Mar 222018
 
 March 22, 2018  Posted by at 10:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edward Hopper The Circle Theater, New York 1936

 

US Democrats Plan Crackdown On Booming Stock Buybacks (CNN)
‘Mother Of All Yield Shocks’ Is About To Crush Stocks – Stockman (MW)
Forget The Fed, Libor Is The Story Of The Year (ZH)
Fed’s Powell: Some Asset Prices Elevated, Overall Vulnerabilities ‘Moderate’ (MW)
Federal Reserve Raises Interest Rates Again Amid ‘Strong’ Jobs Market (G.)
Mark Zuckerberg Says He’s ‘Really Sorry’ (CNBC)
Facebook Shareholders Sue As Share Price Tumbles (Ind.)
App Developer Kogan Calls Facebook’s Side Of The Story A “Fabrication” (BBG)
Austrian Lawyer Took on Facebook in Europe. He’s Ready to Do It Again (BBG)
Dutch Referendum On Spy Agency Tapping Powers Result Too Close To Call (R.)
‘Scary’ That Boris Johnson Represents A Nuclear Power – Russia (RT)
Scale Of UK Problem Debt At ‘Epidemic Levels’ – Archbishop Of Canterbury (Ind.)
EU Approves Buyout Of Monsanto By German Chemical Firm Bayer (R.)

 

 

There goes the S&P 500.

US Democrats Plan Crackdown On Booming Stock Buybacks (CNN)

Democrats in Congress want to rain on Wall Street’s buyback parade. Senator Tammy Baldwin plans to introduce a bill on Thursday that would prohibit companies from repurchasing their shares on the open market, Baldwin told CNNMoney. While the legislation faces an uphill battle getting through Republican-controlled Congress, it demonstrates a growing backlash against companies using extra cash to reward shareholders instead of sharing it with workers. Buybacks, which boost stock prices by making shares scarcer, have exploded in 2018 thanks to the huge windfall created by President Trump’s new tax law. American companies like Pepsi and Cisco have announced a total of $229 billion of buybacks so far this year, according to research firm TrimTabs.

Companies are on track to buy back the largest number of shares in at least a decade. Critics say this trend is deepening the chasm between America’s rich and poor because affluent families own the vast majority of the stocks. They argue the money would be better spent by investing in the future, paying workers more or offering better benefits and retraining programs. “I fear that if we don’t act, the impact on our economy and growth is going to be horrendous,” Baldwin told CNNMoney Wednesday. “This very partisan corporate tax bill has fueled a surge in stock buybacks that is hurting economic growth and shared prosperity for workers.” The bill, which is co-sponsored by Democrats Elizabeth Warren and Brian Schatz, would explicitly “prohibit public companies from repurchasing their shares on the open market.”

It would also repeal a 1982 SEC rule that gave companies the green light to buy back vast amounts of their own stock. Since 2008, US companies have spent $5.1 trillion to buy back their own stock, according to Birinyi Associates. Between 2007 and 2016, companies in the S&P 500 devoted 54% of their profits to stock buybacks, according to research by University of Massachusetts Lowell professor William Lazonick, who advised Baldwin’s office on the legislation. “This was not good for the US economy,” said Lazonick. He called Baldwin’s proposed crackdown “hugely positive,” even for long-term shareholders who will benefit from companies investing in something “instead of simply propping up the stock price.”

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And Libor.

‘Mother Of All Yield Shocks’ Is About To Crush Stocks – Stockman (MW)

David Stockman, the so-called “Father of Reaganomics,” hasn’t been shy — or close to right — about his frantically bearish calls in recent years Just last summer, he warned of a “horrendous storm” that could take the S&P 500 index all the way down to 1,600. From there, he took it up a notch in September, saying stocks are headed for a retreat of up to 70%. Well, it’s still up at 2,700. But the market’s volatile behavior of late has emboldened some bears to refresh and even ramp up their doomsday scenarios. Stockman is one of them. “There is not a snowball’s chance in the hot place that the mother of all yield shocks can be avoided,” Stockman wrote on his blog this week.

He explains that we’re in a uniquely dangerous position, one that really couldn’t have even happened under previous administrations. “Had Lyndon Johnson, Tricky Dick, Jimmy Carter or even Ronald Reagan suggested that the Federal Reserve buy government debt at rates which exceeded annual issuance by the U.S. Treasury, as was the case during the peak years of QE, they would have been severely attacked — if not subjected to impeachment — for advocating rank financial fraud,” Stockman claimed. He said ever since former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan “commenced the age of monetary central planning,” Wall Street has used deficits as a tool in Washington’s kit of “whatever it takes,” instead of something to be feared.

