Jul 162018
 
 July 16, 2018  Posted by at 7:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte The human condition 1935

 

Trump Cautious Ahead Of Putin Summit (BBC)
Kremlin Takes Trump To Task Over His Gas Pipeline Comments (R.)
Trump Calls European Union A ‘Foe’ – Ahead Of Russia And China (G.)
Xi’s Overly-Ambitious Goals Triggered US-China Trade War (Nikkei)
The Global Reset Will Come Like A Thief In The Night (von Greyerz)
Theresa May’s Grand Plan Has Left Her Stranded In No Woman’s Land (G.)
Theresa May Faces Rebellion From Brexit Hardliners In Customs Bill Vote (G.)
Glut Of Property Hits UK Housing Market In July (R.)
EU Urges Big Powers To Prevent Trade ‘Conflict And Chaos’ (AFP)
At Last, A Law That Could Have Stopped Blair And Bush Invading Iraq (G.)

 

 

Despite all the attempts to frustrate the meeting, it looks like it will take place. Good.

Trump Cautious Ahead Of Putin Summit (BBC)

US President Donald Trump will meet Russia’s Vladimir Putin later on Monday, ending a tumultuous European tour in which he criticised his allies. Mr Trump said he had “low expectations” ahead of the talks in the Finnish capital, Helsinki, but added that “maybe some good” would come of them. The summit comes after 12 Russians were charged with hacking in the 2016 US elections. Mr Trump says he will raise the issue, but there is no formal agenda. The two leaders will meet one-on-one, and will be joined only by their interpreters. It is the first-ever summit between Mr Putin and Mr Trump – although they have previously met on the sidelines of multilateral talks.

There have been calls in the US for Mr Trump to cancel the meeting altogether over the indictments of Russian military intelligence agents, announced on Friday. Russia denies the allegations, and says it is looking forward to the talks as a vehicle for improving relations. US National Security Adviser John Bolton has said both sides have agreed the meeting will have no set agenda. But he said he found it “hard to believe” Mr Putin did not know about the alleged election hacking and the subject would be mentioned. “That’s what one of the purposes of this meeting is, so the president can see eye to eye with President Putin and ask him about it,” he told ABC News.

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Nordstream 2 will be built.

Kremlin Takes Trump To Task Over His Gas Pipeline Comments (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump’s criticism of Russia’s Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline to Europe is an egregious example of unscrupulous competition and it worries Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying on Monday. Speaking shortly before Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin sit down together for a summit in the Finnish capital, Peskov also said discussions between the two on Syria would be difficult because of the U.S. stance on Iran, Russia’s ally and a major player in the Syrian conflict. Russia’s RIA news agency quoted Peskov as saying he hoped the Helsinki talks would represent some kind of step away from the current crisis in U.S.-Russian relations.

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On trade.

Trump Calls European Union A ‘Foe’ – Ahead Of Russia And China (G.)

Donald Trump described the European Union one of his greatest “foes” in another extraordinary diplomatic intervention on Sunday, just hours before sitting down to a high-stakes summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Asked in a TV interview to name his “biggest foe globally right now”, the US president started by naming the European Union, calling the body “very difficult” before ticking off other traditional rivals like Russia and China. Hours earlier, British prime minister Theresa May revealed that Trump suggested she “sue the EU” rather than go into negotiations over Brexit. “Well I think we have a lot of foes,” Trump told CBS News at his Turnberry golf resort in Scotland. “I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade. Now you wouldn’t think of the European Union but they’re a foe.”

Apparently taken aback, anchor Jeff Glor replied: “A lot of people might be surprised to hear you list the EU as a foe before China and Russia.” But Trump insisted: “EU is very difficult. I respect the leaders of those countries. But – in a trade sense, they’ve really taken advantage of us.” Trump’s controversial tour through Europe has turned postwar western relations inside out, the president sparring with Nato leaders in Brussels and blasting May’s Brexit strategy in the Sun newspaper. His remarks have reflected one of this president’s core beliefs: that America is exploited by its allies. Donald Tusk, president of the European council, tweeted: “America and the EU are best friends. Whoever says we are foes is spreading fake news.”

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A different point of view.

Xi’s Overly-Ambitious Goals Triggered US-China Trade War (Nikkei)

China ranges over the global economy like a bull elephant roams the savanna. Other grassland wildlife is sensitive to this mammoth’s slightest moves. The ferocious lion, the U.S., is no exception. China has yet to become fully aware that it is the elephant in the global economy’s boardroom. But in Washington, Trump was cognizant that he could not stand idly by after China vowed to knock the U.S. off its economic pedestal in just 17 years from now. He campaigned for the presidency by promising voters he would put “America first.” News of China’s decision to bring forward its modernization target date emerged at a bad time. It came shortly after Xi had promised Trump business deals worth $250 billion.

That pledge came in November, when Trump was visiting Beijing, and was portrayed as a salve that would help to heal the U.S.’s massive trade deficit with China. As expected, it was little more than talk. The trade gap continues to quickly widen. Alarmed by China’s ambitions and frustrated by the lack of progress in narrowing the U.S. trade deficit, Trump went on the offensive in the spring. There are good reasons for China coming under U.S. trade fire. It has been the biggest beneficiary of the global trade system since it became a member of the World Trade Organization at the end of 2001. All the while, it has imposed strict foreign ownership limits in each industrial sector, forced foreign companies that enter China to transfer technologies and has set up various other barriers to its markets.

Backed by huge amounts of government funds, Chinese companies have made splashy acquisitions of U.S. and European companies that own key technologies, especially in the auto and information technology sectors. Chinese companies can quickly obtain technologies by acquiring or taking equity investments in U.S. and European companies. In the U.S. and Europe, any company can acquire any other company as long as it can obtain the necessary funds. But it is difficult for U.S. and European companies to acquire Chinese companies. Chinese authorities have numerous regulations at their disposal to block any such attempt.

When Xi bared China’s sharp claws, declaring China would overtake the U.S. economically by 2035, he did so for the benefit of a domestic audience and to aid his fierce power struggle with the political factions that had run China for decades. China is now beginning to realize the high price it is having to pay for Xi’s declaration.

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“When the monster, ‘everything’ bubble pops, so will the paper markets in gold, silver, and other precious metals. The size of this market is at least 100-times bigger than the physical market.”

The Global Reset Will Come Like A Thief In The Night (von Greyerz)

“It is absolutely unreal how the world pays so much respect to mediocrity or even incompetence when it comes to running the financial system. Central banks and their heads have created this monster balloon which is now waiting to be popped. They have given the world the impression that they have been instrumental in saving the world economy. The central bank chiefs that managed to retire before the balloon burst can count themselves lucky. In my view, the luck is now in the process of running out for the present ones. These chiefs believe so much in their own ability as saviors of the world that they don’t understand that all they are doing is creating a much bigger monster by printing and printing and printing.

[..] When the monster, ‘everything’ bubble pops, so will the paper markets in gold, silver, and other precious metals. The size of this market is at least 100-times bigger than the physical market. The rise of this market is very much linked to manipulation of the precious metals by central banks, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), and bullion banks. When the paper metals markets pop, there will be no gold (or silver) offered at any price. This is the time when overnight or over a weekend the price will go from $1,250 to $10,000 or even $100,000. This might sound totally unreal to some, but this will be the most likely consequence of the monster bubble popping and everyone in markets running for the exit.

Most people believe that the status quo can go on forever and that central banks will continue their ridiculous game of pretending that air is real money that can create wealth. The few people who believe that there is a serious risk that the system will not survive in its present form, and that their assets — be it cash, bonds, or stocks — could decline substantially in value, must seriously consider insurance.

The next decline in financial markets is likely to start in late 2018 or early 2019. And this will not be an ordinary decline or normal correction. Instead, it will be the beginning of the biggest global bear market in history. And this time central banks and governments will fail in their attempts to save the system. They will, however, certainly print a lot of money and try to reduce interest rates. But as global bond markets collapse, rates will go up rapidly. This means that bonds and stocks will both crash along with most assets.

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The numbers are simply not there.

Theresa May’s Grand Plan Has Left Her Stranded In No Woman’s Land (G.)

Lyndon Johnson, who was majority leader in the US Senate before he became his country’s president, once declared that the most important talent in politics is “the ability to count”. There aren’t enough people who can count around Mrs May. The fatal flaw in her plan is that there is no majority for it in the House of Commons. The Brexit ultras are crying treachery and promising havoc. They both express and feed the furies of Tory activists. The Brextremists don’t have an alternative plan, other than to crash out of the EU without any deal at all, a catastrophic outcome that some of them actually wish for, but that hasn’t stopped them before and won’t curb them now.

Jacob Rees-Mogg and his cabal can muster the 48 signatures of Tory MPs that they need to trigger a confidence vote in Mrs May. They do not sound confident that they have the numbers – they require 159 – to oust her from the premiership. What the ultras can do is make the government’s life even more hellish by prosecuting a “guerrilla war” in parliament. Even if Mrs May could get the EU to accept her plan, 60-plus Conservative MPs are opponents of her version of a Brexit deal. That number will climb if, as is inevitable, she has to make further concessions in Brussels to secure an agreement. There are more than enough Brextremist rebels to block the prime minister in the Commons unless she can get some assistance from the opposition.

She needs the help of Labour MPs and she is not going to get it. Jeremy Corbyn won’t give her any succour. He is more interested in bringing down the Tories than helping them to solve a mad riddle of their own making. The Labour leadership calculates that defeating Mrs May in Brexit votes is their best chance of collapsing the government and precipitating an early general election. But Number 10 clearly harboured hopes that centrist Labour MPs might embrace her plan as the least worst version of Brexit that they are likely to get in the circumstances.

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They’ll keep at it till she’s gone. And it will get even messier.

Theresa May Faces Rebellion From Brexit Hardliners In Customs Bill Vote (G.)

Theresa May faces a concerted rebellion from the hard Brexit wing of the Conservative party on Monday, as MPs unhappy with her Chequers compromise prepare to mount a show of strength by voting for their amendments on the customs bill. The party’s European Research Group says it will reject any last attempts at compromise by Number 10 as they hope to force May to change course over Brexit or risk a no-confidence vote before the summer break by demonstrating the depth of their support. A special ERG whipping operation, using the WhatsApp messaging service, has been created by Steve Baker, the former Brexit minister who resigned from the government last week, although ERG insiders would not put a number on how many they expected to rebel in the Commons.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the chairman of the ERG, told the BBC “we’ll have an idea of the numbers at 10pm on Monday evening” while one ERG insider added that they were “intensely relaxed” about the number of rebels they had signed up. Last week, members of the hard Brexit group put down four amendments to the taxation (cross-border trade) bill due to be debated on Monday evening, aimed at halting the customs plan announced by May at Chequers nine days ago. The level of support they attract will draw intense focus, particularly if the number significantly exceeds the 48 required to call for a vote of no confidence in May’s leadership of the Conservative party.

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No buyers left.

Glut Of Property Hits UK Housing Market In July (R.)

