love (Bloomberg)
As China Firms Walk Out On Wall St., Spurned Investors Demand Payback (Reuters)
What To Do About Debt (Kazul-Wright)
Greece Misses Bailout Deadline As Talks With Creditors Drag On (Guardian)
It Is Hard To See How Italy Can Stay In The Eurozone (Münchau)
Europe’s Youths Yearn to Move as Prosperity Proves Elusive (Bloomberg)
Merkel Warns Against Drawing Innocent Refugees Into Terror Fight (Bloomberg)
US States To Turn Away Syrian Refugees (CNBC)
Brazil Mining Flood Could Devastate Environment For Years (Reuters)
An Alternative Long Shot (Theo Kitchener)
Snow Decline, Water Shortage To Hit 2 Billion Living in N. Hemisphere (Reuters)

A Reuters article based one-on-one on Zero Hedge terminology, without proper attribution. Curious. Even nicked the graph.

Japan ‘Quintuple Dip’ Recession Delivers A Fresh Blow To Abenomics (Reuters)

Japan has slid back into recession for the fifth time in seven years amid uncertainty about the state of the global economy, putting policymakers under growing pressure to deploy new stimulus measures to support a fragile recovery. The world’s third-largest economy shrank an annualised 0.8% in July-September, more than a market forecast for a 0.2% contraction, government data showed on Monday. That followed a revised 0.7% contraction in the previous quarter, fulfilling the technical definition of a recession which is two back-to-back quarterly contractions. It is the fifth time Japan has entered recession since 2008, a so-called “quintuple dip”. The Nikkei share average dipped sharply by at the opening of trade on Monday as the poor figures compounded nervousness on markets in the wake of the Paris terror attacks.

But it recovered to just 1% down at lunchtime on the hope that the news would force policymakers to launch another round of stimulus measures. “The headline was weak, but the market is shifting to expectations for more measures,” said Mitsushige Akino at Ichiyoshi Asset Management. The yen rose slightly, reflecting its safe haven status against the euro. But the outlook for the Japanese economy remains weak. Many analysts expect the economy to grow only moderately in the current quarter as companies remain hesitant to use their record profits for wage rises, underscoring the challenges premier Shinzo Abe faces in pulling the country out of stagnation with his “Abenomics” stimulus policies. The dismal reading may affect debate among politicians and policymakers on how much fiscal spending should be earmarked in a supplementary budget that is expected to be compiled this fiscal year.

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Make that Japan.

Asia Pacific Shares Fall Sharply On Paris Attacks, Japanese Recession (Guardian)

Stock markets in Asia Pacific have fallen sharply in the wake of the Paris terror attacks and downbeat economic data. Leading the losers was the Nikkei index in Japan which tumbled nearly 1.3% as official figures showed that the country’s economy had entered recession for the fifth time in seven years. The widely tracked CBOE volatility index or “fear gauge” was at its highest level since 2 October and bourses in Australia, South Korea and Hong Kong all saw substantial falls of more than 1% in early trading. In Europe, futures trade pointed to sharp falls in the main markets with the FTSE100 predicted to be down 40 points or around 0.6% at the open and the Dax in Germany down 1%. The French financial markets were due to open as usual on Monday, with extra security measures taken for staff, stock and derivatives, the Euronext exchange said.

The CAC40 French bourse was set to open 2% lower on Monday. With concerns about how European leaders would respond to the Paris attacks, the euro was sold heavily in Asian trading and fell to a six-month low of $1.071. Global security concerns were better news for some commodities, however, as Brent crude oil was up 1% at $44.92 a barrel after shedding 1% on Friday. US crude was up about 0.54% at $40.96 a barrel. Gold added about 0.5% to stand at $1,091.96 an ounce. “Risk aversion is on the rise and we are seeing broad-based U.S. dollar strength across the board and this may continue until the year end as recent economic data has also disappointed,” said Mitul Kotecha, head of Asian FX and rates strategy at Barclays in Singpore.

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World trade is shrinking. Get used to it.

Quiet US Ports Spark Slowdown Fears (WSJ)

America’s busiest ports are sending a warning about the U.S. economy. For the first time in at least a decade, imports fell in both September and October at each of the three busiest U.S. seaports, according to data from trade researcher Zepol Corp. analyzed by The Wall Street Journal. Combined, imports at the container terminals at the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Calif. and around New York harbor, which handle just over half of the goods entering the country by sea, fell by just over 10% between August and October. The declines came during a stretch from late summer to early fall known in the transportation world as peak shipping season, when cargo volumes typically surge through U.S. ports.

It is a crucial few months for the U.S. economy as well: High import volumes can signal a confident view on the economy among retailers and manufacturers, while fears of a slowdown grow when ports are quiet. Economists are divided as to whether the peak season slump signals a short-term hiccup for the U.S. economy, or marks the start of a sustained period of weakness. Some say the slump is being driven by businesses that have cut back on imports because of a weak economic outlook, which could point to sluggish global growth ahead. Others say it is a side effect of a massive inventory buildup that took place earlier in the year. Despite the weak peak, imports in the first 10 months of the year at the nation’s busiest ports are still up 4% from a year earlier, Zepol data show.

Rather than ordering huge shipments of goods in the late summer and early fall, more businesses are stocking up throughout the year and holding on to inventories for longer. “There was a little bit of overdoing it in the beginning of the year,” said Ethan Harris at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “Once we adjust to it, I would expect that business picks up again, shipping picks up again, container imports should pick up again.” But the missing peak season has been a major headache for trucking companies, railroads and steamship lines. One large maritime carrier, Singapore’s Neptune Orient Lines, told investors there was “no peak season” in North America as an explanation for a $96 million quarterly loss.

Some of the country’s biggest trucking companies and railroads have recently reported weaker-than-expected earnings. Many have cut the rates they charge customers as demand sagged during what is usually their strongest months. For trucking companies in particular the turnabout has been abrupt, with some companies pivoting from expressing concerns about tight capacity to worries about future profits in the space of a few weeks. Whether it proves a temporary drag or not, the inventory unwind has a long way to go. Nationwide, the seasonally adjusted ratio of inventories to sales at U.S. retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers in September was at 1.38, up from 1.31 in September 2014 and the highest reading for that month since 2001, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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What central banks produce.

Debt Market Distortions Go Global as Nothing Makes Sense Anymore (Bloomberg)

Something very strange is happening in the world of fixed income. Across developed markets, the conventional relationship between government debt – long considered the risk-free benchmark – and other assets has been turned upside-down. Nowhere is that more evident than in the U.S., where lending to the government should be far safer than speculating on the direction of interest rates with Wall Street banks. But these days, it’s just the opposite as a growing number of Treasuries yield more than interest-rate swaps. The same phenomenon has emerged in the U.K., while the “swap spread” as it’s known among bond-market types, has shrunk to the smallest on record in Australia.

Part of it simply has to do with the fact that investors are pushing up yields on Treasuries – which guide rates for just about everything – as the Federal Reserve prepares to raise borrowing costs for the first time in a decade. But in many ways, it reflects the unintended consequences of post-crisis rules designed to make the financial system stronger. Those changes have made it cheaper and safer to use derivatives to hedge risk, and more onerous and expensive for bond dealers to make markets in the safest securities. “These kinds of dislocations can be expected to grow over time,” said Aaron Kohli at Bank of Montreal, one of 22 primary dealers that trade directly with the Fed. “The market structure and regulatory structure has evolved in a period with very low volatility. Once you take that away, it’s not clear what the secondary implications of that will be.”

It’s hard to overstate how illogical it is when swap spreads are inverted. That’s because it suggests that governments are less creditworthy than the very financial institutions they bailed out during the credit crisis just seven years ago. And as the Fed prepares to end its near-zero rate policy, those distortions are coming to the fore. The rate on 30-year swaps, which allow investors, companies and traders to exchange fixed interest rates for those that fluctuate with the market, and vice versa, has been lower then comparable yields on Treasuries for years now as pension funds and insurers increasingly hedged their long-term liabilities. But in the past three months, spreads on shorter-dated contracts have also quickly turned negative. Now, five-year swap rates are 0.05 percentage points lower than similar-maturity Treasuries, while those due in three years are also on the verge of flipping.

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$4.4 trillion added in dollar denominated debt to non-banks outside US. That’s a lot of bankruptcies.

China’s Currency Path and the Dollar-Debt Time Bomb (WSJ)

Investors betting that China won’t take another run through the bull’s market shop ought to be careful. Things are looking more settled than in August, when a surprise devaluation by China sent paroxysms through global markets. Stocks in developed countries have mostly recovered, even as investors contend with the likelihood the Federal Reserve will raise rates. One possible reason for the calm is that investors may have reckoned that China, having backed off after witnessing the problems that it unleashed in August, is loath to repeat the experience. Indeed, the value of the yuan has been remarkably stable since the summer’s policy change. But this may have only created a false sense of security among investors. A decision expected later this month from the IMF on whether to include the yuan in its reserve currency basket may have China holding off on any sudden moves.

Once that decision is made, China may feel freer to let the currency fall. If so, it wouldn’t take much to unsettle markets again. This summer’s yuan devaluation was relatively minor, falling by just 3% versus the dollar over three days. Yet it set off fears of a series of competitive devaluations. Other currencies fell against the dollar, and commodity prices came under heavy pressure. One reason that is such a concern: In recent years, there has been a marked increase in dollar-denominated lending outside the U.S., much of it coming through bond issuance rather than banks, and much of it destined for emerging-market borrowers. The Bank for International Settlements estimates that the amount of dollar-denominated credit extended to nonbanks outside the U.S. reached $9.7 trillion in the first quarter this year, from $5.3 trillion at the end of 2007.

For commodity producers straining under dollar debt loads, like Brazil, the pain can be acute. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index, which had already been under pressure this summer, fell by 13% in two weeks after China’s move. It has since gained back much of that lost ground. So what happens next? The “X” factor is Chinese capital flows. Part of the reason China blinked in August is that the move triggered a large outflow of cash. This is inherently destabilizing because it undermines the ability of China’s central bank to keep the financial system liquid. For years, China relied on inflows to boost money supply. When money is flowing out, banks starve for cash.

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I said the other day that it’s trnage to include state owned banks in these ‘exercises’.

China’s Banks Aren’t Feeling the Love (Bloomberg)

China’s biggest banks aren’t happy about being included in international rules that require them to raise extra capital to protect taxpayers in the event of a renewed bout of financial turmoil. It’s hard not to sympathize.China, after all, wasn’t responsible for the global financial crisis. Unlike in the U.S. or Europe, not a single bank collapsed. The country sailed through the upheaval largely unscathed, cushioned by a record $586 billion stimulus plan.Seven years after the collapse of Lehman, the total loss-absorbing capacity, or TLAC, rule is all about the tender loving care of the general public. The idea is that by making banks sell bonds that are explicitly exposed to losses, a lender that fails can be wound down and recapitalized without the government having to resort to taxpayer-funded bailouts.

Here again, China has cause for complaint. The TLAC rule is designed for a world in which systemically important banks, and the bond investors who funded them, could engage in risky behavior without having to bear the consequences. A world of moral hazard, in other words. Creditors of a bank were implicitly relying on the state to back them up and therefore didn’t pay much attention to what the institutions were doing, as Mark Carney, head of the Financial Stability Board, which designed the rule, noted last week. Governments poured hundreds of billions of dollars into banks after the 2008 crisis: Much of that went to rescue bondholders, whose claims were equal to those of depositors.

But China doesn’t work like that. All the biggest and most systemically important banks in China are controlled by the state, so the country isn’t exposed to the kind of moral hazard that laid waste to public finances in the U.S. and Europe. And Chinese taxpayers will ultimately remain on the hook for anything major that goes wrong with those banks, with or without a TLAC rule. The FSB included China’s four biggest lenders on its list of the world’s too-big-to-fail institutions: Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, Bank of China, China Construction Bank and Agricultural Bank of China. They lobbied hard to be excluded, using various reasons in their submissions, including the fact that customer deposits account for a large proportion of total liabilities, making for a lower liquidity risk than for banks whose focus is primarily on wholesale funding.

There are practical as well as philosophical objections. To meet the board’s requirements, Chinese banks may have to sell as much as 4.4 trillion yuan ($690 billion) of securities, according to ICBC’s estimates. That’s going to be a challenge, to put it mildly, in a bond market with a total size of about $5.2 trillion. China’s bond market has been growing, though it remains equal to only about half the size of the country’s $10.4 trillion economy. The U.S. bond market, by contrast, is about one and a half times the size of the economy. What’s worse, the biggest players in China’s bond market are…Chinese banks. Since lenders aren’t allowed to buy each others’ bonds for TLAC purposes (for obvious reasons), that means the effective size of the bond market is even smaller.

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China firms want to get back to ther own casino. More gambling going on.

As China Firms Walk Out On Wall St., Spurned Investors Demand Payback (Reuters)

Chinese firms listed in New York are finding out the hard way that it’s easier to love global investors than leave them. As dozens plan buyouts and a return home in search of higher valuations, companies that were once Wall Street’s darlings for the first time face the wrath of minority shareholders. Asset managers are publicly demanding better premiums, reflecting historical valuations and not 2015’s slide. In deals collectively worth $40 billion, some 33 mainland China companies have unveiled plans this year to be taken private and delisted from the Unites States, according to Thomson Reuters data. But a cottage industry of hedge funds and lawyers is coalescing around those determined not to accept low-ball bids for their assets.

“We want to put as much pressure as possible,” said portfolio manager Lin Yang at FM Capital, a Britain-based hedge fund backed by the Libyan sovereign wealth fund that owns 1.4% of medical firm China Cord Blood. FM Capital is urging a group of mainland China investors to raise a buyout offer, saying the shares are worth 2.5 times the proposed bid. “If no shareholder challenges the offer, it will go through on the cheap,” said Lin. Peaking at a valuation of $615 million in August this year, China Cord Blood’s market capitalization has shrunk to just over $500 million; the bid was made in late April, valuing the target at $512 million.

There’s no deadline for the China Cord Blood buyout offer is and it’s unclear what the outcome will be; the company didn’t respond to email seeking comment. But minority investors have scored notable successes this year: In one case, Chinese investment firm Vast Profit Holdings raised by 34% a March buyout offer that initially valued dating service Jianyuan.com at $178.9 million after pressure from U.S. asset manager Heng Ren Investments and others.

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“Global debt has grown some $57 trillion since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, reaching a back-breaking $199 trillion in 2014..”

What To Do About Debt (Kazul-Wright)

Over the last few months, a great deal of attention has been devoted to financial-market volatility. But as frightening as the ups and downs of stock prices can be, they are mere froth on the waves compared to the real threat to the global economy: the enormous tsunami of debt bearing down on households, businesses, banks, and governments. If the US Federal Reserve follows through on raising interest rates at the end of this year, as has been suggested, the global economy – and especially emerging markets – could be in serious trouble. Global debt has grown some $57 trillion since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, reaching a back-breaking $199 trillion in 2014, more than 2.5 times global GDP, according to the McKinsey Global Institute.

Servicing these debts will most likely become increasingly difficult over the coming years, especially if growth continues to stagnate, interest rates begin to rise, export opportunities remain subdued, and the collapse in commodity prices persists. Much of the concern about debt has been focused on the potential for defaults in the eurozone. But heavily indebted companies in emerging markets may be an even greater danger. Corporate debt in the developing world is estimated to have reached more than $18 trillion dollars, with as much as $2 trillion of it in foreign currencies. The risk is that – as in Latin America in the 1980s and Asia in the 1990s – private-sector defaults will infect public-sector balance sheets. That possibility is, if anything, greater today than it has been in the past.

Increasingly open financial markets allow foreign banks and asset managers to dump debts rapidly, often for reasons that have little to do with economic fundamentals. When accompanied by currency depreciation, the results can be brutal – as Ukraine is learning the hard way. In such cases, private losses inevitably become a costly public concern, with market jitters rapidly spreading across borders as governments bail out creditors in order to prevent economic collapse. It is important to note that indebted governments are both more and less vulnerable than private debtors. Sovereign borrowers cannot seek the protection of bankruptcy laws to delay and restructure payments; at the same time, their creditors cannot seize non-commercial public assets in compensation for unpaid debts. When a government is unable to pay, the only solution is direct negotiations. But the existing system of debt restructuring is inefficient, fragmented, and unfair.

Read more …

“Greek banks have been weighed down by a mountain of bad loans with lenders claiming that many are the result of strategic defaulters..”

Greece Misses Bailout Deadline As Talks With Creditors Drag On (Guardian)

The deadline to dispense further rescue loans to debt stricken Greece was extended by eurozone countries once again on Sunday amid continuing deadlock between Athens and its creditors. With negotiations still bogged down over failure to agree on a new foreclosure law – legislation the leftist-led government says would push austerity-hit Greeks over the edge – lenders postponed a critical Eurogroup Working Group until Tuesday. The meeting, a final assessment of the reform progress Athens has made since it signed up to a third bailout in July, is crucial to unlocking €2bn in rescue loans and €10bn for the recapitalisation of Greek banks. Finance ministers gathered in Brussels last week had insisted talks should be concluded by Monday, to trigger the release of the next instalment of the €86bn euro bailout programme.

But announcing the delay, Jeroen Dijsselbloem who chairs the Eurogroup of euro area finance ministers, also heaped praise on Greece saying headway had been made. “I welcome that good progress has been made between the Greek authorities and the institutions in the discussions on the measures included in the first set of milestones,” the Dutch politician said in a statement Sunday. “Agreement has been reached on many issues.” The Eurogroup Working Group sets the tone for decisions taken by finance ministers representing EU member states in the single currency. Talks were meant to have been completed by mid-October but have repeatedly stalled on the issue of how much protection local home-owners should be given in the event of defaulting on mortgages. Greek banks have been weighed down by a mountain of bad loans with lenders claiming that many are the result of strategic defaulters deliberately failing to keep up with payments.

Read more …

“From next year EU “bail-in” rules take effect. Then the Italian government will no longer simply be able to bail out banks but will have to make bondholders and depositors pay up first.”

It Is Hard To See How Italy Can Stay In The Eurozone (Münchau)

Yoram Gutgeld last week made one of the most astonishing economic statements I have heard in a long time. The adviser to PM Matteo Renzi said in an interview that Italy’s economy was immune to global developments for the next 12 to 24 months because of the tax cuts and reforms of the present administration. The idea that a G7 club of rich nations is immune to the global economy is ludicrous. This is the 21st century. Granted, Mr Gutgeld may have spoken as the prime minister’s spin-doctor. That is part of his job. But what worries me is that the Italian government is not ready for when the impact of the slowdown in China and emerging markets hits Europe. Friday’s preliminary figures for eurozone GDP show that the slowdown has started. Italy’s quarter-on-quarter growth rates have been falling: from 0.4% in the first quarter to 0.3% in the second to 0.2% in the third.

Italy’s ability to sustain a healthy rate of growth is critical — for the country’s political stability, for its young people with no hope of finding work, for debt sustainability and in particular for its future in the eurozone. The euro has brought Italy nothing but stagnation. Real GDP is now at the same level as at the start of 2000, a year after the euro was launched. GDP today is 9% below the pre-crisis level in early 2008. If Italy fails to bounce back strongly from this recession, it is hard to see how it can stay in the eurozone. At some point it might well be in the country’s undisputed economic self-interest to leave and devalue. So when we ask whether the economic recovery is sustainable, we are not having a technical dialogue about economics. We are talking about Italy’s future in Europe.

There are three reasons why I am sceptical. The first is evident in last Friday’s GDP data. Italy is not exceptional. The second reason is the lack of restructuring of Italian banks. The stock of non-performing loans as a percentage of all loans is about 10%, which is close to the peak level in the current cycle. Many of the small and medium-sized banks are in effect insolvent. The clean-up of the banking system — following the 2008 crisis and the two subsequent recessions — has yet to happen. If it does, it will take place in a much tougher regulatory environment. From next year EU “bail-in” rules take effect. Then the Italian government will no longer simply be able to bail out banks but will have to make bondholders and depositors pay up first.

Can we be sure the rotten banks will continue to sustain the recovery in this environment? My third concern is Mr Renzi’s fiscal policy choices. His priority has been to ensure that these create more winners than losers. This is exactly what Silvio Berlusconi did when prime minister. And it should come as no surprise that Mr Renzi ends up with similar policies. Instead of reforming the public administration or the judiciary, he has opted for a cut in the housing tax. This will win votes but will not deliver the change to the economy. We have been here before.

Read more …

As I wrote last week, it’s the convergence of refugees and a depressed economy that will define Europe going forward.

