Mar 152017
 
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Otto Dix The Triumph of Death 1934

 

Yes, austerity really kills real people, and it kills the societies they live in. Let’s try and explain this in simple terms. It’s a simple topic after all. Austerity is a mere left-over from faith-based policies derived from shoddy economics, and economics is a shoddy field to begin with. The austerity imposed on and in several countries and their economies after 2008, and the consequences it has had in these economies, cannot fail to make you wonder what level of intelligence the politicians have who did the imposing, as well as the economists who advised them in the process.

We should certainly not forget that the people who make these decisions are never the ones affected by them. Austerity hurts the poor. For those who are living comfortably -which includes politicians and economists that “matter”-, austerity at worst means eating and living somewhat less luxuriously. For the poor, taken far enough, it will mean not eating at all, not being able to afford clothing, medical care, even housing. Doing without 10% of very little hits much harder than missing out on 10% of an abundance.

And even then there are differences, for instance between countries. The damage done to British housing, education and health care by successive headless chicken governments is very real, and it will require a huge effort to restore these systems, if that is possible at all. Still, if the British have any complaints about the austerity unleashed upon them, they should really take a look at Greece. As this graph of households having a hard time making ends meet makes painfully clear:

 

 

Britain ‘only’ suffers from economically illiterate politicians and economists. Greece, on top of that, has to cope with a currency it has no control over, and with the foreign -dare we say ‘occupying’?- powers that do. A currency that is geared exclusively to the benefit of the richer Eurozone nations. The biggest mistake in building the EU, and the Eurozone in particular, is that the possibility has been left open for the larger and richer nations to reign over the smaller and poorer almost limitlessly. These things only become clear when things get worse, but then they really do.

This ‘biggest mistake’ predicted the end of the ‘union’ from the very moment it was established; all it will take is time, and comprehension. Eurozone rules say a country’s public debt cannot exceed 60% and its deficit must remain less than 3%. Rules that have been broken left right and center, including by the rich, Germany, France, who were never punished for doing so. The poor are.

These limits are completely arbitrary. They come from the text books of the same clueless cabal of economists that the entire Euro façade is based on. The same cabal also who now demand a 3.5% Greek budget surplus into infinity, the worst thing that can happen to an already impoverished economy, because it means even more money must flow out of an entity that already has none.

But let’s narrow our focus to austerity itself, and what makes it such a disaster. And then after that, we’ll take it a step further. We can blame economists for this mess, and hapless politicians, but that’s not the whole story; in the end they’re just messenger boys and girls. First though, here’s what austerity does. Let’s start with Ed Harrison talking about some revealing data that Matt Klein posted on FT Alphaville about comparing post-2008 Greece to emerging economies:

Europe’s Delusional Economic Policies

Here’s how Matt put it: “Greece had a very different post-crisis experience: it never recovered. By contrast, all the other countries were well past their pre-crisis peak after this much time had elapsed. On average, Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Thailand, and Turkey have outperformed Greece by more than 40 percentage points after nine years.”

.. unlike those countries, Greece lacked the ability to use the exchange rate as a shock absorber. So while Brazil and Greece faced the same type of downturn in dollar terms – about 45% in GDP per person – Brazilian living standards only deteriorated about 2%, compared to 26% in Greece. The net effect is that Greece had a relatively typical crisis in dollars but an unprecedently painful one in the terms that matter most”.

[..] Greece doesn’t have its own currency so the currency can’t depreciate. Greece must use the internal devaluation route, which makes its labor, goods and services cheaper through a deflationary path – and that is very destructive to demand, to growth, and to credit.

[..] it’s not about reforms, people. It’s about growth. And the euro – and the policies tied to membership – is anti-growth, particularly for a country like Greece that is forced to hit an unrealistic 3.5% primary surplus indefinitely.

 

Another good report came from the WaPo at about the same time Ed wrote his piece, some 4 weeks ago. After Matt Klein showing how hard austerity hit Greece compared to emerging economies, Matt O’Brien shows us how austerity hit multiple Eurozone countries, compared to what would have happened if they had not cut spending (or introduced the euro). It is damning.

Austerity Was A Bigger Disaster Than We Thought

Cutting spending, you see, shouldn’t be a problem as long as you can cut interest rates too. That’s because lower borrowing costs can stimulate the economy just as much as lower government spending slows it down. What happens, though, if interest rates are already zero, or, even worse, you’re part of a currency union that means you can’t devalue your way out of trouble? Well, nothing good.

House, Tesar and Proebsting calculated how much each European economy grew — or, more to the point, shrank — between the time they started cutting their budgets in 2010 and the end of 2014, and then compared it with what actually realistic models say would have happened if they hadn’t done austerity or adopted the euro.

According to this, the hardest-hit countries of Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain would have contracted by only 1% instead of the 18% they did if they hadn’t slashed spending; by only 7% if they’d kept their drachmas, pounds, liras, escudos, pesetas and the ability to devalue that went along with them if they hadn’t become a part of the common currency and outsourced those decisions to Frankfurt; and only would have seen their debt-to-GDP ratios rise by eight percentage points instead of the 16 they did if they hadn’t tried to get their budgets closer to being balanced.

In short, austerity hurt what it was supposed to help, and helped hurt the economy even more than a once-in-three-generations crisis already had.

[..] the euro really has been a doomsday device for turning recessions into depressions. It’s not just that it caused the crisis by keeping money too loose for Greece and the rest of them during the boom and too tight for them during the bust. It’s also that it forced a lot of this austerity on them. Think about it like this. Countries that can print their own money never have to default on their debts – they can always inflate them away instead – but ones that can’t, because, say, they share a common currency, might have to.

Just the possibility of that, though, can be enough to make it a reality. If markets are worried that you might not be able to pay back your debts, they’ll make you pay a higher interest rate on them – which might make it so that you really can’t.

In other words, the euro can cause a self-fulfilling prophecy where countries can’t afford to spend any more even though spending any less will only make everything worse.

That’s actually a pretty good description of what happened until the ECB belatedly announced that it would do “whatever it takes” to put an end to this in 2012. Which was enough to get investors to stop pushing austerity, but, alas, not politicians. It’s a good reminder that you should never doubt that a small group of committed ideologues can destroy the economy. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

 

 

So those are the outcomes, But what’s the theory, where does the “small group of committed ideologues” go so wrong? Let’s go really basic and simple. Last week, Britsh economist Ann Pettifor, promoting her new book “The Production of Money: How to Break the Power of Bankers”, said this to Vogue:

Politicians who advocate for austerity measures—cutting spending—like to say that the government ought to run its budget the way women manage our households, but unlike us, the government issues currency and sets interest rates and so on, and the government collects taxes. And if the government is managing the economy well, it ought to be expanding the numbers of people who are employed and therefore paying income tax and tax on purchases—purchases that turn a profit for businesses which then hire more employees, and on and on it goes. That’s called the multiplier effect, and for 100 years or so, it’s been well understood. And it’s why governments should invest not in tax breaks for wealthy people, but in initiatives like building infrastructure.

Around the same time, Ann wrote in the Guardian:

[..] the public are told that cuts in spending and in some benefits, combined with rises in income from taxes will – just as with a household – balance the budget. Even though a single household’s budget is a) minuscule compared to that of a government; b) does not, like the government’s, impact on the wider economy; c) does not benefit from tax revenues (now, or in the foreseeable future); and d) is not backed by a powerful central bank. Despite all these obvious differences, government budgets are deemed analogous (by economists and politicians) to a household budget.

[..] If the economy slumps (as in 2008-9) and the private sector weakens, then like a see-saw the public sector deficit, and then the debt, rises. When private economic activity revives (thanks to increased investment, employment, sales etc) tax revenues rise, unemployment benefits fall, and the government deficit and debt follow the same downward trajectory. So, to balance the government’s budget, efforts must be made to revive Britain’s economy, including the indebted private sector.

In other words, when faced with economic hard times, a government should not cut spending, it should increase it -and it can-. Because cutting spending is sure to make things worse. At the same time of course, this is not an option available to Greece, because it has ceded control of its currency, and therefore its economy, to a largely unaccountable and faceless cabal that couldn’t care less what happens in the country.

All they care about is that the debts the banks in the rich part of the eurozone incurred can be moved onto someone else’s shoulders. Which is where -most of- Greece’s crisis came from to begin with. And so, yes, Germany and Holland and France are sitting sort of pretty, because they prevented a banking crisis from happening at home; they transferred it to Greece’s pensioners and unemployed youth. The ‘model’ of the Eurozone allows them to do this. Coincidence? Bug or feature?

 

 

Oh, and it’s not only Greece, though it’s by far the hardest hit. Read Roberto Centeno in the Express below. Reminds me of Greeks friends saying: “In 2010, we were told we had €160 billion or so in debt, and we needed a bailout. Now we have over €600 billion in debt, they say. How is that possible? What happened? What was that bailout for?”

‘Spain Is Ruined For 50 Years’

A leading Spanish economist has hit out at the ECB saying “crazy” loans will ruin the lives of the population for the next 50 years. And it is only a matter of time before the Government is forced to default as a debt bubble and low wages effectively forge the worst declines in “living memory”. Leading economist Roberto Centeno, who was an advisor to US president Donald Trump’s election team on hispanic issues, says the country has borrowed €603 billion that it cannot conceivably pay back. And he says Spanish politicians including Minister of Economy Luis de Guindos are “insulting their intelligence” after doing back door deals with the ECB. In a blog post Mr Centeno says there needs to be audits so the country can understand the magnitude of its debt mountain.

He said Spain was “moving steadily towards the suspension of payments which is the result of out of control public waste, financed with the largest debt bubble in our history, supported by the ECB with its crazy policy of zero interest rate expansion and without any supervision.” The expert added the doomed situation will “lead to the ruin of several generations of Spaniards over the next 50 years”. [..] He said the country is currently suffering from a “third world production model”. He added: “We have a third world production model of speculators and waiters, with a labour market where the majority of jobs created are temporary and with remunerations of €600, the largest wage decline in living memory. “And all this was completed with a broken pension system and an insolvent financial system.”

Forecasting an unprecedented shock to the European financial model, Mr Centento is calling for an immediate audit despite a recent revelation that the ECB is failing in its supervisory role over Europe’s banks. He also claimed the Spanish government and European Union leaders have been manipulating figures since 2008. Mr Centento said: “We will require the European Commission and Eurostat to audit and audit the Spanish accounting system for serious accounting discrepancies that may jeopardise stability. “The gigantic debt bubble accumulated by irresponsible governments, and that never ceases to grow, will be the ruin of several generations of Spaniards. “The Bank of Spain’s debt to the Eurosystem is the largest in Europe. “The day that the ECB minimally closes the tap of this type of financing or markets increase their risk aversion, the situation will be unsustainable.”

 

 

But then it’s time to move on, courtesy of Michael Hudson, prominent economist, who should be a guest of honor, at the very least, at every Eurogroup meeting. You know, to give Dijsselbloem and Schäuble a reality check. Michael shines a whole different additional light on European austerity policies. This is from an interview with Sharmini Peries:

Finance as Warfare: IMF Lent to Greece Knowing It Could Never Pay Back Debt

MICHAEL HUDSON: You said the lenders expect Greece to grow. That is not so. There is no way in which the lenders expected Greece to grow. In fact, the IMF was the main lender. It said that Greece cannot grow, under the circumstances that it has now. What do you do in a case where you make a loan to a country, and the entire staff says that there is no way this country can repay the loan? That is what the IMF staff said in 2015.

It made the loan anyway – not to Greece, but to pay French banks, German banks and a few other bondholders – not a penny actually went to Greece. The junk economics they used claimed to have a program to make sure the IMF would help manage the Greek economy to enable it to repay. Unfortunately, their secret ingredient was austerity.

[..] for the last 50 years, every austerity program that the IMF has made has shrunk the victim economy. No austerity program has ever helped an economy grow. No budget surplus has ever helped an economy grow, because a budget surplus sucks money out of the economy.

As for the conditionalities, the so-called reforms, they are an Orwellian term for anti-reform, for cutting back pensions and rolling back the progress that the labor movement has made in the last half century. So, the lenders knew very well that Greece would not grow, and that it would shrink.

 

So, the question is, why does this junk economics continue, decade after decade? The reason is that the loans are made to Greece precisely because Greece couldn’t pay. When a country can’t pay, the rules at the IMF and EU and the German bankers behind it say, don’t worry, we will simply insist that you sell off your public domain. Sell off your land, your transportation, your ports, your electric utilities.

[..] If Greece continues to repay the loan, if it does not withdraw from the euro, then it is going to be in a permanent depression, as far as the eye can see. Greece is suffering the result of these bad loans. It is already in a longer depression today, a deeper depression, than it was in the 1930s.

[..] when Greece fails, that’s a success for the foreign investors that want to buy the Greek railroads. They want to take over the ports. They want to take over the land. They want the tourist sites. But most of all, they want to set an example of Greece, to show that France, the Netherlands or other countries that may think of withdrawing from the euro – withdraw and decide they would rather grow than be impoverished – that the IMF and EU will do to them just what they’re doing to Greece.

So they’re making an example of Greece. They’re going to show that finance rules, and in fact that is why both Trump and Ted Malloch have come up in support of the separatist movement in France. They’re supporting Marine Le Pen, just as Putin is supporting Marine Le Pen. There’s a perception throughout the world that finance really is a mode of warfare.

Sharmini Peries: Greece has now said, no more austerity measures. We’re not going to agree to them. So, this is going to amount to an impasse that is not going to be resolvable. Should Greece exit the euro?

MICHAEL HUDSON: Yes, it should, but the question is how should it do it, and on what terms? The problem is not only leaving the euro. The problem really is the foreign debt that was bad debt that it was loaded onto by the Eurozone. If you leave the euro and still pay the foreign debt, then you’re still in a permanent depression from which you can never exit. There’s a broad moral principle here: If you lend money to a country that your statistics show cannot pay the debt, is there really a moral obligation to pay the debt? Greece did have a commission two years ago saying that this debt is odious. But it’s not enough just to say there’s an odious debt. You have to have something more positive.

[..] what is needed is a Declaration of Rights. Just as the Westphalia rules in 1648, a Universal Declaration that countries should not be attacked in war, that countries should not be overthrown by other countries. I think, the Declaration of International Law has to realize that no country should be obliged to impose poverty on its population, and sell off the public domain in order to pay its foreign creditors.

[..] the looming problem is that you have to pay debts that are so far beyond your ability to pay that you’ll end up like Haiti did after it rebelled after the French Revolution.

[..] A few years after that, in 1824, Greece had a revolution and found the same problem. It borrowed from the Ricardo brothers, the brothers of David Ricardo, the economist and lobbyist for the bankers in London. Just like the IMF, he said that any country can afford to repay its debts, because of automatic stabilization. Ricardo came out with a junk economics theory that is still held by the IMF and the European Union today, saying that indebted countries can automatically pay.

Well, Greece ended up taking on an enormous debt, paying interest but still defaulting again and again. Each time it had to give up more sovereignty. The result was basically a constant depression. Slow growth is what retarded Greece and much of the rest of southern Europe. So unless they tackle the debt problem, membership in the Eurozone or the European Union is really secondary.

There is no such question as “why did austerity fail ‘in a particular case'”?. Austerity always fails. You could perhaps come up with a theoretical example in which a society greatly overspends and toning down spending might balance some things, but other than that, and nothing in what we see today resembles such an example, austerity can only work out badly. And that’s before, as Michael Hudson suggests, austerity is used as a means to conquer people and countries in a financial warfare setting.

This is because our economies (as measured in GDP) are 60-70% dependent on consumer spending. Ergo, when you force consumer spending down through austerity measures, GDP must and will of necessity come down with it. And if you cut spending, stores will close, and then their suppliers will, and they will fire their workers, which will further cut consumer spending etc. It doesn’t get simpler than that.

There is a lot of talk about boosting exports etc., but exports make up only a relatively small part of most economies, even in the US, compared to domestic consumption. As still is the case in virtually every economy, more exports will never make up for what you lose by severely cutting wages and pensions while at the same time raising taxes across the board (Greek reality). The only possible result from this is misery and lower government revenues, in a vicious circle, dragging an economy ever further down.

Since this is so obvious a 5-year old can figure it out in 5 minutes, the reason for imposing the kind of austerity measures that the Eurogroup has unleashed upon Greece must inevitably be questioned in the way professor Hudson does. If someone owes you a substantial amount of money, the last thing you want to do is make sure they cannot pay it back. You want such a person to have a -good- job, a source of income, that pays enough so that they can pay you back. Unless you have your eyes on their home, their car, their daughters, their assets.

What the EU and IMF do with Greece is the exact opposite of that. They’re making sure that Greece gets poorer every day, and the Greeks get poorer, ensuring that the debt, whether it’s odious or not -and that is a very valid question-, will never be paid back. And then they can move in and snap up all of the country’s -rich- resources on the cheap. But in the process, they create a very unstable country, something that may seem to be to their benefit but will blow up in their faces.

It’s not the first time that I say the EU and the US would be well advised to ensure Greece is a stable society, but they all continue to forcibly lead the cradle of democracy in the exact opposite direction.

The best metaphor I can think of is: Austerity is like bloodletting in the Middle Ages, only with a lower success rate.

 

 

Nov 212016
 
 November 21, 2016  Posted by at 4:45 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Theodor Horydczak “Dome of US Capitol through trees at night” 1943

 

For the second time in a few weeks (see ‘End of Growth’ Sparks Wide Discontent), former British diplomat Alastair Crooke quotes me extensively, and I gladly return the favor. Crooke here attempts to list -some of- the difficulties Donald Trump will face in executing the -economic- measures he promised to take in his campaign. Crooke argues that, as I’ve indicated repeatedly, for instance in America is The Poisoned Chalice, the financial crisis that never ended may be one of his biggest problems.

Here, again, is Alastair Crooke:

 

 

We are plainly at a pivotal moment. President-Elect Trump wants to make dramatic changes in his nation’s course. His battle cry of wanting to make “America Great Again” evokes – and almost certainly is intended to evoke – the epic American economic expansions of the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries.

Trump wants to reverse the off-shoring of American jobs; he wants to revive America’s manufacturing base; he wants to recast the terms of international trade; he wants growth; and he wants jobs in the U.S. – and he wants to turn America’s foreign policy around 180 degrees.

The run-down PIX Theatre sign reads "Vote Trump" on Main Street in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. July 15, 2016. (Photo by Tony Webster Flickr)

The run-down PIX Theatre sign reads “Vote Trump” on Main Street in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. July 15, 2016. (Photo by Tony Webster Flickr)

It is an agenda that is, as it were, quite laudable. Many Americans want just this, and the transition in which we are presently in – dictated by the global elusiveness and search for growth (whatever is meant now by this term “growth”), clearly requires a different economic approach from that followed in recent decades.

As Raúl Ilargi Meijer has perceptively posited, greater self-reliance “is the future of the world, ‘post-growth’, and post-globalization. Every country, and every society, needs to focus on self-reliance, not as some idealistic luxury choice, but as a necessity. And that is not as bad or terrible as people would have you believe, and it’s not the end of the world … It is not an idealistic transition towards self-sufficiency, it’s simply and inevitably what’s left, once unfettered growth hits the skids. …

“Our entire world views and ‘philosophies’ are based on ever more and ever bigger and then some, and our entire economies are built upon it. That has already made us ignore the decline of our real markets for many years now. We focus on data about stock markets and the like, and ignore the demise of our respective heartlands, and flyover countries …

“Donald Trump looks very much like the ideal fit for this transition … What matters [here] is that he promises to bring back jobs to America, and that’s what the country needs … Not so they can then export their products, but to consume them at home, and sell them in the domestic market …There’s nothing wrong or negative with an American buying products made in America instead of in China.

“There’s nothing economically – let alone morally – wrong with people producing what they and their families and close neighbours themselves want, and need, without hauling it halfway around the world for a meagre profit. At least not for the man in the street. It’s not a threat to our ‘open societies’, as many claim. That openness does not depend on having things shipped to your stores over 1000s of miles, that you could have made yourselves, at a potentially huge benefit to your local economy. An ‘open society’ is a state of mind, be it collective or personal. It’s not something that’s for sale.”

A Great Wish

That’s Trump’s ostensible great wish, (it seems). It is not an unworthy one, but things have changed: America is no longer what it was in the Nineteenth or Twentieth centuries, neither in terms of untapped natural resources, nor societally. And nor is the rest of the world the same either.

Mr. Trump rather unfortunately may find that his chief task will not be the management of this Great Re-orientation, but more prosaically, fending off the headwinds which he will face as he hauls on the tiller of the economy.

In short, there is a real prospect that his ambitious economic “remake” may well be prematurely punctured by financial crisis.

These headwinds will not be of his making, and for the main part, they lie beyond human agency per se. They are structural, and they are multiple. They represent the accumulation of an earlier monetary doctrine which will fetter the President-elect into a small corner from which any chosen exit will carry adverse implications.

Ditto for anyone else trying to steer any ship of state in this contemporary global economy. Paradoxically – in an era moving toward greater self-sufficiency – what success Trump may have, however, will likely depend not on self-reliance so much as he would like.

For his foreign policy about turn, he will depend on finding common interest with Russian President Vladimir Putin (that should not be too hard) – and for the economic “about turn” – on Trump’s ability not to confront China, but to come to some modus vivendi with President Xi (less easy).

“Things are not what they were.” Complexity “theory” tells us that trying to repeat what worked earlier – in very different conditions – will likely not work if repeated later. In the Clinton era, for example, 85 percent of the U.S. population growth derived from the working-age population. The headwind that Trump will face is that, over the next eight years, 80 percent of the population growth will comprise 65+ year olds. And 65+ year olds are not a good engine of economic growth. This is not an uniquely American problem; it is a global trend too.

“The peak growth” (according to Econimica blog), “in the annual combined working age population (15-64 year/olds) among all the 35 wealthy OECD nations, China, Brazil, and Russia has collapsed since its 1981 peak. The annual growth in the working age population among these nations has fallen from +29 million a year to just +1 million in 2016 … but from here on, the working age population will be declining every year … These nations make up almost three quarters of all global demand for oil and exports in general. But their combined working age populations will shrink every year, from here on (surely for decades and perhaps far longer). Global demand for nearly everything is set to suffer.

(FFR stands for Federal Funds Rate: i.e. the US key interest rate) Source: http://econimica.blogspot.it/2016/11/trump-lies-no-different-than-obama-or.html

(FFR stands for Federal Funds Rate: i.e. the US key interest rate) Source: http://econimica.blogspot.it/2016/11/trump-lies-no-different-than-obama-or.html

And then there is China: It too is passing through a difficult “transition” from the old economy to an “innovative” one. It too, has an aging population and a debt problem (with a debt-to-gross domestic ratio reaching 247 percent). Trump argues that China deliberately holds down the value of its currency to gain unfair trade advantage, and he further suggests that he intends to confront the Chinese government on this key issue.

Again, Trump does have a point (many nations are managing their exchange rates precisely in order to try to “steal” a little bit extra growth from the diminished global pot). But as noted at Zerohedge, citing the analysis of One River Asset Management executive Eric Peters:

“What’s good for the US in this case [the rising dollar and interest rates in anticipation of ‘Trumponomics’], is not good for emerging markets (EMs). Emerging markets benefit from a weaker dollar, and you’re not going to get that. Emerging markets benefit from global capital flows moving in their direction and that’s not happening either. Back in February, emerging markets were in sharp decline, driven by (1) a strong dollar, (2) rising US interest rates, and (3) slowing Chinese growth. Then China spurred a massive credit stimulus, the Fed became wildly dovish, and the dollar declined sharply.

“Interest rates collapsed throughout the year. As the growing pool of dollar, euro and yen liquidity searched for a decent return, it headed to emerging markets. Trump has reignited the dollar rally, and his fiscal stimulus will force interest rates higher. This reversed everything. [the dollars are heading home]

“And to be sure, the Beijing boys don’t want to see material weakness ahead of next autumn’s Party Congress. But we’re currently near peak impulse from China’s Q1 stimulus.”

In short, Peters is saying that, with the appreciating dollar and rising interest rate environment, growth from emerging markets as a whole will falter, since emerging markets have effectively leveraged their economies to Chinese growth. It used to be the case that they were closely tied to U.S. growth, but it is now China which dominates the EMs’ trade flows [i.e. without China growth, the EMs languish]. The question is, can America reboot its growth whilst China and the EMs languish? It is another structural shift, whereas heretofore, it was vice versa: without U.S. growth, the EMs and China languished. Now it is the converse.

Hollowed-Out Economies

There are other structural changes of course which will make it harder for the industrially hollowed-out economies of the West to recuperate jobs off-shored earlier. Firstly, there has been a systemic shift of innovation and technology eastwards (often to a more skilled and better-educated workforce). This represents not only an economic event, but a redistribution of power too. In any case, technology in this new era is being more job destructive than creative.

In one sense, Trump’s economic plan to “get America working again” through massive debt-financed, infrastructure projects, harks back to the Reagan era, which was also a period in which the dollar was strong. But yet again, “things today are not what they were then.” Inflation then was at 13 percent, Interest rates were around 20 percent, and crucially, the U.S. debt to GDP ratio was a mere 35 percent (compared to today’s estimate of 71.8 percent or 104.5 percent with external debt included).

Then, as Jim Rickards has suggested, the strong dollar was deflationary (deliberately so), and interest rates had nowhere to go, but down. It was the beginning of the three decades’ bond boom, which finally seems to have come to an end, coincident with Trump’s election. Today, inflation has nowhere to go but up – as have interest rates – and the bond market, nowhere to go, but (perilously) down.

Growth and Jobs?

Can Trump then achieve growth and jobs through infrastructure expenditure? Well, “growth” is an ambiguous, shape-shifting term. The first chart shows both sides of the equation … the annual GDP growth and the annual federal debt incurred, spent, and (thus counted as part of the growth) to achieve the purported growth.

Source: http://econimica.blogspot.it/2016/11/trump-lies-no-different-than-obama-or.html

Source: http://econimica.blogspot.it/2016/11/trump-lies-no-different-than-obama-or.html

The second chart shows the annual GDP minus the annual growth in federal debt to achieve that “GDP growth.” In other words, unlike in the earlier Reagan times, more recently, the debt is producing no growth – but … well … just more debt, mostly.

In fact, what the second chart is reflecting is the dilution – through money “printing” – of purchasing power: away from one entity (the American consumer), through the intermediation of the financial sector, to other entities (mostly financial entities, and to corporations buying back their own shares). This is debt deflation: the American consumer ends having less and less purchasing power (in the sense of residual discretionary income).

The point here is that “growth” is becoming rarer everywhere. Russia and China, like everyone else, are in search for new sources for growth.

As Rickards has said, debt is the “devil” that can undo Trump’s whole schema: a “$1 trillion infrastructure refurbishment plan, along with his proposal to rebuild the military, will — at least in the short-term — significantly increase annual deficits. In fact, deficits are already soaring; the fiscal 2016 budget hole jumped to $587 billion, up from $438 in the prior year, for a huge 34% increase…in addition to this, Trump’s protectionist trade policies would implement either a 35% tariff on certain imports or would require these goods to be produced inside the United States, at much higher prices. For example, the increase in labor costs from goods made in China would be 190% when compared to the federally mandated minimum wage earner in the United States. Hence, inflation is on the way.”

In sum, self-sufficiency implies higher domestic costs and price rises for consumers.

Debt will rise. And there is seemingly already a buyers’ strike against U.S. government debt underway: well over a third of a $1 trillion worth of Treasuries were disposed of, and sold in the year to Aug. 31 by foreign Central Banks. And who is buying it? (Below, the chart shows what this purchasing looks like, as a percentage of total debt issued by the Treasury). Well, foreign central banks have disappeared. (The Chinese have not bought a U.S. Treasury bond since 2011.)

(Above: who purchased the marketable debt as a percentage, by period) Source: http://econimica.blogspot.it/2016/11/trump-lies-no-different-than-obama-or.html

(Above: who purchased the marketable debt as a percentage, by period)
Source.

 

It is the American public who are buying. Will they be willing to take on Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure spree? Or, will it be “printed” in yet another dilution of the American consumer’s purchasing power? The question of whether the infrastructure splurge does give growth hangs very much in the balance to such answers. (Equity shares in construction firms will do okay, of course).

The bottom line: (Michael Pento, Pento Report): “If interest rates continue to rise it won’t just be bond prices that will collapse. It will be every asset that has been priced off that so called ‘risk free rate of return’ offered by sovereign debt. The painful lesson will then be learned that having a virtual zero interest rate policy for the past 90 months wasn’t at all risk free. All of the asset prices negative interest rates have so massively distorted including; corporate debt, municipal bonds, REITs, CLOs, equities, commodities, luxury cars, art, all fixed income assets and their proxies, and everything in between, will fall concurrently along with the global economy.

“For the record, a normalization of bond yields would be very healthy for the economy in the long-run, as it is necessary to reconcile the massive economic imbalances now in existence. However, President Trump will want no part of the depression that would run concurrently with collapsing real estate, equity and bond prices.”

A Pending Financial Crisis

Trump, to be fair, has said consistently throughout the election campaign that whoever won the Presidential campaign to take office in January would face a financial crisis. Perhaps he will not face the “violent unwind” of the QE and bond bubble as some experts have predicted, but many more – according to Bank of America’s survey of 177 fund managers over the last six days, and controlling just under half a trillion of assets – expect a “stagflationary bond crash.”

This has major political implications. Trump is setting out to do no less than transform the economy and foreign policy of the U.S. He is doing this against a backdrop of many of the followers of the liberal élite, so angered at the election outcome, that they reject completely his electoral legitimacy (and, with the élites themselves staying mum at this rejection of the U.S. democratic process). Movements are being organized to wreck his Presidency (see here for example). If Trump does indeed experience a severe financial “unwind” at a time of such domestic anger and agitation, matters could turn quite ugly.

 

 

Alastair Crooke is a former British diplomat who was a senior figure in British intelligence and in European Union diplomacy. He is the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum, which advocates for engagement between political Islam and the West.

Jul 022016
 
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Jack Delano “Lower Manhattan seen from the S.S. Coamo leaving New York.” 1941

Brexit is nowhere near the biggest challenge to western economies. And not just because it has devolved into a two-bit theater piece. Though we should not forget the value of that development: it lays bare the real Albion and the power hunger of its supposed leaders. From xenophobia and racism on the streets, to back-stabbing in dimly lit smoky backrooms, there’s not a states(wo)man in sight, and none will be forthcoming. Only sell-outs need apply.

