Jun 212016
 


NPC District National Bank, Dupont branch, Washington, DC 1924

The Big Guns Are Out: Soros, Rothschild Warn Of Brexit Doom (ZH)
When Brexit Has Come And Gone, The Real Problems Will Remain (ZH)
IMF Calls On Japan To ‘Reload’ Abenomics (Nikkei)
India’s Rockstar Central Banker Defeated As Modi Revolution Stalls (AEP)
Yellen Makes ‘Uncertainty’ New Mantra (R.)
“Whatever It Takes” Wasn’t Enough (Noland)
The World’s Newest “Reserve” Currency Is Anything But (Balding)
China’s Developers Can’t Stop Overpaying for Property (WSJ)
China’s ‘Land Kings’ Return as Housing Prices Rise (WSJ)
Energy-Related Loan Losses Rising (B.)
California Power Grid Prepares For Heatwave, Power Outages (R.)
Australia Whistleblower Loses Job After Speaking Out On Refugee Camps (G.)

Vested interests at stake.

The Big Guns Are Out: Soros, Rothschild Warn Of Brexit Doom (ZH)

Just yesterday, we recounted the story of “Black Wednesday” when on September 16, 1992, the UK was forced out of the EU’s exchange-rate mechanism, or ERM, when the BOE tapped out and allowed the British pound to float freely, leading to 15% losses in the sterling. As we noted, this was George Soros’ infamous trade which “broke the Bank of England” and made the Hungarian richer by over $1.5 bilion. 24 years later Soros is back, and this time he is warning against the kind of devaluation that made him a billionaire and which he believes will be unleashed by Brexit, when in a Guardian Op-Ed he wrote that U.K. voters are “grossly underestimating” the true costs of a vote to leave the EU, saying that there would be an “immediate and dramatic impact on financial markets, investment, prices and jobs.”

[..] It is notable that Soros’ warning comes just days after that of Jacob Rothschild himself who said in another Op-Ed, this time for The Times, that leaving the EU could lead to a “damaging and disorderly situation” in the UK as he urged Britons to vote ‘remain’. Just like Soros, Lord Rothschild, suddenly exhibiting a rare strain of humanitarian concern, said readers should not “risk the wellbeing of our country”and European countries are “better off together”. He said that “at present we enjoy being a permanent member of the UN security council and we are essential to the G8 and Commonwealth. But diplomacy, defence, the environment and our values of being a liberal democracy will all be at risk” adding that “I can see no good reason why we should accept our playing a diminished role on the world stage,” especially if his own personal fortune would be jeopardized.

Finally, completing the doom loop, was none other than Chancellor George Osborne who, according to the Telegraph, “refused to rule out suspending trading on the London stock market if Britons vote to leave the EU on Friday morning… The threat from the Chancellor, made in an LBC radio interview on Monday evening, after the market had closed could force shares down in London as early as Tuesday morning.”

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Everyone’s broke.

When Brexit Has Come And Gone, The Real Problems Will Remain (ZH)

In a few days, Brexit will come and go, and just a few days later it will be forgotten, as either outcome will be far less dramatic than has been widely predicted by the same fearmongering economist pundits who have been wrong about everything else for the past 8 years. Ironically, the better outcome for the market is precisely a Brexit as the panic selloff will prompt central banks around the globe to boost enough monetary stimulus to send risk assets to new all time highs. What will remain, however, are the real problems. Here is SocGen with a useful reminder of just what those are, and why the market may have already forgotten that just one week ago the Fed threw in the towel when addressing precisely these problems. From SocGen’s Andrew Lapthone:

“Global equity markets continued to struggle last week, with the MSCI World index off 1.8% pushing the index back into red for the year. Big losses were seen in Japan with the Topix 500 down 6% and the volatile Mothers index crashing 18.5% over the week as the yen continued to strengthen. According to the BOE measure, the trade-weighted yen is now up more than 20% over the past year and back to where it stood three years ago. In the battle for the weakest currency, Japan looks to have thrown in the towel.

Whatever the outcome of the Brexit vote this week investors will still be facing the prospect of negative rates and negative yields on a huge range of bonds, massive corporate leverage with worryingly rising delinquencies and of course expensive equity markets and falling profits. To that extent these political events are a distraction from the main event, weak global economic growth and perverse asset markets. So whilst the market preference for the status quo might be celebrated in the short-term, actually when the fog clears all of the problems will still be there.”

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Forcing companies to raise wages?!

IMF Calls On Japan To ‘Reload’ Abenomics (Nikkei)

Japan needs bolder income policies such as penalizing profitable companies that do not increase wages, the IMF said on Monday after concluding its annual economic assessment of the country. Despite initial success, progress under Abenomics, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s trademark economic policies, has stalled in recent months. The inflation rate has dropped to negative territory again, while economic growth has remained anemic.The IMF now expects Japan’s economy to grow by about 0.5% in 2016, before slowing to 0.3% in 2017, with potential growth sliding to close to zero by 2030, due to the declining demographic. “Abenomics needs to be reloaded,” the IMF said in its report and argued that income policies combined with labor market reforms should “move to the forefront” of the country’s fight against lagging growth.

“The government can introduce a ‘comply or explain’ mechanism for profitable companies to ensure that they raise base wages by at least 3% and back this up by stronger tax incentives or – as a last resort – penalties,” the IMF wrote. Promoting intermediate contracts that balance job security and wage increases will “reinforce income policies,” it added. “Our perception is that much of the stasis of inflation [in Japan] comes from the legacy, the history of having negative inflation,” said David Lipton, first deputy managing director at the IMF, in a press conference in Tokyo. “Certainly firms have at this point the cash flow and resource at hand to provide some wage increases. There are wage increases evident in a wide range of companies across this economy, so our thought is to suggest that this be a broader practice and that it be more uniform.”

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“..Mr Rajan has been an acerbic critic of zero rates and quantitative easing by the western central banks…”

India’s Rockstar Central Banker Defeated As Modi Revolution Stalls (AEP)

India’s bid to become the ‘economic super-tiger’ of Asia is in serious doubt after an assault on the independence of the central bank and failure to deliver on promised reforms. The country has been the darling of the emerging market universe since the Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi swept into power in May 2014 promising a blitz of Thatcherite reform and a bonfire of the diktats, but key changes have been blocked in the legislature. The government has turned increasingly populist. Matters have come to a head with the de facto ouster of Raghuram Rajan, the superstar governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), rebuked for keeping monetary policy too tight. It is part of a pattern of attacks on central banks by politicians across the world, and the latest sign that the glory days of the monetary overlords are waning.

Mr Rajan has been battling criticism for months but threw in the towel over the weekend, sending tremors through the Indian financial markets and provoking a flurry of warnings from global investors. “He has decided not to wait until he is refused a second term,” said Lord Desai from the London School of Economics. “This is ‘Rexit’ – India’s equivalent of ‘Brexit. It looks very bad for India and will not go down well in financial markets. He was defeated by the crony capitalists up against him,” he said. The government has dampened the impact with by relaxing barriers to foreign investment in the country, but it may have underestimated the totemic status of Mr Rajan outside India. He is seen by funds as the guarantor of good practice and market integrity. Mr Rajan is a former chief economist for the IMF, famed for warning that the US subprime debt bubble was out of control long before the Lehman crisis blew up in 2008.

[..] Mr Rajan has been an acerbic critic of zero rates and quantitative easing by the western central banks. He blames them for flooding the international system with excess liquidity that emerging markets could not easily control. This fueled dangerous boom-bust asset cycles. While QE might have ‘worked’ for the US, UK, and Europe – the jury is out even for them – Mr Rajan argues that the policy is a “Pareto sub-optimal” for the world as a whole, and ultimately increases the danger of a deflation-trap in the future. The Fed and the leading central banks of the West have never really answered his critique.

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I was going to say the Empress has no clothes, but I don’t want that image lingering on my retina.

Yellen Makes ‘Uncertainty’ New Mantra (R.)

The U.S. Federal Reserve’s dwindling confidence in its own outlook and resulting confusion among investors are creating a policy problem that may require chief Janet Yellen to lay out her own views more forcefully. The Fed chair’s next communications test comes on Tuesday and Wednesday during her semi-annual testimony to U.S. lawmakers, less than a week after the central bank kept interest rates unchanged near record lows and lowered its projections for hikes in 2017 and 2018. A self-described consensus builder, Yellen sees her job as reflecting the whole committee’s views rather than setting an agenda for others to follow.

“I think that’s a very laudable intent, but sometimes that produces a lack of clarity,” said former Fed staffer and current partner at Cornerstone Macro LLC Roberto Perli. “Sometimes there is a consensus for one reason and then next time there is a consensus for a different reason so the story shifts and people get confused.” In fact, Fed policymakers’ deepening uncertainty about their own projections has resulted in the central bank sending mixed messages – repeatedly ratcheting up rate hike expectations only to tone them down later.

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Important point: “Whatever it takes” was orchestrated specifically to expel any market doubt with regard to the viability and sustainability of European monetary integration.

“Whatever It Takes” Wasn’t Enough (Noland)

Back in 2012, Mario Draghi recognized how even the notion that a country might exit the euro could unleash market dynamics that would rather quickly place Europe’s markets and banking system in peril. “Whatever it takes” was orchestrated specifically to expel any market doubt with regard to the viability and sustainability of European monetary integration. On the back of a wall of liquidity and inflating securities markets, Draghi’s gambit held things together for a few years. That said, the ECB bet the ranch – and was compelled to ante up in response to market instability early this year. The outcome of the game is very much in doubt. While Britain is not even a member of the euro, Brexit provides a test of ECB policymaking. Is Europe robust or fragile?

Has relative financial stability been nothing more than a brittle ECB-fabricated façade? Are the forces mounted against integration and cooperation too powerful to disregard? Is European integration – along with the euro currency – viable long-term? It’s an untimely test, with confidence in Europe’s banks already waning. It’s furthermore an untimely test because of faltering confidence in the ECB and contemporary global central banking more generally. Global market instability has again resurfaced and there will be no resolution next week. The FOMC has confounded Fed watchers with its abrupt pivot back to ultra-dovishness. There shouldn’t be much confusion. Global market fragility has reemerged, and the Fed’s rapid retreat has confirmed the seriousness of what’s unfolding.

Central banks have thrown everything at the problem, yet markets remain as vulnerable as ever. At least the world was not facing the downside of China’s historic Credit Bubble back in 2012. The Fed has never admitted that global concerns have been dictating U.S. monetary policy since 2012. It has now become clear, throwing the analysis of policymaking into disarray. The harsh reality is also increasingly apparent: global monetary management is dysfunctional and central bankers have become perplexed – without a backup plan. Such an uncertain backdrop is pro-currency market instability and pro-de-risking/deleveraging.

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Nobody has a reason to use the yuan.

The World’s Newest “Reserve” Currency Is Anything But (Balding)

Last week’s decision by MSCI not to include Chinese shares in its primary emerging-markets stock index has been viewed – widely and rightly – as a blow to China’s hopes of internationalizing its financial sector. There’s worse news, though: Even the progress China’s made thus far is in danger of going into reverse. MSCI’s choice is a sharp contrast to the one made by the IMF last December, when it promised to begin including the Chinese yuan in its basket of “special drawing rights.” The move essentially conferred global reserve status on the currency, despite the fact that China arguably didn’t meet the conditions for inclusion: It was debatable whether the yuan could be considered “freely usable,” and in any case, it was hardly used. At its peak in August 2015, the yuan accounted for 2.79% of global payments, compared to 44.8% for the U.S. dollar.

The idea was that compromising now would encourage leaders in China to fulfill their pledges to liberalize the yuan fully by 2020. In fact, since the IMF’s decision, the yuan has if anything grown less international, not more. Since March 2015, yuan deposits in the three largest offshore centers – Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore – have fallen 16%, to a total of 1.24 trillion yuan or about $188 billion. The currency is being used in even fewer international transactions than before: Its share of global payments stood at 1.82% in April 2016. The fact that only a quarter of those international payments included a partner other than China or Hong Kong means that only about 0.5% of all yuan transactions are truly international in scope. This places the currency somewhere between those of Scandinavian powerhouses Norway and Denmark.

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Absolutely completely madness. The casino keeps adding new slot machines and crap tables.

China’s Developers Can’t Stop Overpaying for Property (WSJ)

If the cost of flour is higher than the price of bread, what should a baker do? Chinese property developers are choosing to buy more flour. Prices for land, the main ingredient of the property world, have hit record highs in auctions this year in many Chinese cities. The average land price per square meter for the top 100 cities in the first five months of this year jumped nearly 50% from the same period last year, according to Wind Information. Some land prices are even higher than housing prices nearby.

State-owned developer Poly Real Estate, for instance, bought a piece of land in a Shanghai suburb for 5.5 billion yuan ($835.5 million) last month. This translates to roughly 44,000 yuan per square meter of buildable space. Houses in the region meanwhile go for around 40,000 yuan per square meter. After taking into account construction costs, taxes and other expenses, property prices would have to nearly double for the developer to make money. Prime land in the biggest cities always costs a lot, but increasingly the voracious buyers are showing up in less prime locations and smaller cities. In Suzhou, a city near Shanghai, with a population of 1.1 million, land sales in the first five months of this year have already exceeded the total of last year. And average prices have doubled.