Britain’s housing market saw a glut of new property offered for sale this month, keeping a lid on prices at a time when sales typically suffer from a seasonal lull, property website Rightmove said on Monday. Real estate agents now have the highest amount of stock since September 2015, Rightmove said. “While an increase in seller numbers is a welcome sign of more liquidity in a generally stock-starved market, it has unfortunately come at a quieter time of year,” Rightmove director Miles Shipside said. The number of homes advertised by Rightmove, Britain’s largest property website, is 8.6 percent higher than the same month a year ago, but the number of sales is virtually unchanged from a year earlier, down 0.2 percent.

Average asking prices for new sellers are down 0.1 percent since June, typical for the time of year, Rightmove added. But in a sign that previous sellers had priced their property too high, a third of stock being advertised had seen at least one price reduction, the highest proportion for the time of year since 2011. Other industry data has shown British house price growth has slowed sharply since the June 2016 Brexit vote, though with marked regional variation. The slowdown is most marked in London and neighbouring areas, where demand has been hit by higher tax on expensive property and reduced demand from foreign investors. In other parts of Britain, prices are still rising moderately.

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EU Council President Donald Tusk says it is the duty of Europe, the US, China and Russia not to destroy global trade, but to improve it.

EU Urges Big Powers To Prevent Trade ‘Conflict And Chaos’ (AFP)

The European Union on Monday called on the United States, China and Russia to work together to avoid trade “conflict and chaos” to prevent it spiralling into violent confrontation. “It is the common duty of Europe and China, but also America and Russia, not to destroy (the global trade order) but to improve it, not to start trade wars which turned into hot conflicts so often in our history,” EU Council President Donald Tusk said in Beijing. “There is still time to prevent conflict and chaos.” Tusk spoke after meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang as part of an annual EU-China summit that opened against the backdrop of the growing China-US economic confrontation and wider global trade discord.

The EU — the world’s biggest single market with 28 countries and 500 million people — is trying to buttress alliances in the face of the protectionism unleashed by US President Donald Trump’s “America First” administration. The meeting between Chinese and European officials in Beijing, which also included European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker, comes as Trump prepared to hold talks in Helsinki with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The world needed trade reform, rather than confrontation, Tusk said. “This is why I am calling on our Chinese hosts, but also on Presidents Trump and Putin, to jointly start this process from a thorough reform of the WTO.”

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Dream on. As Smedley Butler said, the only way to stop wars is to take the profit out of them.

At Last, A Law That Could Have Stopped Blair And Bush Invading Iraq (G.)

Tuesday is a red-letter day for international law: from then on, political and military leaders who order the invasion of foreign countries will be guilty of the crime of aggression, and may be punishable at the international criminal court in The Hague. Had this been an offence back in 2003, Tony Blair would have been bang to rights, together with senior numbers of his cabinet and some British military commanders. But if that were the case, of course, they would not have gone ahead; George W Bush would have been without his willing UK accomplices. The judgment at Nuremberg declared that “to initiate a war of aggression … is the supreme international crime”.

But this concept never entered UK law (as the misguided crowdfunded effort to prosecute Blair discovered last year). International acceptance of it stalled until states could agree on an up-to-date definition. The crime was included in the ICC jurisdiction back in 1998, but was suspended until its elements could be decided (in 2010) then ratified by at least 30 states (in 2016). At last it is finally being “activated”. In the meantime, Iraq and Ukraine have been invaded and other countries threatened, while Donald Trump attacked Syria last year. Now, the very existence of the crime of aggression offers some prospect of deterrence, and some degree of certainty in identifying the criminals.

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Jul 142018
 
 July 14, 2018  Posted by at 9:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso The blue room 1901

 

Chinese Property Buyers Are GONE (MB)
It “Hit the Mortgage Market Over the Head with a Baseball Bat” (WS)
No Evidence In Mueller’s Indictment Of 12 Russians (MoA)
Lawmakers Press Trump To Cancel Putin Summit After Mueller Indictments (CNBC)
Trump Should Fire Rosenstein Immediately (PCR)
Summitgate and the Campaign vs. ‘Peace’ (Stephen Cohen)
The Globalist Elite Fears Peace, Wants War (Pieraccini)
Theresa May Is Approaching Her Zero Dark Thirty Moment (G.)
How Amazon Rules (WS)
Judge Tells US To Pay Costs Of Reuniting Immigrant Families (R.)
Hope and Change Are At Hand (Kunstler)

 

 

Xi halts outflows.

Chinese Property Buyers Are GONE (MB)

NAB’s survey results have highlighted to a trend decline in foreign buying activity in recent quarters resulting from policy changes in China on foreign investment outflows and tighter restrictions on foreign property buyers in Australia. In Q2 2018, there were fewer foreign buyers in the market for Australian property, with their market share dipping to 9.6% (10.9% in Q1 2018) in new housing markets and to 4.8% in established housing markets (5.7% in Q1 2018 and their lowest share since Q1 2012).

In established housing markets, the share of sales to foreign buyers fell in all states. They continued to be most active in VIC but their market share of total sales fell to a 4-year low of 6.2% (8.2% in Q1 2018). The decline was even more pronounced in NSW, where their market share fell to 4.8% (5.4% in Q1 2018) – the lowest level in over 6 years. In QLD, foreign buyers accounted for 5.4% of total sales (5.6% in Q1 2018), while in WA their share fell to 2.2% (4.7% in Q1 2018).

In new property markets, the share of sales to foreign buyers fell in all states except QLD where their share jumped to 22.8% (11.5% in Q1 2018). This may have reflected anecdotal reports of increased Chinese property investment associated with record numbers of Chinese student enrolments in the state. In contrast, the share of foreign buyers fell to 11.7% in VIC (down from an average of 14.4% since the survey started), 7.4% in NSW (from an average of 10.2%) and 4.6% in WA from an average of 6.8%.

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Sydney house prices down 11-15%.

It “Hit the Mortgage Market Over the Head with a Baseball Bat” (WS)

Australia’s housing market is getting rattled. The mortgage industry is in turmoil. Banks are battered by incessant revelations of misconduct. Home prices in the Sydney and Melbourne metros, after surging to an astounding degree, are deflating. And the once splendid and vast game of real-estate speculation just isn’t fun anymore. Lindsay David, of LF Economics in Sydney — who has long played a role in exposing misconduct in Australia’s banking system including, in early 2016, by calling for a Royal Commission investigation into the mortgage sector — put some findings of his boots-on-the-ground analysis into a note to clients. Here are some of them:

1. Drop-off in Speculative Demand: “We spent countless hours” in recent months “observing buyer turnouts to scheduled property inspections of houses for sale,” he writes. “While there may still be a small sum of properties on market that continue to see very large turnouts, there was a clear visual drop-off of engaged interest from buyers and indeed ‘property snoops’ across the majority of properties for sale that we had observed.” “On many occasions, we observed either no interested parties, or less than 4 parties inspecting a property across a very decent chunk of offerings on the market,” he writes. “This lower rate of turnouts was something we simply had not observed over the years at such a dramatic scale.”

2. Sharper drop in selling prices than shown in official data: According to CoreLogic (the official data), home prices in Sydney fell 4.6% in June compared to a year ago, with house prices down 6.2%, and prices of condos down 0.7%. In the most expensive quartile, prices fell 7.3%. But Lindsay David writes: “It is our view based on all the resources made available that house prices in the Sydney area have broadly fallen somewhere between 11% and 15% over the comparison period.”

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This one stinks.

No Evidence In Mueller’s Indictment Of 12 Russians (MoA)

The Special counsel Robert Mueller issued an indictment against 12 Russian people alleged to be officers or personal of the Russian Military Intelligence Service GRU. The people, claims the indictment, work for an operational (26165) and a technical (74455) subunit of the GRU. A Grand Jury in Washington DC issued 11 charges which are described and annotated below. A short assessment follows. The first charge is for a “Conspiracy to Commit an Offense Against the United States” by stealing emails and leaking them. The indictment claims that the GRU units sent spearfishing emails to the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party organizations DNC and DCCC. They used these to get access to email boxes of John Podesta and other people.

They are also accused of installing spyware (X-agent) on DNC computers and of exfiltrating emails and other data from them. The emails were distributed and published by the online personas DCLeaks, Guccifer II and later through Wikileaks. The indictment claims that DCLeaks and Guccifer II were impersonations by the GRU. Wikileaks, “organization 1” in the indictment, is implicated but so far not accused. Note: There is a different Grand Jury for the long brewing case against Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Assange has denied that the emails he published came from a Russian source. Craig Murray, a former British ambassador, said that he received the emails on a trip to Washington DC and transported them to Wikileaks.

The indictment describes in some detail how various rented computers and several domain names were used to access the DNC and DCCC computers. The description is broadly plausible but there is little if any supporting evidence.

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The Special Counsel was for collusion. There is none.

Lawmakers Press Trump To Cancel Putin Summit After Mueller Indictments (CNBC)

Lawmakers are calling on President Donald Trump to cancel a meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin after special counsel Robert Mueller charged against 12 Russians for interfering in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election Friday. Democratic leadership in the Senate and House of Representatives, alongside a growing list of other Democratic lawmakers, called on the president to abandon the meeting, which is scheduled to take place Monday in Helsinki, Finland. In their statements, many Democrats said they did not trust Trump, who has often expressed a desire to improve U.S.-Russia relations, to confront Putin about Russia’s role in the 2016 election.

They were joined by at least one high-profile member of the opposing party: Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a frequent Trump critic and a Russia hawk, called on the president to cancel the summit if he is “not prepared to hold Putin accountable.” But the Trump administration appears unlikely to do so. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told NBC News on Friday afternoon that the summit is “still on.” The White House downplayed the significance of the indictment, noting there were no allegations against members of Trump’s campaign team. The president’s lawyer, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, said the charges were “good news for all Americans” and called on the special counsel to end his investigation and declare the president innocent.

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“Rosenstein knows that he needs no evidence, because the accused will never be brought to trial.”

Trump Should Fire Rosenstein Immediately (PCR)

Does Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officers for allegedly hacking Hillary’s emails and interfering in the US election have any purpose other than to throw a monkey wrench in President Trump’s upcoming summit with Putin? Don’t forget that Rosenstein is implicated in the orchestration of Russiagate as a weapon against Trump, a weapon that serves the interests of the Democratic Party and the military/security complex about which President Eisenhower warned us 56 years ago to no avail. Rosenstein’s indictment of 12 Russians for allegedly hacking computers is a political indictment aimed at President Trump. The indictment is otherwise pointless as the Russian government will certainly not turn over its military personnel to a Washington kangeroo court.

The indictment serves no purpose except to poison the atmosphere of the summit. If you read the indictment, you will see that it consists of nothing but improbable accusations. There is no way on earth that the US Justice (sic) Department would be able to acquire the information in this fictional story that Rosenstein has presented. Moreover, there is no sign whatsoever of any evidence in the indictment. Rosenstein knows that he needs no evidence, because the accused will never be brought to trial.