The only person with an ounce of integrity left is Jeremy Corbyn, but his Labour party is dead, which is why he must fight off an entire horde of zombies. Unless Corbyn leaves labour and starts Podemos UK, he’s gone too. The current infighting on both the left and right means there is a unique window for something new, but Brits love what they think are their traditions, plus Corbyn has been Labour all his life, and he just won’t see it.

The main threat inside the EU isn’t Brexit either. It’s Italy. Whose banks sit on over 30% of all eurozone non-performing loans, while its GDP is about 10% of EU GDP. How they would defend it I don’t know, they’re probably counting on not having to, but Juncker and Tusk’s European Commission has apparently approved a scheme worth €150 billion that will allow these banks to issue quasi-sovereign bonds when they come under attack. An attack that is now even more guaranteed to occcur than before.

 

Still, none of Europe’s internal affairs have anything on what’s coming in from the east. Reading between the lines of Japan’s Tankan survey numbers there is only one possible conclusion: the ongoing and ever more costly utter failure of Abenomics continues unabated.

It’s developing in pretty much the exact way I said it would when Shinzo Abe first announced the policies in late 2012. Not that it was such a brilliant insight, all you had to know is that Abe and his central bank head Kuroda don’t understand what their mastodont problem, deflation, actually is, and that means they are powerless to solve it.

That Abe said somewhere along the way that all that was needed was his people’s confidence to make Abenomics work, says more than enough. The multiple flip-flops over a sales-tax increase say the rest. People don’t become more confident just because someone tells them to; that has the opposite effect. Deflation results from reduced spending, which in turn comes from not only decreasing confidence as well as a decrease in money people have available to spend.

That modern economics sees everything not spent as ‘savings’ adds significantly to the failure -on the part of Abe, Kuroda and just about everyone else- to understand what happened in Japan over the past 2-3 decades. To repeat once again, inflation/deflation is the velocity of money multiplied by money- and credit supply. The latter factor has in general gone through the roof, but that means zilch if the former -velocity- tanks.

That this velocity is -still- tanking, in Japan as well as in the western world, is due to, more than anything else, an unparalleled surge in debt. At some point, that will catch up with any economy and society. Even if they are growing, which our economies are not. Growth has been replaced with credit, and credit is debt. It’s safe to say that money velocity cannot possibly ‘recover’ until large swaths of debt have been cancelled, one way or another.

For Japan we saw this week that “..household spending fell for the third straight month in May and core consumer prices suffered their biggest annual drop since 2013..” (Reuters) while “..The Topix index dropped about 9% in June, plunging on June 24 with the Brexit vote, the most since the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake. The yen strengthened about 8% against the dollar in June.. (Bloomberg).

Japan has an upper-house election in a little over a week, and it seems like Abe can still feel comfortable about his position. A remarkable thing. The country needs to stop digging, it’s in a more than 400% debt-to-GDP hole, but Abe won’t listen. The rising yen is suffocating what is left of the economy, as are the negative interest rates, but all the talk is about ‘further easing’.

 

Still, Japan is outta here, and this has been obvious for a long time to the more observant observer. In the case of China, it is a more recent phenomenon, and it will even be disputed for a while to come. It’s also one that will have a much more devastating effect on the west. We’ve seen problems in various markets in Singapore, Macau and Hong Kong, but the real issues on the mainland are still to be sprung on us.

Mainland stock exchanges are as good a place as any to begin with. The combined tally for Shanghai and Shenzhen looks like this -data till June 23-; yes, that’s a loss of over 40% in the past year.

Beijing has been trying very hard to paper over these numbers, even quit supporting it all for a while through 2014, only to do a 180º when they didn’t like what they saw (foreign reserves drawdown), and now PBoC injections have gone bonkers: $316 billion in one month would mean $4 trillion on a yearly basis in what is really nothing but monopoly money.

Meanwhile, corporate bonds are, perhaps partly because of volatility, becoming an endangered species. Maybe the PBoC can do something there as well, the way Draghi does in Europe (must be high on the agenda), but there’s already so much bad debt we hardly dare watch.

China must and will try to keep boosting exports by devaluing the yuan. It’s just waiting for an opportunity to do it without being accused of currency manipulation. Perhaps it can create that opportunity?! Create a crisis and then use it?! Regardless, this Reuters headline yesterday sounded very tongue in cheek:

China To ‘Tolerate’ Weaker Yuan

China’s central bank would tolerate a fall in the yuan to as low as 6.8 per dollar in 2016 to support the economy, which would mean the currency matching last year’s record decline of 4.5%, policy sources said. The yuan is already trading at its lowest level in more than five years, so the central bank would ensure any decline is gradual for fear of triggering capital outflows and criticism from trading partners such as the United States, said government economists and advisers involved in regular policy discussions. Presumptive U.S. Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump already has China in his sights, saying on Wednesday he would label China a currency manipulator if elected in November.

Note: remember Japan above? The yen rose 8% against the USD just in June, as the yuan fell by just 4.5% in all of 2015 (6.8% over the past 2 years). Now you go figure what’s happening to Japan-China trade. And the yuan is still hugely overvalued. But the desire to be part of the IMF basket of currencies comes with obligations. Trump doesn’t help either.

I said in the beginning of this year that a 30% devaluation was something of a minimum, and that certainly continues to stand. So yeah, creating a crisis may be the only way out. An accident in the South China Sea perhaps. Combined with a ‘tolerance’ for a 50% weaker yuan….

All of the above leads us to the title of this essay: deflation is coming in from the east. China’s economy’s already in deflation, even though it will take some time yet to be acknowledged. A very ‘nice’ report from Crescat Capital provides a bunch of clues.

China QE Dwarfs Japan and EU

In July of 2014, we wrote about the huge imbalance with respect to China’s M2 money supply and nominal GDP relative to the US. At the time, China’s M2 money supply was 71% higher than the US but its economy was 56% smaller, which we said was an indication of the overvaluation of the Chinese currency. Since that time, the yuan has fallen by only 6.8% relative to the dollar. We haven’t seen anything yet.

Today, the circumstances have significantly worsened. Money supply has continued to grow faster than GDP. With over $30 trillion of assets in its banking system and an underappreciated non-performing loan problem, we are convinced that China is headed for a twin banking and currency crisis. Money velocity has reached historically low levels which reflects China’s extreme credit imbalance and its crimping impact on its ability to generate future real GDP growth.

Just as worrying as the immense amount of credit built up, China has been reporting major downward revisions in its balance of payments (BoP) accounts. For more than a decade, China had been reporting an impossible twin surplus in its BoP accounts. When we wrote about this issue in 2014, we emphasized the likelihood of massive illicit capital outflows that not been accounted for. At that time, according to the State Administration of Foreign Exchange of China (SAFE), China had accumulated a BoP imbalance that was close to $9.4 trillion surplus since 2000 which we believed represented capital outflows that should have been recorded in the capital account.

The same accumulated BoP number today, revised by SAFE several times since, is now a deficit of about $2.8 trillion. Essentially, with its revisions, the SAFE has acknowledged even more capital outflows over the last 16 years than we had initially identified. On the capital account side, there was a downward revision of $10.1 trillion – from a $4.2 trillion surplus to a $5.9 trillion deficit. On the current account side, the revisions show that Chinese exports have not been as strong as initially reported over the last decade and a half. China’s current account surplus has been reduced by $2.1 trillion– going from $5.1 trillion to $2.9 trillion over the last 16 years. What we initially considered to be a $9.4 trillion imbalance has been more than proven by a $12.2 trillion revision.

Those are some pretty damning numbers, if you sit on them for a bit. There was another graph that came with that report that takes us head first into deflationary territory. China’s velocity of money:

That is utterly devastating. It’s what we see in the US, EU and Japan too, but ‘we’ have thus far been able to export our deflation -to an extent- to … China. No more. China has started exporting its own deflation to the west. Beijing MUST devalue its currency anywhere in the range of 30-50% or its export sector will collapse. It is not difficult.

That it will have to achieve this despite the objections of Donald Trump and the IMF is just a minor pain; Xi Jinping has more pressing matters on his mind. Like pitchforks.

The ‘normal’ response in economics would be: in order to fight deflation, increase consumer spending (aka raise money velocity)! But as we’ve seen with Japan, that’s much easier said than done. Because there are reasons people are not spending. And the only way to overcome that is to guarantee them a good income for a solid time into the future, in an economy that induces confidence.

That is not happening in Japan, or the US or EU, and it’s now gone in China too. Beijing has another additional issue that (formerly) rich countries don’t have. This is from a recent Marketwatch article on Andy Xie:

China Is Headed For A 1929-Style Depression

[..] Xie said China’s trajectory instead resembles the one that led to the Great Depression, when the expansion of credit, loose monetary policy and a widespread belief that asset prices would never fall contributed to rampant speculation that ended with a crippling market crash. China in 2016 looks much the same, according to Xie, with half of the country’s debt propping up real-estate prices and heavy leverage in the stock market – indicating that conditions are ripe for a correction. “The government is allowing speculation by providing cheap financing .. China “is riding a tiger and is terrified of a crash. So it keeps pumping cash into the economy. It is difficult to see how China can avoid a crisis.”

And then check this out:

China’s GDP grew 6.9% in 2015, its slowest pace in a quarter-century. For 2016, Beijing has set a GDP target of 6.5% to 7%; The latest spate of global uncertainties prompted Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Deutsche Bank to trim their forecasts to 6.4% and 6.6%, respectively. The export sector, long a driver of Chinese growth, is sputtering due to global saturation and household consumption is barely 30% of China’s GDP, Xie said. In the U.S., household consumption accounted for more than 68% of GDP in 2014, according to the World Bank.

Yeah, China is supposed to be going from an export driven- to a consumer driven economy. Problem with that seems to be that those consumers would need money to spend, and to earn that money they would need to work in export industries (since there is not nearly enough domestic demand). Bit of a Catch 22. And definitely not one you would want to find yourself in when the global economy is tanking.

The more monopoly money Beijing prints, the more pressure there will be on the yuan. And if they themselves don’t devalue the yuan, the markets will do it for them.

Kyle Bass says China’s $3 trillion corporate bond market is “freezing up” (see the third graph above), which threatens to undermine the $3.5 trillion market for the wealth management products Chinese mom and pops invest in. He expects a whopping $3 trillion in bank losses, an amount equal to the entire corporate bond market (!) “to trigger a bailout, with the central bank slashing reserve requirements, cutting the deposit rate to zero and expanding its balance sheet – all of which will weigh on the yuan.”

With the yuan down by as much as it would seem to be on course for, wages and prices in the west will plummet. This wave of deflation is set to hit western economies already in deflation and already drowning in private debt, and therefore equipped with severely weakened defenses.

Leonard Cohen once wrote a song called “Democracy Is Coming To The USA”. Maybe someone can do a version that says deflation is coming too. Not sure that’s good for democracy, though.

Have a great Holiday Weekend.

Mar 312016
 
 March 31, 2016  Posted by at 8:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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DPC Station at foot of incline, American Falls, Niagara Falls 1890


Americans Are Spending Again – But With Less Income (WSJ)
Britain Sacrifices Steel Industry To Curry Favour With China (AEP)
China Produced More Steel In 2 Years Than The UK Did Since 1870 (Conway)
China Ends This Quarter With The World’s Worst-Performing Stock Market (BBG)
China Investment Bank Defaults On ‘Dim Sum’ Bond (FT)
China’s Little Emperors Prop Up Aussie Housing Market (BBG)
China’s Largest Banks Post Lowest Annual Profit In A Decade (WSJ)
Saudi Aramco Expanding Oil and Gas Projects Even With Low Prices (BBG)
The World’s Largest Public Oil And Gas Companies (Rapier)
Bitcoin Technology’s Next Big Test: Trillion-Dollar Repo Market (WSJ)
Growth Of Fintech Forecast To Spur Almost 2 Million Banking Job Cuts (FT)
The Bribe Factory – How The West Corrupts The Middle East (SMH)
Pathocracy: The Rise Of The Political Psychopath (Whitehead)
Russia Vows ‘Totally Asymmetrical’ Response To US Troop Build-Up In Europe (RT)
Sea Levels Set To ‘Rise Far More Rapidly Than Expected’
Europe Is Too Important To Be Left To Its Clueless Rulers – Varoufakis (Tel.)
Refugees Run For Rio Olympic Dream Team (AFP)
Austria To Tighten Asylum Rules (P.)
Refugee Arrivals To Greece Rise Sharply Despite EU-Turkey Deal (Reuters)

There’s one way left only in which spending today can increase: debt must increase too: “..in 2004, a typical household in the lower third had $1,500 left over after expenses. By 2014, such households were $2,300 in the red.”

Americans Are Spending Again – But With Less Income (WSJ)

U.S. household spending has fully recovered since the latest recession, but income hasn’t, squeezing budgets and pushing many lower-income families into the red, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts report out Wednesday. “The lack of financial flexibility threatens low-income households’ financial security in the short term and their economic mobility in the long term,” the report said. Pew tracked inflation-adjusted expenditures and incomes of working-age Americans, ages 20 to 60, from 1996 to 2014. The results show the downturn and recovery for spending in the aftermath of the 2007-09 recession but also highlight stagnating incomes (including wages, government benefits and transfers, pensions, child support and other sources).

The study helps illustrate broader economic themes, including a slow recovery underpinned by steady job creation and rising consumer spending, alongside paltry wage growth and growing income inequality. Pew found that as of 2014, median income before taxes had fallen by 13% from a decade earlier, while expenditures had increased by nearly 14%. That left families across the income spectrum with fewer funds for savings and investment in things like education. Housing, transportation and food drove much of the rise in spending, leaving families with less financial wiggle room. Low-income families may not see much of an alternative to spending more on shelter, commuting costs and putting food on the table. Indeed, rent is now eating up nearly half of the income of low-income families, Pew found.

“That increase in the cost for shelter is a really important piece about why families at the bottom don’t feel financially stable,” said Erin Currier, director of the financial security and mobility project at Pew. “So many families are walking a financial tightrope—their core needs are getting more expensive and incomes aren’t rising to meet those costs.” That’s left many running a personal budget deficit despite spending less on restaurants, entertainment and other discretionary goods and services. Pew’s analysis found that in 2004, a typical household in the lower third had $1,500 left over after expenses. By 2014, such households were $2,300 in the red.

Read more …

Cameron has to save face now because of the publicity on the topic.

Britain Sacrifices Steel Industry To Curry Favour With China (AEP)

Britain’s special relationship with China is becoming more expensive by the day. It now threatens to destroy the British steel industry, a foundation pillar of our manufacturing economy. Britain is not alone. Most of Europe’s steel foundries are heading for annihilation under the current EU trade regime, with unthinkable consequences through the network of European and British supply chains. It is hard to pin down the exact moment when George Osborne’s love affair with China turned into a Faustian Pact. What we know is that the British government has for the last three years been blocking efforts by the EU to equip itself with the sort of anti-dumping weaponry used by Washington to confront China. The EU trade directorate has been rendered toothless by a British veto. So much for the canard that the UK has no influence in Brussels.

“The British are sacrificing an entire European industry to say thank you to China for signing up to the nuclear power project at Hinkley Point, and pretending it is about free trade,” said one official in Brussels bitterly. What they are blocking is a change to an EU regulation intended to beef up Europe’s ‘trade defence instruments’ (TDI), enabling it to respond much more quickly to Chinese dumping and too impose much tougher penalties. The British have cobbled together a blocking minority in the council, much to the annoyance of the French, Italians, Spanish, and Germans. The UK view is that the Commission mixed up good changes with bad changes, and that punitive tariffs merely hurt your own consumers, so you shoot yourself in the foot.

Yet the outcome is that it still takes Brussels 16 months to crank up full sanctions, twice as long as it takes the US. It is why the EU limits itself to a ‘Lesser Duty’ regime that often fails to reflects the full injury. While Washington has slapped penalties of 267pc on Chinese cold-rolled steel, the EU peashooter has so far managed just 13pc. Redcar has already paid the price for this ultra-free trade ideology, and Port Talbot is about to follow. There will eventually be little left if the current drift in trade policy is allowed to continue. China’s share of global steel output has risen from 10pc to 50pc over the last decade. It has installed capacity of 1.2bn tonnes a year that it can never hope to absorb as the construction boom deflates.

On OECD estimates it has built up 400m tonnes of excess capacity, twice the EU’s entire steel production. China’s unwanted steel is finding its way systematically into Europe, greased by export subsidies, tax breaks, cheap state credit, and the panoply of measures used by a mercantilist power to rig global trade. China has captured 45pc of the UK market for high fatigue rebar steel, from near zero four years ago. The price of hot rolled steel in Europe has fallen to $369 a tonne from an average of $650 from 2009 to 2013.

Read more …

Are people ready to acknowledge the extent of China’s bubble? I doubt it.

China Produced More Steel In 2 Years Than The UK Did Since 1870 (Conway)

Here’s a nugget that goes at least some of the way towards explaining the current woes of the British steel industry: in the past two years alone China has produced more steel than the total cumulative output of the UK since the industrial revolution. Or consider this: at today’s rate of production, it would take 68 years for Britain to generate the steel China churns out of its mills in a single year. Take a moment to digest these facts, because you simply cannot understand the pressures faced by the British, or for that matter every country’s steel industry without considering China. Steel is, of course the critical ingredient in modern manufacturing and construction. If you are making something – anything – chances are you will need steel to make it with, whether that’s a car, a rail line, a can of food or a skyscraper.

And to start with, China was a positive story for Britain’s steel industry. As it expanded over recent decades it initially didn’t produce enough steel of its own to satisfy its seemingly limitless domestic appetite for steel – from Chinese construction to Chinese cities desperate to expand, to Chinese manufacturers pumping out goods around the world. It became an important destination for UK exports. However, gradually the country has built its own steel industry – and what an industry. Since 1980 China has gone from producing 5% of the world’s steel to making more than half of it – just over 800m tonnes.

Read more …

But of course, this being Bloomberg and all, here comes the silver lining.

China Ends This Quarter With The World’s Worst-Performing Stock Market (BBG)

China’s Shanghai Composite Index is closing out the first quarter as the world’s worst-performing global measure, down 15%, with a rebound in March failing to compensate for a terrible start to the year. Here are some key metrics that may show this month’s 12% recovery may extend into April, including growth in margin lending, a jump in the number of new investors and easing volatility. Leverage is increasing, suggesting individual investors are slowly regaining confidence after getting burned last year. The value of outstanding margin loans, the fuel for the 2015 boom, is up about 6% to about 874 billion yuan ($135 billion) since touching a 15-month low on March 16. A state-backed agency restarted offering some loans to brokerages to fund clients’ borrowed bets, signaling a loosening of policies put in place to stem the market rout.

Volatility is receding. Thirty-day price swings in the Shanghai gauge have plunged since soaring to a four-month high in February. Volatility began to rise at the start of January, when regulators introduced a circuit-breaker system meant to reduce wild market movements. The circuit breakers had the opposite effect – trading was suspended twice in the first week due to steep declines before the mechanism was shelved altogether. The ChiNext index re-entered a bull market this month, rebounding 20% from a February low. The small-cap gauge, dominated by technology and consumer companies, has become a leading indicator for the Shanghai index. It entered a bull market in October, a month before the large-cap gauge did, and lapsed into a bear market a week before the Shanghai gauge followed suit.

The number of new stock investors rose to a nine-month high of 535,000 in the week ended March 25, as a rebound in margin trading and a market recovery led more people to open trading accounts. Retail investors account for 80% of stock trading. While the valuation of the Shanghai Composite is almost down 40% from a June high, it’s still 15% pricier than the MSCI Emerging Market index, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Almost 60% of the 240 Shanghai-listed companies with full-year earnings estimates compiled by Bloomberg have missed projections so far.

Read more …

So far it was oil, steel, gas firms; now the banks start?!

China Investment Bank Defaults On ‘Dim Sum’ Bond (FT)

A unit of Guosen Securities, China’s eighth-largest investment bank, has defaulted on a Kong Kong-traded renminbi bond, according to a document seen by the Financial Times, marking the first debt breach by a state-owned enterprise in China’s offshore bond market in nearly two decades. The technical default by Guosen’s Hong Kong affiliate puts at risk a Rmb38m ($5.9m) coupon payment due April 24 on Rmb1.2bn in “dim sum” bonds sold in 2014. Missing that payment would set a precedent for the offshore units of Chinese SOEs, whose creditors widely assume the onshore parent will always stand behind its affiliates, according to analysts. The default was unexpected because Guosen’s onshore unit is by all appearances in rude health. With the city government of Shenzhen as its largest shareholder, Guosen Securities was fourth on the league table for stock and bond underwriting in 2015, according to AsiaMoney.

The Shenzhen-listed brokerage earned net profit of Rmb14.2bn in 2015, up 188% from a year earlier, according to a filing in January. It ranked eighth among mainland brokerages by assets at the end of 2014, according to industry association figures. Like other Chinese securities companies, Guosen benefited from a surge in stock trading commissions during China’s equity market roller coaster last year. But its offshore unit, Guosen Securities (HK) Financial Holdings, has struggled to gain a foothold in Hong Kong’s capital markets, where foreign and mainland banks compete on a more level playing field. A special purpose vehicle owned by Guosen (HK) issued the bonds in April 2014 at an interest rate of 6.4%.

Read more …

It may already be too late to sell.

China’s Little Emperors Prop Up Aussie Housing Market (BBG)

Han Fantong, an accountant, beat almost 60 other bidders to buy a three-bedroom home in Melbourne in November for A$930,000 ($709,000). He had an advantage – full funding from his parents back in China. Han, 32, an Australian permanent resident, bought the house on 688 square meters (7,400 square feet) of land in Ringwood East, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) east of Melbourne’s business district, after a five-month search. His parents sold a 23-year-old two-bedroom apartment in Beijing for 8.1 million yuan ($1.2 million) to help pay for the property, he said by phone. “It comes as a tradition in China to buy a home for a son to establish a family,” said Han who lives in the house with his 29-year-old wife Chen Junyang. “Without my parents, it would still be difficult for us to bear the large mortgage loans.”

Han is among scores of buyers who with the backing of relatives in China are underpinning a housing market in Australia that’s coming off the boil. More than half the buyers of Chinese origin are supported financially by relatives residing in the world’s second-largest economy, according to McGrath, Australia’s only listed real estate agency. The firm’s China desk has assisted in sales worth A$140 million since it was established in September 2013. Such demand, whether from permanent residents or overseas buyers, has triggered community concern that locals are being priced out of Australia’s property market. The government has responded to the unease with tighter scrutiny of foreign investment that critics say may deter much-needed offshore capital.

“Chinese buying in Sydney and Melbourne has stepped up from say where it was five years ago, but publicity around that has created a perception which has run ahead of reality,” said Shane Oliver at AMP Capital Investors in Sydney. “The Chinese demand – both from mainland China and Chinese Australians – is propping up the market and boosting construction.” [..] Purchases by foreigners, many with a connection to China, helped drive an almost 55% jump in home prices across Australia’s capital cities in the past seven years as mortgage rates dropped to five-decade lows. The median Sydney home price reached a record A$800,000 in October, according to research firm CoreLogic data. It has since fallen after a regulatory clampdown led to a slowdown in mortgages to landlords and the first increase in borrowing costs in five years.

Read more …

And that’s just official numbers. As is 1.67% in bad loans, which “..could be as high as 8.1% this year; other analysts have projected even higher estimates.” That’s perspective.

China’s Largest Banks Post Lowest Annual Profit In A Decade (WSJ)

China’s biggest banks posted their lowest annual profit growth in a decade, as bad loans mount in an ailing economy that is pushing lenders toward riskier avenues of expansion. Three major banks that reported 2015 results on Wednesday said they wrote off 142 billion yuan ($21.85 billion) in irrecoverable debt last year, 1.4 times the volume in 2014, an indication that their customers—many of them state-owned industrial companies—are struggling to repay loans. Profits for the three banks were nearly flat, compared with industry growth rates of close to 40% just three years ago. Banks are building ever-larger capital buffers to cover bad loans as Chinese companies flounder under a severe overhang of real-estate inventory and excess industrial capacity.

The prevalence of bad loans means booming business for asset-restructuring companies—state-owned “bad banks” set up to soak up and sell off soured debt—prompting conventional banks to explore ways to keep such deals for themselves. Net profit overall among commercial lenders rose 2.4% last year, compared with 9.6% a year earlier, according to figures put out recently by the China Banking Regulatory Commission. On Wednesday, China’s largest bank by assets, Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, posted 0.5% profit growth to 277.1 billion yuan ($42.65 billion) for 2015. “The operating results were achieved on top of a high base in light of mounting growth-related difficulties,” ICBC said in its annual report. “The larger the total profit, the harder the growth will be.”

[..] Industrywide, nonperforming loans rose to 1.67% of total loans last year from 1.25% in 2014, the China Banking Regulatory Commission said. Investment bank China International Capital estimated the true ratio could be as high as 8.1% this year; other analysts have projected even higher estimates. Credit is souring so fast that commercial lenders are having a hard time expanding capital provisions to keep pace. Two years ago, China Construction Bank was setting aside a buffer that was more than twice the size of its bad loans. Last year, that ratio had fallen to 1.5 times, it said Wednesday. Slowing profit growth has forced many Chinese banks, especially midsize lenders, to invest aggressively in shadow-banking assets such as trust and wealth-management products. Such holdings, termed “investment receivables,” are opaque cocktails of high-yield assets that could jeopardize liquidity should banks need to offload them if markets turn turbulent, analysts say.

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They have no choice. No major or even minor oil producer does.

Saudi Aramco Expanding Oil and Gas Projects Even With Low Prices (BBG)

Saudi Arabian Oil Co. is pressing ahead with an expansion of the Khurais oil field despite lower crude prices and plans to double its production of natural gas over the next 10 years, the company’s chief executive officer said. The world’s biggest oil exporter, known as Saudi Aramco, won’t cancel any oil, gas or refining projects, Amin Nasser told reporters during a conference in Al-Ahsa in eastern Saudi Arabia. Aramco is also studying a possible expansion of the country’s largest oil refinery, Ras Tanura, which has a capacity of 550,000 barrels a day, he said. “Until now all of our downstream and upstream projects are continuous,” Nasser said. “No project in our programs got canceled.”

[..][ Khurais oil field’s expansion is due to be complete in 2018, Nasser said. Aramco was seeking to add 300,000 barrels a day to the field’s production to reach a capacity of 1.5 million barrels a day, the company’s former CEO Khalid Al-Falih said in October 2013. Ghawar oil field, the world’s biggest, has been producing for 70 years and will keep pumping oil for “many years to come,” Nasser said at the conference. Sixty% of Saudi Arabia’s crude oil output comes from Ghawar, Abdul Latif Al-Othman, governor of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, said at the same event. Aramco has made a “promising” shale gas discovery at the Jafurah field in the Al-Ahsa region and is assessing and appraising the area for future production, Nasser said. The company plans to double its gas production to 23 billion cubic feet a day over 10 years, he said. Aramco will also keep exploring for oil and gas in the Red Sea area, he said.

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Anything our former Oil Drum colleague Robert Rapier writes is still worth a read.

The World’s Largest Public Oil And Gas Companies (Rapier)

The past two years have been a wild ride for investors in the world’s biggest publicly traded oil companies. Compared with their high-water marks in mid-2014, Big Oil shares are down about 25% and earnings have collapsed. The big irony: even as oil prices have halved, Big Oil is still getting bigger. In July 2014 U.S. oil production was 8.75 million barrels per day, according to the Energy Information Administration. Nearly a year (and a 50% price dip) later, U.S. oil output had grown to 9.69 million bpd, its highest level in 45 years. U.S. production has since declined by more than half a million bpd to 9.07 million bpd, but global production continues to rise. From 92.4 million bpd in 2014, global oil production is up to 94.8 million bpd. A unique aspect of the recent surge is that most of the gains have not come from OPEC’s national oil companies.

While Saudi Arabia’s national oil company, Saudi Aramco, remains the world’s undisputed production leader, Western and Russian companies have added far more production over the past few years. The biggest contributor to new global oil production has been the U.S., where the shale oil boom added more than 4 million bpd of new production since 2010. In total, about two dozen countries expanded their oil production over the past five years, including Saudi Arabia, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Kuwait and Russia. On a corporate basis, many of the companies responsible for the production increase are on our list of the World’s 25 Largest Public Oil and Gas Companies. Russian companies dominate the top of the list, which is based on the most recently published production data, accounting for more production than any other region.

Russia has been a major producer of oil and gas for decades, and when privatization took place in the 1990s a handful of extremely large companies were created that rival many of the world’s national oil companies. The U.S. has seven companies in the top 25, more than any other country, led by ExxonMobil, which is the world’s third largest public oil and gas producer. Many may not realize that China is among the world’s Top 5 oil producing countries. But PetroChina, which went public in 2007, produces almost as much oil as does ExxonMobil, and is but one of the three Chinese companies in the Top 25. European countries are well-represented on the list, as four of the world’s six integrated “supermajors” are headquartered in Europe. The largest of this group is BP , still ranked as the 5th largest oil and gas producer in the Top 25, despite its many divestments since the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

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Where wicked witch of the west Blythe Masters enters the blockchain.

Bitcoin Technology’s Next Big Test: Trillion-Dollar Repo Market (WSJ)

Depository Trust & Clearing Corp., a firm at the center of Wall Street’s trading infrastructure, is about to give the technology behind bitcoin a big test: seeing whether it can be used to bolster the $2.6 trillion repo market. DTCC said in a statement Tuesday that it will begin testing an application of blockchain, the digital ledger originally used to track ownership and payments of the cryptocurrency bitcoin, to help smooth over problems in the crucial but increasingly illiquid corner of short-term lending markets known as repurchase agreements, or “repos.” Repos play a critical role in the financial system by keeping cash and securities circulating among hedge funds, investment banks and other financial firms.

DTCC, an industry-owned utility that helps settle trades in the repo market and elsewhere, wants to apply blockchain technology to the market, so that lenders and borrowers can keep track of securities and cash flowing between firms in real time. To test blockchain’s ability to improve repo trading, DTCC has tapped Digital Asset Holdings, a startup run by former J.P. Morgan executive Blythe Masters. Earlier this year, DTCC invested in the firm focused on blockchain applications, along with a range of banks including J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., and others. Typically in repos, money-market funds lend cash to brokers in exchange for bonds and an agreement to buy back the securities later at an agreed-upon rate.

