Jan 192017
 
 January 19, 2017  Posted by at 11:27 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »
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Photograph: Palani Mohan/Getty Images


Anxious European Leaders Seek An Early Audience With Trump, Before Putin (AP)
Hands off EU, Trump; We Don’t Back Ohio Secession: Juncker (R.)
Jamie Dimon Says Eurozone May Not Survive (BBG)
In Europe We See Only One Loser From Brexit – And It Won’t Be Us (Quatremer)
Marine Le Pen Centers Presidential Run on Getting France Out of Eurozone (WSJ)
By Ripping NATO, Trump Makes Europe Nervous and Arms Trade Happy (BBG)
Steve Keen Exposes Next Global Economic Shockwaves (FinFeed)
How Deutsche Bank Made €367 Million Disappear at Monte dei Paschi (BBG)
Earth Breaks Heat Record In 2016 For Third Year In A Row (AFP)
‘A Cat In Hell’s Chance’ (Simms)
Over Half of World’s Wild Primate Species Face Extinction (G.)
If you were an elephant … (Foster)

 

 

I’m sorry, I’m trying, but I just can’t NOT find this funny. My article earlier today: He’s Just Not That Into You.

Anxious European Leaders Seek An Early Audience With Trump, Before Putin (AP)

European leaders, anxious over Donald Trump’s unpredictability and kind words for the Kremlin, are scrambling to get face time with the new American president before he can meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose provocations have set the continent on edge. One leader has raised with Trump the prospect of a U.S.-EU summit early this year, and the head of NATO — the powerful military alliance Trump has deemed “obsolete” – is angling for an in-person meeting ahead of Putin as well. British Prime Minister Theresa May is working to arrange a meeting in Washington soon after Friday’s inauguration. For European leaders, a meeting with a new American president is always a sought-after – and usually easy-to-obtain – invitation.

But Trump has repeatedly defied precedent, making them deeply uncertain about their standing once he takes office. Throughout his campaign and in recent interviews, Trump has challenged the viability of the EU and NATO, while praising Putin and staking out positions more in line with Moscow than Brussels. “There are efforts on the side of the Europeans to arrange a meeting with Trump as quickly as possible,” Norbert Roettgen, the head of the German Parliament’s foreign committee and a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, told AP. In fact, eager to stage an early show of Trans-Atlantic solidarity, Donald Tusk – the former Polish prime minister who heads the EU’s Council of member state governments – invited Trump to meet with the EU early in his administration, according to a EU official.

But a senior Trump adviser essentially rebuffed the offer, telling the AP this week that such a gathering would not be a priority for the incoming president, who wants to focus on meetings with individual countries, not the 28-nation bloc. Trump backs Britain’s exit from the EU, casting the populist, anti-establishment movement as a precursor to his own victory. In a recent joint interview with two European newspapers, Trump said of the EU, “I don’t think it matters much for the United States.” Such rhetoric alone was enough to set off alarm bells in Europe. And Trump’s praise for Putin and promise of closer ties to Moscow have deepened the uncertainty.

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“..he was sure no EU state wanted to follow Britain’s example and leave the bloc..”

Hands off EU, Trump; We Don’t Back Ohio Secession: Juncker (R.)

Donald Trump should lay off talking about the break-up of the European Union, the bloc’s chief executive said on Wednesday, pointing out that Europeans do not push for Ohio to secede from the United States. In pointed remarks on the eve of Trump’s inauguration as U.S. president, Jean-Claude Juncker said the new administration would realize it should not damage transatlantic relations but added it remained unclear what policies Trump would now pursue. Juncker told Germany’s BR television, according to a transcript from the Munich station, that he was sure no EU state wanted to follow Britain’s example and leave the bloc, despite Trump’s forecast this week that others would quit:

“Mr. Trump should also not be indirectly encouraging them to do that,” Juncker said. “We don’t go around calling on Ohio to pull out of the United States.” Juncker, the president of the European Commission, said he had yet to speak to Trump — contrary to what the President-elect said earlier this week. Juncker said Trump had confused him with European Council President Donald Tusk. “Trump spoke to Mr. Tusk and mixed us up,” said Juncker, taking a jab at the American billionaire’s grasp of his new role. “That’s the thing about international politics,” he said. “It’s all in the detail.”

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If even Jamie Dimon can understand it…

Jamie Dimon Says Eurozone May Not Survive (BBG)

The euro region could break up if political leaders don’t get to grips with the discontent that’s spurring support for populist leaders across the continent, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said. Dimon said he had hoped European Union leaders would examine what caused the U.K. to vote to leave and then make changes. That hasn’t happened, and if nationalist politicians including France’s Marine Le Pen rise to power in elections across the region “the euro zone may not survive,” Dimon, 60, said in a Bloomberg Television interview with John Micklethwait. “What went wrong is going wrong for everybody, not just going wrong for Britain, but in some ways it looks like they’re kind of doubling down,” Dimon said in the interview Wednesday at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Unless leaders address underlying concerns, “you’re going to have the same political things about immigration, the laws of the country, how much power goes to Brussels.” Dimon’s remarks on Europe were unusually pessimistic, coming in a wide-ranging interview in which he also criticized regulations that he said stunt economic growth. But he reiterated optimism for President-elect Donald Trump. Minutes later, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein also expressed concern about Europe, telling CNBC that leaders are facing a backlash in the midst of a long, complicated process to create an economic bloc. “That’s complicated, that’s very hard to do,” said Blankfein. “It’s not done, and it’s not accomplished. We’re finding the pain of that.” [..] The bottom line is that Europe must become more competitive, Dimon said. “I say this out of respect for the European people, but they’re going to have to change,” he said. “They may be forced by politics, they may be forced by new leadership.”

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Journalist Jean Quatremer is Mr. Europe. He’s been called an ‘ayatollah of European federalism’.

In Europe We See Only One Loser From Brexit – And It Won’t Be Us (Quatremer)

When someone wants the impossible, in French we say that they want “the butter, the money from the butter, and the dairymaid’s smile”. In more vulgar usage we say they want something rather more from the dairymaid than a smile. This is precisely what we can take away from Theresa May’s speech on the “hard Brexit” she wants. It is “hard” only for the other 27 states but “soft” for Britain – because May wants to keep all the benefits of EU membership and concede nothing in return. That is not really a surprise since she had already announced it in October during the Conservative party conference. She even considers that any other kind of agreement would be unacceptable, because it would amount to “punishing” the British.

May is threatening to turn Britain into a tax haven by way of retaliation, if, by some misfortune, the Europeans refuse to bend to the demands of Her Glorious Majesty’s subjects. We might think we are dreaming, but no: it is either arrogance or recklessness (or, more likely, a mixture of the two). Let’s sum up: on the one hand, of course, May would like a clear, “clean break” with the union, which means no longer sitting in its institutions, contributing to the budget or respecting EU law. On the other hand, she does not want the status of some kind of “partial or associate” member, which would imply having to meet EU’s requirements in all kinds of areas.

Thus far, we get it: the UK will be treated like any other third country – Zimbabwe, for instance. That’s clear and “clean”. But after that it gets complicated, at least for a continental mind that lacks the subtleties of reflection of a product of Oxbridge. Because May considers it possible for British companies to retain the greatest possible access to the single market, in particular to negotiate sectoral customs agreements with the union. And that’s where things get interesting. Because customs duty or no, importing goods into a market presupposes compliance with local norms and standards: to be clear, if the British want to export their cars (which are in fact German or Japanese cars) to the continent, they need to respect European laws. That means submitting (I know, what an awful word) to those laws. So in reality, the clear, “clean break” could only concern one part of UK industry – the part that manufactures for the local market.

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Le Pen is smartening up. She’s a true contender now.

Marine Le Pen Centers Presidential Run on Getting France Out of Eurozone (WSJ)

National Front leader Marine Le Pen is seeking to turn May’s presidential election into a referendum on the European Union by detailing a strategy to pull France from the bloc and its single currency if she wins. She last ran in 2012 with an initial promise of a sharp and sudden break from the euro, but this time Ms. Le Pen has sought broader support from a splintered French electorate. She says she would organize an orderly exit rather than crashing out with unpredictable consequences. If elected, she and top National Front officials say, her administration will spend its first six months negotiating the creation, along with other disappointed euro nations, of a basket of shadow European currencies. A newly reinstated franc, she says, would eventually be pegged to that basket, replacing the euro.

Ms. Le Pen says other countries struggling to meet European rules would be willing to enter into talks on pulling the EU apart. The threat of having to leave the euro, she says, has been used to blackmail Greece and other Southern European countries into implementing austerity programs their people reject. “The euro has not been used as a currency, but as a weapon—a knife stuck in the ribs of a country to force it to go where the people don’t want to go,” Ms. Le Pen said this month. “Do you think we accept living under this threat, this tutelage? It’s absolutely out of the question.”

[..] An attempt by France, the eurozone’s second-largest economy, to pull out would be far more challenging than Brexit, which doesn’t touch on currency questions. A “Frexit” would likely unleash chaos across the currency union and undermine the broader EU in a way Britain’s departure wouldn’t. No country has attempted to leave the euro, and French polls show that while people want to claw back control from Brussels, a majority wouldn’t vote to leave the currency. The complications of an exit weren’t as clear to Ms. Le Pen in 2012, when she garnered only 17.9% of the presidential vote with her push for a clean break with the euro. “We set off on the idea in 2012 of an immediate exit, slamming the door,” said Jean-Richard Sulzer, a senior economic adviser to Ms. Le Pen. “Things were said too quickly, but this time Marine is much more prudent.”

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Yeah, why not blame Trump for that too.

By Ripping NATO, Trump Makes Europe Nervous and Arms Trade Happy (BBG)

Donald Trump is right to say America’s NATO allies aren’t paying their fair share. But, to the delight of the arms industry, that may be changing. Trump himself is the change-maker. He reaffirmed his skepticism about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and his readiness to make deals with Russia, in European media interviews published last weekend. Trump isn’t famous for his policy consistency, but those positions have held fairly steady – leaving European leaders wondering whether they can still rely on the American security umbrella. “Let’s not fool ourselves,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last week. “There is no infinite guarantee.”

So Merkel’s Germany, and many other European nations, are boosting military budgets. The plans predate Trump, and under NATO rules they should’ve been carried out long ago. The alliance expects its members to spend 2% of GDP on defense. But it’s no secret that most of them don’t. The shortfall added up to about $121 billion last year at 2010 prices, according to Bloomberg calculations based on NATO country estimates.

Since Trump is promising to increase America’s already enormous military budget too, the prospect of a European arms-shopping spree is a win-win for suppliers. Investors have noticed: From Raytheon to Lockheed Martin to Thales, defense contractors have hit all-time highs since Trump’s election. “This is the best market for defense in many years, across the board,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst with the Teal Group in Fairfax, Virginia. NATO was established after World War II to protect western democracies against the Soviet Union. A key tenet is that an attack on any alliance member is considered an attack on all. And that’s what Trump has questioned. If Russia moved against one of NATO’s Baltic members, Trump told the New York Times in July, he’d come to their aid only after reviewing whether they have “fulfilled their obligations to us.”

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Brilliant! Please don’t miss this!

It’s just that I thought Steve made his own Melania doll (no kidding.) And then she started talking.

Steve Keen Exposes Next Global Economic Shockwaves (FinFeed)

Steve, who is Trump going to be pouring drinks for, as in economic growth and benefits, in 2017?

Steve Keen: He is trying to pour it just for his own economy. And this is going to be the dramatic challenge he faces. Because he is someone who actually knows a lot about money and banks and debt, having used it extensively in his own professional career.

Lelde Smits: And succeeded and failed and hopefully learnt from the failures.

Steve Keen: He’s turned failure into success in many, many ways, and let’s not go there in terms of how beneficial that was for his various suppliers but he understands going bankrupt, he understand re-organisation, he understands finance.

Lelde Smits: So where is this liquid in 2017?

Steve Keen: He’s going to realise at some point he owns his own bank now. Because he’s running the country he is going to spend.

Lelde Smits: So we have the Federal Reserve right?

Steve Keen: The Federal Reserve is there and can top him up as much as it likes.

Lelde Smits: So when does this stop Steve? That’s the magic question.

Steve Keen: It never has to stop. He’s going to enable the American economy to spend dramatically. Taxation is going to be cut. There will be an increase in government spending. There will be a large deficit coming out of that. So the government is going to be creating a lot of money and running a lot of infrastructure projects and so on. There are 4 million Americans who aren’t employed now who were employed in 2000. They are people who are going to get jobs in construction and start spending domestically and so on. And Trump is going to see that as boosting up the American economy. It’s all about Buy America, Made in America and so on.

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How different do we think this is from what happened with Goldman and Greece? How to hide losses 101.

How Deutsche Bank Made €367 Million Disappear at Monte dei Paschi (BBG)

On Dec. 1, 2008, most of the world’s banks were still panicking through the financial crisis. Lehman Brothers had collapsed. Merrill Lynch had been sold. Citigroup and others had required multibillion-dollar bailouts to survive. But not every institution appeared to be in free fall. That afternoon, at the London outpost of Deutsche Bank, the stolid-seeming, €2 trillion German powerhouse, a group of financiers met to consider a proposal from a team led by a trim, 40-year-old banker named Michele Faissola. The scion of an Italian banking family, Faissola was the head of Deutsche’s global rates unit, a division that created and sold financial instruments tied to interest rates. He’d been studying the problems of one of Deutsche’s clients, Italy’s Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, which, as the crisis raged, was down €367 million ($462 million at the time) on a single investment.

Losing that much money was bad; having to include it in the bank’s yearend report to the public, as required by Italian law, was arguably much worse. Monte dei Paschi was the world’s oldest bank. It had been operating since 1472 [..] . If investors were to find out the extent of its losses in the 2008 credit crisis, the consequences would be unpredictable and grave: a run on the bank, a government takeover, or worse. At the Deutsche meeting, Faissola’s team said it had come up with a miraculous solution: a new trade that would make Paschi’s loss disappear. The bankers in the room had seen some financial sleight of hand in their day, but the maneuver that Faissola’s staffers proposed was audacious.

They described a simple trade in two parts. For one half of the deal, Paschi would make a sure-thing, moneymaking bet with Deutsche Bank and use those winnings to extinguish its 2008 trading losses. Of course, Deutsche doesn’t give away money for free, so for the second half of the deal, the Italians would make a bet that was sure to lose. But while the first transaction was immediate, the second would play out slowly, over many years. No sign of the €367 million sinkhole would need to show up when Paschi compiled its yearend financial reports.

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New records set in 2005, 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Earth Breaks Heat Record In 2016 For Third Year In A Row (AFP)

Last year, the Earth sweltered under the hottest temperatures in modern times for the third year in a row, US scientists said Wednesday, raising new concerns about the quickening pace of climate change. Temperatures spiked to new national highs in parts of India, Kuwait and Iran, while sea ice melted faster than ever in the fragile Arctic, said the report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Taking a global average of the land and sea surface temperatures for the entire year, NOAA found the data for “2016 was the highest since record keeping began in 1880,” said the announcement. The global average temperature last year was 1.69 Fahrenheit (0.94 Celsius) above the 20th century average, and 0.07 degrees F (0.04 C) warmer than in 2015, the last record-setting year, according to NOAA.

This was “not a huge margin to set a new record but it is larger than the typical margin,” Deke Arndt, chief of NOAA global climate monitoring, said on a conference call with reporters. A separate analysis by the US space agency NASA also found that 2016 was the hottest on record. The World Meteorological Organization in Geneva confirmed the US findings, and noted that atmospheric concentrations of both carbon dioxide and methane reached new highs. The main reason for the rise is the burning of fossil fuels like oil and gas, which send carbon dioxide, methane and other pollutants known as greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and warm the planet. The mounting toll of industrialization on the Earth’s natural balance is increasingly apparent in the record books of recent decades. “Since the start of the 21st century, the annual global temperature record has been broken five times (2005, 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2016),” said NOAA.

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Denial is a river in the Arctic.

‘A Cat In Hell’s Chance’ (Simms)

What’s so special about 2C? The simple answer is that it is a target that could be politically agreed on the international stage. It was first suggested in 1975 by the environmental economist William Nordhaus as an upper threshold beyond which we would arrive at a climate unrecognisable to humans. In 1990, the Stockholm Environment Institute recommended 2C as the maximum that should be tolerated, but noted: “Temperature increases beyond 1C may elicit rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses that could lead to extensive ecosystem damage.” To date, temperatures have risen by almost 1C since 1880. The effects of this warming are already being observed in melting ice, ocean levels rising, worse heat waves and other extreme weather events.

There are negative impacts on farming, the disruption of plant and animal species on land and in the sea, extinctions, the disturbance of water supplies and food production and increased vulnerability, especially among people in poverty in low-income countries. But effects are global. So 2C was never seen as necessarily safe, just a guardrail between dangerous and very dangerous change. To get a sense of what a 2C shift can do, just look in Earth’s rear-view mirror. When the planet was 2C colder than during the industrial revolution, we were in the grip of an ice age and a mile-thick North American ice sheet reached as far south as New York. The same warming again will intensify and accelerate human-driven changes already under way and has been described by James Hansen, one of the first scientists to call global attention to climate change, as a “prescription for long-term disaster”, including an ice-free Arctic.

Nevertheless, in 1996, a European Council of environment ministers, that included a young Angela Merkel, adopted 2C as a target for the EU. International negotiators agreed the same in 2010 in Cancun. It was a commitment repeated in the Paris Climate Accord of 2015 where, pushed by a new group of countries called the Climate Vulnerable Forum, ambitions went one step further, agreeing to hold temperature rises to “well below 2C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5C”.

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I don’t know how much longer I can witness this. At what point do we set up a private army?

“The industries at work in tropical forest areas are expected to be served by an extra 25 million km of roads by 2050..”

Over Half of World’s Wild Primate Species Face Extinction (G.)


Top row l-r: brown-headed spider monkey, chimpanzee, Western gorilla; Bottom row l-r: Bornean orangutan, Siau Island tarsier, ring-tailed lemur. Composite: Alamy and Getty Images

More than half of the world’s apes, monkeys, lemurs and lorises are now threatened with extinction as agriculture and industrial activities destroy forest habitats and the animals’ populations are hit by hunting and trade. In the most bleak assessment of primates to date, conservationists found that 60% of the wild species are on course to die out, with three quarters already in steady decline. The report casts doubt on the future of about 300 primate species, including gorillas, chimps, gibbons, marmosets, tarsiers, lemurs and lorises. Anthony Rylands, a senior research scientist at Conservation International who helped to compile the report, said he was “horrified” at the grim picture revealed in the review which drew on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list, peer-reviewed science reports and UN databases.

“The scale of this is massive,” Rylands told the Guardian. “Considering the large number of species currently threatened and experiencing population declines, the world will soon be facing a major extinction event if effective action is not implemented immediately,” he writes in the journal Science Advances, with colleagues at the University of Illinois and the National Autonomous University of Mexico. The most dramatic impact on primates has come from agricultural growth. From 1990 to 2010 it has claimed 1.5 million square kilometres of primate habitats, an area three times the size of France. In Sumatra and Borneo, the destruction of forests for oil palm plantations has driven severe declines in orangutan populations. In China, the expansion of rubber plantations has led to the near extinction of the northern white-cheeked crested gibbon and the Hainan gibbon, of which only about 30 or animals survive.

More rubber plantations in India have hit the Bengal slow loris, the western hoolock gibbon and Phayre’s leaf monkey. Primates are spread throughout 90 countries, but two thirds of the species live in just four: Brazil, Madagascar, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In Madagascar, 87% of primate species face extinction, along with 73% in Asia, the report states. It adds that humans have “one last opportunity” to reduce or remove the threats facing the animals, to build conservation efforts, and raise worldwide awareness of their predicament. The market for tropical timber has driven up industrial logging and damaged forest areas in Asia, Africa and the neotropics. Mining for minerals and diamonds have also taken a toll. On Dinagat island in the Philippines, gold, nickel and copper mining endanger the Philippine tarsier. In the DRC, hunters working around the tin, gold and diamond mine industry are the greatest threat to the region’s Grauer’s gorilla. The industries at work in tropical forest areas are expected to be served by an extra 25 million km of roads by 2050, further fragmenting the primates’ habitats.

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If you were an elephant … You would still feel love, hurt and grief.

“Perhaps one of the reasons we’re so keen to deny non-human creatures minds, consciousness and personhood is that, if they’re people, they’re embarrassingly better people than we are. They build better communities; they live at peace with themselves and aren’t, unlike us, actively psychopathic towards other species. ”

If you were an elephant … (Foster)

If you were an elephant living wild in a western city, you’d be confused and disgusted. You’d have one two-fingered hand swinging from your face – a hand as sensitive as tumescent genitals, but which could smash a wall or pick a cherry. With that hand you’d explore your best friends’ mouths, just for the sake of friendship. With that hand you’d smell water miles away and the flowers at your feet. You’d sift it all, triaging. Category 1: immediate danger. Category 2: potential threat. Category 3: food and water. Category 4: weather forecasts – short and long range. Category 5: pleasure. Grumbles from trucks and cabs would shudder through the toxic ground, tickle the lamellar corpuscles in your feet and ricochet up your bones. You’d hear with your feet, and your femurs would be microphones.

As you walked 10 miles for your breakfast you’d chatter with your friends in 10 octaves. A nearby human would throb like a bodhran as subsonic waves bounced around her chest. Even if it swayed with grass instead of being covered in concrete and dog shit, the city would be far, far too small for you. You’d feel the ring roads like a corset. You’d smell succulent fields outside, and be wistful. But you’d make the most of what you had. You’d follow a labyrinth of old roads, relying on the wisdom of long-dead elephants, now passed down to your matriarch. You’d have the happiest kind of political system, run by wise old women, appointed for their knowledge of the world and their judgment, uninterested in hierarchy for hierarchy’s sake, and seeking the greatest good for the greatest number.

No room here for the infantile phallocentric Nietzscheanism that is destroying modern human culture. If you were a boy you’d be on the margins, drifting between family groups (but never allowed to disrupt them) or shacked up with your bachelor pals in the elephant equivalent of an unswept bedsit (though usually your behaviour would be gentler, more convivial and more urbane than cohabiting human males). Your function would be to inseminate, and that’s all. Government would be the business of the females. You’d be a communitarian. Relationality would be everything. It’s not that you couldn’t survive alone, although there would certainly be a survival benefit from being a member of a community, just as humans live longer if they are plugged into a church, a mosque or a bowling club.

Yes, at some level your altruism might be reciprocal altruism, where you scratch my back if I scratch yours, or kin selection, where you are somehow persuaded to sacrifice yourself if your death or disadvantage will preserve a gene in a sufficiently closely related gene-bearer. But at a much more obvious and important level you’d be relational – joyously shouldering the duties that come with community – because it made you happy. Why do elephants seek out other elephants? Not primarily for sex, or for an extra arsenal of receptors to pick up the scent of poachers, or because they assume that the others will have found particularly nutritious food, but because they like other elephants.

[..] As an elephant, you’d have a mind. You would, no doubt at all, be conscious. All the evidence agrees. None – absolutely none – disagrees. You’d have a sense of yourself as distinct from other things. When you looked out contemptuously at humans, wondering why they ate obviously contaminated food, opted to be miserable and alone, or wasted energy on pointless aggression and anxiety, it would be your contempt, as opposed to generic elephantine contempt, or reflexive contempt that bypassed your cerebral cortex, or the contempt of your sister. It would be you looking out, and you’d know it was you.


Photograph: Palani Mohan/Getty Images

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Jan 052017
 
 January 5, 2017  Posted by at 10:22 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Pablo Picasso The Dream 1932


Chinese Media Say ‘Big Sticks’ Await Trump If He Seeks Trade War (BBG)
Donald Trump Plans Revamp of Top US Spy Agency and CIA (WSJ)
Schumer Calls Eight Trump Cabinet Picks ‘Troublesome’ (BBG)
Ford’s Truck Trumps Mexico and Tesla (BBG)
So What’s The Big Idea, European Union? (G.)
Italy’s 5 Star Movement Part Of Growing Club Of Putin Sympathisers In West (G.)
Beppe Grillo Accuses Journalists Of ‘Manufacturing False News’ (DM)
Ukraine Moves To Blacklist Le Pen Over Crimea Comments (R.)
UK Credit Binge Approaching Levels Not Seen Since 2008 Crash (G.)
China Can’t Quit the Dollar (Balding)
India’s Cash Woes Are Just Beginning (BBG)
Head of Russian Central Bank Named European Banker of the Year (RT)
Steve Keen: Rebel Economist With A Cause (AFR)

 

 

Xi has all the state media, and all Trump has is Twitter. Isn’t it fun? Then again, for Xi to let the Global Times come with this sort of childish language is below him.

