Longtime and dear friend of the Automatic Earth, professor Steve Keen, wrote an article recently that everyone should read (that goes for everything Steve writes). It’s hard to select highlights, but I’ll give it a try. Steve explains where our housing markets went off the rails, what (short-sighted) interests politicians have in subverting them, and, something rarely addressed, why housing markets are unlike any other markets (the turnover of existing properties is financed with newly created money)
He then suggests some measures that might counter this subversion, with a twang of It’s a Wonderful Life nostalgia thrown in. That nostalgia, which will be seen by many as outdated and a grave mistake in these ‘modern times’, instead makes a lot of sense. We might even say it’s the only way to get back on our feet. It resides in the idea that money-circulating building societies, rather than money-creating banks should be in charge of the housing market.
Because it’s not supply and demand that rule the market today, it’s available debt (credit). And banks can, and will, always create more debt at the stroke of a keyboard. That is, until they can’t, and then house prices must and will of necessity fall off a cliff. In Steve’s words: “..mortgage credit causes house prices to rise, leading to yet more credit being taken on until, as in 2008, the process breaks down. And it has to break down, because the only way to sustain it is for debt to continue rising faster than income.
Still, it left me with a big question. But I’ll ask that at the end; here’s Steve first.
[..] the UK data is remarkable, even in the context of a worldwide trend to higher levels of leverage. Between 1880 and 1980, private debt in the UK fluctuated as a percentage of GDP, but it never once reached 75% of GDP. But in 1982, both household and corporate debt took off. In 1982, total private debt was equivalent to 61% of GDP, split equally between households and corporations. 25 years later, as the global financial crisis unfolded, private debt was three times larger at 197% of GDP, again split 50:50 between households and corporations.
The key changes to legislation that occurred in 1982 is the UK let banks muscle into the mortgage market that was previously dominated by building societies. This was sold in terms of improving competition in the mortgage market, to the benefit of house buyers: allegedly, mortgage costs would fall. But its most profound impact was something much more insidious: it enabled the creation of credit money to fuel rising house prices, setting off a feedback loop that only ended in 2008.
Building societies don’t create money when they lend, because they lend from a bank account that stores the accumulated savings of their members. There’s no change in bank deposits, which are by far the largest component of the money supply.
However, banks do create money when they lend, because a bank records a loan as their asset when they make an identical entry in the borrower’s account, which enables the property to be bought. This dramatically inflates the price of housing, since, as the politicians themselves acknowledge – housing supply is inflexible, so prices increase far more than supply.
The supply side of the housing market has two main factors: the turnover of the existing stock of housing, and the net change in the number of houses (thanks to demolition of old properties and construction of new ones). The turnover of existing properties is far larger than the construction rate of new ones, and this alone makes housing different to your ordinary market. The demand side of the housing market has one main factor: new mortgages created by the banks.
Monetary demand for housing is therefore predominantly mortgage credit: the annual increase in mortgage debt. This also makes housing very different to ordinary markets, where most demand comes from the turnover of existing money, rather than from newly created money.
We can convert the credit-financed monetary demand for housing into a physical demand for new houses per year by dividing by the price level. This gives us a relationship between the level of mortgage credit and the level of house prices. There is therefore a relationship between the change in mortgage credit and the change in house prices. This relationship is ignored in mainstream politics and mainstream economics. But it is the major determinant of house prices: house prices rise when mortgage credit rises, and they fall when mortgage credit falls. This relationship is obvious even for the UK, where mortgage debt data isn’t systematically collected, and I am therefore forced to use data on total household debt (including credit cards, car loans etc.).
Even then, the correlation is obvious (for the technically minded, the correlation coefficient is 0.6). The US does publish data on mortgage debt, and there the correlation is an even stronger 0.78—and standard econometric tests establish that the causal process runs from mortgage debt to house prices, and not vice versa (the downturn in house prices began earlier in the USA, and was an obvious pre-cursor to the crisis there).
None of this would have happened – at least not in the UK – had mortgage lending remained the province of money-circulating building societies, rather than letting money-creating banks into the market. It’s too late to unscramble that omelette, but there are still things that politicians could do make it less toxic for the public.
The toxicity arises from the fact that the mortgage credit causes house prices to rise, leading to yet more credit being taken on until, as in 2008, the process breaks down.
And it has to break down, because the only way to sustain it is for debt to continue rising faster than income. Once that stops happening, demand evaporates, house prices collapse, and they take the economy down with them. That is no way to run an economy.
Yet far from learning this lesson, politicians continue to allow lending practices that facilitate this toxic feedback between leverage and house prices. A decade after the UK (and the USA, and Spain, and Ireland) suffered property crashes – and economic crises because of them – it takes just a millisecond of Internet searching to find lenders who will provide 100% mortgage finance based on the price of the property.
This should not be allowed. Instead, the maximum that lenders can provide should be limited to some multiple of a property’s actual or imputed rental income, so that the income-earning potential of a property is the basis of the lending allowed against it.
Two smaller points first: Steve doesn’t mention the role of ultra-low rates. Which is a huge factor leading the process. Second, he says his proposals will “..transition us from a world in which we treat housing as a speculative asset rather than what it really is, a long-lived consumption good”. I wonder if perhaps we should take this a step further.
We don’t see land as a consumption good either, or water sources. They are assets that belong to a given community. Or should. So shouldn’t buildings be too? A building society (or some local equivalent, It’s a Wonderful Life style) in a community can’t, won’t lend out money to build homes that serve the interests of the owner, but hamper those of the community. But now I sound even more commie than Steve for many, I know.
On to my main point: if you return mortgage lending to money-circulating building societies, rather than money-creating banks, who’s going to create the money? Don’t let’s forget that a huge part of our present money supply comes from those banks, and much of that from the mortgage loans they issue. Steve may well have thought about this (was he afraid to ask?), and I’d be curious to see his views.
Inflation/deflation is a function of money supply x money velocity (MxV). There are multiple ways to define this, and discuss it, but in the end this remains valid.
This is what the US money supply (stock) has done over the past 30-odd years
And here is the Case/Shiller home price index for the US over roughly that period. The correlation is painfully clear. Except maybe for that drop in 2008, but the Fed caught that one. Can’t let the money supply fall off a cliff.
And why can’t we afford to let the money supply fall off a cliff? Because money velocity already has:
How dramatic that fall has been is perhaps even clearer on a shorter time-frame.
We can say that MV = GDP, or we can make it a bit more complex with MV=PT, where P is prices and T is transactions (or national output), and people can say that this is just one of many ways to define inflation, but when you have a drop in velocity as steep as that one, and you combine it with the rise in money supply we saw, the danger should be obvious.
We have made our economies fully dependent on banks creating loans out of thin air. Which is a ridiculous model, and as Steve says: “That is no way to run an economy”, but we still have. And if and when home prices start to fall, and fewer people buy homes, the money supply will first stop rising, and then start falling, and we will have the mother of all deflations.
If you take the MV = GDP formulation, GDP will go down right with the money supply, unless velocity (V) soars. Which it can’t, because people are maxed out on those mortgages. They can’t spend. If you go with MV=PT, then if money supply falls, so will prices. Unless transactions (output) is demolished, but that will just kill off velocity even more. Why many people see inflation in our future is hard to gauge.
We could, presumably, get our central banks to pump ginormous amounts of money into our societies, but where are they going to put it? Not into our banks(!), which wouldn’t create all those loans anymore, as It’s a Wonderful Life takes over that role, taking the banks and their present role down with it.
Because it’s starting to get obvious that the present ‘system’ is set to go down big time, since as Steve put it:the only way to sustain it is for debt to continue rising faster than income, and we all know where that goes, we can advocate a version of controlled demolition, but who would lead that?
The banks are the most powerful party at the table right now, and controlled demolition of what we have today, as sensible as it may be for society at large, is not for them. Which makes this not only a financial problem, but a political one too: where does power reside. Down the line, it doesn’t even seem to matter much who gives out the loans, there will be very few takers.
Let’s just say we’re open to suggestions. But they better be good.
I was delighted to find myself in the Top Ten (alright; top 15) of the European Values list of 2,326 “Useful Idiots” appearing regularly on RT shows, and thus legitimizing Vladimir Putin’s attempt to destroy Western civilization as we know it. Why delighted? Because it completes the set of conspiracies to which I can now be accused of belonging. They include: • The Putin Conspiracy, since I am regularly interviewed on Russia Today (and even worse, I now get paid to write for RT!); • The Soros Conspiracy, since my research, has been funded by the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) which he established; • The Murdoch Conspiracy, since I appear every week on Sky News Australia with Carson Scott, and I used to get paid by News Ltd to write a weekly column; and • The Alt-Right Conspiracy, since I’ve signed a book contract with Vox Day’s publishing firm Castalia House.
So not only am I a “useful idiot,” I’m a useful idiot for four contradictory conspiracies. Does that make me a double-double agent? No, it makes me someone who’s quadruple pissed off with people who attempt to understand the world from the perspective of conspiracy theories in the first place. I don’t deny the existence of conspiracies: in fact, far from it, because they’re everywhere. What I do deny is the implicit assumption that the conspirators understand the system they’re attempting to manipulate. For example, I’ve heard plenty of conspiracy theorists assert that the 2008 financial crisis was caused by the Federal Reserve/George Soros (Hi George!)/Hedge Funds/Academic-Economists-Who-Peddle-The-Efficient-Markets-Hypothesis, and “they” profited from it.
This implies “they” knew what “they” were doing. Pardon me, but I’ve met many of these protagonists—and in the case of academic economists, I’ve worked with them for 30 years. “They” don’t have a clue (except George). Even those that were actively conspiring—like many hedge funds during the subprime bubble were doing so on the basis of utterly deluded theories about how the system they were trying to game actually worked. Where apparent conspiracies did work, like Soros’s punt against the British Pound decades ago, they did so because a CSP (Clever Sinister Person) bet against the conventional wisdom of others who thought they understood the system (and did not), rather than because the CSP set up the whole thing in the first place.
The three richest people in the US – Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett – own as much wealth as the bottom half of the US population, or 160 million people. Analysis of the wealth of America’s richest people found that Gates, Bezos and Buffett were sitting on a combined $248.5bn (£190bn) fortune. The Institute for Policy Studies said the growing gap between rich and poor had created a “moral crisis”. In a report, the Billionaire Bonanza, the thinktank said Donald Trump’s tax change proposals would “exacerbate existing wealth disparities” as 80% of tax benefits would end up going to the wealthiest 1% of households. “Wealth inequality is on the rise,” said Chuck Collins, an economist and co-author of the report. “Now is the time for actions that reduce inequality, not tax cuts for the very wealthy.”
The study found that the billionaires included in Forbes magazine’s list of the 400 richest people in the US were worth a combined $2.68tn – more than the GDP of the UK. “Our wealthiest 400 now have more wealth combined than the bottom 64% of the US population, an estimated 80m households or 204 million people,” the report says. “That’s more people than the population of Canada and Mexico combined.” The report says the “billionaire class” continues to “pull apart from the rest of us” at the fastest rate ever recorded. “We have not witnessed such extreme levels of concentrated wealth and power since the first gilded age a century ago.” Forbes celebrated 2017 as “another record year for the wealthiest people in America”, as “the price of admission to the country’s most exclusive club jumped nearly 18% to $2bn”.
That was a tenfold increase on the amount of money needed to enter the list when it first started in 1982. Josh Hoxie, another co-author of the thinktank report, said: “So much money concentrating in so few hands while so many people struggle is not just bad economics, it’s a moral crisis.” The report says many Americans are joining an “emerging anti-inequality movement”. “A century ago, a similar anti-inequality upsurge took on America’s vastly unequal distribution of income and wealth and, over the course of little more than a generation, fashioned a much more equal America,” it says.