During the financial crisis however, problems in the repo markets were singled out for their role in the demise of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers. Now, big banks have been shying away from facilitating some repo trades due to new regulations that curtail the firms’ ability to take risks. Murray Pozmanter, managing director and head of clearing services at DTCC, said in an interview the new arrangement with Digital Asset should help because the ledger would provide a way for all firms to agree on trade terms more quickly. Currently, he said, traders have to process two legs of each trade separately: one for the borrower to deliver securities in exchange for cash, and the other in which DTCC unwinds the trade. While the trade is in motion but not yet completed, the banks involved can take on risk.

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Banks will be robots. Is that a good thing?

Growth Of Fintech Forecast To Spur Almost 2 Million Banking Job Cuts (FT)

European and US banks will cut another 1.7m jobs in the next decade as financial technology companies stalk profitable growth areas such as lending and payments, a new report by Citigroup has predicted. The 108-page Citi note takes a forensic look at where “fintech” companies are deploying their resources, how much business they have already won and the consequences for the traditional banking industry. The job cuts — equal to more than 30% of the staff the banks currently employ — come on top of the 730,000 jobs that Citi says US and European banks have already shed from their peak staffing levels. “Obviously the biggest take out will happen in countries that have been through a crisis or are tech savvy,” said Ronit Ghose, one of the authors of the report.

In the US, investment banks clearly have selectively cut a lot of people but US consumer banks haven’t cut as much … in Europe there s been little progress on branch headcount as well. The catalyst for the job cuts is twofold. One factor is the new technologies that enable banks to do more online and less in branches. The other is the financial imperative for banks to be leaner as they deal with an onslaught of new competition in their most profitable niches. High quality global journalism requires investment. Citi’s research found that lending stood out as a key battleground, accounting for 46% of the $19bn in private funding that flowed into fintech during the past six years. The next biggest was payments, accounting for 23% of the investment in fintech.

Lending and payments are both lucrative activities for banks, and losing out on market share is particularly painful when low interest rates are crippling banks’ profitability and low loan demand has made it almost impossible for them to increase revenue. “So far most of the market value in fintech has been created by companies that are embedded in the still relatively new ecosystem of ecommerce,” the report noted. “For banks in many countries, this is an opportunity lost rather than a loss of existing earnings.”

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Very interesting investigation.

The Bribe Factory – How The West Corrupts The Middle East (SMH)

A massive leak of confidential documents has for the first time exposed the true extent of corruption within the oil industry, implicating dozens of leading companies, bureaucrats and politicians in a sophisticated global web of bribery and graft. After a six-month investigation across two continents, Fairfax Media and The Huffington Post can reveal that billions of dollars of government contracts were awarded as the direct result of bribes paid on behalf of firms including British icon Rolls-Royce, US giant Halliburton, Australia’s Leighton Holdings and Korean heavyweights Samsung and Hyundai. The investigation centres on a Monaco company called Unaoil, run by the jet-setting Ahsani clan. Following a coded ad in a French newspaper, a series of clandestine meetings and midnight phone calls led to our reporters obtaining hundreds of thousands of the Ahsanis’ leaked emails and documents.

The trove reveals how they rub shoulders with royalty, party in style, mock anti-corruption agencies and operate a secret network of fixers and middlemen throughout the world’s oil producing nations. Corruption in oil production – one of the world’s richest industries and one that touches us all through our reliance on petrol – fuels inequality, robs people of their basic needs and causes social unrest in some of the world’s poorest countries. It was among the factors that prompted the Arab Spring. Fairfax Media and The Huffington Post today reveal how Unaoil carved up portions of the Middle East oil industry for the benefit of western companies between 2002 and 2012. In part two we will turn to the impoverished former Russian states to reveal the extent of misbehaviour by multinational companies including Halliburton. We will conclude the three-part investigation by showing how corrupt practices have extended deep into Asia and Africa.

The leaked files expose as corrupt two Iraqi oil ministers, a fixer linked to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, senior officials from Libya’s Gaddafi regime, Iranian oil figures, powerful officials in the United Arab Emirates and a Kuwaiti operator known as “the big cheese”. Western firms involved in Unaoil’s Middle East operation include some of the world’s wealthiest and most respected companies: Rolls-Royce and Petrofac from Britain; US companies FMC Technologies, Cameron and Weatherford; Italian giants Eni and Saipem; German companies MAN Turbo (now know as MAN Diesal & Turbo) and Siemens; Dutch firm SBM Offshore; and Indian giant Larsen & Toubro. They also show the offshore arm of Australian company Leighton Holdings was involved in serious, calculated corruption.

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A point I’ve written a lot about. All our major institutions select for sociopaths (a term I’m more comfortable with in the context than psychopath).

Pathocracy: The Rise Of The Political Psychopath (Whitehead)

Twenty years ago, a newspaper headline asked the question: “What’s the difference between a politician and a psychopath?” The answer, then and now, remains the same: None. There is no difference between psychopaths and politicians. Nor is there much of a difference between the havoc wreaked on innocent lives by uncaring, unfeeling, selfish, irresponsible, parasitic criminals and elected officials who lie to their constituents, trade political favors for campaign contributions, turn a blind eye to the wishes of the electorate, cheat taxpayers out of hard-earned dollars, favor the corporate elite, entrench the military industrial complex, and spare little thought for the impact their thoughtless actions and hastily passed legislation might have on defenseless citizens.

Psychopaths and politicians both have a tendency to be selfish, callous, remorseless users of others, irresponsible, pathological liars, glib, con artists, lacking in remorse and shallow. Charismatic politicians, like criminal psychopaths, exhibit a failure to accept responsibility for their actions, have a high sense of self-worth, are chronically unstable, have socially deviant lifestyle, need constant stimulation, have parasitic lifestyles and possess unrealistic goals. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about Democrats or Republicans. Political psychopaths are all largely cut from the same pathological cloth, brimming with seemingly easy charm and boasting calculating minds. Such leaders eventually create pathocracies—totalitarian societies bent on power, control, and destruction of both freedom in general and those who exercise their freedoms.

Once psychopaths gain power, the result is usually some form of totalitarian government or a pathocracy. “At that point, the government operates against the interests of its own people except for favoring certain groups,” author James G. Long notes. “We are currently witnessing deliberate polarizations of American citizens, illegal actions, and massive and needless acquisition of debt. This is typical of psychopathic systems, and very similar things happened in the Soviet Union as it overextended and collapsed.” In other words, electing a psychopath to public office is tantamount to national hara-kiri, the ritualized act of self-annihilation, self-destruction and suicide. It signals the demise of democratic government and lays the groundwork for a totalitarian regime that is legalistic, militaristic, inflexible, intolerant and inhuman.

So why do we keep doing it over and over again? There’s no shortage of dire warnings about the devastation that could be wrought if any one of the current crop of candidates running for the White House gets elected. Yet where the doomsayers go wrong is by ignoring the damage that has already been inflicted on our nation and its citizens by a psychopathic government.

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We should be thankful Russia has such patience.

Russia Vows ‘Totally Asymmetrical’ Response To US Troop Build-Up In Europe (RT)

Russia’s envoy to NATO has vowed a “totally asymmetrical” response if the alliance stands by a plan to deploy new armored units to eastern Europe. Citing Russian “aggression” as a pretext, the US has announced “continuous troop rotations” starting 2017. “We are not passive observers, we consistently take all the military measures we consider necessary in order to counterbalance this reinforced presence that is not justified by anything,” Moscow’s permanent representative at the alliance Aleksandr Grushko said in an interview with TV channel Rossiya-24 on Wednesday. “Certainly, we’ll respond totally asymmetrically.” Grushko has not elaborated further on his statement, but said that Russia’s actions would correspond to its “understanding of the extent of the military threat, would not be extremely expensive, but also highly effective.”

“As of today, assessing as a whole what that the US and NATO are doing, the point at issue is a substantial change for the worse in the security situation,” he said. The comments from Russia’s NATO envoy fell shortly after the Pentagon announced a plan to increase its troop presence in “the European theater” of up to three fully-manned Army brigades by the end of 2017, one armored, one airborne and one Stryker brigade. “This Army implementation plan continues to demonstrate our strong and balanced approach to reassuring our NATO allies and partners in the wake of an aggressive Russia in Eastern Europe and elsewhere,” Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove of the US European Command said. “This means our allies and partners will see more capability – they will see a more frequent presence of an armored brigade with more modernized equipment in their countries.”

The first such rotational armored brigade combat team would arrive in Europe in February next year. Each of the brigades will be on nine-month rotations and bring their own equipment to use for exercises across Europe. NATO also wants to enhance Europe’s current equipment and replace it with “the most modern the Army has to offer.” At the same time, the older gear would become a core of the earlier unveiled “Army pre-positioned stocks”, which NATO would keep in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. [..] “Reading these materials makes your hair stand on end, because of how some experts discuss with aplomb that if NATO had not taken measures, our [Russia’s] tanks would have already be in Tallinn and Riga,” Grushko said.

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Positive feedback. Accelerating returns.

Sea Levels Set To ‘Rise Far More Rapidly Than Expected’

Sea levels could rise far more rapidly than expected in coming decades, according to new research that reveals Antarctica’s vast ice cap is less stable than previously thought. The UN’s climate science body had predicted up to a metre of sea level rise this century – but it did not anticipate any significant contribution from Antarctica, where increasing snowfall was expected to keep the ice sheet in balance. According to a study, published in the journal Nature, collapsing Antarctic ice sheets are expected to double sea-level rise to two metres by 2100, if carbon emissions are not cut. Previously, only the passive melting of Antarctic ice by warmer air and seawater was considered but the new work added active processes, such as the disintegration of huge ice cliffs.

“This [doubling] could spell disaster for many low-lying cities,” said Prof Robert DeConto, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who led the work. He said that if global warming was not halted, the rate of sea-level rise would change from millimetres per year to centimetres a year. “At that point it becomes about retreat [from cities], not engineering of defences.” As well as rising seas, climate change is also causing storms to become fiercer, forming a highly destructive combination for low-lying cities like New York, Mumbai and Guangzhou. Many coastal cities are growing fast as populations rise and analysis by World Bank and OECD staff has shown that global flood damage could cost them $1tn a year by 2050 unless action is taken. The cities most at risk in richer nations include Miami, Boston and Nagoya, while cities in China, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Ivory Coast are among those most in danger in less wealthy countries.

The new research follows other recent studies warning of the possibility of ice sheet collapse in Antarctica and suggesting huge sea-level rises. But the new work suggests that major rises are possible within the lifetimes of today’s children, not over centuries. “The bad news is that in the business-as-usual, high-emissions scenario, we end up with very, very high estimates of the contribution of Antarctica to sea-level rise” by 2100, DeConto told the Guardian. But he said that if emissions were quickly slashed to zero, the rise in sea level from Antarctic ice could be reduced to almost nothing. “This is the good news,” he said. “It is not too late and that is wonderful. But we can’t say we are 100% out of the woods.” Even if emissions are slashed, DeConto said, there remains a 10% chance that sea level will rise significantly.

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A good Yanis article.

Europe Is Too Important To Be Left To Its Clueless Rulers – Varoufakis (Tel.)

It is eight months since Varoufakis resigned as Greece’s finance minister, in the wake of the historic referendum when the Greek people voted to reject the demands of the country’s creditors, the so-called ‘troika’. It was the result that Varoufakis and the Greek prime minster Alexis Tsipras had been campaigning for. But within 24 hours Tsipras had performed a volte-face, accepting the troika’s terms. Varoufakis resigned. A politician without office, Varoufakis now spends his time writing, giving speeches and campaigning to reform Europe from the grass roots up. In February he launched Diem25, a pan-European umbrella group, aiming to pull together left-wing parties, protest movements and ‘rebel regions’ from across the continent, with the object, as he puts it, to ‘shake Europe – gently, compassionately, but firmly’, and bring ‘democracy back to EU decision making.’

He has published a new book, And the Weak Suffer What They Must?, a detailed historical analysis of the origins of Europe’s financial crisis. Its basic thesis is that the eurozone is not the route to shared prosperity it was intended to be but “a pyramid scheme of debt with countries such as Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain at its bottom”. Its conclusion, put bluntly, is that Europe “is too important to be left to its clueless rulers”, and that the eurozone must be “fully recalibrated” if Europe is to avoid a “postmodern” repetition of the 1930s, with financial chaos, the rise of fascism, and the spectre of conflict.

He has recently returned from Abu Dhabi, talking to business leaders at the Global Financial Markets Forum. For every 15 lectures he gives for free, he gets paid for one, he says, ‘but that’s good enough’. And the self-described ‘erratic Marxist’ is a popular draw among bankers and financial institutions. ‘I say to them exactly what I say to a left-wing audience,’ he says. ‘For some reason bankers like my analysis of the euro and global crisis. They’ve had enough of people telling them what they think they want to hear, because that hasn’t worked very well for them in the last seven or eight years. The fact they want me to talk to them is a sign of how deep this crisis is.’

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At least at first glance, a great story. Let’s hope they win some golds too.

Refugees Run For Rio Olympic Dream Team (AFP)

High up in Kenya’s rugged Ngong Hills, refugees sprint around an athletics track in intensive training they hope will see them selected for a unique team for the Rio Olympics. Hand-picked from Kenya’s vast refugee camps – including Dadaab, the biggest in the world — to join the training camp just outside the capital Nairobi, the athletes here have their eyes set on racing in Rio de Janeiro in August. “It will be a very great moment for me and the rest of the refugees, who will be so proud for having produced one of their own who has gone to the Olympics,” said 22-year-old Nzanzumu Gaston Kiza, who fled Democratic Republic of Congo after his relatives were massacred in ethnic clashes. Here at Ngong, a high altitude running track some 2,400 meters (7,875 feet) above sea level, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) southwest of Nairobi, athletes from across eastern Africa are chasing the dream of the Olympics.

Amid a world record number of people forced from their homes and their countries, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) this month announced the creation and funding of Team Refugee Olympic Athletes (ROA) to compete in Rio under its flag. The team, expected to include between five to 10 athletes from across the world, is part of the IOC’s “pledge to aid potential elite athletes affected by the worldwide refugee crisis”. “Team ROA” will march just before the hosts Brazil enter the Olympic Stadium at the opening ceremony – carrying the Olympic flag and anthem – a position likely to be given enormous cries of support. While countries may field their own teams, the refugees are unable to return home safely to take part – and instead will run under the Olympic flag. “We want to send a message of hope for all refugees in our world,” IOC president Thomas Bach said when plans for the team were announced.

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International law no longer has any meaning. Welcome to Europe.

Austria To Tighten Asylum Rules (P.)

Austria is to introduce procedures at its borders to speed up asylum applications and limit the influx of refugees into the country, the government announced Wednesday. From May, authorities will determine “within hours” if an applicant can provide sufficient reason not to be sent back to a safe third country of origin, Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner and Defense Minister Hans Peter Doskozil said. “We will not accept any more asylum applications, unless we have to because of certain criteria like Article 8 of the human rights convention,” Mikl-Leitner said, referring to an article that grants asylum seekers, among other things, the right to stay in a country where they have a partner or children.

The announcement followed news that legal experts commissioned by the Austrian government found that a cap of 37,500 refugees allowed to apply for asylum per year, introduced by Vienna at the beginning of the year, was incompatible with international law. As of the end of March, 15,000 asylum applications had been submitted in Austria this year, according to the country’s interior ministry.

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This will not stop. It may move from one spot to another, but it will continue no matter what. Such is the despair.

Refugee Arrivals To Greece Rise Sharply Despite EU-Turkey Deal (Reuters)

Arrivals of refugees and migrants to Greece from Turkey rose sharply on Wednesday, just over a week since the European Union and Turkey struck a deal intended to cut off the flow. Greek authorities recorded 766 new arrivals between Tuesday morning and Wednesday morning, up from 192 the previous day. Most arrived on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesvos. Italy reported an even larger jump in arrivals on Tuesday, when officials there said 1,350 people – mostly from Africa – were rescued from small boats taking the longer migration route over the Mediterranean as the weather warmed up. The EU Commission said on Tuesday that the flows in the last week had reduced, with only 1,000 people arriving from Turkey on Greek islands, compared to an average of 2,000 a day in the last couple of months.

It was not clear why numbers had dropped, but the Aegean Sea had been hit with bad weather and gale force winds, making the journey from Turkey on small rubber boats even more dangerous. Under the deal in effect since March 20, migrants and refugees who arrive in Greece will be subject to being sent back once they have been registered and their individual asylum claim processed. The returns are to begin from April 4. More that 51,000 refugees and migrants, among those Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis and other fleeing conflict in the Middle East and Asia, are currently stranded in Greece following border closures across the Balkans. Nearly 6,000 people remain stuck at the country’s biggest port of Piraeus port near Athens, having arrived there on ferries from Greek islands close to Turkey before the deal.

Scores have found shelter in passenger waiting lounges while hundreds more sleep in the open, either in flimsy tents or on blankets spread on the dock. Queues for the few portable toilets are long, and scuffles have broken out in recent weeks over mobile phone chargers and food distribution. International rights group Human Rights Watch has described conditions at the port, including basic hygiene, as “abysmal” and says the situation is akin to a “humanitarian crisis.”

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Oct 282015
 
 October 28, 2015  Posted by at 9:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Lewis Wickes Hine Newsies Gus Hodges, 11, and brother Julius, 5, Norfolk VA 1911


Weak US Business Spending Plans Point To Slower Economic Growth (Reuters)
Chinese Consumer Sentiment Indicator Slumps In October (CNBC)
Japan’s Retail Sales Fall Piles Pressure On Bank of Japan (CNBC)
China Steel Head Says Demand Slumping at Unprecedented Speed (Bloomberg)
Why Don’t We Save Our Steelworkers The Way We Saved Bankers? (Chakrabortty)
In China’s Alleyways, Underground Banks Move Money (WSJ)
Where Are My (Business Cycle) Dragons? (FT)
Fossil Fuel Companies Risk Plague Of Climate Change Lawsuits (AEP)
US Plans to Sell Down Strategic Oil Reserve to Raise Cash (Bloomberg)
VW Posts $3.85 Billion Quarterly Loss, First In 15 Years (Bloomberg)
Canada Can Show That Ending Austerity Makes Sense (Paul Krugman)
EU Net Neutrality Laws Fatally Undermined By Loopholes (Guardian)
Territorial Disputes: The South China Sea (Bloomberg)
US to Begin ‘Direct Action on the Ground’ in Iraq, Syria (NBC)
IMF Paints Gloomy Outlook For Sub-Saharan Africa (Reuters)
Children Hardest Hit By Europe’s Economic Crisis (Reuters)
The End Of Visa-Free Travel In Europe May Be Looming (Bloomberg)
Migrant Crisis Could Prompt EU to Loosen Budget Deficit Rules (WSJ)
Slovenia Considers Calling For EU Military Aid (FT)
The Children’s Feet Are Rotting, In 1 Month All These People Will Be Dead (HP)
So Long And Thanks For All The Poo (WaPo)

Deflation in the US…

Weak US Business Spending Plans Point To Slower Economic Growth (Reuters)

A gauge of U.S. business investment plans fell for a second straight month in September, pointing to a sharp slowdown in economic growth and casting more doubts on whether the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this year. Other data on Tuesday showed consumer confidence slipped this month amid worries over a recent moderation in job growth and its potential impact on income. Housing, however, remains the bright spot, with home prices accelerating in August. That should boost household wealth, supporting consumer spending and the broader economy, which has been buffeted by a strong dollar, weak global demand, spending cuts in the energy sector and efforts by businesses to reduce an inventory glut.

The continued weakness in business spending, together with the slowdown in hiring, could make it difficult for the Fed to lift its short-term interest rate from near zero in December, as most economists expect. The U.S. central bank’s policy-setting committee started a two-day meeting on Tuesday. “The drift of data suggests that the first time the Fed will raise rates will be in the spring,” said Steve Blitz, chief economist at ITG Investment Research in New York. Non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, slipped 0.3% last month after a downwardly revised 1.6% decline in August, the Commerce Department said. These so-called core capital goods were previously reported to have dropped 0.8% in August.

The data was the latest dour news for manufacturing, which has borne the brunt of dollar strength, energy sector investment cuts and the inventory correction. Manufacturing accounts for 12% of the economy. In a separate report, the Conference Board said its consumer sentiment index fell to 97.6 this month from a reading of 102.6 in September. Consumers were less optimistic about the labor market, with the share of those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead slipping. There was a drop in the proportion of consumers expecting their incomes to increase and more expected a drop in their income. The downbeat assessment of the labor market follows a step down in job growth in August and September.

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…and in China…

Chinese Consumer Sentiment Indicator Slumps In October (CNBC)

Consumer sentiment in China plunged in October, as the outlook for business conditions plummeted and household finances weakened, a survey showed Wednesday. The Westpac MNI China Consumer Sentiment Indicator fell to 109.7 in October from 118.2 in September, marking the lowest reading since the survey began in 2007. Business outlook over the coming year was the hardest hit, with Business Conditions in One Year registering a 10.3% decline, while the Business Conditions in Five Years component fell 8.2%. Current and expected measures for household finances were also weaker, down 5.3% and 7.3% respectively. The survey is taken from consumers across 30 Chinese cities ranging from tier 1 to tier 3.

Respondents said that they were planning on reducing their shopping and entertainment activities in the near term. “This result openly questions the resilience of the Chinese consumer to the discouraging state of the real economy,” said Huw McKay, senior international economist at Westpac. The survey follows China’s gross domestic product release last week, which showed the world’s second largest economy grew by 6.9% in the three months through September, the slowest pace since 2009. Concerns over the health of the Chinese economy have spilled from Chile to Korea, sparking a sharp sell-off in the price of commodities that Chinese factories traditionally consume in hefty amounts, as well as the currencies of the countries that benefit from selling raw materials to China.

[..] The drop in confidence was most acute among in the 35-to-54-year-old group, with sentiment plunging 11.2% between September and October. In contrast, confidence among the youngest and oldest age cohorts (18-34 and 55-64) declined more moderately by 3.3% and 3.2% respectively, Wesptac said in a statement.

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…and in Japan too..

Japan’s Retail Sales Fall Piles Pressure On Bank of Japan (CNBC)

Japan’s retail sales unexpectedly fell on-year in September, official data showed on Wednesday, suggesting that consumer spending does not the momentum to make up for weak exports and factory output. The retail sales news could add to pressure on the Bank of Japan under to expand monetary stimulus, possibly as soon as its rate review meeting on Friday, when it is also expected to slash its rosy economic and price projections, analysts say. Retail sales fell 0.2% in September from a year earlier, compared with economists’ median estimate for a 0.4% rise, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said on Wednesday.

The decline, which followed five straight months of gains, was largely due to sluggish demand for cars and fuel, according to the data. On a seasonally adjusted basis, retail sales rose 0.7% in September from the previous month. Japan’s economy shrank in April-June and may suffer another contraction in July-September on weak exports and consumption. Analysts say any rebound in the current quarter will be modest as companies feel the pinch from soft demand in China and other emerging Asian markets.

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…and it’s not just consumers, it’s spending across the board.

China Steel Head Says Demand Slumping at Unprecedented Speed (Bloomberg)

If anyone doubted the magnitude of the crisis facing the world’s largest steel industry, listening to Zhu Jimin would put them right, fast. Demand is collapsing along with prices, banks are tightening lending and losses are stacking up, the deputy head of the China Iron & Steel Association said on Wednesday. “Production cuts are slower than the contraction in demand, therefore oversupply is worsening,” said Zhu at a quarterly briefing in Beijing by the main producers’ group. “Although China has cut interest rates many times recently, steel mills said their funding costs have actually gone up.” China’s mills – which produce about half of worldwide output – are battling against oversupply and sinking prices as local consumption shrinks for the first time in a generation amid a property-led slowdown.

The fallout from the steelmakers’ struggles is hurting iron ore prices and boosting trade tensions as mills seek to sell their surplus overseas. Shanghai Baosteel Group forecast last week that China’s steel production may eventually shrink 20%, matching the experience seen in the U.S. and elsewhere. “China’s steel demand evaporated at unprecedented speed as the nation’s economic growth slowed,” Zhu said. “As demand quickly contracted, steel mills are lowering prices in competition to get contracts.” Medium- and large-sized mills incurred losses of 28.1 billion yuan ($4.4 billion) in the first nine months of this year, according to a statement from CISA. Steel demand in China shrank 8.7% in September on-year, it said.

Signs of corporate difficulties are mounting. Producer Angang Steel warned this month it expects to swing to a loss in the third quarter on lower product prices and foreign-exchange losses. The company’s Hong Kong stock has lost more than half its value this year. Last week, Sinosteel, a state-owned steel trader, failed to pay interest due on bonds maturing in 2017. Crude steel output in the country fell 2.1% to 608.9 million tons in the first nine months of this year, while exports jumped 27% to 83.1 million tons, official data show. Steel rebar futures in Shanghai sank to a record on Wednesday as local iron ore prices fell to a three-month low.

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Because there’s a huge global steel oversupply?

Why Don’t We Save Our Steelworkers The Way We Saved Bankers? (Chakrabortty)

Every so often a society decides which of its citizens really matter. Which ones get the star treatment and the big cash handouts – and which get shoved to the bottom of the pile and penalised. These are the big, rough choices post-crash Britain is making right now. A new hierarchy is being set in place by David Cameron in budget after austerity budget. Wealthy pensioners: winners. Young would-be homeowners: losers. Millionaires see their taxes cut to 45%, while the working poor pay a marginal tax rate of 80%. Big business gets to write its own tax code; benefit claimants face harsh sanctions. When the contours of this new social order are easy to spot, they can cause public uproar – as with the cuts to tax credits. Elsewhere, they’re harder to pick out, though still central. It is into this category that the crisis in the British steel industry falls.

It would be easy to tune out the past few weeks’ headlines about plant closures and job losses as just another story of business disaster. But what’s happening to our steelworkers, and what we do to protect them, goes to the heart of the debate about which people – and which places – count in Britain’s political economy. If Westminster lets the UK’s steel industry die, it’s in effect declaring that certain regions and the people who live and work in them are surplus to requirements. That it really doesn’t matter if Britain makes things. That the phrase “skilled working-class jobs” is now little more than an oxymoron. That’s the criteria against which to judge MPs, as they continue to take evidence today on the crisis and then debate options.

What does this crisis look like? Imagine coming to work on a September morning – only to find that you and one in six other employees in your entire industry face redundancy before Christmas. That’s the prospect facing British steelworkers. Motherwell, Middlesbrough, Scunthorpe: some of the most kicked-about places in de-industrialised Britain now face more punishment. Mothball the SSI plant in Redcar and it’s not just 2,200 workers that you send to the dole office and whose families you shove on the breadline. An entire local economy goes on life support: the suppliers of parts, the outside engineers who used to do the servicing, the port workers and hauliers, the cafes and shops. Within days of SSI’s closure, one of Teeside’s biggest employment agencies went into liquidation.

[..] Britain is entering the early stages of yet another industrial catastrophe. It could finally sink a sector, steel, that actually helps reduce the country’s gaping trade deficit. With that will go another pocket of well-paid blue-collar jobs. Chuck in employer contributions to pensions and national insurance, and the total remuneration per SSI staffer is £40,000 a year. Just try getting such pay in a call centre or distribution warehouse, even as a manager. Imagine what would happen if manufacturing were centred around the capital, and its executives had Downing Street on speed dial. Actually, you needn’t imagine – merely remember the meltdown of 2008. Then Gordon Brown was so desperate to save the City that the IMF estimates he propped it up with £1.2 trillion of public money. That’s the equivalent of nearly £20,000 from every man, woman and child in the country doled out to bankers in direct cash, loans and taxpayer guarantees.

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Try ten times that: “..central-bank officials who attempt to say that underground banks handle about 800 billion yuan ($125 billion) annually..”

In China’s Alleyways, Underground Banks Move Money (WSJ)

In a warren of tiny shops beneath grimy residential towers, a white-haired man selling Snickers bars and fizzy drinks from a kiosk no larger than a cashier’s booth is figuring out a way to move $100,000 out of China. That is twice what Chinese are allowed to send out of the country in a year. Licensed banks won’t do it. But middlemen like Mr. Chen, perched in his mini-mart at the front lines of a vast underground currency-exchange and offshore-remittance network, can and often will. “There’s never a certainty that these things can be done,” said Mr. Chen, who declined to give his full name. “But, usually, when things get stricter, the fee will just be a bit higher.” Facing a turbulent stock market and a weakening economy, many Chinese are trying to move money offshore.

That spells business for operations that can end-run capital controls. No official data track the underground transfers, but central-bank officials who attempt to say that underground banks handle about 800 billion yuan ($125 billion) annually, and more than usual this year. One sign of unusually high activity in underground banks is a drop in China’s foreign-exchange reserves, an indicator of demand for hard currency. Reserves fell by a record $93.9 billion in August and $43 billion more in September, though part of the reason was central-bank selling to support the yuan. Often hidden behind the façades of convenience stores and tea shops, they cater to a clientele ranging from corrupt officials hiding gains to middle-class Chinese trying to buy overseas property.

All believe their money is safer abroad or can bring a higher return, a sentiment that has deepened since this summer’s stock-market plunge. New York real-estate agent Jiang Jinjin said she has handled nearly 2,000 residential-property purchases this year for Chinese families with children at Columbia University. “I didn’t sleep much this summer. Too many kids looking for apartments,” she said. Some customers rely on relatives and friends to carry cash over on repeated trips, she said, and some set up U.S. companies. Such firms can be used to overpay for imports, experts on underground banking say. Ms. Jiang said her company checks the provenance of money used to buy real estate.

The outflows have put underground bankers in China in the cross hairs of financial regulators. China’s capital controls were set up to keep funds onshore when the country was starved for investment. Officials consider them still necessary, to prevent sharp outflows of the kind that shocked developing economies in the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Also, too much cash going out could complicate efforts to stimulate growth through interest-rate cuts.

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Early understanding.

Where Are My (Business Cycle) Dragons? (FT)

The Qian Diagram implies a complete circulation with characteristics of contraction and expansion as well as phases of prosperity, recession, depression and recovery. The corresponding economic cycles are as follows: “Hidden Dragon. Do not act” refers to the economy that in a slump or depressed state in which it is hard to do anything; “Dragon appearing in the field” implies an economic recovery, in which successful people can take the opportunity to succeed; “The energetic gentlemen work hard all day” means keeping vigorous through the whole recovery phase, and no one can relax at any time. Being certain about the target and achieving it with effort and prudence, there will be no great harm even if in the face of risks; “Dragon wavering over the depths” refers to the phase from depression to recovery.

