May 252017
 
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Alfred Buckham Edinburgh c1920

 

Toronto Homeowners Are Suddenly in a Rush to Sell (BBG)
$100 Increase In Mortgage Payments Would Sink 75% Of Canadian Homeowners (CBC)
Average Asking Price for Homes in UK Hits Record High of £317,000 (G.)
The Great London Property Squeeze (Minton)
UK Police ‘Stop Passing Information To US’ Over Leaks Of Key Evidence (G.)
The Bubble That Could Break the World (Rickards)
A Bailout Is Coming In China, One Way Or Another (BBG)
China “National Team” Rescues Stocks As Downgrade Crushes Commodities (ZH)
China Says Credit Downgrade ‘Inappropriate’, ‘Exaggerates Difficulties’ (CNBC)
China’s Downgrade Could Lead To A Mountain Of Debt (BBG)
Chinese Banks Dominate Ranking Of World’s Biggest Public Companies (Ind.)
EU Declared Monsanto Weedkiller Safe After Intervention From EPA Official (G.)
Factory Farming Belongs In A Museum (G.)
Eurogroup Confronts Own Deficit: Governance (Pol.)
Podcast: Steve Keen’s Manifesto (OD)
No Greek Debt Relief Need If Primary Surplus Over 3% of GDP For 20 Years (R.)
Deadliest Month For Syria Civilians In US-Led Strikes (AFP)
30 Migrants, Most of Them Toddlers, Drown in Mediterranean (R.)

 

 

Getting out is getting harder. A crucial phase in any bubble.

Toronto Homeowners Are Suddenly in a Rush to Sell (BBG)

Toronto’s hot housing market has entered a new phase: jittery. After a double whammy of government intervention and the near-collapse of Home Capital Group Inc., sellers are rushing to list their homes to avoid missing out on the recent price gains. The new dynamic has buyers rethinking purchases and sellers asking why they aren’t attracting the bidding wars their neighbors saw just a few weeks ago in Canada’s largest city. “We are seeing people who paid those crazy prices over the last few months walking away from their deposits,” said Carissa Turnbull, a Royal LePage broker in the Toronto suburb of Oakville, who didn’t get a single visitor to an open house on the weekend. “They don’t want to close anymore.”

Home Capital may be achieving what so many policy measures failed to do: cool down a housing market that soared as much as 33% in March from a year earlier. The run on deposits at the Toronto-based mortgage lender has sparked concerns about contagion, and comes on top of a new Ontario tax on foreign buyers and federal government moves last year that make it harder to get a mortgage. “Definitely a perception change occurred from Home Capital,” said Shubha Dasgupta, owner of Toronto-based mortgage brokerage Capital Lending Centre. “It’s had a certain impact, but how to quantify that impact is yet to be determined.”

Early data from the Toronto Real Estate Board confirms the shift in sentiment. Listings soared 47% in the first two weeks of the month from the same period a year earlier, while unit sales dropped 16%. Full-month data will be released in early June. The average selling price was C$890,284 ($658,000) through May 14, up 17% from a year earlier, yet down 3.3% from the full month of April. The annual price gain is down from 25% in April and 33% in March. Toronto has seen yearly price growth every month since May 2009. The last time the city saw gains of less than 10% was in December 2015.

Brokers say some owners are taking their homes off the market because they were seeking the same high offers that were spreading across the region as recently as six weeks ago. “In less than one week we went from having 40 or 50 people coming to an open house to now, when you are lucky to get five people,” said Case Feenstra, an agent at Royal LePage Real Estate Services Loretta Phinney in Mississauga, Ontario. “Everyone went into hibernation.” Toronto real estate lawyer Mark Weisleder said some clients want out of transactions. “I’ve had situations where buyers are trying to try to find another buyer to take over their deal,” he said. “They are nervous whether they bought right at the top and prices may come down.”

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Tyler: “..given that the average house in Canada costs roughly $200,000 and carries a monthly mortgage payment of $1,000, that means that most Canadians couldn’t incur a $100 hike in their monthly mortgage payments “

$100 Increase In Mortgage Payments Would Sink 75% Of Canadian Homeowners (CBC)

Almost three quarters of Canadian homeowners would have difficulty paying their mortgage every month if their payments increased by as little as 10%, a new survey from Manulife Bank suggests. The bank polled 2,098 homeowners — between the ages of 20 to 69 with household incomes of $50,000 or higher — online in the first two weeks of February. Because they aren’t randomized samples, polling experts say online polls don’t have a margin of error, but the survey nonetheless highlights just how tight the budgets are for many Canadians. 14% of respondents to Manulife’s survey said they wouldn’t be able to withstand any increase in their monthly payments, while 38% of those polled said they could withstand a payment hike of between 1 and 5% before having difficulty.

An additional 20% said they could stomach a hike of between six and 10% before feeling the pinch. Add it all up, and that means 72% of homeowners polled couldn’t withstand a hike of just 10% from their current record lows. That’s a dangerous place to be with interest rates set to rise at some point. “What these people don’t realize is that we’re at record low interest rates today,” said Rick Lunny, president and CEO of Manulife Bank. If mortgage rates increase by as little as one percentage point, some borrowers could be facing a hike of 10% on their monthly bills. A bigger mortgage rate hike would bring more pain.

In the survey, 22% said they could handle a payment increase of between 11 to 30%, while the remaining 7% didn’t know or were unsure. Overall, nearly one quarter (24%) of Canadian homeowners polled said they haven’t been able to come up with enough money to pay a bill in the past year. And most are not in good shape to weather any sort of financial storm — just over half of those polled had $5,000 or less set aside to deal with a financial emergency, while one fifth of them have nothing saved for a rainy day. “When you put it into that context, they’re not really prepared for what is inevitable. Sooner or later, interest rates are going to rise,” Lunny said.

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You might have thought Brexit would have led to caution.

Average Asking Price for Homes in UK Hits Record High of £317,000 (G.)

Asking prices for UK homes hit a new record high over the past month as families in search of bigger properties brushed aside uncertainty caused by Brexit and June’s general election. Prices sought by sellers rose 1.2% in the four weeks to 13 May, pushing the average asking price to a fresh peak of £317,281, according to the property website Rightmove. Families with children under the age of 11 were twice as likely as the average person to be moving home, as they looked for bigger properties in school catchment areas. Asking prices for typical family homes – with three or four bedrooms but excluding detached properties – rose by 5.4% year-on-year over the last month, to £270,953.

Miles Shipside, a Rightmove director and housing market analyst, said such families were more willing to ignore any uncertainty caused by Brexit and the general election. “As well as that shrinking house feeling, parents with young children also have the pressures of travelling times to amenities as well as the weekday school commute. These have to be balanced against under-pressure finances, even more so when the sector with the property type that suits them best is seeing the biggest price jump. “What seems to be happening is that moving pressures are understandably taking priority over electioneering and Brexit worries. For many in this group, it seems that moving is definitely on their manifesto.”