Rosenstein has thrown red meat to the presstitutes, who are assets of the military/security compex and Democratic Party, and the presstitutes will pressure the Republicans to get behind Rosenstein’s call for a united front against Russian interference. You can imagine what would happen if Trump and Putin were to have a successful summit and normalize the relations that Washington ruined between the two countries.

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“As a rule, American presidents have departed for summits with bipartisan support and well-wishes.”

Summitgate and the Campaign vs. ‘Peace’ (Stephen Cohen)

As a rule, American presidents have departed for summits with bipartisan support and well-wishes. Trump’s upcoming meeting with Russian President Putin, in Helsinki on July 16, is profoundly different in two respects. US-Russian relations have rarely, if ever, been more dangerous. And never before has a president’s departure—in Trump’s case, first for a NATO summit and then the one with Putin—been accompanied by allegations that he is disloyal to the United States and thus cannot be trusted, defamations once issued only by extremist fringe elements in American politics. Now, however, we are told this daily by mainstream publications, broadcasts, and “think tanks.”

According to a representative of the Clintons’ Center for American Progress, “Trump is going to sell out America and its allies.” The New York Times and The Washington Post also feature “experts”—they are chosen accordingly—who “worry” and “fear” that Trump and Putin “will get along.” The Times of London, a bastion of Russophobic Cold War advocacy, captures the mainstream perspective in a single headline: “Fears Grow Over Prospect of Trump ‘Peace Deal’ with Putin.”

An anti-“peace” Washington establishment is, of course, what still-unproven Russiagate allegations have wrought, as summed up by a New York magazine writer who advises us that the Trump-Putin summit may well be “less a negotiation between two heads of state than a meeting between a Russian-intelligence asset and his handler.” The charge is hardly original, having been made for months at MSNBC by the questionably credentialed “intelligence expert” Malcolm Nance and the, it seems, selectively informed Rachel Maddow, among many other “experts.” Considering today’s perilous geopolitical situation, it is hard not to conclude that much of the American political establishment, particularly the Democratic Party, would prefer trying to impeach Trump to averting war with Russia, the other nuclear superpower. For this too, there is no precedent in American history.

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The fear of peace.

The Globalist Elite Fears Peace, Wants War (Pieraccini)

Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction. The following so stretches credulity that sources will have to be cited and an exact quotations given to be believed. A case in point is the following title: “Fears growing over the prospect of Trump ‘peace deal’ with Putin”. The Times does not here fear a military escalation in Ukraine, an armed clash in Syria, a false-flag poisoning in England, or a new Cold War. The Times does not fear a nuclear apocalypse, the end of humanity, the suffering of hundreds of millions of people. No, one of the most authoritative and respected broadsheets in the world is fearful of the prospect of peace! The Times is afraid that the heads of two nuclear-armed superpowers are able to talk to each other.

The Times fears that Putin and Trump will be able to come to some kind of agreement that can help avert the danger of a global catastrophe. These are the times in which we live. And this is the type of media we deal with. The problem with The Times is that it forms public opinion in the worst possible way, confusing, deceiving, and disorienting its readers. It is not by accident the world in which we live is increasingly divorced from logic and rationality. Even if the outcome of this meeting does not see any substantial progress, the most important thing to be achieved will be the dialogue between the two leaders and the opening of negotiation channels for both sides. In The Times article, it is assumed that Trump and Putin want to reach an agreement regarding Europe.

The insinuation is that Putin is manipulating Trump in order to destabilize Europe. For years now we have been inundated with such fabrications by the media on behalf of their editors and shareholders, all part of the deep state conglomerate. Facts have in fact proven that Putin has always desired a strong and united Europe, looking to integrate Europe into the Eurasian dream. Putin and Xi Jinping would like to see a European Union more resistant to American pressure and able to gain greater independence. The combination of mass migration and sanctions against Russia and Iran, which end up hurting Europeans, opens the way for alternative parties that are not necessarily willing to Washington’s marching orders.

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“..this endgame of competing impossibilisms..”

Theresa May Is Approaching Her Zero Dark Thirty Moment (G.)

Donald Trump’s outburst may have done Theresa May a fleeting favour. Had the grand Shrek not delivered every imaginable insult (short of impugning St Gareth of Southgate) to his host country yesterday, the story in the spotlight this weekend would have been on the growing disquiet around May’s handling of the Chequers agreement on Brexit, and the darkening mood that has descended on her own benches. As it turned out, May rode out the turbulence. But with the awkward visitor gone, the stony road to Brexit – “a tough deal”, as the US president observed – resumes. What started a mere week ago as applause for the prime minister in facing down her most troublesome ministerial insurgents has slipped into acute agitation.

It turns in part on the convoluted deal itself – but also on a fresh bout of panic about her ability to lead when the pressure is on. The departures of Boris Johnson and David Davis disconcerted Brexiteers – but did not unleash rebellion. Thursday’s white paper was another matter. Its use of the term “association agreement” (not used previously) was a red rag to many bulls. Given that the last one the European Union signed was with Ukraine, it hardly takes a marketing genius to see the problem. In this endgame of competing impossibilisms – hard Brexit versus a byzantine arrangement of near-customs-union “associations”, segmented agreements on goods and services, and somewhat indeterminate reassurance for the City on how its practices will be affected – the prime minister’s nightmare is that both enemy camps conclude they don’t want whatever she is offering.

This is the Zero Dark Thirty moment at which a serious move to oust May becomes probable – unless she can take back control of her disputatious party. May is not quite at that point – but perilously close. As one recently departed senior figure put it, there is no such thing as summer relief “because Graham Brady’s letter box is open over the recess”. Brady is the chair of the backbench MPs’ committee to which no-confidence votes would be submitted.

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It’s gotten far too big.

How Amazon Rules (WS)

Amazon is a Goliath in very different sectors. One is the internet cloud, a booming business. Amazon Web Services has evolved into the single largest player offering cloud computing services to companies, governments, and individuals. In the first quarter, AWS owns 33% share of the cloud infrastructure market, ahead of Microsoft with a 13% share, and Google with a 6% share. Being the biggest kid on the block, it has become the shoo-in for a multi-year $10-billion Pentagon contract. That business is highly profitable.

Less profitable are Amazon’s e-commerce operations. But in terms of magnitude, Amazon totally rules. According to a report from eMarkter, cited by CNBC, Amazon’s online sales in the US are expected to surge 30% in 2018 compared to a year earlier, to $258 billion. This would boost Amazon’s share of US e-commerce sales of 49.1%! The other combatants are fighting over the crumbs in terms of market share. The next nine largest e-commerce operations combined grab about 22% of the market: eBay (EBAY): 6.6% Apple (AAPL): 3.9% Walmart (WMT): 3.7% Home Depot (HD): 1.5% Best Buy (BBY) 1.3% QVC Group (QVCA): 1.2% Macy’s (M): 1.2% Costco (COST): 1.2% Wayfair (W): 1.1%

That leaves 29% of e-commerce for all the other retailers with online operations, from Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) to the tiniest home-office operations, millions of them. Amazon online sales fall into two categories: its “direct sales” and the sales from other sellers that use Amazon’s platform and execution (“Marketplace sales”). Both are growing in leaps and bounds, but Marketplace sales are growing the fastest. In 2018, Marketplace sales are expected to account for 68% of Amazon’s e-commerce sales, and direct sales for 32%, according to eMarketer estimates. Overall, e-commerce sales in the US have soared 16% in the first quarter from a year ago and are on track to exceed $500 billion this year.

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Sabraw rules again.

Judge Tells US To Pay Costs Of Reuniting Immigrant Families (R.)

A U.S. judge in California on Friday ordered President Donald Trump’s administration to pay the costs of reuniting immigrant parents with children separated from them by officials at the U.S.-Mexican border, rather than forcing the parents to pay. The U.S. government is working to reunite around 2,000 children with their parents, who were detained and separated as part of Trump’s “zero tolerance” approach to deter illegal immigration. “It doesn’t make any sense for any of the parents who have been separated to pay for anything,” U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, who last month ordered that the children be reunited with their parents by July 26, said at a hearing in San Diego.

The government missed a deadline this week for getting the youngest of the children back with their parents. Trump has made his hardline immigration policies a central part of his presidency. His administration adopted the family separation policy as part of its effort to discourage illegal immigration, but Trump bowed to intense political pressure and abandoned the policy on June 20. A lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which has sued the administration over the family separations, said at the hearing that immigrant parents had been told by immigration officials they had to pay for their travel. One parent was initially asked to pay $1,900 to be reunited with a child, according to ACLU court papers.

Trump administration lawyer Sarah Fabian called the judge’s order on paying for the reunifications “a huge ask on HHS,” referring to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Fabian said those decisions were handled at the field level, adding that HHS, which houses the detained children, had limited resources. “The government will make it happen,” Sabraw responded. The judge also agreed to impose timelines on the government for reporting details about its reunification efforts.

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Fat Americans can have more tattoos.

Hope and Change Are At Hand (Kunstler)

It seems unfair that the earnest polymath Elon Musk should go broke in the electric car business while Kylie Jenner becomes a billionaire at age 20 hawking lip gloss on Snapchat, but that’s how the American Dream rolls these late days of empire. Perhaps the lesson here, for all you MBA wannabes, is that Mr. Musk could switch his production facilities from cars to lip gloss. Of course, to successfully market his new line of cosmetics on social media, Elon might have to consider sexual “reassignment” surgery — unless he could persuade American men via Facebook and Twitter, that lip enhancement boosts male self-esteem almost as much as the purchase of a Ford F-450 pickup truck at a laughable fraction of the cost.

Which raises an interesting question: if President Donald Trump’s most winning personal feature is that magnificent golden hair-do, why doesn’t he (or his family) get out of the pain-in-the-ass hotel business, with all its construction and maintenance issues and dirty sheets, and just put out shampoo? He is obviously adept at Twitter marketing and surely scores high in global brand recognition. Which raises any number of other major questions about the proper functioning of the US economy. For instance, millions of Americans, especially of Kylie J’s gen, are wasting their lives working dead-end minimum wage jobs manning (personing?) the nation’s fry-o-lator stations when they could start billion dollar cosmetic companies.

After all, if you really want to be successful in this land of success stories, don’t you have to first look and feel successful? Perhaps that’s all you really need… forget all those pain-in-the-ass products with their vexing assembly-line, packing, and shipping problems. Just get America feeling great about itself, starting with the most important person in the room: YOU! Only two things stand in the way: tattoos and blubber. At the rate our fellow citizens are adorning themselves with inky autobiographies, ever fewer will want to cover up their personal messaging with icky makeup. And the remorseless increase in body size implies a concomitant increase in available epidermal sites for said personal messaging — so maybe the tattoo industry ought to be the basis of the next American economy, not electric cars and journeys to Mars, or even lip gloss. Just think of all those empty brick-and-mortar retail spaces out there begging to become Ink Spots! I may be wrong about this, but I haven’t heard of any tattoo billionaires…yet. Who will dare to be first? (Yet another Kardashian?)