Europe’s Youths Yearn to Move as Prosperity Proves Elusive (Bloomberg)

An unprecedented number of migrants from Asia, Africa and the Middle East have headed for Europe this year in their quest for safety and prosperity. Yet for almost a quarter of its youths, the continent is no wonderland. On average, 23% of Europeans aged between 18 and 24 years old are contemplating moving to another country to escape the financial situation at home, according to a report by Intrum Justitia, Europe’s biggest debt collector. “What our survey shows is that many young people in several parts of Europe are considering moving to other countries and that is sad since it indicates that many young people lack hope for their economic future,” Erik Forsberg, Intrum Justitia’s acting CEO, said in the report. Still, the refugees who are escaping violent conflicts and coming to Europe “is another, much more acute problem,” he said.

What’s perhaps no coincidence, some of the highest percentages in the survey involve countries that have been the least welcoming of refugees. Hungary, which built a razor-wire fence along its southern border to keep them out, topped the survey with 60% of its young people considering a move. Poland and Slovakia, both unhappy with redistributing refugees across the EU, followed with 41% and 40%, respectively. The percentage of those considering a move abroad was also well above 30% in Italy, Portugal and Greece, according to the company’s European Consumer Payment Report, which surveyed 22,400 people in 21 countries. Those numbers correlate closely with national youth unemployment rates.

They underscore the quandary facing many EU nations – particularly those still grappling with the fallout from Europe’s debt crisis – when it comes to dealing with the hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers arriving from Syria and other war zones in the Middle East. Some of their governments tend to justify their reluctance to welcome refugees by arguing that they already have enough to cope with trying to provide for their own citizens. At about 21%, the average unemployment rate for Europeans under age 25 is double the overall jobless rate for the 28-member bloc. While 67% of those surveyed said they had “a reasonable chance of substantially improving their economic situation in life,” 17% see no prospect of a better life. One in five of those polled expect their children to be worse off financially.

Read more …

“We all know that time is running out to return hope to the millions of refugees..”

Merkel Warns Against Drawing Innocent Refugees Into Terror Fight (Bloomberg)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed back against critics of her open-door policy on refugees, saying those fleeing war zones shouldn’t have to bear the blame for the terrorist attacks in Paris. Merkel’s comments during a Group of 20 summit in the Turkish coastal resort of Antalya Sunday were a rebuff to domestic opponents who cited the slaughter in the French capital as evidence that the chancellor must reverse her stance and turn people away. A statement by the Greek authorities that raised the possibility one of the assailants may have entered Europe posing as a refugee raised the pressure on Merkel still further. She hit back in her only public comments on the first day of the two-day summit of world leaders that’s taking place in the shadow of the Paris attacks.

Merkel called for a swift investigation into the motives behind the terrorist carnage to “find out who the perpetrators were, who’s behind them and what connections there were.” “We owe it to the victims and their relatives, but also for the sake of our own security,” Merkel told reporters. “And we owe it to all the innocent refugees who are fleeing from war and terrorism.” Merkel said she’d discuss efforts to resolve the Syrian conflict with Russian President Vladimir Putin late Sunday, then again in a one-on-one meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday, as she steps up her international diplomacy aimed at stemming the flow of refugees to Europe.

In Germany, some among her political allies stoked further tension over the projected arrival of some one million refugees this year alone. Friday night’s attack in Paris “changes everything,” Markus Soeder, a member of the Bavarian state government, said in a Twitter post. Merkel said that G-20 leaders, who will release a statement Monday on fighting the terrorist threat, were sending a “decisive signal” that all forms of terrorism will be defeated. A key element is resolving the war in Syria peacefully and as soon as possible, she said. “We all know that time is running out to return hope to the millions of refugees,” Merkel said. “It’s also completely clear – and that’s borne out by the discussions here – that we have to tackle the root cause of where the refugees are coming from.”

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Oops, too late there, Angela. Or: what a few planted passports will get you.

US States To Turn Away Syrian Refugees (CNBC)

Two U.S. states have said they will not allow the resettlement of Syrian refugees following the terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 129 people on Friday. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley said in a statement Sunday that he would oppose any attempt to relocate Syrian refugees to Alabama through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. “The acts of terror committed over the weekend are a tragic reminder to the world that evil exists and takes the form of terrorists who seek to destroy the basic freedoms we will always fight to preserve,” he said in a statement issued Sunday. “I will not place Alabamians at even the slightest, possible risk of an attack on our people.”

There have been no Syrian refugees relocated in Alabama to date, Bentley said, but added that the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security and federal intelligence partners to monitor any possible threats. The statement added that law enforcement presence had been increased at big events in Alabama to further insure the safety of citizens. It added that there had been no credible intelligence of any terrorist threats in the state. The news came at the same time as the local media in Detroit reported Michigan state would look to take similar action.

Governor Rick Snyder’s office released a statement Sunday saying it would not be accept any Syrian refugees until the U.S. Department of Homeland Security fully reviewed its procedures, according to the Detroit Free Press. “Michigan is a welcoming state and we are proud of our rich history of immigration,” Snyder said in the statement, according to the news publication. “But our first priority is protecting the safety of our residents.” Kristine Van Noord, a refugee program manager for Bethany Christian Services in Michigan, told a local radio station in October that the organization settled 27 Syrian refugees in the last fiscal year and was expecting the number for next year to be “much, much higher.” President Barack Obama has previously stated that his administration would accept at least 10,000 displaced Syrians over the next year.

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Vale and BHP Billiton. It will take years, too, to conclude any court case against them.

Brazil Mining Flood Could Devastate Environment For Years (Reuters)

The collapse of two dams at a Brazilian mine has cut off drinking water for quarter of a million people and saturated waterways downstream with dense orange sediment that could wreck the ecosystem for years to come. Nine people were killed, 19 are still listed as missing and 500 people were displaced from their homes when the dams burst at an iron ore mine in southeastern Brazil on Nov. 5. The sheer volume of water disgorged by the dams and laden with mineral waste across nearly 500 km is staggering: 60 million cubic meters, the equivalent of 25,000 Olympic swimming pools or the volume carried by about 187 oil tankers.

President Dilma Rousseff compared the damage to the 2010 oil spill by BP in the Gulf of Mexico and Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira called it an “environmental catastrophe.” Scientists say the sediment, which may contain chemicals used by the mine to reduce iron ore impurities, could alter the course of streams as they harden, reduce oxygen levels in the water and diminish the fertility of riverbanks and farmland where floodwater passed. Samarco Mineração, a joint venture between mining giants Vale and BHP Billiton and owner of the mine, has repeatedly said the mud is not toxic. But biologists and environmental experts disagree. Local authorities have ordered families rescued from the flood to wash thoroughly and dispose of clothes that came in contact with the mud.

“It’s already clear wildlife is being killed by this mud,” said Klemens Laschesfki, professor of geosciences at the Federal University of Minas Gerais. “To say the mud is not a health risk is overly simplistic.” As the heavy mud hardens, Laschesfki says, it will make farming difficult. And so much silt will settle along the bottom of the Rio Doce and the tributaries that carried the mud there that the very course of watershed could change. “Many regions will never be the same,” he says.

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Theo’s a good friend of ours from Melbourne.

An Alternative Long Shot (Theo Kitchener)

This article is an attempt to chart what might happen in terms of climate change, both in terms of science, and particularly the potential politics, if we see a serious financial collapse followed by further contraction due to peaking energy and resources. Despite this being quite a likely scenario, there is barely anything written on the topic. Peak oilers, often end up thinking that we don’t need to worry about climate change because peak energy will take care of it for us. I think this view is strongly mistaken. While it is true that peak energy leads to less emissions than would otherwise be possible, we still end up in the zone of highly likely runaway climate change, and there will still be much that needs doing on an activist front in order to minimise our risk.

On the other hand, climate change activists are often blind to the possibility of financial collapse or even peak energy collapse. Accordingly, I think their strategies are based on business as usual continuing, which I don’t think is realistic. Climate change activists tend to already know that their hopes to create a mass movement that will convince governments to act, and act enough, are likely to fail, but it’s a long shot worth fighting for if the current context is all you have to go on. What I’m offering below is simply an alternative long shot, one I think is more likely to succeed, considering it is based more on the short term interests of the population rather than long term interests, which are harder to get people active on.

Below is a brief analysis of what financial collapse means for the climate, followed by an analysis of potential political scenarios, and particular detail on what I see as the most likely strategies to create a safe climate. These include a decentralised movement to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations, emphasising a shift to permaculture and appropriate technology, the continuation of the anti-emissions movement, a mass movement mobilising to take what’s left of our industrial capacity out of the hands of elites, and put it into good use drawing down carbon, remediating the planet and providing for our needs. This scenario could definitely be seen as an unlikely long shot; however, considering the situation we find ourselves in, a long shot is much better than no shot.

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That tangled web again..

Snow Decline, Water Shortage To Hit 2 Billion Living in N. Hemisphere (Reuters)

Large swathes of the northern hemisphere, home to some 2 billion people, could suffer increasing water shortages due to shrinking snowpacks, researchers said on Thursday. Data shows reduced snowpacks – the seasonal accumulation of snow – will likely imperil water supplies by 2060 in regions from California’s farmlands to war-torn areas of the Middle East, according to a team of scientists in the United States and Europe. In total, nearly a hundred water basins dependent on snow across the northern hemisphere run the chance of decline. “Water managers in a lot of places may need to prepare for a world where the snow reservoir no longer exists,” said Justin Mankin, the study’s lead author and a researcher at Columbia University’s Earth Institute in New York, in a statement.

Basins in northern and central California, the Ebro-Duero basin in Portugal, Spain and southern France and the Shatt al-Arab basin affecting much of the Middle East including Iraq and Syria count among those most sensitive to changes, the study shows. In these areas, global warming is disrupting snow accumulation, which acts as a seasonal source of water when it melts, the researchers said. Still, across most of North America, northern Europe, Russia, China and southeast Asia, rainfall is projected to continue meeting demand, according to the study published in the online journal Environmental Research Letters. Earlier this year, amid a devastating drought in California, U.S. authorities reported that a dry, mild winter had left the country’s Western mountain snowpack at record low levels.

Read more …

Mar 252015
 
 March 25, 2015  Posted by at 10:41 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  


Wyland Stanley Golden Gate Bridge under construction 1935

This is another essay from friend and regular contributor of The Automatic Earth, Euan Mearns at Energy Matters.

One comment on my part: Euan says ‘This has lead to speculation that weak global demand, stemming from masked economic woes, may also be playing a key role.‘ I don’t think the use of the term ‘speculation’ is appropriate here, because it seems overly obvious that China’s economic slowdown has played a major role in the oil price crash (and continues to do so). Even if there’s no ‘scientific’ proof, and even if the main media narrative remains OPEC overproduction and the inane meme of the cartel’s refusal to cut production, it certainly goes way beyond mere speculation.

Euan:

Two of the factors in the oil price crash are well constrained: 1) oversupply of expensive light tight oil (LTO) in North America and 2) the decision of OPEC to not cut production. The third possible factor of weak global demand is not so easy to constrain but the current oil price crash bears many of the same hallmarks as the 2008 finance crash. This has lead to speculation that weak global demand, stemming from masked economic woes, may also be playing a key role.

In response to this, commenter Javier sent me a collection of 10 charts that he had collected from various internet sources together with his commentary that forms the basis of this joint-post. These charts tell a clear story of a major economic slowdown in China. This most certainly will be implicated in the ongoing oil price weakness. The $10,000 question is will China make a cyclical rebound like it has done in the past?

Figure 1 GDP growth. YoY = year on year % change. Note many charts are not zero scaled. China’s economy is still growing at 7% per year but has slowed down dramatically from 12% 5 years ago. Such change has happened before, notably between 1994 and 1998 linked to the Asian currency crisis. The oil price hit $10 per barrel in 1998. And in 2007 to 2009 an even more sharp fall related to the financial crash was also accompanied by a crash in the oil price.

Javier points out that in a country with rapid population growth a higher GDP growth rate is required than in a country with stable or declining population and he suggests that 7% is in reality approaching recessionary levels.

Figure 2 Decline in the growth rate of industrial production mirrors the decline in the growth rate of GDP (Figure1).

Figure 3 Fixed Asset Investment is a technical measure of investment in hard assets, infrastructure, property and plant and machinery. The graph tells the story of a country growing at phenomenal and increasing rates of growth up to 2005, that is the definition of exponential growth. From 2005 to 2009 the growth rate was flat, i.e. the growth was linear. From 2010 China is investing in fixed assets at decreasing rates of growth.

The change in 2005 is coincident with a change in growth and oil consumption in many OECD countries and therefore indicates that a global source of economic distress took place at about that date. China is changing the way it grows as it is not possible to grow exponentially forever.

Figure 4 Retail sales is a measure of national consumer expenditure. 2008 was the year of the Beijing Olympic Games, so we can pretty much discount the strong peak that year and see in this graph a strong growth in consumer expending until 2010. Since then retail sales have being growing at a slower rate, and current rate of growth is the slowest in ten years.

Retail sales growth will be driven by two factors. 1) the number of individuals economically active which in China grew at a phenomenal rate with the great migration to the cities and 2) the prosperity of those economically active.

Figure 5 Unlike in the previous graphs, China home prices have recently gone into an actual negative rate of change, which means that home prices are actually decreasing in China. If unchecked this could become a serious problem for China since real estate represents about 75% of household assets. So home prices are important for how Chinese perceive their own wealth. Falling house prices also lead to the risk of negative equity where the asset value falls below the amount of debt secured against the asset.

Figure 6 Rail freight is now falling at 16% per annum having gone into negative territory in mid 2014. In the case of China this is a measure mainly of national trade. This mirrors the picture of falling international trade as indicated by the sharp fall in the Baltic Dry Shipping Index.

Figure 7 Consumer Price Index (CPI) measures the average change over time in the prices paid by consumers on a representative basket of goods and services, while Producer Price Index (PPI) measures the average change over time in the selling prices received by domestic producers for their output. PPI shows an abrupt worsening for producers in 2011, since then the timid recovery ended badly in mid 2014 and PPI is now at levels found during recession. CPI shows that China is also flirting with deflation, which is bad news for banks and all individuals and organisations that have debt.

Figure 8 This graph shows that as export growth has stalled and imports are actually declining since 2013 and specially since mid 2014. This is one of the main causes of the commodity price crash that includes oil. China is buying less raw materials which is bad news for commodity producers that depend on China, like Australia. Note exports are still well in excess of imports and China still runs a huge balance of trade surplus.

Figure 9 Growth in oil consumption in China underpinned the bull run in the oil price. This growth in consumption stalled in 2012. The reasons for this should be clear from the preceding charts.

Figure 10 The phenomenal growth in China has been fuelled in part by an equally phenomenal growth of debt. The chart shows private sector debt has gone from much lower than OECD countries to much higher in just two decades. Debt is a fantastic growth hormone, but it is subject to a very strong diminishing returns curve. When there is too much in the system, it becomes a growth inhibitor.

Summary

A wide range of economic measures shows that China is undergoing a period of rapid economic slow down and is flirting with recession. China has grown to become the world’s second largest economy and strong Chinese growth has underpinned global growth for many years. Without it, the world faces the risk of another global recession. The slowing of growth in China means a softening of demand for natural resources, including oil and softening of demand for consumer products made in Europe and the USA.

Low oil prices may help stimulate growth in China and without this stimulus the global economy may already have been in recession.

Many of the charts are simply thermometers of the Chinese economy. Three of the measures, however, give rise to more concern about China’s ability to climb out of the malaise as it has done before. Falling property values, risk of deflation and debt saturation. Like many of the world’s leading economies, China, appears to have driven into the same economic cul-de-sac.

Sources of charts

Zerohedge
Dr. Ed’s Blog
Snake oil trading blog

Who is Javier?

Javier holds a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and has been a scientist for 30 years in molecular genetics and neurobiology. He wrote a blog on macroeconomy and investments from a cyclic point of view for over two years and currently writes a blog in Spanish about the economic crisis, energy crisis and climate change under the pseudonym Knownuthing.

Dec 022014
 
 December 2, 2014  Posted by at 12:13 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


‘Daly’ Store, Manning, South Carolina July 1941

Canadian Natural Resources Chairman Sees Oil Touching $30 A Barrel (NatPost)
Banks’ $650 Billion Bet On Oil Backfires As Brent Prices Slump (Telegraph)
Billionaire Shale Pioneer Sees Drilling Slowdown on Oil Price Drop (Bloomberg)
US Shale Crude Exports To Asia Grind To Halt On Flood Of Mideast Oil (Reuters)
October Oil Shale Permits Drop 15%: Is The Slowdown Here? (Reuters)
As Crude Tumbles, Oil Drillers Seek To Temporarily Idle More Rigs (Reuters)
For Oil Companies, It’s Survival Of The Fittest (MarketWatch)
Beware the Vulnerable Oil Debt That Lurks in Your Junk-Bond ETFs (Bloomberg)
Oil Investors May Be Running Off a Cliff They Can’t See (BW)
Bank Of England Investigating Risk To Banks Of ‘Carbon Bubble’ (Guardian)
Fed’s Dudley Says Oil Price Decline Will Strengthen US Recovery (Bloomberg)
Why The Commodities Selloff May Continue In 2015 (CNBC)
Europe Debates Third Bailout Package for Greece (Spiegel)
European Banks Seen Afflicted by $82 Billion Capital Gap (Bloomberg)
Leak at Federal Reserve Revealed Confidential Bond-Buying Details (ProPublica)
The Return Of Currency Wars Will Strengthen The US Dollar Even More (Roubini)
Japanese Workers See Wages Drop for 16th Month (Bloomberg)
Putin: EU Stance Forces Russia To Withdraw From South Stream Project (RT)
Russia Intervenes As Crumbling Ruble Echoes 1998 Debt Crisis (Guardian)
Russia Says NATO Destabilizes North Europe, Aid Draws Ire (Bloomberg)
North Korea Refuses To Deny Sony Pictures Cyber-Attack (BBC)
Kim Dotcom Avoids Jail After Bail Hearing (NZ Herald)

The threat here is not about the oil, it’s about the financing. Junk bonds, loans, oil stocks etc. The whole industry is leveraged up to its neck. It’s an extremely brittle system that can’t take shocks.

Canadian Natural Resources Chairman Sees Oil Touching $30 A Barrel (NatPost)

Canada’s oil industry faces a year of “tough slugging,” including the deferment of many projects, as oil prices collapse to as little as US$30 a barrel then likely stabilize around US$70 to US$75 a barrel, oil entrepreneur Murray Edwards predicted Friday. Because of its high costs, the Canadian sector will be impacted more than many oil-producing jurisdictions around the world by OPEC’s decision Thursday to not cut oil production, said Mr. Edwards, the chairman of Canadian Natural Resources and one of Canada’s single biggest oil investors. Prices could spike down to $30, $40. It got down to $35 in 2008, for a very short period of time “On a given day you can have market fluctuations where prices fluctuate far more than the underlying economic value of the unit,” Mr. Edwards told reporters on the sidelines of a business forum here.

“Prices could spike down to $30, $40. It got down to $35 in 2008, for a very short period of time,” he said. “I don’t believe that if it spikes down that low, that it will stay that low for long, because you will see increased demand and supply respond. “The better question is where does it stabilize, and that $70-$75 area is probably not a bad place to stabilize for a period of time until you get more balance in term of growth in demand and some supply response.” Mr. Edwards said industry projects that are already under way, particularly oil sands projects with a long-term horizon and capital already invested, will likely continue. But others will be shelved until there is more clarity around future oil prices. There will also be a slowdown in conventional oil projects, particularly those that tend to produce a lot at the front end, he predicted.

Weak oil prices will force the industry to refocus and look at new way of doing things to cut costs, he said. Canadian Natural Resources, one of Canada’s top oil and gas producers, will adjust its capital spending next year to reflect weaker oil prices, he said. The company recently approved an $8.5-billion capital budget for 2015, including $2-billion in flexible capital, based on oil averaging around US$81 for West Texas Intermediate. Overtime, markets will find a new balance as low oil prices stimulate demand. “Right now we have more supply than we have demand for a period of time,” he said. “The market is now going to find a price which best reflects what it costs to produce a barrel of oil … nothing solves low prices like low prices.”

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” .. a collapse in the oil price is far more dangerous for the banks than it would have been only a few years ago.”

Banks’ $650 Billion Bet On Oil Backfires As Brent Prices Slump (Telegraph)

British banks face losses of more than £2bn as risky loans to the oil and gas industry go sour amid the plummeting price of crude. Banks have piled into the sector over the last three years, with oil and gas accounting for £11 of every £100 of high-yield debt on the back of America’s booming shale industry. However, oil’s precipitous decline since June has left many of the lenders looking at heavy losses. Brent Crude prices fell to a low of $67.53 yesterday, the lowest level for almost five years. The price rebounded by around 2pc as of Monday afternoon but remains almost 40pc down since June. Last week, Opec leaders decided against restricting output in an attempt to squeeze North America’s shale producers – many of whom have borrowed heavily to invest. Although much of the banks’ exposure will have been hedged off, Barclays, RBS, HSBC and Standard Chartered could face a combined $3.4bn (£2bn) of impairment charges related to oil and gas exposures in the fourth quarter of the year, according to Chirantan Barua, an analyst at Bernstein.

