Oct 092017
 
 October 9, 2017  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Joan Miro The tilled field 1924

 

CEO Stock Buybacks Parasitize the Economy (Ralph Nader)
The Economy Is Humming. Bankers Are Cheering. What Could Go Wrong? (NYT)
Flatliners (NT)
Schäuble: Another Financial Crisis Is Coming Due To Spiraling Global Debt (ZH)
EU Plan To Prevent Bank Runs Could Backfire, Create Panic (BBG)
Hackers And Fraudsters Are Causing Cryptocurrency Chaos (Ind.)
Is This The Geopolitical Shift Of The Century? (OP)
Tensions Rise As US, Turkey Halt Visitor Visas, Send Lira Tumbling (BBG)
Sanctions Against Russia Have Cost European Union €30 Billion (RT)
Spain is the Blueprint for How All Governments Will Act (Martin Armstrong)
Catalans Call for Talks as Spain Enters Crunch Week (BBG)
Greece Foreclosures Target Seems Unattainable (K.)
Nearly There, But Never Further Away (FP)

 

 

And the parasite is killing its host.

CEO Stock Buybacks Parasitize the Economy (Ralph Nader)

The monster of economic waste—over $7 trillion of dictated stock buybacks since 2003 by the self-enriching CEOs of large corporations—started with a little noticed change in 1982 by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) under President Ronald Reagan. That was when SEC Chairman John Shad, a former Wall Street CEO, redefined unlawful ‘stock manipulation’ to exclude stock buybacks. Then after Clinton pushed through congress a $1 million cap on CEO pay that could be deductible, CEO compensation consultants wanted much of CEO pay to reflect the price of the company’s stock. The stock buyback mania was unleashed. Its core was not to benefit shareholders (other than perhaps hedge fund speculators) by improving the earnings per share ratio. Its real motivation was to increase CEO pay no matter how badly such burning out of shareholder dollars hurt the company, its workers and the overall pace of economic growth.

In a massive conflict of interest between greedy top corporate executives and their own company, CEO-driven stock buybacks extract capital from corporations instead of contributing capital for corporate needs, as the capitalist theory would dictate. Yes, due to the malicious, toady SEC “business judgement” rule, CEOs can take trillions of dollars away from productive pursuits without even having to ask the companies’ owners—the shareholders—for approval. What could competent management have done with this treasure trove of shareholder money which came originally from consumer purchases? They could have invested more in research and development, in productive plant and equipment, in raising worker pay (and thereby consumer demand), in shoring up shaky pension fund reserves, or increasing dividends to shareholders.

The leading expert on this subject—economics professor William Lazonick of the University of Massachusetts—wrote a widely read article in 2013 in the Harvard Business Review titled “Profits Without Prosperity” documenting the intricate ways CEOs use buybacks to escalate their pay up to 300 to 500 times (averaging over $10,000 an hour plus lavish benefits) the average pay of their workers. This compared to only 30 times the average pay gap in 1978. This has led to increasing inequality and stagnant middle class wages. [..] In a review of 64 companies, including major retailers such as JC Penny and Macy’s, these firms spent more dollars in stock buybacks “than their businesses are currently worth in market value”! [..] The scholars concluded that “Buybacks are a way of disinvesting – we call it ‘committing corporate suicide’..

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How much time do I have?

The Economy Is Humming. Bankers Are Cheering. What Could Go Wrong? (NYT)

For decades, the global economy has been defined by dissonance. There has been the Japanese recession. The financial crises in the United States and Europe. And drama in emerging markets throughout. But as central bankers, finance ministers and money managers descend on Washington this week for the fall meetings of the IMF, they will confront an unusual reality: global markets and economies rising in unison. Never mind political turmoil, populist uprisings and threats of nuclear war. From Wall Street to Washington, economists have been upgrading their forecasts for the global economy this year, with the consensus now pointing to an expansion of more than 3% — up noticeably from 2.6% in 2016. Economists from the IMF are likely to follow suit when the fund releases its biannual report on the global economy on Tuesday.

The rosy numbers are noteworthy. But what’s more startling is that virtually every major developed and emerging economy is growing simultaneously, the first time this has happened in 10 years. “In terms of positive cycles, it is difficult to find very many precedents here,” said Brian Coulton, the chief economist at Fitch, the debt ratings agency. “It is the strongest growth we have seen since 2010.” In Japan, a reform-minded government and aggressive action by the central bank have pushed growth to 1.5% — up from 0.3% three years ago. In Europe, strong domestic demand in Germany and robust recoveries in countries like Spain, Portugal and Italy are expected to spur 2.2% growth in the eurozone. That would be more than double its average annual growth in the previous five years.

Aggressive infrastructure spending by China; bold economic reforms by countries including Brazil, Indonesia and India; and rising commodities prices (helping countries such as Russia) have spurred growth in emerging markets. And in the United States, despite doubts about President Trump’s ability to pass a major tax bill, the economy and financial markets chug along. In fact, one of the few large economies not following an upward path is Britain, whose pending exit from the European Union is taking a toll. Having grown at an average annual pace of just over 2% from 2012 to 2016, the British economy is expanding just 1.5% this year. [..] “We are in a boom today, but we should not forget that the financial system is still relatively unstable,” said Jim Reid, a credit strategist at Deutsche Bank.

Mr. Reid, who spices up his market analyses by regaling clients with pop songs on the piano, recently published a detailed study on what he expects will be the causes of the next global financial crisis. Pick your poison: an abrupt slowdown in China, the rise of populism, debt problems in Japan or an ugly outcome to Britain’s move to leave the European Union. His overriding worry, though, is that investors and policy makers aren’t prepared for what will happen when global central banks put a halt to their easy-money policies. Since the 2008 crisis, Mr. Reid noted, central banks have accumulated more than $14 trillion in assets — an amount that exceeds the annual output of China by $3 trillion. What happens when the central banks all start to sell? “This is unprecedented,” Mr. Reid said. “And no one knows what the outcome will be.”

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Compressed volatility.

Flatliners (NT)

We find ourselves in a very unique point in history and in a world dominated by false narratives. It is a challenge to keep an analytical grip on reality, but I’ll try to tie a few threads together here to put everything in a macro context. Firstly the underlying base reality: Free money, easy money, whatever you want to call it, permeates everything we see in financial markets. Indeed I would argue price appreciation has been paid for with unprecedented and, in my view, unsustainable volatility compression. A couple of charts really highlight this. Most clearly perhaps is the precise trend line tagging we can observe in the correlated picture of price appreciation and volatility compression since the February 2016 lows:

The $VIX’s corollary, the inverse $XIV, embarked on an explosive near one way journey since the US election coinciding with over $2 trillion central bank intervention in just the first 9 months of 2017:

And it has continued to this day and just made another all time high this past week on a massive negative divergence. It is the magnitude of this volatility compression that explains the current trading environment we find ourselves in. Aside from the obvious artificial liquidity avalanche we’ve had speculated about the driver of all this and the answer may simply be the promise of even more free money, specifically tax cuts. As some of you may recall from my analysis over the past year I’ve been very clear that math ultimately will bring out truth in any narrative. In this case that notion that tax cuts pay for themselves is a fantasy. It always has been. Can it result in a short term bump in spending or even growth? Yes it is possible, especially if structured right.

But any historical analysis will show you that tax cuts, especially already coming from a relatively low base, will just add to debt via larger deficits. Recently the White House budget director finally acknowledged this very reality: “a tax plan that doesn’t add to the deficit won’t spur growth” My criticism has been that all this marketing talk is simply a lie and will structurally put the country further at risk of trillion dollar deficits and a massive debt explosion that is already baked in even without tax cuts.

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But he makes no attempt to apologize?!

Schäuble: Another Financial Crisis Is Coming Due To Spiraling Global Debt (ZH)

Schauble warned that the world was in danger of “encouraging new bubbles to form”. “Economists all over the world are concerned about the increased risks arising from the accumulation of more and more liquidity and the growth of public and private debt. I myself am concerned about this, too,” he said echoing the concern voiced just one day earlier by IMF head Christine Lagarde, said the world was enjoying its best growth spurt since the start of the decade, but warned of “threats on the horizon” from “high levels of debt in many countries to rapid credit expansion in China, to excessive risk-taking in financial markets”. Schäuble also echoed the latest warning from the BIS, which last month said that the world had become so used to cheap credit that higher interest rates could derail the global economic recovery.

Meanwhile, Schäuble defended austerity, saying the word was, “strictly speaking, an Anglo-Saxon way of describing a solid financial policy which doesn’t necessarily see more, or higher deficits as a good thing.” The soon to be former finance minister also took a pot shot at the UK: “The UK always made fun of Rhineland capitalism,” he said, contrasting Germany’s consensus-driven, social market model with Anglo-American free markets and deregulation. “[But] we have seen that the tools of the social market economy were more effective at dealing with the [financial] crisis…than in the places where the crisis arose.”

Of course, Germany’s success – almost entirely a function of the common currency which has effectively kept the Deutsche Mark from soaring – has come at the expense of crisis after crisis among Europe’s southern states. Unfortunately it has resulted in an entire generation of unemployed youth in countries like Greece, Italy and Spain. Still, in keeping with his dour image, Schäuble’s last words were pessimistic: “We have to ensure that we will be resilient enough if we ever face a new economic crisis,” he added. “We won’t always have such positive economic times as we have now” concluded the jolly 75-year-old. Perhaps Wolfi is worrying too much: after all, according to Janet Yellen, “we will not see another crisis in our lifetime.” And if we do, well central banks are primed and ready to injects trillions more to keep the artificial “recovery” and market “all time highs” can kicked just a little bit further.

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They’ll screw this one up, too.

EU Plan To Prevent Bank Runs Could Backfire, Create Panic (BBG)

Three years since their banking union began to take shape, European Union regulators are seeking fresh powers to deal with lenders in trouble. Their plan would let them stop withdrawals from a failing bank for a few days while they address the problem, with the aim of preventing a run. But this approach could easily have the opposite effect, spreading panic to the whole financial system. There’s a better way. Instead of freezing bank accounts, EU governments should enable regulators to keep a bank going while they restructure it and search for a new owner. This will require EU governments to commit additional resources for the task. The ECB and the euro zone’s Single Resolution Board have been calling for the power to freeze bank accounts – a so-called moratorium – since the swift resolution of Banco Popular in June.

They succeeded in winding down the troubled Spanish lender by selling it to rival Banco Santander, but had to do it on a weekday night with a run on deposits in progress. The regulators say that next time it might be impossible to find a buyer overnight. A moratorium would relieve that pressure and perhaps allow them to sell the bank at a better price. This approach would mirror an arrangement which is currently in place in Germany, and it’s superficially appealing: Closing a bank would certainly stop a run. But it could also have unintended consequences. Depositors may run from a bank in trouble sooner — fearing that if they wait too long they may not be able to withdraw their money. It could also lead depositors to empty their accounts as soon as the bank re-opens. Most dangerous of all, freezing accounts in one bank could spread panic to the rest of the system, as other depositors fear the same will happen to them.

The idea also puts international cooperation on bank resolution at risk. The EU regulators’ plan threatens to disrupt measures put in place after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in 2008. Bank of England economists recently warned in a working paper that adopting the new moratorium might prompt banks to back out of the existing arrangements for handling financial emergencies.

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An extensive look at crypto. Much better than the headline makes you think.

Hackers And Fraudsters Are Causing Cryptocurrency Chaos (Ind.)

Cryptocurrencies were supposed to offer a secure, digital way to conduct financial transactions but they have been dogged by doubts. Concerns have largely focused on their astronomical gains in value and the likelihood of painful price crashes. Equally perilous, though, are the exchanges where virtual currencies are bought, sold and stored. These exchanges, which match buyers and sellers and sometimes hold traders’ funds, have become magnets for fraud and mires of technological dysfunction, posing an underappreciated risk to anyone who trades digital coins. Huge sums are at stake. As the prices of bitcoin and other virtual currencies have soared this year – bitcoin has quadrupled – legions of investors and speculators have turned to online exchanges.

Billions of dollars’ worth of bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies, which aren’t backed by any governments or central banks, are now traded on exchanges every day. “These are new assets. No one really knows what to make of them,” said David L Yermack, chairman of the finance department at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “If you’re a consumer, there’s nothing to protect you.” Regulators and governments are still debating how to handle cryptocurrencies, and Mr Yermack says the US Congress will ultimately have to take action. Some of the freewheeling exchanges are plagued with poor security and lack investor protections common in more regulated financial markets. Some Chinese exchanges have falsely inflated their trading volume to lure new customers, according to former employees.

There have been at least three dozen heists of cryptocurrency exchanges since 2011; many of the hacked exchanges later shut down. More than 980,000 bitcoins have been stolen, which today would be worth about $4bn. Few have been recovered. Burned investors have been left at the mercy of exchanges as to whether they will receive any compensation. Nearly 25,000 customers of Mt. Gox, once the world’s largest bitcoin exchange, are still waiting for compensation more than three years after its collapse into bankruptcy in Japan. The exchange said it lost about 650,000 bitcoins. Claims approved by the bankruptcy trustee total more than $400m.

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Not without China, no.

Is This The Geopolitical Shift Of The Century? (OP)

The geopolitical reality in the Middle East is changing dramatically. The impact of the Arab Spring, the retraction of the U.S. military, and diminishing economic influence on the Arab world – as displayed during the Obama Administration – are facts. The emergence of a Russian-Iranian-Turkish triangle is the new reality. The Western hegemony in the MENA region has ended, and not in a shy way, but with a long list of military conflicts and destabilization. The first visit of a Saudi king to Russia shows the growing power of Russia in the Middle East. It also shows that not only Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but also Egypt and Libya, are more likely to consider Moscow as a strategic ally.

King Salman’s visit to Moscow could herald not only several multibillion business deals, but could be the first real step towards a new regional geopolitical and military alliance between OPEC leader Saudi Arabia and Russia. This cooperation will not only have severe consequences for Western interests but also could partly undermine or reshape the position of OPEC at the same time. Russian president Vladimir Putin is currently hosting a large Saudi delegation, led by King Salman and supported by Saudi minister of energy Khalid Al Falih. Moscow’s open attitude to Saudi Arabia—a lifetime Washington ally and strong opponent of the growing Iran power projections in the Arab world—show that Putin understands the current pivotal changes in the Middle East.

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Direct result of Turkey’s deal with Russia on Syria.

Tensions Rise As US, Turkey Halt Visitor Visas, Send Lira Tumbling (BBG)

The U.S. and Turkey each suspended visa services for citizens looking to visit the other country, a sharp escalation of a diplomatic spat that sent the lira down more than 6% against the U.S. dollar. The moves followed the Oct. 4 arrest of a Turkish national who works at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul for alleged involvement in the July 2016 coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Hours after the Trump administration halted visa services in Turkey on Sunday, Erdogan’s government responded in kind, even repeating verbatim much of the U.S. statement. Both sides said “recent events” had forced them to “reassess the commitment” of the other to the security of mission facilities and personnel.

Only two weeks ago, U.S. President Donald Trump had heaped praise on Erdogan when they met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, saying the Turkish leader “is becoming a friend of mine” and “frankly, he’s getting high marks.” The U.S. on Thursday called charges against the man “wholly without merit,” saying it was “deeply disturbed” by the arrest and “by leaks from Turkish government sources seemingly aimed at trying the employee in the media rather than a court of law.” Turkey responded by saying the arrested Turkish citizen wasn’t part of the U.S. Consulate’s staff but a “local employee.” The lira was at 3.7323 per dollar as of 10:37 a.m. in Singapore on Monday, down more than 3% from Friday’s close, and touched as low as 3.8533. The currency is heading for a seventh day of declines, the longest stretch since May 2016.

Relations between Turkey, a NATO member, and some Western countries soured after the failed 2016 coup. Erdogan has accused U.S.-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen of organizing the attempted overthrow, and has become increasingly impatient with the U.S. for not turning him over. “I would expect that there will be some sort of de-escalation at the leadership level – Trump and Erdogan will speak or meet,” said Murat Yurtbilir, who specializes in Turkish affairs at the Australian National University. “But the underlying problems won’t go away: the Gulen issue, Turkey’s slow switch toward Russia’s policy in Syria and the economy. ”

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But but but….

Sanctions Against Russia Have Cost European Union €30 Billion (RT)

New research by the Austrian Institute of Economic Research (WIFO) suggests the EU’s economic sanctions against Russia introduced three years ago have cost European countries billions of euro. The survey, which was conducted at the request of the European Parliament and published on Friday, showed EU exports to Russia declining annually by 15.7% since 2014. Up to 40% of that decrease was due to sanctions, it said. As a result of the penalties, Russia has lost its place as EU’s fourth largest trading partner and currently ranks fifth behind the US, Switzerland, China, and Turkey. WIFO calculated EU exports to Russia nosedived from €120 billion four years ago to €72 billion in 2016. According to the research, Cyprus was hit most as exports to Russia plunged 34.5% over the past two years. Greece suffered a 23.2% fall; Croatia’s exports were down 21%.

Austrian exports to Russia dropped by almost ten% or by €1 billion, WIFO said. Poland and the UK have lost €3 billion each. The researchers said the impact of sanctions was most damaging during the first year, as “not much progress has been made in switching trade flows to other countries.” EU sanctions against Russia were introduced in 2014 over the country’s alleged involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The penalties targeted Russia’s financial, energy, and defense sectors, along with some government officials, businessmen, and public figures. Moscow responded by imposing an embargo on agricultural produce and food and raw materials on countries that joined the anti-Russian sanctions. Since then the sides have repeatedly broadened and extended the restrictive measures.

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“You can always write a law and claim it is unconstitutional to separate. That does not make it legal, moral, or ethical.”

Moreover, it contradicts the UN Charter.

Spain is the Blueprint for How All Governments Will Act (Martin Armstrong)

What is going on in Spain is the blueprint what what other governments will do. The Spanish people themselves outside of Catalonia are deeply divided. Many see this as offensive and others see the government as offensive. We are looking at the breakup of the USA as well and do not forget the civil war to prevent separatists in America. The real issue is that people ban together for creating society and civilization and then government abuses its power and the process of decline begins. This is throughout history and it really does not matter what culture or country. It is all the same. Spain’s Constitutional Court, the puppet of Rajoy, on Thursday ordered the suspension of Monday’s session of the regional Catalan parliament. Rajoy is demonstrating that government will not tolerate losing power.

You can always write a law and claim it is unconstitutional to separate. That does not make it legal, moral, or ethical. Reuters reported: “The suspension order further aggravated one of the biggest crises to hit Spain since the establishment of democracy on the 1975 death of General Francisco Franco. But Spanish markets rose on perceptions the order might ward off, at least for now, an outright independence declaration.” The structure of the EU in attempting to federalize Europe required a single federal debt. That is what they failed to do so you ended up with a half-baked cake. This is why we have the problems in Europe as we do. But make no mistake about it, this is a political problem and what happens in Europe will be a contagion as it was in 1931. This will eventually cause major problems politically in the States as well.

Justice Scalia I greatly admired. However, his letter on the separatist movement in the USA said that the civil war decided there was no right to separate. I disagree with that opinion, but that is my opinion. There are those who object to my writing about Catalonia from the Madrid side. They create a list of hateful names directed at me personally and then say I know nothing of Spain. They are making the same mistake as government. They assume that government and Rajoy is Spain. The people are the sovereign of Spain – not Rajoy nor his Constitutional Court. If you cannot see that government is supposed to be “elected” by the people, they are not to be the ruler of the people as some monarch, they you have missed the entire point of history. You can hate me all you want, but it is your life you are surrendering to government and that of your posterity. We have a choice. We either understand that government when unchecked will go too far and surrender as sheep, or we stand up and try to make the future better for our posterity.

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Someone better intervene.

Catalans Call for Talks as Spain Enters Crunch Week (BBG)

A senior member of the Catalan administration called for dialogue with Spain, warning that all of Europe faces economic damage unless a resolution is found to his region’s standoff with the central government in Madrid. After a weekend of mass demonstrations in favor of Spanish unity, Raul Romeva, foreign affairs chief for the separatist government in Barcelona, insisted that the door was open for talks if Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy would grasp the chance of dialogue. “We need two to tango, we need the other side to be at the table,” Romeva said in an interview in Barcelona on Sunday. “We’re always going to be at the negotiation table, but to start negotiations we need the other party to negotiate with.”

The hint of an olive branch came as both sides hurtle toward crunch time in a dispute that threatens the breakup of Spain. Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has vowed to press ahead with his independence drive in a declaration due as soon as Tuesday, while Rajoy pledged that “national unity will be maintained” by using all instruments available to him. “The risk of this getting a lot worse, with correspondingly bad market development for Spanish assets, is still too great for my risk appetite,” said Erik Nielsen, chief economist at UniCredit. He predicted at least another week of pressure on Spanish and Catalan debt and assets before “things will eventually normalize.”

[..] Romeva invoked the crisis in the euro area that sent yields soaring on Spanish government debt and curbed access to finance, warning that the economic fallout of any worsening of the situation won’t be limited to Catalonia. “This simply won’t affect the Catalan economy, it’s going to affect the Spanish economy, it’s going to affect the European economy,” Romeva said. He blamed Madrid for causing the political uncertainty that’s prompted a stampede for the exit. “What causes uncertainty is the incapability of the political central state – or the Spanish state – to provide a political solution,” he said.

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Since Greece entered the bailout mechanism, foreclosures are down by 89%. Good.

Greece Foreclosures Target Seems Unattainable (K.)

Foreclosures, which have been practically frozen for the last eight years, represent the credit system’s Achilles’ heel. The impact from the paralysis of the auction system is already obvious in banks’ financial results on the reduction of nonperforming loans and threatens to undermine the target set for containing nonperforming exposures (NPEs). The ECB’s Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) has asked Greek lenders to bring down their NPEs by €11.5 billion through liquidations (property auctions) up to 2019. Meeting this target requires foreclosures worth €5.5 billion per year while takings from auctions have been poor.

The foreclosures scheduled for this year only concern 5,600 properties, worth €1.1 billion. This is the smallest number of auctions in recent years, given that 2016 (when auctions were held for 4,800 properties) was practically wasted due to protracted strikes by Greece’s lawyers and notaries. This year’s figures actually concern mostly auctions demanded by the state or private lenders, while banks have only instigated few auctions, mainly concerning commercial or industrial properties. For comparison purposes, one has to see the statistics from 2009, before Greece entered the bailout mechanism, when foreclosures numbered 52,000 and their value reached €4.2 billion. This means an 89% drop since then.

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I’ve said it before: the EU is the mafia.

Nearly There, But Never Further Away (FP)

The guard forced the migrants to kneel and began barking orders in Arabic, a language that few of the once-hopeful souls who had traveled to Libya from sub-Saharan Africa spoke. A gaunt, elderly man in ripped jeans and a tattered T-shirt failed to comply. The guard, wearing a crisp new uniform emblazoned with the insignia of Libya’s anti-illegal immigration police division, raised his wooden club and brought it down hard on the man’s back, driving him face down into the ground with the first blow. It was early May, three weeks after the staff at the Triq al-Sikka migrant detention center in the Libyan capital of Tripoli had received human rights training from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The guard struck the elderly man again on the back and clubbed the back of his legs.

Then he moved methodically down the line of kneeling migrants, beating each man as if he were responsible for his fellow prisoner’s infraction. Cries of pain echoed through the barren, warehouse-like facility, where more than 100 half-starved migrants were locked away in crowded cells. Some had been there for months, enduring regular beatings and surviving on a few handfuls of macaroni and a single packet of juice each day. Others had recently been rounded up off the streets in raids targeting black African migrants. Soon after the beatings began, other guards at the facility noticed my presence and quickly ushered me into a waiting area outside the well-appointed office of Col. Mohamed Beshr, the urbane head of Libya’s anti-illegal immigration police.

Beshr is a key player in recent joint EU-Libyan efforts to halt migration to Europe, including intercepting migrants at sea and detaining them on land. He has welcomed high-level European diplomats and U.N. representatives to the Triq al-Sikka facility, and his office is filled with certificates from workshops run by IOM, the European Union, and Britain’s development agency. Yet Beshr seemed frustrated by my questions about the abuses openly taking place at the detention center he oversaw. To hear him tell it, his European partners cared about only one thing, even if they wouldn’t say it: preventing migrants from showing up on Italy’s shores. “Are they looking for a real solution to this humanitarian crisis?” Beshr asked, smirking and raising his eyebrows. “Or do they just want us to be the place where migrants are stopped?”

Eighteen months after the EU unveiled its controversial plan to curb illegal migration through Libya — now the primary point of departure for sub-Saharan Africans crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe — migrants have become a commodity to be captured, sold, traded, and leveraged. Regardless of their immigration status, they are hunted down by militias loyal to Libya’s U.N.-backed government, caged in overcrowded prisons, and sold on open markets that human rights advocates have likened to slave auctions. They have been tortured, raped, and killed — abuses that are sometimes broadcast online by the abusers themselves as they attempt to extract ransoms from migrants’ families.

The detention-industrial complex that has taken hold in war-torn Libya is not purely the result of a breakdown in order or the work of militias run amok in a state of anarchy. Visits to five different detention centers and interviews with dozens of Libyan militia leaders, government officials, migrants, and local NGO officials indicate that it is the consequence of hundreds of millions of dollars in pledged and anticipated support from European nations as they try to stem the flow of unwanted migrants toward their shores.

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Sep 262017
 
 September 26, 2017  Posted by at 1:21 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Fan Ho The Evening of Life 1963

 

“Forget Germany, Spain Is The Real Problem”, reads a headline. Eh… no. Germany is definitely the problem in Europe. Spain is a bit player. That doesn’t mean nothing major could happen in Spain in its fight with Catalonia, and soon, but Spain, like all EU nations, is a de facto province of Germany.

What matters in the end is how Brussels and Merkel deal with Spain. And while it’s tempting to say that perhaps Brussels, the EU, is the main European problem, the European Union is run exclusively by and for Germany, so that doesn’t work either.

The only thing that might work if you really want to find a bigger issue than Germany is if you would point at the role the incessant lies about economic conditions for people play. But that’s not a European issue, that’s global.

The talk about how economies are recovering, how there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and how any day now we’ll be back to where we were at some point in time that many can not even remember. But then, at least when it comes to Europe, that happy talk comes from Germany too, to a large degree. Just wait till Draghi starts cutting his QE.

You can try and tell people that they’re doing just great, using the media you control, and it’ll work for a stretch, if only because they want to believe it, badly, but when these same people can’t even feed their children while you make such claims, you will eventually lose their attention and support. The difference between beliefs and experiences.

 

If you’re a politician, you try to feed people what they want to hear, invariably an upbeat message, but there comes a time when you have to back it up. You can say that austerity is necessary, inevitable, and the only choice, and it will be beneficial to them, but austerity is one of those things that have a very limited best before date.

If you can only make employment numbers look good by creating a gig economy that takes away all their benefits, and their entire sense of security, they’re going to turn their backs on you. Because you’re lying.

Rising inequality is a one way street right up to the point where it turns into a dead end alley. Inequality breeds more inequality until it no longer can, until people say ‘I want that cake you are having because my kids are hungry. And I brought a pitchfork’.

That is where we’re at, and that is why Merkel lost some 25% of her votes. That is why there’s Trump and Brexit, and why an impossible candidate like Marine Le Pen in France gathered so much attention and support. It’s why eastern European countries will start fighting Brussels and Berlin much harder than they have to date, and why Berlin will fight back harder than it has. Poor Greece.

In the US, there’s only one party, and it divvies up the spoils of very rich campaign contributions. Bernie Sanders tried to circumvent this; not a chance. Trump succeeded. In Britain, there was no difference between left and right for a long time, and no alternative party either. That led to Brexit. In France, Macron started a whole new party from scratch and somehow got it funded (bankers?!). It wiped the left off the map.

The same happened in Holland, where like in France the right wing alternative was judged too unpalatable by too many. No left left. The leaders of Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland do not have the visibility for that yet. In Italy, Five Star have a good shot at the throne. Greece’s Syriza already overtook both left and right. In eastern Europe, right wing parties often didn’t even have to overthrow an existing order, they could just slide in.

 

The pattern is so obvious only those who stand to lose from acknowledging it end up not seeing it, or telling themselves it’s all just an incident. But it’s not, because the shrinking economies everywhere are not. When left and right, either in public or in practice, rule a country together and their promises don’t hold up, people will look for a way out. If far right is the only way available, they will pick that.

It’s not because they’re all nazis or something like that. But people do lean towards smaller units of organization, decentralization, when they get poorer. And despite all the talk of recovery, that is what most people have seen happen to their lives, while their leaders told them they’re just fine. So you get this kind of headline (and map) for the US (h/t Mish/ZH).

Large Parts Of America Are Being Left Behind

Economic prosperity is concentrated in America’s elite zip codes, but in an interesting report on Distressed Communities, from The Economic Innovation Group, it is increasingly clear that economic stability outside of those communities is rapidly deteriorating. As Axios noted, this isn’t a Republican or Democratic problem. At every level of government, both parties represent distressed areas. But the economic fortunes of the haves and have-nots have only helped to widen the political chasm between them, and it has yet to be addressed by substantial policy proposals on either side of the aisle. Economic Prosperity Quintiles.

 

 

And a very similar headline appears in the Guardian in a report about the German election.

 

‘A Lot of People Feel Left Behind’: Voters on the Far-Right Surge in Germany

Sarah, 37, teacher, Bonn: “A lot of people feel left behind. They are looking for scapegoats. It is the easy way to deal with problems. The AFD makes use of this feeling. With the grand coalition, there was no real debating culture left. The CDU went too much into the middle, leaving the right out. Just like the SPD under Schröder left the left-wing out.”

Perhaps a lot of those who voted for Trump, and Brexit, Le Pen, Wilders, the AfD, are not so much looking for scapegoats, they’ve identified those as their incumbent politicians; they’re instead looking for a way away from them. All these people who feel left behind base that feeling primarily on their deteriorating economic circumstances. And if the only alternative they have rants, against foreigners and immigrants, they’ll go with that.

Angela Merkel pushed over 1 million refugees and immigrants down the German population’s throats. She never asked their opinion. But many Germans are not doing any better than many Americans or French or British. So the consequences of such things are predictable. You have to explain, you have to communicate with your people. Just saying ‘we can do this’ is not enough. No more than ‘change we can believe in’ was. It’s just hollow.

Merkel lost ‘only’ 25% of her votes. Because Germans know what right wing is, and what it can do. Germany is not full of nazis, no more than America is. Both countries just have a lot of people who feel trapped in a web of lies, and their existing and alleged democratic systems offer no way out of that web.

All these countries, the people and their politicians, have the tendency to see their situations as somehow unique, but they’d be much better off looking at what they have in common with others.

The only solution is to tell people the truth, that the incumbent political class has screwed up badly because of limited brain capacity and unlimited greed, and that they should elect people next time who are both smarter and less sociopathic. But that is not something that comes voluntarily, that takes a battle. And it tends to end careers, and lives.

That is what we can expect. In many different shapes and forms, but all for the same underlying reasons. You can’t fool all of the people all of the time, you can’t even fool a majority for long. You can only fool a limited number of them for a limited amount of time.

Well, time’s up.

 

 

Aug 182017
 
 August 18, 2017  Posted by at 8:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Edward S. Curtis Slow Bull Dakota Sioux Medicine Man In Prayer 1907

 

Never Doubt Regression To The Mean (Rosso)
The Stock Market Bubble is So Big Even the Fed’s Talking About It (Phoenix)
Ice-Nine: The Plan To Freeze The Financial System (Rickards)
Neoliberalism: The Idea That Changed The World (G.)
So When Will China’s Debt Bubble Finally Blow Up? (WS)
Charlene Chu Lays Out China’s “Doomsday” Scenario (ZH)
China’s New Problem: Frenzy Of Consumer Lending Creates Debt Explosion (CNBC)
‘Simply Doesn’t Cut It’: Elizabeth Warren Slams Wells Fargo Board Changes (BI)
Deutsche Bank, Bank of America Settle Agency Bond Rigging Lawsuits (R.)
Who Is Lobbying Mike Pence And Why? (IBT)
Mr. President: Close Down More “Advisory Councils” (Rossini)
Spain Lacks Capacity To Handle Migration Surge – UNHCR (G.)

 

 

After a week of senseless violence and rhetoric, we could sure do with a medicine man praying for peace. I know, they say this is what the Fourth Turning looks like. But I don’t have to like it. Seeing some of the pictures of traumatized people in Barcelona I couldn’t help thinking how much they looked like those I’ve seen from Syria and Libya. Senseless violence.

 

 

Part of a longer piece on retirement distributions. Very strong graph.

Never Doubt Regression To The Mean (Rosso)

Since 1877, secular bull years have totaled 80 vs. 52 for bears, which is a 60/40 ratio. Surprised? Bear markets happen more often than investors are led to believe. They usually occur at times of overvaluation which makes recent retirees or those close to retirement at greater risk of experiencing negative or poor future returns. Bad luck or rotten timing. Either way, it’s going to be important to remain cognizant of portfolio distribution rates, place renewed priority on risk management, and adjust spending accordingly perhaps over the next ten years. Those who were proactive to minimize stock and high-yield bond portfolio risk (like several of the writers for Real Investment Advice), and redeployed capital into stocks at 13x earnings in the summer of 2009, helped new retirees at that time meet their retirement objectives. In addition, they have experienced a cyclical tailwind in stocks that has allowed greater distribution rates. Great luck!