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It’s the same they do with raw materials: “..After winning an auction, financial firms with access to cheap funding can apply for a loan with the land as collateral..”

China’s ‘Land Kings’ Return as Housing Prices Rise (WSJ)

The “land kings” are back. That had been a nickname for Chinese developers paying sky-high prices for land parcels during China’s property boom earlier this decade, which left so-called ghost cities of unsold housing across China. Now, with housing prices in China’s larger cities again rising rapidly, frothy bids for land parcels are back. On June 8, Logan Property Holdings agreed to pay 14.1 billion yuan ($2.14 billion) for a piece of land in Shenzhen’s Guangming district, the largest-ever price tag in the southern Chinese city. Logan says it didn’t overpay, calling the price “relatively favorable” in a hot market. Earlier in June, a joint venture between two firms, one of which is backed by state-owned Power Construction Corp. of China, outbid 17 rivals with an 8.3 billion yuan offer for a plot in Shenzhen’s Longhua district.

The soaring land prices show the challenges facing the government as it tries to prevent property bubbles. Moves to stimulate China’s slowing economy and to trim excess housing in smaller cities across the country—such as interest-rate cuts and eased mortgage rules—have fed into speculative demand for homes in top-tier cities that are now scrambling to cool prices. Average housing prices in 70 Chinese cities were about 5% higher in May than a year earlier, the fifth straight month of increases. In top-tier cities, prices were up 19% to 53%. But land prices are shooting up not just in Shenzhen, Shanghai and Beijing, but also in lower-profile cities such as Hangzhou, Hefei and Zhengzhou. Officials face a dilemma in trying to tame land prices: Land is commonly used as debt collateral; a sharp drop in valuation could trigger defaults and produce a wave of bad loans, hurting the economy. On the other hand, runaway land prices make it harder for ordinary Chinese to afford apartments.

[..] There is also concern that financial firms with little experience as builders are viewing land as an opportunity for arbitrage. After winning an auction, financial firms with access to cheap funding can apply for a loan with the land as collateral, and use that to extend a construction loan at a higher rate to a partner, which is typically a property developer.

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“Like an oil lease, you’re easily disposable..”

Energy-Related Loan Losses Rising (B.)

“Like an oil lease, you’re easily disposable,” the villainous J.R. Ewing quipped to his beauty queen wife in the 1970s television series Dallas. Readers of the latest edition of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas’s quarterly southwest economy publication might want to keep that quote in mind. News from the oil patch — the 11th Fed district that encompasses the shale heartland — is not encouraging, as it reveals a sharper rise in souring energy-related loans. “The persistence of relatively low oil prices has begun taking a toll on district bank customers,” the Dallas Fed said in its report.

“Oil-price hedges become less effective the longer prices stay low, and the cushion built by energy firms during the good times gets thinner. Cash flow becomes stretched and collateral loses its value, further pressuring borrowers.” That forces them closer to default unless banks are able to keep their lending spigots open. Many of these loans fall under the umbrella of commercial and industrial (C&I) lending — a category which has been surging in conjunction with commercial real estate (CRE) lending in recent years. While regulators have kept a somewhat lazy eye on rising CRE loans since even before the 2008 financial crisis (and certainly after it), the boom in C&I lending has been met with far less scrutiny — resulting in charts which look like this:

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“..millions of electric customers in Southern California were warned they could suffer power outages of up to 14 days this summer..”

California Power Grid Prepares For Heatwave, Power Outages (R.)

California will have its first test of plans to keep the lights on this summer following the shutdown of the key Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility as temperatures in the Los Angeles area are forecast to hit triple digits this week. With record-setting heat and air conditioning demand expected in Southern California, the state’s power grid operator issued a so-called “flex alert,” urging consumers to conserve energy to help prevent rotating power outages – which could occur regardless. Electricity demand is expected to rise during the unseasonable heatwave on Monday and Tuesday, with forecast system-wide use expected to top 45,000 megawatts, said the California Independent System Operator (ISO), which manages electricity flow through the state.

That compares with a peak demand of 47,358 MW last year and the all-time high of 50,270 MW set in July 2006. That could put stress on the power grid, particularly with the shut-in of Aliso Canyon, following a massive leak at the underground storage facility in October. The facility, in the San Fernando Valley, is the second largest storage field in the western United States, according to federal data, and therefore crucial for power generation. All customers, including homes, hospitals, oil refineries and airports are at risk of losing power at some point this summer because a majority of electric generating stations in California use gas as their primary fuel. In April, millions of electric customers in Southern California were warned they could suffer power outages of up to 14 days this summer due to the closure.

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“The Border Force Act gives the Australian government the power to jail, for up to two years, anybody employed by the department..”

Australia Whistleblower Loses Job After Speaking Out On Refugee Camps (G.)

The trauma specialist who condemned the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees in Australia’s offshore detention regime as the worst “atrocity” he has seen has had his contract to work on Nauru terminated. Psychologist Paul Stevenson, whom the Australian government awarded an Order of Australia for his work counselling victims of the Bali bombings, had undertaken 14 deployments to Nauru and to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. He was due to return to Nauru on Thursday. But after he spoke publicly to the Guardian about his experiences working within Australia’s offshore detention regime – describing conditions in the camps as “demoralising … and desperate” – he was told his contract had been summarily cancelled.

PsyCare, the company through which he was employed to provide counselling to guards working in offshore detention, informed him by email his employment had been terminated. Stevenson said the news was not unexpected. “But the public needs to hear about the consequences people face for speaking out, and to understand the level they go to in minimising access.” [..] The Border Force Act gives the Australian government the power to jail, for up to two years, anybody employed by the department or its contractors who speaks publicly about conditions inside the offshore detention regime, including doctors advocating for better healthcare, or other workers exposing sexual and physical abuse of detainees.

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Apr 072016
 
 April 7, 2016  Posted by at 9:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


John M. Fox “The new Hudson” 1948

Time To Stop Dancing With Equities On A Live Volcano (AEP)
Hillary Clinton’s Corporate Cash and Corporate Worldview (Naomi Klein)
How Bad Is China’s Debt Problem, Really? (Balding)
China Traders Flee to Hong Kong in Record Stock-Buying Streak (BBG)
China Set To Shake Up World Copper Market With Exports (Reuters)
Panama Papers Reveal Offshore Secrets Of China’s Red Nobility (G.)
David Cameron’s EU Intervention On Trusts Set Up Tax Loophole (FT)
Panama Papers Reveal London As Centre Of ‘Spider’s Web’ (AFP)
How Laundered Money Shapes London’s Property Market (FT)
London Luxury-Apartment Sales Slump Triggers 20% Bulk Discounts (BBG)
US Readies Bank Rule On Shell Companies Amid ‘Panama Papers’ Fury (Reuters)
US Government, Soros Funded Panama Papers To Attack Putin: WikiLeaks (RT)
Bookmakers Set Odds For Next Leader To Resign After Panama Papers (MW)
Brexit May Force Europe’s Banks To Dump $123 Billion Of Securities (BBG)
Economics Builds a Tower of Babel (BBG)
Dutch ‘No’ Vote On Ukraine Pact Forces Government Rethink (Reuters)
Greece Sees Two-Week Lag In Migrant Returns To Turkey (AFP)

Ambrose sees inflation?!

Time To Stop Dancing With Equities On A Live Volcano (AEP)

Be very careful. The US economic expansion is long in the tooth and starting to hit the time-honoured constraints that mark the last phase of the business cycle. Wall Street equities are more stretched by a host of measures than they were at the peak of sub-prime bubble just before the Lehman crisis. All it will take to bring the S&P 500 index back to earth is a catalyst, and that is exactly what is coming into view on the macro-economic horizon. This does not mean we are on the cusp of recession or racing headlong towards some imminent reckoning, but we are probably in the final innings of this epic asset boom. Didier Saint-Georges, from fund manager Carmignac, says the “massive and indiscriminate equity market rally” since February’s panic-lows is a false dawn driven by short-covering, telling us little about the world’s deformed economic, financial, and political landscape.

Corporate earnings peaked at $1.845 trillion (£1.3 trillion) in the second quarter of 2015, and recessions typically start five to seven quarters after the peak. “We will not be dancing on the volcano like so many others,” said Saint-Georges. If we are lucky it will be a slow denouement with a choppy sideways market going nowhere for another year as the US labour market tightens, and workers at last start to claw back a greater share of the economic pie. The owners of capital have had it their way for much of the post-Lehman era, exorbitant beneficiaries of central bank largesse. Now they may have to give a little back to society. Yet this welcome “rotation” spells financial trouble. Strategists Mislav Matejka and Emmanuel Cau, from JP Morgan, have told clients to prepare for the end of the seven-year bull run, advising them to trim equities gradually and build up a safety buffer in cash.

“This is not the stage of the US cycle when one should be buying stocks with a six to 12-month horizon. We recommend using any strength as a selling opportunity,” they said. Their recent 165-page report on the subject is a sobering read. The price-to-sales ratio (P/S) of US stocks is higher than any time in the sub-prime boom. Share buy-backs are at an historic high in relation to earnings (EBIT). Net debt-to-equity ratios have blown through their historical range. This is happening despite two quarters of tighter lending by US banks. Spreads on high-yield debt have doubled since 2014, jumping by 300 basis points even after stripping out the energy bust. The list goes on; the message is clear. “One should be cutting equity weight before the weakness becomes obvious,” they said.

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Hillary equals more of the same. The same disaster.

Hillary Clinton’s Corporate Cash and Corporate Worldview (Naomi Klein)

There aren’t a lot of certainties left in the US presidential race, but here’s one thing about which we can be absolutely sure: The Clinton camp really doesn’t like talking about fossil-fuel money. Last week, when a young Greenpeace campaigner challenged Hillary Clinton about taking money from fossil-fuel companies, the candidate accused the Bernie Sanders campaign of “lying” and declared herself “so sick” of it. As the exchange went viral, a succession of high-powered Clinton supporters pronounced that there was nothing to see here and that everyone should move along. The very suggestion that taking this money could impact Clinton’s actions is “baseless and should stop,” according to California Senator Barbara Boxer. It’s “flat-out false,” “inappropriate,” and doesn’t “hold water,” declared New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman went so far as to issue “guidelines for good and bad behavior” for the Sanders camp. The first guideline? Cut out the “innuendo suggesting, without evidence, that Clinton is corrupt.” That’s a whole lot of firepower to slap down a non-issue. So is it an issue or not? First, some facts. Hillary Clinton’s campaign, including her Super PAC, has received a lot of money from the employees and registered lobbyists of fossil-fuel companies. There’s the much-cited $4.5 million that Greenpeace calculated, which includes bundling by lobbyists. One of Clinton’s most active financial backers is Warren Buffett, who is up to his eyeballs in coal. But that’s not all. There is also a lot more money from sources not included in those calculations. For instance, one of Clinton’s most prominent and active financial backers is Warren Buffett.

While he owns a large mix of assets, Buffett is up to his eyeballs in coal, including coal transportation and some of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the country. Then there’s all the cash that fossil-fuel companies have directly pumped into the Clinton Foundation. In recent years, Exxon, Shell, ConocoPhillips, and Chevron have all contributed to the foundation. An investigation in the International Business Times just revealed that at least two of these oil companies were part of an effort to lobby Clinton’s State Department about the Alberta tar sands, a massive deposit of extra-dirty oil. Leading climate scientists like James Hansen have explained that if we don’t keep the vast majority of that carbon in the ground, we will unleash catastrophic levels of warming.

During this period, the investigation found, Clinton’s State Department approved the Alberta Clipper, a controversial pipeline carrying large amounts of tar-sands bitumen from Alberta to Wisconsin. “According to federal lobbying records reviewed by the IBT,” write David Sirota and Ned Resnikoff, “Chevron and ConocoPhillips both lobbied the State Department specifically on the issue of ‘oil sands’ in the immediate months prior to the department’s approval, as did a trade association funded by ExxonMobil.”

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“All this leads one to think that the government doesn’t recognize the severity of the problem.”

How Bad Is China’s Debt Problem, Really? (Balding)

For months now, China’s regulators have been warning about the dangers of rapidly expanding credit and the need to deleverage. With new plans to clean up bad loans at the country’s banks, you might conclude that the government is getting serious about the risks it faces. But there’s reason to doubt the effectiveness of China’s approach. In fact, it’s running a serious risk of making its debt problems worse. After the financial crisis, China embarked on a credit binge of historical proportions. In 2009, new loans grew by 95%. The government offered cheap credit to build apartments for urban migrants, airports for the newly affluent and roads to accommodate a fleet of new cars. Yet as lending grew at twice the rate of GDP, problems started bubbling up. Companies gained billion-dollar valuations, then collapsed when they couldn’t profit.

Enormous surplus capacity drove down prices. Excessive real-estate lending led to the construction of “ghost cities.” Asset bubbles popped and bad loans mounted. China’s policy makers say they recognize these problems. The government’s most recent 5-year plan, released in December, notes the need for deleveraging. The PBOC has talked up the party line about slowing credit growth and making high-quality loans. Yet officials still say that only about 1.6% of commercial-banking loans are nonperforming. Some analysts put the real figure closer to 20%. And Beijing’s primary plan to address the problem – allowing companies to swap their debt with banks in exchange for equity – actually creates new risks. For one thing, while a debt-for-equity swap may help excessively indebted firms, it will wreak havoc with banks.