“Nearly $650bn of high yield debt has been issued in the sector since 2011,” Mr Barua said. “While the broader high yield market is down [around] 20pc year-to-date, oil and gas has been flat with issuance running straight up to the OPEC event. [This] can’t be a good thing for a sudden stress in the market if oil prices stay at this level.” When you see $650bn of high yield issuance in a sector that has been levering up across the supply chain, any shocks in the underlying business will have risk ripples across the financial system.” While Barclays, HSBC and RBS could be sitting on losses of $1bn each, and Standard Chartered faces $400m of impairments, banks in North America could face much bigger impairment charges. US and Canadian banks that have lent heavily to the sector on the back of the US shale boom, and high-yield debt to less stable oil companies has increased substantially. This means a collapse in the oil price is far more dangerous for the banks than it would have been only a few years ago.

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“They’ll pull back and won’t drill it until the price recovers. That’s the way it ought to be.”

Billionaire Shale Pioneer Sees Drilling Slowdown on Oil Price Drop (Bloomberg)

Billionaire wildcatter Harold Hamm, a founding father of the U.S. shale boom whose personal fortune has fallen by more than half in the past three months, said U.S. drilling will slow as producers cut back amid falling oil prices. Declining activity from Texas to North Dakota won’t be as harmful to the industry as some have feared, the chairman and chief executive officer of Continental Resources Inc. said. OPEC’s refusal to curb output last week bodes well for U.S. producers that can outlast countries in the cartel, which depend on higher oil prices. “Will this industry slow down? Certainly,” Hamm said yesterday in a telephone interview. “Nobody’s going to go out there and drill areas, exploration areas and other areas, at a loss. They’ll pull back and won’t drill it until the price recovers. That’s the way it ought to be.”

Investors have been spooked as oil has declined to a five-year low. The downturn comes after prices above $100 a barrel sparked a boom in output from U.S. shale formations that helped create a glut of supply. Hamm’s wealth, which is largely tied to the fate of Oklahoma City-based Continental, has fallen by more than $12 billion in three months, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Hamm, who helped discover the potential of North Dakota’s Bakken formation, predicted a swift recovery in oil prices, which have declined more than 36 percent since June as Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries refused to cut production last week to help re-balance the market. The company said last month it’s sold nearly all its hedges through 2016, in a bet on a recovery in prices. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, fell below $65 a barrel yesterday before settling up 4.3 percent to $69.

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Well, we all like a little competition, don’t we?

US Shale Crude Exports To Asia Grind To Halt On Flood Of Mideast Oil (Reuters)

An aggressive strategy by Mideast Gulf producers to exploit the lowest oil prices in five years to defend market share is showing signs of bearing fruit as U.S. crude exports to Asia grind to halt. Asian refineries have suspended imports of condensate, a light crude oil produced from the U.S. shale boom, just four months after they began in favor of cheaper Middle East grades, according to trade and industry sources. The suspension illustrates how competition between suppliers has heated up following a more than 40% decline in oil prices since June.

Last week Ali al-Naimi, the oil minister of OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia, warned his fellow OPEC members they must combat the U.S. shale boom. He argued against cutting OPEC production so as to keep prices depressed and undermine the profitability of North American producers. “There’s so much oversupply that Middle East crudes are now trading at discounts and it is not economical to bring over crudes from the U.S. anymore,” said Tushar Tarun Bansal of consultancy FGE in Singapore. U.S. oil became uncompetitive against similar grades from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates after Gulf producers began dropping prices in August to maintain their market share in an oil market glut.

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We’ll see a lot more restructuring and defaults, a lot less financing, and a lot less exploration and drilling.

October Oil Shale Permits Drop 15%: Is The Slowdown Here? (Reuters)

U.S. oil producers have been racing full-speed ahead to drill new shale wells in recent years, even in the face of lower oil prices. But new data suggests that the much-anticipated slowdown in shale country may have finally arrived. Permits for new wells dropped 15% across 12 major shale formations last month, according to exclusive information provided to Reuters by DrillingInfo, an industry data firm, offering the first sign of a slowdown in a drilling frenzy that has seen permits double since last November. OPEC last week agreed to maintain its production quota of 30 million-barrels-per-day, despite a 30% drop in oil prices since June, triggering an additional 10% decline. That move, many analysts believe, was squarely aimed at U.S. oil producers driving the country’s energy resurgence: can they continue drilling at the current pace if prices don’t rise? “Currently, the market is focused on U.S. shale as the place where spending and production must be curtailed,” Roger Read, a Wells Fargo analyst, said in a note Friday.

“There is little doubt, in our view, that lower oil and gas prices will result in lower spending and lower shale production in 2015 to 2017.” A cutback of U.S. production could play into the hands of Saudi Arabia, which has suggested over the past few months that it is comfortable with much lower oil prices. Most analysts predict U.S. oil producers can maintain their healthy production rates in the first half of 2015 – thanks in part to investments made months ago. Some oil service companies have suggested that a slowdown might be held off, as they continue to buy key drilling components. But, the data suggests that production is likely to eventually succumb to lower prices. “The first domino is the price, which causes other dominos to fall,” said Karr Ingham, an economist who compiles the Texas PetroIndex, an annual analysis of the state’s energy economy. One of the first tiles to drop: the number of permits issued, Ingham said.

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“The day rate for a top specification drillship, which can work in water up to 12,000 feet (3,658 meters) deep, was recently quoted at as low as $400,000, down from $600,000 last year.” [..] “The global fleet of jackup rigs is forecast to grow 9% in 2015 and another 7% in 2016 .. ” Overinvestment is what you get when credit is too cheap. It turns the whole world into a casino, and everyone into a gambler. And then they all lose.

As Crude Tumbles, Oil Drillers Seek To Temporarily Idle More Rigs (Reuters)

Offshore drillers globally are increasingly considering “warm stacking” their rigs to take them temporarily off the market, as they gear up for a slowdown in the hunt for oil with crude prices sliding to five-year lows. Rigs in warm stack maintain basic operations and most of the crew, and can be put to use once the owner gets a contract. Drillers put rigs in warm stacks to lower operational costs and also to keep them sufficiently ready for quick deployment, meaning they are hopeful a downturn won’t be a prolonged one. Rigs can also be “cold stacked”, or shut down, which typically happens when an owner does not expect to find work for an extended period of time.

“Six months ago, no one talked about stacking rigs,” said Thomas Tan, chief executive officer at Kim Heng Offshore & Marine Holdings, a Singapore-based oilfield service firm, “In the last few weeks, things have become scarier and the talk of stacking started.” Tan said his firm has received enquiries to stack dozens of rigs over the past few weeks. Kim Heng currently services four rigs in warm stack around Singapore. The company serves about 60 rigs a year in different stage of operations, including providing repair, maintenance and logistics services. “A lot of people are looking at warm stack, as they hope that the market will turn around quickly,” Tan said. “Cold stack is on their mind… but they haven’t given up hope yet.” [..]

The day rate for a top specification drillship, which can work in water up to 12,000 feet (3,658 meters) deep, was recently quoted at as low as $400,000, down from $600,000 last year. Even rates for jack-up rigs, generally working in water depth below 400 feet, have started to weaken in recent months after holding up relatively well earlier in the year. Rig orders soared in recent years when oil prices topped $100 per barrel, making it more profitable to explore in hard-to-reach underwater areas. The global fleet of jackup rigs is forecast to grow 9% in 2015 and another 7% in 2016, Oslo-based investment bank Pareto Securities estimated.

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Darwin looms over fossils. Sort of fitting.

For Oil Companies, It’s Survival Of The Fittest (MarketWatch)

It looks like it may be a long winter on the oil patch. Companies are dusting off contingency plans that may have seemed far-fetched when oil was trading above $100 a barrel in the summer. Oil-well and land portfolios are coming under renewed scrutiny as they decide where to wait it out and where to continue production. Survival of the fittest is the term being used by investors and analysts as they try to figure out what’s next after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries last week decided to keep its production levels unchanged, sending crude futures down 10% on Friday. Prices recovered some of those losses on Monday, with New York-traded oil closing at $69 a barrel after testing lows below $65 a barrel earlier in the session. “We are on the edge of what people are comfortable with,” said Meredith Annex, an analyst with research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance. U.S. drilling is likely to continue if prices hold around $70 to $75 a barrel, she said.

Below $65, however, companies will cut production and move away from the newer, less developed shale plays in the U.S., and even from the fringes of the more established shale areas like the Permian basin in Texas and North Dakota’s Bakken basin, she said. The U.S. would then import more crude until prices come back up again. Analysts at Tudor Pickering Holt told investors to find shelter in “liquid names with high quality assets and healthy balance sheets that can weather the 2015 storm.” Tudor and others are expecting oil prices to stabilize around $70 a barrel in the coming weeks or months. Last week’s steep decline was probably exaggerated by thin U.S. trading around Thursday’s Thanksgiving holiday, they said. [..]

Energy is a cyclical business, and adjusting production to lower prices and lower demand is not uncommon — companies did exactly that in 2008 and 2009, when oil prices collapsed during the recession. This year, however, companies were convinced in the spring and summer that prices would remain around $90 a barrel, said Reid Morrison, energy consultant with PwC. U.S. companies are likely poring over their portfolios now to figure out which wells they can afford to shut down, to ditch, or even to sell. Idling a well, from a purely technical viewpoint, is relatively easy. But it gets complicated when companies have to factor in the financing structure and tens of thousands of land leases, each carrying different obligations and time frames, said Morrison. “Every exploration and production company is doing a detailed review of their leases and rationalizing their portfolio as we speak,” Morrison said. In some cases, selling the land lease might be the answer, he said.

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Check your pension plans!

Beware the Vulnerable Oil Debt That Lurks in Your Junk-Bond ETFs (Bloomberg)

It pays to look a little closer at your investments in exchange-traded high-yield funds right now to find out just how exposed you are to plunging oil prices. Take State Street’s $9.8 billion junk-bond ETF that trades under the ticker JNK. It’s lost almost twice as much as a broad index of high-yield debt since the end of August, partly because its bigger allocation to energy companies has been a drag as oil prices plummet to the lowest since 2009. Individuals and institutions alike have gravitated toward ETFs as a quick way to enter infrequently-traded bond markets. Those who piled into speculative-grade bonds may not have realized their fortunes are, more than ever, tied to the outlook for oil given energy companies account for a record proportion of the market. “As oil prices have fallen further, reality has struck,” UBS analysts Matthew Mish and Stephen Caprio wrote in a Nov. 26 report. “For high yield, we expect that spreads and flows will be quite sensitive to oil prices at these levels. Further price declines would significantly raise expected default rates.”

Oil has collapsed into a bear market as the U.S. pumps crude at the fastest rate in three decades at the same time that global growth is slowing. OPEC resisted calls from members including Venezuela and Iran to reduce its production target when it met last week in Vienna, prompting West Texas Intermediate crude to fall below $65 dollars a barrel from more than $80 at the end of October and a high of $107 in mid-June. While some still like riskier U.S. bonds — such as Morgan Stanley (MS) analysts who today recommended buying the securities — the debt has suffered losses in the past five months as concern mounts that dropping energy costs will leave speculative shale drillers unable to meet their obligations.

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The stranded assets issue due to climate agreements is starting to make people nervous. Investors are preparing to get out. Lower prices might (should) be just what they need to make the decision.

Oil Investors May Be Running Off a Cliff They Can’t See (BW)

A major threat to fossil fuel companies has suddenly moved from the fringe to center stage with a dramatic announcement by Germany’s biggest power company and an intriguing letter from the Bank of England. A growing minority of investors and regulators are probing the possibility that untapped deposits of oil, gas and coal – valued at trillions of dollars globally – could become stranded assets as governments adopt stricter climate change policies. The concept gaining traction from Wall Street to the City of London is simple. Limits on emissions of carbon dioxide will be necessary to hold temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius, the maximum climate scientists say is advisable. Without technologies to capture the waste gases from combusting fossil fuels, a majority of known oil, gas and coal deposits would have to stay underground. Once that point is reached, they become stranded.

With representatives from more than 190 countries gathered to discuss climate rules in Lima, the argument that burning all the world’s known oil, gas and coal reserves would overwhelm the atmosphere is moving beyond the realm of environmental activists. Storebrand), a Scandinavian financial services company managing $74 billion of assets, announced last year that it would divest from 19 fossil fuels companies. That list has since expanded to 35, including 15 coal producers, 10 oil-sand miners and 10 utilities that predominantly use coal. “It was a financial and climate-related decision, and there was very much a consideration of stranded assets,” Christine Torklep Meisingset, Storebrand’s head of sustainable investments, said by phone from Oslo. “Companies that specialize in carbon-intense projects are very vulnerable to climate policy and shifting regulations.”

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“In May, Carbon Tracker reported that over $1 trillion is currently being gambled on high-cost oil projects that will never see a return if the world’s governments fulfil their climate change pledges.”

Bank Of England Investigating Risk To Banks Of ‘Carbon Bubble’ (Guardian)

The Bank of England is to conduct an enquiry into the risk of fossil fuel companies causing a major economic crash if future climate change rules render their coal, oil and gas assets worthless. The concept of a “carbon bubble” has gained rapid recognition since 2013, and is being taken increasingly seriously by some major financial companies including Citi bank, HSBC and Moody’s, but the Bank’s enquiry is the most significant endorsement yet from a regulator. The concern is that if the world’s government’s meet their agreed target of limiting global warming to 2C by cutting carbon emissions, then about two-thirds of proven coal, oil and gas reserves cannot be burned. With fossil fuel companies being among the largest in the world, sharp losses in their value could prompt a new economic crisis. Mark Carney, the bank’s governor, revealed the enquiry in a letter to the House of Commons environment audit committee (EAC), which is conducting its own enquiry. He said there had been an initial discussion within the bank on “stranded” fossil fuel assets.

“In light of these discussions, we will be deepening and widening our enquiry into the topic,” he said, involving the financial policy committee which is tasked with identifying systemic economic risks. Carney had raised the issue at a World Bank seminar in October. News of the Bank’s enquiry comes on the day that global negotiations on climate change action open in Lima, Peru, and as one of Europe’s major energy companies E.ON announced it was to hive off its fossil fuel business to focus on renewables and networks. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently warned that the limit of carbon emissions consistent with 2C of warming was approaching and that renewable energy must be at least tripled. “Policy makers and now central banks are waking up to the fact that much of the world’s oil, coal and gas reserves will have to remain in the ground unless carbon capture and storage technologies can be developed more rapidly,” said Joan Walley MP, who chairs the EAC.

“It’s time investors recognised this as well and factored political action on climate change into their decisions on fossil fuel investments,” she told the Financial Times. Anthony Hobley, chief executive of thinktank Carbon Tracker which has been prominent in analysing the carbon bubble, said the bank’s latest move could lead to important changes. “Fossil fuel companies should be disclosing how many carbon emissions are locked up in their reserves,” he said. “At the moment there is no consistency in reporting so it’s difficult for investors to make informed decisions.” Both ExxonMobil and Shell said earlier in 2014 that they did not believe their fossil fuel reserves would become stranded. In May, Carbon Tracker reported that over $1tn is currently being gambled on high-cost oil projects that will never see a return if the world’s governments fulfil their climate change pledges.

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“The sharp drop in oil prices will help boost consumer spending ..” I don’t understand that: we’re talking about money that would otherwise also have been spent, only on gas. There is no additional money, so where’s the boost?

Fed’s Dudley Says Oil Price Decline Will Strengthen US Recovery (Bloomberg)

The sharp drop in oil prices will help boost consumer spending and underpin an economy that still requires patience before interest rates are increased, Federal Reserve Bank of New York President William C. Dudley said. “It is still premature to begin to raise interest rates,” Dudley said in the prepared text of a speech today at Bernard M. Baruch College in New York. “When interest rates are at the zero lower bound, the risks of tightening a bit too early are likely to be considerably greater than the risks of tightening a bit too late.” Dudley expressed confidence that, although the U.S. economic recovery has shown signs in recent years of accelerating, only to slow again, “the likelihood of another disappointment has lessened.”

Investors’ expectations for a Fed rate increase in mid-2015 are reasonable, he said, and the pace at which the central bank tightens will depend partly on financial-market conditions and the economy’s performance. Crude oil suffered its biggest drop in three years after OPEC signaled last week it will not reduce production. Lower energy costs “will lead to a significant rise in real income growth for households and should be a strong spur to consumer spending,” Dudley said. The drop will especially help lower-income households, who are more likely to spend and not save the extra real income, he said. Lower energy prices have already helped speed U.S. growth. Manufacturing in the U.S. expanded in November at a faster pace than projected, according to the Institute for Supply Management’s factory index.

[..] He also tried to disabuse investors of the notion that the Fed would, in times of sharp equity declines, ease monetary conditions, an idea known as the “Fed put.” “The expectation of such a put is dangerous because if investors believe it exists they will view the equity market as less risky,” Dudley said. That could cause investors to push equity markets higher, contributing to a bubble, he said. “Let me be clear, there is no Fed equity market put,” he said.

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It’s simply a balloon deflating.

Why The Commodities Selloff May Continue In 2015 (CNBC)

Several of the world’s key commodities – including oil, gas, gold and corn – have been suffering the worst months of trading since the commodities crash of 2008. Back then, the main reason for downturn in prices was obvious: the credit crisis and subsequent panic about global economic growth. Yet today, while global growth is more sluggish than hoped in certain parts of the world – particularly in China – the overall economic picture seems much brighter than in 2008. In 2014, the focus seems to have switched to supply, as OPEC pledges to keep supply constant despite plunging oil prices. As well as being interpreted as throwing down the supply gauntlet to the shale-rich U.S., the OPEC move has been criticised for apparently penalizing several of its members.

Ultimately, it looks like investment decisions in the developed world may be causing the commodities glut. “Increasingly the supply side counts more, as investment cycles are creating persistent gluts in some areas (e.g. oil, natural gas, iron ore, grains) and lagging investment is starting to result in tightening elsewhere (industrial metals in general, copper in particular),” commodities analysts at Citi wrote in a research note. Despite the focus on emerging markets, the Citi analysts argue that continuing weakness in 2015 will have a “Made in America” quality, and called an end to “the era of $100 a barrel oil.” With grains, better weather conditions than for years meant better-than-expected crops, which “should leave inventories chock-a-block for a good year or two,” according to Citi.

The classic, straightforward analysis of commodity supply-demand dynamics would argue that, with cheaper commodities and cheaper prices, demand from consumers who feel like they’re getting a bargain will subsequently grow, sending prices up again. Unfortunately for miners and other commodities-linked companies, who have seen share price falls already this week, this may not be the case in 2015. “This fall in prices seems demand rather than supply led and so any benefit (to consumers) will be negated by the declining world growth outlook,” Rabobank strategists argue.

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Anyone still keeping count?

Europe Debates Third Bailout Package for Greece (Spiegel)

It’s no accident that “pathos” is a Greek word. Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, at least, is a politician who is fond of sprinkling his speeches with the kind of emotional appeal that Aristotle long ago identified as an effective stylistic device. “The era of bailout packages is ending,” Samaras promised in September during an appearance in Thessaloniki. “Greece is now welcoming the new Greece.” Samaras knew the line would guarantee him applause from his audience, but the promise also came a bit prematurely. Following the announcement, Greece got a small taste of what it might mean were Greece were released from the oversight of the troika, comprised of the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF. The more often Samaras spoke of a “clean solution,” the more yields rose on long-term Greek government bonds. At the beginning of September, the rates had been 5.8%, but they soon climbed to almost 9%. It was the financial markets’ way of hinting that it is still too early to grant Greece full fiscal independence.

One high-ranking EU official compared the situation to a patient who has survived intensive care but wants to leave the hospital early. A relapse is certain and the subsequent care will be much more involved than if the patient had stayed in the hospital long enough for full recovery. Greece’s second bailout package officially ends in a month’s time, but it is already certain that the country will require additional funding from its EU partners. Last Wednesday in Paris, there was a minor uproar when troika officials made it known that they felt Greece hadn’t fulfilled conditions for the payout of the final tranche from the second bailout package. Athens’ international creditors determined the country will fall around €2 billion ($2.5 billion) short of reaching its commitment of not exceeding a budget deficit of 3% of gross domestic product. The Greeks, for their part, accused the troika of being overly critical, arguing that in the past, the situation had developed more positively than predicted by pessimists.

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More creative accounting. And another completely useless stress test. A new capitalization standard that goes into effect in 2015 was not applied to banks in 2014. Idiots.

European Banks Seen Afflicted by $82 Billion Capital Gap (Bloomberg)

Europe’s latest bank stress test was flawed, and dozens of the region’s lenders, including Deutsche Bank and BNP Paribas, aren’t sufficiently capitalized to improve the economy’s anemic growth or withstand a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis. Those are the conclusions of analysts at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods and the Danish Institute for International Studies who looked at what would have happened if the ECB had applied a leverage minimum that will be introduced next year. A third study by the Centre for European Policy Studies showed Deutsche Bank and BNP Paribas above the cutoff, while 28 other banks that passed the stress test failed. The new standard requires banks around the world to have capital equal to 3% of total assets, complementing a system that weights them for risk.