Stock market cycles are vast and span decades. Don’t stumble into a Recency Bias trap where you believe current complacent market conditions lay the path to a smooth, high-return future. Markets are mean reverting mechanisms. Cycles indeed change. Usually, markets are more volatile with periods of 5% pullbacks occurring every 3-4 months. As investors, this year we’ve witnessed shallow retracements followed up by buys on the dips. An environment like this fosters overconfidence. Volatility may excite traders and be helpful to those who are seeking lower prices to purchase risk assets. For those in retirement distribution mode, volatility and corrections have potential to place portfolio longevity in jeopardy.

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“Remember, we’re talking about the Fed here… a group of people who go above and beyond to ignore risks in order to maintain the status quo…”

The Stock Market Bubble is So Big Even the Fed’s Talking About It (Phoenix)

The Fed confirmed yesterday that stocks are in a bubble. Lost amidst the usual Fed-speak about inflation and other items were the following nuggets. 1) “Equities” (read: stocks) were the primary reason the Fed discussed financial stability risks. 2) The Fed raised its assessment of financial stability from “notable” to “elevated.” 3) The Fed discussed “stock valuations.” This is simply incredible. Remember, we’re talking about the Fed here… a group of people who go above and beyond to ignore risks in order to maintain the status quo. Put another way, the stock market bubble is now so massive that even THE FED is talking about it. Indeed, the Fed is even openly states that the bubble might cause financial instability (read: a CRASH). It’s not difficult to see what the Fed is talking about. Based on their cyclical adjusted price to earnings ratio (CAPE) stocks are in CLEAR bubble territory.

As you can see, stocks are currently as overpriced as they were at the 1929 peak. Indeed, the only time stocks were MORE expensive was the Tech Bubble: the single largest stock market bubble in history. They say you don’t ring a bell at the top. But what the Fed did yesterday is DARN close. So what happens when the markets wake up to the fact that yet another massive bubble is beginning to burst?

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Freeze it before the collapse.

Ice-Nine: The Plan To Freeze The Financial System (Rickards)

In my book The Road to Ruin, I discuss a phenomenon called “ice-nine.” The name is taken from a novel, Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut. In the novel, a scientist invents a molecule he calls ice-nine, which is like water but with two differences. The melting temperature is 114.4 degrees Fahrenheit (meaning it’s frozen at room temperature), and whenever ice-nine comes in contact with water, the water turns to ice-nine and freezes. The ice-nine is kept in three vials. The plot revolves around the potential release of ice-nine into water, which would eventually freeze the rivers and oceans and end all life on Earth. Cat’s Cradle is darkly comedic, and I highly recommend it. I used ice-nine in my book as a metaphor for financial contagion.

If regulators freeze money market funds in a crisis, depositors will take money from banks. The regulators will then close the banks, but investors will sell stocks and force the exchanges to close and so on. Eventually, the entire financial system will be frozen solid and investors will have no access to their money. Some of my readers were skeptical of this scenario. But I researched it carefully and provided solid evidence that this plan is already in place — it’s just not well understood. But the ice-nine plan is now being put into practice. Consider a recent Reuters article that admitted elites would likely shut down the entire system when the next financial crisis strikes. The article claimed that the EU is considering actions that would temporarily prevent people from withdrawing money from banks to prevent bank runs.

“The desire is to prevent a bank run, so that when a bank is in a critical situation it is not pushed over the edge,” said one source. Very few people are aware of these developments. They get a brief mention in the media, if they get mentioned at all. But people could be in for a shock when they try to get their money out of the bank during the next financial crisis. Think of it as a war on currency or a war on money. Even the skeptics can see how the entire financial system will be frozen solid in the next crisis. The only solution is to have physical gold, silver and bank notes in private storage. The sooner you put your personal ice-nine protection plan in place, the safer you’ll be.

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“..the ideal of society as a kind of universal market (and not, for example, a polis, a civil sphere or a kind of family) and of human beings as profit-and-loss calculators (and not bearers of grace, or of inalienable rights and duties)..”

Neoliberalism: The Idea That Changed The World (G.)

Last summer, researchers at the IMF settled a long and bitter debate over “neoliberalism”: they admitted it exists. Three senior economists at the IMF, an organisation not known for its incaution, published a paper questioning the benefits of neoliberalism. In so doing, they helped put to rest the idea that the word is nothing more than a political slur, or a term without any analytic power. The paper gently called out a “neoliberal agenda” for pushing deregulation on economies around the world, for forcing open national markets to trade and capital, and for demanding that governments shrink themselves via austerity or privatisation. The authors cited statistical evidence for the spread of neoliberal policies since 1980, and their correlation with anaemic growth, boom-and-bust cycles and inequality.

Neoliberalism is an old term, dating back to the 1930s, but it has been revived as a way of describing our current politics – or more precisely, the range of thought allowed by our politics. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, it was a way of assigning responsibility for the debacle, not to a political party per se, but to an establishment that had conceded its authority to the market. For the Democrats in the US and Labour in the UK, this concession was depicted as a grotesque betrayal of principle. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, it was said, had abandoned the left’s traditional commitments, especially to workers, in favour of a global financial elite and the self-serving policies that enriched them; and in doing so, had enabled a sickening rise in inequality. Over the past few years, as debates have turned uglier, the word has become a rhetorical weapon, a way for anyone left of centre to incriminate those even an inch to their right. (No wonder centrists say it’s a meaningless insult: they’re the ones most meaningfully insulted by it.)

But “neoliberalism” is more than a gratifyingly righteous jibe. It is also, in its way, a pair of eyeglasses. Peer through the lens of neoliberalism and you see more clearly how the political thinkers most admired by Thatcher and Reagan helped shape the ideal of society as a kind of universal market (and not, for example, a polis, a civil sphere or a kind of family) and of human beings as profit-and-loss calculators (and not bearers of grace, or of inalienable rights and duties). Of course the goal was to weaken the welfare state and any commitment to full employment, and – always – to cut taxes and deregulate. But “neoliberalism” indicates something more than a standard rightwing wish list. It was a way of reordering social reality, and of rethinking our status as individuals.

Still peering through the lens, you see how, no less than the welfare state, the free market is a human invention. You see how pervasively we are now urged to think of ourselves as proprietors of our own talents and initiative, how glibly we are told to compete and adapt. You see the extent to which a language formerly confined to chalkboard simplifications describing commodity markets (competition, perfect information, rational behaviour) has been applied to all of society, until it has invaded the grit of our personal lives, and how the attitude of the salesman has become enmeshed in all modes of self-expression. In short, “neoliberalism” is not simply a name for pro-market policies, or for the compromises with finance capitalism made by failing social democratic parties. It is a name for a premise that, quietly, has come to regulate all we practise and believe: that competition is the only legitimate organising principle for human activity.

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I’m still convinced that people will react shocked if China is the first domino. But though Charlene Chu is right that China controls most of its system, its control over Chinese obligations abroad isn’t nearly that strong. Xi knows this, and that’s why Chinese purchases abroad are shrinking. China has become part of the global financial system with monopoly money. And sure, it has dollars and Treasuries, but they’re neither limitless nor limitlessly fungible. Weakest point? Local governments who have borrowed from foreign sources. Or from domestic ones that get their credit from foreigners. Shadow banks.

So When Will China’s Debt Bubble Finally Blow Up? (WS)

Corporate debt in China has soared to $18 trillion, or 169% of GDP, the largest pile of corporate debt in the world, according to the worried BIS. The OECD has warned about it earlier this year. The New York Fed warned about this debt boom in February and that it could lead to a “financial crisis,” but that authorities have many tools to control it. The IMF regularly warns about China’s corporate debt, broken-record-like, and did so again a few days ago, lambasting the authorities for their reluctance to tamp down on the growth of debt. The “current trajectory,” it said, “could eventually lead to a sharp adjustment.” The Chinese authorities – the government and the central bank, supported by the state-owned megabanks – have allowed some bonds to default, rather than bail them out, to make some kind of theoretical point, and they have been working furiously on a balancing act, tamping down on the credit growth that fuels the economy and simultaneously stimulating the economy with more credit to keep the debt bubble from imploding.

A misstep could create a global mess. “Everyone knows there’s a credit problem in China, but I find that people often forget about the scale; it’s important in global terms,” Charlene Chu told the FT. Back in 2011, when she was still a China banking analyst at Fitch Ratings, she went out on a limb with her radical estimates that there was much more debt than disclosed by the central bank, particularly in the shadow banking system, that banks were concealing risky loans in off-balance-sheet vehicles, and that this soaring opaque debt could have nasty consequences. Her outlandish views at the time have since then become the consensus. And this pile of debt is in much worse shape than officially acknowledged, she says in her latest report, cited by the FT. She’s now with Autonomous Research.

She figured that by the end of 2017, bad debt in China could hit 51 trillion yuan, or $7.6 trillion. Or about 68% of GDP! It would take the bad-debt ratio to an astronomical 34% of all loans, and way above the 5.3% that the authorities are proffering. And the authorities – the government, the central bank, supported by the state-owned banks – are now pulling all levers to keep this under control. “What I’ve gotten a greater appreciation for is how everything is so orchestrated by the authorities,” she said. “The upside is that it creates stability. The downside is that it can create a problem of proportions that people would think is never possible. We’re moving into that territory.”

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More Chu. Remarkable how she says “.. the ability to avoid recognizing losses only delays the inevitable day of reckoning as problems fester for longer, and grow larger than in an economy where actors respond purely to market incentives.” Remarkable because that describes America as much as it does China.

Charlene Chu Lays Out China’s “Doomsday” Scenario (ZH)

The first time we laid out the dire calculations about what is perhaps the biggest mystery inside China’s financial system, namely the total amount of its non-performing loans, by former Fitch analyst Charlene Chu we called it a “neutron bomb” scenario, because unlike virtually every other rosy forecast the most dire of which topped out at around 8%, Chu argued that the amount of bad debt in China was no less than a whopping 21% of total loans. While traditional bank loans are not Chu’s prime focus – she looks at the wider picture, including shadow banking – she says her work suggests that nonperforming loans may be at 20% to 21%, or even higher. The chart below shows just how much of an outlier Chu’s stark forecast was in comparison to her peers, and especially the grotesquely low and completely fabricated official number released by the banks and the government.

Recall that one of the biggest scandals in China in 2014 was the realization (as many had warned previously) that millions of tons of commodities were rehypothecated countless times, and thus “pledged” as collateral to numerous counterparties, and that as a result these same counterparties were unable to make sense of who owns what at one of China’s largest ports, Qingdao. In this context, it is safe to assume that loss given default rates in China are if not 100% (or more, which is impossible in theoretical terms but in practice is quite possible, as another curious side effect of unlimited collateral rehypothecation), then as close to it as possible.

Fast forward to today, when Charlene Chu, described by the FT as “one of the most influential analysts of China’s financial system” is back with a revised estimate that the bad debt in China has now reached a stunning $6.8 trillion above official figures and warns that the government’s ability to enforce stability has allowed underlying problems to go unchecked. [..] So if Chu held the wildly outlier view nearly two years ago that China’s NPLs amount to 21% of total, what is her latest estimate? The number is a doozy: in her latest report, Chu estimates that bad debt in China’s financial system will reach as much as Rmb51 trillion , or $7.6 trillion, by the end of this year, more than five times the value of bank loans officially classified as either non-performing or one notch above.” That estimate implies a bad-debt ratio of 34%, orders of magnitude above the official 5.3% ratio for those two categories at the end of June.

One factor that has foiled countless shorts over the years is that Beijing can simply order state-owned banks to keep lending to a lossmaking zombie company or to a smaller lender that relies on short-term interbank funding to stay liquid, and that’s precisely what has been happening, when looking at the various non-conventional credit pathways in China in recent years, which include Wealth Management Products, Bank Loans to Non-Bank Institutions, Shadow Banking, Repos and Certificates of Deposit.

But Chu said the ability to avoid recognizing losses only delays the inevitable day of reckoning as problems fester for longer, and grow larger than in an economy where actors respond purely to market incentives. That said, the recent spike in corporate bankruptcies indicates that even Beijing is slowly shifting to a more “market” driven stance. “What I’ve gotten a greater appreciation for is how everything is so orchestrated by the authorities,” she said. “The upside is that it creates stability. The downside is that it can create a problem of proportions that people would think is never possible. We’re moving into that territory.” Finally, putting it all in context is the following chart showing the total size of China’s financial sector, which as of the latest quarter has grown to $35 trillion, double the size of the US.

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Subtle tactics from Xi. Shift the debt but keep it high. What do you think the odds are that after the Party Congress China will withdraw into itself?

China’s New Problem: Frenzy Of Consumer Lending Creates Debt Explosion (CNBC)

The Chinese government is moving to tackle high debt levels, but the country is still borrowing more, Deutsche Bank said in a report released Thursday. That’s because short-term consumer debt in China has begun to surge as authorities try to alleviate the high levels of corporate indebtedness. The redistribution comes as Beijing is trying to strike a balance between stability and strength in its economy. Household debt in China is growing “very fast” and has accelerated in the last three to four months, according to Deutsche Bank: “If we focus purely on the consumer lending … then China has been undergoing something akin to a consumer lending frenzy.” According to Deutsche Bank, corporate credit has fallen to 45% of net new credit, down from 65% in the last 10 years. Instead, Beijing is allowing households and governments to borrow more to fund growth, which is targeted for around 6.5% in 2017, said the analysts.

Now, short-term consumer credit is growing 35% year-over-year, and may hit about 40% year-over-year by the end of December at the current trend, Deutsche Bank said. The bank said it isn’t yet clear where exactly the short-term consumer credit is being deployed, although 70 to 80% of that debt has historically been credit card-related. Overall household credit growth in China, the analysts noted, is growing around 24% year-over-year. At the end of the first half of 2017, corporate the debt-to-GDP ratio fell to 165% from the peak of 169% in the first quarter of 2016. That was “more of a ‘stabilization’ than a significant reduction,” Deutsche Bank said, calling it an “explosion” of growth. Meanwhile, household and government debt however rose by 8 to 9% of GDP. “So when viewed in aggregate China is still leveraging up apace,” the Deutsche Bank report concluded.

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Maybe somoneone should explain to Warren what the Fed is and does. Or Washington for that matter.

‘Simply Doesn’t Cut It’: Elizabeth Warren Slams Wells Fargo Board Changes (BI)

Wells Fargo’s effort to turn the page on consumer fraud scandals is falling short. That’s according to Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, who has requested the Federal Reserve remove the bank’s board members who served between May 2011 and July 2015 in response to a series of vast consumer fraud scandals. The bank, already in hot water for creating millions of unauthorized accounts, recently admitted to also selling auto insurance without customers’ knowledge. Wells Fargo’s response? It has promoted an ex-Fed board governor, Elizabeth Duke, to chairwoman of the board. Duke, a champion of community banks while at the Fed, became a Wells Fargo director in 2015 and was named vice chair last year after the first round of scandals broke and led to the resignation of then-CEO John Stumpf.

Business Insider contacted Senator Warren to get her reaction. “Letting a few board members retire early and shuffling around current board members simply doesn’t cut it,” Warren said in an email. “The Fed should remove all remaining board members who served during the fake-accounts scandal.” Warren also renewed her call for board members’ removal with a new letter to Fed chairman Janet Yellen dated August 16, and voicing her dissatisfaction at what she sees as central bank inaction. “Instead of taking steps to remove the responsible Wells Fargo Board members, the Federal Reserve has actually sought to reduce their obligations and the obligations of other directors at the country’s biggest banks,” the letter said. In July, Warren repeatedly pressed Fed Chair Janet Yellen on the issue during recent Congressional testimony but Yellen would only say the central bank had the power to remove the directors — not that it had any inclination to do so.

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More free rides for bankers. Warren! Oh wait, your own party takes their contributions.

Deutsche Bank, Bank of America Settle Agency Bond Rigging Lawsuits (R.)

Deutsche Bank and Bank of America agreed to pay a combined $65.5 million to settle investor litigation accusing large banks of rigging the roughly $9 trillion government agency bond market over a decade. Preliminary settlements totaling $48.5 million for Deutsche Bank and $17 million for Bank of America were filed on Thursday with the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, and require a judge’s approval. Both banks denied wrongdoing. The settlements were the first in litigation accusing 10 banks of engaging in a “brazen conspiracy” to rig the market for U.S. dollar-denominated supranational, sub-sovereign and agency (SSA) bonds, court papers show. The investors are led by the Iron Workers Pension Plan of Western Pennsylvania, KBC Asset Management, and the Sheet Metal Workers Pension Plan of Northern California.

They accused banks of communicating by phone, chatrooms and instant messaging to share pricing data and function as a collective “super-desk,” while letting traders coordinate their strategies, to boost profit. This collusion allegedly ran from 2005 to 2015, and forced customers to accept unfair prices on bonds they bought and sold, court papers show. BNP Paribas, Citigroup, Credit Agricole, Credit Suisse, HSBC, Nomura, Royal Bank of Canada and Toronto-Dominion Bank were also sued, and all sought dismissals. U.S. regulators have also examined possible manipulation in the SSA bond market. The Manhattan court is home to a slew of private litigation accusing big banks of conspiring to rig various financial markets, interest rate benchmarks and commodities. Late Wednesday night, another group of investors sued six banks, claiming they rigged the more than $1 trillion stock lending market.

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Simply how all of Washington works.

Who Is Lobbying Mike Pence And Why? (IBT)

Mike Pence has been among the Trump administration’s most prominent voices pressing to replace the Affordable Care Act, repeal post-crisis financial regulations, privatize American infrastructure and promote fossil fuels. Those positions would benefit the industries that have been directly lobbying Pence since he was elected vice president, according to federal documents reviewed by International Business Times. Amid speculation that Pence could mount his own presidential bid — or replace Trump if he leaves office early — the former Indiana governor and U.S. congressman has been directly lobbied by major health care and drug companies, Wall Street firms, oil and gas interests and industry groups interested in shaping a federal infrastructure privatization initiative.

Pence’s office has also been lobbied by his former congressional chief of staff on behalf of insurance, defense contracting and telecommunications companies — and that lobbying revolved around health care policy, defense spending and net neutrality. Pence has enthusiastically backed the policies by the lobbying firms. While other vice presidents have been the target of lobbying in the past, Pence has been viewed as one of the most powerful vice presidents in recent history. He is a longtime politician serving a president with no experience in elected office, and during his vice-presidential selection process, Trump was reportedly offering potential running mates a vast policy portfolio to oversee. Pence also oversaw Trump’s White House transition, which shaped the administration’s personnel decisions and many of its policy proposals.

Companies that have lobbied the vice president have spent tens of millions of dollars in total federal lobbying so far this year. Here is a deeper look at the major industries lobbying him — and what exactly they have been pushing for in their efforts to influence the vice president. Despite his onetime support for expanding Obamacare subsidies in his home state, Pence has reversed course and led the Trump administration’s legislative bid to repeal the Affordable Care Act — just as health insurers have been lobbying him in 2017.

“If you’re one of those Americans who want to see Obamacare repealed and replaced, we literally are days, or maybe just weeks, away from being able to accomplish that historic objective,” he told conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh last month. “We believe if they can’t pass this carefully crafted repeal and replace bill — we do those two things simultaneously — we ought to just repeal only and then have enough time built into that legislation to craft replacement legislation.” The Pence-led repeal effort could be a financial boon to health insurers like Blue Cross and Blue Shield, as well as UnitedHealthcare Group — both which have been in direct contact with Pence, according to records reviewed by IBT.

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Libertarian view.

Mr. President: Close Down More “Advisory Councils” (Rossini)

So President Trump closed down his “Manufacturing Council” and no one cheered? What a shame. Why was there a “Manufacturing Council” to begin with? It’s not the job of the president to meddle with our economy. His job description says nothing about benefitting “manufactures” or “scientists” or “Silicon Valley” or anyone else. These “Councils” are breeding grounds for the cronyism that has virtually destroyed the American Dream. If a CEO has the ear of the president, do you think he’s going to “advise” the president to do anything that will hurt his own business? On the other hand, would the CEO be tempted to advise the president to hurt his competitors, both foreign and domestic? Would the CEO advise the president to make it hard for start-ups and entrepreneurs to compete?

Would he advise for subsidies? Strict licensing laws? The president doesn’t need Advisory Councils, Czars, or any other destroyer of our economic liberties. Let the CEO’s be “counciled” themselves by free market prices. Let them deal with economic reality as it is, not massage the president for unconstitutional interventions. Let them stand on their own. Either satisfy consumers profitably, or fold up so that other people can. The president, at the same time, should stop pretending that he can push buttons and pull levers to make the economy run. Nothing could be further from the truth. Government intervention only stifles the economy.

The economy continues to function despite the political intrusions that exist. Fortunately, entrepreneurs are creative enough to always find ways around so-called government “regulations”. There’s always a loophole somewhere. But why make it hard on entrepreneurs to begin with? Just get the heck out of the way! But alas, the government and multi-national corporations are attached at the hip. One scratches the back of the other. Mr. President, close down all the “Advisory Councils,” and keep your hands off the economy.

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Spain’s views on this may have changed last night.

Spain Lacks Capacity To Handle Migration Surge – UNHCR (G.)

Spain lacks the resources and capacity to protect the rising number of refugees and migrants reaching it by sea, the UN refugee agency has said. The warning from UNHCR comes as the Spanish coastguard said it rescued 593 people in a day from 15 small paddle boats, including 35 children and a baby, after they attempted to cross the seven-mile Strait of Gibraltar. The number of refugees and migrants risking the sea journey between Morocco and Spain has been rising sharply, with the one-day figure the largest since August 2014, when about 1,300 people landed on the Spanish coast in a 24-hour period. About 9,300 migrants have arrived in Spain by sea so far this year, while a further 3,500 have made it to two Spanish enclaves in north Africa, Ceuta and Melilla, the EU’s only land borders with Africa.

María Jesús Vega, a spokeswoman for UNHCR Spain, said police were badly under-resourced and there was a lack of interpreters and a shortage of accommodation for the new arrivals. “The state isn’t prepared and there aren’t even the resources and the means to deal with the usual flow of people arriving by sea,” she said. “Given the current rise, we’re seeing an overflow situation when it comes to local authorities trying to cope at arrival points.” Vega said the agency was seeing a very high number of vulnerable people including women, victims of people-trafficking, and children. “What we’re asking is for there to be the right mechanisms in place to ensure people are treated with dignity when they come,” she said.

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Jul 062016
 
 July 6, 2016  Posted by at 8:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle July 6 2016
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Arnold Genthe San Francisco, “Grant Avenue at Sacramento Street.” 1930

British Pound Sterling Plunges As Brexit Fears Continue To Swirl (CNBC)
Asia Markets Tumble As Investors Scurry Into Safe-Haven Plays (CNBC)
Third London Asset Manager Suspends Trading in Property Fund (BBG)
The Big Unravel: US Commercial Bankruptcies Skyrocket (WS)
In London, Banker Bonuses Are Set To Disappear (ZH)
Deutsche Bank: The Downfall Of An Institution (Deutsche Welle)
Inequality, Debt and Credit Stagnation (Steve Keen)
Eurosceptic 5 Star Movement Biggest Party In Italy: Survey (EP)
EU Commission: CETA Should Be Approved By National Parliaments (DW)
The Beauty Beneath Brexit’s Bedwetting (Welsh)
Spain’s Social Security Program Will Go Bust in 2018 (Mish)
In Clinton Case, Obama Administration Nullifies 6 Criminal Laws (Zuesse)
FBI Director Comey Preempts Justice Department (Intercept)
The Department Of “Just Us” (Martin Armstrong)

 

 

It’s just a bubble popping.

British Pound Sterling Plunges As Brexit Fears Continue To Swirl (CNBC)

The British pound plunged to fresh 31-year lows on Wednesday, swamped by continued fears over the U.K. leadership vacuum and the country’s potential exit from the EU. The pound tumbled as low as $1.2796 during Asia trade on Wednesday, it’s lowest since 1985, after ending Tuesday’s trade around $1.2960. The U.K. currency later recovered to trade around $1.2881 at 12:27 p.m. SIN/HK. Analysts were concerned that the continued political uncertainty will hurt capital inflows and spur companies to delay investments, potentially tipping the economy into a recession. The Bank of England (BOE) had begun taking preemptive steps to protect the British economy in the wake of June 23 U.K. referendum vote to leave the European Union (EU).

On Tuesday, BOE Governor Mark Carney sent a clear message to Britain’s cautious bankers: They needed to start lending more money. The central bank cut the amount of capital it required banks to hold in reserve, which freed up an extra 150 billion pounds ($196 billion) for lending. Carney had previously signaled more monetary easing would likely be put in place in the near term. But that wasn’t assuaging the market much, analysts said. “As Carney as put it himself, there isn’t so much he can do. Monetary policy, which the Bank of England is in charge of, cannot fix structural issues. It’s very apparent with Brexit that investors will stay away from the U.K. because of the certainty,” Axel Merk, chief investment officer at Merk Investments, told CNBC’s “Rundown” on Wednesday.

He noted that not only has the U.K. yet to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which will formally start negotiations for an exit from the EU, it wasn’t clear who the country’s next leader would be. The ruling Conservative party is in the midst of finding a successor to Prime Minister David Cameron, who resigned after his “remain” camp lost the referendum. “You’re not going to make a big investment decision if you don’t have that sort of certainty,” Merk said. “The only thing the Bank of England can do obviously is provide the ability of banks to lend, but if there are no takers, it doesn’t help all that much.”

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And if one bubble pops….

Asia Markets Tumble As Investors Scurry Into Safe-Haven Plays (CNBC)

Markets in Asia were sharply lower on Wednesday, as investors scurried into safe-haven plays on global growth concerns, sending bond yields to record lows. Renewed Brexit jitters also sent the British pound tumbling to a fresh 31-year low. The British pound dropped to a fresh 31-year low early Wednesday amid Brexit concerns, trading at $1.2860 as of 11:04 a.m. HK/SIN, after dropping as low as $1.2796 earlier. The tumble began overnight as investors flocked to safe-haven assets such as U.S. Treasurys, the yen and the greenback after three U.K. real estate funds halted selling and the Bank of England relaxed regulations to encourage banks to lend out more money.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 dropped 2.96%, after earlier tumbling some 3.2% on the back of fresh yen strength. The Japanese yen, a safe-haven asset, traded at 100.71 against the dollar as of 11:04 a.m. HK/SIN, compared with levels near 103 on Friday. “There’s a high level of complacency in dollar/yen trade as the markets have no defined direction other than chasing risk sentiment,” said Stephen Innes, a senior trader at OANDA. “I expect further probes lower as the latest Brexit sell-off is simply the tip of the iceberg.” The yen strength saw Japanese exporters tumble, with shares of Honda off 5.9%, Toyota down 3.09% and Nissan down 3.82%.

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What? I can’t have Schadenfreude? First they blow a giant bubble and when it pops they all come to mama? Know what I think? “Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets..”

“The problem these funds face is that it takes time to sell commercial property to meet withdrawals, and the cash buffers built up by the managers have been eroded by investors heading for the door.”

Third London Asset Manager Suspends Trading in Property Fund (BBG)

Three of the U.K.’s largest real estate funds have frozen almost £9.1 billion ($12 billion) of assets after Britain’s shock vote to leave the European Union sparked a flurry of redemptions. M&G Investments, Aviva Investors and Standard Life Investments halted withdrawals because they don’t have enough cash to immediately repay investors. About £24.5 billion is allocated to U.K. real estate funds, according to the Investment Association. “The dominoes are starting to fall in the U.K. commercial property market,” said Laith Khalaf, a senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown. “The problem these funds face is that it takes time to sell commercial property to meet withdrawals, and the cash buffers built up by the managers have been eroded by investors heading for the door.”

The pound fell to its weakest level in three decades against the dollar Tuesday, surpassing lows reached in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, as the freezing of the property funds spooked global markets. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney pledged to shore up financial stability on a day when a survey showed a plunge in U.K. business confidence. The rush by private investors to withdraw money prompted M&G, which held 7.7% in cash before the vote, to suspend its £4.4 billion Property Portfolio fund and Aviva Investors to freeze its £1.8 billion Property Trust on Tuesday. Standard Life halted trading on its£ 2.9 billion U.K. real estate fund on Monday. The cash position for Aviva and Standard Life’s funds at the end of May was 9.3% and 13.1% respectively, documents showed.

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“Total US commercial bankruptcy filings in June soared 35% from a year ago..”

The Big Unravel: US Commercial Bankruptcies Skyrocket (WS)

This year through June, there have been 91 corporate defaults globally, the highest first-half total since 2009, according to Standard and Poor’s. Of them, 60 occurred in the US. Some of them are going to end up in bankruptcy. Others are restructuring their debts outside of bankruptcy court by holding the bankruptcy gun to creditors’ heads. In the process, stockholders will often get wiped out. These are credit fiascos at larger corporations – those that pay Standard and Poor’s to rate their credit so that they can sell bonds in the credit markets. But in the vast universe of 19 million American businesses, there are only about 3,025 companies, or 0.02% of the total, with annual revenues over $1 billion; they’re big enough to pay Standard & Poor’s for a credit rating.

About 183,000 businesses, or less than 1% of the total, are medium-size with sales between $10 million and $1 billion. Only a fraction of them have an S&P credit rating, and only those figure into S&P’s measure of defaults. The rest, the vast majority, are flying under S&P’s radar. About 99% of all businesses in the US are small, with less than $10 million a year in revenues. None of them are S&P rated and none of them figure into S&P’s default measurements. So how are these small and medium-size businesses doing – the core of American enterprise? Total US commercial bankruptcy filings in June soared 35% from a year ago, to 3,294, the eighth month in a row of year-over-year increases, the American Bankruptcy Institute (in partnership with Epiq Systems) reported today.

During the first half, commercial bankruptcy filings soared 29% to 19,470. Among the various filing categories: Chapter 11 filings (company “restructures” its debt at the expense of stockholders and unsecured creditors by shifting ownership to creditors, but continues to operate) soared 36% to 499 in June and 25% in the first half to 3,220. Chapter 7 filings (company throws in the towel and “liquidates” by selling its assets and distributing the proceeds to creditors) jumped 28% in June to 1,909, and 25% in the first half to 11,211.

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Then so will the bankers.

In London, Banker Bonuses Are Set To Disappear (ZH)

Not only will Brexit be used as an excuse for companies to lower earnings guidance and for central banks to provide more quantitative easing, but it may also be a scapegoat for banker bonuses in London being slashed – everyone can let out their collective gasp now. As we have been covering, banker jobs have been getting cut for quite some time now, most recently with RBS announcing it will be cutting another 900 jobs. Times have been difficult for banks leading up to Brexit, but now, as Bloomberg reports, the message London’s investment banks are giving staff this year is that in the aftermath of Brexit, just be thankful to have a job, and forget a fat bonus at the end of the year.

“It’s a great opportunity to blame Brexit, giving people the message ‘you’re lucky enough to have a job'” said Stephane Rambosson, managing partner at DHR executive search firm in London, adding that bonuses could fall 30% or more in some areas. Jason Kennedy, CEO of recruitment firm Kennedy Group in London said “Reality is going to kick in, today it’s about job preservation, rather than bonuses. Things are going to change, and some people shouldn’t expect any bonuses.”

Jon Terry, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers in London, at least admits that things were falling apart even before Brexit: “If we hadn’t had the referendum results, this year was looking pretty tough anyway. We haven’t seen an end to various fines and compensation related to payment protection insurance and Libor. There are still billions of pounds being charged to the accounts. Ever since the financial crisis, there has been a need for reshaping the spend on compensation costs. Brexit is possibly one of the biggest catalysts for the next stage of reduction.”

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From a German source, no less. Throw that towel!

Deutsche Bank: The Downfall Of An Institution (Deutsche Welle)

It has been nearly a year since John Cryan assumed the leadership of Germany’s still-largest bank. He took the reins from Anshu Jain, who was chosen to realize his own predecessor Josef Ackermann’s dream of 25% returns. Jain did what he was expected to do. And the bank is still dealing with the consequences. 7,800 lawsuits have been carried out against the bank worldwide. Most of them are pretty manageable, some were settled for billions upon billions. But a few still carry a destructive power that would cost the bank its existence – money laundering accusations in Russia, for example, or investigations by the SEC over peculiar dealings with mortgage-backed securities.

Cryan is making a tremendous effort, portraying himself at times as the man behind the wrecking-ball, at others as the chief builder. He has almost completely replaced the bank’s leadership. With an iron broom, he has swept away many of his inherited messes, accepting record losses of over $6 billion in the process. But his efforts have yet to yield any success. Deutsche’s share price has halved itself once again this year. Employee moral is in the cellar. Even the technology is breaking down – in June, double-bookings were recorded on three million accounts, ATMs stopped giving out cash, card purchases weren’t going through. Meanwhile the bank keeps talking away about an “image problem.”

So it’s clear that things continue to get worse. Cryan stresses over and over that he doesn’t see the bank as a takeover candidate. Certainly oversight authorities would take a very close, very skeptical look at such a deal. But even if a competitor from the US or China were able to afford Deutsche Bank out of pocket, they likely wouldn’t want anything to do with it in its current condition. As of now, that’s the only real insurance against an acquisition.

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Pretty funny too.