During this rising period, the average social profit rate is high and almost every business runs smoothly; “Flying dragon in the heavens” refers to the most economically prosperous period; “Arrogant dragon will have cause to repent” refers to recession in the economic cycle, which suggests things will develop in the opposite direction when they reach an extreme; “A flight of dragon without heads” indicates that in the prosperous period, monopoly will emerge, while after the economy enters recession, monopoly would disintegrate and be replaced instead by a pattern of free competition, which is a symbol of good performance for the economy.

[..] Guanzi is said to be the record of thoughts and remarks by Qi’s famous premier Guan Zhong and his School in the Spring and Autumn Period, which was between 475 B.C. and 221 B.C… Thought on demand management policy as well as fiscal and monetary policies is all covered in Guanzi. There are extensive discussions on the proper fiscal policy that should be undertaken during an economic depression in the Chapter Cheng Ma the sixty-ninth of Guanzi. “When people lose their fundamentals of living in years with frequent floods and droughts, the monarch can recruit those who live in extreme poverty and give them payment through the activities like constructing the palace. Therefore, the purpose of constructing pavilions is to appease national economic fluctuations rather than for enjoyment.” This is the earliest description of policy in Chinese history with characteristics of Keynesianism.

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Ambrose has a hobby horse.

Fossil Fuel Companies Risk Plague Of Climate Change Lawsuits (AEP)

Oil, gas and coal companies face the mounting risk of legal damages for alleged climate abuse as global leaders signal an end to business-as-usual and draw up sweeping plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions, Bank of America has warned. Investors in the City are increasingly concerned that fossil fuel groups and their insurers are on the wrong side of a powerful historical shift and could be swamped with exhorbitant class-action lawsuits along the lines of tobacco and asbestos litigation in the US. “It is setting off alarm bells that there could be these long tail risks,” said Abyd Karmali, Bank of America’s head of climate finance. Mr Karmali said the United Nations’ “COP21” climate summit in Paris in December is likely to be a landmark event that starts to shut the door on parts of the fossil industry.

“It is a non-exchangeable, one-way ticket to a low-carbon economy,” he said. Christiana Figueres, the UN’s top climate official, said 155 countries have already put forward detailed plans covering 88pc of global CO2 emissions, and others are expected to join before the deadline expires. “It is unstoppable. No amount of lobbying at this point is going to change the direction,” she told a Carbon Tracker forum in London. Mrs Figueres said the mood has changed entirely since the failed summit in Copenhagen in 2009. This time China is fully on board. “China is already spending more on renewables than any other country. It is going to introduce its own emissions trading scheme in 2017,” she said. Mrs Figueres said the pledges are not yet enough to cap the rise in average global temperatures to two degrees Centrigrade above pre-industrial levels by 2100 – the “two degree world” deemed the safe limit.

But the Paris accord does promise to “bend” the trajectory to 2.7 degrees and will almost certainly be followed by a series of deals that brings the ultimate target within sight. “We think most countries will be able to over-achieve,” she said. While the exact contours are still unclear, Paris is likely to sketch a way towards zero net emissions later this century. It implies that most fossil fuel reserves booked by major oil, gas and coal companies can never be burned. A deal would also send a moral signal with legal ramifications. Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank England, warned last month that by those who had suffered losses from climate change may try to bring claims on third-party liability insurance. He specifically mentioned the parallel of asbestos claims in US courts, which have mounted over the years to $85bn and devastated some Lloyd’s syndicates.

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Like Gordon Brown selling England’s gold reserves. Timing is everything.

US Plans to Sell Down Strategic Oil Reserve to Raise Cash (Bloomberg)

The U.S. plans to sell millions of barrels of crude oil from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve from 2018 until 2025 under a budget deal reached on Monday night by the White House and top lawmakers from both parties. The proposed sale, included in a bill posted on the White House website, equates to more than 8% of the 695 million barrels of reserves, held in four sites along the Gulf of Mexico coast. Sales are due to start in 2018 at an annual rate of 5 million barrels, rising to 10 million by 2023 and totaling 58 million barrels by the end of the period. The proceeds will be “deposited into the general fund of the Treasury,” according to the bill. The sale is the second time the U.S. has raised cash from the reserve, created as a counter-balance to the power of Arab producers after the first oil crisis of 1973-74.

The U.S. may sell also additional barrels to cover a $2 billion program from 2017 to 2020 to modernize the strategic reserve, including building new pipelines. The White House on Tuesday urged lawmakers to support the budget deal, including the proposed partial sale of the SPR, saying it was “a responsible agreement that is paid for in a balanced way.” Supporters of the sale argue the U.S. doesn’t require such a big emergency reserve as rising domestic production on the back of the shale boom offsets the need for imports. Critics, including oil analysts and former U.S. energy officials, say using the underground reserve as a piggy bank makes it less effective in meeting its intended purpose: combating a “severe energy disruption.” What’s more, the government would be selling at a time when oil is unlikely to have recovered from its slump over the past 18 months.

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VW must cut investments. They might as well cut their entire diesel division.

VW Posts $3.85 Billion Quarterly Loss, First In 15 Years (Bloomberg)

Volkswagen AG, Europe’s largest automaker, posted a €3.48 billion operating loss for the third quarter, worse than analysts’ estimate of a €3.27 billion loss. The company made €3.23 billion profit in the third-quarter a year ago. The historic loss comes amid a widening global emissions scandal after it was revealed software was used to cheat official exhaust analysis checks. The company also announced it would cut its 2015 profit target, saying earnings before interest and tax would drop “significantly.”

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Afraid it’s too late now. Deflation comes first. Oil is down for the count. Next, watch real estate.

Canada Can Show That Ending Austerity Makes Sense (Paul Krugman)

Canadians were less caught up than the rest of us in the ideology of bank deregulation. As a result, Canada was spared the worst of the 2008 financial crisis. Which brings us to the issue of deficits and public investment. Here’s what the Liberal Party of Canada platform had to say on the subject: “Interest rates are at historic lows, our current infrastructure is aging rapidly, and our economy is stuck in neutral. Now is the time to invest.” Does that sound reasonable? It should because it is. We’re living in a world awash with savings that the private sector doesn’t want to invest and is eager to lend to governments at very low interest rates. It’s obviously a good idea to borrow at those low, low rates, putting those excess savings, not to mention the workers unemployed due to weak demand, to use building things that will improve our future. [..]

Since 2010 public investment has been falling as a share of GDP in both Europe and the US, and it’s now well below pre-crisis levels. Why? The answer is that in 2010 elite opinion somehow coalesced around the view that deficits, not high unemployment and weak growth, were the great problem facing policymakers. There was never any evidence for this view; after all, those low interest rates showed that markets weren’t at all worried about debt. But never mind – it was what all the important people were saying, and all that you read in much of the financial press. And few politicians were willing to challenge this orthodoxy. Those who should have stood up for public spending suffered a striking failure of nerve.

Britain’s Labour Party, in particular, essentially accepted Conservative claims that the nation was facing a fiscal crisis and was reduced to arguing at the margin about what form austerity should take. Even President Barack Obama temporarily began echoing Republican rhetoric about the need to tighten the government’s belt. And having bought into deficit panic, centre-left parties found themselves in an extremely weak position. Austerity rhetoric comes naturally to right-wing politicians, who are always arguing that we can’t afford to help the poor and unlucky (although somehow we’re able to afford tax cuts for the rich). Centre-left politicians who endorse austerity, however, find themselves reduced to arguing that they won’t inflict quite as much pain. It’s a losing proposition, politically as well as economically.

Now come Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, who are finally willing to say what sensible economists have been saying all along. And they weren’t punished politically – on the contrary they won a stunning victory. So will the Liberals put their platform into practice? They should. Interest rates remain incredibly low: Canada can borrow for 10 years at only 1.5%, and its 30-year inflation-protected bonds yield less than 1%. Furthermore, Canada is probably facing an extended period of weak private demand thanks to low oil prices and the likely deflation of a housing bubble. Let’s hope, then, that Trudeau stays with the programme. He has an opportunity to show the world what truly responsible fiscal policy looks like.

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“.. its cut-down nature has prompted the web’s inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, to advise people to “just say no” to it.”

EU Net Neutrality Laws Fatally Undermined By Loopholes (Guardian)

Supporters of net neutrality have accused the European Union of undermining its own net neutrality laws after MEPs voted down amendments aimed at closing loopholes. Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers should treat all online content equally without blocking or slowing down specific websites on purpose or allowing companies to pay for preferential treatment. The European parliament voted through new rules intended to enshrine that principle in law, but critics say they are fatally undermined by a number of loopholes which “open the door to an end to net neutrality”. An attempt to close those loopholes through amendments failed to gain enough support from MEPs to pass.

Following the vote, the regulations are immediately in force in all EU member states, but national regulators, who are ultimately responsible for overseeing the implementation of the rules, will not be expected to start enforcement for six months. Among the exceptions opposed by net neutrality supporters is one which allows providers to offer priority to “specialised services”, providing they still treat the “open” internet equally. Many had seen the exception as allowing providers to offer an internet fast lane to paying sites, leading to the Italian government to propose removing the exception from the draft regulations. The final draft, however, limits what services can be given priority to uses like remote surgery, driverless cars and preventing terrorist attacks. The regulation also requires that those specialised services cannot be offered if they restrict bandwidth for normal internet users.

A different exception is aimed at situations where the limitation is not speed, but data usage. The EU’s regulations allow “zero rating”, a practice whereby certain sites or applications are not counted against data limits. That gives those sites a specific advantage when dealing with users with strict data caps such as those on mobile internet. The new regulations allow national regulators to decide whether or not to allow zero rating in their own country. The most significant example of the practice is Internet.org, Facebook’s platform for spreading net access to the developing world. The service allows access for free to sites including Facebook and Wikipedia, but its cut-down nature has prompted the web’s inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, to advise people to “just say no” to it.

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A tangled web.

Territorial Disputes: The South China Sea (Bloomberg)

Some things are worth fighting for. What about a few desert islands occupied mainly by birds, goats and moles? China and Japan seem to think so, the rest of the world is alarmed and a look at other territorial disputes around the globe shows that stranger things have happened. There are about 60 such conflicts simmering worldwide. Most will bubble along, unresolved but harmless, 400 years after the Peace of Westphalia established the notion of national sovereignty. Others are more dangerous. China claims more than 80% of the South China Sea and has constructed artificial islands there for potential development. The U.S. sailed a warship through nearby waters in October, showing it doesn’t recognize the features in the Spratly Islands as having the same rights as Chinese territory.

Five other nations claim parts of the same maritime area: Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan. China’s claim to the oil- and gas-rich waters dates to 1947. In November 2014, China and Japan agreed to disagree about century-old claims to a separate set of islands 1,000 miles to the northeast in the East China Sea. That was progress; a year earlier China had proclaimed an “air defense identification zone” over the islands. Taiwan stakes a claim, too and South Korea flew military planes through the self-proclaimed Chinese zone. President Barack Obama went to Japan in 2014 and promised to defend the disputed islands, called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese and administered by Japan since 1972. China is locked in a separate disagreement with India over the two countries’ land border.

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Boots on the ground.

US to Begin ‘Direct Action on the Ground’ in Iraq, Syria (NBC)

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Tuesday that the U.S. will begin “direct action on the ground” against ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria, aiming to intensify pressure on the militants as progress against them remains elusive. “We won’t hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL, or conducting such missions directly whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground,” Carter said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services committee, using an alternative name for the militant group. Carter pointed to last week’s rescue operation with Kurdish forces in northern Iraq to free hostages held by ISIS. Carter and Pentagon officials initially refused to characterize the rescue operation as U.S. boots on the ground.

However, Carter said last week that the military expects “more raids of this kind” and that the rescue mission “represents a continuation of our advise and assist mission.” This may mean some American soldiers “will be in harm’s way, no question about it,” Carter said last week. After months of denying that U.S. troops would be in any combat role in Iraq, Carter late last week in a response to a question posed by NBC News, also acknowledged that the situation U.S. soldiers found themselves in during the raid in Hawija was combat. “This is combat and things are complicated,” Carter said.

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The poor were always going to be the first and worst victims.

IMF Paints Gloomy Outlook For Sub-Saharan Africa (Reuters)

This year’s slump in commodity prices and the end of a flood of cheap dollars has pegged back African growth to its weakest in six years and things could get worse if the global economy continues to flounder, the IMF said on Tuesday. In its latest African Economic Outlook, entitled “Dealing with the Gathering Clouds”, the Fund said the poorest continent was likely to grow 3.75% this year and 4.25% next, a big drop from the years before and after the 2008/2009 financial crisis. “The strong growth momentum evident in the region in recent years has dissipated,” the report said. “With the possibility that the external environment might turn even less favourable, risks to this outlook remain on the downside.”

Hardest-hit have been sub-Sahara’s eight oil exporters – led by top producers Nigeria and Angola – although others such as Ghana, Zambia and South Africa were also suffering from weak minerals prices, power shortages and difficult financing conditions. However, the Fund noted some bright spots, most notably Ivory Coast, which is scheduled to expand as much as 9% this year due to an investment boom that followed the end of a brief civil war in 2012. This weekend’s overwhelmingly peaceful election, which President Alassane Ouattara – a former IMF official – is widely expected to win, has reinforced hopes Francophone Africa’s biggest economy has put its worst years behind it. With commodities revenues forecast to remain depressed for several years, governments have to work quickly to diversify revene sources by improving domestic tax collection, said Antoinette Sayeh, head of the IMF’s Africa department.

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The poor, the young, the old and the sick.

Children Hardest Hit By Europe’s Economic Crisis (Reuters)

Some 26 million children and young people in Europe are threatened by poverty or social exclusion after years of economic crisis, according to a study by the Bertelsmann Foundation which gave Greece the worst marks in the entire EU. Bertelmann’s Social Justice Index, an annual survey of social conditions in the 28-member bloc, found a yawning gap between north and south, and between young and old. In Spain, Greece, Italy and Portugal, the number of children and young people that are under threat because of their economic condition has increased by 1.2 million to 7.6 million since 2007, the study said. In addition, the number of EU citizens between 20 and 24 years old who are neither employed nor in education or training has risen in 25 of the 28 member states since 2008, with Germany and Sweden the only countries where the outlook for this age group has improved.

In Italy, 32% of people in their early 20s fall into this category, while in Spain it is 24.8%. “We cannot afford to lose a generation in Europe, either socially or economically,” said Aart De Geus, chairman of the executive board at Bertelsmann. “The EU and its member states must make special efforts to sustainably improve opportunities for younger people.” By contrast, the study found that a declining number of people aged 65 or older are at risk of poverty, because retirement benefits have not declined as strongly as incomes for younger citizens. Bertelsmann said three Europe-wide trends were exacerbating this gulf between young and old, including growing public debt, stagnating investment in education and research, and rising pressure on the financial viability of social security systems. Sweden, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Czech Republic stood at the top of the social justice rankings, while Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Italy and Spain were at the bottom.

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And then there’s no reason to be left for the EU.

The End Of Visa-Free Travel In Europe May Be Looming (Bloomberg)

Warnings of an end to visa-free travel intensified in the EU as Slovenia said it may join Hungary in fencing off its borders if the bloc fails to help countries on its southeastern fringe. Slovene Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec said the Adriatic nation will “adopt all measures” to ensure the safety of its citizens and migrants if the situation worsens and the accord reached Sunday in Brussels isn’t implemented, STA news service reported Tuesday. EU President Donald Tusk said the bloc must protect its external frontiers. He echoed an alarm issued Monday by Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni, who said free-movement of people, one of the EU’s founding principles, may be at risk. “This challenge has the potential to change the European Union we have built,” Tusk told EU lawmakers on Tuesday in Strasbourg, France.

“It has the potential to create tectonic changes in the European political landscape, and these are not changes for the better.” The leaders of 11 EU and Balkan countries agreed on a 17-point plan on Sunday that offered short-term fixes for the 1 million or more migrants expected in the bloc this year. The deal includes sending about 400 policemen to help Slovenia control its borders, emergency housing for as many as 100,000 refugees, a stepped-up registration system and bolstering policing on the EU’s southeastern edge. Still, with winter approaching, countries continue to squabble over longer-term solutions. Many Balkan countries say they’re being overwhelmed after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last month there could be no limit on asylum for those who meet the conditions. That coincided with a shift in the route taken by migrants that once led mainly through Libya to Italy. Now most are winding from Turkey to Greece, through the Balkan states, and then further north.

Complaining about a lack of coordination in the EU, countries have embarked on divergent policies. Many eastern members oppose a German-led push to redistribute the refugees across the bloc with mandatory quotas, saying the migrants don’t want to stay on their territory. Amid the bickering, Hungary has drawn criticism for fencing off its borders, while Slovenia has complained Croatia is waving migrants through. The Republic of Macedonia says its southern neighbor Greece is doing the same, without following the rules that arrivals must be registered in the first EU state they enter. Such squabbling helped prompt European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to call Sunday’s meeting in Brussels and he said on Tuesday that national cooperation already had improved.
“We are putting an end to all beggar-thy-neighbor policies,” Juncker told the European Parliament. “Instead, countries shall help their neighbors by telling each other what they are doing.”

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The EU must compensate Greece for all costs, not ‘allow’ it to run a bigger deficit. That’s just crazy. And amoral.

Migrant Crisis Could Prompt EU to Loosen Budget Deficit Rules (WSJ)

European Union governments will be able to offset some of the costs related to the migrant crisis from the EU’s budget deficit rules, according to a top EU official in charge of policing national budgets. Under EU rules, governments have to stick to a budget deficit of 3% of GDP or face fines. “It will be a country-by-country assessment, but we will bear in mind the cost entailed by refugee policies more than up to now,” European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker told the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday. Mr. Juncker said that given the “exceptionally serious problem” of the refugee crisis, there will be some room for maneuver for the Commission, the EU executive, when assessing the countries’ budget deficits.

“If a country is making huge efforts, there should be a commensurate understanding of what they have done. If a country is unable to prove it’s affected by the cost of refugee policies, then we won’t necessarily apply the flexibility of the Stability and Growth Pact to them,” Mr. Juncker said. Germany, the main destination country for refugees arriving in Europe, is expected to triple its budget for accommodating asylum seekers to an estimated €15 billion. Germany’s current deficit is within the EU rules, but that may change by the end of the year. Austria and Italy, two countries affected by the migration crisis and whose budgets are likely to surpass the 3% threshold, have already been pressing the Commission to exempt their refugee spending from the EU’s budget assessment.

Fiscal hawks, however, including Germany’s own finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, have been wary of supporting that call, for fear that other countries will seize the opportunity and offset budget expenditures which aren’t necessarily refugee-related. Greece, Croatia and Slovenia—all countries on the main migrant route into Europe—are already in breach of the 3% deficit rule. They are likely to get their deadlines for reaching 3% extended if they can prove that the refugee crisis has taken a toll on their already-strapped coffers.

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The EU has no military. Nor would it solve anything. Separate countries do, but can they operate on reign territory?

Slovenia Considers Calling For EU Military Aid (FT)

Slovenia, the tiny Balkan state struggling to cope with the migration crisis, has raised the idea of invoking a never-before-used “solidarity clause” in the EU treaties to formally request European aid and military support. Ljubljana recently floated the option of triggering Article 222, which enables military aid to EU nations overwhelmed by disasters, according to two officials familiar with the talks. It indicates the drastic steps under consideration to deal with a tide of asylum seekers arriving in Europe. The Alpine state of just 2m people has received 84,000 migrants over the past 10 days, leading the government to call in its national army as well as private security personnel to help its small police force. It received a further 8,000 migrants between Monday evening and Tuesday morning — a figure that exceeds the size of Slovenia’s army.

Against that backdrop, one Slovenian government official said invoking Article 222 was a “viable option” as a last resort. Ljubljana has not officially commented on the idea. Alarmed by the potential for Slovenia pulling the bloc’s emergency cord, EU officials have sought to head off a request, in part by arranging for EU countries to provide 400 police to help Ljubljana manage the crisis. Slovenian officials have put a brave face on the meagre results of Sunday’s summit of European leaders on the so-called western Balkans route, but are keeping up threats to take more aggressive steps. Miro Cerar, Slovenia’s prime minister, had warned the EU would “fall apart” unless the “unbearable” pressure was not eased promptly. His foreign minister Karl Erjavec hinted at the potential for a fence, saying “impediments” could be considered to stem the cross-border flows.

The solidarity clause states that EU member states “shall mobilise all the instruments at its disposal, including the military resources” in the event the requesting country is subject to a terrorist attack or is the victim or a man-made or natural disaster. It has never been invoked. Although the clause is explicit in the potential for military aid and the “spirit of solidarity”, it does not say the support would be automatic. Some EU officials are keen for the principle not to be tested. Up to half a million migrants have attempted to pass through the so-called Balkan corridor between Greece and Germany since the start of the year, overwhelming governments and inflaming already tense relations in the region.

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Devastating.

The Children’s Feet Are Rotting, In 1 Month All These People Will Be Dead (HP)

“There are thousands of children here and their feet are literally rotting, they can’t keep dry, they have high fevers and they’re standing in the pouring rain for days on end. You have one month guys, and then all these people will be dead”. Those were the final words of Dr Linda on the phone, a doctor that our volunteer organisations (Help Refugees and CalAid) had asked to fly out to Lesbos in response to an emergency cry for help from an overwhelmed volunteer on the ground. The weight of those words and the responsibility that comes with them felt crippling. But why are we, a film maker, a radio presenter, and a music assistant being tasked with this responsibility? Shouldn’t, as we had presumed, the large charities and governments be taking the charge of care for the precious lives arriving on Europe shores?

Another call came in – this time from volunteers in Serbia – the refugees are burning plastic bags to keep warm, they have nothing else, they are freezing to death, and the fumes from the bags are slowly poisoning them, please send help. Then another – this time from volunteers on Lesbos trying to find out how to order body bags en masse… will they have to resort this? Time will tell, but certainly people there have already started to die. We wished we could pick up the phone and call someone… who? A charity? An emergency team? The government? The army? How could we sit by and watch whilst these people die, and the handfuls of volunteers struggle and suffer too. But who is there to call? The charities are acting slowly, they have protocols to follow, political considerations, red tape, hierarchy and procedures.

Our government’s policy is not to help in Europe, and only to send aid to places like Syria, Lebanon in Jordan. So… it’s left to everyday people, untrained, unprepared, and overwhelmed, to deal with this crisis. Everyday people like us… a small group of friends who nine weeks ago decided to raise a little bit of cash, get a car load of goods and drive it to Calais. We’d heard from friends who’d been there some of the terrible stories of war and persecution, we knew that numbers were growing, that more children were coming everyday, and that conditions were dire. Our plan was to do our bit, pat ourselves on the back, and then go back to our lives feeling that we’d done something good for our fellow mankind.

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Nature is a complex system.

So Long And Thanks For All The Poo (WaPo)

It only takes a glance at a history book and a look out the window to know that our planet has lost many of its biggest creatures: The world that was once home to mammoths and towering dinosaurs can now barely maintain stable populations of rhinos and whales. But according to a new study, we’ve got more to mourn than just the animals themselves. We’ve lost their feces, too — and that’s a bigger problem than you might think. Why should we miss steaming piles of dinosaur dung? According to research published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, megafauna play a greater role in the spread of nutrients across the planet than scientists ever realized. The research focused on modeling the distribution of phosphorus, a nutrient necessary for fertilizing plant growth.

Scientists know that animals help carry these nutrients around by, well, not pooping where they eat. Without this process, nutrients would end up following gravity onto the ocean floor, instead of spreading as high as the mountain tops. But these days most of the nutrient recycling that happens is due to bacteria — not wandering poopers. “I wanted to know whether the world of the past with all the endemic animals was more fertile than our current world,” lead study author Chris Doughty of Oxford University told The Post. “Large free-ranging animals are much less abundant than they once were. Today, if scientists were to study the role of animals they would find that it is important but small,” Doughty explained. “However, in the past, we hypothesize that it would have been at least an order of magnitude larger than today.

Essentially, we have replaced wild free-roaming animals with fenced domestic cattle that cannot move nutrients in the same way.” Some of these contributors — the massive land animals that once roamed our planet — are gone for good. But others are dwindling before our very eyes. In one example of the effect, the researchers found that whales — which have seen dramatic population loss in the last century, mainly due to hunting and habitat disruption — used to bring an estimated 750 million pounds of phosphorus up from the deep ocean to the surface each year. Since whales feed deep in the water and come up to breathe — and poop — at the surface, they’re great at helping to recycle these resources.

But today, the researchers estimate, whales only bring 165 million pounds of phosphorus up annually. That’s just 23% of their previous contribution. Phosphorus movement by birds and fish that come inland after eating in the sea (like salmon, for example) are just 4% what they once were.

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Oct 122015
 
 October 12, 2015  Posted by at 9:02 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Dorothea Lange Country filling station, Granville County, NC July 1939


The Golden Age Of Central Banks Is At An End – Time To Tax And Spend? (Guardian)
QE Causes Deflation, Not Inflation (Josh Brown)
Western Economies Still Too Weak To Handle Fed Rate Rise, Says China (Guardian)
The World Still Needs A Way To Stop Hot Money Scalding Us All (Guardian)
Glencore Shares Halted Pending Statement On Proposed Asset Sales (Bloomberg)
Commodity Contagion Sparks Second Credit Crisis As Investors Panic (Telegraph)
Japan Inc. Sounds Alarm On Consumer Spending (Reuters)
World Cannot Spend Its Way Out Of A Slump, Warns OECD Chief (Telegraph)
Growing Government Debt Will Test Euro-Zone Solidarity (Paul)
EU Bank Chief ‘Could Recall Volkswagen Loans’ (BBC)
UK Government Emissions Tester Paid £80 Million By Car Firms (Telegraph)
Volkswagen’s Home City Enveloped In Fear, Anger And Disbelief (FT)
The Russians Are Fleeing London’s Stock Market (Bloomberg)
Soaring London House Prices Sucking Cash Out Of Economy (Guardian)
Australia Housing Bust Now The Greatest Recession Risk (SMH)
Don’t Let The Nobel Prize Fool You. Economics Is Not A Science (Joris Luyendijk)
The Tragic Ending To Obama’s Bay Of Pigs: CIA Hands Over Syria To Russia (ZH)
EU Must Stop ‘Racist Criteria’ In Refugee Relocation – Greece (Reuters)

“The world is one recession away from a period of stagnation and prolonged deflation in which the challenge would be to avoid a re-run of the Great Depression of the 1930s.”

The Golden Age Of Central Banks Is At An End – Time To Tax And Spend? (Guardian)

Turn those machines back on. So demands the unscrupulous banker, Mortimer Duke, when he finds he and his brother Randolph have been ruined by their speculative scam in the film Trading Places. Having lost all his money betting wrongly on orange juice futures, Mortimer demands that trading be restarted so that he can win it back. It’s not known whether Christine Lagarde is a secret fan of John Landis movies. As a French citizen, François Truffaut might be more her taste. There is, though, more than a hint of Trading Places about the advice being handed out by Lagarde’s IMF to global policymakers. To Europe and Japan, the message is to print some more money. Keep those machines turned on, in other words.

To the US and the UK, there was a warning that raising interest – something central banks in both countries are contemplating – could have nasty spillover effects around the rest of the world. Think long and hard before turning those machines off because you may have to turn them back on again before very long, Lagarde is saying, because the big risk to the global economy is not that six years of unprecedented stimulus has caused inflation but that the recovery is faltering. These are indeed weird times. Share prices are rising and so is the cost of crude oil, but the sense in financial markets is that the next crisis is just around the corner. The world is one recession away from a period of stagnation and prolonged deflation in which the challenge would be to avoid a re-run of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

That fate was avoided in 2008-09 by strong and co-ordinated policy action: deep cuts in interest rates, printing money, tax cuts, higher public spending, wage subsidies and selective support for strategically important industries. But what would policymakers do in the event of a fresh crisis? Would they double down on measures that have already been found wanting or go for something more radical? Ideas are already being floated, such as negative interest rates that would penalise people for holding cash, or the creation of money by central banks that would either be handed straight to consumers or used to finance public infrastructure, also known as “people’s QE”.

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Time people understood this. “QE is deflationary because it shrinks net interest margins for banks via depressing treasury bond yields. It also enriches the already wealthy via asset price inflation but they do not raise their consumption in response..”

QE Causes Deflation, Not Inflation (Josh Brown)

Why were the inflation hawks so wrong about quantitative easing? Why didn’t all the money printing lead to commodity prices skyrocketing? One answer is that, while bank reserves were boosted, lending didn’t take off and there was no uptick in the velocity of money the speed at which capital zooms through the economy and turns over. Absent velocity of money, QE could be looked at as either ineffective or actually causing a deflationary environment, where capital is hoarded and everyone is too petrified to risk it on productive endeavors. Christopher Wood (CLSA) explains further in his new GREED & fear note:

To GREED & fear the best way to illustrate that quantitative easing is not working is the continuing decline in velocity and the resulting lack of a credit multiplier since the unorthodox monetary regime was introduced. In America, Japan and the Eurozone velocity has continued to decline since the financial crisis in 2008. Thus, US, Japan and Eurozone money velocity, measured as the nominal GDP to M2 ratio, has declined from 1.94x, 0.7x and 1.29x respectively in 1Q98 to 1.5x, 0.55x and 1.05x in 2Q15 (see Figure 3).

Indeed, US money velocity is now at a six-decade low. This is why those who have predicted a surge in inflation in recent years caused by the Fed printing money have so far been proven wrong. For inflation, as defined by conventional economists like Bernanke in the narrow sense of consumer prices and the like, will not pick up unless the turnover of money increases. This is the problem with the narrow form of mechanical monetarism associated with the likes of American economist Milton Friedman.

Wood goes on to make the point that QE is deflationary because it shrinks net interest margins for banks via depressing treasury bond yields. It also enriches the already wealthy via asset price inflation but they do not raise their consumption in response, because how much more shit can they possibly buy? Finally, it leads to a preference of share buybacks vs investment spending because the payback from financial engineering is so much easier and more immediate.

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And China too.