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Bubble effects: the servant class the rich need can’t afford to live close enough to them.

An edited extract from Big Capital by Anna Minton, which will be published 1 June by Penguin.

The Great London Property Squeeze (Minton)

There is a direct link between the wealth of those at the top and the capital’s housing crisis – which affects not just those at the bottom but the majority of Londoners who struggle to buy properties, or pay extortionate rents. The 2008 financial crash created a new politics of space, in which people on low incomes are forced out of their homes by rising rent and the wealthy are encouraged to use property for profit. These trends are not limited to London. The same currents of global capital are also transforming San Francisco, New York and Vancouver, European cities from Berlin to Barcelona and towns and cities in the UK from Bristol and Manchester to Margate and Hastings. This isn’t gentrification, it’s another phenomenon entirely. Global capital is being allowed to reconfigure the country.

The major concern for the government and employers in London is that people who do not earn enough to meet extortionate rents will leave, hollowing out the city and threatening its labour market and culture. “We see this with employers saying they’re having a really hard time retaining professional level jobs, let alone cleaners. London is losing teachers – they’re commuting from Luton and they’re giving up – it’s having a massive knock-on effect,” Dilner said. The vacancy rate for nurses at London’s hospitals is 14-18%, according to a report from the King’s Fund thinktank, and the number of entrants to teacher training has fallen 16% since 2010, according to Ofsted. But it’s not just carers, nurses, teachers, artists and university lecturers who can’t afford to live in London. Fifty Thousand Homes is a business-led campaign group – including the RBS, the CBI and scores of London businesses – formed to push the housing crisis up the political agenda.

Its research shows that on current trends, customer services and sales staff at almost every level are being pushed out of the capital. Three-quarters of business owners believe that housing costs are a significant risk to London’s economic growth and 70% of Londoners aged 25 to 39 report that the cost of their rent or mortgage makes it difficult to work in the city. Vicky Spratt is a 28-year-old journalist who worked as a producer of political programmes at the BBC but left because she felt the issues affecting her generation, such as the housing crisis, were not being covered properly. “A lot of issues were dismissed by the older generation – it didn’t affect them. They all owned their own homes,” she told me. Spratt joined the digital lifestyle magazine The Debrief, aimed at twentysomething women, and began an online petition against lettings agents’ fees that gathered more than 250,000 signatures.

Spratt describes herself as a reluctant campaigner, but her circumstances pushed her into it. She currently pays £1,430 per month, not including bills, for a one-bedroom flat which she can afford because she shares with her boyfriend, but she used to live in a room “which was literally the size of a bed”. “The walls were very thin because it had originally been part of one room, which the landlord split into two. I noticed after about six weeks my mental health deteriorated. If I wasn’t in a relationship I would be looking at going back to that,” she said. Spratt earns enough to get a mortgage but, because rents are so high, not enough to save for the 20–30% deposit required. “The common thread for people my age is that we don’t own our own homes and potentially we never will. The housing crisis is older than me and it shocks me that nobody did anything about this, and I want it on the news agenda,” she said. “This is structural neglect. The buy-to-let boom and the unregulated market have a lot to answer for.”

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For some reason nobody blames the New York Times for publishing the info.

UK Police ‘Stop Passing Information To US’ Over Leaks Of Key Evidence (G.)

Police hunting the terror network behind the Manchester Arena bombing have stopped passing information to the US on the investigation as a major transatlantic row erupted over leaks of key evidence in the US, according to a report. Downing Street was not behind any decision by Greater Manchester police to stop sharing information with US intelligence, a Number 10 source said, stressing that it was important police operations were allowed to take independent decisions. “This is an operational matter for police,” a Number 10 spokesman said. The police and the Home Office refused to comment on the BBC report. The Guardian understands there is not a blanket ban on intelligence sharing between the US and the UK.

Relations between the US and UK security services, normally extremely close, have been put under strain by the scale of the leaks from US officials to the American media. Theresa May is expected to confront Donald Trump over the stream of leaks of crucial intelligence when she meets the US president at a Nato summit in Brussels on Thursday. British officials were infuriated on Wednesday when the New York Times published forensic photographs of sophisticated bomb parts that UK authorities fear could complicate the expanding investigation into the lethal blast in which six further arrests have been made in the UK and two more in Libya. It was the latest of a series of leaks to US journalists that appeared to come from inside the US intelligence community, passing on data that had been shared between the two countries as part of a long-standing security cooperation.

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“..today’s CAPE ratio is 182% of the median ratio of the past 137 years..”

The Bubble That Could Break the World (Rickards)

Before diving into the best way to play the current bubble dynamics to your advantage, let’s look at the evidence for whether a bubble exists in the first place… My preferred metric is the Shiller Cyclically Adjusted PE Ratio or CAPE. This particular PE ratio was invented by Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller of Yale University. CAPE has several design features that set it apart from the PE ratios touted on Wall Street. The first is that it uses a rolling ten-year earnings period. This smooths out fluctuations based on temporary psychological, geopolitical, and commodity-linked factors that should not bear on fundamental valuation. The second feature is that it is backward-looking only. This eliminates the rosy scenario forward-looking earnings projections favored by Wall Street.

The third feature is that that relevant data is available back to 1870, which allows for robust historical comparisons. The chart below shows the CAPE from 1870 to 2017. Two conclusions emerge immediately. The CAPE today is at the same level as in 1929 just before the crash that started the Great Depression. The second is that the CAPE is higher today than it was just before the Panic of 2008. Neither data point is definitive proof of a bubble. CAPE was much higher in 2000 when the dot.com bubble burst. Neither data point means that the market will crash tomorrow. But today’s CAPE ratio is 182% of the median ratio of the past 137 years. Given the mean-reverting nature of stock prices, the ratio is sending up storm warnings even if we cannot be sure exactly where and when the hurricane will come ashore.

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It’s starting to look like China cannot afford the bailout. It’s not just SOEs and LGFVs, it’s the entire banking system too, and Chinese banks are behemoths.

A Bailout Is Coming In China, One Way Or Another (BBG)

On Tuesday night, Moody’s downgraded China’s sovereign credit rating for the first time in 28 years. In doing so, the rating agency is acknowledging the dragon in the room: China will have to pay the price for its epic debt binge, whatever policymakers do from here. [..] “The downgrade,” the agency explained, “reflects Moody’s expectation that China’s financial strength will erode somewhat over the coming years, with economy-wide debt continuing to rise as potential growth slows.” The downgrade was slight, and China remains well within investment grade. Still, Moody’s concerns should wake up those investors who have decided, based on the apparent calm in Chinese stock and currency markets, that the country isn’t experiencing financial strain. What’s happening today may not look like the meltdowns suffered by South Korea or Indonesia in the 1990s.