A missile gets fired on the Saudi capital. A missile, which was allegedly built in Iran and smuggled to Yemen, just to be fired at Saudi Arabia. According to initial reports, two Saudi princes died back to back in 24 hours: one in an “accidental” helicopter crash, the other during a firefight that broke out while security forces were trying to arrest him. On November 7, Saudi Arabia’s information ministry spokesman said that “Prince Abdulaziz is alive and well”. However, the prince could not be independently reached for comment by the media. Other high-ranking members of the establishment and the royal family – the two tend to be one and the same in Saudi Arabia – get arrested on charges of corruption, with their bank accounts frozen. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri unexpectedly resigns after he was summoned to Riyadh by his Saudi-backers.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia accused Iran of conducting acts of “direct military aggression” and accused Lebanon of “declaring war” on Riyadh by allowing Hezbollah “aggression” against the kingdom. All this happened in a span of just a few days. With ever-growing security challenges and problems at the regional level, the crisis that took hold of Saudi Arabia does not seem to be slowing down. One contributing factor to the ongoing crisis is a major split in the Saudi royal family: the power struggle that resulted in the former crown prince being deposed and replaced with a new one, a move that shook things up quite a bit inside the country. The echo of this can be seen in the current “anti-corruption” persecution, enforced by the current Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
Outside the country, several key foreign policy projects failed: the effectiveness of the Yemen intervention can be judged by the fact that it resulted in a missile being fired at Riyadh. Bashar al-Assad is still in power in Syria. The attempts to scare Qatar into submission backfired, as Qatar has been getting more and more friendly with Russia, Turkey and Iran. Iran is gaining more and more influence in the region, while the Saudis seem to be losing it, hence they are trying to compensate for their losses by participating in proxy wars elsewhere. The Saudis also tried to flex their diplomatic muscle. King Salman even visited Moscow, where the two sides exchanged promises with no guarantees that these will ever be fulfilled. This also backfired, as some considered it a demonstration of weakness or an attempt to make peace by making concessions.
Add economic struggles to this series of failures, and one can see why the King’s and his Crown Prince’s position seem less and less stable by the minute. The situation apparently seemed so dire, that in order to keep everything afloat active persecution seemed the only possible way to keep the King and his successor in power. The “anti-corruption” campaign is just an excuse: the corruption has always been high in Saudi Arabia, and no one batted an eye before now. These are temporary measures. Persecution can hardly solve foreign and internal matters, and it will not lead to a solution of the problems. Right now, the kingdom’s leadership is desperately in need of an enemy to unite the population and draw their attention away from the chaotic events that unfolding in the country.
The Saudi royal family – the House of Saud – is throwing up one intrigue after another. Hours after the reported death of Prince Abdul Aziz bin Fahd, his nephew and son of late King Fahd’s eldest surviving son, Prince Turki bin Mohamed bin Fahd has fled the country. His destination, according to speculation among those who are watching the situation closely, is, wait for it, Iran.If this is true, this may put new strain on Tehran and Riyadh, already at loggerheads for dominance in the restive Middle East region, where Saudi Arabia and Iran are fighting, what analysts term, a proxy war in Yemen. What makes Prince Turki bin Mohamed bin Fahd’s reported flight to Iran, where he is said to have sought asylum, interesting, apart from his destination, is that it comes at a time when Saudi aviation authorities are said to have been told not to let any of the oil-rich kingdom’s many royals fly out of the country.
Of course,with the outflow of information from Saudi Arabia particularly restricted right now, all reports of developments on the region must be taken with a pinch of salt. Turki bin Mohamed, is the son of Muhammad bin Fahd Al Saud, the second-oldest son of late Saudi King Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and is also the grandnephew of the current King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud This is the same King Salman whose son Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (known informally as MBS) is believed to be have orchestrated what many are seeing as a coup by sideling prominent Saudi royals and taking decisions that could win over the country’s liberal quarters.
One of Rupert Murdoch’s key business allies, who was arrested in last week’s corruption crackdown in Saudi Arabia, has quietly sold off his $1.5 billion stake in 21st Century Fox. The business relationship between Mr Murdoch and Prince Alwaleed bin Talal is now under new scrutiny, with Mr Murdoch’s control over his family-controlled business empire looking more uncertain. “This is very big news,” Murdoch watcher and shareholder activist Stephen Mayne said after the company confirmed Prince Alwaleed had offloaded his shareholdings in Fox and News Corporation. “He’s been the number one backer of Murdoch family control of the public companies for the last 20 years.”
One of the world’s richest men, the Prince is one of dozens of royal family members, officials and business leaders arrested in Saudi Arabia in recent days. With his bank accounts and other assets likely to have been frozen by Saudi authorities, his detention had raised questions about who had control over his almost 40 million Fox shares. It now appears he sold those shares with little fanfare. It is unclear when the shares were sold. But a Bloomberg report on the company’s shareholders shows Prince Alwaleed’s stake fell to zero during the current financial quarter.
Over the past year we have provided extensive coverage of what will likely be the biggest, most politically charged, and most significant financial crisis facing the aging U.S. population: a multi-trillion pension storm, which was recently dubbed “one of the most heated battles of a lifetime” by John Mauldin. The reason, in a nutshell, why the US public pension problem has stumped so many professionals is simple: for lack of a better word, it is an unsustainable Ponzi scheme, in which satisfying accrued pension and retirement obligations requires not only a constant inflow of new money, but also fixed income returns, typically in the 6%+ range, which are virtually unfeasible in a world where global debt/GDP is in the 300%+ range. Which is why we, and many others, have long speculated that it is only a matter of time before the matter receives political attention, and ultimately, a taxpayer bailout.
That moment may be imminent. According to Pensions and Investments magazine, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown from Ohio plans to introduce legislation that would allow struggling multiemployer pension funds to borrow from the U.S. Treasury to remain solvent. The bill, which is co-sponsored by another Democrat, Rep. Tim Ryan, also of Ohio, could be introduced as soon as this week or shortly after. It would create a new office within the Treasury Department called the Pension Rehabilitation Administration. The funds would come from the sale of Treasury-issued bonds to financial institutions. The pension funds could borrow for 30 years at low interest rates. The one, and painfully amusing, restriction for borrowers is “they could not make risky investments”, which of course will be promptly circumvented in hopes of generating outsized returns and repaying the Treasury’s “bailout” loan, ultimately leading to massive losses on what is effectively a taxpayer-funded pension bailout.
Barack Obama had only been in office for a few weeks when he first tried to take on tax havens. The freshly inaugurated U.S. president wanted greater transparency, harsher penalties and more justice. Obama, who had helped draft anti-tax haven legislation – to date, still not passed – as an Illinois senator, called out many tax havens by name. There were the usual suspects: Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and Switzerland. But there was also, to the surprise of many, the Netherlands. A founding member of the European Union, quaint little Holland has for years been the most important tax haven for American corporations. This includes large multinationals such as the coffee chain Starbucks, the delivery company FedEx, the pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer and – as the Paradise Papers have revealed – the sporting apparel manufacturer Nike and the electric carmaker Tesla.
Every year, other countries lose out on billions of euros in taxes for the apparent reason that the Netherlands has bent to the will of influential lobbyists while neighboring EU member states have stood idly by and done nothing. Experts accuse the country of providing illegal state subsidies, and the European Commission is alarmed, but the Dutch tax loophole will nevertheless remain open for years to come. One of the most important days for the Netherlands as a tax haven was July 6, 2005. That was the day that Paragraph 4 of Article 24 – the so-called anti-abuse clause – was struck from the U.S. tax convention with the Netherlands, effectively legalizing the abuse of Dutch corporate law. The Netherlands’ tax loophole revolves around a business structure known in Dutch as a commanditaire vennootschap, or CV, the Dutch version of a limited partnership. In a CV, just like in a limited partnership, two or more people can join together for business purposes.
One of the partners, namely the limited partner, is only liable for a fixed amount, while the other, the general partner, is fully liable. In contrast to Germany, CVs are not regarded as taxable entities in the Netherlands, but solely as partnerships. In the eyes of the Dutch tax authorities, it’s not the CV itself that’s responsible for paying taxes, but the individual partners. This is where things get interesting, especially for American companies. By founding a CV in the Netherlands plus one or two Dutch subsidiaries, U.S. firms reach “the Holy Grail of tax avoidance.” That’s how Senator Carl Levin once put it while still in office, describing the complex networks of companies that allow their owners to completely avoid taxes.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is offering to airlift victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico to the U.S. mainland to reach temporary housing – a complex operation that would be the first of its kind for the agency. Under FEMA’s Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) program, displaced residents and families who are still living in shelters on the island can opt to relocate to housing in Florida and New York. The agency is working with the governors in both states to work through logistical issues for families interested in participating. Mike Byrne, a federal coordinating officer for FEMA, said the program is the first time the agency has attempted what it calls an “air bridge,” or a relief operation requiring the transportation of individuals from a disaster area.
In most disasters, FEMA pays for displaced residents to stay in hotels under the TSA program. In Puerto Rico, the hotels are filled to capacity, so FEMA is turning to the mainland and working with states to find accommodations. “A thousand miles adds a whole level of complexity to this,” Byrne said. Byrne says agency teams are traveling to shelters on the island to ask longtime occupants about their housing options going forward, telling them about FEMA’s offer. He said the level of interest in the program has so far been low, with only about 30 out of 300 families interviewed on Tuesday expressing interest in participating. “People really don’t want to leave their homes,” Byrne said. “We want to give them every opportunity we can to be able to stay here, whether it’s providing financial assistance or repairing their homes. So we are going to work hard on those things so people don’t have to leave.”
The speaker of the Catalan parliament and five of its members appeared before Spain’s supreme court in Madrid on Thursday to answer charges of rebellion and sedition over their roles in staging a banned referendum on Catalonia’s independence last month. The court will decide whether to remand Carme Forcadell and the five MPs in custody while the investigation continues or release them under certain conditions. Eight former members of the Catalan government and the leaders of the two main grassroots pro-independence groups are already in custody awaiting trial on sedition charges for their parts in the 1 October referendum, which Spanish courts ruled illegal.
The region’s deposed president, Carles Puigdemont, and four of his former cabinet ministers went into self-imposed exile in Belgium last week after Madrid responded to Catalonia’s declaration of independence by firing his administration, dissolving the parliament and calling regional elections for December. Spain’s high court issued an arrest warrant for for all five last week on sedition and rebellion charges. Forcadell and the five MPs were summoned last week to the supreme court, which handles cases of people who enjoy parliamentary immunity, but it gave them more time to prepare their defences. They are suspected of having followed a “concerted strategy to declare independence” before the official declaration of the Catalan parliament on 27 October, which Spain’s constitutional court annulled on Wednesday.
European officials have given the government an ultimatum to proceed with electronic foreclosures on homes later in the month or else the country’s third bailout review will not be concluded. The warning came despite the recent positive messages emanating from Brussels and Washington that Greece is making progress in the review and is on course to reach an agreement with creditors on a technical level by the end of the year. But lenders appear adamant that the review’s conclusion will be jeopardized if foreclosures do not take place as scheduled and if notaries, who have borne the brunt of attacks by anti-establishment groups and protesters, are not protected. “If the Greek government has the will to protect notaries it will find the way to achieve this,” a source told Kathimerini, adding that “if they want to stop the violence they can do it.”
The sources told Kathimerini they expect to see foreclosures beginning on November 27 “at all banks and throughout the country and not just isolated cases.” Auditors have repeatedly made it clear that the resumption of foreclosures, which have dragged during the crisis years due to strikes by lawyers and notaries and more recently due to anti-austerity protesters, is a prerequisite for the successful conclusion of Greece’s current bailout review. The ultimatum, however, appears to have motivated the government to take action so that foreclosures resume and notaries are protected as sources said that all necessary measures will be taken to “ensure strategic debt defaulters do not hide behind the attacks against notaries.”
If some power wanted to undermine all that is good in a country, to waste its natural beauty and people, to damage its past, present and future, it need look no further than Greece. Here it would see the result of a long-term conspiracy against the coue beginning of the modern Greek state, the Greeks were under foreign tutelage. In the past few decades, though, as a member of the European Union, we had begun to believe that we could function as an independent country, without patrons. And suddentry. Fortunately, the Greeks are fighters, they resist as much as they can. That is why the country is still beautiful, with talented, generous people, with bright children capable of competing with the best in the world. The “enemy,” though, holds the people hostage, keeping them from reaching their full potential, from making the country what it could be.