Chinese Media Say ‘Big Sticks’ Await Trump If He Seeks Trade War (BBG)

Chinese state media warned U.S. President-elect Donald Trump that he’ll be met with “big sticks” if he tries to ignite a trade war or further strain ties. “There are flowers around the gate of China’s Ministry of Commerce, but there are also big sticks hidden inside the door – they both await Americans,” the Communist Party’s Global Times newspaper wrote in an editorial Thursday in response to Trump’s plans to nominate lawyer Robert Lighthizer, who has criticized Beijing’s trade practices, as U.S. trade representative.

The latest salvo from state-run outlets followed others last month aimed at Peter Navarro, a University of California at Irvine economics professor and critic of China’s trade practices whom Trump last month named to head a newly formed White House National Trade Council. Those picks plus billionaire Wilbur Ross, the nominee for commerce secretary, will form an “iron curtain” of protectionism in Trump’s economic and trade team, the paper wrote. The three share Trump’s strong anti-globalization beliefs and seem unlikely to keep building the current trade order, it said, adding that they will be more interested in disrupting the world trade order.

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Don’t think they saw this coming. And that’s perhaps not so intelligent. The CIA leaked a lot of wild anti-Trump stuff during the election campaign, and now claims he MUST trust them. But if he leaves the same people in place, when will they turn on him again?

Donald Trump Plans Revamp of Top US Spy Agency and CIA (WSJ)

President-elect Donald Trump, a harsh critic of U.S. intelligence agencies, is working with top advisers on a plan that would restructure and pare back the nation’s top spy agency, people familiar with the planning said, prompted by a belief that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has become bloated and politicized. The planning comes as Mr. Trump has leveled a series of social media attacks in recent months and the past few days against U.S. intelligence agencies, dismissing and mocking their assessment that the Russian government hacked emails of Democratic groups and individuals and then leaked them last year to WikiLeaks and others in an effort to help Mr. Trump win the White House.

One of the people familiar with Mr. Trump’s planning said advisers also are working on a plan to restructure the CIA, cutting back on staffing at its Virginia headquarters and pushing more people out into field posts around the world. The CIA declined to comment on the plan. “The view from the Trump team is the intelligence world [is] becoming completely politicized,” said the individual, who is close to the Trump transition operation. “They all need to be slimmed down. The focus will be on restructuring the agencies and how they interact.”

In one of his latest Twitter posts on Wednesday, Mr. Trump referenced an interview that WikiLeaks editor in chief Julian Assange gave to Fox News in which he denied Russia had been his source for the thousands of emails stolen from Democrats and Hillary Clinton advisers, including campaign manager John Podesta, that Mr. Assange published. Mr. Trump tweeted: “Julian Assange said ‘a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta’—why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!”

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This will dominate the news going forward. Main question: what crazy stories will the WaPo come up with to discredit the nominees? Should be interesting. Meanwhile: YOU LOST, Schumer. Big time. Stop digging.

Schumer Calls Eight Trump Cabinet Picks ‘Troublesome’ (BBG)

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said his party views eight of Donald Trump’s Cabinet choices as being “the most troublesome” and wants at least two days of hearings for each of them. “We have asked for fair hearings on all of those nominees,” Schumer of New York told reporters Wednesday in Washington. “There are a lot of questions about these nominees.” Confirmation hearings begin next week for a number of the president-elect’s Cabinet picks, and several already overlap on a single day, Jan. 11. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said minutes earlier that he hopes the Senate would be ready to confirm some of the nominees shortly after Trump is inaugurated on Jan. 20, just as it did when President Barack Obama first took office.

Under current Senate rules, Democrats can delay Senate confirmation of nominees but can’t block them on their own. Schumer’s office said the eight nominees targeted by Democrats for extra scrutiny are Rex Tillerson for secretary of State, Betsy DeVos for Education, Steven Mnuchin for Treasury, Scott Pruitt for the Environmental Protection Agency, Mick Mulvaney for budget director, Tom Price for Health and Human Services, Andy Puzder for Labor and Wilbur Ross for Commerce. Schumer said he wants their full paperwork before hearings are scheduled, adding that only a few have turned it in while most haven’t. Schumer said he also wants their tax returns, particularly because some are billionaires and given the potential for conflicts of interest.

The hearing for DeVos is scheduled for Jan. 11, “and we don’t have any information on her, and she in addition has a $5 million fine outstanding that she’s refused to pay,” Schumer said. Democrats have called on a political action committee led by DeVos to pay a $5.2 million fine imposed by Ohio officials over campaign finance violations in 2008. “There are so many issues about so many of them that to rush them through would be a disservice to the American people,” the Democratic leader said. While many of Obama’s nominees were confirmed quickly, his team had its paperwork in early, Schumer said.

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Our God is the car.

Ford’s Truck Trumps Mexico and Tesla (BBG)

On its first day back from the holidays, America’s auto industry began with a Mexican standoff and ended with Tesla just being off. Ford announced early on Tuesday it was scrapping plans to build a new plant in Mexico, apparently under pressure from President-elect Donald Trump. The PEOTUS then turned his signature industrial-policy-by-tweet on General Motors, threatening them over shipping Mexican-made Chevy Cruze cars back home .Meanwhile, after the market closed on Tuesday, Tesla Motors Inc. reported it missed its (reduced) guidance for vehicle deliveries in 2016. The stock fell in after-hours trading, as some were clearly caught by surprise – a reaction that, let’s face it, is itself a bit surprising at this point. In any case, a timely tour of the Gigafactory scheduled for Wednesday will no doubt snap the market’s attention back away from those pesky number thingies.

What links these stories is Ford’s other announcement on Tuesday morning, which got a bit lost in the shuffle; namely, its plans to electrify some of its marquee models – including the F-150 pickup truck.Rather than a battery-only version or even a plug-in hybrid model, Ford is committing merely to a basic hybrid version of the F-150 by 2020 – more Priusizing than Teslarizing it. So we aren’t about to see Ford’s trucks vanish from gasoline stations anytime soon. But this is still a big deal. The F-Series is America’s biggest-selling vehicle and represents one of every three full-size pickups sold. Also, pickups are archetypal gas guzzlers, and gas guzzlers are doing really well right now because of cheap gasoline. And even as Trump lobs Twitter-bombs at the car-makers’ foreign factories, his administration also looks likely to ease up on fuel-efficiency standards.

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So What’s The Big Idea, Guardian? How can you have your own Jennifer Rankin in Brussels, Thomas Kirchner and Alexander Mühlauer of Suddeutsche Zeitung and Cécile Ducourtieux of Le Monde, all contribute to a long article, and still not touch on a single one prime issue with the EU? How do you do it?

So What’s The Big Idea, European Union? (G.)

A few weeks ago, a significant anniversary in Maastricht slipped by almost unnoticed: 25 years ago, the historic treaty that ushered in the euro was drafted. But there was no fanfare, no commemoration in the European parliament, no mention at all by the commission. There was just a rather lacklustre speech by the EU president, Jean-Claude Juncker, in which he lamented that people were not sufficiently proud of what had been achieved on 9 December 1991. This air of resignation perfectly epitomises an EU in retreat. Battered, bothered and bewildered on all sides by a succession of crises – Brexit, the euro, refugees – the union is short of ideas, perhaps shorter than it has ever been. In his state of the union speech last autumn, the very best that Juncker could come up with was free Wi-Fi for every EU town and village by 2020, though even this sounded more like an aspiration than a concrete policy.

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Oh, wait, that hollow ‘article’ on the EU was just a lead in to this Guardian smear piece in the honored tradition of the WaPo. Up to and including “Russian interference in Italian elections”.

Italy’s 5 Star Movement Part Of Growing Club Of Putin Sympathisers In West (G.)

Ten years ago, in the wake of the murder of the leading Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a popular comedian-turned-blogger in Italy named Beppe Grillo urged tens of thousands of his readers to go out and buy Putin’s Russia, her searing exposé of corruption under the leadership of Vladimir Putin. “Russia is a democracy based on the export of gas and oil. If they didn’t export that, they would go back to being the good old dictatorship of once upon a time,” Grillo wrote in a mournful 2006 post about the journalist’s murder. But today, Grillo’s position on Russia has radically changed. He is now part of a growing club of Kremlin sympathisers in the west – an important shift given that the comedian has become one of the most powerful political leaders in Italy and his Five Star Movement (M5S), the anti-establishment party he created in 2009, is a top contender to win the next Italian election.

[..] As the M5S’s rhetoric has become pro-Russian, it is simultaneously becoming more critical of the EU, including a vow to hold a referendum on the euro. Such a vote would be likely to have a destabilising effect on European unity, even if in practice it would be difficult to execute a departure from the single currency. Grillo has also called for a “review” of the EU’s open borders under the Schengen agreement, in response to the shooting in Milan of Anis Amri, the suspected terrorist behind last month’s attack on a Berlin Christmas market.

[..] Foreign diplomats in Rome said it was easy to overestimate the M5S’s chances of winning the next Italian election and that expected changes to Italy’s electoral rules would make an M5S victory difficult. That calculation is based on the fact that the M5S has always opposed forging governing alliances with other parties, which has made it impossible so far for the party to achieve a majority coalition in parliament. But a handful of diplomats have also suggested that the ruling Democratic party, which is still led by former prime minister Matteo Renzi, may not be fully alert to the potential threat of Russian interference in Italian elections, and is not as concerned about the issue as it should be.

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This is Italy, so what does the other side say? Fascism. To propose a public jury on what news is false is fascism. As Italy is no. 77 in the World Press Freedom Index. This will get very ugly.

Beppe Grillo Accuses Journalists Of ‘Manufacturing False News’ (DM)

The leader of Italy’s populist Five Star movement has caused a stir by accusing the country’s journalists of ‘manufacturing false news’. Comic Beppe Grillo, founder of the anti-euro movement, lashed out at print and TV journalists, accusing them of fabricating news to keep his party, the Five Stars, down. ‘Newspapers and television news programmes are the biggest manufacturers of false news in the country, with the aim of ensuring those who have power keep it,’ he said on his blog on Tuesday. He called for ‘a popular jury to determine the veracity of the news published,’ and said in cases of fake news ‘the editor must, head bowed, make a public apology and publish the correct version at the start of the programme or on the paper’s front page’.

Grillo said members of the general public ‘picked at random’ would be shown newspaper articles and programmes and asked ‘to determine their accuracy.’ The blog was accompanied by a montage of the banners and logos of Italy’s main newspapers and television news programmes. The media world was enraged by comments, as were politicians from Italy’s traditional parties. The news director of the private TG La7 channel, Enrico Mentana, said he would sue the comedian, while journalists’ union FNSI slammed the ‘lynching of all journalists’. The opposition Five Stars was running neck-and-neck with the ruling centre-left Democratic Party (PD) before Matteo Renzi’s downfall last month and Grillo is campaigning hard for the next general election, which could be held in coming months.

What Grillo is proposing ‘is called Fascism, and those who play it down are accomplices,’ PD senator Stefano Esposito said. The centre-right Forza Italia (FI) party, founded by ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, said Grillo wanted a ‘minculpop 2.0’, a reference to the propaganda and censorship ministry under dictator Benito Mussolini. Grillo has had a difficult relationship with the media since launching the Five Stars (M5S) in 2009, banning members from appearing on talk shows and giving international media priority over their Italian counterparts at his rallies. His claim that journalists were to blame for the country’s poor standing on the World Press Freedom Index – where it ranks 77th – was dismissed by the editor in chief of the Repubblica daily.

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The Crimeans voted in huge numbers to join -stay with- Russia, but you can’t say that. Not even if it’s true and you live 2000 miles away. I doubt Le Pen was planning any trips to Kyiv anytime soon to begin with, but so who’s next? She can’t go to Poland anymore either soon? But still get elected president of France? Bring it on.

Ukraine Moves To Blacklist Le Pen Over Crimea Comments (R.)

Ukraine indicated on Wednesday it would bar French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen from entering the country after comments she made that appeared to legitimize Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Le Pen’s office dismissed the threat, saying she had no intention of visiting Ukraine. Kiev is nervous about the shifting political landscape in 2017. U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has adopted a friendlier tone toward Russia while another French presidential candidate, Francois Fillon, favours lifting sanctions against Moscow. Relations between Ukraine and Russia soured after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the subsequent outbreak of pro-Russian separatist fighting in eastern Ukraine that has killed around 10,000 people, despite a ceasefire being notionally in place.

Alluding to Le Pen, the Ukrainian foreign ministry said in a statement: “Making statements that repeat Kremlin propaganda, the French politician shows disrespect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and completely ignores the fundamental principles of international law. “…Such statements and actions in violation of the Ukrainian legislation will necessarily have consequences, as it was in the case of certain French politicians, who are denied entry to Ukraine,” it said. The far right leader was quoted by French television as saying Russia’s annexation of Crimea was not illegal because the Crimean people had chosen to join Russia in a referendum, a position Kiev vehemently disputes. The referendum was also declared illegal by the United Nations General Assembly.

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What keeps Britain together. Credit and whining. And fog. Boy, what a sorrowful place it’s becoming.

UK Credit Binge Approaching Levels Not Seen Since 2008 Crash (G.)

A credit boom that is close to levels not seen since the 2008 financial crash should set alarm bells ringing in Theresa May’s government, debt charities have warned. The latest figures from the Bank of England show unsecured consumer credit, which includes credit cards, car loans and second mortgages, grew by 10.8% in the year to November to £192.2bn, picking up pace on the previous month to grow at its fastest rate in more than 11 years. In September 2008, the month that Lehman Brothers collapsed and the banking crash triggered a worldwide recession, the level of UK consumer credit debt hit a peak of £208bn. Credit card debts, which accounted for £66.7bn of the total, hit a record high last month as Britons used the plastic to fund shopping as never before in the run-up to Christmas.

The debt charity StepChange said the rise in debt levels would leave thousands of families vulnerable to higher levels of inflation and changes in income from wage cuts, divorce or redundancy. Its head of policy, Peter Tutton, said: “Levels of outstanding borrowing are approaching the 2008 peak, and the growth rate of net lending is at its highest since 2005. Alarm bells should be ringing. “Previous experience shows how such increases in the levels of borrowing can leave households over-indebted and vulnerable to sudden changes in circumstances and drops in income that can pitch them into hardship. “Lenders, regulators and the government need to ensure that the mistakes made in the lead-up to the financial crisis are not repeated and that there are better policies in place to protect those who fall into financial difficulty.”

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All you need, as if it wasn’t obvious: “..the link between the yuan and the dollar remains as tight as ever. In November 2016, 98% of turnover in China’s foreign-exchange market took place between those two currencies.”

China Can’t Quit the Dollar (Balding)

China’s leaders are hardly disguising their fears about money leaving the country. They’ve just imposed new disclosure rules limiting how Chinese – who are allowed to convert up to $50,000 worth of yuan into foreign currency each year – can spend that money overseas. Simultaneously, they’re striving to tamp down worries about the tumbling yuan, which has fallen to an eight-year low against the U.S. dollar. At the end of December, the government added 11 currencies to the basket against which it now values the yuan. While the Chinese currency fell 6.5% against the dollar in 2016, its value measured against the broader basket has remained largely stable since July. The idea, at least in part, is to persuade ordinary Chinese that their nest eggs are safe in renminbi. Unfortunately, this latest effort isn’t likely to work any better than earlier ones.

The yuan remains inextricably bound to the U.S. dollar – and everyone knows it. The People’s Bank of China created the exchange-rate basket roughly a year ago. The goal was twofold – to shift attention away from the yuan’s precipitous decline against the dollar and to reduce China’s dependence on the U.S. currency. The latter was widely seen as humiliating – an affront to a rising superpower and the world’s second-largest economy. That resentment helped drive China’s effort – since stalled – to internationalize its currency. Yet any cursory review makes clear that the link between the yuan and the dollar remains as tight as ever. In November 2016, 98% of turnover in China’s foreign-exchange market took place between those two currencies. Flows of capital into and out of China show an only slightly less lopsided pattern.

Between them, the U.S. and Hong Kong dollars (the latter is hard-pegged to the U.S. currency) account for 91% of China’s non-yuan international bank transactions. The smaller currencies that make up nearly half of the basket comprise only 1.7% of international bank payments and receipts. Even the BIS estimates that 80% of China’s local loans in foreign currency are denominated in dollars. That’s the number that really matters: If the yuan continues to fall against the dollar, companies are going to have a harder time paying back those loans regardless of what the renminbi is or isn’t worth against the government’s official basket. All this is clear to ordinary investors. During my nearly eight years in China, I’ve never heard any Chinese citizen worry about the value of the yuan against the Emirati dirham.

So as long as the yuan continues to depreciate in dollar terms, Chinese are going to look for ways to get their money out of the country, despite any barriers the government might throw in their way. China’s options for preventing further outflows are limited. The PBOC could continue to deplete the country’s $3 trillion in foreign exchange reserves in an effort to prop up the yuan. That’s a risky game, though, as it reduces the stockpiles of hard currency needed to repay foreign-denominated debt and provide liquidity for international trade. As others have argued, reserves should be deployed strategically, not squandered defending bad policy.

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I see helicopter money. Digital basic income will come too late. At the every least half the people don’t even have plastic. And Modi can’t afford to wait for that.

India’s Cash Woes Are Just Beginning (BBG)

“Give me 50 days, friends,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked citizens after he canceled 86% of the country’s currency notes. After Dec. 30, if Indians saw his decision as flawed, he promised to “suffer any punishment.” But, he said confidently, if they could bear 50 days of disruption, they would have the “India of their dreams.” It is now January. While Modi’s deadline has passed, the pain hasn’t. Indeed, it may just be beginning: Measured by the purchasing managers’ index, or PMI, Indian manufacturing actually began to contract last month for the first time in all of 2016. This can’t be blamed on sluggish global demand; the equivalent measure from China suggested that manufacturing there is expanding quicker than expected. Indian companies are suffering from supply-chain disruptions and customers with no cash in their wallets.

True, in some ways things aren’t as bad, at least in metropolitan India, as they were a few weeks ago. The lines at ATMs are shorter and the government even felt comfortable enough to raise the limits for ATM withdrawals from 2,500 rupees a pop to 4,500 rupees (from $37 to $66). But overall cash limits haven’t been eased; most Indians can still only withdraw 24,000 of their own hard-earned rupees – a little over $350 – a week, or 50,000 rupees if one has a business account. That’s simply not enough cash to keep supply chains going. Lines at ATMs thus aren’t the most useful indicator. Even if more cash is getting into the economy, the question is whether Indians are still artificially constrained in how much cash they can access. If so, things haven’t returned to “normal.” And the longer there’s a cash constraint, the larger the ripple effect on the economy.

Here’s a thought experiment, based on how informal, cash-based economies work. For the first or second month that you’re short of cash, your creditors and your debtors, the people you buy from and the people you sell to, are all short of cash as well. Plus, everyone knows the cash crunch isn’t your fault; it doesn’t reveal any adverse information about how healthy your business is or isn’t. So you extend and receive credit relatively easily. Things can run on such relationships for awhile in the informal economy. But when the outside world – the formal economy – intrudes, the system breaks down. When it comes time to pay your electricity bill, or a loan installment to the banks, you’re forced to call in your debts. You may not face enough formal demands in the first month or two to pose a problem. But as time passes, they add up.

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Way ahead of you! I wrote this in April 2015: Russia’s Central Bank Governor Is Way Smarter Than Ours.

Head of Russian Central Bank Named European Banker of the Year (RT)

Elvira Nabiullina, the head of Russia’s central bank, has been named the best Central Bank Governor in Europe in 2016 by the international financial magazine, The Banker. The influential publication praised her for having “helped steer the country through the difficulties,” with Russia “set to return to economic growth in 2017.” “Having started 2016 with consumer price inflation of 12.9% – highs not seen since 2008 – Ms Nabiullina highlighted the need to lower inflation to improve economic growth in Russia,” the outlet writes in an article dedicated to the award. Established in 1926, The Banker is considered one of the leading international finance magazines, read in almost 180 countries.

“Ms Nabiullina’s efforts saw the rate drop below 6% by the end of 2016,” the magazine writes. This, as inflation in Russia “had never fallen under 6,1%”, according to the publication, citing figures by the International Monetary Fund going back to 1992. Nabiullina said she viewed the past year as a kind of turning point with regard to inflation. “Importantly, in 2016 there was a turning point in the sentiment of the population and professionals regarding inflation expectations,” she is quoted as saying by the outlet. “At the beginning of 2016, inflation expectations of market participants were well above our target, but now they have reduced to close to our [end-2017] 4% inflation target, at between 4.5% and 4.7%.”

In December last year, the chief of the IMF, Christine Lagarde lauded Nabiullina for doing “a fantastic job” while tackling the financial problems in Russia, and inflation in particular. Nabiullina served as economic adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin between 2012 and 2013, when she was appointed to head Russia’s Central Bank. She was Minister of Economic Development and Trade for 5 years from September 2007 to May 2012. Forbes rates Nabiullina 56th among the world’s 100 most powerful women. In 2015, Nabiullina was named central bank governor of the year by Euromoney magazine.

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Even on vacation he still finds a way to get his face in the media.

Steve Keen: Rebel Economist With A Cause (AFR)

Keen’s views and policy prescriptions remain firmly and proudly unconventional – unworkable even. But as somebody who saw the GFC coming when most did not, and as a long-time disciple of the now in-vogue Austrian economist Hyman Minsky, it may be that Keen’s economic views are finally entering mainstream thought. In a sign of the times, none other than the new chief economist of the World Bank, Paul Romer, has admitted that “for more than three decades, macroeconomic theory has gone backwards”. In a piece titled The trouble with macroeconomics, Romer in September wrote that “theorists dismiss mere facts by feigning an obtuse ignorance about such simple assertions as ‘tight monetary policy can cause a recession’.”


Australian private and government debt as a percentage of GDP. Steve Keen

And there is a strong need for fresh remedies. There is more debt in the world now than before the GFC – a crisis precipitated by excess borrowing. Low and zero interest rates and unconventional monetary policies such as QE have pumped up asset prices but done little to spark productivity gains or business investment in advanced economies. Private debt in Australia is now equivalent to around 210% of GDP, from 180% in 2007. Australian households are more indebted than ever, the RBA says. Keen is perhaps most critical of central bankers’ unwillingness to incorporate the link between credit growth and financial stability into their decision making. “Conventional economic thinking completely ignores where money comes from,” Keen says. “All this theory is effectively based on the idea that money is like nuts that chipmunks drop from trees and you can run out of it and if you don’t have enough of it you are going to starve over winter, and it’s a completely naive view of a monetary economy.”

While he acknowledges that RBA governor Philip Lowe has signalled a greater emphasis on “financial stability”, household indebtedness still continues to climb. “The Reserve Bank were so backward in their thinking. Their argument was, ‘oh well, the level of debt doesn’t matter because the households that have the debt are wealthy and they can continue servicing it’. But the real problem is demand for the economy comes out of turnover of the existing money plus credit. “Now, if you are relying on credit growth being equivalent to 15% of GDP, which is where it was in Australia just over six months ago, you’ve got to continue borrowing that 15% of GDP every year to maintain that trajectory. “If you simply stabilise, then, bang!, 15% of demand disappears. And that’s what we face and what I think will happen [in 2017].”

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Aug 192016
 
 August 19, 2016  Posted by at 2:25 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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Opening of Golden Gate Bridge May 27 1937

This is an absolute must see, and a joy to watch. Longtime friend of the Automatic Earth Steve Keen was on BBC’s Hardtalk over the weekend. I already really liked the 2.30min clip the BBC released earlier this week. Now Steve himself has posted the entire interview, while the BBC only has an audio podcast (for anyone outside the UK).

You can see that Steve came prepared for some ‘hard’ questioning, and the format fits him very well. Kudo’s! Also, kudo’s to the BBC for having him on, perhaps alternative views on economics have become more palatable in Britain post-Brexit? Interviewer Stephen Sackur sound quite typical of what I see in British media almost 2 months after Brexit: fear and uncertainty and the overall notion that leaving the EU is a very bad thing. Time to move on, perhaps?

I’m not sure Steve would join me in professing the term Beautiful Brexit, but our views on the EU are remarkably alike: it’s a dangerous club (and it will end up imploding no matter what). And that is in turn remarkable unlike the view of our friend Yanis Varoufakis, who is seeking to reform the union.

I went to see Yanis’ presentation of his DiEM25 initiative on the island of Aegina, off Athens, last week, and I found far too much idealism there. There were DiEM25 members from France, Italy and Spain, and they all seemed to agree on one thing: “we need” a pan-European organization -of sorts-. But do we? And why? In my view, they ignore those questions far too easily.

