Pablo Picasso Portrait of woman in wheelchair 1936
I think we know the answer.
On July 1, the US economic expansion will become the longest on record, entering its 121st month since the end of the 2009 recession (which according to the NBER ended in June of that year), and surpassing the previous record – the March 1991 – March 2001 expansion – which ended with the bursting of the dot com bubble. As Deutsche Bank’s Jim Reid writes, since US business cycles have been tracked from 1854 there have been 34 expansions. The last four have all been long relative to the past and are all in the top six in terms of duration. The other two in this top six were the June 1938-cycle which was boosted by the WWII rearmament efforts, and the Feb 1961-cycle where the Fed were late to deal with ever increasing US inflation, leading to too loose monetary policy and an extended cycle.
As part of a recent analysis, Deutsche Bank explains why this cycle – and the past four – have been so long relative to history, show various economic and market indicators from this cycle relative to the past to put the record-breaking expansion in some context, and predict what may happen next. It may come as a surprise to exactly nobody, that there is a distinct correlation between the rising length of the US business cycle – and ensuing economic and market crashes which terminate said expansion – and the advent of the Federal Reserve. Oh, and globalization has a lot to do with everything too.
When confidence disappears, what are you left with?
First it was China. The end of May saw the collapse of an obscure Inner Mongolian bank, Baoshang, which had about $90 billion in assets and which had seemed perfectly healthy. The government blamed misappropriation of funds by the bank’s owner, but the damage was done. The interbank lending market in China seized up, especially for smaller institutions. Small and medium-sized Chinese banks are collectively as big as the large players, and they’re very reliant on interbank funding. After Baoshang defaulted on its interbank obligations, it became very hard for smaller banks to convince larger ones that they were safe. The central bank ended up having to step in with $125 billion of emergency liquidity, and things still aren’t back to normal.
Next came investment funds. The GAM Greensill Supply Chain Finance fund, in Switzerland, imploded in early June, followed in short succession by Neil Woodford’s Equity Income fund in the U.K. Then came French asset manager H20 Asset Management, running into similar problems. Much like Chinese banks, funds that invest in illiquid securities suddenly find themselves under extreme scrutiny. Each bad apple seems to infect another. Be smart: This isn’t a financial crisis, although it’s very similar to how many crises start. Every bull market has a massive “bezzle,” to use J.K. Galbraith’s famous term. We’re seeing the beginning of a rise in skepticism, and a shrinking bezzle. That’s good for honesty; it’s less good for asset prices.
It really says this: “The street cred they bring from both ends of the political spectrum ..”
Besides being billionaires and spending much of their fortunes to promote pet causes, the leftist financier George Soros and the right-wing Koch brothers have little in common. They could be seen as polar opposites. Soros is an old-fashioned New Deal liberal. The Koch brothers are fire-breathing right-wingers who dream of cutting taxes and dismantling government. Now they have found something to agree on: the United States must end its “forever war” and adopt an entirely new foreign policy. In one of the most remarkable partnerships in modern American political history, Soros and Charles Koch, the more active of the two brothers, are joining to finance a new foreign-policy think tank in Washington. It will promote an approach to the world based on diplomacy and restraint rather than threats, sanctions, and bombing.
This is a radical notion in Washington, where every major think tank promotes some variant of neocon militarism or liberal interventionism. Soros and Koch are uniting to revive the fading vision of a peaceable United States. The street cred they bring from both ends of the political spectrum — along with the money they are providing — will make this new think tank an off-pitch voice for statesmanship amid a Washington chorus that promotes brinksmanship. “This is big,” said Trita Parsi, former president of the National Iranian American Council and a co-founder of the new think tank. “It shows how important ending endless war is if they’re willing to put aside their differences and get together on this project. We are going to challenge the basis of American foreign policy in a way that has not been done in at least the last quarter-century.”
Since peaceful foreign policy was a founding principle of the United States, it’s appropriate that the name of this think tank harken back to history. It will be called the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, an homage to John Quincy Adams, who in a seminal speech on Independence Day in 1821 declared that the United States “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” The Quincy Institute will promote a foreign policy based on that live-and-let-live principle.
Potential powder keg.