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Jun 172018
 
 June 17, 2018  Posted by at 9:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


George Grosz Apocalyptic landscape 1936

 

Is Merkel’s Reign Nearing A Frustrated End? (G.)
Merkel Wants to Hold Urgent Summit With EU States on Migration Issues (Sp.)
Italy Bars Two More Refugee Ships From Ports (G.)
Spain Rescues More Than 900 Boat Migrants, Finds Four Bodies (R.)
First Migrants From Aquarius Rescue Ship Arrive At Spanish Port (Sky)
Spain Says France To Take In Aquarius Ship Migrants (AFP)
Trump Keeps His Promises On Trade (AFP)
China Tariffs On US Soybeans Could Cost Iowa Farmers Up To $624 Million (DMR)
Mattis: Putin Is Trying To “Undermine America’s Moral Authority” (CJ)
Consumers Stubbornly Cling to Cash (DQ)
May To Unveil £20 Billion A Year Boost To NHS Spending (G.)
Greece, FYROM To Sign Name Change Accord Sunday (K.)

 

 

This morning Merkel’s coalition partner, Horst Seehofer, said ‘I can not work with this woman anymore’. Looks like game could be over.

Is Merkel’s Reign Nearing A Frustrated End? (G.)

For nearly 14 years as Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel has defined and personified Europe’s middle ground: pragmatic, consensual, mercantilist, petit-bourgeois, above all stable. It is little wonder the leader of Mitteleuropa’s major economic power has dominated the political centre for so long. But what if Merkel falls? Can the centre hold? These are increasingly urgent questions as the once unassailable “Mutti” struggles to hold together a fractious coalition. The immediate issue, which is likely to come to a head on Monday, is a furious row over EU immigration policy. But other problems are piling up, with unpredictable consequences for Europe’s future cohesion.

Merkel’s political obituary has been written many times, but now the final draft is nearing completion. She is under fire from the hard-right, anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which stormed into the Bundestag last autumn. She has problems with the failing, unpopular Social Democrats on her left, on whom she depends for support. More seriously, though, Merkel is being challenged from within by her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, former chairman of Bavaria’s rightwing CSU, which is allied to Merkel’s Christian Democrats. In sum, Seehofer is demanding Germany no longer admit migrants who have first entered the EU via other member states – which is nearly all of them.

In Merkel’s view, such a bar would be illegal and would wreck her efforts – ongoing since the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis, when Germany accepted 1 million migrants – to create a balanced, EU-wide policy of voluntary migrant quotas. She says Seehofer should wait for this month’s EU summit to come up with a joint plan. The problem with that approach is twofold. Seehofer’s CSU, which faces a critical electoral clash with the AfD in October, complains that the EU has been trying and failing to agree this for years. Another objection, as her critics see it, is that most Germans, recalling her 2015 “open door” policy, do not trust Merkel on this issue. Polls indicate 65% back tighter border controls.

Last week’s row between France and Italy, sparked by Rome’s decision to refuse entry to a ship, the Aquarius, carrying 629 migrants rescued off Libya, showed how improbable is the prospect of agreement at the Brussels summit. Italy’s new populist leadership, in common with an emerging axis of nationalist-minded governments in Austria, Hungary and Poland, believes it has a mandate to halt the migrant flow. Meanwhile, so-called “frontline states” such as Greece, Spain and Italy accuse “destination states” such as Germany, France and the UK of failing to accept a fair share of migrants. Divisions have been exacerbated by the failure, so far, of a key Merkel-backed initiative, the multibillion-euro EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, to reduce migration by addressing “root causes” in places such as Nigeria, Eritrea and Somalia.

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And this is of course far too late. This summit should have been held 3 years ago. And it should be a UN summit, not some talks with Greece and Italy. Give Africa a voice. And Central America. Stop inviting xenophobia.

Merkel Wants to Hold Urgent Summit With EU States on Migration Issues (Sp.)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to hold an urgent summit dedicated to the migration crisis and to discuss this issue with a group of the EU member states, local media reported. The Bild newspaper reported Saturday citing own sources in the leadership of several EU countries that Merkel would like to discuss migration-related issues with leadership of Austria, Greece, and Italy. According to the media outlet, a final decision about the date of the summit has not been made yet, however it could take place later in the month. Earlier, Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, called for reforms of EU asylum rules, proposing that the EU set up centers to process asylum claims in migrants’ countries of origin. France’s President Emanuel Macron also stressed the need to modify current migration rules and criticizing the European Union for not sharing the burden with Rome over the migrant crisis.

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This comes at a bad time given Merkel’s problems.

Italy Bars Two More Refugee Ships From Ports (G.)

Italy’s interior minister has sparked a new migration crisis in the Mediterranean by barring two rescue boats from bringing refugees to shore, a week after the Auarius was prevented from docking. “Two other ships with the flag of Netherlands, Lifeline and Seefuchs, have arrived off the coast of Libya, waiting for their load of human beings abandoned by the smugglers,” Matteo Salvini, the leader of the anti-immigrant party the League, wrote on his Facebook page. “These gentlemen know that Italy no longer wants to be complicit in the business of illegal immigration, and therefore will have to look for other ports [not Italian] where to go.”

Italy’s closure of its ports to the migrant rescue ship Aquarius, which was carrying 620 people, triggered warnings from aid agencies of a deadly summer at sea for people trying to cross the Mediterranean. Axel Steier, the co-founder of Mission Lifeline which operates the Lifeline ship, said his crew had rescued more than 100 migrants off Libya on Friday in an operation with a US warship, and transferred them to a Turkish merchant vessel. He said his ship was too small to make the journey from Libya to Italian ports and that he always transferred migrants to other ships, but insisted those craft should have the right to land in Italy.

“I am sure there is an obligation for Italy to take them because its closest safe harbour is Lampedusa. We hand over migrants to Europe because of the Geneva convention,” he said. Vessels chartered by an assortment of European NGOs have plied the waters off Libya for three years, rescuing migrants from leaking boats and transporting them to Sicily.

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Greece, Italy and now Spain.

Spain Rescues More Than 900 Boat Migrants, Finds Four Bodies (R.)

Spain’s coast guard rescued 933 migrants and found four dead bodies in the Mediterranean Friday and Saturday, as the country prepared for the arrival of a charity rescue ship that was denied a port by Italy and Malta. The number of people fleeing poverty and conflict by boat to Spain doubled last year and is likely to rise again in 2018, according to the EU border agency, potentially pushing migration up the national political agenda. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has already made migrant-friendly moves in his first two weeks in the job, offering to take in the rescue ship Aquarius with 629 people on board and pledging free healthcare to undocumented migrants. The coast guard said on Twitter it had rescued 507 people from 59 small dinghies in the Gibraltar strait, where it also found the four bodies.

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Kudos to Sanchez. But what comes next?

First Migrants From Aquarius Rescue Ship Arrive At Spanish Port (Sky)

The first boat of the Aquarius convoy carrying 630 people, who have become the focus of a pan-European disagreement over migration, has docked in Valencia. The Italian coast guard vessel Dattilo arrived in the Spanish port just before 7am local time on Sunday, and will be followed by the Aquarius and another Italian navy ship, the Orione. The migrants were rescued a week ago off the coast of Libya and have been at sea ever since after the Italian government refused to allow the vessel they were aboard to dock in Italy. Among those rescued are seven children aged under five, 32 children aged between five and 15 years, 61 young people aged from 15 to 17 and 80 women, seven of whom are pregnant.

They were rescued in several different operations last weekend after Italian coastguard vessels reported a group of small rubber dinghies off the coast of Libya. The Aquarius, a charity rescue vessel operated by French charities SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), picked up more than a hundred people in a complex night-time rescue before being asked by the Italian authorities to take on board hundreds more people they had recovered. However the Italian interior minister, Matteo Salvini, then refused to allow the Aquarius to dock at Italian ports, fulfilling an election pledge to stop the arrival of migrants from Africa. Malta also refused to allow them to dock there, arguing that the Italians had assumed responsibility for the rescue operations.

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More kudos for Sanchez. France is moving.

Spain Says France To Take In Aquarius Ship Migrants (AFP)

Madrid said Saturday it had accepted an offer from France to take in migrants from the Aquarius rescue ship, currently en route to Spain with more than 600 people on board. “The French government will work together with the Spanish government to handle the arrival of the migrants” scheduled for Sunday, Spain’s deputy prime minister Carmen Calvo said in a statement. “France will accept migrants who express the wish to go there” once they have been processed in Valencia, the statement said. The vessel is at the heart of a major migration row between European Union member states.

Chartered by a French aid group, the vessel rescued 629 migrants including many children and pregnant women off Libya’s cost last weekend. Italy’s new populist government and Malta refused to let it dock in their ports, accusing each other of failing to meet their humanitarian and EU commitments. Spain eventually stepped in and agreed to receive the refugees. France – who had angered Rome by branding it irresponsible over the vessel rejection – offered Thursday to welcome Aquarius migrants who “meet the criteria for asylum”.

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Still negotiating.

Trump Keeps His Promises On Trade (AFP)

By inflicting tariffs on the steel and aluminum of his allies, and then on tens of billions of dollars in goods from China, US President Donald Trump has quickly moved to fulfill the tough campaign pledges he made on trade. During his first year in office, Trump and his top economic aides made repeated threats and warned that preliminary investigations were launched into whether certain imports were being unjustly subsidized. But no concrete steps were taken. That all changed in March, when the “America First” president went on the offensive. “What happened for a period of time is the president was constrained by different members” of his administration, said Edward Alden, a specialist on US economic competitiveness at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“But the president has become increasingly confident in his own judgment on these issues… He is willing to do radical things he promised during his campaign and for many years before that.” In its latest move, the White House on Friday announced stiff 25 percent tariffs on Chinese imports, sparking immediate retaliation from Beijing. The move, which Trump justified as payback for the theft of American intellectual property and technology, reignited a trade spat between the world’s two largest economies, spooking markets and worrying business leaders.

It came on top of the tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum that went into effect in late March – measures that prompted Beijing to slap punitive duties on 128 US goods, including pork, wine and certain pipes. Since June 1, steel and aluminum imports from the European Union, Canada and Mexico have been hit with tariffs of 25 percent and 10 percent, respectively. Trump has seemingly opted to go with his gut, sometimes over the protestations of his closest aides.

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Since there is no glut of soybeans globally, this looks improbable.

China Tariffs On US Soybeans Could Cost Iowa Farmers Up To $624 Million (DMR)

Perhaps Iowa farmers’ biggest fear is becoming a harsh reality: The escalating U.S.-China trade dispute erupted Friday, with each country vowing to levy 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion in goods. U.S. and Iowa agriculture is caught in the crossfire, with farmers selling $14 billion in soybeans to China last year, its top export market. Soybeans are among hundreds of U.S. products China has singled out for tariffs. The U.S. has an equally long list that includes taxing X-ray machines and other Chinese goods. Iowa farmers could lose up to $624 million, depending on how long the tariffs are in place and the speed producers can find new markets for their soybeans, said Chad Hart, an Iowa State University economist.

