May 272017
 
 May 27, 2017  Posted by at 8:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Paul Klee Limits of the Mind 1927

 

Global Pension Underfunding To Grow To $400 Trillion Over Next 30 Years (ZH)
UK Retirement Age Could Hit 80 As Pensions Deficit Sets Off Time Bomb (Ind.)
President Trump’s Disastrous Budget Plan (John T. Harvey)
Trump Prepares “War Room”, “Big White House Changes”, Loss Of Twitter (ZH)
Trump’s Allies, Convicted of High Crimes Without a Trial (BBG)
Millennials Want to Buy Homes but Aren’t Saving for Down Payments (WSJ)
Australia Economy Hit By Spending Strike, Cyclone (AFR)
Theresa May Launches Strongest Attack Yet On Jeremy Corbyn (Tel.)
No Exit (Jim Kunstler)
Libyan Coastguard Opened Fire At Refugee Boats: NGOs (AlJ)
Hopes For Refugee Crisis Plan Fall Into Chasm Between G7 And Trump (G.)

 

 

Long time coming, we’ve been warning about this for as long as the Automatic Earth exists. It’s slow motion, but it’s certain.

Global Pension Underfunding To Grow To $400 Trillion Over Next 30 Years (ZH)

Of course, as we’ve argued before, the current pension underfunding levels are sure to only get worse over the coming decades as the world will have to contend with a wave of retiring Baby Boomers and a period of lackluster, volatile returns. So how bad could the global funding gap get? Unfortunately, the World Economic Forum (WEF) recently set out to solve that impossible math equation and it turns out the answer is about $400 trillion…give or take a couple trillion. Not surprisingly, the WEF attributed their terrifying conclusion to an ageing population, lack of savings, low expected growth rates and financially illiterate citizens.

• Long-term, low-growth environment: Over the past 10 years, long-term investment returns have been significantly lower than historic averages. Equities have performed 3%-5% below historic averages and bond returns have typically been 1%-3% lower. Low rates have grown future liabilities, and at the same time investment returns have been lower than expected and unable to make up the growing pension shortfall.

• Inadequate savings rates: To support a reasonable level of income in retirement, 10%-15% of an average annual salary needs to be saved. Today, individual savings rates in most countries are far lower. This is already presenting challenges where traditionally defined benefit structures would have provided a guaranteed pension benefit. Now, as workers look at their defined contribution retirement balances, with no guaranteed benefits, they are realizing that the retirement income their savings will provide will be much lower than expected.

• Low levels of financial literacy: Levels of financial literacy are very low worldwide. This represents a threat to pension systems which are more selfdirected and which rely more on private savings in addition to employer- or government-provided savings. Of course, ignoring that minor ~20 year increase in life expectancy over the past 60 years without raising retirement ages can take a toll on those present value calculations of future liabilities.

Oh, and turns out that politicians creating massive ponzi schemes to promise citizens that their government would take care of their financial needs in perpetuity, while never really bothering to explain the true costs of such programs, was probably a bad idea. But luckily these politicians are exempt from being prosecuted for their financial crimes…so taxpayers will just have to deal with picking up the $400 trillion tab.

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And once you’re 80 everyhting’s gone, spent.

UK Retirement Age Could Hit 80 As Pensions Deficit Sets Off Time Bomb (Ind.)

The UK has been told to prepare for a workforce of 80-year-olds as the world’s leading economies struggle to deal with a £54 trillion pensions time bomb. The amount could balloon to an astonishing £334 trillion by 2050 unless policymakers take urgent action, the World Economic Forum has warned. An ageing population, falling birth rates and poor access to pension products were the main sources of the widening gap between what people are saving and the amount they would have to put away to adequately fund their retirement, the WEF said. The projection is based on the OECD’s recommendation that people should have retirement income of around 70% of their salary.

On this measure, the UK’s shortfall is higher than £6.2 trillion and set to increase by around 4% per year, reaching more than £25 trillion by 2050. To avoid the looming crisis, governments need to to improve financial literacy and increase access to pensions in order to boost the amount people save, the WEF said. “Policymakers do need to be thinking now about how to integrate 75- and even 80-year-olds in the workplace,” Michael Drexler, head of financial and infrastructure systems for the WEF told The Financial Times. The WEF said life expectancy has risen rapidly since the 1950s, increasing by two years every decade on average. Babies born now can expect to live longer than 100 years, according to the WEF report.

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Nobody, Rep. or Dem., is interested in actually understanding the economy, they just want their favorite people to do well.

President Trump’s Disastrous Budget Plan (John T. Harvey)

Several months ago, I graded President Trump’s economics. The standard I used was the extent to which various policies drained or refilled the swamp, with the assumption that the former represented acts that helped the middle class (or aspirants thereto). I marked him with two swamp drainers (+2) and five swamp refillers (-5) for a net of -3. His newly-announced budget plan, however — where I had given him the benefit of the doubt and a +1–just switched to a -1. It is absolutely disastrous. As much as I complained about Obama’s, this may be worse. You can do a quick Google search and find plenty of line-by-line analyses to see where the cuts will come. I won’t bother with that. Instead, I want you to take a step back and just look at the simple logic involved. What is the macro impact of Trump’s newfound conviction that we need to reduce the public deficit?

1. It lowers our savings. Ignoring for the moment the foreign sector, there are only two main actors in our economy: the public sector and the private sector. The inescapable accounting logic is that if the public sector spends more than it earns, then the private sector must earn more than it spends. Or put another way, the government’s deficit is your surplus. Period. No alternate interpretation is possible. Now add in the fact that we already spend more for foreign products than they spend for ours and you see that not only does the private sector need the government’s deficit if it is going to have any net savings, but that deficit needs to be even larger than our net outflow to China, et al!