If the ECB had used that yardstick and demanded the highest quality capital, 12 big European banks that passed the stress test would need to raise an additional €66 billion ($82 billion), according to Jakob Vestergaard, a senior researcher at the Danish institute. “Relying on risk-based measures only isn’t enough because it’s always what we thought wasn’t risky that ends up blowing up during a crisis,” said Vestergaard, who examined data collected by the ECB at the request of Bloomberg News and has published papers on leverage. “The ECB wanted to appear tough, but it still couldn’t show big German, French banks as undercapitalized for political reasons.”

The ECB didn’t subject bank leverage ratios to the stress test’s adverse economic scenario because European lenders only have to report those numbers on an informational basis starting next year, a spokeswoman for the central bank in Frankfurt said. The new international standard approved by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision won’t be fully binding until 2018. When it released test results on Oct. 26, the ECB provided leverage data that showed 14 lenders, including Deutsche Bank, were below the 3% minimum. Three more fell short after the central bank’s asset-quality review determined how many loans should be considered nonperforming. Combining the results of the independent studies, almost three times as many banks would fail the stress test if the leverage standard were used.

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And why does it take 2 years to get this out into the open?

Leak at Federal Reserve Revealed Confidential Bond-Buying Details (ProPublica)

The Federal Reserve sprung a previously unreported leak in October 2012, when potentially market-moving information about highly confidential monetary deliberations made its way into a financial analyst’s private newsletter. The leak occurred the day before the scheduled public release of meeting minutes that shed new light on the Fed’s decision to embark on a third round of bond buying to boost the economy, ProPublica has learned. The newsletter revealed what the minutes would say the next day as well as fresh details about the Fed’s internal plans and deliberations – information that could have provided traders with an edge. Leaks from inside the Fed are considered a serious matter. In the past, they have prompted Congressional concern and triggered the involvement of federal law enforcement. In this instance, then Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke instructed the central bank’s general counsel to look into the matter.

The Federal Reserve has faced criticism in recent years for its information security practices, with some in Congress questioning whether it operates under sufficient oversight. The October 2012 leak involved deliberations of the Federal Open Markets Committee, which holds eight regularly scheduled meetings per year to set policies that control inflation and keep the economy growing. Since the 2008 economic crisis, it has involved itself more deeply in financial markets. Minutes of the committee’s meetings are released promptly at 2 p.m. three weeks after it meets. Fed watchers eagerly await the event and parse every word for clues on how financial markets will move. The Fed tightly guards nonpublic information about deliberations by the committee and the select staffers who are privy to them, about five dozen people in all. Doing so is critical to “reinforce the public’s confidence in the transparency and integrity of the monetary process,” the Fed’s policy on external communications says. [..]

The newsletter containing the leaked material came from an economic policy intelligence firm called Medley Global Advisors whose clients include hedge funds, institutional investors and asset managers. On Oct. 3, 2012, Regina Schleiger, an analyst with the firm, sent clients a “special report” titled “Fed: December Bound.” The report focused on the Sept. 12-13 open market committee meeting, where the panel had approved what’s called “QE3,” a new program of large-scale purchases of mortgage-backed and Treasury securities. Typically, the Fed chairman holds a news conference following the meetings to help explain the committee’s actions. But when Bernanke did this on Sept. 13, he did not reveal the depth of disagreement within the committee about how effective the bond-buying program would be and whether it was worth the cost. Schleiger wrote, however, that the minutes due out the next day would reveal “intense debate between Federal Open Market Committee participants.”

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Roubini’s not much of an analyst anymore, it’s all Keynes ‘austerity killed the cat’ all the way, a one dimensional focus on growth that is so abundant today. To claim, for example, that Japan’s sales tax hike in April ‘killed the recovery’ is an opinionated opinion, at best. Japan’s problems are far too deep to be either solved or aggravated by a 3% extra sales tax. But it’s the sort of opinion that gets Nouriel re-invited to Basel and all those places where the rich meet.

The Return Of Currency Wars Will Strengthen The US Dollar Even More (Roubini)

The recent decision by the Bank of Japan to increase the scope of its quantitative easing is a signal that another round of currency wars may be under way. The BOJ’s effort to weaken the yen is a beggar-thy-neighbor approach that is inducing policy reactions throughout Asia and around the world. Central banks in China, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Thailand, fearful of losing competitiveness relative to Japan, are easing their own monetary policies or will soon ease more. The European Central Bank and the central banks of Switzerland, Sweden, Norway and a few Central European countries are likely to embrace quantitative easing or use other unconventional policies to prevent their currencies from appreciating. All of this will lead to a strengthening of the U.S. dollar, as growth in the United States is picking up and the Federal Reserve has signaled that it will begin raising interest rates next year.

But if global growth remains weak and the dollar becomes too strong, even the Fed may decide to raise interest rates later and more slowly to avoid excessive dollar appreciation. You can lead a horse to liquidity, but you can’t make it drink. The cause of the latest currency turmoil is clear: In an environment of private and public deleveraging from high debts, monetary policy has become the only available tool to boost demand and growth. Fiscal austerity has exacerbated the impact of deleveraging by exerting a direct and indirect drag on growth. Lower public spending reduces aggregate demand, while declining transfers and higher taxes reduce disposable income and, thus, private consumption. In the eurozone, a sudden stop of capital flows to the periphery and the fiscal restraints imposed, with Germany’s backing, by the European Union, the IMF and the ECB have been a massive impediment to growth.

In Japan, an excessively front-loaded consumption-tax increase killed the recovery achieved this year. In the U.S., a budget sequester and other tax-and-spending policies led to a sharp fiscal drag in 2012-2014. And in the United Kingdom, self-imposed fiscal consolidation weakened growth until this year. Globally, the asymmetric adjustment of creditor and debtor economies has exacerbated this recessionary and deflationary spiral. Countries that were overspending, under-saving and running current-account deficits have been forced by markets to spend less and save more. Not surprisingly, their trade deficits have been shrinking. But most countries that were over-saving and under-spending have not saved less and spent more; their current-account surpluses have been growing, aggravating the weakness of global demand and, thus, undermining growth.

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Wages have been falling for much longer.

Japanese Workers See Wages Drop for 16th Month (Bloomberg)

Japanese wages adjusted for inflation dropped for a sixteenth straight month as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces an election focused on his efforts to spur economic growth. Earning declined 2.8% in October from a year earlier, the labor ministry said today, following data last week showing households cut spending for a seventh month. Abe’s call for companies to use their cash holdings on salaries and investment has been partially met, with capital spending among manufacturers rising while wages change little. He faces voters on Dec. 14 with an economy that fell into recession following a sales-tax increase and opposition parties highlighting the difficulties of low-income earners.

“With the effect of the sales tax hike, I don’t see real wages rising in the financial year through April,” said Toru Suehiro, an economist at Mizuho Securities. “People will be asking themselves whether they feel better off, and there probably aren’t that many who think the economy has got better.” Before adjusting for inflation, average monthly pay in October rose 0.5% from a year earlier to 267,935 yen ($2,260). Large Japanese companies will raise winter bonuses by 5.8% this year, according to the preliminary results of a survey by the Keidanren business lobby group. Abe said yesterday that Keidanren has promised to lift pay next year.

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The EU shoots itself in the foot. And Russia gets angrier. Gazprom spent billions preparing the South Stream line. Dmitry Orlov said from now on to expect things from Russia that no-one expects.

Putin: EU Stance Forces Russia To Withdraw From South Stream Project (RT)

Russia is forced to withdraw from the South Stream project due to the EU’s unwillingness to support the pipeline, and gas flows will be redirected to other customers, Vladimir Putin said after talks with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “We believe that the stance of the European Commission was counterproductive. In fact, the European Commission not only provided no help in implementation of [the South Stream pipeline], but, as we see, obstacles were created to its implementation. Well, if Europe doesn’t want it implemented, it won’t be implemented,” the Russian president said. According to Putin, the Russian gas “will be retargeted to other regions of the world, which will be achieved, among other things, through the promotion and accelerated implementation of projects involving liquefied natural gas.”

“We’ll be promoting other markets and Europe won’t receive those volumes, at least not from Russia. We believe that it doesn’t meet the economic interests of Europe and it harms our cooperation. But such is the choice of our European friends,” he said. The South Stream project is at the stage when “the construction of the pipeline system in the Black Sea must begin,” but Russia still hasn’t received an approval for the project from Bulgaria, the Russian president said. Investing hundreds of millions of dollars into the pipeline, which would have to stop when it reaches Bulgarian waters, is “just absurd, I hope everybody understands that,” he said. Putin believes that Bulgaria “isn’t acting like an independent state” by delaying the South Stream project, which would be profitable for the country.

He advised the Bulgarian leadership “to demand loss of profit damages from the European Commission” as the country could have been receiving around €400 million annually through gas transit. Putin said that Russia is ready to build a new pipeline to meet Turkey’s growing gas demand, which may include a special hub on the Turkish-Greek border for customers in southern Europe. For now, the supply of Russian gas to Turkey will be raised by 3 billion cubic meters via the already operating Blue Stream pipeline, he said. Last year, 13.7 bcm of gas were supplied to Turkeyvia Blue Stream, according to Reuters. Moscow will also reduce the gas price for Turkish customers by 6% from January 1, 2015, Putin said. “We are ready to further reduce gas prices along with the implementation of our joint large-scale projects,” he added.

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And announced a 0.8% growth shrinkage for 2015.

Russia Intervenes As Crumbling Ruble Echoes 1998 Debt Crisis (Guardian)

Russia’s central bank was forced to step in to defend the ruble on the foreign exchanges on Monday after fears over the economy’s vulnerability to a weak oil price sent the currency to a record low against the dollar. Moscow was forced to abandon its hands-off policy towards the ruble amid heavy selling, unmatched since the Russian debt default of 1998. The Russian central bank intervened when the ruble was down 6.5% on the day against the US dollar, and by the close of trading the currency had recouped more than half its earlier losses. A bounce in the oil price from a fresh five-year low and a sense that the sell-off since last week’s meeting of the Opec cartel has been overdone helped sentiment towards the Russian currency, which has been badly buffeted by a plunge of almost 40% in the cost of crude since the summer.

Data from the US suggesting that drilling activity in the shale oil sector is being affected by lower oil prices also helped the ruble by pushing down the value of the dollar. Oil is denominated in dollars, so when the US currency falls oil becomes cheaper and more attractive for holders of other currencies. With Moscow fearful that the drop in the value of the ruble makes Russia vulnerable to capital flight, Ksenia Yudaeva, the Russian central bank’s deputy chairwoman, told newswires that households should not panic. She said the rise in interest rates to 9.5% should encourage them not to convert savings into euros or dollars. “It’s necessary to explain to people that the yield they get on their deposits at the moment will guarantee a high degree of safety for their savings with regards to inflation. They should think twice before rushing out, losing the yield on their deposits, taking on currency risks and losing money on their currency conversions.”

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NATO is putting ever more attack weapons in countries it had been agreed would be neutral terrain.

Russia Says NATO Destabilizes North Europe, Aid Draws Ire (Bloomberg)

Russia accused NATO of trying to destabilize northern Europe as the alliance’s chief said the latest aid convoy for Ukraine was another sign of Russian disrespect for its neighbor’s border. NATO military drills and its transfer of warplanes capable of carrying nuclear weapons to the Baltic states are a “reality which is extremely negative,” Interfax reported Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksey Meshkov as saying today. “They are trying to shake up the most stable region in the world, the north of Europe,” Meshkov said. “In this regard, Russia’s leadership is and will be taking all steps to ensure the security of Russia and its citizens.” Ukraine and its allies blame Russia for stoking the conflict in the east of Ukraine, which has killed more than 4,300 people and left at least 10,000 wounded. The government in Moscow denies involvement. After delivering more than 1,200 metric tons of cargo to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions without consulting the government in Kiev yesterday, Russia may soon dispatch a ninth aid convoy, Tass reported, citing the Emergencies Ministry.

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Stranger than fiction. Then again, if a country seen as hostile to the US produces a movie in which the plot evolves around a plan to kill the American President, how amused would Washington be?

North Korea Refuses To Deny Sony Pictures Cyber-Attack (BBC)

North Korea has refused to deny involvement in a cyber-attack on Sony Pictures that came ahead of the release of a film about leader Kim Jong-un. Sony is investigating after its computers were attacked and unreleased films made available on the internet. When asked if it was involved in the attack a spokesman for the North Korean government replied: “Wait and see.” In June, North Korea complained to the United Nations and the US over the comedy film The Interview. In the movie, Seth Rogen and James Franco play two reporters who are granted an audience with Kim Jong-un. The CIA then enlists the pair to assassinate him. North Korea described the film as an act of war and an “undisguised sponsoring of terrorism”, and called on the US and the UN to block it. California-based Sony Pictures’ computer system went down last week and hackers then published a number of as-yet un-released films on online download sites.

Among the titles is a remake of the classic film Annie, which is not due for release until 19 December. The Interview does not appear to have been leaked. When asked about the cyber-attack, a spokesman for North Korea’s UN mission said: “The hostile forces are relating everything to the DPRK (North Korea). I kindly advise you to just wait and see.” On Monday Sony Pictures said it had restored a number of important services that had to be shut down after the attack. It said it was working closely with law enforcement officials to investigate the matter but made no mention of North Korea. The FBI has confirmed that it is investigating. It has also warned other US businesses that unknown hackers have launched a cyberattack with destructive malware.

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It’s good to see the NZ justice system has a degree of independence. But this isn’t over. They’ll keep on trying.

Kim Dotcom Avoids Jail After Bail Hearing (NZ Herald)

Kim Dotcom has had bail conditions tightened, although the judge who did so said there was no evidence he had breached any of the court-ordered conditions. Dotcom now has to report twice a week, rather than once, and is banned from travelling on private aircraft or sea-going vessels. Dotcom lambasted the United States and the Crown lawyers acting for it outside court, saying both seized the opportunity to have his bail revoked after he split from his former gold-plated legal team. “The court has found I have no breached any of my bail conditions. I have been probably the most compliant, exemplary candidate of bail in NZ and I am surprised, even though I am going home right now, that my bail conditions have been tightened given my excellent bail compliance.

“I think this is another case of harassment and bullying by the United States government in concert with the New Zealand government. I think this whole application was only made because my lawyers decided to resign because of a lack of funds on my part because Hollywood has seized the new family assets that have been made after the raid. “The Crown and US government have used this opportunity at a weak moment to make up the bogus case for me having breached my bail conditions.” He accused the FBI of being deceitful bringing allegations he had tried to sell a Rolls Royce or been in contact with banned co-accused. He said the evidence showed – as he claimed was true in other branches of the case – that the US would not act with openness and honesty.

“I’m now going home to play with my kids.” Judge Nevin Dawson dismissed the arguments put by the US, saying there was “no proof” he had been in contact with former Megaupload staff who are free in Europe but also facing criminal copyright charges. He said he was not compelled by accusations Dotcom acted with a “lack of candour” by using a driver licence under the name Kim Schmitz in 2009 when stopped for dangerous driving. He said “it appears to be a legitimate use of the name Kim Schmitz”. Other claims also failed to find traction with Judge Dawson, who said he was tightening conditions to take account of the wealth Dotcom had accrued since his arrest and the approaching extradition trial, set for June.

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Dec 012014
 
 December 1, 2014  Posted by at 12:10 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Arthur Rothstein Family leaving South Dakota drought for Oregon Jul 1936

US Consumers Reduce Spending By 11% Over Thanksgiving Weekend (Bloomberg)
Stocks Have Been More Overvalued Only ONCE in the Last 100 Years (Phoenix)
The Imploding Energy Sector Is Responsible For A Third Of S&P 500 Capex (ZH)
Good Money After Bad: The Big Sell-Off of 2015 (Steen Jakobsen)
Can Oil Fall All The Way To $40? (CNBC)
Oil at $40 Possible as Market Transforms Caracas to Iran (Bloomberg)
‘We Are Entering A New Oil Normal’ (Jawad Mian)
Saudis Risk Playing With Fire In Shale-Price Showdown As Crude Crashes (AEP)
China Plays Big Role In Oil’s Slide (MarketWatch)
China Factory Gauge Drops as Shutdowns Add to Slowdown (Bloomberg)
China’s Slowdown Hits Iron-Ore Prices (MarketWatch)
China Winning in OPEC Price War as Hoarding Accelerates (Bloomberg)
Swiss Vote Against Gold Deals Blow to Investors Hurt by Slump (Bloomberg)
Swiss Headache To Continue Beyond Gold Vote (WSJ)
Moody’s Downgrades Japan As Concerns Grow (CNBC)
In Fading Japan Hinterland, Skeptics Doubt “Abenomics” Will Cure Ills (Reuters)
Eurozone Manufacturing Falls As Germany Contracts (CNBC)
So Banks Are Too Big To Fail. Are They Also Too Big To Regulate? (Guardian)
Tired’ Grillo Overhauls Leadership Of Italy’s 5-Star Movement (Reuters)
Commercial Seafood Set to Disappear from Oceans in 2048 (Alternet)
Ebola Death Toll in 3 West African Countries Most Affected Nears 7,000 (WSJ)

Shoppers are confident enough to not shop. Absolutely brilliant spin attempts, but the whole thing oozes desperation.

US Consumers Reduce Spending By 11% Over Thanksgiving Weekend (Bloomberg)

Even after doling out discounts on electronics and clothes, retailers struggled to entice shoppers to Black Friday sales events, putting pressure on the industry as it heads into the final weeks of the holiday season. Spending tumbled an estimated 11% over the weekend, the Washington-based National Retail Federation said yesterday. And more than 6 million shoppers who had been expected to hit stores never showed up. Consumers were unmoved by retailers’ aggressive discounts and longer Thanksgiving hours, raising concern that signs of recovery in recent months won’t endure.

The NRF had predicted a 4.1% sales gain for November and December – the best performance since 2011. Still, the trade group cast the latest numbers in a positive light, saying it showed shoppers were confident enough to skip the initial rush for discounts. “The holiday season and the weekend are a marathon, not a sprint,” NRF Chief Executive Officer Matthew Shay said on a conference call. “This is going to continue to be a very competitive season.” Consumer spending fell to $50.9 billion over the past four days, down from $57.4 billion in 2013, according to the NRF. It was the second year in a row that sales declined during the post-Thanksgiving Black Friday weekend, which had long been famous for long lines and frenzied crowds.

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How about them apples?

Stocks Have Been More Overvalued Only ONCE in the Last 100 Years (Phoenix)

Stocks today are overvalued by any reasonable valuation metric. If you look at the CAPE (cyclical adjusted price to earnings) the market is registers a reading of 27 (anything over 15 is overvalued). We’re now as overvalued as we were in 2007. The only times in history that the market has been more overvalued was during the 1929 bubble and the Tech bubble. Please note that both occasions were “bubbles” that were followed by massive collapses in stock prices.


Source: https://www.multpl.com/shiller-pe/

Then there is total stock market cap to GDP, a metric that Warren Buffett’s calls tge “single best measure” of stock market value. Today this metric stands at roughly 130%. It’s the highest reading since the DOTCOM bubble (which was 153%). Put another way, stocks are even more overvalued than they were in 2007 and have only been more overvalued during the Tech Bubble: the single biggest stock market bubble in 100 years.


Source: Advisorperspectives.com

1) Investor sentiment is back to super bullish autumn 2007 levels.
2) Insider selling to buying ratios are back to autumn 2007 levels (insiders are selling the farm).
3) Money market fund assets are at 2007 levels (indicating that investors have gone “all in” with stocks).
4) Mutual fund cash levels are at a historic low (again investors are “all in” with stocks).
5) Margin debt (money borrowed to buy stocks) is near record highs.

In plain terms, the market is overvalued, overbought, overextended, and over leveraged. This is a recipe for a correction if not a collapse.

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This is exactly what I’ve been warning about for more than a week now. Oil is big enough as an industry to drag the whole market down.

The Imploding Energy Sector Is Responsible For A Third Of S&P 500 Capex (ZH)

We have previously discussed the implications that tumbling crude oil prices will have not only on some of the most levered companies with exposure to Brent prices, namely the vast majority of the US energy space with outstanding junk bonds which, as we explained before, should WTI drop to $60, it would “Trigger A Broader HY Market Default Cycle” (based on a Deutsche Bank analysis) leading to pain across the entire credit market (and in the process impairing the stock-buyback machinery which companies aggressively use to artificially boost their stock price), as well as on oil-exporting nations, whose economies are assured to grind to a halt leading to broad social unrest or worse, and lastly, on global asset liquidity, which is set to contract even more now that for the first time in over a decade, the net flow of Petrodollars will be an outflow (as explained in How The Petrodollar Quietly Died, And Nobody Noticed).