From thnly, bankrupt, we found ourselves under strict supervision again. It is understandable, then, that we blame foreigners for all our ills – those powers that want to suck us dry of our wealth, to keep us weak and under control. Because it is certain that we are not the ones who benefit from continued political and economic insecurity, from unpredictable and excessive taxation, disdain for investments, dysfunctional justice, a weakened education system. The only beneficiaries are the tricksters who know how to exploit the situation – and other countries. When we have almost no investments and the country’s strongest selling point as a tourist destination is its stability in an unstable region, it is clear that we are not creating added value, we are not establishing foundations for the future. Investments go elsewhere and Greece keeps falling behind the competition.
In the World Bank’s latest Doing Business survey of 190 countries, Greece was ranked 67th, from 61st last year (and 60th and 58th before that). It is incredible that after seven years of crisis and three bailout agreements it should still be so difficult to set up a business in Greece. And yet, there is stiff resistance to improving the situation: Taxes and social security contributions are way above the European Union average; there are long delays in the justice system, conflicting and confusing laws and regulations, along with a public administration determined to obstruct whatever it can, encourage corruption and send businesses elsewhere.
Other countries gain even more when thousands of Greek doctors and others with special skills move away in search of a better life, taking with them the money invested in their education. So why should we not believe that it is in our foreign partners’ interests to keep Greece at this level? In the past, they lent us money, now they loot our human resources (and later perhaps our still-to-be-discovered fossil fuels, according to a long-running conspiracy theory). Our partners did not stop lending us money, but now it comes not from their banks but from their taxpayers, and with strict conditions.
A total ban on insect-harming pesticides in fields across Europe will be backed by the UK, environment secretary Michael Gove has revealed. The decision reverses the government’s previous position and is justified by recent new evidence showing neonicotinoids have contaminated the whole landscape and cause damage to colonies of bees. It also follows the revelation that 75% of all flying insects have disappeared in Germany and probably much further afield, a discovery Gove said had shocked him. Neonicotinoids are the world’s most widely used insecticide but in 2013 the European Union banned their use on flowering crops, although the UK was among the nations opposing the ban. The European Commission now wants a total ban on their use outside of greenhouses, with a vote expected in December, and the UK’s new position makes it very likely to pass.
“The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids pose to our environment, particularly to the bees and other pollinators which play such a key part in our £100bn food industry, is greater than previously understood,” said Gove. “I believe this justifies further restrictions on their use. We cannot afford to put our pollinator populations at risk.” In an article for the Guardian, Gove said: “As is always the case, a deteriorating environment is ultimately bad economic news as well.” He said pollinators boost the yield and quality of UK crops by £400m-£680m every year and said, for example, gala apple growers are now having to spend £5.7m a year to do replace the work of lost natural pollinators.
Gove said the evidence of neonicotinoids’ harm to pollinators has grown stronger since 2013, including a landmark field trial published in July that showed neonicotinoids damage bee populations, not just individual insects, and a global analysis of honey revealing worldwide contamination by the insecticides. [..] Gove’s decision has delighted campaigners and scientists who have long argued that heavy pesticide use, along with the destruction of habitat and disease, are having a devastating impact on insects. “Michael Gove is to be congratulated for listening to the experts on this issue and backing tougher restrictions,” said Friends of the Earth’s chief executive Craig Bennett. “But lessons also need to be learned – we now need to move away from chemical-intensive farming and instead boost support for less damaging ways of tackling persistent weeds and pests.
Swedish prosecutors said on Friday they would drop a preliminary investigation into an allegation of rape against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, bringing to an end a seven-year legal standoff. “Chief Prosecutor Marianne Ny has today decided to discontinue the preliminary investigation regarding suspected rape concerning Julian Assange,” the prosecutors office said in a statement. Assange, 45, has lived in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012, after taking refuge there to avoid extradition to Sweden over the allegation of rape, which he denies. He has refused to travel to Stockholm, saying he fears further extradition to the US over WikiLeaks’ release of 500,000 secret military files on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2015 lawyers for Julian Assange have claimed victory after a Swedish prosecutor bowed to pressure from the courts and agreed to break the deadlock in the WikiLeaks founder’s case by interviewing him in London.
Australia has become the “walking dead of debt” due for a financial reckoning that could shock the housing market “bubble” within months. That’s according to “anti-economist” Professor Steve Keen who defines Australia as a “zombie to be” given soaring personal debt that has created a government-induced property bubble ripe to burst. “Australia has simply delayed its day of reckoning,” he told news.com.au in reference to the global financial crisis that shocked many countries around the world from 2008 but left the lucky country relatively unscathed after a series of government interventions. The Kingston University Professor claims first homeowners grants rolled out by successive governments have artificially kept prices high creating a form of “instant prosperity” that politicians are loath to stop.
“The housing bubble makes the politicians look good because A, people are feeling wealthier, and B … people are borrowing money to spend,” he said. “Then the government runs a balanced budget and looks like it really knows what it’s doing” “It hasn’t got a f***ing clue frankly, because what’s actually happening is the reason it’s making that money is credit is expanding,” he said. “It’s the old classic story, you’re criticising a party because someone’s laced the punchbowl. You try to take the punchbowl away from the party you’re a very unpopular person but you need to because what’s actually happening is people are getting intoxicated with credit”. His latest book, Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis? argues Australia, along with Belgium, China, Canada and South Korea, is a “zombie” economy sleepwalking into a crunch that could come between 2017 and 2020.
“Both [Australia and Canada] will suffer a serious economic slowdown in the next few years since the only way they can sustain their current growth rates is for debt to continue growing faster than GDP,” he writes. [..] For Prof Keen, the solution for governments to an overheated housing market is obvious: “Stop making housing into an asset.” “Make housing a place for people to actually live. So you go back to saying ‘what’s desirable is affordable houses’ and affordable means it doesn’t cost a first homebuyer more than three or four years’ income to get a property,” he said. As for those struggling to get on the ladder in the meantime? “The only thing you can do in the middle is say I’m just not going to join in, and if it happens on a collective level …. it’s game over for the bubble because the bubble only works if more people keep taking out more leverage.”
The total debt held by American households reached a record in early 2017, exceeding its 2008 peak after years of retrenchment against a backdrop of financial crisis, recession and modest economic growth. Much has changed over the past 8.5 years. The economy is larger, lending standards are tighter and less debt is delinquent. Mortgages remain the largest form of household borrowing but have become a smaller share of total debt as consumers take on more automotive and student loans. “The debt and its borrowers look quite different today,” New York Fed economist Donghoon Lee said. He added: “This record debt level is neither a reason to celebrate nor a cause for alarm.” The total-debt milestone, announced Wednesday by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, was a long time coming.
Americans reduced their debts during and after the 2007-09 recession to an unusual extent: a 12% decline from the peak in the third quarter of 2008 to the trough in the second quarter of 2013. New York Fed researchers, looking at data back to the end of World War II, described the drop as “an aberration from what had been a 63-year upward trend reflecting the depth, duration and aftermath of the Great Recession.” In the first quarter, total debt was up about 14% from that low point as steady job gains, falling unemployment and continued economic growth boosted households’ income and willingness to borrow. The New York Fed report said total household debt rose by $149 billion in the first three months of 2017 compared with the prior quarter to a total of $12.725 trillion.
The pace of new lending slowed from the strong fourth quarter. Mortgage balances rose from the final three months of 2016, while home-equity lines of credit were down. Automotive loans rose, as did student loans, but credit-card debt fell along with other types of debt. The data weren’t adjusted for inflation, and household debt remains below past levels in relation to the size of the overall U.S. economy. In the first quarter, total debt was about 67% of nominal gross domestic product versus roughly 85% of GDP in the third quarter of 2008. Balance sheets look different now, with less housing-related debt and more student and auto loans. As of the first quarter, about 68% of total household debt was in the form of mortgages; in the third quarter of 2008, mortgages were roughly 73% of total debt. Student loans rose from about 5% to around 11% of total indebtedness, and auto loans went from roughly 6% to about 9%.
The EU’s “Stability and Growth Pact” has as one of its primary rules that “The Member States undertake to abide by the medium-term budgetary objective of positions close to balance or in surplus…” I explore what this objective implies in the context of a model of the economy of “TomDickHaria”: what happens to its collective GDP where one member tries to achieve the surplus goal set out in the “Stability and Growth Pact?
All 153 lawmakers in Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ governing coalition backed the legislation that includes new pension cuts and lower tax breaks, which are expected to save Greece €4.9 billion ($5.4 billion) until 2021. All opposition lawmakers present in the 300-seat chamber rejected the package required by international lenders before the release of more aid. Athens needs the bailout funds to repay €7.5 billion of debt maturing in July this year. Relief measures will only kick in if Greece meets fiscal targets stipulated by its creditors. “Our country is being turned into an austerity colony,” leading opposition conservative Kyriakos Mitsotakis said during debate on the bill, describing added cuts as a “nightmare” for low-earners.
Tsipras countered that its passage would enable Greece from summer next year to stand on its own feet, without the intervention of creditors such as the IMF. He accused the opposition of constantly warning of a catastrophe that “hasn’t come.” Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos told Skai TV that Greek creditors the IMF and Germany were “in the final stretch of very tough negotiations” over a compromise that should allow Greece to return to bond markets in 2018. Thursday’s austerity package lowers the income tax exception from €8,600 down to about €5,700 but increases benefits for low-income tenants, parents with children and subsidies for child care. Public stakes are to be reduced through sales of holdings in Greece’s PPC electricity utility, railways, Athens’ international airport and the Thessaloniki port.
President Donald Trump next week will propose the U.S. can balance the federal budget over 10 years with substantial cuts to safety-net programs such as food stamps and other anti-poverty efforts, combined with a tax and regulatory overhaul that speeds up the nation’s economic growth rate, a senior White House budget official said. The president’s budget, due for release Tuesday, will spare the two largest drivers of future spending—Medicare and Social Security—leaving trillions in cuts from other programs. That includes discretionary spending cuts to education, housing, environment programs and foreign aid already laid out by the administration, in addition to new proposed reductions to nondiscretionary spending like food stamps, Medicaid and federal employee-benefit programs.
The budget release, which will be unveiled while Mr. Trump is visiting Europe and the Middle East, shows how his economic policy team is trying to forge ahead on his agenda even as distracting political controversies, such as the recent firing of FBI director James Comey, swirl around Washington. On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testified on Capitol Hill, his first such appearance since his February confirmation, where he expressed confidence Congress could advance a revamp of the tax code this year. House Republicans held their first hearing on the proposed tax overhaul, following a series of meetings between lawmakers and top administration officials Wednesday.
The White House’s budget proposal next week builds upon an earlier outline in March that called for a nearly 10% boost in defense funding next year, offset by around $54 billion in cuts for nondefense programs. [..] Among the more controversial elements of the budget will be the administration’s growth forecasts. The White House projects the nation’s economic growth rate will rise to 3% by 2021, compared with the 1.9% forecast under current policy by the Congressional Budget Office. It’s unusual to see the White House’s growth forecasts differ from the CBO and other blue-chip projections by such a large margin over such a long stretch of the 10-year budget window.
Despite yesterday’s market sell-off, the Fed is still on track to raise interest rates in June. Wednesday’s action is no more than a speed bump for the Fed. It will not stop the Fed from moving forward with another 0.25% rate increase. The Fed is embarking on a new path, a path that started several years with QE (quantitative easing). QE is the name for the method the Fed uses to ease monetary conditions when interest rates are already zero. Conventional monetary policy calls for interest rate cuts to stimulate growth and inflate asset prices when the economy is in a recession. What does a central bank do when interest rates are already at zero and you can’t cut them anymore? One solution is negative interest rates, although the evidence from Japan and Europe indicates that negative rates do not have the same effect as rate cuts from positive levels. The second solution is to print money! The Fed does this by buying bonds from the big banks.