2. It reduces profits. Actually, this is really part of the above, but it gets a little more concrete. When the government cuts spending, this isn’t just a number of a ledger somewhere. It’s someone’s income: a fireman, a librarian, a Marine, a park ranger, a university physics professor working with grant money, etc., etc. As it stands today, those people are buying bread, milk, gas, movie tickets, apartment rentals, cars, and so on. Who is going to buy those items if we lay off those government workers? No one. In fact, it would then logically lead to even more layoffs as those businesses lost profits. So much for helping the entrepreneur.

3. It burdens current generations (and does nothing to help future ones). Probably the most fundamental fact about the debt is also the least understood one: it is impossible — IMPOSSIBLE — for the U.S. to be forced to default on debt in dollars. I have written on this point extensively and will not go on about it here. The bottom line is that default is off the table, it can’t happen. Hence, the only impact of cutting the deficit is the reduction in savings and profits (and employment) mentioned above.

And so, without even considering the micro impacts of the various cuts he has in mind, it’s bad news all around and Trump’s grade has dropped from -3 (+2 – 5) to a -5 (+1 – 6). Of course, for the rest of us the impact is somewhat more significant than getting a bad report card.

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Big changes were always going to happen. Losing Twitter, Spicer, Goldman alumni, Bannon, now maybe Kushner, no surprises there.

Trump Prepares “War Room”, “Big White House Changes”, Loss Of Twitter (ZH)

In lieu of the Friday night “Trump bombshell” deliverable from the NYT-WaPo complex, today it was Reuters’ and the Wall Street Journal’s turn to lay out the suspenseful weekend reads, previewing major potential upcoming changes to the Trump administration. First, according to Reuters, Trump’s top advisors are preparing to establish a “war room” to combat negative reports and mounting questions about communication between Russia. Steve Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, both senior advisors to the president, will be involved in the new messaging effort, which also aims to push Trump’s policy agenda and schedule more rallies with supporters. This “most aggressive effort yet” to push back against allegations involving Russia and his presidential campaign, will launch once Trump returns from his overseas trip.
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[..] Second, in a separate but similar report from the WSJ, the paper writes that Trump is “actively discussing major changes” in the White House, including a shakeup of his senior team, after spending much of his free time during his overseas trip weighing the Russia investigation and the political crisis it poses for him. A flurry of meetings devoted to White House operations are scheduled for next week, officials said, and sparks are expected to fly. While this isn’t the first time a major shake up around Trump was announced as imminent, recalls Axios reporting two weeks ago that an “angry” Trump was planning a huge reboot, and that Priebus, Bannon and Spicer could be fired …

[..] The biggest change may be that Trump is about to lose his twitter privileges for good: One major change under consideration would vet the president’s social media posts through a team of lawyers, who would decide if any needed to be adjusted or curtailed. The idea, said one of Mr. Trump’s advisers, is to create a system so that tweets “don’t go from the president’s mind out to the universe.” Some of Mr. Trump’s tweets—from hinting that he may have taped conversations with Mr. Comey to suggesting without any evidence that former President Barack Obama wire-tapped Trump Tower—have opened him to criticism and at times confounded his communications team. Trump aides have long attempted to rein in his tweeting, and some saw any type of legal vetting as difficult to implement. “I would be shocked if he would agree to that,” said Barry Bennett, a former Trump campaign aide.

[..] most interesting is the alleged emerging tension between Trump and his Goldman advisors: “Some Trump advisers have also questioned the judgment of communications officials, citing as an example the rollout of a tax-plan outline in April that featured Goldman Sachs alumnae Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, and Gary Cohn, the National Economic Council director. “The left is automatically going to say the tax plan is tailored to the rich and to Wall Street. And we just gave them an image of the rich and of Wall Street,” one Trump former campaign official said. In an amusing tangent, the WSJ also points out that Trump’s return to Washington will mark the end of a period which, White House staffers said, “brought some relief from the hectic pace of the news surrounding the administration and the Russia investigation. Some noted that it gave them a rare time to eat dinner at home.”

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Peeking out of the echo chamber.

Trump’s Allies, Convicted of High Crimes Without a Trial (BBG)

Heard any good Mike Flynn jokes lately? How about this one from “Morning Joe,” this week? “When it comes to legal issues, he’s like Charmin. You just keep squeezing.” Maybe you’ve seen Stephen Colbert’s segment from February about Trump’s former national security adviser: “It’s funny ’cause it’s treason.” Don’t miss the exchange in the New Yorker last month with former acting attorney general Sally Yates. Reporter Ryan Lizza asked Yates about how she informed the White House counsel that Flynn had lied to his colleagues about his monitored conversations with the Russian ambassador. “You didn’t just text, ‘Heads-up, your N.S.A. might be a spy’?” Lizza asked. Yates quipped: “Is there an emoji for that?” Well it’s nice to see our elites are in such good humor about something so grave. If there truly was treason, it’s no joking matter.

If there was not, then this man’s name is being tarnished unfairly. Ha. Ha. After all, Flynn has yet to be charged with a crime. If there is evidence that he betrayed his country, it has yet to be presented. None of the many news stories about Flynn’s contacts with Russians and Turks has accused him of being disloyal to his country. And yet a decorated general has already been tried and convicted in the press. None of this would be happening without some very dirty business from the national security state. It’s a two-pronged campaign. First there are the whispers. Anonymous officials describe in detail elements of an ongoing investigation: intercepts of conversations between Russian officials about how they could influence Flynn during the transition; monitored phone calls about how Flynn had lied about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to his colleagues; how Flynn failed to disclose his payment from the Russian propaganda network on his official forms.

This prong of the campaign is at least factual, but the facts don’t speak for themselves. The second and more insidious element here is the innuendo. Yates never says Flynn was a spy for Russia. But her public remarks to Congress and the media appear designed to leave that impression. As she told Lizza, Flynn was “compromised by the Russians.” This sounds far more sinister than Flynn’s explanation when he left his post in February. Back then he said he had forgotten elements of his discussion with the Russian ambassador that covered a wide range of issues.