Inequality, Debt and Credit Stagnation (Steve Keen)

This was my keynote speech at the French Association for Political Economy (AFEP) annual conference in Mulhouse, France (the other keynote was given–in French–by my good friend Marc Lavoie, who is now based at the University de Paris 13). In this presentation, I:
• Disparage the “secular stagnation” explanation that Larry Summers has regurgitated for the tepid level of economic growth today. As did Hansen in the 1930s, Summers ponders “why growth would remain anaemic in the absence of major financial concerns?“, when financial concerns are obvious if you understand credit;
• Explain why credit plays a crucial role in both aggregate demand and aggregate income, once you understand that banks originate loans rather than act as financial intermediaries; and
• Show that my 1992 complex systems model of Minsky’s “Financial Instability Hypothesis” can be derived by working from strictly true macroeconomic identities, in an alternative to Lucas’s “microfoundations” approach to building macroeconomic models.

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Beppe!

Eurosceptic 5 Star Movement Biggest Party In Italy: Survey (EP)

Beppe Grillo‘s movement would be the first Italian party, overtaking PD (Socialists) with 32% of consensus, according to a new survey by Demos. 5 Star Movement won in two of the most important Italian cities (Rome and Turin) in the last administrative election in Italy.

Demos for Repubblica:
• 5 Star Movement (EFDD): 32%
• Partito Democratico (S&D): 30%
• Lega Nord (ENF): 11,8%
• Forza Italia (EPP): 11,5%
• Fratelli d’Italia (-): 3%

With the new electoral system, the runoff would see 5 Star Movement winning against PD (54,7% vs. 45,3%)

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Down goes Jean-Claude. He ain’t no Van Damme.

EU Commission: CETA Should Be Approved By National Parliaments (DW)

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker is expected to scrap plans to fast-track a trade agreement with Canada through the EU. After pressure from Germany and France, Juncker appears to be backtracking. Juncker will reportedly propose a mixed agreement – one that requires both the approval of the European parliament and national legislatures – at an European Commission meeting on Tuesday. Last week he was reported saying he “personally couldn’t care less” whether lawmakers get to vote on the deal. A report in the Financial Times noted that Germany and France wanted their national parliaments to be involved, which would inevitably lengthen the process.

The deal was scheduled to be signed at the end of October during a summit in Brussels with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and it was due to be implemented in 2017. Trade ministers in Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and UK have reportedly said they will support the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA. CETA is similar to the agreement under negotiation between the EU and US and has drawn strong criticism in EU countries. Canadian and EU leaders concluded CETA in 2014, but implementation was delayed due to last-minute objections in Europe. This was related to an investment protection system to shield companies from government intervention.

With opposition to the EU’s impending free trade deal with Canada apparently growing, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said recently that the German parliament should be consulted on the EU’s free trade deal with Canada. “It is a highly political agreement that has been widely discussed,” said Merkel, adding that the “Bundestag is allowed to be involved of course… in national decisions”. German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel told the Tagesspiegel daily that Juncker’s comment was “incredibly stupid” and “would stoke opposition to other free trade deals,” including with the US. German media has also described Juncker’s position as badly timed given the growing skepticism among European voters about the EU.

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“The end result is a mess, but a strangely inevitable and even curiously beautiful one.”

The Beauty Beneath Brexit’s Bedwetting (Welsh)

If democratic aliens came down from Mars and looked at the EU referendum result, they’d be compelled to take the view that the UK, hopelessly fragmented by de-industrialisation and neoliberalism, is now finished as a political entity. The debate will rage on about the extent to which leave voters gave the smug, complacent neoliberal establishment a kicking, or were duped by toytown fascists into swallowing the same policies of the past 30 years, only significantly amped up. Whatever side you come down on, the process has bolstered a toxic, chauvinistic right wing, not just in England, but also Europe and beyond. The EU referendum redesignated the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as Little England.

Scottish voters, favouring the emotional and practical investment in the European ideal, decisively rejected this approach. The end result is a mess, but a strangely inevitable and even curiously beautiful one. We live in an era of great turbulence, with economic decline running in paradoxical tandem with technological advance. It is only to be expected that our antiquated institutions haven’t been able to keep up, and our nation states, political parties and supranational bodies are starting to unravel. Politicians now seem perennially in the business of chaos management, and the suspicion must be that this process has only just begun. The inevitable chorus of voices crying out for “a period of stability” sadly misses the point: we aren’t at that place in our history, and trying to impose inertia on those fluid times may only be inviting further discord.

As has been postulated, with much hand-wringing, it was obvious to many that the leave campaign didn’t believe it would win, merely wishing to register a protest, and was thus left thinking: what have we done? But let’s remember that no democrat can defend the commission-led EU, and nobody in the remain camp had a serious reforming vision of Europe, any more than those in leave offer much of clue as to what they’ll do with their increasingly hollow-looking victory. Remain’s leaders would have kept us straitjacketed into the EU’s current death-by-a-thousand-cuts version of corporate neoliberalism. At least now, shed of that distraction, we have our governmental elites much more clearly in our sights.

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The shape of things to come.

Spain’s Social Security Program Will Go Bust in 2018 (Mish)

Spain’s Social Security system is expected to go broke by 2018. In the US, concerns over such matters are virtually nonexistent. But Spain cannot print Euros, and is already deep in the hole on meeting budget deficit targets. Via translation from El Confidencial, Spain’s Social Security Reserve Fund Exhausted by 2018:

The Social Security reserve fund will run out of money in 2018. The cause in bonus payments to pensioners, which consumes every six months (in December and July) over €8.5 billion. Revenue from social security contributions are not sufficient to meet the payment obligations. Starting in 2018, only an extraordinary contribution by the State would make it possible for Social Security can meet its commitments.

The financial problems of Social Security are not a temporary problem. The government itself expects that this year the public pension system will register equivalent to 1.1% of GDP deficit (about 11 billion euros ), while in 2017 planned is an imbalance equivalent to 0.9% of GDP. In 2016, revenues from social security contributions recorded an accumulated a deficit of 12.24% compared to expectations. The deviation is even higher than the already recorded in 2015.

Spain has missed watered down budget deficit targets a half-dozen times. Spain is already under pressure from Brussels to cut spending or hike taxes, by 8 billion euros. Something has to give.

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Extremely damning.

In Clinton Case, Obama Administration Nullifies 6 Criminal Laws (Zuesse)

There can be no excuse for Obama’s depriving the public, via a grand jury decision, of the right to determine whether a full court case should be pursued in order to determine in a jury trial whether Hillary Clinton’s email system constituted a crime (or several crimes) under U.S. laws. The Obama Administration’s ‘finding’ that “clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information” would need to have been proven, in order for her to have been prosecuted under any U.S. criminal law, is a flagrant lie: none of the above six U.S. criminal laws requires that, but the only way to determine whether even that description (“clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information”) also applies to Clinton would be to go through a grand jury (presenting the above-cited six laws) and then to a jury case (to try her on those plus possibly also the charge that there was “clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information”).

But now, those six laws are effectively gone: anyone who in the future would be charged with violating any one of those six laws could reasonably cite the precedent that Ms. Clinton was not even charged, much less prosecuted, for actions which clearly fit the description provided in each one of those U.S. criminal laws. Anyone in the future who would be charged under any one of these six laws could prove discriminatory enforcement against himself or herself. (In the particular case discussed there, discriminatory enforcement was ruled not to have existed because the enforcement of the criminal law involved was judged to have been random enforcement, but this condition would certainly not apply in Clinton’s case, it was clearly “purposeful discrimination” in her favor, and therefore enforcement of the law against anyone else, where in Clinton’s case she wasn’t even charged — much less prosecuted — for that offense, would certainly constitute discriminatory enforcement.) So: that’s the end of these six criminal laws.

The U.S. President effectively nullified those laws, which were duly passed by Congress and signed into law by prior Presidents. And that’s the end, the clear termination, of a government “of laws, not of men”.

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Yeah, that is strange. Why go public with that unless you want to influence opinion? Which is not your job…

FBI Director Comey Preempts Justice Department (Intercept)

FBI Director James Comey took the unprecedented step of publicly preempting a Justice Department prosecution when he declared at a press conference Tuesday that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring a case against Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server. The FBI’s job is to investigate crimes; it is Justice Department prosecutors who are supposed to decide whether or not to move forward. But in a case that had enormous political implications, Comey decided the FBI would act on its own. “Although the Department of Justice makes final decisions on matters like this, we are expressing to Justice our view that no charges are appropriate in this case,” he said. Prosecutors could technically still file criminal charges, but it would require them to publicly disagree with their own investigators.

One of Comey’s likely motivations was avoiding the appearance that Department of Justice lawyers had biased the investigation due to their desire to avoid prosecuting a major party’s presidential nominee. He repeatedly assured the audience that “no outside influence of any kind was brought to bear.” Comey’s announcement also satisfied the public’s desire for a resolution sooner rather than later. But Matthew Miller, who was a spokesman for the Department of Justice under Attorney General Eric Holder, called Comey’s press conference an “absolutely unprecedented, appalling, and a flagrant violation of Justice Department regulations.” He told The Intercept: “The thing that’s so damaging about this is that the Department of Justice is supposed to reach conclusions and put them in court filings. There’s a certain amount of due process there.”

Legal experts could not recall another time that the FBI had made its recommendation so publicly. “It’s not unusual for the FBI to take a strong positions on whether charges should be brought in a case,” said University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck. “The unusual part is publicizing it.”

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“James Comey was the chief prosecutor in the Southern District of New York between 2003 and 2005. He had no problem keeping me in Federal Prison on contempt of court without any charges, indictment, or a civil complaint..”

The Department Of “Just Us” (Martin Armstrong)

To indict someone, the criteria is supposed to be “intent.” Comey has used that to pretend there is no evidence that Hillary “intentionally” erased anything. Comey also stated that Hillary’s lawyers erased her emails using a keyword search program and they did not “read” the emails. He added that he would not recommend charges against Hillary or her aides. “Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information,” Comey declared.

It was Comey who indicted Frank Quattrone for claiming he instructed his people to erase emails in his technology-industry banking group at Credit Suisse Group’s Credit Suisse First Boston, based upon a single email that read “clean up those files” in December 2000. That was more than enough for his “intent” requirement to obstruct justice. This further illustrates the double standard of justice for them vs. us.

[..] James Comey was the chief prosecutor in the Southern District of New York between 2003 and 2005. He had no problem keeping me in Federal Prison on contempt of court without any charges, indictment, or a civil complaint describing any crime whatsoever that they even admitted openly in court. There were never any charges or complaint filed, and they publicly stated, “[T]here is no description of criminal liability.” Yet, Comey allowed me to be held in prison, entirely arbitrarily, with absolutely nothing whatsoever; Comey completely violated my civil rights, those of my family, and all 240 employees. So he is not someone who upholds the Constitution when it goes against government or the banks. As they say, the Department of Justice is really “Just Us” in reality. He has proven that once again.

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 February 3, 2016  Posted by at 11:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle February 3 2016
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DPC Jai alai hall, Havana, Cuba 1904

Recession Risks Warn Of ‘Severe’ Drop In The Stock Market (MW)
Exxon Faces First Downgrade in 86 Years (BBG)
Iraq Sells Oil At $22, Fiscal Cliff Looms (BI)
Goldman Sachs Questions Capitalism (BBG)
Eurozone Manufacturing & Service Industries Cut Prices (BBG)
Plan To Increase The Yuan’s Trading Flexibility Gains Momentum (BBG)
Spring Festival Travel A One-Way Journey For Many Chinese (CNBC)
Buying A Home Is Overrated (MW)
The Bank of Japan Is Selling Out Its People (Gefira)
Hedge Funds, Wall Street not Happy with the New Spain (Don Quijones)
Thousands Of Greek Firms Flee To Bulgaria (Kath.)
Australian Asylum Ruling Paves Way For Deportation Of Infants (Reuters)
Greek Military To Oversee Response To Refugee Crisis (Kath.)
More Than 62,000 Migrant Arrivals In Greece Last Month (Reuters)
UN Says One-Third Of Refugees Sailing To Europe Are Children (Guardian)
Nine Migrants, Including Two Babies, Drown En Route To Greece (Reuters)

That graph feels so scary it gives me the shivers. And Deutsche sees ‘healthy’ growth return later this year? Who are they kidding?

Recession Risks Warn Of ‘Severe’ Drop In The Stock Market (MW)

Another brokerage firm has used the “R” word on Tuesday, warning investors to wake up to the idea that rising risks of a recession could send the stock market over a steep cliff. Based on current valuations, the prices of most stocks don’t appear to have factored in a recession scenario, “hence the downside should we see a recession could be rather severe,” RBC Capital Markets’ global equity team wrote in a research note to clients. Applying a stress test to their coverage universe, using worst-case, price-to-earnings valuations seen during the 2008-to-2009 recession, RBC analysts said they believe the shares of most companies could still fall another 50% or more from current levels. The concern for RBC analysts stems from the recently volatility in the stock market, caused by macro weakness, softness in China and commodity market challenges.

On Monday, Deutsche Bank strategist David Bianco said the second-half of 2015 was “clearly a profit recession” for S&P 500 companies, and suggested it probably won’t be until the second half of this year that “healthy” growth returns. Nearly half of S&P 500 companies have now reported fourth-quarter results through Tuesday morning, and earnings-per-share is headed for a 5.8% decline on the year, according to FactSet, compared with an estimated 5.7% decline as of Friday. That’s the data provider’s blended growth rate, which combines those companies that have reported with the estimates for the rest. That would be the third-straight quarter of an EPS decline, the longest such streak since the Great Recession. Among Tuesday’s culprits for the earnings decline, Exxon Mobil reported a 58% profit plunge and Pfizer reported a 50% earnings drop. Royal Caribbean Cruises reported earnings that nearly doubled, but the stock plunged 16% after the company provided a weak first-quarter outlook.

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We write history.

Exxon Faces First Downgrade in 86 Years (BBG)

Exxon Mobil, one of three U.S. companies with Standard & Poor’s highest rating, is facing its first downgrade in 86 years as the worst crude-market collapse in a generation strangles oil producers of cash. For Exxon, that would be a historic event: the global explorer that traces its roots to the 19th century and John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust has been rated AAA by S&P since 1930. The oil giant was placed on credit watch with negative implications because its credit measures probably will remain weak through 2018, S&P said Tuesday.

“We get value from our AAA credit rating in our business,” Exxon’s Vice President of Investor Relations Jeffrey Woodbury said during a conference call with analysts before the credit review was announced. “Whether it be access to financial markets or access to resources, there is a benefit that we get from it, and we see it as being important.” The world’s five largest oil explorers had their credit ratings cut or threatened with downgrade as the market crash undermines their ability to pay debts, dividends and rig leases. For most of the oil industry, slashing drilling budgets and other cost-cutting “are insufficient to stem the meaningful deterioration expected in credit measures over the next few years,” S&P said.

In a sweeping review that also included many of the top U.S. shale drillers, Chevron had its rating cut by S&P, to AA- from AA, for the first time in almost 30 years, a day after Shell’s rating was reduced to the lowest since S&P began coverage in 1990. Exxon, Totaland BP may be next, the rating company said. S&P said it’ll decide whether to downgrade Irving, Texas-based Exxon within 90 days. If it does cut the rating, it’ll probably only be by a single notch, S&P said. Shell’s long-term credit rating was reduced on Monday by one level to A+, the fifth-highest investment grade, from AA-, and was placed on watch for another possible reduction, the ratings company said Tuesday. S&P also assigned negative outlooks to BP, Eni, Repsol, Statoil and Total.

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Bail out.

Iraq Sells Oil At $22, Fiscal Cliff Looms (BI)

The plunge in oil prices is already having far-reaching effects on countries whose economies are dependent on oil exports. But in Iraq, the stakes of cheap oil are even higher than in Saudi Arabia, which is instituting unprecedented taxation and austerity, or in Nigeria, which is now asking for an $11 billion World Bank loan. What little remains of Iraq’s government and social order might collapse if oil remains in its current price trough — with dire consequences. According to a Monday AFP report, Iraq is now selling oil at half of the country’s apparent fiscal break-even price. Right now, Iraq is selling its oil at around $22 a barrel, half of what it would need to fetch for the country to be able to fund the upcoming year of government budgetary obligations, the report said.

But Iraq’s situation is actually even worse. As recently as the 2014 fiscal year, Iraq was formulating its national budget on the assumption that oil would remain at around $90 a barrel and that the country’s oil exports would continue to climb (which they have). Iraqi government revenue experienced dramatic annual increases between 2009 and 2013, almost entirely because of oil. That’s all over, now that oil is expected to stay under $40 a barrel through the end of the year. Though Iraqi oil is comparatively cheap to extract, it also contains unusually high levels of sulfur, meaning that it typically sells for around 10% less than Brent crude, the global price benchmark.

The Iraqi government is still making money pumping oil — just not nearly enough to fund the country’s anticipated national budget. Such a daunting fiscal cliff would be challenging for a stable or politically coherent country. But it’s potentially disastrous in a place like Iraq, where the majority of territory is split between the terrorist group ISIS and the Kurdistan Regional Government. Even the areas still under some semblance of federal control are fought over by a constellation of militia groups with ties to recognized political parties.

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Shouldn’t they question the Fed instead?

Goldman Sachs Questions Capitalism (BBG)

One of the most heated debates among investors is the question of whether corporate profit margins can maintain their elevated level, or whether they will inevitably mean revert. Here’s a quick look at S&P 500 profit margins, for example, going back over 25 years. They remain high by by historical standards.

A new note from Goldman Sachs analysts led by Sumana Manohar looks at the bull and bear arguments for the profit margins debate. Manohar argues that profit margins have expanded thanks to three key trends: strong commodities prices, emerging market cost arbitrage (companies making things more cheaply in emerging markets), demand growth from emerging markets, and improved corporate efficiency driven by the use of new technology. Continuing one of its major analytical themes of recent months, Goldman also notes that the market has rewarded companies that have undertaken mergers and share buybacks, compared to companies that have invested internally, further bolstering margins. So will profit margins inevitably roll over?

Goldman goes through both sides of the argument. On the bull side, the bank says that ongoing consolidation in industries, cost deflation, and tighter purse strings help keep a floor under margins. Ultimately though, it thinks that the above trends, coupled with weak demand and general industrial overcapacity, mean that margins are likely to come down. But what if margins stay elevated? That too is possible, and the implications could be unsettling. Goldman writes: “We are always wary of guiding for mean reversion. But, if we are wrong and high margins manage to endure for the next few years (particularly when global demand growth is below trend), there are broader questions to be asked about the efficacy of capitalism.”

In other words, profit margins should naturally mean-revert and oscillate. The existence of fat margins should encourage new competitors and pricing cycles that cause those margins to erode while conversely, at the bottom of the cycle, low margins should lead to weaker players exiting the business and giving stronger companies more breathing space. If that cycle doesn’t continue, then something strange is taking place. Needless to say, it’s not every day you see a major investment bank say they might have to start asking broader questions about capitalism itself.

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Deflation’s in the driver’s seat, and there’s nothing anyone can do. Cutting prices is just one step in the process.

Eurozone Manufacturing & Service Industries Cut Prices (BBG)

The euro area’s manufacturing and services industries cut prices at the fastest pace in almost a year in January, underlining concerns about weak inflation in the region. Markit Economics said its composite Purchasing Managers Index for January was “disappointing” and raises the prospect that the ECB will once again pump up its stimulus program. The PMI declined to 53.6 – a 4-month low – from 54.3 in December, and the measure of output prices dropped to the lowest since March. “Most worrying of all from a policy maker’s perspective is the intensification of deflationary pressures.,” said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit in London. “This raises the question of whether existing stimulus has simply been insufficient, or whether monetary policy is proving ineffective.”

ECB President Mario Draghi has said the Governing Council will review its stimulus in March amid signs that falling oil prices will push the euro region’s inflation rate back to zero. The Bank of Japan has already responded to the deteriorating outlook with negative interest rates and investors see a slower pace of tightening by the Federal Reserve. In the euro area, Markit said the PMI had some “mildly positive signs,” with rising levels of employment and backlogs of work. The headline composite number was also marginally better than the initial estimate, and it remains above the key 50 level that divides expansion from contraction. The services index slipped to 53.6 from 54.2, matching the preliminary reading. The composite report continued to point to divergences in the 19-nation economy, with Spain and Germany leading growth. France offered a disappointing reading, with the index at just 50.2, lower than the 50.5 initial estimate.

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They sent them a what? “The PBOC didn’t immediately reply to a fax seeking comment.”

Plan To Increase The Yuan’s Trading Flexibility Gains Momentum (BBG)

A proposal to fix the yuan’s quandary is gaining momentum among some economists. The plan, put forward by at least three analysts, calls for China to let the yuan fluctuate freely against a basket of currencies within a trading band. Outside the range – which would be as narrow as 4% or as wide as 15% under different versions of the proposal – the central bank will intervene in the market. Similar to what Singapore has adopted, the plan could be China’s get-out-of-jail card after a slew of changes in its opaque currency policy since August whipsawed investors and cost the central bank more than $500 billion in reserves, said the economists, including a former central bank adviser and a visiting scholar from the IMF.

Under the current system, the yuan is allowed to trade 2% above or below a reference rate versus the dollar set by the People’s Bank of China. Critics say that the regime fixates investors’ attention on the dollar-yuan exchange rate, even as the authorities aim to break its tie to the strengthening U.S. currency. The lack of transparency on how it sets the reference rate, or fixing, keeps investors guessing about the intentions of policy makers. “They are sort of stuck, I don’t think the market knows what exactly the policy is,” Tamim Bayoumi, a senior fellow at Peterson Institute for International Economics and an economist at the IMF since 1988, said from Washington. “The proposal is one way out of that,” said Bayoumi, who pitched the idea in a blog in December, favoring a 4% trading band.

By targeting a broader range of currencies and a wider band, the proposed system attempts to give market forces more sway in determining the exchange rates, save foreign reserves while shifting investors’ focus away from the dollar and provide clarity on policy. The PBOC didn’t immediately reply to a fax seeking comment. Chinese policy makers have been struggling to restore calm in the yuan since August when it revamped its currency system to make it more flexible. While the authorities have repeatedly said they aim to keep the exchange rate stable against a basket of currencies even if it falls versus the dollar, they have had little success convincing investors. The onshore yuan’s 5.6% slide versus the dollar over the past six months fueled expectations for a further depreciation and boosted capital outflows.

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I see a lot of unhappy people in our future.

Spring Festival Travel A One-Way Journey For Many Chinese (CNBC)

A giant annual human migration is underway in China, and it’s a bonanza for some but a painful process for others. Some 2.9 billion trips are expected to be undertaken between the start of China’s annual travel season on January 24 and the end on March 3, according to China’s transport ministry, with this week leading up to Spring Festival or Lunar New Year, which starts on February 8, being the busiest. [..] According to a real-time travel map by Chinese internet giant Baidu, the Beijing-to-Shanghai route on Wednesday afternoon in Asia was the most heavily traveled across all forms of transport, followed by Xian to Beijing and Shenyang to Beijing. For many migrant workers, however, this year’s journey home may be their final one, as slowing growth puts paid to their city dreams.

China’s factory activity skidded to a three-year low point in January, adding to gloom about the state of the world’s second-largest economy. Although growth in the service sector held above the key 50 expansionary level, the January official non-manufacturing purchasing manager’s index slowed to 53.5 from 54.4 in December. Restaurant workers Du Lijuan and Song Yaoguo told CNBC that they would not be among the crush of travelers this week. Both are waiting in Beijing for unpaid salaries of about $1,000 each before heading back home to the countryside, after losing their at a restaurant when it ran into financial difficulties in September. “We have no money to buy tickets, to buy gifts for our family or children,” Du said. “Normally, we spend $650 every Lunar New Year. I am not coming back [to Beijing].”

For years, migrant workers have been the backbone of China’s economic growth, by working in factories and constructing buildings, but many are considering new lives in the countryside after this Spring Festival, because they fear being unable to find jobs if they return to the cities. The migrant population fell by 5.7 million to 247 million in 2015, its first drop in about three decades.

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It’s the debt, stupid!

Buying A Home Is Overrated (MW)

Is buying a house instead of renting really the best financial decision? It’s a question that’s frequently debated, with traditional thinking being that renting is akin to throwing money out the window. But there are some good reasons to believe that buying a home instead of renting isn’t as great of an investment as Americans once thought. “Housing is overrated as a financial investment,” according to economist Alex Tabarrok, an economics professor at George Mason University and a research fellow at the university’s Mercatus Center, which conducts research on financial markets. He addressed the question of what economists think about buying compared to renting on Marginal Revolution, a blog he runs with fellow economist and George Mason professor Tyler Cowen.

“First, it’s not good to have a significant share of your wealth locked into a single asset,” he wrote. “Diversification is better and it’s easier to diversify with stocks. Second, unless you are renting the basement, houses don’t pay dividends. Stocks do. You can hope that your house will accumulate in value but don’t count on it. Indeed, you should expect that as an investment your house will appreciate less than does the stock market.” Owning a home makes it harder for many people to change locations for new job opportunities, leading to homeowners holding onto homes even while prices fall, Tabarrok said. Still, Americans don’t seem to be giving up on homeownership yet. Sales of existing homes rose 14.7% in December, the biggest monthly increase ever recorded, after depressed sales in November. Sales in 2015 were the best since 2006, at 5.26 million.

Americans are also buying homes that are larger and pricier; average home size was 2,720 square feet in 2015, up from 2,660 square feet in 2014. And the average price of new homes for sale in 2015 was $351,000, up from $100,000 in 2009. (Still, this doesn’t necessarily reflect the housing market’s strength, as new construction has mostly happened in the high-end market.) Of course, there are some benefits to homeownership, and they aren’t just avoiding unexpected rent hikes and unpredictable landlords. Many people simply enjoy interior decorating and entertaining, Tabarrok added. And perhaps more importantly, home ownership is often tied to access to better public schools. The U.S. tax code also subsidizes houses. Still, he cautioned against the seduction of a large home. “Behavioral economics tells us that we quickly get used to big houses, but we never get used to commuting,” he wrote. “So when you have a choice, go for the smaller house closer to work.”

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h/t ZH

The Bank of Japan Is Selling Out Its People (Gefira)

The Bank of Japan’s unexpected rate cuts to negative are a desperate attempt to help out the FED and to support the dollar at the expense of the aging Japanese population. The negative market reaction to the FED’s rate hike of December shows that investors do not believe an economic recovery in the US is underway. Two reasons make central banks start to raise interest rates. The first is that economy is doing well, and central banks have to prevent an overheated economy. But it is also a signal to investors everything is going well. In this situation, the first reaction of investors will be the opposite as central bankers planned they will and increase their investments and markets will go up. The second reason central banks raise interest rates is the defensive one; the moment the economy is out of control, investors are beginning to abandon the sinking ship.

The continually increasing interest rate has the task of keeping the investors aboard. Central banks in less developed economies raise rates to defend the national currency, thus preventing investors from fleeing. An increase in the interest rate can add fuel to the fire and in many cases has the opposite effect. Investors start smelling angst of the authorities and start abandoning the sinking ship. In such a situation stock markets are coming crashing down because investors withdraw from them. We saw this last pattern happening in the US economy after the December FED’s rate hike. As a result, the dollar-yen exchange rate is starting to decline, with the value of the dollar falling off as Japanese investors start panicking and fleeing the US market. Surely, Japanese investors know that a rate hike without an accompanying economic growth will erode every existing investment.

There is a general misconception according to which countries drive their currency down to generate growth. People adhere to the simplistic belief that a weak currency drives exports and helps the nation to prosper. The fact is that a cheap currency creates growth by giving away real goods in exchange for IOU (I Owe Yous) or paper debt obligations that will never be repaid. The US is the beneficiary or the receiving end of the weak yen policy. Because the US continues to maintain its world hegemony, it needs a strong dollar. A strong dollar makes everything the US empire buys in the world cheap. A strong dollar causes the world to be willing to exchange real goods for printed paper dollars that have no intrinsic value, and that are issued by a country that does not have the industrial capacity to ever repay what it owes its debtors.

The endless trade deficit the US has with Japan shows how the Japanese are prepared to provide the US with real goods without demanding tangible goods in return. Because the international press publishes trade data in dollars, the trade balance deficit seems to have been shrinking over the last years. The actual situation becomes apparent if we look at the trade deficit in yens. The US trade deficit with Japan is growing bigger and bigger year after year, as Japanese producers are giving away a big chunk of their production to US consumers in return for more and more US paper debt. By manipulating the yen, Japanese authorities are giving away a real part of their GDP that they take from their people to the US empire.

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Very good. Do read the whole thing. The socialists have been asked to form a government.

Hedge Funds, Wall Street not Happy with the New Spain (Don Quijones)

Plunging shares, shrinking profits, and a spate of new regulations and court cases that could end up setting it back billions of euros – that’s what the Spanish banking sector is facing. But now, banks are also grappling with the complete absence of a friendly central government to insulate them from the cruel vagaries of the global economic downturn. And the strain is beginning to show. “The political parties must reach an agreement as soon as possible and form a government that is stable,” pleaded Francisco González, president of Spain’s second biggest bank, BBVA. Such a government must not “think about utopias, which only serve to create frustration,” must be “realistic” and (most important of all) must “continue with the policies of the last three of four years.”

González cautioned that foreign investors “are phoning less often” than before. Those “investors” probably include firms like Blackstone and Goldman Sachs, which made a fortune in the immediate aftermath of Spain’s real estate collapse and EU-funded bailout, by picking up publicly subsidized housing on the cheap and either flipping them or renting them at much higher rates. In those days, the city council was led by Ana Botella, the then Mayor and wife of Spain’s former President José María Aznar. One of the main brokers in the deals struck between the city council’s two housing agencies and international funds like Goldman and Blackstone was José María Aznar Botella – their son!

Despite his lack of investment banking experience, Aznar Botella served as an advisor and go-between at the Madrid-based real estate firm Gesnova Gestión Inmobiliaria Integral, which enjoyed close ties with firms like Blackstone subsidiary Fidere, Lone Star, Apollo, KKR, Goldman’s Madrid-based subsidiary Azora, and U.S. private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP, whom Aznar-Botella also serves as an advisor. Here’s how the scheme worked: in the aftermath of Spain’s real estate bust, the Rajoy government set up a bad bank by the name of Sareb, a public-private venture responsible for managing distressed assets transferred from the four nationalized financial institutions BFA-Bankia, Catalunya Banc, NGC Banco-Banco Gallego, and Banco de Valencia.

As soon as the bad bank was operational, global investment firms began flocking to Madrid to pick up the juiciest pieces at the best prices, part-subsidized by Spanish taxpayers. To get their hands on the really good stuff, however, investors needed someone on the inside, which is presumably where the Aznar-Botello mother & son partnership came in. But it’s one thing to sell tranches of unoccupied or foreclosed properties to foreign investors to help put a floor under Spain’s property market; it’s quite another when you start selling huge batches of social housing at a ridiculous discount to some of the biggest financial firms on the planet, in a country that has one of the smallest stocks of social housing in Europe. It didn’t take long before rents began soaring and the police began knocking doors down.

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The Troika making sure Greece will never recover.

Thousands Of Greek Firms Flee To Bulgaria (Kath.)

According to the president of the Hellenic Confederation of Professionals, Craftsmen and Merchants (GSEVEE), some 6,000 Greek enterprises have emigrated to Bulgaria in the last couple of years alone. At the same time, the GSEVEE chief says, Greeks are behind about 60,000 new tax registrations and bank accounts in the neighboring country. Giorgos Kavathas on Tuesday cited the above figures from an ongoing survey by GSEVEE, adding that the interventions planned for the social security system can only be expected to lead to more Greek firms emigrating. The survey will be presented in the next few days, he noted.

He was speaking at a press conference held jointly by GSEVEE and the Hellenic Confederation of Commerce and Enterprises (ESEE) regarding their participation in tomorrow’s general strike against the government’s planned pension reforms. The two unions warned that manufacturers and merchants will not stop at this strike, and will escalate their industrial action further. “The social security matter is a major national issue and we agree there has to be a reform, although no actuarial study would lead to safe conclusions given the existence of 1.5 million jobless,” argued the president of ESEE, Vassilis Korkidis.

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Trying to rival the EU in inhumanity.

Australian Asylum Ruling Paves Way For Deportation Of Infants (Reuters)

Australia’s High Court threw out a challenge to offshore immigration detention camps on Wednesday, clearing the way for the deportation of dozens of infants born in Australia to detained asylum seekers. The court rejected a legal test case brought by an unidentified Bangladeshi woman that challenged Australia’s right to deport detained asylum seekers to the tiny South Pacific island nation of Nauru. The detention centre on Nauru houses about 500 people and has been widely criticised by the United Nations and human rights agencies for harsh conditions and reports of systemic child abuse. The Bangladeshi woman was on a boat intercepted by Australian authorities in October 2013. She was detained on Australia’s remote Christmas Island and later sent to Nauru.

She gave birth to a daughter after she was transferred to Australia for medical treatment in 2014 and has remained there with her child. Other families with children born in Australia in similar circumstances are now in line to be returned to the camps. Lawyers from the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) acting for the Bangladeshi woman had argued it was illegal for Australia to operate and pay for offshore detention in a third country. “I hope that the immigration minister and the prime minister, just like other decent Australians, can see that there is simply no excuse to take 37 babies, to rip children from their classrooms, and warehouse them on a tiny island,” HRLC Director of Legal Advocacy Daniel Webb told reporters. “Now, the legality may be complex. The politics may be complex. But the morality is simple. It is fundamentally wrong.”