Europe has found a way of circumventing U.S. sanctions on Iran. The governments of France, Germany and the United Kingdom have developed a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to enable European businesses to maintain non-dollar trade with Iran without breaking U.S. sanctions. That SPV, known as INSTEX, is now up and running. The three governments announced the successful implementation of INSTEX at a meeting of the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on June 28, 2019. The meeting was chaired on behalf of the EU by the Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS), Helga Schmid, and was attended by representatives of China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Iran.
In a statement, Schmid said: “France, Germany and the United Kingdom informed participants that INSTEX had been made operational and available to all EU Member States and that the first transactions are being processed. Ongoing complementary cooperation with the Iranian corresponding entity (STFI), which has already been established, will speed up. They confirmed that some EU Member States were in the process of joining INSTEX as shareholders, the special purpose vehicle aimed at facilitating legitimate business with Iran. They are also working to open INSTEX to economic operators from third countries.”
JCPOA is better known as the “Iran nuclear deal.” The U.S. unilaterally withdrew from JCPOA in May 2018, when it reimposed sanctions on Iran’s oil export sector. But other countries, including EU member states, have so far declined to follow suit. They claim that Iran is complying with the terms of the deal, and the U.S.’s decision to reimpose sanctions was unjustified.
Nuff said: “..was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom this month for his contributions to Republican economic theory, particularly the idea of “trickle down economics”
Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Arthur Laffer, an economist who served as an adviser to President Trump’s 2016 campaign, took some shots at the embattled Federal Reserve chairman as he also questioned the body’s autonomy. “The fed shouldn’t be independent of the administration. Never should be. None of those people were elected. They were appointed. And there’s no reason for them being appointed. It’s a policy tool that should be in the hands of the Congress and the President to make our country better,” Laffer told John Catsimatidis in an interview that aired Sunday on AM 970 New York. “Not in the hands of some Princeton professors who never worked a day in their lives except on an academic paper that’s far from reality. I don’t think there should be an independent Fed,” Laffer added.
Laffer also speculated that Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve who has been criticized by Trump, “feels very besieged.” “I’m sure Powell doesn’t feel good about Donald Trump,” Laffer said. “But, you know, it’s not his job to feel good or bad about Donald Trump.” Like Trump, Laffer encouraged Powell to be a “professional” and lower interest rates. The president has been frustrated by the fed’s interest rate hikes, though Powell backed off in late 2018. Laffer, an adviser to President Ronald Reagan, was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom this month for his contributions to Republican economic theory, particularly the idea of “trickle down economics” — that lower tax rates trickle down to the rest of the economy.
Thousands of demonstrators faced off with riot police early on Monday, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule, as authorities braced for more mass protests amid widespread anger over a controversial extradition bill. More than a million people have taken to the streets at times over the past three weeks to vent their anger and frustration at Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader Carrie Lam, posing the greatest popular challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012. Opponents of the now-suspended extradition bill, which would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party, fear it is a threat to Hong Kong’s much-cherished rule of law and are demanding it be scrapped and Lam step down.
Police fired pepper spray to disperse some demonstrators, mostly black-clad students wearing hard hats and face masks, ahead of a flag-raising ceremony to mark the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from British to Chinese rule. Riot police with helmets and batons raced towards protesters at one point and held up red banners warning they would use force if the activists charged. The protesters once again paralyzed parts of the financial hub as they occupied roads after blocking them off with metal barriers and wooden planks.
And he knows who they are.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said “some people” were paying “serious money” to bury the issue of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, broadcaster NTV reported on Monday. Erdogan, who was speaking to reporters after the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, did not elaborate. Speaking earlier at the summit, Erdogan said Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman must uncover the killers of the Washington Post columnist, and added that some aspects of the murder were still being hidden.
Really? You sure?
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said the first delivery of the Russian S-400 missile defense system would take place within 10 days, broadcaster NTV reported on Sunday, a day after he said there would be no U.S. sanctions over the deal. Turkey and the United States, NATO allies, have been at odds over Ankara’s decision to purchase the S-400s, with Washington warning of U.S. sanctions if the delivery took place. Turkey has dismissed the warnings, saying it would not back down. The United States says the S-400s will compromise its Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets, of which Turkey is a producer and buyer. Washington has also formally started the process of expelling Turkey from the F-35 program, halting the training of Turkish pilots in the United States.