But that might be only because the state retains so much more control in China. If officials hadn’t stepped in last year to curtail escalating outflows of capital, the picture would likely have looked much grimmer. This “crisis with Chinese characteristics” features all of the seeds of a much more serious downturn: still-rising debt, unrecognized bad loans and a government paying lip service to the severity of the problem. Brandon Emmerich of Granite Peak Advisory noted in a recent study that more and more new debt is being used to pay off old debt, and “a subset of zombie issuers borrowed to avoid default.” As he explains, “even as Chinese corporate bond yields have rebounded (in 2017) and issuance stalled, the proportion of bond volume issued to pay off old debt reached an all-time high – not the behavior of healthy firms taking advantage of a low-yield environment.”

Efforts to curtail credit will thus inflict serious pain on corporate China. And given that the economy remains largely dependent on debt for growth, deleveraging will also make it harder for such firms to expand and service their debt. The one-two punch could push more companies toward default, punishing bank balance sheets. What’s more, if Beijing policymakers respond by ramping up credit again, all they’ll do is delay the inevitable. Larger dollops of debt simply allow zombie companies to stay alive longer and add to the debt burden on the economy. Sooner or later, the government is going to have to bail out local governments and state-owned enterprises, and recapitalize the banks. The only question is how expensive repairing the financial sector will be for taxpayers once Chinese leaders realize the game is up. Looking at past banking crises, the tab could prove huge. South Korea’s cleanup after the 1997 crisis cost more than 30% of gross domestic product. Applying that to China suggests the cost would reach some $3.5 trillion.

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How much of China’s economy stands on its own feet?

China “National Team” Rescues Stocks As Downgrade Crushes Commodities (ZH)

Iron ore led a slump in industrial commodities after Moody’s Investor Service downgraded China’s credit rating and warned that the country’s debt position will worsen as its economic expansion slows. However, one glance at the divergence between industrial metals’ collapse and the sudden buying panic in Chinese stocks confirms what Asher Edelman noted yesterday about the US markets, China’s so-called “National Team” was clearly intervening… As Bloomberg reports, Iron ore futures on the Dalian Commodity Exchange fell as much as 5.6% to 452 yuan a metric ton, almost by the daily limit, before closing at 455.50 yuan, extending Tuesday’s 3% loss. Nickel led a broad slump among base metals, dropping as much as 2.4% to $9,125 a ton on the London Metal Exchange. Nickel stockpiles rose the most in more than a year.

In context, the overnight reversal in Chinese stocks is even more obvious… Moody’s move, downgrading China’s debt to A1 from Aa3, adds to concerns about the effects of a slowdown in the country’s economic growth, following on from downbeat manufacturing readings and weak commodity imports, Simona Gambarini, an analyst at Capital Economics, said. “We’re not particularly concerned about credit growth getting out of hand, but in regards to industrial metals, we have been negative on the outlook for some time on the basis that Chinese growth will slow.” Will The National Team be back tonight?

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They would, wouldn’t they? Isn’t it perhaps more accurate to say the downgrade is long overdue?

China Says Credit Downgrade ‘Inappropriate’, ‘Exaggerates Difficulties’ (CNBC)

China has rejected a move by Moody’s to lower its credit rating, saying the downgrade exaggerates the difficulties facing the economy and underestimates the government’s reform agenda. The country’s finance ministry claimed the credit rating agency used “inappropriate methodology” in its decision to lower long-term local and foreign currency issuer ratings from “Aa3” to “A1”. “Moody’s views that China’s non-financial debt will rise rapidly and the government would continue to maintain growth via stimulus measures are exaggerating difficulties facing the Chinese economy,” the finance ministry said in a statement Wednesday, translated by Reuters. It added that the moves are “underestimating the Chinese government’s ability to deepen supply-side structural reform and appropriately expand aggregate demand.”

Moody’s said that the downgrade reflects its expectation that China’s financial strength will “erode somewhat” over the coming years. The one-notch downgrade marks the first time Moody’s has lowered China’s credit rating in almost 30 years. It last downgraded the country in 1989. It comes as the government moves ahead with its ambitious reform agenda, which it hopes will move the country away from its traditional dependence on manufacturing and towards a services-led economy. Moody’s argues, however, that these aims will be hampered somewhat by the country’s “economy-wide debt”, which it says is set to rise as economic growth slows. Though the new rating will likely modestly increase the cost of borrowing for the Chinese government, it remains within the investment grade rating range.

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Not could, will. Actually the debt is already there.

China’s Downgrade Could Lead To A Mountain Of Debt (BBG)

China’s first credit rating downgrade by Moody’s since 1989 couldn’t have come at a worse time for the nation’s companies, which have never been more reliant on the overseas bond market for funding. While Chinese companies’ foreign-currency debt is only a fraction of the $9 trillion local bond market, China Inc. is on pace for record dollar bond sales this year after the authorities’ crackdown on financial leverage drove up borrowing costs at home. Overseas borrowing has also been part of the government’s strategy to encourage capital inflows in a bid to ease the depreciation pressure on the yuan. Airlines and shipping companies, which finance the costs of new aircraft and vessels with debt, are particularly vulnerable to higher borrowing costs, according to Corrine Png, CEO of Crucial Perspective in Singapore.

Khoon Goh, head of Asia research for Australia & New Zealand Bank, sees state-owned enterprises among firms feeling the biggest impact. Companies including State Grid and China Petroleum & Chemical raised $23 billion in bond sales in April, an increase of 141% from a year earlier. With additional $8.9 billion issuance so far in May, the sales this year totaled $69 billion, representing 71% of the record $98 billion in 2016. Moody’s lowered China’s rating to A1 from Aa3 on Wednesday, citing a worsening debt outlook. Moody’s also downgraded the ratings of 26 non-financial corporate and infrastructure government-related issuers by one level. China’s Finance Ministry blasted the move as “absolutely groundless,” saying the ratings company has underestimated the capability of the government to deepen reform and boost demand.

“The economy is dependent on policy stimulus and with that comes higher leverage,” Marie Diron, associate managing director, Moody’s Sovereign Risk Group, said. “Corporate debt is really the big part.” [..] For major Chinese airlines, every percentage-point increase in average borrowing costs can cut net profit by 5% to 9%, said Crucial Perspective’s Png. For shipping companies, cuts to net profit may reach 15% to 30%. Hainan Airlines, controlled by conglomerate HNA Group Co., plans to buy 19 Boeing aircraft, using the proceeds of a convertible bond sale of up to 15 billion yuan ($2.2 billion), according to a statement to the Shanghai Stock Exchange on May 19. HNA itself has been one of China’s most acquisitive companies, with more than $30 billion worth of announced and completed deals since 2016.