And while much has been said about the “benefits” the US economy is poised to reap as a result of the plunge in gas prices, which has been compared to a major tax cut (whatever happened to the core Keynesian tenet that “deflation” is the worst thing that can possibly happen) on the US consumer, almost nothing has been said about the adverse impact on US GDP as a result of tumbling fixed investment spending and CapEx. The reason, clearly, is that the collapse in new investment will more than offset the boost from incremental household spending. Here are the facts, per Deutsche Bank:

US private investment spending is usually ~15% of US GDP or $2.8trn now. This investment consists of $1.6trn spent annually on equipment and software, $700bn on non-residential construction and a bit over $500bn on residential. Equipment and software is 35% technology and communications, 25-30% is industrial equipment for energy, utilities and agriculture, 15% is transportation equipment, with remaining 20-25% related to other industries or intangibles. Non-residential construction is 20% oil and gas producing structures and 30% is energy related in total. We estimate global investment spending is 20% of S&P EPS or 12% from US. The Energy sector is responsible for a third of S&P 500 capex. 35% of S&P EPS from investment and commodity spend, 15-20% US.

In short, while nobody knows just how many tens of billions in US economic “growth”, i.e., GDP, will be eliminated now that energy companies are not only not investing in growth spending or even maintenance, being forced to shut down unprofitable drilling operations and entering spending hibernation territory, the guaranteed outcome is that US GDP is set to slide as the CapEx cliff resulting from Brent prices dropping below the $75/bbl red line under which shale is broadly no longer profitable will offset any GDP benefit unleashed from the “supposed” increase in consumer spending (supposed because according to the latest NRF numbers, Thanksgiving spending was not only well below last year (with the average consumer spending $380.95 over Thanksgiving compared to $407.02 a year ago) but below even our worst case forecasts. So just where are all those external benefits to US retailers as a result of crashing gas prices?

Rhetorical questions aside, the real question is just how much will said GDP slide ultimately be? Sadly, this too will be one question the BEA will never answer, as instead the upcoming GDP plunge will be blamed once again on inclement weather as opposed to actually analyzing what is truly happening as America’s transformation to an oil-producing (and maybe exporting) powerhouse, is so rudely interrupted.

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The doomiest view of all made me also laugh out loud.

Good Money After Bad: The Big Sell-Off of 2015 (Steen Jakobsen)

The big selloff in 2015 will come from housing and housing-related investments as the marginal cost of capital rises through regulation and through “margin calls” on banks as their profit-to-GDP ratios grow too high for the economy to function properly. The dividend society is here and the true manifestation of Japanisation is not a future event but a thing we are living in right now… From a tactical point of view, I live in a very simple world:

[..] No, if there is any reality left in the world the market will realize — by its mistaken support for long USDJPY positions — that productivity gains and competitive edges are driven by the “need” to change… not from isolation but from cause and effect (but that’s also a 2015 story). In closing I have very little positions — the stock market is on a mission to kill the shorts (which will probably succeed), the FX market believes in Santa Japan and the ECB continues to do nothing but talk… but for now it’s enough to sell the product, which is risk-on at all costs.

The correction will be deeper and deeper as the market is dislocated through zero interest rates and an investing crowd that is rewarded for throwing all conservative risk rules overboard in a year where we again have double digit gains on… low interest rates. Let’s hope the ECB plays ball for the market to buy some more time; for now we are playing musical chairs, and when the music stops, more than one chair will be missing… How bad are things? Well, let me give you my starting slide from a presentation done in November:

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“”We’re seeing a lot of traders being forced into the market, a lot of hedges, because the prices have been so volatile toward the downside .. ”

Can Oil Fall All The Way To $40? (CNBC)

As oil prices drop to more than four-year lows, analysts are slashing their forecasts, with some predicting it could plunge as much as 40% to around $40 a barrel. “There is a possibility that if this price war becomes unmanageable, [we could] see prices down to about $40 a barrel [for WTI],” Jonathan Barratt, chief investment officer of Ayers Alliance Securities, told CNBC. But for oil to get all the way down to $40 a barrel would take “a massive lack of confidence in the economies, also a lack of pricing power,” Barratt said. Brent and WTI crude each fell more than 2% to as low as $67.90 and $64.10 a barrel respectively during Asian trade on Monday, levels last seen in 2010, as the European credit crisis was heating up. Global oil prices have plunged since peaking in June.

From around $115 a barrel, Brent crude has lost around a third of its price. Weak demand, a strong U.S. dollar and booming U.S. oil production are the three main reasons behind the fall, according to the IEA, which warned of a “new chapter” for oil markets, which could even affect the social stability of some countries. Saudi Arabia sparked talk of an oil price war as it has cut its official selling prices for some customers for four consecutive months through November. Part of oil’s drop has to do with supply conditions. Increased U.S. oil production has added to a glut in the world oil market. The U.S. now produces about 8.9 million barrels a day, while Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest producer, pumps about 9.6 million barrels a day.

But Barratt believes much of the price drop has to do with financial traders, citing the speed of the drop over the past few trading sessions amid relatively low volumes during the holiday period. “We’re seeing a lot of traders being forced into the market, a lot of hedges, because the prices have been so volatile toward the downside,” Barratt said. He isn’t alone in predicting oil could plunge to $40 a barrel – levels not seen in more than 10 years. Murray Edwards, chairman of Canadian Natural Resources, one of Canada’s biggest oil investors, predicted oil could fall as low as $30 a barrel before stabilizing at around $70-$75, according to a Financial Post article. While Forbes contributor Jesse Colombo, admittedly a perma-bear, said in an article that technical analysis suggests that if oil prices fall below $60 a barrel, $40 is the next major support.

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OPEC have turned into the proverbial cats in a sack.

Oil at $40 Possible as Market Transforms Caracas to Iran (Bloomberg)

Oil’s decline is proving to be the worst since the collapse of the financial system in 2008 and threatening to have the same global impact of falling prices three decades ago that led to the Mexican debt crisis and the end of the Soviet Union. Russia, the world’s largest producer, can no longer rely on the same oil revenues to rescue an economy suffering from European and U.S. sanctions. Iran, also reeling from similar sanctions, will need to reduce subsidies that have partly insulated its growing population. Nigeria, fighting an Islamic insurgency, and Venezuela, crippled by failing political and economic policies, also rank among the biggest losers from the decision by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries last week to let the force of the market determine what some experts say will be the first free-fall in decades.

“This is a big shock in Caracas, it’s a shock in Tehran, it’s a shock in Abuja,” Daniel Yergin, vice chairman of Englewood, Colorado-based consultant IHS Inc. and author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning history of oil, told Bloomberg Radio. “There’s a change in psychology. There’s going to be a higher degree of uncertainty.” A world already unsettled by Russian-inspired insurrection in Ukraine to the onslaught of Islamic State in the Middle East is about be roiled further as crude prices plunge. Global energy markets have been upended by an unprecedented North American oil boom brought on by hydraulic fracturing, the process of blasting shale rocks to release oil and gas.

Few expected the extent or speed of the U.S. oil resurgence. As wildcatters unlocked new energy supplies, some oil exporters abroad failed to invest in diversifying their economies. Coddled by years of $100 crude, governments instead spent that windfall subsidizing everything from 5 cents-per-gallon gasoline to cheap housing that kept a growing population of underemployed citizens content. Those handouts are now at risk. “If the governments aren’t able to spend to keep the kids off the streets they will go back to the streets, and we could start to see political disruption and upheaval,” said Paul Stevens, distinguished fellow for energy, environment and resources at Chatham House in London, a U.K. policy group. “The majority of members of OPEC need well over $100 a barrel to balance their budgets. If they start cutting expenditure, this is likely to cause problems.”

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” The International Energy Agency says we could soon hit “peak oil demand”, due to cheaper fuel alternatives, environmental concerns, and improving oil efficiency.” But no slowdown anywhere!

‘We Are Entering A New Oil Normal’ (Jawad Mian)

Everyone believes that the oil-price decline is temporary. It is assumed that once oil prices plummet, the process is much more likely to be self-stabilizing than destabilizing. As the theory goes, once demand drops, price follows, and leveraged high-cost producers shut production. Eventually, supply falls to match demand and price stabilizes. When demand recovers, so does price, and marginal production returns to meet rising demand. Prices then stabilize at a higher level as supply and demand become more balanced. For the classic model to hold true in oil’s case, the market must correctly anticipate the equilibrating role of price in the presence of supply/demand imbalances.

By 2020, we see oil demand realistically rising to no more than 96 million barrels a day. North American oil consumption has been in a structural decline, whereas the European economy is expected to remain lacklustre. Risks to the Chinese economy are tilted to the downside and we find no reason to anticipate a positive growth surprise. This limits the potential for growth in oil demand and leads us to believe global oil prices will struggle to rebound to their previous levels. The International Energy Agency says we could soon hit “peak oil demand”, due to cheaper fuel alternatives, environmental concerns, and improving oil efficiency. The oil market will remain well supplied, even at lower prices. We believe incremental oil demand through 2020 can be met with rising output in Libya, Iraq and Iran.

We expect production in Libya to return to the level prior to the civil war, adding at least 600,000 barrels a day to world supply. Big investments in Iraq’s oil industry should pay-off too with production rising an extra 1.5-2 million barrels a day over the next five years. We also believe the American-Iranian détente is serious, and that sooner or later both parties will agree to terms and reach a definitive agreement. This will eventually lead to more oil supply coming to the market from Iran, further depressing prices in the “new oil normal”. [..] Our analysis leads us to conclude that the price of oil is unlikely to average $100 again for the remaining decade. We will use an oil rebound to gradually adjust our portfolio to reflect this new reality.

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Ambrose in July 2014: “A large chunk of US investment is going into shale gas ventures that are either underwater or barely breaking even, victims of their own success in creating a supply glut. One chief executive acidly told the TPH Global Shale conference that the only time his shale company ever had cash-flow above zero was the day he sold it – to a gullible foreigner. [..] … the low-hanging fruit has been picked and the costs are ratcheting up. Three Forks McKenzie in Montana has a break-even price of $91. [..]”

And today: “The International Energy Agency said most of North Dakota’s vast Bakken field “remains profitable at or below $42 per barrel. The break-even price in McKenzie County, the most productive county in the state, is only $28 per barrel.“

Saudis Risk Playing With Fire In Shale-Price Showdown As Crude Crashes (AEP)

Saudi Arabia and the core OPEC states are taking an immense political gamble by letting crude oil prices crash to $66 a barrel, if their aim is to shake out the weakest shale producers in the US. A deep slump in prices might equally heighten geostrategic turmoil across the broader Middle East and boomerang against the Gulf’s petro-sheikhdoms before it inflicts a knock-out blow on US rivals. Caliphate leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has already opened a “second front” in North Africa, targeting Algeria and Libya – two states that live off energy exports – as well as Egypt and the Sahel as far as northern Nigeria. “The resilience of US shale may prove greater than the resilience of OPEC,” said Alistair Newton, head of political risk at Nomura. Chris Skrebowski, former editor of Petroleum Review, said the Saudis want to cut the annual growth rate of US shale output from 1m barrels per day (bpd) to 500,000 bpd to bring the market closer to balance. “They want to unnerve the shale oil model and undermine financial confidence, but they won’t stop the growth altogether,” he said.

There is no question that the US has entirely changed the global energy landscape and poses an existential threat to OPEC. America has cut its net oil imports by 8.7m bpd since 2006, equal to the combined oil exports of Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. The country had a trade deficit of $354bn in oil and gas as recently as 2011. Citigroup said this will return to balance by 2018, one of the most extraordinary turnarounds in modern economic history. “When it comes to crude and other hydrocarbons, the US is bursting at the seams,” said Edward Morse, Citigroup’s commodities chief. “This situation is unlikely to stop, even if prevailing prices for oil fall significantly. The US should become a net exporter of crude oil and petroleum products combined by 2019, if not 2018.” OPEC has misjudged the threat. As late as last year, it was dismissing US shale as a flash in the pan. Abdalla El-Badri, the group’s secretary-general, still insists that half of all US shale output is vulnerable below $85.

This is bravado. US producers have locked in higher prices through derivatives contracts. Noble Energy and Devon Energy have both hedged over three-quarters of their output for 2015. Pioneer Natural Resources said it has options through 2016 covering two- thirds of its likely production. “We can produce down to $50 a barrel,” said Harold Hamm, from Continental Resources. The International Energy Agency said most of North Dakota’s vast Bakken field “remains profitable at or below $42 per barrel. The break-even price in McKenzie County, the most productive county in the state, is only $28 per barrel.”

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” .. if the industrial commodities that have fed China’s prodigious economic rise are taken as a guide, there is little need for debate: There has already been a hard landing ..”

China Plays Big Role In Oil’s Slide (MarketWatch)

All eyes have been on OPEC after its failure to agree to a production cut triggered the latest dramatic slide in the price of crude oil. But if you want to understand why the demand side of oil has been unraveling — and why it could continue — look no further than China. Opinion over the state of the world’s second-largest economy is typically divided between whether it is merely undergoing a rebalancing or a more painful slowdown after years of excessive credit growth. But if the industrial commodities that have fed China’s prodigious economic rise are taken as a guide, there is little need for debate: There has already been a hard landing, as all the prices of these resources have collapsed to multi-year lows. Now oil is falling in line as it too adjusts to a world where China is no longer bidding prices ever higher. Granted, oil is different from steel, iron ore and coal, where China is the world’s largest consumer (The U.S. still consumes almost twice as much oil as China). Yet Chinese demand is still pivotal.

China became the dominant source of growth in crude-oil demand as it joined the world economy in recent decades. Indeed, Société Générale comments China’s opening to world trade was responsible for lifting the oil price from around $20 a barrel to around $100. This price move approximately correlates with China joining the World Trade Organization at the beginning of the last decade, a period in which the nation, by itself, added the equivalent of Japanese and U.K. total oil consumption. The oil market is unlikely to find another country, or even a continent, that can take over this degree of heavy lifting in demand growth. Meanwhile, longer-term forecasts that China can maintain anything close to its recent pace of growth increasingly look misplaced. Until recently, many economists had assumed that it was only a matter of time before China’s appetite for oil would surpass that of the U.S. But there are a number of reasons to question such bullish forecasts. For one, we can expect the Chinese investment cycle to be in for a prolonged adjustment as it digests past excesses.

There is widespread evidence of industrial overcapacity, and last week researchers at China’s National Development Commission became the latest to highlight this issue. In a new report, they estimated $6.8 trillion of “ineffective investment” had been wasted. There are other signs that China’s thirst for oil is coming up against capacity constraints. After surpassing the U.S. as the biggest automobile market in the world in 2010, recent years have seen traffic jams and pollution become recurring problems. This has forced authorities to use administrative measures to rein in growth. We should also expect China’s future demand for oil to be more price-sensitive. In the past, demand appeared inelastic as growth continued even as crude prices reached triple-digits. But this period coincided with state-funded industry being the dominant driver, whereas demand for gasoline for cars can be expected to be dependent on the income growth of the middle class.

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It’s close to contraction, and that’s a a long way away from 7.5% growth.

China Factory Gauge Drops as Shutdowns Add to Slowdown (Bloomberg)

A Chinese manufacturing gauge fell as factory shutdowns aggravated a pullback in the economy, raising pressure on the central bank to ease policy further after it lowered interest rates for the first time in two years. The government’s Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell to an eight-month low of 50.3 in November, compared with the 50.5 median estimate of analysts in a Bloomberg survey and October’s 50.8. Readings above 50 indicate expansion. The government ordered factories in Beijing and surrounding regions to shut down during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum to curb pollution. China’s central bank cut interest rates last month as the economy heads for its slowest full-year expansion since 1990.

“Today’s official PMI reading points to continued downward pressure on manufacturing activity,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, China analyst in Singapore at Capital Economics Ltd. “The recent cut in the benchmark rate will do little to boost economic activity unless followed by a loosening of quantitative controls on lending, which policymakers will remain cautious about given concerns over mounting credit risk.” The official PMI is released by the National Bureau of Statistics and China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing in Beijing. The index is based on responses to surveys sent to purchasing executives at 3,000 companies. The final reading of another manufacturing PMI for November from HSBC Holdings Plc and Markit Economics was 50.0. It was unchanged from a preliminary reading.

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Iron, steel, oil, it’s all under huge pressure. All the producers have gambled on continuing growth. And there’s more: “Meanwhile, the biggest mining companies say they are still committed to plans to keep topping production records.”

China’s Slowdown Hits Iron-Ore Prices (MarketWatch)

China’s hunger for minerals to build skyscrapers, cars and bridges produced a decadelong surge in the price and production of key commodities. Now, exporting nations are feeling the hit as the China-fueled boom slows. Topping the list are big commodity players Australia and Brazil, but also smaller resource-rich countries, such as Guinea, Indonesia and Mongolia, where minerals make up a disproportionate share of the economy and employment. In countries specializing in crucial commodities, such as iron ore and coal, sluggish demand and falling commodity prices are reducing government tax revenue, increasing trade deficits and affecting currency values. The Australian dollar reached a four-year low in November against the U.S. dollar due in part to sliding raw-material prices and slowing Chinese demand growth for those commodities. J.P. Morgan this month cut its forecast for 2015 Australian economic growth to 2.8% from 3.3%, and Brazil recently halved its own growth forecast for 2014 to 0.9% from 1.8%.

Mining profits as a share of the economy in both countries more than doubled during the past 15 years, according to the World Bank. The longer-term impact of a collapse in commodity prices could be even more profound, hurting the economies of producing countries and boosting buying power in Western consumer economies. “The impact of oversupply could be a mess,” says Lourenco Goncalves, CEO of Cliffs Natural Resources, a midsize miner that laid off workers in Australia. Meanwhile, the biggest mining companies say they are still committed to plans to keep topping production records. Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton have been shipping cargoes from Australia’s remote northwest at record rates. For smaller countries, the growing dependence on mining is even more apparent. In Guinea, the share of mining profits as a percentage of GDP more than tripled to 18.3% between 2000 and 2012, the latest data available, according to the World Bank. And in Mongolia, it nearly doubled to 11.9%.

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All the news about a China slowdown, and then this?! I don’t believe the numbers presented here for a minute.

China Winning in OPEC Price War as Hoarding Accelerates (Bloomberg)

China is emerging as the winner from OPEC’s battle with rival oil producers as the world’s biggest energy consumer stockpiles crude. The nation’s efforts to boost reserves may increase its imports by as much as 700,000 barrels a day in 2015, according to London-based Energy Aspects. That’s more than half the global glut forecast by Citigroup Inc. after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries refrained from cutting output at its meeting last week. Brent crude has slumped 41% from its peak in June. The dwindling number of investors still betting on a rebound in prices can at least count on Chinese demand.

OPEC decided to maintain output targets even as a shale boom boosts U.S. production to the highest in more than three decades and causes a global supply glut. As crude extends its slump to the lowest level in more than four years, China is seeking to build a strategic petroleum reserve. “This is a golden time window to acquire more strategic oil stockpiles at lower costs,” Gordon Kwan, the Hong Kong-based head of regional oil and gas research at Nomura Holdings Inc., wrote in an e-mail Nov. 28. China will be “a big beneficiary” from the OPEC decision, he said.

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“We’ll get more pressure on gold. The overall outlook is not looking great.”

Swiss Vote Against Gold Deals Blow to Investors Hurt by Slump (Bloomberg)

With no chance that the Swiss central bank will be the next big buyer of gold, it’s one more reason for investors to be bearish. Voters today rejected a referendum requiring the Swiss National Bank hold at least 20% of its 520-billion-franc ($540 billion) balance sheet in gold. Had it been approved, it would have led to purchases of at least 1,500 metric tons over five years. With lower oil prices reducing costs for consumers and the U.S. considering raising interest rates, demand is fading for hedges against inflation such as gold. Gold has lost 16% since peaking in March and investor holdings of exchange-traded products are near a five-year low. While prices probably won’t be affected too much by the “no” vote of the initiative called “Save Our Swiss Gold,” approval would have improved sentiment and increased prices by as much as $50 an ounce, HSBC estimated in November.

“Gold had received some support in the last couple of weeks” before the vote, Georgette Boele, an analyst at ABN Amro Bank, said by phone. “We’ll get more pressure on gold. The overall outlook is not looking great.” The proposal stipulating the SNB raise the portion of its assets held in gold from about 8% now was voted down by 77% to 23%. The initiative would have also prohibited the SNB from ever selling any of its bullion and required the 30% currently stored in Canada and the U.K. to be repatriated. Polls forecast the initiative’s rejection. Approval would have probably made Switzerland the world’s third-biggest holder by country of the metal. Analysts had said purchases would have been at least 1,500 tons over five years. Adding 300 tons a year would equal about 7% of annual global consumption. SNB policy makers had a higher estimate, forecasting 70 billion francs worth of gold, or about 1,932 tons.