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They aren’t because they can’t. This is what feeding bubbles leads to. This is the Fed for you.

Millennials Want to Buy Homes but Aren’t Saving for Down Payments (WSJ)

Most millennials have saved virtually nothing for a down payment on a home, according to a new study, suggesting many will face steep obstacles to homeownership in the years ahead. Nearly 70% of young people ages 18 to 34 years old said they have saved less than $1,000 for a down payment, according to a survey by Apartment List, a rental listing company, expected to be released Friday. About 40% said they aren’t saving anything on a monthly basis. Even senior members of the group are falling short. Nearly 40% of older millennials, those age 25 to 34, who by historical measures should already own or be a few years away from homeownership, said they are saving nothing for a down payment each month.

The study helps illuminate a tension at the heart of the housing market. The vast majority—some 80%—of millennials said they eventually plan to buy a home. But 72% said the primary obstacle is that they can’t afford it. “It’s encouraging that millennials do want to buy homes. It suggests that they are delaying forming households but they’re not giving it up,” said Andrew Woo, director of data science and growth at Apartment List. “The biggest reason [they aren’t buying] is because of affordability.” Catie Peterson, a 22-year-old graphic designer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said she doesn’t expect to start saving for a down payment for another five years or so. “I barely have enough savings to cover my car if it were to break down,” she said.

Ms. Peterson said she pays $975 a month in rent for a small one-bedroom apartment, which is about one third of her paycheck, leaving little room to save. “Once I get settled in my career and settled in my family, I think buying a house would be reasonable,” she said. The reasons young people are falling behind include student loan debt, rising rents and the slow starts many got to their careers during the recession. Living in vibrant urban centers with ready access to restaurants, bars and entertainment might also make saving seem less urgent. Many are children of the affluent baby boomer generation and some expect their parents to give them a boost when the time comes. In all, about one-quarter of millennials ages 25 to 34 expect to receive help from friends or family, according to the survey. Still, three-quarters said they expect to receive less than $10,000, which might not be enough to close the gap.

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All the money that’s left is tied up in property.

Australia Economy Hit By Spending Strike, Cyclone (AFR)

Australia’s economy looks to have experienced its weakest start to a year since 2011 – narrowly skirting a contraction – as a growing consumer spending strike and a cyclone-driven slowdown in exports weighs on activity just as the government bets its budget strategy on a rebound. While the country is not at risk just yet of a technical recession – or two quarters of consecutive declines in gross domestic product – the economy looks set to continue in 2017 its whip-saw pattern of the past year. Combined with weak spending and a fall in shipments of iron ore and coal, as well as lower commodity prices, the first quarter is likely to have been weighed down by a sudden collapse in construction work – a sign that a regulatory squeeze on apartment lending may be starting to bite.

Weak retail spending, which this week saw the seventh retailer go under in recent months, sharply rising car loan delinquencies and falling new car sales all point toward a population clamping down on discretionary spending. ANZ Bank economists said next month’s national accounts may show the economy grew just 0.1% from the December quarter – raising the spectre of the second negative quarter in nine months after GDP shrank by 0.5% in the September quarter before rebounding by 1.1% in late 2016. Annual growth may have shuddered to just 1.5% in the opening months of the year from 2.4% last year. While they are in the minority, some analysts are starting to warn that the economy may have gone backwards, not just in the March quarter, but may be doing so in the current period.

[..] Commonwealth Bank of Australia senior economist Michael Workman cautioned that it was “too early to tell” if GDP would go negative. “There’s always a lot of worriers out there, and they’re very good for the market,” he said. But he isn’t one of them. “It could be as low as 0.1, but it’s too early to tell with any certainty.” ANZ senior economist Felicity Emmett said there was a growing realisation among households that low wage growth was here to stay. “That’s quite difficult for the household sector when they have very high levels of debt. In terms of the atmospherics, the business surveys do suggest quite positive, but the decline in consumer spending quite worrying.”

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Don’t be surprised if she loses.

Theresa May Launches Strongest Attack Yet On Jeremy Corbyn (Tel.)

Theresa May has accused Jeremy Corbyn of providing an “excuse for terrorism” in her strongest attack on the Labour leader to date. The Prime Minister said Mr Corbyn had suggested the Manchester suicide bombing and other terrorist attacks “are our own fault” by linking terrorism to British foreign policy. She also rounded on Mr Corbyn for the timing of his remarks – made in a campaign speech on Friday – just days after 22 children and adults were killed. In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Neil, Mr Corbyn repeated his claim that terrorism was partly caused by “the consequences of our interventions in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya”. The Labour leader also would not withdraw his previous description of NATO as a “Frankenstein” organisation, and refused six times to guarantee a replacement of Trident.

It came as senior Tories expressed concern that Mrs May’s message of “strong and stable” leadership is not cutting through with voters after one poll found her lead over Labour had been reduced to just five points. Mrs May on Friday night claimed a victory in the war on terror as she convinced leaders of the G7 countries to sign up to plans she has drawn up for a crackdown on Facebook and other social media sites being used as recruiting tools by Isil. She also struck a deal to make countries pick up British jihadis before they get home, after it emerged that Manchester bomber Salman Abedi stopped in Germany on his way back from Libya just days before the attack. [..] Mr Corbyn was criticised by figures from across the political spectrum for linking the Manchester attack to British foreign policy in Libya and elsewhere.

Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, said his comments were “absolutely obscene”, while Andy Burnham, the new Labour Mayor of Manchester, said Mr Corbyn was wrong when he pointed to “the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries and terrorism here at home”. Mrs May looked angry as she addressed Mr Corbyn’s speech during a press conference at the G7 summit in Sicily. She said: “I’m going to be very clear about what has been said today. “What has happened is I have been here at the G7 working with other international leaders to fight terrorism. “At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn has said that terror attacks in Britain are our own fault – and he has chosen to do that just a few days after one of the worst terrorist atrocities we have experienced in the United Kingdom.