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After all of the above info on debt and bailouts, there’s this. What will save Chinese banks, does anyone think Beijing can afford to bail them out too?

Chinese Banks Dominate Ranking Of World’s Biggest Public Companies (Ind.)

Despite an explosive rise in the power and market capitalisation of technology firms over the last year, China’s banking giants have defended their dominance of Forbes magazine’s annual global ranking of the world’s biggest public companies. The list, released on Wednesday, places Industrial & Commercial Bank of China at the top for a fifth consecutive year, followed by compatriot China Construction Bank. Agricultural Bank of China and Bank of China – the other two that make up China’s “Big Four” of finance – slipped down the list but remained in the top 10, qualifying as public companies despite largely being owned by the state. Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, which is the largest public company in the US, took third spot, followed by JPMorgan Chase in fifth.

Although Forbes in a separate list earlier this week named Apple the most valuable brand of 2017, the tech giant only managed to secure ninth spot in the overall list of the biggest public companies. Companies that made it into this year’s list faced a slew of pressures stemming from an unsteady geopolitical climate and slowing economies. But Forbes said that in aggregate the 2,000 companies analysed managed to come out stronger than last year, with increased sales, profits, assets and market values. “This list illustrates that in spite of headwinds, the world’s dominant companies remain a steady force in an unpredictable and challenging environment,” said Halah Touryalai of Forbes. She said that despite slowing GDP figures, companies in China and the US make up more than 40% of the 2017 and dominate the top ten.

Notable gainers this year included General Electric, at 14th from 68th place in 2016, Amazon, up to 83rd from 237th, Charter Communications, at 107th from 784th and Alibaba, at 140th from 174th in 2016. The US dominated the ranking with 565 companies, followed by China and Hong Kong with 263 companies, Japan with 229. The UK had 91 companies in the top 2,000. But one of the UK’s highest ranked companies last year, banking giant HSBC, fell to 48th spot from 14th in 2016, with Forbes citing “economic malaise, low interest rate, paying fines, ongoing regulatory expenses and your usual dose of political uncertainty”. Elsewhere Forbes said that low oil prices had continued to put pressure on companies in the energy sector, reflected in PetroChina falling 85 spots to 102nd place in this years’ ranking. Exxon Mobil slipped four spots to 13th while Chevron tumbled to just 359th from 28th.

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Think the EU is not corrupt?

EU Declared Monsanto Weedkiller Safe After Intervention From EPA Official (G.)

The European Food Safety Authority dismissed a study linking a Monsanto weedkiller to cancer after counsel from a US Environmental Protection Agency officer allegedly linked to the company. Jess Rowlands, the former head of the EPA’s cancer assessment review committee (CARC), who figures in more than 20 lawsuits and had previously told Monsanto he would try to block a US government inquiry into the issue, according to court documents. The core ingredient of Monsanto’s RoundUp brand is a chemical called glyphosate, for which the European commission last week proposed a new 10-year license. Doubts about its regulatory passage have been stirred by unsealed documents in an ongoing US lawsuit against Monsanto by sufferers of non-hodgkins lymphoma, who claim they contracted the illness from exposure to RoundUp.

“If I can kill this, I should get a medal,” Rowlands allegedly told a Monsanto official, Dan Jenkins, in an email about a US government inquiry into glyphosate in April 2015. In a separate internal email of that time, Jenkins, a regulatory affairs manager, said that Rowlands was about to retire and “could be useful as we move forward with [the] ongoing glyphosate defense”. Documents seen by the Guardian show that Rowlands took part in a teleconference with Efsa as an observer in September 2015. Six weeks later, Efsa adopted an argument Rowlands had used to reject a key 2001 study which found a causal link between exposure to glyphosate and increased tumour incidence in mice. Rowlands’ intervention was revealed in a letter sent by the head of Efsa’s pesticides unit, Jose Tarazona, to Peter Clausing, an industry toxicologist turned green campaigner.

In the missive, Tarazona said that “the observer from the US-EPA [Rowlands] informed participants during the teleconference about potential flaws in the Kumar (2001) study related to viral infections.” Efsa’s subsequent report said that the Kumar study “was reconsidered during the second experts’ teleconference as not acceptable due to viral infections”. Greenpeace said that news of an Efsa-Rowlands connection made a public inquiry vital. “Any meddling by Monsanto in regulatory safety assessments would be wholly unacceptable,” said spokeswoman Franziska Achterberg. “We urgently need a thorough investigation into the Efsa assessment before glyphosate can be considered for re-approval in Europe.”

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But the profits are huge.

Factory Farming Belongs In A Museum (G.)

We can feed an extra 4 billion people a year if we reject the bloated and wasteful factory farming systems that are endangering our planet’s biodiversity and wildlife, said farming campaigner Philip Lymbery on Monday night, launching a global campaign to Stop the Machine. At present, 35% of the world’s cereal harvest and most of its soya meal is fed to industrially reared animals rather than directly to humans. This is a “wasteful and inefficient practice” because the grain-fed animals contribute much less back in the form of milk, eggs and meat than they consume, according to Lymbery, the chief executive of Compassion in World Farming (CIWF). “The food industry seems to have been hijacked by the animal feed industry,” he said.

In recent years the developing world in particular has seen significant agricultural expansion. According to independent organisation Land Matrix, 40m hectares have been acquired globally for agricultural purposes in the last decade and a half, with nearly half of those acquisitions taking place in Africa. The impact of that expansion is still unclear, but meanwhile the world’s wildlife has halved in the past 40 years. “Ten thousand years ago humans and our livestock accounted for about 0.1% of the world’s large vertebrates,” said Tony Juniper, the former head of Friends of the Earth. “Now we make up about 96%. This is a timely and necessary debate, and an issue that is being debated more and more.” An exhibition at the Natural History Museum by the campaigners aims to draw explicit links between industrial farming and its impact on wildife.

The Sumatran elephant, for example, has been disastrously affected by the growing palm oil industry, with more than half of its habitat destroyed to create plantations, and elephant numbers falling rapidly. The old argument that we need factory farming if we are to feed the world doesn’t hold true, says Lymbery, who argues that ending the wasteful practice of feeding grain to animals would feed an extra 4 billion people. Putting cattle onto pasture and keeping poultry and pigs outside where they can forage, and supplementing that with waste food is far more efficient and healthy, he says. According to his calculations, based on figures from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the total crop harvest for 2014 provided enough calories to feed more than 15 billion people (the world’s population is currently 7.5 billion), but waste and the animal feed industry means that much of that is going elsewhere.