Proponents of the initiative said boosting bullion holdings would help preserve national wealth. The SNB and national government had argued that approving the measure could undermine efforts to prevent the franc from surging against the euro and erode the bank’s annual dividend distribution to regional governments.

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“The starting point is that the SNB cannot let the floor go. They will fight for it. They will do whatever it takes to defend the floor ..”

Swiss Headache To Continue Beyond Gold Vote (WSJ)

A Swiss vote on whether the country’s central bank should drastically ramp up its gold holdings — forever– happens this Sunday. The result is likely to be a no if the latest polls are accurate. But even in case of a negative outcome the pressure on the Swiss National Bank to cut interest rates below zero will not go away. The franc has been flying high of late, in part because the market has sniffed the possibility that forcing the SNB to buy lots and lots of gold (that’s what the vote’s all about) could cause problems for the central bank’s efforts to hold the currency down. The Swiss central bank keeps a floor on the currency, which controls how strong it gets against the euro, to protect the country’s exporters from an overly strong franc, which would damage them at international level. In order to do this, it buys euros which are added to its balance sheet.

With the new requirement in place, the SNB would have to match euro purchases with equal amounts of gold, which would not only be costly, but also permanent as it would be banned from selling it. Many have suggested that negative interest rates might be a useful tool for the central bank to deflect buying of the franc in the case the Swiss vote for the bank to ramp up its gold holdings to 20% by buying 1500 tons of gold over a period of five years. After all, the SNB has repeatedly said it’s open to the idea of negative rates. Since opinion polls started to point more clearly to a no vote, the franc has backed down a little. But the market’s bet on negative rates has not subsided.

Libor three month futures on the Swiss franc suggest that the market is pricing 0.11 percentage point in cuts by the end of next year, or a 45% probability of a 0.25 percentage point cut by the end of 2015, said a trader at SocGen. “The market is expecting rate cuts in the future and in the Swiss case, negative rates, to follow in the ECB footsteps. ”That’s the rub: the European Central Bank cut its deposit rate below zero in June, and it’s still firmly in easing mode. This has weakened the euro against all currencies, including against the franc, with the euro trading just above the level set by the central bank. “The starting point is that the SNB cannot let the floor go. They will fight for it. They will do whatever it takes to defend the floor,” said Samy Char, investment strategist at Swiss asset manager Lombard Odier. Negative rates may be part of that mix, investors and analysts add.

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Abenomics is a colossal failure that was entirely foreseeable. And still the Krugmans of the world call for Europe to do what Japan did.

Moody’s Downgrades Japan As Concerns Grow (CNBC)

Fears over the future of Japan’s economy are growing – and Moody’s, the credit ratings agency, reflected this on Monday by cutting its credit rating to A1 from AA3. The news came just after the country’s main stock market, the Nikkei, closed at a seven-year high. Increased “uncertainty” over whether Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe can achieve his deficit-cutting goals, and “the timing and effectiveness of growth enhancing policy measures” have made Japanese government debt riskier in the medium term, analysts at Moody’s said in a release. They added that the outlook for the rating was stable.

Abe swept into power two years ago, and was hailed as a savior because of his plan to reinvigorate Japan’s moribund economy – known as “Abenomics”. The three main pillars of Abenomics are: a large fiscal stimulus, more aggressive monetary easing from the Bank of Japan, and structural reforms to the country’s economy. Japan has been in a deflationary spiral for two decades, and it remains to be seen whether Abenomics can shake it out. Abe has called a snap election for December 14, in an effort to secure another four years to see his policies through. However, his popularity seems to be in decline. Japan’s economy is now back in recession after GDP shrank by 0.4% in the third three months of the year, on a quarter-on-quarter basis.

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How crazy is it that Abe is still set to win the December 14 snap election?

In Fading Japan Hinterland, Skeptics Doubt “Abenomics” Will Cure Ills (Reuters)

Mihoko Asaka wants to know how candidates in this month’s election in Japan will create jobs and halt the drastic population decline that is bleeding her home region of youth and vitality, but has little hope they will offer real solutions. Like many of his age group, her 25-year-old son left the largely rural prefecture of Akita in northeastern Japan to find work after graduating from college. “I’m interested to see how much they are listening to the voices from this region,” said Asaka, 57, waiting for a bus in Akita City, the prefecture’s capital. “But I don’t think our voices are being heard. They talk about money being thrown around, but we can’t see where it goes.” Critics say Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s policies to end deflation and generate growth have helped mainly big cities, large companies and the rich by boosting share prices and exporters’ profits with a hyper-easy monetary policy that has slashed the value of the yen and sent asset prices higher.

All too aware of the criticism, Abe has made spreading the benefits of his “Abenomics” agenda to “every nook and cranny” of Japan a key plank of his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) platform for the Dec. 14 lower house election. The LDP-led ruling coalition is expected to keep its lower house majority, so interest is focused on whether and to what extent its grip on two-thirds of the chamber erodes. Akita prefecture, with the dubious distinction of having Japan’s highest suicide rate and fastest-shrinking population, definitely needs a boost. Already, about 30% of its population is aged 65 and over compared to 25% nationwide, with the ratio predicted to rise to more than 40% by 2040, when Akita’s total population will have fallen by more than a third to 700,000.

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TEXT

Eurozone Manufacturing Falls As Germany Contracts (CNBC)

Euro zone manufacturing activity missed forecasts and slowed in November, with German activity contracting — hitting hopes of a pick-up in the bloc’s largest economy. Markit’s euro zone manufacturing PMI was nearly flat at 50.1 in November, missing analysts’ forecasts of 50.4. This was a fall from the 50.6 recorded in October. The latest figures will raise concerns among policymakers at the European Central Bank (ECB) who are battling extremely low inflation in the single currency bloc. Three of the euro zone’s largest economies – Germany, France and Italy – saw manufacturing activity contract in October. Germany’s November manufacturing PMI came in at 49.5, France’s reading was 48.4, and Italy’s figure was at 49, all below the 50 mark that signifies growth.

“With the final PMI coming in below the flash reading, the situation in euro area manufacturing is worse than previously thought. Not only is the performance of the sector the worst seen since mid-2013, there is a risk that renewed rot is spreading across the region from the core,” Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, said in a press release. “The sector has more or less stagnated since August, but we are now seeing, for the first time in nearly one-and-a-half years, the three largest economies all suffering manufacturing downturns.” The near-stagnant euro zone-wide PMI figure was driven by falling levels of new business and lackluster export orders, Markit said, alongside signs of slowing global growth. The fall in manufacturing growth also came amid continued price pressures with factories continuing to cut prices.

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“I am sure shareholders would trade an executive or two for a few billion less in regulator fines.”

So Banks Are Too Big To Fail. Are They Also Too Big To Regulate? (Guardian)

The broken culture of high street banking will take a generation to fix, according to a report this week. The thinktank New City Agenda calculated that over the past 15 years banks had incurred £38.5bn in fines and redress for the mistreatment of customers. Bank boards and their regulators acknowledge the need for change, and by all accounts this is a massive problem. So why should it take so long – and how can we force things to move faster? A few months ago, a dealer in old wine was given a 10-year sentence for misrepresenting the quality of the contents. A banker who misrepresented his or her product would not face anything like this penalty. Despite scandal after scandal, the absence of personal accountability persists.

The size of penalties varies by regulator, but the unwillingness to punish the individual perpetrator does not. The message being sent from the regulators to the banks is: “Here’s the deal: we fine you a ton of money; no one goes to jail; no individual is named; and the best part – you can settle the bill with your shareholders’ dough!” True, in Britain the government is proposing new laws to make criminal behaviour a crime. But tools already in place remain untouched. The UK has long had an “approved persons” regime administered initially by the Financial Services Authority, and now by the Prudential Regulatory Authority. The PRA determines who is fit and proper to hold key positions in finance. Most of the focus has been on who is approved and how. But prior authorisations can be revoked. One wonders why they haven’t.

Surely there is no shortage of scandal-linked wrongdoers. Who would not want them to act? Think about the list of those who have a stake in the matter. Banks serve multiple stakeholders. These include society, clients, shareholders, employees and executives. We have already mentioned society’s outrage and clients’ dismay. Both have been clamouring for justice. What about the others? Surely shareholders should want the unfit to be identified and punished. After all, the depth, breadth and persistence of the wrongdoing shows that either management were complicit in their subordinates’ actions, or they were too incompetent to prevent it. Take your pick, but both are cases for being banned as unfit for such responsibilities. I am sure shareholders would trade an executive or two for a few billion less in regulator fines.

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“I’m pretty tired, as Forrest Gump would say .. ”

Tired’ Grillo Overhauls Leadership Of Italy’s 5-Star Movement (Reuters)

Beppe Grillo, the unruly comic who built Italy’s 5-Star Movement into one of the most potent anti-establishment forces in Europe, is struggling to stop a steady slide following months of infighting and electoral setbacks. After a week that saw two local election defeats and two parliamentary members expelled from the party, Grillo announced his movement needed a more formal leadership structure. A five-member committee, approved by an online poll, will take over much day-to-day running with the aim of strengthening foundations for the future. The 66-year-old Grillo said he would remain as “guarantor” but what that means is unclear. “I’m pretty tired, as Forrest Gump would say,” he wrote in his blog beneath a mock-up of himself as the movie character, telling a band of followers that he is ending a marathon run across the country.

One of the most successful of the anti-system parties that have blossomed in Europe during the financial crisis, Grillo’s movement is fueled by anger at a corrupt and inefficient political class. It remains Italy’s second-biggest party but after its triumph in the 2013 elections, when it won 25% of the vote, it has struggled in parliament. In the latest of a string of disputes over issues including whether members may appear on television, two deputies were thrown out this week, accused of failing to repay state funding as party rules demand. The latest expulsions left the 5-Star Movement with 143 seats in parliament, compared with the 163 it won last year. It has done poorly in recent local elections, taking only 13% and 5% respectively last week in the regions of Emilia-Romagna and Calabria.

In its place, the anti-immigrant Northern League, which shares Grillo’s hostility to the euro, is capturing more of the protest vote, coming second in Emilia-Romagna, a traditional stronghold of the left. Even Silvio Berlusconi, fighting to regain influence following a conviction for tax fraud, has re-emerged. In an opinion poll last week, he beat Grillo’s personal approval rating for the first time in months. “Grillo’s tired. I’m in better form than ever,” he said on Saturday. Marco Travaglio, a prominent columnist for Il Fatto Quotidiano, a newspaper generally sympathetic to Grillo’s movement, wrote that the disputes were “suicidal” and would only strengthen Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, “who, with adversaries like this, can stay 100 years.”

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Wouldn’t that be something?

Commercial Seafood Set to Disappear from Oceans in 2048 (Alternet)

A prominent marine research ecologist says that commercial seafood could disappear from our oceans within the next three decades if humans don’t take action immediately. Boris Worm of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada said the oceans are quickly losing biodiversity and that nearly 30% of seafood species humans consume are already too small to harvest. If the long-term trend continues, there will be little or no seafood available for a sustainable harvest by 2048. Dr. Worm’s study was recently published in the journal Science and is an update of a study published in 2006. Importantly, the study is about the collapse of commercial catches, not species extinction. Catch collapse means that fish are caught at 10% or less of the rate they had been caught historically. Several media outlets have incorrectly stated that the study warns all seafood will be gone from the oceans.

CBS News, for example, reported that “the apocalypse has a new date: 2048” and that the oceans would be empty of fish at that time. To our knowledge, the television network has not issued a retraction. “We never said that,” says Dr. Worm. “We never talked about extinction. We talked about the collapse of the commercial catches.” Still, Worm and his international team of scientists and economists say that catch collapses paint a grim picture for the ocean and for human health. The accelerated loss of biodiversity, they say, is imperiled by overfishing, pollution, habitat loss and climate change. Saltwater ecosystems, including human populations that depend on it for survival, can be adversely affected by dwindling populations. Harmful algae blooms, coastal flooding and poor water quality can be the results of reduced fish populations. “Biodiversity is a finite resource, and we are going to end up with nothing left…if nothing changes,” says Worm.

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Still not going well at all. New warnings are iddues about the threat of ebola spreading.

Ebola Death Toll in 3 West African Countries Most Affected Nears 7,000 (WSJ)

Nearly 7,000 people have died from the Ebola virus disease in the three West African countries most affected by the current outbreak, according to new data from the World Health Organization. In an update, the United Nations health agency said 16,169 confirmed, suspected or probable cases of Ebola had been reported in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The three countries are at the epicenter of the current outbreak. A total of 6,928 people have died of Ebola in the three countries since the outbreak began, the WHO said. Liberia reported the biggest rise in deaths; more than 1,000 since WHO data released on Wednesday The agency, which recently changed the format it uses for reporting Ebola data, provided no commentary as to why the death toll jumped.

However, a spokesman said via email that the increase was caused by previously unreported deaths now being counted in the official statistics, rather than a rash of new fatalities. The WHO has previously said some local authorities have had difficulty processing paperwork quickly. The agency has said its count may greatly underestimate the toll, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said it believes the actual count could be between two and four times the WHO numbers. Ebola causes high fever and internal bleeding. The disease spreads via bodily fluids and the corpses of its victims can be contagious.

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 November 23, 2014  Posted by at 8:42 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Arthur Siegel Bethlehem-Fairfield shipyards, Baltimore, MD May 1943

A lot of people these days vent their opinions on what’s happening with the Chinese economy, and the opinions are so all over the place they could hardly be more different. Which is interesting, to say the least. Apparently it’s still very hard to understand what does happen ‘over there’.

And I don’t at all mean to suggest that I would know better than Morgan Stanley’s former Asia go-to-man Stephen Roach, or hedge funder Hugh Hendry, or Bob Davis, who just spent 4 years in the country for the Wall Street Journal, or Gwynn Guilford at Quartz, or local Reuters correspondents. It’s just that between them, they disagree so vastly you’d think they’re playing a game with your mind.

Me, personally, I think China’s official economic data should be trusted even less – if possible – than those of most other nations, including Japan, EU+ and the US. And therefore the rate cut last week, and the ones that look to be in the offing soon, constitute neither an act of confidence nor an confident act. China may well already be doing a lot worse than we think.

So where are we right now with all this, what DO we know? The best approach seems to be, as always, to follow the money. Let’s start with Reuters today:

China Ready To Cut Rates Again On Fears Of Deflation

China’s leadership and central bank are ready to cut interest rates again and also loosen lending restrictions, concerned that falling prices could trigger a surge in debt defaults, business failures and job losses, said sources involved in policy-making. Friday’s surprise cut in rates, the first in more than two years, reflects a change of course by Beijing and the central bank, which had persisted with modest stimulus measures before finally deciding last week that a bold monetary policy step was required to stabilize the world’s second-largest economy.

Economic growth has slowed to 7.3% in the third quarter and policymakers feared it was on the verge of dipping below 7% – a rate not seen since the global financial crisis. Producer prices, charged at the factory gate, have been falling for almost three years, piling pressure on manufacturers, and consumer inflation is also weak. “Top leaders have changed their views,” said a senior economist at a government think-tank involved in internal policy discussions.

The economist, who declined to be named, said the People’s Bank of China had shifted its focus toward broad-based stimulus and were open to more rate cuts as well as a cut to the banking industry’s reserve requirement ratio (RRR), which effectively restricts the amount of capital available to fund loans. China cut the RRR for some banks this year but has not announced a banking-wide reduction in the ratio since May 2012. “Further interest rate cuts should be in the pipeline as we have entered into a rate-cut cycle and RRR cuts are also likely,” the think-tank’s economist said.

Friday’s move, which cut one-year benchmark lending rates by 40 basis points to 5.6%, also arose from concerns that local governments are struggling to manage high debt burdens amidst reforms to their funding arrangements, the sources said. Top leaders had been resisting a rate cut, fearing it could fuel debt and property bubbles and dent their reformist credentials, but were eventually swayed by signs of deteriorating growth as the property sector cooled.

This suggests a certain level of control on the part of China, but certainly not a full swagger. And yes, they’re at 5.6%, and so there seems to be a lot of leeway left if you look at the near zero rates we see all over the world.. But then again, China wants, or should we by now say pretends to want, a 7% growth level. The fact that they’re ready to cut more doesn’t bode well for that growth number, even as they pretend to boost growth with those exact same cuts.

We saw China’s largest corporate bankruptcy last week, of the Haixin Iron & Steel Group, and that is not a good sign. China has been borrowing beyond the pale, a process in which the shadow banking system has played a major role, to ‘invest’ in commodities with an eye to much more growth even than the 7% Beijing claims to aim for. The problem with that is that this overbuying has been a substantial part of that same growth number.

And we know the story, certainly after the Qingdao warehouse tale this spring, where nobody could figure out anymore who actually owned what piles of aluminum, copper and iron because they were all used as collateral for multiple loans. In that bleak light, that one of the principal iron and steel companies goes belly up can hardly be seen as a positive message. China may be buying a whole lot less metal. And a whole lot less oil too. Which may drive down global market prices a lot, because everybody’s last hope was China.

Stephen Roach of Morgan Stanley fame, however, think Beijing has it all down. Full control. If they say 7%, 7% it is. Now, I know Roach spent a lot of time over there, but perhaps that was in the days when 10% GDP growth was still a realistic number. And that may not have had much to do with Beijing control.

Now that growth is gone everywhere, other than in stock markets and private banks’ reserves at central banks, where would China get even a 7% number from? And to what extent would Beijing have any control over that at all? Roach has little doubt that whatever number Xi and Li Call will be the correct one:

China Cut Pegs Growth Floor At 7%,: Stephen Roach

After unexpectedly cutting interest rates for the first time in two years, Chinese leaders have revealed their floor for economic growth is around 7%, said Stephen Roach[..] In a surprise announcement Friday, the People’s Bank of China said it was cutting one-year benchmark lending rates by 40 basis points to 5.6%. It also lowered one-year benchmark deposit rates by 25 basis points. [..] The hyperbole about China being an ever-ticking debt bomb stacked with excesses and nonperforming loans is based on emotion rather than empirical data, he said.

Hugh Hendry arrives at a similar conclusion through different means, namely the central bank omnipotence theory. And sure enough, central banks can do a lot, spend a lot, and fake a lot. But if there’s one thing the present global deflation threat tells us they can’t do, it’s to make people spend money. Not in Japan, not in Europe, not stateside, and not in China. It would seem advisable to keep that in mind.

Hugh Hendry: “A Bet Against China Is A Bet Against Central Bank Omnipotence”

Merryn Somerset Webb: But you’re assuming that the correct policy will be followed [in China].

Hugh Hendry: Well, it has been to date. That they haven’t panicked and gone into that crazy splurge in 2009-2011, they haven’t done that. Then the other point with China it’s a bit like the US. It’s had its excess. The problem in the US was it was felt intently with the private banking system which went bankrupt. But, and this is not counter-factual, what if you owned, what if the state is the banking sector? Does it have a Minsky moment? I’d say it doesn’t. So the whole game with Fed QE was to underwrite the collateral values, to keep the credit system moving. So it aimed its fire at mortgage obligations more than Treasuries.

The whole deal with LTROs in Europe has been again when investors at volume banks at 40%-60% discounts to asset volume, the central bank’s coming in and saying, “Actually we’ll buy it from you at full value or something higher. So we are going to endorse the collateral of your assets.” In China it’s the same deal. They’re fiat currency and they can get away with this. So to bet against China or Chinese equities, or the Chinese currency is to bet against the omnipotence of central banks. One day that will be the right trade, just not ready or sure that that is the right trade today.

Gwynn Guilford at Quartz suspects that Beijing if not so much in control as it is freaking out, and that that’s why they’ve cut rates and are publicly suggesting they’ll do it again.

China’s Surprise Rate Cut Shows How Freaked Out The Government Is By The Slowdown

Earlier [this week], the People’s Bank of China slashed the benchmark lending rate by 40 basis points, to 5.6%, and pushed down the 12-month deposit rate 25 basis points, to 2.75%. Few analysts expected this. The PBoC – which, unlike many central banks, is very much controlled by the central government – generally cuts rates only as a last resort to boost growth.

The government has been rigorously using less broad-based ways of lowering borrowing costs (e.g. cutting reserve requirement ratios at small banks, and re-lending to certain sectors). The fact that the government finally cut rates suggests that these more “targeted” measures haven’t succeeded in easing funding costs for Chinese firms. The push that came to shove might have been the grim October data, which showed industrial output, investment, exports, and retail sales all slowing fast.

Those data suggest it will be much harder to get anywhere close to the government’s 2014 target of 7.5% GDP growth, given that the economy grew only 7.3% in the third quarter, its slowest pace in more than five years. But wait. Isn’t the Chinese economy supposed to be losing steam? Yes. The Chinese government has acknowledged many times that in order to introduce the market-based reforms needed to sustain long-term growth and stop piling on more corporate debt, it has to start ceding its control over China’s financial sector.