But on Saturday, Erdogan said U.S. President Donald Trump had told him there would be no sanctions over the Russian deal, after Trump said Turkey had been treated unfairly over the move. The White House said Trump “expressed concern” over the S-400 deal and “encouraged Turkey to work with the United States on defense cooperation in a way that strengthens the NATO alliance.” Speaking to reporters after the G20 summit in Japan, where he held bilateral talks with Trump, Erdogan said he believed the dispute over the S-400s would be overcome “without a problem” and added that his U.S. counterpart supported Turkey in the dispute. “In our phone calls, when we come together bilaterally, Mr Trump has not said so far: ‘We will impose these sanctions.’ On the S-400s, he said to me: ‘You are right.’ We carried this issue to a very advanced level,” Erdogan said, according to NTV.
“.. the leaders of Russia, Iran and Turkey would hold a summit in July to discuss developments in Syria..”
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said it was “never possible” for Turkey to positively consider the $50 billion U.S. peace plan for the Middle East, broadcaster NTV reported on Monday. The White House last week outlined a $50 billion Middle East economic plan that would create a global investment fund to lift the Palestinian and neighboring Arab state economies, and fund a $5 billion transportation corridor to connect the West Bank and Gaza. Speaking to reporters after the G20 summit in Japan, Erdogan also said that the leaders of Russia, Iran and Turkey would hold a summit in July to discuss developments in Syria, NTV said.
Facebook’s business model since its inception has been to harvest and monetize data. I see no reason to assume that this has changed. So when I find, buried in Libra’s whitepaper, two sentences that imply Facebook’s real aim in creating Libra is to set the standard for global digital identities, my hair stands on end. As Dave Birch, director of Consult Hyperion and an expert on digital identity, puts it: “There are no throwaway remarks in a Facebook white paper that has taken a year to put together. It’s in there for a reason. [Facebook] are actually going to try and fix the identity problem.”
Dave seems fairly sanguine about Facebook’s intention. But I am not. We now know just how damaging Facebook’s data harvesting can be. If Facebook became the standard setter for digital identities, it could gain access to all personal data. And that is what it wants. Not control of finance, control of data. And if you think your personal data would be digitally secure from harvesting simply because Facebook said so, you are the biggest sucker in the world.
From a financial perspective, Libra seems fairly harmless. Even if all 2bn of Facebook’s users adopted Libra for some transactions, and all 90m of its small businesses used Libra for purchases and sales, it is not going to pose a major threat to the financial system, let alone replace sovereign currencies. But Libra is in reality a vehicle for bringing about Facebook’s wider aim of becoming the standard setter for digital identity. And that is a much, much bigger issue. Facebook is the last organization on earth that should have anything to do with digital identity or standards setting. For that reason, Libra must be stopped.
Accumulating power for 150 years.
Goldman Sachs is impeccably predatory, elegantly selfish. It’s harder to get into than Harvard. And when you do leave, there’s a good chance you’ll be Treasury secretary, national economic adviser, or the governor of New Jersey, as if the lucre were only a detour and not the whole point. In era after era of boom and bust, Goldman’s bankers never lost their shirts, even as all around them were losing theirs. Goldman is an inescapable American institution, a part of history, and now, like the Civil War and New York City and baseball, on the occasion of its 150th birthday, it has its own multipart documentary series directed by someone named Burns. Unlike those other institutions, though, it paid for the documentary itself, for what has to be an eight-figure sum (it declined to say how much it spent), given the luscious production values.
Among its other gifts, Goldman has always had a near-obsession for selling itself, its intelligence, its civic-mindedness. Goldman Sachs at 150 is the most expansive expression yet of this impulse. Goldman Sachs at 150 is a strange bit of filmmaking, hard to get one’s mind around. It’s obviously a piece of corporate marketing, so a viewer starts by resisting its conclusions—but its documentary tropes are so familiar that it wears you down. Current and former white male partners are interviewed in abundance, of course, but Burns—in this case Ric Burns, younger brother of Ken—also spends time with a number of Goldman’s female partners and partners of color, some of whom are also women. (In other words, a public relations home run.) It’s not exactly hagiography, because Goldman is clever enough to include in the film a number of instances in which it really messed up—and almost went out of business.