The banks deliver the bonds to the Fed, and the Fed pays for them with money from thin air. The popular name for this is quantitative easing, or QE, although the Fed’s technical name is long-term asset purchases. The Fed did QE in three rounds from 2008 to 2013. They gradually tapered new purchases down to zero by 2014. Since then, the Fed has been stuck with $4.5 trillion of bonds that it bought with the printed money. When the bonds mature, the Fed buys new ones to maintain the size of its balance sheet. But now the Fed wants to “normalize” its balance sheet and get back down to about $2 trillion. They could just sell the bonds, but that would destroy the bond market. Instead, the Fed will let the old bonds mature, and not buy new ones. That way the money just disappears and the balance sheet shrinks. The new name for this is “quantitative tightening,” or QT. You’ll be hearing a lot about QT in the months ahead.
Here’s the staggering scale of the Italian government’s dependence on the ECB’s bond purchases, according to a new report by Astellon Capital: Since 2008, 88% of government debt net issuance has been acquired by the ECB and Italian Banks. At current government debt net issuance rates and announced QE levels, the ECB will have been responsible for financing 100% of Italy’s deficits from 2014 to 2019. But now there’s a snag. Last month, the size of the balance sheet of the ECB surpassed that of any other central bank: At €4.17 trillion, the ECB’s assets have soared to 38.8% of Eurozone GDP. The ECB has already reduced the rate of purchases to €60 billion a month. And it plans to further withdraw from the super-expansionary monetary policy. To do this, according to Der Spiegel, it wants to spread more optimistic messages about the economic situation and gradually reduce borrowing.
[..] By the halfway point of 2018 the ECB would have completed tapering and it would then use the second half of the year to move away from negative interest rates. So far, most current ECB members have shown scant enthusiasm for withdrawing the punch bowl. The reason most frequently cited for not tapering more just yet is their lingering concern about the long-term sustainability of the Eurozone’s recent economic turnaround. The ECB’s binge-buying of sovereign and corporate bonds has spawned a mass culture of financial dependence across Europe, while merely serving to paper over the cracks that began forming — or at least became visible — in some Eurozone economies during the sovereign debt crisis. In many places the cracks are even bigger than they were back then. This is the elephant in the ECB’s room, and by now it’s too big to ignore.
In one country alone, the cracks are so large that they could end up fracturing the entire single currency project. That country is Italy. Astellon Capital’s report on Italy’s dependence on ECB bond purchases poses the question: If the ECB tapers its purchase of Italian bonds further, who would pick up the slack? The Italian banks, which are themselves deep in crisis mode and whose balance sheets are already filled to the gills with Italian bonds? Hardly. When QE ends, the banks are more likely to become net sellers, rather than net buyers, of Italian debt. The only way for the game to continue is if over the next six years non-banks increase their purchase activity up to seven times that of the past nine years. In other words, the very same investors who have used QE as the perfect opportunity to offload the immense risk of holding Italian liabilities onto the Bank of Italy’s, and then onto the Eurosystem’s, would need to step back into the market in a massive way, just at a time that the country in question is on the verge of a full-blown banking crisis.
Diplomatic relations between America and Russia have deteriorated to such an extent that contacts between the two countries have become extremely paranoid of one another, the chief executive of Russia’s largest bank has told CNBC. “From what we see here in Russia and from the programs we see from the U.S., the unfolding situation is fairly complex. And there are certain signs of a certain… paranoid attitude to Russia and to every single contact with Russia real or imagined,” Herman Gref, Sberbank CEO, said via a translator. [..] When asked whether Gref harbored any concerns about the consequences of having met with Trump in the past, he replied, “I think the situation has become extremely paranoid for one to suspect that these sort of contacts could lead to political consequences.”
Speaking in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Sberbank’s CEO had predicted the Trump administration could re-establish close ties with the Kremlin and expressed his hope the newly-elected U.S. president could mark a “new beginning” for the two countries. On Friday, Gref suggested it was still too early to judge the success of Trump’s presidency however conceded that, for the time-being at least, relations between American and Russia were unlikely to change for the better. Moscow is currently enduring the sharp end of tough international sanctions from Washington[..] . “Well, I have to say that this has had an effect on us in the last two years… The inability to access international markets is painful for us,” Gref said. “You know, sanctions were put in place for political reasons and most likely their removal will also be motivated by politics…
The American elite still refuse to accept Trump after his 100 days in the Oval Office. He is at odds with the mainstream media; insiders have constantly leaked information to the media. Now some commentators have compared the exposure of the Comey memo to the Watergate scandal. As Congress is under Republican control, few believe there will be a move to impeach the president, but these latest revelations will certainly further erode Trump’s presidential authority. At the beginning of the corruption scandal, few believed that South Korean president Park Geun-hye would be impeached either. Could this be a reference for Trump’s case? But evidence of Park’s illegal activities was solid, while it will be more complicated to make determinations over whether Trump obstructed justice and leaked classified intelligence.
To impeach Trump will need more evidence from further investigation. To completely discredit Trump among voters, the present scandal is not enough as it does not add to the negative image of Trump. Many just think Trump often speaks off the cuff, which ends up in silly blunders. If there is a major substantive scandal over and above him speaking out of turn then that will be another thing. But this is not the case at the moment. Every country has its own troubles. The US model represents Western democracy, but it is crumbling, and the resulting social division has become more and more serious. The US Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein appointed a special counsel to oversee the investigation into link between Russia and the 2016 US presidential election and related matters on Wednesday.
More juicy details will continue to appear and the rifts may become wider. Trump will become one of the most frequently accused Americans. The US won’t be engulfed by chaos if its president is caught in a lawsuit. Someone has pointed out that no matter how chaotic the White House and Capitol Hill are, the overall operation of the US will not be a major problem as long as the enterprises and social organizations in the country are stable. This is seen as an advantage of the American system. Although American society is relatively stable, the political tumult can’t be taken as an advantage of the US system. The fact is that US politics is in trouble, and the benefits brought by its system are being squandered.
It was never written down and never given a name, but France had a detailed plan to “protect the Republic” if far right leader Marine Le Pen was elected president, French media have reported. “It was like a multi-stage rocket,” an unnamed senior official told l’Obs magazine. “The philosophy, and the absolute imperative, was to keep the peace, while also respecting our constitutional rules.” [..] L’Obs cited three anonymous sources with knowledge of the emergency plan that would have been put into effect had Le Pen reached the Elysée palace, saying it was devised by a small group of ministers, chiefs of staff and top civil servants. The magazine said the plan was aimed mainly at preventing serious civil unrest and “freezing” the political situation by convening parliament in emergency session and maintaining the outgoing prime minister in office.
Police and intelligence services were particularly concerned by the threat of “extreme violence” from mainly far left protesters in the event of a Le Pen victory as the country would have found itself “on the brink of chaos”. Even before the first round of voting on 23 April, a confidential note drawn up by the intelligence services announced that “without exception, every local public safety directorate has expressed its concern”, Le Parisien reported. Regional police chiefs were asked on 21 April to detail their crowd control and deployment plans, l’Obs said. Under France’s ongoing state of emergency, more than 50,000 police and gendarmes and 7,000 soldiers were already on duty. On 5 May, two days before the second round that Macron won by 66% to Le Pen’s 34%, the national public safety directorate warned in another note that protesters were ready to use “fireworks, mortars and incendiary bombs”.
When I shook his hand, I told him that I work for a charity and freelance as a journalist, writing on politics and social justice issues. I expressed my disappointment that Labour (and particularly Corbyn himself) doesn’t get a fair hearing from many news outlets. He spoke in my ear: “If you do what you believe in, you’re strong. It’s when you don’t do what you believe in that you’re weak. And we are strong.” The unveiling of Labour’s manifesto today was a display of strength. Labour is promising a Britain that works for everyone, where whole swathes of society aren’t left behind. The transformative manifesto will take the financial burden from the shoulders of those who can least afford to carry it, and place it upon the top 5% of earners and arrogantly tax-dodging corporations.
The Britain we currently live in is untenable for young people, university students, teachers, NHS workers, policemen, the disabled, people with long-term illnesses, people who can’t find work, first-time buyers, and those living in rented accommodation. Britain is working for a wealthy few, and Labour’s manifesto highlights the fact, often forgotten, that this is not inevitable. At Bradford University, a huge cheer went up when Corbyn promised to scrap tuition fees and end hospital parking charges. The scandal of zero hours contracts would be a thing of the past under Labour, as will NHS cuts and rises in VAT and income tax for 95% of earners. The manifesto is a document filled with long-overdue, common sense policies.
It addresses the important questions that accompany the Brexit process, including concerns about the protection of jobs and hard-won workers’ rights. It puts children and young people first, promising to invest in them through a National Education Service rather than rely on the failed academies experiment or a ridiculous and divisive reintroduction of grammar schools. In-work poverty is unacceptable. My partner and I both work two jobs and we struggle to make ends meet. We don’t indulge in avocado toast but finding enough for a deposit on a mortgage is sadly out of reach. The pledge to build one million new homes and introduce a £10 living wage by 2020 is crucial for young couples and for anyone working in poorly paid or part-time jobs, notably in care work and service industry roles. If Labour’s manifesto and the promise of more public ownership will transport us to the 1970s, where do we currently live? 1870, perhaps?
Neither Canada nor Japan cracked the top 10, and the United States finished a dismal 35th, according to a much anticipated ranking of healthcare quality in 195 countries, released Friday. Among nations with more than a million souls, top honours for 2015 went to Switzerland, followed by Sweden and Norway, though the healthcare gold standard remains tiny Andorra, a postage stamp of a country nestled between Spain (No. 8) and France (No. 15). Iceland (No. 2), Australia (No. 6), Finland (No. 7), the Netherlands (No. 9) and financial and banking centre Luxembourg rounded out the first 10 finishers, according to a comprehensive study published in the medical journal The Lancet.
Of the 20 countries heading up the list, all but Australia and Japan (No. 11) are in western Europe, where virtually every nation boasts some form of universal health coverage. The United States – where a Republican Congress wants to peel back reforms that gave millions of people access to health insurance for the first time – ranked below Britain, which placed 30th. The Healthcare Access and Quality Index, based on death rates for 32 diseases that can be avoided or effectively treated with proper medical care, also tracked progress in each nation compared to the benchmark year of 1990.
Virtually all countries improved over that period, but many – especially in Africa and Oceania – fell further behind others in providing basic care for their citizens. With the exceptions of Afghanistan, Haiti and Yemen, the 30 countries at the bottom of the ranking were all in sub-Saharan Africa, with the Central African Republic suffering the worst standards of all. “Despite improvements in healthcare quality and access over 25 years, inequality between the best and worst performing countries has grown,” said Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, and leader of a consortium of hundreds of contributing experts.
Sol Bellear, a former rugby league player for South Sydney Rabbitohs and Aboriginal rights activist, sits in the soft autumn sunshine at a cafe intersecting Redfern Park and the oval that remains the spiritual home of his beloved club. He sips a Red Bull “heart starter” and English breakfast tea. And he shakes his head while contemplating the anniversaries of what ought to have been transformative moments for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – starting with the 1967 “citizenship” referendum that first made their existence in Australia “official”. “Things should be so much better for Aboriginal people. I think the country saw 1967 as the end of the fight,” Bellear says.
“Before 1967, we weren’t counted in the census or anything as people. Dogs and cats and pigs and sheep were counted in Australia before Aboriginal people.” Indigenous people had never previously been officially included among the Australian citizenry, nor counted in the Commonwealth census – so the federal government could not legislate for them. But on 27 May 1967, more than 90% of the Australian electorate voted at the “citizenship” referendum to effectively bring Indigenous people into the Commonwealth. “After the referendum, though, it was like the work was done for the rest of the country and governments – when it was actually just the bloody beginning,” Bellear says. “Every little thing we’ve won since, we’ve had to fight for.”