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“Do you suppose that, in the hothouse of Washington, incoming foreign policy officers of Obama’s government had no conversations with foreign diplomats between the election of 2008 and Obama’s inauguration? The idea is laughable. ..”

No Exit (Jim Kunstler)

A most curious feature in the current low state of American politics is the delusional thinking at both ends of the political spectrum. Both factions have gone off the rails mentally, and the parties they represent race toward oblivion like Thelma and Louise in their beater car. More ominously, there are no new factions with a grip on reality even beginning to form anywhere in the background — as in the 1850s when the Whigs foundered and the party of Lincoln segued into power. To see the Democrats go on about “Russian collusion” you would think we were watching a rerun of the John Birch Society in its heyday. Americans who have done business in Russia as private citizens are being persecuted as though they were trading with the enemy in wartime. Newsflash: we are not at war with Russia, which, by the way, is no longer the Soviet Union.

It is one of many European countries that Americans are entitled to do business in — even in the case of General Mike Flynn accepting a $20,000 speaking fee from the RT news company. Has anyone noticed that Ben Bernanke routinely takes $200,000-plus speaking fees in many foreign countries whose interests are not identical to ours and no one is persecuting him. Likewise, the insane idea that it is malfeasant for high public officials to speak to Russian officials, or for the president to share sensitive strategic information with them, especially about genuine mutual enemies such as the various Islamic jihad armies. Since when is that beyond the pale? Well, since January of this year when the Democrat Party ordained that members of the Trump transition team were forbidden to speak to Russian diplomats at the highest level.

Do you suppose that, in the hothouse of Washington, incoming foreign policy officers of Obama’s government had no conversations with foreign diplomats between the election of 2008 and Obama’s inauguration? The idea is laughable. [..] The party of the right, the Republicans, have made themselves hostages to the marginal personality of Donald Trump, who prevailed over a cast of Republican empty suits in the pathetic and appalling primary contests of last spring. The Republican party has not demonstrated that it has the dimmest idea what is going on “out there” in the very flyover districts its minions and flunkies pretend to represent, or that they believe in anything not cynically calculated to bamboozle the economically immiserated classes left behind by their deliberate asset-stripping approach to the public interest.

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Libyan Coastguard gets EU funding.

Libyan Coastguard Opened Fire At Refugee Boats: NGOs (AlJ)

Libyan coastguard officers opened fire on two boats loaded with refugees while rescue attempts were under way in the Mediterranean Sea on Tuesday, according to nongovernmental organisations involved in the operations. The Libyan coastguard has rejected the accusations and demanded evidence. But those at the scene told Al Jazeera that at around noon, as rescue workers from four groups – French NGOs SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Italian NGO Save the Children and German NGO Jugend Rettet – were trying to save refugees, a speedboat equipped with four machine guns and bearing the emblem of the Libyan coastguard arrived at the scene.

The speedboat approached the rescue operation at high speed, creating large waves that made it difficult for the refugees to board rubber dinghies, the witnesses said. Shortly after, a series of gunshots could be heard coming from near the dinghies, Laura Garel, a communications officer on the SOS Mediterranee’s rescue vessel Aquarius, told Al Jazeera. Jugend Rettet. “For us the situation was critical,” said Jonas. “We are here to help, but were forced to stand idly by as to avoid getting hit by a bullet ourselves.” [..[ The Libyan coastguard denied Tuesday’s incident took place, calling the accusations “illogical”. Ayob Amr Ghasem, a Libyan navy spokesman, challenged the rescue groups to produce evidence of their claims. “Why would we have shot at boats if we are the ones that always save them?” Ghasem was quoted by the Italian ANSA news agency as saying.

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The EU tries to blame its refugee failings on Trump. Same for its CON21 climate disaster.

Hopes For Refugee Crisis Plan Fall Into Chasm Between G7 And Trump (G.)

Divisions between Donald Trump and other members of the G7 at the summit in Sicily have become so broad and deep that they may be forced to issue a brief leaders’ statement rather than a full communique, dashing Italian hopes of engineering a big step forward on migration and famine. With the US president apparently reluctant to compromise with European leaders over climate change, trade and migration, the European council president, Donald Tusk, was forced to admit on Friday that this would be the most challenging G7 summit in years and there was a risk of events spiralling out of control. A draft statement shown to the Guardian reveals Trump wants world leaders to make only a short reference to migration and to throw out a plan by the Italian hosts for a comprehensive five-page statement that acknowledges migrants’ rights, the factors driving refugees and their positive contribution.

The Italian plans – one on human movement and another on food security – were set to be the centrepiece of its summit diplomacy. Italy had chosen Taormina in Sicily as the venue to symbolise the world’s concern over the plight of refugees coming from the Middle East and Africa. It had hoped the summit would end on Saturday with a bold statement that the world, and not just individual nations, had a responsibility for the refugee crisis. Italy is expected to take in 200,000 refugees in 2017; more than 1,300 have drowned so far this year while trying to make the perilous crossing from north Africa. Trump’s negotiators brought a new brief text of the final communique to a pre-meeting of the G7 on 26 April and said they were vetoing the Italian “human mobility” plan, which had been the subject of careful negotiation for months.

The new text, offered by the US on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, acknowledges the human rights of migrants, but affirms “the sovereign rights of states to control their own borders and set clear limits on net migration levels as key elements of their national security”. It also asserts the need for refugees to be supported as close to their home countries as possible. Diplomatic sources said intense talks were under way to rescue some of the Italian agenda on migration. Italian officials, faced with little option, insisted the brief wording on migration in the draft represented a good compromise and said there was no problem with the Americans. The communique did reference the idea of “upstream” action on the issue – but also supporting legal pathways to return individuals to their country of origin. In a sign of the immediacy of the refugee crisis, the Libyan coastguard said as many as 20 boats had been spotted off the Libyan coast on Friday carrying thousands of migrants.