“Anything that could fuel even the appearance of short-term economic growth was embraced unthinkingly,” he said, “because ‘growth’ of any shape, form or quality became the predicate for endless increases in the stock market averages.” That’s a recipe for disaster, says Stockman.

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Whack-a-mole central bank style.

Forget The Fed, Libor Is The Story Of The Year (ZH)

We’ve been saying it for over a month: the most important, if widely underappreciated, factor for risk assets has been the surge in Libor and the blow out in the Libor-OIS spread, or short-term funding costs, which impacts everything from bank lending costs to the marginal cost of trillions in floating rate debt. Yesterday, Citi’s Matt King confirmed as much in a lengthy note explaining why the blowing out Libor, and Libor-OIS spread, are sending increasingly ominous signals: LIBOR is still the reference point for the majority of leveraged loans, interest-rate swaps and some mortgages. In addition to that direct effect, higher money market rates and weakness in risk assets are the two conditions most likely to contribute towards mutual fund outflows.

If those in turn created a further sell-off in markets, the negative impact on the economy through wealth effects could be greater even than the direct effect from interest rates. Now, another bank has joined the growing chorus of warnings over the soaring Libor and Libor-OIS. Jonathan Garner, Morgan Stanley’s Chief Strategist for Asia and Emerging Markets, told Bloomberg that the rising Libor rates is a bigger concern right now than a more hawkish Federal Reserve, and in fact, is “the story of the year.” As we have documented nearly daily, most recently yesterday, Libor has been rising since Feb. 7 for 31 consecutive sessions, reaching 2.2711% this morning, the highest since 2008. Meanwhile, its gap over risk-free rates, known as the Libor-OIS spread, has more than doubled since the end of January to 55.6 basis points, a level unseen since 2009.

“That’s a key reason why markets have struggled. The acceleration in the private borrowing market is the story of the year, not the Fed,” Garner told BloombergQuint. “What I think is really interesting is that in the private, LIBOR markets, the USD Libor has already moved far more aggressively than Fed Funds, so if you look at 6M USD Libor, it’s actually reached 2.375% whereas the Fed is likely to raise Fed Funds by a quarter of a point to 1.75%, so we’ve actually already for the interest rate that really determines corporate costs are experiencing a very significant increase in interest rates. So unless the Fed is in some ways super dovish, I think we’re already looking at a significant tightening of monetary policy in the US and in addition China is tightening monetary policy at the same time and this joint tightening is a key reason why we are so cautious on markets.”

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Jay Powell was hired to bore everyone to tears.

Fed’s Powell: Some Asset Prices Elevated, Overall Vulnerabilities ‘Moderate’ (MW)

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Wednesday said some asset prices are elevated but said there weren’t many risks from it to the financial system. While some asset prices are elevated, particularly “some” equity prices and pockets of commercial real estate, financial vulnerabilities are still not at extreme levels, Powell said. He didn’t identify where specifically in the stock market he saw elevated prices. “The current view of the [FOMC] is that financial stability vulnerabilities are moderate,” Powell said during his first press conference, in answer to a question from MarketWatch. It was “key,” Powell said, that the housing sector is not in bubble territory.

Powell said he was not worried about excess leverage in the financial sector. The banking sector and household balance sheets are in good shape, he said. While there are “relatively elevated levels of borrowing” in nonfinancial corporations, “nothing… suggests serious risks.” “Overall, if you put all that into a pie, what you have is moderate vulnerabilities in our view,” he added. Powell said the Fed had “some tools” to combat financial instability “and I think we certainly use them.”

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Time to quit Fed watching.

Federal Reserve Raises Interest Rates Again Amid ‘Strong’ Jobs Market (G.)

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates again on Wednesday, arguing that the US jobs market was “strong” and signalled it may accelerate the pace of increases next year. The quarter percentage point rise to a range of 1.5% to 1.75% was the sixth such increase since 2015 and comes as the Fed appears to be moving, slightly, more quickly to end an era of historically low interest rates that began during the last recession. The announcement came as the Fed chair, Jerome “Jay” Powell, gave his first press conference in the role he took over from his predecessor Janet Yellen in February. His surprise-free performance left US financial markets barely changed.

“The economic outlook has strengthened in recent months,” the Fed said in a statement. “Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in January indicates that the labor market has continued to strengthen and that economic activity has been rising at a moderate rate,” the Fed said in a statement. The rise, which was unanimously approved, comes after Congress passed two major bills that may spur the economy. In January Donald Trump signed off on a $1.5tn tax cut that reduces corporate and income tax rates. In February Congress agreed to a $300bn two-year increase in federal funding.