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It’s all aimed at streamlining the process to move refugees north. But that’s not what Europe wants.

Greek Military To Oversee Response To Refugee Crisis (Kath.)

Defense Minister Panos Kammenos on Tuesday heralded the creation of a central body to oversee and improve Greece’s response to the migration and refugee crisis and ensure the country safeguards its position in the Schengen passport-free area, noting that the new body will be led by a senior military official. Greece’s military is to have the oversight of the “Central Coordinating Body for the Management of Migration” until the Migration Ministry and the Hellenic Police gain the necessary know-how and experience to tackle the problem independently, Kammenos indicated at Tuesday’s press conference.

The center, which is to be operational by February 15, is to be based at the Defense Ministry headquarters and coordinate with the Hellenic Police, Coast Guard, Migration Ministry and nongovernmental organizations working with migrants and refugees. The aim is to increase the efficiency of transferring migrants from the islands to the mainland, to improve the provision of food as well as medical and healthcare to migrants, and to monitor the creation of five screening centers, or hot spots, for migrants on the eastern Aegean islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros. Referring to the growing pressure on the islands of the eastern Aegean that receive thousands of migrants daily from neighboring Turkey, Kammenos explained that the new plan aims to spread the burden.

The five hot spots to be set up on the islands are to accommodate migrants for only 24 hours while two relocation centers, on the outskirts of Athens and Thessaloniki, will host new arrivals for up to 72 hours. The screening and relocation centers are to operate in a similar way to the central body, under a local military official who is to coordinate with police and coast guard officers. As the European Union increases the pressure on Greece to manage its borders more effectively, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve is due in Athens on Thursday and Friday for talks expected to focus on the migration crisis.

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Wow! Imagine what spring will bring.

More Than 62,000 Migrant Arrivals In Greece Last Month (Reuters)

The total number of migrants and refugees arriving in Greece in January topped 62,000, the International Organization for Migration said on Tuesday. “(It) is many, many times what we saw a year ago in the previous January,” IOM spokesman Joel Millman said. He added that there were more than 360 deaths among migrants in the waters off Greece, Turkey and Italy during the month.

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When are we going to get real about this?

UN Says One-Third Of Refugees Sailing To Europe Are Children (Guardian)

Children now make up over a third of the people making the perilous sea crossing from Turkey to Greece, the UN has said, as two more babies drowned off Europe’s shores. For the first time since the start of the migration crisis in Europe, there are also now more women and children crossing the border from Greece to Macedonia than adult males, according to UN children’s agency Unicef. The figures emerged as Europe struggles with its biggest movement of people crisis since the second world war, with more than a million people fleeing war, violence and poverty risking life and limb to reach its shores last year. “Children currently account for 36% of those risking the treacherous sea crossing between Greece and Turkey,” the Unicef spokeswoman Sarah Crowe said.

“Children and women on the move now make up nearly 60%” of those entering from Macedonia, she added. The figures mark a significant shift since June, when 73% of refugees were adult males and only one in 10 were under the age of 18. Marie Pierre Poirier, Unicef’s special coordinator for the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe, said women and children were even more vulnerable to the dangers of trying to travel to Europe. “The implication of this surge in the proportion of children and women on the move are enormous,” she said in a statement. “It means more are at risk at sea, especially now in the winter, and more need protection on land.” Underlining her point, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said on Tuesday that one in every five who drowned last month while trying to sail from Turkey to Greece was a child, with minors accounting for 60 of the 272 deaths.

Including January, a total of 330 children have died in those waters over the last five months, many of them just metres from shore, the organisation said. The drownings continue a grim trend that accelerated last year when nearly 4,000 people died trying to reach Europe by sea. The plight of children was brought home last year when the body of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi was found washed up on the shore close to Bodrum, Turkey, horrifying the international community. The bodies of two more babies were recovered by the Turkish coastguard in the Izmir province on Tuesday along with seven dead adults, just days after another 37 people drowned off another part of the coast.

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Europe will not be pardoned for this.

Nine Migrants, Including Two Babies, Drown En Route To Greece (Reuters)

The bodies of nine people, including two babies, were found drowned off the coast of western Turkey on Tuesday, after a boat carrying refugees and migrants to Greece partly capsized, the Turkish coast guard said in a statement. The fiberglass vessel partially capsized at 0535 local time (0335 GMT) off the coast of Seferihisar in Izmir province, close to the Greek Island of Samos. Two people were rescued swimming to the shore, the coast guard said. A crackdown on illegal crossing and the dangerous winter conditions has failed to deter tens of thousands from boarding flimsy boats and attempting to cross the Mediterranean waves in the first few weeks of the year.

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Dec 222015
 
 December 22, 2015  Posted by at 9:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle December 22 2015
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DPC Old Absinthe House, bar, New Orleans 1906

Global Investors Are More Exposed To Interest-Rate Hikes Than Ever (BBG)
The Keynesian Recovery Meme Is About To Get Mugged, Part 1 (Stockman)
Brent Oil Hits 11-Year Low As Global Supply Balloons (Reuters)
US Gas Prices Fall Below $2 – In Some Places Under $1.60 (MarketWatch)
The Real “Death Cross” Of Oil Markets (ZH)
Risk Of Insolvency Hangs Over UK High Street Retailers (Guardian)
UK Economy Concerns As Household Debt Balloons To £40 Billion (PA)
The Bank of Japan’s $2.5 Billion Plan to Buy Non-Existent ETFs (BBG)
China ‘Suspends’ Another Unofficial PMI Data Set For A ‘Major Adjustment’ (ZH)
Zimbabwe To Make Chinese Yuan Legal Currency After Beijing Cancels Debts (AFP)
Russia, EU Trade Talks Fail, Kiev Set To Face Retaliation (Reuters)
Political Uprising In Spain Shatters Illusion Of Eurozone Recovery (AEP)
Portugal Taxpayers Face €3 Billion Loss After 2nd Bank Bailout In 2 Years (ZH)
Christmas Present (Jim Kunstler)
Et Tu, Brute? – How Empires Die (Thomas)
Do We Need The Fed? (Ron Paul)
Apple Says UK Surveillance Law Would Endanger All Customers (BBG)
Half of World’s Coal Must Go Unmined to Meet Paris Climate Target (BBG)
It’s ‘Almost Too Late’ To Stop A Global Superbug Crisis (PA)

Because the entire system is leveraged to the hilt.

Global Investors Are More Exposed To Interest-Rate Hikes Than Ever (BBG)

With any luck, the world economy will eventually be strong enough for central banks to follow the U.S. Federal Reserve in ending what has been an unprecedented period of extremely low interest rates. If and when they do, they’ll run straight into the same issue that the Fed now faces: Raising rates will precipitate unusually large losses for investors. Over the past several years, investors have gone to great lengths in their search for returns in a low-rate environment. They’ve done so in part by buying longer-maturity bonds, which tend to offer higher yields but are also more sensitive to changes in rates. One gauge of this risk is effective duration, which estimates the percentage decline in a bond’s price given a one-percentage-point increase in yield.

The measure is near all-time highs in the U.S., according to a report issued last week by the Office of Financial Research. The situation globally is no less precarious. Consider the effective duration for the BofA Merrill Lynch Global Broad Market Index, which tracks about $45 trillion in investment-grade bonds issued in major currencies – including government, corporate, mortgage and other asset-backed securities. As of last week, it stood at 6.6, meaning that a one-percentage-point increase in yield would wipe almost $3 trillion off the value of all the bonds included in the index. That’s a larger potential loss than at just about any point since the index’s inception in 1996. Here’s how that looks:

The high level of interest-rate risk illustrates a dilemma for central bankers everywhere. The power of traditional monetary stimulus depends in large part on the willingness of people and companies to borrow for new projects and purchases. But as the debt burden grows, it makes markets and the entire economy more susceptible to rate increases. It can also undermine the effect of rate cuts, as borrowers increasingly struggle under the weight of their existing obligations.

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“These academic pettifoggers are so blinded by their tinker toy macro-model that they can’t even see the flashing red lights warning of recession just ahead.”

The Keynesian Recovery Meme Is About To Get Mugged, Part 1 (Stockman)

Yellen said at least one thing of importance last week, but not in a good way. She confessed to the frightening truth that the FOMC formulates its policies and actions based on forecasts of future economic developments. My point is not simply that our monetary politburo couldn’t forecast its way out of a paper bag; that much they have proved in spades during their last few years of madcap money printing. Notwithstanding the most aggressive monetary stimulus in recorded history – 84 months of ZIRP and $3.5 trillion of bond purchases – average real GDP growth has barely amounted to 50% of the Fed’s preceding year forecast; and even that shortfall is understated owing to the BEA’s systemic suppression of the GDP deflator.

What I am getting at is that it’s inherently impossible to forecast the economic future, but that is especially true when the forecasting model is an obsolete Keynesian relic which essentially assumes a closed US economy and that balance sheets don’t matter. Actually, balance sheets now matter more than anything else. The $225 trillion of debt weighing on the world economy – up an astonishing 5.5X in the last two decades – imposes a stiff barrier to growth that our Keynesian monetary suzerains ignore entirely. Likewise, the economy is now seamlessly global, meaning that everything which counts such as labor supply and wage trends, capacity utilization and investment rates and the pace of business activity and inventory stocks is planetary in nature. By contrast, due to the narrow range of activity they capture, the BLS’ deeply flawed domestic labor statistics are nearly useless. And they are a seriously lagging indicator to boot.

Nevertheless, Yellen & Co. are obsessed with the immeasurable and largely irrelevant level of “slack” in the domestic labor market. They falsely view it as a proxy for the purported gap between potential and actual GDP. Not surprisingly, they are now under the supreme illusion that the labor slack has been largely absorbed and the output gap nearly closed. So they are raising money market rates by a smidgeon to confirm the US economy’s strength and that the Keynesian nirvana of full employment is near at hand. No it isn’t! These academic pettifoggers are so blinded by their tinker toy macro-model that they can’t even see the flashing red lights warning of recession just ahead.

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Oil went up a whiff overnight. I always look at the spread between WTI and Brent. The smaller it gets, the higher the risks. Usually, it hovers between $2-3. Right now, it’s at 50 cents.

Brent Oil Hits 11-Year Low As Global Supply Balloons (Reuters)

Brent oil cratered to its lowest price in more than 11 years on Monday, as demand for heating oil slumped on warmer-than-normal temperatures and traders tested for a bottom. U.S. crude remained above its 2009 low and settled up a penny a barrel as traders squared positions ahead of the January contract’s expiration. The February contract declined and analysts expect stockpiles to build again this week, signaling further oversupply in already glutted market. Concerns about swelling global crude supply and slow demand sparked by economic weakness in China have been recurring themes during this year’s rout. Analysts said the market was still testing for a bottom. “The key in finding the bottom of the market comes in a tightening of the supply side,” said Gene McGillian, senior analyst at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut.

OPEC and Russia will keep producing at high volumes, increasing pressure on U.S. producers to throttle back production, he said. “I think we’re getting ready for another round of capex cuts in North America,” he said. Heating oil futures weighed down the crude complex, hitting a new July 2004 low warmer-than-expected temperatures have hit seasonal demand. “The market is waiting for the next announcement,” said Tyche Capital Advisors senior research analyst John Macaluso. “The equity markets are waiting on crude oil, and crude oil is waiting for a bounce before shorts will come back into the market.” Crude short-sellers will be reluctant to return before U.S. crude recovers to $35.50, he said. Global oil production is running close to record highs. With more barrels poised to enter the market from nations such as Iran and Libya, the price of crude is set for its largest monthly percentage decline in seven years.

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“..1% of stations selling gas at $1.59 a gallon..”

US Gas Prices Fall Below $2 – In Some Places Under $1.60 (MarketWatch)

Christmas came early for U.S. drivers on Monday, as the national average gasoline price fell below $2 a gallon for the first time since March 2009. AAA put the average U.S. gas price at $1.998 per gallon on Monday, while fuel-price tracking service GasBuddy.com calculated the national average at $1.995 a gallon. That’s the lowest price by either measure since March 25, 2009. Unsurprisingly, drivers can credit a global glut of crude oil for the steady pressure on gas prices. Brent crude the global oil benchmark, plumbed levels last seen in 2004 on Monday, while the January contract for the U.S. benchmark CLF6, -0.20% West Texas Intermediate crude, was down 49 cents, or 1.4%, ahead of expiration at $34.24 a barrel on Nymex. The most-active February contract is down 1.3% at $35.58.

“In areas where there are no refinery bottlenecks, we’ve been able to see the falling price of crude oil translated directly into cheaper gas prices,” said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com, in a phone interview. Nymex reformulated gasoline futures for January delivery slumped 6.33 cents, or 5%, to $1.2114 a gallon. So how low are gas prices? In much of the country, the price is already well under $2 a gallon, AAA notes, with 1% of stations selling gas at $1.59 a gallon. On a state-by-state basis, Missouri has the lowest average price at $1.77, followed by Oklahoma and South Carolina at $1.78, and Tennessee and Kansas at $1.79.

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China. That’s all.

The Real “Death Cross” Of Oil Markets (ZH)

The ‘death cross’ of these two energy market indicators is all one needs to know about the oil market… As Bloomberg notes, total industry oil stocks reported by the International Energy Agency rose for a third month, increasing by 0.5% to the highest on record at 2.99 billion barrels. China’s Beige Book, released last week, showed further economic deterioration in one of the world’s largest commodity-consuming nations in the fourth quarter. Until these two indicators change direction, lower-er for longer-er will remain.

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Lots of last legs there.

Risk Of Insolvency Hangs Over UK High Street Retailers (Guardian)

A string of retailers could face insolvency in the new year with tough trading on the high street in the run-up to Christmas leaving businesses fighting for survival, two influential industry bodies have warned. Widespread discounting and warmer-than-average weather have cranked up the pressure on high street retailers over the festive period. In the last few years a number of high street retailers have called in administrations either just before or after Christmas, including Woolworths, HMV, Zavvi, and Jessops. Retailers generate roughly 40% of their annual profits between October and December, underlining the importance of the period. However, if a high street business struggles during the festive season then its death knell is typically the quarterly rental payment they have to make to landlords at the end of December.

Atradius, one of the world’s largest trade credit insurers, has warned that retailers face a “perfect storm” that could lead to a bleak start to 2016 and a “fresh wave of insolvencies”. The comments from Atradius are significant because if a credit insurer refuses to back a retailer then suppliers will be unable to insure their orders with the business and could decide not to provide it with products. Owen Bassett, senior risk underwriter at Atradius, said: “Those who went into the fourth quarter needing – rather than wanting – a strong performance could be looking at a troubled future. “Experience tells us that when retailers need an exceptional seasonal sales period and then hit financial difficulty, we often see failures in the first quarter. It is not unusual in this sector to be loss-making during Q1 and with the first payment of quarterly rent due in January it can be difficult to survive after a poor Q4.”

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Private debt. Should have a lot more attention. And not just in Britain.

UK Economy Concerns As Household Debt Balloons To £40 Billion (PA)

Families are expected to run up £40bn of debt this year, sparking fears about Britain’s economic recovery. Labour raised concerns that millions of households would face “serious hardship” if interest rates rise and warned the borrowing trend could harm the economy. The latest Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasts have found that households have moved from a surplus of £67bn in 2010, the year the coalition took power, to a £40bn deficit this year. Unsustainable borrowing is on course to near the levels reached in the run-up to the 2008 financial crash, according to Labour. Seema Malhotra, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said: “George Osborne is relying on millions of British families going further into debt to hit his growth targets.

“This is risky behaviour from a chancellor whose policy decisions are hurting, not helping, British families. Alarm bells should be ringing. There is a real risk that millions of families will face serious hardship if interest rates start to rise. “Of course families need access to credit and the ability to borrow to invest for the future. George Osborne should be seeking to rebalance the economy away from an over-reliance on borrowing and debt. “Labour is clear about the need for a strong and sustainable economic recovery. Osborne’s short-term political decisions risk real long-term damage to the finances of millions of British families and the nation’s economy.” The former business secretary Sir Vince Cable warned Britain was returning to “old and unhappily discredited” methods of economic growth. He told the Independent: “We’re back on the treadmill of growth being sustained by personal borrowing. Much of it is against an inflating housing stock.

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Abenomics is a different way of saying anything goes.

The Bank of Japan’s $2.5 Billion Plan to Buy Non-Existent ETFs (BBG)

Haruhiko Kuroda has a new plan. He’s going to buy $2.5 billion of something that doesn’t exist. Markets were roiled Friday after the Bank of Japan unveiled measures including purchasing exchange-traded funds that track companies which are “proactively making investment in physical and human capital.” The central bank will spend 300 billion yen ($2.5 billion) a year from April buying such securities to offset the market impact as it resumes selling stocks purchased earlier from financial institutions. The only problem is such ETFs have never been made in Japan, at least not yet. Even as fund providers start hundreds of so-called “smart beta” products that choose stocks based on everything from dividends to volatility, ETFs that pick companies for how they deploy their cash are rare in global markets.

“These kinds of ETFs don’t exist now. Using capital spending as a factor in deciding what goes in an ETF is quite unusual,” said Koei Imai, who oversees $25 billion of ETFs at Nikko Asset Management Co. in Tokyo. “I think the message from the BOJ is for us to go out and make them.” The central bank is aware such products aren’t yet available and in the meantime will buy ETFs tracking the JPX-Nikkei Index 400, a government-backed equity measure started last year that chooses companies based on return on equity and operating profit. The BOJ also already purchases ETFs linked to the Nikkei 225 Stock Average and Topix index and owns roughly half of the market for ETFs in Japan.

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How to kill confidence.

China ‘Suspends’ Another Unofficial PMI Data Set For A ‘Major Adjustment’ (ZH)

For the second time in two months, an economic data series that indicate drastically weak performance in China has been “suspended.” Having seen Markit/Caixin’s flash gauge of China’s manufacturing discontinued in October (having plunged notably divergently from the government’s official data), Bloomberg reports that the publishers of the alternative China Minxin PMI will stop updating the series to make a “major adjustment.” Guess which time series was just “suspended”…

As Bloomberg details,

Release of the unofficial purchasing managers index jointly compiled by China Minsheng Banking Corp. and the China Academy of New Supply-side Economics will be suspended starting this month, the Beijing-based academy said in an e-mailed statement Monday, about six hours before the latest monthly data were scheduled for release.

Minxin’s suspension is the second in recent months as policy makers in the world’s second-largest economy struggle to arrest a deceleration in growth. Another early estimate of China’s manufacturing sector, a flash gauge of a purchasing managers index compiled by Markit Economics and sponsored by Caixin Media, was discontinued Oct. 1. Minxin’s PMI readings are based on a monthly survey covering more than 4,000 companies, about 70% of which are smaller enterprises. The private gauges have shown a more volatile picture than the official PMIs in the past year.

The manufacturing PMI declined to 42.4 in November from 43.3 in October, while the non-manufacturing reading fell to 42.9 from 44.2, according the the latest release. The factory gauge fell to a record low of 41.9 in August. China’s official PMI from the National Bureau of Statistics fell to a three-year low of 49.6 in November.

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Humor?

Zimbabwe To Make Chinese Yuan Legal Currency After Beijing Cancels Debts (AFP)

Zimbabwe has announced that it will make the Chinese yuan legal tender after Beijing confirmed it would cancel $40m in debts. “They [China] said they are cancelling our debts that are maturing this year and we are in the process of finalising the debt instruments and calculating the debts,” minister Patrick Chinamasa said in a statement. Chinamasa also announced that Zimbabwe will officially make the Chinese yuan legal tender as it seeks to increase trade with Beijing. Zimbabwe abandoned its own dollar in 2009 after hyperinflation, which had peaked at around 500bn%, rendered it unusable. It then started using a slew of foreign currencies, including the US dollar and the South African rand.

The yuan was later added to the basket of the foreign currencies, but its use had not been approved yet for public transactions in the market dominated by the greenback. Use of the yuan “will be a function of trade between China and Zimbabwe and acceptability with customers in Zimbabwe,” the minister said. Zimbabwe’s central bank chief John Mangudya was in negotiations with the People’s Bank of China “to see whether we can enhance its usage here,” said Chinamasa. China is Zimbabwe’s biggest trading partner following Zimbabwe’s isolation by its former western trading partners over Harare’s human rights record.

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Europe’s dumb struggle with Moscow continues.

Russia, EU Trade Talks Fail, Kiev Set To Face Retaliation (Reuters)

The EU failed to allay Russia’s concerns about Ukraine’s free-trade accord with the 28-nation bloc on Monday, leaving Kiev to face Russian retaliation through tighter bilateral trade rules from 2016. Closer ties between Ukraine and the EU, including the free trade deal, were at the heart of a battle for influence between Brussels and Moscow in Russia’s former satellite. When the then-Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovich, ditched the accord in early 2014 under pressure from Russia, protests erupted on the street of Kiev leading to a crisis in which he fled power and a pro-Europe leadership took over. The EU and Ukraine delayed implementation of their trade deal by a year out of deference to Moscow’s concerns that it could lead to a flood of European imports across its borders, damaging the competitiveness of Russian exports.

But comments by EU and Russian officials on Monday indicated that numerous meetings between the two sides to try to narrow differences and assuage Moscow’s concerns had failed. EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom raised doubts about the validity of the Russian concerns, saying some were “not real.” “We have been very open in listening to some of the concerns of Russia. Some of them we think are not real in economic terms. Some of them could potentially be real,” Malmstrom told a news conference following final talks in Brussels. Russian Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev, speaking in Brussels, said there was no deal and Moscow would scrap trade preferences dating back to 2011 for Ukraine as of 2016, when the bilateral EU-Ukraine deal will be implemented. “An agreement has not been reached. We were left with our concerns on our own and we are forced to safeguard our economic interest unilaterally,” Ulyukayev told reporters.

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A stalemate that seems to end in either a fragile left government or new elections.

Political Uprising In Spain Shatters Illusion Of Eurozone Recovery (AEP)

Spain risks months of political paralysis and a corrosive showdown with Germany over fiscal austerity after insurgent movements smashed the traditional two-party system, leaving the country almost ungovernable. The electoral earthquake over the weekend in one of the eurozone’s ‘big four’ states has echoes of the shock upsets in Greece and Portugal this year, a reminder that the delayed political fuse from years of economic depression and mass unemployment can detonate even once the worst seems to be over. Bank stocks plummeted on the Madrid bourse as startled investors awoke to the possibility of a Left-wing coalition that included the ultra-radical Podemos party, which won 20.7pc of the votes with threats to overturn the government’s bank bail-out and to restructure financial debt.

Pablo Iglesias, the pony-tailed leader of the Podemos rebellion, warned Brussels, Berlin, and Frankfurt that Spain was retaking control over its own destiny after years of kowtowing to eurozone demands. “Our message to Europe is clear. Spain will never again be the periphery of Germany. We will strive to restore the meaning of the word sovereignty to our country,” he said. The risk spread on Spanish 10-year bonds jumped eight basis points to 123 over German Bunds, though there is no imminent danger of a fresh debt crisis as long as the European Central Bank is buying Spanish bonds under quantitative easing. The IBEX index of equities slid 2.5pc, with Banco Popular and Caixabank both off 7pc. Premier Mariano Rajoy has lost his absolute majority in the Cortes.

Support for the conservative Partido Popular crashed from 44pc to 29pc, costing Mr Rajoy 5m votes as a festering corruption scandal took its toll. The electorate punished the two mainstream parties that have dominated Spanish politics since the end of the Franco dictatorship in the 1970s, and which by turns became the reluctant enforcers of eurozone austerity. The Socialists (PSOE) averted electoral collapse but have lost their hegemony over the Left and risk being outflanked and ultimately destroyed by Podemos, just as Syriza annihilated the once-dominant PASOK party in Greece. It had been widely assumed that Mr Rajoy would have enough seats to form a coalition with the free-market and anti-corruption party Ciudadanos, but this new reform movement stalled in the closing weeks of the campaign.

“There is enormous austerity fatigue and the country as a whole has clearly shifted to the Left,” said sovereign bond strategist Nicholas Spiro. Yet the Left has not won enough votes either to form a clear government. “The issue now is whether Spain is governable. All the parties are at daggers drawn and this could drag on for weeks. I don’t see any sustainable solution. We can certainly forget about reform,” he said. Mr Spiro said Spain has already seen a “dramatic deterioration” in the underlying public finances over the last eighteen months, although this has been disguised by a cyclical rebound, the stimulus of cheap oil and a weak euro, and QE from Frankfurt. “They have simply gone for growth,” he said.

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Posterchild no more.

Portugal Taxpayers Face €3 Billion Loss After 2nd Bank Bailout In 2 Years (ZH)

Back in August of 2014, Portugal had an idea. Lisbon would use some €5 billion from the country’s Resolution Fund to shore up (read: bailout) Portugal’s second largest bank by assets, Banco Espirito Santo. The idea, basically, was to sell off Novo Banco SA (the “good bank” that was spun out of BES) in relatively short order and use the proceeds to pay back the Resolution Fun. That way, the cost to taxpayers would be zero. You didn’t have to be a financial wizard or a fortune teller to predict what was likely to happen next. Unsurprisingly, the auction process didn’t go so well.

As we recounted in September, there were any number of reasons why Portugal had trouble selling Novo, not the least of which was that two potential bidders – Anbang Insurance Group and Fosun International which, you’re reminded, is run by the recently “disappeared” Chinese Warren Buffett – suddenly became far more risk-averse in the wake of the financial market turmoil in China. Talks with US PE (Apollo specifically) also went south, presumably because no one knows if this “good” bank will actually turn out to need more capital going forward given that NPLs sit at something like 20% while the H1 loss totaled €250 million thanks to higher provisioning for said NPLs. Now, the auction process has been mothballed and will restart in January. This matters because if the bank can’t be sold, the cost of the bailout ends up being tacked onto Lisbon’s budget.

The impact is substantial. In September, when the effort to sell Novo collapsed, the government restated its 2014 deficit which, after accounting for the bailout, ballooned to 7.2% of GDP from 4.5%. Portugal will tell you that this is only “temporary,” but let’s face it, if they haven’t managed to sell it by now, then one has to believe the prospects are grim – at least in terms of fetching anything that looks like a decent price. Well don’t look now, but Portugal’s seventh-largest bank, Banco Internacional do Funchal, now needs a bailout too. Banif (as it’s known) will be split into a “good” and “bad” bank, and its “healthy” assets will be sold to Banco Santander for €150 million. The government will inject up to €2.2 billion the European Commission said on Monday, to cover “future contingencies.”

Hilariously, the bailout was necessary because the bank was unable to repay a previous government cash injection. “The government injected €1.1 billion of fresh capital into the lender in January 2013 to allow it to meet minimum capital thresholds imposed by the banking regulator,” WSJ writes. For its trouble, Lisbon got a 60% stake in the bank and several hundred million worth of CoCos which the bank missed a payment on last year. “That,” WSJ goes on to note, “triggered close scrutiny by the European Commission, which opened an investigation into the legality of the state aid.” “The commission had said that Banif’s restructuring plan might not be enough to allow the bank to repay the state,” Bloomberg adds. “The Bank of Portugal said in the statement on Sunday that a ‘probable’ decision from the commission declaring the state aid illegal would create a shortage of capital at the bank.”

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“We now enter the “discovery” phase of financial collapse, where things labeled “capital” and “credit” turn out to be mere holograms.”

Christmas Present (Jim Kunstler)

Theory du jour: the new Star Wars movie is sucking in whatever meager disposable lucre remains among the economically-flayed mid-to-lower orders of America. In fact, I propose a new index showing an inverse relationship between Star Wars box office receipts and soundness of the financial commonweal. In other words, Star Wars is all that remains of the US economy outside of the obscure workings of Wall Street — and that heretofore magical realm is not looking too rosy either in this season of the Great Rate Hike after puking up 623 points of the DJIA last Thursday and Friday. Here I confess: for thirty years I have hated those stupid space movies, as much for their badly-written scripts (all mumbo-jumbo exposition of nonsensical story-lines between explosions) as for the degenerate techno-narcissism they promote in a society literally dying from the diminishing returns and unintended consequences of technology.

It adds up to an ominous Yuletide. Turns out that the vehicle the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee was driving in its game of “chicken” with oncoming reality was a hearse. The occupants are ghosts, but don’t know it. A lot of commentators around the web think that the Fed “pulled the trigger” on interest rates to save its credibility. Uh, wrong. They had already lost their credibility. What remains is for these ghosts to helplessly watch over the awesome workout, which has obviously been underway for quite a while in the crash of commodity prices (and whole national economies — e.g. Brazil, Canada, Australia), the janky regions of the bond markets, the related death of the shale oil industry, and the imploding hedge fund scene. As it were, all credit these days looks shopworn and threadbare, as if the capital markets had by stealth turned into a swap meet of previously-owned optimism.

Who believes in anything these days besides the allure of fraud? Capital is supposedly plentiful these days — look how much has rushed into the dollar from the nervous former go-go nations with their wobbling ziggurats of bad loans and surfeit of production capacity — but what actually constitutes that capital? Answer: the dwindling faith anyone will pay you back next Tuesday for a hamburger today. We now enter the “discovery” phase of financial collapse, where things labeled “capital” and “credit” turn out to be mere holograms. Fed Chair Janet Yellen herself had a sort of hologramatic look last Wednesday when she stepped onto her Delphic platform to reveal the long-heralded interest rate news. Perhaps Mrs. Yellen is a figment conjured by George Lucas’s Industrial Light & Magic shop (now owned by Disney). What could be more fitting in a smoke-and-mirrors culture?

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Recognizable patterns.

Et Tu, Brute? – How Empires Die (Thomas)

The state-owned Bank of China has been ordered by an American court to hand over customer information to the US. The bank has refused to comply, as to do so would violate China’s privacy law. The US court has subsequently ordered the Bank of China to pay a fine of $50,000 per day. Any guess as to how this is likely to turn out? China is a sovereign nation, halfway around the globe from the US, yet the US seems to feel that it’s somehow entitled to set the rules for China (as well as the other nations in the world). When China sees fit to develop islands in the South China Sea that it has laid claim to for centuries, it begins to hear threatening noises from the US military. A candidate for US president declares that he would buzz the islands with Air Force One, the Presidential jet, saying, “They’ll know we mean business.”

All over the world, those who live outside the US are increasingly observing that the US has become so drunk with power that they’re threatening both friend and foe with fines, trade restrictions, monetary sanctions, warfare, and invasions. And in so-observing, those of us who have studied the history of empires note that history is once again repeating itself. Time and time again, great empires build themselves up through industriousness and sound economic management only to subsequently decline into debt, complacency, and an entitlement mind-set. Over the millennia, empires as disparate as Persia, Rome, Spain, and Great Britain rose to dominate the world. Of course, we know how those empires turned out and, by extension, we might hazard an educated guess as to how the present American Empire will end.

In the final throes of empire-decline, we invariably observe the more sociopathic trends of a failing power, such as we’re seeing today from the US. First and foremost, any empire declines as a result of economic mismanagement. Decline from within (pandering to the populace with “bread and circuses”) and without (endless conquest and/or maintenance of dominance over far-flung geography) drain even the wealthiest government. Even eighteenth-century Spain, with all its billions in stolen New World gold, could not pay its ever-increasing bills and warfare-driven debt. Typically, the empire of the day enjoys the world’s greatest fighting force/armada/weapons build-up yet, when the money runs out, the war machine simply stops. Soldiers think more about their empty bellies than how much ammunition they have left.

Generals continue to issue orders, but they cease to be followed after the supply lines begin to dry up. And the leaders of a collapsing empire invariably make a fatal mistake: they assume that all the goodwill the empire gained when it was on its rise is permanent – that it will continue, even if the empire behaves like the world’s foremost bully. This is never the outcome. Invariably, as the decline nears its end, allies, without ever saying so, begin to withdraw their support. We see this today, as European leaders (America’s most essential allies) realise that the empire is becoming an arrogant liability and they begin cutting deals with the other side, as European leaders are now doing with Russia and others.

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“The only way to avoid future crashes is for the Fed to stop creating inflation and bubbles.”

Do We Need The Fed? (Ron Paul)

Stocks rose Wednesday following the Fed’s announcement of the first interest rate increase since 2006. However, stocks fell just two days later. One reason the positive reaction to the Fed’s announcement did not last long is that the Fed seems to lack confidence in the economy and is unsure what policies it should adopt in the future. At her Wednesday press conference, Fed Chair Janet Yellen acknowledged continuing “cyclical weakness” in the job market. She also suggested that future rate increases are likely to be as small, or even smaller, then Wednesday’s. However, she also expressed concerns over increasing inflation, which suggests the Fed may be open to bigger rate increases. Many investors and those who rely on interest from savings for a substantial part of their income cheered the increase.

However, others expressed concern that even this small rate increase will weaken the already fragile job market. These critics echo the claims of many economists and economic historians who blame past economic crises, including the Great Depression, on ill-timed money tightening by the Fed. While the Federal Reserve is responsible for our boom-bust economy, recessions and depressions are not caused by tight monetary policy. Instead, the real cause of economic crisis is the loose money policies that precede the Fed’s tightening. When the Fed floods the market with artificially created money, it lowers the interest rates, which are the price of money. As the price of money, interest rates send signals to businesses and investors regarding the wisdom of making certain types of investments.