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It confronts no such thing.

They actually argue that the Eurogroup can only function without transparency, checks and balances.

Eurogroup Confronts Own Deficit: Governance (Pol.)

For the past seven-plus years, as Greece’s debt crisis plays out in public in painful, blow-by-blow detail, the European body charged with its rescue has conducted its affairs away from prying eyes. Now there are growing calls to change the way the Eurogroup operates. Critics of the gathering of finance ministers from the 19 countries in the euro and officials from the ECB and European Commission accuse it of acting like a private club. They want greater transparency in keeping with the influence it wields over issues of vital importance to many of the eurozone’s 350 million citizens. “The euro crisis changed everything,” said Leo Hoffmann-Axthelm, an advocacy coordinator with the NGO Transparency International. “The Eurogroup should be institutionalized, with proper rules of procedure, document handling and a physical address with actual spokespeople. We can no longer be governed by an informal club.”

Although it can impose tough conditions for bailing out struggling member countries or rescuing banks, it publishes no official minutes, has no headquarters, and the people who function as its secretariat have other day jobs. Its public face is a eurozone finance minister, who works for no salary: The current president is Jeroen Dijsselbloem, a Dutch Socialist with conservative views on fiscal matters. Legally, it is governed by a single sentence in Article 137 of the EU treaty which says “arrangements for meetings between ministers of those Member States whose currency is the euro are laid down by the Protocol on the Euro Group.” Emily O’Reilly, the EU’s ombudsman, is among those calling for reform. While she credits Dijsselbloem for his efforts to peel back the curtain on Eurogroup proceedings, she said: “It is obviously difficult for Europeans to understand that the Eurogroup, whose decisions can have a significant impact on their lives, [isn’t] subject to the usual democratic checks and balances.”

Indeed, when a group of citizens from Cyprus who disagreed with the terms of the 2013 Cypriot bank bailout took their case to the European Court of Justice, the court’s response was that the Eurogroup is not “capable of producing legal effects with respect to third parties” because it is just a discussion forum. Last year, Dijsselbloem used the ECJ ruling to justify the Eurogroup avoiding standard EU transparency rules, though he did commit to individual transparency requests on an informal basis. But some of those who participate in Eurogroup meetings argue that its informality is precisely what makes it useful. The last thing they want is another bureaucratic EU institution, and if the Eurogroup were reformed out of existence, they say, a new version would pop up in its place, without the minimal accountability it currently offers in the form of meeting agendas and press conferences.

“It’s the informal nature of the Eurogroup that makes it possible to have an open exchange that you will not find in more formal bodies,” said Taneli Lahti, a former head of cabinet for European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis. “This is crucial for policymaking, negotiating, finding agreements and understanding each other.”

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Why government surpluses are the worst thing for an economy.

Podcast: Steve Keen’s Manifesto (OD)

The only times the US government ran a surplus, it was followed by the 1929 and 2008 crashes.

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First you make growth impossible be demanding surpluses till the cows come home, and then you demand growth.

No Greek Debt Relief Need If Primary Surplus Above 3% of GDP For 20 Years (R.)

Greece will not need any debt relief from euro zone governments if it keeps its primary surplus above 3% of GDP for 20 years, a confidential paper prepared by the euro zone bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), showed. The paper, obtained by Reuters, was prepared for euro zone finance ministers and IMF talks last Monday, which ended without an agreement due to diverging IMF and euro zone assumptions on future Greek growth and surpluses. A group of euro zone finance ministers led by Germany’s Wolfgang Schaeuble insists that the issue of whether Greece needs debt relief can only be decided when the latest bailout expires in mid-2018. The IMF says the need for a bailout is already clear now.

Under scenario A, the paper assumes no debt relief would be needed if Athens kept the primary surplus – the budget balance before debt servicing – at or above 3.5% of GDP until 2032 and above 3% until 2038. The ECB says such long periods of high surplus are not unprecedented: Finland, for example, had a primary surplus of 5.7% over 11 years in 1998-2008 and Denmark 5.3% over 26 years in 1983-2008. A second option under scenario A assumes Greece secures the maximum possible debt relief under a May 2016 agreement. Greece would then have to keep its primary surplus at 3.5% until 2022 but could then lower it to around 2% until mid-2030s and to 1.5% by 2048, giving an average of 2.2% in 2023-2060.

The paper says the maximum possible debt relief under consideration is an extension of average weighted loan maturities by 17.5 years from the current 32.5 years, with the last loans maturing in 2080. The ESM would also limit Greek loan repayments to 0.4% of Greek GDP until 2050 and cap the interest rate charged on the loans at 1% until 2050. Any interest payable in excess of that 1% would be deferred until 2050 and the deferred amount capitalized at the bailout fund’s cost of funding. The ESM would also buy back in 2019 the €13 billion that Greece owes the IMF as those loans are much more expensive than the euro zone’s. All this would keep Greece’s gross financing needs at 13% of GDP until 2060 and bring its debt-to-GDP ratio to 65.4% in 2060, from around 180% now.

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44 children.

Deadliest Month For Syria Civilians In US-Led Strikes (AFP)

US-led air strikes on Syria killed a total of 225 civilians over the past month, a monitor said on Tuesday, the highest 30-day toll since the campaign began in 2014. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the civilian dead between April 23 and May 23 included 44 children and 36 women. The US-led air campaign against the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria began on September 23, 2014. “The past month of operations is the highest civilian toll since the coalition began bombing Syria,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP. “There has been a very big escalation.” The previous deadliest 30-day period was between February 23 and March 23 this year, when 220 civilians were killed, Abdel Rahman said. The past month’s deaths brought the overall civilian toll from the coalition campaign to 1,481, among them 319 children, the Britain-based monitoring group said. Coalition bombing raids between April 23 and May 23 also killed 122 IS jihadists and eight fighters loyal to the Syrian government, the Observatory said.

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Well over 100 children.

30 Migrants, Most of Them Toddlers, Drown in Mediterranean (R.)

More than 30 migrants, mostly toddlers, drowned on Wednesday when about 200 people without life jackets fell from a boat into the sea off the Libyan coast before they could be hauled into waiting rescue boats. The boat was near a rescue vessel when it suddenly listed and many migrants tumbled into the Mediterranean, Italian Coast Guard commander Cosimo Nicastro told Reuters. “At least 20 dead bodies were spotted in the water,” he said. The rescue group MOAS, which also had a ship nearby, said it had already recovered more than 30 bodies. “Most are toddlers,” the group’s co-founder Chris Catrambone said on Twitter. The coast guard called in more ships to help with the rescue, saying about 1,700 people were packed into about 15 vessels in the area.