The Trump administration has claimed the tax cuts will fuel US economic growth above 3% next year, significantly above the 2.5% growth it achieved last year, but Powell said the Fed did not expect growth above 3% in the near future. “We have been through many years of growth rate around 2%,” said Powell. While there are elements in the tax cuts that could boost growth “we don’t know how big those effects will be”.

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Must have been some long sessions with the legal team. And people were asking “where’s Mark?”.

Mark Zuckerberg Says He’s ‘Really Sorry’ (CNBC)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has explicitly apologized forthe Cambridge Analytica data scandal that’s been making headlines over the last several days. “This was a major breach of trust, and I’m really sorry that this happened,” Zuckerberg said on CNN Wednesday evening, elaborating on the statement he posted to his Facebook page earlier in the day. People had criticized Zuckerberg on social media for not explicitly apologizing in his earlier post. Zuckerberg was addressing bombshell reports by The Observer and The New York Times published over the weekend alleged that London-based firm Cambridge Analytica improperly gained access to the personal data of more than 50 million users.

Since the news broke, Facebook’s stock price has plummeted, U.K. officials have opened a probe, and U.S. lawmakers have called for Zuckerberg to appear before a panel to address its handling of user data. Zuckerberg told CNN that he would be willing to testify before Congress, though he avoided committing himself to an appearance. “What we try to do is send the person at Facebook who will have the most knowledge,” Zuckerberg said. “If that’s me, then I am happy to go.” One of the issues at the heart of the incident is whether or not Facebook has done enough to safeguard users’ personal information.

In 2013, Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan created an app called “thisisyourdigitallife” that harvested Facebook information from the roughly 300,000 people who used it as well as from their friends. Facebook changed its policies in 2014 to limit the data third-party apps could receive, but there were still tens of millions of people who would have had no idea that Kogan’s app had collected their data in the first place, or that it had ultimately been passed to Cambridge Analytica.

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If this ever comes before a real court, you get Pandora’s box. Expect Facebook to pay before a court date. And that will lower the shareholders’ shares even more.

Facebook Shareholders Sue As Share Price Tumbles (Ind.)

Facebook is being sued by US investors over the company’s tumbling share price after allegations that millions of users’ profile data had been harvested. A class-action lawsuit was filed in federal court in San Francisco on Tuesday after Facebook shares fell as much as 5.2% on Monday. By Wednesday the shares had crashed by 11%, wiping more than $57bn (£41bn) off the company’s value as it deals with the erupting privacy scandal. The undisclosed number of Facebook shareholders, led by Fan Yuan, say that they suffered losses after a whistleblower told The Observer that UK-based data company Cambridge Analytica had harvested and improperly used profile data of 50 million Facebook users.

“As a result of [Facebook’s] wrongful acts and omissions, and the precipitous decline in the market value of the company’s common shares, plaintiff and other class members have suffered significant losses and damages,” the lawsuit said. The legal action represents investors who bought Facebook shares between 3 February 2017 and 19 March 2018 – two days after news of the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke. It alleges that throughout the period, Facebook made “materially false and misleading statements regarding the company’s business, operational and compliance policies”.

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Not even that part of the narrative is true.

App Developer Kogan Calls Facebook’s Side Of The Story A “Fabrication” (BBG)

The app developer who surreptitiously gathered and shared 50 million Facebook user profiles says the company was officially notified of his actions but failed to stop it. Aleksandr Kogan, a research associate in the department of psychology at the University of Cambridge, turned over his Facebook-generated personality research to the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. In an email to university colleagues he called Facebook’s side of the story a “fabrication.” He said that in 2014 he used an official Facebook Inc. platform for developers to change the terms and conditions of his app from “research” to “commercial use,” and that at no point then did the social media company object.

Kogan’s position contradicts Facebook’s stance that Kogan violated the company’s terms and services and then lied about it. “We clearly stated that the users were granting us the right to use the data in broad scope, including selling and licensing the data,” Kogan wrote in a March 18 email obtained by Bloomberg. “These changes were all made on the Facebook app platform and thus they had full ability to review the nature of the app and raise issues.” [..] Kogan’s interpretation of events is potentially critical in better understanding what Facebook knew and when. [..] In the email, Kogan says that he hadn’t been interviewed by the FBI or any other law enforcement agencies, but would have no problem doing so.

He wrote that his app originally started as an academic project but turned to a commercial venture after being approached by the U.K. affiliate of Cambridge Analytica, SCL Group, around 2013. He then formed a company called Global Science Research Ltd, and changed the name of his app to GSRApp, while also modifying the privacy terms from academic to commercial.

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Sue the intelligence community. Much more effective.