Western Economies Still Too Weak To Handle Fed Rate Rise, Says China (Guardian)

The slow recovery of western economies means the US Federal Reserve should not raise interest rates yet, according to the Chinese finance minister. Speaking on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Lima, Lou Jiwei said developed economies were to blame for the global economic malaise because their slow recoveries were not creating enough demand. “The United States isn’t at the point of raising interest rates yet and under its global responsibilities it can’t raise rates,” Lou said in an interview published in the China Business News on Monday. The minister said the US “should assume global responsibilities” because of the dollar’s status as a global currency.

Lou’s comments were published hours after Fed vice-chairman Stanley Fischer said policymakers were likely to raise interest rates this year, but that that was “an expectation, not a commitment”. Asked about the global economic situation, Lou said the problem was not with developing countries. “Rather, it is the continued weak recovery of developed countries” that’s hindering the global economy, he said. “Developed countries should now have faster recoveries to give developing countries some external demand.” Lou welcomed the structural reforms in Europe as a positive development, but said geopolitics and the Syrian refugee crisis would have an impact on its economy. He described the slowdown in China’s economy as a healthy process, but said policy makers needed to manage it carefully.

“The slowing of China’s economic growth is a healthy process, but it is a sensitive period. The Chinese government must make accurate adjustments, keeping the economy within a predictable space while continuing to promote internal structural reforms,” he said.

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Stop issuing it?!

The World Still Needs A Way To Stop Hot Money Scalding Us All (Guardian)

Bill Gross, America’s “bond king”, who made his fortune betting on IOUs from companies and governments, is suing his erstwhile employer for $200m, we learned last week. He says his colleagues were driven by greed and “a lust for power”. His chutzpah was a timely reminder of the vast sums won and lost in the world of globalised capital, but also of the power that still lies in the hands of men (they are mostly men) like Gross, who sit atop a system that remains largely untamed despite the lessons of the past seven years. To those caught up in it, America’s sub-prime crash and its aftermath felt like a unique – and uniquely dreadful – chain of events, a financial and human disaster on an unprecedented scale. Yet it was just the latest in a series of periodic convulsions in modern capitalism, from the east Asia crisis to the Argentine default, to Greece’s humiliation at the hands of its creditors.

The first tremors of the next earthquake could be sensed by the central bankers and finance ministers gathered in Lima for the IMF’s annual meetings this weekend. Many were fretting about the knock-on effects of the downturn in emerging economies – led by China. Take a step back, though, and both the emerging market slowdown and the boom that preceded it are just the latest symptom of the ongoing malaise afflicting the global financial system. Seven years on from the Lehman collapse in September 2008, there has been some re-regulation – the Bank of England will soon announce details of the Vickers reforms, which will make banks split their retail arms from the riskier parts of their business – but many elements of the financial architecture remain unchallenged.

Capital swills unchecked around the world; governments feel compelled to prioritise the whims of international investors such as Gross – who tend to have a neoliberal bent – over the needs of domestic businesses; and credit ratings agencies remain all-powerful, despite their dismal record. The theory behind free-flowing capital is that it allows the world’s savings to find the most profitable opportunities – even far from home – and provides the impetus for investment and entrepreneurialism, aids economic development and boosts growth. Yet as Unctad, the UN’s trade and development arm, detailed in its annual report last week, the reality is very different. Capital flows are often driven more by the global financial weather than by the investment prospects in emerging economies; they can be disproportionately large; and they can change abruptly with the market mood, overwhelming domestic efforts to promote stable development.

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Not a good sign: “The company is seeking to raise more than $1 billion by selling future production of gold and silver”

Glencore Shares Halted Pending Statement On Proposed Asset Sales (Bloomberg)

Glencore, which has flagged divestments as part of a plan to cut debt by about $10 billion after commodity prices plunged, halted trading in Hong Kong Monday pending an announcement on proposed asset sales in Australia and Chile. The Swiss trader and miner said last month it’s planning to raise about $2 billion from the sale of stakes in its agricultural assets and precious metals streaming transactions. While the company didn’t identify specific assets in the statement requesting the trading halt, it has copper operations in Chile and coal, zinc and copper mines in Australia. The potential sales are part of the debt-cutting program that Glencore CEO Ivan Glasenberg announced in early September. The plan includes selling $2.5 billion of new stock, asset sales, spending cuts and suspending the dividend. Taken together, the measures aim to reduce debt from $30 billion nearer to $20 billion.

The company is seeking to raise more than $1 billion by selling future production of gold and silver, two people familiar with the situation said Oct. 1. The company produced 35 million ounces of silver last year and 955,000 ounces of gold from mines in South America, Australia and Kazakhstan. Investors including Qatar Holding, the direct investment arm of the Gulf state’s sovereign wealth fund, have expressed an interest in buying a minority stake in Glencore’s agriculture business, according to three people familiar with the conversations. Citigroup, one of the banks hired to run the sale alongside Credit Suisse, said earlier this month that the whole business could be worth as much as $10.5 billion. The company has also announced cuts to copper and zinc output in an effort to support metal markets.

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“Without the oxygen of cheap debt, commodity trading houses are finished. Each trade in oil or iron ore might generate only 1pc to 2pc in margin – but this greatly increases when magnified by debt. The only limit on profits is then how much you can borrow. Greed drives returns. ”

Commodity Contagion Sparks Second Credit Crisis As Investors Panic (Telegraph)

The collapse in commodity prices has sparked a second credit crisis as investors dump high-yield bonds, shattering the fragile confidence necessary to support global markets. Those calling it a Lehman moment forget their history. Current events have chilling similarities to the Bear Stearns collapse and mark the start of a new crisis, not the end. The world of commodity trading has been thrown into chaos as the cost of borrowing to fund operations soars. Glencore has become the poster child for the sector’s woes as its shares have more than halved in value during the past six months. More worrying has been the impact on the group’s credit profile. Glencore’s US bonds due for repayment in 2022 have collapsed to around 82 cents in the dollar. Only four months earlier, they had been stable at around 100 cents, implying that those who lent money would get it back plus interest.

Now for every dollar lent to Glencore, banks face losses, and as the price of bonds falls the yield has risen to 7.4pc. Without the oxygen of cheap debt, commodity trading houses are finished. Each trade in oil or iron ore might generate only 1pc to 2pc in margin – but this greatly increases when magnified by debt. The only limit on profits is then how much you can borrow. Greed drives returns. Glencore is a profitable business when it can borrow at around 4pc, but if it has to refinance at 7pc to 10pc those slim profit margins evaporate. The fear of those holding Glencore debt can be seen in the soaring price for the insurance against a default, or credit default swaps (CDS). Glencore five-year CDS has soared to 625, from about 280 just a month ago. A rule of thumb is that a CDS above 400 means a serious risk of a default, or about a 25pc chance in the next five years.

Glencore has taken drastic action to reduce its $50bn debts, or $30bn if all its stocks of metals are deducted, which it reported at the end of September. A $2.5bn equity raising has been completed, the dividend has been axed and assets sold as part of a $10bn debt reduction plan. However, if borrowing costs remain where they are, the game may already be over. If Glencore itself were to fold, it would be a huge problem with its $221bn in annual revenues, but when combined with the other commodity trading houses, Trafigura, Vitol and Noble, the fallout would be disastrous. Trafigura is not listed but its debt is publicly traded and the bonds have collapsed to 86 cents in the dollar, or a yield of 8.9pc. Noble, the Singapore trading house, has also seen its shares collapse as commodity prices slump. First-half profits from Noble’s metals trading have fallen 98pc to just $3m. This has been offset by strong results in oil trading, but the problems remain.

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Deflation.

Japan Inc. Sounds Alarm On Consumer Spending (Reuters)

Do not believe in official statistics, Japanese retailers seem to be saying, as they cut earnings forecasts and warn of lackluster consumer spending, a key growth engine for Japan at a time when exports and factory output are stalling. If you go by the larger-than-expected 2.9% gain in household spending in August – the first year-on-year rise in three months – then consumption looks like it is finally alive and well again, after a sales tax hike last year stifled the economy. But profits of retailers suggest the spending data, which has a small sample size, has not captured the full picture. Restrained household consumption raises the stakes for a central bank policy meeting on Oct. 30, and for the government’s plan to flesh out new economic policies before the year-end.

“Consumer spending has ground to a halt,” said Noritoshi Murata, president of Seven & i Holdings (3382.T). “There are a lot of concerns about the global economy and not many positives for consumption. Weak spending could continue into the second half of the fiscal year.” Seven & i, which operates Japan’s ubiquitous 7-Eleven convenience stores, on Oct. 8 trimmed its full-year profit forecast by 1.6% to 367 billion yen ($3.05 billion) and cut its revenue forecast by 3.9% to 6.15 trillion yen, triggering a fall in its shares in Tokyo. The main problem is wages are not rising fast enough to keep pace with rising food prices, and consumers are starting to cut back on other goods. Real wages, adjusted for inflation, rose 0.5% in July from a year earlier. That was the first gain in 27 months.

But wage growth subsequently slowed to 0.2% in August, and summer bonuses fell from last year, government data shows. Another problem is more and more workers are getting stuck in jobs with low pay. Part-time and irregular workers comprised a record 37.4% of the workforce last year, according to the National Tax Bureau. Irregular workers earn on average less than half of what regular full-time workers earn, tax data show. The third problem is the government plans to raise the nationwide sales tax again, to 10% in 2017 from 8%, and households are already changing their behavior.

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Structural changes for the OECD means opening stores on Sundays. It doesn’t get more clueless.

World Cannot Spend Its Way Out Of A Slump, Warns OECD Chief (Telegraph)

Countries that try to spend their way out of crisis risk becoming stuck in a permanent malaise, according to the head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Angel Gurria said central banks were running out of firepower to boost economies in the event of another sharp slowdown, while governments had limited space to ramp up spending. The secretary general said structural reforms and more international co-operation were badly needed in a world of deteriorating growth. “Countries that say: I’ll spend my way out of this third slump. I say: no you won’t, because you’ve already done that, and you ran out of space,” Mr Gurria said on the sidelines of the IMF’s annual meeting in Lima, Peru.

“Now countries are trying to reduce the deficit and debt because that’s a sign of vulnerability and the rating agencies are breathing down their neck – they’ve already downgraded Brazil and France. “We don’t have room to inflate our way out of this one. So we go back to the same issue: it’s structural, structural, structural.” The OECD has been working with countries such as Greece to liberalise product markets, which deal with competitiveness issues and labour laws. Mr Gurria, who has urged countries for years to implement structural reforms, said he was frustrated at the lack of progress: “If you listen to the conversations we have on opening on Sundays you wouldn’t believe it. Or the debates we have about [the] 35 hour [working week]. These are the real issues.

“The people, the trade unions, they all have a stake and their arguments are strong. But where countries have room is to make structural changes, and central banks can help by continuing to ease. “[With quantitative easing] there is a question of whether we’re entering a territory of diminishing returns. Of course we must use it, but there’s not a lot of room left.” Mr Gurria conceded that the benefits of reform were gradual. “Germany modified its labour laws 12 years ago, and it’s reaping the benefits brilliantly and gallantly because of much better performance during the crsis. Spain did it three years ago, and they’re reaping the benefits now. Italy did it last month, and it will take a couple of years.”

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France as the black shhep. But Germany’s recent woes should not be underestimated.

Growing Government Debt Will Test Euro-Zone Solidarity (Paul)

The German chancellor and the French president stood side by side last Wednesday to address the European Parliament. But beneath that show of solidarity lies a story of two diverging economies at the heart of the euro zone. At the time the euro was born, Germany’s economy – bearing close to $2 trillion in reunification costs – looked not too dissimilar to France’s. Today, however, the gap between the two countries is the widest since the reunification. Not only is the debt-to-gross-domestic-product ratio of France and Germany the widest in 20 years, but – more importantly in a currency union without a federal state – the latter has a huge and increasing current surplus, while the former is in deficit.

This is not surprising. Germany, while benefiting greatly from the opened markets of its fixed exchange rate partners, undertook a series of reforms to improve its economic position. France was not only unable to reform but indulged in the 35-hour workweek. If we were still living under the European Monetary System that predated the euro, France would simply have had to devalue, as it did many times before the euro. Under the euro, helped by its trade surplus, Germany kept a tighter budget, while the French state kept spending an ever-higher percentage of its GDP in repeated attempts to support its faltering economy. As a result, its debt is now close to the symbolic 100% of GDP level, not accounting for unfunded pension liabilities, and the rating agencies have stripped it of its AAA rating and continue to downgrade it. The European Commission, in its last assessment, speaks of France facing “high sustainability risk” in the medium term.

This is not just a French problem though; it’s a euro-zone one. According to Eurostat, in the first quarter of 2015, the euro-zone debt-to-GDP ratio was 92.9% — the highest it has been since the creation of the euro. Never has the zone been so far away from its own Maastricht fiscal sustainability criteria. Huge differences between countries exist, but the only country of the original 12 euro-zone members still respecting the debt and deficit levels is tiny Luxembourg. What does this say for the future of the euro?

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More billions to slide out of VW coffers.

EU Bank Chief ‘Could Recall Volkswagen Loans’ (BBC)

The European Investment Bank (EIB) could recall loans it gave to Volkswagen, its president told a German newspaper. Werner Hoyer told Sueddeutsche Zeitung that the EIB gave loans to the German carmaker for things like the development of low emissions engines. He said they could be recalled in the wake of VW’s emissions cheating. The paper reported that about €1.8bn of those loans are still outstanding. Mr Hoyer is quoted as saying that the EIB had granted loans worth around €4.6bn to Volkswagen since 1990. “The EIB could have taken a hit [from the emissions scandal] because we have to fulfil certain climate targets with our loans,” the Sueddeutsche Zeitung quoted Mr Hoyer as saying. Mr Hoyer was attending the IMFs meeting in Lima, Peru. He added that the EIB would conduct “very thorough investigations” into what VW used the funds for.

Mr Hoyer told reporters that if he found that the loans were used for purposes other than intended, the EU bank would have to “ask ourselves whether we have to demand loans back”. He also said he was “very disappointed” by Volkswagen, adding the EIB’s relationship with the carmaker would be damaged by the scandal. Volkswagen admitted that about 11 million of its vehicles had been fitted with a “defeat device” – a piece of software that duped tests into showing that VW engines emitted fewer emissions than they really did. Mr Hoyer’s comments come days after VW’s US chief Michael Horn faced a Congress panel to answer questions about the scandal, which has prompted several countries to launch their own investigations into the carmaker. On Monday, VW’s UK managing director Paul Willis is due to appear before members of parliament at an informal hearing.

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TEXT

UK Government Emissions Tester Paid £80 Million By Car Firms (Telegraph)

The state agency that carries out emissions tests on new vehicles has been paid more than £80 million by car companies over the last decade, The Daily Telegraph can disclose. The Vehicle Certification Agency, whose chief will appear on Monday before a Commons committee looking at the Volkswagen scandal, has reported a year-on-year rise in profits, receiving almost £13 million in 2014/15 alone. Campaigners claim Europe’s national certification agencies are competing so fiercely for business it is not in their interests to catch out car-makers. Samples of new cars must undergo checks by approval agencies to ensure they meet European performance standards. Once a car has been type-approved by the manufacturer s chosen national agency, it can be sold anywhere in Europe.

“Car makers are able to go type-approval shopping around Europe to get the best deals for them”, said Greg Archer, of campaign group Transport & Environment. “No one is checking that type approval authorities are doing an impartial or good job and this needs to change”, he added. Last month Volkswagen admitted that it had systematically installed software in VW and Audi diesels since 2009 to deceive regulators who were measuring their exhaust fumes. Since 2005 the VCA -an executive agency of the Department for Transport- has received a total of £84million from “product certification/type-approval services”, according to a Greenpeace investigation. It said the VCA’s outgoing CEO Paul Markwick, interim chief executive Paul Higgs and chief operating officer John Bragg had held senior positions with major car manufacturers.

MPs on the Commons select committee on transport will question Volkswagen bosses, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin and the VCA’s acting chief, Mr Higgs, over the emissions violations. A Department for Transport spokesman said the VCA charged car-makers in order to cover its operating costs and to provide value for taxpayers. He added: “Whilst the VCA charges the industry for its services, its governance framework is set by government.” It claimed there was “a conflict of interest” . A Greenpeace spokesman said: The Government s testing regime failed the public. The question is why? “Our evidence suggests it’s not actually in the VCA’s interests to catch out the car-makers. Their business model -and it has become a business- is to attract manufacturers to test their cars with them. It’s a conflict of interest.”

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They’re right to be scared.

Volkswagen’s Home City Enveloped In Fear, Anger And Disbelief (FT)

Few cities are as dependent on one company as Wolfsburg. Situated 200km west of Berlin, it is home not just to the world’s biggest factory and Volkswagen’s headquarters, it also has a VW Arena where Champions League football is played, a VW bank, and even a VW butcher that makes award-winning curried sausage. “VW is God here,” says a Turkish baker on the main shopping street of Porschestrasse. But news of VW’s diesel emissions scandal has hit the city hard, sparking anger and dismay as well as worries of the financial and employment consequences for both the carmaker and Wolfsburg. Some are even invoking the decline of another motor city Detroit in the US.

“I am worried. It’s not good for Wolfsburg. Detroit stands as a negative example for what can happen: the city has collapsed. The same here is also thinkable,” says Uwe Bendorf, who was born and raised in Wolfsburg and now works at a health insurer. VW’s sprawling factory employs about 72,000 in a city with just 120,000 inhabitants. Over an area of more than 6 sq km, three times the size of the principality of Monaco, the plant churns out 840,000 cars a year, including the VW Golf, Tiguan and Touran models. Among workers, the scandal dominates rather like the chimney stacks of the factory’s power station tower over Wolfsburg.

“It was shock. Then anger. How could they be so stupid?” says one worker, describing his emotions on hearing last month that VW had admitted to large scale cheating in tests on its diesel vehicles for harmful emissions of nitrogen oxides. Another worker says: “Everyone is worried. Will we get our bonus still? Will there be job cuts? There is so much uncertainty.” Outside the factory gates, few are keen to be seen speaking to the media. But this is a city in which VW is omnipresent, and a VW worker never far away.

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“Total equity sales by Russian companies this year are set to be about 30 times lower than the 2007 peak..”

The Russians Are Fleeing London’s Stock Market (Bloomberg)

Russian expansionism is going into reverse, at least on the London stock market. Three of Russia’s major commodity-related companies are already preparing to withdraw their listings after the bursting of the raw-materials boom and a slump in share sales by the nation’s companies from more than $30 billion in 2007 to below $1 billion this year. Eurasia Drilling, the country’s largest oil driller, said last week its owners and managers offered to buy shareholders out and take the company private. That follows a move by potash miner Uralkali PJSC to buy back a major part of its free float, saying in August it may delist shares in London as a result. Billionaire Suleiman Kerimov’s family also plans to take Polyus Gold private.

More may follow as their owners’ interest in using foreign shares as a route to expansion wanes in tandem with overseas investors’ appetite for raw-material and emerging-market stocks, said Kirill Chuyko at BCS Financial Group in Moscow. “Each company has a specific reason, but the common one is that investors’ appetite for commodities-related stocks, especially from the emerging markets, is exhausted,” Chuyko said. “At the same time, the owners see that the companies’ valuations don’t reflect their hopes and wishes, while maintaining the listing requires some effort and expenditure.” Total equity sales by Russian companies this year are set to be about 30 times lower than the 2007 peak, when global commodity prices were about 90% higher than current levels.

A gauge of worldwide emerging-market stocks has declined 14% in the past year. Russia has been among the hardest-hit emerging economies as prices of oil and gas, making up half of the national budget, collapsed since last year. The economy shrank 4.6% in the second quarter from a year earlier. That’s a reversal from when oil prices and growth were high and local companies talked up expanding overseas. Polyus planned to merge with a global rival to become one of the world’s top three gold miners, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who controlled the company at the time, said in December 2010. The producer, which redomiciled to the U.K. in 2012 as part of the plan, never achieved his goal.

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How on earth has this not been obvious for years now?

Soaring London House Prices Sucking Cash Out Of Economy (Guardian)

Soaring London house prices are costing the economy more than £1bn a year and preventing the creation of thousands of jobs, as individuals plough money into buying and renting instead of spending their cash elsewhere, a report has claimed. London’s housing market recovered quickly from the financial downturn of 2008-2009 and in recent years rents and house prices have rocketed. House prices are more than 46% above their pre-crisis peak, at an average of £525,000 according to the Office for National Statistics, while rents in the private sector have risen by a third over the past decade. The report, by business group London First and consultancy CEBR, found that workers in many sectors were now priced out of the capital, while companies were being forced to pay more to attract staff and help them meet living expenses.

The report said there was a knock-on effect on consumer spending, with money being spent on expensive mortgages and rents rather than other goods. It said as much as £2.7bn could have been spent elsewhere in 2015 if housing costs had kept in line with inflation over the past decade. This additional spending could have supported almost 11,000 more jobs, and meant a boost to the economy of more than £1bn this year. Workers in shops, cafés and restaurants, and those performing administrative office roles would have to pay their entire pre-tax salary to rent an average private home in London, the report found, while social workers, librarians, and teachers faced rents equivalent to more than half their salaries.

It said only the best-paid workers, including company directors and those working in financial services, earned enough to rent in central London “affordably”; that is paying less than one-third of their salaries on housing. “The housing crisis is making it difficult to attract and retain staff in retail, care and sales occupations,” it said. “Even if they spend a limited amount on other goods and services, they are effectively priced out of living independently in the capital. They need to co-habit with partners, friends or family, or be eligible for social housing in the capital.” To compensate for high housing costs, employees expected higher salaries, which meant firms were paying an average of £1,720 a year more to workers than they would have had accommodation costs risen only in line with inflation since 2005. This meant an extra wage bill for firms of £5bn this year, and the figure was set to grow to £6.1bn by 2020.

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No worries, mate, there’ll be loud denials right up to the end.

Australia Housing Bust Now The Greatest Recession Risk (SMH)

House prices are set for a 7.5% decline from March next year, with the resulting slowdown in housing lending and construction activity set to hit the broader economy, according to a range of investment banks. “Our economics team are forecasting quarter-on-quarter house prices to fall from the March 2016 quarter before beginning to recover from June 2017,” said Macquarie Research in a briefing note entitled: “Australian Banks: What goes up, must come down”. Macquarie said there would be a “7.5% reduction from peak to trough”. Another economist says heavy household debt and softening house prices pose a greater recession risk to the Australian economy than the slowdown in China.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch Australian economist Alex Joiner says high historic indebtedness, coupled with the chance of a downturn in house-building and prices, could further crimp consumer spending and property investment once the Reserve Bank of Australia was forced to tackle inflation by lifting interest rates. He said while the chance of a “hard landing” in the Chinese economy – on which Australia depends heavily for exports and inward investment – was small, a sharp decline in demand for housing in overheated markets such as Melbourne and Sydney was more probable and would drag the broader economy with it. “We are not forecasting collapse or the bursting of any perceived bubble,” Mr Joiner wrote in a note.

“That said, it is not difficult to envisage a more hard landing scenario in the property market. “This would clearly have a greater negative macro-economic impact channelled through households and the residential construction cycle,” he said. His fears are based on current household indebtedness measures, which have soared to the highest ever. These include the dwelling price-to-income ratio, currently at “never before observed” levels of five and a half times, and a household debt-to-gross-domestic-product ratio, which is at a “record high” 133.6%.

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I know Joris has read at least some of the many articles I wrote on the topic. Wonder what he took away from that.

Don’t Let The Nobel Prize Fool You. Economics Is Not A Science (Joris Luyendijk)

Business as usual. That will be the implicit message when the Sveriges Riksbank announces this year’s winner of the “Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel”, to give it its full title. Seven years ago this autumn, practically the entire mainstream economics profession was caught off guard by the global financial crash and the “worst panic since the 1930s” that followed. And yet on Monday the glorification of economics as a scientific field on a par with physics, chemistry and medicine will continue. The problem is not so much that there is a Nobel prize in economics, but that there are no equivalent prizes in psychology, sociology, anthropology. Economics, this seems to say, is not a social science but an exact one, like physics or chemistry – a distinction that not only encourages hubris among economists but also changes the way we think about the economy.

A Nobel prize in economics implies that the human world operates much like the physical world: that it can be described and understood in neutral terms, and that it lends itself to modelling, like chemical reactions or the movement of the stars. It creates the impression that economists are not in the business of constructing inherently imperfect theories, but of discovering timeless truths. To illustrate just how dangerous that kind of belief can be, one only need to consider the fate of Long-Term Capital Management, a hedge fund set up by, among others, the economists Myron Scholes and Robert Merton in 1994. With their work on derivatives, Scholes and Merton seemed to have hit on a formula that yielded a safe but lucrative trading strategy. In 1997 they were awarded the Nobel prize.

A year later, Long-Term Capital Management lost $4.6bn in less than four months; a bailout was required to avert the threat to the global financial system. Markets, it seemed, didn’t always behave like scientific models. In the decade that followed, the same over-confidence in the power and wisdom of financial models bred a disastrous culture of complacency, ending in the 2008 crash. Why should bankers ask themselves if a lucrative new complex financial product is safe when the models tell them it is? Why give regulators real power when models can do their work for them?

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Excellent overview by Tyler Durden.

The Tragic Ending To Obama’s Bay Of Pigs: CIA Hands Over Syria To Russia (ZH)

One week ago, when summarizing the current state of play in Syria, we said that for Obama, “this is shaping up to be the most spectacular US foreign policy debacle since Vietnam.” Yesterday, in tacit confirmation of this assessment, the Obama administration threw in the towel on one of the most contentious programs it has implemented in “fighting ISIS”, when the Defense Department announced it was abandoning the goal of a U.S.-trained Syrian force. But this, so far, partial admission of failure only takes care of one part of Obama’s problem: there is the question of the “other” rebels supported by the US, those who are not part of the officially-disclosed public program with the fake goal of fighting ISIS; we are talking, of course, about the nearly 10,000 CIA-supported “other rebels”, or technically mercenaries, whose only task is to take down Assad.

The same “rebels” whose fate the AP profiles today when it writes that the CIA began a covert operation in 2013 to arm, fund and train a moderate opposition to Assad. Over that time, the CIA has trained an estimated 10,000 fighters, although the number still fighting with so-called moderate forces is unclear.

The effort was separate from the one run by the military, which trained militants willing to promise to take on IS exclusively. That program was widely considered a failure, and on Friday, the Defense Department announced it was abandoning the goal of a U.S.-trained Syrian force, instead opting to equip established groups to fight IS.

It is this effort, too, that in the span of just one month Vladimir Putin has managed to render utterly useless, as it is officially “off the books” and thus the US can’t formally support these thousands of “rebel-fighters” whose only real task was to repeat the “success” of Ukraine and overthrow Syria’s legitimate president: something which runs counter to the US image of a dignified democracy not still resorting to 1960s tactics of government overthrow. That, and coupled with Russia and Iran set to take strategic control of Syria in the coming months, the US simply has no toehold any more in the critical mid-eastern nation. And so another sad chapter in the CIA’s book of failed government overthrows comes to a close, leaving the “rebels” that the CIA had supported for years, to fend for themselves. From AP:

CIA-backed rebels in Syria, who had begun to put serious pressure on President Bashar Assad’s forces, are now under Russian bombardment with little prospect of rescue by their American patrons, U.S. officials say. Over the past week, Russia has directed parts of its air campaign against U.S.-funded groups and other moderate opposition in a concerted effort to weaken them, the officials say. The Obama administration has few options to defend those it had secretly armed and trained.

The Russians “know their targets, and they have a sophisticated capacity to understand the battlefield situation,” said Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., who serves on the House Intelligence Committee and was careful not to confirm a classified program. “They are bombing in locations that are not connected to the Islamic State” group.

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Seems racism is the only way they can barely keep their distribution plans alive.

EU Must Stop ‘Racist Criteria’ In Refugee Relocation – Greece (Reuters)

The EU must stop countries picking and choosing which refugees they accept in its relocation programme, otherwise it will turn into a shameful “human market”, Greece’s new migration minister said. The EU has approved a plan to share out 160,000 refugees, mostly Syrians and Eritreans, across its 28 states in order to tackle the continent’s worst refugee crisis since World War Two. The first 19 Eritrean asylum seekers were transferred from Italy to Sweden on Friday. Some countries, such as Slovakia and Cyprus, have expressed a preference for Christian refugees and Hungary has said the influx of large numbers of Muslim migrants threatens Europe’s “Christian values”. Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas said that Greece was having trouble finding refugees to send to certain countries because the receiving nations had set what he called “racist criteria”.

He declined to name the states concerned. “Views such as ‘we want 10 Christians’, or ’75 Muslims’, or ‘we want them tall, blonde, with blue eyes and three children,’ are insulting to the personality and freedom of refugees,” Mouzalas told Reuters. “Europe must be categorically against that.” An EU official said a group of Syrian refugees was due to be relocated from Greece to Luxembourg under the EU scheme around Oct. 18, the first to be officially reassigned from Greece. A gynaecologist and founding member of the Greek branch of aid agency Doctors of the World, Mouzalas urged the EU to enforce strict quotas “otherwise it will turn into a human market and Europe hasn’t got the right to do that”. The refugees are generally not allowed to select the country to which they are assigned.

Greece has seen a record of about 400,000 refugees and migrants – mainly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq – arrive on its shores this year from nearby Turkey, hoping to reach wealthier northern Europe. Those who can afford it move on quickly to other countries, sometimes on tour buses taking them straight from the main port of Piraeus, near Athens, to the Macedonian border. But several thousand, mostly Afghans, have ended up trapped in Greece for lack of money. European authorities are reluctant to treat Afghans systematically as refugees, and a result, they are shut out of the relocation process. “It’s absurd to think that Afghans are coming to find better work. There is a long-lasting war, you aren’t safe anywhere, that’s the reality,” Mouzalas said.