The transfer from these overloaded boats is risky because desperate migrants in them sometimes surge to the side nearest a rescue vessel and destabilise their flimsy craft, which then list dangerously or capsize. More than 1,300 people have died this year on the world’s most dangerous crossing for migrants fleeing poverty and war across Africa and the Middle East. Last Friday, more than 150 disappeared at sea, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Tuesday, citing migrant testimony collected after they disembarked in Italy. In the past week, more than 7,000 migrants have been plucked from unsafe boats in international waters off the western coast of Libya, where people smugglers operate with impunity.

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May 192017
 
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Jean-Michel Basquiat Untitled 1982

 

Swedish Prosecutors Drop Julian Assange Rape Investigation (AP/R.)
Australia Economy Among ‘Walking Dead Of Household Debt’ – Steve Keen (NCA)
US Household Debt Hit Record in First Quarter (WSJ)
Why Government Surpluses Is A Terrible Idea – Steve Keen (Renegade)
How Can The Greeks Save More Money? A Monetary Parable. (Steve Keen)
Greek Parliament Approves More Austerity Measures Amid Protests (DW)
Trump Aims to Balance Budget With Deep Cuts, Bullish Growth Projections (WSJ)
Get Ready for Quantitative Tightening (Rickards)
ECB Tapering to Cause “Disorderly Restructuring” of Italian Debt, Return to Lira (DQ)
Russia-US Relations Have Become ‘Extremely Paranoid’ – Sberbank CEO (CNBC)
Western Democracy – As Represented By The US – Is Crumbling (Global Times)
Secret Plans To ‘Protect’ France In The Event Of Le Pen Victory Emerge (G.)
What Jeremy Corbyn Whispered In My Ear (Ind.)
Study Of Healthcare Quality In 195 Countries Names The Best And Worst (AFP)
50 Years Since Indigenous Australians First ‘Counted’, Little Has Changed (G.)

 

 

Time for legal action against Sweden and the prosecutors.

Swedish Prosecutors Drop Julian Assange Rape Investigation (AP/R.)

Swedish prosecutors said on Friday they would drop a preliminary investigation into an allegation of rape against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, bringing to an end a seven-year legal standoff. “Chief Prosecutor Marianne Ny has today decided to discontinue the preliminary investigation regarding suspected rape concerning Julian Assange,” the prosecutors office said in a statement. Assange, 45, has lived in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012, after taking refuge there to avoid extradition to Sweden over the allegation of rape, which he denies. He has refused to travel to Stockholm, saying he fears further extradition to the US over WikiLeaks’ release of 500,000 secret military files on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2015 lawyers for Julian Assange have claimed victory after a Swedish prosecutor bowed to pressure from the courts and agreed to break the deadlock in the WikiLeaks founder’s case by interviewing him in London.

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“Stop making housing into an asset.” “Make housing a place for people to actually live.”

Australia Economy Among ‘Walking Dead Of Household Debt’ – Steve Keen (NCA)

Australia has become the “walking dead of debt” due for a financial reckoning that could shock the housing market “bubble” within months. That’s according to “anti-economist” Professor Steve Keen who defines Australia as a “zombie to be” given soaring personal debt that has created a government-induced property bubble ripe to burst. “Australia has simply delayed its day of reckoning,” he told news.com.au in reference to the global financial crisis that shocked many countries around the world from 2008 but left the lucky country relatively unscathed after a series of government interventions. The Kingston University Professor claims first homeowners grants rolled out by successive governments have artificially kept prices high creating a form of “instant prosperity” that politicians are loath to stop.

“The housing bubble makes the politicians look good because A, people are feeling wealthier, and B … people are borrowing money to spend,” he said. “Then the government runs a balanced budget and looks like it really knows what it’s doing” “It hasn’t got a f***ing clue frankly, because what’s actually happening is the reason it’s making that money is credit is expanding,” he said. “It’s the old classic story, you’re criticising a party because someone’s laced the punchbowl. You try to take the punchbowl away from the party you’re a very unpopular person but you need to because what’s actually happening is people are getting intoxicated with credit”. His latest book, Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis? argues Australia, along with Belgium, China, Canada and South Korea, is a “zombie” economy sleepwalking into a crunch that could come between 2017 and 2020.

“Both [Australia and Canada] will suffer a serious economic slowdown in the next few years since the only way they can sustain their current growth rates is for debt to continue growing faster than GDP,” he writes. [..] For Prof Keen, the solution for governments to an overheated housing market is obvious: “Stop making housing into an asset.” “Make housing a place for people to actually live. So you go back to saying ‘what’s desirable is affordable houses’ and affordable means it doesn’t cost a first homebuyer more than three or four years’ income to get a property,” he said. As for those struggling to get on the ladder in the meantime? “The only thing you can do in the middle is say I’m just not going to join in, and if it happens on a collective level …. it’s game over for the bubble because the bubble only works if more people keep taking out more leverage.”

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Wait till house prices start falling.

US Household Debt Hit Record in First Quarter (WSJ)

The total debt held by American households reached a record in early 2017, exceeding its 2008 peak after years of retrenchment against a backdrop of financial crisis, recession and modest economic growth. Much has changed over the past 8.5 years. The economy is larger, lending standards are tighter and less debt is delinquent. Mortgages remain the largest form of household borrowing but have become a smaller share of total debt as consumers take on more automotive and student loans. “The debt and its borrowers look quite different today,” New York Fed economist Donghoon Lee said. He added: “This record debt level is neither a reason to celebrate nor a cause for alarm.” The total-debt milestone, announced Wednesday by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, was a long time coming.

Americans reduced their debts during and after the 2007-09 recession to an unusual extent: a 12% decline from the peak in the third quarter of 2008 to the trough in the second quarter of 2013. New York Fed researchers, looking at data back to the end of World War II, described the drop as “an aberration from what had been a 63-year upward trend reflecting the depth, duration and aftermath of the Great Recession.” In the first quarter, total debt was up about 14% from that low point as steady job gains, falling unemployment and continued economic growth boosted households’ income and willingness to borrow. The New York Fed report said total household debt rose by $149 billion in the first three months of 2017 compared with the prior quarter to a total of $12.725 trillion.

The pace of new lending slowed from the strong fourth quarter. Mortgage balances rose from the final three months of 2016, while home-equity lines of credit were down. Automotive loans rose, as did student loans, but credit-card debt fell along with other types of debt. The data weren’t adjusted for inflation, and household debt remains below past levels in relation to the size of the overall U.S. economy. In the first quarter, total debt was about 67% of nominal gross domestic product versus roughly 85% of GDP in the third quarter of 2008. Balance sheets look different now, with less housing-related debt and more student and auto loans. As of the first quarter, about 68% of total household debt was in the form of mortgages; in the third quarter of 2008, mortgages were roughly 73% of total debt. Student loans rose from about 5% to around 11% of total indebtedness, and auto loans went from roughly 6% to about 9%.