When the rates are artificially lowered by the Fed instead of naturally lowered by the market, businesses and investors receive distorted signals. The result is over-investment in certain sectors of the economy, such as housing. This creates the temporary illusion of prosperity. However, since the boom is rooted in the Fed’s manipulation of the interest rates, eventually the bubble will burst and the economy will slide into recession. While the Federal Reserve may tighten the money supply before an economic downturn, the tightening is simply a futile attempt to control the inflation resulting from the Fed’s earlier increases in the money supply. After the bubble inevitably bursts, the Federal Reserve will inevitability try to revive the economy via new money creation, which starts the whole boom-bust cycle all over again. The only way to avoid future crashes is for the Fed to stop creating inflation and bubbles.

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The more they can infringe on privacy, the more they will.

Apple Says UK Surveillance Law Would Endanger All Customers (BBG)

Apple outlined its opposition to a proposed U.K. surveillance law, saying threats to national security don’t justify weakening privacy and putting the data of hundreds of millions of users at risk. The world’s most valuable company is leading a Silicon Valley challenge to the proposed U.K. law, called the Investigatory Powers bill, which attempts to strengthen the capabilities of law-enforcement agencies to investigate potential crimes or terrorist attacks. The bill would, among other things, give the government the ability to see the Internet browsing history of U.K. citizens. Apple said the U.K. government already has access to an unprecedented amount of data.

The Cupertino, California-based company is particularly concerned the bill would weaken digital privacy tools such as encryption, creating vulnerabilities that will be exploited by sophisticated hackers and government spy agencies. In response to the U.K. rules, other governments would probably adopt their own new laws, “paralyzing multinational corporations under the weight of what could be dozens or hundreds of contradictory country-specific laws,” Apple said. “The creation of backdoors and intercept capabilities would weaken the protections built into Apple products and endanger all our customers,” Apple said in an eight-page submission to the U.K. committee considering the bill. “A key left under the doormat would not just be there for the good guys. The bad guys would find it too.”

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And that will not happen.

Half of World’s Coal Must Go Unmined to Meet Paris Climate Target (BBG)

Coal, the fuel that powered the industrial revolution, is in hiding. While the world still has 890 billion tons of reserves, enough to last more than 65 years, about half must stay underground if nations are to meet environmental limits agreed to earlier this month in Paris, Bank of America Corp. said in a report. Burning less coal is the easiest way to lower emissions blamed for climate change, the bank said. The pact reached by 195 nations doesn’t target specific fuels, yet coal remains the world’s largest source of planet-warming carbon dioxide. A global oversupply of the power plant fuel has pushed producers into bankruptcy and sent prices to at least seven-year lows. The Paris agreement only further diminishes prospects for a recovery.

“The latest carbon initiatives are the nail in the coffin for global coal,” Sabine Schels, Peter Helles and Franciso Blanch, analysts at Bank of America said in the Dec. 18 report. If emissions limits take hold, “50% of the world’s current coal reserves may never be dug out.” Coal demand stopped growing in 2014 for the first time since the 1990s as China’s economy cooled, the Paris-based International Energy Agency said Dec. 18. Coal for delivery to Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Antwerp, an Atlantic benchmark, is trading near an eight-year low. Newcastle coal, a barometer for the Asia-Pacific market, is at the cheapest in records going back to 2008, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

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Last month, the warning came from China. Now it’s England and Wales.

It’s ‘Almost Too Late’ To Stop A Global Superbug Crisis (PA)

It is “almost too late” to stop a global superbug crisis caused by the misuse of antibiotics, a leading expert has warned. Scientists have a “50-50” chance of salvaging existing antibiotics from bacteria which has become resistant to its effects, according to Dr David Brown. The director at Antibiotic Research UK, whose discoveries helped make more than £20bn ($30bn) in pharmaceutical sales, said efforts to find new antibiotics are “totally failing” despite significant investment and research. It comes after a gene was discovered which makes infectious bacteria resistant to the last line of antibiotic defence, colistin (polymyxins). The resistance to the colistin antibiotic is considered to be a “major step” towards completely untreatable infections and has been found in pigs and humans in England and Wales.

Public Health England said the risk posed to humans by the mcr-1 gene was “low” but was being monitored closely. Performing surgery, treating infections and even travelling abroad safely all rely to some extent on access to effective antibiotics. It is feared the crisis could further penetrate Europe as displaced migrants enter from a war-torn Middle East, where countries such as Syria have increasing levels of antibiotic resistance. Dr Brown told said: “It is almost too late. We needed to start research 10 years ago and we still have no global monitoring system in place. “The issue is people have tried to find new antibiotics but it is totally failing – there has been no new chemical class of drug to treat gram-negative infections for more than 40 years.

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Dec 212015
 
 December 21, 2015  Posted by at 10:27 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle December 21 2015
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Lewis Wickes Hine Child Labor in Magnolia Cotton Mills spinning room, Mississippi 1911

Brent Oil Slides to 11-Year Low as Producers Seen Worsening Glut (BBG)
Siberian Surprise: Russian Oil Patch Just Keeps Pumping (BBG)
This So-Called Rate Hike Is Completely Jerry-Rigged (E&M)
Central Banks Created A Monster That Drives The Economy On The Way Down (King)
Europe’s Year From Hell May Presage Worse To Come (Reuters)
Spain Election Confusion: Conservatives Win But Podemos Are Stars (Ind.)
Alexis Tsipras Pushes For IMF To Stay Out Of Next Greek Bailout (FT)
After Jumping Over One Hurdle, Greece Faces Another With Pensions (CNBC)
UK Buyers Need To Save For Up To 24 Years To Get On Property Ladder (Guardian)
Canada’s Trudeau Cites Risk in Curbing Foreign Real-Estate Investment (WSJ)
Kansas Suspends Debt Limits To Pay For Tax Cuts (Wichita Eagle)
The Empire Files: ‘America’s Ship is Sinking’: Former Bush Official (TeleSur)
The West Dominates Global Arms Sales (Forbes)
The Refugee Crisis Is Forcing Germans To Ask: Who Are We? (Guardian)
Vice Chancellor: Austria Can’t Accept Over 100,000 Migrants A Year (Reuters)
My Baby, The Refugee: Mothers On The Hardest Journey Of Their Lives (Guardian)
18 Migrants Drown After Boat Sinks Off Turkey’s Southwestern Coast (Reuters)

China demand tanks. For oil, for everything. If there is to be a ‘Story of 2015’, it should be that. But instead, denial pushes it forward to 2016.

Brent Oil Slides to 11-Year Low as Producers Seen Worsening Glut (BBG)

Brent crude slumped to the lowest level since 2004 amid speculation suppliers from the Middle East to the U.S. will exacerbate a record glut as they continue fighting for market share. Futures fell as much as 1.9% in London after a 2.8% drop last week. Producers are focusing on reducing costs amid the price decline, Qatar Energy Minister Mohammed Al Sada said Sunday at a meeting of Arab oil-exporting nations in Cairo. Drillers in the U.S. put the most rigs back to work since July, adding 17, data from Baker Hughes showed. Oil has fallen below levels last seen during the 2008 global financial crisis on signs the market’s oversupply will worsen. OPEC effectively abandoned output limits at a Dec. 4 meeting, while the U.S. on Friday passed legislation that lifted a 40-year ban on crude exports.

“There hasn’t been any significant signs of a pick-up in demand and we haven’t seen any meaningful cuts to production,” Ric Spooner, a chief analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney, said by phone. “Nothing has really changed in the oil market over the past couple of months apart from the price.” Brent for February settlement slid as much as 71 cents to $36.17 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange, the lowest level in intraday trade since July 13, 2004. The contract was at $36.41 at 2:21 p.m. Singapore time after falling 18 cents to $36.88 on Friday, the lowest close since December 2008. Front-month prices are down 36% this year, set for a third annual loss. West Texas Intermediate for January delivery, which expires Monday, was 28 cents lower at $34.45 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It dropped 22 cents to $34.73 on Friday, the lowest close since February 2009. The more active February contract was down 29 cents at $35.77. Total volume was close to the 100-day average.

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Nobody has a choice.

Siberian Surprise: Russian Oil Patch Just Keeps Pumping (BBG)

In the fight for market share among the world’s oil producers this year, Russia wasn’t supposed to be a contender. But the world’s No. 3 producer has been pumping at the fastest pace since the collapse of the Soviet Union, adding to the flood on an already-swamped market and helping push prices to the lowest levels since 2009. Russia’s unexpected oil bounty this year is the result not of a new Kremlin campaign but of dozens of modest productivity improvements across the sprawling sector. Even pressured by plunging prices, as well as U.S. and European Union sanctions that cut access to much foreign financing and technology, Russian companies have managed to squeeze more crude out of some of the country’s oldest fields.

They have also brought new projects on line, offsetting steady declines in its core producing region of West Siberia. With a rise of 0.5% in the first nine months of 2015, Russia hasn’t boosted production as much as its larger rivals, the U.S. (up 1.3%) and Saudi Arabia (up 5.8%), according to Citigroup Inc. But having ignored OPEC’s calls earlier this year to join efforts to support prices by pumping less, Russia is keeping up with the cartel. “I know of no one who had predicted that Russian production would rise in 2015, let alone to new record levels,” said Edward Morse, Citigroup’s global head of commodities research. As recently as April, not even the Russian government thought 2015 would break the record.

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It’s about the banks.

This So-Called Rate Hike Is Completely Jerry-Rigged (E&M)

It’s official. [Last] week the Federal Reserve raised the key overnight Fed Funds rate by 0.25%. The move was discussed, debated, argued, and telegraphed to death. We all heard about it until we hoped anything else financial would happen so we could finally put the tired story to rest. Now that the rate hike is on the books, we can start talking about outcomes, like how in the world the Fed intends to enforce the rate hike, what it means, and what comes next. The first one is not so simple, the second is annoying, and the third is downright depressing. But we’d better start planning for this today, because it will definitely affect our investments in the months to come! This rate hike is unlike any other. It comes on the heels of several quantitative easing programs that have dumped trillions of new dollars into the banking system.

Before the financial crisis, banks held about $60 billion of excess reserves at the Fed. These are funds above and beyond their required reserves. Today, excess reserves total about $2.6 trillion, which represents part of the money the Fed printed and then used to buy bonds. Typically this cash would have flowed into the economy through lending, but in 2008 the Fed started paying interest on excess reserves, which has kept the funds out of circulation. With so much extra cash in their accounts, banks have almost no need to borrow from each other. This creates a problem for the Fed because adjusting the rate at which banks lend to each other, called the Fed Funds rate, is how it historically enforced its interest rate policy. Starting this week, the Fed will have to use new, largely untested tools.

Since there is almost zero demand for money between banks, the Fed is increasing the interest it pays on excess reserves from 0.25% to 0.50%. At the same time, the Fed intends to lend out up to $2 trillion of its own stash of bonds in the overnight repurchase market. It will lend these to banks, money market funds, and other institutions for one night, with an agreement to buy the bonds back the next day at a slightly higher price, effectively paying the counterparty 0.25% interest. It’s more than a little backwards. The upshot is that instead of banks paying each other the higher rate of interest after a rate hike, now it’s the Fed, which means it’s really me and you, since the Fed gets money by taking value from the rest of us. At the new, higher rate, this is about $10.5 billion per year that is nothing but a gift to banks.

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“It depends less on fundamentals, and more on second-guessing what everyone else will do.”

Central Banks Created A Monster That Drives The Economy On The Way Down (King)

The broader narrative – in which central bank liquidity has pushed up asset prices without fostering a similar improvement in the underlying economy – is one we find the vast majority of [fixed income] investors are sympathetic to. The only question is on the timing: no one wants to get out too early. This is one of the reasons we find the outlook for next year so difficult, and why there is so little agreement about it (even internally at Citi, never mind across the street). It depends less on fundamentals, and more on second-guessing what everyone else will do. Of course, markets are always to some extent like that, but self-reinforcing processes seem to have grown in importance in recent years. Rather than the economy driving markets, as is supposed to be the case, the risk is that central banks have now created a monster such that markets drive the economy, if not on the way up, then certainly on the way down.

Suppose, for example, that all does not go according to plan, and that the current squeeze higher in markets fades and even reverses. Perhaps oil price and EM weakness prove persistent, markets and the developed economies continue to prove more susceptible to these than they “ought” to, inflation breakevens fall, spreads widen and equities suffer even in the face of continuing share buybacks and record M&A. The scenario is far from unthinkable: indeed, it would simply be a continuation of everything we’ve seen in the past six months. What we find really alarming in such a scenario is not only that the safety net might be a while in coming, but that we are increasingly doubtful of how much support it would provide, at least initially.

Clearly the threshold for the Fed to reverse its hike, let alone do more QE or move to negative rates, is very high. And while the ECB should eventually do more, the bar to Draghi being able to spur the rest of the Governing Council to arms would now seem to have been raised. Worse, though, the broad market reaction to central bank stimulus seems to be waning. In credit, and in Europe, this is not too bad. We do still think negative rates and QE retain a positive effect, even if it seems to be driving almost as much money into US fixed income as into European credit and equities.

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Brussels is a crisis-producing machine.

Europe’s Year From Hell May Presage Worse To Come (Reuters)

By any measure, it has been a year from hell for the European Union. And if Britons vote to leave the bloc, next year could be worse. Not since 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell and communism crumbled across eastern Europe, has the continent’s geopolitical kaleidescope been shaken up so vigorously. But unlike that year of joyous turmoil, which paved the way for a leap forward in European integration, the crises of 2015 have threatened to tear the Union apart and left it battered, bruised, despondent and littered with new barriers. The collapse of the Iron Curtain led within two years to the agreement to create a single European currency and, over the following 15 years, to the eastward enlargement of the EU and NATO up to the borders of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

That appeared to confirm founding father Jean Monnet’s prediction that a united Europe would be built out of crises. In contrast, this year’s political and economic shocks over an influx of migrants, Greek debt, Islamist violence and Russian military action have led to the return of border controls in many places, the rise of populist anti-EU political forces and recrimination among EU governments. Jean-Claude Juncker, who describes his EU executive as the “last chance Commission,” warned that the EU’s open-border Schengen area of passport-free travel was in danger and the euro itself would be unlikely to survive if internal borders were shut. Juncker resorted to gallows humor after the last of 12 EU summits this year, most devoted to last-gasp crisis management: “The crises that are with us will remain and others will come.”

His gloomy tone was a reality check on the “we can do it” spirit that German Chancellor Angela Merkel – Europe’s pre-eminent leader – has sought to apply to the absorption of hundreds of thousands of mostly Syrian refugees. Merkel has received little support from her EU partners in sharing the migrant burden. Most have insisted the priority is sealing Europe’s external borders rather than welcoming more than a token number of refugees in their own countries. This is partly due to latent resentment of German dominance of the EU and payback for its reluctance to share more financial risks in the eurozone. Some partners also accuse Berlin of hypocrisy over its energy ties with Russia, while friends such as France, the Netherlands and Denmark are simply petrified by the rise of right-wing anti-immigration populists at home.

One of the sharpest rebuffs to sharing more of the refugee burden came from close ally Paris. Prime Minister Manuel Valls said of Merkel’s open door policy towards Syrian refugees: “It was not France that said ‘Come!’.” Merkel’s critics rounded on her at an end-of-year EU summit. Italy’s Matteo Renzi, backed by Portugal and Greece, attacked her refusal to accept a eurozone bank deposit guarantee scheme. The Baltic states, Bulgaria and Italy denounced her support for a direct gas pipeline from Russia to Germany at a time when the EU is sanctioning Moscow over its military action in Ukraine and has forced the cancellation of a pipeline to southern Europe. “It was pretty much everyone against Merkel in the room,” a diplomat who heard the exchanges said.

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Left wing coalition?

Spain Election Confusion: Conservatives Win But Podemos Are Stars (Ind.)

Spain was plunged into the political unknown on Sunday night as no single party emerged as the winner in its closest general election since the end of the Franco dictatorship 40 years ago. The governing Popular Party (PP), led by the Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, secured 28.7% of the vote. That put the party in first place, but well below what it needs to maintain its majority. Mr Rajoy will now be given the first opportunity to persuade rival parties to join him in government before parliament reconvenes next month. But the night belonged to Podemos, and its leader, the ponytailed Pablo Iglesias. The left-wing party, which did not even exist two years ago, finished third with 20.6%. The mainstream left-wing opposition, the PSOE, just beat Podemos into second place with 22%.

For four decades the PP and the PSOE have dominated Spanish politics, swapping power at regular intervals. Their combined grip on office is now almost certainly at an end. The 60-year-old Mr Rajoy, who lost two elections before his landslide four years ago, now faces a fight for his political career. Throughout the campaign, commentators have suggested that the PP – always the favourite to emerge as the strongest single party – could overcome a hung parliament by striking a deal with the new centrist party Ciudadanos, which collected 15.2% of the vote. Crucially for Mr Rajoy, however, the election arithmetic – even with Ciudadanos – appears to work against him. Although he only needs a simple majority to be confirmed as prime minister when the Spanish parliament reconvenes on 13 January, he will need at least 176 seats to carry through his programme. According to the exit poll, which surveyed 180,000 people, a combination of the PP and Ciudadanos will not reach that magic number.

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Tsipras should pull the plug on the entire circus.

Alexis Tsipras Pushes For IMF To Stay Out Of Next Greek Bailout (FT)

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras is pushing for the IMF to stay out of the country’s €86 billion third bailout, leaving the euro zone to take full responsibility for overseeing economic reforms. Mr Tsipras said in an interview with the Financial Times he was “puzzled by the unconstructive attitude of the fund on fiscal and financial issues”. He indicated that the IMF should leave his country’s third bailout to the euro zone when it decides whether to stay involved early next year. “We think that after six years of managing in extraordinary crisis, Europe now has the institutional capacity to deal successfully with intra-European issues.” Mr Tsipras’s assertion is likely to anger the German government, which has always insisted the IMF stay on board. Berlin values the fund’s technical expertise as much as it doubts the European Commission’s resolve.

Mr Tsipras also risks alienating the IMF, which is a strong advocate of debt relief for Athens while Germany and other euro zone members are strongly against debt writedowns, although he praised the fund’s support on this issue. Mr Tsipras said his government wanted to implement bailout measures as swiftly as possible with the aim of recovering sovereignty and getting rid of the so-called “troika” of bailout monitors from the commission, IMF and ECB. “We believe the sooner we get away from the [bailout] program the better for our country,” he said. “If Greece completes the first [progress] review in January, we’ll be covering more than 70% of fiscal and financial measures in the agreement.” Mr Tsipras also sounded confident that Greece would lift all remaining capital controls by March and resume borrowing on international capital markets “before the end of 2016”.

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Greece saw 12 seperate pension cuts so far.

After Jumping Over One Hurdle, Greece Faces Another With Pensions (CNBC)

Don’t look now, but 2016 may bring a host of new troubles for Greece, which just last week barely overcame a dispute with its international creditors. Struggling to meet the demands of its bailout terms, the Hellenic Republic was forced on Thursday to scrap an effort to alleviate the burden of its austerity program on poorer Greeks. The demise of its so-called “parallel program”, although a short-term defeat for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, triggered the release of €1 billion in new bailout funding, expected to be disbursed as early as Monday. The money was part of an agreement that was sealed last summer.

Now, momentum shifts to pension reform, which is expected as soon as next month. The battle will take shape just as the Greek government appears to have won a hard-fought consensus with creditors on other outstanding issues such as deregulation and the establishment of a privatization fund – which must gather €50 billion by 2030. A pension system overhaul, however, is shaping up to be a big hurdle for Greece, a hard sell at a time when the country’s economic crises have sent unemployment skyrocketing above 25% and average income plummeting 25% over the last four years. “Both the government’s willingness to reform and its internal cohesion appear to be weak which does not bode well for the prospects of reform,” said Stathis Kalyvas, a professor of political science at Yale University and the co-director of its Hellenic Studies program.

“On the flip side, there is no real alternative for the government right now and the fact that it has already embarked on reform process following last summer’s agreement will be pushing it to implement it sooner rather than later”. Greece challenge is to convince its creditors that it can reduce government expenditure by up to 1% of its economy via pension cuts. But in a country where the social costs of austerity weighs on the mood of the general population, some think new pension adjustments could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Some of the government’s 153 MPs have already made clear that they will not support new cuts to pensions. If as few as three MPs vote against pension reform, analysts say it is likely the government will lose its majority, once again sinking back into political crisis.

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Prime candidate for dumbest term ever invented: housing ladder or property ladder. The UK, like Canada, Oz and New Zealand, is busy blowing up its own housing market, and refusing to halt it.

UK Buyers Need To Save For Up To 24 Years To Get On Property Ladder (Guardian)

Homebuyers now have to save for up to 24 years to set aside a deposit large enough to buy them a foot on Britain’s housing ladder, according to new research. The Resolution Foundation thinktank has used the Bank of England’s latest survey of household finances to show that with house prices rising sharply, it would now take almost a quarter of a century for low- and middle-income households to accumulate a deposit on average, if they set aside 5% of their disposable income each year. It is lower than the peak reached before the financial crisis, but dramatically higher than the three years that was the norm in the 1980s and 1990s – and comes despite interest rates remaining at the emergency level of 0.5% set by the Bank of England in the depths of recession.

George Osborne has introduced a series of help-to-buy policies, including shared ownership schemes and taxpayer guarantees for mortgages for first-time buyers, and pledged in his spending review last month to “turn generation rent into generation buy”. But Resolution’s chief economist, Matt Whittaker, warned that help to buy may simply boost house prices, lifting them further out of the reach of lower-income households. “To the extent that these schemes have stoked demand and so propped up house prices in recent years, they have served to make homeownership even less attainable for many, while increasing the gains flowing to older homeowners who have been the main beneficiaries of the sustained housing boom,” he said.

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It’s an Anglo disease. Trudeau’s too scared to rock the boat, just like the others.

Canada’s Trudeau Cites Risk in Curbing Foreign Real-Estate Investment (WSJ)

Imposing curbs on foreign investment in Canadian real estate could have unintended consequences for the broader economy, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned in a year-end interview with Canada’s Global Television Network, scheduled to air Christmas Day. Mr. Trudeau said there is a lack of “concrete data” about the impact of foreign buying on Canadian real estate, so moving ahead without proper information is risky. Mr. Trudeau’s comments emerge as a debate heats up over the impact overseas buyers may be having on housing affordability in the two of the country’s biggest housing markets—Toronto and Vancouver, British Columbia.

“You know you have to be cautious about decisions like that that are based on a single factor because at the same time [it] would potentially devalue the equity that a lot of people have in their homes right now,” Mr. Trudeau said, according to a transcript of the interview distributed by Global TV. “We have to be very, very cautious about restricting foreign investment in our country at a time where we know we need foreign investment in businesses, in resource development.”

Economists indicate strong sales and price growth in Toronto and Vancouver are supported by job creation in the two metropolitan areas, and an increasing number of people migrating to those urban centers as resource-rich parts of the country suffer under the weight of low commodity prices, as opposed to foreign investment. Meantime, Evan Siddall, the president of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., a government-owned mortgage insurer and housing agency, said in a recent speech that foreign investment could be contributing to the overvaluation of housing prices in the two markets. But, he said, the country lacks “accurate and reliable data” to determine the role foreign investment has on housing prices in the country.

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Almost funny.

Kansas Suspends Debt Limits To Pay For Tax Cuts (Wichita Eagle)

Right-wing Republican lawmakers have operated under the radar to suspend all statutory limits on highway debt, and that unprecedented authority was recently used to issue record-breaking levels of long-term debt to pay for their reckless income tax cuts this year and next. Six lines buried deep in a 700-page appropriation bill last spring gave the Kansas Department of Transportation unlimited authority to issue debt, and in early December, without public disclosure, the agency used that authority to issue $400 million in highway bonds. State law requires those debt proceeds to be used for improving state highways, but do not expect that to happen. Lawmakers directed that $400 million and more be swept from the highway fund to help pay for the $700 million dip in state revenues caused by income tax cuts in 2012 and 2013.

The $400 million in new highway debt represents the largest single highway bond in state history and bumps up total outstanding highway debt to $2.1 billion, also a state record. The size of the bond issue was boosted 60% higher than planned last January in order to stabilize at least temporarily the precarious condition of state finances. Never before in state history has a state agency been granted unlimited powers to issue debt. Prior to this extraordinary action, state lawmakers had carefully placed specific limits on the state’s ability to borrow money. KDOT’s authority to issue unlimited debt continues through this fiscal year and next, so additional highway bonds could be issued at any time over the next 18 months. The governor and legislative leaders went to extraordinary lengths to hide their suspension of debt limits from public scrutiny.

The governor’s budget report made no mention of the suspension. Republicans who controlled the appropriations conference committee never raised the issue. The Statehouse press corps missed it as well. Further, neither the governor nor KDOT disclosed to the public that KDOT had issued $400 million in new, record-breaking debt. Only after press inquiries last week, two weeks after the fact, did KDOT acknowledge that new bonds had been issued.Gov. Sam Brownback and Republican legislative leaders have elevated the practice of confiscating highway funds to pay for other state obligations to a new level. In this year alone $436 million will be swept from the highway fund – the single largest transfer ever. That amount plus prior transfers during Brownback’s term brings their displacement of highway funds to a breathtaking total of $1.6 billion.

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How empires fall: overreach.

The Empire Files: ‘America’s Ship is Sinking’: Former Bush Official (TeleSur)

“This ship is sinking,” retired U.S. Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson tells Abby Martin, adding that “today the purpose of US foreign policy is to support the complex that we have created in the national security state that is fueled, funded, and powered by interminable war.” The former national security advisor to the Reagan administration, who spent years as an assistant to Secretary of State Colin Powell during both Bush administrations reflects on the sad but honest reflection on what America has become as he exposes the unfixable corruption inside the establishment and the corporate interests driving foreign policy. “It’s never been about altruism, it’s about sheer power.”

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This does not include what’s sold domestically.

The West Dominates Global Arms Sales (Forbes)

In 2014, sales of the world’s top-100 arms manufacturers totalled $401 billion, according to a report from the the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. There was a moderate 1.5% decline in sales between 2013 and 2014, primarily due to lower sales for companies based in North America and Western Europe. Despite that decline, the West still dominates global arms sales. In 2014, seven out of the top ten largest arms-producing companies were American. Lockheed Martin grabbed the top spot for the first time since 2009, acccording to SIPRI, with arms sales totaling $37.5 billion. Boeing was in second place with $28.3 billion while Britain’s BAE Systems came third with just under $26 billion in sales.

Last year, the United States accounted for 54.4% of the world’s arms sales. The United Kingdom was in second place, with 10.4% while Russian companies had a 10.2% share of the market. Arms sales by Western European countries fell 7.4% in 2014 with only German and Swiss companies showing growth (9.4 and 11.2% respectively). Increasing national military expenditure and exports in Russia have seen the country’s arms industry grow steadily. According to SIPRI, Russia’s top eleven military companies experienced revenue growth of 48.4% between 2013 and 2014.

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“Are other countries’ wars our responsibility? That’s a question you hear a lot these days. But no one wants to hear the answer.”

The Refugee Crisis Is Forcing Germans To Ask: Who Are We? (Guardian)

I recently read that criminality is on the rise in German towns that have accepted refugees. But it’s not the refugees who are responsible for this crime wave: Germans in these towns have been committing arson, damaging property and attacking refugees. In other words, Germans have been making their own worst fears come true. Often the fear of loss leads to the very loss we fear – a principle that holds true not only for jealous lovers but also, it seems, for those who turn to violence out of fear that the refugees will cost them their safety and peace. The refugees haven’t even all been registered yet, but already they raise questions about who we are. Some Germans can imagine what it means to lose everything – hence their empathy; some can imagine what it means to lose everything – hence their fear.

We no longer have a universal frame of reference. Angela Merkel’s declaration that refugees are fundamentally deserving of protection – hers was the only declaration of its kind in Europe – has two main sticking points in her own country. First, there’s the free-market logic according to which the German government will prohibit neither the export of weapons by German companies to warring nations nor the ruthless exploitation of resources under corrupt systems in Africa, Asia and eastern Europe. And then there’s the ever-growing violence, both verbal and physical, from part of the German population: those who would like to see their country walled off with barbed wire – as is happening in Hungary – or, failing that, to at least have the Berlin government refuse to accept even the ridiculously low numbers of refugees mandated by the European Union – as Poland and the UK have done.

But which “European values” are best upheld with barbed wire and fences, regulations, harassment and attacks? Liberté, égalité, fraternité? Or is this mainly about our own survival? In eastern Germany, you can once again hear people chanting Wir sind das Volk (“We are the people”). In 1989 that sentence opened a border; now it’s being used to close a border, to insulate this finally unified Volk from the newcomers, who lack any unity since they are fleeing so many different wars. Are other countries’ wars our responsibility? That’s a question you hear a lot these days. But no one wants to hear the answer.

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Lest we forget: one prediction is for 3 million refugees in 2016. Even ‘just’ half that will lead to complete mayhem.

Vice Chancellor: Austria Can’t Accept Over 100,000 Migrants A Year (Reuters)

Austria’s Vice Chancellor said on Monday that Austria could not accept more than 100,000 migrants a year, following a pledge from its larger neighbor Germany to limit arrivals. Hundreds of thousands of people, many of them fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Afghanistan and elsewhere, have entered Austria on their route northwest from the Balkans since early September. Most have moved on to Germany, but Austria still expects to have received about 95,000 asylum applications this year, equivalent to more than 1% of its population, compared with the 28,000 registered in 2014. Of those, 38% were approved.

“Around 90-100,000 – a lot more will simply not be possible,” Reinhold Mitterlehner, from the conservative OVP, junior partner in the coalition, told ORF radio. Chancellor Werner Faymann, a Social Democrat who has generally adopted a more compassionate tone on the issue than the conservatives, was quoted as saying on Saturday that Austria should step up deportations of migrants who do not qualify for asylum. Faymann has also emphasized that policy decisions have been closely coordinated with his German counterpart Angela Merkel, who has pledged to “noticeably reduce the number of refugees”, fending off a challenge from critics of her own.

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“If I cry in this Jungle, will anyone help me? No. I am in the Jungle, so I have to try and smile.”

My Baby, The Refugee: Mothers On The Hardest Journey Of Their Lives (Guardian)

In a caravan in Calais, two little girls are playing a game. While their mother’s attention is elsewhere, they hang out of the small gap of an open window, giggling as they see who can lean the farthest. They could be on a family holiday, if it wasn’t for the squalor surrounding them. Instead, the children are living on mud-covered scrubland, without electricity or heating – just two more inhabitants of the unofficial refugee camp on Britain’s doorstep. A few minutes’ drive from the ferry port, the “new Jungle” is a symbol of the UK’s reluctance to deal with the refugee crises on our borders. Here, 200 women and children are said to be living among the 4,000 refugees, crammed into water-logged tents, caravans and even garden sheds. Thousands more live in similar conditions in nearby Dunkirk. While the young men who risk their lives jumping on to trains or lorries crossing the Channel have become the faces of this crisis, hidden in their midst are these families, trapped in an agonising limbo.

Rima, her shy son Adnan, five, and lively three-year-old daughter, Nour, are among them. The family fled Syria two months ago – just in time, Rima says, to avoid the fate of their nextdoor neighbours, who were killed in their homes the week before we speak. The children’s father was imprisoned in 2012, when Nour was two months old. “There is no security in our city,” Rima tells me. “You don’t have to have done anything for them to put you in prison. Every day I begged the guards to release him. They asked me for money, so I sold everything, but it was never enough. Finally, after a year, they told me he was dead. They allowed me to come every day and plead for him when he was dead. They never gave me his body.” Rima and her children joined the stream of refugees on what has become known as the “ant road”, from Turkey to western Europe.

“Walking through the night was terrifying,” Rima says. “I had a bag on my back and I put my daughter in it. She was ill; she had a temperature of 41C. The most frightening point was when a man on a motorbike wanted to carry my little boy – he said he’d take only the boy, not the girl. I thought he might snatch him.” Like many of the mothers here, Rima’s fear of imminent danger has been replaced with anxieties about the filthy, cold and sometimes violent conditions of the camp. As it becomes more permanent, little shops, cafes and even nightclubs have sprung up, giving a cruel imitation of a music festival – until the riot police come into view, standing guard near the motorway bridge. Despite being just yards from pleasant French houses, and a short drive from Calais’s squares and restaurants, the Jungle residents rely on candles for light and open fires for warmth.

Small fires that rip through caravans and tents are now a regular occurrence. In heavy rain, the area floods. At night, when the police clash with refugees, tear gas fills the air. The noise and insecurity are taking their toll on the already exhausted, traumatised children. “Now, there are no bombs, but we are freezing and still afraid,” Rima says, adding that she developed a heart condition after her husband was imprisoned. “There is no heating and we are living in the mud. In the night, my daughter screams in her sleep and hits out, because she has bad dreams. Four days ago, my heart felt so bad that I thought I would die. If I am not here, who will look after my children?”