U.S. soybean prices have fallen about 12 percent since March, when the U.S.-China trade dispute began. “Any tariff or tax put in place will have a significant impact, not only to the U.S. soybean market but to Iowa’s, because we’re such a large producer,” Hart said Friday. Iowa is the nation’s second-largest soybean grower, producing 562 million bushels last year worth $5.2 billion. “It will slow down the market. Even with the tariffs in place, we will ship a lot of soybeans to China,” Hart said. “It just won’t be nearly the amount we did before. “It’s likely to still be our largest market even with these tariffs in place.”

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Word.

Mattis: Putin Is Trying To “Undermine America’s Moral Authority” (CJ)

At a graduation ceremony for the US Naval War College (barf), US Secretary of Defense James Mattis asserted that Russian President Vladimir Putin “aims to diminish the appeal of the western democratic model and attempts to undermine America’s moral authority,” and that “his actions are designed not to challenge our arms at this point but to undercut and compromise our belief in our ideals.” This would be the same James Mattis who’s been overseeing the war crimes committed by America’s armed forces during their illegal occupation of Syria.

This would be the same United States of America that was born of the genocide of indigenous tribes and the labor of African slaves, which slaughtered millions in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq, Libya and Syria for no legitimate reason, which is partnered with Ukrainian Nazis, jihadist factions in Syria and Iranian terror cultists, which supports 73 percent of the world’s dictators, which interferes constantly in the electoral processes of other countries as a matter of policy, which stages coups around the world, which has encircled the globe with military bases, whose FBI still targets black civil rights activists for persecution to this very day, which routinely enters into undeclared wars of aggression against noncompliant governments to advance plutocratic interests, which remains the only country ever to use nuclear weapons on human beings after doing so completely needlessly in Japan, and which is functionally a corporatist oligarchy with no meaningful “democratic model” in place at all.

A casual glance at facts and history makes it instantly clear that the United States has no “moral authority” of any kind whatsoever, and is arguably the hub of the most pernicious and dangerous force ever assembled in human history. But the establishment Russia narrative really is that cartoonishly ridiculous: you really do have to believe that the US government is 100 percent pure good and the Russian government is 100 percent pure evil to prevent the whole narrative from falling to pieces. If you accept the idea that the exchange is anything close to 50/50, with Russia giving back more or less what it’s getting and simply protecting its own interests from the interests of geopolitical rivals, it no longer makes any sense to view Putin as a leader who poses a unique threat to the world. If you accept the idea that the west is actually being far more aggressive and antagonistic toward Russia than Russia is being toward the west, it gets even more laughable.

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“Currency in Circulation vs. GDP is increasing on all continents..”

Consumers Stubbornly Cling to Cash (DQ)

The last month has been an unhappy time for daydreamers of a cashless nirvana. Following weeks of disruptive tech failures, payment outages, and escalating cyber fraud scams, much of it taking place in Britain, consumers have been reminded of one of the great benefits of physical cash: it is accepted just about everywhere and does not suddenly fail on you. The findings of a new study by UK-based online payments company Paysafe, partly owned by US private equity giant Blackstone, confirm that consumers on both sides of the Atlantic continue to cling to physical lucre. For its Lost in Transaction report, Paysafe surveyed over 5,000 consumers in the UK, Canada, the US, Germany, and Austria on their payment habits.

One of its main findings is that 87% of consumers used cash to make purchases in the last month, while 83% visited ATMs, and 41% are not interested in even hearing about cash alternatives. “Despite the apparent benefits of low-friction payment technologies, these findings suggest many consumers aren’t ready to lose visibility of the payment process,” says Paysafe Group Chief Marketing Officer Oscar Nieboer. “It’s clear that the benefits are not unilaterally agreed upon, with cultural and infrastructure trends at play, and it may be some time before adoption is widespread.” Although consumers continue to cling to cash, they appear to be carrying less of it: 49% overall in the survey and 55% of U.S. respondents said they carry less cash now than they did a year ago.

The average American consumer carries $42 today — that’s $8 less than in 2017. In the UK the average amount carried in 2017 was £33; that has now fallen to £21. But that does not mean that the amount of cash in circulation is dwindling. On the contrary, according to this year’s G4S cash report, the world average ratio of currency vs GDP continues to rise, reaching 9.6% in 2018. “Currency in Circulation vs. GDP is increasing on all continents, indicating a consistent, growing demand for cash across the world,” says the report. South America has by far the highest cash dependency relative to its GDP, with an average ratio of over 16%.

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First you kill it, then it needs to be revived. How much of the £20 billion goes to repairing the damage already done?

May To Unveil £20 Billion A Year Boost To NHS Spending (G.)

Taxpayers are to be asked to help fund a £20bn a year injection of extra cash into the National Health Service by 2023-24 that will pay for thousands more doctors and nurses, while cutting cancer deaths and improving mental health services, Theresa May will say today. The announcement, before the NHS’s 70th birthday next month, will represent the biggest funding boost since Gordon Brown imposed a one percentage point rise in National Insurance to pay for more NHS spending in his 2002 budget, in the face of Tory claims that Labour was slapping a “tax on ordinary families”.

Government sources said the increases, which would be paid for in part by a “Brexit dividend”, would amount to around £600m a week extra for the NHS in cash terms within six years. Health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt said last night that the government wanted to “show the world what a cutting-edge 21st-century healthcare system can look like”. He added: “This long-term plan and historic funding boost is a fitting birthday present for our most loved institution. Like no other organisation could ever hope to be, the NHS is there for every family at the best and worst of times, from the wonder of birth to the devastation of death, living and breathing those very British values of decency, fairness and compassion.

He said the extra cash “recognises the superhuman efforts made by staff over the last few years to maintain services in the face of rapidly growing demand. But it also presents a big opportunity for the NHS to write an entirely new chapter in its history”. Details of how the public will be required to pay through tax rises, and the proportion of the funding increases they will pay for, will not be spelled out until the budget, because of ongoing arguments involving the chancellor Philip Hammond, Hunt, and No 10.

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70% of Greeks is against the deal, protests are everywhere. But he pushed it through. In Foreign Policy, someone suggested giving him a Nobal Peace Prize for it. But, but, democracy…

Greece, FYROM To Sign Name Change Accord Sunday (K.)

Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) are set to sign a historic accord to modify the latter’s name after Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament Saturday. The accord is to be signed in the Prespes region, a lake district which borders Greece, FYROM and Albania, by the two countries’ foreign ministers Sunday. Tsipras and his FYROM counterpart Zoran Zaev will both attend the ceremony, along with UN mediator Matthew Nimetz and other European officials – including the European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Commissioner Johannes Hahn.

Following the ceremony, members of the two delegations will hold a working lunch in the town of Otesevo, in FYROM. Security at the event is expected to be ultra-tight. A protest against the deal will be held in the nearby village of Pisoderi. On Saturday, after more than two days of vehement debate in Parliament, Greece’s SYRIZA-led government survived a no-confidence vote brought against it by the main opposition New Democracy party, but with one less MP. The motion garnered 127 votes with 153 against. The junior coalition partner Independent Greeks (ANEL) backed the government despite its opposition to the name deal with FYROM that Tsipras announced last week, bar one MP, Dimitris Kammenos, who backed the motion. He was subsequently expelled from the party, reducing the government’s majority to 153.

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May 262018
 
 May 26, 2018  Posted by at 9:25 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Louise Dahl-Wolfe Looking at Matisse, Museum of Modern Art 1939

 

S&P 500 Companies Return $1 Trillion To Shareholders In Tax-Cut Surge (R.)
The 2020s Might Be The Worst Decade In US History (Mauldin)
Moody’s Warns Of ‘Particularly Large’ Wave Of Junk Bond Defaults Ahead (CNBC)
Moody’s Puts Italy On Downgrade Review, Junk Rating Possible (ZH)
UK Economy Posts Worst Quarterly GDP Figures For Five Years (G.)
Prospects of US-North Korea Summit Brighten (R.)
The Real ‘Constitutional Crisis’ (Strassel)
A Mendacious Exercise In Manufacturing Paranoia (Jim Kunstler)
Tesla Seeks To Dismiss Securities Fraud Lawsuit (R.)
Madrid Takes Its Car Ban to the Next Level (CityLab)

 

 

Oh, that’s what the tax cuts are for?!

S&P 500 Companies Return $1 Trillion To Shareholders In Tax-Cut Surge (R.)

S&P 500 companies have returned a record $1 trillion to shareholders over the past year, helped by a recent surge in dividends and stock buybacks following sweeping corporate tax cuts introduced by Republicans, a report on Friday showed. In the 12 months through March, S&P 500 companies paid out $428 billion in dividends and bought up $573 billion of their own shares, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices analyst Howard Silverblatt. That compares to combined dividends and buybacks worth $939 billion during the year through March 2017, Silverblatt said in a research note. Earnings per share of S&P 500 companies surged 26 percent in the March quarter, boosted by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by Republican lawmakers in December.

Companies have been returning much of that profit windfall to shareholders via share buybacks and increased dividends at never before seen amounts, highlighted by Apple’s record $23.5 billion worth of shares repurchased in the first quarter. S&P 500 companies have also plowed some of the windfall from lower taxes into investments toward growth or becoming more efficient. First-quarter capital expenditures totaled at least $159 billion, up more than 21 percent from the year before, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices. The biggest overhaul of the U.S. tax code in over 30 years, the new law slashes the corporate income tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent, and charges multinationals a one-time tax on profits held overseas.

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Mauldin turns dark side.

The 2020s Might Be The Worst Decade In US History (Mauldin)

I recently wrote about a looming credit crisis that’s stemming from high-yield junk bonds. The crisis itself will have massive consequences for investors. But that’s not the worst part. The crisis will create a domino effect and trigger global financial contagion, which I usually refer to as “The Great Reset.” The collapse of high-yield bonds will hit stocks and bonds. Rising defaults will force banks to reduce their lending exposure, drying up capital for previously creditworthy businesses. This will put pressure on earnings and reduce economic activity. A recession will follow. This will not be just a U.S. headache, either. It will surely spill over into Europe (and may even start there) and then into the rest of the world.

The U.S. and/or European recession will become a global recession, as happened in 2008. Europe has its own set of economic woes and multiple potential triggers. It is quite possible Europe will be in recession before the ECB finishes this tightening cycle. As always, a U.S. recession will spark higher federal spending and reduce tax revenue. So I expect the on-budget deficit to quickly reach $2 trillion or more. Within four years of the recession’s onset, total government debt will be at least $30 trillion. This will further constrain the private capital markets and likely raise tax burdens for everyone—not just the rich.

Meanwhile, job automation will intensify, with businesses desperate to cut costs. The effect we already see on labor markets will double or triple. Worse, it will start reaching deep into the service sector. The technology is improving fast. The working-class population will not like this and it has the power to vote. “Safety net” programs and unemployment benefit expenditures will skyrocket. Studies show that the ratio of workers covered by unemployment insurance is at its lowest level in 45 years. What happens when millions of freelancers lose their incomes?