Directly, a given bank will no longer receive the cash flow from interest and principal payments. Indirectly, it won’t be able to sell equity to the PBOC or to other banks as it could with a loan. Valuing the equity could present a bigger problem. In China, banks must count 100% of loans made to non-financial companies against their reserve requirements. When they invest in equity, however, they must set aside 400% of the value of the investment. If the debt isn’t worth face value to the bank, it seems unlikely that the equity is worth far more – suggesting that large write-downs will be required. The swaps program also creates a number of big-picture problems. Consider the tight relationship between banks and large government-linked companies.

If banks were under pressure to roll over loans when they were creditors hoping to get repaid, what will their incentive be when they own the firm and have essentially unlimited lending capacity? Another problem is that Chinese industry exists in a deflationary debt spiral: Prices have been falling for years, raising the real cost of repaying loans. If companies are relieved of their debt, they’ll have an incentive to reduce prices to gain market share, thus worsening one of the primary causes of the current malaise. All this leads one to think that the government doesn’t recognize the severity of the problem. Debt-for-equity swaps and loan rollovers simply aren’t long-term solutions for ailing companies on the scale China faces.

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All that monopoly money behaves like liquid gas.

China Traders Flee to Hong Kong in Record Stock-Buying Streak (BBG)

Cash is pouring into Hong Kong stocks from across the mainland border. Chinese investors have been net buyers of the city’s shares for 104 consecutive trading days, sinking 43.8 billion yuan ($6.8 billion) into equities from October through Tuesday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg tracking investments via the exchange link with Shanghai. Mainland traders have now put more money into Hong Kong than global asset managers have invested in Shanghai, a reversal of flows in the link’s first year, the data show. As concern persists about a further slide in the yuan, Chinese investors are piling into cheaper shares across the border that have lagged behind mainland counterparts for years.

While the flows are small relative to estimates of the record capital flight from China in 2015, they’re another sign of what’s at stake for policy makers seeking to stabilize the currency and stem outflows by providing credible investment options at home. “In China, there is talk of an asset drought – people don’t find domestic assets particularly attractive,” said Tai Hui at JPMorgan. “They are investing overseas in any way possible including via the southbound stock connect.” Buying mainland Chinese stocks has been a losing proposition this year, with the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index down 14%. Other investment alternatives such as property are coming under scrutiny as authorities impose fresh curbs after home prices jumped in the biggest cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen.

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What’s next? Compete with OPEC?

China Set To Shake Up World Copper Market With Exports (Reuters)

China may be about to shock the global copper market by unleashing some of its stockpiles of the metal, which are near record highs, onto the global market. Four traders of copper, including two from state-owned Chinese smelters, said they expect China to raise its copper exports – which are usually tiny – in the next few months. China’s refined copper exports averaged less than 10,000 tonnes a month in the first two months of 2016, and around 17,000 a month in 2015. If higher exports materialize, they will be a major jolt to producers and investors in the metal across the world – in particular because it would come during what is traditionally the strongest period of demand for copper from China, the world’s largest consumer of the metal. It will also be a further sign that the Chinese economy is still struggling against headwinds. Some sectors that buy copper – such as construction and manufacturing – have been hit especially hard in the past couple of years.

Traders and analysts in China say slowing building construction and electronics manufacturing has stifled demand for refined copper from the nation’s massive smelting sector at a time when the country is already swimming in the metal. China’s copper consumption has been a crucial measure of the country’s economic growth as the metal forms the essential network of its infrastructure, carrying water, conducting electricity and comprising the circuits in its machines. “The situation for copper smelters in China is probably the worst it has been in 20 years. But they won’t admit it. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least (if they start exporting),” said a source at an Asian copper producer, who declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media. Increasing Chinese exports would mark an abrupt turnaround in global copper trade flows as China’s refined copper imports hit a record in 2015.

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Looking at China, it’s hard not to think of 1789, Robespierre, Marie-Antoinette, Bastille. Napoleon next?

Panama Papers Reveal Offshore Secrets Of China’s Red Nobility (G.)

The eight members of China’s Communist party elite whose family members used offshore companies are revealed in the Panama Papers. The documents show the granddaughter of a powerful Chinese leader became the sole shareholder in two British Virgin Islands companies while still a teenager. Jasmine Li had just begun studying at Stanford University in the US when the companies were registered in her name in December 2010. Her grandfather Jia Qinglin was at that time the fourth-ranked politician in China. Other prominent figures who have taken advantage of offshore companies include the brother-in-law of the president, Xi Jinping, and the son-in-law of Zhang Gaoli, another member of China’s top political body, the politburo standing committee.

They are part of the “red nobility”, whose influence extends well beyond politics. Others include the daughter of Li Peng, who oversaw the brutal retaliation against Tiananmen Square protestors; and Gu Kailai, wife of Bo Xilai, the ex-politburo member jailed for life for corruption and power abuses. The relatives had companies that were clients of the offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca. There is nothing in the documents to suggest that the politicians in question had any beneficial interest in the companies connected to their family members. Since Monday, China’s censors have been blocking access to the unfolding revelations about its most senior political families. There are now reports of censors deleting hundreds of posts on the social networks Sina Weibo and Wechat, and some media organisations including CNN say parts of their websites have been blocked.

The disclosures come amid Xi Jinping’s crackdown on behaviour that could embarrass the Communist party. Two more well-connected figures – the brother of former vice-president Zeng Qinghong and the son of former politburo member Tian Jiyun – are directors of a single offshore company. They have previously been linked in a court case that highlighted how some Chinese “princelings” have used political connections for financial gain. They have emerged from the internal data of the offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca. [..] China and Hong Kong were Mossack Fonseca’s biggest sources of business, with clients from these jurisdictions linked to a total of 40,000 companies past and present. About a quarter of these are thought to be live: in 2015, records show the firm was collecting fees for nearly 10,000 companies linked to Hong Kong and China. The Mossack Fonseca franchise now has offices in eight Chinese cities, according to its website

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How much pressure will he get?

David Cameron’s EU Intervention On Trusts Set Up Tax Loophole (FT)

David Cameron personally intervened in 2013 to weaken an EU drive to reveal the beneficiaries of trusts, creating a possible loophole that other European nations warned could be exploited by tax evaders. The disclosure of the prime minister’s resistance to opening up trusts to full scrutiny comes as he faces intense pressure to make clear whether his family stands to benefit from offshore assets linked to his late father. Although Mr Cameron championed corporate tax transparency, he wrote in November 2013 to Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council at the time, to argue that trusts widely used for inheritance planning in Britain should win special treatment in an EU law to tackle money laundering.

In the letter, seen by the Financial Times, Mr Cameron said: “It is clearly important we recognise the important differences between companies and trusts. This means that the solution for addressing the potential misuse of companies, such as central public registries, may well not be appropriate generally.” Britain has emerged as the strongest European rival to Switzerland for private banking and wealth management, administering £1.2tn of assets, according to Deloitte. The sector contributed £3.2bn to the economy, according to 2014 estimates from the British Bankers’ Association. A senior government source said that Mr Cameron’s letter reflected official advice that creating a central registry for trusts would have been complex and would have distracted from the main objective of shining a light on the ownership of shell companies.

“It would have slowed down the process because of the different types of trust involved,” the official said. “They are sometimes used to protect vulnerable people, so that would have been an extra complication. “As the directive went through we reached a position where trusts which generate tax consequences had to demonstrate their ownership to HM Revenue & Customs.” According to officials, the UK stance in 2013 prompted clashes with France and Austria as well as with members of the European Parliament, who accused Britain of double standards in the fight against tax avoidance. Maria Fekter, the Austrian finance minister at the time, had attacked Britain earlier that year as “the island of the blessed for tax evasion and money laundering”. She cited trusts as a specific problem.

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“London is the epicentre of so much of the sleaze that happens in the world..”

Panama Papers Reveal London As Centre Of ‘Spider’s Web’ (AFP)

As-well as shining a spotlight on the secret financial arrangements of the rich and powerful, the so-called Panama Papers have laid bare London’s role as a vital organ of the world’s tax-haven network. The files leaked from Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca exposed Britain’s link to thousands of firms based in tax havens and how secret money is invested in British assets, particularly London property. Critics accuse British authorities of turning a blind eye to the inflow of suspect money and of being too close to the financial sector to clamp down on the use of its overseas territories as havens, with the British Virgin Islands alone hosting 110,000 of the Mossack Fonseca’s clients. “London is the epicentre of so much of the sleaze that happens in the world,” Nicholas Shaxson, author of the book “Treasure Islands”, which examines the role of offshore banks and tax havens, told AFP.

The political analyst said that Britain itself was relatively transparent and clean, but that companies used the country’s territories abroad – relics of the days of empire – to “farm out the seedier stuff”, often under the guise of shell companies with anonymous owners. “Tax evasion and stuff like that will be done in the external parts of the network. Usually there will be links to the City of London, UK law firms, UK accountancy firms and to UK banks,” he said, calling London the centre of a “spider’s web”. “They’re all agents of the City of London – that is where the whole exercise is controlled from,” Richard Murphy, professor at London’s City University, said of the offshore havens. The files showed that Britain had the third highest number of Mossack Fonseca’s middlemen operating within its borders, with 32,682 advisers.

Although not illegal in themselves, shell companies can be used for illegal activities such as laundering the proceeds of criminal activities or to conceal misappropriated or politically-inconvenient wealth. Around 310,000 tax haven companies own an estimated £170 billion (210 billion euros, $240 billion) of British real estate, 10% of which were linked to Mossack Fonseca. The files appeared to show that the United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan owned London properties worth more than £1.2 billion and that Mariam Safdar, daughter of Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif, was the beneficial owner of two offshore companies that owned flats on the exclusive Park Lane.

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“..the London property market has been skewed by laundered money. Prices are being artificially driven up by overseas criminals who want to sequester their assets here in the UK”

How Laundered Money Shapes London’s Property Market (FT)

For three-quarters of Londoners under 35, owning a home in the capital remains out of reach. But according to the leaked Panama Papers, buying property in London presented little problem for associates of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president; for a convicted embezzler who is also the son of a former Egyptian president; or for a Nigerian senator facing corruption charges. The leaks from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca have brought back into focus the ownership of London property via offshore companies by people suspected of corruption overseas — a phenomenon that has helped to shape the capital’s housing market, where prices are up 50% since 2007. “We think it very likely that the influx of corrupt money into the housing market has pushed up prices,” said Rachel Davies, senior advocacy manager at Transparency International.

Donald Toon, head of the National Crime Agency, has gone further, saying last year that “the London property market has been skewed by laundered money. Prices are being artificially driven up by overseas criminals who want to sequester their assets here in the UK”. Since 2004 £180m of UK property has been subject to criminal investigation as suspected proceeds of corruption, according to Transparency International data from 2015. Yet this probably represented “only a small proportion of the total”, added the campaign group. Most of these properties were bought using anonymous shell companies based in offshore tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands. Overseas companies own 100,000 properties in England and Wales, Land Registry data show. Owning property through a company can present tax advantages but, depending where that company is based, it can also offer anonymity.

According to Transparency International figures, almost one in 10 properties in the London borough of Kensington & Chelsea is owned through a “secrecy jurisdiction” such as the British Virgin Islands, Jersey or the Isle of Man. “UK property can be acquired anonymously, anti-money-laundering checks can be bypassed with relative ease, and if you invest in luxury property in London you know your investment is safe. All that comes from the flaws in the UK anti-money-laundering system,” said Ms Davies. According to the documents leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Soulieman Marouf, an al-Assad associate whose assets in Europe were frozen for two years from 2012, holds luxury flats in London worth almost £6m through British Virgin Islands companies.

The family of a deceased former Syrian intelligence chief owns a £1.2m Battersea home, the Guardian reported. The documents also link Alaa Mubarak — a son of Hosni Mubarak, the former Egyptian president — who was jailed and released last year for corruption, to an £8m Knightsbridge property. Bukola Saraki, the president of the Nigerian senate who faces charges in his home country of failing to declare assets, owns a Belgravia property, while a second is held by companies in which his wife and former special assistant are shareholders. Mr Saraki denies any wrongdoing and says he declared his assets in accordance with the law.

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This bubble too will burst.

London Luxury-Apartment Sales Slump Triggers 20% Bulk Discounts (BBG)

Developers in central London are offering institutional investors discounts of as much as 20% on bulk purchases of luxury apartments as demand from international buyers slumps amid higher taxes and low commodity prices. Concessions of about that magnitude are being offered to investors willing to take 100 homes or more, according to Killian Hurley, chief executive officer of London developer Mount Anvil. Broker CBRE is negotiating discounts of as much as 15% for bulk purchases on the fringes of the capital’s best districts, said Chris Lacey, head of U.K. residential investment. A record number of high-end homes are planned in London districts such as Nine Elms and Earls Court even as demand wanes.

