Jun 232018
 


Henri Matisse The goldfish 1912

 

Greece Swaps Bailout Hell For Eternal Purgatory (R.)
Euro Is Here To Stay: German Finance Minister (R.)
Can You Think of Any Other Ways to Spend $716 Billion? (Taibbi)
Ike Was Right! (Bill Bonner)
Irish House Prices Sky-High Due To Finance Not Scarcity (Pettifor)
Trump Threatens 20% Tariff On European Union Cars (R.)
Social Security Benefits Buy 34% Less Than In 2000 (CNBC)
In 2010 Britons Stopped Getting Any Older. The Implications Are Huge (G.)
Airbus Raises Range Of Fears In Brutal Brexit Assessment (G.)
Trump’s Family Separation Scandal Reveals Every Species of Hypocrite (Taibbi)
Don’t Cry for Me, Rachel Maddow (Kunstler)
Fact-Check: Was Migrant Girl On US Border Taken From Mother? Unfounded (AFP)
Children In Custody At Border To Be Reunited With Families By End Of Day (CBS)
US Judge Says May Rule Next Week On Reuniting Migrant Children (R.)
Survivors Report 220 Migrants Drown Off Libya In Recent Days (R.)
Starving Seabirds On Remote Island Full Of Plastic (BBC)

 

 

A terrible deal.

Greece Swaps Bailout Hell For Eternal Purgatory (R.)

Greece is swapping bailout hell for eternal purgatory. Eight years after it first sought outside financial assistance Athens can at last support itself, helped by extra euro zone funds and debt relief. But it will have to maintain a tight budget for decades, while doubts over its debt sustainability will linger. The latest deal suits both European creditors and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. With the country’s third bailout coming to an end in August, both sides wanted a clean exit, without a backstop facility. Euro zone countries recoiled at the idea of granting Greece more credit, while Tsipras wants to claim that the country is finally free of austerity. Both Ireland and Portugal ended their bailouts in this way.

But Greece still owes a hefty 180% of GDP, because official lenders refused to write off the debt. True, the euro zone has extended repayments over many decades. Still, the International Monetary Fund’s reluctance to describe the debt as sustainable made a smooth exit less certain. Hence the latest dollop of debt relief. Lenders have given Greece the last €15 billion of the bailout to build a cash buffer. They also extended their loans by 10 years, meaning Greece should not face large repayments until the 2030s. Creditors will also lower interest rates and transfer the profit on Greek bonds bought by the ECB as long as the country sticks to reform targets. The deal should make it possible for Greece to survive without further financial help for at least a decade.

But the country’s junk credit rating and the absence of a backstop means government bonds won’t be eligible as collateral for ECB loans. This will force banks to find other, more expensive sources of funding. The other question is whether Greek debt can be sustained without a default or further writedowns. If the government delivers on its promise to maintain a budget surplus before interest payments of over 3.5% of GDP – three times the euro zone average – until 2022, and 2.2% thereafter, the debt load will slowly fall. Yet Greece’s unemployment rate of 20% is more than twice as high as in the rest of the single currency area. And euro zone officials will still visit every quarter. The country has escaped its bailout hell, but is hardly free.

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Again, this is like a team owner stating publicly that he supports the coach 100%.

Euro Is Here To Stay: German Finance Minister (R.)

The euro is irreversible, German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said in a newspaper interview to be published on Saturday when asked if the single currency will still be there in 10 years. “Yes, the euro is irreversible,” Scholz told the Rheinische Post. “It secures our common future in Europe.” He added that an initial blueprint to strengthen the euro zone agreed between Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron during talks at the Meseberg retreat outside Berlin this week would shield the euro from crises. “With the Meseberg agreements we are further building the house of Europe,” he said. “It contains a sealed roof that withstands future storms and rainy days. We have a new momentum in Europe and this is thanks to President Macron.”

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Don’t question the military.

Can You Think of Any Other Ways to Spend $716 Billion? (Taibbi)

While the world continues to be transfixed over the gruesome images coming from the border, business went on as usual in Washington. Earlier this week, the Senate quietly passed the $716 billion “John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019.” The bill, which passed 85-10 in a massive show of bipartisan support, represents a considerable boost in defense spending across the board – roughly $82 billion just for next year. The annual increase by itself is bigger than the annual defense budget of Russia ($61 billion) and the two-year jump of over $165 billion eclipses the entire defense budget of China ($150 billion).

The bill is a major win for Trump, who has made no secret about his desire to push through giant increases in military spending. The legislation even sends the U.S. down the road to meeting the Trump administration’s lunatic goal of developing smaller, more “flexible” (read: usable) nuclear weapons, as it includes $65 million for the development of a new, lower-yield, submarine-launched nuke. But the problem with the defense bill, at least in terms of attracting coverage, is that it’s also a big win for almost every other major political constituency in Washington. Spending on defense lobbying has actually been dropping slightly in recent years, but that may only be because the opposition to defense spending has become so anemic that lobbyists don’t really need to bother anymore.

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“..the damage done by Germany’s hyperinflation of the early ’20s led to far more than just wiped-out mortgages and billion-dollar cigars.”

Ike Was Right! (Bill Bonner)

Our working hypothesis is that General Eisenhower was right. There were two big temptations to the American Republic of the 1950s; subsequent generations gave in to both of them. They spent their children’s and grandchildren’s money. Now, the country has a government debt of $21 trillion. That’s up from $288 billion when Ike left the White House. And they allowed the “unwarranted influence” of the “military/industrial complex” to grow into a monster. No president, no matter how good his intentions, can stop it. A corollary to our major hypothesis is that the rise of the Deep State (the military/industrial/social welfare/security/prison/medical care/education/bureaucrat/crony complex) was funded by the Fed’s fake-money system.

Now, investors, businesses, households, and the feds themselves have all been “faked out” by a fraudulent money system. None of them can survive a cutback in credit. For nearly 30 years, central banks have backstopped markets and flooded the world with liquidity. But last week, the Fed turned the screws a little further. It now targets a 2% Fed Funds Rate and claims to be on the path of “normalization.” And the ECB made it official, too; it hasn’t quite begun tightening, but it’s got its toolbox open. And command of the ECB work crew is set to change hands next year anyway, passing on to a German engineer.

The German psyche has been scarred by its awful experience in the last century. Even though today’s Germans didn’t live through it themselves, the entire country seems to have a race memory of it. Still preparing for hard times, the household savings rate in Germany is at least three times higher than in the sans souci U.S. Germany’s apocalypse, too, can be described in Eisenhower’s terms – too much debt (arising from World War I)… and too much influence in the hands of the military/industrial complex. Debt led to hyperinflation. But the damage done by Germany’s hyperinflation of the early ’20s led to far more than just wiped-out mortgages and billion-dollar cigars.

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Ireland and all the others.

Irish House Prices Sky-High Due To Finance Not Scarcity (Pettifor)

Economists regard the theory of supply and demand as nothing less than a “law” and as one of the fundamental principles governing “the economy”. Almost every economic event or phenomenon is considered the product of the interaction of the laws of supply and demand, argues The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. The “law” is currently being invoked by those who believe the solution to the Irish housing crisis is to simply build more houses. It is an analysis echoed regularly by grateful developers and estate agents. But the “law” of supply and demand is a micro-economic concept and applicable only to the “economy” of individuals, households and firms.

The “economy” of a globalised country such as Ireland is, in stark contrast, a macro-economic concept, the result of analysing the aggregate activities of more than four million people operating within global markets for housing and other assets. As evidence of the flawed nature of this fundamental micro-economic theory, we only have to look at Ireland’s housing market in 2006 – the year in which the market boomed before imploding catastrophically. Irish home construction peaked in that year. In a country of just four million people, more than 90,000 homes were built. (By contrast the housing stock increased by just 8,800 between 2011 and 2016). And yet, despite this extraordinary increase in supply, and contrary to economic theory, prices in 2006 continued rising – by a whopping 11%.

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Just settle it amicably.

Trump Threatens 20% Tariff On European Union Cars (R.)

President Donald Trump on Friday threatened to escalate a trade war with Europe by imposing a 20% tariff on all U.S. imports of European Union-assembled cars. Trump posted his threat on Twitter the day European Union reprisals took effect against U.S. tariffs on European steel and aluminum. The EU targeted $3.2 billion in American goods exported to the 28-member bloc. “If these Tariffs and Barriers are not soon broken down and removed, we will be placing a 20% Tariff on all of their cars coming into the U.S. Build them here!” Trump wrote.

A month ago, the administration launched a probe into whether auto imports pose a national security threat. The United States currently imposes a 2.5% tariff on imported passenger cars from the European Union and a 25% tariff on imported pickup trucks. The EU imposes a 10% tariff on imported U.S. cars. German automakers Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW build vehicles at plants in the United States. Industry data shows German automakers build more vehicles in southern U.S. states that voted for Trump than they ship to the United States from Germany.

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Think medical bills.

Social Security Benefits Buy 34% Less Than In 2000 (CNBC)

If you feel like your Social Security check doesn’t stretch as far as it once did, there’s a likely explanation for it. Since 2000, the buying power of monthly benefits has fallen by more than a third, according to an annual report released Thursday by the Senior Citizens League, an advocacy group based in Alexandria, Virginia. In other words, the cost of goods and services common among retirees have collectively risen faster than the cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, that Social Security recipients get every year. “People who recently retired might have seen only a [small] decrease in buying power,” said Mary Johnson, a policy analyst for the league. “But those retired for a long time are feeling the cumulative effect of this.”

About 47 million older Americans receive Social Security. Overall, the benefits comprise about a third of income among those age 65 or older, according to the Social Security Administration. The league’s annual report examines the costs that typically comprise household budgets of older Americans and compares their price change with annual COLAs. Based on those comparisons, the research found a 4% loss in Social Security buying power from January 2017 to January 2018 and a 34% decrease since 2000.

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Wonder if this is true only in Britain.

In 2010 Britons Stopped Getting Any Older. The Implications Are Huge (G.)

The most profound change to human life over the previous 100 years came to a halt in 2010. In the decades before it, life expectancy in Britain kept rising, with men, in particular, born in the 1920s and 1930s enjoying far longer and healthier lives than ever expected. This increase in lifespan has affected everything – from housing to health to pensions. It’s why we need to find ever greater sums for the NHS. It’s why the state pension age has had to go up. Arguably, it’s a big reason why house prices are so high – because people are living in them for longer. But the great leap forward in longevity has come to a shuddering halt.

An extraordinary analysis by the Office for National Statistics this week reveals that the trend line in longevity stopped in 2010, and has flatlined since. Why? Pick anything from austerity and cuts in NHS spending, to influenza outbreaks, obesity, diabetes, and even the rise of “multimorbidity” – where someone might have diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure all at the same time. But the ONS did not try to answer the “why” question. It wanted to check if the statistics really do prove that longevity rises have come to a halt. And the depressing conclusion from its research is that, indeed they have. It found that the “breakpoint” in the trend towards better longevity began with males in the second quarter of 2009, with females following soon after.

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“The fear of “chaos at the borders” in 2020..”

Airbus Raises Range Of Fears In Brutal Brexit Assessment (G.)

Airbus hated Brexit from the off but, until now, it had confined itself to soft expressions of worry in public and harder lobbying behind the scenes. Its dramatic warning that it could stop investing in the UK is a radical departure from that position and carried a sting. The aircraft manufacturer did not merely say a no-deal outcome to Brexit talks “directly threatens Airbus’s future in the UK”. It also said an “orderly” Brexit, complete with a trade agreement and a transition period, would also be risky. In effect, the group will freeze investment in the UK until it can judge how a new set-up would work and how many extra costs its UK factories and research centres would bear.

John Longworth, the co-chair of Leave Means Leave campaign, accused Airbus of running a scare story and reheating Project Fear. Tariffs on aeronautical products are zero, he argued, and so “nothing will change” if the UK leaves the customs union. Yet he overlooked the detail of the Brexit assessment by Airbus, which barely mentioned tariffs. Instead, the worries were about the movement of employees between the UK and the EU, logjams in the supply chain and aircraft regulations. The most critical issue on that list is probably UK membership of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which certifies aircraft parts and runs safety checks.

In theory, the Civil Aviation Authority could do the job in the UK, as it once did, but Airbus doubts the body could assemble the expertise in time to provide a smooth transition. Norway is a non-EU member of EASA and so the UK, if it is prepared to accept the European court of justice as the legal authority behind EASA’s rulings, could also stay within. But a deal has not yet been struck, which is one of many reasons why Airbus is shouting that time is running short. Its supply chain frustrations will be shared by other large manufacturers with cross-border operations that run on a just-in-time basis to keep costs low. The fear of “chaos at the borders” in 2020, as Tom Williams, the Airbus executive in charge of the commercial aircraft division, put it, is real.

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“America’s manufacturing sector may be failing, but we still produce plenty of hypocrites.”

Trump’s Family Separation Scandal Reveals Every Species of Hypocrite (Taibbi)

John McCain, in Arizona receiving treatment for brain cancer, tweeted about Donald Trump’s barbarous immigration policy this week. “The administration’s current family separation policy is an affront to the decency of the American people, and contrary to principles and values upon which our nation was founded,” the senator wrote. Those comments bring to mind a commercial John McCain made eight years ago. At the time, he was facing a tough primary challenge from Tea Party Republican J.D. Hayworth. In the ad, McCain is seen walking along Arizona’s southern border with Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, in the shadow of an enormous fence.

McCain starts tsk-tsking about the wave of crime pouring into his state. “Drug and human smuggling, home invasions, murder?” McCain asks. “We’re outmanned,” the sheriff says. “Of all the illegals in America, more than half come through Arizona.” McCain asks if they have “the right plan.” The sheriff says, “You bring troops, state, county and local law enforcement together.” “And complete the danged fence!” says McCain. [..] Trump’s policies on the border were and are monstrous. But those photos of children in captivity, which rightfully have been nearly as damaging to America’s reputation as the Abu Ghraib debacle, didn’t appear out of nowhere.

Those scenes are the latest in a long series of developments, under which politicians like McCain and Cruz and Dick Cheney, along with officials like Hayden, have gradually normalized the idea of human rights abuses as solutions to political problems. Now they’re all hiding behind someone else’s scandal. America’s manufacturing sector may be failing, but we still produce plenty of hypocrites.

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Democratic leadership has been AWOL for a long time.

Don’t Cry for Me, Rachel Maddow (Kunstler)

Actual political leadership among “the Resistance” is AWOL this week. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer failed to offer up any alternative legislative plan for sorting out these children differently. One can infer in the political chatter emanating from the Offendedness Cartel that immigration law is ipso-facto cruel and inhuman and that the “solution” is an open border. In theory, this might play to the Democratic Party’s effort to win future elections by enlisting an ever-growing voter base of Mexican and Central American newcomers. But it assumes that somehow these newcomers get to become citizens, with the right to vote in US elections — normally an arduous process requiring an application and patience — but that, too, is apparently up for debate, especially in California, where lawmakers are eager to enfranchise anyone with a pulse who is actually there, citizen or not.

Krugman of The Times really hit the ball out of the park today with his diatribe comparing US Immigration enforcement to the Nazis treatment of the Jews. As a person of the Hebrew persuasion myself, I rather resent the reckless hijacking of this bit of history for the purpose of aggrandizing the sentimentally fake moral righteousness of the Resistance. It actually diminishes the enormity of the Nazi campaign against European Jews. I daresay that commentary like Krugman’s will only serve to amplify a growing resentment of Jewish intellectuals in this country — including myself, increasingly the target of anti-Jewish calumnies and objurgations. You’d think that Mr. Trump had offered to blow up Ellis Island the way the Resistance is clamoring to pull down statues of Thomas Jefferson.