Austrian Lawyer Took on Facebook in Europe. He’s Ready to Do It Again (BBG)

Seven years ago, Max Schrems took on Facebook, ultimately winning a court order that led to stricter rules on international data transfers for the social network and other American tech giants. If your company has any contact with residents of Europe, he has this message: You could be next. Regulatory changes coming this spring “open unprecedented doors,” says Schrems, a 30-year-old lawyer from Austria. “Companies looking to make extra money with people’s data are on my target list.” The EU measure, called the General Data Protection Regulation, permits mass lawsuits similar to class actions in the U.S., he says, allowing him to increase pressure on companies to protect consumer data.

Schrems founded a group called noyb—for none of your business—that he aims to use as a vehicle for lawsuits he’ll start filing as soon as the rules kick in on May 25. He set up a crowdfunding campaign for noyb that has raised more than €300,000 ($370,000) from 2,500 contributors as well as the city of Vienna, labor unions, and small tech companies—and he already has a stack of potential complaints sitting on his desk in the small office he’s rented around the corner from Vienna’s opera house. “We will look for the bigger cases, where we’ll have the greatest impact,” he says.

[..] Schrems examined how Facebook treats customer data and says he discovered that the company didn’t fully purge information users had deleted. Although he never submitted the assignment, his research became the core of 22 complaints to data protection authorities in Ireland, Facebook’s European base. Schrems created a website called europe-v-facebook.org—but insists he bears no grudge against the social network. The company is “more of a test case,” he says. “I thought I’d write up a few complaints. I never thought it would create such a media storm.”

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Almost half of them voted to be spied on.

Dutch Referendum On Spy Agency Tapping Powers Result Too Close To Call (R.)

Dutch voters were on track to narrowly reject a nonbinding referendum granting spy agencies the power to install bulk taps on Internet traffic. With 83% of the vote counted in the early hours of Thursday, the “no” vote was 48.9%, against 47.2% “yes.” An exit poll by national broadcaster NOS had showed the yes camp narrowly winning. Though the referendum is nonbinding, Prime Minister Mark Rutte had vowed to take the result seriously, without committing to abide by the result. The tapping law has already been approved by both houses of parliament.

Dubbed the “trawling law” by opponents, the legislation will let spy agencies install taps targeting an entire geographic region or avenue of communication, store information for up to three years, and share it with allied spy agencies. Digital rights group Bits of Freedom, which had advised a “No” vote, said the law is not all bad, given that taps must be approved beforehand by an independent panel. But the group said it still fears privacy violations and urged that the law be reconsidered. Before the vote, Rutte said the law was needed to prevent terrorist attacks. “It’s not that our country is unsafe, it’s that this law will make it safer,” he said.

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You don’t compare the country that suffered most in WWII, to those who caused that suffering.

‘Scary’ That Boris Johnson Represents A Nuclear Power – Russia (RT)

British foreign minister Boris Johnson is poisoned with hatred and anger so it is scary that he represents a nuclear power, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman said on Wednesday. Maria Zakharova was commenting on Johnson’s earlier statement that compared Russia’s hosting of this year’s World Cup to the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany. “Any such parallels and comparisons between our country, that lost millions of lives in the fight against Nazism, fought with an enemy on its own territory, and then liberated Europe [and Nazi Germany] are absolutely unacceptable,” she said, in a statement published on Facebook.

The Russian ministry spokeswoman then added that such statements are “unworthy of a head of a European state’s diplomatic service … It is clear that [Boris Johnson] is poisoned with hatred and anger,” she said, also denouncing his words as “unprofessional” and “rude.” It is “scary” that “this man is a representative of a nuclear power that bears a special responsibility for its actions in the international arena as well as for the preservation of international peace,” Zakharova said. Now “it is beyond the shadow of a doubt that all London’s actions … were aimed at setting up a spectre of an enemy out of Russia, using any, even the most absurd reasons,” Zakharova said. She then added that British politicians are now apparently seeking to fully boycott the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Earlier on Wednesday, Johnson once again blatantly accused Russia of being behind the poisoning of the former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, as he was being quizzed by the Commons foreign affairs committee. He also said he believes the comparison between the World Cup and the 1936 Olympics “is certainly right” just because the sporting event would somehow “glorify” Putin, from his point of view.

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How will Britain not be like Greece in a few years time?

Scale Of UK Problem Debt At ‘Epidemic Levels’ – Archbishop Of Canterbury (Ind.)

The scale of problem debt is at “epidemic levels”, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said. The Most Rev Justin Welby made the comments in the foreword of a report compiled by debt help charity Christians Against Poverty (CAP). The report said, on average, CAP clients’ outstanding debt equates to 96% of annual household income when they seek help. Mr Welby, the charity’s patron, says in the report: “In 2017 we have seen warnings from many of our financial institutions about the scale of consumer borrowing. “Achieving economic stability together with economic justice for all is too easily overlooked.” He continues: “The scale of problem debt in our country is at epidemic levels.