Sales of properties under construction in the U.K. capital slumped 19% in the fourth quarter of 2015, according to researcher Molior, while the percentage of overseas buyers fell to 20% from about 33% a year earlier, broker Hamptons International data show. “We will see distress in prime central London and in Nine Elms, where there has been a lot of international investment,” Andrew Stanford at LaSalle Investment said in an interview. “There have been a number of house builders who have approached us directly with schemes as a direct result of off-plan sales falling, particularly in central London.” Bulk buyers may be hard to find because the apartments being built aren’t designed for the rental market, lacking features such as equal-size bedrooms, said Stanford, whose company has invested more than $457 million in U.K. multifamily housing on behalf of clients.

Many developers traveled to Asia to sell homes in advance of construction and secure cheaper development loans because the down payments made projects less risky. The imposition of higher purchase taxes has now reduced the appeal of the costliest properties, leaving developers wondering how they will secure funding, said Dominic Grace, head of London residential development at broker Savills. “It is a question everyone is asking, and the truth is no one really knows,” Grace said.

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Sure..

US Readies Bank Rule On Shell Companies Amid ‘Panama Papers’ Fury (Reuters)

The U.S. Treasury Department intends to soon issue a long-delayed rule forcing banks to seek the identities of people behind shell-company account holders, after the “Panama Papers” leak provoked a global uproar over the hiding of wealth via offshore banking devices. A department spokesman said on Wednesday the rule would “soon” be turned over to the White House for review and issuance, but did not confirm any timetable for the initiative, which has taken years. Governments around the globe have launched probes into possible financial wrongdoing after 11.5 million documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, nicknamed the “Panama Papers,” were leaked to the media and reports emerged Sunday. Mossack Fonseca has said it was the victim of a computer hack, and that it has consistently acted appropriately.

The papers offer “validation for those who have been screaming for a decade” about the need for financial institutions in the United States and elsewhere to address risks of money laundering, terror finance and other crime by identifying people who clandestinely control legal entities, former Treasury official Chip Poncy told Reuters. The leaked documents may give banks a glimpse into the kind of information on true, or “beneficial” owners, that they regularly should be obtaining to better understand the cross-border money flows they facilitate, said Poncy, one of the architects of the Treasury rule, which has been in the works since 2012.

But simply having a client who is linked to the offshore shell companies highlighted in the Panama papers “doesn’t necessarily mean much,” said a former FinCEN official who asked not to be named due to his role in the private sector. What would be significant is “inconsistent information or payment flows that now connect” in ways that suggest possible illicit activity, he said.

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“We have innuendo, we have a complete lack of standards on the part of the western media, and the major mistake made by the leaker was to give these documents to the corporate media..”

US Government, Soros Funded Panama Papers To Attack Putin: WikiLeaks (RT)

Washington is behind the recently released offshore revelations known as the Panama Papers, WikiLeaks has claimed, saying that the attack was “produced” to target Russia and President Putin. On Wednesday, the international whistleblowing organization said on Twitter that the Panama Papers data leak was produced by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), “which targets Russia and [the] former USSR.” The “Putin attack” was funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and American hedge fund billionaire George Soros, WikiLeaks added, saying that the US government’s funding of such an attack is a serious blow to its integrity. Organizations belonging to Soros have been proclaimed to be “undesirable” in Russia.

Last year, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office recognized Soros’s Open Society Foundations and the Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation as undesirable groups, banning Russian citizens and organizations from participation in any of their projects. Prosecutors then said the activities of the institute and its assistance foundation were a threat to the basis of Russia’s constitutional order and national security. Earlier this year, the billionaire US investor alleged that Putin is “no ally” to US and EU leaders, and that he aims “to gain considerable economic benefits from dividing Europe.” “The American government is pursuing a policy of destabilization all over the world, and this [leak] also serves this purpose of destabilization. They are causing a lot of people all over the world and also a lot of money to find its way into the [new] tax havens in America. The US is preparing for a super big financial crisis, and they want all that money in their own vaults and not in the vaults of other countries,” German journalist and author Ernst Wolff told RT.

Earlier this week, the head of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which worked on the Panama Papers, said that Putin is not the target of the leak, but rather that the revelations aimed to shed light on murky offshore practices internationally. “It wasn’t a story about Russia. It was a story about the offshore world,” ICIJ head Gerard Ryle told TASS. His statement came in stark contrast to international media coverage of the “largest leak in offshore history.” Although neither Vladimir Putin nor any members of his family are directly mentioned in the papers, many mainstream media outlets chose the Russian president’s photo when breaking the story.

“We have innuendo, we have a complete lack of standards on the part of the western media, and the major mistake made by the leaker was to give these documents to the corporate media,” former CIA officer Ray McGovern told RT. “This would be humorous if it weren’t so serious,” he added. “The degree of Putinophobia has reached a point where to speak well about Russia, or about some of its actions and successes, is impossible. One needs to speak [about Russia] in negative terms, the more the better, and when there’s nothing to say, you need to make things up,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said, commenting on anti-Russian sentiment triggered by the publications. WikiLeaks spokesman and Icelandic investigative journalist Kristinn Hrafnsson has called for the leaked data to be put online so that everybody could search through the papers. He said withholding of the documents could hardly be viewed as “responsible journalism.”

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Almost funny.

Bookmakers Set Odds For Next Leader To Resign After Panama Papers (MW)

Whose scalp will the Panama Papers scandal claim next? Irish bookmaker Paddy Power has opened betting lines on which head of state could be the next to go. “Who needs the Grand National when you’ve got the Panama Papers to punt on?” the betting line boasted in a press release on Wednesday. Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, announced yesterday he was stepping down after Panama Papers revelations that he and his wife sought to hide their claims on Icelandic banks that were bailed out by his administration during the financial crisis. Paddy Power puts the odds of British Prime Minister David Cameron resigning next at 20-1. The leaked documents outed Cameron’s father Ian Cameron as a client of the Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, at the center of the scandal.

Cameron’s father used a secret but legal offshore structure to set up a fund for investors. After saying all day Monday that his tax affairs were a “private matter”, media questions about his family’s remaining interest in the fund forced Cameron’s office, according to BBC reports, to issue a statement affirming that his family “[does] not benefit from any offshore trusts.” A surer bet according to the bookmaker is Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri at 8-1 odds. Macri won last year’s general election campaigning on a platform promising to fight corruption but the leaked documents say he was a director of Fleg Trading Ltd, founded in 1998 by his father Franco Macri, one of the richest men in Argentina. The company was dissolved in January 2009. “It was an offshore company to invest in Brazil, an investment that ultimately wasn’t completed, and where I was director,” he said in a television interview with a local program.

A Paddy Power spokesman told MarketWatch that to pay off, the leader has to leave “after being implicated specifically in the Panama Papers.” There have already been a few bets made that Macri and Cameron are next, he said. Paddy Power also has laid odds that the President of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif will leave at 10-to-1 and Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko almost as good at 12-1. Sharif is mentioned in the leak as the result of a £7 million loan from Deutsche Bank backed up by four London apartments owned by offshore companies established by Mossack Fonseca. Poroshenko – nicknamed the ‘chocolate king’ – hid his ongoing interest in his candy company, Roshen, in a blind trust offshore when he became president in 2014. He had promised to sell it after being elected. Longshots to leave include President Xi Jinping of China, Russia’s Putin and France’s Francois Hollande, all set at 33-1.

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Coming closer.

Brexit May Force Europe’s Banks To Dump $123 Billion Of Securities (BBG)

If Britain decides to leave the EU, a corner of the credit market may depart with it and European banks could be left having to replace as much as €108 billion ($123 billion) of securities. Lenders from the EU that bought bonds backed by U.K. mortgages, bank loans and credit-card debt may find themselves caught up in the fallout of a “Brexit” because the debt might no longer count toward their emergency cash reserves. While a settlement with the bloc would take years to reach, lawyers and analysts are beginning to flag concerns about holdings of the asset-backed securities, a market that’s already been hammered since the financial crisis.

“Banks could find themselves having a liquidity issue if these assets no longer count,” said Vincent Keaveny at law firm DLA Piper, who specializes in structured credit. “There are big risks out there, but there aren’t any easy fixes.” Under the Basel Accords, a set of agreements by global regulators, banks must meet minimum standards meant to make them more resilient to shocks after the financial crisis highlighted their weaknesses. One standard, known as the Liquidity Coverage Ratio, requires banks maintain an adequate amount of high-quality assets that can be quickly converted to cash to meet liquidity needs for 30 days.

Certain securitized notes are counted, but their underlying assets must originate from a member state, according to the European Commission’s Delegated Act for the standard. That means some bonds backed by collateral from a newly go-it-alone Britain may be excluded. “‘Brexit’ could result in certain U.K. ABS no longer qualifying as eligible assets for current LCR purposes,” Angela Clist and Nicole Rhodes, London-based lawyers specializing in securitization at Allen & Overy LLP, wrote in a note to clients in February.

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“When economists say “equilibrium,” what they really mean is “any solution to any equations I decide to write down.”

Economics Builds a Tower of Babel (BBG)

In Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass,” Humpty Dumpty proudly declares: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” To which Alice replies: “The question is whether you can make words mean so many different things.” Humpty Dumpty could have been an economist. The modern economics profession made a collective decision, long ago, to develop a system of jargon in which words have multiple, sometimes contradictory meanings. Unfortunately, the general public’s reaction tends to be similar to that of poor Alice. Want some examples? There’s no shortage. Let’s take the word “investment.” Most people think this means buying some financial assets, such as stocks or bonds. That’s basically a form of lending – you give someone money today, and you hope they’ll give you back more money tomorrow.

Economists call that “financial investment,” but the kind of investment they usually talk about is business investment, meaning a company’s purchase of capital goods. Since companies use debt to buy capital goods (or use their own cash, which is essentially the same thing), this kind of “investment” is actually a type of borrowing. So economists use the same word to mean both borrowing and lending! That couldn’t possibly result in any confusion, right? Two similar examples are “capital” and “equity.” “Equity” can mean stock – partial ownership of a company – or it can refer to “shareholders’ equity,” which is a measure of the value of a business. “Capital” in econ can mean financial capital, i.e. money in the bank. More commonly, it refers to capital goods – productive stuff such as buildings or machines that help you create more stuff.

Though economists usually use the term in the second way, many people outside the profession refer to financial capital as “economic capital.” Confused yet? We’re just getting started. Everyone knows that economists love models where rational agents interact in an efficient market that reaches equilibrium, right? Except that almost every word in that sentence is complete nonsense, thanks to econ’s Humpty Dumpty-like tendency to redefine words without telling anyone. So how about “equilibrium”? The word used to refer to a situation where prices adjust in order to clear markets, so that supply matches demand. Later, game theorists came up with “Nash equilibrium,” named after mathematician John Nash, which refers to a situation where everyone is responding optimally to everyone else in a strategic situation. Other concepts proliferated, and so by now the word has lost all meaning entirely. When economists say “equilibrium,” what they really mean is “any solution to any equations I decide to write down.”

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Will the EU survive?

Dutch ‘No’ Vote On Ukraine Pact Forces Government Rethink (Reuters)

The Dutch government said on Wednesday it could not ignore the resounding “No” in a non-binding referendum on the EU’s association treaty with Ukraine, but that it may take weeks to decide how to respond. Although the results were preliminary, they exposed dissatisfaction with the Dutch government and policy-making in Brussels – signalling a anti-establishment mood in a founding EU member weeks before Britain votes on membership. There could also be far-reaching consequences for the fragile Dutch coalition government, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency and which has lost popularity amid a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment. Exit polls indicated roughly 64% of Dutch voters voted “No” and 36% said “Yes”. Although turnout was too close to call, early tallies indicated it was just ahead of a turnout minimum of 30% required for the vote to be valid.

“It’s clear that ‘No’ have won by an overwhelming margin, the question is only if turnout is sufficient,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in a televised reaction. “If the turnout is above 30% with such a large margin of victory for the ‘No’ camp, then my sense is that ratification can’t simply go ahead,” Rutte added. That sentiment was shared by Diederik Samsom, leader of the Labour Party, the junior partner the governing coalition. “We can’t ratify the treaty in this fashion,” he said. A person familiar with internal EU discussions on how leaders in Brussels would respond said EU officials had been hoping for very low turnout that would disqualify or diminish the impact of a “No” vote. The European Commission, the bloc’s executive, will play for time, waiting for the Dutch government to suggest a way forward, the official said. The political, trade and defence treaty is already provisionally in place, but has to be ratified by all 28 EU member countries for every part of it to have full legal force. The Netherlands is the only country that has not done so.

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Monday there was a lot of media and brouhaha, and then they have a 17-day hiatus? EU-Assclowns.

Greece Sees Two-Week Lag In Migrant Returns To Turkey (AFP)

A last-minute flurry of asylum applications by migrants desperate to avoid expulsion from Greece to Turkey will likely cause a two-week “lag” in an EU deportation plan slammed by rights groups, a Greek official said Wednesday. Nikos Xydakis, junior foreign minister for European affairs, indicated there would likely be few migrants sent back to Turkey over the next two weeks, following the first deportation of around 200 people on Monday. “We knew there would be a lag, an intermediate period before the program takes off, of at least two weeks to get through the first batch of (asylum) applications,” Xydakis told reporters. He nevertheless said the next set of expulsions would likely take place “from Friday onwards”, without going into further detail.