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That’s two in a row for using pictures out of context. Very damaging.

Fact-Check: Was Migrant Girl On US Border Taken From Mother? Unfounded (AFP)

Two photos that went viral on social media depict scenes that are not directly related to the family separations taking place on the US-Mexico border since early May. The most prominent, of Honduran two-year-old Yanela Varela crying inconsolably, has become a global symbol of the separations – helping to attract more than $18 million in donations for a Texas non-profit called RAICES. The photograph was taken on June 12 in McAllen, Texas by John Moore, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer for Getty Images. An online article about the picture, published by Time Magazine, initially reported the girl was taken from her mother, but was subsequently corrected to make clear that: “The girl was not carried away screaming by US Border Patrol agents; her mother picked her up and the two were taken away together.”

Time Magazine nonetheless used the image of the sobbing child on its cover, next to an image of President Trump looming over her, with the caption “Welcome to America”. The head of Honduras’ Migrant Protection Office Lisa Medrano confirmed to AFP that the little girl, just two years old, “was not separated” from her family. The child’s father also said as much. Denis Varela told the Washington Post that his wife Sandra Sanchez, 32, had not been separated from their daughter, and that both were being detained together in an immigration center in McAllen. Under fire for its cover – which was widely decried as misleading including by the White House – the magazine said it was standing by its decision. “The June 12 photograph of the 2-year-old Honduran girl became the most visible symbol of the ongoing immigration debate in America for a reason,” Time’s editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal said.

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A mixed bag.

Children In Custody At Border To Be Reunited With Families By End Of Day (CBS)

Most of the immigrant children who’d been separated from their families and are still being held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection are expected to be reunited by the end of the day, a source with the Department of Homeland Security told CBS News. This does not reflect the greater number of children who are in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services. That number was reported this week to be greater than 2,340. There will be a small number of children with Customs and Border Protection who will not be immediately reunited with their families. Reasons for delay may include if relationships can’t be confirmed or if authorities think there’s a risk to the child.

At the border, the government is trying to clear up who gets prosecuted and who does not. Confusion, however, hasn’t stopped border crossings, CBS News’ Mireya Villarreal reports. Shane McMahon’s client from El Salvador was charged with crossing into the U.S. illegally. He was separated from his 16-year-old son, and on Friday, those charges were suddenly dropped. “I think what’s happening is that everybody’s trying to figure out how the order applies to us and what to do with it,” McMahon said. The Trump administration says that nearly 500 children have been reunited with family. More than 1,800 remain separated from parents, who are desperate for answers.

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A case from February that could solve today’s issues.

US Judge Says May Rule Next Week On Reuniting Migrant Children (R.)

A federal judge said on Friday he could rule as soon as the middle of next week on a request to order the U.S. government to reunite thousands of immigrant children who were separated from their parents after illegally crossing the Mexico-U.S. border. While U.S. President Donald Trump bowed to political pressure on Wednesday and issued an executive order ending the separations, the administration has been silent on plans to reunite parents split from their children. More than 2,300 migrant children have been separated since the Trump administration began a “zero tolerance” policy toward illegal border crossings in early May.

At a court hearing on Friday, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union pressed U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego to issue an injunction as soon as Friday evening to force the government to begin reuniting families. “Parents can’t find their children, they are not even speaking to their children. It’s a humanitarian crisis,” said Lee Gelernt, a lawyer for the ACLU, at Friday’s hearing. He asked the judge to order the government to reunite all children in 30 days, and in five days for children under the age of five. Gelernt also asked for an order barring separations.

[..] The judge peppered a government lawyer with questions about procedures for handling children separated from their parents and tracking by government agencies, and in general the government lawyer focused on arguments about legal procedure. The government has said in court papers that separation of children is a consequence of the lawful detention of the parent. The ACLU filed the case in February alleging the government violated the right to due process of two unidentified women, from Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo, when their children were removed from them.

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Europe outdoes Trump.

Survivors Report 220 Migrants Drown Off Libya In Recent Days (R.)

Survivors have reported that about 220 migrants drowned off the coast of Libya in the last few days while trying to reach Europe, putting the death toll this year on that route to more than 1,000, the United Nations said on Thursday. The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) said that as the summer season starts, the number of refugees and migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean was expected to increase and it called for increased rescue operations. The Libyan coast guard has brought more than 8,000 people to disembarkation points along the coast this year, it said. Only five people survived the capsizing of a boat carrying 100 people on Tuesday, while the same day a rubber craft with 130 passengers sank, leading to 70 people drowning, UNHCR said.

On Wednesday a boat of refugees and migrants who were rescued reported that more than 50 people traveling with them had perished at sea, it said. “UNHCR is dismayed at the ever-growing numbers of refugees and migrants losing their lives at sea and is calling for urgent international action to strengthen rescue at sea efforts by all relevant and capable actors, including NGOs and commercial vessels, throughout the Mediterranean,” the agency said. Earlier, Libya’s coastguard picked up 443 African migrants on Thursday from three inflatable boats in trouble near its western coast, a spokesman said.

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Where’s the outrage? Why is there still no overall ban on one-use plastics? Why do I still see people walking around with plastic coffee cups?

Starving Seabirds On Remote Island Full Of Plastic (BBC)

New footage of the devastating impact of plastic pollution on wildlife has been captured by a BBC team. Seabirds are starving to death on the remote Lord Howe Island, a crew filming for the BBC One documentary Drowning in Plastic has revealed. Their stomachs were so full of plastic there was no room for food. The documentary is part of a BBC initiative called Plastics Watch, tracking the impact of plastic on the environment. The marine biologists the team filmed are working on the island to save the birds. They captured hundreds of chicks – as they left their nests – to physically flush plastic from their stomachs and “give them a chance to survive”.

The birds nest in burrows on Lord Howe Island, which is more than 600 kilometres off the east coast of Australia. While chicks wait in the burrow, the parents head out to sea and dive for small fish and squid to feed their offspring. “These birds are generalist predators,” explained marine biologist Jennifer Lavers who works with the shearwater colony. “They’ll eat just about anything they’re given. That’s what’s allowed them to thrive – a lack of pickiness. “But when you put plastic in the ocean, it means they have no ability to detect plastic form non-plastic, so they eat it.”

Parent birds unwittingly feeding plastic to their chicks means that the birds emerge from their burrows with stomachs filled with plastic, and with insufficient nutrition to enable them set out to sea and forage for themselves. But when the birds first head out of the burrow, the research team have been stepping in to help. “If the amount of plastic is not so significant, we use a process called levage, where we flush or wash the stomach – without harming the bird,” explained Dr Lavers. The BBC crew filmed the team working with individual chicks – using tubes to flush their stomachs with seawater and make them regurgitate the plastic.

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Jun 072018
 
 June 7, 2018  Posted by at 8:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Ivan Aivazovsky Stormy Night at Sea 1850

 

Is Draghi Risking Everything To Teach Rome A Lesson? (ZH)
The Next Economic Crisis Begins in the European Union (Bruno)
David Stockman: Stocks Will Plunge 50% In This ‘Daredevil Market’ (CNBC)
Euro Recovers On Rising Bets ECB May Unwind Stimulus (R.)
Indonesia Joins India In Begging Fed To Stop Shrinking Its Balance Sheet (ZH)
Fed Clambers Back To Positive Real Rates, Now Debate Is When To Stop (R.)
Social Security To Tap Into Trust Fund For First Time In 36 Years (MW)
Opioids Are Responsible For 20% Of US Millennial Deaths (ZH)
The ‘Doomsday Brexit Plan’ Document Should Frighten Us All (TP)
Nearly 4 Million UK Adults Forced To Use Food Banks (Ind.)
How We Created The Anthropocene (BBC)

 

 

“..watch as the EUR and bond yields tumble, and the dollar resumes its relentless push higher.”

Is Draghi Risking Everything To Teach Rome A Lesson? (ZH)

[..] as Bloomberg’s Lisa Abramowicz said in a podcast today, it was the ECB “basically just giving the finger to Italy.” Confirming as much, Anne Mathias, Global Rates and FX strategist for Vanguard, responded that “part of the vocal nature of the ‘talking about the talking about’ [the end of QE] probably has something to do with Italy, especially as they’ve been paring their purchases of Italian debt. What the ECB is trying to say is hey, “this is our party, and you’re welcome to it, but if you’re going to leave it’s not going to be easy for you.” The ECB is trying to show Italy a future without the ECB as backstop.”

A spot-on follow up question from Pimm Fox asked if this is “a situation in which the ECB is cutting off its nose to spite its face, because you can stick to rules for the sake of sticking to rules, but when you have a potential crisis, why wait for it to be a real crisis such as Italy, which the new government has pledged to spend a lot of money, to lower taxes, while they still have a huge government deficit. Why would the ECB do this.” The brief answer is that yes, it is, because sending the Euro and yields higher on ECB debt monetization concerns, only tends to destabilize the market, and sends a message to investors that the happy days are ending, in the process slamming confidence in asset returns, a process which usually translates into a sharp economic slowdown and eventually recession, or even depression if the adverse stimulus is large enough.

As for the punchline, it came from Abramowicz, who doubled down on Pimm Fox’ question and asked if the “European economy can withstand the shock” of the ECB’s QE reversal, which would send trillions in debt from negative to positive yields. While the answer is clearly no, what is curious is that the ECB is actually tempting fate with the current “tightening” scare, which may send the Euro and bond yields far higher over the next few days, perhaps even to a point where Italy finds itself in dire need of a bailout… from the ECB. Then again, don’t be surprised if during next Thursday’s ECB press conference, Mario Draghi says that after discussing the end of QE, no decision has been made or will be made for a long time. At that moment, watch as the EUR and bond yields tumble, and the dollar resumes its relentless push higher.

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Downsize Germany or else.

The Next Economic Crisis Begins in the European Union (Bruno)

Mercantilism is a practice of conducting economic affairs that Europe practiced especially during the period between the 16th and 17th centuries. It’s the progenitor of colonialism and favors the idea that a state’s—or nation’s—power increases in direct proportion to its ability to export. The more a nation exports, producing a trade surplus, the stronger it becomes. The current “imperfection” of the euro stems from this concept. Germany has become a mercantilist power within a union of nation states (the EU) that had agreed to pursue common as well as national interests. The result has not only been an imbalance of trade; rather, it’s been a complete political and economic disparity.

Some EU countries, of which Germany represents the best example, have also used their surplus to lower their inflation rate below the eurozone-accepted two-percent standard. Indeed, Germany’s trade surplus formula was predicated on a minimal increase in salaries—and reduced government spending on infrastructure and other public services. The result has been the accumulation of significant competitive advantages. Ironically, whenever the euro drops in value, Germany gains with respect to the PIGS. The products that make up the core of its surplus become even more competitive within and beyond the EU.

That explains President Donald Trump’s ever more vociferous suggestions to ban the import of German cars in the United States. It’s no accident that Trump launched a literal trade war, focusing on Germany and China, just days before the start of the G7 Summit in Canada. Germany’s accumulated gains from the low inflation and the more competitive conditions allow it to literally “colonize” (financially speaking) the so-called less virtuous or “deficit” nations. Germany can buy up their best businesses and services. In the meantime, Germany has also acquired a political dominance to match its surplus within the EU itself.

It can control the rules of the EU economy and influence their evolution. That’s why there are few options for the PIGS. And that’s why society and political discourse have deteriorated. The rise of the so-called populist—I prefer the term “protest”—parties, Left or Right, in countries like Italy is a trend destined to expand throughout the EU and cause irreparable fissures. If the EU does not change (and by change, I mean a downsizing of Germany’s stature), the fissures will be irreparable, and one or more states will leave, breaking the union.

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“It’s all risk and very little reward in the path ahead..”

David Stockman: Stocks Will Plunge 50% In This ‘Daredevil Market’ (CNBC)

David Stockman is intensifying his bear case. President Ronald Reagan’s Office of Management and Budget director blames a bull market that’s getting longer in the tooth — paired with headwinds ranging from President Donald Trump’s leadership to fiscal policy decisions to questionable earnings. “I call this a daredevil market. It’s all risk and very little reward in the path ahead,” Stockman said Tuesday on CNBC’s “Futures Now.” “This market is just way, way over-priced for reality.” His thoughts came as the Nasdaq was reaching all-time highs again, while S&P 500 rose slightly but the Dow failed to extend its win streak to three days in a row.

“The S&P 500 could easily drop to 1,600 because earnings could drop to $75 a share the next time we have a recession,” Stockman warned. “We’re about eight or nine years into this expansion. Everything is crazily priced. I mean the S&P 500 at 24 times at the end, tippy top of a business cycle.” One of his biggest gripes with the bulls is the notion that President Donald Trump’s tax cuts are providing a fundamental lift to stocks. “These tax cuts are going to add to the deficit in the 10th year of an expansion. It’s just irresponsible crazy,” he said. “It’s all going to stock buybacks and M&A deals anyway. That doesn’t cause the economy to grow. It’s just a short-term boost to the stock market that doesn’t last.”

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All it takes is some hollow words.

Euro Recovers On Rising Bets ECB May Unwind Stimulus (R.)

The euro stayed near two-week highs against many of its rivals on Thursday, on rising bets the ECB may soon announce it will start winding down its massive bond purchase program. Jens Weidmann, the head of Germany’s central bank, said expectations the ECB would taper its bond-buying program by the end of this year were plausible while his Dutch counterpart, Klaas Knot, said there was no reason to continue a quantitative easing program. The trio of comments drove the euro to a two-week high of $1.1800 sharp. The common currency last traded at $1.1781, extending its gains so far this week to 1.15%.

“In the near term, we are likely to see event-driven trading on the euro. We should expect the euro to jump 100 pips (one cent) quite easily on comments from key officials,” said Kyosuke Suzuki, director of forex at Societe Generale. The ECB has been debating whether to end the unprecedented 2.55 trillion euro ($2.99 trillion) bond purchase program this year as the threat of deflation has passed. Still many market players were surprised by the flurry of comments as they had thought uncertainty caused by a political crisis in Italy could make policymakers cautious about indicating an end to stimulus at its policy meeting on June 14.

Indeed, the yield spread of Italian debt to German Bunds widened on Wednesday as Italian bonds are seen as the biggest beneficiary of the ECB’s buying. “This euro buying is essentially short-term trade. People don’t know when Italian debt problems will be solved but they do know when the ECB might announce an exit from stimulus,” said Mitsuo Imaizumi, chief currency strategist at Daiwa Securities.

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But then Europe and Japan signal they’ll do the same.

Indonesia Joins India In Begging Fed To Stop Shrinking Its Balance Sheet (ZH)

On the same day that the governor of Malaysia’s central bank quit, and just days after Urjit Patel, governor of the Reserve Bank of India, took the unprecedented step of writing an oped to the Federal Reserve, begging the US central bank to step tightening monetary conditions, and shrinking its balance sheet, thereby creating a global dollar shortage which has slammed emerging markets (and forced India into an unexpected rate hike overnight), Indonesia’s new central bank chief joined his Indian counterpart in calling on the Federal Reserve to be “more mindful” of the global repercussions of policy tightening amid the ongoing rout in emerging markets.