That makes the film, which is available on Amazon Prime, nearly credible as a piece of journalism, but only nearly so. More than anything it reveals both Goldman’s gargantuan superego and its immense—and justified—pride in making it to 150. (Among major American investment banks, only Brown Brothers Harriman (founded in 1818) and Lazard (founded in 1848) are older than Goldman.) Burns’s Goldman Sachs at 150 is mostly a story of Goldman’s glory. One cannot help thinking, while watching the film, that Goldman is Lake Wobegon on the Hudson: all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average. I’ve never seen so many polished, happy, prosperous well-dressed people (of all stripes) in one place at one time. I feel certain this was not an accident.
Steve destroys William Nordhaus’s Nobel material.
What this shows is that mainstream economists are generally climate change trivializers—not that they know anything meaningful about the magnitude of disruption to the globe’s ecological and economic systems that will result from climate change. The 30-times difference in expectations of serious disruption from climate change between scientists and economists should have been the takeaway from this survey, not the average of the expectations of damage. Nordhaus at least acknowledges one important flaw in this survey: with him asking the questions, people who weren’t experts in climate change—the majority, at 14 of the 19 respondents (if we count Nordhaus and Pearce as experts, at least in the sense that their own models would have given them a basis for their opinions)—could have been intimidated by Nordhaus’s own well-known position, to give answers that were similar to what Nordhaus himself would give. He framed the answers in effect, by being the one asking the questions:
“Two important methodological issues may contaminate the results. The first is the interviewer effect. I am known to the respondents as one who has developed estimates of the impact of climatic change that are modest compared with some of the scientific concerns and popular rhetoric, and this knowledge might have influenced the respondents (p. 46)” Therefore, the substantive content of this “data” is not the average temperature result from the opinions of 2 climate change experts and 16 others (mainly economists), but the huge difference between the climatic expert predictions and the guesses of the other 16 (where 2 of these, Nordhaus and Pearce, would have been influenced in their answers by the results of their own models—including earlier versions of the model Nordhaus was using this data point to calibrate).
“Unless we change our ways of producing food,..”
[..] the total biomass of flying insects here has plummeted by 76 percent. To demonstrate the rapid decline, a lab technician holds up two bottles: one from 1994 contains 1,400 grammes of trapped insects, the newest one just 300 grammes. “We only became aware of the seriousness of this decline in 2011, and every year since then we have seen it get worse,” says Sorg, the man who sounded the alarm. At the time, the news didn’t make major waves outside ecological circles. Concern about biodiversity loss focused mostly on large charismatic mammal species, and environmental monitoring such as that in Krefeld was considered a quaint Sunday hobby, largely ignored by the scientific community.
Also in 2011, just across the Dutch border, ecology professor Hans de Kroon was working on the decline of birds in the region. He hypothesised that the birds suffered from a shortage of food, especially insects, but had no data to prove it. “Then our German colleagues from Krefeld got in touch and said, ‘we have the data, we’ve witnessed a strong decline, we are very concerned, could you analyse the data?’. “That’s how it all started.” In the search for the cause, the landscape around Krefeld provides some clues. In the distance, industrial chimneys billow smoke. On one side of the road lies a protected nature reserve. On the other, a sugar beet field is being sprayed with pesticides by an agricultural machine. “You see, protected reserves are not so protected,” says Sorg.
Across the border, Kroon says, “we must realise that here in western Europe our nature is getting smaller, the agriculture fields are very hostile to insects. There is no food, they get poisoned. “And nature areas are also more and more isolated. Insects can’t move from one place to another, it’s too far away.” Although the exact cause for the die-off is not yet clear, he says, “the cause is anthropogenic, there’s no doubt about it. “It is our greatest fear that a point of no return will be reached, which will lead to a permanent loss of diversity.” The Krefeld research played a central role in a meta-study published by Francisco Sanchez-Bayo and Kris Wyckhuys from the Australian universities of Sydney and Queensland.
In February, they published the first synthesis of 73 studies on entomological fauna around the world over the past 40 years, listing places from Costa Rica to southern France. They calculated that over 40 percent of insect species are threatened with extinction, and each year about one percent is added to the list. This is equivalent, they noted, to “the most massive extinction episode” since the dinosaurs disappeared. The main drivers appeared to be habitat loss and land conversion to intensive agriculture and urbanisation, followed by pollution, mainly from pesticides and fertilisers, invasive species and climate change. “The conclusion is clear,” they wrote. “Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades.”