Around 400 luckier women and children have found a space in the state-run Jules Ferry Centre, which also provides a hot meal every day for up to 2,500 Jungle residents who live outside, and a hot shower for around 1,000. Dedicated British and French donors and charities have also stepped in, offering warm clothes and nappies, and opening a women and children’s centre with a playground. But their goodwill alone cannot provide lights, heating or somewhere private to wash. For the mothers trapped here, all that is left is to put on a brave face and hope for a better life. Communities have sprung up; neighbours look after each other’s children and try to offer support. Despite their trying circumstances, people greet each other warmly. As one woman tells me, with heart-breaking honesty, “If I cry in this Jungle, will anyone help me? No. I am in the Jungle, so I have to try and smile.”

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Just another day in the Aegean.

18 Migrants Drown After Boat Sinks Off Turkey’s Southwestern Coast (Reuters)

Eighteen people died and 14 were rescued late on Friday after a boat carrying migrants trying to sail to Greece sank off the southern Turkish town of Bodrum, Dogan News Agency reported. Fishermen hearing the migrants’ screams of migrants alerted the Turkish coast guard, who picked up the bodies from the sea after the wooden boat carrying migrants from Iraq, Pakistan and Syria capsized about 3.5 km off the coast. Those rescued were taken to the hospital in Bodrum, many in serious condition, the agency said. The coast guard was not immediately available for comment.

A record 500,000 refugees from the four-year-old civil war in Syria have traveled through Turkey then risked their lives at sea to reach Greek islands this year, their first stop in the EU before continuing to wealthier countries. Despite the winter conditions and rougher seas, the exodus has continued, albeit at a slower pace. Nearly 600 people have died this year on the so-called eastern Mediterranean sea route for migrants, according to the International Organization for Migration. Turkey struck a deal with the EU on Nov. 29 pledging to help stem the flow of migrants into Europe in return for €3 billion of cash for the 2.2 million Syrians Ankara has been hosting, visas and renewed talks on joining the 28-nation bloc.

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Jun 142015
 
 June 14, 2015  Posted by at 10:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing Newsie, Washington DC 1920

The IMF Knew In 2010 That The Greek Memorandum Would Increase Debt (SYRIZA)
Why Greece Should Reject the Latest Offer From Its Creditors (Philippe Legrain)
The Saga Of The Greek Review That Never Ended (Kathimerini)
Endgame Looms For Greek Crisis As Both Sides Take Talks To The Brink (Guardian)
Greece’s Last-Ditch Talks Aim at Agreement Before Monday (Bloomberg)
Germany Is Bluffing On Greece (Weisbrot)
Spain Swears In Leftist Mayors for Madrid, Barcelona in Historic Turn (AP)
Why Keynesian Voodoo Doesn’t Work Anymore (Bawerk)
US Labor Movement’s War Against Fast-Track May Not Be Over (Guardian)
Doubts Over EU Proposals For Saving TTIP Deal (Reuters)
The Warren Buffett Economy – Why Its Days Are Numbered-Part 4 (David Stockman)
End of the Line: China and Germany Look Ready to Pop (Herry Dent)
IMF Says It Will Continue To Back Ukraine (DW)
How One Accounting Rule Wrecked The Middle Class (Daniel Drew)
Britain Pulls Out Spies As Russia, China Crack Snowden Files (Reuters)
US Is Poised to Put Heavy Weaponry in Eastern Europe (NY Times)
Did Mathematician John Nash Help Invent Bitcoin? (CoinDesk)
Elon Musk Asks Permission To Put 4,000 Internet Satellites Into Orbit (Ind.)
High-Tech Solar Projects Fail To Deliver (WSJ)

The Audit Commission is set to unveil its findings June 18.

The IMF Knew In 2010 That The Greek Memorandum Would Increase Debt (SYRIZA)

An IMF document is in the possession of the Greek Audit Commission proving that the creditor knew that the memorandum would increase the Greek debt. The Audit Commission has in its possession a document which shows that the IMF knew from March 2010 that the Greek memorandum would increase Greek debt. The President of the Greek Parliament Zoe Konstantopoulou and the scientific coordinator of the Audit Commission of the Greek debt, Dr. Eric Toussaint, spoke yesterday about the contents of this document.

“We have an internal document of the IMF of March 2010, detailing the measures provided for inclusion in the 2010 Memorandum This is a very detailed and predefined plan, which was not communicated to the parliaments of 14 European Union countries who have lent to Greece nor to the Greek Parliament. Because, as you know, there was a violation of the Greek Constitution in May 2010, when the agreement was concluded, “said Mr. Toussaint.

“During our work, we have also managed to establish that the means used to make the Greek debt restructuring in 2010 was absolutely detrimental, because the rights of the pension funds of Greece and of Greek citizens who held State bonds were sacrificed. For example, there was a haircut of over 50% for some employees of Olympic Airways, who had received government bonds after their dismissal without their own agreement, and through no fault of their own. No compensatory measure was arranged for them. However the big private banks that participated in the haircut received compensation of €30 billion, which was added to the Greek public debt. ” said Toussaint.

On her part the President of the Parliament said: “We seek the truth corresponding to the legitimate and illegitimate parts of the debt and of our burdensome obligation.” The preliminary findings of the Greek debt Audit Commission will be published in June 17-18, 2015.

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Legrain gets it too.

Why Greece Should Reject the Latest Offer From Its Creditors (Philippe Legrain)

Reform — Greece sorely needs it. Cash — the government is running desperately short of it. So it is time for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to do what’s best for Greece and accept its creditors’ reform demands in exchange for much-needed cash. That is how the Greek situation is usually framed. It is utterly misleading. Imagine you’re in prison for not being able to pay your debts. (You’re right, it’s almost unthinkable — civilized societies no longer lock up bankrupt individuals. But bear with me.) After five years of misery, you lead a rebellion, take control of the prison, and demand your release. The jailers respond by cutting off your water supply. Should you back down and return to your cell, perhaps negotiating for slightly less unpleasant conditions, in order to obtain a little liquidity?

Or should you keep fighting to be free? That, in essence, is what the standoff between an insolvent Greece and its eurozone creditors is really about. For months, Greece has had “only days” to agree a deal with its creditors before it runs out of cash. Eventually that will be true. But even if Tsipras accepted the creditors’ demands, Greece would still have “only days” before it ran out of cash. The €7.2 billion on offer right now wouldn’t even cover the Greek government’s debt repayments until the end of August. And for a measly two months of liquidity, Tsipras is expected to surrender his democratic mandate: break his election promises, agree to yet more tax increases and spending cuts that would depress Greece’s economy further, and relinquish his demands for debt relief.

Then the wrangling would start again. Because so long as Greece remains in its debtors’ prison, it will be dependent on its jailers for liquidity and therefore expected to comply with whatever additional conditions they impose. Tsipras should not submit to this debt bondage. Nine of every 10 euros that eurozone governments and the IMF have lent to the Greek government since 2010 have gone to repay its unbearable debts, which should instead have been restructured back then. But from now on, every last cent of additional funding would go to pay back debt. The Greek government now has a small primary surplus: It doesn’t need to borrow, except to service its debts of 175% of GDP.

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Nice history lesson. Not flawless.

The Saga Of The Greek Review That Never Ended (Kathimerini)

It was a sunny morning in Brussels on November 7 last year when Greek Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis received an e-mail from the team of inspectors of the International Monetary Fund, European Commission and European Central Bank – collectively known as the troika – that changed everything. In that moment it became clear that the review of the Greek reform process was not about to end anytime soon, as the troika was toughening its stance and demanding that Athens complete all the prior actions outlined in its second bailout deal to the letter. The government was shocked as the e-mail came just a few hours after a Eurogroup meeting ended with what appeared to be a positive message for Greece.

It came at the moment when, if the country passed the review that was being carried out – and is still being carried out – it would be able to turn over a new leaf, free of demands for more austerity, and would be able to apply for a precautionary credit line that would allow it access to the markets. That e-mail, however, detailed 19 tough measures the Greek government had a month to implement in order to wrap up the review. For the government, those measures were impossible to implement given the political climate at the time.

Seven months after that e-mail, and with a different government in Athens and the same review still pending, Kathimerini seeks answers as to why the talks with the troika stalled by speaking to the protagonists, and attempts to explain what went wrong, ultimately leading the country to elections on January 25. Did the creditors pull the rug from under Antonis Samaras by increasing their demands, as some of the former prime minister’s associates argue? Was it that the Europeans misread the intentions of the opposition SYRIZA party and its chief, current Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras? Or was it fatigue after years of tough fiscal adjustment that prevented the Greek economy from rebounding?

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Endgame’s been looming forever. Why still use that word?

Endgame Looms For Greek Crisis As Both Sides Take Talks To The Brink (Guardian)

Eleventh-hour talks to avoid Greece defaulting on its debt and plunging the eurozone into crisis intensified at the weekend with Greek officials flying to Brussels only days before a meeting of Europe’s finance ministers that many regard as a final deadline. Almost five months after he assumed power, the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has come to a fork in the road: either he accepts the painful terms of a cash-for-reform deal that ensures Greece’s place in the single currency or he decides to go it alone, faithful to the vision of his anti-austerity Syriza party. Either way, the endgame is upon him.

Thursday’s meeting of eurozone finance ministers is viewed as the last chance to clinch a deal before Athens’s already extended bailout accord expires on 30 June. “It is in his hands,” Rena Dourou, governor of the Attica district, said. “Tsipras, himself, is acutely aware of the historic weight his decision will carry.” The drama of Greece’s battle to keep bankruptcy at bay has, with the ticking of the clock, become ever darker in tone. What started out as good-tempered brinkmanship has turned increasingly sour as negotiations to release desperately needed bailout funds have repeatedly hit a wall over Athens’s failure to produce persuasive reforms.

“It is as if they work in Excel and we work in Word,” said one insider. “There just seems to be no meeting of minds.” Last week the mood became more febrile as it emerged that Eurocrats, for the first time, had debated the possibility of cash-starved Athens defaulting. The revelation came amid reports that Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, was resigned to letting Greece go. Berlin is by far the biggest contributor to the €240bn bailout propping up the near-bankrupt state. Last week, the EU council president, Donald Tusk, ratcheted up the pressure, warning: “There is no more time for gambling. The day is coming, I am afraid, that someone says the game is over.”

On Saturday Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis hit back, telling Radio 4 that he did not believe “any sensible European bureaucrat or politician” would seriously contemplate the country’s euro exit. “The reason why we are not signing up to what has been offered is because it is yet another version of the failed proposals of the past,” he said. The persistent demand of foreign lenders for pension reform, given the scale of austerity already undertaken in a country that has seen its economy shrink by more than a quarter in the past five years, was not only silly but plainly a deal-breaker, he said. “It is just the kind of proposal that one puts forward if you don’t want an agreement,” insisted the academic-turned-politician.

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Endgame, last ditch. Whatever.

Greece’s Last-Ditch Talks Aim at Agreement Before Monday (Bloomberg)

Greece and its creditors are locked in last-ditch talks, with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker trying to broker a deal over the weekend. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sent a delegation to Brussels Saturday with a new set of proposals to close differences on pensions, taxes and a primary surplus target. With positions hardening on all sides, the talks are Juncker’s last attempt to try to bring the sides to a compromise, according to a European Union official, who asked not to be identified. Representatives of the Troika are waiting in the wings to join the discussions if progress is made between Greece’s envoy and Juncker’s chief of staff and the aim is to reach an accord before markets open on Monday. Both sides are prepared to continue talks on Sunday.

European leaders have voiced growing exasperation with Greece’s brinkmanship that has pushed Europe’s most-indebted country to the edge of insolvency. Flitting between intransigence and conciliatory overtures, Tsipras has spent four months locked in an impasse with the country’s creditor institutions. The latest Greek counter-proposal is the second in June. The first was roundly dismissed. Greek stocks dropped 5.9% on Friday, with bank shares dropping 12%, as talks remained deadlocked. The yield on Greek 2017 bonds rose 137 basis points to 20.03%. US and European equities and the euro-area’s higher-yielding bonds also tumbled amid growing concern Greece will run out of time for reaching a deal to stave off default.

An attempt by Juncker to broker a compromise allowing Greece to defer €400 million of cuts in small pensions if it reduced military spending by same amount was spiked by the IMF, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung reported, citing unidentified people with knowledge of the negotiations. With a deadline for a deal looming, Merkel told Tsipras it’s time to accept the framework for financial aid. Greece’s bailout extension expires June 30 and some national parliaments need to ratify any agreement before funds can be disbursed, which narrows the window for a deal.

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Germany simply believes its own fiction.

Germany Is Bluffing On Greece (Weisbrot)

It would be nice to think that the worst features of US foreign policy have changed since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but they have not. The Cold War never really ended, at least insofar as the US is still a global empire and wants every government to put Washington’s interests ahead of those expressed by its own voters. The current hostilities with Russia add a sense of déjà vu, but they are mainly an added excuse for what would be US policy in any case. Once we take all these interests into account and where they converge, the strategy of Greece’s European partners is pretty clear: It’s all about regime change. One senior Greek official involved in the negotiations referred to it as a “slow-motion coup d’état.” And those who were paying attention could see this from the beginning.

Just 10 days after Syriza was elected the ECB cut off its main line of credit to Greece and then capped the amount that Greek banks could lend to the government. All the hype and brinkmanship destabilize the economy, and some of this is an intentional effect of European authorities’ statements and threats. But the direct sabotage of the Greek economy is most important, and it is remarkable that it has gotten so little attention. The unannounced objective is to undermine political support for the Syriza government until it falls and get a new regime that is preferable to the European partners and the US This is the only strategy that makes sense, from their point of view. They will try to give Greece enough oxygen to avoid default and exit, which they really don’t want, but not enough for an economic recovery, which they also don’t want.

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Thai is getting Brussels scared. “Madrid and Barcelona for the first time are not going be governed by political parties, but by coalitions made up of social movements..”

Spain Swears In Leftist Mayors for Madrid, Barcelona in Historic Turn (AP)

Spain’s biggest cities — Madrid and Barcelona — completed one of the nation’s biggest political upheavals in years Saturday by swearing in far-left mayors. The radical leaders have promised to cut their own salaries, halt homeowner evictions and eliminate perks enjoyed by the rich and famous. The landmark changes came three weeks after Spain’s two largest traditional parties were punished in nationwide local elections by voters groaning under the weight of austerity measures and repulsed by a string of corruption scandals. In Madrid, 71-year-old retired judge Manuela Carmena was sworn in to cheers from jubilant leftists who crowded the streets outside city hall shouting “Yes We Can!” as they ended 24 years of city rule by the conservative Popular Party, which runs the national government.

“We want to lead by listening to people who don’t use fancy titles to address us,” Carmena said after being voted in as mayor by a majority of Madrid’s new city councilors. Carmena has vowed among other things to take on wealthy Madrilenos who enjoy exclusive use of the city-owned Club de Campo country club — opening it up to the masses. “We’re creating a new kind of politics that doesn’t fit within the conventions,” she said before being voted in. “Get ready.” In Barcelona, anti-eviction activist Ada Colau was later sworn in as the city’s first female mayor. Smiling broadly, Colau took possession of the city’s mayoral sash and scepter before thanking voters and her coalition partners. “Thank you for making possible something that had seemed impossible,” she said.

Colau has questioned whether it’s worth spending €4 million of city money to help host the glitzy Formula 1 race every other year. She thinks the funds would be better spent on free meals for needy children at public schools. Carmena and Colau ran for office as leaders of leftist coalitions supported by the new pro-worker and anti-establishment Podemos party formed last year. It is led by the pony-tailed college professor Pablo Iglesias, a big supporter of Greece’s governing far-left Syriza Party. Iglesias smiled from a balcony inside Madrid’s city hall as he watched Carmena being sworn in, then pumped his arm into the air with a clenched fist as he celebrated the victory with others on the streets.

The left’s takeover of Madrid, Iglesias said, is the goal his party has nationally for general elections that must be called by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy by the end of the year. “Our principal objective is to beat the Popular Party in the general elections,” he said. The political fragmentation propelling Carmena and Colau into office marks a historic moment in Spanish politics, said Manuel Martin Algarra at the University of Navarra. “Madrid and Barcelona for the first time are not going be governed by political parties, but by coalitions made up of social movements,” he said.

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“Just as with drugs, the abuser must increase the dosage to feel the same high and spend accordingly.”

Why Keynesian Voodoo Doesn’t Work Anymore (Bawerk)

Keynesian policy of manipulating economic “aggregates” through countercyclical macro-measures appeared to work when balance sheets were not stretched to the brink. As we wrote in “Goebbelnomics”

“If collective exuberance and apathy is the sole cause of the business cycle, then it logically follows that human emotions need to be manipulated accordingly. Only by doing so can policymakers smooth out the ups and downs in economic activity. And what better way to do that then to change the money supplied to the general public.”

While people called this the “most sickening article ever written” it is unfortunately what economics has come down to. Through fractional reserve banking and a central bank freed from the shackles of a barbarous relic, the money supply can be expanded without limit…or at least as long as the greater populace voluntarily will leverage up their balance sheets to buy stuff and simultaneously agree to their own servitude. Nothing more than collective manipulation on a scale that would make Goebbels himself envious. The glaringly obvious result of such policies, gross capital consumption through malinvestments epitomized through a serial bubble economy, did not discourage our money masters. The best and brightest even suggest bubbles are the only remedy to what they believe is some sort of secular stagnation. Just as with drugs, the abuser must increase the dosage to feel the same high and spend accordingly.

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Many more rounds to come.

US Labor Movement’s War Against Fast-Track May Not Be Over (Guardian)

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, the main US labor federation, was uncharacteristically ebullient after the House voted down fast track on trade Friday, delivering a sharp rebuke to Barack Obama. Trumka called the vote “a marvelous contrast to the corporate money and disillusionment that normally mark American politics today”. He added that “this was truly democracy in action”, a nod to the millions of Americans who had sent emails, met with lawmakers and marched in the streets to oppose fast track and Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-nation pact that is being negotiated.

Trumka repeatedly boasted that never before had so many unions fought so vigorously on a trade issue – they fear TPP will cause job losses, push down wages and do little to increase worker protections in Asia. Labor’s threats to deny donations and campaign support to Democrats who embraced fast track pressured many lawmakers to vote against, and not risk labor’s ire. Fast-track authority would ease efforts to ratify TPP because it requires an up-or-down vote and prohibits amendments. Even while rejoicing, many fast-track foes voiced fears that the war was not over –House Republicans said they would seek to pass a re-worked bill next week. “I don’t think it’s over yet,” Tim Waters, political director of the United Steelworkers, told the Guardian.

“They’re trying to do everything they can to get this back on track.” Organized labor’s victory – one of its biggest triumphs in years – grew out of a new strategy the AFL-CIO adopted two years ago. Trumka announced that labor would henceforth seek to form broad coalitions out of recognition that it was no longer as powerful and was having a harder time securing legislation it supported. The anti-fast track coalition was immense – labor was at its heart, and it included environmental, faith, immigrant and food safety groups. The coalition spanned the Democratic base, including 2,000 groups, among them the American Civil Liberties Union, Consumers Union, the Electric Frontier Foundation, Friends of the Earth and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

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A lot more protest will be needed.

Doubts Over EU Proposals For Saving TTIP Deal (Reuters)

The European Union has more work to do, experts say, if it hopes to seal a transatlantic trade deal that has been criticized for leaving governments open to international legal action from companies affected by changes to tax and regulation. The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, is right now negotiating a trade and investment treaty with the United States – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – that it says could add €119 billion annually to Europe’s economy and €95 billion to the US economy. However the treaty faces growing opposition in Europe from politicians, labor unions and campaign groups who fear it may prevent governments from being able to ban unsafe products or tax businesses because of a provision protecting investors’ rights.

The provision referring to “fair and equitable treatment”, was introduced to treaties decades ago to allow investors to seek redress if their assets were expropriated by governments. It allows businesses to sue via international courts that do not defer to national interests and has increasingly been used to sanction governments over everything from banning chemicals, withdrawing tax breaks or writing new environmental regulations. Matthias Fekl, French minister for trade, is especially critical of the EU’s plan to include this right to sue in tribunals in the TTIP. He said in a recent interview that France would “never allow private tribunals in the pay of multinational companies to dictate the policies of sovereign states.”

But businesses and their lobby groups have told the European Commission they object to any scaling back in their ability to sue governments or any requirement they do so in national courts. In response, the EC has redrafted parts of the trade treaty to limit the circumstances under which a claim can be made. It has also proposed a new appeals process for governments and suggested new rules for selecting arbitrators – currently mainly corporate lawyers who campaigners say are biased towards corporations. It’s not a watertight solution, some say. “There are definitely some improvements but it’s not a dramatic reform,” said Lise Johnson, Head of Investment Law and Policy at Columbia University’s Center on Sustainable Investment.

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“..the real 2014 US unemployment rate was 42.9%, not 5.5%!”

The Warren Buffett Economy – Why Its Days Are Numbered-Part 4 (David Stockman)

The Fed has generated a $50 trillion financial bubble since Alan Greenspan took the helm in August 1987. After 27 years, honest price discovery has been destroyed, thereby reducing the nerve centers of capitalism – the money and capital markets – to little more than gambling casinos. Accordingly, speculative rent-seeking in the financial arena has replaced enterprenurial innovation and supply side investment and productivity as the modus operandi of the US economy. This has resulted in a severe diminution of main street growth and a massive redistribution of windfall wealth to the tiny share of households which own most of the financial assets. Warren Buffett’s $73 billion net worth is the poster boy for this untoward state of affairs.

The massive and systematic falsification of asset prices which lies at the heart of this deformation of capitalism is a direct and unavoidable consequence of monetary central planning. That is, the pursuit of Keynesian business cycle management and stimulus through central bank interest rate pegging and massive monetization of existing public debt and other securities – especially since the latter has no purpose other than to artificially goose the price of bonds and lower their yields; and also via other indirect methods of financial asset levitation such as the Greenspan/Bernanke/Yellen doctrine of wealth effects and the implicit central bank “put” which underpins the economics of buy-the-dip speculators.[..]

At the present time, there are 210 million adult Americans between the ages of 16 and 68—to take a plausible measure of the potential work force. That amounts to 420 billion potential labor hours, if we accept the convention that all adults are at least theoretically capable of holding a full-time job (2,000 hours/year) and pulling their share of society’s need for production and work effort. By contrast, during 2014 only 240 billion hours were actually supplied to the US economy, according to the BLS estimates. Technically, therefore, there were 180 billion unemployed labor hours, meaning that the real unemployment rate was 42.9%, not 5.5%!

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Watch out below.

End of the Line: China and Germany Look Ready to Pop (Herry Dent)

The US stock market has finally hit a speed bump after more than six years of a Fed- and QE-driven rally. The S&P 500 is up 232% since March of 2009 despite this unprecedented stimulus in the feeblest economic recovery in history. But since late December 2014, US stocks have gone nowhere as investors face some growing realities. GDP, retail sales, production and exports are slowing. The dollar’s sharp rise in recent years has crushed global exports. Long term interest rates are rising consistently… what I call the beginning of the end of stimulus policies designed to keep rates low forever. Meanwhile, in just six months Germany saw its key stock market, the DAX, rise nearly 50% from mid-October into early April. Germany’s bubble has shot up 245% since March 2009 — greater than the US, despite its slower economy. It won’t last! [..]

But if Germany looks bad, there’s nothing short of “terrible” to say about China! China’s stock market makes Germany’s late-stage bubble look pathetic! China saw the shortest and steepest bubble from early 2005 to late 2007, up over 500% in less than two years. Its crash into 2008 was one of the largest, down 72%. After a “dead” market from 2010 into mid-2014, China’s stocks have literally exploded again… up 159% in a straight shot in one year while its economy and exports have continued to slow! A 48% late-stage bubble in Germany unwarranted by its demographics… 159% in China despite its weakening economy.

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Dismantle the IMF along with NATO.

IMF Says It Will Continue To Back Ukraine (DW)

The IMF stated that it can continue backing Ukraine amid stalled negotiations between Kyiv and its private creditors. Christine Lagarde, head of the Washington-based crisis lender, which had launched a four-year loan program of $17.5 billion (15.6 billion euros) in March for Ukraine’s government, said that the IMF was still encouraging a settlement in the debt talks, while highlighting that there were backup options in place. “But in the event that a negotiated settlement with private creditors is not reached and the country determines that it cannot service its debt, the fund can lend to Ukraine consistent with its lending-into-arrears policy,” Lagarde explained. “Rapid completion of the debt operation with high participation is vital for the success of the program, since Ukraine lacks the resources under the program to fully service its debts on the original terms.”

Lagarde had met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko in Washington earlier this week to discuss economic developments and implementation of economic reforms. Bloomberg Business reported that Jaresko has now been in talks with private creditors for months, seeking a write-down of its debts from creditors who had only offered delayed payments. “I believe that their program warrants the support of the international community, including the private sector, which is indispensable for the success of this program,” Lagarde said. She stressed that the IMF did not have to cut off its funding of the Ukraine government if it stopped servicing its private debts.

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Employees are counted as a liablity. Paper clips are an asset.

How One Accounting Rule Wrecked The Middle Class (Daniel Drew)

Maybe you heard your CEO say, “Our people are our greatest asset.” He’s probably lying. That’s not how he really feels about you. Despite how much management talks about “human capital” as if it were an asset, it’s not. The accounting system that the whole world uses classifies labor as an expense. Anyone who has studied accounting even briefly can see that it’s a lot of bullshit designed to appear objective. In reality, it is filled with assumptions, estimates, and sometimes, fraud. Yes, it is rule-based, but with any system, who makes the rules is often more important than the rules themselves. Accounting is the language of business, and in the mouth of a double-talking CEO, it’s just another way to promote their own interests.

One of the most insidious rules in accounting is that labor must be classified as an expense on the income statement. Actually, it should be classified as an asset on the balance sheet. The accounting profession has rigged the system against the worker. The misclassification of labor as an expense has branded every employee with a negative dollar sign. The way the accounting system defines labor causes CEOs and upper management to view employees as expendable. When profits decline, the CEO says, “It must be those damned employees dragging us down! Let’s fire a few thousand of them. That will get us on track again.”

According to current accounting rules, inanimate objects like pencils, clothing, or any type of inventory are assets, but people are expenses. The CEOs want you to believe that a pen is an asset, but a person with knowledge, skills, and experience is an expense, something that should be avoided. This is actually what they teach business students in school all around the world, and the students just accept it as fact. Have we all gone insane? We are being held captive by dumbass accountants and shrewd CEOs who realize the whole system is rigged in their favor. The proper way to account for labor would be to classify it as an asset on the balance sheet.

The employee would be valued with mark to market accounting at every reporting period, and the value would be determined by calculating the profit per employee, the average tenure, and the net present value of this amount. This would accurately account for the true value of labor. If this rule were implemented, balance sheets would be dramatically altered. Some companies that appeared valuable before might look like complete garbage. Other companies would prove to be much more valuable than previously thought.

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Here’s wondering how recent this is.

Britain Pulls Out Spies As Russia, China Crack Snowden Files (Reuters)

Britain has pulled out agents from live operations in “hostile countries” after Russia and China cracked top-secret information contained in files leaked by former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, the Sunday Times reported. Security service MI6, which operates overseas and is tasked with defending British interests, has removed agents from certain countries, the newspaper said, citing unnamed officials at the office of British Prime Minister David Cameron, the Home Office (interior ministry) and security services.

The United States wants Snowden to stand trial after he leaked classified documents, fled the country and was eventually granted asylum in Moscow in 2013. Russia and China have both managed to crack encrypted documents which contain details of secret intelligence techniques that could allow British and American spies to be identified, the newspaper said citing officials. However an official at Cameron’s office was quoted as saying that there was “no evidence of anyone being harmed.”

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The bogeyman narrative expands.

US Is Poised to Put Heavy Weaponry in Eastern Europe (NY Times)

In a significant move to deter possible Russian aggression in Europe, the Pentagon is poised to store battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other heavy weapons for as many as 5,000 American troops in several Baltic and Eastern European countries, American and allied officials say. The proposal, if approved, would represent the first time since the end of the Cold War that the United States has stationed heavy military equipment in the newer NATO member nations in Eastern Europe that had once been part of the Soviet sphere of influence. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine have caused alarm and prompted new military planning in NATO capitals.

It would be the most prominent of a series of moves the United States and NATO have taken to bolster forces in the region and send a clear message of resolve to allies and to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, that the United States would defend the alliance’s members closest to the Russian frontier. After the expansion of NATO to include the Baltic nations in 2004, the United States and its allies avoided the permanent stationing of equipment or troops in the east as they sought varying forms of partnership with Russia. “This is a very meaningful shift in policy,” said James G. Stavridis, a retired admiral and the former supreme allied commander of NATO, now at Tufts University.

“It provides a reasonable level of reassurance to jittery allies, although nothing is as good as troops stationed full-time on the ground, of course.” The amount of equipment included in the planning is small compared with what Russia could bring to bear against the NATO nations on or near its borders, but it would serve as a credible sign of American commitment, acting as a deterrent the way that the Berlin Brigade did after the Berlin Wall crisis in 1961. “It’s like taking NATO back to the future,” said Julianne Smith, a former defense and White House official who is now a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a vice president at the consulting firm Beacon Global Strategies.

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Interesting argument.

Did Mathematician John Nash Help Invent Bitcoin? (CoinDesk)

Could John Nash, someone who had been at the forefront of mathematical and economic thought into the prospect of ‘ideal money’, be justly attributed credit for the formation of the electronic cash system of cryptocurrency? He once stated in a lecture:

“The special commodity or medium that we call money has a long and interesting history. And since we are so dependent on our use of it and so much controlled and motivated by the wish to have more of it or not to lose what we have we may become irrational in thinking about it and fail to be able to reason about it like a bout of technology, such as a radio, to be used more or less efficiently.”

Nash described the concept of ideal money as having the function of a standard of measurement and, thus, it should become comparable to the watt, the hour or a degree of temperature. He asserted an ideal form of money should provide a viable solution to the Triffin dilemma – it should serve both short-term domestic and international long-term objectives where central banking money has utterly failed (the average lifespan of a fiat currency is 27 years). Asymptotically ideal money, a concept Nash studied in depth, focuses on the fluctuations and long-term perceived value of money, where the ideal inflation rate is as close to zero as possible, without being negative (deflation). Currently, this accurately describes the economic nature of bitcoin, as it is a disinflationary money supply by design – that is, it is decreasing in its inflationary nature by halving the block reward (and new currency issuance rate) at regular intervals.

The inflation rate of bitcoin asymptotically approaches zero as we inch closer to the currency limit of 21 million units. Nash described this ideal of money as something which could provide a global savings outlet for people who would otherwise be subject to ‘bad money’, or money expected to lose value over time under conditions of inflation among other things. In a paper published in the Southern Economic Journal, Nash described a nonpolitical value standard for comparisons of value, asserting that an industrial consumption price index could be “appropriately readjusted depending on how patterns of international trade would actually evolve”. Moreover, Nash described how actors that were in control of this standard could corrupt this continuity, yet the probability of damages through corruption would be as small as the probability of politicians altering the measurements of meters and kilometers.

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And for the subsidies to pay for it.

Elon Musk Asks Permission To Put 4,000 Internet Satellites Into Orbit (Ind.)

Elon Musk has asked the government to let his private space travel company, SpaceX, put 4,000 satellites into orbit to provide internet for the earth. The PayPal founder hopes that the satellites could take on conventional internet companies by sending internet signals across the globe, allowing it to provide cheap and fast internet even to places that have traditionally struggled to get connected. It hopes to find success by both taking customers from existing internet service providers as well as getting the billions of people that can’t get online onto the internet. Musk has moved forward with the project by filing with the US Federal Communications Commission to ask to be given permission put the satellites into space.

It was first mooted at the beginning of the year, but the submission was made public by the Washington Post. The filing asks to start testing the satellites next year, according to the newspaper. After that, the service could be working in about five years. In the tests, Musk would send the satellites up on a Falcon 9 rocket, made by SpaceX. They would communicate with ground stations in the US, and establish whether those connections would be enough to send information from the ground to the satellites with enough speed and consistency to work for internet connections.

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Always over-promise.

High-Tech Solar Projects Fail To Deliver (WSJ)

Some costly high-tech solar power projects aren’t living up to promises their backers made about how much electricity they could generate. Solar-thermal technology, which uses mirrors to capture the sun’s rays, was once heralded as the advance that would overtake old fashioned solar panel farms. But a series of missteps and technical difficulties threatens to make newfangled solar-thermal technology obsolete. The $2.2 billion Ivanpah solar power project in California’s Mojave Desert is supposed to be generating more than a million megawatt-hours of electricity each year. But 15 months after starting up, the plant is producing just 40% of that, according to data from the US Energy Department.

The sprawling facility uses “power towers”–huge pillars surrounded by more than 170,000 mirrors, each bigger than a king-size bed–to capture the sun’s rays and create steam. That steam is used to generate electricity. Built by BrightSource and operated by NRG Energy, Ivanpah has been advertised as more reliable than a traditional solar panel farm, in part, because it more closely resembles conventional power plants that burn coal or natural gas. Turns out, there is a lot more to go wrong with the new technology. Replacing broken equipment and learning better ways to operate the complex assortment of machinery has stalled Ivanpah’s ability to reach full potential, said Randy Hickok, a senior vice president at NRG.

New solar-thermal technology isn’t as simple as traditional solar panel installations. Since older solar photovoltaic panels have been around for decades, they improve in efficiency and price every year, he said. “There’s a lot more on-the-job learning with Ivanpah,” Mr. Hickok said, adding that engineers have had to fix leaky tubes connected to water boilers and contend with a vibrating steam turbine that threatened nearby equipment.