2017 is also the 25th anniversary of two more critical moments in the story: the Mabo decision – a High Court ruling that led to native title land rights, and former prime minister Paul Keating’s landmark “Redfern speech” (“We committed the murders – we took the children from their mothers”). It was Bellear who introduced Keating at Redfern Park. This was the first time an Australian prime minister had frankly, without qualification, acknowledged the violence, sickness, dispossession and ongoing oppression that colonialism had imposed on Indigenous people. Yet a quarter of a century on, Bellear says his country remains deaf to all the non-government reports into Indigenous lives – and to the savage critiques of Commonwealth policies that purported to make them better.
[..] Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders constitute some 3% of the country’s overall population – yet in 1991, they comprised 14% of Australia’s prisoners. A quarter of a century later, that figure was up to 27% – while more than 150 Indigenous people had died in custody in the intervening 25 years. In some parts of Australia, many more young Indigenous men complete prison terms than high school. The Indigenous rate of imprisonment is 15 times the age-standardised non-Indigenous rate. As Thalia Anthony pointed out in her 2015 book Indigenous People, Crime and Punishment, rates of Indigenous incarceration in Australia today match those of black imprisonment in apartheid South Africa.
Frequent sales put pressure on the market to produce homes catering to changing tastes among buyers. Nelson notes that the home building industry is now producing less than half the number of new houses it did in the mid-2000s. Though demand now outpaces supply, homeowners are hanging on to properties significantly longer—nine to ten years—because they owe more on their houses than they can get for them, their houses are worth less than before the recession, or they can’t find a home that meets their needs due to insufficient supply. “It’s not that Boomers are going to ‘age in place,’” says Nelson. “They’re going to be stuck in place, and they’re going to make the best of it.” Those who can afford it will remodel. Regardless of when it occurs, the great senior sell-off won’t affect every Boomer equally.
A large chunk of Millennials—Nelson posits around two-thirds—will want to buy suburban homes because they like the lifestyle, or because they will be priced out of cities like Washington, D.C. or Los Angeles, where housing costs are exorbitant. Most of the other third, he says, will want to live in central cities and the oldest, closest suburbs—though not necessarily downtown. The small percentage who prefer downtown living but cannot afford certain cities may move to more affordable ones, such as Philadelphia or Minneapolis. Nelson predicts that the fringe areas surrounding cities will bring the biggest headaches for Boomers looking to unload their houses. Because Millennials will be looking for small homes when they finally start to buy in larger numbers, the sprawling McMansions of the exurbs won’t be desirable to many of them.
“The Boomers in the exurbs are going to be in a real pickle,” says Nelson. “Even in a dynamic market like Washington, D.C. or other booming cities, the market for those homes is going to be soft.” Though Jennifer Molinsky, a senior research associate at Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, agrees that exurbs and rural areas will likely be vulnerable to the Boomer/Millennial housing mismatch, she’s not as pessimistic about the sell-off as a whole. “The Baby Boomers are a large generation,” she says. “Nothing they do is going to happen en masse.” She also believes that the Boomers who don’t age in place will demand an increasing array of housing options that will help spread out sales over time, decreasing the likelihood of a sudden glut of housing.
But many analysts do agree on one thing: More housing will need to be built for Millennials—and it needs to be scaled to their desires, not their parents’s. “Millennials are likely to prioritize different features in their homes, such as greener materials or in-law suites,” says Molinsky. And according to the Harvard Joint Center’s projections, nearly 90% of those looking for homes in 2035 will be under 35 or 70 and over—and both groups tend to buy less square footage. The challenge for local governments and developers, says Nelson, “is to anticipate these future needs and build different and smaller homes now—before getting trapped with too many larger homes later.”
The average selling price for all homes in the Greater Toronto Area, including houses and condos, surged to $916,567 in March, a 33% rise from the year before, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board. Since January alone, prices are up 19%. A lowly semi-detached house in the city is now worth more than $1 million. Prices are growing even faster in the surrounding suburbs. More ﬁrst-time homebuyers and investors are looking to Barrie, Ont., a city about 100 km north of Toronto, where the average selling price jumped 33% compared to the year before.
[..] Canada is a country deeply reliant on real estate. The industry accounts for roughly 12% of its GDP. In British Columbia, real estate and related ﬁelds such as construction and ﬁnance make up an astounding 40% of GDP. Vancouver is seeing prices rise again after numerous efforts to cool the market. And in Alberta, not even a recession and a 9% unemployment rate did much damage to house prices in Calgary and Edmonton. “It’s surprising how well it has held up, given the severity of two years of contraction,” says Todd Hirsch, chief economist at ATB Financial.
[..] “Tight supply starts to become a justiﬁcation for all outcomes,” says Beata Caranci, chief economist at TD Bank Group. If buyers are convinced supply is low, then the big price increases will seem logical, exacerbating their fear of missing out and pushing them to act irrationally. Toronto’s price surge did indeed coincide with a signiﬁcant drop in listings, but that could be a result of psychology on the seller’s part. Some homeowners could be holding on to their properties in anticipation of prices rising even further. Families that would otherwise sell their homes to upsize could also be staying put simply because prices are so high, and competition is so ﬁerce, that the hassle isn’t worth it. An inﬂux of deep-pocketed foreign investors could also be taking properties off the market, especially since Vancouver implemented a 15% tax last year for foreign nationals. “I do believe that at least some investors went directly from Vancouver to Toronto,” Porter says. “That has played a role in launching Toronto, and some surrounding cities, into the stratosphere.”
“Beneath the symbol
We’ll all assemble
Oh how we’ll fly
Oh how we’ll tremble”
– Captain Beefheart, “Ice Cream for Crow”
If interest rates are the symbol beneath which we all assemble, then there are some bad times ahead. But Canada’s “leading economists,” say interest rates are “too blunt a tool” to cool the housing market.This week, Governor Stephen Poloz as expected did not raise rates, but continues to face tough questions about the connection between low rates and the “hot” housing market. Of course, he deserves every hard question thrown at him. And it’s nice that journalists are actually starting to question the obvious connection between low-interest rates and the housing bubble. With Canadians across the country locked out of their local housing markets, and with foreign buyers using Canadian property to protect their wealth from destructive communist dictatorships, frustration needs an outlet and it looks as if Poloz and the BoC are, finally, in the crosshairs.
But that doesn’t mean Poloz will listen. After all, the central bank is supposed to remain “independent” from democratic government and popular opinion. Poloz is making his decisions based on his misunderstanding of the economy, not the will of the mob. As Avery Shenfeld, CIBC Capital Markets’ chief economist, told BNN in an email, “The Bank of Canada will likely stick to its view that house prices are best dealt with through macro-prudential policies particular to that market, with the interest rate setting used to steer the economy overall.” Meaning, let the banks and federal government deal with the issue. The BoC will do what it can, but it will not include raising rates. Raising interest rates will certainly “cool” the housing market, but it will also lead to some unintended consequences that would “hurt” the overall economy.
Remember, the BoC is stacked with Keynesians, who regard the “hangover theory” as implausible as the irrefutable Say’s Law. So if the Bank can’t or won’t raise rates, and leaving the price of interest to the free market isn’t even on the table, then what about a rate cut? Doug Porter, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets, also told BNN, “The BoC should cease and desist with talk of possible further rate cuts, which simply fuel the sense that rates are never going higher, and instead start warning that rates will someday rise.” That would be smart, we’ll have to see what tomorrow brings. So far, Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz has left real estate to the experts, meaning, not him. Capital Economics Senior Canada Economist David Madani told BNN that the “Bank of Canada needs to pay more attention to the housing issue because it is a huge threat to the entire economy.” But Poloz, like his predecessor before him, prefers “moral suasion.” Madani thinks the Bank should be using “much stronger language.”
Donald J. Trump has taken credit for making America’s economy great again. He’s been crowing about all the jobs being created, the soaring consumer confidence and record highs in the stock market. It’s all because the Donald has inspired Americans about our glorious future. But, a funny thing has been happening in the real world. The economy has gone into the shitter and GDP will be lucky to reach 1% in the first quarter of his presidency.
The bullshit consumer confidence surveys mean absolutely nothing. Feelings don’t mean shit.
What consumers do is what matters.
67% of the US economy is dependent upon Americans spending money they don’t have on shit they don’t need.
And they’ve dramatically reduced that spending. If consumers are so confident, why are a record number of major retailers going bankrupt and closing 3,500 stores in 2017? Mom and pop retailers have been shuttering for years.
If the narrative about a dramatically improving housing market was true, why would furniture store sales and building material store sales be falling?
Keen answers the $1 trillion dollar question with a resounding “no.” This is because too many countries rode a wave of private debt explosion during the last boom, and are now in the equivalent of economic purgatory. Keen identifies China as the biggest threat. “They face the junkie’s dilemma, a choice between going ‘Cold Turkey’ now, or continue to shoot up (on credit) and experience a bigger bust later. China is undoubtedly the biggest country facing the debt junkie’s dilemma now. But it doesn’t lack for company,” he writes. Other countries with a high level of private debt and a reliance on debt to fuel economic demand -Keen calls them “debt zombies”- are Australia, Belgium, Canada, South Korea, Norway, and Sweden.
In total, the influence of China and these smaller economies is simply too great for the world to avoid a financial crisis. According to Keen, the solution within this layer of economic theory is more government regulation of the banking system and government deficits to counter a fall in private demand – which is essentially the policy response to the 2008 financial crisis. More aggressive options are quantitative easing in the form of ‘helicopter money’, where the central bank monetizes government debt, and the government then writes a check to households to either pay down debt or spend it in case there isn’t any debt to pay down. There could also be a more official debt jubilee where debt is simply forgiven.
“On its own, a Modern Debt Jubilee would not be enough: all it would do is reset the clock to allow another speculative debt bubble to take off. Currently, private money creation is a by product of the activities of a casino (Keynes, 1936, p. 159), rather than what it primarily should be: the consequence of the funding of corporate investment and entrepreneurial activity,” writes Keen. The ultimate objective would be for the government to counter excessive private debt bonanzas. Being an agnostic thinker, Keen also entertains concepts of government issued money and cryptocurrencies, although he doesn’t think they can eventually replace the banking system, partly because of scale, partly because of political resistance. “As long as that model holds sway over politicians and the general public, sensible reforms will face an uphill battle—even without the resistance of the finance sector to the proposals, which of course will be enormous.”
Is China finally making headway in its battle against currency outflows? On the surface, yes: People’s Bank of China foreign exchange reserves are effectively unchanged since December at $3 trillion, and data for February released by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange showed a significant narrowing of net outflows of capital based on international bank settlements and sales. That’s a major accomplishment, given that yuan had been leaving the country at an average rate of almost $60 billion per month in the middle of last year. But how this turnaround was achieved raises some serious long-term questions for China. For one thing, it wasn’t driven by economic strength. Officially recorded payments and receipts are both down significantly across all categories.
Total foreign bank inflows are flat, while payments abroad were down by 15% through the first two months of the year. With total outflow payments from banks of $3.1 trillion in 2016, a 15% drop represents a large decline in absolute terms. In other words, balance wasn’t achieved by increasing exports or investment into China, but rather by preventing Chinese from buying from and investing in the rest of the world. Some of the government’s restrictions on currency-exchange transactions – such as cracking down on fake trade data and overpayments for imports – were justified and sensible. But others were more dubious and have led to significant distortions. Most banks, for instance, now can only pay for international transactions if they’ve balanced their books with a corresponding level of inflows.
Beijing-based banks are under particular pressure, required to bring in 100 yuan for every 80 they use to pay for overseas transactions. Unsurprisingly, given these regulations, official bank payments and receipts are now almost perfectly balanced. But accomplishing this has required major declines in foreign investment as well as triple-checking what used to be routine transactions of virtually any size. Foreign firms don’t have it much easier. Although China still officially permits foreign companies to move capital for standard operating transactions, such as dividend payments, more than a few firms have complained about not getting permission to do even that.
The risk is that foreign investment in China, which has declined, will fall even further if investors worry about not being able to bring profits back home. Similarly, stepped-up capital controls on Chinese looking to move cash abroad has increased the attractiveness of gray-market money changers in Hong Kong, who have little difficulty finding firms in China hoping to move large sums. Although their volumes have dropped somewhat, the money changers still do a thriving business selling U.S. dollars at a typical discount of 2% to 5% from the official rate.