As Bloomberg reports, in his first interview with international media since he took office two weeks ago, Bank Indonesia Governor Perry Warjiyo echoed what Patel said just days earlier, namely that the pace of the Fed’s balance sheet reduction was a key issue for central bankers across emerging markets. As a reminder, the RBI Governor made exactly the same comments earlier this week, arguing that slowing the pace of stimulus withdrawal at a time when the US Treasury is doubling down on debt issuance, would support global growth, as the alternative would be an emerging markets crisis that would spill over into developed markets.

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Get the hell out. Take their powers away.

Fed Clambers Back To Positive Real Rates, Now Debate Is When To Stop (R.)

The Federal Reserve will likely raise its target interest rate to above the rate of inflation for the first time in a decade next week, igniting a new debate: when to stop. The Fed has been gradually hiking rates since late 2015 with little sign of tighter conditions hampering economic recovery. The expected June increase will raise the stakes as the Fed seeks to sustain the second-longest U.S. expansion on record while continuing to edge rates higher. With inflation still tame, policymakers are aiming for a “neutral” rate that neither slows nor speeds economic growth. But estimates of neutral are imprecise, and as interest rates top inflation and enter positive “real” territory, analysts feel the Fed is at higher risk of going too far and actually crimping the recovery.

The Fed is “gradually entering a new world when rates are at 2 percent,” nearing zero on a real basis and approaching where they are no longer felt to be stimulating economic activity, said Thomas Costerg, senior U.S. economist at Pictet Wealth Management. The last time rates moved into positive real territory on a sustained basis was the spring of 2005 when the Fed began tightening rapidly after a period of arguably too-lax monetary policy, ending just months before the start of the 2007-2009 financial crisis. The debate over the current cycle’s end point “came earlier than I expected,” Costerg said, with the Fed facing imminent calls on where the neutral rate of interest lies.

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Opaque topic, but this is obviously not good.

Social Security To Tap Into Trust Fund For First Time In 36 Years (MW)

Medicare’s finances were downgraded in a new report from the program’s trustees Tuesday, while the projection for Social Security’s stayed the same as last year. Medicare’s hospital insurance fund will be depleted in 2026, said the trustees who oversee the benefit program in an annual report. That is three years earlier than projected last year. This year, like last year, Social Security’s trustees said the program’s two trust funds would be depleted in 2034. For the first time since 1982, Social Security has to dip into the trust fund to pay for the program this year. It should be stressed that the reports don’t indicate that benefits disappear in those years.

After 2034, Social Security’s trustees said tax income would be sufficient to pay about three-quarters of retirees’ benefits. Congress could at any time choose to pay for the benefits through the general fund. Medicare beneficiaries also wouldn’t face an immediate cut after the trust fund is depleted in 2026. The trustees said the share of benefits that can be paid from revenues will decline to 78% in 2039. That share rises again to 85% in 2092. The hospital fund is financed mainly through payroll taxes. Social Security trustees said that reserves for the fund that pays disability benefits would be exhausted in 2032. Combined with the fund that pays benefits to retirees, all Social Security reserves would be exhausted by 2034, they said.

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Better start acting.

Opioids Are Responsible For 20% Of US Millennial Deaths (ZH)

The opioid crisis has become a significant public health emergency for many Americans, especially for millennials, so much so that one out of every five deaths among young adults is related to opioids, suggested a new report. The study is called “The Burden of Opioid-Related Mortality in the United States,” published Friday in JAMA. Researchers from St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, found that all opiate deaths — which accounts for natural opiates, semi-synthetic/ humanmade opioids, and fully synthetic/ humanmade opioids — have increased a mindboggling 292% from 2001 through 2016, with one in every 65 deaths related to opioids by 2016. Men represented 70% of all opioid-related deaths by 2016, and the number was astronomically higher for millennials (24 and 35 years of age).

According to the study, one out of every five deaths among millennials in the United States is related to opioids. In contrast, opioid-related deaths for the same cohort accounted for 4% of all deaths in 2001. Moreover, it gets worse; the second most impacted group was 15 to 24-year-olds, which suggests, the opioid epidemic is now ripping through Generation Z (born after 1995). In 2016, nearly 12.4% of all deaths in this age group were attributed to opioids. “Despite the amount of attention that has been placed on this public health issue, we are increasingly seeing the devastating impact that early loss of life from opioids is having across the United States,” said Dr. Tara Gomes, a scientist in the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s.

“In the absence of a multidisciplinary approach to this issue that combines access to treatment, harm reduction and education, this crisis will impact the U.S. for generations,” she added. Over the 15-year period, more than 335,000 opioid-related deaths were recorded in the United States that met the study’s criteria. Researchers said this number is an increase of 345% from 9,489 in 2001 (33.3 deaths per million population) to 42, 245 in 2016 (130.7 deaths per million population).

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“At what stage of their hapless fiddling, constant arguing and pitiful attempts to administer the kiss of life to the corpse that Brexit has turned out to be, does a politician officially earn the title of – stupid idiot?”

The ‘Doomsday Brexit Plan’ Document Should Frighten Us All (TP)

This is the first paragraph of The Times article (paywall) regarding Britain’s now famous Doomsday Brexit plan. “Britain would be hit with shortages of medicine, fuel and food within a fortnight if the UK tries to leave the European Union without a deal, according to a Doomsday Brexit scenario drawn up by senior civil servants for David Davis.” The Times confirms that the port of Dover will collapse “on day one” if Britain crashes out of the EU, leading to critical shortages of supplies. This was the middle of three scenarios put forward by senior advisors. A type of best guestimate if you like. You simply do not want to know the outcome of the worst of those three scenarios. Indeed, we have been spared from such details.

The article states that the RAF would have to be deployed to ferry supplies around Britain. And yes, we’re still on the middle scenario here. “You would have to medevac medicine into Britain, and at the end of week two we would be running out of petrol as well,” a contributing source said. The report continues to describe matters such as cross-channel disruption for heavy goods vehicles, which would also be catastrophic. Massive carparks will be required. A senior official said in the ‘Doomsday’ Brexit plan: “We are entirely dependent on Europe reciprocating our posture that we will do nothing to impede the flow of goods into the UK. If for whatever reason, Europe decides to slow that supply down, then we’re screwed.”

Let’s not worry about the fact that French borders are often left in chaos due to the all too familiar strikes that appear almost monthly during holiday season for one reason or another. Home secretary Sajid Javid makes an unconvincing comment stating he’s ‘confident’ a deal will be done. That’s hardly the type of assurance we need is it? UK officials emphasised that the June EU summit due on the 28th was heading for a “car crash” because “no progress has been made since March” to devise plans for a long-term deal. If your confidence in Brexit is starting to wane, don’t worry, half the nation are not just anxious but downright fearful – mainly because, neither in or out has given any concreate evidence of likely outcomes. This is probably because Brexit hasn’t been done before – and was designed that way. Deliberately.

At what stage of their hapless fiddling, constant arguing and pitiful attempts to administer the kiss of life to the corpse that Brexit has turned out to be, does a politician officially earn the title of – stupid idiot? “Just bloody get on with it” shout the Brexiteers, except both they and the UK government still can’t decide what ‘it’ is.

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I’ve asked it before: where will Britain be 10 years from now?

Nearly 4 Million UK Adults Forced To Use Food Banks (Ind.)

Nearly 4 million adults in the UK have been forced to use food banks due to ”shocking” levels of deprivation, figures have revealed for the first time. An exclusive poll commissioned by The Independent reveals one in 14 Britons has had to use a food bank, with similar numbers also forced to skip meals and borrow money as austerity measures leave them “penniless with nowhere to turn”. The findings come as a major report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) shows more than 1.5 million people were destitute in the UK last year alone, a figure higher than the populations of Liverpool and Birmingham combined. This includes 365,000 children, with experts warning that social security policy changes under the Tory government were leading to “destitution by design”.

Destitution is defined as people lacking two “essential needs”, such as food or housing. The polling on food poverty, from a representative sample of 1,050 UK adults carried out for The Independent by D-CYFOR, suggests that 7 per cent of the adult population – or 3.7 million people – have used a food bank to receive a meal. A million people have decreased the portion size of their child’s meal due to financial constraints, the survey says. The results come after it emerged in April that the number of emergency meals handed out at food banks had risen at a higher rate than ever, soaring by 13 per cent in a year, with more than 1.3 million three-day emergency food supplies given to people in crisis in the 12 months to March.

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I haven’t read the book -and it’s not out yet- but this seems, let’s say, naive. If you figure that a constant increase in energy use is the culprit, how can you say renewable nergy is the solution, and not call for using less energy?

How We Created The Anthropocene (BBC)

Factories and farming remove as much nitrogen from the atmosphere as all of Earth’s natural processes, and the climate is changing fast because of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use. Beyond these grim statistics, the critical question is: will today’s interconnected mega-civilisation that allows 7.5 billion people to lead physically healthier and longer lives than at any time in our history continue from strength to strength? Or will we keep using more and more resources until human civilisation collapses? To answer this, we re-interpret human history using the tools of modern science, to provide a clearer view of the future.

Tracing the ever-greater environmental impacts of different human societies since our march out of Africa, we found that there are just five broad types that have spread worldwide. Our original hunter-gatherer societies were followed by the agricultural revolution and new types of society beginning some 10,500 years ago. The next shift resulted from the formation of the first global economy, after Europeans arrived in the Americas in 1492, which was followed in the late 1700s by the new societies following the Industrial Revolution. The final type is today’s high-production consumer capitalist mode of living that emerged after WWII.

A careful analysis shows that each successive mode of living is reliant on greater energy use, greater information and knowledge availability, and an increase in the human population, which together increase our collective agency. These insights help us think about avoiding the coming crash as our massive global economy doubles in size every 25 years, and on to the possibilities of a new and more sustainable sixth mode of living to replace consumer capitalism. Seen in this way, renewable energy for all takes on an importance beyond stopping climate breakdown; likewise free education and the internet for all has a significance beyond access to social media – as they empower women, which helps stabilise the population.

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Jan 172018
 


Eugene de Salignac Painters suspended on cables of the Brooklyn Bridge Oct 7 1914

 

If Bull Market For Stocks Ends In 2018, Blame The Credit Market Bubble (MW)
Dramatic Stock Market Reversal Signals More Volatility Ahead (CNBC)
Bitcoin, Ethereum Suffer Massive Drops, Many Crypto’s Fare Even Worse (CNBC)
South Koreans Sign Petition To Stop Crackdown On Bitcoin ‘Happy Dream’ (CNBC)
‘Black Swan’ Event Could Threaten China’s Financial Stability (R.)
US and China Brace For Trade War That Could Rattle Global Economy (ZH/WSJ)
The New Cold War In 2018 (Stephen Cohen)
The One Fact Which Disproves Russiagate (CJ)
Carillion’s Failure: The Many Questions That Need Answers (Coppola)
After Carillion How Many Firms Can UK Pensions Lifeboat Rescue? (G.)
No Way Around Sorry Shape Social Security Is In (Newsmax)
Britain Is Being Stalked By A Zombie Elite (G.)
Dutch Say Nations Hit By Brexit Shouldn’t Plug EU Budget Hole (BBG)
Nomi Prins’ New Book: Central Banks Have Become the Markets (Martens)
New Zealand Fisheries Want Images Of Dead Penguins Caught In Nets Censored (G.)

 

 

Blame the Everything Bubble.

If Bull Market For Stocks Ends In 2018, Blame The Credit Market Bubble (MW)

Will 2018 be the year the stock market rally screeches to a halt? It may be, if those analysts who are cautioning that a bubble is forming in credit markets are right and companies are overextending themselves to a degree that could spell trouble ahead. Most analysts agree that the credit market has been speeding ahead at a bubble-like pace. Companies have been piling on debt in recent years to take advantage of low interest rates, or more recently, to get ahead of a series of well-telegraphed interest-rate hikes. If their borrowing is simply to refinance existing debt at lower interest rates, it’s a positive for balance sheets. But many companies have borrowed to raise funds for shareholder rewards, and that may come back to bite them if rates were to spike.

For example, Apple debt may be highly rated, just two notches below triple-A at AA+ at S&P Global Ratings, but the technology giant continues to ride the borrowing bandwagon as it looks to fund its massive share buyback program. Apple issued $7 billion of debt in November, two months after selling $5 billion worth of corporate bonds and several months after adding more debt. The U.S. primary corporate bond market is currently at record levels. The investment-grade market saw $1.44 trillion of issuance in 2,127 deals through December 26, topping the record $1.34 trillion recorded in 2016, according to data analytics company Dealogic. The high-yield market has chalked up $266.3 billion of debt in 469 deals, making it the fourth-biggest year for issuance, according to Dealogic. The high-yield record goes to 2012 when issuers sold $321 billion of debt in 604 deals.

Combined investment-grade, high-yield and FIG issuance—FIG is financial institutions group—is a record $1.71 trillion, topping the previous record of $1.57 billion set in 2015. What’s starting to worry some analysts is that despite the fact that the Federal Reserve and other central banks are draining liquidity from the marketplace and the yield curve is flattening, near-record credit market valuations suggest investors haven’t prepared for any potential speed bumps. One sign of this complacency, is how narrow the spread is between yields on speculative grade, or “junk” bonds, and corresponding risk-free Treasury notes. S&P Global Ratings said Tuesday its speculative-grade composite spread tightened by three basis points (0.03 percentage points) to 399 basis points, well below the five-year moving average of a 528 basis-point spread.

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How much longer can volatility remain ultra low?

Dramatic Stock Market Reversal Signals More Volatility Ahead (CNBC)

After a mostly one-way trade higher for weeks, Tuesdays’ dramatic stock market reversal signals the potential for more choppy trading ahead. The Dow rocketed 283 points Tuesday, before erasing those gains and heading down 100 points. It later recovered and closed just 10 points lower at 25,792 after its most volatile day since Dec. 1 and on the first day it traded above 26,000. Traders blamed Washington for some of the selling as lawmakers appeared to be having difficulty agreeing to a spending resolution and on reports that former White House advisor Steve Bannon will testify in the Russia investigation. But while the focus was on Washington, traders also looked at the morning market surge Tuesday as another sign that the market was getting too frothy and overbought.

“The healthiest thing would be some downward action for the next two or three sessions. Today you did have a somewhat bearish, outside reversal,” said Scott Redler, partner with T3Live.com, who follows the market’s short-term technicals. A reversal is when the market opens above a prior high and then closes below a prior low. “That happened in some sectors like small-caps. … You can’t get too bearish if you’re still above the 8- and 21-day moving average,” Redler said. Strategist Laszlo Birinyi on Tuesday said he expects a possible six weeks of consolidation and sideways trade, but he is not bearish on stocks. “Right now, the market is at the upper end of the trading range. It’s 5% over its 50-day moving average, and those are areas where the market tends to digest, consolidate, take a breather but not go down,” he said, as the market gyrated Tuesday.

Steve Massocca, managing director at Wedbush Securities, said the market has clearly become fatigued after its sharp move higher. The S&P 500 is up 4% since the beginning of the year and crossed above 2,800 for the first time Tuesday before closing down 9 at 2,776. “We’ve had a pretty significant move. It’s quite natural that this would be exhausted at some point. … A potential government shutdown is a handy excuse,” he said. But a government shutdown Friday is not likely, said Dan Clifton, head of policy research for Strategas. “My overall view on this is they’re preparing a temporary stop-gap measure. I just don’t think we’re going to shut down, but we’re trying to buy time until there could be a larger spending package. It was very much companies that were influenced by government spending that were selling off. The market is saying there is some risk of a government shutdown,” Clifton said.