One big miscalculation was that the power plant requires far more steam to run smoothly and efficiently than originally thought, according to a document filed with the California Energy Commission. Instead of ramping up the plant each day before sunrise by burning one hour’s worth of natural gas to generate steam, Ivanpah needs more than four times that much help from fossil fuels to get plant humming every morning. Another unexpected problem: not enough sun. Weather predictions for the area underestimated the amount of cloud cover that has blanketed Ivanpah since it went into service in 2013.

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May 252015
 
 May 25, 2015  Posted by at 10:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle May 25 2015
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Harris&Ewing District National Bank, Washington, DC 1931

Memorial Day: Our Soldiers Died For The Profits Of The Bankers (Smedley Butler)
Europe’s Biggest Debt Collector: Central Banks’ Stimulus Has Failed (Bloomberg)
“It’s A Coup D’Etat”, “Central Banks Are Out Of Control” – David Stockman (ZH)
Unemployment Is a Big Threat to Eurozone Economy, Central Bankers Warn (WSJ)
HSBC Fears World Recession With No Lifeboats Left (AEP)
Did China Just Launch World’s Biggest Spending Plan? (Gordon Chang)
G7 Finance Ministers To Address Faltering Global Growth (Reuters)
Schaeuble Expects Conflict at Dresden G-7 Over Austerity Policy (Bloomberg)
Greece Hasn’t Got The Money To Make June IMF Repayment (Reuters)
Greece’s Misery Shows We Need Chapter 11 Bankruptcy For Countries (Guardian)
Greeks Back Government’s Red Lines, But Want To Keep Euro (AFP)
The Truth About Riga (Yanis Varoufakis)
The Bloodied Idealogues vs. The Bloodthirsty Technocrats (StealthFlation)
Spain’s Ruling Party Battered In Local And Regional Elections (EUObserver)
Catalan Independence Bid Rocked by Podemos Victory in Barcelona (Bloomberg)
Auckland Nears $1 Million Average House Price (Guardian)
Monsanto’s GMO Cotton Problems Drive Indian Farmers To Suicide (RT)
‘Incredibly Diverse’, Endangered Plankton Provide Half The World’s Oxygen (SR)

Smedley Butler knew it way back in 1933.

Memorial Day: Our Soldiers Died For The Profits Of The Bankers (Smedley Butler)

Memorial Day commemorates soldiers killed in war. We are told that the war dead died for us and our freedom. US Marine General Smedley Butler challenged this view. He said that our soldiers died for the profits of the bankers, Wall Street, Standard Oil, and the United Fruit Company. Here is an excerpt from a speech that he gave in 1933:

“War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses. I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we’ll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6% over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100%. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag. I wouldn’t go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.

There isn’t a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its “finger men” to point out enemies, its “muscle men” to destroy enemies, its “brain men” to plan war preparations, and a “Big Boss” Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism. It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”

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“A rate that is too low, or a rate that many of us have never experienced, is so extraordinary that it doesn’t create any stability or faith in the future at all..”

Europe’s Biggest Debt Collector: Central Banks’ Stimulus Has Failed (Bloomberg)

The head of Europe’s biggest debt collector says the historic wave of stimulus spilling out of central banks has failed to fuel investment growth. Lars Wollung, the chief executive officer of Intrum Justitia AB, warned that record-low interest rates “don’t seem to lead to investments that create jobs,” in an interview in Stockholm. “A rate that is too low, or a rate that many of us have never experienced, is so extraordinary that it doesn’t create any stability or faith in the future at all,” he said. “Rather the opposite: one feels insecure and waits with expansion plans and to hire more people.” The comments mark a blow to central banks who have resorted to everything from negative rates to bond purchases to aid growth.

A study by Intrum Justitia shows 73% of the almost 9,000 European firms surveyed between February and April said low interest rates brought about “no change in investments.” Some even reported a decline. In Sweden, where the central bank’s main rate is minus 0.25%, 82% of companies said it made no difference to their investments. What companies need if they’re “to believe in the future” is certainty that their bills will be paid, Wollung said. That means clearer payments legislation and more incentives for borrowers to repay their debts on time, he said. Intrum Justitia has devoted resources to lobbying officials in Brussels in an effort to bring across its point, Wollung said.

In Germany and Scandinavia, where companies and borrowers can refer to clear and robust legal systems, unemployment is low and economic growth strong, he said. A German firm waits 17 days on average to get paid by a client company. In Italy, it takes 80 days, Intrum figures show. The survey indicates that about 8 million European companies would hire more people if they got their payments faster. “Late payments are a significant problem for companies,” Wollung said. Having a stable cash flow is “probably more important than if interest rates are at 1% or 0.5%,” he said.

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No holds barred.

“It’s A Coup D’Etat”, “Central Banks Are Out Of Control” – David Stockman (ZH)

We’re all about to be taken to the woodshed, warns David Stockman in this excellent interview. The huge wealth disparity is “not because of some flaw in capitalism, or Reagan tax cuts, or even the greed of Wall Street; the problem is central banks that are out of control.” Simply put, they have “syphoned financial resources into pure gambling” and the people that own the stocks and bonds get the huge financial windfall. “The 10% at the top own 85% of the financial assets,” and thus, thanks to the unleashing of almost limitless money-printing, which has created a massive worldwide financial inflation, “the central banks have created and exaggerated the wealth gap.” Stockman concludes, rather ominously,

“it’s a coup d’etat, the central banks have taken over – unconstitutional domination of the entire economy.” “Everywhere, misleading distorted signals are being given to both public and private sector players about financial values… the prices have been falsified by The Fed. We can’t print our way to prosperity… The Fed is now petrified that Wall Street will have a hissy-fit when they tighten.”

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Well, they caused it.

Unemployment Is a Big Threat to Eurozone Economy, Central Bankers Warn (WSJ)

High and divergent unemployment rates in Europe pose a serious threat to the region’s long-term economic health, central bankers and economists warned during a weekend conference held by the European Central Bank. But they stopped short of offering specific advice on the best steps to take. The ECB’s seminar, the second of what it plans as an annual conference in the resort town of Sintra on Portugal’s western coast, brought together central bankers and economists from Europe, the U.S. and Asia to examine the root causes of high unemployment and persistently weak inflation in Europe. The attendees dwelled extensively on an economic concept known as “hysteresis,” a reduction in economic output brought on by weak growth that gives rise to long-term unemployment.

The remedies to such problems, however, lie partly with fiscal-policy officials and not central bankers, who don’t set labor and other economic policies. The conference largely lacked representatives from finance ministries and businesses. But ECB President Mario Draghi signaled that the stakes were too high for central bankers to keep silent, particularly in the 19-member eurozone, where diverse countries ranging from powerful Germany to recession-ravaged Greece set their own economic and fiscal policies but share a single currency and monetary policy. “In a monetary union you can’t afford having large and increasing structural divergences between countries,” Mr. Draghi said on Saturday. “They tend to become explosive; therefore they are going to threaten the existence of the monetary union.”

The eurozone is the world’s second-biggest economy after the U.S. But in recent years it has emerged as one of the global economy’s main trouble spots, having struggled through a pair of recessions since 2009 that pushed the bloc’s unemployment rate into double digits. The region has started to recover, but the damage has resulted in huge gaps in unemployment across the eurozone. “Unemployment in Europe, notably youth unemployment, is not only unbearably high. It is also unbearably different across nations belonging to an economic and monetary union,” Tito Boeri, professor at Bocconi University, and Juan Jimeno of the Bank of Spain wrote in a conference paper.

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“JP Morgan estimates that the US economy contracted at a rate of 1.1pc in the first quarter..” “China accounted for 85pc of all global growth in 2012, 54pc in 2013, and 30pc in 2014. This is likely to fall to 24pc this year.”

HSBC Fears World Recession With No Lifeboats Left (AEP)

The world economy is disturbingly close to stall speed. The United Nations has cut its global growth forecast for this year to 2.8pc, the latest of the multinational bodies to retreat. We are not yet in the danger zone but this pace is only slightly above the 2.5pc rate that used to be regarded as a recession for the international system as a whole. It leaves a thin safety buffer against any economic shock – most potently if China abandons its crawling dollar peg and resorts to ‘beggar-thy-neighbour’ policies, transmitting a further deflationary shock across the global economy. The longer this soggy patch drags on, the greater the risk that the six-year old global recovery will sputter out. While expansions do not die of old age, they do become more vulnerable to all kinds of pathologies.

A sweep of historic data by Warwick University found compelling evidence that economies are more likely to stall as they age, what is known as “positive duration dependence”. The business cycle becomes stretched. Inventories build up and companies defer spending, tipping over at a certain point into a self-feeding downturn. Stephen King from HSCB warns that the global authorities have alarmingly few tools to combat the next crunch, given that interest rates are already zero across most of the developed world, debts levels are at or near record highs, and there is little scope for fiscal stimulus. “The world economy is sailing across the ocean without any lifeboats to use in case of emergency,” he said.

In a grim report – “The World Economy’s Titanic Problem” – he says the US Federal Reserve has had to cut rates by over 500 basis points to right the ship in each of the recessions since the early 1970s. “That kind of traditional stimulus is now completely ruled out. Meanwhile, budget deficits are still uncomfortably large,” he said. The authorities are normally able to replenish their ammunition as recovery gathers steam. This time they are faced with a chronic low-growth malaise – partly due to a global ‘savings glut’, and increasingly to a slow ageing crisis across most of the Northern hemisphere. The Fed keeps having to defer its first rate rise as expectations fall short.

Each of the past four US recoveries has been weaker than the last one. The average growth rate has fallen from 4.5pc in the early 1980s to nearer 2pc this time. The US fiscal deficit has dropped to 2.8pc but is expected to climb again as pension and health care costs bite, even if the economy does well. The US cannot easily launch a fresh New Deal. Public debt was just 38pc on GDP when Franklin Roosevelt took power in 1933, and there were few contingent liabilities hanging over future US finances. “Fiscal stimulus – a novel idea at the time – may have been controversial, but the chances of it working to boost economic activity were quite high given the healthy starting position. Today, it is much more difficult to make the same argument,” he said.

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” The reason for the fall in new loans is clear. There is a fundamental lack of demand in China.”

Did China Just Launch World’s Biggest Spending Plan? (Gordon Chang)

Beijing has just initiated a round of accelerated government spending, and it will, in all probability, end up as the biggest such effort today. Wednesday, the Chinese central government announced both the allocation of 1.13 trillion yuan ($185.8 billion) for upgrading internet infrastructure and the creation of a 124.3 billion yuan fund for affordable housing. These expenditures follow Monday’s authorization of six new rail lines costing 250 billion yuan. This month, as Xinhua News Agency reports, Beijing has unveiled a “pro-growth measure” at the rate of one every two days. April was a banner month for Beijing’s spenders as well. The Ministry of Finance reported a 33.2% increase in fiscal spending compared with same month in 2014.

For the last several years, Beijing has been using fiscal stimulus in varying amounts to keep the economy humming. No one, however, thought Premier Li Keqiang, generally considered a reformer, would resort to the old-line, anti-reform tactic of massive government spending. There were two principal reasons for this belief. First, many thought Beijing had finally opted for fundamental restructuring to grow the economy. Analysts hailed the issuance of the Communist Party’s November 2013 Third Plenum decision, which promised substantial reforms, as proof of the political victory of those favoring progressive change.

Fiscal spending, on the other hand, has been considered the antithesis of reform because investment-led growth—the result of that spending—would only take China further away from the ultimate goal of reform, a consumption-based economy. Second, analysts believed just about everyone in Beijing had come to the inescapable conclusion that former Premier Wen Jiabao’s crash stimulus program, authorized in late 2008, was a huge mistake, largely because it had resulted in grossly inefficient usage of capital, large asset bubbles, and far too much debt. Yet the universally accepted view that there would be no large stimulus was premised on the assumption that the economy would respond to small-scale stimulus.

The economy, unfortunately, has not. Perhaps the most indicative statistic to come out of Beijing in recent days is that, despite all the monetary loosening since the end of last year, there were only 707.9 billion yuan of new loans in April, down from 1.18 trillion yuan in March. The reason for the fall in new loans is clear. There is a fundamental lack of demand in China.

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“..a preliminary Reuters poll last week predicted adjusted Q1 U.S. GDP numbers due on Friday would be massively revised down and show a 0.7% contraction..”

G7 Finance Ministers To Address Faltering Global Growth (Reuters)

Finance ministers from the world’s largest developed economies meet in Germany this week against a backdrop of faltering global growth, scant inflationary pressures and a bond market in turmoil. High on their agenda – even if unofficially – will be Greece and how it can stay in the troubled euro zone. Figures due on Friday from the United States that will almost certainly show the world’s biggest economy contracted last quarter are also likely to feature. “With the negotiations between Greece and the rest of the euro area at an impasse, an impatient German Chancellor Merkel has warned that an agreement must be reached before the end of the month,” said Thomas Costerg, senior economist at Standard Chartered.

Greece cannot make a payment to the IMF due on June 5 unless foreign lenders disburse more aid, a senior ruling party lawmaker said on Wednesday, the latest warning from Athens it is on the verge of default. Analysts largely agree the country’s cash squeeze is increasingly acute and fresh aid will be needed sooner or later to avoid bankruptcy. Merkel and French President Francois Hollande held talks on Thursday with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on the sidelines of a European Union summit in Riga, hoping to speed the resolution of Athens’ debt crisis. With business growth slowing in the euro zone and factory activity contracting again in China, market watchers have been looking to the United States to drive a pick-up in growth.

But a preliminary Reuters poll last week predicted that adjusted first quarter U.S. GDP numbers due on Friday would be massively revised down and show a 0.7% contraction in the first three months of this year. “The poor Q1 2015 performance follows growth of just 2.2% in Q4 2014, so there has been very little growth over the last couple of quarters,” said Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank. “As a result, market participants have started to wonder again whether the U.S. economy might be in an extended period of secular stagnation.”

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And there should be.

Schaeuble Expects Conflict at Dresden G-7 Over Austerity Policy (Bloomberg)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble expects a political tussle with his partners over austerity policy when G-7 finance ministers meet on May 27-May 29 in Dresden. Germany’s advocacy of budget cuts to heal euro-zone woes will come under attack at the meeting, Schaeuble said in a pamphlet distributed Saturday. The German government will face “demand-side” opponents of its policy in Dresden, he said without mentioning France or Italy or the U.S. “’Demand-side’ advocates will make clear in Dresden that cutting public spending leads to weaker demand for goods and services,” the minister said in a pamphlet distributed in the Dresden newspaper Saechsische Zeitung.

Germany’s position is that “solid public finance” boosts investment and growth, he said. Risks to Europe’s economic outlook stemming from the unresolved Greek crisis as well concern over the U.S. trade gap may fuse an alliance of France, Italy and the U.S. in Dresden. All three states fret that Germany’s rigorous advocacy of budget austerity may be holding back economic growth in Europe. U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew urged Germany to boost public investment to spur imports from Europe and spark a cycle of economic growth that would also benefit the U.S.

The U.S. trade gap widened in March to the biggest in more than six years while Germany in 2014 again reported a record surplus. The U.S. has also called for a quicker fix of Greece’s problems in a sign that it views Germany’s unmoving insistence that Greece fulfill bailout terms as a risk. Lew said Friday that failure to reach a deal quickly would create hardship for Greece, uncertainties for Europe and the global economy. Schaeuble remains adamant that Germany’s stance on sound budgeting is the right one, if unpopular. “Further convincing needs to be done” at Dresden, he said in his pamphlet.

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Next weekend is a holiday weekend in Greece. Fears of capital controls.

Greece Hasn’t Got The Money To Make June IMF Repayment (Reuters)

Greece cannot make debt repayments to the IMF next month unless it achieves a deal with creditors, its interior minister said on Sunday, the most explicit remarks yet from Athens about the likelihood of default if talks fail. Shut out of bond markets and with bailout aid locked, cash-strapped Athens has been scraping state coffers to meet debt obligations and to pay wages and pensions. With its future as a member of the 19-nation euro zone potentially at stake, a second government minister accused its international lenders of subjecting it to slow and calculated torture. After four months of talks with its euro zone partners and the IMF, the leftist-led government is still scrambling for a deal that could release up to 7.2 billion euros ($7.9 billion) in remaining aid to avert bankruptcy.

“The four installments for the IMF in June are €1.6 billion. This money will not be given and is not there to be given,” Interior Minister Nikos Voutsis told Greek Mega TV’s weekend show. Voutsis was asked about his concern over a ‘credit event’, a term covering scenarios like bankruptcy or default, if Athens misses a payment. “We are not seeking this, we don’t want it, it is not our strategy,” he said. “We are discussing, based on our contained optimism, that there will be a strong agreement (with lenders) so that the country will be able to breathe. This is the bet,” Voutsis said. Previously, the Athens government has said it is in danger of running out of money soon without a deal, but has insisted it still plans to make all upcoming payments.

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The unbalance of global power.

Greece’s Misery Shows We Need Chapter 11 Bankruptcy For Countries (Guardian)

Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s combative prime minister, is facing yet another week of fraught negotiations as he and his team struggle to agree a shopping list of economic reforms stringent enough to appease the country’s creditors, but different enough from the grinding austerity of the past five years to satisfy the Greek electorate. And all the while, bank deposits will leach out of the country, investment plans will remain on hold and consumers hammered by years of austerity will continue living hand to mouth. Change the actors – and the stakes – and it’s a tired plotline familiar to many governments across the world. According to Eurodad, the coalition of civil society groups that campaigns on debt, there have been 600 sovereign debt restructurings since the 1950s – with many governments, including Argentina for example, experiencing one wrenching write-off after another.

Many of these countries plunged deeper into recession as a result of the uncertainty and delay inherent in this bewildering process and the punishing austerity policies inflicted on them, with a resulting collapse in investor and consumer confidence. Argentina defaulted in 2001. Fourteen years later, it is still being pursued through the courts by so-called vulture funds, which buy distressed countries’ debts on the cheap and use every legal device they can to reclaim the money. Yet while the world’s policymakers have expended countless hours since the crisis of 2008 rewriting regulations on bonuses, mortgage lending, derivatives and too-big-to-fail banks, little attention has been paid to what should happen when a government is on the brink of financial meltdown.

Sacha Llorenti, the Bolivian ambassador to the UN, is currently touring the world’s capitals trying to change that. “We’re not just talking about a financial issue; it’s an issue related to growth, to development, to social and economic rights,” he says. The UN is not the obvious forum for discussing debt restructuring: unlike the IMF, it is not a lender of last resort with emergency cash to disburse, and doesn’t have a seat around the table when countries have to go to their creditors to ask for help. Yet also unlike the IMF, the UN general assembly is not dominated by the world’s major powers: each member country has one vote.

When Argentina tabled a motion calling for the UN to examine the issue of sovereign debt restructuring last autumn, 124 countries voted for it; 11, including the UK and the US, with their powerful financial lobbies, voted against; and there were 41 abstentions. Llorenti, who is chairing the UN “ad hoc committee” set up as a result of that vote, says the 11 countries that objected hold 45% of the voting power at the IMF. He believes they would prefer the matter to be tackled there, where they can shape the arguments: “It’s a matter of control, really.”

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Support for Syriza is still very high. But people are afraid to.

Greeks Back Government’s Red Lines, But Want To Keep Euro (AFP)

Cash-strapped Greeks remain supportive of the leftist government’s tough negotiating style, according to a new poll published Sunday, but hope for a deal with creditors that will keep the euro in their wallets. The poll conducted in May by Public Issue for the pro-government newspaper Avgi, shows 54% backing the SYRIZA-led government’s handling of the negotiations despite the tension with Greece’s international lenders. A total 59% believe Athens must not give in to demands by its creditors, with 89% against pension cuts and 81% against mass lay-offs. The SYRIZA-led government is locked in talks with the EU, ECB and the IMF to release a blocked final €7.2-billion tranche of its bailout.

In exchange for the aid, creditors are demanding Greece accept tough reforms and spending cuts that anti-austerity Syriza pledged to reject when it was elected in January. According to reports, creditors are demanding further budget cuts worth €5 billion including pension cuts and mass lay-offs. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras made clear on Saturday however that his government “won’t budge to irrational demands” that involve crossing Syriza’s campaign “red lines”. Greece faces a series of debt repayments beginning next month seen as all but impossible to meet without the blocked bailout funds. Failure to honour those payments could result in default, raising the spectre of a possible exit from the euro. That is a scenario Greeks hope to avert, with 71% of those polled wanting to keep the euro while 68% said a return to the drachma could worsen the economic situation.

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Yanies takes aim at the media.

The Truth About Riga (Yanis Varoufakis)

It was the 24th of April. The Eurogroup meeting taking place that day in Latvia was of great importance to Greece. It was the last Eurogroup meeting prior to the deadline (30th April) that we had collectively decided upon (back in the 20th February Eurogroup meeting) for an agreement on the set of reforms that Greece would implement so as to unlock, in a timely fashion, the deadlock with our creditors. During that Eurogroup meeting, which ended in disagreement, the media began to report ‘leaks’ from the room presenting to the world a preposterously false view of what was being said within. Respected journalists and venerable news media reported lies and innuendos concerning both what my colleagues allegedly said to me and also my alleged responses and my presentation of the Greek position.

The days and weeks that followed were dominated by these false stories which almost everyone (despite my steady, low-key, denials) assumed to be accurate reports. The public, under that wall of disinformation, became convinced that, during the 24th April Riga Eurogroup meeting, my fellow ministers called me insulting names (“time waster”, “gambler”, “amateur” etc. were some of the reported insults), that I lost my temper, and that, as a result, my Prime Minister later “sidelined” me from the negotiations. (It was even reported that I would not be attending the following Eurogroup meeting, or that I would be ‘supervised’ by some other ministerial colleague.) Of course none of the above was even remotely true.

My fellow ministers never, ever addressed me in anything other than collegial, polite, respectful terms.
• I did not lose my temper during that meeting, or at any other point.
• I continue to negotiate with my fellow ministers of finance, leading the Greek side at the Eurogroup.
• Then came a New York Times Magazine story which raised the possibility of a recording of that Eurogroup meeting. All of a sudden, the journalists and news media that propagated the lies and the innuendos about the 24th April Eurogroup meeting changed tack. Without a whiff of an apology for the torrent of untruths they had peddled against me for weeks, they now began to depict me as a ‘spoof’ who had “betrayed” the confidentiality of the Eurogroup.

This morning I went on the record on the Andrew Marr television show (BBC1) on this issue. I am taking this opportunity to commit the truth in writing also here – on my trusted blog. So here it goes:

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Bruno is dead on.

The Bloodied Idealogues vs. The Bloodthirsty Technocrats (StealthFlation)

On the grave Greek question, it appears that the moment of truth is finally upon us. After nearly four months of frenetic, fruitless and often feckless high level deliberations and negotiations, both sides remain essentially at an impasse, right where they started. The technocrats in Brussels want to see their austerity driven reform program carried forward and implemented unconditionally. As for the idealogues in Athens, they have pledged to put forth their own enlightened approach to rescue their sinking society. The Technocrats hold the purse strings, but the Ideologues hold the heart strings. For what it’s worth, that is typically a highly combustible combination, tick tock. With their recent cocksure bravado, are the Technocrats entirely misreading the desperate determination of the Idealogues?

Get ready for yet another Euro Summer swoon.. Everyone agrees that Greece, under a corrupt political oligarchy, grossly abused its privileges as a Eurozone member. In fact, with the help of a few sleazy sophisticated Goldman Sachs financiers, they actually cheated on their application forms in order to join the exclusive club to begin with. The illegitimate Ionian books were cooked from the get go, and it only got worse and worse over time. The self serving political elites and their self-seeking sponsors at multinational banks and corporations ran up a massive tab, while their ill-fated nation did not have the wherewithal to pay the astronomical bills. That is essentially what happened here. Oh, and the parties specifically involved all happened to personally get rather wealthy themselves along the way.

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National elections at the end of the year could reinforce the changes.

Spain’s Ruling Party Battered In Local And Regional Elections (EUObserver)

Spain took a turn towards the new left in Sunday’s regional and local elections, putting an end to the dominating two-party system. Despite having won the most votes in the elections across Spain on Sunday (24 May), Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s centre-right PP party has lost all of its absolute majorities and will now often depend on coalitions and pacts with other parties. Compromises and coalitions between parties is new in Spain where more than 30 years of alternating power between the socialists and the conservatives is being challenged by an ncreasingly fragmented political system including anti-austerity party Podemos and centrist Ciudadanos.

The biggest changes have been the move towards the new left parties in Barcelona and maybe also in Madrid – depending on a possible pact between a Podemos-supporting coalition called Ahora Madrid and the Social Democrats (PSOE). It would be the first time the Spanish capital would have a leftwing Mayor in the last 25 years. “It is clear that a majority for change has won,” said Manuela Carmena, the 71 year-old emeritus judge of the Spanish Supreme Court who wants to become Madrid’s new mayor. She is one seat short of Madrid’s former conservative Mayor Esperanza Aguirre. However, with the support of Social Democrats – who came third – the two left-wing parties could together hold the absolute majority in Madrid. Barcelona’s new Mayor Ada Colau calls for “more social justice” and leads a coalition of left-wing parties and citizens’ organisations called ‘Barcelona en Comú’, which includes members of Podemos.

“We are proud that this process hasn’t just been an exception in Barcelona, this is an unstoppable democratic revolution in Catalonia, in [Spain] and hopefully in southern Europe,” Colau said last night after it became clear that she had won a small majority in the Catalan capital. Colau, a former anti-eviction activist, was one of the founders of a platform for people affected by mortgages – Plataforma Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH) – which won the European Parliament’s European Citizens’ Prize in 2013. The PAH was set up in response to the hike in evictions caused by abusive mortgage clauses during the collapse of the Spanish property market eight years ago. Colau herself entered politics last year calling for “more and better democracy” and a clean-up of corruption in politics.

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Curious development?!

Catalan Independence Bid Rocked by Podemos Victory in Barcelona (Bloomberg)

Catalan President Artur Mas’s bid to win independence from the rest of Spain was gasping for air on Sunday as voters in Barcelona ousted his party from city hall. Voters in the regional capital picked Podemos-backed activist Ada Colau as their next mayor, as the pro-independence parties Mas is aiming to lead to an overall majority in Catalonia won 45% of the vote. The regional leader has pledged to call an early regional election this year to prove to officials in Madrid the support for leaving Spain. “Mas is in deep trouble,” said Ken Dubin, a political scientist at the Instituto de Empresa business school in Madrid and Lord Ashcroft International Business School in Cambridge, England.

Colau, 41, gained national prominence during the financial crisis leading a campaign to stop banks evicting families from their homes after they defaulted on their mortgages. She joined forces with anti-austerity party Podemos, an ally of Greece’s governing party Syriza, for her assault on city hall. Her coalition, Barcelona en Comu, won 25% of the vote and 11 representatives in the 41-seat city assembly, the Spanish Interior Ministry said on its website. CiU won 10 seats compared with 14 in 2011. Barcelona accounts for about a third of the Catalan economy and hosts all the major regional institutions. “This result adds uncertainty to the planning process because it wasn’t considered a possibility,” said Jaume Lopez, a pro-independence political scientist at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. “We will see whether that uncertainty becomes a problem.”

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So screwed…

Auckland Nears $1 Million Average House Price (Guardian)

Economists in New Zealand have expressed alarm at a housing market boom which could soon see average prices of property in the country’s largest city pass the $1m mark. In Auckland, the cost of an average domestic property has risen from $550,000 during the last property boom in 2007 to nearly $810,000 now. House prices increased at a rate of 14% last year, while the rest of the country’s index remained stable. Some houses are increasing in value by $1,000 every day while 36 suburbs in the city now have an average house value of $1m or more. And at current rates the whole city’s average will be $1m within a year-and-a-half.

The National government has in part recognised the boom and taken action for the first time to tackle what many believe is a housing crisis. It announced a multimillion dollar development plan to build affordable homes, a move added to a previously announced tax on property speculators. But some economists believe more needs to be done, and while growth is expected to slow, that will merely move the $1m mark back a month or two. Small, one–bedroom apartments are selling for $800,000 and delapidated wrecks in barely desirable suburbs are fetching more than $1m. Senior research analyst Nick Goodall of property analytics company CoreLogic said: “It is inevitable the average price in Auckland will be $1m.”

In the past 15 years housing has seen a phenomenal investment in Auckland, as huge demand and limited supply has increased prices at record levels. Expensive land, and restrictions on building new and denser housing, has seen limited new stock come on the market. And a strong economy, record net migration, especially to Auckland, and banks happy to lend money in a market with significant capital gains, has seen people paying over the top of each other. “The narrative goes because it has been good in the last 10 or 15 years, it must be good forever,” said Shamubeel Eaqub, principal economist at the Institute of Economic Research. But it is impossible for this to continue, he says. “Auckland is in a massive bubble.”

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“.. it’s 8000% more expensive than normal cotton seed. But normal cotton seed is largely unavailable to Indian farmers because of Monsanto’s control of the seed market..”

Monsanto’s GMO Cotton Problems Drive Indian Farmers To Suicide (RT)

Hundreds of thousands of farmers have died in India, after having been allegedly forced to grow GM cotton instead of traditional crops. The seeds are so expensive and demand so much more maintenance that farmers often go bankrupt and kill themselves. “Nationally, in the last 20 years 290,000 farmers have committed suicide – this as per national crimes bureau records,” agricultural scientist Dr. G. V. Ramanjaneyulu of the Center For Sustainable Agriculture told RTD, which traveled to India to learn about the issue. A number of the widows and family members of Indian farmers with whom the journalists have spoken have the same story to share: in order to cultivate the genetically modified cotton, known as Bt cotton, produced by American agricultural biotech giant Monsanto, farmers put themselves into huge debt.

However, when the crops did not pay off, they turned to pesticides to solve the problem – by drinking the poison to kill themselves. “My husband took poison. [On discovering him dead], I found papers in his pocket – he had huge debts. He had mortgaged our land, and he killed himself because of those debts,” one widow told RTD. “[He killed himself] with a bottle of pesticide… All because of the loans. He took them for the farm. He told our kids he was bankrupt,” another widow said. “He worked all day, but it was hard to make the field pay,” her daughter added. Farming GM crops in rural India requires irrigation for success. However, since rich farmers often distribute the seeds directly to the poorer ones, many smaller, less educated farmers are not aware of the special conditions Bt cotton requires to be farmed successfully.

“Bt cotton has been promoted as something that actually solves problems of Indian farmers who are cultivating cotton. But something that has been promoted as a crisis solution, creates even more problems,” agricultural scientist Kirankumar Vissa said. “There are many places where it is not suitable for cultivation. On the seed packages, Bt cotton seed companies say that it is suitable for both irrigated and non-irrigated conditions – this is basically deception of the farmers,” the scientist said, adding that Monsanto also spends huge amounts of money on advertising in India, with paid for publications not always clearly marked as such.

Saying that only Bt cotton is available in India, Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director of Organic Consumers Association, says this crop requires many inputs. “It is incredibly expensive; it’s 8,000% more expensive than normal cotton seed. But normal cotton seed is largely unavailable to Indian farmers because of Monsanto’s control of the seed market,” she told RTD, adding that India is now the fourth largest producer of genetically modified crops.

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Genetic diversity is huge.

‘Incredibly Diverse’, Endangered Plankton Provide Half The World’s Oxygen (SR)

After a three-and-a-half year, sometimes harrowing, sea voyage covering some 87,000 miles of ocean, a team of researchers from the Tara Oceans Consortium is revealing details of “the most complete description yet of planktonic organisms to date,” co-author of a study published in the journal Science, Dr. Chris Bowler from the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, told BBC News. Plankton is the term for a myriad of microscopic species that are at the ground floor of the oceans’ food chain. One type, zooplankton, gives sustenance to larger organisms, which are then consumed by larger animals, and so on. Without the tiny zooplankton, marine life could not sustain itself. Another type of plankton, called phytoplankton, produce their own food the same way plants do: through photosynthesis.

This process not only sucks up heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it produces oxygen upon which life on planet Earth depends. The researchers report collecting 35,000 samples from 210 sites around the world’s oceans. Their analyses reveal not only an astounding genetic diversity among the plankton—about 40 million genes, which is about four times more than are found in the human gut—but that these organisms contribute about 50% of all the world’s oxygen, according to report by Tech Times. “Plankton are much more than just food for the whales,” said Dr. Bowler, in a report by Reuters. “Although tiny, these organisms are a vital part of the Earth’s life support system, providing half of the oxygen generated each year on Earth by photosynthesis and lying at the base of marine food chains on which all other ocean life depends.”

But what worries scientists is that climate change and warming oceans are causing some plankton to die off, according several studies, including by researchers at two universities in the UK who published their 2013 study in the journal Nature Climate Change. This is because as oceans warm, the natural cycles of nitrogen, phosphorous, and carbon dioxide are disturbed—a disruption that negatively affects the plankton. Dr. Bowler and his team also found that many marine microorganisms are sensitive to variations in temperature, “and with changing temperatures as a result of climate change we are likely to see changes in this community,” he told the BBC. Because of the massive amount of DNA data now made available to scientists everywhere by the newly released study—only 2% so far has been analyzed, Bowler says—future research is sure to shed more light on the way marine ecosystems function.