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We’re talking trillions. Poof!

Moody’s Warns Of ‘Particularly Large’ Wave Of Junk Bond Defaults Ahead (CNBC)

With corporate debt hitting its highest levels since before the financial crisis, Moody’s is warning that substantial trouble is ahead for junk bonds when the next downturn hits. The ratings agency said low interest rates and investor appetite for yield has pushed companies into issuing mounds of debt that offer comparatively low levels of protection for investors. While the near-term outlook for credit is “benign,” that won’t be the case when economic conditions worsen. The “prolonged environment of low growth and low interest rates has been a catalyst for striking changes in nonfinancial corporate credit quality,” Mariarosa Verde, Moody’s senior credit officer, said in a report.

“The record number of highly leveraged companies has set the stage for a particularly large wave of defaults when the next period of broad economic stress eventually arrives.” Though the current default rate is just 3 percent for speculative-grade credit, that has been predicated on favorable conditions that may not last. Since 2009, the level of global nonfinancial companies rated as speculative, or junk, has surged by 58 percent, to the highest ever, with 40 percent rated B1 or lower, the point that Moody’s considers “highly speculative,” as opposed to “non-investment grade speculative.” In dollar terms, that translates to $3.7 trillion in total junk debt outstanding, $2 trillion of which is in the B1 or lower category.

“Strong investor demand for higher yields continues to allow all but the weakest issuers to avoid default by refinancing maturing debt,” Verde wrote. “A number of very weak issuers are living on borrowed time while benign conditions last.” The level of speculative-grade issuance peaked in the U.S. in 2013, at $334.5 billion, according to the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association. American companies have $8.8 trillion in total outstanding debt, a 49 percent increase since the Great Recession ended in 2009.

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President Mattarella has refused to accept the nominee for finance minister, Savona. He’s a euroskeptic.

Meanwhile, if Italian bonds are downgraded further, Europe has a massive problem.

Moody’s Puts Italy On Downgrade Review, Junk Rating Possible (ZH)

In a quite direct ‘threat’ to the newly formed Italian coalition, Moody’s warned that Italy will face a downgrade from its current Baa2 rating (potentially more than one notch to junk status) due to the lack of fiscal restraint in the new “contract” and the potential for delays to Italy’s structural reforms. While Italy’s current rating is Baa2, and a downgrade would leave it at Baa3 (still investment grade), one look at Italian debt markets this week and one can be forgiven for thinking it is pricing in a multiple-notch downgrade to junk… and thus potentially making things awkward for its ECB bond-buying-benefactor and its banking system’s massive holdings of sovereign bonds.

Full Moody’s Report: Moody’s Investors Service has today placed the Government of Italy’s ratings on review for possible downgrade. Ratings placed under review are the Baa2 long-term issuer and senior unsecured bond ratings as well as the (P) Baa2 medium-term MTN programme, the (P)Baa2 senior unsecured shelf, the Commercial Paper and other short-term ratings of Prime-2/(P) Prime-2 respectively. The key drivers for today’s initiation of the review for downgrade are as follows: 1. The significant risk of a material weakening in Italy’s fiscal strength, given the fiscal plans of the new coalition government; and 2. The risk that the structural reform effort stalls, and that past reforms such as the pension reforms implemented in 2011 are reversed.

Moody’s will use the review period to assess the impact of the fiscal and economic policy platform of the new government on Italy’s credit profile, with a particular focus on the effect on the deficit and debt trajectories in the coming years. The review will also allow Moody’s to assess further whether the new government intends to continue to pursue growth-enhancing structural reforms, or conversely to reverse earlier reforms, such as the 2011 pension reform, as well as other economic policy initiatives in the coming months that may have an incidence on the country’s growth potential over the coming years.

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What do you mean we can’t blame the weather?

UK Economy Posts Worst Quarterly GDP Figures For Five Years (G.)

The weakest household spending for three years and falling levels of business investment dragged the economy to the worst quarter for five years, official statisticians have said. The Office for National Statistics confirmed its previous estimate that GDP growth slumped to 0.1% in the first quarter, while sticking to its view that the “beast from the east” had little impact. The latest figures will further stoke concerns over the strength of the UK economy, amid increasing signals for deteriorating growth as Britain prepares to leave the EU next year. Some economists, including officials at the Bank of England, thought the growth rate would be revised higher as more data became available.

Threadneedle Street delayed raising interest rates earlier this month after the weak first GDP estimate, despite arguing that the negative hit to the economy from heavy snowfall in late February and early March had probably been overblown. Instead the ONS said it had seen a longer-term pattern of slowing growth in the first three months of the year. Rob Kent-Smith of the ONS said: “Overall, the economy performed poorly in the first quarter, with manufacturing growth slowing and weak consumer-facing services.” While admitting bad weather will have had some impact, particularly for firms in the construction industry and some areas of the retail business, statisticians said the overall effect was limited, with increased online sales and heightened energy production during the cold snap.

The figures show the services industries contributed the most to GDP growth, with an increase of 0.3% in the first quarter, while household spending grew at a meagre 0.2%. The construction industry declined by 2.7% and business investment fell by 0.2%.

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“..an advance team of 30 White House and State Department officials was preparing to leave for Singapore later this weekend..”

Prospects of US-North Korea Summit Brighten (R.)

Prospects that the United States and North Korea would hold a summit brightened after U.S. President Donald Trump said late on Friday Washington was having “productive talks” with Pyongyang about reinstating the June 12 meeting in Singapore. Politico magazine reported that an advance team of 30 White House and State Department officials was preparing to leave for Singapore later this weekend. Reuters reported earlier this week the team was scheduled to discuss the agenda and logistics for the summit with North Korean officials. The delegation was to include White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joseph Hagin and deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel, U.S. officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Trump said in a Twitter post late on Friday: “We are having very productive talks about reinstating the Summit which, if it does happen, will likely remain in Singapore on the same date, June 12th., and, if necessary, will be extended beyond that date.” Trump had earlier indicated the summit could be salvaged after welcoming a conciliatory statement from North Korea saying it remained open to talks. “It was a very nice statement they put out,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “We’ll see what happens – it could even be the 12th.” “We’re talking to them now. They very much want to do it. We’d like to do it,” he said.

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Through Kimberley Strassel, the Wall Street Journal distances itself ever more from the MSM.

The Real ‘Constitutional Crisis’ (Strassel)

Democrats and their media allies are again shouting “constitutional crisis,” this time claiming President Trump has waded too far into the Russia investigation. The howls are a diversion from the actual crisis: the Justice Department’s unprecedented contempt for duly elected representatives, and the lasting harm it is doing to law enforcement and to the department’s relationship with Congress. The conceit of those claiming Mr. Trump has crossed some line in ordering the Justice Department to comply with oversight is that “investigators” are beyond question. We are meant to take them at their word that they did everything appropriately. Never mind that the revelations of warrants and spies and dirty dossiers and biased text messages already show otherwise.

We are told that Mr. Trump cannot be allowed to have any say over the Justice Department’s actions, since this might make him privy to sensitive details about an investigation into himself. We are also told that Congress – a separate branch of government, a primary duty of which is oversight – cannot be allowed to access Justice Department material. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes can’t be trusted to view classified information – something every intelligence chairman has done – since he might blow a source or method, or tip off the president. That’s a political judgment, but it holds no authority. The Constitution set up Congress to act as a check on the executive branch—and it’s got more than enough cause to do some checking here.

Yet the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation have spent a year disrespecting Congress—flouting subpoenas, ignoring requests, hiding witnesses, blacking out information, and leaking accusations. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley has not been allowed to question a single current or former Justice or FBI official involved in this affair. Not one. He’s also more than a year into his demand for the transcript of former national security adviser Mike Flynn’s infamous call with the Russian ambassador, as well as reports from the FBI agents who interviewed Mr. Flynn. And still nothing.

[..] Mr. Trump has an even quicker way to bring the hostility to an end. He can – and should – declassify everything possible, letting Congress and the public see the truth. That would put an end to the daily spin and conspiracy theories. It would puncture Democratic arguments that the administration is seeking to gain this information only for itself, to “undermine” an investigation. And it would end the Justice Department’s campaign of secrecy, which has done such harm to its reputation with the public and with Congress.

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“..a malevolent secret police operation..”

A Mendacious Exercise In Manufacturing Paranoia (Jim Kunstler)

After many months, the gaslight is losing its mojo and a clearer picture has emerged of just what happened during and after the 2016 election: the FBI, CIA, and the Obama White House colluded and meddled to tilt the outcome and, having failed spectacularly, then labored frantically to cover up their misdeeds with further misdeeds. The real election year crimes for which there is actual evidence point to American officials not Russian gremlins. Having attempted to incriminate Trump at all costs, these tragic figures now scramble to keep their asses out of jail.

I say “tragic” because they — McCabe, Comey, Rosenstein, Strzok, Page, Ohr, et al — probably think they were acting heroically and patriotically to save the country from a monster, and I predict that is exactly how they will throw themselves to the mercy of the jury when they are called to answer for these activities in a court of law. Of course, they have stained the institutional honor of the FBI and its parent Department of Justice, but it is probably a healthier thing for the US public to maintain an extremely skeptical attitude about what has evolved into a malevolent secret police operation.

The more pressing question is how all this huggermugger gets adjudicated in a timely manner. Congress has the right to impeach agency executives like Rod Rosenstein and remove them from office. That would take a lot of time and ceremony. They can also charge them with contempt-of-congress and jail them until they comply with committee requests for documents. Mr. Trump is entitled to fire the whole lot of the ones who remain. But, finally, all this has to be sorted out in federal court, with referrals made to the very Department of Justice that has been a main actor in this tale.

The most mysterious figure in the cast is the MIA Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, who has become the amazing invisible man. It’s hard to see how his recusal in the Russia matter prevents him from acting in any way whatsoever to clean the DOJ house and restore something like operational norms — e.g. complying with congressional oversight — especially as the Russia matter itself resolves as a completely fabricated dodge. The story is moving very fast now. The Pequod is whirling around in the maelstrom, awaiting the final blow from the white whale’s mighty flukes.

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Gullible?

Tesla Seeks To Dismiss Securities Fraud Lawsuit (R.)

Tesla Inc on Friday asked a court to dismiss a securities fraud lawsuit by shareholders who said the electric vehicle maker gave false public statements about the progress of producing its new Model 3 sedan. In a filing in federal court in San Francisco, Tesla said that its statements about the challenges the company faced with Model 3 were “frank and in plain language,” including repeated disclosures by Chief Executive Elon Musk of “production hell.” Tesla did not seek to hide the truth, its motion to dismiss said. The company says its Model 3 has experienced numerous “bottlenecks” from problems with Tesla’s battery module process at its Nevada Gigafactory to general assembly at its Fremont plant.