Russia may soon take control of American oil and gasoline infrastructure in a deal U.S. lawmakers warn represents a threat to energy security. Rosneft, Russia’s state-controlled oil company, could end up with a majority stake in Texas-based Citgo after the entity that owns Citgo, Venezuela’s state-owned oil and natural gas company PDVSA, used almost half of Citgo’s shares as collateral for a loan from Rosneft. In the midst of Venezuela’s ongoing economic crisis, PDVSA is reportedly in danger of defaulting on that loan. That means Rosneft, a company specifically named in U.S. sanctions levied against Russia after its 2014 annexation of Crimea, is poised to become one of the biggest foreign owners of American oil refining capacity. Rosneft is headed by Igor Sechin, a powerful crony of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and is often seen as a proxy for the Kremlin’s energy policies.
PDVSA put up as collateral about 49.9% of Citgo shares in exchange for a $1.5 billion loan from Rosneft in December. It had used the other half of Citgo as collateral for a bond deal two months before that. Should PDVSA default on its Russian loan, the Russians could relatively easily end up with a majority stake in Citgo by acquiring more PDVSA bonds on the open market. While the exact details and time-frame of the Rosneft loan remain murky, PDVSA successfully made $2.2 billion in payments on notes that matured April 12, sending ripples of relief through financial markets. Still, the possibility of default has set off alarm bells in Congress, where Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate told Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin they see Russia’s potential acquisition of Citgo as a threat to the country.
“We are extremely concerned that Rosneft’s control of a major U.S. energy supplier could pose a grave threat to American energy security, impact the flow and price of gasoline for American consumers, and expose critical U.S. infrastructure to security threats,” six senators wrote in a letter to Mnuchin dated April 10. Those senators include Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas. [..] Citgo owns three large U.S. oil refineries in Louisiana, Illinois, and Texas with a combined capacity of almost 749,000 barrels a day, or a bit more than 4% of the total U.S. refining capacity of 18.6 million barrels a day. Citgo-branded fuel is available at more than 5,000 locally owned retail gas stations in 29 states. The company also controls pipeline networks and 48 oil product terminals.
The EU is set to inflict a double humiliation on Theresa May, stripping Britain of its European agencies within weeks, while formally rejecting the prime minister’s calls for early trade talks. The Observer has learned that EU diplomats agreed their uncompromising position at a crunch meeting on Tuesday, held to set out the union’s strategy in the talks due to start next month. A beauty contest between member states who want the European banking and medicine agencies, currently located in London, will begin within two weeks, with selection criteria to be unveiled by the president of the European council, Donald Tusk. The European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency employ about 1,000 people, many of them British, and provide a hub for businesses in the UK.
It is understood that the EU’s chief negotiator hopes the agencies will know their new locations by June, although the process may take longer. Cities such as Frankfurt, Milan, Amsterdam and Paris are competing to take the agencies, which are regarded as among the EU’s crown jewels. Meanwhile, it has emerged that Britain failed to secure the backing of any of the 27 countries for its case that trade talks should start early in the two years of negotiations allowed by article 50 of the Lisbon treaty. The position will be announced at a Brussels summit on 29 April. Despite a recent whistlestop tour of EU capitals by the Brexit secretary, David Davis, diplomats concluded unanimously that the European commission was right to block any talks about a future comprehensive trade deal until the UK agrees to settle its divorce bill – which some estimate could be as high as €60bn – and comes to a settlement on the rights of EU citizens.
[..] The European commission said earlier this month that talks about a potential trade deal would occur only once “sufficient progress” had been made on Britain’s €60bn divorce bill and the position of EU citizens in the UK and British citizens on the continent. It is understood diplomats representing the EU27 did discuss a definition of “sufficient progress”, but ultimately left it to the leaders to decide. An EU source said it was hoped that “scoping” talks on a deal, and a transitional arrangement on access to the single market, could start in the autumn. The EU’s negotiating position detailed in the European council’s so-called draft guidelines will also be redrafted to include mention of the European parliament’s role, in a sign that MEPs are angling to play a greater part in shaping the talks. Tusk’s team will “fine-tune” the guidelines ahead of a final meeting of diplomats on 24 April, an EU source said. A one-day summit of leaders will take place on 29 April in Brussels to sign off on the document.
Nev Power, the man who runs Andrew Forrest’s third force in iron ore, Fortescue, is something of an optimist. As the company’s share price was in freefall on Thursday he fronted up to media and investors putting a relatively positive spin on the outlook for prices of the commodity most pivotal to the health of the Australian economy. In previous periods Power has underestimated price falls and price gains and he now thinks it will settle at about $US60 ($79) to $US65 per tonne. Having ridden price rises in iron ore for more than a year, the big producers like Fortescue now need to reassure investors they are match fit to cope with the wild downward gyration in price. For the sake of the broader economy – and Fortescue shareholders – let’s hope he is right and we don’t reach the $US45 that the previous federal treasurer, Joe Hockey, predicted less than two years ago.
The trouble is that the myriad professional analysts and forecasters that follow this market have a significantly less rosy view of where the price will bottom out – more like $US50 a tonne. As prices have spiralled down over the past few weeks and the decline momentum has moved into full swing this week, the I-told-you-so cries have been louder than ever. As the price of iron ore irrationally moved up to more than US$94 in February – it was these bearish experts that were red faced. Today their predictions have been, at least in part, vindicated. It is now below $US70 and falling – a whopping 28% drop in a matter of weeks. To be fair the big producers including BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto have not been in denial about the iron ore price bubble – warning investors for more than a month that the recent prices have been something of a mirage.
Odebrecht, the Brazilian engineering company at the center of a historic corruption scandal, paid out a total of about $3.3 billion in bribes in the nine years through 2014, according to testimony cited by local media on Saturday. Through a department specifically established to pay politicians and other recipients for public works contracts, Odebrecht paid as much as $730 million annually in both 2012 and 2013, the years when bribe payments peaked, according to a spreadsheet that a former executive reportedly gave investigators as part of a plea deal. The $3.3 billion figure, and related annual tallies as laid out in the spreadsheet, were reported on Saturday by the G1 news site of the Globo media group and the Estado de S. Paulo, a leading newspaper.
A trove of plea deal testimony unsealed this week by a Supreme Court justice is shedding light on the extent and manner in which Odebrecht, once Latin America’s most successful engineering firm, routinely paid officials in Brazil and other countries in exchange for winning contracts. The testimony was unsealed as the justice, Edson Fachin, authorized investigations of eight government ministers, 12 governors and dozens of federal lawmakers implicated in the scandal, uncovered three years ago because of a kickback investigation at the state-run oil company Petrobras. Odebrecht, whose former chief executive has been jailed since 2015 because of the probe, negotiated a far-reaching plea agreement with Brazilian investigators last year, leading to testimony by about 80 company executives and employees.
Along with an affiliate, Odebrecht also agreed last year to pay at least $3.5 billion to U.S. and Swiss investigators for international charges related to the scandal. Earlier on Saturday, Estado de S. Paulo also reported that Brazilian authorities were investigating if any of the foreign kickbacks the company has already admitted to violated Brazilian law. The company made those payments in countries including Mexico, Ecuador, Peru and Angola.
Coins used to be for the piggy banks used by kids to save money given by their parents for break-time snacks at school. The adults normally kept a few of them when they got them from the grocery store as change. One normally didn’t have to keep lots of these because they broke pockets in the case of men, or made the handbag heavy for women. When the piggy bank became full, a way was always sought to turn the coins into “real cash” – crispy bank notes the parents would use to buy items of choice for the saving kids. Banks did not normally accept large amounts of coins, and these coins were often changed for notes in grocery shops or other retailers who had use for them for change.
In crisis-torn Zimbabwe, things have changed; coins are no longer for children’s piggy banks, they are now treasure items for adults who are failing to get cash from banks due to a worsening liquidity crunch in the economy. Banks are now dispensing large amounts of coins to depositors because they have run out of notes to honour their obligations to the banking public. At a bank in the capital last week, depositors waited in long queues to withdraw US$50 apiece in coins. “I’m at least relieved,” one depositor said, holding a plastic full of coins after a long wait in a bank queue. Bank notes have become a scarce commodity and coins have taken their place as a medium of exchange in the country. The $0,25 and $0,50 bond coins, which were introduced to ease a change problem that had been brought by use of hard currencies in 2009, have become choice monetary instruments in a liquidity-challenged economy.
[..] Economist, Christopher Mugaga, who is also the chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce, said the situation in the country was increasingly getting desperate. He warned that even the coins could soon become scarce on the market. He blamed the crisis on an erosion of confidence in the banking sector, which has resulted in people avoiding depositing their money with banks because of failure to withdraw it on demand. “When the bond notes were introduced, pressure was on the notes. People are also not banking hence for a every dollar, only $0,05 goes back into the banking system. So when you go back to the bank, you will not find the notes,” Mugaga said. “If the problem persists, coins may also disappear,” he warned.
A monumental computer blunder could cost Marine Le Pen the French general election as 500,000 citizens living outside of France have the chance to vote twice. Half a million people received duplicate polling cards in the post, which would allow them to cast two votes at the first round of the election, held on April 23. French authorities confirmed they would not be investigating the potential electoral fraud until AFTER the election, when retrospective prosecution may take place. This could crush Ms Le Pen’s dreams of surging to power, as most French nationals living outside of their country are not right wing – demonstrated by the fact many feel they depend on the EU to guarantee their stay in foreign countries.
Voting twice is a crime, but police will only find out if they run a check on the individual through their computer systems. The punishment can be up to two years in prison and a fine of about £13,500. France’s Interior Ministry has said it will not be invalidating the election because of the duplicate voting glitch, but with Bloomberg’s latest poll currently showing Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen polling at 22.8%, and far left Mr Melenchon at 18.3%, it is possible an extra 500,000 votes either way could swing the balance of power.
According to aid experts, more has been spent on the humanitarian response in Greece than on any refugee crisis in history. “Every year, Greece hosts 25 million tourists,” a frustrated aid worker told me, “and to date we have been given 800 million euros in funding for this crisis — but we can’t find proper accommodation for 50,000 people?” The crisis is, instead, the result of deliberate political choices. According to Louise Roland-Gosselin, the advocacy manager of Doctors Without Borders, “Europe has said: ‘We have had enough of this. It’s no longer our problem.’ There are too many elections in too many countries. Politicians are pandering to the right and saving their skins at the price of the refugees.”
As part of the deal with Turkey, the European Union agreed to relocate the refugees who were already stuck in Greece. But only 10% have been settled elsewhere, and member states are trying to weasel out of taking more. A family reunification program is supposed to be more effective, but the number of people being resettled under that program is shrinking, too. [..] The family, like thousands of others, arrived traumatized by war. Now they are being traumatized again, this time by European politics. Europe is doing this on purpose. It wants to dissuade other refugees from making the journey. But desperate people will keep coming, and will simply take greater risks than ever before. [..] By refusing to resettle refugees, Europe is whittling away at its commitment to human rights.
But Europe promised to protect those rights in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as in other treaties, charters and national laws. “These states are undermining their obligations — and these are the same states that created the human rights laws and ratified conventions,” says Sari Nissi, who heads up the International Committee of the Red Cross mission in Greece.
More than 2,000 migrants trying to reach Europe were rescued from the Mediterranean on Friday, while at least one person was found dead, the Italian coastguard confirmed. A spokesperson for the service said 19 rescue operations by coastguards or non-governmental organisations had saved a total of 2,074 migrants on 16 rubber dinghies and three small wooden boats. The coastguard also confirmed that one person had died when the boats sank, but gave no details. The rescues come just days after a boat sank off the coast of Libya on Thursday. Ninety-seven refugees are missing, presumed drowned. According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), nearly 32,000 migrants have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year. More than 650 have died or are missing.