Moreover, even if we choose that path, why the EU? For me, as I said to the people I was with last week, reforming the EU is like reforming the mafia: you don’t want to go there, you want to dissolve it and shut it down. What the EU is today is the result of 60+ years of building an anti-democratic structure that involves and feeds tens of thousands of people, and you’re not going to break that down in any kind of short term.

Though it’s politically ‘not done’, I do think Boris Johnson was on to something when he said during the Brexit campaign: “Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically. The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods [..] But fundamentally, what is lacking is the eternal problem, which is that there is no underlying loyalty to the idea of Europe. There is no single authority that anybody respects or understands. That is causing this massive democratic void.”

When he said it in May, it was used as campaign fodder by the Remain side, though ironically they never mentioned Napoleon, only Hitler. “How dare you make that comparison!” But Johnson could have mentioned Charlemagne or Charles V, or Julius Ceasar just as well. They all tried to unify Europe, and all with pretty bloody results.

And just like all the idealism I see today in DiEM25, there were plenty idealists at the foundation of the EU, too. But again it’s going awfully wrong. Diversity is what makes Europe beautiful, and trying to rule over it from a centralized place threatens that diversity. European nations have a zillion ways to work together, but a central government and a central bank, plus a one-currency system, that is not going to work.

Still, before I get people proclaiming for instance that Steve Keen is a fan of Boris Johnson, which I’m sure he’s not and neither am I, we’re both fans of Yanis Varoufakis, just not on this issue, but before I make people make that link, I’ll shut up and hand you over to Steve.

But not before reiterating once more that in my view none of this EU talk really matters, because centralization can exist only in times of -economic- growth (or dictatorship), and we’re smack in the middle of a non-growth era kept hidden from us by a veil of gigantesque debt issuance. The future is going to be localization, protectionism, name it what you want; feel free to call it common sense. It will happen regardless of what you call it.

 

 

 

 

Jul 142016
 
 July 14, 2016  Posted by at 9:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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NPC Hessick & Son Coal Co. Washington 1925


China June Exports, Imports Both Fall More Than Forecast (R.)
China’s Steel Exports Jump to Second Highest Amid Tensions (BBG)
Great American Oil Bust Rages on; Defaults, Bankruptcies Soar (WS)
Gundlach Says Wall Street’s Suffering ‘Mass Psychosis’ (MW)
Helicopter Money – The Biggest Fed Power Grab Yet (David Stockman)
35-Year-Old Bond Bull Is on Its Last Legs (WSJ)
Bank of England To Cut Interest Rates To Halt UK Recession (G.)
UK Housing Sales Forecast To Fall Sharply This Summer After Brexit (G.)
Steve Keen Accused Of Causing Australia’s Coming Recession (Mish)
Britain’s MEPs Ushered Quietly Off Stage As The EU Show Goes On (G.)
Spain’s Banks are Suddenly “Too Broke To Fine” (DQ)
What It’s Like To Be A Non-EU Citizen (Trninic)
The Fake Biodiesel Factory That Pumped Out Real Money (BBG)

 

 

And that is with record steel exports. Not the first time I ask this: where would China exports be without that?

China June Exports, Imports Both Fall More Than Forecast (R.)

China’s exports fell more than expected in June as global demand remained stubbornly weak and as Britain’s decision to leave the European Union clouds the outlook for one of Beijing’s biggest markets. Imports also shrank more than forecast, indicating the impact of measures to stimulate growth in the world’s second-largest economy may be fading, after encouraging import readings in May. Exports fell 4.8% from a year earlier, the General Administration of Customs said on Wednesday, adding that China’s economy faces increasing downward pressure and the trade situation will be severe this year. Imports dropped 8.4% from a year earlier. That resulted in a trade surplus of $48.11 billion in June, versus forecasts of $46.64 billion and May’s $49.98 billion.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected June exports to fall 4.1%, matching May’s decline, and expected imports to fall 5%, following May’s 0.4% dip. The marginal import decline in May was the smallest since late 2014, and had raised hopes that China’s domestic demand was picking up. “The world economy still faces many uncertainties. For example, Brexit, expectations of an interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve, volatile international financial markets, the geopolitical situation, the threat of terrorism … these will affect the confidence of consumers and investors globally and curb international trade,” customs spokesman Huang Songping told a news conference. “We believe China’s trade situation remains grim and complex this year. The downward pressure is still relatively big.”

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“Sales advanced 23% from a year earlier..”

China’s Steel Exports Jump to Second Highest Amid Tensions (BBG)

China’s steel exports climbed to the second-highest level on record in June, as shipments from the world’s biggest producer ramp up amid escalating trade tensions. Sales advanced 23% from a year earlier to 10.94 million metric tons, according to China’s customs administration. That’s only eclipsed by shipments in September last year, when the country sent 11.25 million tons overseas. Exports in the first six months were 57.12 million tons, the seventh on-year increase in a row and the most ever for the period.
China’s record supplies have fueled global trade tensions as too many producers compete for sales. An EU investigation launched last week into imports from five countries is “symptomatic of the rising protectionism in global steel markets as a result of overcapacity,” according to a note from Macquarie.

“There’s a lot of trade friction but overall Chinese steel prices are relatively low, demand is steady, and together with the renminbi’s depreciation, the Chinese exports are very competitive,” Helen Lau, an analyst at Argonaut Securities Asia Ltd., said from Hong Kong. “It’s encouraging for Chinese mills and good for overseas consumers, but it’s not what foreign mills want to see.” Faced with its slowest growth in decades, China is exporting its steel surplus. Shipments will accelerate in the second half as prices decline and margins at mills are squeezed, Ren Zhuqian, chief analyst at Mysteel Research, said last month, forecasting exports could reach 117 million tons for the year, higher than last year’s record 112.4 million tons.

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Cleansing.

Great American Oil Bust Rages on; Defaults, Bankruptcies Soar (WS)

Junk bonds, trading like stocks since February, have skyrocketed and yields have plunged. But that doesn’t mean the bloodletting is over. The trailing 12-month US high-yield bond default rate jumped to 4.9% at the end of June, the highest since May 2010 as the Financial Crisis was winding down, Fitch Ratings reported today. The first-half total of $50.2 billion of defaults already exceeds the $48.3 billion for the entire year 2015. Energy companies accounted for 56% of those defaults. The energy sector default rate shot up to 15%. Within it, the default rate of the Exploration & Production (E&P) sub-sector soared to 29%! And the default party isn’t over: “Despite the run-up in prices since the February trough, there will be additional sector defaults, with Halcon Resources expected to file imminently,” Fitch reported.

Issuance of junk bonds in the first half has plunged 34% from a year ago, to $120.5 billion, according to the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), as junk-rated energy companies are having one heck of a time borrowing money and issuing bonds. The fact that investors – who’ve now been burned for nearly two years – are reluctant to extend new credit to teetering oil & gas companies precipitates their default and bankruptcy. Fitch: “The combination of high energy and metals/mining default rates and lower year to date issuance has been a one-two punch for the high yield bond market this year,” said Eric Rosenthal, Senior Director of Leveraged Finance. “The question going forward is whether macro events will disrupt markets and restrain issuance for the remainder of the year.”

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“Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t like investments where if you’re right you don’t make any money..”

Gundlach Says Wall Street’s Suffering ‘Mass Psychosis’ (MW)

This market is dealing with a “mass psychosis.” That’s the latest perspective on the state of Wall Street from Jeff Gundlach, the star money manager who founded DoubleLine Capital. Late Tuesday, during his regular webcasts to discuss markets, Gundlach sounded perplexed that investors’ demand for the perceived safety of government bonds has driven 10-year Treasury notes to record lows, even as the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 index scored fresh record highs Wednesday. Treasury yields, which have come off their 2016 nadir, are still hovering below their levels before the U.K.’s decision to exit the European Union sent global stock markets spiraling down. Bond prices move inversely to yields. Gundlach used the following chart in his Tuesday webcast presentation to highlight the historic moves in Treasury yields:

“There’s something of a mass psychosis going on related to the so-called starvation for yield,” said Gundlach, whose fund manages about $100 billion. “Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t like investments where if you’re right you don’t make any money,” he said. Gundlach believes that the benchmark 10-year note will move above 2% soon, but perhaps not until sometime next year. Some market participants see the benchmark’s yield tumbling further before that rise happens. Tom Di Galoma, managing director at Seaport Global, predicts the 10-year yield will slip below 1% over the next six to nine months, citing the anemic European economy in the wake of Brexit and concerns over the world’s second-largest economy, China. Meanwhile, the 10-year yield slipped below 1.47% midday Wednesday as U.S. stocks were struggling for a fourth straight session of gains, extending a record run.

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“..our monetary politburo would overtly conspire and coordinate with the White House and Capitol Hill to bury future generations in crushing public debts.”

Helicopter Money – The Biggest Fed Power Grab Yet (David Stockman)

The Cleveland Fed’s Loretta Mester is a clueless apparatchik and Fed lifer, who joined the system in 1985 fresh out of Barnard and Princeton and has imbibed in its Keynesian groupthink and institutional arrogance ever since. So it’s not surprising that she was out flogging – albeit downunder in Australia – the next step in the Fed’s rolling coup d’ etat. We’re always assessing tools that we could use,” Mester told the ABC’s AM program. “In the US we’ve done quantitative easing and I think that’s proven to be useful. “So it’s my view that [helicopter money] would be sort of the next step if we ever found ourselves in a situation where we wanted to be more accommodative.” This is beyond the pale because “helicopter money” isn’t some kind of new wrinkle in monetary policy, at all.

It’s an old as the hills rationalization for monetization of the public debt – that is, purchase of government bonds with central bank credit conjured from thin air. It’s the ultimate in “something for nothing” economics. That’s because most assuredly those government bonds originally funded the purchase of real labor hours, contract services or dams and aircraft carriers. As a technical matter, helicopter money is exactly the same thing as QE. Nor does the journalistic confusion that it involves “direct” central bank funding of public debt make a wit of difference. Suppose Washington issues treasury bonds to the 23 primary dealers on Wall Street in the regular manner. Further, assume that some or all of these dealers stick the bonds in inventory for 3 days, 3 months or even 3 years, and then sell them back to the Fed under QE (and most likely at a higher price).

So what! The only thing different technically about “helicopter money” policy is the suggestion by Bernanke and others that the treasury bonds could be issued directly to the Fed. That would just circumvent the dwell time in dealer (or “investor”) inventories but result in exactly the same end state. In that event, of course, Wall Street wouldn’t get the skim. But that’s not the real reason why helicopter money policy is so loathsome. The unstated essence of it is that our monetary politburo would overtly conspire and coordinate with the White House and Capitol Hill to bury future generations in crushing public debts.

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“It is outright panic-driven momentum.”

35-Year-Old Bond Bull Is on Its Last Legs (WSJ)

They have been saying it for 35 years. But after 3Ω decades of stunning returns, the biggest bond bull market in history looks to be entering its final stages. Why? Changing politics and the perverse, looking-glass world of negative yields. Bonds are meant to be safe, dull investments. But there is nothing boring, and not a lot of safety, in Japanese government bonds this year: The 40-year has returned an extraordinary 48% in six months, including the paltry coupon, and other long-dated JGBs have also had their best returns on record. U.K. and German long-dated bonds have produced similar returns to those after the collapse of Lehman. Returns on U.S. Treasurys are less exotic, but the 30-year has returned 22% this year—a gain big enough to worry longtime bond watchers.

It would have been easy to make the mistake of thinking the bull run in bonds was over many times since then-Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker got it started by taking control of inflation. The bet that the Japanese bond market—which long had the lowest yields in the world—would finally buckle has lost so much money for so many people that it is known as the “widowmaker” among traders. That hasn’t stopped Eric Lonergan, who runs a multistrategy fund for M&G in London. He has 15% of his fund betting against long-dated JGBs, and has endured a brutal move in the market against him in the past few weeks. Yet, he believes the likelihood is that the market will soon turn. “This is price driving price and is hugely, hugely vulnerable,” he said. “It is outright panic-driven momentum.”

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Did consumer confidence perhaps fall because Carney et al -the media!- spread all their fear stories before the Brexit referendum?! And now they can all go: I told you so!

Bank of England To Cut Interest Rates To Halt UK Recession (G.)

The Bank of England could cut interest rates and inject billions of pounds into the financial system as early as Thursday as policymakers seek to prevent Britain sliding into recession after the EU referendum. Under pressure to stem further falls in sterling, Mark Carney, the governor, is expected by financial markets to halve the 0.5% base rate on Thursday and reignite the Bank’s quantitative easing programme. Speculation has intensified in recent days after Carney dropped heavy hints that action would be needed to turn around an economy suffering badly as a result of the vote to leave the EU.

Several City economists said it was crucial for the central bank to step in and maintain the flow of cheap credit to the economy at a time when business and consumer confidence had fallen to levels last seen after the financial crash. A slump in the pound to a 31-year low has also undermined confidence among City investors concerned that the UK’s growth prospects will be damaged by leaving the single market. Markets have put an 80% probability on a move by the Bank by Thursday. Howard Archer, chief economist at IHS Global Insight, said: “With the UK economic outlook weakened by the Brexit vote, there can be little doubt – if any – that the Bank of England will enact some stimulus following the July MPC [monetary policy committee] meeting.

The only question really seems to be what action will the MPC take?” Carney said in a speech last month that the loss of confidence highlighted by a string of negative surveys meant “some monetary policy easing will likely be required over the summer”. A closely watched consumer confidence index from market researchers GfK last week recorded the biggest drop in sentiment for 21 years, following the Brexit vote.

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Britain gets exactly what it needs. Where is the joy?

UK Housing Sales Forecast To Fall Sharply This Summer After Brexit (G.)

The number of homes changing hands is expected to slump this summer in the wake of the UK’s vote to leave the EU, with estate agents and surveyors more pessimistic about the housing market than at any point since the late 1990s. Inquiries from buyers fell for the third month running in June, and the number of sales agreed dropped sharply as the Brexit vote fuelled uncertainty in the market, according to the latest monthly survey by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics). New buyer inquiries declined “significantly” during the month, it said, with 36% more respondents reporting a drop than an increase – the lowest reading since the financial downturn was beginning in mid-2008.

Over the same period, the supply of properties coming onto the market fell in every region except Northern Ireland, Rics said, and sales fell for a third consecutive month. Looking ahead over the next three months, 26% more Rics members expected sales to drop further than expected a busier housing market. “This is the most negative reading for near-term expectations since 1998,” Rics said. The numbers of surveyors in London reporting falling prices slipped deeper into negative territory in June, with nearly half of surveyors in the capital reporting falls rather than rises. Price falls were particularly concentrated in central London.

The referendum is not the only factor behind the dip in activity. The stamp duty hike on second homes, which came into force on 1 April, has also disrupted the market. Rics’s chief economist, Simon Rubinsohn, said: “Big events such as elections typically do unsettle markets so it is no surprise that the EU referendum has been associated with a downturn in activity. “However even without the buildup to the vote and subsequent decision in favour of Brexit, it is likely that the housing numbers would have slowed during the second quarter of the year, following the rush in many parts of the country from buy-to-let investors to secure purchases ahead of the tax changes.”

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Australia Insolvencies +14%, Debt Agreements +25%, Bankruptcies +7%

“..we all know at heart there is precisely one person to blame: Australian economist Steve Keen, now exiled in God-forsaken London. Were it not for Keen’s incessant fearmomgering about the Australian housing bubble, property values in Sydney alone would now be worth more than the sum total of property values in the US, China, UK, Mars, and Uranus combined.”

Steve Keen Accused Of Causing Australia’s Coming Recession (Mish)

It appears there are a bit of credit difficulties down under. Cash-strapped Australian personal insolvencies, bankruptcies, and debt agreements experience their sharpest rise in seven years. Please consider Struggling Aussies Rack Up Debt.

“Alarming new figures released yesterday by the Australian Financial Security Authority found personal insolvencies in the June quarter climbed by nearly 14% compared to the June 2015. Debt agreements — an agreement between a debtor and a creditor where creditors agree to accept a sum of money from the debtor – rose by nearly a massive 25%. Bankruptcies increased by 7%. Veda’s general manager of consumer risk Angus Luffman said multiple factors were to be blamed for a stalling of consumer credit. “The continuing slowdown in residential property markets, coupled with weak wages growth and subdued retail sales growth had all contributed to the continued slowdown seen in the June credit demand index,’’ he said.

“Turnover for household goods which is often big-ticket items like whitegoods and couches which are financed by credit has slowed significantly in recent months.” Australian Bureau of Statistics lending data released yesterday found total new lending commitments including housing, personal, commercial and lease finance dropped by 3.2% in May, the second consecutive fall. Lending totalled $67.5 billion in May which was down seven per over the year and sat at a 17-month low. HSBC chief economist Paul Bloxham blamed the cooling of the housing market for the softening of the willingness to borrow.”

While others point the finger every which way, we all know at heart there is precisely one person to blame: Australian economist Steve Keen, now exiled in God-forsaken London. Were it not for Keen’s incessant fearmomgering about the Australian housing bubble, property values in Sydney alone would now be worth more than the sum total of property values in the US, China, UK, Mars, and Uranus combined. Were it not for Keen, every property owner down under could retire now and live off the perpetual appreciation of their property wealth.

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“..Nigel Farage and 20 other Ukip MEPs will get to vote on the terms of Britain’s exit, while the British government, led by remain supporter Theresa May, will have to accept the EU’s terms..”

Britain’s MEPs Ushered Quietly Off Stage As The EU Show Goes On (G.)

[..] Paradoxically, British MEPs are expected to vote on the UK’s EU divorce treaty, expected to be thrashed out by David Davis, the secretary of state for exiting the EU. Although the British government will be treated as a foreign country, there is nothing in the EU rulebook that prevents British MEPs from having a say when the European parliament votes on the British divorce treaty under article 50. This throws up the odd situation that Nigel Farage and 20 other Ukip MEPs will get to vote on the terms of Britain’s exit, while the British government, led by remain supporter Theresa May, will have to accept the EU’s terms. British diplomats also find themselves in a peculiar Brexit limbo.

They will have to decide how hard to fight Britain’s corner on EU legislation that will exist for years after the UK has left. The most likely outcome is that British diplomats will continue to press British interests, because EU legislation could still affect the UK after Brexit. Norway implements all EU directives as the price of being in the EU single market – the “pay without a say” model that politicians in Oslo think the British would loathe. It is the scenario envisaged by Cameron when he promised an EU referendum in 2013. “Even if we pulled out completely, decisions made in the EU would continue to have a profound effect on our country,” he said in a Bloomberg speech. “But we would have lost all our remaining vetoes and our voice in those decisions.”

British diplomats might push British interests, but they could be frozen out of the informal wheeling and dealing. “Politics is about the future and if someone at the table has no position any more, [the others] will do deals without them,” says Dirk Schoenmaker, a senior fellow at the Bruegel thinktank. He predicts that “the big three” that decide financial regulation – Germany, France and the UK – will be cut down to a big two. “It is quite clear, from 23 June onwards the big deals in this area will be made by Germany and France, without the UK.”

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Spain’s backdoor to hurt its already shattered people.

Spain’s Banks are Suddenly “Too Broke To Fine” (DQ)

After eight years of chronic crisis mismanagement, moral hazard and perverse incentives have infected just about every part of the financial system. Earlier this week, the U.S. Congress published the findings of a three-year investigation into why the Department of Justice chose not to punish HSBC and its executives for their violations of US anti-money laundering laws and related offenses – because doing so would have had “serious adverse consequences” for the financial system – the “Too Big To Jail” phenomenon, a perfect, all-purpose, real-world Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card. But now there’s “Too Broke to Fine.” Today over a dozen Spanish banks were given a life-line by the EU’s advocate general, Paolo Mengozzi, that could be worth billions of euros in savings for the banks.

For millions of Spanish mortgage holders, it could mean billions of euros in lost compensation. Just over seven years ago, when conditions were beginning to sour for Spain’s banking system, 40 out of 42 Spanish banks decided to insert “floor clauses” in their mortgage contracts. These effectively set a minimum interest rate — typically between 3% and 4.5% — for all their variable-rate mortgages (which are very common in Spain), even if the Euribor dropped far below that figure. This, in and of itself, was not illegal. The problem is that most banks failed to properly inform their customers that the mortgage contract included such a clause. Those that did, often told their customers that the clause was an extreme precautionary measure and would almost cerainly never be activated.

After all, they argued, what are the chances of the euribor ever dropping below 3.5% for any length of time? At the time (early 2009), Europe’s benchmark rate was hovering around the 5% mark. Within a year it had crashed below 1% and is now languishing deep below zero. As a result, most Spanish banks were able to enjoy all the benefits of virtually free money while avoiding one of the biggest drawbacks: having to offer customers dirt-cheap interest rates on their variable-rate mortgages. For millions of Spanish homeowners, the banks’ sleight of hand cost them an average of €2,000 per year in additional interest payments, during one of the worst economic crises in living memory. Many ended up losing their homes.

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Nice but very biased: “You have good jobs that make it possible to pay the taxes and your expenses.” Err.. no, too many don’t, and that’s why Leave won. You may have a master’s on engineering, but if you can’t understand these dynamics, what’s that worth?

What It’s Like To Be A Non-EU Citizen (Trninic)

[..] let me tell you a few things about the life of a non-EU citizen. When I came to Austria from Bosnia in 2003 to study at Technical University of Graz, I had to undergo various administrative and non-administrative checks. At one point, I and all my fellow Bosnian students had to show proof we didn’t have pneumonia, typhus – which I somewhat understand. But we even had to prove we did not have RABIES. Rabies! In the 21st century! My home country is only about 300 kilometers from Austria and yet we were treated as if we came from 200 years ago, at least. On top of that, we had – and still have – the pleasure of needing a visa every year and paying for it, of course. We even paid tuition for college, though the Austrians and EU students did not.

But that was the deal, and I personally was happy to be able to work the lowest level student jobs and in return get a decent education. The common attitude was “deal with it!” and so we did. After college, I got my first job at a big construction company. The trick? I worked with a Bosnian contract. It was an all-in contract, written for slaves. But hey, I had a job. I was one of three people in my branch office who had a master’s degree in engineering (much less went to college), spoke three foreign languages, drove 50,000 kilometers per year, yet I was still paid less than everyone. But I dealt with it. If the company was to say at any moment I was fired, I had two months to leave the country or find a new company.

Many highly qualified non-EU citizens live this kind of life day-to-day and the only thing on our minds is, “What the hell was on the UK’s mind when they voted LEAVE?” The UK always was the “favorite (and the spoiled) kid of the EU family.” It kept its currency. It had more favorable EU conditions and it always behaved a bit stand-offish toward the rest of the Europe, if we are honest. The UK has about 52 million residents and pays about €5 billion to EU fund per year (€96 per citizen). By comparison, Austria has 8 million residents and pays about €1 billion per year to EU fund (€125 per citizen).

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Great story.

The Fake Biodiesel Factory That Pumped Out Real Money (BBG)

The biodiesel factory, a three-story steel skeleton crammed with pipes and valves, squatted on a concrete slab between a railroad track and a field of storage tanks towering over the Houston Ship Channel. Jeffrey Kimes, an engineer for the Environmental Protection Agency, arrived there at 9 a.m. on a muggy Wednesday in August 2011. He’d come to visit Green Diesel, a company that appeared to be an important contributor to the EPA’s fledgling renewable fuels program, part of an effort to clean the air and lessen U.S. dependence on foreign fuel. In less than three years, Green Diesel had reported producing 50 million gallons of biodiesel. Yet Kimes didn’t know the company. He asked other producers, and they weren’t familiar with Green Diesel either.

He thought he ought to see this business for himself. Kimes, who works out of Denver, was greeted at the Green Diesel facility by a man who said he was the plant manager. He was the only employee there, which was odd. “For a big plant like that, you’re going to need a handful of people at least to run it, maintain it, and monitor the process,” says Kimes, a 21-year EPA veteran. The two toured the grounds, climbing metal stairways and examining the equipment. The place was weirdly still and quiet. Some pipes weren’t connected to anything. Two-story-high biodiesel mixing canisters sat rusting, the fittings on their tops covered in garbage bags secured with duct tape. Kimes started asking questions.