[..] But clearly, the economy’s not supposed to be decelerating as fast as it is. Tellingly, it’s been more than two years since the central bank last cut rates, when the economic picture darkened abruptly in mid-2012, the critical year that the Hu Jintao administration was to hand over power to Xi Jinping. The all-out push to boost growth that followed made the 2013 boom, but also freighted corporate balance sheets with dangerous levels of debt. But this could only last so long; things started looking ugly again in 2014.[..]

What hasn’t been mentioned yet, and that’s undoubtedly a huge oversight, whether you’re talking about the theoretical Beijing political control over growth numbers, or the nitty gritty of actual numbers in the real economy, is the power, both political and financial, of the Chinese shadow banking industry.

The guys who’ve been making a killing off loans to local officials who couldn’t get state bank loans but were still rewarded for achievements in their constituencies that would have been impossible without loans. Where would China be without shadow banking? What is it today, a third of the economy, half?

And the Xi-Li gang seeks to break its power, for a multitude of reasons. The shadow set-up only works as long as things are great, and the sky’s the limit. When that diminishes, not so much. You can borrow all the way to nowhere when you’re doing great, but when you go broke, all you’re left with is the debt.

That’s the reality a lot of Chinese officials and entrepreneurs find themselves in today. Which is why the next article below says ” .. city officials reminded residents that it is illegal to jump off the tops of buildings ..” They don’t just own money, they own it to the wrong people too. Not that I presume there’s right people to be indebted to in China, but those who volunteer to re-arrange your physical appearance must be last on the list.

Bob Davis spent a few recent years in China for the Wall Street Journal, and he has this to say:

The End of China’s Economic Miracle?

When I arrived, China’s GDP was growing at nearly 10% a year, as it had been for almost 30 years – a feat unmatched in modern economic history. But growth is now decelerating toward 7%. Western business people and international economists in China warn that the government’s GDP statistics are accurate only as an indication of direction, and the direction of the Chinese economy is plainly downward. The big questions are how far and how fast. My own reporting suggests that we are witnessing the end of the Chinese economic miracle.

We are seeing just how much of China’s success depended on a debt-powered housing bubble and corruption-laced spending. The construction crane isn’t necessarily a symbol of economic vitality; it can also be a symbol of an economy run amok. Most of the Chinese cities I visited are ringed by vast, empty apartment complexes whose outlines are visible at night only by the blinking lights on their top floors.

I was particularly aware of this on trips to the so-called third- and fourth-tier cities—the 200 or so cities with populations ranging from 500,000 to several million, which Westerners rarely visit but which account for 70% of China’s residential property sales. From my hotel window in the northeastern Chinese city of Yingkou, for example, I could see empty apartment buildings stretching for miles, with just a handful of cars driving by. It made me think of the aftermath of a neutron-bomb detonation—the structures left standing but no people in sight.

The situation has become so bad in Handan, a steel center about 300 miles south of Beijing, that a middle-aged investor, fearing that a local developer wouldn’t be able to make his promised interest payments, threatened to commit suicide in dramatic fashion last summer. After hearing similar stories of desperation, city officials reminded residents that it is illegal to jump off the tops of buildings, local investors said.

[..] In the late 1990s, the party finally allowed urban Chinese to own their own homes, and the economy soared. People poured their life savings into real estate. Related industries like steel, glass and home electronics grew until real estate accounted for one-fourth of China’s GDP, maybe more.

Debt paid for the boom, including borrowing by governments, developers and all manner of industries. This summer, the IMF noted that over the past 50 years, only four countries have experienced as rapid a buildup of debt as China during the past five years. All four – Brazil, Ireland, Spain and Sweden – faced banking crises within three years of their supercharged credit growth.

[..] China’s immense scale has now become a limitation. As the world’s largest exporter, how much more growth can it count on from trade with the U.S. and especially Europe? [..] Will Mr. Xi’s campaign reverse China’s slowdown or at least limit it? Perhaps. It follows the standard recipe of Chinese reformers: remake the financial system so that it encourages risk-taking, break up monopolies to create a bigger role for private enterprise, rely more on domestic consumption.

But even powerful Chinese leaders have trouble enforcing their will. I reported earlier this year on the government’s plan to handle one straightforward problem: reducing excess steel production in Hebei, the province that surrounds Beijing. Hebei alone produces twice as much crude steel as the U.S., but China no longer needs so much steel, to say nothing of the emissions that darken the skies over Beijing.

It’s hard to say anything definitive about the Chinese economy and the official government numbers, for anyone but the rulers, because those numbers are clad in a murky veil. But what we do know from our experience here in the west is that the murkiness of numbers is invariably used by our ‘leaders’ to make things look better than they are. If anything, it seems reasonable to presume Beijing exaggerates its ‘achievements’ even more than our own clowns.

And in that light, I don’t see how or why the $30 oil I talked about yesterday would be all that far-fetched, given that China has driven most of the world’s growth expectations over the past decade or so, and that it seems to have very little chance of living up to those expectations. Even if for no other reason than because the rest of the world stopped growing.

And that seems to me to be where China’s growth fairy tale has stopped, and must have: ‘consumer spending’ (ugly term) across the world is falling. After all, that’s were all the lowflation and deflation comes from. And central banks can’t force their people to spend. Not in China and not in the west. They only need to look at Japan to see why that is true and how it plays out.

Growth in Japan is gone, and no QE can revive it. In Europe, it’s beyond life support. In the US, things look a little different on the surface, but the US can’t withdraw and do well in the present economic system if Japan and Europe don’t.

And that’s China’s story too. No growth anywhere to be seen, and they’re supposed to have 7%? It’s simply not possible. At least that we know.

Oct 132014
 
 October 13, 2014  Posted by at 10:44 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


John Vachon Gas station in Minneapolis Dec 1937

Emerging Markets Enter Era Of Slow Growth (FT)
Global Signs of Slowdown Ripple Across Markets, Vex Policy Makers (WSJ)
World Leaders Play War Games As The Next Financial Crisis Looms (Guardian)
Fed’s Fischer Says Rate Hike Won’t Damage Global Economy (MarketWatch)
Saudis Make Aggressive Oil Push in Europe (WSJ)
OPEC Members’ Rift Deepens Amid Falling Oil Prices (WSJ)
Draghi Says Growing ECB Balance Sheet Is Last Stimulus Tool Left (Bloomberg)
Draghi-Weidmann Fight Intensifies as ECB Debates Action (Bloomberg)
Italy on Sale to Chinese Investors as Recession Bites (Bloomberg)
French Ministers Tussle Over Urgency of Benefit-System Revamp (Bloomberg)
China Steel Now As Cheap As Cabbage (MarketWatch)
China Central Bank: No Major Stimulus Needed in ‘Foreseeable Future’ (WSJ)
Air-Pockets, Free-Falls, and Crashes (John Hussman)
Surging British Anti-EU UKIP Party Demands Early ‘Brexit’ Vote (Reuters)
Monkeys, the Queen and Inequality (Russell Brand)
Poverty Ensnares 1-in-7 Australians Even After Decades of Growth (Bloomberg)
Drugs Flushed Into The Environment Linked To Wildlife Decline (Guardian)
10 Reasons To Quit The US For Europe (MarketWatch)
Ebola-Stricken Sierra Leone Double-Whammied by Iron Ore Plunge (Bloomberg)
If “The Protocols Work,” How Did Dallas Nurse Get Ebola?

It’s a new day. The masks come off, along with all the emperors’ clothes.

Emerging Markets Enter Era Of Slow Growth (FT)

Growth in emerging markets is slowing to its lowest ebb since the aftermath of the financial crisis due to a combination of China’s fading dynamism, a sputtering performance in eastern Europe and Latin America’s slowdown. Evidence that emerging economies are entering a new era of slower growth will fuel concerns for the global outlook as western countries continue to struggle, the oil price lurches towards a four-year low and eurozone stalwart Germany suffers from declining growth. Data from 19 large emerging economies collated by research firm Capital Economics show that industrial output in August and consumer spending in the second quarter fell to their lowest levels since 2009. Export growth in August also plunged. These trends are contributing to a sense that slower growth is becoming a permanent fixture among the world’s most dynamic group of economies. “This is the new normal,” said Neil Shearing, chief emerging markets economist at Capital Economics. “For the rest of the decade this is it. This is as good as it gets.”

Speaking at the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund last week, Olivier Blanchard, the fund’s chief economist, said there had been “a fairly major change in the landscape” for emerging markets in the medium term. Christine Lagarde, the IMF’s managing director, said there was “clearly a major slowdown in countries like Brazil and Russia”, pointing out that the end of quantitative easing would send shockwaves to emerging economies. “We’re going to continue to caution a lot of the emerging market economies … to just prepare themselves for a bit more volatility than we have observed over the last few months,” she said. George Magnus, senior adviser to UBS, said: “It is now clear that the exceptional acceleration in emerging market growth between 2006 and 2012 is over,” he said, noting that the IMF has revised downward its forecasts for EM growth on six occasions since late 2011.

Although official gross domestic product statistics for the third quarter have not yet been published, projections are bleak. China’s GDP annual growth rate in the quarter – due to be announced next week – is set to plunge to 6.8%, down from 7.5% in the second quarter, according to Jasper McMahon of Now-Casting Economics in London. Brazil is on track to report GDP growth of 0.3% this year, down from an official 2.5% in 2013, according to Now-Casting’s model. Capital Economics’ model, which makes projections for overall EM GDP growth based on published official and private data, shows an aggregate growth rate of 4.3% in July, down from 4.5% in June and preliminary numbers for August suggest a further slowdown. “It looks like August is going to be the weakest month in terms of emerging markets’ GDP growth since October 2009,” Mr Shearing said.

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Debt stimulus is on its last legs.

Global Signs of Slowdown Ripple Across Markets, Vex Policy Makers (WSJ)

Gathering signs of a slowdown across many parts of the world are roiling financial markets and confounding policy makers, who after years of battling anemic economic growth have limited tools left to jump-start a recovery. Slumping exports in Germany are adding fuel to worries about a third recession in the eurozone in six years. China is slowing in the wake of its credit boom, weighing on countries throughout the region. Japan’s economy has recently contracted despite a policy offensive to lift it from years of stagnation. Other onetime powerhouses, from Brazil to South Africa, also are struggling. The pullback is sending tremors through global markets, hammering equities after years of steady gains and knocking down commodity prices. The Dow Jones Industrial Average on Friday turned negative for the year. A recent drop in oil prices—a decline of about 20% in four months—reflects the downward pressure on global growth.

The U.S. remains a relative bright spot in an otherwise gloomy picture, particularly its job market, which is gaining traction after years of fitful growth. But doubts are building over the U.S. economy’s ability to accelerate as some of its biggest trading partners struggle. Top Federal Reserve officials are already voicing concern about sagging growth overseas and its drag on the world’s largest economy. Fed officials in recent days noted they are watching how weakness abroad has boosted the dollar, which could keep inflation below the Fed’s target and hurt U.S. growth by restraining its exports. That could mean a longer wait to start raising interest rates. “If foreign growth is weaker than anticipated, the consequences for the U.S. economy could lead the Fed to [begin increasing rates] more slowly than otherwise,” Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer said during weekend meetings of the International Monetary Fund, which drew urgent pleas for action from top policy makers.

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“All seemed serene, but only because of an unsustainable build-up in debt. There was a structural shift in power and income share from labour to capital. Rising asset prices compensated for real income growth. Then came the crisis, which was long and costly. ”

World Leaders Play War Games As The Next Financial Crisis Looms (Guardian)

Press the uniform. Check the battle plans. Call up the reservists. Arm the bombers and refuel the tanks. Field Marshal George Osborne is going on manoeuvres. On Monday in Washington, the chancellor of the exchequer will see if Britain is ready for war. A financial war that is. Along with his allies from the United States, he will play out a war game designed to show whether lessons have been learned from the last show, the slump of 2008. Like all commanding officers, Osborne thinks he is ready. He will have general Mark Carney at his side. He has studied the terrain. He has a plan that he insists will work. Let’s hope so. Because the evidence from last week’s meeting of the International Monetary Fund in Washington was that it won’t be long before the real shooting starts. The Fund’s annual meeting was like a gathering of international diplomats at the League of Nations in the 1930s. Those attending were desperate to avoid another war but were unsure how to do so.

They can see dark forces gathering but lack the weapons or the will to tackle them effectively. There is an uneasy, brooding peace as the world waits to see whether lessons really have been learnt or whether the central bankers, the finance ministers and the international bureaucrats are fighting the last war. Here’s the situation. The years leading up to the start of the financial crisis in August 2007 were like the Edwardian summer in advance of the first world war. All seemed serene, but only because of an unsustainable build-up in debt. There was a structural shift in power and income share from labour to capital. Rising asset prices compensated for real income growth. Then came the crisis, which was long and costly. Once it was over, there was a strong urge to return to the world as it was. Countries wanted to return to balanced budgets and normal levels of interest rates, just as they had once hankered after going back on the Gold Standard.

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Again, part of a carefully planned series of Fed bosses giving their ‘opinions’. This one: a rate hike won’t hurt anyone at all. An absurd statement, but important to make. Now, when the victims start dropping post-hike, Fisher can claim that’s not what his models predicted.

Fed’s Fischer Says Rate Hike Won’t Damage Global Economy (MarketWatch)

The Federal Reserve’s eventual rate increase, the first since 2006, will not damage the global economy, Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer said on Saturday. While there could be “trigger further bouts of volatility” in international markets when the Fed first hikes, “the normalization of our policy should prove manageable for the emerging market economies,” Fischer said in a speech at the International Monetary Fund’s annual meeting. Fischer also played down concern about the recent fall of the euro, which has fallen more than 8% against the dollar since the beginning of the year. “We were all surprised for how long the euro stayed as high as it did, so to turn around and say that terrible things are likely to happen — I think, what is happening now is reflective of the underlying strengths of the economy,” Fischer said.

There was a sharp selloff of emerging market currencies and assets last year after the Fed first publicly discussed the possibility of ending its bond-buying program, otherwise known as quantitative easing. Some experts, notably Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan, have worried publicly that the Fed could derail the global economy if it doesn’t look outward before it raises domestic interest rates. Since last year, Fischer said, the Fed has “done everything we can, within limits of forecast uncertainty, to prepare market participants for what lies ahead.” The Fed has been as clear as it can be about the future course of its policy course, and markets understand, Fischer said. “We think, looking at market interest rates, that their understanding of what we intend to do is roughly correct,” Fischer said.

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The Saudis are increasing their exports at a time when prices are plummeting. The end of OPEC?

Saudis Make Aggressive Oil Push in Europe (WSJ)

Days after slashing prices in Asia, Saudi Arabia is now making an aggressive push in the European oil market, traders say. The kingdom is taking the unusual step of asking buyers to commit to maximum shipments if they want to get its crude. “The Saudi push is not just in Asia. It’s a global phenomenon,” one oil trader said. “They are using very aggressive tactics” in Europe too, the trader added. This month, state-owned Saudi Aramco stunned the rest of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries by slashing its November prices to defend its market share in Asia’s growing market. The move, setting a price war in the oil-production group, was combined with a boost in the kingdom’s output in September.

But Riyadh is also moving to protect its sales to Europe, a declining market where it is facing rivalry from returning Libyan production. After cutting its November prices there, Saudi Aramco is also asking refiners to commit to full, fixed deliveries in talks to renew contracts for next year, the traders say. They say the Saudi oil company had previously offered a formula allowing flexibility of more or less 10% of contracted volumes, the most commonly used in the industry. “They are threatening buyers” to discontinue sales if they don’t agree with the fixed deliveries, another trader said.

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OPEC continues to exist in name only. Like the EU, it has served its purpose but now members’ interests have become too different from each other.

OPEC Members’ Rift Deepens Amid Falling Oil Prices (WSJ)

A rift between OPEC members deepened over the weekend, as producers in the cartel moved in different directions amid falling oil prices. Venezuela, which has been one of the most outspoken proponents of a production cut by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, called over the weekend for an emergency meeting of the group to respond to falling prices. But Kuwait said Sunday that OPEC was unlikely to act to rein in output. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, appeared to expand on its recent move to defend its market share at the expense of other members by aggressively courting customers in Europe. Traders said Saudi Arabia is now asking for stronger commitments from some of its buyers in Europe, a move that would lock in those customers, including any new ones it would gain with recent price reductions.

Also on Sunday, Iraq’s State Oil Marketing Company cut the price of Basrah Light crude in November for Asian and European buyers by 65 cents to a discount of $3.15 a barrel below the Oman/Dubai benchmark for Asian customers and $5.40 below the Brent benchmark for European customers, according to official selling prices published by the company. The moves and countermoves are the latest in a time of particular discord in OPEC. The organization was founded to leverage members collective output to help influence global prices. In recent periods of low prices, Saudi Arabia OPEC s top producer and de facto leader has managed to cobble together some level of consensus. But even modest cooperation between many members has broken down, and Saudi Arabia, in particular, has moved to act on its own. While it cut output earlier this summer, other members didn’t go along. Since then, it has dropped its prices.

Each member has a different tolerance for lower prices. Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia generally don t need prices quite as high as Iran and Venezuela to keep their budgets in the black. Late Friday, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Rafael Ramirez, who represents Caracas in the group, called for an urgent meeting to tackle falling prices. The group’s next regular meeting is set for late next month. But on Sunday, Ali al-Omair, Kuwait’s oil minister, said there had been no invitation for such a meeting, suggesting the group would need to stomach lower prices. He said there was a natural floor to how low prices could fall at about $76 to $77 per barrel, near what he said was the average production costs per barrel in Russia and the U.S.

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Well, that’s too bad then, isn’t it?

Draghi Says Growing ECB Balance Sheet Is Last Stimulus Tool Left (Bloomberg)

President Mario Draghi said expanding the European Central Bank’s balance sheet is the last monetary tool left to revive inflation although there is no target for how much it might be increased. “It’s very difficult for me to give you an exact figure at this point in time,” Draghi told reporters in Washington today during the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund. “I gave you a kind of ballpark figure, say about the size the balance sheet had at the start of 2012.”

The ECB is trying to spur inflation from its lowest in almost five years as its economy risks sliding into its third recession since 2008. The central bank’s balance sheet, which can be boosted by buying assets or accepting collateral in return for loans, now stands at €2.1 trillion ($2.7 trillion) compared with a 2012 peak of €3.1 trillion. Recent interest rate cuts, the offering of cheap loans to banks and the forthcoming purchase of private-sector assets should have a sizable impact on the balance sheet, Draghi said. He denied the ECB is purposefully trying to weaken the euro, saying it has no target for its value and that its recent decline reflects international differences in monetary policy. Draghi also said the ECB sees no serious risk of a bubble in the sovereign debt market.

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For Merkel and the Bundesbank to give in now would seem to risk political suicide.

Draghi-Weidmann Fight Intensifies as ECB Debates Action (Bloomberg)

Mario Draghi and Jens Weidmann are clashing anew over how much more stimulus the ailing euro-area economy needs from the European Central Bank. As Europe’s woes again proved the chief concern at weekend meetings of the International Monetary Fund in Washington, President Draghi repeated he’s ready to expand the ECB’s balance sheet by as much as €1 trillion ($1.3 trillion) to beat back the threat of deflation. Bundesbank head Weidmann responded by saying that a target value isn’t set in stone. The differences at the heart of policy making risk leaving the ECB hamstrung as the region’s economy stalls and inflation fades further from the central bank’s target of just below 2%. History suggests Draghi will ultimately prevail over his German colleague.

“There’s an enormous conflict within the Governing Council on what the ECB should do,” said Joerg Kraemer, chief economist at Commerzbank AG in Frankfurt. “Clearly, it’s Draghi against Weidmann once again. In the end, Draghi will get his way and we will see quantitative easing next year.” The ECB is swelling its balance sheet as it seeks to revive inflation of 0.3%, the lowest in almost five years. By buying private-sector assets, as it plans to do from this month, or continuing to accept collateral from banks in return for cheap loans, it is pushing liquidity into the economy. Still unresolved is if it will ultimately buy sovereign debt, a taboo subject in Germany where politicians worry it amounts to financing governments and removing pressure on them to act.

Building up assets is the last monetary tool the ECB has left after it cut interest rates to a record low, Draghi said on Oct. 11 in Washington. Action taken so far pushed the euro as low as $1.2501 this month, the least since 2012. The ECB’s balance sheet now stands at €2.05 trillion, below the 2012 peak of €3.1 trillion and €2.7 trillion at the start of that year. “I gave you a kind of ballpark figure, say about the size the balance sheet had at the start of 2012,” Draghi told reporters. Weidmann responded within minutes. “I don’t need to explain to you that there has been communicated a certain target value for the balance sheet,” he said. “How formal this target value is, that’s a different question.”

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This is what Beppe Grillo is fighting to prevent. Wholesale dumping of national assets. Why should any nation want that?