The number of migrants increased to a high of 5,079 for 2016, according the the IOM – despite a huge decline in numbers of migrant arrivals since 2014. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), a medical charity which has carried out hundreds of rescue operations in the Mediterranean since the beginning of the migrant crisis, has criticised Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard agency, who operate official EU patrols on migration routes. MSF said in a series of tweets that NGOs were being forced to fill gaps in service provision left by the EU coastguard. “Frontex Director says it’s a paradox that a third of rescues are done by NGOs. We agree. Where are Frontex boats in a day like this?” MSF tweeted. “Many more people could have died in a day like this if we arrived a few hours later. We are where we’re needed, what’s the EU doing meanwhile?”
Friday’s rescue operations were performed entirely by NGOs. Mary Jo Frawley, a nurse who was involved in MSF’s patrols this week, said: “Efforts by the European Union and its border agency FRONTEX to prevent loss of life at sea through strengthened border control, increasing militarisation and a focus on disrupting smuggling networks has only resulted in more people drowning not fewer and has had little impact on the flows of arrivals. “This, combined with the lack of adequate EU search and rescue operations has meant that MSF and other humanitarian organisations have – in an unprecedented move – been forced to step in to avoid further loss of life.
The head of the US central bank is busy preparing America, its new president, and indeed the world, for rising interest rates – and for a new economic era. The story of US interest rates this decade is simple to the point of tedium. The key fed funds rate has been dragging along just above zero ever since the banking crash. In December 2015, it was nudged up by a quarter of a%age point by Ms Yellen and her colleagues at the Federal Reserve. A whole year later, they nudged it up again, which means that seven years after the notional end of the US recession it stands at mere 0.75%. That is set to change. Over the past few weeks, rate setters at the Fed have dropped broader and broader hints that interest rates will go up as soon as next Wednesday – and will keep going up.
Last Friday was the turn of Ms Yellen. Speaking in Chicago, she said: “We currently judge that it will be appropriate to gradually increase the federal funds rate if the economic data continue to come in about as we expect.” That is about as straightforward as you get in central-bank speak. Nor is that likely to be the end of the rises: according to the Fed’s charts, committee members now forecast three interest-rate rises this year alone, and more in 2018. There are geopolitical reasons to hold off making too early a move. Next month, France’s presidential election, in which rightwing, anti-euro candidate Marine Le Pen is leading the polls, kicks off. Last year, the Fed held off in June before the Brexit vote. While the timing is still moot, there are few betting that rates won’t rise.
Considering this, three observations can be made. First, even while all this briefing has been going on, US asset markets have remained remarkably buoyant. That is very different from the nerves exhibited by investors in US Treasury bonds in 2013, when Ms Yellen’s predecessor, Ben Bernanke, dared to suggest he might turn off the tap marked “easy money”. Even with a much more volatile figure in the White House, financial markets seem far more confident on the prospects for the US. Second, by raising rates now the Fed is giving itself vital room for manoeuvre ahead of the next downturn. The old rule of thumb is that recessions come around every seven years – which would mean, going by the National Bureau of Economic Research, that the next bust is not far away.
Make no mistake. Unlike most in the markets, I remain a secular bond bull and do not think this 35 year long bull bond market is over. I believe the US Fed has created another massive credit bubble that will, when it bursts, lay the global economy very low indeed. Combine this with the problems of a Chinese economy dependent on increasingly ineffective injections of credit to produce increasingly pedestrian GDP growth and you have a right global mess. The 2007/8 Global Financial Crisis will look like a soft-landing when the Fed blows this sucker sky high. The seeds for that debacle have already been sown with the Fed having presided over one of the biggest corporate credit bubbles in US history. All that is needed now is for the Fed to sprinkle life-giving rate hikes onto these, as yet dormant, seeds of destruction.
Accelerated Fed rate hikes will cause tremors in the Treasury bond markets, forcing rates up, most especially in the 2 year – just like 1994. But as yet another central bank-inspired global recession unfolds, I believe US 10y bond yields will ultimately converge with Japanese and European yields well below zero – in other words, buy 10y bonds on weakness! [..] For those few of us in the markets of a certain age, Orange County conjures up only one thing: 1994 goes down in infamy as one of the biggest ever bond market bloodbaths in history culminating at the end of the year with Orange County in California going bankrupt (younger clients in their late 20s will only know the OC as the mid-2000s teen programme based in Newport Beach, which I watched religiously with my then teenage son and daughter).
I remember the 1994 period as if it were yesterday (unlike yesterday itself). Despite the Fed telegraphing the series of rate hikes and market participants forecasting multiple hikes, it was most curious how the market went into total convulsion. I was chatting to my ‘similarly young’ colleague Kit Juckes about this and he reminded me that the whole yield curve gapped up some 50bp immediately! It was a bloodbath, especially for 2y paper.
Remember Nicole talking about multiple claims to underlying real wealth: “Our highly levered financial system is like a truckload of nitro glycerin on a bumpy road,” Gross says. “One mistake can set off a credit implosion where holders of stocks, high yield bonds, and yes, subprime mortgages all rush to the bank to claim its one and only dollar in the vault.”
Bill Gross has never been one to mince words – and his March investment outlook is no anomaly in his oeuvre of outspoken manifestos. In his latest investor letter, out Thursday morning, Janus Capital’s billionaire bond guru warns against putting too much faith in the market exuberance inspired by President Trump and his agenda. “‘Don’t lose it’ is my first and most important conceptual lesson for [my kids] despite the Trump bull market and the current ‘animal spirits’ that encourage risk, as opposed to the preservation of capital,” Gross writes. (Though more a matter of coincidence, the reference to animal spirits is a canny turn of phrase: JPMorgan chief Jamie Dimon said in an interview Thursday morning that business and consumer confidence has “skyrocketed” because Trump has “woken up the animal spirits.”)
Gross goes on: “Don’t be allured by the Trump mirage of 3-4% growth and the magical benefits of tax cuts and deregulation. The U.S. and indeed the global economy is walking a fine line due to increasing leverage and the potential for too high (or too low) interest rates to wreak havoc on an increasingly stressed financial system. Be more concerned about the return of your money than the return on your money in 2017 and beyond.” This not the first time Gross has gone after Trump: he levied criticism in November (“I write in amazed, almost amused bewilderment at what American voters have done to themselves,” he said at the time) and again in December (“investors must consider the negatives of Trump’s anti-globalization ideas”). But the rationale in his latest investor letter is different from his prior notes, centering less on Trump’s policies and more on the global credit situation.
The world economy, Gross says, currently holds more credit relative to GDP than it did at the beginning of the 2008 financial crisis. In the U.S., credit is 350% of annual GDP, “and the ratio is rising,” he says. In China, that ratio sits close to 300%. Gross acknowledges that capitalism depends on credit expansion, but says that credit creation has its limits, and interest rates must be carefully monitored so that borrowers can repay their debts. But if rates are too low, “the system breaks down,” because savers and pension funds can’t earn a high enough rate of return to service those debts. “Our highly levered financial system is like a truckload of nitro glycerin on a bumpy road,” Gross says. “One mistake can set off a credit implosion where holders of stocks, high yield bonds, and yes, subprime mortgages all rush to the bank to claim its one and only dollar in the vault.”
The US cognitive linguist George Lakoff characterises politics as a clash between two opposing models of parenting. Rightwingers subscribe to the strict, responsible parent with a firm grip on the purse strings, while leftwingers prefer the nurturing, providing version. Everyone is currently in thrall to the strict-parent model. Politicians and supposedly impartial broadcasters are constantly noting that, of course, “times are tight”. The beneficent state is a luxury we can no longer afford. “We can’t go back to 1945,” government ministers intone wearily, as if explaining to a child, before blithely announcing a return to other mid-century relics – such as grammar schools. Despite being thoroughly discredited by economists, and despite Theresa May’s promised investment programme, the zombie creed of austerity staggers on.
On what basis, exactly, do we live in straitened times? Yes, there’s the cost and uncertainty of Brexit. But a year or two ago, it was something else – the fallout from the recession, or turbulence in the eurozone. This is opportunistic shock doctrine stuff, where any bungling failure or general sense of global adversity can lend partisan political choices the air of necessity. The annual ritual of the budget reanimates the pernicious myth that the economy is like a household budget. Since we have our own currency, we actually enjoy capacious fiscal elasticity. The “strict” parent is really a mean parent. The “fairer funding formula”, by which the government is proposing to take money from some schools to give to supposedly more deserving ones, is a pointless zero-sum game. Instead of making children fight over measly slivers of cake, why not just bake a bigger one?
There are extraordinary funds in private hands, if only we conceived of them as part of our common wealth. A report last week by property consultants Knight Frank predicted that the number of UK-based ultra-high-net-worth individuals (those with more than £24m in assets) will rise by 30% over the next decade. There is more than £10trn squirrelled away in the UK. The NHS costs £110bn a year; total government spending on education is £85bn a year. We are being schooled in an extraordinary cognitive dissonance, with luxury housing developments springing up in plain sight across the capital. If you question the basis on which we deem these evident riches untouchable, you are dismissed as hopelessly naive. There’s something doubly infantilising about this reaction: aren’t you aware that belts need to be tightened? And don’t you know the difference between public and private money?
The U.S. government must get a grip on the massive opening that the CIA, through its misfeasance, nonfeasance and malfeasance, has created. If Tuesday’s WikiLeaks document dump is authentic, as it appears to be, then the agency left open electronic gateways that make all Americans vulnerable to spying, eavesdropping and technological manipulation that could bring genuine harm. That the CIA has reached into the lives of all Americans through its wholesale gathering of the nation’s “haystack” of information has already been reported. It is bad enough that the government spies on its own people. It is equally bad that the CIA, through its incompetence, has opened the cyberdoor to anyone with the technological skills and connections to spy on anyone else.
The constant erosion of privacy at the hands of the government and corporations has annihilated the concept of a “right to privacy,” which is embedded in the rationale of the First, Third, Fourth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. It is becoming increasingly clear that we are sliding down the slippery slope toward totalitarianism, where private lives do not exist. We have entered a condition of constitutional crisis that requires a full-throated response from the American people. I have repeatedly warned about the dangers of the Patriot Act and its successive iterations, the execrable national security letters that turn every FBI agent into a star chamberlain, the dangers of fear-based security policies eroding our republic. We have crossed the threshold of a cowardly new world, and it’s time we tell the government and the corporations who have intruded to stop it.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Thursday accused the CIA of “devastating incompetence” for failing to protect its hacking secrets and said he would work with tech companies to develop fixes for them. “This is a historic act of devastating incompetence, to have created such an arsenal and then stored it all in one place,” Assange said. “It is impossible to keep effective control of cyber weapons… If you build them, eventually you will lose them,” Assange said. Assange was speaking in a press conference streamed live from Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he has been living as a fugitive from justice since 2012. He said his anti-secrecy website had “a lot more information” about the Central Intelligence Agency’s hacking operation but would hold off on publishing it until WikiLeaks had spoken to tech manufacturers.
“We have decided to work with them to give them some exclusive access to the additional technical details we have so fixes can be developed and then pushed out. “Once this material is effectively disarmed by us we will publish additional details about what has been occurring,” he added. [..] WikiLeaks itself said the documents, hacking tools and code came from an archive that had circulated among US government hackers and private contractors. “The CIA has been so careless to produce this material. So do various cyber mafia already have it? Do foreign intelligence agencies already have it? It’s quite possible numerous people already might have it,” Assange said.
China expressed concern on Thursday over revelations in a trove of data released by Wikileaks purporting to show that the CIA can hack all manner of devices, including those made by Chinese companies. Dozens of firms rushed to contain the damage from possible security weak points following the anti-secrecy organization’s revelations, although some said they needed more details of what the U.S. intelligence agency was up to. Widely-used routers from Silicon Valley-based Cisco were listed as targets, as were those supplied by Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE and Taiwan supplier Zyxel for their devices used in China and Pakistan.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China expressed concern about the reports and reiterated its opposition to all forms of hacking. “We urge the U.S. side to stop listening in, monitoring, stealing secrets and internet hacking against China and other countries,” Geng told a daily news briefing. China is frequently accused by the United States and other countries of hacking attacks, which it always denies. The Chinese government has its own sophisticated domestic surveillance program and keeps tight control of the internet at home, saying such measures are needed to protect national security and maintain stability.