“They showed me a log, and from that you could see they hadn’t been producing fuel for a long period of time,” he says. An attorney for Green Diesel showed up. Kimes asked how he could reconcile the lack of production with what Green Diesel had been telling the EPA. The attorney said he didn’t know, he’d been hired only the day before. “It was obvious what was going on,” Kimes says. The next day, he appeared at Green Diesel’s office in Houston’s upscale Galleria neighborhood, 15 miles from the plant, hoping to collect production records and other information. Someone stuck him in a conference room. Soon he was on the phone with the lawyer from the day before, who told him not to speak with any more Green Diesel employees.

Kimes went back to Denver and started calling Philip Rivkin, Green Diesel’s founder and chief executive. He wasn’t available. And he never would be. That fall, Rivkin left Houston to live in Spain with his wife, their teenage son, a $270,000 Lamborghini Murcielago Coupe, and a $3.4 million Canadair Challenger jet. A passport Rivkin obtained in Guatemala, where he moved after living for an undetermined period in Spain, shows him with dark hair, a double chin, a lazy eye, and an impassive look. It’s one of the few publicly available photographs of the man. Now serving a 10-year sentence at the federal prison in Bastrop, Texas, Rivkin declined through his lawyer, Jack Zimmermann, to be interviewed for this story.

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May 172016
 
 May 17, 2016  Posted by at 9:22 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Charlotte Brooks Tom Corbett, Space Cadet 1952

This is an article by our friend Steve Keen, which was yanked by Forbes yesterday after just a few hours due to, according to Steve, their ‘parody policy’. I did some research and it turns out the Automatic Earth has no such policy. So I offered Steve to repost it here.

Steve Keen: CERN has just announced the discovery of a new particle, called the “FERIR”.

This is not a fundamental particle of matter like the Higgs Boson, but an invention of economists. CERN in this instance stands not for the famous particle accelerator straddling the French and Swiss borders, but for an economic research lab at MIT—whose initials are coincidentally the same as those of its far more famous cousin.

Despite its relative anonymity, MIT’s CERN is far more important than its physical namesake. The latter merely informs us about the fundamental nature of the universe. MIT’s CERN, on the other hand, shapes our lives today, because the discoveries it makes dramatically affect economic policy.

CERN, which in this case stands for “Crazy Economic Rationalizations for aNomalies”, has discovered many important sub-economic particles in the past, with its most famous discovery to date being the NAIRU, or “Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment”. Today’s newly discovered particle, the FERIR, or “Full Employment Real Interest Rate”, is the anti-particle of the NAIRU.

Its existence was first mooted some 30 months ago by Professor Larry Summers at the 2013 IMF Research Conference. The existence of the FERIR was confirmed just this week by CERN’s particle equilibrator, the DSGEin.

Asked why the discovery had occurred now, Professor Krugman explained that ever since the GFC (“Global Financial Crisis”), economists had been attempting to understand not only how the GFC happened, but also why its aftermath has been what Professor Summers characterized as “Secular Stagnation”.

Their attempts to understand the GFC continued to fail, until Professor Summers suggested that perhaps the GFC had destroyed the NAIRU, leaving the ZLB (“Zero Lower Bound”) in its place.

This could have happened only if there was a mysterious second particle, which was generated when a NAIRU equilibrated with a GFC. Rather than remaining in equilibrium, as sub-economic particles do in DSGEin, NAIRU apparently vanished instantly when the GFC appeared. Something else must have taken its place. DSGEin was unable to help here, since it rapidly returned to equilibrium—while the real world that it was supposed to simulate clearly had not.

CERN’s attempts to model this phenomenon in DSGEin were frustrated by the fact that a GFC does not exist inside a DSGEin—in fact, the construction of the DSGEin was predicated on non-existence of GFCs.

The ever-practical Professor Krugman recently suggested a way to overcome this problem. Why not turn to the real world, where GFCs exist in abundance, and feed one of those into the DSGEin?

Unfortunately, the experiment destroyed the DSGEin, since the very existence of a GFC within it put it through an existential crisis. However, before it broke down (while mysteriously singing the first verse of “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do”), the value for the NAIRU in DSGEin suddenly turned negative.

This led Professor Summers to the conjecture that perhaps there was a negative anti-particle to the NAIRU, which he dubbed the FERIR.

Lacking a functional DSGEin at the time, Summers fed a GFC into the older SLIM equilibrator lovingly maintained by Professor Krugman—and he discovered that the NAIRU took on a negative value there. Since the NAIRU cannot be negative, Professor Summers realised that he had discovered a new particle—the FERIR. When the FERIR interacted with a ZLB, the outcome was Secular Stagnation.

Professor Summers—who expects to receive the Nobel Prize for his discovery—had some harsh words for critics who had rubbished the very attempt to explain the GFC using a sub-economic particle equilibrator.

“They accuse us of adding ‘epicycles’ to our models to make them fit the data. That’s nonsense: that’s so 15th century. We’re way beyond that now,” sneered Professor Summers at length. “These days, we add new fundamental particles to our sub-economic menagerie: that’s way more sophisticated.”

The FERIR may now help economists understand the persistence of the ZLB, which has confounded all predictions to date. Having expected the ZLB to evaporate and be replaced fairly rapidly by an NRI (“Natural Rate of Interest”), economists have been flummoxed by its persistence—eight years now and counting.

“We have shown that the FERIR equilibrates with and maintains the ZLB,” Professor Krugman explained. “So Larry’s discovery is really, really important”.

Now that economists have explained the persistence of the ZLB, they can now turn their attention to understanding its perverse effects. The real problem of the ZLB for economists has been that it inverts the status and behaviour of all other sub-economic particles. In particular:

Growth, which was high, is now low;

Inflation, which was bad & everywhere, is now good & nowhere;

CBs (“Central Banks”) which prevent inflation, now try to cause it; and

HMDs (“Helicopter Money Drops”) which were mad, are now sane

These inversions are causing real problems for economists, who find themselves arguing for policies they used to oppose. Professor Summers hopes that knowledge of the existence of the FERIR will make it easier for economists to argue that night is day and rainbows are grey, as they provide policy advice in these troubled times.

POSTSCRIPT: Written with the inspiration of Axel Leijonhufvud’s brilliant parody “Life Among the Econ” firmly in mind.

POST-POSTSCRIPT: The NAIRU—the “Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment”—was a fiction of Milton Friedman’s imagination, and countless hours were wasted by economists trying to calculate it. I fully expect a new generation of economists to waste their time trying to calculate the FERIR as well.

POST-POST-POSTSCRIPT: The serious intent to this parody is the observation that the approach to economics that failed to anticipate the GFC—and that even believed such events were impossible—is unlikely to be able to advise what to do in the aftermath to the GFC. We need a new theory, not merely a new fictional acronym in the fantasy universe of mainstream economics.

May 152016
 
 May 15, 2016  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »
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Jack Delano Brakeman H.B. Van Santford on the AT&SF line from Summit to San Bernardino 1943


Steve Keen Talks Debt, Trump and Gold (RT)
Economists Disagree With Voters Who See US Worse Off Today Than in 1960s (WSJ)
China: “It Appears That All The Engines Suddenly Lost Momentum” (R.)
Chinese Banks’ New Loans Plunge By More Than Half In April (R.)
Shell Eyes $40 Billion Non-Core Asset Spin-Off To Cut Its Huge Debt Pile (Tel.)
Moody’s Downgrades Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman (AP)
German Professors And Entrepreneurs File Complaint Against ECB Policy (R.)
The Vultures’ Vultures: New Hedge-Fund Strategy Corrupts Washington (HuffPo)
Farmland Values Fall Sharply in Parts of the Midwest (WSJ)
Cameron’s Anti-Brexit ‘Remain’ Campaign Has A Major Trust Issue (Ind.)
German Government Plans To Spend €93.6 Billion On Refugees By End 2020 (R.)

Very interesting. I’ve said it a thousand times: everyone should let sink in what Steve has to say. It’s curious to see that people like Max agree with everything Steve says -as far as they can understand him-, but disagree with him on gold.

Steve Keen on Debt, Trump and Gold (RT)

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No, really, this is a serious WSJ article. Economists claim they know better then you about your own situation, and the paper gives them the space to utter their blubber. “You’re not really hungry, you’re just imagining that, and your hospital bill is not REALLY higher than it was 40 years ago, and in student debt was this high in 1970 too, don’t you remember?!”

Economists Disagree With Voters Who See US Worse Off Today Than in 1960s (WSJ)

When was America at its best? Put the question to voters and many will point as far back as the 1960s. Put the question to economists and they identify a much more recent peak in U.S. living standards. Forecasters in The Wall Street Journal’s monthly survey of business, academic and financial economists were asked to rate whether U.S. living standards were higher today or at various points in the past. Around 80% say those standards are higher today than during the 1990s or earlier. The 2016 presidential campaign has exposed worries among many voters about a U.S. in decline. The sentiment played a particular role in boosting the candidacy of businessman Donald Trump, with a campaign slogan pledging to “Make America Great Again.”

While many economists view the U.S. as not fully recovered from the recession that began in 2007 or the previous recession in 2001, that still leaves a 40-year disconnect compared to voters who see the U.S. in a half-century of decline. The Pew Research Center recently polled voters on the question “Compared with 50 years ago, life for people like you in America is better or worse?” A plurality of 46% said things were worse now. Only 34% said life today is better than in the 1960s. A Morning Consult poll asked voters whether the 1960s or 1980s were better than today. In that survey, 31% said the ‘60s were better and 37% said the 1980s were better. By contrast, 88% of economists said the U.S. is better today than in 1960 and 87% see today as better than 1980.

“Between technology and health advances, today is much better than in 1960,” said Amy Crews Cutts, chief economist at Equifax. By many of the measures economists are inclined to look at, it is not a close call. In 1960, the life expectancy of the average American was a full decade shorter than it is today, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The median personal income, after adjusting for inflation, is 55% higher today than in 1960, according to the Census Bureau. These measures of overall well-being continued to rise throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Why do so many voters put such little stock in the past 50 years? Economists point to a few culprits.

First, wages or available jobs have deteriorated for some demographic groups, particularly men without a high-school diploma and men who worked in manufacturing (two groups with some overlap). Second, we have just lived through the “first decade where the average worker lost ground,” said Joel Naroff, chief economist of Naroff Economic Advisers. Overall incomes declined during the two most recent recessions, but not enough to set people back to a 1960s standard of living. About 53% of respondents in the Journal’s survey said the U.S. today is “about the same” or “worse” than it was in 2000. About 63% said the same about 2007. The survey of 70 economists was conducted from May 6 to May 10, though not every economist answered every question.

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And these are ‘official’ numbers, which for a reason that escapes me we‘re still clinging on to. So I ‘adapted’ the title.

China: “It Appears That All The Engines Suddenly Lost Momentum” (R.)

China’s investment, factory output and retail sales all grew more slowly than expected in April, adding to doubts about whether the world’s second-largest economy is stabilizing. Growth in factory output cooled to 6% in April, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said on Saturday, disappointing analysts who expected it to rise 6.5% on an annual basis after an increase of 6.8% the prior month. China’s fixed-asset investment growth eased to 10.5% year-on-year in the January-April period, missing market expectations of 10.9%, and down from the first quarter’s 10.7%.

Fixed investment by private firms continued to slow, indicating private businesses remain skeptical of economic prospects. Investment by private firms rose 5.2% year-on-year in January-April, down from 5.7% growth in the first quarter. “It appears that all the engines suddenly lost momentum, and growth outlook has turned soft as well,” Zhou Hao, economist at Commerzbank in Singapore, said in a research note. “At the end of the day, we have acknowledge that China is still struggling.”

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The PBoC’s bizarro explanation:“..the figures don’t include new local government bond issuance to refinance debt previously issued by local government financing vehicles.” As if to say: don’t worry, we’re still borrowing like crazy, only now half of it is to refi what we couldn’t pay back.

Chinese Banks’ New Loans Plunge By More Than Half In April (R.)

China’s central bank said it has not changed its “prudent” monetary policy stance despite a disappointing release of April data showing banks had cut back sharply on new loans. Banks made 555.6 billion yuan ($85.21 billion) in net new yuan loans in April, much lower than expected and less than half the 1.37 trillion yuan seen in March, data showed on Friday. The People’s Bank of China (PBOC), in a question and answer posted on its website on Saturday, attributed the slide to seasonal and technical factors, including the fact that the figures don’t include new local government bond issuance to refinance debt previously issued by local government financing vehicles.

“If this is factored in, new loans in April were more than 900 billion yuan,” the PBOC said, in answer to a question as to whether the figures indicated a decline in the real economy. That number would match analysts previous forecasts for April. However, the bank also pointed to a decline in corporate bond financing, which came in over 500 billion less than March – while still up slightly from the same period last year, and noted that banks remain cautious given increased focus on asset quality control. “On the whole, current financial support to the real economy is still strong,” it said. “Prudent monetary policy has not changed.”

Read more …

Curious attempt to make deeply troubling problems look like great opportunities instead. Nobody wants to buy these assets and everyone knows they MUST sell, which is why Shell try to sell as much as $40 billion of it now, and in the way they do (IPO?!). And that would “..let Shell benefit from a sustained oil price recovery?!”

Shell Eyes $40 Billion Non-Core Asset Spin-Off To Cut Its Huge Debt Pile (Tel.)

Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell is eyeing a possible $40bn spin-off of non-core assets around the globe as it grapples with a $70bn debt pile following a takeover of BG Group earlier this year. Chief financial officer Simon Henry told analysts last week that a float of Shell’s non-core assets is “very much on the agenda”. The comments were made after the Anglo-Dutch multinational announced its intention to sell off assets totalling $30bn over the next three years in an attempt to protect its dividend, after the merger with BG left it with a stretched balance sheet. Analysts at Exane BNP Paribas are now concerned that despite its attempts to offload assets, “a dry market for asset sales leaves Shell exposed”.

Reducing Shell’s debt burden is “critical for shares to perform”, said Aneek Haq, of Exane BNP Paribas, but failure to do so may force management to “bite the bullet” and make a radical move, such as an initial public offering of the parts of Shell’s empire it wants to offload. Henry said: “There are no prima facie reasons why we would not look at such a monetisation route, if that was the best way to create value.” However, given the foundering oil price, he said it was “not obvious in today’s market” where such value would be. Unlike a divestment, an IPO of the company’s mature assets, which has been dubbed “Baby Shell” would let Shell benefit from a sustained oil price recovery. Mr Haq also believes such a move would refocus management on core assets and reduce net debt by more than $50bn over four years.

The non-core upstream assets, from markets such as the UK, Norway, New Zealand, Italy and Nigeria, are cash-generative, averaging at $4bn a year free cash flow, and adding additional assets from Kazakstan could “prove attractive for shareholders”, said Haq. Although a $40bn listing would be cumbersome, it is not unfamiliar territory. In 2014, Shell raised $920m by spinning off a pipeline of US assets, Shell Midstream Partners. Given its previous form, Henry said: “It should be clear that not only are we open to innovation, [but also] we are able to deliver such complicated deals and execute over a period of time.”

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These downgrades are expensive.

Moody’s Downgrades Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman (AP)

Saudi Arabia’s credit rating has been downgraded by Moody’s because of the long and deep slump in oil prices. Moody’s Investors Service said it also downgraded Gulf oil producers Bahrain and Oman. It left ratings unchanged for other Gulf states including Kuwait and Qatar. Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest oil exporter. Moody’s cut the country’s long-term issuer rating one notch to A1 from Aa3 after a review that began in March. Crude prices fell from more than $100 in mid-2014 to under $30 a barrel in February, although they have recovered into the mid-$40s. Benchmark international crude settled on Friday at $47.83 a barrel.

“A combination of lower growth, higher debt levels and smaller domestic and external buffers leave the Kingdom less well positioned to weather future shocks,” Moody’s said in a note. Moody’s lowered Oman to Baa1 from A3 and Bahrain to Ba2 from Ba1. The ratings agency did not downgrade Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates or Abu Dhabi, but it assigned a negative outlook to each. Oil prices slumped because of production that grew faster than demand. Surging production from shale operators in the US contributed to the glut. So did OPEC, which decided in November 2014, several months after prices began falling, to continue pumping rather than give up market share.

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Germany’s Constitutional Court has been asked for opinions on the ECB a dozen times now, but not much has come of it.

German Professors And Entrepreneurs File Complaint Against ECB Policy (R.)

A group of professors and entrepreneurs in Germany filed a complaint against the ECB’s monetary policy this week at the country’s top court, the Welt am Sonntag newspaper said. A complaint would open a new chapter in a long-running legal battle between the ECB and groups within the euro zone’s biggest economy who want to curb the bank’s power. A challenge to an emergency plan the ECB made at the height of the euro zone crisis is also back at Germany’s Constitutional Court after being rejected by Europe’s top court in June. The German court will make a final ruling this year. There has been widespread criticism in Germany of the ECB’s monetary policy in recent weeks, with politicians complaining that low interest rates are hitting the retirement provisions of ordinary Germans and could boost the right wing.

Welt am Sonntag said the issue in the latest complaint filed at the Constitutional Court was whether the ECB had overstepped its mandate by extensively buying government bonds and with its plan to start buying corporate bonds. The newspaper said the professors and entrepreneurs thought the ECB was starting programs that contained incalculable risks for the German central bank’s balance sheet, and hence for German taxpayers – under the pretence of reaching its inflation target of just under 2% in the medium term. “The ECB’s current policy is neither necessary nor appropriate to directly revive the economy in the euro zone by increasing the inflation rate to around 2% in terms of consumer prices,” Markus Kerber, a lawyer and professor of public finance who initiated the complaint, was quoted as saying.

Kerber said the ECB was losing sight of the principle of the “proportionality” of its measures, according to Welt am Sonntag. In March, the ECB unveiled a large stimulus package that included cutting its deposit rate deeper into negative territory, expanding it asset buying program and offering free loans to the corporate sector to stimulate growth. German central bank governor Jens Weidmann, who sits on the ECB’s Governing Council, said on Wednesday the ECB’s expansionary monetary policy stance was “justified for now” while Bundesbank board member Andreas Dombret also said the ECB’s policy was justified by a subdued growth outlook in the euro zone.

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“They may have finally gone too far. A backlash is brewing, threatening not just their current bets, but their various tax benefits too. One senior House Republican aide who’s worked closely with the hedge funds says that members of Congress have seen enough. “I think on the Fannie stuff, they’ve hurt themselves,” he said. “We’re like, fuck em. If they’re not your friends, they’re your enemies.”

The Vultures’ Vultures: New Hedge-Fund Strategy Corrupts Washington (HuffPo)

Take Robert Shapiro. A Harvard-trained political economist, Shapiro is the head of a consulting firm called Sonecon. That business card doesn’t do it for you? He’s got a few more in his wallet: Senior fellow at the Georgetown University School of Business. Adviser to the International Monetary Fund. Director of the Globalization Initiative at NDN, a progressive think tank. Shapiro, a Democrat, has advised presidents and presidential candidates, and has held powerful government posts. It stands to reason, then, that when he has thoughts on public policy, he can find an outlet ready to publish them. Recently, he’s had ideas on how the government can address the debt crisis in Puerto Rico and how it can end the conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac by moving them into the private market.

Before that, he had a take on how to deal with Argentina’s debt crisis. For all three, he produced academic-looking papers, complete with footnotes and charts. All three situations have one thing in common: If they were resolved the way Shapiro suggested, a variety of bets placed by a select group of the most politically powerful hedge funds would pay off in a huge way. In the case of Argentina, they mostly have. Fights over how to resolve the other two issues are still raging in Washington. For this article, we called Shapiro to ask on whose behalf he has been waging these intellectual battles. His answer was surprising in its honesty: He’s working with DCI Group, a political dark arts master known to be advocating on behalf of a group of powerful hedge funds that are changing how Washington works.

Shapiro, it turns out, is but one foot soldier in the hedge fund infantry. A review of public documents, tax filings and interviews with people involved finds that in each of the three campaigns, hedge funds have enlisted the same set of lobbyists, political operatives, dark money groups and think-tank experts spanning the political spectrum. No single document or set of disclosures ties all of these groups together. They don’t put out joint press releases, parade themselves around Washington as part of a coalition, or chat together on conference calls. Finding the players in this game, instead, is more a process of deduction. For a group of firms and experts to be working for vulture funds on the issue of Argentine debt is normal Washington practice. (Vulture’s meaning here isn’t pejorative: it refers to an investment strategy that feeds off of assets the market has left for dead.)

For the exact same people and groups to be working on the next big issue that these funds care about — the Puerto Rican debt crisis — could be a coincidence. But now, the hedge funds are focused on a third issue — government-sponsored enterprise reform, which refers to the effort to establish new housing finance policy in the wake of the federal takeover of lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And it’s the same political firms and the same independent experts that are once again weighing in — coincidentally, all on the side of the hedge funds. Maybe it’s all coincidence, but let’s run the traps either way.

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Make basic human needs part of speculative financial markets and mayhem is inevitable. Some things do not belong in a casino. When will we learn? When we run out of water and food?

Farmland Values Fall Sharply in Parts of the Midwest (WSJ)

Real farmland values in parts of the Midwest fell at their fastest clip in almost 30 years during the first quarter, according to a regional Federal Reserve report on Thursday. Falling crop prices have weighed on land values from Kansas to Indiana over the past two years as farm income declined and investors who had piled into the asset at the start of the decade retrenched. Three regional Federal Reserve banks all reported year-over-year declines in farmland values in their districts and said the drops would continue, though their forecasts were based on surveys taken before the recent rally in corn and soybean prices.

The St. Louis Fed region that includes parts of the U.S. agricultural heartland in Illinois, Indiana and Missouri reported the steepest decline, with the average price of “quality” farmland falling 6.4% in the quarter, the biggest decline since its survey began in 2012. The Chicago Fed said prices for similar land in its district fell 4% from a year ago, the seventh successive quarterly decline. Adjusted for inflation, prices in an area that includes parts of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin fell 5%, the biggest quarterly drop since 1987. Declines in the Kansas City Fed’s district, which includes Kansas and Nebraska, were less pronounced, but the bank said prices for nonirrigated cropland fell 4% in the quarter.

Though some agricultural markets have rallied in recent weeks, prices for corn and wheat are still more than 50% lower than their 2012 peak, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has projected that net U.S. farm income will fall this year to the lowest level in more than a decade. Commodity prices have declined as farmers in the U.S. and elsewhere harvested bumper crops, adding to already generous stockpiles. U.S. farmers have also been hit by the strength of the dollar, which has stymied demand to export their crops. The drop in land values has been accompanied by deteriorating credit conditions, with more loans taken out to cover farm operations even as repayment rates fell on existing debt.

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Wow: “Boris Johnson is trusted to tell the truth about Europe by twice as many voters as trust David Cameron..” I can’t imagine anyone trusting Boris, so what does that say about trust in Cameron?

Cameron’s Anti-Brexit ‘Remain’ Campaign Has A Major Trust Issue (Ind.)

Boris Johnson is trusted to tell the truth about Europe by twice as many voters as trust David Cameron, according to a ComRes poll for The Independent. By a two-to-one margin, 45% to 21%, voters say that Mr Johnson is “more likely to tell the truth about the EU” than Mr Cameron. By a smaller margin, 39% to 24%, campaigners for Leave generally are considered “more likely to tell the truth” than campaigners for Remain.

The Referendum Campaigns
• Following key speeches this week, Britons are more than twice as likely to say Boris Johnson would tell the truth about the EU than David Cameron (45% v 21%).
• Conservative voters also say Boris Johnson is more likely to tell the truth about the EU than the Prime Minister (42% v 27%).
• Similarly, Britons tend to say the campaigners for leaving the EU are more likely to tell the truth than the remain campaigners (39% v 24%), although a significant minority say they don’t know (38%).

The EU Referendum
• The British public remain divided over whether they would be personally better off if Britain left the EU or remained part of it (29% v 33%). Around two in five (38%) say they don’t know how the referendum outcome would personally affect them.
• There has been a rise in the proportion of Britons saying national security would be better if Britain left the EU – 42% say it would be stronger if Britain left, compared to 38% who say it would be stronger if Britain remained. This represents an increase of 7 points from March in favour of leaving (35% in March 2016).
• However, attitudes towards immigration are clear; British adults are more than twice as likely to say the government could control Britain’s borders better if it left the EU (57% v 27% if Britain remains).

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Presenting it this way makes it look like the money is lost. Presenting it as an investment would be a lot fairer.

German Government Plans To Spend €93.6 Billion On Refugees By End 2020 (R.)

Germany’s government expects to spend around €93.6 billion by the end of 2020 on costs related to the refugee crisis, a magazine said on Saturday, citing a draft from the federal finance ministry for negotiations with the country’s 16 states. The figure is likely to stoke concerns, particularly among growing anti-immigration movements, on the impact of new arrivals on Europe’s largest economy which took in more than a million people last year, many from Syria and other war zones. The numbers arriving have fallen this year, helped by a deal between the EU and Turkey that was designed to give Turks visa-free travel to Europe in return for stemming the flow of migrants.