“Jesus calls us to be hope-bringers and peace-givers. Where there are still lives filled with an oppressive hopelessness, where darkness has a grip, our mission is not done.” In 2013, the archbishop voiced concerns about energy price hikes and he also said in that year that the Church of England wanted to drive payday lenders out of business through the creation of credit unions. [..] The CAP report said that for people in severe financial hardship, a home may not be a place of refuge but rather a place without food in the cupboard, without heating, hot water or working household essentials. More than 1,000 CAP clients were asked about life before they got help from the charity. The research found nearly four in 10 (37%) clients were afraid to leave the home, 60% were afraid to answer the door and 73% were too scared to answer the phone.

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One day after the report about disappearing insects and birds in France, Brussels votes for more pesticides and GMOs. Nobody wants them.

EU Approves Buyout Of Monsanto By German Chemical Firm Bayer (R.)

German conglomerate Bayer won EU antitrust approval on Wednesday for its $62.5bn (£44.5bn) buy of US peer Monsanto, the latest in a trio of mega mergers that will reshape the agrochemicals industry. The tie-up is set to create a company with control of more than a quarter of the world’s seed and pesticides market. Driven by shifting weather patterns, competition in grain exports and a faltering global farm economy, Dow and Dupont, and ChemChina and Syngenta had earlier led a wave of consolidation in the sector. Both deals secured EU approval only after the companies offered substantial asset sales to boost rivals.

Environmental and farming groups have opposed all three deals, worried about their power and their advantage in digital farming data, which can tell farmers how and when to till, sow, spray, fertilise and pick crops based on algorithms. The European Commission said Bayer addressed its concerns with its offer to sell a swathe of assets to boost rival BASF [..] “Our decision ensures that there will be effective competition and innovation in seeds, pesticides and digital agriculture markets also after this merger,” European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement. “In particular, we have made sure that the number of global players actively competing in these markets stays the same.”

[..] Vestager said the Commission, which received more than a million petitions concerning the deal, had been thorough by examining more than 2,000 different product markets and 2.7 million internal documents to produce a 1,285-page ruling. [..] Online campaigns group Avaaz criticised the EU approval. “This is a marriage made in hell. The Commission ignored a million people who called on them to block this deal, and caved in to lobbying to create a mega-corporation which will dominate our food supply,” Avaaz legal director Nick Flynn said.

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Feb 162017
 
 February 16, 2017  Posted by at 10:31 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Femme 1930

 

 

Great read from Ed. “..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.” Good part on Dutch elections too.

Europe’s Delusional Economic Policies (Edward Harrison)

This chart encapsulates the narrative in Matt’s post – namely that Greece has underperformed other emerging market crisis countries on post-crisis growth. 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. The reasonable question is why. Matt answers that in the paragraph before, saying: “But 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”.

My view is that what we are seeing, therefore, is the difference monetary sovereignty can make in post-crisis recovery because the currency does a lot of the heavy lifting. And this is true for developed economies as well. For example, we saw the UK and Sweden recover after a housing bubble and EMU turmoil in the early 1990s in part because of currency depreciations. But of course, 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. This, in my view, accounts for much of Greece’s underperformance relative to emerging market crisis countries.

In response to my tweet on Greece, Danish economist Lars Christensen pointed out to me that he had compared Greece to Turkey in 2015 and Greece came out poorly too. And his post noted that: “14 years later Turkey is still in many ways politically dysfunctional – in fact it has gotten worse in recent years – there has been rumours of plans of military coups, there has been major corruption scandals even involving the Prime Minister (now president Erdogan) and the governing AKParty and lately the civil war in Syria has created a massive inflow of refugees and increased tensions with Turkish Kurdish population.” Translation: 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. And there will be no debt forgiveness either, as the IMF has said is necessary.

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The WaPo takes a break from its political campaign and shows it still has at least one person left who can write an actual -and execellent- report.

Austerity Was A Bigger Disaster Than We Thought (WaPo)

We now take a break from your regularly scheduled scandals to bring you some not-so-breaking news: austerity was as big a disaster as its biggest critics said it was. That, at least, is what economists Christopher House and Linda Tesar of the University of Michigan and Christïan Proebsting of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne found when they looked at Europe’s budget-cutting experience the last eight years. It turns out that cutting spending right after the worst crisis in 80 years only led to a lower GDP and, in the most extreme cases, higher debt-to-GDP ratios. That’s right: trying to reduce debt levels sometimes increased debt burdens. Other than that, how was the policy, Mrs. Lincoln? But let’s back up a minute. This isn’t something that’s always true. In fact, it almost never used to be.