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Closing in on $10,000 as we speak. Is that a psychological barrier?

Bitcoin, Ethereum Suffer Massive Drops, Many Crypto’s Fare Even Worse (CNBC)

Most major digital currencies sold off sharply on Tuesday, but the declines in bitcoin, ethereum and litecoin prices weren’t as bad as much of the rest of the market. All of the top 20 digital currencies — by market value — suffered double digit losses over the last 24 hours, according to data from industry website CoinMarketCap. For example, ripple was down 26%, bitcoin cash was down 24%, iota was down 27% and monero was down 22% as of 8:51 a.m. HK/SIN. In fact, at their low point on the day, many cryptocurrencies with large market caps saw their prices essentially halved. On the other hand, bitcoin was down 17% at that time, ethereum was down 19% and litecoin was down 19%, according to the same site.

The declines followed speculation in the market about what regulators in Asia may be planning for digital tokens. On Monday, a report from Bloomberg, citing unnamed sources, said Beijing plans to block domestic access to Chinese and offshore cryptocurrency platforms that allow centralized trading. Last week, South Korean Justice Minister Park Sang-ki said his ministry was preparing a bill that, if passed, could ban trading via cryptocurrency exchanges. His comments roiled the market and subsequently the justice ministry and other sections of South Korea’s government have softened their stance.

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Just perfect.

South Koreans Sign Petition To Stop Crackdown On Bitcoin ‘Happy Dream’ (CNBC)

A petition in South Korea against cryptocurrency regulation has reached the number of signatures that would induce a government response. As of Tuesday morning, ET, more than 212,700 had signed a petition launched Dec. 28 on the website of the South Korean presidential office. A Google translation of the website states that if more than 200,000 people support a petition within 30 days, officials will respond. “Our people have been able to make a happy dream that they have never had in Korea because of virtual money,” the anonymous author of the petition wrote, according to a Google translation. “People are not stupid. … virtual money is invested because it is judged to be the fourth revolution.” The petition did support South Korea’s recent actions on cryptocurrencies, such as banning anonymous trading accounts.

“However, I wish that the economy will not decline due to unjustifiable regulations in the present situation,” the Google translation of the petition said. Unemployment among South Korean youth, or those ages 15 to 29, is around 9%, nearly three times the national average, according to Statistics Korea. Young people are generally more interested in buying and selling digital currencies than their elders. In the last several months, South Korea has accounted for a significant portion of the trading volume in digital currencies such as bitcoin, ethereum and ripple. Earlier this month, ripple prices appeared to plunge in U.S. dollar terms after CoinMarketCap said it was excluding price information from some Korean exchanges due to “extreme divergences in price from the rest of the world.”

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No kidding.

‘Black Swan’ Event Could Threaten China’s Financial Stability (R.)

China’s banking regulator chief warned that a “black swan,” or an unforeseen event could threaten the country’s financial stability, official People’s Daily reported on Wednesday. In an interview with the paper, Guo Shuqing said that while risks in the financial system are manageable, they are still “complex and serious.” Since his appointment as the head of the China Banking Regulatory Commission early last year, Guo has introduced a flurry of new rules to reign in lender risks including from curbs on shadow banking activities to the crackdown on loan fraud. Guo said the dangers stem from the pressure of rising bad debt, imperfect internal risk systems at financial institutions, the relatively high levels of shadow banking activities and rule violations.

All of these risks could upend financial stability through a “black swan” event, Guo told the People’s Daily, referring to major, unexpected occurrences. “We need to focus on reducing the debt ratio of companies, restrict household leverage, strictly control cross-financial sector products, continue to dismantle shadow banking,” said Guo. China will step up oversight of the banking sector this year to reduce financial risks, the CBRC said on Monday, stressing that long-term efforts would be needed to control banking sector chaos.

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A trade war wouldn’t qualify as a black swan.

US and China Brace For Trade War That Could Rattle Global Economy (ZH/WSJ)

Once under way, the repercussions of a trade war would be felt well beyond the combatants themselves. US friends and allies along Asian supply chains would be early collateral damage. China is still to a large extent the final assembly point for imported high-tech components from Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Navigating increasingly complex global supply chains in a constant state of disruption would be hugely problematic for businesses across industries. Furthermore, if it escalated far enough, a trade war could take down the entire global trading architecture. That could be Trump’s goal. Many in his administration, including trade representative Robert Lightizer, believe the biggest mistake the US ever made was to usher China into the World Trade Organization in 2001. Aides say Trump regularly threatens to pull out of the rules-setting body.

Trump has in the past suggested that Chinese help on North Korea could head off US trade action. In a phone call with the US president on Tuesday, Xi suggested that trade issues should be resolved by “making the cake of cooperation bigger.” Meanwhile, Trump expressed disappointment that the US trade deficit with China has continued to grow” and made clear that “the situation is not sustainable.” In private, however, senior Chinese officials believe Beijing has many tactical advantages: Some are cultural – the Chinese people, one says, are more prepared to endure economic hardship. [..] Many US trade experts don’t mince words: They believe China would prevail in a trade war with the US, and that the US economy would suffer lasting damage.

Nicholas Lardy, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, thinks China would win. Among his reasons: China’s ability to concentrate pain, and the outcry from affected businesses in America’s more open political system. He argues that “the political costs to the Trump administration of maintaining new protectionist measures will be much higher than the costs of retaliation to the Xi regime.” Derek Scissors, a trade expert at the American Enterprise Institute argues that the major US advantage is that China is far more dependent on trade for its financial health. “A shorter, smaller-scale trade conflict favors China due to its comparative agility,” he says. “The more serious it gets, the worse China would fare because it’s badly outmatched monetarily.”

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Part of a podcast with America’s no.1 Russia scholar Stephen Cohen at TFMetalsReport.com.

The New Cold War In 2018 (Stephen Cohen)

I’m not a Trump supporter and I didn’t vote for him. However, we can actually support Donald Trump’s campaign promise which I think he’s tried to act on since he’s been president that it’s necessary to cooperate with Russia. This is what was called detente in the 20th century. I don’t know why Trump doesn’t make this point. I don’t think he has very good advisors in regard to Russia either in terms of what’s going on in Russia or in terms of his own policy making but Trump might say in his own defense because they’re indicting him for simply saying I want to cooperate with Russia and with Putin in particular. He could say look, every Republican president of consequence in the 20th century pursued detente with Russia.

First Eisenhower, the first detente the spirit of Camp David with Khrushchev, then the Nixon Kissinger attempt at a grand detente with Brezhnev and finally above all Ronald Reagan a detente with Gorbachev the last Soviet leader Soviet Russian leader so great that Reagan and Gorbachev ended the cold war. Trump could put himself in that tradition and say “I’m the traditional Republican. This is what Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan did. They did it wisely. They avoided nuclear war with Russia. We’re in a new Cold War. The dangers are grave. It’s not only my duty as the American president to pursue cooperation to ward off a catastrophe but I commend the honorable tradition of the Republican Party”. He doesn’t say that. I don’t know why as I say it because he doesn’t know what or because he wants to be the one and only I have no idea what he needs to say.

And if he said it it would compel a conversation in Washington that we’re not having. What’s happened to detente and what’s happened is we have if we ignore his own idiom and put it in again I speak as a story in the historical language of 20th century diplomacy. We have a pro-detente President who for the first time in history is not permitted to at least try because every time he has a sensible conversation with Putin, no matter whether it’s face to face or on the telephone, he’s accused not only by the traditionally crazies in American politics but by the New York Times of treason. So what we could do and it will be hard for a lot of people because of the loathing for Trump. Is so pervasive just and I didn’t vote for Trump is the fifth amendment I didn’t vote for Trump and I didn’t support President Trump. But about this he is not only right. He’s our only hope at the moment.

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Caitlin Johnstone is a delight to read. Summary here: Putin is supposed to have paid out many billions when no-one believed Trump was a viable candidate. Was he psychic?

The One Fact Which Disproves Russiagate (CJ)

Just a few days ago Russiagaters were having yet another “BOOM! We got him!” social media parade about an article from the Clinton-directed Daily Beast, claiming that a senior national security aide within the Trump administration had suggested scaling down the US troop presence along Russia’s border, a dangerous escalation which all peace advocates support eliminating. In the first sentence of the article’s second paragraph, the author Spencer Ackerman acknowledges that “the proposal was ultimately not adopted.” Huh? So President Trump, alleged to have been groomed early and at great expense by the Kremlin in anticipation of a presidential victory nobody else imagined possible at that time, was pitched a recommendation to scale down new cold war escalations with Russia… and he refused? That’s how you’re starting your article about the “return on Russia’s election-time investment in President Trump”?

Russiagate is so weird. You need to plug yourself into Louise Mensch and Rachel Maddow ramblings so extensively that you can contort your sense of reason to the point where it looks perfectly rational to believe that Putin was omniscient enough to know that Trump could defeat all primary opponents and take the fight to the heir apparent Hillary Clinton back when virtually no one else imagined such a thing was possible, recruited his team reportedly at the cost of billions of dollars, poured all kinds of intel and resources into ensuring Trump’s election using hackers and bots to influence American opinion, only to get a US president who is, when it comes to facts in evidence, already just a year into his administration demonstrably more hawkish towards Russia than his predecessor was. Again: huh?

Nobody wants to think about this because it doesn’t fit in with America’s stale partisan models; Democrats would have to admit that their best shot at getting a rival president impeached is pure gibberish, and Trump supporters would have to acknowledge that their swamp-draining populist hero is actually just one more corrupt globalist neocon like his predecessors.

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The next Carillion is already in sight: Interserve. The British privatization model is failing spectacularly. That will cost a lot of jobs.

Carillion’s Failure: The Many Questions That Need Answers (Coppola)

Britain is reeling from the shock collapse of one of its largest corporations, the giant construction and services company Carillion Group plc. In talks over the weekend, Carillion’s management was unable to persuade its lenders to provide any more funds, and the U.K. government refused to help. Carillion was left with no options. On Monday morning, Carillion filed for compulsory liquidation. This was a completely unexpected move. Discussions about Carillion’s fate over the previous week had centered around restructuring, bail-in of creditors and perhaps placing the company into administration, the U.K.’s equivalent of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. No one expected the company to be wound up. But that is what will now happen to it.

As Carillion has extensive U.K. Government construction and services contracts, the U.K.’s High Court appointed the Government’s Official Receiver to manage the liquidation. Among other things, the Official Receiver will be responsible for ensuring that public sector services currently provided by Carillion continue to run, and the staff providing them continue to be paid. Without this assurance, meals to hospital patients and schoolchildren might not be delivered, and prisons might not be staffed. But the future of Carillion’s 19,000 employees in the U.K. (43,000 worldwide) is still highly uncertain. Staff working on U.K. public sector service contracts are protected for the moment, but those working on other projects could lose their jobs within days.

The Official Receiver will be supported by six insolvency specialists from the accountancy firm PWC, who will act as “special managers”. PWC’s message to Carillion’s shareholders was blunt and immediate: Unfortunately, as a result of the liquidation appointments, there is no prospect of any return to shareholders. At least shareholders know where they stand. They have been wiped. Trading in Carillion’s shares has been suspended, of course.

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I see trouble in your future.

After Carillion How Many Firms Can UK Pensions Lifeboat Rescue? (G.)

The pensions lifeboat that comes to the rescue when firms go bust is about to get a lot more crowded following the collapse of Carillion. The sprawling construction and outsourcing firm had a pension deficit of £580m but is now likely to rise to at least £800m because it no longer has a solvent business standing alongside it. The company’s crash into liquidation has thrown the spotlight on other firms with huge pension scheme deficits such as IAG, BT and BAE. It has also raised questions about how many more big company failures the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) can absorb, and why companies with big deficits are allowed to pump out bumper dividend payouts to shareholders.

It is almost certain that the fund will now have to step in and bail out workers at Carillion, which has more than 28,000 defined-benefit – in this case, final salary – pension scheme members. Those already taking pensions will be protected, but those members below retirement age will face cuts of 10-20% because there is a cap on payouts to higher earners. It’s been a busy time for the PPF: in the spring, roughly 20,000 members of the British Steel pension scheme will start moving into the fund. They will eventually be joined by about 2,000 former BHS workers (the vast majority of the retailer’s staff chose to move their retirement funds into a new pension scheme).

Carillion’s liquidation has fuelled concern about the financial stability of other big companies. Last year a report by JLT Employee Benefits put the total deficit in FTSE 100 pension schemes at the end of 2016 at £87bn – £17bn worse than a year earlier, even though firms paid in around £11bn. 66 companies had deficits – ie their liabilities to pension scheme members were greater than their assets. Booming stock markets in 2017 helped narrow the gap. Mercer, the leading pensions consultancy, said deficits at the biggest 350 firms fell to £76bn from £84bn the year before. But even with the FTSE at a new peak, the deficits remain alarmingly high.

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Pensions, Social Security, it’s all stupidly overpromised. And that will remain so until it’s too late.

No Way Around Sorry Shape Social Security Is In (Newsmax)

If you want to know what makes people worry, here are four facts to make you lose your sleep whatever your age:

1. The Social Security Shortfall Is Growing Three Times Faster Than the US Economy. The imbalance of Social Security is measured by its shortfall, or the amount of money, that with interest earned, would enable the program to pay benefits over the next 75 years. That hole in the program’s finances is growing at three times the rate of our ability to fill it. Here are the numbers. Over the past 15 years, the system’s liabilities have grown at 9.6% compounded annually, while the trustees expect that even in a robust year real economic growth will not break 3%. Moreover, the trustees believe that the long-term growth rate of the economy is 2.1%. At the end of 2001, the Social Security shortfall was $3.157 trillion. At the end of 2016, it was $12.5 trillion. With the passage of yet another year of inaction on the program’s finances, the figure is more than $13 trillion.

2. People Turning 70 Today expect to Be Alive When Benefits are Reduced. If you think the problems of Social Security are limited to people under the age of 40 —think again. That assessment has not been a realistic concern in nearly two decades. The Social Security Administration believes that more than half of the people turning 70 today will be alive and well when the trust fund is exhausted. The exhaustion of the trust fund means that benefits will be reduced to the level of revenue collected. At this point, the trustees of the Social Security Trust Funds believe that benefits will fall by 23% in 2034, with cuts rising over time. The CBO believes that the reductions will rise to 30% over time.

3. In 2016, the Program Lost More Money than It Collected. Over the course of 2016, the program’s unfunded liabilities rose by nearly $1.2 trillion. That is a breathtaking jump considering that the program only collected about $950 billion in revenue. Mechanically, Social Security takes in money in exchange for the promise of future benefits. In the case of 2016, for every $1 that the program took in, the system generated more than $1.20 of promises that no one expects it to keep. In English, we could have reduced benefits to zero for the entire year of 2016, and the program would have finished the year in worse shape than it started.

4. Dependency on Social Security Rises with Age. Typically, worriers about Social Security say that Social Security accounts for 90% of the income of more than one-third of seniors. Politifact has largely confirmed this statistic.

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It’s a zombie nation.

Britain Is Being Stalked By A Zombie Elite (G.)