German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel said the finance ministry’s calculations included the costs for accommodating and integrating refugees as well as tackling the root causes for people fleeing from crisis-stricken regions. Officials based their estimates on 600,000 migrants arriving this year, 400,000 next year and 300,000 in each of the following years, the report said, adding that they expected 55% of recognized refugees to have a job after five years. A spokesman for the finance ministry declined to comment on the figures but pointed to ongoing talks between the government and states, saying they would meet again on May 31 to discuss how to divide up the costs between them.

The report said that €25.7 billion would be needed for jobless payments, rent subsidies and other benefits for recognized asylum applicants by the end of 2020. Another €5.7 billion would be needed for language courses and €4.6 billion would be required for measures to help migrants get jobs, it added. The annual cost of dealing with the refugee crisis would hit €20.4 billion in 2020, up from around €16.1 billion this year, the report said.

Read more …

Feb 152016
 
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Dorothea Lange We’ll be in California yet. We’re not going back to Arkansas 1938

Financial bubbles blown on the back of massive amounts of debt, of necessity lead to debt deflation (it’s just entropy, really). Fighting this is futile, and grossly costly to boot. The only sensible thing to do is to guide the process as best you can and try to minimize the damage, especially at the bottom rungs of society, because that’s where the deflation first takes hold, and where it spreads out from.

Attempting to boost inflation, or boost demand, before letting the debt deflation run its course through restructuring and defaults (perhaps even a -partial- jubilee) leads only to -further- distortion, and -further- impoverishes society’s poorer (at some point to a large extent the former middle classes). Whose lower spending, as nary a soul seems to comprehend, is the origin of the deflation to begin with.

All the attempts by central bankers to boost inflation that we’ve seen so far squarely ignore this, and operate on the false assumption that if only prices for financial assets and real estate can be raised even higher -artificially-, deflation can be warded off.

Thing is, deflation starts not at the top, it starts at the bottom. It’s not the banks or the bankers or the well-off who are maxed out and stop spending, but the people in the street.

They are responsible for most of the spending in an economy, and therefore for the velocity with which money moves in a society. And if the velocity of money falls below a critical point, no increase in the other side of the inflation/deflation equation -the money/credit supply- can make up for the difference. There is a point where all of the King’s horses and all of the King’s central bankers can’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.

The people in the street are not just maxed out in the sense that they have no money, they have less than no money, since they’re deep in debt. An increasing part of whatever they do still have, and what they make in their ever lower paying jobs, goes toward debt payments. Yeah, that’s the giant sucking sound.

QE and other ‘plans’ like it don’t address this even in the slightest, and are necessarily failures before they even start.

Central bank stimulus measures are all exclusively targeted at the upper rungs, and therefore miss their aim entirely. Or perhaps we should say ‘alleged’ aim, since it takes quite a leap of faith to presume that all the world’s central bankers fail to understand their own field so thoroughly that all they can all come up with is failures.

However, given that they all studied the same faulty economics textbooks, we can’t rule out this possibility. It is certainly strongly suggested -once again- by Steve Keen in Our Dysfunctional Monetary System.

Rather than effective remedies, we’ve had inane policies like QE, which purport to solve the crisis by inflating asset prices when inflated asset prices were one of the symptoms of the bubble that caused the crisis. We’ve seen Central Banks pump up private bank reserves in the belief that this will encourage more bank lending when (a) there’s too much bank debt already and (b) banks physically can’t lend out reserves.

What may also play a role is that the upper rungs tend to be blind to anything outside of their own circles, that because they 1) have their hands on a nation’s wallets and 2) they see themselves as the most important segment of any given society, they elect to try and solve the problem inside their own circles -and truly believe this is feasible-.

This can of course not possibly work. Because they’re hugely outnumbered. They don’t have nearly enough influence on money flows in their societies. If they can’t sell the bottom, let’s take a number, 80%, of society sufficient produce or gasoline or homes or trinkets, the entire society seizes up the way an engine does that runs out of oil.

The top makes its fortune for a while getting the bottom ever deeper into debt, only to inevitably find that this kills off the entire economy. Then they do some more of the same, and find ever more of their own kind becoming part of the bottom.

The problem for the rich is simple: there’s not enough of them. Well, that and they don’t understand how societies function. Let alone economies. Scraps off the table won’t do the trick. Next stop pitchforks.

Any deflationary period would have been hard no matter what. Still, none would have had to lead to what we’re facing now.

But look out there at what’s happening in politics, at who’s popular in various places. It’s all geared towards more inequality, not less, like some tooth and claw Darwin version were the world’s economics teacher, wherever you look it’s all the well-off making ever surer they will remain well-off or better.

And even if you look for instance at Bernie Sanders in the US, he wants more for the bottom of society, but that seems more for sentimental or ideological reasons than a sign he actually understands why it would raise the odds of the States being a going concern going forward.

The actual Darwin could have taught us all a lesson or two three about the role of balances in ecosystems, and in human societies. But then he actually studied them. Economists, politicians and central bankers have not.

Jul 062015
 
 July 6, 2015  Posted by at 12:23 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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DPC ‘On the beach, Palm Beach’ 1905


Minister No More! (Yanis Varoufakis)
Our NO Is A Majestic, Big YES To A Democratic, Rational Europe! (Varoufakis)
Yanis Varoufakis: Why Bold, Brash Greek Finance Minister Had To Go (Guardian)
Discussing Syriza’s Stunning Victory On The BBC (Steve Keen)
Defiant Greeks Reject EU Demands As Syriza Readies IOU Currency (AEP)
Yanis Varoufakis: Greece’s ‘Erratic Marxist’ (AFP)
What Are the Geostrategic Implications of a Grexit? (Foreign Policy)
Greece Votes No — Now What? (Peter Spiegel)
Why The Yes Campaign Failed In Greece (Wolfgang Münchau)
UN Debt Expert Says Greece Can’t Take More Austerity (Reuters)
Europe Wins (Paul Krugman)
Ending Greece’s Bleeding (Paul Krugman)
Thomas Piketty: “Germany Has Never Repaid.” (Medium)
We May Soon Be Able To See Polar Bears Only In Picture Books (MD)

Sorry to see him go, but he may be better able to lead things from the background.

Minister No More! (Yanis Varoufakis)

The referendum of 5th July will stay in history as a unique moment when a small European nation rose up against debt-bondage. Like all struggles for democratic rights, so too this historic rejection of the Eurogroup’s 25th June ultimatum comes with a large price tag attached. It is, therefore, essential that the great capital bestowed upon our government by the splendid NO vote be invested immediately into a YES to a proper resolution – to an agreement that involves debt restructuring, less austerity, redistribution in favour of the needy, and real reforms.

Soon after the announcement of the referendum results, I was made aware of a certain preference by some Eurogroup participants, and assorted ‘partners’, for my… ‘absence’ from its meetings; an idea that the Prime Minister judged to be potentially helpful to him in reaching an agreement. For this reason I am leaving the Ministry of Finance today. I consider it my duty to help Alexis Tsipras exploit, as he sees fit, the capital that the Greek people granted us through yesterday’s referendum. And I shall wear the creditors’ loathing with pride.

We of the Left know how to act collectively with no care for the privileges of office. I shall support fully Prime Minister Tsipras, the new Minister of Finance, and our government. The superhuman effort to honour the brave people of Greece, and the famous OXI (NO) that they granted to democrats the world over, is just beginning.

Read more …

There is no democratic rational Europe.

Our NO Is A Majestic, Big YES To A Democratic, Rational Europe! (Varoufakis)

On the 25th of January, dignity was restored to the people of Greece. In the five months that intervened since then, we became the first government that dared raise its voice, speaking on behalf of the people, saying NO to the damaging irrationality of our extend-and-pretend ‘Bailout Program’.

We
• spread the word that the Greek ‘bailouts’ were exercises whose purpose was intentionally to transfer private losses onto the shoulders of the weakest Greeks, before being transferred to other European taxpayers
• articulated, for the first time in the Eurogroup, an economic argument to which there was no credible response
• put forward moderate, technically feasible proposals that would remove the need for further ‘bailouts’
• confined the troika to its Brussels’ lair
• internationalised Greece’s humanitarian crisis and its roots in intentionally recessionary policies
• spread hope beyond Greece’s borders that democracy can breathe within a monetary union hitherto dominated by fear.

Ending interminable, self-defeating, austerity and restructuring Greece’s public debt were our two targets. But these two were also our creditors’ targets. From the moment our election seemed likely, last December, the powers-that-be started a bank run and planned, eventually, to shut Greece’s banks down. Their purpose?
• To humiliate our government by forcing us to succumb to stringent austerity, and
• To drag us into an agreement that offers no firm commitment to a sensible, well-defined debt restructure.

The ultimatum of 25th June was the means by which these aims would be achieved. The people of Greece today returned this ultimatum to its senders; despite the fear mongering that the domestic oligarchic media transmitted night and day into their homes. Today’s referendum delivered a resounding call for a mutually beneficial agreement between Greece and our European partners. We shall respond to the Greek voters’ call with a positive approach to:
• The IMF, which only recently released a helpful report confirming that Greek public debt was unsustainable
• The ECB, the Governing Council of which, over the past week, refused to countenance some of the more aggressive voices within
• The European Commission, whose leadership kept throwing bridges over the chasm separating Greece from some of our partners.

Our NO is a majestic, big YES to a democratic Europe. It is a NO to the dystopic vision of a Eurozone that functions like an iron cage for its peoples. It is a loud YES to the vision of a Eurozone offering the prospect of social justice with shared prosperity for all Europeans.

Read more …

Curious piece by Helena Smith

Yanis Varoufakis: Why Bold, Brash Greek Finance Minister Had To Go (Guardian)

When historians look back at the great Greek debt crisis, the figure of Yanis Varoufakis will feature large. Bold and brash, he did more to internationalise the folly of austerity politics than any other member of the radical left government of Athens. Alexis Tsipras, the young prime minister, was much indebted to him, and Varoufakis’s resignation was quickly followed by effusive praise. “The prime minister feels the need to thank him for his ceaseless effort to promote the positions of the government and the interests of the Greek people under very difficult circumstances,” government spokesman Gavriel Sakellaridis announced.

Varoufakis may have been forced to leave front-line politics, but he does so hugely vindicated by the historic no vote delivered by Greeks on Sunday. There are not a few in Athens today who believe he is also a victim of his own success. The resounding rejection of further belt-tightening in a referendum that pitted Greece against all its eurozone partners was a high-stakes gamble associated squarely with the 54-year-old’s penchant for game theory and buccaneering style. The morning after, he had to go. In announcing his resignation, the controversial finance minister recognised that of all the impediments to a prospective deal (and there are still many) he would be the biggest.

Even by the standards of a crisis that long ago dispensed with diplomatic niceties, the combative politician had pushed the boundaries of acceptable fighting talk too far. On the eve of the vote, he accused Europe of indulging in terrorism, saying it was instilling fear in people in its bid to get Greece to acquiesce to “neoliberal dogmas.” In April, when eurozone counterparts expressed exasperation at his hectoring and lecturing style after an especially explosive Eurogroup, Varoufakis had felt fit to announce: “They are unanimous in their hate for me – and I welcome their hatred.”

By June, when it became apparent that Varoufakis would take things to the brink, senior Greek government officials in Athens were also finding it hard to contain their consternation. Many were enraged by tactics they saw as deliberately confrontational and a danger to the country’s relationship with Europe. Varoufakis’s showy lifestyle and shameless narcissism also jarred. But his apparent endorsement of a parallel currency and IOUs appears to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. His ability to represent Greece abroad was over. Ever the maverick, Varoufakis is unlikely to vanish overnight. Although never a member of the ruling Syriza party, he remains an MP and, very possibly, will continue to influence Tsipras behind the scenes. There are few who doubt he will also be working on an unexpurgated version of the euro crisis, Varoufakis style.

He has already said he is looking forward to life on the backbenches. But will his sacrifice be enough to placate creditors? Varoufakis leaves an economy in meltdown, banks closed, capital controls imposed and shortages growing by the hour. If his removal is not enough, the mess that has also been the price of his brinkmanship may well end up being his lasting legacy – a legacy that historians will not forget.

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On the nose.

Discussing Syriza’s Stunning Victory On The BBC (Steve Keen)

After yesterday’s remarkable victory in the Referendum, I was interviewed on the BBC News Channel. Someone has posted a recording from the BBC News Channel stream on YouTube.

Read more …

The parallel currency issue is a big one.

Defiant Greeks Reject EU Demands As Syriza Readies IOU Currency (AEP)

Greek voters have rejected the austerity demands of Europe’s creditor powers by a stunning margin, sweeping aside warnings that this could lead to the collapse of the banking system and a return to the drachma. Early returns in the historic referendum showed the No side -Oxi in Greek =- running at 61pc versus 39pc for the Yes side as the Greek people turned out en masse to vent their anger over six years of economic depression and national humiliation. A volcanic revolt appeared to have swept through Greek islands. The shock result effectively calls the bluff of eurozone leaders and the heads of the European Commission and Parliament, forcing them either to back down or carry out drastic threats to eject Greece from monetary union.

The European Central Bank faces an immediate decision over whether to continue freezing emergency liquidity assistance (ELA) for Greek banks at €89bn, a stance that would amount to liquidity suffocation. “If they do that, the situation would be very serious. That would be pretty close to trying to bring down the government,” said Euclid Tsakalotos, the country’s chief debt negotiator. The Bank of Greece (BoG) said on Sunday evening that it will make a formal request to the ECB for fresh support. The EU’s leadership was in utter confusion as it became clear during the day that support was swinging back to the “No” camp, despite blanket coverage from the private TV stations warning that a “No” meant Armageddon. “The Greek people have proven that they cannot be blackmailed, terrorized, and threatened,” said Panos Kammenos, the defence minister and head of the coalition’s ANEL party.

French president Francois Hollande said he would bend over backwards to keep Greece in the euro despite voting no. He is to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Paris on Monday to draw up a joint response to what has turned into the biggest EU fiasco since the rejection of the European constitution by France and Holland in 2005. Martin Schulz, head of the European Parliament, was still insisting on Sunday that a “No” vote must mean expulsion from the euro, but his view is becoming untenable. Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission’s chief, is equally trapped by his own rhetoric after warning last week that a No vote would be a rejection of Europe itself, leading to calamitous consequences. Top Syriza officials say they are considering drastic steps to boost liquidity and shore up the banking system, should the ECB refuse to give the country enough breathing room for a fresh talks.

“If necessary, we will issue parallel liquidity and California-style IOU’s, in an electronic form. We should have done it a week ago,” said Yanis Varoufakis, the finance minister. California issued temporary coupons to pay bills to contractors when liquidity seized up after the Lehman crisis in 2008. Mr Varoufakis insists that this is not be a prelude to Grexit but a legal action within the inviolable sanctity of monetary union. Mr Varoufakis and ministers will hold an emergency meeting tonight with the private banks and the governor of the Greek central bank, Yannis Stournaras, to decide what to do before the cash reserves of the four big lenders dry up tomorrow. Louka Katseli, head of the Hellenic bank Association, said ATM machines will run out of money within hours of the vote. One official say that Eurobank was “flat out of money” late on Sunday, even though Greek depositors have been limited to €60 a day since capital controls were imposed a week ago.

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“Varoufakis’s father Giorgos told the Greek daily Ethnos that his son’s critics “want to run him down because he is competent.”

Yanis Varoufakis: Greece’s ‘Erratic Marxist’ (AFP)

Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s finance minister who resigned on Monday despite the government having secured a resounding victory in a weekend referendum, rose to fame and infamy this year for his urban-cool look, his abrasive style, and acerbic attacks on austerity. In a shock announcement just hours after Sunday’s referendum results on bailout terms were announced, Varoufakis said he was quitting to help Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in ensuing negotiations with creditors. “Soon after the announcement of the referendum results, I was made aware of a certain preference by some Eurogroup participants, and assorted ‘partners’, for my… ‘absence from its meetings; an idea that the Prime Minister judged to be potentially helpful to him in reaching an agreement. For this reason I am leaving the Ministry of Finance today,” Varoufakis said on his blog.

During the past five months of negotiations between Athens and its international creditors, the self-described “erratic Marxist” seemed more at ease chatting with unemployed anarchists than with fellow European finance ministers, who often groaned about his blunt negotiating tactics. European Economic Affairs chief Pierre Moscovici commented that Varoufakis “is a smart person, not always easy, but smart.” His straight-talking style produced notable moments including his characterisation of the austerity imposed on Greece as “fiscal waterboarding”. After negotiations broke down between Greece and its creditors, Varoufakis slammed Europese governance. “This is not the way to run a monetary union. This is a travesty. It’s a comedy of errors for five years now, Europe has been extending and pretending,” Varoufakis said in a BBC interview.

After becoming finance minister in January, there were some growing pains as he adapted to the burning glare of the global media spotlight. He allowed himself to be pictured in Paris Match magazine at a piano and dining in style with his wife on the roof terrace of his “love nest at the foot of the Acropolis”, while telling the magazine how he abhorred the “star system”. Though the maverick minister has always taken a stance protecting ordinary Greeks, his background was anything but common. He is the son of Giorgos Varoufakis, who at 90 still heads one of Greeces leading steel producers, Halyvourgiki. He also attended the Moraitis School, which has alumni including prominent Greek leaders and artists.

His early career was spent at the English universities of Essex, East Anglia and at Cambridge, and he has often been linked with research into game theory. In 1998 Varoufakis moved to Australia, and he is now a dual Greek and Australian citizen. He moved back to Greece in 2000 to teach at the University of Athens, and in January 2013 accepted a post at the University of Texas in Austin. Varoufakis has had a rebellious streak since a young age. He told the BBC he has deliberately misspelled his name Yanis, writing it with one “n”, since a confrontation with a teacher in elementary school. “I had an aesthetic problem with the double ‘n’, he said. “So I decided to write my name with one. My teacher gave me a bad grade, which made me very angry and I’ve kept writing my name with one ‘n’ ever since.”

As finance minister Varoufakis, his head shaved clean, shook up the staid world of EU summits by arriving to meetings in rock-star-style leather jackets and untucked shirts. He was quickly dubbed “Greece’s Bruce Willis”. His swagger and penchant for lecturing annoyed some EU counterparts at meetings on Greece’s debt and he was eventually pulled from frontline negotiations. Varoufakis’s father Giorgos told the Greek daily Ethnos that his son’s critics “want to run him down because he is competent.” “Yanis is a very good boy, and is always telling the prime minister what to do, which is why he adores him,” he said. A prolific blogger, Yanis Varoufakis has written several books, including “The Global Minotaur: America, Europe and the Future of the Global Economy”.

Varoufakis has said he believes his shattered country can only recover once it has rejigged the terms of an international bailout, and said early on that Greece’s massive debt could not be paid back in full. The minister said he would step down if disavowed by Greek voters who vote Sunday on whether they accept or reject bailout conditions that are no longer on the table. In his latest blog, Varoufakis gave reasons why Greeks should vote ‘no’ in the referendum, one being that the country “will” stay in the euro regardless of the outcome. He told Bloomberg TV that he would rather “cut my arm off” than stay on as minister in the case of a ‘yes’ vote.

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NATO worries.

What Are the Geostrategic Implications of a Grexit? (Foreign Policy)

At the moment, it is unclear how Greece will ultimately fare in the current duel of wills with the Troika over its technical default, the upcoming referendum, and the possibility of a continuation of the long-running bailout drama. The two sides are locked in acrimonious finger-pointing, Greek banks are shuttered for the week, and the logical but ever elusive diplomatic and economic solution — a reasonable negotiation between the parties — seems further away than ever. As a proud Greek-American, I am saddened by the situation. Meanwhile, the July 5 referendum is judged too close to call at the moment, and most Greeks will likely be confused about the implications and uncertain how to vote.

Macroeconomic theory appears to have been the first casualty of the process, and the doomsday economic scenarios — a crashed Greek economy, a battered if not broken euro, and a deeply shaken European project — are looming large on the horizon. But in the midst of all of the appropriate Sturm und Drang of the Greek financial and economic crisis, it is worth considering the geostrategic implications of the “Grexit” — which have been largely ignored. Let’s face it: A Greece that goes crashing out of the eurozone will be an angry, disaffected, and battered nation — but one that will continue to hold membership in the European Union and NATO, both consensus-driven organizations. (“Consensus-driven” means that without unanimous consent among all members, the organization cannot take decisions or execute effective operational actions.)

Many times in NATO councils as the supreme allied commander I watched the agonizing process of building consensus, one compromise at a time. In both the EU and NATO, an uncooperative Greece in the future could time and time again put the organizations “in irons,” which is to say becalmed and not moving effectively forward. This could manifest itself very quickly in, for example, decisions about sanctions against Russia (from which Greece is avidly courting support and funding, logically enough). It could easily affect day-to-day governance in the European Union over issues from negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership to agricultural subsidies to what should be done about refugee flows across the Mediterranean. Greece could become a troublesome and obstructionist actor in complex negotiations involving the EU, such as the Iranian nuclear treaty efforts.

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More Troika hubris.

Greece Votes No — Now What? (Peter Spiegel)

Even before the polls closed in Greece, Emmanuel Macron, the French economic minister, insisted that even with a No vote in Sunday night’s referendum, talks must resume between the leftwing government in Athens and its eurozone creditors. But despite predictions by Greek ministers that a new bailout deal could be just days away, other than Mr Macron and his French colleagues, there are few elsewhere in the eurozone who predicted a resounding No would lead to much more than continued stalemate. If that is the result of overwhelming rejection of creditors’ terms, it would mean a slow march to Greece exiting the eurozone. “Greece has just signed its own suicide note,” predicted Mujtaba Rahman, head of European analysis at the Eurasia Group risk consultancy.

“Only the French will want to salvage something from this vote, but they’re unlikely to win the debate in the eurogroup.” Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is due to fly to Paris on Monday for consultations with President François Hollande on what steps to take next. The most critical immediate response to the vote is likely to be in Frankfurt, where the European Central Bank’s policy making governing council is due to meet on Monday afternoon. With Greek voters unequivocally rejecting the bailout proposal, ECB policy makers may find it difficult to resist the argument made by council hardliners, particularly Jens Weidmann, the Bundesbank president, that the Greek government-backed securities the country’s banks use as collateral for emergency loans are heading to default.

The key date in the crisis is now July 20, when Greece owes €3.5bn on a bond held by the ECB. If Athens defaults on that bond, it would be almost impossible for the ECB to continue accepting collateral from Greek banks, and the €89bn in emergency liquidity assistance (ELA) would be withdrawn, devastating Greece’s banking sector. Without central bankers providing euros, Athens would be forced to print its own currency to reopen banks, and the dice would be cast on the path to “Grexit” from the eurozone.

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“Contempt for democracy and economic illiteracy are not merely tactical errors.”

Why The Yes Campaign Failed In Greece (Wolfgang Münchau)

It is not that hard to explain why Alexis Tsipras won the referendum by a landslide. It is a lot harder to see what’s going to happen now. His opponents, both inside Greece and in the European Union went wrong because of serial misjudgments, ranging from the petty to the monumental. For me, three stand out. The biggest was the clearly concerted intervention by several senior EU politicians, who said that a No vote would lead to Grexit, a Greek exit from the eurozone. One of them was Sigmar Gabriel, the German economics minister and SPD chief. He even doubled up on this threat right after the results came out. The Greeks correctly interpreted these threats as an attempt to interfere in the democratic process of their country.

The news last week that eurozone officials tried to suppress the latest debt sustainability analysis of the International Monetary Fund did not help either. The IMF report essentially revealed that the Greek government had been right after all to demand debt relief. The rest of the EU gave the impression that it wanted to rig the referendum, and it did not even bother to conceal this. If you have been unemployed for five years, with no prospect of a job, it makes no difference whether the money you do not get is denominated in euros, or in drachma.

The second error of the Yes campaign was a failure to explain how the bailout programme could work economically. This is not a debate between Keynesian and neoclassical economics, the kind that keeps us endlessly busy on these pages. The Greek referendum united economists with very diverse views of how the world works, including Paul Krugman, Jeffrey Sachs and Hans-Werner Sinn. There is no reputable economic theory according to which an economy that has experienced an eight-year-long depression requires a new round of austerity to bring about economic adjustment.