Athens stressed that the people shipped back to Turkey on Monday were migrants who had not claimed asylum. But the UN’s refugee agency has expressed concern that 13 of them, mostly Afghans, had expressed a wish to claim asylum but were not registered in time. Xydakis said some two dozen EU legal experts had arrived so far to assist the asylum process, compared to hundreds of security agents from EU border agency Frontex. “This is the weakness of the whole procedure. It is easier to deploy police officers than experts in refugee law, interpreters, debriefers,” he said. But he added: “They are coming.” Once the system is fully up and running, Greece has said it can process asylum claims in two weeks. “In two weeks (authorities) can get through 400 to 500 applications,” Xydakis said.

Under the terms of the EU-Turkey deal, all “irregular migrants” arriving on the Greek islands from Turkey since March 20 face being sent back, although the accord calls for each case to be examined individually. And for every Syrian refugee returned, another Syrian refugee will be resettled from Turkey to the EU, with numbers capped at 72,000. “It was overestimated that in five days everything would begin, it was crazy. We told them many times in Brussels, we knew,” Xydakis said. “Things must be done by the book, we cannot bundle people together, they have to be certified and checked,” the minister said. Out of around 6,000 migrants who have arrived on the islands of Chios and Lesvos after the March 20 deadline, more than 2,300 have now applied for asylum. And many others had previously complained of not having had access to the asylum procedure.

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Jan 272016
 
 January 27, 2016  Posted by at 4:40 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , ,  8 Responses »


Berenice Abbott Broome Street, Nos. 504-506, Manhattan 1935

Though she had no intention of being funny, we laughed out loud, as undoubtedly many did with us, when incumbent and wannabe IMF head Christine Lagarde said last week in Davos that China has a communication issue. Of course, Lagarde knows full well that Beijing has much bigger problems than communication ‘with the market’. Or, to put it differently, if Xi and Li et al would ‘improve’ their communication by telling the truth about their economy, nobody would be talking about communication anymore.

Mixed signals from China, which is attempting to shift its economy away from exports and investment to a consumer-driven model, have deepened concerns about the outlook for world growth, she said. Uncertainty is “something that markets do not like”, Ms Lagarde told a panel of business leaders and economic regulators in the snow-blanketed Swiss ski resort. Investors have struggled with “not knowing exactly what the policy is, not knowing exactly against what the renminbi is going to be valued”, she said, referring to China’s currency. “I think better and more communication will certainly serve that transition better.”

The world’s second-largest economy this week announced its 2015 GDP growth as 6.9%, its slowest in a quarter of a century. The figure cast a shadow over the summit, where IHS chief economist Nariman Behravesh told AFP that Chinese policymakers had “fumbled” and had “added to the uncertainty and the volatility by their behaviour”. Mr Fang Xinghai, the vice-chairman of China’s securities regulator, said at the same panel that “in terms of communication, we should do a better job”. “We have to be patient because our system is not structured in a way that is able to communicate seamlessly with the market,” he added.

The real issue is what people would think if Beijing announced a more realistic 2% or less GDP growth number. The thought alone scares Lagarde as much as anyone, including the Politburo. The sole option seems to be to keep lying as long as you can get away with it. But how and where the yuan will be valued by China itself has become entirely inconsequential compared to how markets value the currency.

The PBoC spent a fortune trying to straighten the offshore and onshore yuan(s), only to see the two diverge sharply again, as Shanghai stocks posted the biggest loss on Tuesday, at 6.4%, since the ‘unfortunate’ circuit breaker incident. That puts additional pressure on the Hong Kong dollar peg, and ultimately on the mainland China peg to whatever it is they’re trying to peg to.

Beijing might solve some of these problems by devaluing the yuan by 30%, or even 50%, but it would invite a large amount of other problems in the door if it did. Like a full-blown currency war. Still, it’s just a matter of time till Xi and Li either do it voluntarily or are forced to by ‘the market’.

What they are trying very hard NOT to communicate is how much pain their Ponzi debt burden has put them in. It’s not even fully clear to what extent Xi himself is aware of this, but he knows at least enough to keep his mouth shut on the topic. It’s quite possible that some of his top aides dare not reveal the real tally to their boss for fear of their jobs and heads.

In concert with denial and obfuscation, pride and hubris may be clouding the image the Chinese have of themselves and their economy. The rest of the world has followed them in that to a large degree, but it’s got to wake up at some point. If what the WSJ quotes a Beijing-based investor as saying is halfway true, and Xi realizes the opportunity it provides him, a huge devaluation may be imminent after all, if Shanghai shares keep falling the way they are.

Yuan’s Fall Is Just ‘Noise’ Amid Deeper China Woes

The country is already littered with “zombie” factories, empty apartment blocks that form ghostly suburbs, mothballed power stations and other infrastructure that nobody needs. But yet more wasteful projects are in the pipeline, even as the government talks about cutting industrial overcapacity. “That’s the misalignment—everything else is noise,” says Rodney Jones, the Beijing-based principal of Wigram Capital Advisors, who was a partner at Soros Fund Management during the 1990s. If debt keeps piling up at the current rate, China faces an eventual financial crisis, perhaps leading to years of subpar growth, mirroring the fate of Japan after its bubble burst in the early 1990s.

Mr. Jones argues that global equity markets haven’t property adjusted to this risk, even after a 16% decline in U.S. dollar terms from their May peak. “The world will have to learn to live without demand from China,” he says. “It’ll come as a shock.” A sharp devaluation won’t fix these distortions, and might even make matters worse if, as likely, it were to trigger financial mayhem in China’s trading partners. An alternative—further clamping cross-border currency controls—would be a humiliating retreat from Beijing’s policy of making the yuan more international.

If China imports continue to fall the way they have recently, a development that has already relentlessly hammered global commodities markets and exporting emerging nations, the advantages of a large devaluation could become irresistible even for a proud president. With capital flight in 2015 estimated at $1 trillion, and a roughly equal chunk of foreign reserves thrown at attempts to ‘stabilize’ the yuan, that pride is getting costly.

..

But it occureed to me today that perhaps I simply haven’t been cynical enough yet when pondering the matter. The support for a strong yuan, the one thing that is constantly ‘communicated’ to the world, may be just another facade. Beijing may have long decided to go for the jugular. China will have to adjust to the popping of its growth fairy tale and Ponzi economy no matter what it tries to do to prevent it.

Might as well swallow the bitter pill in one go then and get it over with?! It would make exports much more attractive at a time when more expensive imports are much less of an issue. As nice example is the very disappointing sales of iPhones in the country, prompting this comment from Apple CEO Tim Cook today: “We’re seeing extreme conditions unlike anything we’ve experienced before just about everywhere we look.” I think he might want to consider that what happened before was extreme, not what is now.

Beijing did a few things recently that triggered my cynicism radar. First, they targeted George Soros.

China Accuses George Soros Of ‘Declaring War’ On Yuan

Chinese state media has stepped up a salvo of biting commentaries against George Soros and other currency traders as the yuan comes under pressure, with the billionaire investor accused of “declaring war” on the unit. At the annual World Economic Forum in Davos last week, Soros told Bloomberg TV that the world’s second-largest economy was heading for more troubles. “A hard landing is practically unavoidable,” he said. Soros [..] pointed to deflation and excessive debt as reasons for China’s slowdown.

[..] Soros “publicly ‘declared war’ on China”, the paper said, citing the 85-year-old as saying that he had taken positions against Asian currencies. But some readers questioned whether the official rhetoric could fuel Chinese investors’ fears. “They say a lot of loud slogans, but do official media even know that Chinese investors are in hell?” said one poster on social media network Weibo. “I’m afraid that Chinese investors will die in a stampede before Soros even shows his hand.”

And I’m thinking: why should you go after Soros in a very public way when you know the whole world will take note and there’s nothing you can do other than stomp your feet and thump your chest? “Look, everyone, the world’s most notorious and successful short seller is after us, but we’re so much smarter!” Maybe they think Chinese mom and pop investor juggernauts will fall for their ‘whatever it takes’ tale, but they have to deal with the entire planet here.

Could this be simple stupidity? At a certain point that gets hard to believe. An even better example, and one that is really brow-raising, was the announcement of an inquiry into China’s statistics chief:

Head Of China’s Statistics Bureau Investigated For Corruption

The head of China’s statistics bureau is being investigated for corruption, the country’s watchdog said on Tuesday. “Wang Baoan is suspected of severe disciplinary violations, he is currently under investigation,” the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said in a one-line statement on its website, using a phrase that is usually used to refer to corruption. The announcement came just hours after Wang appeared at a media briefing in Beijing on China’s economy in 2015. Last week the National Bureau of Statistics released data that showed China’s economy grew at the slowest pace in 25 years. Wang reiterated on Tuesday that the country’s GDP calculations were reliable, Chinese media reported, despite widespread criticism of the data.

Here’s a guy seeking to soothe his audience, which in present circumstances includes the whole globe, and you cut him off at the knees just hours after? He says all’s fine, and then you sent a message to the world that he can’t be trusted?

The timing seems crucial here. They could have waited a week, or two, so the connection between the two events (Wang’s statement and the inquiry announcement) would have been much less obvious. They could also, of course, have had the inquiry but kept it hush-hush. Instead, as in the Soros case, there’s a big public declaration.

Wang is head of a statistics bureau that, says the NYT, is tasked with:

Inquiry in China Adds to Doubt Over Reliability of Economic Data

The statistics bureau has a variety of responsibilities that are hard to balance even in the best of times. The bureau is supposed to provide China’s leaders with an unvarnished assessment of the country’s economic strengths and weaknesses, even while reassuring the public about growth and maintaining consumer confidence. It is also supposed to release enough detailed and accurate information for investors and corporate leaders to make sound decisions about economic and financial prospects.

That leads us right back to the start of this article. Wang must provide “enough detailed and accurate information” for investors”, but how can he do that if the real numbers are as bad as I strongly think they are? In that case, accurate information would drive most investors away and drive others towards shorting the yuan.

He must also “provide China’s leaders with an unvarnished assessment of the country’s economic strengths and weaknesses”, and perhaps he screwed up there (too much varnish). Xi may have found out something real bad that Wang didn’t tell him about. But even then, the fact stands that Xi risks triggering exactly what he pretends to want to prevent, by taking this to the press.

To summarize: yes, it’s possible that Beijing has a communication problem. I’ve never had the idea that Xi understands that now his power dream has come true, he finds that power is not absolute, if and when he wishes to have a financial market that allows for China to get richer through trade. That he realizes the price to pay for that is having much less than total control.

Still, after glancing through this stuff, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the decision for a very substantial devaluation of the yuan has already been taken. It would be a panic move, with largely unpredictable consequences, but then Beijing has plenty to panic about.

And I can’t wait to see what Lagarde has to say when she figures out her new currency basket baby turns around to bite her in the ass.

PS: Something I scribbled last week: Time and again, I see ‘experts’ claim that the fact that the Chinese services sector now makes up half of GDP, is a positive. But, even if we forget for now that much of its growth is due to financial services, the real meaning is the opposite. The services sector has been able to become so important simply because the manufacturing sector is plunging as badly as it is.

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 September 11, 2014  Posted by at 8:25 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , ,  10 Responses »


DPC Real Estate Exchange from Dime Bank building, Detroit 1918

Someone should shut up George Soros. The Financial Times offers him a podium because he’s rich, and if you’re rich, people today think you must be smart, and right, as well. We admire money, not brains; indeed, we confuse the two.

George is not right. George is much more old than right. George writes a plea for the United Kingdom and the European Union that misses on just about every single point. Because George lives in the past. When he was not yet so old.

If the Scots want to break free from the United Kingdom, that is their god – or UN, whichever comes first -given right. And people like Soros need to butt out of that discussion.

Britain Needs Greater Unity Not A Messy Break-up

This is the worst possible time for Britain to consider leaving the EU – or for Scotland to break with Britain. The EU is an unfinished project of European states that have sacrificed part of their sovereignty to form an ever-closer union based on shared values and ideals. Those shared values are under attack on multiple fronts. Russia’s undeclared war against Ukraine is perhaps the most immediate example but it is by no means the only one. Resurgent nationalism and illiberal democracy are on the rise within Europe, at its borders and around the globe.

The EU is not an unfinished, but a failed project. It wasn’t, and isn’t, based on values and ideals, but on money. It may have once been a good idea, but it’s run many a mile off the rails. The EU, like NATO, should be disbanded. They are both organizations that have accumulated so much power that this can only possibly backfire on the people they represent.

They’re organizations in which power accumulates by itself, they can’t stop accummulating ever more of it because there are no backstops and no breaks built into their statutes. ‘Resurgent nationalism’, in Europe and elsewhere, is a direct effect of this, and the very last thing that should happen, if we know what’s good for us, is for the EU and NATO to be employed to fight against it.

How do we know, how can we be so sure? This is how: While the EU announces new sanctions against Russia, to go into effect tomorrow, and NATO builds up its ‘presence’ on Russia’s borders, Amnesty releases a report that even gets covered by the mother of all MSM’s, Newsweek:

Ukrainian Nationalist Volunteers Committing ‘ISIS-Style’ War Crimes

Groups of right-wing Ukrainian nationalists are committing war crimes in the rebel-held territories of Eastern Ukraine, according to a report from Amnesty International, as evidence emerged in local media of the volunteer militias beheading their victims. Armed volunteers who refer to themselves as the Aidar battalion “have been involved in widespread abuses, including abductions, unlawful detention, ill-treatment, theft, extortion, and possible executions”, Amnesty said.