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. That’s true whether you’re talking about the European politicians who pushed for the creation of the euro itself – they ignored the economists who warned them that it might turn out just as badly as it has – or the ones who pushed for austerity a few decades later. After all, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that trying to balance your budget when interest rates were zero would end badly.

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What’s lacking in Europe is self-reflection. Maybe that’s because it has no flexibility in its policies. But that still doesn’t make Malloch wrong.

‘The European Project Has Failed’ – Trump EU Envoy Pick Malloch (Exp.)

Donald Trump’s likely EU ambassador has launched a blistering attack on the “undemocratic” bloc and its “elitist” leaders.In comments that will terrify Brussels, Ted Malloch said the EU had become “bloated” by bureaucracy and “anti-Americanism”. And he called for member states to hold their own Brexit-style referendums – which could spark the break-up of the union. It comes after Mr Trump hailed Brexit as a “blessing to the world” and said the UK would be far stronger outside the bloc. Mr Malloch, who is the President’s pick to become Washington’s envoy to Brussels, made the comments in The Parliament magazine.

He said: “Put the EU to a referendum vote in every member country. “It is time for greater scepticism and realism about the European Union and its not so hidden agenda and ever closer union.” He added: “The failure of the European integration project should by now be self-apparent to everyone. “This is simply not something Churchill or Roosevelt would countenance. “The European Union has become undemocratic and bloated by both bureaucracy and rampant anti-Americanism.” He said: “We want democracy and accountability, while the EU is intrinsically undemocratic and unaccountable. “So should the US continue to promote such a damaged European model, which is alien to our own traditions? Is it not working against US interests to do so?”

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It may be an option considered fleetingly, but that’s it.

Greece ‘May Ditch Euro In Favour Of The Dollar’ – Malloch (Ind.)

The man tipped to be Donald Trump’s ambassador to the European Union has said that Greece is contemplating leaving the euro in favour of the US dollar. According to the transcript of a translated interview with Greek local online news site ekathimerini.com, Professor Ted Malloch claimed Greek economists are looking into taking on the US banknotes if the country turns its back on the European single currency in a move that he said would “freak out” Germany. He said: “I know some Greek economists who have even gone to leading think tanks in the US to discuss this topic and the question of dollarisation. “Such a topic of course freaks out the Germans because they really don’t want to hear such ideas.”

Mr Malloch added that a “Grexit” would be the best options for Greek people as the current situation is “unsustainable”. Mr Malloch, a strident Brexiteer, has indicated he is no fan of Brussels on several occasions. Earlier this month, in an interview with Bloomberg, Mr Malloch said that he didn’t want to speak on behalf of the Greek people but “I think there is probably – from an economist’s perspective – a very strong reason for Greece moving away from the euro.” Last month, Mr Malloch said the euro “could collapse” in the next 18 months. “The one thing I would do in 2017 is short the euro,” he said. “I think it is a currency that is not only in demise but has a real problem and could in fact collapse in the coming year, year and a half,” he added.

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‘He will die in jail’:

US Intelligence Community Ready To ‘Go Nuclear’ On Trump (RawS)

U.S. national security officials are reportedly ready to “go nuclear” after President Donald Trump’s latest attack on the intelligence community. In a series of tweets on Tuesday and Wednesday, Trump insisted that the “real scandal” was not that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn lied about his contact with Russia. Instead, the president blasted what he said were “un-American” leaks that led to Flynn’s ousting.On Wednesday, former NSA intelligence analyst John Schindler provided some insight into the reaction of national security officials. “Now we go nuclear,” he wrote on Twitter. “[Intelligence community] war going to new levels. Just got an [email from] senior [intelligence community] friend, it began: ‘He will die in jail.’” “US intelligence is not the problem here,” Schindler added in another tweet. “The President’s collusion with Russian intelligence is. Many details, but the essence is simple.”

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No matter where you stand, this must be of concern. A state within the state is not what the founders had in mind.

Spies Keep Intelligence From Donald Trump on Leak Concerns (WSJ)

U.S. intelligence officials have withheld sensitive intelligence from President Donald Trump because they are concerned it could be leaked or compromised, according to current and former officials familiar with the matter. The officials’ decision to keep information from Mr. Trump underscores the deep mistrust that has developed between the intelligence community and the president over his team’s contacts with the Russian government, as well as the enmity he has shown toward U.S. spy agencies. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump accused the agencies of leaking information to undermine him. In some of these cases of withheld information, officials have decided not to show Mr. Trump the sources and methods that the intelligence agencies use to collect information, the current and former officials said.