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Apr 292017
 
 April 29, 2017  Posted by at 10:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso Self portrait 1972

 

US Q1 Growth Weakest In Three Years As Consumer Spending Falters (R.)
Don’t Show President Trump This Chart (ZH)
Just Five Companies Account For 28% Of The S&P’s 2017 Returns (ZH)
Germany Knew Austerity Would Destroy Greece, Says Varoufakis (Tel.)
EU Deletes UK from Official Map – Two Years Before Brexit (BT)
These Americans Will Never Get Social Security Benefits (MW)
Julian Assange Speaks Out: The War On The Truth (Ron Paul)
US Spy Agency Abandons Controversial Surveillance Technique (R.)
Russian Economy Has Grown Immune to Western Sanctions – UN (Sp.)
California Enacts $52 Billion Fuel Tax Hike For Road, Bridge Repairs (R.)
Melenchon Attacks Macron as Le Pen Fights to Win His Supporters (BBG)
US Troops Deploy Along Syria-Turkish Border (AP)
Tensions Escalate Between Kurdish Forces, Turkish Troops in North Syria (ARA)
‘Europe’s Dirty Secret’: Officials On Chios Scramble To Cope With Rising Tensions (G.)

 

 

Consumption growth lowest since 2009.

US Q1 Growth Weakest In Three Years As Consumer Spending Falters (R.)

The U.S. economy grew at its weakest pace in three years in the first quarter as consumer spending almost stalled, but a surge in business investment and wage growth suggested activity would regain momentum as the year progresses. The soft patch at the start of the year is bad news for the Trump administration’s ambitions to significantly boost growth. “It marks a rough start to the administration’s high hopes of achieving 3% or better growth; this is not the kind of news it was looking for to cap its first 100 days in office,” said Sal Guatieri, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto. GDP increased at a 0.7% annual rate also as the government further cut defense spending and businesses spent less on inventories, the Commerce Department said on Friday in its advance estimate.

That was the weakest performance since the first quarter of 2014. The pedestrian first-quarter growth pace is, however, not a true picture of the economy’s health. Wage growth in the first quarter was the fastest in 10 years as the labor market nears full employment and business investment on equipment was the strongest since the third quarter of 2015. Also underscoring the economy’s underlying strength, consumer and business confidence are near multi-year highs. First-quarter GDP tends to underperform because of difficulties with the calculation of data that the government has acknowledged and is working to rectify.

[..] Growth in consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, braked to a 0.3% rate, the slowest pace since the fourth quarter of 2009. That followed the fourth quarter’s robust 3.5% growth rate. A mild winter undercut demand for heating and utilities production. Higher inflation, with the personal consumption expenditures price index averaging 2.4% – the highest since the second quarter of 2011 – was also a drag.

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Anti-Trump rally?!

Don’t Show President Trump This Chart (ZH)

It's been (almost) 100 days and stocks are higher, hype is at its peak, hope remains higher-ish… there's just one problem, real economic data is collapsing…

 

As today's Q1 GDP proved, relying on 'hope' and 'soft' data to lift a 'real' economy is simply a false narrative…

 

How will that translate into Making America Great Again?

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Bubble. But their power is real. And scary.

Just Five Companies Account For 28% Of The S&P’s 2017 Returns (ZH)

On the last day of the busiest earnings week in a decade, here is a striking statistic from Goldman Sachs, showing just how dominant a handful of large cap companies have become in terms of both overall profitability and market impact: “Year to date the top 10 contributors have combined to account for 37% of the S&P 500 index return (more than double their market cap representation of 17%). The concentration among the top five is even greater, with those firms – AAPL, FB, AMZN, GOOGL, and MSFT – accounting for 28% of the return and 12% of market cap.” Some further perspective, courtesy of the WSJ, which notes that the combined market capitalization of AMZN, MSFT, INTC and GOOG makes up about 8% of the Index’s total.

Throwing in Apple and Facebook puts about 13% of the S&P 500’s combined market cap into the hands of just six companies. This wasn’t always the case. “Ten years ago, Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Intel made up just 5% of the S&P 500’s market cap, while Facebook was four years away from becoming a public company. The newfound prominence of big tech companies now can be chalked up to a few factors. One is that most big tech companies are profit machines—unlike many of their smaller peers that are still losing money. Alphabet, Microsoft, Intel and Amazon reported a combined $16.8 billion in operating income for the March quarter on Thursday. That is about 7% of the total projected for the S&P 500. ”

“Amazon looks like an outlier with a rather thin operating margin of 2.8% for the quarter, but even that is a notable gain from its average of just 1.5% over the last five years. But the other, even bigger factor is that demand for technology products and services keeps increasing, even as some market segments like PCs have declined. That has allowed several big tech companies to pivot into new segments with the help of strong cash flows generated by their original businesses. Amazon, Microsoft and Google have built large cloud services used by businesses shifting from more traditional computing setups.”

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New book, series in the Telegraph.

Germany Knew Austerity Would Destroy Greece, Says Varoufakis (Tel.)

Greece was forced to sign up to crippling austerity policies even though the German finance minister privately admitted he would not have endorsed the deal. The extraordinary admission by Wolfgang Schauble was made to Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, whose new memoir is serialised in The Telegraph all this weekend. In a frank private exchange, Mr Varoufakis asked Mr Schauble if he personally would sign up to the EU-ordered austerity plan which saw billions cut from Greek budgets and many Greeks lose their jobs. “As a patriot, no. It’s bad for your people,” the German minister replied. The Germans are also accused in the book of blocking a Chinese rescue deal for Greece and of repeatedly going back on promises and pledges made by other senior European figures as the EU battled to hold the eurozone together.