The organisation has also published a report detailing similar alleged atrocities committed by pro-Russian militants, highlighting the brutality of the conflict which has claimed over 3,000 lives. Amnesty’s statement came before images of what appeared to be the severed heads of two civilians’ started circulating on social media today, identified by Russian news channel NTV as the heads of rebel hostages.

There are over 30 pro-nationalist, volunteer battalions similar to Aidar, such as Ukraina, DND Metinvest and Kiev 1, all funded by private investors. The Aidar battalion is publicly backed by Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi, who also funds the Azov, Donbas, Dnepr 1, Dnepr 2 volunteer battalions, operating under orders from Kiev. Last spring Kolomoyskyi offered a bounty of $10,000 of his own money for each killed Russian “saboteur”.

That is not nothing. That is a very strong condemnation of a whole range of private armies that have been executing war crimes against Ukraine citizens, private armies ‘operating under orders from Kiev’. Financed by ‘us’. And yes, Newsweek mentions ‘alleged atrocities’ committed by rebel forces (still called pro-Russian so we can imply Putin being involved). But even if that is true, it does not, not now and not ever, make our support of private armies beheading their own co-citizens ‘alright’.

These people have been able to commit their crimes because we, the US, EU and NATO, have backed them. This is not about, as George Soros claims, ‘Russia’s undeclared war against Ukraine’, this is about Kiev’s loudly declared war on its own people. Which ‘we’, along with a bunch of slumdog warlord billionaires, encouraged. And paid for.

That is why and how we know that the EU and NATO should no longer be allowed to exist. If we don’t disband both, we will, so to speak, never go to heaven, because if there is a god, (s)he will not look down kindly upon this. NATO and EU inflict too much damage on too many people, in the case of the EU economically (PIIGS), politically and now militarily (Ukraine), and in the case of NATO – obviously – militarily around the globe. NATO has degenerated from a keeper of the peace into a war mongering force, a.k.a. a means for the US to make other nations pay for its global hegemony dreams.

So we have that Amnesty report about Kiev-directed war crimes, and what do you think the Kiev parliament has as an answer to that? Well, this:

War Crimes Acceptable? Parliament Mulls Amnesty For Kiev’s Troops In East Ukraine

The Ukrainian parliament is to debate a law on amnesty for Ukrainian troops who have committed war crimes in the course of military actions in Eastern Ukraine. A bill on amnesty for military personnel who committed war crimes during the military crackdown in Eastern Ukraine was introduced in the Rada (the Ukrainian parliament) on Wednesday, its website says. The bill assumes the discharge of legal responsibility and punishment of military staff and “other people” for the actions which “bear the marks of war crime.”

The Amnesty researchers interviewed dozens of victims and witnesses of the abuses and crimes, as well as local officials, police and army commanders in Lugansk area. The watchdog pointed out that while formally operating under the command of the Ukrainian security forces combined headquarters in the region, members of the Aidar battalion act “with virtually no oversight or control, and local police are either unwilling or unable to address the abuses.”

If you live in the west and you aspire to go to heaven, you better make sure this kind of stuff, and these kinds of people, are no longer backed up by those you elect to represent you and spend you tax money. And even if you don’t believe in heaven, you should at least have an inch of decency left in your life, and that too would make it imperative that you stop these atrocities being committed in your name.

Which brings me back to Soros.

Britain Needs Greater Unity Not A Messy Break-up

Since world war two the European powers, along with the US, have been the main supporters of the prevailing international order. Yet, in recent years, overwhelmed by the euro crisis, Europe has turned inward, diminishing its ability to play a forceful role in international affairs. To make matters worse, the US has done the same, if for different reasons. Their preoccupation with domestic matters has created a vacuum that ambitious regional powers have sought to fill.

No George, you have things upside down. It’s the ‘prevailing international order’ that has caused the crisis. Not prevented it.

The resulting breakdown of international governance has given rise to a plethora of unresolved crises around the globe. The breakdown is most acute in the Middle East. The sudden emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or Isis, provides the most gruesome example of how far it can go and how much human suffering it can cause. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, military conflict has spread to Europe. Two radically different forms of government are competing for ascendancy. The EU stands for principles of liberal democracy, international governance and the rule of law.

Again, no George. And again, you got it upside down.. It’s not the breakdown of international governance – in the model of it we have today – , but its very existence that ‘has given rise to a plethora of unresolved crises around the globe’. There’s nothing wrong with international governance by itself, the problem is in the way we’ve set it up, and what we thus have allowed it to turn into.

Too much power gets concentrated at the top – this is just as true for the US as well -, and the shit that floats to the top of that should never be trusted with that kind of power. They should at best be allowed to run rural Five and Dimes, and only under strict supervision.

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin maintains the outward appearance of democracy by exploiting a narrative of ethnic and religious nationalism to generate popular support for his corrupt, authoritarian regime.

It’s not Putin who started this, George, no matter how much your past may have warned you off about Russians. Putin is not the Stalin you once knew. It’s ‘us’ who started this.

As a major power and global financial centre, Britain ought to be centrally involved in crafting a European response to this threat. But like the US and the EU itself, Britain has also been distracted by internal matters. David Cameron has been persuaded by anti-European zeal – not least within his own party – to put UK membership in the EU to a vote in 2017. A poll on Scottish independence is only days away. Just when Britain should be confronting grave threats to its way of life, it is preoccupied with divorce of one type or another. Divorce is always messy.

What can I say, George? Where do you think this ‘anti-European zeal’ comes from? As for that divorce thing, how many wives have you had? You of all people should know a divorce is not necessarily all that bad. Messy, perhaps.

For Scotland and the rest of the UK to enter into a currency union without a political union, after the euro crisis has demonstrated all the pitfalls, would be a retrograde step that neither side should contemplate. Yet without it, an independent Scotland could not benefit from the low interest rates that a strong pound has brought. These considerations ought to outweigh whatever possible benefits independence might bring.

Retrogade, you said? Am I right to interpret that to say that increased centralization is always a good thing in your view? And as for ‘benefit from the low interest rates that a strong pound has brought’, do you really think that ultra low rates have been such a blessing for the world? Or do you perhaps merely mean to imply they have been for you? In my view, an economy that can exist only through severe central bank manipulation (which is what ultra low rates represent) doesn’t have a long life expectancy.

[..] Britain has always played a balancing role between hostile blocs. Its absence would greatly diminish the weight of the EU in the world.

Oh come on, Britain has always been blood thirsty, that’s how it built an empire. Balancing role my donkey. And as for diminishing the weight of the EU, that’s something I’m all for.

The EU has proved to be the best guarantor of peace and human security since the end of the second world war. The importance of preserving the shared values underpinning a whole way of life far outweigh any possible advantages of independence. The difficult times we are facing call for increased unity, not divorce.

Georgie boy, this is not 1950 anymore. In Ukraine, the EU has proven itself the opposite of ‘the best guarantor of peace and human security’. It has supported, and still does, depraved private armies. The second world war is long gone, there are new problems today.

What has been proven since WWII is that increased unity/centralization is NOT the answer to everything, it indeed turns into a problem all by and of itself. That is what the EU and NATO represent. the problem of ‘increased unity’. Which is that power doesn’t stop accumulating, and the wrong kind of people scoop it up to execute their depraved power games.

[..] to vote for independence from the UK now would be to prematurely surrender Scottish leverage in London, and Britain’s leverage in the world.

Scotland doesn’t want leverage in London, it wants leverage in Edinburgh. Only 7% of the taxes Scots pay get distributed by their own government, the other 93% (!) goes through the hands of London. What’s wrong with no longer wanting that? What’s wrong with a dozen other European regions not wanting it?

Yes, there are cases in which extreme right will try to decide things in its favor. That may not be a good thing. But US, NATO and EU quite openly encourage just that in Ukraine. So what exactly are we talking about here? Are we going to tell the Scots and Catalans and Basque that they can’t determine their own lives, in the same way we tell that to the Donbass?

George, you’re 84, and your time is up. When it comes to – attempts at – decision making, that is. I hope you’ll live to be over 124, but leave younger people’s decisions alone. This is not 1948 anymore, and it’s not even 1984 either.

The solution to these issues is not in more centralization, be it the UK, the EU, or globalization in general. Centralization will always, of necessity, be a problem in itself. The only thing we can do, no matter how large the setting, is set up a system, based on law, that prevents the wrong kind of people from floating to the top. And the more centralized power becomes, the more harm these wrong people can do.

In the meantime, let’s let Scots be Scots and Catalans, Catalans. The worst they can do by becoming independent is accelerate the demise of an already bankrupt financial and political system.

Separatists Threaten To Rip Europe Apart (AEP)

Europe is disintegrating. Two large and ancient kingdoms are near the point of rupture as Spain follows Britain into constitutional crisis, joined like Siamese twins. The post-Habsburg order further east is suddenly prey to a corrosive notion that settled borders are up for grabs. “Problems frozen for decades are warming up again,” said Giles Merritt, from Friends of Europe in Brussels. The best we can hope for – should tribalism prevail – is German political hegemony in Europe. The German people so far remain a bastion of rationalism, holding together as others tear themselves apart. The French are too paralysed by economic depression and the collapse of the Hollande presidency to play any serious role. The far worse outcome is that even Germany succumbs to centrifugal forces, leaving Europe bereft of coherent leadership, a parochial patchwork, wallowing in victimhood and decline, defenceless against a revanchist Russia that plays by different rules.

Former Nato chief Lord Robertson warns that a British break-up is doubly dangerous, setting off “Balkanisation” dominoes across Europe, and amounting to a body blow for global security at a time when the Middle East is out of control and China is testing its power in Asian waters. He warns that the residual UK would be distracted for years by messy divorce, a diminished power, grappling with constitutional wreckage, likely to face a resurgence of Ulster’s demons. Scotland’s refusal to allow nuclear weapons on its soil means that no US warship would be able to dock in Scottish ports, while its withdrawal from all power projection overseas would push British fighting capability below the point of critical mass. “The world has not yet caught up with the full and dramatic implications of what is going on. For the second military power in the West to shatter would be cataclysmic in geopolitical terms. Nobody should underestimate the effect this would have on existing global balances,” he said.

[..] The Scottish precedent threatens – or promises, depending on your view – to set off a chain reaction. “If the Scots votes Yes, it will be an earthquake in Spain,” said Quim Aranda, from the Catalan newspaper Punt Avui. Madrid has declared Catalonia’s secession to be illegal, if not treason. Premier Mariano Rajoy has resorted to court action to stop Catalonia’s 7.5m people – the richer part of Spain – holding a pre-referendum vote for independence on November 9. Barcelona is already covered with posters calling for civil disobedience, some evoking Martin Luther King, some more belligerent. There is a hard edge to this dispute, with echoes of the Civil War. One serving military officer has openly spoken of “1936”, warning Catalan separatists not to awaken the “sleeping lion”. The association of retired army officers has called for treason trials in military courts for anybody promoting the break-up of Spain, a threat since disavowed by the current high command. Rioja’s premier, Pedro Sanz from the ruling Partido Popular, seemed to threaten a massacre, warning Catalans that they “will die” (morirán) if they persist in playing with fire. That will not stop 1m or more taking to the streets this week for Catalonia’s “Diada”, the national day, evoking the fall of Barcelona to the Bourbons in 1714.

Read more …

Catalans Today Demonstrate And Demand Right To Hold Referendum (Guardian)

Hundreds of thousands of Catalans will take to the streets on Thursday, the National Day of Catalonia, to demand the right to hold a referendum on their future, with some hoping that the sudden surge in support for Scottish independence might boost their cause. The demonstration will take the form of a huge “v” in the north of Barcelona, where two major thoroughfares converge. The v stands for via, vote and voluntat (will), though implicitly for victory, too. While victory may not be at hand, the separatists are gaining in confidence as their ranks continue to grow, helped by the obduracy of the Madrid government, which refuses to discuss the issue. The Catalan government has called a referendum on independence for the region of 7 million people on 9 November. Madrid said the vote will be illegal. Retired teacher Oriol Canals said: “The government treats the referendum as illegal and unconstitutional. It has subjected the independence movement to every kind of pressure, coercion and threats. As a result, the movement has grown by 20% in the past four years.”

Support for independence now stands at between 40-45%. 11 September marks the 300th anniversary of their loss of independence. Many eyes are now on Scotland and there is much talk about how the outcome of the referendum will influence the course of events here. “There are many similarities, such as the uncertainties about the economy, the currency or whether we will belong to the European Union or Nato,” said Larry Magrinyà, a Catalan who is married to a Scot. “On the other hand, Scotland enjoys greater recognition as a nation and it has, for example, its own football and rugby teams.” Magrinyà said that, while a yes vote would put wind in the separatists’ sails, it would very likely make the Spanish government even more determined to prevent a similar outcome in Catalonia. “The fact that the British government is allowing the referendum to go ahead shows that it is far more democratic than Spain,” said Mar Carrera, a communications specialist. “An key difference with Scotland is here the independence movement is capitalising more effectively on social and cultural discontent. “It’s important to bear in mind that the Catalan independence movement is heterogeneous, ranging from members of the rightwing governing party to the far left.”