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 August 11, 2015  Posted by at 9:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Howard Hollem Assembly and Repairs Department Naval Air Base, Corpus Christi 1942


China Slashes Yuan Reference Rate by Record 1.9% (Bloomberg)
How To Anger Asia And The Fed In One Go: Devalue The Yuan (CNBC)
Emerging Stocks Head for Two-Year Low After China Devalues Yuan (Bloomberg)
China Joins The Global Devaluation Party (Coppola)
Chinese Spurn Unprecedented 30% Car Discounts Amid Slowdown (Bloomberg)
U.S. Consumers Rein in Spending Growth Plans, New York Fed Says (Bloomberg)
Greece And Lenders Reach Deal On Third Bailout (Kathimerini)
Germans And Slovaks Stand Ready To Scupper Greek Deal (Telegraph)
Germany Gained €100 Billion From Greece Crisis, Study Finds (AFP)
Greek Military: Armed and Financially Dangerous (Zeit)
Deflation Stalks the Euro Zone (Bloomberg)
Bank of Russia Gets Putin’s Praise as Ruble Rebounds With Crude (Bloomberg)
Impeaching Rousseff Would Set Brazil On Fire: Senate Chief (Reuters)
UK Farming Unions Call For ‘Seismic Change’ In Way Food Is Sold (Guardian)
New Zealand A ‘Virtual Economic Trade Prisoner Of China’ (Nz Herald)
EU To Provide $3.6 Billion Funding For Migrant Crisis Over 6 Years (Reuters)
French Police Say Time To ‘Bring In British Army’ To Calais (RT)
History In Motion (Pantelis Boukalas)
Japan Restarts Sendai Nuclear Reactor Despite Public Opposition (Fairfax)
A Good Week For Neutrinos (Butterworth)

I haven’t seen anyone in the US whine about currency manipulators yet. Da Donald?

China Slashes Yuan Reference Rate by Record 1.9% (Bloomberg)

China devalued the yuan by the most in two decades, ending a de facto peg to the dollar that’s been in place since March and battered exports. The People’s Bank of China cut its daily reference rate for the currency by a record 1.9%, triggering the yuan’s biggest one-day loss since China unified official and market exchange rates in January 1994. The change was a one-time adjustment, the central bank said in a statement, adding that it plans to keep the yuan stable at a “reasonable” level and will strengthen the market’s role in determining the fixing. “It looks like this is the end of the fixing as we know it,” said Khoon Goh, a Singapore-based strategist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group. “The one-off devaluation of the fix and allowing more market-based determination takes us into a new currency regime.”

The PBOC had been supporting the yuan to deter capital outflows and encourage greater global usage as China pushes for official reserve status at the IMF. The intervention contributed to a $300 billion slide in the nation’s foreign-exchange reserves over the last four quarters and made the yuan the best performer in emerging markets, eroding the competitiveness of Chinese exports. [..] The currency’s closing levels in Shanghai were restricted to 6.2096 or 6.2097 versus the dollar for more than a week through Monday and daily moves has been a maximum 0.01% for a month. The devaluation triggered declines of at least 0.9% in the Australian dollar, South Korea’s won and the Singapore dollar, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index of shares rose 0.7%.

China has to balance the need to boost exports with the risk of a cash exodus, Tom Orlik, chief Asia economist at Bloomberg Intelligence, wrote in a research note. He estimates a 1% depreciation in the real effective exchange rate boosts export growth by 1 percentage point with a lag of three months. At the same time, a 1% drop against the dollar triggers about $40 billion in capital outflows, he wrote. “The risk is that depreciation triggers capital flight, dealing a blow to the stability of China’s financial system,” Orlik wrote. The calculation from China’s leaders is that with their $3.69 trillion of currency reserves “they can manage any risks from capital flight,” he said.

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The Fed must have been expecting this.

How To Anger Asia And The Fed In One Go: Devalue The Yuan (CNBC)

A new Asian currency war and a delayed Federal Reserve rate hike; these are the potential market-shaking implications of Beijing’s decision to devalue the yuan, strategists told CNBC. “If they are true to their word today and this is a new regime for the fixed mechanism, we might think about using the word ‘floating’ associated with the Chinese exchange rate—that’s a massive change,” noted Richard Yetsenga, head of global markets research at ANZ, referring to Tuesday’s announcement by the People’s Bank of China to allow the yuan to depreciate as much as 2% against the U.S. dollar.

The move took global traders by surprise, with many pointing to weak July trade data, the recent stock market rout’s spillover impact on consumption, and aspirations for inclusion into the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights basket as factors motivating Beijing. “It’s an interesting move which means several things: when the People’s Bank of China first started lowering interest rates and reserve requirements, that freed up bank lending, which likely went to stocks. Now this yuan re-engineering will help companies that represent the greater economy, i.e. exporters, not just companies heavily weighted in stock markets,” explained Nicholas Teo, market analyst at CMC Markets.

China may be focused on becoming more market-oriented, but Tuesday’s announcement is the latest in a series of competitive devaluations in Asia and other emerging markets, traders said. “Clearly, this is a shock to the rest of Asia. If you look at China’s top trading partners—Korea, Japan, the U.S. and Germany—this is a competitive hit to the exports of those countries. China is exporting disinflation to countries who receive Chinese exports. This is especially negative for Asia currencies,” noted Callum Henderson, global head of FX Research at Standard Chartered.

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There never was another option.

Emerging Stocks Head for Two-Year Low After China Devalues Yuan (Bloomberg)

Emerging-market stocks headed for a two-year low and currencies sank after China devalued the yuan amid a deepening slowdown in its economy. China Southern Airlines and Air China sank at least 12% in Hong Kong on concern a weaker yuan will boost the value of their dollar-denominated debt. Indonesian stocks fell to a 17-month low. China’s currency slid the most in two decades versus the dollar. South Korea’s won fell 1.3% and Malaysia’s ringgit extended declines to a 1998 low. Russia’s ruble lost 0.6%. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index slid 0.4% to 884.02 at 3:28 p.m. in Hong Kong. China’s central bank cut its reference rate by 1.9%, triggering the yuan’s biggest one-day loss since the nation unified official and market exchange rates in 1994.

Data on Tuesday showed China’s broadest measure of new credit missed economists’ forecasts last month. “This is another effort by China to boost economic growth as a weaker currency could increase exports,” said Rafael Palma Gil, a trader at Rizal Commercial Banking Corp., which has $1.8 billion in trust assets. Investors should favor companies that earn dollars over those with large dollar-denominated debts, he said. MSCI’s developing-nation stock index has fallen 7.3% this year and trades at 11.2 times projected 12-month earnings, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The MSCI World Index has added 3.3% and is valued at a multiple of 16.4.

Eight out of 10 industry groups fell, led by industrial shares. China Southern Airlines tumbled 17% and Air China was poised for the biggest drop since April 2009. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng China Enterprises Index fell 0.6%, erasing earlier gains. The Shanghai Composite Index was little changed. Indonesia’s Jakarta Composite Index tumbled 2% on concern the yuan devaluation may weaken exports from Southeast Asia’s largest economy. Shipments to China, Indonesia’s third-largest trading partner, had already dropped 26% in the first half of 2015, according to government data.

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Beggar thy neighbor to the bottom of the barrel.

China Joins The Global Devaluation Party (Coppola)

As Chinese economic performance has worsened in recent months there has been a growing divergence between RMB “central parity” (the unofficial official exchange rate) and the RMB’s market rate. This increased sharply when the most recent statistics were released. Maintaining a higher parity than the market wants is costly, as Russia could tell you: China has been unloading its foreign reserves at a rate of knots to support its currency. Maintaining too high a parity is costly in other ways too. China’s precious export-led growth strategy is at risk from the rising dollar. The “macroeconomic and financial data” referred to by the PBOC includes sharply falling exports, particularly to the EU and Japan. July’s export figures were dismal, and the trade surplus was well below forecast.

Add to this the massive over-leverage of the Chinese economy – overtly engineered by the government – and recent stock market volatility, and devaluation was inevitable. The only surprise is that the PBOC has not acted sooner. Indeed, why hasn’t it acted sooner? After all, the Fed has been passively tightening monetary policy for a year now, ending QE and repeatedly signalling that rate hikes are on the horizon. This is principally why the yuan REER has been rising. Furthermore, both the ECB and the Bank of Japan are doing QE, depressing the Euro and the yen and forcing smaller countries to defend their currencies. Emerging market economies are particularly badly affected, but we shouldn’t forget about Switzerland, which is still trying to prevent its currency appreciating as capital flows in from the troubled Eurozone. Capital inflows can be every bit as damaging as capital outflows. Reuters has an explanation for the PBOC’s reluctance to join the devaluation party:

Analysts say Beijing has been keeping its yuan strong to wean its economy off low-end export manufacturing. A strong yuan policy also supports domestic buying power, helps Chinese firms to borrow and invest abroad, and encourages foreign firms and governments to increase their use of the currency.

This brings us back to the liberalization of the Chinese financial economy. China needs the yuan to be widely accepted OUTSIDE China if it is to have any chance of becoming one of the IMF’s SDR basket currencies – the essential prelude to becoming a global reserve currency. Hence PBOC’s reluctance to devalue. So now, having been forced to devalue because of bad economic news, the PBOC is making a virtue out of necessity. Devaluing the yuan is presented as part of its liberalization strategy. Not that the PBOC has any intention of moving to a free float any time soon, though its statement does signal that it might widen the band.

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Might as well give them away. Next year’s models are on the way.

Chinese Spurn Unprecedented 30% Car Discounts Amid Slowdown (Bloomberg)

Bill Shen wants to upgrade his 8-year-old Citroen to something fancier, maybe an Audi or a BMW. But the Shanghai resident is in no hurry. Cars keep getting cheaper. Facing the slowest growth in new car sales in four years, dealerships in China have chipped away at retail prices in the past several months. Now discounts of at least 30% are being offered in major cities on hundreds of models. Audi’s top-of-the-range A8L luxury sedan, originally listed for 1.97 million yuan ($317,000), is now going for 1.28 million yuan, according to Autohome, a popular car-pricing portal. “Prices are getting lower all the time, even as cars are getting better,” said Shen, 37, who works for an auto parts company. “If it’s not urgent, one can wait.”

Consumers like Shen represent the biggest threat to China’s new-vehicle market, which overtook the U.S. in 2009 to become the world’s biggest. With the Chinese economy flagging, and government curbs on car registrations and stock market volatility deterring would-be car buyers, the auto industry is pulling out unprecedented offers to drum up sales. Their success may be reflected in industry sales figures for July slated for release on Tuesday by both the Passenger Car Association and China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. “This round of price cuts is the worst in China’s auto industry history in terms of the number of models involved and the depth of the cuts,” said Su Hui, a deputy division head at the state-backed China Automobile Dealers Association and a 26-year veteran of the trade.

“Nobody saw it coming, not the government, not the automakers, not the dealers.” Besides discounting prices, carmakers and dealers are offering incentives such as subsidized insurance, zero down-payments, interest-free financing and boosting trade-in prices, according to brokerage Sanford C. Bernstein. Peugeot Citroen and Mazda. have warned of a looming price war that will damage profit margins. BMW said this month that slowing sales in China may force it to revise this year’s profitability goals.

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They’re broke just like the Chinese?!

U.S. Consumers Rein in Spending Growth Plans, New York Fed Says (Bloomberg)

U.S. consumers last month envisioned the slowest rate of growth in their planned spending in at least two years, according to a survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York released on Monday. The New York Fed’s July Survey of Consumer Expectations found that households expect to increase spending by 3.5% over the next year, down from the 4.3% gain seen in June, according to the median response. It was the lowest reading since the survey started in 2013. Median expected inflation over the next year was unchanged at 3%. The monthly New York Fed survey comes ahead of the release of a Commerce Department report on Thursday that is forecast to show U.S. retail sales rose 0.6% in July after falling 0.3% in June.

The Fed is looking for signs that the labor market and inflation have returned to normal before beginning to raise its benchmark federal funds rate. Most economists expect policy makers will act at their next meeting on Sept. 16-17. The Fed has kept rates near zero since 2008 to combat the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Spending data are important because the consumer underpins the Fed’s optimism that economic growth will accelerate. “That’s really fundamental to our improved outlook,” Chicago Fed President Charles Evans said during a breakfast with reporters last month. “We are really counting on the consumer playing a strong role.”

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Tentatively for now.

Greece And Lenders Reach Deal On Third Bailout (Kathimerini)

Greece and its lenders have reached an agreement on the terms of a third bailout, government sources said early on Monday. The deal appears to have been concluded shortly after 8 a.m. local time following a marathon last session of talks that began on Monday morning. Emerging from the Hilton hotel, where the negotiations were taking place, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos suggested a deal is in place. “We are very close,” he told reporters. “There are a couple of very small details remaining on prior actions.”

Kathimerini understands that the agreement involves the government having to immediately implement 35 prior actions. The measures demanded include changes to tonnage tax for shipping firms, reducing the prices of generic drugs, a review of the social welfare system, strengthening of the Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE), phasing out of early retirement, scrapping tax breaks for islands by the end of 2016, implementation of the product market reforms proposed by the OECD, deregulating the energy market and proceeding with the privatization program already in place.

Should the agreement be finalized, it is likely to be voted on in Greek Parliament on Thursday. This would be followed on Friday by a Eurogroup and the process of other eurozone parliaments approving the deal. The European Stability Mechanism would then be in a position to disburse new loans to Athens before August 20, when Greece has to pay €3.2 billion to the ECB. Greece is aiming to receive €25 billion in the first tranche, allowing it to pay off international lenders, reduce government arrears and have €10 billion left for bank recapitalization.

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Good. We wouldn’t want anything to run smoothly, would we? Where’s the fun in that?

Germans And Slovaks Stand Ready To Scupper Greek Deal (Telegraph)

Eurozone creditor governments raised fresh concerns about the viability of a new Greek rescue package on Monday despite hopes from Athens that an agreement to unlock vital rescue funds was inching ever closer. Greeca and its creditor partners reportedly agreed on fiscal targets the country will need to hit over the next two years, on Monday evening. They would amount to a baseline of 0pc in 2015, followed by a primary surplus of 0.5pc the following year, and 1pc in 2017, according to an official quoted by Reuters. The targets would represent significant easing of the initial austerity measures demanded from Athens Leftist government, and reflect the severity of the damage that has been wrought to the economy by capital controls.

Creditors projections assume Greece will contract by another 0.5 pc in 2016, before returning to a 2.3% growth in 2017, the official added. However, in a sign of continued dissent among the ranks of Europe’s creditor nations, both Germany and Slovakia stood firm on the tough conditions Athens must accept as its price to stay in the eurozone. Sloviakian prime minister Robert Fico, who represents one of the most hardened member states against further eurozone largesse to Greece, insisted his government would not stump up a “single cent” in debt write-offs on Greece’s €330bn debt mountain. Without debt relief, the IMF has said it will pull out of talks with Athens until there is an “explicit and concrete agreement”, jeopardising the entire basis of a new three-year rescue package.

But Mr Fico said Slovakia would reject any attempt to cut the value of Greece’s debt and was “nervous” about the current status of talks between the Syriza government and its creditors. “Slovakia will not adopt a single cent on Greek sovereign debt, as long as I am prime minister”, he told Austria’s Der Standard. “There are other options: You can drag redemption dates but this also has limits: We can not wait 100 years until Greece repays its debts.” The IMF has recommended a maturity extension of another 30 years on Greece’s debt mountain; the country will already be paying back its creditors in 2057. Mr Fico added that he “wholeheartedly” supported German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble’s proposal for a “temporary” eurozone exit for Greece during eleventh hour summit talks in July.

“There are no rules in the EU over a euro exit…But that does not mean however, that you can not create the rules. The proposal with a fixed-term euro exit has advantages. I support the agreement reached for Greece, but we will be watching very closely what is happening now. We are nervous.”

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Meanwhile, in the real world..

Germany Gained €100 Billion From Greece Crisis, Study Finds (AFP)

Germany, which has taken a tough line on Greece, has profited from the country’s crisis to the tune of €100 billion, according to a new study Monday. The sum represents money Germany saved through lower interest payments on funds the government borrowed amid investor “flights to safety”, the study said. “These savings exceed the costs of the crisis – even if Greece were to default on its entire debt,” said the private, non-profit Leibniz Institute of Economic Research in its paper. “Germany has clearly benefited from the Greek crisis.” When investors are faced with turmoil, they typically seek a safe haven for their money, and export champion Germany “disproportionately benefited” from that during the debt crisis, it said.

“Every time financial markets faced negative news on Greece in recent years, interest rates on German government bonds fell, and every time there was good news, they rose.” Germany, the eurozones effective paymaster, has demanded fiscal discipline and tough economic reforms in Greece in return for consenting to new aid from international creditors. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has opposed a Greek debt write-down while pointing to his own government’s balanced budget. The institute, however, argued that the balanced budget was possible in large part only because of Germany’s interest savings amid the Greek debt crisis.

The estimated €100 billion euros Germany had saved since 2010 accounted for over 3% of GDP, said the institute based in the eastern city of Halle. The bonds of other countries – including the United States, France and the Netherlands – had also benefited, but “to a much smaller extent”. Germany’s share of the international rescue packages for Greece, including a new loan being negotiated now, came to around €90 billion, said the institute. “Even if Greece doesn’t pay back a single cent, the German public purse has benefited financially from the crisis,” said the paper.

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And on top of the €100 billion German profit from Greece, there are the secret side deals with German arms industry. That the Troika will refuse for Syriza to cut.

Greek Military: Armed and Financially Dangerous (Zeit)

The Bonn International Center for Conversion has listed Greece among the most militarized countries since 1990. It was ranked ninth in 2014, ahead of all other NATO members – despite Greece’s financial crisis. “Athens’ high arms expenditures and extensive weapons purchases over the past years have contributed to the desolate budget situation,” according to BICC. The figures show that Greece invested nearly €6 billion in its military in 2000. Eight years later, the figure was €8.6 billion. In 2009, Europe’s NATO member countries spent an average of 1.7% of their GDPs on defense – Greece was at 3.1%. The country was among the world’s five biggest arms importers between 2005 and 2009, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Athens’ high arms expenditures and extensive weapons purchases over the past years have contributed to the desolate budget situation. In May 2010, Greece had to be saved from financial ruin, and eventually received a loan package of hundreds of billions of euros. The government used some of this money to buy more weapons. Now, even more cash is on the table. The Greek government, led by Alexis Tsipras, has accepted a number of conditions connected to the deal. Greece must save money. The value-added tax has been increased, pension payments are to decrease, state-owned companies are to be privatized, and corruption weeded out. But only marginal consideration has been given to the country’s huge military expenditures. The army remains sacrosanct.

Politicians and others in Germany have often harshly criticized Mr. Tsipras. But the critics seem to forget that debt-ridden Greece until recently was ordering armaments worth billions of euros from Germany. Between 2001 and 2010, Greece was the most important customer for the German defense industry. During this period, Greece bought 15% of all of Germany’s exports, SIPRI estimates. Greece’s armed forces have nearly 1,000 German-developed model Leopard 1 and 2 combat tanks. Including models from other countries, Greece has 1,622 tanks. The German military has 240 Leopard tanks in service. (That number is to increase by around 90 because of the crisis in Ukraine.) While the German armed forces have been shrinking and phasing out military equipment for years, Greece has gone the other way. No other E.U. country has more combat tanks today.

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A very flawed article that presents predictions by Bloomberg Survey economists as fact.

Deflation Stalks the Euro Zone (Bloomberg)

The euro zone is poised to record its ninth quarter of economic growth, with economists predicting that gross domestic product figures scheduled for release Friday will show the economy expanded by 0.4% in the second three months of the year. Unfortunately for the ECB, that revival isn’t dispelling the risk that disinflation will worsen into deflation. For reasons that future historians of economic policy may struggle to unravel, modern central bankers have decided that the Goldilocks rate of acceleration for consumer prices to run not too hot, not too cold, is 2%. And while forecasts compiled by Bloomberg suggest that economists expect the U.S. to achieve that state of inflationary nirvana in the first three months of next year, prices in the euro region are seen languishing at 1.5% in the first quarter of 2016 and then decelerating.

That outlook helps to explain why almost a quarter of the market for euro-zone government bonds has negative yields, meaning investors are paying for the privilege of keeping their money in $1.5 trillion of securities, according to data compiled by Bloomberg reporters Lukanyo Mnyanda and David Goodman. It has been almost a year, for example, since German two-year notes paid more than zero. The disparity in the inflation outlooks for the euro region and the U.S. is also driving a divergence in borrowing costs. As Bloomberg strategist Simon Ballard points out, investment-grade borrowers are paying more to borrow dollars than euros, and the gap has reached its widest level since at least December 2009.

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I said it before: Elvira Nabiullina is a smart cookie. Moreover, Russian debt levels are very low compared to western nations. The demise of Putin is greatly exaggerated in the western press.

Bank of Russia Gets Putin’s Praise as Ruble Rebounds With Crude (Bloomberg)

Russian President Vladimir Putin commended the central bank for its efforts to keep the ruble stable after policy makers called for calm as the currency bounced back from a six-month low. “The central bank is doing a lot to strengthen the national currency or in any case to ensure its stability and the stability of the financial system as a whole,” Putin said at a meeting with Governor Elvira Nabiullina. “I see how persistent you are in going down that path.” The Bank of Russia said on Monday that corporate debt payments in 2015 won’t overwhelm the foreign-exchange market with “excessive demand” after redemptions last year helped spark the worst currency crisis since 1998.

Companies and lenders have to repay as much as $35 billion out of the $61 billion that falls due from September to December, the central bank said on its website. The rest may be rolled over or refinanced because some of it is owed to affiliated companies, it said. [..] Policy makers are short on instruments as they try to avert another ruble collapse after a rushed switch to a freely floating currency in November. While the central bank has faced questions about its commitment to allow the market to set the ruble’s exchange rate, the Russian leadership has been more unabashed in acknowledging a measure of control over the currency market as the economy succumbs to a recession. Putin said in June that a weaker ruble was helping Russian companies weather the economic crisis.

The central bank last month halted foreign-currency purchases, started in mid-May to boost reserves, after a renewed slide in commodity prices triggered further ruble declines. It defended the operations as compatible with its free float and has pledged to avoid interventions unless the ruble’s swings threatened financial stability. With its statement on Monday, the central bank is conducting “verbal intervention aimed at stabilizing market sentiment regarding the ruble,” Dmitry Dolgin, an economist at Alfa Bank in Moscow, said by e-mail. “There are concerns on the market that the looming repayment of external debt will exert significant pressure on the balance of currency demand and supply on the domestic market, especially under the conditions of falling oil prices.”

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Her popularity rate is at 8%.

Impeaching Rousseff Would Set Brazil On Fire: Senate Chief (Reuters)

The president of Brazil’s Senate said on Monday that attempting to impeach President Dilma Rousseff was not a priority and warned that seeking her removal in Congress would “set the country on fire.” Renan Calheiros, who is often critical of the administration, struck a more positive tone amid a deepening political crisis after seven months into Rousseff’s second term. Many of the president’s opponents in Congress have called for her impeachment for allegedly breaking the law by doctoring fiscal accounts to allow her government to spend more in the run-up to her re-election in October. Calheiros, a leader of the country’s biggest party, the PMDB, spoke to reporters after meeting with Finance Minister Joaquim Levy to discuss the government’s fiscal austerity plan.

He promised to bring to a vote this week a bill that rolls back payroll tax breaks, which would save the government nearly 13 billion reais ($3.78 billion) a year. The rollback is the last key bill to be approved in an austerity package aimed at preserving the country’s investment-grade rating. The Brazilian real, buffeted by political uncertainty in recent weeks, added some gains after Calheiros’ comments. The lower chamber of Congress, whose speaker recently defected to the opposition, decides whether to start an impeachment process, which then goes to the Senate for a final ruling. Rousseff would be suspended as soon as the lower chamber agrees to impeach her, which requires two-thirds of the votes.

Rousseff’s support in Congress is rapidly fading as the economy heads toward a painful recession and a widening corruption scandal at state oil company Petrobras rattles the country’s political and business elite. Her popularity is at record lows and opponents plan a nationwide anti-government protest on Sunday. Congress has resisted Rousseff’s austerity efforts by watering down measures to cut expenditure and raise taxes, while passing bills that raise public spending.

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But.. but.. that’s protectionism…!

UK Farming Unions Call For ‘Seismic Change’ In Way Food Is Sold (Guardian)

Farming is in a “state of emergency” and a “seismic change” is needed to the way food is sold in Britain, agriculture leaders have warned after a crisis summit on falling milk prices. Leading farming unions called on the government to introduce long-term contracts between farmers, distributors and supermarkets and to force retailers to clearly label whether their products are British or imported. The emergency summit in London followed days of protests from farmers over the sharp fall in the prices they are being paid for milk. Asda and Morrisons distribution centres have been blockaded, farmers have removed cartons of milk from supermarkets and cows were paraded through the aisles of an Asda store in Stafford.

Figures from AHDB Dairy, the trade body, show that the average UK farmgate price for milk – the price that farmers are paid – has fallen by 25% over the last year, to 23.66p per litre. Industry experts claim it costs farmers 30p per litre to produce milk, meaning farms have been thrown into chaos by the drop in prices. Farmers have blamed the fall in prices on a supermarket price war but retailers claim the drop reflects declining commodity prices and an oversupply of milk, partly caused by Russia’s block on western imports. Farmers For Action, the campaign group behind the milk protests, is scheduled to meet representatives from Morrisons on Tuesday to discuss the crisis.

The farming unions warned of “dire consequences for the farming industry and rural economy” if the way in which food is sold does not change in the near future. The presidents of the NFU, NFU Scotland, NFU Cymru, Ulster Farmers Union and four other unions, said: “We would urge farm ministers across the UK to meet urgently. They need to admit that something has gone fundamentally wrong in the supply chain and take remedial action. “In general, voluntary codes are not delivering their intended purpose. Government needs to take action to ensure that contracts to all farmers are longer-term and fairer in apportioning risk and reward. “Government also needs to urgently ensure that rules are put in place regarding labelling so that it is clear and obvious which products are imported and which are British.”

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Sold their soul.

New Zealand A ‘Virtual Economic Trade Prisoner Of China’ (Nz Herald)

No one doubts the benefits of extending our trade opportunities – but many are alarmed at a dangerous naivety in what passes for our trade policy. That policy reflects our unfortunate dependence on a single commodity; our anxiety to maximise our one trading advantage by currying favour with powerful trading partners has led us into some treacherous waters. We have, for example, rapidly built up a Chinese market for our dairy produce with the result that – without any assurance that that market will remain open to us – we are now virtually economic prisoners, forced to meet almost any Chinese demand in order to retain a market that has become our life blood.

We have chosen, for example, to avert our gaze from the obvious effects of Chinese intervention in the Auckland property market for fear of offending Chinese opinion. More importantly, we have apparently not recognised that the Chinese interest goes beyond merely buying our products in a normal trading relationship, but extends to obtaining control of the productive capacity itself. Dairy farms themselves, processing plants, manufacturing capacity, expertise of various sorts are now owned by Chinese operators; their production increasingly by-passes New Zealand economic entities and suppliers and is marketed by Chinese companies directly to the Chinese consumer.

There are of course many instances of Chinese capital being deployed across the globe in pursuit of assets and capacity. This is not a cause for criticism – the Chinese are entitled like anyone else to pursue their own interests. It is simply a statement of fact. We, however, seem unaware of what is happening. It is no accident that this direct supply to the Chinese market has accompanied a fall in the proportion of New Zealand dairy production handled by Fonterra. While the proportion of our dairy production under Chinese control is still quite small, there can be little doubt that it will grow.

Low dairy prices will force the sale of a number of farms to foreign owners. As the Chinese increasingly control their own sources of supply, their reduced requirements for dairy produce on international markets will inevitably mean downward pressure on prices. Nor is it just the ownership of the physical product that has passed into foreign and often Chinese hands. The decision to allow non-farmer ownership of “units” (or, in other words, shares) in Fonterra has meant that we must now face the prospect of a significant part of the income stream from our most important industry to pass into private and often foreign hands.

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Over 6 years?! How about right now, and handle the issue properly?

EU To Provide $3.6 Billion Funding For Migrant Crisis Over 6 Years (Reuters)

The European Commission on Monday approved €2.4 billion of aid over six years for countries including Greece and Italy that have struggled to cope with a surge in numbers of immigrants. Italy is to receive the most aid – nearly €560 million, while Greece will receive €473 million. Tensions have escalated this year as thousands of migrants from the Middle East and Africa try to gain asylum in the European Union. In Calais, a bottleneck for migrants attempting to enter Britain illegally through the Eurotunnel from France, has seen several migrant deaths this month.

Britain has already received its €27 million from the commission in emergency aid funding, which it applied for in March. France will receive its €20 million later this month. Neither country has requested additional aid for security in Calais and will not receive funds from the latest aid program. “We are now able to disburse the funding for the French national program and the UK has already received the first disbursement of its funding,” Natasha Berthaud, a European Commission spokeswoman, said. . “Both of these programs will, amongst other things, also deal with the situation in Calais.” The Commission plans to approve an additional 13 programs later this year, which will then be implemented by EU member states.

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The only answer Europe ever seems to have.

French Police Say Time To ‘Bring In British Army’ To Calais (RT)

Police in Calais, from where thousands of illegal immigrants from Africa and the Middle East risk their lives trying to cross the English Channel to make it to the UK, have suggested bringing in the British army to curb the crisis. The head of the Alliance union for police deployed to the French port and Eurotunnel site, Bruno Noel, has warned that the situation could soon get out of control if additional help is not provided. He complained that his unit is “doing Britain’s dirty work.” “We have only 15 permanent French border police at the Eurotunnel site,” the Daily Telegraph quoted him as saying. “Can you imagine how derisory this is given the situation? “So I say, why not bring in the British Army, and let them work together with the French?” Mr Noel added.

According to different estimates, between 2,000 and 10,000 migrants in Calais are trying to cross the English Channel. Many have attempted to reach Britain by boarding trains through the tunnel or on lorries bound for UK destinations. Twelve people have died this year attempting to reach the UK. The numbers of migrants in the Calais camp, known as The Jungle, have soared over the past few months from 1,000 in April to nearly 5,000 by August. The first call to use British troops was made by Kevin Hurley (former Head of Counter Terrorism for City of London Police, an ex-Paratrooper and an expert on international security), who is currently Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey. He said the problems stemming from the crowds of migrants trying to enter the UK from Calais through the Channel Tunnel could be dealt with efficiently by Gurkha regiments, based close by in Hythe, a small British coastal market town on the south coast of Kent.

The 700-strong 2nd Battalion of the Royal Gurkha Rifles has been based in the Shorncliffe and Risborough barracks just outside Hythe since 2000, according to Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey. “I am increasingly frustrated by the huge numbers of illegal migrants who jump out of the backs of lorries at the first truck stop – Cobham Services in Surrey – and disappear into our countryside. There were 100 in the last month alone,” Mr Hurley said late last month. “But, while the UK and French governments decide their next prevention strategy we, the British police, have to deal with the immediate problem. The Gurkhas are a highly respected and competent force, and are just around the corner. They could help to ensure that our border is not breached,” he added.