Tesla is under pressure to deliver the Model 3 to reap revenue and stem massive spending that has put Tesla’s finances in the red. The ramp of the Model 3, Tesla said in the court filing, was “the first of its kind,” with difficulties likely to crop up after it got underway. The lawsuit filed last October seeks class action status for shareholders who bought Tesla stock between May 4, 2016 through October 6, 2017, inclusive. It said shareholders bought “artificially inflated” shares because Musk and other executives misled them with their statements. Tesla made such statements during the lead-up to, and early production of, its Model 3 sedan and failed to disclose that the company was “woefully unprepared” for the vehicle’s production, the lawsuit said.

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Good on ’em! Cars don’t belong in cities.

Madrid Takes Its Car Ban to the Next Level (CityLab)

The days when cars could drive unhindered through central Madrid are coming to a close. Following an announcement this week, the Spanish capital confirmed that, starting in November, all non-resident vehicles will be barred from a zone that covers the entirety of Madrid’s center. The only vehicles that will be allowed in this zone are cars that belong to residents who live there, zero-emissions delivery vehicles, taxis, and public transit. Even on a continent where many cities are scaling back car access, the plan is drastic. While much of central Madrid consists of narrow streets that were never suitable to motor vehicles in the first place, this central zone also includes broad avenues such as Gran Via, and wide squares that have been islands in a sea of surging traffic for decades.

The plan is thus not just about making busy central streets more pleasant, but about creating a situation where people simply no longer think of bringing their cars downtown. This might come as a shock to some drivers, but the wind has been blowing this way for more than a decade. Madrid set up the first of what it calls Residential Priority Zones in 2005, in the historic, densely packed Las Letras neighborhood. Since then, a modest checkerboard of three other similar zones have been installed across central Madrid. The new area will be a sort of all-encompassing zone that abolishes once and for all the role of downtown streets as through-routes across the city.

To get people used to the idea, implementation of the non-local car ban will be staggered. In November, manual controls by police around the zone’s edge will begin. Cars that are breaching the new rules will be warned of the fine they face in the future—€90 per occurrence—without actually being charged then. In January, a fully automated system with cameras will be put in place, and from February, the €90 will be actively enforced against any cars found breaking the rules.

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May 252018
 


Wassily Kandinsky Moscow Red Square 1916

 

Riskiest Junk Bonds Still Blissful in La-La Land, High-Grade Bonds Bleed (WS)
When Rates Go Up, Stuff Blows Up (Dillian)
Where America’s Debt Slaves Are the Most Vulnerable (WS)
North Korea Says Still Open To Talks After Trump Cancels Summit (R.)
Brilliant Strategy Of Offering North Korea “The Libya Model” Falls Through (CJ)
About $1.2 Billion In Cryptocurrency Stolen Since 2017 (R.)
Zuckerberg Set Up Fraudulent Scheme To ‘Weaponise’ Data, Court Case Alleges (G.)
Facebook Accused Of Conducting Mass Surveillance Through Its Apps (G.)
EU Officials Tear Into UK’s ‘Fantasy’ Brexit Negotiating Strategy (Ind.)
Italy’s Belligerent New Coalition Is Bad News For The EU (Marsili)
Greece’s Post-Bailout Program Contains At Least 20 Milestones For 2018-2022 (K.)
How Rural America Became A Hospital Desert (G.)

 

 

Perhaps not a good time to chase yield?

Riskiest Junk Bonds Still Blissful in La-La Land, High-Grade Bonds Bleed (WS)

High-grade corporate bonds have had a hard time. Yields have surged as prices have fallen. The S&P bond index for AA-rated corporate bonds is down 3.2% so far this year. Losses are concentrated on bonds with maturities of 15 years and over. They’re down 7%, according to Bloomberg. As prices have declined, yields have surged, with the average AA yield now at 3.47%, up from around 2.2% in mid to late-2016:

In the chart above of the ICE BofAML US AA Effective Yield Index, I marked some key events, in terms of the bond yield:
• The election in November 2016, after which the yield spiked.
• In December 2016, the Fed’s second rate hike in this cycle. This was when the Fed got serious and added an increasingly more hawkish – or less dovish – tone. But the market blew it off, yield fell again, and bonds returned to la-la-land.
• In September 2017, the Fed announced details of its QE unwind, and yields began to rise again and then started spiking in late-2017. This was when the bond market got serious.

But at the riskiest end of the spectrum, with corporate bonds rated CCC or below (deep into junk), there is no such pain. In fact, the S&P bond index for CCC rated bonds is up 4.3% so far this year. They’ve had a blistering 82%-run since February 2016, when Wall Street decided that the oil bust was over and plowed new money into junk-rated energy companies. The average yield of bonds rated CCC or lower is now at 9.78%, down from 12.5% in December 2016, when the Fed got serious, and down from 22% during the peak of the oil bust:

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Looking for the third victim.

When Rates Go Up, Stuff Blows Up (Dillian)

When rates go up sharply, stuff blows up, because lots of people are negatively exposed to higher rates. Households, corporates, and governments are all negatively exposed to higher rates, in different degrees. Back in 1994, we found that it was Mexico, Procter & Gamble, and Orange County, California who all suffered because of higher interest rates. Where does the risk live today? We will soon find out. There is a playbook for when interest rates go up. Rising interest rates do not necessarily cause a recession per se, but they are usually found at the scene of the crime. There was no recession in 1994, but the financial world shivered. Today, we have rising rates and a more-hawkish Fed which has shown no signs of letting up.

As usual, emerging markets are puking their guts out. I was in Argentina last week and saw the carnage first-hand. The Argentine peso declined a smooth 20% in a week. Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Erdogan is calling himself an “enemy of interest rates.” He is an FX trader’s dream. Of course, there are idiosyncratic things going on in Argentina and Turkey, but all EM currencies and stock markets have been getting hit hard. Emerging markets was a consensus pick at the beginning of 2018, so it is making some people look a bit foolish.

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“..the ratio of non-housing consumer debt to disposable income – the burden these consumers carry on the backs in relationship to their incomes – is higher than ever..”

Where America’s Debt Slaves Are the Most Vulnerable (WS)

Many consumers are debt free and have lots of money and good jobs. Other consumers have large amounts of debt, lousy jobs or no jobs, and are paying for groceries by charging them on their credit cards. Credit problems always involve the most vulnerable consumers. During the mortgage crisis, the delinquency rate peaked at 11.5% in 2010. It wasn’t the 60% of homeowners that had significantly payed down their mortgages or owed no money on their homes who triggered that event. It was the financial mayhem among the smaller portion of the most exposed and most vulnerable. For a different view of the burden of debt, let’s look at non-housing consumer debt, because this is where the music is playing right now.

To eliminate for a moment the impact of interest rates, let’s look at the amount of debt – not the monthly payments – as percent of disposable income. And suddenly, the risks emerge a little more clearly. At year-end 2017, the ratio of non-housing debt – revolving credit such as credit card balances, plus auto loans and student loans – to disposable income reached a new record of 26.3%, up from 23% at the end of 2010, and up from 24% in 2007, the peak before it all came apart during the Great Recession:

So the ratio of non-housing consumer debt to disposable income – the burden these consumers carry on the backs in relationship to their incomes – is higher than ever, and only historically low interest rates have kept it manageable. But interest rates are now rising, and many of these consumer debts have variable rates. This explains a phenomenon that is already appearing: How this toxic mix – rising interest rates and record high consumer debt in relationship to disposable income – has now started to bite the most vulnerable consumers once again. And for them, debt service is getting very difficult. In Q1, the delinquency rate on credit card debt at banks other than the largest 100 – so at the 4,788 smaller banks – spiked to 5.9%, higher than at the peak during the Financial Crisis, and the credit-card charge-off rate spiked to 8%.

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They seem more than open.

North Korea Says Still Open To Talks After Trump Cancels Summit (R.)

North Korea responded on Friday with measured tones to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to call off a historic summit with leader Kim Jong Un scheduled for next month, saying Pyongyang hoped for a “Trump formula” to resolve the standoff over its nuclear weapons program. On Thursday, Trump wrote a letter to Kim to announce his withdrawal from what would have been the first-ever meeting between a serving U.S. president and a North Korean leader in Singapore on June 12. “Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it would be inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” Trump wrote.

Trump’s announcement came after repeated threats by North Korea to pull out of the summit over what it saw as confrontational remarks by U.S. officials. Friday’s response by North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan was more conciliatory, specifically praising Trump’s efforts. “We have inwardly highly appreciated President Trump for having made the bold decision, which any other U.S. presidents dared not, and made efforts for such a crucial event as the summit,” Kim said in a statement carried by state media. “We even inwardly hoped that what is called “Trump formula” would help clear both sides of their worries and comply with the requirements of our side and would be a wise way of substantial effect for settling the issue,” he said, without elaborating.

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Caitlin: “..Pence blathered something about it being “a fact”, not a threat, but that is because he is a fake plastic doll manufactured by Raytheon. ..”

Brilliant Strategy Of Offering North Korea “The Libya Model” Falls Through (CJ)

Three days before President Trump announced him as the new National Security Advisor, deranged mutant death walrus John Bolton appeared on Radio Free Asia and said of negotiations with North Korea, “I think we should insist that if this meeting is going to take place, it will be similar to discussions we had with Libya 13 or 14 years ago.” Bolton has been loudly and publicly advocating “the Libya model” with the DPRK ever since. “I think we’re looking at the Libya model of 2003, 2004,” Bolton said on Face the Nation last month, and said the same on Fox News Sunday in case anyone failed to get the message.

Bolton never bothered to refine his message by saying, for example, “Without the part where we betray and invade them and get their leader mutilated to death in the streets.” He just said they’re doing Libya again. This was what John Bolton was saying before he was hired, and this was what John Bolton continued to say after he was hired. This was what John Bolton was hired to do. He was hired to sabotage peace and facilitate death and destruction. That is what he does. That is what he is for. Can openers open cans, John Bolton starts wars. You don’t buy a can opener to rotate your tires, and you don’t hire John Bolton to facilitate peace. It should have surprised no one, then, when the administration saw Bolton’s Libya comments and raised him a canceled peace talk.

“You know, there were some talk about the Libya model last week,” Vice President Pence told Fox News on Saturday. “And you know, as the president made clear, you know, this will only end like the Libya model ended if Kim Jong-un doesn’t make a deal.” “Some people saw that as a threat,” Fox’s Martha MacCallum replied, because there is no other way it could possibly be interpreted. Pence blathered something about it being “a fact”, not a threat, but that is because he is a fake plastic doll manufactured by Raytheon.

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The comments here on GDPR are at least as interesting.

About $1.2 Billion In Cryptocurrency Stolen Since 2017 (R.)

Criminals have stolen about $1.2 billion in cryptocurrencies since the beginning of 2017, as bitcoin’s popularity and the emergence of more than 1,500 digital tokens have put the spotlight on the unregulated sector, according to estimates from the Anti-Phishing Working Group released on Thursday. The estimates were part of the non-profit group’s research on cryptocurrency and include reported and unreported theft. “One problem that we’re seeing in addition to the criminal activity like drug trafficking and money laundering using cryptocurrencies is the theft of these tokens by bad guys,” Dave Jevans, chief executive officer of cryptocurrency security firm CipherTrace, told Reuters in an interview. Jevans is also chairman of APWG.