Britain in 2018 is stalked by zombie ideas, zombie politicians, zombie institutions – stripped of credibility and authority, yet somehow still presiding over our lives. Nowhere is this more true than in the way we run our economy. This September marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Lehman Brothers. In autumn 2008, the banks broke, the governments stepped in – and the cast-iron premises that underpin our economic system were exposed as fiction for all to see on the Ten O’Clock News. Yet a decade later, those dead ideas still walk among us. They form what John Quiggin at the University of Queensland terms zombie economics – dogmas now cracked beyond repair, but which continue to shape British society.

Austerity – the policy that more than any other will define this decade – was lifted by George Osborne straight out of Margaret Thatcher’s handbag. He justified it with zombie rhetoric about how business was being “crowded out” by childcare centres and the rest of the public sector, and how 21st-century sovereign countries could be run just like household budgets. Tax cuts for “wealth creators” and privatisations of the few remaining national assets: all utter zombie-ism. And this was no one-party game. Labour frontbenchers from Andy Burnham to Chuka Umunna spent the first half of this decade pleading guilty to the trumped-up charge of creating a debt crisis.

Labour councils are among those pursuing outrageous privatisations. And over the past four decades both sides have adopted as an article of faith the idea that politics is about What Works – and that What Works is a mix of Potemkin markets and crude managerialism. From Tony Blair to David Cameron and Nick Clegg, politics was no longer about left battling right – but technocrats and open-necked Oxford philosophy, politics and economics graduate special advisers who “got it” versus the dinosaurs and well-meaning naifs. In this way, a broken economy has been force-fed more of the same ideas that helped to break it. The outcome has been almost predictably dire.

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Yeah, let’s get Greece to pay up for that. Show us some solidarity!

Dutch Say Nations Hit By Brexit Shouldn’t Plug EU Budget Hole (BBG)

Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra said European Union countries that are set to suffer the most from Brexit shouldn’t also have to help plug the hole it will tear in the bloc’s budget. “A small group of countries on the west coast of Europe is hit very hard in the economy by Brexit, which applies primarily to Ireland, but also to the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain and a number of other countries,” Hoekstra said in interview with Dutch TV station RTL Z. “It cannot be the intention that those who already experience the damage of Brexit will also pay the bill.” While the remaining 27 EU countries are maintaining a united front in Brexit talks, national interests diverge when it comes to the future trading relationship and splits are starting to emerge.

The Netherlands is one of the EU countries keenest on securing a trade deal with the U.K. that doesn’t harm crucial commercial trade ties between the two countries, whose ports face each other across the North Sea. Hoekstra met his Spanish counterpart Luis de Guindos last week and the pair agreed they both wanted a Brexit deal that keeps the U.K. as close to the EU as possible, according to a person familiar with the situation. A Spanish economy ministry official said last week the two finance chiefs had underlined the importance of U.K. ties for both countries, and agreed to keep track of their common interests. The U.K. will continue to pay into the current budget until the end of 2020; after that a new seven-year budget cycle comes into effect. The U.K. is a net contributor to the current budget, which redistributes funds across the bloc.

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The real collusion.

Nomi Prins’ New Book: Central Banks Have Become the Markets (Martens)

Nomi Prins’ latest book, Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World, ensures her place as one of this century’s most informed Wall Street historians. It’s the perfect segue from Prins’ earlier “It Takes a Pillage,” and her 2014 book All the Presidents’ Bankers. If you are serious about understanding the corrupting influences that have left the U.S. vulnerable to another epic financial crash, buy all three books and read them as one. Prins is a veteran of Wall Street who has now written six books and dozens of articles to help Americans navigate the snake pit that has replaced the financial system of the United States. It all started with her first book in 2004, Other People’s Money: The Corporate Mugging of America, where she explained her motivation as follows:

“When I left Wall Street, at the height of a wave of scandals uncovering scores of massively destructive deceptions, my choice was based on a very personal sense of right and wrong…So, when people who didn’t know me very well asked me why I left the banking industry after a fifteen-year climb up the corporate ladder, I answered, ‘Goldman Sachs.’ “For it was not until I reached the inner sanctum of this autocratic and hypocritical organization – one too conceited to have its name or logo visible from the sidewalk of its 85 Broad Street headquarters [now relocated to 200 West Street] that I realized I had to get out…The fact that my decision coincided with corporate malfeasance of epic proportions made me realize that it was far more important to use my knowledge to be part of the solution than to continue being part of the problem.”

In Collusion, Prins walks us through the critically-important events occurring during the 2007-2009 financial crash, many of which would have been relegated to the dust bin of history if not for this book. Prins makes the case that the U.S. is headed toward another epic financial crash as a result of the unchecked powers of the U.S. central bank (the Federal Reserve) and its global counterparts who are creating dangerous new asset bubbles in an effort to paper over the last ones. Prins convincingly shows that colluding central bankers have effectively become the markets through a never-ending flow of cheap money to the mega banks which have deployed that cheap money to buy back and inflate their own stock – with a green light from their own regulator and money pimp (our term, not hers) – the U.S. Federal Reserve.

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The new PM should jump on this. She cannot afford to let this stand.

New Zealand Fisheries Want Images Of Dead Penguins Caught In Nets Censored (G.)

The seafood industry in New Zealand has asked the government to withhold graphic video of dead sea life caught in trawler nets as they are potentially damaging to fisheries and to brand New Zealand. A letter from five seafood industry leaders to the Ministry of Primary Industries highlights the fisheries’ growing unease with the government’s proposal to install video cameras on all commercial fishing vessels to monitor bycatch of other species and illegal fish dumping. The letter requests an amendment to the Fisheries Act, so video captured onboard cannot be released to the general public through a freedom of information request, frequently used by the media, campaign groups and opposition parties.

“They [the proposed videos] also raise significant risks for MPI and for ‘New Zealand Inc'”, the letter reads, also citing concerns about invading the privacy of employees onboard, and protecting commercial and trade secrets. There are no reliable figures on the numbers of penguins, sea lions, dolphins and seals that die in fishing nets or longlines in New Zealand, but according to some researchers and environmental groups the commercial fishing industry is the main culprit for declining populations of endangered sea lions and yellow-eyed penguins. Only 25% of deepwater trawlers in New Zealand have government observers onboard to record bycatch and discards, according to the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research [Niwa], which relies on statistical modelling techniques to generate bycatch estimates for the 75% of boats that work unobserved.

Niwa estimates for every kilogram of reported target catch (what the fishing boat aims to catch ) there is 0.2 kg of bycatch. “These are the images the fishing industry doesn’t want you to see”, said Forest & Bird’s chief executive Kevin Hague. “What they [the seafood industry] are saying is catching endangered penguins, dumping entire hauls of fish overboard and killing Hector s dolphins looks really bad on TV. Well, the solution is to stop doing it, not to hide the evidence. It’s hard to think of a more credibility damaging activity than trying to change the law so the rest of us can’t see what’s really happening out there.” Deepwater fishing vessels account for 80% of New Zealand’s annual catch and earn NZ$650m per annum in export dollars.

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Aug 012016
 
 August 1, 2016  Posted by at 8:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle August 1 2016


Wyland Stanley Marmon touring car at Yosemite 1919

Abe’s Fiscal Plan Follows a Long Road of Packages That Failed (BBG)
China July Factory Activity Unexpectedly Dips (R.)
China’s Love Affair With U.S. Real Estate Fades (BBG)
For Social Security “Time’s Up – The Pain Must Begin Now” (CH)
Impact Of Poverty Costs The UK £78 Billion A Year (G.)
Did Germany Just Blink? (DQ)
US Shale Producers Weather Oil Price Storm (AEP)
Growing Oil Glut Shows Investors There’s Nowhere to Go But Down (BBG)
Amid Britain Nuclear Debacle, China’s Xinhua Decries ‘Suspicion’ (R.)
Greece Eases Back On Capital Controls In Bid To Reverse Currency Flight (G.)
Building a Progressive International (YV)
India Rescues 10,000 Starving Workers In Saudi Arabia (Sky)

 

 

There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Shinzo.

Abe’s Fiscal Plan Follows a Long Road of Packages That Failed (BBG)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “bold” plan to revive the economy with a $273 billion package leaves him traveling down a well-trod path: it marks the 26th dose of fiscal stimulus since the country’s epic markets crash in 1990, in a warning for its effectiveness. The nation has had extra budgets every year since at least 1993, and even with that extra spending, it has still had six recessions, an entrenched period of deflation, soaring debt and a rapidly aging population that has left the world’s third-largest economy still struggling to get off the floor. While some analysts say the latest round of spending may buy the economy time, few are convinced it will be enough to dramatically change the course.

First off, much of the 28 trillion yen announced by Abe last week won’t be spending, but lending. And if previous episodes are any guide, an initial sugar hit to markets and growth will quickly fade amid a realization that extra spending does little to cure the economy’s underlying problems. A Goldman Sachs study found that markets gave up their gains in the first month after the cabinet approved the stimulus in 18 of the 25 packages it studied since 1990. Skeptics of Abe’s latest plan aren’t hard to find. Instead of adding to a debt pile already more than twice the economy’s size, more should be done to tackle thorny structural problems such as a declining labor force and protected industries, according to Naoyuki Shinohara, a former Japanese finance ministry official.

“Looking at the history of the Japanese economy, there have been lots of fiscal stimulus packages,” according to Shinohara, who was a top official at the IMF until last year. “But the end result is that it didn’t have much impact on the potential growth rate.”

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A lot of seemingly contradictory reports today. Manufacturing PMI down, but services PMI up.

China July Factory Activity Unexpectedly Dips (R.)

Activity in China’s manufacturing sector eased unexpectedly in July as orders cooled and flooding disrupted business, an official survey showed, adding to fears the economy will slow in coming months unless the government steps up a huge spending spree. While a similar private survey showed business picked up for the first time in 17 months, the increase was only slight and the much larger official survey on Monday suggested China’s overall industrial activity remains sluggish at best. Both surveys showed persistently weak demand at home and abroad were forcing companies to continue to shed jobs, even as Beijing vows to shut more industrial overcapacity that could lead to larger layoffs.

And other readings on Monday pointed to signs of cooling in both the construction industry and real estate, which were key drivers behind better-than-expected economic growth in the second quarter. The official Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) eased to 49.9 in July from the previous month’s 50.0 and below the 50-point mark that separates growth from contraction on a monthly basis. While the July reading showed only a slight loss of momentum, Nomura’s chief China economist Yang Zhao said it may be a sign that the impact of stimulus measures earlier this year may already be wearing off. That has created a dilemma for Beijing as the Communist Party seeks to deliver on official targets, even as concerns grow about the risks of prolonged, debt-fueled stimulus.

“The government has realized the downward pressure is great but they’ve also realized that stimulus to stimulate the economy continuously is not a good idea and they want to continue to focus on reform and deleveraging,” Zhao said.

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Monopoly money running out.

China’s Love Affair With U.S. Real Estate Fades (BBG)

For David Wong, the business of selling homes isn’t as good this year as it was in 2015, and he’s blaming that on a decline in customers from China. “The residential-property market here, especially for those priced between $2.5 million to $3 million, has been affected by China’s measures to control capital flight,” said the New York City-based Keller Williams Realty Landmark broker. “You need to cut the price, or it may take a real long time.” Wong is not the only one who has felt the cooling in the U.S. real estate market for foreign buyers. Total sales to Chinese buyers in the 12 months through March fell for the first time since 2011, to $27.3 billion from $28.6 billion a year earlier, according to an annual research report released by the National Association of Realtors.

The number of properties purchased by Chinese also declined to 29,195 units from 34,327 units. While the total international sales saw its first decline in three years, the 1.25% pace is slower than 4.5% recorded for Chinese buying. In terms of U.S. dollar value, the total share of Chinese buying of international sales dropped from 27.5% to 26.7%. [..] The yuan began plummeting in August, driving the Chinese currency to a five-year low versus the U.S. dollar. The Chinese authorities have been compelled to increasingly tighten the noose on cross-border capital flows to defend the yuan and to slow down the burnout of the nation’s foreign-exchange reserves since then. This includes increasing scrutiny of transfers overseas, to closely check whether individuals send money abroad by breaking up foreign-currency purchases into smaller transactions.

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This is why I recently wrote that a basic income should replace old-age provisions.

For Social Security “Time’s Up – The Pain Must Begin Now” (CH)

In 2010, Social Security (OASDI) unofficially went bankrupt. For the first time since the enactment of the SS amendments of 1983, annual outlays for the program exceeded receipts (excluding interest credited to the trust funds). The deficit has grown every year since 2010 and is now up to 8% annually and is projected to be 31% in 2026 and 44% by ’46. The chart below highlights the OASDI annual surplus growth (blue columns) and total surplus (red line). This chart includes interest payments to the trust funds and thus looks a little better than the unvarnished reality. For a little perspective, the program pays more than 60 million beneficiaries (almost 1 in 5 Americans), OASDI (Old Age, Survivors, Disability Insurance) represents 25% of all annual federal spending, and for more than half of these beneficiaries these benefits represent their sole or primary source of income.

The good news is since SS’s inception in 1935, the program collected $2.9 trillion more than it paid out. The bad news is that the $2.9 trillion has already been spent. But by law, Social Security is allowed to pretend that the “trust fund” money is still there and continue paying out full benefits until that fictitious $2.9 trillion is burned through. To do this, the Treasury will issue another $2.9 trillion over the next 13 years to be sold as marketable debt so it may again be spent (just moving the liability from one side of the ledger, the Intergovernmental, to the other, public marketable). However, according to the CBO, Social Security will have burnt through the pretend trust fund money (that wasn’t there to begin with) by 2029.

Below, the annual OASDI surplus (in red) peaking in 2007, matched against the annual growth of the 25-64yr/old (in blue) and 65+yr/old (grey) populations. The impact of the collapse of the growth among the working age population and swelling elderly population is plain to see. And it will get far worse before it eventually gets better. [..] Americans turning 67 in 2030 will be told that after being mandated to pay their full share of SS taxation throughout their working lifetime, they will not see anything near their full benefits in their latter years. However, those in retirement now and those retiring between now and 2029 are being paid in full despite the shortfall in revenue. They will be paid in full until this arbitrary “trust fund” is theoretically drained.

I have no intention of funding, in full, current retirees benefits with my tax dollars only to know I will hit the finish line with a 30%+ reduction that will only worsen over time. My goal is to pay it forward to my kids and then do my best to never to be a burden to them. The SS (OASDI) benefits must be cut now to be in line with revenues. Raise taxes, lower benefits…your choice. But I’m not about to make the old whole so I can then subsequently see my generation go bankrupt in my latter years.

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Perfect fit for a basic income. But it won’t come. Austerity as controlled poverty is a power(ful) tool.

Impact Of Poverty Costs The UK £78 Billion A Year (G.)

Dealing with the effects of poverty costs the public purse £78bn a year, or £1,200 for every person in the UK, according to the first wide-ranging report into the impact of deprivation on Britain’s finances. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) estimates that the impact and cost of poverty accounts for £1 in every £5 spent on public services. The biggest chunk of the £78bn figure comes from treating health conditions associated with poverty, which amounts to £29bn, while the costs for schools and police are also significant. A further £9bn is linked to the cost of benefits and lost tax revenues. The research, carried out for JRF by Heriot-Watt and Loughborough universities, is designed to highlight the economic case, on top of the social arguments, for tackling poverty in the UK.