Those sources and methods could include, for instance, the means that an agency uses to spy on a foreign government. A White House official said: “There is nothing that leads us to believe that this is an accurate account of what is actually happening.” A spokesman for the Office of Director of National Intelligence said: “Any suggestion that the U.S. intelligence community is withholding information and not providing the best possible intelligence to the president and his national security team is not true.” Intelligence officials have in the past not told a president or members of Congress about the ins and outs of how they ply their trade. At times, they have decided that secrecy is essential for protecting a source, and that all a president needs to know is what that source revealed and what the intelligence community thinks is important about it.

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Fewer reserve requirements means less Treasury appetite.

How Trump Could Trigger A Massive Wave Of Selling In The Treasury Market (CNBC)

Since the financial crisis, banks have been stockpiling Treasurys because they qualify as “safe” assets that count toward required regulatory capital levels. U.S. commercial banks now hold $2.4 trillion in government debt and agency securities, more than double the total from nine years ago, according to the St. Louis Fed. But House Republicans – with the support of the administration – are pushing to roll back parts of the Dodd-Frank regulations that were put in place after the 2008 financial crisis. That means banks could get a reprieve from those capital level requirements, and they could reduce their Treasury holdings as a result. In a report, RBC managing director and banking analyst Gerard Cassidy calculates the 24 largest bank holding companies already hold $100 billion in excess capital, with Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase having the highest dollar amount.

As regulation eases, the capital that was once used as a large cushion against a future recession could be funneled into stock buybacks. Those Treasury-heavy portfolios “will certainly be the source of cash to use to buy back stock,” Cassidy wrote in an e-mail to CNBC. Banks have already been slowly selling off the debt, which causes yields to rise. Between the middle of 2013 and 2014, Bank of America’s holdings of U.S. Treasurys grew from $2.9 billion to $58 billion. At the end of 2016, that figure had dropped to $48 billion, according to the bank’s earnings. Wells Fargo’s $26 billion Treasury balance in September is down nearly 30% from a year ago. Not all banks break out the specific balance, but the totals as of the third quarter of 2016 range from $23 billion (Morgan Stanley) to $111 billion (Citigroup).

But banks are just one source of possible selling en masse. China is a creditor of a different magnitude: The country held $1.05 trillion in Treasurys as of November, down by $215 billion from a year earlier. It dumped $41 billion in U.S. debt in October alone, a move that relinquished its ranking as the largest foreign creditor to the United States. One reason for the country selling U.S. debt previously was its need to raise cash to prop up its currency, the yuan, after years of seeking to devalue it to make its exports more attractive. Its intervention in the currency markets led President Donald Trump, while campaigning, to label China a currency manipulator and threaten a 45% tariff on products made in China but sold in the United States.

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Interesting phenomenon, but the writers have a hard time explaining.

Houses as ATMs No Longer (NYFed)

Housing equity is the primary form of collateral that households use for borrowing. This makes it a potentially important source of consumption funding, especially for younger households. In a previous post we showed that owner’s equity in residential real estate has finally, thanks to increasing home prices, rebounded to and essentially re-attained its 2005 peak level. Yet in spite of a gain of more than $7 trillion in housing equity since 2012, so far homeowners haven’t been tapping this equity at anything like the pace we witnessed during the housing boom that ended in 2006. In this post, we analyze the changes in equity withdrawal.

The blue line in the chart below shows total owner’s equity in real estate from the Flow of Funds—this is the same series as in our previous post. It shows a dramatic rebound in aggregate home equity over the last several years. The red line shows the combination of two ways that households can withdraw equity—assuming they have some—without selling the house: they can originate a junior lien against the property or they can refinance using a cash-out refinancing of an existing first-lien mortgage. The series in the chart, which we have shown in an earlier post on household debt, captures both of these, while excluding the equity withdrawal associated with selling a home.

The first observation that’s striking about the chart is the dramatic change in borrower behavior with respect to home equity. During the boom between 2000 and 2006, household equity and its extraction were both rising rapidly. From 2003 to 2007, homeowners were extracting more than $350 billion per year, resources that were available for use in a variety of purposes from home improvement to consumption. The second major point of the chart is the effect of the housing and financial crises. Beginning in 2008, equity extraction began to decline quickly and was hovering around zero by 2010, where it remained through 2012. The virtual elimination of equity withdrawal was a big contributor to the household deleveraging that ultimately shaved more than $1.5 trillion from household debt. It also likely contributed to the sharp decline of consumption during the Great Recession and its subsequent sluggish recovery.

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Looks dangerous. Fighting bubbles with bigger bubbles is always a bad idea.