In a 500-page insider’s account of nearly six months of encounters with the leading political figures of Europe, Mr Varoufakis exposes the lengths to which Germany will go to maintain the EU and single currency. The minister secretly recorded many of his conversations with senior global figures and today exposes the gulf between private conversations and public pronouncements. In an interview today, Mr ≠Varoufakis says his experience contains dark warnings for Britain’s coming Brexit negotiations with a German-dominated EU. Angela Merkel warned this week that Britain should have no illusions about the coming talks and the EU yesterday put the ( issue of Irish reunification on the Brexit negotiating table. He warns that Theresa May must prepare an alternative deal as the EU will use dubious negotiating tactics to block reasonable discussion and potential solutions.

My advice to Theresa May is to avoid negotiation at all costs. If she doesn’t do that she will fall into the trap of [Greek prime minister] Alexis Tsipras, and it will end in capitulation, he told The Daily Telegraph. The parallel with Brexit is the tactic of stalling negotiations. They will get you on the sequencing. First there is the price of divorce to sort out before they will talk about free trade in the future, he added. In his book, Mr Varoufakis recounts how Germany used its political and financial muscle to impose austerity on Greece, despite widespread acknowledgement in other EU capitals that the policy was self-defeating and unsustainable. He reveals private encounters -many recorded secretly- with leading figures including Barack Obama, George Osborne and ( Emmanuel Macron, who polls say is almost certain to become the next president of France. In one conversation at the White House Mr Obama readily agrees that ‘austerity sucks’ but can do nothing to deflect the German agenda.

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Almost funny.

EU Deletes UK from Official Map – Two Years Before Brexit (BT)

This could be the first official map produced by the European Union to exclude the UK. But it is also an inaccurate one: the UK is still a member state of the EU. Brexit means Brexit: on 29 March, British Prime Minister Theresa May officially notified EU Council President Donald Tusk of Britain’s intention to leave the European Union. But Britain hasn’t left yet. By invoking Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, May triggered a process that gives both sides two years to reach an agreement. Meaning that Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on 29 March 2019. Until that time, the United Kingdom remains a full member of the European Union.

It is no secret that hardline brexiteers would rather leave today than tomorrow, and ‘crash out’ of the EU, even if that means falling back on the most rudimentary of agreements for trade and cooperation with ‘EU27’ – shorthand for the EU minus the UK. Now it seems that sentiment is reciprocated in the highest circles of the EU bureaucracy in Brussels. The map shows the unemployment rates of the member states – and the stark differences for those rates between member states in the north and south of the Union. But the eye is immediately drawn to the land mass of the United Kingdom: coloured not in the blues or oranges that indicate unemployment rates in the EU, but the grey of the non-member states that dot the map.

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Giving the news to you bite size.

These Americans Will Never Get Social Security Benefits (MW)

Today’s young people fear that they will never see Social Security benefits. The reality is, 3% of elderly Americans already don’t. The three main groups of people who never receive Social Security benefits include infrequent workers (44.3%) who do not have sufficient earnings to qualify for the benefits, immigrants who arrived in the US at 50 or older (37.3%) and therefore haven’t worked long enough to qualify for the benefits, and non-covered workers (11.4%), such as state and local government employees. A little less than 7% of “never beneficiaries” were individuals who were expected to get Social Security benefits, but died before receiving them, according to a 2015 Social Security Administration report.

What’s worse, most Americans may not realize how much they will – or will not – receive in Social Security benefits, said Bill Meyer, chief executive of Social Security Solutions, a software provider that strategizes how to claim Social Security. Social Security benefits are based on earnings history from the past 35 years – “The onus is on the individual retiree that the Social Security Administration has the right information,” Meyer said. Social Security benefits are hotly contested, specifically how — or even whether — those benefits will be distributed in the future. Young Americans say they’re not confident they’ll ever collect Social Security benefits (81% of millennials didn’t think so, at least, according to a recent Investopedia survey) but current near retirees may also be at risk.

In December, the House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee introduced a bill that would “save” Social Security by cutting benefits for above-average earners, eliminating the cost-of-living adjustment for individuals who make more than $85,000 (and $170,000 for couples), and increasing the full retirement age to 69 from 66.

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Vault7 the largest ever publication?

Julian Assange Speaks Out: The War On The Truth (Ron Paul)

Wikileaks Founder and Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange joins the Liberty Report to discuss the latest push by the Trump Administration to bring charges against him and his organization for publishing US Government documents. How will they get around the First Amendment and the Espionage Act? The US government and the mainstream media – some of which gladly publish Wikileaks documents – are pushing to demonize Assange in the court of public opinion.

Tyler Durden: Having blasted the Trump administration for their hyprocritical flip-flop from “loving WikiLeaks” to “arrest Assange,” Ron Paul made his feelings very clear on what this signals: “If we allow this president to declare war on those who tell the truth, we have only ourselves to blame.” Today he sits down with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for a live interview…

“The CIA has been deeply humiliated as a result of our ongoing publications so this is a preemptive move by the CIA to try and discredit our publications and create a new category for Wikileaks and other national security reporters to strip them of First Amendment protections,” Assange said in a preview clip from the interview below…:

 

Full interview below… 

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US intelligence has gone bonkers, and it may well be too late to rein it in.

US Spy Agency Abandons Controversial Surveillance Technique (R.)

The U.S. National Security Agency said on Friday it had stopped a form of surveillance that allowed it to collect without a warrant the digital communications of Americans who mentioned a foreign intelligence target in their messages, marking an unexpected triumph for privacy advocates long critical of the practice. The decision to stop the once-secret activity, which involved messages sent to or received from people believed to be living overseas, came despite the insistence of U.S. officials in recent years that it was both lawful and vital to national security. The halt is among the most substantial changes to U.S. surveillance policy in years and comes as digital privacy remains a contentious issue across the globe following the 2013 disclosures of broad NSA spying activity by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

“NSA will no longer collect certain internet communications that merely mention a foreign intelligence target,” the agency said in a statement. “Instead, NSA will limit such collection to internet communications that are sent directly to or from a foreign target.” NSA also said it would delete the “vast majority” of internet data collected under the surveillance program “to further protect the privacy of U.S. person communications.” The decision is an effort to remedy privacy compliance issues raised in 2011 by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a secret tribunal that rules on the legality of intelligence operations. [..] The NSA is not permitted to conduct surveillance within the United States. The so-called “about” collection went after messages that mentioned a surveillance target, even if the message was neither to nor from that person. That type of collection sometimes resulted in surveillance of emails, texts and other communications that were wholly domestic.