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Mass migrations cannot be stopped.

History In Motion (Pantelis Boukalas)

Throughout the history of mankind the walls protecting cities under siege were never able to keep a determined enemy away forever – a first wave would be followed by a second, and so on. But when that enemy conquered those cities, the waves would stop. However, the overwhelming waves of migrating people that are reaching our shores today, mobilized by the desperate need for survival as opposed to the desire to conquer, will simply keep coming. These desperate people are trying to escape Middle Eastern, Asian and African countries where poverty, war and a lack of freedom threaten their very existence. What has been set in motion now is not the persecution of certain populations, but history itself.

This process cannot be halted, no matter how many fences are erected, no matter how many high walls are put up, such as the ones under construction by Hungary at its border with Serbia, or those envisioned by controversial mogul Donald Trump, a candidate for the Republicans’ presidential ticket, at the US-Mexico border. As for the Channel Tunnel, do the British truly believe that 50,000 – instead of 5,000 – determined refugees in Calais could be prevented from crossing at the mere sight of police officers and weapons? A recent editorial in The New York Times was poignant: “Residents on the island of Lesbos – where many refugees from the Middle East land because of its proximity to Turkey – have responded generously, providing meals, blankets and dry clothing.

Their response should shame others in Europe, particularly the British government, which is panicking over the prospect that a mere 3,000 migrants in Calais, France, might make it across the English Channel.” So far, despite officials’ meetings, the positions of Central and Northern Europe with regard to the refugee issue leaves a lot to be desired. As if Italy’s southern borders and Greece’s eastern borders were not the European Union’s own borders.

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“..only two of 85 medical institutes and 15 of 159 nursing and other care facilities within a 30-kilometre radius of the Sendai plant had proper evacuation plans.”

Japan Restarts Sendai Nuclear Reactor Despite Public Opposition (Fairfax)

Japan has restarted its first nuclear reactor since new safety rules were ordered in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, despite vocal public opposition and anxiety. After months of debate about safety, the No 1 reactor at the 30-year-old Sendai nuclear power plant, on the southwest island of Kyushu, became the first to be brought back to life on Tuesday morning. The reactor, one of 25 which have applied to restart, will begin generating power by Friday and reach full capacity next month. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made the restart of the country’s nuclear energy industry a priority of his administration, with the hiatus sending electricity bills soaring, providing a drag on his so-called Abenomics reforms, and serving to highlight Japan’s dependence on energy imports.

But with the scars of Fukushima yet to fade, newspaper polls have shown a majority of Japanese oppose the restart. Mr Abe’s personal approval ratings have also plumbed new depths, having also come under fire for pushing through a controversial new national security bill that will see Japanese troops fight overseas for the first time since World War II. “I would like Kyushu Electric to put safety first and take utmost precautions for the restart,” he said. Yoshihide Suga, the chief cabinet secretary, said “it is important for our energy policy to push forward restarts of reactors that are deemed safe”.

But local residents said they are worried about potential dangers from active volcanoes in the region, and there was no clarity around the evacuation plans for nearby hospitals and schools. An Asahi Shimbun newspaper survey found only two of 85 medical institutes and 15 of 159 nursing and other care facilities within a 30-kilometre radius of the Sendai plant had proper evacuation plans. About 220,000 people live within a 30-kilometre radius – the size of the Fukushima no-go zone – of the Sendai plant. “You will need to change where you evacuate to depending on the direction of the wind. The current evacuation plan is nonsense,” Shouhei Nomura, a 79-year-old former worker at a nuclear plant equipment maker, who now opposes atomic energy and is living in a protest camp near the plant told Reuters.

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A little physics fascination.

A Good Week For Neutrinos (Butterworth)

Neutrinos are made by firing protons into a target. This produces lots of mess, including charged particles called pions (made of a quark and an antiquark), which travel a while and can be focussed into a beam. They eventually decay to neutrinos, which remain in a collimated beam and, mostly, just carry on without interacting with anything. Crucially though, a few of them will, by random luck (maybe bad luck from the neutrinos point of view) collide with normal matter, some of it (by good luck from the physicists point of view) the matter inside the NOvA far detector, which can measure what kind of neutrinos they were.

The vast majority of neutrinos produced when a pion decays are so-called “muon neutrinos”. This means when they interact they should produce muons (a heavier version of the electron). If the neutrinos did nothing odd during their 800 km journey to NOvA, about 200 of them should have been seen by now. However, only 33 turned up. Also, six electron neutrinos turned up, when only about one would be expected.

This is evidence that the neutrinos transmogrify, or “oscillate”, during their journey. That is, they change types. This behaviour is already known; it is how we know neutrinos have mass (in the original version of the Standard Model of particle physics they were massless), and it may be connected with mysterious fact that there is so much matter around and so little antimatter. Studying this kind of mystery is what Nova was built for, and this confirmation of neutrino oscillations is just the start.

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Jun 032015
 
 June 3, 2015  Posted by at 2:02 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  17 Responses »
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Jack Delano Mike Evans, welder, Proviso Yard, Chicago & North Western RR 1940

We’ve been entertaining ourselves to no end the past couple days with a ‘vast array’ of articles that purport to provide us with ‘expert’ opinion on the question of whether we are witnessing a bubble or not. Got the views of Goldman’s David Kostin, Robert Shiller, Jeremy Grantham, Jeremy Siegel, Howard Marks.

But although these things can be quite amusing because while they’re at it, of course, the ‘experts’ say the darndest things (check Bloomberg ‘Intelligence’s Carl Riccadonna: “You had equity markets benefit from QE, but eventually QE also jump-started the broader recovery.. Ultimately everyone’s benefiting.”), we can’t get rid of this one other nagging question: who needs an expert to tell them that today’s markets are riddled with bubbles, given that they are the size of obese gigantosauruses about to pump out quadruplets?

Moreover, when inviting the opinions of these ‘authorities’, you inevitably also invite denial and contradiction (re: Siegel). And before you know what hit you, it turns into something like the climate change ‘debate’: just because a handful of ‘experts’ deny what’s right in front of their faces as tens of thousands of scientists do not, doesn’t mean there’s a valid discussion there. It’s just noise with an agenda.

And though the global climate system is infinitely more complex than the very vast majority of people acknowledge, fact remains that a plethora of machine-driven and assisted human activities emit greenhouse gases, greenhouse gases trap heat and higher concentrations of greenhouse gases trap more heat. In very similar ways, central banks’ stimuli (love that word) play havoc, and blow bubbles, with and within the economic system. Ain’t no denying the obvious child.

But even more than the climate ‘debate’, the bubble expert articles made us think of a Jerry Seinfeld episode called The Opera, which ends with Jerry doing a stand-up shtick that goes like this:

I had some friends drag me to an opera recently, you know how they’ve got those little opera glasses, you know, do you really need binoculars, I mean how big do these people have to get before you can spot ’em?

These opera kids they’re going two-fifty, two-eighty, three-twenty-five, they’re wearing big white woolly vests, the women have like the breastplates, the bullet hats with the horn coming out.

If you can’t pick these people out, forget opera, think about optometry, maybe that’s more you’re thing.

As far as we can figure out, all you need to know today about bubbles is displayed right there in front of you if you’re able to simply imagine what asset prices would be like without the $40 trillion or so in global stimulus measures the central banks have gifted upon the banks and forced upon the rest of us.

Does anyone honestly think that prices for stocks and bonds and houses and commodities would be anywhere near where they are now without all that zombie money?

How can you even pretend that anything at all has a fair valuation these days? Central banks buy bonds up the wazoo, and there’s no way that does not drive up prices like they’re being chased by the caucasian Baltimore police force department.

Home prices have stabilized for one reason only: the beneficiaries of QE money have done one of two things: either buy up homes wholesale themselves, or sign some poor greater sucker into a loan to procure a leaking and peeling American dream at inflated ‘value’.

As for stocks, they’re supposed to reflect the state of the economy, and their record setting highs obviously do nothing of the kind, because economic performance is just as obviously many lightyears away from any record high.

In fact, the only thing that’s ‘positive’ about the economy is home and share prices. And that is because corporations engage in M&A and in buybacks the size of which people just 10 years ago would have not deemed possible, or even legal, and because that drives up share prices to levels where the many millions of greater fools get tempted to participate. Just watch China.

The flipside of this, as they will find out soon enough, is that QE and ZIRP and that entire alphabet soup completely destroy price discovery. And that means that nobody knows what anything is really worth, everyone’s just guessing, there is no correlation left to the work that has gone into producing anything, let alone to the practical value of what’s being produced.

These companies that buy their own shares can do so with credit borrowed at very low rates, so low their actual activities don’t even have to generate anywhere near an economically viable profit. They can simply borrow it.

Where and when then will these grossly bloated monstrosities burst? The clue would seem to be closely related to what Martin Armstrong had to say:

Velocity of Money Below Great Depression Levels

Ever since the repeal of Glass-Steagall by Bill Clinton in 1999, this “new” way of making money by transforming banking from Relationship to Transactional Banking has destroyed the economy in ways we are soon to discover. The VELOCITY of money has fallen to BELOW Great Depression levels. This is the destruction of Capitalism, and I fear the response against the banks on the next downturn will lead to authoritarianism.

Taking interest rates NEGATIVE will not reverse this trend – it will accelerate the trend. This is all part of Big Bang. We seriously need to understand the nature of the problem or we will lose all rights and freedom because of what the bankers have set in motion. Transactional Banking only benefits the banks and fails to create a foundation for economic growth. This is not about Fractional Banking, this is all about the destruction of Relationship Banking which creates small businesses and employment.

The collapse in the VELOCITY of money illustrates the collapse in liquidity in the markets, which will erupt in higher volatility we have not seen before. The VELOCITY of money declines as HOARDING rises. This is how empires, nations, and city-states decline and fall.

Armstrong uses the following graph to make his point, which is a series that depicts (not seasonally adjusted) GDP/St. Louis Adjusted Monetary Base.

I’ll add the MZM graph (Money Zero Maturity = all money in M2 less the time deposits, plus all money market funds). It’s not as dramatic, but more commonly used (do note that the timescale is different):

It’s obvious that what ails the US economy, and all western economies, is that people are not spending. That’s what brings velocity of money down. And that’s also what causes deflation, and by that we don’t mean falling prices only.

Ergo: when Armstrong states that “The VELOCITY of money declines as HOARDING rises”, he’s half right, but only half. I’ve explained before that this is also where Bernanke’s preposterous claims about an Asian savings glut a few years ago failed in dramatic fashion.

In that same sense, I wrote recently that the ‘savings rate’ in the US is calculated to include debt payments. If you pay off your mortgage or your payday loan, that is jotted down as you saving, even hoarding your money. Just one in a long range of mind-numbing accountancy tricks the US utilizes to hide the real state of its economy. Makes one wonder what the double seasonally adjusted savings rate might be.

This issue shirks uncomfortably close to the contribution of each dollar of added debt to a country’s GDP, which in the west by now must shirk just as uncomfortably close to zero. And once it is zero, the game’s up.

That puts into perspective Jon Hilsenrath’s quasi-funny letter yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, which Tyler Durden presented with: “..to our best knowledge, this is not the WSJ transforming into the Onion.”

Dear American Consumer,

This is The Wall Street Journal. We’re writing to ask if something is bothering you. The sun shined in April and you didn’t spend much money. The Commerce Department here in Washington says your spending didn’t increase at all adjusted for inflation last month compared to March. You appear to have mostly stayed home and watched television in December, January and February as well. We thought you would be out of your winter doldrums by now, but we don’t see much evidence that this is the case. You have been saving more too. You socked away 5.6% of your income in April after taxes, even more than in March. This saving is not like you. What’s up?

The most glaring problem with this letter is -though granted, there’s quite a few- that Americans are not actually saving. Of course some of them are, but that’s not what drives the savings rate. Americans are paying off debt. They have no choice. They’re maxed out. They don’t want to lose their homes, or not feed their kids. The only jobs created have been low-paid ones. While home prices have been QE’d into a suspended state of Wile E. style false stability.

This is how you gut a society. It’s 101. Central banks’ largesse has indulged the rich with more than they can spend, while the rest get less than they need to spend to survive. Home prices are so high they keep people from spending, says Bloomberg.

That’s where the rubber hits the road. That’s where the asset bubbles hit the real economy. And they haven’t even started to burst yet, for real. When they do, the brunt of that will be borne by the real economy as well.

What will bring down our western economies is that people simply no longer have money to spend. While consumer spending in the US is still close to 70% of GDP. That won’t be solved by handing money to banks, or by keeping asset prices from reverting to their market values. Quite the contrary.

Jun 032015
 
 June 3, 2015  Posted by at 10:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Harris&Ewing Childs Restaurant, Washington, DC 1918


IMF Economists Say Some Countries Can ‘Just Live With’ High Debt (Reuters)
Fed Mouthpiece Jon Hilsenrath Furious “Stingy” US Consumers Don’t Spend (ZH)
Goldman Sachs to Companies: Stop Buying Back Your Stock (Bloomberg)
Pension Payments Are Starving Basic City Services (SacBee)
Europe and Greece: The Damage Is Done (Bloomberg)
Greek Standoff Takes Another Twist as Dueling Plans Are Drafted (Bloomberg)
Tsipras To Meet EU’s Juncker As Greece Debt Deadline Looms (AFP)
Take It Or Leave It: Will Greece Accept Deal? (CNBC)
China After the Bubble (Bloomberg)
Is China Repeating Korea’s Mistakes? (Pesek)
China Stocks Stumble As Hanergy Debt Debacle Looms Over All The 500%-Club (ZH)
Big Oil’s Plan to Become Big Gas (Bloomberg)
OECD Warns Lack Of Investment To Prompt New Global Slowdown (Guardian)
More Older Americans Are Being Buried By Housing Debt (AP)
What Australia PM Abbott Doesn’t Get About The Housing Market (BSpectator)
WikiLeaks Announces $100,000 Crowd-Sourced Reward For TPP Text (Politico)
Twenty-Three Geniuses (Jim Kunstler)
Crazyland (Dmitry Orlov)
Record Fall In UK Fresh Food Prices Drives Retail Deflation (Guardian)
Children Trapped In Poverty By UK Government’s ‘Dysfunctional System’ (Guardian)
The Meaninglessness of Ending ‘Extreme Poverty’ (Bloomberg)

Losing their religion.

IMF Economists Say Some Countries Can ‘Just Live With’ High Debt (Reuters)

Some countries with high public debt levels might be able to “just live with it,” because cutting back carries its own risks, three IMF officials said in a paper that disputes decades of dogma about the benefits of austerity. The euro zone and other advanced economies have struggled with ballooning debt in the wake of the 2007-09 global financial crisis. Some have faced pressure to satisfy markets through fast fiscal consolidation. The IMF has already cautioned that cutting back on spending or raising taxes too quickly after the crisis could hurt growth. Now, IMF economists Jonathan Ostry, Atish Ghosh and Raphael Espinoza take that advice a step further, arguing that countries able to fund themselves in markets at reasonable costs should avoid the harmful economic impact of austerity.

“A radical solution for high debt is to do nothing at all,” they write in a blog accompanying a Staff Discussion Note, which does not represent the IMF’s official position, but could help shape its policies. “Debt is bad for growth … but it does not follow that paying down debt is good for growth. This is a case where the cure may be worse than the disease: paying down the debt would require further distorting the economy, with a corresponding toll on investment and growth.” Instead, countries can wait for their debt ratios to fall through higher economic growth or a boost in tax revenues over time. The austerity debate has become a hot political topic in countries such as the United Kingdom and Greece as voters protest the pain of budget cuts.

Greece’s Syriza government swept to power in January promising an end to austerity, but now faces pressure for more cuts in exchange for cash from international lenders. The IMF economists did not mention many specific countries, but cited a 2014 chart from Moody’s Analytics that put most advanced economies, including the United States, United Kingdom and Germany, solidly in the “green zone” of ample fiscal space, meaning there is no rush to cut back debt. France, Spain, Ireland should be cautious about debt, while Portugal faces “significant risk.” Japan, Italy, Greece and Cyprus face “grave risk,” meaning they must cut back, according to the chart.

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Note: as I wrote recently, the savings rate includes debt payments. Which makes it highly misleading. There is no savings glut.

Fed Mouthpiece Jon Hilsenrath Furious “Stingy” US Consumers Don’t Spend (ZH)

No commentary necessary on this piece originally posted on the Wall Street Journal by Jon Hilsenrath (the same ad hoc, trial ballooning Fed mouthpiece whose work as it relates to the Federal Reserve has to be precleared by the Federal Reserve itself as we first reported five years ago). And no, to our best knowledge, this is not the WSJ transforming into the Onion.

from HILSENRATH’S TAKE: A LETTER TO STINGY AMERICAN CONSUMERS

Dear American Consumer,

This is The Wall Street Journal. We’re writing to ask if something is bothering you. The sun shined in April and you didn’t spend much money. The Commerce Department here in Washington says your spending didn’t increase at all adjusted for inflation last month compared to March. You appear to have mostly stayed home and watched television in December, January and February as well. We thought you would be out of your winter doldrums by now, but we don’t see much evidence that this is the case. You have been saving more too. You socked away 5.6% of your income in April after taxes, even more than in March. This saving is not like you. What’s up?

We know you experienced a terrible shock when Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008 and your employer responded by firing you. We know stock prices collapsed and that was shocking too. We also know you shouldn’t have taken out that large second mortgage during the housing boom to fix up your kitchen with granite countertops. You’ve been working very hard to pay off this debt and we admire your fortitude. But these shocks seem like a long time ago to us in a newsroom. Is that still what’s holding you back? Do you know the American economy is counting on you? We can’t count on the rest of the world to spend money on our stuff. The rest of the world is in an even worse mood than you are. You should feel lucky you’re not a Greek consumer. And China, well they’re truly struggling there just to reach the very modest goal of 7% growth.

The Federal Reserve is counting on you too. Fed officials want to start raising the cost of your borrowing because they worry they’ve been giving you a free ride for too long with zero interest rates. We listen to Fed officials all of the time here at The Wall Street Journal, and they just can’t figure you out.

Please let us know the problem. You can reach us at any of the emails below. Sincerely,

The Wall Street Journal’s Central Bank Team -By Jon Hilsenrath

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“.. the last time buybacks were this high was in 2007, right before equities crashed during the financial crisis..”

Goldman Sachs to Companies: Stop Buying Back Your Stock (Bloomberg)

It looks like Goldman Sachs doesn’t agree with Carl Icahn on at least one big issue: share buybacks. While the billionaire activist investor has continued to push Apple to purchase more of its stock, Goldman has published a note recommending companies stop spending their cash on buying back their overpriced shares and instead use those overpriced shares to buy other companies’ equity. As the bank puts it, “U.S. equity valuations look expensive on most metrics,” with the typical stock in the S&P 500 now trading at a price equal to more than 18 times forward earnings.

In the note, “What managements should do with their cash (M&A) and what they will do (buybacks),” Goldman strategists led by David Kostin argue that the current price to earnings (P/E) expansion phase has lasted 43 months and will likely end when the Federal Reserve starts raising interest rates, which the bank now expects will happen in September. As a firm, you would much rather buy back your stock when it’s trading at lower P/E multiples and get a better price. But as it turns out, corporate managers (much like investors) are pretty bad at timing the stock market. Using history as a guide, the last time buybacks were this high was in 2007, right before equities crashed during the financial crisis, Goldman notes.

Exhibiting poor market timing, buybacks peaked in 2007 (34% of cash spent) and troughed in 2009 (13%). Firms should focus on M&A rather than pursue buybacks at a time when P/E multiples are so high.

However, Goldman doesn’t expect companies to listen to its advice. The temptation to give investors what they seem to want is just too much.

We forecast buybacks will surge by 18% in 2015 exceeding $600 billion and accounting for nearly 30% of total cash spending. We recognize activist investors often advocate for firms to return excess cash to shareholders via buybacks.Tactically, repurchases may lift share prices in the near term, but in our view it is a questionable use of cash at the current time when the P/E multiple of the market is so high. In our view, acquisitions – particularly in the form of stock deals – represent a more compelling strategic use of cash than buybacks given the current stretched valuation of US equities.

Companies in the S&P 500 have so far spent a whopping $2 trillion repurchasing their shares over the past five years.

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Rotting from the bottom.

Pension Payments Are Starving Basic City Services (SacBee)

The Governmental Accounting Standards Board is implementing new rules that require governments, for the first time, to report unfunded pension liabilities on their 2015 balance sheets. This sticker shock should create new urgency for meaningful pension reform. A recent study put the unfunded pension liability for all state and local governments at $4.7 trillion. For too long, pension fund officials and politicians have increased payouts and low-balled contributions. As a result, they now have insufficient funds to pay the promised benefits. Accounting gimmicks have hidden the true cost from the public, who are now on the hook to make up the difference between pension promises and assets.

Illinois and New York have unfunded pension debts north of $300 billion each, while New Jersey, Ohio and Texas exceed $200 billion apiece. But nowhere is the problem worse than in California, which accounts for $550 billion to $750 billion of the total, depending on the calculation. The Golden State reveals the damage from long-term financial mismanagement of pension systems. For example, Ventura County’s pension costs have gone from $45 million in 2004 to $162 million in 2013. Overall from 2008 through 2012, California local governments’ pension spending increased 17% while tax revenue grew only 4%. As a result, a larger share of budgets goes to pensions, crowding out spending on core services such as police.

In San Jose, the police department budget increased nearly 50% from 2002 through 2012, yet staffing fell 20%. More money has been consumed by police pensions, leaving less money to hire and retain officers. In Oakland, police officers were given the option in 2010 to contribute 9% of their salary into their pensions and save 80 police jobs, or keep paying nothing into their pensions and see 80 jobs eliminated. The police union voted to continue paying nothing. Now the department refuses to respond to 44 different crimes because of the staffing cutbacks. Any pension system that forces this trade-off is immoral by threatening life and property.

Skyrocketing pension costs also crowd out other quality-of-life services. Public libraries, parks and recreation centers are shortening their hours or closing. Potholes go unfilled, sidewalks unrepaired and trees untrimmed. A new pension rate hike for California’s local governments will cost the city of Sacramento $12 million more a year – the equivalent of cutting 34 police officers, 30 firefighters and 38 other employees. California’s vested rights doctrine locks local governments into pension benefits for life on the day they hire an employee. They cannot modify pensions, forcing them to cut core services or declare bankruptcy, as happened in Vallejo, Stockton and San Bernardino.

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“Europe’s economic crisis was an opportunity to show financial markets that the euro is to Greece as the dollar is to, say, West Virginia. Whatever happens next, we now know different.”

Europe and Greece: The Damage Is Done (Bloomberg)

With both sides said to be drawing up final proposals, and a definitive debt crunch thought to be imminent, the months of brinkmanship over Greece may at last be drawing to a close. But who knows, really? You might think making this shambles any worse would challenge even these principals. I don’t know. I think they’re up to it. Whatever happens, take a moment to reflect on the damage already done during the stalemate — damage that will persist even if the brink isn’t crossed, and a deal is done to avoid a Greek default plus exit from the euro system. First, Greece’s economic situation, which was bad to begin with, has deteriorated further. Savers have been withdrawing deposits from Greek banks. Investors have hammered the stock market.

Under these conditions, few businesses choose to invest or expand. Despite cheap oil and a weaker euro, the Greek economy has fallen back into recession. Second, as a result, the country’s bad fiscal situation is now worse. Whatever fiscal targets are eventually agreed to — assuming that happens — will be harder to meet. A deal sufficient, four months ago, to stabilize Greece’s public finances and restore growth might no longer work. Greece already has two failed bailout programs to its name. The stalemate makes the failure of the next program, if there is one, more likely. Third, the world has learned that exit from the euro system is not just thinkable but has actually been advocated, as a kind of disciplinary measure, by officials in Germany and other countries.

It’s widely understood that if Greece leaves the euro system or is forced out, attention will turn, sooner or later, to the question of who’s next. Every serious economic setback will raise that question. Less widely understood is that much of this damage to the euro zone’s foundations has already been done, and is irreversible. Once you think the unthinkable — debate the pros and cons, start to plan for it — there’s no going back.

In his celebrated (if belated) intervention in 2012, ECB President Mario Draghi said he would do whatever it took to keep the euro system intact; Europe’s economy rallied. Whatever happens this week or next regarding Greece, Europe’s leaders have reneged on that promise: They might do whatever it takes, but they’ll need to think about it first. Europe’s economic crisis was an opportunity to show financial markets that the euro is to Greece as the dollar is to, say, West Virginia (no disrespect to that fine state). Whatever happens next, we now know different.

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They knew the Greek proposal was coming. And they didn’t even look at it?!

Greek Standoff Takes Another Twist as Dueling Plans Are Drafted (Bloomberg)

The impasse over Greece’s future lingered as both sides worked on rival proposals for the conditions of a financial lifeline with debt payments looming. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said his government submitted a new plan, while officials from the country’s creditors were said to be finalizing what would be a final offer to avoid the country defaulting. While the euro rallied on optimism over a deal, Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who leads the euro-area finance ministers’ group, said institutions are still far from any agreement. “As long as it doesn’t meet economic conditions, we can’t come to an agreement,” he told RTL television. “It’s not right to think that we can meet half way.”

After four months of antagonism and extended deadlines, there’s evidence now of greater urgency in efforts to break the deadlock and decide Greece’s fate. At the same time, there were mixed messages over how final any offer might be and whether any agreement can be reached in coming days. While Greece says it can make a debt repayment to the IMF on Friday, it’s the smallest of four totaling almost €1.6 billion this month. The timing coincides with the expiration of a euro-region bailout by the end of June. The deputy parliamentary leader of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, Ralph Brinkhaus, described the negotiating situation as “very confused.”

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It’s up to Juncker now to save his precious ‘union’,

Tsipras To Meet EU’s Juncker As Greece Debt Deadline Looms (AFP)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will meet European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker Wednesday for make-or-break bailout talks with a deadline looming for Athens to make a critical repayment. Greece and its international creditors have exchanged proposals to reach a deal to unlock €7.2 billion to help Athens make Friday’s repayment, but months of fractious talks have been deadlocked over creditors’ insistence that Athens undertake greater reforms which Greece’s anti-austerity government has refused to match. Meanwhile there are fears that Greece could default, possibly setting off a chain reaction that could end with a messy exit from the eurozone.

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the head of the Eurogroup which is comprised of the eurozone’s 19 members, has said he was unimpressed with progress made in the debt talks, after Athens claimed its plan was a «realistic» one. His remarks come with Tsipras due to meet Juncker in Brussels on Wednesday evening, a government source said. Tsipras on Tuesday raised hope of a breakthrough, with the leader of Greece’s left-wing Syriza government telling reporters: «We have made concessions because a negotiation demands concessions, we know these concessions will be difficult.” In Brussels, the European Union called the exchange of documents a positive step, but stopped short of saying a deal was imminent.

“Many documents are being exchanged between the institutions and the Greek authorities… The fact that documents are being exchanged is a good sign,» European Commission spokeswoman Annika Breidthardt said. Asked about the possibility of a deal, she added: «We’re not there yet.”

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I don’t see Syriza rolling over.

Take It Or Leave It: Will Greece Accept Deal? (CNBC)

The Greek Prime Minister is expected to come under pressure on Wednesday to reach a much-needed deal with the country’s international creditors, who have reportedly drafted an agreement – although Greece denies that it has seen the proposals yet. On Tuesday, the Troika drafted the broad lines of an agreement to put to the Greek government, according to Reuters, in a bid to resolve months of tense negotiations over Greek reforms and debt. It comes after the German and French leaders, Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande, held emergency talks with the creditors on Monday night and urged them to find a solution. A Greek government official told CNBC Wednesday that Greece hadn’t yet seen the proposals, however.

“They have not submitted the text and this is what has surprised us. We think it is very odd,” the official, who did not want to be named due to the sensitive nature of the ongoing discussions, told CNBC. The source confirmed that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was due to travel to Brussels to meet with the Commission’s President, Jean-Claude Juncker, later in the day. “We’re going to use this evening’s meeting as a basis to discuss our own proposals, which are full and concrete plans and include a final review of our existing bailout program,” the official added. “We have very good ideas about a growth plan and have a set of proposals that will take any thoughts of a ‘Grexit’ (a Greek exit from the euro zone) off the table.”

Any offer of a deal from creditors puts the ball firmly in Greece’s court, although the consequences of it rejecting an agreement could be dire. Athens faces a €300 million payment to the IMF on Friday, but there are doubts that the country can honor the debt without further financial aid. In something of a pre-emptive strike, Greece submitted its own reform proposals to its European counterparts earlier this week, but they were deemed – not for the first time – “insufficient.” Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets, said Wednesday that given the tense negotiations between Greece and its lenders over the last four months, a quick agreement was unlikely.

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“.. local governments have borrowed as much as $4 trillion, mostly through shadowy off-balance-sheet financing vehicles; around $300 billion of that debt matures this year.”

China After the Bubble (Bloomberg)

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang says that rebalancing China’s economy will be as painful as “taking a knife to one’s own flesh.” That may not be much of an exaggeration. The news on China’s economy is bad. Growth has slowed to a little over 5% (quarter on quarter, at an annual rate); prices are falling; consumer confidence is weak; corporate and local-government debts remain dangerously high. Even now, a well-managed exit from the country’s credit binge may be possible, but an entirely painless one is not. Trying too hard to delay the inevitable will end up making things worse. What scares the government most is the prospect of a wave of corporate and municipal defaults.

According to Mizuho Securities Asia, local governments have borrowed as much as $4 trillion, mostly through shadowy off-balance-sheet financing vehicles; around $300 billion of that debt matures this year. Plunging property prices and declining land sales – as well as slower manufacturing investment as companies focus on paying down debt – are worsening the problem by squeezing demand and holding back growth. Several economists expect China to have difficulty meeting its target of 7% growth in gross domestic product this year. Slower growth will make it even harder for local governments to make their payments. Beijing is leading an effort to restructure the borrowing and make it more transparent – but the plan envisioned won’t cover all the debts coming due this year.

China’s State Council recently admitted as much, telling banks to roll over some of the obligations. The directive was understandable; even so, forcing banks to prop up local governments means throwing good money after bad. The problem isn’t solved, and the day of reckoning, when it comes, will be worse. Meanwhile, applying much the same logic, the government has talked up a stock market that now looks wildly inflated. Since last summer, it has been urging households to invest, and official reassurance follows every market setback. Even after a 6.5% plunge on May 28, the Shanghai Composite is still up 127% over the past year, despite the slowing economy and falling profits. On the tech-heavy Shenzhen Composite Index, price-to-earnings ratios in excess of 100 aren’t uncommon.