Fed Frets about $2 Trillion Commercial Real Estate Bubble (WS)

Boom and bust: that’s the material CRE is made of. We had seven years of boom, and now the Fed is worried about the bust. Yellen didn’t mention CRE in her prepared testimony on Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. But it featured in the twice-yearly report that the Fed delivered to Congress in support of Yellen’s testimony. And it wasn’t the first time that it was mentioned in these twice-yearly reports – but the fifth time in a row. In its February report two years ago, the Fed first pointed at “valuation pressures” in CRE. And warnings about CRE have appeared since then in every report, twice a year, with growing sharpness, including in the report issued in June 2016, which warned that “valuations in the CRE sector appear increasingly vulnerable to negative shocks….”

Other Fed governors have also warned about the CRE boom and a potential bust, particularly Boston Fed governor Eric Rosengren, who was gazing with amazement at a stunning crane forest in his own city. What concerns the Fed about CRE aren’t the valuations per se, but the fact that the sector is highly leveraged, and that when prices collapse, which they tend to do, the collateral value gets crushed, and banks are left to twist in the wind. That’s what happened during the Financial Crisis. Just how badly can prices get crushed? The national averages hide the drama that happens on the ground in particular cities. But even these national averages still show enough drama, as per data from the Green Street Commercial Property Price Index. The index shows that overall prices across the major markets in the nation plunged nearly 40% during the Great Recession and have since more than doubled:

So that’s why the Fed is fretting about it. This time around, the Fed report said: “Commercial real estate (CRE) valuations, which have been an area of growing concern over the past year, rose further, with property prices continuing to climb and capitalization rates decreasing to historically low levels.” Then the report discusses the debt that nurtured this boom to these heights. This debt has ballooned to $1.98 trillion, and is now 14% higher than during the crazy peak of the prior bubble that collapsed with such spectacular results:

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All of a sudden Hamon has 38%?! Oh wait, the numbers don’t add up at all. More countries should discuss their colonial past- and present.

France’s Colonial Past Muscles Into Presidential Race (AFP)

French presidential frontrunner Emmanuel Macron drew a storm of criticism Wednesday after calling France’s colonisation of Algeria a “crime against humanity”. In a TV interview in Algiers this week, the centrist said French actions in Algeria, which achieved independence in 1962 after eight years of war, were “genuinely barbaric, and constitute a part of our past that we have to confront by apologising”. His visit also included a stop at the Martyrs’ Memorial in Algiers, saying he wanted to promote a “reconciliation of memories” between the two countries. His rivals on the right for the French presidency – due to be decided in a first round election in April and a run-off between the two top candidates in May – pounced on the comments.

Les Republicans candidate Francois Fillon on Wednesday denounced what he called “this hatred of our history, this perpetual repentance that is unworthy of a candidate for the presidency of the republic”. Wallerand de Saint-Just, an official in Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front party, accused Macron of “shooting France in the back”, while Gerald Darmanin, an ally of ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, tweeted “Shame on Emmanuel Macron for insulting France while abroad”. It was the not the first time Macron, who currently leads the polls for the two rounds of voting in April and May, has touched on the livewire issue. “Yes, there was torture in Algeria, but there was also the emergence of a state, or wealth, of a middle class,” he told the magazine Le Point in October.

“This is the reality of colonialism. There are elements of civilisation and elements of barbarism.” And Fillon has been tripped up by his own comments on French colonialism. In August, he drew claims of trying to sanitise history, claiming that “France is not guilty of having wanted to share its culture with the peoples of Africa”. Macron remains the frontrunner in the presidential race, with 39% of those surveyed in the latest survey by pollsters Ipsos giving him a favourable opinion. In the poll released by the magazine Le Point on Wednesday, Macron was followed by Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon, with 38%, while Fillon tumbled 18 percentage points to 25%, just behind Le Pen, on 26%.

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One step away from a formal investigation. Does he really want it that bad?

French Prosecutor Keeps Fillon Fake Work Probe Open (R.)

France’s financial prosecutor announced on Thursday that an investigation into fake work allegations surrounding presidential candidate Francois Fillon would remain open, in a new blow to the ex-prime minister’s campaign. A three week-old scandal over hundreds of thousands of euros in taxpayers’ money which his wife was paid for work she may not have done has cost conservative Fillon his status as favorite to win the French presidency in May. “It is my duty to affirm that the numerous elements collected (by investigators) do not, at this stage, permit the case to be dropped,” prosecutor Eliane Houlette said in a statement, after receiving an initial police report on the subject.

The prosecutor did not announce any further steps, but among the choices before it are dropping the case, taking it further by appointing an investigating magistrate, or sending it straight to trial. Fillon, 62, has said he would step down should he be put under formal investigation, but his camp has also challenged the legitimacy of the probe. The first round of the election is less than 10 weeks away.

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