Read more …

Scotland Nationalists Claim U.K. Oil in 40-Year Campaign (Bloomberg)

The discovery of North Sea riches in the 1970s planted the seed of modern-day Scottish nationalism as supporters of independence cried “It’s our oil!” Four decades later, nothing will be more important to the economic future of Scotland than the oil industry should the country vote to end the 307-year union with the rest of the U.K. Reserves of oil and gas would be split, possibly along the so-called median line, already used to allocate fishing rights. The division would hand the Scots about 96% of annual oil production and 47% of the gas, according to estimates for 2012 by the University of Aberdeen’s Alex Kemp and Linda Stephen cited by the Scottish government.

With a week to go before the Sept. 18 referendum and opinion polls showing the result is too close to call, the question is whether oil production, which has plummeted about 40% in four years, could finance a newly created state. “There’s a lot of talk of massive new developments in the North Sea but the trend in output has been downwards for the last 10 years at least,” David Bell, professor of economics at Stirling University, said in an interview on Sept. 9.

Read more …

Energy Minister: Half of Scottish Oil Reserves Yet to Be Exploited (RIA)

Mark Hirst – Scotland’s oil and gas sector is facing a bright future as half of oil reserves remain to be exploited, the Scottish Government’s Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism Fergus Ewing said Wednesday, commenting on a new study. Earlier, world leading oil expert Professor Alex Kemp, by using detailed financial modelling, predicted significant discoveries in Scottish oil sector made over the next 30 years. “His new predictions – based on that modelling – show a bright future for Scotland’s oil and gas sector for decades to come – with 99 new economic discoveries over the next three decades,” Ewing told RIA Novosti.

The minister said the new findings, contained in a new paper entitled, “Illuminating the Future Potential from the North Sea”, showed that half of the remaining wealth from Scotland’s oil remains to be exploited. “In value terms half the wealth from Scotland’s oil remains and by grabbing the independence opportunity later this month we can put an end to poor UK stewardship of this vital resource,” Ewing said. “Scotland deserves better and only a Yes vote on September 18 will deliver the powers needed to get the maximum benefit from Scotland’s natural resources,” Ewing added.

Read more …

Oil Demand Growth Slips To ‘Remarkable’ 2.5-Year Low (CNBC)

Demand growth in the oil markets will be more subdued than previously expected, according to the International Energy Agency, which has once again downgraded its projections for the rest of the year. “The recent slowdown in demand growth is nothing short of remarkable,” the IEA said in a new monthly report on Thursday morning. “While demand growth is still expected to gain momentum, the expected pace of recovery is now looking somewhat more subdued.” Its latest statistics show that demand growth slowed to below 500,000 barrels per day (b/d) in the second half of 2014 on a yearly basis. This was its lowest level in two and a half years, it added, leading the organization to revise demand projections downwards for the third quarter.

Additionally, global oil demand growth for has been lowered to 900,000 million b/d in 2014 and 1.2 million b/d for 2015. The pronounced slowdown in demand growth and a weaker outlook for Europe and China underpinned these changes, it said. In August, the IEA lowered its forecast for 2014, to 1.0 million b/d. “While festering conflicts in Iraq and Libya show no sign of abating, their effect on global oil market balances and prices remains muted amid weakening oil demand growth and plentiful supply,” it said in the report. “U.S. production continues to surge, and OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) output remains above the group’s official 30 million b/d supply target.” The euro zone was singled out for particular attention, with the IEA saying that the “macroeconomic malaise” experienced across much of Europe has been the dominant downside influence in terms of global demand.

Read more …

Saudis Cut Oil Production as Brent Slips Below $100 a Barrel (Bloomberg)

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest crude exporter, said it cut production by 408,000 barrels a day last month amid signs of a supply glut and Brent oil trading below $100 a barrel. The Saudi reduction came as other members such as Nigeria and Kuwait said they increased output in submissions to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, according to the group’s monthly oil market report yesterday. Total production by the 12-member group climbed by 231,000 barrels a day to 30.347 million last month, based on secondary sources, the report showed. The Saudi decline is the largest monthly drop in production since December 2012, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Other estimates collated by OPEC, based on secondary sources, show that the kingdom cut output by 55,200 barrels to 9.86 million a day last month.

“It does illustrate a desire not to oversupply the market, and it does illustrate they are actively defending $100 a barrel,” Mike Wittner, head of oil market research at Societe Generale SA (GLE), said by phone yesterday from New York. “A good chunk of that 400,000 cut was probably in crude exports, which is clearly supportive of prices.” Brent, a benchmark for more than half the world’s oil, fell to a 17-month low this week as supplies from Libya rebounded, and amid speculation of an oversupply. Banks including Citigroup Inc. (C) and UBS AG (UBSN) said the price decline would increase the chances of Saudi Arabia curbing supplies. “No switch gets flipped when the price goes from $100 to $99,” Wittner said. “It’s a soft floor. When they see a period of sustained weakness, and when there’s physical oversupply of light, sweet crude in the Atlantic basin, the Saudis are going to try and balance the market.”

Read more …

Exxon, Shell Oil Deals With Russia Imperiled by Sanctions (Bloomberg)

The U.S. and European Union are poised to halt billions of dollars in oil exploration in Russia by the world’s largest energy companies in sanctions that would cut deeper than previously disclosed. The new sanctions over Ukraine would prohibit U.S. and European cooperation in searching Russia’s Arctic, deep seas or shale formations for crude, according to three U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the measures haven’t been made public. If implemented, they would affect companies from Dallas to London, including Exxon Mobil and BP. EU ambassadors met today and will resume deliberations tomorrow in Brussels on whether to trigger added sanctions or wait longer to see if a cease-fire holds between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists and if Russia backs moves toward a longer-term agreement.

Once the EU implemented the new ban on sharing energy technology and services, the U.S. would follow suit with a similar package, including barring the export of U.S. gear and expertise for the specialized exploration that the Russians are unequipped to pursue on their own, the U.S. officials said. EU governments agreed on these oil-related sanctions on Sept. 8 as part of a wider package of measures intended to hobble Russia’s finance, defense and energy industries, pending evaluation of the cease-fire declared in Ukraine last week, according to two European officials who also spoke on condition that they not be named. The added sanctions wouldn’t interfere with drilling and production from conventional land-based wells and those along the shallow edges of inland seas, some of which have been pumping crude for decades. The sanctions target reserves that wouldn’t begin providing crude to global energy markets for five to 10 years.

Read more …

What Petrodollar: Russia, China To Create SWIFT Alternative (Zero Hedge)

If, when in February Victoria Nuland infamously launched a (not so) covert campaign to replace the ruling Ukraine president oblivious to the human casualties, resulting in a civil war in east Ukraine, NATO encroachment along the borders of Russia, and a near-terminal escalation in hostilities between Ukraine, Russian, and various regional NATO members, the US intention was to provoke the Kremlin so hard that the nation with the world’s largest reserves of mineral and energy resources would jettison the US Dollar and in the process begin the unraveling of the USD reserve currency status (as much as Jared Bernstein desires just such an outcome) it succeeded and then some. Because in the end it may have pushed not just Russia into the anti-petrodollar camp… it appears to have forced China in it as well.

According to Itar-Tass, Russia and China are discussing setting up a system of interbank transactions which will become an analogue to International banking transaction system SWIFT, First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov told PRIME on Wednesday after negotiations in Beijing. “Yes, we have discussed and we have approved this idea,” he said. But wait: wasn’t it the UK’s desire to force Russia out of SWIFT just two weeks ago? Why yes, and the fact that Russia is happy to do so, and on its own terms, once again shows just who has all the leverage, and who really needs, or rather doesn’t, the US Dollar. More from Tass:

Russian authorities wanted to decrease the financial market’s dependence on SWIFT since the introduction of the first U.S. sanctions, when international payment systems Visa and MasterCard denied services to some Russian banks owned by blacklisted individuals. According to Shuvalov, Russia has been also discussing establishment of an independent ratings agency with China. Concrete proposals will be made by the end of 2014, he said. As regards China’s payment system UnionPay cooperation with the yet-to-be-established Russian national payment system, Shuvalov said that UnionPay is ready for a full-scale collaboration and will provide all infrastructural capacities for that.

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This may well be a complete lie. Gazprom says no way. But Ukraine may be syphoning off.

Gazprom Limits Polish Gas Supplies as Reverse Supply Flows Halt (Bloomberg)

Russia’s OAO Gazprom limited natural gas flows to Poland, preventing the European Union member state from supplying Ukraine via so-called reverse flows. Polskie Gornictwo Naftowe i Gazownictwo, or PGNiG, got 20 to 24% less fuel than it ordered from Gazprom Export over the past two days and is compensating flows with alternative supply, the company said today in an e-mailed statement. Poland halted gas supply to Ukraine at 3 p.m. Warsaw time today, according to Ukraine’s UkrTransGaz. Ukraine is seeking to replace some of its Russian gas with fuel from Europe after Gazprom halted its supplies on June 16 in a dispute over debt and prices, echoing spats in 2006 and 2009 that left European customers short of fuel.

Gazprom Chief Executive Officer Alexey Miller said in June the company might limit supplies to gas-metering stations where it observed reverse flows. “It would appear from the outside that stopping reverse flow is something that’s in Gazprom’s interest,” Trevor Sikorski, an analyst at Energy Aspects Ltd. in London, said today by telephone. “Gazprom had said that they were studying any kind of reverse flow and that they would take steps to rectify.” Gazprom is doing pre-winter maintenance on pipelines and filling Russian storage sites, which is limiting supply to Poland at the level of the end of last week, according to a company official who declined to be named, citing policy.

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Gazprom First-Quarter Profit Falls 41% on Ukrainian Gas Debt (Bloomberg)

Gazprom, Russia’s biggest company, said its first-quarter profit slumped 41% on a foreign currency loss and Ukraine’s debt for natural gas supplies. Net income dropped to 223 billion rubles ($6 billion) from 381 billion rubles a year earlier, the Moscow-based exporter said in a statement on its website. Gazprom, which provides 30% of the European Union’s gas, halted supplies to Ukraine in June over unpaid bills, including $1.45 billion from 2013. The Russian producer now estimates it’s owed $5.3 billion after raising the price for Ukraine in April to a level higher than it charges Germany, which the government in Kiev has rejected as unfair. The quarter marks the “start of not an easy year,” Gazprombank energy analysts wrote in an e-mailed note before the report.

While a weaker ruble is compensating for a decrease in Gazprom’s export prices, the biggest negative factor is the dispute with Ukraine, the bank said. Gazprom had a 172 billion-ruble loss on depreciation of the Russian currency as well as a 71.3 billion-ruble provision for “doubtful trade accounts” mainly related to Ukrainian gas debt, according to the statement. In August, Gazprom said its first-half net under Russian accounting standards, which is used to calculate dividends, fell 38% to 155 billion rubles, mainly because of a provision for Ukraine’s unpaid dept. Gazprom’s deliveries to Europe, its biggest market by earnings, have been falling compared with last year’s levels since June. The region has a record volume of gas in underground storage after a mild winter and accelerated pumping earlier this year.

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Propaganda.

British Business Leaders Join Last-Ditch Effort to Save UK (Bloomberg)

Some of Britain’s best-known companies, including Royal Bank of Scotland, BP and Kingfisher, made their strongest intervention yet in the battle against Scottish independence, as RBS joined Lloyds in saying it would move parts of its business to England in the event of a breakaway. Ian Cheshire, chief executive officer of retailer Kingfisher, which employs 3,000 people in Scotland, urged voters not to make a mistake in a “once-in-a-lifetime decision,” arguing that independence would mean higher prices and lower investment. He predicted that other chief executives will make similar statements ahead of the vote on Sept. 18.

“The referendum is the most pressing political risk that businesses face,” said John Cridland, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, the country’s leading business group. “Scottish independence would be a one-way ticket to uncertainty, with no return.” The comments reflect an increasing willingness by British business leaders to abandon neutrality in the referendum debate. BP Chief Executive Officer Bob Dudley said his company considers “the future prospects for the North Sea are best served by maintaining the existing capacity and integrity of the United Kingdom.” Dudley had only said previously that he thought Great Britain should stay together, but had not made the claim that North Sea oil production would be affected by a vote for independence.

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Scotch Whisky Makers Say Single Malt Is Best in a Single Country (Bloomberg)

At the Kilchoman Distillery Co Ltd. on Islay, a windswept island two hours by ferry from the west coast of Scotland, a banner nailed to a weathered barn proclaims “Better Together,” the group opposing Scottish independence. Unraveling the 307-year-old union with England “is not something we should even be considering,” Anthony Wills, Kilchoman’s founder and managing director, said in the distillery’s wood-floored tasting room. Islay, with eight distilleries making some of the world’s priciest whiskies, highlights a paradox of the debate leading up to the referendum a week from today: It’s tough to find support for a Yes vote among makers of a product that rivals tartan plaid and haggis as a national symbol. Last year, Scotland’s 109 distilleries sold 4.3 billion pounds ($7 billion) of whisky abroad, the country’s second-largest export, after oil, according to the Scotch Whisky Association. Many in the industry, which the association says accounts for 85% of Scotland’s food and drink exports, say they would be better off remaining part of the U.K.

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Propaganda.