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“Why would the government want to risk the possibility hundreds of millions of aggrieved day traders heading onto the streets with protest banners?”

Is China Repeating Korea’s Mistakes? (Pesek)

Many observers assume that China is on a path to become the next Japan – a major economy mired in a multiyear deflationary funk that deflates its global clout. And it’s certainly true that the way that Beijing has been downplaying its debt problems is eerily reminiscent of Tokyo’s public relations strategy from the 1990s. But take a closer look at China’s situation, and you’ll realize a better analogy is South Korea. China’s expanding effort to pile debt risks on individual investors is straight out of Seoul’s playbook. South Korea’s economy crashed in 1997 under the weight of debts compiled by the country’s family-owned conglomerates. The government’s strategy for dealing with the fallout consisted of shifting the debt burden to consumers.

With a blizzard of tax incentives and savvy PR, Korea shrouded the idea of amassing household debt to boost growth in patriotic terms. That push still haunts Korea. Today, the country’s household debt as a ratio of gross domestic product is 81%. That far exceeds the ratios in U.S., Germany and, at least for the moment, China. As a result, Korea has been particularly susceptible to downturns in the global economy, which is why the country is now veering toward deflation. Is China repeating Korea’s mistakes? Granted, the specific of Beijing’s economic strategy vary greatly and China’s $9.2 trillion economy is seven times bigger than Korea’s. But the Chinese government’s efforts to prod households to buy stocks and assume greater financial risks are highly reminiscent of Korean policy.

Beijing has been encouraging everyone in the country, from the richest princelings to the poorest of peasants, to buy stocks. And China’s markets have been booming as a result: Over the past 12 months, the Shanghai exchange is up 141%, and the Shenzhen exchange is up 188%. Margin trading, which has fueled these rallies, seems to have jumped another 45% in May, to a total of $484 billion. [..] But who will suffer when stocks inevitably swoon? Beijing is making a risky bet, by assuming Chinese savers will be capable of dealing with the burden of a stock market downturn. This strategy is morally questionable – it’s another instance of Chinese savers being set up to take the fall for government policy, as they were during the hyperinflation of the 1940s, and in modern times, when they faced strict limits on deposit rates.

Moreover, it would be far easier for Beijing to bail out a handful banks and dispose of bad loans that are concentrated at a few dozen companies, than deal with debts that are distributed to households across the country. Increasingly, there are signs that a reckoning will soon be in the offing. On May 28 alone, Shanghai lost $550 billion in market value – a reminder stocks can’t surge 10% a week forever, not even in China. Why would the government want to risk the possibility hundreds of millions of aggrieved day traders heading onto the streets with protest banners?

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They borrowed money from umpteen different sources.

China Stocks Stumble As Hanergy Debt Debacle Looms Over All The 500%-Club (ZH)

If one sentence sums up the farce that the hyper-speculative ponzifest that is the 500% club in China it is “Hanergy Group was basically using the listed company as a means to produce collateral in the form of shares that it could then pledge to secure financing.” While the stock has been cut in half, lenders remain mired in opacity as they try to figure out, as Bloomberg reports, which of Chinese billionaire Li Hejun’s many creditors risk losing every yuan they put into his company? Shenzhen and CHINEXT indices are lower out of the gate today after a 14% and 18% surge in the last 2 days as a group of 11 lenders (ranging from large banks to small asset managers) ask for a meeting to discuss various loans with various Hanergy entities… and whatever they find in Hanergy is bound to have been repeated manifold across China’s manic markets.

As investors grow a little weary of “the opacity about parent finances and billings,” in Hanergy and across numerous other names we are sure. As Bloomberg reports, a plethora of Chinese lenders are exposed to Hanergy Thin Film and its parent company, including Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, which is owed tens of millions of dollars.

“The interesting thing with Hanergy is that so much is happening with the parent company that investors know nothing about,” said Charles Yonts, an analyst with CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets in Hong Kong. “The opacity about parent finances and billings is extraordinary.” A Bloomberg examination of debt held by Hanergy Thin Film and its closely held parent, Hanergy Holding Group Ltd., show Li has tapped a variety of financing sources since the Hong Kong unit’s stock started surging last year. They include policy-bank lending, short-term loans from online lenders with interest rates of more than 10% and partnerships with local governments.

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Anything for a subsidy.

Big Oil’s Plan to Become Big Gas (Bloomberg)

Oil companies that have pumped trillions of barrels of crude from the ground are now saying the future is in their other main product: natural gas, a fuel they’re promoting as the logical successor to coal. With almost 200 nations set to hammer out a binding pact on carbon emissions in December, fossil-fuel companies led by Shell and Tota say they’re refocusing on gas as a cleaner alternative to the cheap coal that now dominates electricity generation worldwide. That’s sparked a war of words between the two industries and raised concern that Big Oil is more interested in grabbing market share than fighting global warming “Total is gas, and gas is good,” Chief Executive Officer Patrick Pouyanne said Monday, in advance of this week’s World Gas Conference in Paris.

His remarks echoed comments two weeks earlier by Shell CEO Ben Van Beurden, who said his company has changed from “an oil-and-gas company to a gas-and-oil company.” Shell began producing more gas than oil in 2013 and Total the following year. Exxon Mobil ’s output rose to about 47% of total production last year from 39% six years ago. Companies are pushing sales in China, India and Europe. Coal from producers led by Glencore and BHP Billiton produces about 40% of the world’s electricity. Shell, Total, BP and other oil companies said Monday in a joint statement that they’re banding together to promote gas as more climate friendly than coal. “The enemy is coal,” Pouyanne said Monday. He vowed to pull out of coal mining and said Total may also halt coal trading in Europe.

A key strategy for gas producers to push this agenda is asking governments to levy a price on carbon emissions from power plants. That creates an economic incentive to switch from coal, the top source of greenhouse gases, to cleaner options. BP CEO Bob Dudley called for a carbon price at the company’s shareholder meeting April 16, while Exxon head Rex Tillerson on May 27 reiterated support for a carbon tax if consensus emerges in the U.S. Even without carbon pricing, gas has been displacing coal in the U.S., Tillerson said in Paris today. “Natural gas use in the U.S. has reduced carbon dioxide emissions to levels not seen since the 1990s,” he said in a speech. “And the U.S. has no comprehensive cost of carbon policy.”

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Too late.

OECD Warns Lack Of Investment To Prompt New Global Slowdown (Guardian)

A dearth of investment by governments and business has left the global economy vulnerable to a renewed slowdown, a leading thinktank has warned as it slashed its forecasts for the United States. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said the recovery since the global financial crisis had been unusually weak, costing jobs, raising inequality and knocking living standards. In its latest outlook, it saw global growth gradually strengthening but not until late 2016 will it return to the average pace of pre-crisis years. The Paris-based thinktank noted a slowdown for many advanced economies in the opening months of 2015 and singled out a sharp dip for the US, the world’s biggest economy.

It cut its projection for US economic growth to 2% this year from a forecast of 3.1% made in March. For 2016, US growth is seen at 2.8%, down from the previous 3% forecast. The OECD is cautious, despite hoping that the weakness in the first quarter of this year was down to temporary factors, such as unusually harsh weather in the US. “The world economy is muddling through with a B-minus average, but if homework is not done and with less-than-average luck, a failing grade is all too possible,” said OECD chief economist Catherine Mann. “On the other hand, how to get the A is known and within reach,” she added, highlighting the need for more investment.

On the upside, the OECD expected growth to be shared more evenly across regions of the world and says labour markets continue to heal in advanced economies while risks of deflation have receded. “Yet, we give the global economy only the barely-passing grade of B-,” said Mann. The dissatisfaction is not just down to an “inauspicious” starting point after a weak first quarter, she added.

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The number of over-75’s who still carry a mortgage has tripled.

More Older Americans Are Being Buried By Housing Debt (AP)

Of all the financial threats facing Americans of retirement age — outliving savings, falling for scams, paying for long-term care — housing isn’t supposed to be one. But after a home-price collapse, the worst recession since the 1930s and some calamitous decisions to turn homes into cash machines, millions of them are straining to make house payments. The consequences can be severe. Retirees who use retirement money to pay housing costs can face disaster if their health deteriorates or their savings run short. They’re more likely to need help from the government, charities or their children. Or they must keep working deep into retirement.

“It’s a big problem coming off the housing bubble,” says Cary Sternberg, who advises seniors on housing issues in The Villages, a Florida retirement community. “A growing number of seniors are struggling with what to do about their home and their mortgage and their retirement.” The baby boom generation was already facing a retirement crunch: Over the past two decades, employers have largely eliminated traditional pensions, forcing workers to manage their retirement savings. Many boomers didn’t save enough, invested badly or raided their retirement accounts. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office for Older Americans says 30% of homeowners 65 and older (6.5 million people) were paying a mortgage in 2013, up from 22% in 2001.

Federal Reserve numbers show the share of people 75 and older carrying home loans jumped from 8% in 2001 to 21% in 2011. What’s more, the median mortgage held by Americans 65 and older has more than doubled since 2001 — to $88,000 from $43,400, the financial protection bureau says. In markets hit hardest by the housing bust, a substantial share of older Americans are stuck with mortgages that exceed their home’s value. In Atlanta, it’s 23% of homeowners 50 and older, according to the real-estate research firm Zillow. In Las Vegas, it’s 26%.

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It eats away profits elsewhere.

What Australia PM Abbott Doesn’t Get About The Housing Market (BSpectator)

Prime Minister Tony Abbott doesn’t understand the housing market, doesn’t care about housing affordability, and is therefore poorly versed on the issues facing Australia’s non-mining sector. The housing market and the business sector are intrinsically and unavoidably linked. Neither operates in a vacuum; developments – good and bad – in one market inevitably spill over into the other. The business sector, for example, pays our wages, which many of us obviously use to pay down our mortgages. Meanwhile, land prices are a considerable cost for most businesses – they need floor space to sell their goods or new land to build or expand a factory. If you are prime minister of a country you need to understand how this works.

It’s basic economics and yet there is clear evidence that Abbott simply doesn’t get it. His comments yesterday on the property market and housing affordability were a case in point. “As someone who, along with the bank, owns a house in Sydney I do hope our housing prices are increasing,” Abbott said during question time yesterday. “I do want housing to be affordable, but nevertheless I also want house prices to be modestly increasing.” I am sure that many readers will agree with this sentiment. But Abbott is charged with acting in the public interest; that is the standard by which he is judged. Unfortunately, rising house prices – particularly the type of growth experienced in Sydney – are neither in the public interest nor in the broader interest of Australian businesses.

High land prices are a crippling barrier for many Australian corporations. It’s a key reason – along with high wages – why Australian manufacturing continues to retreat. It hurts shopkeepers and department stores; any business that requires a physical location to operate is hampered by elevated land prices. High land prices make it difficult to produce a sufficient quantity to get fixed costs down to competitive levels. Unfortunately, it’s too costly to buy new land and build a new factory, which means too many Australian businesses fall short of their potential.

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Nice idea.

WikiLeaks Announces $100,000 Crowd-Sourced Reward For TPP Text (Politico)

WikiLeaks announced an effort Tuesday to crowd-source a $100,000 reward for the remaining chapters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, after the organization published three draft chapters of the deal in recent years. “The transparency clock has run out on the TPP. No more secrecy. No more excuses. Let’s open the TPP once and for all,” WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in a statement.

Critics say that the deal being negotiated by the United States and other Pacific Rim countries would hurt American workers and the economy, while proponents argue that it would help the United States establish a stronger economic foothold in the region with regard to China. The three chapters that WikiLeaks has already published include sections on intellectual property rights, published in November 2013, the environment, published in January 2014, and investment, published this March. The $100,000 reward marks the beginning of a new program for the organization, in which users can pledge funding to get the chapters they want the most.

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“This must be what comes of viewing the world through your cell phone.”

Twenty-Three Geniuses (Jim Kunstler)

If there is a Pulitzer Booby Prize for stupidity, waste no time in awarding it to The New York Times’ Monday feature, The Unrealized Horrors of Population Explosion. The former “newspaper of record” wants us to assume now that the sky’s the limit for human activity on the planet earth. Problemo cancelled. The article and accompanying video was actually prepared by a staff of 23 journalists. Give the Times another award for rounding up so many credentialed idiots for one job. Apart from just dumping on Stanford U. biologist Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb (1968), this foolish “crisis report” strenuously overlooks virtually every blossoming fiasco around the world. This must be what comes of viewing the world through your cell phone.

One main contention in the story is that the problem of feeding an exponentially growing population was already solved by the plant scientist Norman Borlaug’s “Green Revolution,” which gave the world hybridized high-yielding grain crops. Wrong. The “Green Revolution” was much more about converting fossil fuels into food. What happens to the hypothetically even larger world population when that’s not possible anymore? And did any of the 23 journalists notice that the world now has enormous additional problems with water depletion and soil degradation? Or that reckless genetic modification is now required to keep the grain production stats up?

No, they didn’t notice because the Times is firmly in the camp of techno-narcissism, the belief that the diminishing returns, unanticipated consequences, and over-investments in technology can be “solved” by layering on more technology — an idea whose first cousin is the wish to solve global over-indebtedness by generating more debt. Anyone seeking to understand why the public conversation about our pressing problems is so dumb, seek no further than this article, which explains it all. Climate change, for instance, is only mentioned once in passing, as though it was just another trashy celebrity sighted at a “hot” new restaurant in the Meatpacking District. Also left out of the picture are the particulars of peak oil (laughed at regularly by the Times, which proclaimed the US “Saudi America” some time back), degradation of the ocean and the stock of creatures that live there, loss of forests, the political instability of whole regions that can’t support exploded populations, and the desperate migrations of people fleeing these desolate zones.

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Being monitored was a notion fit for crazies not long ago; now it’s a certainty for everyone.

Crazyland (Dmitry Orlov)

A long time ago—almost a quarter of a century—I worked in a research lab, designing measurement and data acquisition electronics for high energy physics experiments. In the interest of providing motivation for what follows, I will say a few words about the job. It was interesting work, and it gave me a chance to rub shoulders (and drink beer) with some of the most intelligent people on the planet (though far too fixated on subatomic particles). The work itself was interesting too: it required a great deal of creativity because the cutting edge in electronics was nowhere near sharp enough for our purposes, and we spent our time coming up with strange new ways of combining commercially available components that made them perform better than one had the right to expect.

But most of my time went into the care and feeding of an arcane and temperamental Computer Aided Design system that had been donated to the university, and, for all I know, is probably still there, bedeviling generations of graduate students. With grad students just about our only visitors, the atmosphere of the lab was rather monastic, with the days spent twiddling knobs, pushing buttons and scribbling in lab notebooks. And so I was quite pleased when one day an unexpected visitor showed up. I was busy doing something quite tedious: looking up integrated circuit pin-outs in semiconductor manufacturer’s databooks and manually keying them into the CAD system—a task that no longer exists, thanks to the internet.

The visitor was a young man, earnest, well-spoken and nervous. He was carrying something wrapped in a black trash bag, which turned out to be a boombox. These portable stereos that incorporated an AM/FM radio and a cassette tape player were all the rage in those days. He proceeded to tell me that he strongly suspected that the CIA was eavesdropping on his conversations by means of a bug placed inside this unit, and he wanted me to see if it was broadcasting on any frequency and to take it apart and inspect it for any suspicious-looking hardware.

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Interesting as data, but lousy as analysis. Retail deflation is a nonsense misleading term.

Record Fall In UK Fresh Food Prices Drives Retail Deflation (Guardian)

Prices in British shops have moved into their third year of decline as a result of widespread supermarket discounting and cheaper fresh food , according to new industry figures. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said shop prices in May were down 1.9% on last year’s levels, unchanged from April’s rate of decline and the 25th straight month of deflation. The fall will reinforce expectations that the broader official measure of inflation in the UK will remain low for some months to come after turning negative in April. The BRC found food prices again fell 0.9% in May while non-food deflation held at 2.5%.

Within those categories, fresh food fell at a record pace of 1.9% thanks to meat, milk, cheese and eggs all being cheaper than a year ago, according to the BRC report with market research company Nielsen. Comparable records began in December 2006. The latest BRC-Nielsen Shop Price Index shows prices fell 1.9% in May from a year ago. It was the 25th consecutive month of falling shop prices. Falling non-food prices are now in their third year and food prices have been in deflationary territory for five straight months. “Retailers continue to use price cuts and promotions to stimulate sales which is helping to maintain shop price deflation, and we see little evidence to suggest that prices will rise in the near future,” said Mike Watkins, Nielsen’s head of retailer and business insight.

He predicted that discounting will help keep the official consumer price index (CPI) measure of inflation low for some time. “With many food retailers still using price cuts to attract new shoppers, this is lowering the cost of the weekly shop and so the overall CPI figure in the UK. Deflation and price led competition will continue to be a key driver of sales growth for some time yet,” added Watkins.

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What a country.

Children Trapped In Poverty By UK Government’s ‘Dysfunctional System’ (Guardian)

Thousands of children in the UK, many of them British, are living in dangerous, squalid conditions well below the poverty line as a result of rapid changes to government immigration and benefit policies, a report by the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society at the University of Oxford warned on Wednesday. Children are the “collateral damage” of “a dysfunctional system in which they are the ultimate losers” according to the authors of the Compas report, which estimates that 3,391 families and 5,900 children were supported under local authorities’ Section 17 Children Act 1989 duties in 2012/13. Two thirds of families who were supported by local authorities for up to two years or more – at a cost of £28m for the year – were waiting for a decision from the Home Office; of the cases looked at by the study, 52% were granted leave to remain.

Charities seeing an increase in the numbers forced into destitution – with some families living on as little as £1 per person per day – argue it is only a matter of time before a tragedy on the scale of Victoria Climbié occurs to a child from a family who has “no recourse to public funds” (NRPF), a criterion for many attempting to regulate their immigration status. Victoria Climbié, an eight-year-old, was tortured and murdered by her guardians in 2000. Her death led to a public inquiry and produced major changes in child protection policies in the United Kingdom. NRPF families – including those on visas, overstayers and those applying for British citizenship who cannot work or claim benefits – were being abandoned by the Home Office while their status applications were being processed, leaving cash-strapped local authorities struggling to cope with the burden of caring for children whom they had a legal obligation to protect from destitution.

“There is a real tension between the desire to keep these people out of the welfare state and the legal obligation that falls on local authorities,” said co-author Jonathan Price. “There is a question to be asked about the long-term impact on children of living on subsistence rates that are well below welfare rates.” The report, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, found that support from local authorities varied wildly. Families were grateful for any support they received, but subsistence payments “in all cases were well below support for destitute asylum seekers and hard case support rates”, said the report. One authority provided £23.30 per child per week and nothing for parents: for a family with two parents and one child, a little over £1 per person per day.

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You can’t eat shifting goalposts.

The Meaninglessness of Ending ‘Extreme Poverty’ (Bloomberg)

This September, the world’s leaders will converge on the United Nations to declare a new set of Sustainable Development Goals for planetary progress over the next 15 years. Their first target will be to “eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day.” That’s a heady vision, one already embraced both by U.S. President Obama and Jim Kim, president of the World Bank—the organization that set the $1.25 poverty line back in 2005. There’s just one problem: According to the World Bank, extreme poverty isn’t what it used to be. It turns out that the technique the bank has used in the past to set the extreme poverty line essentially guarantees we won’t wipe out extreme poverty by 2030—or ever.

To save face, the World Bank’s economists are likely to change the method to one that creates a definition of extreme poverty that can be eradicated. But in doing so, they’ll set a poverty line that will move further and further away from anyone’s actual idea of what it is to be poor. Ask people what level of income would make them poor and they tend to come up with a number that’s relative to their income. In the U.S., people are surveyed as to the amount of income necessary for a family of four to “get along.” In 1950, the answer was $48 a week, or around 75% of household mean income that year. More than half a century later in 2007, the average answer was $1,000 a week—or around 77% of mean income. Given that most people define poverty using a relative approach, it isn’t surprising that most governments tend to come up with national poverty lines that are explicitly or implicitly relative to average incomes.

The U.S. is an exception: It has a poverty line that is explicitly absolute—you are poor if your income is lower than the cost of a food basket, plus an allowance for nonfood expenditures like rent. This standard was set in the 1960s and has been updated only to reflect inflation. As a proportion of U.S. median household income, the poverty line has fallen from one-half to below one-quarter since 1963. But the European Union uses a poverty line that is explicitly relative—you are poor if you live in a household with an income that is below 60% of mean household income. And it turns out that while most developing countries purport to use an absolute poverty line, in practice they implement a relative approach.

Most commonly, the poverty line is officially set using a basket of goods meant to reflect basic needs. But as countries get richer, the basic needs bundle gets more generous. Food costs start to include meat and fish alongside grains and vegetables, for example. And nonfood costs add utilities and transport alongside rent. That’s why China doubled its (supposedly absolute) poverty line in 2011 after years of strong economic growth. And it’s why there is a strong positive relationship between GDP per capita and the value of the poverty line across countries.

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Apr 112015
 
 April 11, 2015  Posted by at 7:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  10 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing Inauguration of air mail service, Washington, DC 1918

That title may be a bit much, granted, because never is a very long time. I might instead have said “The American Consumer Won’t Be Back For A Very Long Time”. Still, I simply don’t see any time in the future that would see Americans start spending again at a rate anywhere near what would be required for an economic recovery. Looks pretty infinity and beyond to me.

However, that is by no means a generally accepted point of view in the financial press. There’s reality, and then there’s whatever it is they’re smoking, and never the twain shall meet. Admittedly, my title may be a bit provocative, but in my view not nearly as provocative, if not offensive, as Peter Coy’s at Bloomberg, who named his latest effort “US Consumers Will Open Their Wallets Soon Enough”.

I know, sometimes they make it just too easy to whackamole ’em down and into the ground. But even then, these issues must be addressed time and again until people begin to understand, and quit making the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons. People have a right to know what’s truly happening to their lives, and their societies. And they’re not nearly getting enough of it through the ‘official’ press. So here goes nothing:

US Consumers Will Open Their Wallets Soon Enough

People are constantly exhorted to save, but as soon as they do, economists pop up to complain they aren’t spending enough to keep the economy growing. A new blogger named Ben Bernanke wrote on April 1 that there’s still a “global savings glut.” Two days later the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the weakest job growth since 2013, which economists quickly attributed to soft consumer spending.

The first problem with Coy’s thesis is that even if people open their wallets, far too many of them will find there’s nothing there. And Bernanke simply doesn’t understand what savings are. His ideas through the past decade+ about a Chinese savings glut were always way off the mark, and his global – or American – savings glut theory is, if possible, even more wrong. In the minds of the world’s Bernankes, there’s no such thing as people opening their wallets to find them empty. If they don’t spend, they must be saving. That there’s a third option, that of not having any dollars to spend, is for all intents and purposes ignored.

The U.S. personal savings rate—5.8% in February—is the highest since 2012. “After years of spending as if there were no tomorrow, consumers are now saving like there is a tomorrow,” Richard Moody, chief economist at Regions Financial, wrote to clients in March. Saving too much really can be a problem when spending is weak.

The little man inside, when I read things like that, tells me this is nonsense. So I decided to look up how the US personal savings rate is calculated. Turns out, it’s another one of those whacky goal-seeked government numbers. At least, that’s what I make of it. Mainly, though not even exclusively, because of things like this, from a site called Take A Smart Step:

[The personal savings rate in] November 2012 was 3.6%, this is not even close to where we need to be for financial health. This savings rate barely gives us enough to handle emergencies, and makes us as a nation weaker. The government calculates the personal savings rate as the difference between the after tax income and consumption of Americans. So they include not only retirement savings, but debt repayments, college savings, emergency fund savings, anything that was not spent.

Making paying off your debt (i.e. money you’ve already spent) count towards your savings is a practice fraught with questionable consequences. But useful for economists, and accountants alike, no doubt. The problem with it is that it hides reality behind a veil. Because debt repayments are not really savings at all; people are not free to spend what they put into paying off debt, on something else, like iPads, cars or trinkets. Not even on hookers or crack cocaine, for that matter.

For the vast majority of what is paid off in debt, there’s no such thing as free choices. People pay off debt because they must. Or, to look at it from another, wide lens, angle, Americans would have to stop servicing their debt payments if they want to ‘start spending’ again.

Going through the numbers from various sources, I can see that the US personal savings rate is presently some 5.8% of pre-tax income, and debt repayment is close to 10% of disposable -after tax – income. I’m still trying to make those stats rhyme. But no matter how you read and interpret them, it should be clear that debt repayments are a large part of ‘official’ savings. Even if they really shouldn’t be counted as such.

Of what remains in real savings, retirement/pension savings must necessarily be a substantial percentage, and it would be weird to call those things ‘saving like there is a tomorrow’, if only because they are about, well, tomorrow. But that seems to be the new normal: creating the impression that saving any money at all is somehow detrimental to the economy. A truly crazy notion, if you ask me. Let’s get back to Bloomberg’s Coy:

There are only two things you can do with a dollar, after all: spend it or save it. If you spend it, great—that’s money in someone else’s pocket.

In someone else’s pocket, but no longer in yours. Why would that be so great? It’s only great if that someone has added value to something by doing productive work, not if you simply swap paper assets.

If you save it, the financial system is supposed to recycle your dollar into productive investment with loans for new houses, factories, software, and research and development.

That notion of ‘the financial system is supposed to’ refers to theories such as those that Bernanke and his ilk ‘believe’ in. Theories that have no practical value. What is normal for many everyday Americans is crippling debt levels, and no such thing is recognized in these theories. After all, according to them, whatever amount of dollars you get in, you either spend or save them. And if you use them to pay off previously incurred debt, you’re supposedly actually saving, even though you no longer have possession of the money in any way, shape or sense, nor a choice of what to spend it on.

But if no one’s in the mood to invest more and interest rates are already as low as they can go (as they are in much of the world), the compulsion to save can sap demand and throw people out of work. For the U.S. economy, the good news is that the jump in the personal savings rate is probably no more than a blip. Three economists from Deutsche Bank Securities in New York explained why in a March 25 report called ‘U.S. Consumers: Still Shopping, Not Dropping’. While noting a “deceleration” in consumer spending, they wrote, “we think that concerns about the outlook for the consumer are overstated.” Their model of the U.S. economy predicts the savings rate will fall to 3% to 3.5% by 2017.

Oh sweet lord. Now a falling savings rate has become a beneficial thing, even when and where savings are very low. Not saving will allegedly save the economy. How did that happen? If we may presume that debt repayments will continue virtually unabated, and there seems to be little reason to think otherwise, this means that by 2017 there will be just about nothing saved at all anymore in America. Which means there’d be very little left of the ‘If you save it, the financial system is supposed to recycle your dollar into productive investment’.

The only ‘growth’ perspective America has left is to grow its debt levels continually, continuously and arguably exponentially.

Other economists have also concluded that the spending dropoff is temporary, which is why the slowdown in job growth, to just 126,000 in March, didn’t set off many alarm bells. “Consumer spending is starting to look more and more like a coiled spring,” says Guy Berger, U.S. economist at RBS Securities. One sign that consumers aren’t retrenching: On April 7 the Federal Reserve reported that consumer credit rose $15.5 billion in February, in line with the recent past.

They got deeper into debt, and this is a sign they’re not ‘retrenching’? A coiled spring? Really?

According to Deutsche Bank Securities, the first reason to think consumers will resume spending is that their incomes are rising. Annual growth in average hourly earnings has averaged about 2% since 2010, which isn’t great but does exceed inflation. With more people working as well, aggregate payroll outlays are up 4.9% from the past year, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

The rises in stock and home prices should make consumers more willing to live a little, say the Deutsche Bank authors. They calculate that households’ net worth is almost 6.5 times consumers’ disposable personal income. That’s the highest ratio since before the housing crash.

But that last bit is arguably all due to QE induced asset bubbles. Not an argument the author would make, I know, but nevertheless. Coincidentally, another Bloomberg article published the same day as the one we’re delving in here is called:Why Your Wages Could Be Depressed for a Lot Longer Than You Think. Perhaps the respective authors should have a sit down.

No question, the high savings rate depresses spending in the short run. Purchases of durable goods, from cars to couches, remain well below their 60-year average share of GDP. But all that saving helps consumers get their finances in order, which will allow them to satisfy pent-up demand for that sweet new Ford F-150.

No no no: they just paid off part of their debts. How can that possibly mean they’ll go out and get a new F-150? In real life, they spent their money instead of saving it. Either way, they don’t have it any longer to spend on a F-150. It would mean they need to get into new debt. On top of what they still have left over even AFTER paying down part of it.

Fed data show that financial obligations including debt service, rent, and auto leases are about their lowest in comparison to disposable income since 1981.

Hmm. According to Wikipedia, “Household debt as a % of disposable income rose from 68% in 1980 to a peak of 128% in 2007, prior to dropping to 112% by 2011.” It’s about 105% today. So that’s just a very weird statement. Someone’s wrong, very wrong, and I think I know who that would be. Maybe Peter Coy conveniently ignores mortgage payments when he talks about “financial obligations including debt service, rent, and auto leases”?!

When consumers are ready to borrow more, it won’t hurt that, according to the Fed’s survey of banks’ senior loan officers, banks are easing lending standards.

See? That’s what I said: they can only spend if they acquire new debt. They’re just getting rid of the last batch, and it’s going mighty slowly at that. Lest we forget, when debt as a percentage of income falls, that is due to quite an extent to people failing to make any debt payments at all, and losing their homes and cars. This is a dead economic model. This model is pining for the fjords.

These factors add up to an optimistic consumer.

Oh, c’mon. What is that statement based on? That ‘sky high’ savings rate that is really just poor slobs paying off what they can in debt repayments so they won’t get hit with even more fees and fines?

What I think these factors add up to, is a delusional reporter. There is no excess saving. It’s ludicrous. As far as people have any money at all, they’re using it to pay down their previously incurred debts. And that gets tallied into their savings rate by the government’s creative accounting methods. That’s all there is to the whole story. But it will, regardless, induce a few more poor souls to sign up for more mortgages and car loans and feel like happy American consumers on their way down into the maelstrom.

It’s sad, it really is. Maybe we should first of all stop referring to the American people as ‘consumers’. That might help.