Italy on Sale to Chinese Investors as Recession Bites (Bloomberg)

Clotilde Narzisi and Luca Soliman have run the Caffe Orefici, 200 feet from Milan’s iconic Duomo Cathedral, for 10 years. Forced to sell their business because of high taxes, they say their only hope now is to leave it in Chinese hands. “They are the only ones who are buying,” said 43-year-old Narzisi during a break after the lunch-time rush of businessmen and shoppers in the heart of Italy’s financial capital. “We want to sell, taxes are too high; we work eight hours a day for the state and one hour for us.” Caffe Orefici is among the 18,000 advertisements from businesses and individuals that have been published since February last year on Vendereaicinesi.it — sell to the Chinese — a website that helps Italians, stricken by the third recession in six years, attract bids for properties, products and services from Chinese suitors. While Italian stores turn to the local Chinese community, the country’s largest companies are seeking investments directly from the Asian giant.

Italy has been China’s biggest target in Europe after the U.K. this year, with cross-border acquisitions for $3.43 billion, according to Bloomberg available data. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who’s struggling to cut Europe’s second-biggest debt of more than €2 trillion ($2.53 trillion), urged Chinese investors in June during a Beijing visit to buy stakes in Italian companies, following his counterparts in Greece and Portugal who tapped Chinese money to raise revenue and exit bailout programs.[..] While unemployment near a record of 12.7% and fiscal burden at an all-time high make it difficult for Italians to access credit, the 321,000 Chinese living in the country are better positioned as they can count on family networks rather than banks for financing, said Toppino, who’s from the northwestern town of Alba. Renzi flew to China in June with a delegation of dozens of Italian companies to help broker deals. A few weeks later, Italy’s state lender announced the sale of a stake in energy grids holding company CDP Reti to State Grid of China for €2.1 billion.

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The technocrats are trying to take over. Hollande starts to look like Tony Blair without the charisma.

French Ministers Tussle Over Urgency of Benefit-System Revamp (Bloomberg)

Two of Francois Hollande’s top ministers sent differing signals on how quickly to revamp the unemployment-benefits system, keeping alive a debate the French president sought to suppress. For Finance Minister Michel Sapin, the matter can wait until the scheduled talks between labor unions and business in mid-2016. Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron indicated more urgency, saying the government can move faster. The issue was raised last week by Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who said the wasteful system needs to be fixed in the “short term.” Hours later, Hollande shot down the suggestion, saying the government “has enough on its plate.” Sapin is siding with the president.

“The year 2015 should be used to think about an improvement of the unemployment insurance mechanism that would increase the incentive to resume work,” Sapin said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Washington. Asked about the same issue in an interview yesterday in the newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, Macron was more strident. “There shouldn’t be any taboo or posturing,” he said. “The unemployment insurance system has a €4 billion ($5.1 billion) deficit. What politician can be satisfied with that? There was reform but not enough. We cannot leave it at that.” Macron also said “we have six months to create a new reality in France and Europe.”

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Bye bye suppliers.

China Steel Now As Cheap As Cabbage (MarketWatch)

As global steel prices face downward pressure from falling demand, the situation in China is making the problem all the more intractable, as overcapacity is prompting Chinese steel enterprises to cut their prices in order to boost exports. Data from the China Iron & Steel Association (CISA) showed Monday that domestic steel prices have been falling for 12 straight weeks, with the Steel Composite Price Index down more than 13% compared since the end of last year, even as the nation’s construction activity and real-estate market are cooling significantly. The average price for the range of steel products on offer has fallen to 3,212 yuan ($520) per metric ton for the first half of the year, down 28% from the average price in 2012, CISA data showed.

And as a People’s Daily report said Monday, the price level means the steel is now almost as cheap by weight as Chinese cabbage. “Sharply slowing steel demand growth in an oversupplied sector is the key reason for China’s currently low steel prices,” CIMB analysts said in a recent note. Standard & Poor’s also cited Chinese oversupply as the largest headache for steel makers in the rest of Asia, and is likely to remain so. A recent survey by CISA said the steel-billet inventory of key enterprises was up 36% in July, compared to a year earlier, steel-product inventory climbed 21.3%. Pressures arising from expanding inventories and sluggish domestic demand have made for cut-throat competition among China’s steel mills, resulting in meager profits. The margin for China’s large and medium-sized steel companies was 0.54% for the first seven months of 2014, CISA said.

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Not one single digit coming out of China can be trusted. Every bracket, semi-colon and comma has a political agenda behind them. Not saying it’s different in the US. Just that the discrepancy between official numbers and alternative data is growing. Today’s 15.3% YoY export increase report looks very suspicious.

China Central Bank: No Major Stimulus Needed in ‘Foreseeable Future’ (WSJ)

The chief economist at China’s central bank said Saturday that he doesn’t see any reason for large-scale fiscal or monetary stimulus “in the foreseeable future” despite slowing growth in the world’s second-largest economy and disagreements about the depth and timing of economic overhauls. Speaking in Washington at a meeting of the Institute of International Finance, a financial-industry group, Ma Jun said the Chinese job market “looks pretty stable” despite wobbly economic growth. And, he said, leverage in certain sectors – including real estate, certain state-owned enterprises and local-government financing vehicles – was already too high, and that further lending to these areas should be avoided. In Beijing, debate about how to manage the country’s slowdown has been intense.

The People’s Bank of China so far has bolstered the economy using narrow stimulus measures, including targeted lending in sectors like agriculture and public housing. But The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Chinese leaders are considering replacing the central bank’s governor, Zhou Xiaochuan, as part of internal battles over whether larger-scale expansion of credit should be used to spur economic growth. Mr. Ma on Saturday instead emphasized the importance of reforms to prevent slower growth from turning into a broader crisis. The government is working on improving the productivity of state-owned companies and better controlling their spending, he said. Beijing also is endeavoring to allow more companies both public and private to go bankrupt, which is “warranted,” he added.

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“Market action is narrowing in a classic pattern that reflects the effort of investors to reduce risk around the edges of their portfolios, in what typically proves an ill-founded belief that a falling tide will not lower all ships.”

Air-Pockets, Free-Falls, and Crashes (John Hussman)

In recent weeks, the market has transitioned to the most hostile return/risk profile we identify: the pairing of overvalued, overbought, overbullish conditions with deterioration in market internals and price cointegration – what we call “trend uniformity” – across a wide range of stocks, sectors, and security types (see my September 29, 2014 comment Ingredients of a Market Crash). As in 2007 and 2000, we’re observing characteristic features of that shift. One of those features is that early selling from overvalued bull market peaks tends to be indiscriminate, as deterioration in market internals and the “average stock” often precedes substantial losses in the major indices. As of Friday, only 28% of NYSE stocks are above their respective 200-day moving averages. In the current cycle, both the Russell 2000 small-cap index, and the capitalization-weighted NYSE Composite set their recent highs on July 3, 2014, failing to confirm the later high in the S&P 500 on September 18, 2014.

Through Friday, the NYSE Composite is down -7.3% from its July 3rd peak, and the Russell 2000 is down -12.8%, while the S&P 500 is down only -4.0% over the same period. What’s happening here is that selling is being partitioned in secondary stocks, and more recently high-beta stocks (those with greatest sensitivity to market fluctuations). Market action is narrowing in a classic pattern that reflects the effort of investors to reduce risk around the edges of their portfolios, in what typically proves an ill-founded belief that a falling tide will not lower all ships. Abrupt market losses are typically not responses to obvious “catalysts” but instead reflect a shift in investor preferences toward risk aversion, at a point where risk premiums are quite thin and prone to an upward spike to normalize them. That’s essentially what’s captured by the combination of overvalued, overbought, overbullish coupled with deteriorating internals.

Another characteristic of these shifts is increasing volatility at short intervals – what I described at the 2007 peak and in early-2008 by analogy to “phase transitions” in particle physics. The extreme daily and intra-day market volatility in recent sessions is typical of that dynamic. [..] No doubt – this pile of zero-interest hot potatoes has helped to compress risk premiums across the entire range of risky assets toward zero (and we estimate, in some cases, below zero). But understand that the bulk of the advance in financial assets in recent years has not been a reasonable response to the level of interest rates, but instead reflects a dangerous compression of risk premiums.

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Farage has 25% of the votes in recent polls. He can allow Cameron to stay in power in exchange for an early referendum on Britain’s EU membership. In one place – region or nation – or another in Europe, people will vote to leave.

Surging British Anti-EU UKIP Party Demands Early ‘Brexit’ Vote (Reuters)

Britain’s anti-EU UK Independence Party said on Sunday it would use its growing success to try to secure an early referendum on leaving the European Union, after its support hit a record high of 25% in an opinion poll. The poll, published days after UKIP won its first elected seat in Britain’s parliament at the expense of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party, suggested it could pick up more seats than previously thought in a national election in May. UKIP favours a British exit from the European Union, known as a ‘Brexit’, and tighter immigration controls. It has shaken up the British political landscape, challenging its traditional two-party system and piling pressure on Cameron to tack further to the right.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage said he would demand that Cameron bring forward a planned referendum on EU membership from 2017 to next year if UKIP polled strongly and the prime minister needed its support to stay in office. “I’m not prepared to wait for three years. I want us to have a referendum on this great question next year and if UKIP can maintain its momentum and get enough seats in Westminster we might just be able to achieve that,” Farage told the BBC. UKIP’s rise threatens Cameron’s re-election drive by splitting the right-wing vote, increases the likelihood of another coalition government, and poses a challenge to the left-leaning opposition Labour party in northern England too.

It also adds to pressure on Cameron from within parts of his own party to become more Eurosceptic. Cameron has promised to try to renegotiate Britain’s EU relations if re-elected next year, before offering Britons a membership referendum in 2017. But some of his own lawmakers want him to take a tougher line and to bring forward the vote. UKIP won European elections in Britain in May, has poached two of Cameron’s lawmakers since late August, and will try to win a second seat in parliament in a by-election next month. Before Sunday, most polling experts had forecast it could win only a handful of the 650 seats in parliament in 2015. But based on the result of a Survation poll for The Mail on Sunday, the party could win more than 100 seats in 2015.

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” … there is exclusivity even around the use of violence. The state can legitimately use force to impose its will and, increasingly, so can the rich. Take away that facility and societies will begin to equalise.”

Monkeys, the Queen and Inequality (Russell Brand)

“The definition of being rich means having more stuff than other people. In order to have more stuff, you need to protect that stuff with surveillance systems, guards, police, court systems and so forth. All of those sombre-looking men in robes who call themselves judges are just sentinels whose job it is to convince you that this very silly system in which we give Paris Hilton as much as she wants while others go hungry is good and natural and right.” This idea is extremely clever and highlights the fact that there is exclusivity even around the use of violence. The state can legitimately use force to impose its will and, increasingly, so can the rich. Take away that facility and societies will begin to equalise. If that hotel in India was stripped of its security, they’d have to address the complex issues that led to them requiring it.

“These systems can be very expensive. America employs more private security guards than high-school teachers. States and countries with high inequality tend to hire proportionally more guard labour. If you’ve ever spent time in a radically unequal city in South Africa, you’ll see that both the rich and the poor live surrounded by private security contractors, barbed wire and electrified fencing. Some people have nice prison cages, and others have not so nice ones.” Matt here, metaphorically, broaches the notion that the rich, too, are impeded by inequality, imprisoned in their own way. Much like with my earlier plea for you to bypass the charge of hypocrisy, I now find myself in the unenviable position of urging you, like some weird, bizarro Jesus, to take pity on the rich. It’s not an easy concept to grasp, and I’m not suggesting it’s a priority. Faced with a choice between empathising with the rich or the homeless, by all means go with the homeless.

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The consequences of the choices you make, or let others make for you. Australia seems to think this is alright.

Poverty Ensnares 1-in-7 Australians Even After Decades of Growth (Bloomberg)

One in seven Australians live below the poverty line, even after more than two decades of economic growth, an Australian Council of Social Service report showed. The poverty rate in Australia climbed to 14% in 2012, or 2.55 million people, from 13% in 2010, the council said yesterday in a report. This included 603,000 children, or 18% of the total. The poverty line is defined as 50% of median disposable income, a standard measure of financial hardship in wealthy countries, it said. “The child poverty rate should be of deep concern to us all, with over a third of children in sole-parent families” falling into this category, Cassandra Goldie, chief executive officer of Acoss, said in a statement. “This is due to the lower levels of employment among sole-parent households, especially those with very young children, and the low level of social security payments for these families.”

While a mining-investment boom sustained growth and employment in Australia’s economy, which has avoided recession since 1991, increasing numbers of people have missed out and instead seen their finances stretched by high housing costs. People in Sydney, with a population of 4.4 million Australia’s biggest city, are more likely to be in poverty than those in any other state capital, mainly because of high housing costs, the report showed. 15% of Sydneysiders fall into this category. New South Wales is the only state where a higher proportion of city residents than those in non-metropolitan areas live in poverty. “The humiliation, deprivation and depth of despair some people feel is all too often either unknown or forgotten in the public stories and discourse about people living on welfare benefits,” David Thompson, chief executive officer of Jobs Australia, a body for nonprofit organizations that assist the unemployed, said in the statement. “It is not them or us, they are us. And we would all do well to remember that, in a blink of an eye, it could be us.”

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Not a new issue, but awfully hard to prove. And until we can, it will simply continue. The precautionary principle is always trumped by the dollar.

Drugs Flushed Into The Environment Linked To Wildlife Decline (Guardian)

Potent pharmaceuticals flushed into the environment via human and animal sewage could be a hidden cause of the global wildlife crisis, according to new research. The scientists warn that worldwide use of the drugs, which are designed to be biologically active at low concentrations, is rising rapidly but that too little is currently known about their effect on the natural world. Studies of the effect of pharmaceutical contamination on wildlife are rare but new work published on Monday reveals that an anti-depressant reduces feeding in starlings and that a contraceptive drug slashes fish populations in lakes. “With thousands of pharmaceuticals in use globally, they have the potential to have potent effects on wildlife and ecosystems,” said Kathryn Arnold, at the University of York, who edited a special issue of the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. ”Given the many benefits of pharmaceuticals, there is a need for science to deliver better estimates of the environmental risks they pose.”

She said: “Given that populations of many species living in human-altered landscapes are declining for reasons that cannot be fully explained, we believe that it is time to explore emerging challenges,” such as pharmaceutical pollution. Research published in September revealed half of the planet’s wild animals had been wiped out in the last 40 years. In freshwater habitats, where drug residues are most commonly found, the research found 75% of fish and amphibians had been lost. A few dramatic examples of wildlife harmed by drug contamination have been discovered previously, including male fish being feminised by the synthetic hormones used in birth-control pills and vultures in India being virtually wiped out by an anti-inflammatory drug given to the cattle on whose carcasses they feed. Inter-sex frogs have also recently been found in urban ponds contaminated with wastewater.

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Not so sure about this, but let’s hear the arguments.

10 Reasons To Quit The US For Europe (MarketWatch)

The European economy may be limping along, but Americans living there say there are other reasons why they call Europe home — or maison, casa or zuhause. More Americans are moving overseas. The Social Security Administration currently sends 613,650 retirement-benefit payments outside the U.S., more than double the 242,128 benefit payments sent abroad in 2002. The number of Americans who actually gave up their citizenship rose to 3,000 in 2013, three times as many as in 2012. Others — like Richard Wise, 54, who moved to London in 2012 — took their passports. Contrary to popular opinion on food in Britain, famous for bangers and mash, Wise says, “the food stopped sucking a long, long time ago.” Some Americans left for a quieter life. Sarah McCullough Canty, 47, moved to the west of Ireland in 2002. “My husband is from Ballydehob, West Cork, so the choice to go to his homeland was easy,” she says. “It’s one of the most beautiful places on earth.”

She doesn’t have to worry about shootings and gun crime. “My children are free to roam the streets of the village with no fear,” she says. “They are not exposed to hard drugs.” (Of course, that’s certainly not the case in larger Irish cities like Limerick and Dublin.) Older people, in particular, seem to fare well in Europe — a potential draw for America’s aging boomers. Norway is the best place to live for over-60s, according to the “Global AgeWatch Index,” released this week by HelpAge International, a London-based nonprofit group. Norway replaced Sweden as the No. 1 place to live, as measured by four key issues: income security, health, personal capability and an enabling environment. Sweden was No. 2, followed by Switzerland, Canada, Germany, The Netherlands and Iceland. The U.S. came in at No. 7. Japan, New Zealand and the U.K. completed the Top 10.

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“The economy will grow at half last year’s pace, the World Bank forecast, even before the volatility in the global commodity markets threatened more upheaval in a country that’s had to rebuild itself since the end of a twelve-year civil war in 2002.”

Ebola-Stricken Sierra Leone Double-Whammied by Iron Ore Plunge (Bloomberg)

In Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in Africa, the hardships of Ebola hit at victims and non-victims alike. Sulaiman Kamara, a handcart pusher in Freetown before the outbreak began in May, used to earn 50,000 Leones ($11) a day, before a shriveling economy took away his job. The 42-year-old father of three now hawks cigarettes and candy on streets with shuttered shops and restaurants, empty hotels and idling taxis. Some days, he’s lucky to make a quarter of his former earnings. Things are about to get worse again. Iron ore, the biggest export earner, is in a major tailspin, leaving Sierra Leone’s two miners on the verge of collapse and jeopardizing 16% of GDP in a country where output per person was just $809 last year. Used in steelmaking, iron ore has slumped 39% this year as the world’s largest miners spend billions of dollars expanding giant pits in Australia and Brazil.

Digging up ore that’s less rich in iron and operating with restrictions imposed to stop the disease’s spread, local producers can’t compete. “The impact of Ebola in terms of iron ore revenue is huge,” said Lansana Fofanah, a senior economist in Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Finance and Economic Development. “Iron ore is responsible for the country’s double digit growth since 2011 until the Ebola outbreak.” Iron ore contributes more in mining royalties than any other mineral to government revenue, which has plunged since the outbreak began, and as the budget deficit worsens, the International Monetary Fund has agreed to step in. The economy will grow at half last year’s pace, the World Bank forecast, even before the volatility in the global commodity markets threatened more upheaval in a country that’s had to rebuild itself since the end of a twelve-year civil war in 2002.

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Full protective gear works great. Until you have to take it off. And: “We know that Mr. Duncan got dialysis. He also got a breathing tube inserted into his lungs. And those are procedures in which there is a danger of contamination of health care workers. ‘Those high-risk procedures were undertaken “as a desperate measure to try to save [Duncan’s] life,’ Frieden said, adding that he was unaware of any prior Ebola patient receiving either of those treatments.”

If “The Protocols Work,” How Did Dallas Nurse Get Ebola?

When the first U.S. Ebola patient turned up at a Dallas hospital late last month, public health officials were quick to reassure the public that the health care system was prepared to handle it and prevent the deadly disease from spreading. “We are stopping Ebola in its tracks in this country,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Sept. 30, after Dallas patient Thomas Eric Duncan’s Ebola test came back positive. “We can do that because of two things: strong infection control that stops the spread of Ebola in health care; and strong core public health functions.” But news that a nurse who treated Duncan became infected in the process has cast doubt on whether those safety precautions were good enough or were properly followed. The nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital was wearing full protective gear when she treated Duncan, but somehow got infected anyway. Frieden said Sunday that the CDC was conducting an investigation into what went wrong, to try to prevent it from happening again.

“It is deeply concerning that this infection occurred,” Frieden acknowledged. “We don’t know what occurred… but at some point there was a breach in protocol and that breach in protocol resulted in this infection.” The reality is, even when health care workers know the proper steps, small – but potentially deadly – lapses can still happen. “It’s hard to stick to the protocol 100% of the time when you’re responding to emergencies; you get lax,” Dr. Dalilah Restrepo, an infectious diseases specialist at Mount Sinai Roosevelt and Mount Sinai St. Luke’s in New York City, told CBS News in an interview last week. The protocol for dealing with Ebola governs the steps hospitals and health care workers take to isolate an Ebola patient and the protective gear they wear to avoid infection. Personal protective equipment – the head to toe “spacesuit” gear – is impervious to the infectious bodily fluids that can spread Ebola from person to person. But for health care workers, taking off contaminated gear without infecting themselves is tricky and requires training and practice.

“In taking off equipment, we identify this as a major area for risk,” Frieden said. “When you have gone into contaminated gloves, masks or other things, to remove those without risk of contaminated material touching you and being then on your clothes or face or skin and leading to an infection is critically important and not easy to do right.” Restrepo echoed concern about the hazards involved in safely removing protective gear. “We’ve seen in the removal process there’s always a risk for infection,” she said. The best practice, she explained, is to have someone trained in infectious disease control responsible for helping a doctor or nurse remove their protective gear every time they leave a patient’s room. “It’s pretty much from the ground up. Booties come off first,” she said. The priority is to keep contamination away from the eyes, nose and mouth, the primary means of transmission.

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