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Can we finally try to understand this, all of us?

Why Government Surpluses Is A Terrible Idea – Steve Keen (Renegade)

In this Renegade Short, Professor Steve Keen explains why the government isn’t supposed to balance its accounts like a household.

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TomDickHaria.

How Can The Greeks Save More Money? A Monetary Parable. (Steve Keen)

The EU’s “Stability and Growth Pact” has as one of its primary rules that “The Member States undertake to abide by the medium-term budgetary objective of positions close to balance or in surplus…” I explore what this objective implies in the context of a model of the economy of “TomDickHaria”: what happens to its collective GDP where one member tries to achieve the surplus goal set out in the “Stability and Growth Pact?

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The Troika makes sure Greece will keep drowning.

Greek Parliament Approves More Austerity Measures Amid Protests (DW)

All 153 lawmakers in Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ governing coalition backed the legislation that includes new pension cuts and lower tax breaks, which are expected to save Greece €4.9 billion ($5.4 billion) until 2021. All opposition lawmakers present in the 300-seat chamber rejected the package required by international lenders before the release of more aid. Athens needs the bailout funds to repay €7.5 billion of debt maturing in July this year. Relief measures will only kick in if Greece meets fiscal targets stipulated by its creditors. “Our country is being turned into an austerity colony,” leading opposition conservative Kyriakos Mitsotakis said during debate on the bill, describing added cuts as a “nightmare” for low-earners.

Tsipras countered that its passage would enable Greece from summer next year to stand on its own feet, without the intervention of creditors such as the IMF. He accused the opposition of constantly warning of a catastrophe that “hasn’t come.” Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos told Skai TV that Greek creditors the IMF and Germany were “in the final stretch of very tough negotiations” over a compromise that should allow Greece to return to bond markets in 2018. Thursday’s austerity package lowers the income tax exception from €8,600 down to about €5,700 but increases benefits for low-income tenants, parents with children and subsidies for child care. Public stakes are to be reduced through sales of holdings in Greece’s PPC electricity utility, railways, Athens’ international airport and the Thessaloniki port.

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Same as it ever was. Fantasy numbers have ruled the day for many years.

Trump Aims to Balance Budget With Deep Cuts, Bullish Growth Projections (WSJ)

President Donald Trump next week will propose the U.S. can balance the federal budget over 10 years with substantial cuts to safety-net programs such as food stamps and other anti-poverty efforts, combined with a tax and regulatory overhaul that speeds up the nation’s economic growth rate, a senior White House budget official said. The president’s budget, due for release Tuesday, will spare the two largest drivers of future spending—Medicare and Social Security—leaving trillions in cuts from other programs. That includes discretionary spending cuts to education, housing, environment programs and foreign aid already laid out by the administration, in addition to new proposed reductions to nondiscretionary spending like food stamps, Medicaid and federal employee-benefit programs.

The budget release, which will be unveiled while Mr. Trump is visiting Europe and the Middle East, shows how his economic policy team is trying to forge ahead on his agenda even as distracting political controversies, such as the recent firing of FBI director James Comey, swirl around Washington. On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testified on Capitol Hill, his first such appearance since his February confirmation, where he expressed confidence Congress could advance a revamp of the tax code this year. House Republicans held their first hearing on the proposed tax overhaul, following a series of meetings between lawmakers and top administration officials Wednesday.

The White House’s budget proposal next week builds upon an earlier outline in March that called for a nearly 10% boost in defense funding next year, offset by around $54 billion in cuts for nondefense programs. [..] Among the more controversial elements of the budget will be the administration’s growth forecasts. The White House projects the nation’s economic growth rate will rise to 3% by 2021, compared with the 1.9% forecast under current policy by the Congressional Budget Office. It’s unusual to see the White House’s growth forecasts differ from the CBO and other blue-chip projections by such a large margin over such a long stretch of the 10-year budget window.

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Another crazy experiment by the Fed bookworms.

Get Ready for Quantitative Tightening (Rickards)

Despite yesterday’s market sell-off, the Fed is still on track to raise interest rates in June. Wednesday’s action is no more than a speed bump for the Fed. It will not stop the Fed from moving forward with another 0.25% rate increase. The Fed is embarking on a new path, a path that started several years with QE (quantitative easing). QE is the name for the method the Fed uses to ease monetary conditions when interest rates are already zero. Conventional monetary policy calls for interest rate cuts to stimulate growth and inflate asset prices when the economy is in a recession. What does a central bank do when interest rates are already at zero and you can’t cut them anymore? One solution is negative interest rates, although the evidence from Japan and Europe indicates that negative rates do not have the same effect as rate cuts from positive levels. The second solution is to print money! The Fed does this by buying bonds from the big banks.

The banks deliver the bonds to the Fed, and the Fed pays for them with money from thin air. The popular name for this is quantitative easing, or QE, although the Fed’s technical name is long-term asset purchases. The Fed did QE in three rounds from 2008 to 2013. They gradually tapered new purchases down to zero by 2014. Since then, the Fed has been stuck with $4.5 trillion of bonds that it bought with the printed money. When the bonds mature, the Fed buys new ones to maintain the size of its balance sheet. But now the Fed wants to “normalize” its balance sheet and get back down to about $2 trillion. They could just sell the bonds, but that would destroy the bond market. Instead, the Fed will let the old bonds mature, and not buy new ones. That way the money just disappears and the balance sheet shrinks. The new name for this is “quantitative tightening,” or QT. You’ll be hearing a lot about QT in the months ahead.

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Tapering, QT, it’s all just more ‘uncharted territory’.

ECB Tapering to Cause “Disorderly Restructuring” of Italian Debt, Return to Lira (DQ)

Here’s the staggering scale of the Italian government’s dependence on the ECB’s bond purchases, according to a new report by Astellon Capital: Since 2008, 88% of government debt net issuance has been acquired by the ECB and Italian Banks. At current government debt net issuance rates and announced QE levels, the ECB will have been responsible for financing 100% of Italy’s deficits from 2014 to 2019. But now there’s a snag. Last month, the size of the balance sheet of the ECB surpassed that of any other central bank: At €4.17 trillion, the ECB’s assets have soared to 38.8% of Eurozone GDP. The ECB has already reduced the rate of purchases to €60 billion a month. And it plans to further withdraw from the super-expansionary monetary policy. To do this, according to Der Spiegel, it wants to spread more optimistic messages about the economic situation and gradually reduce borrowing.