RBS, Lloyds London Move ‘Irreversible’ After Scot Turmoil (Bloomberg)

Bank of Montreal is now based 300 miles away in Toronto after bolting amid the rise of Quebec separatism. Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds may make the same decision to leave Edinburgh, no matter how Scotland votes next week. Rather than risk perpetual uncertainty over Scotland’s future, “the banks would want to kick off the relocation process irrespective of the decision,” said Chirantan Barua, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein in London. The risk has become “irreversible,” with a move costing the banks as much as 1 billion pounds ($1.6 billion) each, he estimated. RBS and Lloyds, which both received a government bailout in 2008, are the two biggest lenders in Scotland. Lloyds said in a statement late yesterday that it already has a contingency plan for establishing new legal entities in England in the event of a Yes vote, while RBS said today that such an outcome would make it necessary to re-domicile the headquarters.

“The issue could come back again in future years, so it’s entirely conceivable that in due course you’ll see the banks switching their registration to England,” even if there’s a No vote, said Ian Gordon, an analyst at Investec Ltd. in London. RBS, which has roots in Scotland dating back to 1727, said in the statement there are “a number of material uncertainties arising” from the referendum, which could impact its credit ratings as well as the “fiscal, monetary, legal and regulatory landscape to which it’s subject.” “For this reason, RBS has undertaken contingency planning for the possible business implications for a Yes vote,” it said. “In the event of a Yes vote, the decision to re-domicile should have no impact on everyday banking services.”

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Amazon Deforestation Jumps 29% (Guardian)

The destruction of the world’s largest rainforest accelerated last year with a 29% spike in deforestation, according to final figures released by the Brazilian government on Wednesday that confirmed a reversal in gains seen since 2009. Satellite data for the 12 months through the end of July 2013 showed that 5,891 sq km of forest were cleared in the Brazilian Amazon, an area half the size of Puerto Rico. Fighting the destruction of the Amazon is considered crucial for reducing global warming because deforestation worldwide accounts for 15% of annual emissions of heat-trapping gases, more than the entire transportation sector. Besides being a giant carbon sink, the Amazon is a biodiversity sanctuary, holding billions of species yet to be studied.

Preliminary data released late last year by Brazil’s space research center INPE had indicated deforestation was on the rise again, as conservationist groups had warned. The largest increases in deforestation were seen in the states of Para and Mato Grosso, where the bulk of Brazil’s agricultural expansion is taking place. More than 1,000 sq km has been cleared in each state. Other reasons for the rebound in deforestation include illegal logging and the invasion of public lands adjacent to big infrastructure projects in the Amazon, such as roads and hydroelectric dams. Despite the increase in 2013, the cleared area is still the second-lowest annual figure since the Brazilian government began tracking deforestation in 2004, when almost 30,000 sq km of forest were lost. The Brazilian government frequently launches police operations to fight illegal loggers in the forest, but environmentalists say more is needed.

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She’s back! I thouht they would have buried her in a hole in the ground. How many blunders does one get to make in the States these days?

Victoria Nuland: All Foreign Forces Must Be Withdrawn From Ukraine (DW)

The US has cautiously welcomed what Ukraine’s President Poroshenko described as a withdrawal of Russian troops from eastern Ukraine. The State Department said it was “a good, tiny first step,” but insufficient. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Wednesday that Russia had removed most of its soldiers from the rebel-held eastern parts of his country, raising hopes for an end to a five-month-long violent conflict that has killed more than 2,600 people. “According to the latest information I have received from our intelligence, 70% of Russian troops have been moved back across the border,” Poroshenko said in a televised cabinet meeting. “This further strengthens our hope that the peace initiatives have good prospects.” The president said that Friday’s ceasefire – backed by both Kyiv and Moscow – had dramatically improved the security situation in Ukraine’s eastern regions. Poroshenko, however, added that the ceasefire with pro-Moscow rebels was proving to be difficult because “terrorists” were constantly trying to provoke Kyiv’s forces.

US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said on Wednesday evening that the United States could not confirm the Ukrainian leader’s claims. “Of course, even if we eventually can verify his claims about the Russian troops pulling back, there would still be Russian troops that remain there,” Harf said. “Obviously, any de-escalatory steps would be good ones, but there is much more work to be done here.” Victoria Nuland, the US assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, was more cautious in her reaction. Speaking at the German Marshall Fund in Washington, Nuland said “all foreign forces have to be withdrawn” from the eastern European country. “All foreign material has to be withdrawn, the border has to be secured, there has to be the decentralization and amnesty that have been promised,” she said, adding that “there is a long way to go.”

Poroshenko said he would propose a bill to Ukrainian parliament next week offering “special status” to parts of conflict-ridden Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine which are now under control of separatists. The Ukrainian president, however, rejected the calls for complete independence or the “radical federalization” of these areas as demanded by Moscow. “Ukraine will not make any concessions on issues of its territorial integrity,” he said. A pro-Russia separatist leader in Donetsk dismissed Poroshenko’s comments and said the rebels intended to become independent.

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Law On War Crimes Amnesty For Ukraine Troops Discussed In Parliament (RT)

The Ukrainian parliament is to debate a law on amnesty for Ukrainian troops who have committed war crimes in the course of military actions in Eastern Ukraine. Earlier, an Amnesty International report confirmed the facts of large-scale crimes. A bill on amnesty for military personnel who committed war crimes during the military crackdown in Eastern Ukraine was introduced in the Rada (the Ukrainian parliament) on Wednesday, its website says. The bill assumes the discharge of legal responsibility and punishment of military staff and “other people” for the actions which “bear the marks of war crime.” Earlier, on 8 September, Amnesty International presented a report in which confirmed that such actions were committed by the Aidar volunteer battalion.

Aidar is one of over 30 volunteer battalions which appeared after Kiev started the military operation in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. It is loosely connected with the Ukrainian security structures. “Members of the Aidar territorial defense battalion, operating in the north Luhansk [Lugansk] region, have been involved in widespread abuses, including abductions, unlawful detention, ill-treatment, theft, extortion, and possible executions,” the AI report says. The AI researchers interviewed dozens of victims and witnesses of the abuses and crimes, as well as local officials, police and army commanders in Lugansk area. The watchdog pointed out that while formally operating under the command of the Ukrainian security forces combined headquarters in the region, members of the Aidar battalion act “with virtually no oversight or control, and local police are either unwilling or unable to address the abuses.”

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Loss of trust at home …

Trust in US Government on International, Domestic Issues at New Low (Gallup)

Americans’ trust in the federal government to handle international problems has fallen to a record-low 43% as President Barack Obama prepares to address the nation on Wednesday to outline his plan to deal with ISIS. Separately, 40% of Americans say they have a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in the federal government to handle domestic problems, also the lowest Gallup has measured to date. The results are based on Gallup’s annual Governance poll, conducted Sept. 4-7. This year’s poll was conducted at a time when the government is faced with instability in many parts of the world, including Iraq and Syria, the Middle East, and Ukraine.

Americans’ confidence in the government to handle international problems slid 17 %age points last year, when the Obama administration was planning military action against Syria. Russia later brokered an agreement to avert that action. Last year’s poll marked the first time that fewer than half of Americans trusted the federal government’s ability to deal with international threats. With the world stage seemingly more unstable now, the public’s trust has dipped an additional 6 %age points this year. Likewise, trust in the government’s ability to handle domestic problems dropped slightly this year after a larger decline in 2013. Although the economy has improved, it may be overshadowed by partisan gridlock in Washington, which has led to little formal government action to deal with important domestic challenges facing the United States. Indeed, Americans have consistently mentioned dissatisfaction with government as one of the most important problems facing the country in 2014.

Gallup has never measured lower levels of trust in the federal government to handle pressing issues than now. That includes the Watergate era in 1974, when 51% of Americans trusted the government’s ability to handle domestic problems and 73% trusted its ability to deal with international problems, and also at the tail end of the Bush administration when his job approval ratings were consistently below 40% and frequently below 30%. The key question going forward is whether Americans’ trust in the federal government can be restored. Although there have been short-lived increases in recent years, including in Obama’s first year in office and in his re-election year, these were not maintained. The general trend since the post-9/11 surge has been toward declining trust. [..] given the public’s frustration with the way the government is working, it may be necessary to elect federal officials who are more willing to work together with the other party to find solutions to the nation’s top problems.

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… and abroad.

US, Obama Lose Favor with Germans Over Spying Scandal (WSJ)

The U.S. has lost favor with its traditional ally Germany over the past year, a new study shows, with German approval for President Barack Obama’s policies plummeting in the wake of the National Security Agencyspying scandal. Over the past year, the number of Germans with a positive view of the U.S. president’s policies has nose dived 20%age points to 56%, according to a study by U.S. think tank the German Marshall Fund. The study noted “the German-U.S. relationship appears to have cooled off markedly.” Trans-Atlantic ties have frayed since 2013 news reports over the NSA’s vast intelligence collection program and U.S. surveillance in Germany—including of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone. Revelations based on documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden shocked the German public and continue to burden the usually-close relationship between Washington and Berlin. The survey, which polled about 1,000 people in Germany, found “favorability of the U.S. in Germany” dropped from 68% in 2013 to 58% this year.

The poll was conducted by research company TNS Opinion from June 2 to June 26. As Berlin takes a more assertive stance on geopolitical affairs like the crises in Ukraine and Iraq, a majority of Germans polled said, for the first time, that they would prefer their country take a more independent approach from the U.S. on security and diplomatic policy. “Germany is at a crossroads in defining the role it wants to take in foreign policy and the world at large,” said Lora Anne Viola, a political scientist at Berlin’s Free University, noting that Berlin is in a unique position to react to current events like the conflict in Ukraine and the euro crisis. A departure from Germany’s historical reluctance to engage in geopolitical affairs could ultimately be a boon to Washington. The countries could shake off their traditional big brother and little brother relationship as, despite Germans’ current wariness toward the U.S., there are “too many problems the U.S. and Germany have to confront together,” Ms. Viola said.

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China Inflation Data Show Economy Losing Momentum: Nomura (CNBC)

China’s consumer inflation eased in August while wholesale deflation intensified, clouding the outlook for an economy struggling to stage a convincing recovery. China’s consumer prices eased to 2% last month, data on Thursday showed, slower than July’s 2.3% rise and below a Reuters poll expecting a 2.2% increase. This remains below Beijing’s official target of 3.5%. Producer prices, meanwhile, continued their deflationary spiral, dipping 1.2% after falling 0.9% in July, a tad worse than the 1.1% fall expected. Producer prices in China have been declining since February 2012, weighed by falling commodity prices, overcapacity and weakening demand.

“I think the figures are consistent with a whole lot of data showing that the Chinese economy losing momentum again,” said Rob Subbaraman, chief economist at Nomura. “The PPI deflation is worsening, I think that’s a sign of overcapacity problems. The oversupply problem in the property sector is starting to have effects on the upstream industries that supply the property sector. They’re feeling the pinch now so that’s showing in the PPI,” he added. China’s economy growth slowed to 7.4% in the first quarter from a year earlier, the slowest pace in six quarters. Growth inched higher to 7.5% the second quarter, but a flurry of recent data has painted a bleak picture in credit inflows, manufacturing and the real estate market.

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Squeeze out the last bits

China Speculators Go Online Chasing Profits as Home Prices Drop (Bloomberg)

With just 11,000 yuan ($1,796), 50-year-old Deng Bangfu made his first property investment in China, flipping it in just two months for a profit even as the nation’s home prices fall. Deng and about 300 other investors bought a 14.9 million yuan townhouse in June in the southern Chinese city of Dongguan and sold it in August for 16 million yuan. The vehicle: a peer-to-peer lending and financing website called Tuandai, which is testing a crowdfunding product that meets developers’ desire to quicken sales by tapping demand for better returns. “Now I can tell people I once owned a townhouse, which I could never afford myself all my life,” Deng, an accountant at a technology company in Dongguan, said by phone. “We know that local governments have started loosening home-purchase restrictions. As soon as banks ease mortgage curbs, home prices will quickly rebound.”

Online investors, who since 2011 helped drive a 50-fold increase in financing through peer-to-peer websites such as Tuandai, are turning to property as falling home prices prompt the government to ease curbs aimed at stamping out speculation. Officials are seeking to revive local-government revenues at the risk of bringing home-flippers back to the market. Speculators could return, Fitch Ratings said in an Aug. 7 report. “If liquidity recovers, home prices start to go up and sentiment improves,” Andy Chang, Fitch’s Hong Kong-based property analyst, said by phone. “Peer-to-peer lending will surely play a stronger role pushing the waves because it’s pure speculation or investment demand.”

Speculative buying – selling assets in a short period of time – accounts for more than 20% of demand in first-tier cities, which include Beijing and Shanghai, JPMorgan analyst Ryan Li wrote in a report last month. Investors accounted for 40% of homebuyers in 2007, when Shenzhen World Union Properties Consultancy Inc. started asking clients their reason for buying. That was three years before former Premier Wen Jiabao imposed home-purchase curbs and raised down payments to prevent a housing bubble. Home sales plunged 10.5% in the first seven months from a year earlier amid tight credit, according to government data, reversing a 27% jump last year. New-home prices fell in 64 of the 70 cities tracked by the government in July from June, the most since January 2011.

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