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May 242015
 
 May 24, 2015  Posted by at 9:27 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Harris&Ewing Underwood Typewriter Co., Washington, DC 1919

Borders Closing And Banks In Retreat; Is Globalisation Dead? (Guardian)
Capitalism Is Killing America’s Morals, Our Future (Paul B. Farrell)
America Has Become a “Banana Republic Run by Wall Street Criminals” (MM)
Tsipras Reiterates Red Lines But Faces Revolt Within Syriza (Kathimerini)
Europe Said to Weigh Contingency Plans in Greece Impasse (Bloomberg)
Neither Grexit Nor A Dual Currency Will Solve Greece’s Problems (Matthes)
Hotel Contracts With A ‘Greek Default Clause’ (Kathimerini)
The Migrant Crisis on Greece’s Islands (New Yorker)
Spain’s New Political Forces Seek To Make History (DW)
Podemos Changing Spain’s Political Map (Telesur)
Eurozone Countries Should Unite For Economic Reforms: Mario Draghi (Reuters)
Structural Reforms, Inflation And Monetary Policy (Mario Draghi)
Draghi and Fischer Reject Claim Central Banks Are Too Politicised (FT)
The Other One Per Cent (Economist)
Secret Pentagon Report Reveals West Saw ISIS As Strategic Asset (Nafeez Ahmed)
Germany Won’t Comment on Reported ‘Deep Freeze’ With US Intelligence (Reuters)
Leaked Report Profiles Military, Police Members Of US Biker Gangs (Intercept)

Globalization is a times of plenty phenomenon.

Borders Closing And Banks In Retreat; Is Globalisation Dead? (Guardian)

Globalisation is under attack. It was meant to be the unstoppable economic force bringing prosperity to rich and poor alike, but that was before the financial crisis ripped up the rulebook. For the past four years, international trade flows have increased more slowly than global GDP – “an outcome unprecedented in postwar history”, as analyst Michael Pearce of Capital Economics put it in a recent note. Crisis-scarred global banks are retreating from risky cross-border lending, and multinationals are casting a sceptical eye over foreign opportunities as geopolitical tensions simmer. Populist politicians in a string of countries, not least the UK, are playing on public fears about migrant workers undermining their pay.

Global trade flows are still expanding: but they have never regained the breakneck pace of the 1990s and early 2000s. In the innocent days before the Great Recession, the dismantling of trade barriers between nation states often seemed inevitable. Yet more than 13 years after the Doha round of multilateral trade talks kicked off, with the aim of binding developing countries more closely into the international system, the idea of a global trade deal remains locked in the deep freeze. Some analysts are starting to ask: has globalisation come to a halt? The lesson many governments and companies learned from the turmoil that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers was that there are risks to being too unthinkingly exposed to the ebbs and flows of the international system.

“There’s quite a fundamental shift going on here,” says Professor Simon Evenett, an expert on trade at the University of St Gallen in Switzerland. “You can’t say it’s across the board, but there are some sectors where globalisation is in substantial retreat.” He points to steel, for example, where his recent research shows that trade flows have never returned to pre-2007 levels. “I think the direction of travel is depressing,” he says.

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“..the logic of buying and selling no longer applies to material goods alone. It increasingly governs the whole of life.”

Capitalism Is Killing America’s Morals, Our Future (Paul B. Farrell)

Yes, capitalism is working … for the Forbes Global Billionaires whose ranks swelled from 322 in 2000 to 1,826 in 2015. Billionaires control the vast majority of the world’s wealth, 67 billionaires already own half the world’s assets; by 2100 we’ll have 11 trillionaires, while American worker income has stagnated for a generation. But for the vast majority of the world, capitalism is a failure. Over a billion live on less than two dollars a day. In his “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” economist Thomas Piketty warns the inequality gap is toxic, dangerous. As global population explodes from 7 billion to 10 billion by 2050, food production will deteriorate. Pope Francis adds, “Inequality is the root of social ills,” fueling more hunger, revolutions, wars.

For years we’ve been asking: Why does the capitalist brain blindly drive down this irrational path of self-destruction? We found someone who brilliantly explains why free market capitalism is hell-bent on destroying itself and the world along with it: Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel, author of the new best seller, “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets,” and his earlier classic, “Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?” For more than three decades Sandel’s been teaching us why capitalism is undermining human morality … and why we keep denying this insanity. Why do we bargain away our moral soul? His classes number over a thousand. You can even take his course online free. He even summarized capitalism’s takeover of America’s conscience in “What Isn’t for Sale?” in the Atlantic. Listen:

“Without being fully aware of the shift, Americans have drifted from having a market economy to becoming a market society … where almost everything is up for sale … a way of life where market values seep into almost every sphere of life and sometimes crowd out or corrode important values, nonmarket values.” His course should be required for Wall Street insiders, corporate CEOs and all 95 million Main Street investors. Here’s a short synopsis:

“The years leading up to the financial crisis of 2008 were a heady time of market faith and deregulation — an era of market triumphalism,” says Sandel. “The era began in the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher proclaimed their conviction that markets, not government, held the key to prosperity and freedom.” And in the 1990s with the “market-friendly liberalism of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, who moderated but consolidated the faith that markets are the primary means for achieving the public good.”

So today, “almost everything can be bought and sold.” Today “markets, and market values, have come to govern our lives as never before. We did not arrive at this condition through any deliberate choice. It is almost as if it came upon us,” says Sandel. Over the years, “market values were coming to play a greater and greater role in social life. Economics was becoming an imperial domain. Today, the logic of buying and selling no longer applies to material goods alone. It increasingly governs the whole of life.”

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“..big banks have now paid more than $60 billion in fines over the past two years.”

America Has Become a “Banana Republic Run by Wall Street Criminals” (MM)

Wall Street criminals just won’t stop misbehaving. The latest crime was exposed Wednesday. Five of the biggest names in global finance agreed to pay billions to settle lawsuits alleging they illegally gamed the $5 trillion-a-day foreign exchange market. JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Barclays, UBS, and RBSpleaded guilty and settled for fines totaling roughly $5.7 billion. A sixth bank, Bank of America, will pay $210 million after being fined by the Fed. With this week’s settlements, big banks have now paid more than $60 billion in fines over the past two years.

“America has become a banana republic run by Wall Street criminals,” Money Morning Capital Wave Strategist Shah Gilani said on Wednesday. Of course, history dictates the fines will have no actual effect on business practices. “We all know the big banks are above the law,” Gilani said. “They are convicted, they admit their guilt (sometimes), and no one goes to jail – they just pay more fines.” Not including this week’s, just look at a few of the settlements too-big-to-fail banks have shelled out in the last five years alone:

In 2015, Deutsche Bank paid a $2.5 billion fine for manipulating benchmark interest rates.
In 2014, Credit Suisse paid $2.6 billion to the U.S. Justice Department for conspiring to aid tax evasion. It was the first financial institution in more than a decade to plead guilty to a crime.
In 2013, Bank of America, JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, and ten other banks paid $9.3 billion to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve for foreclosure abuses.
In 2013, JPMorgan paid $13 billion to the U.S. Justice Department for mortgage security fraud.
In 2012, JPMorgan, Wells Fargo & Co., Bank of America, Citigroup, and Ally Financial paid $25 billion in penalties for foreclosure abuses.
In 2012, HSBC paid $1.9 billion to U.S. authorities for shoddy money laundering regulations. It was the third time since 2003 HSBC assured the government it would correct its policies.
In 2012, UBS paid $1.5 billion and admitted it manipulated interbank lending rates.
In 2011, Bank of America paid $8.5 billion to mortgage bond holders related to Countrywide.

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Resistance will grow.

Tsipras Reiterates Red Lines But Faces Revolt Within Syriza (Kathimerini)

After a busy week of talks with European leaders aimed at securing support for a deal for Greece, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras faces challenges on the home front amid tensions with SYRIZA over the terms such an agreement would entail. In a speech to his party’s central committee on Saturday, Tsipras said Greece is “in the final stretch of negotiations” and is ready to accept a “viable agreement” with its creditors but not on “humiliating terms.” He ruled out submitting to irrational demands on value-added tax rates and further labor reform, and called on lenders to make “necessary concessions.” “We have made concessions but we also have red lines,” he said, claiming that some foreign officials were counting on the talks failing.

Although Tsipras reiterated his commitment to the party’s so-called red lines in negotiations, pressure from within SYRIZA not to capitulate to creditors has grown amid rumors that a deal is in the works. In particular, members of the radical Left Platform led by Energy Minister Panayiotis Lafazanis have refused to approve any deal that departs from the party’s pre-election promises. The faction has been working on a counter-proposal for alternative sources of funding. Tsipras and other front-line cabinet members, meanwhile, remain focused on a deal by early June when the country’s next debt repayment to its creditors is due.

But as negotiations continue to drag, sources suggest that the likeliest scenario is a two-stage deal despite Tsipras’s recent insistence on the need for a “comprehensive agreement.” The two-stage deal would comprise an initial agreement that would unlock a portion of rescue loans in exchange for some reforms, most likely tax increases, to keep the country solvent; the second part of the deal would tackle the thorny issues of pension and labor sector reform.

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“The problem is that Alexis Tsipras is riding a scooter and Wolfgang Schaeuble is driving an armored BMW.”

Europe Said to Weigh Contingency Plans in Greece Impasse (Bloomberg)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble raised the possibility that Greece may need a parallel currency and European officials are making contingency plans for the Greek banking system as talks on unlocking aid remain stuck. Schaeuble mentioned the idea of parallel currencies at a recent meeting without endorsing it, according to two people who attended. The European Commission is looking at how to manage the possible failure of Greek financial firms and other events that may cause investor losses, two other people said. With Greece’s final €7.2 billion bailout installment on hold, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s latest attempt to bypass finance ministers and secure a political deal failed on Friday.

As Greece faces payment deadlines in the next two weeks, some European policy makers are preparing for the worst while upholding the goal of keeping Greece in the euro. “We need to have the strongest and most complete agreement possible now to secure and facilitate talks for the next deadlines,” French President Francois Hollande said Friday in Riga, Latvia, after he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Tsipras. Merkel said there’s “a whole lot to do.” Merkel and Hollande this week gave Tsipras until the end of May to reach a deal to free up aid in return for policy changes demanded by Greece’s creditor. As time runs short, his government has to pay monthly salaries and pensions by next Friday and repay about €300 million to the IMF a week later.

Negotiators from Greece and its creditors are continuing technical talks in the so-called Brussels Group “over the coming days in order to accelerate progress,” European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said in Brussels on Friday. While Merkel and Schaeuble say they want to keep Greece in the 19-nation currency union, the finance minister has also said he wouldn’t rule out a Greek exit. Germany is “ready to take this brinkmanship very far,” with Schaeuble in the role of “attack dog,” Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said by phone. “We’re in this game of chicken. The problem is that Alexis Tsipras is riding a scooter and Wolfgang Schaeuble is driving an armored BMW.”

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No matter what happens, it won’t be easy. Not for Greece and not for Eruope.

Neither Grexit Nor A Dual Currency Will Solve Greece’s Problems (Matthes)

A Grexit or the introduction of a dual currency is not a solution to Greece’s problems. On the contrary, it would be a worst-case scenario for Greece in the short term. Only in the medium to longer term, the resulting devaluation and improvement of price competitiveness would help businesses active in the export and import substitution sectors. For the euro area, a Grexit or dual currency would be a signal that the currency union is not made forever, even if the situation is much different from 2010-2012 as contagion effects to other euro periphery countries hardly exist today. The negative short-term impact from a Grexit or from a dual currency would push the Greek economy into a very deep crisis and lead to further impoverishment.

The Greek financial sector, which is already rather weak, would be severely affected, particularly by further withdrawals of euros from bank accounts in the course of bank runs (among other aspects). Capital controls can only partly stop this from happening. The problems of the financial sector would lead to a further drying up of credit supply and the danger of bank insolvencies. The risk of insolvency would go much beyond the banking sector and also include businesses and particularly the state. All private and public economic actors with sizeable debts in euros and under foreign law (debt which could not be converted to the new or dual currency) would suffer from higher debt counted in the dual or new currency. This is so because the dual or new currency would devaluate to a large degree versus the euro.

Imagine the balance sheet of a bank or of a company with significant euro debts under foreign law: These liabilities would remain in euro but significant parts of the assets would be converted to the dual or new currency, which then devaluates. This would cut a deep hole in the balance sheet and could well lead to insolvency. A government default is most likely, because foreign debts would remain to a large extent in euros but tax revenues would increasingly come from the new or dual currency. Insolvencies and the drying up of credit supply would lead to a significant rise in unemployment, costing even more people their job. A government default could mean that public wages and pensions cannot be paid for a certain period of time or only in the new weak currency. Moreover, the fiscal problems would further aggravate the state of the economy and of banks that hold government bonds.

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Thank the troika.

Hotel Contracts With A ‘Greek Default Clause’ (Kathimerini)

After the drachma clauses seen in tourism contracts, foreign tour operators are now forcing hoteliers in Greece to sign contracts with a Greek default clause. Foreign organizers of international conferences have been introducing default clauses to contracts forcing the non-payment of compensation in case the country defaults and they decide to cancel their events. That clause is reminiscent of insurance contracts which stop short of providing for compensation in case of natural disasters, acts of terrorism etc. Kathimerini understands that already one conference organizer, who is to hold an event in this country with the participation of foreign delegates next month, has imposed a “default clause” on the hotel enterprise in order to sign a contract, sparing him from having to pay compensation for canceling the event if Greece defaults.

In the next couple of months hoteliers will, as usual, also have to sign the bulk of their 2016 contracts with representatives of foreign tour operators. Some operators have already told Greek hoteliers that they require extra safety clauses in case the country drops out of the eurozone. Furthermore, the financial terms of contracts will depend on the planned value-added tax hikes on tourism. Hoteliers wonder on what terms they will be asked to sign the contracts, to what extent they can impose price hikes on tour operators and how they will retain their rates competitive in comparison with the hotel rates of other countries such as Turkey, Spain etc.

Representatives of tourism associations estimate that in the event more taxes are introduced, small and medium-sized hotel enterprises – which account for the majority of the country’s accommodation capacity – will see their negotiating position weakened against their foreign clients. The possibility of a VAT hike in Greece has also generated interest in the country’s rivals. A Lesvos hotelier reported that Turkish peers keep asking about any news on a VAT increase on Greek tourism for 2016, saying that a significant price increase on the Greek tourism package would signify a direct advantage for the neighboring country’s tourism market.

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A comprehensive EU approach? Not going to happen.

The Migrant Crisis on Greece’s Islands (New Yorker)

Greece, like Italy and Malta, has long been an entry point into the European Union for refugees and economic migrants making the journey by sea. This year, the Greek government expects a massive wave of migrants on the Aegean islands and Crete, fuelled by the protracted war in Syria. The Eastern Mediterranean route is not as deadly for migrants: thirty-one people are known to have drowned in the Aegean Sea this year, compared with an estimated eighteen hundred in the Central Mediterranean, according to figures from the International Organization for Migration. But the number of people arriving in Greece this year rivals the number of those coming to Italy: The I.O.M. says that at least 30,400 migrants have arrived in Greece as of May 12th, compared with thirty-four hundred in all of 2014.

At least 35,100 have arrived this year in Italy. Southern European countries have often felt poorly served by the Dublin Regulation, which dictates that the E.U. nations where migrants first arrive are ultimately responsible for them. Camino Mortera-Martinez and Rem Korteweg of the Centre for European Reform say that a deep divide between Northern and Southern E.U. states has resulted. “Northern member states want an asylum policy that keeps migrants in the South but treats them humanely,” they wrote recently, “while Southern member-states want the North to share the burden by accepting more migrants. The Mediterranean refugee crisis shows that this system is unsustainable.”

What’s also unsustainable, according to Eugenio Ambrosi, who directs the I.O.M.’s regional office for the European Union, Norway, and Switzerland, is the fact that migration has become an electoral issue “easily manipulated by populists who know that fear wins votes.” E.U. politicians have dithered on drafting a common migration and asylum policy because they’re worried about how voters will react. “There’s this attitude of: if your neighbor’s house is on fire, you watch and hope somebody else takes care of them so you don’t have to feed them and give them a blanket,” he said.

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Ciudadanos is taking votes away from Podemos.

Spain’s New Political Forces Seek To Make History (DW)

Outside a municipal sports building in Alcala de Henares, a small city east of Madrid, crowds are gathering and clusters of balloons are bobbing in the breeze. Just ahead of local elections across Spain, supporters of the new party, Ciudadanos, or “Citizens,” are in high spirits, believing that its phenomenal rise in recent months will soon make it one of the country’s most prominent political forces. Inside, a few minutes later, the party’s 35-year-old leader, Albert Rivera, bounds onto the stage to deliver a powerful message to his electoral rivals. “Some don’t understand what is happening in Spain – we’re not just facing an election day, we’re facing a new era,” he says.

“Whoever can’t understand that isn’t capable of leading the change. Spain is not doing well, it’s only doing well for a few.” This promise by a generation of young Spanish politicians to deliver a “new era” has already altered the country’s political landscape. But on Sunday, when elections are held for control of town and city halls across Spain and for 13 of its 17 regional parliaments, the political map is expected to be drastically redrawn. For the last three-and-a-half decades, the conservative Popular Party (PP) and the Socialists have dominated Spanish politics in a rigid two-party system. But the recent economic crisis and a torrent of corruption scandals have threatened to break that duopoly for the first time in Spain’s democratic period.

Ciudadanos and another new party with a young leadership, Podemos, or “We Can” in Spanish, are the beneficiaries of Spaniards’ disenchantment with the status quo and national polls show them in a four-way virtual tie with the PP and the Socialists. “This election represents a revolution because we’re going to go from having just two parties which are capable of governing, to having a political map on which there are four parties, all of which are capable of governing,” says Jose Ignacio Torreblanca, a political scientist who recently published a book about Podemos.

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Elections today.

Podemos Changing Spain’s Political Map (Telesur)

Pablo Iglesias, leader of the new left-wing party Podemos, says his movement has already “contributed to changing the Spanish political map. We can say that we have made irreversible changes. Nothing will ever be the same again.” Iglesias describes Podemos as a response to a “regime crisis,” in Spain in the aftermath of the global economic crisis and deep austerity politics and that Podemos was born out of “enormous frustration with the economic and political elites, He explained that the rise of Latin American left governments over the past decade represented a “fundamental reference” to the party, but one that cannot be easily reproduced.

While in the beginning, Podemos leaders believed that “a ‘Latin-Americanization’ of Southern Europe” was occurring, reality soon showed that European states were “very strong” meaning “the possibility of transformation |was| very limited.” In Iglesias’ opinion, this difficulty in creating such change explains why the party’s number two, Juan Carlos Monedero, recently resigned from the leadership. But he stressed the important role that social movement have in creating change, explaining that “these social movements allow |the party leaders| to go further, politically, in |their| demands,” referring to the movements against evictions in Spain, for example, or the movements defending education and public health. He added that criticism was a positive pattern inside the party, yet stressing that his leadership was backed by a great consensus.

Regarding differences with the situation in Greece, where the leftist Syriza now forms the government, Iglesias highlighted that because the economic crisis hit Greece much harder than in Spain, “the weakness of the state and the forces in power in Greece were greater,” making it easier for Syriza to make gains. He believes that the political and media establishment feared even more the rise of Podemos than Syriza because of Spain’s greater economic weight.

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See below for link to the text of Draghi’s address.

Eurozone Countries Should Unite For Economic Reforms: Mario Draghi (Reuters)

ECB President Mario Draghi has urged euro zone countries to unite in the task of reforming the bloc’s economies, saying sharing sovereignty was an opportunity and not a threat. Draghi is pushing governments not to waste the time ECB money printing has bought them. Saturday’s appeal to indebted countries to clean up their finances came the day after he warned growth would remain low in the face of unemployment and low investment. In a message read to attendees at a conference in Rome, he said countries should act quickly on recommendations the central bank has made to complete economic and monetary union, many of which have not been carried out.

“The current situation in the euro area demonstrates that this delay could be dangerous,” Draghi said, according to a text of the address released by the ECB, while acknowledging progress had been made, for example with banking union. But private risks need to be shared within the euro zone, with financial integration improving access to credit for companies and leading to a complete capital markets union, Draghi said. Draghi called for stricter and more transparent adherence to existing budgetary rules to help close the gaps among member states in employment, growth and productivity, but said this alone would not be enough.

Countries should observe common standards when implementing structural reforms but also take a country-specific approach, as part of a process of “convergence in the capacity of our economies to resist shocks and grow together”. Thirdly, Draghi said the euro zone should ask whether it had done enough to safeguard the possibility of using budgetary policy to counter the economic cycle, concluding: “I think not.” Many European countries realised only after the debt crisis exploded that their sovereign right to choose their own economic policy would be limited in the monetary union, Draghi said. But working to ensure long-term stability meant sharing control, Draghi said. “What can appear to be a threat is actually an opportunity,” he said.

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Full speech with graphs etc.

Structural Reforms, Inflation And Monetary Policy (Mario Draghi)

Structural and cyclical policies – including monetary policy – are heavily interdependent. Structural reforms increase both potential output and the resilience of the economy to shocks. This makes structural reforms relevant for any central bank, but especially in a monetary union. For members of monetary union resilience is crucial to avoid that shocks lead to consistently higher unemployment, and over time, permanent economic divergence. It therefore has direct implications for price stability, and is no less relevant for the integrity of the euro area. This is why the ECB has frequently called for stronger common governance of structural reforms that would make resilience part of our common DNA.

Structural reforms are equally important for their effect on growth. Potential growth is today estimated to be below 1% in the euro area and is projected to remain well below pre-crisis growth rates. This would mean that a significant share of the economic losses in the crisis would become permanent, with structural unemployment staying above 10% and youth unemployment elevated. It would also make it harder to work through the debt overhang still present in some countries. Finally, low potential growth can have a direct impact on the tools available to monetary policy, as it increases the likelihood that the central bank runs into the lower bound and has to resort recurrently to unconventional policies to meet its mandate.

But the euro area’s weak long-term performance also provides an opportunity. Since many economies are distant from the frontier of best practice, the gains from structural reforms are easier to achieve and the potential magnitude of those gains is greater. There is a large untapped potential in the euro area for substantially higher output, employment and welfare. And the fact that monetary policy is today at the lower bound, and the recovery still fragile, is not, as some argue, a reason for reforms to be delayed.

This is because the short-term costs and benefits of reforms depend critically on how they are implemented. If structural reforms are credible, their positive effects can be felt quickly even in a weak demand environment. The same is true if the type of reforms is carefully chosen. And our accommodative monetary policy means that the benefits of reforms will materialise faster, creating the ideal conditions for them to succeed. It is the combination of these demand and supply policies that will deliver lasting stability and prosperity.

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Independence is not a matter of interpretation, gentlemen.

Draghi and Fischer Reject Claim Central Banks Are Too Politicised (FT)

Two of the world’s most senior central bankers have hit back at charges that they have become too politicised, saying their calls for governments to take more aggressive steps to steer their economies towards a full recovery were necessary. Mario Draghi, the president of the ECB, and Stanley Fischer, the US Federal Reserve’s vice-chair, also disputed the idea that unelected technocrats should refrain from commenting on governments’ economic policies. The remarks, at the ECB’s annual conference in Sintra, came after Mr Draghi on Thursday called on lawmakers in the eurozone to implement politically unpopular structural reforms, or face years of weak economic growth. The ECB president on Saturday said his calls were appropriate in a monetary union where growth prospects had been badly damaged by governments’ resistance to economic reforms.

Mr Draghi said it was the central bank’s responsibility to comment if governments’ inaction on structural reforms was creating divergence in growth and unemployment within the eurozone, which undermined the existence of the currency area. “In a monetary union you can’t afford to have large and increasing structural divergences,” the ECB president said. “They tend to become explosive.” Mr Draghi’s defence of the central bank came after Paul De Grauwe, an academic at the London School of Economics, challenged his calls for structural reforms earlier in the week. Mr De Grauwe said central banks’ push for governments to take steps that removed people’s job protection would expose monetary policy makers to criticism over their independence to set interest rates.

The ECB president said central banks had a long tradition of commenting on governments’ economic policies, and that they had been right to speak out against wage indexation in the 1970s and fiscal excesses in earlier decades. He said central banks had been wrong to keep quiet on the deregulation of the financial sector. “We all wish central bankers had spoken out more when regulation was dismantled before the crisis,” Mr Draghi said. A lack of structural reform was having much more of an impact on poor European growth than in the US, he added. Mr Fischer said central bankers should think about structural reforms “in the context of what’s the expected growth rate in the economy”. The Fed vice-chair said it was appropriate for monetary policy makers to comment on spending in infrastructure and education because of the impact it had on US growth.

“There is general agreement that US infrastructure could do with a lot of investment. You just have to go on trains in the US or Europe to figure that out,” Mr Fischer told the audience of top academics and policy makers in Sintra on Saturday. He acknowledged there were limits on what was appropriate, saying he would “never talk about whether the defence budget was appropriate”. The passing of the Dodd-Frank Act was a “very massive change in the structure of the financial sector” and was “very important for financial stability going ahead”. Haruhiko Kuroda, the governor of the Bank of Japan who joined Mr Draghi and Mr Fischer on the panel, said he expected inflation to reach 2% around the first half of the 2016 fiscal year.

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Waht makes India’s expats so successful? Provided, of course, that you see income levels as the measure of success.

The Other One Per Cent (Economist)

Part of the secret of China’s success in the past four decades or so has been the clever use of its diaspora. Chinese manufacturers in Hong Kong who had long supplied American partners moved to the mainland and set up factories. Chinese nationals who succeeded abroad brought home trusted contacts, networks, experience, standards, technology and capital. India could do with more of that. Over 27m people of Indian origin, including some temporary migrants, live overseas, many of them in the Gulf. They remit $70 billion a year to their home country, more than any other group of expats. That adds up to 3.5% of India’s GDP, outstripping foreign direct investment. The biggest potential lies with the diaspora in the West. Mr Modi seems to be aware of that.

He has been courting it on visits to America, Australia, Germany and Canada, holding big rallies. Indians abroad heavily backed him in last year’s election, sending millions of dollars as well as people to help. Even in remote corners of Uttar Pradesh, your correspondent bumped into jovial volunteers with American accents. Indians in America are the most promising. They are increasingly prominent in tech companies, on Wall Street and in government, especially in the state department. Around 1% of America’s population, over 3.3m people, are “Asian Indians”. Perhaps 150,000 more arrive each year, and 90% of them stay permanently. Devesh Kapur, who has studied them, talks of a “flood”. He says over half of all Indian-born people in America arrived there after 2000. On the usual measures of success they outstrip all other minorities, including Jewish-Americans.

They are educated and rich. In 2012 some 42% held first or higher degrees; average family income was over $100,000, roughly double that of white Americans (see chart). Over two-thirds of them hold high-status jobs. They have done so well that many migrants from Pakistan or Bangladesh like to call themselves Indian, hoping that some of the stardust will rub off on them. The stereotype of Indians as keeping shops or running motels in their adopted country is thus outdated. An IT professional from Andhra Pradesh would be far more typical. Since the turn of the century America has slurped in highly skilled graduates as fast as India can produce them. America’s H-1B employment visa for skilled professionals tells the story. In a book under review by a publisher, provisionally entitled “The Other One Per Cent”, Mr Kapur and his co-authors note that between 1997 and 2013 half of those visas went to Indians. Since 2009 the share has been more than two-thirds.

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And now there’s proof. What will happen with it?

Secret Pentagon Report Reveals West Saw ISIS As Strategic Asset (Nafeez Ahmed)

A declassified secret US government document obtained by the conservative public interest law firm, Judicial Watch, shows that Western governments deliberately allied with al-Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups to topple Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad. The document reveals that in coordination with the Gulf states and Turkey, the West intentionally sponsored violent Islamist groups to destabilize Assad, despite anticipating that doing so could lead to the emergence of an ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). According to the newly declassified US document, the Pentagon foresaw the likely rise of the ‘Islamic State’ as a direct consequence of the strategy, but described this outcome as a strategic opportunity to “isolate the Syrian regime.”

The revelations contradict the official line of Western government on their policies in Syria, and raise disturbing questions about secret Western support for violent extremists abroad, while using the burgeoning threat of terror to justify excessive mass surveillance and crackdowns on civil liberties at home. Among the batch of documents obtained by Judicial Watch through a federal lawsuit, released earlier this week, is a US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) document then classified as “secret,” dated 12th August 2012. The DIA provides military intelligence in support of planners, policymakers and operations for the US Department of Defense and intelligence community. So far, media reporting has focused on the evidence that the Obama administration knew of arms supplies from a Libyan terrorist stronghold to rebels in Syria.

Some outlets have reported the US intelligence community’s internal prediction of the rise of ISIS. Yet none have accurately acknowledged the disturbing details exposing how the West knowingly fostered a sectarian, al-Qaeda-driven rebellion in Syria. Charles Shoebridge, a former British Army and Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism intelligence officer, said: “Given the political leanings of the organisation that obtained these documents, it’s unsurprising that the main emphasis given to them thus far has been an attempt to embarrass Hilary Clinton regarding what was known about the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi in 2012. However, the documents also contain far less publicized revelations that raise vitally important questions of the West’s governments and media in their support of Syria’s rebellion.”

The newly declassified DIA document from 2012 confirms that the main component of the anti-Assad rebel forces by this time comprised Islamist insurgents affiliated to groups that would lead to the emergence of ISIS. Despite this, these groups were to continue receiving support from Western militaries and their regional allies. Noting that “the Salafist [sic], the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria,” the document states that “the West, Gulf countries, and Turkey support the opposition,” while Russia, China and Iran “support the [Assad] regime.” The 7-page DIA document states that al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the precursor to the ‘Islamic State in Iraq,’ (ISI) which became the ‘Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,’ “supported the Syrian opposition from the beginning, both ideologically and through the media.”

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Digging a deeper hole. Germans want to know.

Germany Won’t Comment on Reported ‘Deep Freeze’ With US Intelligence (Reuters)

The German government declined to comment on a report that U.S. intelligence agencies were reviewing their cooperation with German counterparts and had dropped joint projects due to concerns secret information was being leaked by lawmakers. Bild newspaper reported on Saturday that U.S. spy chief James Clapper had ordered the review because secret documents related to the BND’s cooperation with the United States were being leaked to media from a German parliamentary committee. A spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Berlin said it does not comment on intelligence matters.

Allegations the BND intelligence agency helped the National Security Agency (NSA) spy on European companies and officials has been major news in Germany for weeks. It has strained Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition and damaged her popularity. “The German government puts great faith in the intelligence cooperation with the United States to protect our citizens,” a government spokesman said when asked about the Bild report. “The government doesn’t comment on the details of that cooperation in public but rather in parliament committees.” The newspaper said it had seen documents in which Clapper, director of national intelligence, expressed concern that information on the cooperation from Merkel’s chancellery to the parliamentary committee was leaked and harmed U.S. interests.

Clapper said Germany could no longer be trusted with secret documents, according to Bild, and as long as that is the case U.S. intelligence agencies should examine where to limit or cancel cooperation with Germany. Bild quoted a U.S. official saying the leaks were worse than those attributed to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. “What the German government is now doing is more dangerous than what Snowden did,” the U.S. official was quoted saying.

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Lovely.

Leaked Report Profiles Military, Police Members Of US Biker Gangs (Intercept)

Nuclear power plant technicians, senior military officers, FBI contractors and an employee of “a highly-secretive Department of Defense agency” with a Top Secret clearance. Those are just a few of the more than 100 people with sensitive military and government connections that law enforcement is tracking because they are linked to “outlaw motorcycle gangs.” A year before the deadly Texas shootout that killed nine people on May 17, a lengthy report by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives detailed the involvement of U.S. military personnel and government employees in outlaw motorcycle gangs, or OMGs.

The report lays out, in almost obsessive detail, the extent to which OMG members are represented in nearly every part of the military, and in federal and local government, from police and fire departments to state utility agencies. Specific examples from the report include dozens of Defense Department contractors with Secret or Top Secret clearances; multiple FBI contractors; radiological technicians with security clearances; U.S. Department of Homeland Security employees; Army, Navy and Air Force active-duty personnel, including from the special operations force community; and police officers. “The OMG community continues to spread its tentacles throughout all facets of government,” the report says.

The relationship between OMGs and law enforcement has come under scrutiny after it became known that law enforcement were on site in Waco bracing for conflict. The 40-page report, “OMGs and the Military 2014,” issued by ATF’s Office of Strategic Intelligence and Information in July of last year, warned of the escalating violence of these gangs. “Their insatiable appetite for dominance has led to shootings, assaults and malicious attacks across the globe. OMGs continue to maim and murder over territory,” the report said. “As tensions escalate, brazen shootings are occurring in broad daylight.”

The ATF report is based on intelligence gathered by dozens of law enforcement and military intelligence agencies, and identifies about 100 alleged associates of the country’s most violent outlaw motorcycle gangs and support clubs who have worked in sensitive government or military positions. Those gangs “continue to court active-duty military personnel and government workers, both civilians and contractors, for their knowledge, reliable income, tactical skills and dedication to a cause,” according to the report. “Through our extensive analysis, it has been revealed that a large number of support clubs are utilizing active-duty military personnel and U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) contractors and employees to spread their tentacles across the United States.”

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