The prime minister, Theresa May, has made cutting inequality a central pledge. Julia Unwin, the chief executive of the foundation, said: “It is unacceptable that in the 21st century, so many people in our country are being held back by poverty. But poverty doesn’t just hold individuals back, it holds back our economy too. “Taking real action to tackle the causes of poverty would bring down the huge £78bn yearly cost of dealing with its effects, and mean more money to create better public services and support the economy. UK poverty is a problem that can be solved if government, businesses, employers and individuals work together.”

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“But did anyone tell you that Germany from 2009 onwards bailed out its failing banks with public money? Banks, that is, with holes in their balance sheets visible from the Moon.”

Did Germany Just Blink? (DQ)

Put simply, the EU is a half-way house with too much democracy and nothing in the way of transfer union. “There are too many moving parts in the electoral politics of 28 nation states, and too many conceivable random-like events that could push political and economic developments in one direction or another, with impossible-to-predict consequences and timelines,” the agency added. The perfect case in point is Italy’s banking crisis. If the country’s struggling banks are not saved with a combination of public and private money — a process that, to all intents and purposes, began on Friday with the announcement of Monte dei Paschi’s suspension of the ECB’s stress test as well as a €5 billion capital expansion later this year — the resulting carnage could unleash not only a tsunami of financial contagion but also an unstoppable groundswell of political opposition to the EU.

For a taste of just how disastrous the political fallout would be for Italy’s embattled premier, Matteo Renzi, here’s an excerpt from a furious tirade given by Italian financial journalist Paolo Barnard on prime-time TV, addressing Renzi directly:

“You went to meet Mrs. Merkel to ask for a minor public funded bail-out of Italian banks and you got a sharp NO. But did anyone tell you that Germany from 2009 onwards bailed out its failing banks with public money? “Banks, that is, with holes in their balance sheets visible from the Moon.

Germany bailed them out to the tune of €704 billion. It was all paid for by European taxpayers’ money, public funds that is. “It was done through the EU Commission of Mr Barroso and by Mr Mario Draghi at the ECB. Didn’t you know that Mr Renzi? Couldn’t you have barked this right into Ms Merkel’s face?”

Barnard rounded off his rant with a rallying call for Italians to follow the UK’s example and demand an exit from the EU — a prospect that should be taken very seriously given that one of the manifesto pledges of Italy’s rising opposition party, the 5-Star Movement, is to call a referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro.

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Ambrose has religion. He believes!

US Shale Producers Weather Oil Price Storm (AEP)

Opec’s worst fears are coming true. Twenty months after Saudi Arabia took the fateful decision to flood world markets with oil, it has failed to break the back of the US shale industry. The Saudi-led Gulf states have certainly succeeded in killing off a string of global mega-projects in deep waters. Investment in upstream exploration from 2014 to 2020 will be $1.8 trillion less than previously assumed, according to consultants IHS. But this is an illusive victory. North America’s hydraulic frackers are cutting costs so fast that most can now produce at prices far below levels needed to fund the Saudi welfare state and its military machine, or to cover Opec budget deficits.

Scott Sheffield, the outgoing chief of Pioneer Natural Resources, threw down the gauntlet last week – with some poetic licence – claiming that his pre-tax production costs in the Permian Basin of West Texas have fallen to $2.25 a barrel. “Definitely we can compete with anything that Saudi Arabia has. We have the best rock,” he said. Revolutionary improvements in drilling technology and data analytics that have changed the cost calculus faster than most thought possible. The “decline rate” of production over the first four months of each well was 90pc a decade ago for US frackers. This dropped to 31pc in 2012. It is now 18pc. Drillers have learned how to extract more. Mr Sheffield said the Permian is as bountiful as the giant Ghawar field in Saudi Arabia and can expand from 2m to 5m barrels a day even if the price of oil never rises above $55.

His company has cut production costs by 26pc over the last year alone. Pioneer is now so efficient that it already adding five new rigs despite today’s depressed prices in the low $40s, and it is not alone. The Baker Hughes count of North America oil rigs has risen for seven out of the last eight weeks to 374, and this understates the effect. Multi-pad drilling means that three wells are now routinely drilled from the same rig, and sometimes six or more. Average well productivity has risen fivefold in the Permian since early 2012. Consultants Wood Mackenzie estimated in a recent report that full-cycle break-even costs have fallen to $37 at Wolfcamp and Bone Spring in the Permian, and to $35 in the South Central Oklahoma Oil Province. The majority of US shale fields are now viable at $60.

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Once again: demand.

Growing Oil Glut Shows Investors There’s Nowhere to Go But Down (BBG)

Money managers have never been more certain that oil prices will drop. They increased bets on falling crude by the most ever as stockpiles climbed to the highest seasonal levels in at least two decades, nudging prices toward a bear market. The excess supply hammered the second-quarter earnings of Exxon Mobil and Chevron. Inventories are near the 97-year high reached in April as oil drillers boosted rigs for a fifth consecutive week. “The rise in supplies will add more downward pressure,” said Michael Corcelli, chief investment officer at Alexander Alternative Capital, a Miami-based hedge fund. “It will be a long time before we can drain the excess.”

Hedge funds pushed up their short position in West Texas Intermediate crude by 38,897 futures and options combined during the week ended July 26, according to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. It was the biggest increase in data going back to 2006. WTI dropped 3.9% to $42.92 a barrel in the report week, and traded at $41.75 at 12:20 p.m. Singapore time. WTI fell by 14% in July, the biggest monthly decline in a year. It’s down by 19% since early June, bringing it close to the 20% drop that would characterize a bear market.

U.S. crude supplies rose by 1.67 million barrels to 521.1 million in the week ended July 22, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. Stockpiles reached 543.4 million barrels in the week ended April 29, the highest since 1929. Gasoline inventories expanded for a third week to 241.5 million barrels, the most since April. “The flow is solidly bearish,” said Tim Evans, an energy analyst at Citi Futures Perspective in New York. “It reflects a recognition that the market is, at least for the time being, oversupplied.”

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Hinkley Point is about the worst British plan ever, and that’s saying something.

Amid Britain Nuclear Debacle, China’s Xinhua Decries ‘Suspicion’ (R.)

China will not tolerate “unwanted accusations” about its investments in Britain, a country that cannot risk driving away other Chinese investors as it looks for post-Brexit trade deals, China’s official Xinhua news agency said on Monday. British Prime Minister Theresa May was concerned about the security implications of a planned Chinese investment in the Hinkley Point nuclear plant and intervened to delay the project, a former colleague and a source said on Saturday.The plan by France’s EDF to build two reactors with financial backing from a Chinese state-owned company was championed by May’s predecessor David Cameron as a sign of Britain’s openness to foreign investment.

But just hours before a signing ceremony was due to take place on Friday, May’s new government said it would review the project again, raising concern that Britain’s approach to infrastructure deals, energy supply and foreign investment may be changing. China General Nuclear Power, which would hold a stake of about a third in the project, said on Saturday it respected the decision of the new British government to take the time needed to familiarise itself with the program. Xinhua, in an English-language commentary, said China understood and respected Britain’s requirement for more time to think about the deal. “However, what China cannot understand is the ‘suspicious approach’ that comes from nowhere to Chinese investment in making the postponement,” it said.

The project will create thousands of jobs and create much needed energy following the closure of coal-fired power plants, Xinhua added, dismissing fears China would put “back-doors” into the project. “For a kingdom striving to pull itself out of the Brexit aftermath, openness is the key way out,” it said.

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But please don’t think this means problems are over.

Greece Eases Back On Capital Controls In Bid To Reverse Currency Flight (G.)

More than a year after they were imposed, capital controls in Greece will be substantially eased on Monday in a bid to lure back billions of euros spirited out of the country, or stuffed under mattresses, at the height of the eurozone crisis. The relaxation of restrictions, whose announcement sent shockwaves through markets and the single currency, is aimed squarely at boosting banking confidence in the eurozone’s weakest member. The Greek finance ministry estimates around €3bn-€4bn could soon be returned to a system depleted of more than €30bn in deposits in the run-up to Athens sealing a third bailout to save it from economic collapse last summer.

“The objective is to re-attract money back to the banking system which in turn will create more confidence in it,” said Prof George Pagoulatos who teaches European politics and economy at Athens University. “And there are several billion that can be returned. People just need to feel safe.” As such the loosening of measures initially seen as an aberration in the 19-strong bloc is being viewed as a test case: of the faith Greeks have in economic recovery and the ability of their leftist-led government to oversee it. New deposits will not be subject to capital controls; limits on withdrawals of money brought in from abroad will also be higher; and ATM withdrawals will be raised to €840 every two weeks in a reversal of the policy that allowed depositors to take out no more than €420 every week.

[..] From 2008, the year before the country’s debt crisis erupted, until the end of 2015, an estimated 244,700 small- and medium-sized businesses have closed with many more expected to declare bankruptcy this year. The latest move, which follows easing of transactions abroad, is directed at small entrepreneurs, for years the lifeline of the Greek economy, and individual depositors. But while economists are calling the easing of restrictions a significant step to normalisation, Greek finances are far from repaired. Challenges for the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, are expected to peak – along with social discontent – in the autumn when his fragile two-party coalition is forced to meet more milestones and creditor demands, starting with the potentially explosive issue of labour reform. Further disbursement of aid – €2.8bn – will depend exclusively on the painful measures being passed.

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The Great Deflation.

Building a Progressive International (YV)

Politics in the advanced economies of the West is in the throes of a political shakeup unseen since the 1930s. The Great Deflation now gripping both sides of the Atlantic is reviving political forces that had lain dormant since the end of World War II. Passion is returning to politics, but not in the manner many of us had hoped it would. The right has become animated by an anti-establishment fervor that was, until recently, the preserve of the left. In the United States, Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, is taking Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent, to task – quite credibly – for her close ties to Wall Street, eagerness to invade foreign lands, and readiness to embrace free-trade agreements that have undermined millions of workers’ living standards.

In the United Kingdom, Brexit has cast ardent Thatcherites in the role of enthusiastic defenders of the National Health Service. This shift is not unprecedented. The populist right has traditionally adopted quasi-leftist rhetoric in times of deflation. Anyone who can stomach revisiting the speeches of leading fascists and Nazis of the 1920s and 1930s will find appeals – Benito Mussolini’s paeans to social security or Joseph Goebbels’ stinging criticism of the financial sector – that seem, at first glance, indistinguishable from progressive goals.
What we are experiencing today is the natural repercussion of the implosion of centrist politics, owing to a crisis of global capitalism in which a financial crash led to a Great Recession and then to today’s Great Deflation.

The right is simply repeating its old trick of drawing upon the righteous anger and frustrated aspirations of the victims to advance its own repugnant agenda. It all began with the death of the international monetary system established at Bretton Woods in 1944, which had forged a post-war political consensus based on a “mixed” economy, limits on inequality, and strong financial regulation. That “golden era” ended with the so-called Nixon shock in 1971, when America lost the surpluses that, recycled internationally, kept global capitalism stable.

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What a crazy story.

India Rescues 10,000 Starving Workers In Saudi Arabia (Sky)

The Indian government has come to the rescue of more than 10,000 of their starving citizens in Saudi Arabia. Some 16,000 kg of food was distributed on Saturday night by the consulate to penniless workers who’ve lost their jobs and not been paid. The issue came to light when a man tweeted India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj saying around 800 Indians had not eaten for three days in Jeddah, asking her to intervene. Investigations found that there were thousands starving across Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Ms Swaraj instructed the consulate to make sure no unemployed worker is to go without food, and is said to have monitored the situation on an hourly basis.

She tweeted: “Large number of Indians have lost their jobs in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The employers have not paid wages, closed down their factories. “The number of Indian workers facing food crisis in Saudi Arabia is over ten thousand.” Many workers in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have been living in inhumane conditions after losing their jobs. Hundreds have been laid off without being paid their wages. Indian newspapers reported that one firm – the Saudi Oger company – did not pay wages for seven months. Of its 50,000 employees, 4,000 were Indians. India’s Consul General Mohammad Noor Rehman Sheikh, told a news agency: “For the last seven months these Indian workers of Saudi Oger were not getting their salaries and the company had also stopped providing food to these workers.”

[..] India’s junior foreign minister VK Singh has been tasked to travel to Saudi Arabia to put in place an evacuation process which is due to begin soon. He had successfully led the evacuation of a large number of Indians from war-torn Yemen and most recently from South Sudan. There are more than three million Indians living and working in Saudi Arabia and more than 800,000 in Kuwait. Falling oil prices have hit the economy of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.

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May 062015
 


Jack Delano Foggy night in New Bedford, Massachusetts 1941

Death Of The American Dream As A Big Bubble Readies To Pop (MarketWatch)
US Trade Deficit Soars To Worst Since 2008; Q1 GDP To Be Negative (Zero Hedge)
3 Out Of 4 US Retirees Receive Reduced Social Security Benefits (MarketWatch)
One In Five US Adults Have No Credit Score, Can’t Borrow Money (MarketWatch)
California’s Drought Could Upend America’s Entire Food System (ThinkProgress)
Steve Keen Explains Why Austerity Policies Are Naïve (EIUk)
Germany’s Record Trade Surplus Is A Bigger Threat To Euro Than Greece (AEP)
It’s Not Greek ATMs Running Out of Cash. It’s Germany’s (Bloomberg)
Greek Government Takes Aim At Creditors Over Stalled Bailout Talks (Guardian)
Greece Says Compromise Not Possible Under Current Conditions (Bloomberg)
Debt Talks On Hold Until Greece Agrees Reforms, Warns Moscovici (FT)
Varoufakis’ First 100 Days: All Style, No Substance? (CNBC)
Greece To Finalise Airports Deal ‘Immediately’ (Reuters)
Why Elizabeth Warren Makes Bankers So Uneasy, and So Quiet
China Mulls New Monetary Tool That ‘The World Has Never Seen’ (Caixin)
CFR Says China Must Be Defeated And TPP Is Essential To That (Zuesse)
Forget Tanks. Russia’s Ruble Is Conquering Eastern Ukraine (Bloomberg)
Moscow’s Last Stand: How Soviet Troops Defeated Nazis For First Time In WW2 (RT)

“..given the palpable sense of investor uneasiness lately, weakness on the social landscape bears watching.”

Death Of The American Dream As A Big Bubble Readies To Pop (MarketWatch)

Retail appetite for risk may be drying up, if last week’s unsettling action in the sexy social-media corner of the market is any indication. Sure, Friday ended with a strong push for the major indexes, but that didn’t erase the sting of a stretch that saw 20% post-result drops for Twitter, LinkedIn and Yelp. Broad market bellwethers they ain’t, of course. That doesn’t, however, mean this double-digit blip should be shrugged off like a wayward Pacquiao punch. When the frothy names get rocked, market mood tends to change. It’s too early to draw any ghastly conclusions, but given the palpable sense of investor uneasiness lately, weakness on the social landscape bears watching.

The flip side is that dip-buyers over the past few years have generally pounced when their faves wobble. This is also something to keep an eye on as the week pushes forward. A rebound, and it’s business as usual. Further weakness, and it’s beware the unravel. At this point, there’s no bounce in the making for that social-media trio ahead of the bell. And the rest of the market is poised to open in the red, with the must-watch jobs report due at the end of the week. Big-picture, those fretting about the potential for a tech bubble might want to gird against what’s about to happen to the American Dream. Again. The “smart money” is signaling trouble ahead in housing.

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Recession looming. Remind me, in what quarter was the growth 5%?