The third monumental error was arrogance. The Yes supporters thought they had it nailed. Like the British Labour party before the last general election, they had been relying on polls, which turned out to be wildly inaccurate. What I found most galling was the argument that Grexit would bring about an economic catastrophe, as though the catastrophe had not already happened. If you have been unemployed for five years, with no prospect of a job, it makes no difference whether the money you do not get is denominated in euros, or in drachma. Contempt for democracy and economic illiteracy are not merely tactical errors. Those two “qualities” are now the remaining ideological planks of what is left of the European project. Greece is a reminder that the European monetary union, as it is constructed, is fundamentally unsustainable. This means it will need to be fixed, or it will end at some point.

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“..if the parties involved in the Greek tragedy paid more serious attention to what human rights law has to say, everything would be easier..“

UN Debt Expert Says Greece Can’t Take More Austerity (Reuters)

Greece cannot take any more austerity as it will cause more social unrest and lessen the chance of an economic recovery, a United Nations debt expert said on Monday. Greeks overwhelmingly rejected conditions of a rescue package from creditors on Sunday, throwing the future of the country’s euro zone membership into further doubt and deepening a standoff with lenders. Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, the U.N. Independent Expert on Foreign Debt, told reporters in Beijing that Greece’s creditors in the European Union should have paid more attention to what international law says on the matter of debt. “I have the impression that the EU had forgotten that international human rights law plays and should play a key role in finance. The international community attaches great importance to the interlinks between human rights and finance,” said Bohoslavsky, who operates under the auspices of the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“The message here is that if the parties involved in the Greek tragedy paid more serious attention to what human rights law has to say, everything would be easier, for the Greek population particularly,” he added. Bohoslavsky said the austerity demanded of Greece had not worked, adding he will visit Greece later in the year. “It’s very clear the message from the Greek population – no more austerity measures. Actually if you look at the figures, austerity measures didn’t really help the country to recover.” In a separate statement, Bohoslavsky said he was concerned at reports of food and medicine shortages, and that he was asking to meet EU officials to remind them of their human rights obligations to Greece.

Bohoslavsky, visiting at the invitation of China’s government, said he carried a message of the need for human rights to be considered in global lending, something important for China which is setting up two new multilateral lenders – the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the New Development Bank. “A narrow idea of efficiency in which human rights plays a limited role should not find its way into these two banks,” he said. China has promised that the infrastructure bank will follow global best practices in transparency and governance. Rights groups often criticize China for its “no-strings” loans to countries, especially in Africa, for encouraging corruption and abuses with a lack of oversight.

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“.. European institutions have just been saved from their own worst instincts..”

Europe Wins (Paul Krugman)

Tsipras and Syriza have won big in the referendum, strengthening their hand for whatever comes next. But they’re not the only winners: I would argue that Europe, and the European idea, just won big — at least in the sense of dodging a bullet. I know that’s not how most people see it. But think of it this way: we have just witnessed Greece stand up to a truly vile campaign of bullying and intimidation, an attempt to scare the Greek public, not just into accepting creditor demands, but into getting rid of their government. It was a shameful moment in modern European history, and would have set a truly ugly precedent if it had succeeded.

But it didn’t. You don’t have to love Syriza, or believe that they know what they’re doing — it’s not clear that they do, although the troika has been even worse — to believe that European institutions have just been saved from their own worst instincts. If Greece had been forced into line by financial fear mongering, Europe would have sinned in a way that would sully its reputation for generations. Instead, it’s something we can, perhaps, eventually regard as an aberration. And if Greece ends up exiting the euro? There’s actually a pretty good case for Grexit now — and in any case, democracy matters more than any currency arrangement.

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ECB needs to start acting as a central bank.

Ending Greece’s Bleeding (Paul Krugman)

Europe dodged a bullet on Sunday. Confounding many predictions, Greek voters strongly supported their government’s rejection of creditor demands. And even the most ardent supporters of European union should be breathing a sigh of relief. Of course, that’s not the way the creditors would have you see it. Their story, echoed by many in the business press, is that the failure of their attempt to bully Greece into acquiescence was a triumph of irrationality and irresponsibility over sound technocratic advice. But the campaign of bullying — the attempt to terrify Greeks by cutting off bank financing and threatening general chaos, all with the almost open goal of pushing the current leftist government out of office — was a shameful moment in a Europe that claims to believe in democratic principles. It would have set a terrible precedent if that campaign had succeeded, even if the creditors were making sense.

What’s more, they weren’t. The truth is that Europe’s self-styled technocrats are like medieval doctors who insisted on bleeding their patients — and when their treatment made the patients sicker, demanded even more bleeding. A “yes” vote in Greece would have condemned the country to years more of suffering under policies that haven’t worked and in fact, given the arithmetic, can’t work: austerity probably shrinks the economy faster than it reduces debt, so that all the suffering serves no purpose. The landslide victory of the “no” side offers at least a chance for an escape from this trap. But how can such an escape be managed? Is there any way for Greece to remain in the euro? And is this desirable in any case?

The most immediate question involves Greek banks. In advance of the referendum, the European Central Bank cut off their access to additional funds, helping to precipitate panic and force the government to impose a bank holiday and capital controls. The central bank now faces an awkward choice: if it resumes normal financing it will as much as admit that the previous freeze was political, but if it doesn’t it will effectively force Greece into introducing a new currency. Specifically, if the money doesn’t start flowing from Frankfurt (the headquarters of the central bank), Greece will have no choice but to start paying wages and pensions with i.o.u.s, which will de facto be a parallel currency — and which might soon turn into the new drachma.

Suppose, on the other hand, that the central bank does resume normal lending, and the banking crisis eases. That still leaves the question of how to restore economic growth. In the failed negotiations that led up to Sunday’s referendum, the central sticking point was Greece’s demand for permanent debt relief, to remove the cloud hanging over its economy. The troika — the institutions representing creditor interests — refused, even though we now know that one member of the troika, the International Monetary Fund, had concluded independently that Greece’s debt cannot be paid. But will they reconsider now that the attempt to drive the governing leftist coalition from office has failed?

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Good analysis.

Thomas Piketty: “Germany Has Never Repaid.” (Medium)

In a forceful interview with German newspaper Die Zeit, the star economist Thomas Piketty calls for a major conference on debt. Germany, in particular, should not withhold help from Greece. This interview has been translated from the original German. Since his successful book, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” the Frenchman Thomas Piketty has been considered one of the most influential economists in the world. His argument for the redistribution of income and wealth launched a worldwide discussion. In a interview with Georg Blume of DIE ZEIT, he gives his clear opinions on the European debt debate.

DIE ZEIT: Should we Germans be happy that even the French government is aligned with the German dogma of austerity?
Thomas Piketty: Absolutely not. This is neither a reason for France, nor Germany, and especially not for Europe, to be happy. I am much more afraid that the conservatives, especially in Germany, are about to destroy Europe and the European idea, all because of their shocking ignorance of history.

ZEIT: But we Germans have already reckoned with our own history.
Piketty: But not when it comes to repaying debts! Germany’s past, in this respect, should be of great significance to today’s Germans. Look at the history of national debt: Great Britain, Germany, and France were all once in the situation of today’s Greece, and in fact had been far more indebted. The first lesson that we can take from the history of government debt is that we are not facing a brand new problem. There have been many ways to repay debts, and not just one, which is what Berlin and Paris would have the Greeks believe. “Germany is the country that has never repaid its debts. It has no standing to lecture other nations.”

ZEIT: But shouldn’t they repay their debts?
Piketty: My book recounts the history of income and wealth, including that of nations. What struck me while I was writing is that Germany is really the single best example of a country that, throughout its history, has never repaid its external debt. Neither after the First nor the Second World War. However, it has frequently made other nations pay up, such as after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, when it demanded massive reparations from France and indeed received them. The French state suffered for decades under this debt. The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.

ZEIT: But surely we can’t draw the conclusion that we can do no better today?
Piketty: When I hear the Germans say that they maintain a very moral stance about debt and strongly believe that debts must be repaid, then I think: what a huge joke! Germany is the country that has never repaid its debts. It has no standing to lecture other nations.

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Unspeakable sadness fills my heart.

We May Soon Be Able To See Polar Bears Only In Picture Books (MD)

According to a recent report, polar bears may soon go extinct if global warming continues at the current flabbergasting rate. And about one third of the furry animals face risk of extinction in no more than ten years, the report also showed. Study authors said that reducing the rate of climate change may save polar bears on the long run. Other methods of trying to shield them from an ever warming ocean and dwindling food stocks have only short-term effects, researchers explained. As ice sheets continue to melt, polar bears are forced to retreat inland to find something to eat. While that may be a temporary solution during winter time, in summer months the move is no longer viable.

Loss of sea ice, which the bears use in their hunt for prey, and fewer food sources both inland and out in the sea are two major factors that may force polar bears to soon go extinct. But there are also some other threats including oil rigs, new diseases and trans-Arctic vessels. Yet these factors only pose a “negligible” threat on polar bear populations, study authors wrote in their report. The hidden enemy, authors claim, are greenhouse emissions. In an attempt to assess their effects on the bears’ habitat loss, scientists employed two models. In the first model, emissions were at the current levels we all experience. The second model tried to simulate Arctic conditions if those emissions were lower and climate change more stable.

The first model showed that at the current pace of sea ice loss and food stock reduction some polar bear populations would soon reach a dramatic decline by 2025. In the second model, the scenario emerged roughly 25 years later. Yet both models shared the same conclusion – some polar bear populations may soon go extinct. Even though we may reduce harmful gas emissions by that time, populations would still be affected, scientists said,

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Jul 032015
 
 July 3, 2015  Posted by at 10:22 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing Buying Army surplus food sold at fish market 1919


Greek Banks Down To €500 Million In Cash Reserves As Economy Crashes (AEP)
Cash Crunch Hits Everyday Life in Greece (WSJ)
Troika Maneuvering to Rig Greek Referendum (Martin Armstrong)
Greece’s Highest Court To Rule On Legality Of Referendum (Guardian)
When Greece Forgave Germany’s Debt (AP)
Greece Shows ECB’s Stress Tests Were Nonsense (FT)
Only the No Can Save the Euro (James K. Galbraith)
The Greek Vote (Steve Keen)
Greece Needs $40 Billion in Fresh Euro-Area Money, IMF Says (Bloomberg)
IMF Says Greece Needs Extra €60 Billion In Funds And Debt Relief (Guardian)
Why Not Donate To Something That Will Make A Real Difference To Greeks (PP)
China May Aid Greece Directly – Think Tank Expert (Sputnik)
Schulz Says Tsipras Should Resign After ‘Yes’ Vote, Wants Technocrats (AFP)
US Part-Time Jobs Surge By 161,000; Full-Time Jobs Tumble By 349,000 (ZH)
Causes and Consequences of Income Inequality: A Global Perspective (IMF)
China’s Stocks Hit Critical Low Despite Government Lifelines (SCMP)
China’s Boom Has World Bank Worried (Pesek)
Chinese Stocks Just Lost 10 Times Greece’s GDP (Bloomberg)
Top Economist Warns Of New Zealand Recession Risk (NZ Herald)
Benjamin Lawsky’s Legacy (NY Times)
Arise Steve Keen, Forecaster Of The Year (SMH)

The referendum will be held against the backdrop of a warzone.

Greek Banks Down To €500 Million In Cash Reserves As Economy Crashes (AEP)

Greece is sliding into a full-blown national crisis as the final cash reserves of the banking system evaporate by the hour and swathes of industry start to shut down, precipitating the near disintegration of the ruling coalition. Business leaders have been locked in talks with the Bank of Greece, pleading for the immediate release of emergency liquidity funds (ELA) to cover food imports and pharmaceutical goods before the tourist sector hits a brick wall. Officials say the central bank will release the funds as soon as Friday, but this is a stop-gap measure at best. “We are on a war footing in this country,” said Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek finance minister. The daily allowance of cash from many ATM machines has already dropped from €60 to €50, purportedly because €20 notes are running out.

Large numbers are empty. The financial contagion is spreading fast as petrol stations and small businesses stop accepting credit cards. Constantine Michalos, head of the Hellenic Chambers of Commerce, said lenders are simply running out of money. “We are reliably informed that the cash reserves of the banks are down to €500m. Anybody who thinks they are going to open again on Tuesday is day-dreaming. The cash would not last an hour,” he said. “We are in an extremely dangerous situation. Greek companies have been excluded from the electronic transfers of Europe’s Target2 system. The entire Greek business community is unable to import anything, and without raw materials they can’t produce anything,” he said.

Pavlos Deas, owner of an olive processing factory in Chalkidiki, told The Telegraph that he may have to shut down a plant employing 250 people within days. “We can’t send any money abroad to our suppliers. Three of our containers have been stopped at customs control because the banks can’t give a bill of landing. One is full of Spanish almonds, the others full of Chinese garlic,” he said. “We don’t know how we are going to execute and export an order of 60 containers for the US. We don’t even have enough gas. We asked for 10,000 litres but they are only letting us have 2,000. It’s being rationed by the day. Factories are closing around us in a domino effect and we’re all going to lose everything if this goes on,” he said.\

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Financial warfare.

Cash Crunch Hits Everyday Life in Greece (WSJ)

At an automated teller machine underneath the Acropolis, Angeliki Andreaki clutched her debit card with both hands. She pays her bills in cash, and €330 in rent and €39 in telephone bills were due Wednesday. “Tsipras has turned this country into North Korea,” the 83-year-old Ms. Andreaki said Tuesday, shaking her head about Greece’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras. “I can’t believe at this age I have to line up to get rationed cash.” She withdrew as much as she could—just €60 ($66)—and went straight to pay her phone bill. She said she would have to come back for five more days to get enough cash for the rent. This is everyday life in Greece since it shut down its banking system and imposed controls to prevent money from flooding out of the country.

Greece’s ruling party continued to say it was offering new compromises to its creditors and urged a “no” vote in Sunday’s referendum. European leaders dismissed the overtures as insufficient and said they would hold off on further negotiations until the vote. The first opinion surveys in Greece since Mr. Tsipras called for the referendum show conflicting results but suggest the outcome could be close. The freezing of Greece’s banking system is the most dramatic moment of the country’s five-year debt crisis—and perhaps its most pivotal. Since Monday, Greeks can get only €60 a day at cash machines and can’t transfer money abroad. How long the remaining cash lasts and how unsettled Greeks become will be big factors in Sunday’s referendum on creditors’ demands for more austerity in exchange for more bailout funds.

The tighter the squeeze, the more Greeks might vote “yes” to reconcile with creditors, analysts say. As of Wednesday, Greece’s banking system had about €1 billion in cash left, according to a person familiar with the situation. Even with the €60-a-day limit on ATM withdrawals from Greek’s closed banks, “it’s a matter of a few days” until the money runs out, this person said. By Wednesday, many ATMs in central Athens had constant lines of people waiting to withdraw their daily limit. The crunch has suffused the economy. Merchants report lower spending. Wholesalers can’t pay for supplies. Importers’ foreign counterparts won’t trade.

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“..expect biased vote counting in favor of a “YES” vote to stay in the euro..”

Troika Maneuvering to Rig Greek Referendum (Martin Armstrong)

In a TV interview, Mr. Varoufakis said very clearly, “This is a very dark moment for Europe. They have closed our banks for the sole purpose of blackmailing what? Getting a ‘Yes’ vote on a non-sustainable solution that would be bad for Europe.” I must admit, most politicians do not come even close to the truth, but Varoufakis seems to be the ONLY finance minister who understands the demands of the Troika are not plausible for any nation. Merkel has tried to skirt any responsibility by saying this is a Troika decision. One must seriously ask, are those in the Troika just totally brain-dead? Their blackmail and economic war against Greece will be evidence to ensure that Britain leaves the EU. The ONLY thing that saved Britain was Maggie Thatcher’s effort to keep Britain out of the euro for she knew far too well where it would lead.

The view in Poland is also now anti-euro. Any Brit who now does not vote to get out of the EU and the grips of the Troika is ignorant of world events and the political power play going on. The EU leaders will not travel to Athens until after the referendum. Suddenly they realize that their powers are so off the wall that they dare not expose their own schemes. Hollande of France wants a resolution for he fears a Frexit is gaining momentum. Obama wants a resolution, fearing Greece will be forced into the arms of Russia, breaking down NATO. Yet through all of this, there is no hope because those in power are clueless. The Troika refuses to solve the euro crisis because they only see their own self-interest and assume they can force their will upon all the people.

The Troika is doing everything in their power to rig the Greek referendum to make it appear that the Greek people want Brussels. The Troika deliberately closed the banks to punish the people of Greece, and to show them what exiting the euro means. This appears to be their only way of diverting the crisis with orchestrating a fake “YES” vote to economic suicide. The Troika will attempt to rig the referendum as they did with the Scottish elections. So expect biased vote counting in favor of a “YES” vote to stay in the euro. As Stalin said, “Those who vote decide nothing. Those who count the vote decide everything.”

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Maybe teh Troika can move in on that as well.

Greece’s Highest Court To Rule On Legality Of Referendum (Guardian)

Greece’s highest administrative court will rule on whether the country’s bailout referendum violates the constitution, amid growing concern that the hastily organised vote falls short of democratic standards. With less than 48 hours until polling day on Sunday, the yes and no sides will stage large rallies in Athens on Friday evening. The Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, is expected to turn out at the no rally, having attacked his eurozone partners for trying to “blackmail” his country into accepting a bad deal. Greeks are being asked whether to support an EU bailout deal that would grant the debt-stricken country money in exchange for spending cuts and further reform. However, the bailout plan no longer exists, having lapsed on 30 June.

Eurozone leaders have lined up to say that voting no means saying goodbye to Greece’s eurozone membership, but Greece’s radical left Syriza-led government insists a no vote would simply boost its negotiating hand. Later on Friday, the Council of State will determine whether the vote violates Greece’s constitution, which bans referendums on fiscal policy. Europe’s top human rights body, the Council of Europe, has already said the vote falls short of international standards, because the poll was called at short notice and the questions asked are not clear. The Strasbourg-based organisation, which is not part of the European Union, recommends that voters should be sent “balanced campaign material” at least two weeks before a vote. Instead Greeks will have had just eight days to decide on a question couched in jargon-heavy “financialese”.

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And the Greeks didn’t murder anyone.

When Greece Forgave Germany’s Debt (AP)

Forgiving debt, if done right, can get an economy back on its feet. The IMF certainly thinks so, according to a new report in which it argues Greece should get help. But Germany, another major creditor to Greece, is resisting, even though it should know better than most what debt relief can achieve. After the hell of World War II, the Federal Republic of Germany – commonly known as West Germany – got massive help with its debt from former foes. Among its creditors then? Greece. The 1953 agreement, in which Greece and about 20 other countries effectively wrote off a large chunk of Germany’s loans and restructured the rest, is a landmark case that shows how effective debt relief can be. It helped spark what became known as the German economic miracle.

So it’s perhaps ironic that Germany is now among the countries resisting Greece’s requests for debt relief. Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis claims debt relief is the key issue that held up a deal with creditors last week and says he’d rather cut off his arm than sign a deal that does not tackle the country’s borrowings. The IMF backed the call to make Greece’s debt manageable with a wide-ranging report on Thursday that also blames the Greek government for being slow with reforms. Despite years of budget cuts, Greece’s debt burden is higher than when its bailout began in 2010 – more than €300 billion, or 180% of annual GDP – because the economy has shrunk by a quarter. Here’s a look at when Germany got debt relief, and how such action might help Greece.

The 1953 London Agreement, hammered out over months, was generous to West Germany. It cut the amount it owed, extended the repayment schedule and granted low interest rates. And crucially, it linked West Germany’s debt repayment schedule to its ability to pay – tying repayments to the trade surplus it was running and expected to run. That created an incentive for trading partners to buy German goods. The deal effectively blocked claims for reparations for the destruction the Nazis inflicted on others. But it wasn’t a one-way street. “The London Agreement gave Germany sweeping debt forgiveness and protection from creditors, in exchange for pro-market reforms,” Professor Albrecht Ritschl, of the London School of Economics said.

West Germany was able to borrow on international markets again, and, free of onerous debt payments, saw its economy grow strongly. Development activists cite that case when arguing for easier terms for troubled countries today, including Greece. “The same opportunity should be given to Greece that was given to Germany in 1953,” said Eric LeCompte, executive director of the debt relief organisation Jubilee USA.

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“..there wouldn’t be any reason to fear default and pull deposits.”

Greece Shows ECB’s Stress Tests Were Nonsense (FT)

The key challenge is figuring out whether a private bank is solvent in the heat of the moment. That, of course, was the whole point of the asset quality review and the comprehensive assessment. The methodology may not have been perfect but the ECB’s leaders can’t endorse the results without also agreeing that the banks that passed the tests will have unrestricted access to liquidity facilities from the central bank. It’s a trade-off: you get government support in a crisis in exchange for regulatory approval that your business is sound. That, in turn, ought to prevent the risk of runs. In Greece, the ECB doesn’t seem to be honoring this deal. Forget whether or not Greece would be better off leaving the euro.

The government has said it doesn’t want to leave and, strictly speaking, there is no reason it would have to leave even if it defaulted on certain outstanding sovereign debts. The only thing that would force an exit would be if the banks were in danger of failing and the government decided to restore monetary sovereignty in order to provide liquidity. (Default on only some debts wouldn’t have to hit the banks.) Even so, some Greek citizens have been converting their euro deposits into paper euros because they are worried about exit and devaluation. That could be self-fulfilling if it endangered the stability of the banks. However, it wouldn’t be much of an issue if Draghi’s 2012 promise that “the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro” were genuine.

Greeks would know that the ECB would do its job — lend unconditionally to the Greek banks it had declared solvent back in October and print enough euro cash to ensure that the payments system would continue to operate smoothly — and there wouldn’t be any reason to fear default and pull deposits. (Yes, it’s possible that the ECB could end up lowering the initial costs of exit if central bank liquidity ended up replacing all domestic deposits but we’re still a long way off from that.) The ECB’s unwillingness to do its job as a lender of last resort is bad for Greece but it’s even worse as a precedent for other countries in the euro area. Plenty of other countries share Greece’s bad demographics, slow growth, and lots of public debt owed to foreigners, especially once QE proceeds further. Would they too be forced out of the single currency the next time growth ticks downward and the people elect a government unfavoured by elites?

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Following the logic. Must read from Yanis’ close friend and advisor. Yes vote will still break euro.

Only the No Can Save the Euro (James K. Galbraith)

Greece is heading toward a referendum on Sunday on which the future of the country and its elected government will depend, and with the fate of the euro and the European Union also in the balance. At present writing, Greece has missed a payment to the IMF, negotiations have broken off, and the great and good are writing off the Greek government and calling for a “Yes” vote, accepting the creditors’ terms for “reform,” in order to “save the euro.” In all of these judgments, they are, not for the first time, mistaken. To understand the bitter fight, it helps first to realize that the leaders of today’s Europe are shallow, cloistered people, preoccupied with their local politics and unequipped, morally or intellectually, to cope with a continental problem.

This is true of Angela Merkel in Germany, of François Hollande in France, and it is true also of Christine Lagarde at the IMF. In particular North Europe’s leaders have not felt the crisis and do not know the economics, and in both respects they are the direct opposite of the Greeks. For the North Europeans, the professionals at the “institutions” set the terms, and there is only one possible outcome: to conform. The allowed negotiation was of one type only: more concessions by the Greek side. Any delay, any objection, could be seen only as posturing. Posturing is normal of course; politicians expect it. But to his fellow finance ministers the idea that the Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis was not posturing did not occur. When Varoufakis would not stop, their response was loathing and character assassination.

Contrary to some uninformed commentary, the Greek government knew from the beginning that it faced fierce hostility from Spain, Portugal and Ireland, deep suspicion from the mainstream left in France and Italy, implacable obstruction from Germany and the IMF, and destabilization from the European Central Bank. But for a long time, these points were not proved internally. There are influential persons close to Tsipras who did not believe it. There are others who felt that, in the end, Greece would have to take what it could get. So Tsipras adopted a policy of giving ground. He let the accommodation caucus negotiate. And as they came back with concession after concession, he winced and agreed.

Ultimately, the Greek government found that it had to bow to the creditors’ demands for a large and permanent primary surplus target. This was a hard blow; it meant accepting the austerity that the government had been elected to reject. But the Greeks did insist on the right to determine the form of austerity, and that form would be mainly to raise taxes on the wealthiest Greeks and on business profits. At least the proposal protected Greece’s poorest pensioners from further devastating cuts, and it did not surrender on fundamental labor rights. The creditors rejected even this. They insisted on austerity and also on dictating its precise shape. In this they made clear that they would not treat Greece as they have any other European country. The creditors tabled a take-it-or-leave-it offer that they knew Tsipras could not accept. Tsipras was on the line in any case. He decided to take his chances with a vote.