Unfortunately it was only in hindsight that Truman came to see the “Iron Law of Oligarchy” at work, which posits that all organizations – particularly government bureaucracies – eventually fall under the control of an elite few. That elite, he came to understand, did not include the president or his cabinet:
Truman: I think [creation of the CIA] was a mistake. And if I’d know what was going to happen, I never would have done it. [..] But it got out of hand. The fella … the one that was in the White House after me never paid any attention to it, and it got out of hand. Why, they’ve got an organization over there in Virginia now that is practically the equal of the Pentagon in many ways. And I think I’ve told you, one Pentagon is one too many. Now, as nearly as I can make out, those fellows in the CIA don’t just report on wars and the like, they go out and make their own, and there’s nobody to keep track of what they’re up to. They spend billions of dollars on stirring up trouble so they’ll have something to report on. They’ve become … it’s become a government all of its own and all secret. They don’t have to account to anybody.
That’s a very dangerous thing in a democratic society, and it’s got to be put a stop to. The people have got a right to know what those birds are up to. And if I was back in the White House, people would know. You see, the way a free government works, there’s got to be a housecleaning every now and again, and I don’t care what branch of the government is involved. Somebody has to keep an eye on things. And when you can’t do any housecleaning because everything that goes on is a damn secret, why, then we’re on our way to something the Founding Fathers didn’t have in mind. Secrecy and a free, democratic government don’t mix. And if what happened at the Bay of Pigs doesn’t prove that, I don’t know what does. You have got to keep an eye on the military at all times, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s the birds in the Pentagon or the birds in the CIA.
“..by the time he was assassinated, Kennedy was at full war against the U.S. national-security establishment. He was challenging all of their Cold War assumptions. He was proposing peaceful coexistence with what the CIA and the military had said was an implacable foe that was determined to take over America. And he was doing the unthinkable — making friends with the Soviet Union (i.e., Russia), Cuba, and the communist world.”
Kennedy came into office as a standard cold warrior. That is, like most Americans in the 1950s and 1960s, he had bought into the notion that had been inculcated into the American people since the end of World War II — that America’s wartime partner and ally, the Soviet Union (i.e., Russia), was coming to get us and subject the American people to communism. To combat what was billed as an international communist conspiracy based in Moscow, Americans were told, it would be necessary to adopt the same type of governmental structure that existed in Russia — a national-security apparatus grafted onto America’s original limited-government structure that had been established by the Constitution. That apparatus included a giant, permanent, and ever-growing military establishment, or what President Eisenhower would later call “the military-industrial complex.”
It also consisted of a secretive agency called the CIA, which would come to wield omnipotent powers within what continued to be billed as a “limited government.” Such powers would include assassination, regime-change operations, foreign coups, kidnapping, torture, rendition, involuntary medical experimentation (e.g., MKULTRA), spying and surveillance of Americans — the types of things that characterized the KGB and even the Hitler’s Gestapo. Kennedy believed in this apparatus. Even though it had been adopted without a constitutional amendment, he believed it was necessary to keep America free and safe from the Reds, who, it was said, were coming to get us. He experienced his first dose of reality a few months after being sworn into office, when the CIA presented its secret plan to invade Cuba and effect regime change there.
The plan called for using CIA-trained Cuban exiles to do the invading, with the U.S. government denying any role in the operation. Kennedy’s job, under the CIA plan, would be to lie about U.S. involvement in the invasion, thereby making him America’s liar-in-chief (and indirectly subjecting him to blackmail by the CIA). The CIA assured Kennedy that the invasion could succeed without U.S. air support, and JFK made it clear that no air support would be furnished. The CIA lied. In fact, they knew that there was no way that the operation could succeed without air support. But they figured that once the invasion got underway, Kennedy would have no effective choice but to change his mind and provide the needed air support. It was a classic CIA set up of a newly elected president.
When the invasion started to fail, the CIA urged the president to change his mind. He refused to do so, and the invasion force was easily defeated. The CIA considered Kennedy’s action to be a grave betrayal of America and the CIA’s Cuban “freedom fighters.” Kennedy publicly took responsibility for the debacle but privately he was outraged. He knew that the CIA had set him up, with the aim of maneuvering him into intervening with air support. He fired the much-revered and much-respected CIA Director Allen Dulles (who, in a classic conflict of interest, would later be appointed to the Warren Commission). Reflecting his disdain for the CIA, Kennedy promised to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.”
China lashed out at the United States for its “terrible human rights problems” in a report on Thursday, adding to recent international criticism of Washington on issues ranging from violence inflicted on minorities to U.S. immigration policies. The U.S. State Department’s annual report on rights in nearly 200 countries last week accused China of torture, executions without due process, repression of political rights and persecution of ethnic minorities, among other issues. In an annual Chinese response to the U.S. report, China’s State Council, or cabinet, said the United States suffered from rampant gun violence and high levels of incarceration. U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria had caused thousands of civilian deaths, according to the report, which was carried by the state-run Xinhua news agency.
“With the gunshots lingering in people’s ears behind the Statue of Liberty, worsening racial discrimination and the election farce dominated by money politics, the self-proclaimed human rights defender has exposed its human rights ‘myth’ with its own deeds,” the State Council said. “The United States repeatedly trampled on human rights in other countries and wilfully slaughtered innocent victims,” it said, referring to deaths in U.S. drone strikes. On Wednesday, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said U.S. President Donald Trump’s comments about migrants, Mexicans and Muslims were “harmful and fuel xenophobic abuses” and that his immigration policies could lead to breaches of international law. Trump’s derogatory campaign rhetoric against Muslims and Mexican immigrants won enthusiastic backing from prominent white supremacists who embrace anti-Jewish, anti-black and anti-Muslim ideologies, though the president has disavowed their support.
One way to gauge China’s longer term intentions is to assess what Chinese leaders are saying today. President Xi Jinping has articulated a vision for China over the next few decades. This vision has been termed the “Chinese Dream” or the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” These slogans capture goals, milestones, and timelines. In terms of timeframe, the Chinese refer to the “two one hundreds”: i) the centenary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in 2021; and ii) the centenary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 2049. By 2021 China hopes to become what the Chinese call a “moderately well-off society.” By mid-century China hopes to be on par with other developed countries.
Most measures for tracking China’s progress are socio-economic in nature: disposable income, socioeconomic equality, access to higher education, access to healthcare and so forth. To achieve these objectives, China still hews to the basic principle laid out by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, namely, peace and development. The concept of peace and development derives from the notion that China needs a peaceful external environment to develop economically. But there are also external components to China’s long term goals, particularly China’s relations with the rest of the world. President Xi Jinping offers some hints. He has discussed the prospects for “democratizing” the international system. This is code for a transition from a unipolar world dominated by the United States to a multipolar world.
As China rises, China envisions the emergence of a new global configuration in which China is a great power among other coequal great powers, including the European Union, India, and Russia, in the international system. This aligns with the “rise of the rest” hypothesis. As China gets very strong, it would also seek to amend the rules that have governed the current international order in ways that accommodates China’s interests as a great power. China’s rise thus raises a series of important questions about the implications for Asia. What does China want in East Asia as it rises? Would China seek to become the dominant power in East Asia? Would it seek a dramatically reduced role for the United States? More troubling, would China seek a Sino-centric regional order in which many of its neighbors, including Japan, must acquiesce to its strategic prerogatives?
“..German industrial new orders dropping by 7.4% on the month in January – the biggest monthly fall since 2009 [..] January figures showed a drop of 10.5% in domestic demand and a contraction of 4.9% in foreign orders.”
Germany is often described as the “powerhouse” of Europe, but the health of the world’s fourth largest economy is not as rosy as most people think, according to one economist. “The crack in Germany’s economy has become most evident in consumer spending. Retail sales volumes have slowed consistently since growth rates peaked in mid-2015. They have crashed in the last six monthly reports,” Carl Weinberg, chief economist at High Frequency Economics, said in a note earlier this week. Hard data shows that Germany’s economy has been facing problems for at least the past six months, despite an uptick in growth at the end of last year. At the same time, income has been slowing dramatically and the reasons behind this are far from clear.
“As domestic demand is imploding, so is foreign demand,” Weinberg added. “Exports are flat year-on-year. This is not to say that net exports are not rising. However, the flat gross exports mean industrial output to make goods for export is not growing.” “Without growth of either exports or domestic consumer spending, industrial production has stalled,” Weinberg said. On Tuesday, data showed German industrial new orders dropping by 7.4% on the month in January – the biggest monthly fall since 2009. According to Reuters, a breakdown of the January figures showed a drop of 10.5% in domestic demand and a contraction of 4.9% in foreign orders.
In this episode of the Keiser Report, Max and Stacy discuss why neoliberalism didn’t make us richer. In the second half, Max interviews professor Steve Keen about Quantitative easing (QE) and its role in financial crisis.
Home prices in 31% of the U.K.’s local authority districts have risen more than the total average take-home pay of workers in the area over the past two years, according to Halifax. While homeowners would have to sell their houses to realize those gains, it illustrates how quickly prices have risen, as well as how hard it is for new buyers to get on the property ladder. Rising house prices have helped underpin consumption, the backbone of Britain’s economy, even as wage increases have been more modest. Still, the distribution of gains highlight regional disparities. More than 90% of the areas were in London, the South and East of England, the report published Friday said.
The biggest gap was in Haringey, a borough in the north of the capital city, where house prices increased by an average of 139,803 pounds ($169,805), exceeding average take-home earnings by 91,450 pounds or 3,810 pounds per month. “While it’s no longer unusual for houses to ‘earn’ more than the people living in them in some places, there are clearly local impacts,” said economist Martin Ellis. “Homeowners in these areas can build up large levels of equity quickly, but for potential buyers whose wages have failed to keep pace, the cost of buying a home has become more unaffordable.” The only areas where earnings exceeded house price increases were the North East, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Donald Tusk has won a second term as European council president, overcoming bitter opposition from Poland that has left the country isolated in Europe. Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, was re-elected on Thursday with overwhelming support to lead the council, the body that organises EU leaders’ meetings, for a second term lasting two and a half years. His reappointment until the end of 2019 means he will play a crucial role in Britain’s negotiations to leave the EU. The Pole, from the pro-European centre-right Civic Platform party, overcame strong resistance from his own government, led by the Eurosceptic Law and Justice party (PiS). The outcome was never in doubt, but is a blow for the Warsaw government, which responded with fury. “We know now that it [the EU] is a union under Berlin’s diktat,” the Polish foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, told Polish media, echoing persistent claims by PiS that the EU is controlled by Berlin.
Despite its anger, however, Poland was left isolated as other countries including traditional central European allies lined up to back Tusk, a popular choice to guide the EU through difficult Brexit talks and tense debates on migration. News of his re-election was broken by Belgium’s prime minister, Charles Michel, who tweeted his congratulations less than two hours after the meeting had started. In a rare formal vote, 27 of the EU’s 28 governments supported Tusk. The Polish prime minister, Beata Szydlo, confirmed that Poland would retaliate by blocking the EU summit communique, a statement summarising EU policy on economic growth, migration and the western Balkans. But the document can still be approved in a different procedure, a manoeuvre likely to deepen the wedge between Warsaw and other EU capitals.
Around one in six U.K. households had “great difficulty” or “difficulty” in making ends meet in 2015, according to Eurostat. While that’s below the estimated average of 26% across the European Union, it’s more than triple the proportion of struggling Swedes and about double the%age in Germany. With inflation forecast to accelerate this year and grocers such as Wm Morrison Supermarkets Plc warning price increases will soon hit, British consumers look set to face a further squeeze on living standards this year.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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 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.
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.
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?
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.”
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’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.
“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.
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.
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].”
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
[..] 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.”
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.
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?
[..] 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).
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.
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.