US Trade Deficit Soars To Worst Since 2008; Q1 GDP To Be Negative (Zero Hedge)

After shrinking notably in Feb, March’s US Trade deficit exploded. Against expectations of a $41.7bn deficit, the US generated a $51.4bn deficit – the worst since Oct 2008 and the biggest miss on record. Exports rose just $1.6bn while imports soared $17.1bn with the goods deficit with China soaring from $27.3bn to $37.8bn in March. Ironically, just as the “harsh winter” was found to lead to a GDP boost due to a surge in utility spending, so the West Coast port strike which was blamed for the GDP drop, was actually benefiting the US economy as it lead to a plunge in imports. In March, however, the pipeline was cleared, and US imports from China soared by over $10 billion to $38 billion. End result: prepare for upcoming Q1 GDP downgrades into negative territory, which with a Q2 GDP of 0.8% (per the Atlanta Fed) means the US is this close to a technical recession.

The increase in imports of goods mainly reflected increases in consumer goods ($9.0 billion), in capital goods ($4.0 billion), and in automotive vehicles, parts, and engines ($2.7 billion). A decrease occurred in petroleum and products ($1.1 billion). The goods deficit with China increased from $27.3 billion in February to $37.8 billion in March. From the report: The U.S. monthly international trade deficit increased in March 2015 according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and the U.S. Census Bureau. The deficit increased from $35.9 billion in February (revised) to $51.4 billion in March, as imports increased more than exports. The previously published February deficit was $35.4 billion. The goods deficit increased $14.9 billion from February to $70.6 billion in March. The services surplus decreased $0.6 billion from February to $19.2 billion in March.

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And that’s just the beginning.

3 Out Of 4 US Retirees Receive Reduced Social Security Benefits (MarketWatch)

Growing numbers of workers expect to rely heavily on Social Security as a major source of income in retirement, but almost three-quarters of current retirees are receiving reduced benefits, according to two new reports. According to a recent Gallup survey, 36% of adults who are not yet retired expect Social Security to be a “major source” of retirement income. That figure is roughly 10 percentage points higher than a decade ago and higher than any response in the past 15 years. Of course, the best way to maximize Social Security is to delay claiming benefits until “full retirement age,” which is climbing gradually to 67, or beyond. A person due to receive a benefit of $1,000 at a full retirement age of 66 would receive only $750 at age 62 (the earliest age at which most people can claim benefits) – and $1,320 at age 70.

But that math isn’t stopping many workers from claiming benefits early. Among the 37.9 million Americans receiving Social Security retirement benefits as of December 2013, fully 73% were receiving reduced benefits “because of entitlement prior to full retirement age,” according to a new report from the Social Security Administration. Relatively more women (75.4%) than men (70.3%) received reduced benefits. The findings come at a time when the Social Security program itself is straining to meet demands and when many workers are anxious about the size of their nest eggs. Currently, the Social Security Administration is tapping the interest on the program’s trust funds to pay beneficiaries and, soon, will begin drawing down the assets themselves.

At the moment, the trust fund is scheduled to run out in 2033, after which Social Security recipients would receive about 75% of their benefits. Against that backdrop, a recent Wells Fargo/Gallup survey found that only 28% of non-retired investors are very confident they will have enough savings at the time they decide to retire. An additional 48% are somewhat confident. The latest Gallup survey concludes: “To the degree [workers’] savings are not sufficient to fund their retirement, [they] will have to make up the shortfall somehow. The guaranteed Social Security benefit is an obvious way to do that, if not by also seeking part-time work or scaling back their standard of living considerably.”

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“..disproportionately Black or Hispanic..”

One In Five US Adults Have No Credit Score, Can’t Borrow Money (MarketWatch)

One in 10 U.S. adults is invisible to much of the American economy because they have no credit report or score, a new report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has found. Those 26 million adults — disproportionately Black or Hispanic — have virtually no chance to borrow money or use credit cards. And another 19 million adults have credit reports so “thin” that they are unscoreable by traditional methods, and also left behind by the credit system. Together, that means 45 million Americans — one in five adults — have no traditional credit score. “Today’s report sheds light on the millions of Americans who are credit invisible,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray.

“A limited credit history can create real barriers for consumers looking to access the credit that is often so essential to meaningful opportunity — to get an education, start a business, or buy a house. Further, some of the most economically vulnerable consumers are more likely to be credit invisible.” The CFPB found that 188.6 million American adults have credit records that can be scored using traditional models, or 80% of the population. Most of the Americans left behind by traditional scoring methods are young. Over 10 million of the estimated 26 million credit invisibles are younger than 25, the CFPB found.

The findings are consistent with other recent studies about the “credit invisibles.” FICO, which created the most widely-used formula for credit scoring, told The Wall Street Journal last month that 25 million Americans have no credit events on file and an additional 28 million have thin files. VantageScore, which offers an alternative to FICO scores, said last year that 30-35 million Americans don’t have a traditional credit score. Among those with thin files, the CFPB said the group was evenly split between those who have an insufficient credit history and those who lack a recent credit history.

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Much has to shift to other states.

California’s Drought Could Upend America’s Entire Food System (ThinkProgress)

On April 1, California Governor Jerry Brown stood in a field in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, beige grass stretching out across an area that should have been covered with five feet of snow. The Sierra’s snowpack — the frozen well that feeds California’s reservoirs and supplies a third of its water — was just 8% of its yearly average. That’s a historic low for a state that has become accustomed to breaking drought records. In the middle of the snowless field, Brown took an unprecedented step, mandating that urban agencies curtail their water use by 25%, a move that would save some 500 billion gallons of water by February of 2016 — a seemingly huge amount, until you consider that California’s almond industry, for example, uses more than twice that much water annually. Yet Brown’s mandatory cuts did not touch the state’s agriculture industry.

Agriculture requires water, and large-scale agriculture, like that in California, requires large amounts of water. So when Governor Brown came under fire for exempting farmers from the mandatory cuts — farmers use 80% of the state’s available water — he was unmoved. “They’re not watering their lawn or taking long showers,” he told ABC’s “The Week”. “They’re providing most of the fruits and vegetables of America to a significant part of the world.” Almonds get a lot of the attention when it comes to California’s agriculture and water, but the state is responsible for a dizzying diversity of produce. Eaten a salad recently? Odds are the lettuce, carrots, and celery came from California. Have a soft spot for stone fruit? California produces 84% of the country’s fresh peaches and 94% of the country’s fresh plums. It produces 99% of the artichokes grown in the United States, and 94% of the broccoli.

As spring begins to creep in, almost half of asparagus will come from California. “California is running through its water supply because, for complicated historical and climatological reasons, it has taken on the burden of feeding the rest of the country,” Steven Johnson wrote in Medium, pointing out that California’s water problems are actually a national problem — for better or for worse, the trillions of gallons of water California agriculture uses annually is the price we all pay for supermarket produce aisles stocked with fruits and vegetables. Up to this point, feats of engineering and underground aquifers have made the drought somewhat bearable for California’s farmers. But if dry conditions become the new normal, how much longer can — and should — California’s fields feed the country? And if they can no longer do so, what should the rest of the country do?

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MUST SEE! Brilliant exposé.

Steve Keen Explains Why Austerity Policies Are Naïve (EIUk)

In an exclusive interview with Every Investor, Professor Steve Keen from Kingston University has warned that politicians who promote austerity economics are naïve. The economist, who was one of the few who predicted the Great Recession, warned last year that the US and UK economies wouldn’t make a sustainable recovery due to the problem of high levels of private debt – public debt being more a symptom than a cause of this economic malaise. In this interview he gives a detailed explanation as to why the austerity-heavy economic policy of the Conservatives (and the Liberal Democrats), and the austerity-lite version from Lab is naïve and will lead not to economic growth but to economic stagnation.

Indeed, while not endorsing any political party, he does acknowledge that the economic policies of the SNP and Greens make more sense. This is a video that needs to be watched. It will give you insights that most professional economists appear to lack. (Hence, their evident surprise at news that the UK and US are slowing down). It should also encourage investors to be in ‘risk-off’ mode, which seems very sensible given likely market volatility that will follow the election and the grave economic news that we can expect this year.

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Germany violates a lot of EU agreements. It could face huge fines.

Germany’s Record Trade Surplus Is A Bigger Threat To Euro Than Greece (AEP)

Germany’s current account surplus is out of control. The European Commission’s Spring forecasts show that it will smash all previous records this year, reaching a modern-era high of 7.9pc of GDP. It will still be 7.7pc in 2016. Vague assurances that the surplus would fall over time have once again come to nothing. The country is now the biggest single violator of the eurozone stability rules. It would face punitive sanctions if EU treaty law was enforced. Brussels told Germany to do its “homework” a year ago, but recoiled from taking any action. We will see if Jean-Claude Juncker’s commission does any better this time. If not, cynics might justifiably conclude that big countries play by their own rules in Europe, and that Germany can defy all rules. The EMU punishment machinery is highly political, in any case.

The story of the EMU debt crisis is that the authorities persistently enforce a creditor agenda rather than macro-economic welfare (an entirely different matter). This is the fifth consecutive year that Germany’s surplus has been above 6pc of GDP. The EU’s Macroeconomic Imbalance Procedure states that the Commission should launch infringement proceedings if this occurs for three years in a row, unless there is a clear reason not to. There are few extenuating circumstances in this case. Germany’s surplus is not caused by a one-off shock. The surplus remains huge even if adjusted for lower energy import costs. It is a chronic structural abuse, rendering monetary union unworkable over time, and is surely more dangerous for eurozone unity than anything going on in Greece. “The European Commission should stop pulling its punches: Germany should be fined,” said Simon Tilford, from the Centre for European Reform.

“Their surplus should be treated in the same way as the southern deficits were treated earlier, as a comparable threat to eurozone stability. What is so worrying is that the surplus would normally be falling rapidly at this stage of the economic cycle,” he said. Germany’s jobless rate is at a post-Reunification low of 4.7pc. It should therefore be enjoying a surge of consumption. This it is not happening because the rebalancing mechanism is jammed. What this shows is the EMU remains fundamentally out of kilter, and doomed to lurch from crisis to crisis even if there is a recovery. Any rebound in southern Europe will lead to the same build-up in intra-EMU trade imbalances, and therefore in the same offsetting capital flows, vendor-debt financing, and asset bubbles that led to the EMU crisis in the first place.

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Major strikes for more pay.

It’s Not Greek ATMs Running Out of Cash. It’s Germany’s (Bloomberg)

European travelers have contended for weeks with the possibility that Greece’s dwindling finances might lead to empty ATMs. They should have concerned themselves instead with Germany. While cash machines in Athens are still operating without any trouble, striking couriers in Berlin this week stopped filling ATMs, leading to a crunch for those trying to make withdrawals. And the open-ended labor dispute with a local security company means there’s no end in sight. “That all depends on how the company reacts,” said Andreas Splanemann, a spokesman for the Ver.di union representing the security personnel. “There are now a lot of cash machines that are empty.” Berlin’s strike is the latest in a series of walkouts that have riled a nation more accustomed to mocking the labor strife which has so often beset neighboring France.

A strike by train drivers that began Tuesday is paralyzing travel and clogging highways throughout Germany. That action follows a March walkout by pilots at Deutsche Lufthansa AG that led to flight cancellations for 220,000 people. “It’s really annoying, especially if you’re pressed for time,” Batgerel Militz, a Berlin student, said as she unsuccessfully tried to withdraw cash at two banks. She finally got lucky at the third – just in time to catch her delayed train. “Probably because of the train strike,” she said with a laugh. Joking aside, Germany is seeking to curb the influence of smaller unions by drafting a law that would limit companies’ labor representation to one union per group of employees. The measure is currently winding its way through the Bundestag, the country’s lower house of parliament.

In the case of the passenger train strike, which is set to run through May 10, the walkout was called by the GDL union, which represents 19,000 train drivers, switch-yard engineers and conductors. The GDL is far smaller than the larger EVG, which has about 213,000 members staffing Germany’s rail network. The Lufthansa strike crippled travel because it was called by pilots. “They can strike more readily if they do so with solely their own goals in mind,” said Stefan Heinz, an academic specializing in labor politics at Berlin’s Free University. “They can get more out of it for their group.” While Germans still strike less than the French, those who’ve walked out recently in Germany often hold posts that have a wider ripple effect across society.

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“The responsibility lies exclusively with the institutions [EU and IMF] and failure to agree between them..”

Greek Government Takes Aim At Creditors Over Stalled Bailout Talks (Guardian)

Greece’s government has blasted its creditors for holding back progress on bailout talks, laying the blame squarely on differences between the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Racheting up the pressure on the two bodies, the anti-austerity Syriza government said conflicting strategies and opposing views were not only impeding negotiations but injecting “a high level of danger” into the talks at a time when the country’s finances had hit rock bottom. “Serious disagreements and contradictions between the IMF and European Union are creating obstacles in the negotiations and a high level of danger,” said a senior government source. The official added that both lenders were digging in their heels on divergent issues, effectively enforcing “red lines everywhere”.

While the IMF was refusing to compromise on labour deregulation and pension reform but was relaxed on fiscal demands, the EU was insistent that primary surplus targets be met while being much more conciliatory about structural changes. The official insisted: “In such circumstances, it is impossible to have a compromise. The responsibility lies exclusively with the institutions [EU and IMF] and failure to agree between them”. Speaking exclusively to the Guardian, the Greek health minister, Panagiotis Kouroumblis, said creditors were constantly moving the goalposts. “They are not only implacable, the feeling that they give us is that they are impossible to satisfy,” he said. “They ask for 10 things to be done and then come back the next day and ask for another 10 more. As much as we would like, that’s not going to lead to compromise.”

The warnings came as the European commission slashed its forecast for Greece’s growth rate this year, predicting the economy would expand by a mere 0.5%, compared with the 2.5% it had projected barely three months ago. The downgrade was the clearest sign yet that the stalled negotiations have thrown the country, last year believed to be emerging from its worst recession on record, back into reverse. Talks aimed at unlocking desperately needed rescue funds – €7.2bn (£5.3bn) from the last bailout has been held up as both sides haggle over reforms – have been beset by problems since the far-left Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras assumed power in January. The EC said Greece’s economic recovery had been hit by the political tumult that had plagued the country in the four months since the previous government was forced to call snap polls. “In the light of the persistent uncertainty, a downward revision has been unavoidable,” said the EU’s monetary affairs commissioner, Pierre Moscovici.

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“The IMF won’t compromise on labor deregulation and pension reforms, while the European Commission is insisting on fiscal targets being met..”

Greece Says Compromise Not Possible Under Current Conditions (Bloomberg)

Greece blamed international creditors for the failure to achieve a breakthrough in bailout talks, saying a deal won’t be possible until they agree on a common set of demands. A Greek official said that the European Commission and the IMF are confronting the country with too many red lines and need to better coordinate their message. Greek bonds and stocks tumbled on Tuesday as optimism that an interim deal was close gave way to angst that the country isn’t moving fast enough to guarantee the continued flow of bank liquidity and bailout funds. Euro region finance ministers are next scheduled to meet on May 11, with Germany’s Wolfgang Schaeuble saying earlier he’s “skeptical” that an agreement can be reached by then.

Greece’s new line of argument focuses on what it says are divisions among the international creditors. The IMF won’t compromise on labor deregulation and pension reforms, while the European Commission is insisting on fiscal targets being met, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are confidential. The commission is also refusing to consider a debt write down, he said. Greece is sending mixed signals about just how much money it has left. While officials say they’re confident of making payments to the IMF this week and next, one policy maker signaled last month that the country may struggle to keep its finances afloat beyond the end of this month.