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“So what do you do in a negotiation where (a) you have no choice but to negotiate and (b) your opponent won’t negotiate?”

The Greek Vote (Steve Keen)

There is an adage in politics that you should never put anything to the vote unless you are sure of the outcome beforehand. On that front, the referendum Greeks will vote in this Sunday is a mistake, because the vote could go either way. If the majority votes No, as Syriza hopes, then it—hopefully—will strengthen its hand in future negotiations with the Troika. But if the majority votes Yes, then Syriza will have to capitulate to the Troika and accept its unbending policy of austerity. But I can also understand Tsipras’s decision to throw the issue over to a vote. Syriza’s expectation, when it won the election, was that its mandate from the Greek people would enable it to bargain with the Troika, and to therefore negotiate a less onerous economic program. Reality has proved otherwise.

Every time Syriza has compromised on one of its “red lines”, the Troika has demanded that it cross the red line behind it. So what do you do in a negotiation where (a) you have no choice but to negotiate and (b) your opponent won’t negotiate? You play whatever wildcard you have in your pack—and the only wildcard that Syriza has is that it was elected by its people, whereas the Troika’s officials were not. If the No vote wins, then it has a further right to insist that it is following the will of its people. We will return to almost daily Greek crises as each debt rollover or instalment payment arises, but Greece will have the power to legitimately threaten total default as a way of forcing the Troika to take a backwards step. But if the vote goes against Syriza, then the political balance in Greece will shift dramatically.

The Greeks will, in effect, have chosen to continue with austerity, even though just six months ago they elected a new government committed to ending it. Though Syriza will remain in power after Saturday, its spirit will have been irrevocably broken. Some political changes will flow immediately. Yanis Varoufakis has confirmed that he will resign—while also accepting the decision of the Greek people and assisting whoever replaces him to sign the terms of capitulation that the Troika wants. But that, as Yanis would vehemently agree, is small-scale, personal stuff. I have always found it amusing, in a perplexing way, that Schaeuble, the Troika’s chief hard man, has taken such umbrage to the left-wing Syriza and its metrosexual political leaders.

Clearly he prefers to negotiate with rightwing politicians like himself. But he seems unaware that, if the Greek tragedy rolls on, he may instead have to negotiate with rightwing politicians unlike himself—the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. Golden Dawn is also an anti-austerity party, and before the sudden rise of Syriza, it was the premiere anti-austerity party in Greece. It came 3rd in the elections that brought Syriza to power—even though its leaders were in gaol pending a murder trial that began in May—and in the 2014 European Union elections, it scored just under 10% of the Greek vote.

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“The report is a “confession” of the bailout’s failure..”

Greece Needs $40 Billion in Fresh Euro-Area Money, IMF Says (Bloomberg)

Greece needs at least another €36 billion over the next three years from euro-area states and easier terms on existing debt to keep the nation’s finances sustainable, according to an IMF analysis. Even if Greece delivers on reforms proposed by its international creditors, euro countries will have to come up with new financing and ease the nation’s debt load through steps such as doubling maturities on existing loans, according to a June 26 “preliminary draft” debt-sustainability analysis released Thursday. The Washington-based lender puts Greece’s total financing needs at €50 billion from October 2015 through the end of 2018. It also says state deposits in the Greek banking system had declined to less than €1 billion at the end of May, before the nation closed its banks and imposed capital controls.

Any weakening of the package proposed by the IMF and its creditor partners, the European Commission and ECB, means Europeans must accept a “haircut,” or writedown on the principal of the loans, according to the analysis. The document’s date is the day before Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called a surprise July 5 referendum on the creditors’ proposal. The analysis suggests any new deal is doomed to keep Greece wallowing in debt unless the Greek government and its European creditors can make further concessions. It also indicates the IMF, smarting from a $1.7 billion missed payment by Greece this week, may be reluctant to dispense new money without better prospects that the nation’s debt will be brought under control.

The timing of the analysis will prove controversial, since Tsipras is sure to use it to bolster his argument that Greeks should reject the creditors’ proposal in Sunday’s vote, said Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. The IMF is suggesting that “Greece was essentially on track last November until Syriza blew up the political system and now the economy,” while hinting that it wouldn’t welcome working with the anti-austerity party in the future, he said. The IMF report justifies the Greek government’s position and its persistence in including debt restructuring in any deal with creditors, said Gabriel Sakellaridis, a government spokesman. The report is a “confession” of the bailout’s failure, he said in an e-mail.

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Curious: “Alexis Tsipras welcomed the IMF’s intervention saying in a TV interview that what the IMF said was never put to him during negotiations”.

IMF Says Greece Needs Extra €60 Billion In Funds And Debt Relief

The IMF has electrified the referendum debate in Greece after it conceded that the crisis-ridden country needs up to €60bn of extra funds over the next three years and large-scale debt relief to create “a breathing space” and stabilise the economy. With days to go before Sunday’s knife-edge referendum that the country’s creditors have cast as a vote on whether it wants to keep the euro, the IMF revealed a deep split with Europe as it warned that Greece’s debts were “unsustainable”. Fund officials said they would not be prepared to put a proposal for a third Greek bailout to the Washington-based organisation’s board unless it included both a commitment to economic reform and debt relief. According to the IMF, Greece should have a 20-year grace period before making any debt repayments and final payments should not take place until 2055.

It would need €10bn to get through the next few months and a further €50bn after that. The Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras welcomed the IMF’s intervention saying in a TV interview that what the IMF said was never put to him during negotiations. Urging a no vote on Sunday he said: “Voting no to a solution that isn’t viable doesn’t mean saying no to Europe. It means demanding a solution that’s realistic. “Either you give in to ultimatums or you opt for democracy. The Greek people can’t be bled dry any longer.” Tsipras is campaigning for a no vote in the referendum on Sunday, which is officially on whether to accept a tough earlier bailout offer, to impress on EU negotiators that spiralling poverty and a collapse in everyday business activity across Greece has meant further austerity should be ruled out of any new rescue package.

Greece’s finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, pledged to resign if his country votes yes to the plan proposed by the EU, the ECB and what appears to be an increasingly reluctant IMF. Varoufakis, the academic-turned-politician who has riled his eurozone counterparts, said he would not remain finance minister on Monday if Greece voted yes. He said he would rather “cut off his arm” than accept another austerity bailout without any debt relief for Greece, adding that he was “quite confident” the Greek people would back the government’s call for a no vote. The Greek government’s defiant stance came as the head of the Hellenic Chambers of Commerce, Constantine Michalos, said he did not believe Greece’s banks would be able to reopen next Tuesday without further funding, telling the Daily Telegraph he had been told cash reserves were down to €500m.

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Bit late?!

Why Not Donate To Something That Will Make A Real Difference To Greeks (PP)

The campaign to crowdfund €1.6 billion for Greece on indiegogo is a wonderful initiative to show solidarity, and indeed it has collected an astonishing amount of money in a short time. The only problem is that if the full amount is not collected, all donations will be returned. Although we’d like to hope that there’s a chance the campaign will reach its target, it is quite a long shot. So we’d like to present you with an alternative way to help Greece right now. The Greek media is corrupt. This might not come as a big shock, maybe there are corrupt media in your country too, but the truth of the situation here goes far beyond what you’d imagine. According to the NGO Reporters Without Borders, Greece ranks 93rd in the global index of press freedom (placing it last in Europe).

Private TV channels, newspapers and radio stations are majority owned by 5 key families, who use them to ensure their family of companies obtain government contracts. These private media outlets are members of large groups of companies who undertake construction projects, and shipowners who control the oil trade and imports. During the last few days, the mainstream media have declared war on citizens, taking a position on the referendum and violating any notion of journalistic ethics. Their reporting is designed to terrorize and create a culture of fear, without any trace of truth or balance, whilst presenting themselves as objective and responsible.

On Monday, the largest TV station was broadcasting misinformation all day about cash withdrawals being reduced from 60 to 20 euros -reports which had been denied three times officially by the government- trying to provoke a bankrun. Nobody can control them. The competent inspection body is at present too weak to impose any sanctions. At the same time the Greek state’s efforts to pursue €102 million in unpaid taxes from these media companies for the use of public frequencies (common practice in other EU countries) has brought zero results. But new technologies have created new communication channels.

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Big worry for US.

China May Aid Greece Directly – Think Tank Expert (Sputnik)

China may help Greece through EU instruments or directly, a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, affiliated with China’s State Council, told Sputnik. China may help Greece directly through its new financial instruments, director of the Quantitative Finance Department at China’s Institute of Quantitative and Technical Economics told Sputnik China. Investment bank Goldman Sachs predicted in a report published on Wednesday that in a worst-case scenaria China’s exports would decline 2.2% as a result of Greece’s economic crisis. Other than exports to Greece itself, the crisis could also hurt the economies of nearby countries, where Chinese businessmen have also made considerable investments.

“The Greek crisis has an undoubtedly seriously influence on China’s trade with Greece and investment into the country. But I think that European countries together with China can help Greece overcome the problems that arose,” Fan Mingtao said. Fan added that the crisis is not likely to be an overbearing problem in the long term, although China will suffer losses in trade with Greece as a result. “I believe there are two ways to give Greece Chinese aid. First, within the framework of the international aid through EU countries. Second, China could aid Greece directly. Especially considering the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. China has this ability,” Fan added. According to Fang, China has the financial ability to aid Greece if needed, because of its existing Silk Road Economic Belt project and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

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Schulz should be fired for such comments. Hoe doesn’t understand what democracy in a sovereign nation means.

Schulz Says Tsipras Should Resign After ‘Yes’ Vote, Wants Technocrats (AFP)

European Parliament president Martin Schulz said his faith in the Greek government had reached “rock bottom,” and that he hopes it resigns after Sunday’s referendum. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has urged citizens to vote against EU and IMF bailout conditions in the plebiscite Sunday. Tsipras announced the balloting after talks with creditors broke down, leading Greece to default on a debt payment and stoking fears it could crash out of the euro. Schulz on Thursday told German Handelsblatt business daily that “new elections would be necessary if the Greek people vote for the reform programme and thus for remaining in the eurozone and Tsipras, as a logical consequence, resigns.”

The time between the departure of Tsipras’ hard-left Syriza party and new elections would have to “be bridged with a technocratic government, so that we can continue to negotiate,” Schulz was quoted as saying. “If this transitional government reaches a reasonable agreement with the creditors, then Syriza’s time would be over,” he said. “Then Greece has another chance.” Schulz charged that Tsipras was “unpredictable and manipulates the people of Greece, in a way which has almost demagogical traits.” “My faith in the willingness of the Greek government to negotiate has now reached rock bottom,” he said Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said Thursday the government “may very well” quit if the public went against it in Sunday’s plebiscite by voting for more austerity in return for international bailout funds.

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When will the nonsense stop?

US Part-Time Jobs Surge By 161,000; Full-Time Jobs Tumble By 349,000 (ZH)

While the kneejerk reaction algos were focusing on the +223K jobs number reported by the Establishment Survey, few if anyone notched that the Household survey reported a decline of 56,000 workers in June.

But what’s worse, is that according to this survey which according to some is far more reliable than its peer, the composition of the US labor force once again deteriorated rapidly with part-time jobs added in June surging by 161,000 while the number of full time jobs tumbled by 349,000.

 

Putting this number in context, while the total number of US workers has long since surpassed its previous crisis high, the number of full time US workers has yet to overtake its November 2007 lever of 121.9 million, and in June dropped to 121.1 million.

 

Why is this a problem: because while the US still has 800k full-time jobs to go to at least regain the prior peak, during the same time period the US civilian, non-institutional population has risen from 232.9 million to 250.7 million: an increase of 17.724 million!

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More proper IMF work. Will also be silenced, just like the Greek debt relief report.

Causes and Consequences of Income Inequality: A Global Perspective (IMF)

Widening income inequality is the defining challenge of our time. In advanced economies, the gap between the rich and poor is at its highest level in decades. Inequality trends have been more mixed in emerging markets and developing countries (EMDCs), with some countries experiencing declining inequality, but pervasive inequities in access to education, health care, and finance remain. Not surprisingly then, the extent of inequality, its drivers, and what to do about it have become some of the most hotly debated issues by policymakers and researchers alike. Against this background, the objective of this paper is two-fold.

First, we show why policymakers need to focus on the poor and the middle class. Earlier IMF work has shown that income inequality matters for growth and its sustainability. Our analysis suggests that the income distribution itself matters for growth as well. Specifically, if the income share of the top 20% (the rich) increases, then GDP growth actually declines over the medium term, suggesting that the benefits do not trickle down. In contrast, an increase in the income share of the bottom 20% (the poor) is associated with higher GDP growth. The poor and the middle class matter the most for growth via a number of interrelated economic, social, and political channels.

Second, we investigate what explains the divergent trends in inequality developments across advanced economies and EMDCs, with a particular focus on the poor and the middle class. While most existing studies have focused on advanced countries and looked at the drivers of the Gini coefficient and the income of the rich, this study explores a more diverse group of countries and pays particular attention to the income shares of the poor and the middle class—the main engines of growth.

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it’s going downhill fast now.

China’s Stocks Hit Critical Low Despite Government Lifelines (SCMP)

A series of lifelines from Beijing failed to stop the slide in the mainland’s stock market on Thursday, with the key Shanghai Composite Index closing below the critical 4,000 mark for the first time in almost three months. Analysts warned that the nation’s leadership would pay dearly if it failed to stabilise the market and prevent millions of small investors from losing their life savings. “The government’s response to the fall confirms that it will use all the resources at its disposal to influence the market when things do not go the way it wants and potentially puts its legitimacy at risk,” said Steve Tsang, chair of the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham.

The China Securities Regulatory Commission said last night that the stock market had recorded a significant drop, and the commission would launch an investigation into suspected market manipulation. Those suspected of committing an offence would be handed over to public security agencies. The Shanghai Composite Index fell as much as 6.38% at one point in the afternoon session, before finishing down 3.48%, or 140.93 points, at 3,912.77, the lowest level since April 9. The Shenzhen Composite Index shed 5.55%, or 130.32 points, to close at 2,215.81 and ChiNext – the Nasdaq-style bourse for small-cap tech stocks – gave up 4%. Since falling off a seven-year peak of 5,166.35 on June 12, the Shanghai index has lost about a quarter of its value, with the mainland equity markets heading into bear territory after fears of a tightening of margin lending induced a sharp correction.

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No kidding.

China’s Boom Has World Bank Worried (Pesek)

The World Bank has a timely warning for Chinese President Xi Jinping: Don’t let all that money go to your head. The global lender didn’t refer directly to Shanghai’s stock boom or the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (Beijing’s attempt to develop a World Bank of its own). Nor did it have to. By urging Beijing to clamp down on wasteful investment, unsustainable debt, and a shadow banking industry run amok, it was delivering a clear enough warning that President Xi should stop fanning China’s giant asset bubble. The World Bank was also implying China should get its own economic house in order before trying to change the global economy. “China has reached a critical phase of its economic and social development path,” the lender said in a new report released Wednesday.

The economy “will need to be transformed to increase the efficiency of new investments and widen access to finance, enabling China to sustain solid growth and rebalance its economy.” The World Bank’s admonishment was amplified by a fascinating milestone the Chinese economy reached this week — one that presents Xi’s government with a complicated image problem. China’s 90 million mainland stock traders now outnumber its 87.8 million Communist Party members. This changing of the guard, if you will, is taking place the same week the party celebrated its 94th anniversary – hardly what Mao Zedong had in mind when he led the Communists to power in 1949. In truth, China’s fast-growing legions of stock traders are betting on a type of financial Communism.

Everyone knows the Chinese economy is slowing and deflation is approaching, but markets have generally stayed aloft amid perceptions Xi will use the full power of the state to protect investments. Along with weekend interest-rate cuts, authorities have just made it easier to take on even more leverage. Brokerages now have leeway to boost lending by about $300 billion. Yet recent stock market declines suggest those steps aren’t working their usual magic. Part of the problem is traders have realized nobody is shoring up the shaky pillars of the world’s second-biggest economy. As that awareness sinks in, the 24% decline in the Shanghai Composite Index from its June 12 peak (which wiped out more than the equivalent of Brazil’s annual output) will only intensify. So will the headwinds bearing down on the broader economy as plunging shares dent business and household confidence.

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It lost the entire German stock market value too. Though people put up their homes as collateral.

Chinese Stocks Just Lost 10 Times Greece’s GDP

As Europeans hold their breath awaiting a referendum that will help determine Greece’s future in the euro zone, a stock market slump on the other side of the world is causing barely a ripple in global markets. A dizzying three-week plunge in Chinese equities has wiped out $2.36 trillion in market value — equivalent to about 10 times Greece’s gross domestic product last year. Still, the closed nature of China’s financial markets is allowing the rest of the world to watch in wonder without seeing spillovers into their markets…yet. “What happens in China will turn out to be far more consequential than any sting that Greece may deliver over the coming weeks or months,” said Frederic Neumann, co-head of Asian economic research at HSBC Holdings Plc in Hong Kong.

“As China’s equity markets lose their roar, the risk is that demand more broadly on the Mainland could take a hit. That would knock out an essential engine of world demand over the past decade. As dramatic as events in Greece currently appear, however, ultimately, it’s difficult to see these proving decisive for the world economy.” For now, even within China, economists find it tough to draw a link between its retail-driven stock market swings and the economy. A recent survey by Bloomberg shows analysts split on whether a rout would have any decisive effect on growth. One thing to note: With China opening its capital borders, roller-coaster rides on its stock market will have increasing repercussions for investors from London to New York and Tokyo. But that’s farther out in the future than the more immediate concerns in Greece.

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Betting on one horse. Or cow, rather.

Top Economist Warns Of New Zealand Recession Risk (NZ Herald)

So much for the rock star economy. As dairy prices continue to slump and business confidence tapers off, a leading economist is warning that a “scenario where a recession becomes imminent” isn’t difficult to imagine. BNZ head of research Stephen Toplis said the biggest shock to New Zealand’s economy had been the ongoing demise of the dairy sector. The price of whole milk powder – which is responsible for about 75% of Fonterra’s farmgate milk price – plunged 10.8% to US$2054 a tonne at the latest GlobalDairyTrade auction this week. The overall index fell 5.9% to record its ninth consecutive decline, driving the New Zealand dollar to a fresh five-year low of US66.59c last night.

Economists are now picking the Reserve Bank to cut the official cash rate back to 2.5% (from 3.25% currently) in a complete reversal of a rate tightening cycle that began in early 2014. BNZ this week lowered its 2015/16 milk price forecast to $5.20kg from $5.70 previously. “In part, the demise of dairy will be having an impact on economy-wide confidence, such as reflected in the recently released ANZ [business confidence] survey,” Toplis said. “In turn these confidence readings are also useful in predicting future GDP [gross domestic product] growth. Unfortunately, the trend in confidence is down.” BNZ is forecasting annual average growth this year of 2.4%, falling to 2.1% over 2016 and 2017.

“That said, the balance of risks around our forecast is becoming more skewed to the downside,” Toplis said. “Indeed, so much so that it is not hard to envisage a scenario where a recession becomes imminent.”

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At least someone tried to do something.

Benjamin Lawsky’s Legacy (NY Times)

After four years on the job, Benjamin Lawsky, New York’s top financial regulator, stepped down in June. His legacy includes important protections against abusive debt collectors and usurious payday lenders, as well as aggressive enforcement actions against banks and financial firms for money laundering, currency manipulation, interest rate rigging, foreclosure abuses and insurance scams. He has also left Gov. Andrew Cuomo with a moment-of-truth decision. Will Mr. Cuomo appoint a replacement to build on Mr. Lawsky’s legacy or to tone it down? In 2011, Mr. Cuomo merged New York’s bank and insurance agencies into a single agency with expanded regulatory powers. The question at the time was whether the newly created Department of Financial Services would be a political tool — a way for Mr. Cuomo to impinge on the power of the state attorney general — or a true financial regulator.

The answer has been the latter, thanks largely to Mr. Cuomo’s choice of Mr. Lawsky, a onetime Democratic aide and former federal prosecutor, to run the department. But some of the names that are circulating as possible contenders for Mr. Lawsky’s job suggest that this time around, Mr. Cuomo is looking for a light regulatory touch. In addition to lawyers who have spent much of their careers representing and defending corporate clients, it also reportedly includes a former JPMorgan Chase executive. Mr. Lawsky’s tenure — and much of the regulatory history before and since the financial crisis — has disproved the notion that financial-industry professionals are uniquely qualified to regulate banks and financial firms. In fact, regulators from industry have been linked to rulemaking delays and regulatory capture, which occurs when a regulatory agency advances the interests of the industry it is charged with overseeing rather than the public interest.

To avoid those pitfalls, Mr. Cuomo should choose Mr. Lawsky’s successor from the nation’s ranks of prosecutors, legal and consumer advocates or federal or state officials who have shown an aggressive streak toward Wall Street. The choice comes at a crucial time. As memories of the financial crisis fade, banks have increasingly argued that regulation has become too heavy. They expect politicians to respond by easing up on regulatory efforts. That would be a mistake. Regulation today needs to be vigilant for continuation of behaviors from the crisis years and for developments that may portend the next crisis. Mr. Lawsky has left the Department of Financial Services in a position of strength. It is up to Mr. Cuomo to keep it strong.

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“..rates “simply can’t rise without causing deleveraging and a crash”.

Arise Steve Keen, Forecaster Of The Year (SMH)

What was it Jesus said about a prophet being accepted everywhere but in his home town? Australian expatriate Steve Keen was by far the most successful of last year’s BusinessDay economic forecasters. He did it by being the most pessimistic of the 25, but hardly ever too pessimistic. None of the others thought our terms of trade would collapse by more than a few%. Keen picked 10%. We got 12.25%. The pay cut rocked the budget deficit, but not by as much as most predicted. Keen went for $40 billion. The budget papers say it’ll be $41.1 billion. Wage growth slipped to a new low of just 2.3%. Most of the panel couldn’t see it coming, many going for 3% or more. Only Keen and also University of Newcastle economist Bill Mitchell picked 2%.

Tom Skladzien, of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, deserves an honourable mention as well. With his ear to the ground he picked 2.5%. The Reserve Bank cut its cash rate twice in response to the slide in national income. None of the bank economists expected it. Only Keen and Mitchell went for a cut, to 2.25%. The lower rates spurred a sharemarket boom which pushed the S&P/ASX 200 to near 6000 in February before it fell back in May and June to close not too far from where it started at 5459. Keen picked 5500 – far closer than the much higher forecasts of the panellists who didn’t see the interest rate cuts coming. On the bond market the economists employed by banks embarrassed themselves.

Instead of climbing as they all expected, Australia’s 10-year bond rate slid to an all-time low before edging back up to 3.01. Keen picked 3.5%, the only forecast anywhere near reality. He says he takes private debt seriously unlike others who treat it as largely irrelevant to economic outcomes, a “consenting act between adults”. Given the historically unprecedented levels of private debt worldwide, rates “simply can’t rise without causing deleveraging and a crash”. Keen can rightly claim to have foreseen the events in the US which led to the global financial crisis and to have wrongly picked a collapse in Australian house prices in its wake, famously losing a bet and walking from Canberra to Mount Kosciuszko wearing a T-shirt that said: “I was hopelessly wrong about house prices, ask me how.”

Unwanted by the University of Western Sydney, he was snapped by Kingston University in London where he is gaining a reputation as one of Europe’s leading economic thinkers. He didn’t get it all right this year. Mitchell (another non-orthodox economist) was more accurate about economic growth, and almost everyone was more accurate about the US economy, expecting something closer to 3 per cent growth than the 1 per cent Keen forecasted. But Keen is doubling down and predicting 1 per cent again this year. There’s a chance he knows what he is doing. It’s the third time he has won the title of BusinessDay forecaster of the year.

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Jul 012015
 
 July 1, 2015  Posted by at 10:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  12 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing Army surplus 1919


Tsipras Prepared To Accept “All Bailout Conditions” (FT)
Unpublished Troika Documents Say Greece Needs Substantial Debt Relief (Guardian)
Prof. Steve Keen On Greek Debt Crisis (BBC)
Greece’s Creditors Need A Wake-Up Call (Daniel Alpert)
In Greece, IMF Repeats Its Own Mistakes (WSJ)
IMF’s Uneven Dealings With Greece Is Saga Of Embarrassment (Guardian)
In Its Worst Hour, Greece Overtakes Italy as Top Destination for Refugees (BBG)
ECB Poised To Raise Heat On Greece’s Beleaguered Banks (FT)
Why I Set Up The Greek Bailout Crowdfund (Thom Feeney)
China’s Central Bank Can No Longer Save China (MarketWatch)
American Workers Are Burned Out And Overworked (MarketWatch)
We Are Living in the Anti-Europe (Spiegel)
The Euro Is Only Headed Down: Goldman Sachs (CNBC)
Systemic Turmoil, Structural Reform (Jim Kunstler)
The Care and Feeding of a Financial Black Hole (Dmitry Orlov)

Sun Tzu?