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Unintended consequences.

Russian Economy Has Grown Immune to Western Sanctions – UN (Sp.)

Maintaining the sanctions imposed by Western states will not negatively affect Russia’s economy, which has adapted to these restrictive measures, UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures Idriss Jazairy said Thursday. Jazairy stressed that the economy is adaptive to sanctions and the policies of its main trade partners, and thus the introduction of sanctions mostly harms the effectiveness of international trade, but not the country itself for which the sanctions were aimed against. Jazairy expressed his view on the anti-Russian sanctions during a meeting with the Russian upper house Council of the Federation Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State-Building chairman Andrei Klishas in Moscow.

Since 2014, relations between Russia and the European Union and the United States, deteriorated amid the crisis in Ukraine. Brussels, Washington and their allies introduced several rounds of sanctions against Russia on the pretext of its alleged involvement in the Ukrainian conflict, which Moscow has repeatedly denied. In response to the restrictive measures, Russia has imposed a food embargo on some products originating in countries that have targeted it with sanctions. On April 18, the IMF said in its World Economic Outlook report that Russian economic growth is expected to pick up in 2017 – 2018 and will reach 1.4% for both years.

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There are too many cars. That’s the only real problem. But no-one dares touch it.

California Enacts $52 Billion Fuel Tax Hike For Road, Bridge Repairs (R.)

California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law on Friday a bill to raise gasoline taxes and other transportation-related fees for the first time in decades in an ambitious $52 billion plan to repair the state’s long-neglected roads and bridges. The measure, increasing excise taxes on gasoline by 12 cents per gallon, from the current rate of $0.28 a gallon, and on diesel fuel by 20 cents per gallon over the next 10 years, goes into effect in November. It cleared the state legislature three weeks ago, on the strength of a two-thirds super-majority the Democrats wield in both houses that allows them to pass new taxes with little or no Republican support. Republicans condemned the increases, saying the state’s transportation taxes and fees are already among the highest in the nation. They call the newly enacted measure the largest gasoline tax in California’s history.

The average motorist in California, a state renowned for its car culture, will see transportation costs rise by about $10 a month under the measure, according to Brown, a Democrat who has governed largely as a fiscal moderate. He has refused to back any transportation overall plans that involved borrowing money. Supporters say the measure is needed to address a mounting backlog of crumbling infrastructure projects, including more than 500 bridges statewide requiring major repair, most of them considered structurally deficient. The fuel tax increases, together with higher vehicle licensing fees and a new $100 annual fee on owners of electric-only vehicles, would raise $5.2 billion a year, all earmarked for road, highway and bridge repairs and anti-congestion projects.

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Too many people are too sure Le Pen has no chance.

Melenchon Attacks Macron as Le Pen Fights to Win His Supporters (BBG)

The left-wing populist Jean-Luc Melenchon, who was eliminated from France’s presidential election this week, declined to endorse centrist front-runner Emmanuel Macron as he looked to keep hold of his 7.1 million voters ahead of a parliamentary ballot in June. Melenchon, who came fourth in Sunday’s first-round vote, said he won’t vote for the anti-euro nationalist Marine Le Pen in the runoff on the May 7 in a 32-minute video posted on his official YouTube channel late Friday. But he also aimed criticism at the centrist Macron who has won endorsements from most of his mainstream rivals, as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “We can’t really call this a choice,” Melenchon said. “The nature of the two candidates makes it impossible to come out of this with stability.”

“One because he’s the extreme of finance, the other because she’s the extreme right,” he added, saying his party, France Unbowed, will reach the second round in 450 of the 577 constituencies up for grabs in the lower chamber of parliament in June and Macron sees him as a “threat.” Politicians and observers across the European Union have been transfixed by the French election with Le Pen promising to pull out of the euro and erect barriers to trade with the rest of the bloc while Macron has vowed to revive the Franco-German partnership to begin a new era of continental cooperation. Le Pen is fighting to win over Melenchon’s supporters as she seeks to close a gap of some 20 %age points on her rival.

Despite the personal antipathy between Melenchon and Le Pen, their protectionist, anti-European platforms had lots in common. In a speech in Arras on Wednesday, Macron praised Melenchon’s “panache” and the wave of support he created in the campaign. Le Pen said on France 2 television on Monday that they had “very similar” economic ideas and her team acclaimed his “noble” act to hold back an endorsement. Surveys show that Melenchon voters are increasingly likely to abstain rather than back Macron on May 7. An OpinionWay polled Friday showed that 45% of Melenchon supporters plan to abstain in the second round, up from 23% at the start of the week. Macron’s support among that group fell to 40% from 55%, while Le Pen’s dropped to 15% from 22%.

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Looks like a positive development.

US Troops Deploy Along Syria-Turkish Border (AP)

US armoured vehicles are deploying in areas in northern Syria along the tense border with Turkey, a few days after a Turkish airstrike that killed 20 US-backed Kurdish fighters, a Syrian war monitor and Kurdish activists said Friday. Footage posted by Syrian activists online showed a convoy of US armoured vehicles driving on a rural road in the village of Darbasiyah, a few hundred meters from the Turkish border. Clashes in the area were reported between Turkish and Kurdish forces Wednesday a day after the Turkish airstrike which also destroyed a Kurdish command headquarters. The Turkish airstrikes, which also wounded 18 members of the US-backed People’s Protection Units, or YPG, in Syria were criticized by both the US and Russia.