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What’s the use of threatening Greece even further?

Debt Talks On Hold Until Greece Agrees Reforms, Warns Moscovici (FT)

Greece’s eurozone creditors will not discuss how to get the country’s sovereign debt back on a sustainable path until Athens agrees to a new economic reform programme that would release €7.2bn in desperately needed bailout funds, the EU’s economic chief said on Tuesday. The talks over the reform programme, which have intensified in recent days, are at the centre of a three-month stalemate between eurozone creditors and the new radical leftist Greek government. The Syriza administration in Athens has resisted many of the reforms in the existing bailout programme but needs the funding to fill its rapidly dwindling coffers.

Pierre Moscovici, the European commissioner for economic affairs, said debt issues “can only be discussed after we have agreed a reform programme”. His statement reflects resistance in eurozone capitals to any form of “haircut” on Greek sovereign debt, which is now mostly held by EU governments and institutions. Mr Moscovici’s comments come as the IMF has suggested eurozone creditors may need to write down some of their Greek bailout loans to ensure the country’s debt levels begin to decline more sharply. Officials involved in the talks said the IMF was not seeking large-scale debt relief immediately.

Instead, it was warning that any concessions to Athens that allowed the government to post lower budget surpluses — the likely trajectory of the current talks — would require debt relief to make up the difference. “Six months ago, we all concluded there was no need for debt relief,” said one senior official. “But if there’s a significant relaxation of the programme [targets], the IMF will want to see some debt relief.” Without a return to sustainable debt levels — or a larger bailout from the eurozone to ensure Athens can continue to pay its bills — the IMF may be forced under its rules to withhold its share of the current bailout tranche, which amounts to about half of the €7.2bn being negotiated.

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“..if Varoufakis was to leave public office and his life in the public eye, Greece would be the poorer for it, perhaps in more ways than one.”

Varoufakis’ First 100 Days: All Style, No Substance? (CNBC)

Negotiations with lenders over the future of Greece’s €240 billion bailout have been ongoing since Greece’s leftwing government came to power. And although Greece was given a four-month extension to its bailout in February, little has been achieved in terms of reforms. As talks dragged on into April, euro zone officials began to moan openly about Greece’s stance – and Varoufakis himself as he was in charge of negotiations — and the fact it was, as the Eurogroup’s President Jeroen Djisselbloem put it “wasting time.”The lack of progress raised concerns that Greece’s might not be able to find the money for upcoming loan repayments and whether it could avoid default and a potentially very messy exit from the euro zone.

Talk also turned to whether Varoufakis could lose his job as a way for show Greece to show its European partners that it was serious about reforms – serious enough to sack its own champion finmin. Instead, he was sidelined last Tuesday, keeping his job as finance minister but taken away from the frontline during negotiations – a move that one euro zone official said had helped negotiations to progress.Getting no love from either his euro zone counterparts or his own government, Varoufakis was verbally attacked and threatened with violence by anarchists in the Exarchia area of Athens, a neighborhood popular with anti-government protesters.

Varoufakis came out uscathed from the scuffle, but whether he can survive the blows and bruises of life in Greece’s tumultuous political landscape is yet to be seen. Just this weekend , the Greek finance ministry was denying reports that Varoufakis had offered to resign. Whether the reports are true or not, if Varoufakis was to leave public office and his life in the public eye, Greece would be the poorer for it, perhaps in more ways than one.

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Risky for Syriza, it threatens to go against its election promises.

Greece To Finalise Airports Deal ‘Immediately’ (Reuters)

Greece will finalise “immediately” a €1.2 billion deal with Fraport to run regional airports and reopen bidding for a majority stake in Piraeus port, a senior privatisations official said on Tuesday. The asset sales had been in doubt after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ leftist-led government took power in January but may be the latest concessions offered by his government to try to secure more bailout cash from international creditors. The Greek finance, shipping and economy ministries involved in the sales declined to comment. “The issue of regional airports will be concluded immediately,” the official at Greece’s privatisations agency HRADF told Reuters on condition of anonymity, noting that an announcement could be expected by May 15.

Tsipras’ government is trying to renegotiate a 240-billion-euro bailout and has said it would review the sales, though various Greek officials have offered contradictory statements on the fate of both the airports and the Piraeus deals. Fraport and Greek energy firm Copelouzos had agreed with the privatisation agency in 2014 that it would run the airports in tourist destinations including Corfu, striking one of Greece’s biggest privatisation deals since the start of the debt crisis. Under the terms of the deal, the German-Greek group was expected to spend about €330 million in the first four years to upgrade the airports, that will be leased for 40 years.

On Tuesday, the privatisations official said Athens would invite shortlisted investors to submit by July binding offers for a 51% stake in Greece’s biggest port with the option to raise their stake to 67% over five years. “We will reopen the process in the coming days,” the official said. China’s Cosco Group, which already manages two of Piraeus port’s cargo piers, is among five preferred bidders. Greek port workers are due to stage a 24-hour strike on Thursday to protest against the privatisations of Piraeus and Thessaloniki ports, saying the government has rolled back on its pre-election pledges.

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“I agree with you, Dodd-Frank isn’t perfect.” She paused, then spoke very slowly and emphatically: “It should have broken you into pieces.”

Why Elizabeth Warren Makes Bankers So Uneasy, and So Quiet

The rollback of financial regulation is stalled. Income inequality is a campaign issue. Americans are still angry about the financial crisis. Things aren’t shaping up the way the big banks expected, and an important reason is one laser-focused senator from Massachusetts.

Let’s assume that when he woke up on the morning of Dec. 12, Michael Corbat, CEO of Citigroup, was feeling pretty good. The day before, the House of Representatives had passed a bill that would save his bank and others lots of money and headaches. The trouble was, Elizabeth Warren, the senior senator from Massachusetts, was getting ready to speak on the Senate floor. She had his bank on her mind. What Warren wanted to talk about was an item tucked into page 615 of a 1,603-page spending package: the repeal of section 716 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. Known as the swaps push-out rule, section 716 required banks to set up separate subsidiaries, not backed by the government, to trade certain derivatives.

If the rule stood, it would generate huge administrative costs for the big banks. Citi had fought hard on this. The bank’s lobbyists had worked on lawmakers and helped draft language for the repeal. Getting it into a big spending package Congress was sure to pass was a coup. In the ongoing wars between Wall Street and the forces of government regulation, this repeal was a big win for the banks. “Today I am coming to the floor not to talk about Democrats or Republicans,” Warren began her speech, “but to talk about a third group that also wields tremendous power in Washington—Citigroup.” With that, Warren turned Citi into exactly the kind of villain so many people suspect lurks in the backrooms of the Capitol.

In one particularly striking moment, she connected nine top government officials—including Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew—directly to the megabank. She invoked Teddy Roosevelt, her favorite trust-busting president, who took on the big corporations of his day. “There is a lot of talk coming from Citigroup about how Dodd-Frank isn’t perfect,” Warren continued. “So let me say this to anyone who is listening at Citi. I agree with you, Dodd-Frank isn’t perfect.” She paused, then spoke very slowly and emphatically: “It should have broken you into pieces.”

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Will Beijing take on all debt to the shadow system?

China Mulls New Monetary Tool That ‘The World Has Never Seen’ (Caixin)

China’s central bank is considering lending to policy banks through a new tool so they can buy bonds issued by local governments, a person close to the regulator says. The loans would have a maturity of at least 10 years, the source said. Other details of how this would work remain unclear, but the tool will be unlike anything the bank has used before, he said. “It will be a new monetary tool the world has never seen,” the person said. “The format does not matter, and all possible means could be taken.” He said the regulator will use the new instrument to provide China Development Bank (CDB) and perhaps other policy banks with capital so they can buy bonds that local governments have issued.

The Ministry of Finance has said local governments can issue 1 trillion yuan ($160 billion) worth of bonds this year to repay their old debts — in other words allowing them to swap existing debts, which are mostly bank loans, for bonds that have longer maturities and cost less. The problem is that commercial banks are not interested in the bonds. Banks are “not at all interested” in buying such bonds because “their yields are too low and there is no liquidity,” a source from a joint-stock bank said. He said the bank he works for bought some local-government bonds only because its branches want to maintain a good relationship with local governments.

Xu Hanfei at Guotai Junan Securities said the interest rates of bank loans to local-government financing platforms — commercial vehicles that local governments used to circumvent a previous restriction that barred them from borrowing directly — are usually around 8%, and so are the yields of these platforms’ bonds. With local-government bonds, he said, the yields are usually halved. “Commercial banks do not want to buy local-government bonds … because the yields can hardly cover their capital cost,” a source from a bank’s financial-market division said. “There are many more assets that promise much better returns than local-government bonds. Why bother exchanging them for the bonds?”

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The war crazies.

CFR Says China Must Be Defeated And TPP Is Essential To That (Zuesse)

Wall Street’s Council on Foreign Relations has issued a major report, alleging that China must be defeated because it threatens to become a bigger power in the world than the U.S. This report, which is titled “Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China,” is introduced by Richard Haass, the CFR’s President, who affirms the report’s view that, “no relationship will matter more when it comes to defining the twenty-first century than the one between the United States and China.” Haass gives this report his personal imprimatur by saying that it “deserves to become an important part of the debate about U.S. foreign policy and the pivotal U.S.-China relationship.” He acknowledges that some people won’t agree with the views it expresses.

The report itself then opens by saying: “Since its founding, the United States has consistently pursued a grand strategy focused on acquiring and maintaining preeminent power over various rivals, first on the North American continent, then in the Western hemisphere, and finally globally.” It praises “the American victory in the Cold War.” It then lavishes praise on America’s imperialistic dominance: “The Department of Defense during the George H.W. Bush administration presciently contended that its ‘strategy must now refocus on precluding the emergence of any potential future global competitor’—thereby consciously pursuing the strategy of primacy that the United States successfully employed to outlast the Soviet Union.”

The rest of the report is likewise concerned with the international dominance of America’s aristocracy or the people who control this country’s international corporations, rather than with the welfare of the public or as the U.S. Constitution described the objective of the American Government: “the general welfare.” The Preamble, or sovereignty clause, in the Constitution, presented that goal in this broader context: “in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” The Council on Foreign Relations, as a representative of Wall Street, is concerned only with the dominance of America’s aristocracy.

Their new report, about “Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China,” is like a declaration of war by America’s aristocracy, against China’s aristocracy. This report has no relationship to the U.S. Constitution, though it advises that the U.S. Government pursue this “Grand Strategy Toward China” irrespective of whether doing that would even be consistent with the U.S. Constitution’s Preamble. The report repeats in many different contexts the basic theme, that China threatens “hegemonic” dominance in Asia. For example: “China’s sustained economic success over the past thirty-odd years has enabled it to aggregate formidable power, making it the nation most capable of dominating the Asian continent and thus undermining the traditional U.S. geopolitical objective of ensuring that this arena remains free of hegemonic control.”

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Kiev left Eastern Ukraine alone, no cash in ATMs, no pensions payments, no benefit payments. There’s only one alternative.

Forget Tanks. Russia’s Ruble Is Conquering Eastern Ukraine (Bloomberg)

As a wobbly cease-fire keeps eastern Ukraine’s warring factions apart, Russia’s ruble is conquering new territory across the breakaway republics. In Donetsk, the conflict zone’s biggest city, supermarkets have opened ruble-only checkout counters to serve the fighters in camouflage lining up along pensioners. Bus and tram tickets come with a conversion from Ukraine’s hryvnia to the Russian currency. Gas-station workers are paid in rubles because that’s what their rebel customers use to fuel their armored jeeps. “There are no problems in shops, they all accept rubles,” said Natalya, 36, a hairdresser buying groceries for her parents, who declined to give her surname for fear of reprisals. “They don’t always have small change, but they can give you chewing gum or a cigarette lighter instead.”

The ruble’s creeping advance shows how the troubled regions are slipping further from the government’s grasp, even as a peace accord brokered by Germany, France and Russia calls for the nation of more than 40 million to remain whole. Separatist officials haven’t yet made their currency plans clear. The precedent in ex-Soviet countries from Georgia to Moldova shows that similar shifts can help entrench pro-Russian insurgents. “The increasing use of the ruble is yet another sign Russia’s going to keep de facto sovereignty over the territory it and the separatists control,” said Cliff Kupchan, Eurasia Group chairman in New York. “If the sides implement the latest truce, which is unlikely, perhaps both the hryvnia and the ruble will be used. If not, it will be all ruble.”

Ukraine is the one place in the world where the ruble’s 46% plunge against the dollar in 2014 didn’t make it any less attractive, considering a 48% drop in the hryvnia, the world’s worst performer for the last two years. The Russian currency has staged a partial recovery in 2015, with April its best month on record. It advanced 0.4% on Tuesday. And the ruble has been welcomed in Donetsk, where most shops and businesses now accept it. Hryvnias are no longer available from cash machines in rebel-held territory, forcing locals to go to other parts of Ukraine to withdraw money.

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There’s not nearly enough appreciation in the west for what Russia suffered, and achieved, in WWII. Russia mourned more dead than all other countries combined.

Moscow’s Last Stand: How Soviet Troops Defeated Nazis For First Time In WW2 (RT)

In October 1941 Hitler launched an offensive on the Russian capital codenamed Operation Typhoon. It was supposed to crush Moscow in a so-called double pincer – two simultaneous attacks from the north and south. The Soviet troops vigorously fought back, disrupting Hitler’s plans for a quick operation. The Battle of Moscow eventually lasted through January 1942 and ended in the first battlefield defeat of the Nazi army. The battle was one of the bloodiest and lethal struggles in world history and was later considered to be a decisive turning point in the fight against Nazi troops. Memories of that battle are still fresh for WW2 veteran Gennady Drozdov, 98, who was assigned to the 4th Guards Mortar Regiment at that time.

“During the Battle of Moscow, in December 1941, there was a raid on the hinterlands of the Nazi German troops. We came so close we could see the position of their troops, their machine gun, in particular, and its operators,” Drozdov told RT. “On our command the division fired a salvo, missiles flew over our heads – we completed our task and returned to the base.” The weather seemed to be on the side of the Soviet army, as autumn brought heavy rains, and then winter caught the Nazis unawares with exceptionally freezing temperatures. While the epic battle raged on, Moscow residents had to “survive all the horrors of war: hunger, cold, devastation, loss of family and the loved ones,” according to Rimma Grachyova, who was seven years old when the war broke out. “Most frightening of all was the bombing – daily bombings that continued incessantly,” the woman recalls.

“At first we would shelter in the “Park Kultury” underground station that was not far from our house. Then our family decided that if it was our fate to die we would die together and we wouldn’t run from it. There were five kids in our family.” “We helped the front as much as we could. We’d collect scrap metal from courtyards. I’d knit socks and mittens together with grown-ups, as I knew how. We wrote letters too. We also sang for the wounded in hospitals,” the 80-year-old witness said, sharing her childhood experience. Almost one million Soviet soldiers died during the defense and counter-offensive operations, which included the construction of three defensive belts in the Moscow region, as well as deployment of reserve armies. The outcome of the Battle of Moscow saw German troops pushed back nearly 200 km from the capital, becoming the first-ever blow to the Wehrmacht’s reputation as an invincible army.

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