Of the $1.2 billion, Jevans estimates that only about 20 percent or less has been recovered, noting that global law enforcement agencies have their hands full tracking down these criminals. Their investigations of criminal activity will likely take a step back with the European Union’s new General Data Protection Regulation, which takes effect on Friday. “GDPR will negatively impact the overall security of the internet and will also inadvertently aid cybercriminals,” said Jevans. “By restricting access to critical information, the new law will significantly hinder investigations into cybercrime, cryptocurrency theft, phishing, ransomware, malware, fraud and crypto-jacking,” he added.

GDPR, which passed in 2016, aims to simplify and consolidate rules that companies need to follow in order to protect their data and to return control of personal information to EU citizens and residents. The implementation of GDPR means that most European domain data in WHOIS, the internet’s database of record, will no longer be published publicly after May 25. WHOIS contains the names, addresses and email addresses of those who register domain names for websites.

WHOIS data is a fundamental resource for investigators and law enforcement officials who work to prevent thefts, Jevans said. He noted that WHOIS data is crucial in performing investigations that allow for the recovery of stolen funds, identifying the persons involved and providing vital information for law enforcement to arrest and prosecute criminals. “So what we’re going to see is that not only the European market goes dark for all of us; so all the bad guys will flow to Europe because you can actually access the world from Europe and there’s no way you can get the data anymore,” Jevans said.

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Facebook makes contradictory claims: First, it says it’s a neutral platform. But then it also wants full freedom to edit.

Interesting court case: the claim is Facebook stiffed 40,000 (!) companies. Reason why? It completely missed the shift to smartphones, and its ads were not ready for that at all.

Zuckerberg Set Up Fraudulent Scheme To ‘Weaponise’ Data, Court Case Alleges (G.)

Mark Zuckerberg faces allegations that he developed a “malicious and fraudulent scheme” to exploit vast amounts of private data to earn Facebook billions and force rivals out of business. A company suing Facebook in a California court claims the social network’s chief executive “weaponised” the ability to access data from any user’s network of friends – the feature at the heart of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.A legal motion filed last week in the superior court of San Mateo draws upon extensive confidential emails and messages between Facebook senior executives including Mark Zuckerberg. He is named individually in the case and, it is claimed, had personal oversight of the scheme.

Facebook rejects all claims, and has made a motion to have the case dismissed using a free speech defence. It claims the first amendment protects its right to make “editorial decisions” as it sees fit. Zuckerberg and other senior executives have asserted that Facebook is a platform not a publisher, most recently in testimony to Congress. Heather Whitney, a legal scholar who has written about social media companies for the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, said, in her opinion, this exposed a potential tension for Facebook. “Facebook’s claims in court that it is an editor for first amendment purposes and thus free to censor and alter the content available on its site is in tension with their, especially recent, claims before the public and US Congress to be neutral platforms.”

The company that has filed the case, a former startup called Six4Three, is now trying to stop Facebook from having the case thrown out and has submitted legal arguments that draw on thousands of emails, the details of which are currently redacted. Facebook has until next Tuesday to file a motion requesting that the evidence remains sealed, otherwise the documents will be made public.

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Somewhat oddly similar to the article above, also Guardian. Facebook is up against people who actually DO understand the field.

Facebook Accused Of Conducting Mass Surveillance Through Its Apps (G.)

Facebook used its apps to gather information about users and their friends, including some who had not signed up to the social network, reading their text messages, tracking their locations and accessing photos on their phones, a court case in California alleges. The claims of what would amount to mass surveillance are part of a lawsuit brought against the company by the former startup Six4Three, listed in legal documents filed at the superior court in San Mateo as part of a court case that has been ongoing for more than two years. A Facebook spokesperson said that Six4Three’s “claims have no merit, and we will continue to defend ourselves vigorously”. Facebook did not directly respond to questions about surveillance.

Documents filed in the court last week draw upon extensive confidential emails and messages between Facebook senior executives, which are currently sealed. Facebook has deployed a feature of California law, designed to protect freedom of speech, to argue that the case should be dismissed. Six4Three is opposing that motion. The allegations about surveillance appear in a January filing, the fifth amended complaint made by Six4Three. It alleges that Facebook used a range of methods, some adapted to the different phones that users carried, to collect information it could use for commercial purposes.

“Facebook continued to explore and implement ways to track users’ location, to track and read their texts, to access and record their microphones on their phones, to track and monitor their usage of competitive apps on their phones, and to track and monitor their calls,” one court document says.

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All over the place.

EU Officials Tear Into UK’s ‘Fantasy’ Brexit Negotiating Strategy (Ind.)

Brexit negotiations have begun to dramatically sour after months of deadlock, with exasperated EU officials tearing into Britain’s “fantasy” negotiating strategy and warning that Theresa May’s latest customs plan would ruin any chance of progress. This week’s latest meetings are understood to have produced no progress on the core issues of the Northern Ireland border and customs, with last year’s business-like start to discussions having given way to bitter behind-the-scenes briefings. One senior EU official said the UK still lacked negotiating positions on a wide variety of issues and that in others it was “chasing the fantasy of denying the consequences of Brexit in a given policy area” – while a UK government source accused Brussels of trying to “insult” the British negotiating team.

Another Brussels official close to talks told The Independent they had been warned internally that there would probably be no progress by the June meeting of the European Council – which would throw off the timetable and raise the risk of a disastrous “no deal”. News that Theresa May wants to align the whole UK with the customs union and single market on a time-limited basis until 2023 as a backstop to solve the Irish border issue was particularly poorly received in Brussels. The Prime Minister is due to actually announce the new policy in the comings weeks, but people familiar with the talks confirmed it had already been raised by UK negotiators. The European Commission’s negotiators have already rejected the plan before its public announcement

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Then agan, Tsipras folded too…

Italy’s Belligerent New Coalition Is Bad News For The EU (Marsili)

As Giuseppe Conte is asked to form Italy’s next government, I walk out of a screening of Loro, the controversial portrayal of Silvio Berlusconi by Oscar-winning director Paolo Sorrentino. With images of drug-fuelled sex parties still in my mind, the uproar that accompanies the announcement about Conte appears odd. Italy has endured more than 30 years of dreadful governments. For much of the last two decades the country was led by a convicted tax fraudster. Before that, it was led by Bettino Craxi, a politician so corrupt that he ended his days as a fugitive in Tunisia. Why worry now? Part of the answer lies in the outsider nature of the new governing parties. Italian elites have traditionally been very adept at assimilating political newcomers.

Who, in turn, have been willingly co-opted by the system. But the new coalition of the Five Star Movement and far-right League appears peculiarly unconnected to Italy’s high establishment: the risk of loss of influence is real enough. Previous governments were quick to guarantee policy continuity, maintaining a neoliberal economic stance, overall respect for EU obligations, and a US-aligned foreign policy. The coalition promises to break away from this consensus, ushering in an era of fiscal expansion, resentment at Italy’s eurozone membership and closer ties to Russia. The key question now is: will the new government abandon its fiery stance or stick to it? Both alternatives are unfortunately dreadful.

The capitulation scenario is a familiar one. Just like Alexis Tsipras, who turned into a reliable implementer of austerity measures in Greece, so Conte’s government might decide to set aside its promises. The gulf is wide: the coalition programme contains at least €60bn of additional yearly expenses, or 3.5% of Italy’s GDP, while the EU is demanding a 0.6% deficit reduction for 2018. A bargain might look strikingly similar to what Matteo Renzi has achieved in recent years: a moderate loosening of deficit targets allowing for an insignificant fiscal expansion. In other words: business as usual.

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Cuts, cuts, cuts, taxes and sell-offs.

Greece’s Post-Bailout Program Contains At Least 20 Milestones For 2018-2022 (K.)

The sweeping agreement for the conclusion of the fourth bailout review, publicized early on Thursday by the European Commission, contains binding commitments for Greece until 2022. It more or less constitutes an extension to the bailout agreement for another four years, but without the inflow of money, while rendering the coalition government’s rhetoric regarding a “clean exit” and its so-called “holistic plan for growth” irrelevant. The text uploaded by the Commission on its website leaves open the possibility for the income tax discount reduction to be brought forward by 12 months to January 2019, and provides for the monitoring of the deal’s implementation in the context of the enhanced surveillance to be agreed in the next Eurogroup meeting on June 21.

Besides the almost 90 milestones that need to be implemented in the next three weeks for the completion of the program, the government is undertaking at least 20 post-program obligations to be applied by 2022. The post-program milestones start from the fiscal side: Apart from the well-known primary budget surplus of 3.5% of GDP, the adjusted bailout agreement calls for additional interventions should any court decisions annul any austerity measures in place.

The text also contains the reduction of pensions from 2019 to save 1% of GDP, the full abolition of the EKAS benefit for people on low pensions, the completion of the National Cadaster by June 2021, the implementation of privatizations such as the gas network operator (DESFA), the 17% stake in PPC, and the Elliniko development, among others, and ceilings on civil servant employment and salaries by 2022. The document further refers to the need to improve labor mediation to avert recourse to arbitration, the completion of the process for hiring general and special secretaries for ministries, and the immediate transfer of railway property company GAIAOSE and the company managing the Olympic Sports Center of Athens to the privatizations hyperfund.

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Don’t let accountants run your health care.

How Rural America Became A Hospital Desert (G.)

It makes sense to sell this old place now, but he can’t bring himself to leave her ashes. Barry Gibbs lives alone in a single-story home among the loblollies of Hyde County in eastern North Carolina. The army veteran collects a small disability check after he tore tendons in his shoulder during a fall at his maintenance job at the local school. He winces every time he stands up. He’s 64 years old and the closest hospital is more than an hour away, a distance he came to understand too damn well on the day she needed help. Their wedding portrait still hangs on the living room wall. It’s one of those 1980s shots with the laser beam backgrounds, her hair big and his mustache combed, his hand on her shoulder.

The interior of the house is almost as she left it four years ago: white oak floors, paintings of black bears, family Christmas photos on end tables. Outside along the driveway, a line of cypress trees shades a headstone that marks where Barry cut a ditch and spread Portia’s ashes, right where she asked to be. Everybody called her Po. She was picking up sticks from the yard on 7 July 2014, five days shy of her 49th birthday, when she felt a sharp pain in her chest. Six days earlier, their community hospital had closed. Pungo district hospital was 47 miles west of their house, in Belhaven, and had served the county since 1949, back when crab-picking plants and lumber mills kept these small waterfront communities working.

If you’re an accountant, hospitals are only as good as the number of paying patients. Belhaven’s population is about half what it was then. And Hyde county is now the fifth-sparsest county on the east coast, with nine people per square mile. This spongy stretch of North Carolina’s inner banks represents the suffering side of a modern migration pattern in which southern cities are flourishing, but rural areas are shrinking and losing healthcare options. Since 2010, 53 rural hospitals have closed in 11 southern states, compared with 30 in the other 39 states.

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