The YPG is a close US ally in the fight against Daesh, also known as ISIS and ISIL, but is seen by Ankara as a terrorist group because of its ties to Turkey’s Kurdish rebels. Further clashes between Turkish and Kurdish forces in Syria could potentially undermine the US-led war on Daesh. A senior Kurdish official, Ilham Ahmad told AP that American forces began carrying out patrols along the border Thursday along with reconnaissance flights in the area. She said the deployment was in principle temporary, but may become more permanent. A Kurdish activist in the area, Mustafa Bali, said the deployment began Friday afternoon and is ongoing. He said deployment stretches from the Iraqi border to areas past Darbasiyah in the largely Kurdish part of eastern Syria.

“The US role has now become more like a buffer force between us and the Turks on all front lines,” he said. He said US forces will also deploy as a separation force in areas where the Turkish-backed Syrian fighting forces and the Kurdish forces meet. It is a message of reassurance for the Kurds and almost a “warning message” to the Turks, he said. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, did not dispute that U.S. troops are operating with elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) along the Turkish border, but he would not get into specifics. The SDF is a Kurdish-dominated alliance fighting Daesh that includes Arab fighters. “We have U.S. forces that are there throughout the entirety of northern Syria that operate with our Syrian Democratic Force partners,” Davis said. “The border is among the areas where they operate.”

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Here’s why there are US tropps in the region.

Tensions Escalate Between Kurdish Forces, Turkish Troops in North Syria (ARA)

Clashes continued for the third consecutive day between Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Turkey’s military in several areas in northern Syria, military sources reported on Friday. The Turkish Army bombed several villages in the Kurdish Afrin district, including Panerak, Shankila, Midan Akbas and Rajo. “The Turkish artillery bombarded YPG security checkpoints and residential buildings in Afrin countryside, killing and wounding dozens, most of them civilians,” a spokesperson for the YPG told ARA News. The bombardment led to clashes between the Kurdish units and Turkish military forces in the sub-districts of Rajo and Shiya. “Our units responded to the Turkish offensive by hitting the positions of the Turkish troops near Susk hill in Afrin. At least three military vehicles were destroyed by YPG fire,” the Kurdish official said.

The YPG also released a video showing the destruction of a Turkish base in northwestern Aleppo. “At least 17 Turkish soldiers were killed and three others were wounded under heavy bombardment by the YPG,” a member of the YPG media office in Afrin told ARA News. The source added that the clashes between the YPG and Turkey’s military are still ongoing in the Shiya and Rajo sub-districts. Clashes broke out on Wednesday between the Syrian Kurdish forces and Turkish troops after the latter targeted the Kurdish town of Derbassiye in Syria’s northeastern Hasakah province with heavy artillery, shutting down the road between Derbassiye and Serikaniye. This coincided with similar clashes between the YPG and Turkish troops in Afrin. This comes after the Turkish jets killed over 25 Kurdish fighters in Iraq and Syria on Tuesday.

The US-led coalition expressed concerns over the Turkish attacks against the Kurdish fighters who are in war with ISIS in northern Syria. “We call on all forces to remain focused on the fight to defeat ISIS, which is the greatest threat to regional and worldwide peace, security,” said Air Force Col John L. Dorrian, Spokesman for the US-led coalition against ISIS. “Turkish strikes were conducted without proper coordination with the Coalition or the Government of Iraq,” he said. “Our partner forces have been killed by Turkey strike, they have made many sacrifices to defeat ISIS,” the American Colonel said. “We are troubled by Turkey airstrikes on SDF and Kurdish forces,” he added.

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This will not go quiet for much longer.

‘Europe’s Dirty Secret’: Officials On Chios Scramble To Cope With Rising Tensions (G.)

On a clear day the channel dividing Chios from the Turkish coast does not look like a channel at all. The nooks and crevices of Turkey’s western shores, its wind turbines and summer homes could, to the naked eye, be a promontory of the Greek island itself. For the men, women and children who almost daily make the crossing in dinghies and other smuggler craft, it is a God-given proximity, the gateway to Europe that continues to lure. Samuel Aneke crossed the sea almost a year ago on 1 June. Like those before him, and doubtless those who will follow, he saw the five-mile stretch as the last hurdle to freedom. “You could say geography brought me here,” said the Nigerian, a broad smile momentarily dousing his otherwise dour demeanour. “But it was not supposed to keep me prisoner.”

Refugee flows via Greece were meant to stop when the EU and Turkey announced what was seen as a pioneering agreement to stem the influx in March 2016. In Chios, like other Aegean isles, residents initially welcomed the accord. It was short-lived. The influx – one that saw more than 850,000 refugees arrive into the country in 2015 – was soon replaced by a steady flow, with asylum seekers arriving in groups that were sometimes small, sometimes large, but always propelled by the same ambition: to reach Europe by way of its southern shores. On Chios, more than 825 asylum seekers, the vast majority Syrians, arrived from Turkey in March. This month almost 600 have come. With at least 3,000, according to authorities, housed in two overcrowded camps – one makeshift, the other a razor-wire topped detention centre in a former factory known as Vial – it is anger that hangs in the air.

Greece’s Aegean isles have become de facto detention facilities – a dumpling ground for nearly 14,000 stranded souls, unable to move until permits are processed and fearful of what lies ahead. “Anything could happen because everything is hanging by a thread,” says Makis Mylonas, a policy adviser at the town hall. “Chios, Samos, Lesvos, Kos, Leros were sacrificed in the name of Europe’s fixation to keep immigrants out,” he claims, listing the isles that continue to bear the brunt of the flows.

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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.

Read more …

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.

Read more …

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.

Read more …

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.

Read more …

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.”

Read more …

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.

Read more …

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

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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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 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.