Tsipras Prepared To Accept “All Bailout Conditions” (FT)

Alexis Tsipras will accept all his bailout creditors’ conditions that were on the table this weekend with only a handful of minor changes, according to a letter the Greek prime minister sent late Tuesday night and obtained by the Financial Times. The two-page letter, sent to the heads of the EC, IMF and ECB, elaborates on Tuesday’s surprise request for an extension of Greece’s now-expired bailout and for a new, third €29.1bn rescue, writes Peter Spiegel. Although the bailout’s expiry at midnight Tuesday night means the extension is no longer on the table, Mr Tsipras’ new letter could serve as the basis of a new bailout in the coming days.

Mr Tsipras’ letter says Athens will accept all the reforms of his country’s value-added tax system with one change: a special 30 per cent discount for Greek islands, many of which are in remote and difficult-to-supply regions, be maintained. On the contentious issue of pension reform, Mr Tsipras requests that changes to move the retirement age to 67 by 2022 begin in October, rather than immediately. He also requests that a special “solidarity grant” awarded to poorer pensioners, which he agrees to phase out by December 2019, be phased out more slowly than creditors request. “The Hellenic Republic is prepared to accept this staff-level agreement subject to the following amendments, additions or clarifications, as part of an extension of the expiring [bailout] program and the new [third] loan agreement for which a request was submitted today, Tuesday June 30th 2015,” Mr Tsipras wrote.

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No wonder they were never published: policy is 180º removed from the findings.

Unpublished Troika Documents Say Greece Needs Substantial Debt Relief (Guardian)

Greece would face an unsustainable level of debt by 2030 even if it signs up to the full package of tax and spending reforms demanded of it, according to unpublished documents compiled by its three main creditors. The documents, drawn up by the so-called troika of lenders, support Greece’s argument that it needs substantial debt relief for a lasting economic recovery. They show that, even after 15 years of sustained strong growth, the country would face a level of debt that the IMF deems unsustainable. The documents show that the IMF’s baseline estimate – the most likely outcome – is that Greece’s debt would still be 118% of GDP in 2030, even if it signs up to the package of tax and spending reforms demanded.

That is well above the 110% the IMF regards as sustainable given Greece’s debt profile, a level set in 2012. The country’s debt level is currently 175% and likely to go higher because of its recent slide back into recession. The documents admit that under the baseline scenario “significant concessions” are necessary to improve Greece’s chances of ridding itself permanently of its debt financing woes. Even under the best case scenario, which includes growth of 4% a year for the next five years, Greece’s debt levels will drop to only 124%, by 2022. The best case also anticipates €15bn (£10bn) in proceeds from privatisations, five times the estimate in the most likely scenario.

But under all the scenarios, which all assume a third bailout programme, looked at by the troika, Greece has no chance of meeting the target of reducing its debt to “well below 110% of GDP by 2022” set by the Eurogroup of finance ministers in November 2012. In the creditors own words: “It is clear that the policy slippages and uncertainties of the last months have made the achievement of the 2012 targets impossible under any scenario”. These projections are from the report Preliminary Debt Sustainability Analysis for Greece, one of six documents that are part of the full set of materials that comprise the “final” proposal sent to Greece by its creditors last Friday.

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Stevo!

Prof. Steve Keen On Greek Debt Crisis (BBC)

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Sound analysis.

Greece’s Creditors Need A Wake-Up Call (Daniel Alpert)

Why would the banks and bond buyers of northern Europe have lent money to Greece in the first place? Or, for that matter, to housing speculators in Spain, to banks in Ireland or to the governments of Italy and Portugal? The answer is that the structure of the incomplete European monetary union gave them strong incentive to do so. After all, with substantial excess wealth and a resistance to inflating their own economies through internal spending, the euro regime itself encouraged trade-surplus countries such as Germany and the Netherlands to lend to their weaker brethren in order to bolster the peripheral countries’ ability to import even more of the surplus nations’ production (to the increasing benefit of the latter and the eventual implosion of the former).

And they were able to do so in a common currency, without the risk of currency devaluation by borrowers. This was mercantilism writ large and was without precedent in modern economic history, as there is no mechanism in the EMU to resolve the resulting imbalances and the captive peripheral countries had relinquished their ability to address the imbalances by adjusting exchange rates. And yet the credit providers expected -and still expect- to get their money back. The flip side of this debacle is that, when Greece defaults (or goes into what the IMF will almost certainly deem on this week to be “arrears,” to avoid use of the “D” word), there is really not much that the IMF, the ECB and the euro group central banks can do to get their money back.

And therein lies the realpolitik of the situation. Yes, it is not unlikely that the ECB may conclude that, upon Greece’s default, that country’s banks are no longer solvent and are not worthy of infusions of additional euro to maintain their liquidity. And, yes, that would result in the prolonging of the bank-capital controls Greece instituted on Monday to hold onto whatever euro they have left, and likely even to the issuance by Greece of an internal (and heavily devalued) currency to permit its moribund economy some semblance of functionality.

But none of those things will get the rest of the Europeans their money back. Moreover, as there is no provision in the treaty governing the EMU for ejecting a country from the euro zone (and certainly no basis for ejecting Greece from the European Union), further recourse is severely limited and of questionable force even if it were available. As a result, Greece, with its back to the wall already and its economy in shambles, will suffer further until it rebuilds but it will suffer the double-edged fate of a “debtor-in-possession,” to use a U.S. bankruptcy analogy. It will no longer be making payments on its debt, and may end up disavowing some of that debt altogether, but will remain a sovereign power in possession of its internal assets and resources. And unlike a private party in bankruptcy, Greece will be operating under its own rule of law.

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The IMF is in the hands of the lenders, who don’t want restructuring. The IMF is making itself redundant.

In Greece, IMF Repeats Its Own Mistakes (WSJ)

As Greece defaults on its payments to the IMF, is the emergency lender at risk of repeating bailout history? So say some of its sharpest critics. A host of economists have accused the IMF of setting up Greece for failure in 2010 by rejecting an initial debt restructuring and focusing heavily on near-term budget cuts. Instead of a return to growth by 2012, as the fund forecast, the country’s economy ended up shrinking by 25% over four years. By 2012, the IMF appeared to have learned its lesson. Besides facilitating a restructuring of privately held debt, fund officials also pressed Europe to give Greece significantly more debt relief. The IMF seemingly took every opportunity to remind the eurozone of its promise to help cut Greece’s debt ratio to significantly below 110% of GDP from over 170%.

Some IMF officials privately said it would be difficult to reach that level without a write-down of the value of the debt. The fund also admitted that it underestimated the effects of budget belt-tightening on Greece and other eurozone countries. And the fund gave a half-hearted mea culpa in 2013, saying that a restructuring earlier would have been helpful, (despite saying in the same breath it wouldn’t have done anything different). But Ajai Chopra, a visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and a former deputy director of the IMF’s European Department, said recent bailout negotiations with Greece show the IMF and European creditors are treading the same ground.

“They are bent on repeating past policy errors of forcing drastic growth-killing fiscal adjustment in a short period of time instead of providing debt relief,” Mr. Chopra said. “I recognize that it is a fantasy to think that creditors are willing to adopt a less stifling mix of financing and adjustment that promotes growth,” he said. “But it is equally a fantasy to think the current set of policies insisted on by creditors will address Greece’s long-term problems.” Joseph Stiglitz, a Columbia University professor and former chief economist for the World Bank, said “doubling down on a set of recipes that have proven themselves to produce a depression is not a recipe for success.”

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“The body watered down long-held lending principles and its economic projections turned out to be worthless..”

IMF’s Uneven Dealings With Greece Is Saga Of Embarrassment (Guardian)

One big loser from Greece’s (likely) default is the reputation of the IMF. The IMF, we used to believe, only stepped in when a country’s path to debt sustainability was clear and economic revival could be plotted with reasonable confidence. The organisation’s standing as a global lender of last resort relied on the even-handed application of that principle. In Greece, it’s hard to say the debt was ever sustainable in the world after the global financial crisis of 2007-09. In 2010, when the IMF contributed €30bn to the first bailout programme, Greece hadn’t yet experienced its deep recession. But the risk of deep spending cuts making the position worse was obvious: the unpromising backdrop was a weak eurozone in which banks remained under-capitalised.

Indeed, the IMF itself has admitted that it let its lending standards slip in Greece and that its economic projections may have been “overly optimistic”. A 2013 evaluation report confessed there was “a tension between the need to support Greece and the concern that debt was not sustainable with high probability.” The response was “to lower the bar for debt sustainability in systemic cases”. In other words, Greece was viewed as an exceptional case because it was a member of the eurozone, where a blow-up could ricochet around the world. You can’t blame non-eurozone contributors to the IMF coffers for smelling a European rat. The managing director of the IMF in 2010 was Dominique Strauss-Kahn and he was followed by another member of the French financial establishment, Christine Lagarde.

Hindsight is perfect but even in 2010 the IMF was behaving out of character. Normally, the body only gets involved when other lenders have been made to accept steep losses. In Greece, debt relief only arrived in the second bailout in 2012 and, even then, private lenders suffered only modest financial pain. Over the past six months of talks, the IMF’s stance on debt write-downs has also been wishy-washy: it seemed to be in favour without ever championing the cause openly. In the end, the IMF, at the head of the queue of creditors, will probably be repaid by Greece. But this saga is an embarrassment. The body watered down long-held lending principles and its economic projections turned out to be worthless. There is fuel there for critics of the IMF who argue the body is designed for the pre-globalisation world of the 1940s. Those voices will grow louder.

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Plent of misery to go around.

In Its Worst Hour, Greece Overtakes Italy as Top Destination for Refugees (BBG)

It couldn’t have come at a worse time for Greece. With the country on its knees, the number of refugees arriving by sea is at a record and for the first time overtakes Italy, a country almost nine times as rich. In the first six months of the year, Greece – a country of 11 million – received more migrants than Italy – a country of 60 million – according to a report by the UN Refugee Agency. The reason is Syria. Almost 40,000 Syrians seeking to escape the war take the eastern Mediterranean route from Turkey to reach a handful of Greek islands, principally Lesbos. Conditions on arrival are notoriously inadequate and unlikely to get better with the country now under capital controls with its citizens limited to 60 euros a day in daily withdrawals.

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Not its function.

ECB Poised To Raise Heat On Greece’s Beleaguered Banks (FT)

When the eurozone’s central bankers meet in Frankfurt on Wednesday, they could make a decision which some officials fear could push one or more of Greece’s largest banks over the edge. The ECB’s governing council is poised to impose tougher haircuts on the collateral Greek lenders place in exchange for the emergency loans. If the haircuts are tough enough, it could leave banks struggling to access vital funding. The ECB on Sunday imposed an €89bn ceiling for so-called emergency liquidity assistance, effectively putting the Greek banking system into hibernation. If, to reflect the increased risk of default, the ECB now applied bigger discounts to the Greek government bonds and government-backed assets which lenders use as collateral, that could leave banks struggling to roll over those emergency overnight loans.

Doubts abound in Frankfurt and Brussels about whether all of Greece’s four biggest banks can survive the week. Even with bank branches closed until next Tuesday and ATM withdrawals limited to €60, officials fear some of the country’s lenders are so weak that they will struggle to honour their customers until Sunday’s referendum, when Greeks will decide whether to accept the terms offered by international creditors. The Syriza-led government’s confirmation that it will not pay the €1.5bn it owes to the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday and the expectation that Athens will fall out of its bailout programme at midnight has put the ECB in a delicate position.

The ECB’s senior officials have now openly acknowledged the possibility of a Greek exit from the currency union. Benoît Cœuré, a member of the ECB’s executive board, told French newspaper Les Echos in an interview published on Tuesday: “A Greek exit from the eurozone, so far a theoretical issue, can unfortunately not be excluded any more.”

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Still got a few billion to go.

Why I Set Up The Greek Bailout Crowdfund (Thom Feeney)

You know when you just have a little idea, have a laugh to yourself and then move on with your day? I do that a lot, only on Sunday night, I didn’t let it pass but decided to try it out for real. I wondered, could the people of Europe have a crack at fixing this? Less talk, more direct action So, sat at the table after dinner, I started a crowdfunding campaign to try to rescue the Greek economy. Some basic maths told me that I only needed the entire population of Europe to donate €3.19 (£2.26) to reach the amount of the bailout fund. I included some nice perks for donating, including a Greek salad and holiday in Athens for two, and set up a page on IndieGoGo and a Twitter account.

Nobody was that interested at first, but after a couple of small stories on the internet, the idea seemed to explode overnight. I woke up to 1,200 emails and it got even more crazy from there. I set up the crowdfunding campaign to support the Greek bailout because I was fed up with the dithering of our politicians. Every time a solution to bail out Greece is delayed, it’s a chance for politicians to posture and display their power, but during this time the real effect is on the people of Greece. I wondered, could the people of Europe just have a crack at fixing this? Less talk, more direct action. If we want to sort it, let’s JFDI (just effing do it)! On Tuesday, between leaving for work and returning home, the crowdfunding page had raised over €200,000 in around six hours, which was incredible.

This isn’t just about raising the cash, though. In providing the perks, we would be stimulating the Greek economy through trade – buying Greek products and employing Greeks to source and send the perks out. The way to help a struggling economy is by investment and stimulus – not austerity and cuts. This crowdfunding is a reaction to the bullying of the Greek people by European politicians, but it could easily be about British politicians bullying the people of the north of England, Scotland and Wales. I want the people of Europe to realise that there is another option to austerity, despite what David Cameron and Angela Merkel tell you.

The reaction has been tremendous, I’ve received thousands of goodwill message and as I write almost €630,000 has been pledged by more than 38,000 donors. Many Greek people are messaging me to say how overjoyed they are to hear that real people around Europe care about them. It must be hard when you think the rest of the continent is against you.

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Danger ahead.

China’s Central Bank Can No Longer Save China (MarketWatch)

China’s domestic stock markets may have bounced back Tuesday, but the damage from the panic despite interest-rate and reserve-ratio cuts at the weekend will take longer to heal. The big problem is that the People’s Bank of China explicitly targeted the plunging stock market, and yet the Shanghai Composite kept falling, revealing that the PBOC was not in control. Even after Tuesday afternoon’s sharp rebound, the index is still flirting with bear territory, taken as a 20% drop from the recent high. The reprieve for the stock market came only after the Ministry of Finance stepped in to say that the state’s pension fund may be allowed to invest up to 30% of its 3.5 trillion yuan ($565 billion) into securities.

Now that the PBOC has played its hand — and revealed it to be a weak one — the next question is: What else is beyond its control? This new frailty can be expected to resonate beyond the millions of novice retail investors who might now conclude the Chinese equity rally is over. So much of the “risk-on” case for China is underpinned by a belief that a Beijing Put of never-ending stimulus can be deployed whenever the authorities so choose. This goes together with a belief that policy makers have a plan to deal with slower growth, scary debt levels, and negotiating a variety of financial and currency reforms. Yet much of this is faith based on little more than fear, as the alternative is so unpalatable.

For now, the immediate concern is what the ongoing slump in Chinese shares does to the psyche of domestic retail investors. As this column has argued, the new issues market is pivotal, as it has been instrumental in driving stock mania by continuously delivering outsized gains. Reports that China’s securities regulator is considering suspending IPOs to help stabilize the wider market underlines this. But it could be a high-risk move and just as easily send an unequivocal signal that the bull market is over.

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“..how can workers say they feel both burned out and claim to be happy?”

American Workers Are Burned Out And Overworked (MarketWatch)

American workers have found themselves in a 21st century paradox. More than half of Americans (53%) are burned out and overworked, according to an inaugural survey of more than 2,000 workers by Staples Advantage, the business-to-business division of office supplier Staples. And yet an overwhelming number (86%) say they’re happy and willing to work for a promotion within their organization, says Dan Schawbel, founder of WorkplaceTrends.com, a research and advisory service for the human resources industry, who helped create the Staples survey. So how can workers say they feel both burned out and claim to be happy?

“While many are still happy at work, we have to ask whether it’s because they’re truly inspired and motivated, or simply conditioned to the new reality,” says Schawbel, who is also the author of “Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success” and founder of Millennial Branding, a management and consulting firm. “People understand that this is just the world they’re living in now.” But all this overworking may be hurting productivity, the survey found. About half of respondents acknowledged they receive too much email, with about one-third of those saying that email overload hurts productivity. There is an expectation to be always available: The majority of people (52%) who send a work-related email expect a reply within 12 and 24 hours, according to a separate survey released earlier this year of 1,500 people by MailTime.com, an app that aims to organize and simplify emails.

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“..it is those institutions that are farthest from the voters that wield the greatest power – the ECB, the IMF and the executive.”

We Are Living in the Anti-Europe (Spiegel)

Tired. Everyone is so tired — the politicians, the people, the media, the institutions, democracy. Europe is tired, exhausted, haggard. Yet another marathon negotiating session? How many have there already been? Yet again these tired eyes of overexertion of those involved in the negotiations. Once again a postponement or a compromise that nobody is convinced of and is really just the start of the next crisis. This is how things have been proceeding for years now. Enough already. We don’t want to speak of greatness, or of political heroes or of far-reaching actions. That’s difficult in a complex system like Europe. We want to speak of the minimum: Politics requires successes in order to legitimate itself. It has to solve problems, especially the really tough ones that require a lot of effort.

But that’s not happening. In the case of Greece, all we have been seeing are pseudo-solutions, if even that. A brief breather is always given, only to be followed by the next marathon meeting and the next expedited proceedings in the German parliament. The exhaustion will continue to grow, as will the weariness that will catapult the next populists into power – the very ones who will make solving the problems even harder. It’s a vicious cycle. But exhaustion is merely one of the costs of this permanent state of crisis. The truth is that we have lost Europe in recent years. It is no longer the Europe that its generation of founders and builders promised – people like Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer, Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand. It’s almost the opposite. What we are living in today is an anti-Europe.

Much has contributed to this state of affairs – not least the euro crisis. But nothing has been as damaging as the protracted fight over Greece. Europe promised joint growth for everyone. Instead we have competition for prosperity. Many Germans don’t want to have to sacrifice anything for Greece, whereas many Greeks expect Germans to make a contribution to ensure that what the Greeks are forced to give up doesn’t become too harsh. Europe promised an end to nationalist thinking and even the end of the nation-state at some point in the future. In truth, the Continent is going through a renationalization. Few continue to believe in the greater good and the states have their eyes set on their own interests.

Europe promised reconciliation with its history. But instead, history has become a weapon, with Greece demanding that Germany pay World War II reparations. Meanwhile, images of German Chancellor Angela Merkel wearing a Hitler mustache have become a regular feature at anti-austerity protests all over Europe. Europe promised political equality. The intention was for France and Germany to lead on the Continent, while at the same time taking into account the concerns of the smaller member states. But in the crisis, Germany has overtaken its partners and become the EU’s dominant power.

Europe promised a Europe of the people. Instead, it is those institutions that are farthest from the voters that wield the greatest power – the ECB, the IMF and the executive. Parliaments, on the other hand, which have the greatest democratic legitimacy, are being forced to fast-track their approval of decisions made in Brussels.

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“..the euro has been like a brick – you can throw it, just not very far..”

The Euro Is Only Headed Down: Goldman Sachs (CNBC)

Amid Greece’s Sisyphean drama, the euro has been like a brick – you can throw it, just not very far. But that’s only temporary, Goldman Sachs says, sticking with its call for near-parity with the dollar. “This week’s jump in the euro on news of the Greek referendum made no sense to us,” the bank’s analysts said in a note Tuesday. “We continue to see mounting tensions over Greece as a catalyst for the euro-dollar to go near parity, if contagion to other peripherals causes the European Central Bank (ECB) to accelerate quantitative easing.” In one year’s time, the euro will be fetching just 95 cents, Goldman said.

Greece missed a repayment worth about €1.5 billion that was due to the IMF Tuesday, making it the first advanced nation to ever default on a debt to the global financial stability agency. That followed months of contentious negotiations with its creditors over exchanging reforms for another bailout. Those talks came to a standstill after a surprise move by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to call for a referendum on whether to accept the creditors’ proposals, even though those proposals may no longer be on the table. The country is now subject to capital controls, meaning funds can no longer be transferred outside the country and ATM withdrawals are limited to just €60 a day.

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“All this trouble with money comes from one meta problem: aggregate industrial growth has ended.”

Systemic Turmoil, Structural Reform (Jim Kunstler)

Can anyone stabilize this bitch? At daybreak, anyway, the Federal Reserve governors were all bagging Z’s in their trundle beds. Maybe after a few pumpkin lattes they’ll jump in and tell their trading shills to BTFD. The soma-like perma-trance among those who follow markets and money matters appears to be ending abruptly with the recognition that sometimes robots and humans alike run shrieking to the exit. A pity when they get to the door and discover it opens onto a cliff-edge. Look out below.

All this trouble with money comes from one meta problem: aggregate industrial growth has ended. It has stopped more in some parts of the world than others, while in the USA it has actually been contracting. The cause is simple: the end of cheap energy, oil in particular. At over $70-a-barrel the price kills economies; under $70-a-barrel the price kills oil production. The bottom line is that, in the broadest sense, the world can no longer count on getting more stuff, except waste, garbage, political unrest, and the other various effects of entropy. From now on, there is only less of everything for a global population that has not stopped growing. The folks on-board are still having sex, of course, which has a certain byproduct.

This dynamic was plain to see a decade ago, but the people who run finance and governments thought it would be a good idea to maintain the appearance of growth via the usufruct mechanisms of central banking: ZIRP, QE, market intervention, and universal accounting fraud. It’s not working so well. Debt was generated in place of the missing growth, and now there is too much of it that can’t be repaid on a coherent schedule. Many nations, parties, and entities are in trouble with debt and the prospective defaults are starting to pile up like SUVs on a fog-bound highway. Greece is just the first one fishtailing into a guard-rail.

The magic moment will come when it becomes obvious that these systemic quandaries have no solution. The system itself is programmed for implosion, in particular and most immediately the banking sector, where most of the untruth and illusion is lodged these days. As it stands exposed, the people are compelled to shake off their faith in what it represents: order, authority, trust. Institutions fail and each failure acts as a black hole, sucking air, light, and even time out of the system.

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“..it’s puppets all the way down.”

The Care and Feeding of a Financial Black Hole (Dmitry Orlov)

A while ago I had the pleasure of hearing Sergey Glazyev—economist, politician, member of the Academy of Sciences, adviser to Pres. Putin—say something that very much confirmed my own thinking. He said that anyone who knows mathematics can see that the United States is on the verge of collapse because its debt has gone exponential. These aren’t words that an American or a European politician can utter in public, and perhaps not even whisper to their significant other while lying in bed, because the American eavesdroppers might overhear them, and then the politician in question would get the Dominique Strauss-Kahn treatment (whose illustrious career ended when on a visit to the US he was falsely accused of rape and arrested).

And so no European (never mind American) politician can state the obvious, no matter how obvious it is. The Russians have that pretty well figured out by now. Yes, maintaining a dialogue and cordial directions with the Europeans is important. But it is well understood that the Europeans are just a bunch of American puppets with no will or decision-making authority of their own, so why not talk to the Americans directly? Alas, the Americans too are puppets. The American officials and politicians are definitely puppets, controlled by corporate lobbyists and shady oligarchs. But here’s a shocker: these are also puppets—controlled by the simple imperatives of profitability and wealth preservation, respectively. In fact, it’s puppets all the way down. And what’s at the bottom is a giant, ever-expanding, financial black hole.

Do you like your black hole? If you aren’t sure you like it, then let me ask you some other questions: Do you like the fact that your credit cards still work, or that you can still keep money in the bank and even get cash out of an ATM, or that you are either receiving or hope to eventually receive a pension? Do you like the fact that you can get useful things—food, gas, airline tickets—for mere pieces of paper with pictures of dead white men on them? Do you like the fact that you have internet access, that the lights are on, and that there is water on tap? Well, if you like these things, then you must also like the financial black hole, because that’s what’s making all of these things possible in spite of your country being bankrupt. Perhaps it’s a love-hate relationship: you love being able to pretend that everything is still OK even though you know it isn’t, and you wish to enjoy a bit more of the business-as-usual before it all goes to hell, be it for a few more days or another year or two; but you hate the fact that eventually the black hole will suck you in, after which point things will definitely… suck.

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