[..] By the halfway point of 2018 the ECB would have completed tapering and it would then use the second half of the year to move away from negative interest rates. So far, most current ECB members have shown scant enthusiasm for withdrawing the punch bowl. The reason most frequently cited for not tapering more just yet is their lingering concern about the long-term sustainability of the Eurozone’s recent economic turnaround. The ECB’s binge-buying of sovereign and corporate bonds has spawned a mass culture of financial dependence across Europe, while merely serving to paper over the cracks that began forming — or at least became visible — in some Eurozone economies during the sovereign debt crisis. In many places the cracks are even bigger than they were back then. This is the elephant in the ECB’s room, and by now it’s too big to ignore.

In one country alone, the cracks are so large that they could end up fracturing the entire single currency project. That country is Italy. Astellon Capital’s report on Italy’s dependence on ECB bond purchases poses the question: If the ECB tapers its purchase of Italian bonds further, who would pick up the slack? The Italian banks, which are themselves deep in crisis mode and whose balance sheets are already filled to the gills with Italian bonds? Hardly. When QE ends, the banks are more likely to become net sellers, rather than net buyers, of Italian debt. The only way for the game to continue is if over the next six years non-banks increase their purchase activity up to seven times that of the past nine years. In other words, the very same investors who have used QE as the perfect opportunity to offload the immense risk of holding Italian liabilities onto the Bank of Italy’s, and then onto the Eurosystem’s, would need to step back into the market in a massive way, just at a time that the country in question is on the verge of a full-blown banking crisis.

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No kidding.

Russia-US Relations Have Become ‘Extremely Paranoid’ – Sberbank CEO (CNBC)

Diplomatic relations between America and Russia have deteriorated to such an extent that contacts between the two countries have become extremely paranoid of one another, the chief executive of Russia’s largest bank has told CNBC. “From what we see here in Russia and from the programs we see from the U.S., the unfolding situation is fairly complex. And there are certain signs of a certain… paranoid attitude to Russia and to every single contact with Russia real or imagined,” Herman Gref, Sberbank CEO, said via a translator. [..] When asked whether Gref harbored any concerns about the consequences of having met with Trump in the past, he replied, “I think the situation has become extremely paranoid for one to suspect that these sort of contacts could lead to political consequences.”

Speaking in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Sberbank’s CEO had predicted the Trump administration could re-establish close ties with the Kremlin and expressed his hope the newly-elected U.S. president could mark a “new beginning” for the two countries. On Friday, Gref suggested it was still too early to judge the success of Trump’s presidency however conceded that, for the time-being at least, relations between American and Russia were unlikely to change for the better. Moscow is currently enduring the sharp end of tough international sanctions from Washington[..] . “Well, I have to say that this has had an effect on us in the last two years… The inability to access international markets is painful for us,” Gref said. “You know, sanctions were put in place for political reasons and most likely their removal will also be motivated by politics…

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China’s official government paper.

Western Democracy – As Represented By The US – Is Crumbling (Global Times)

The American elite still refuse to accept Trump after his 100 days in the Oval Office. He is at odds with the mainstream media; insiders have constantly leaked information to the media. Now some commentators have compared the exposure of the Comey memo to the Watergate scandal. As Congress is under Republican control, few believe there will be a move to impeach the president, but these latest revelations will certainly further erode Trump’s presidential authority. At the beginning of the corruption scandal, few believed that South Korean president Park Geun-hye would be impeached either. Could this be a reference for Trump’s case? But evidence of Park’s illegal activities was solid, while it will be more complicated to make determinations over whether Trump obstructed justice and leaked classified intelligence.

To impeach Trump will need more evidence from further investigation. To completely discredit Trump among voters, the present scandal is not enough as it does not add to the negative image of Trump. Many just think Trump often speaks off the cuff, which ends up in silly blunders. If there is a major substantive scandal over and above him speaking out of turn then that will be another thing. But this is not the case at the moment. Every country has its own troubles. The US model represents Western democracy, but it is crumbling, and the resulting social division has become more and more serious. The US Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein appointed a special counsel to oversee the investigation into link between Russia and the 2016 US presidential election and related matters on Wednesday.

More juicy details will continue to appear and the rifts may become wider. Trump will become one of the most frequently accused Americans. The US won’t be engulfed by chaos if its president is caught in a lawsuit. Someone has pointed out that no matter how chaotic the White House and Capitol Hill are, the overall operation of the US will not be a major problem as long as the enterprises and social organizations in the country are stable. This is seen as an advantage of the American system. Although American society is relatively stable, the political tumult can’t be taken as an advantage of the US system. The fact is that US politics is in trouble, and the benefits brought by its system are being squandered.

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Democracy as a threat to the state.

Secret Plans To ‘Protect’ France In The Event Of Le Pen Victory Emerge (G.)

It was never written down and never given a name, but France had a detailed plan to “protect the Republic” if far right leader Marine Le Pen was elected president, French media have reported. “It was like a multi-stage rocket,” an unnamed senior official told l’Obs magazine. “The philosophy, and the absolute imperative, was to keep the peace, while also respecting our constitutional rules.” [..] L’Obs cited three anonymous sources with knowledge of the emergency plan that would have been put into effect had Le Pen reached the Elysée palace, saying it was devised by a small group of ministers, chiefs of staff and top civil servants. The magazine said the plan was aimed mainly at preventing serious civil unrest and “freezing” the political situation by convening parliament in emergency session and maintaining the outgoing prime minister in office.

Police and intelligence services were particularly concerned by the threat of “extreme violence” from mainly far left protesters in the event of a Le Pen victory as the country would have found itself “on the brink of chaos”. Even before the first round of voting on 23 April, a confidential note drawn up by the intelligence services announced that “without exception, every local public safety directorate has expressed its concern”, Le Parisien reported. Regional police chiefs were asked on 21 April to detail their crowd control and deployment plans, l’Obs said. Under France’s ongoing state of emergency, more than 50,000 police and gendarmes and 7,000 soldiers were already on duty. On 5 May, two days before the second round that Macron won by 66% to Le Pen’s 34%, the national public safety directorate warned in another note that protesters were ready to use “fireworks, mortars and incendiary bombs”.

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“If you do what you believe in, you’re strong. It’s when you don’t do what you believe in that you’re weak. And we are strong.”

What Jeremy Corbyn Whispered In My Ear (Ind.)

When I shook his hand, I told him that I work for a charity and freelance as a journalist, writing on politics and social justice issues. I expressed my disappointment that Labour (and particularly Corbyn himself) doesn’t get a fair hearing from many news outlets. He spoke in my ear: “If you do what you believe in, you’re strong. It’s when you don’t do what you believe in that you’re weak. And we are strong.” The unveiling of Labour’s manifesto today was a display of strength. Labour is promising a Britain that works for everyone, where whole swathes of society aren’t left behind. The transformative manifesto will take the financial burden from the shoulders of those who can least afford to carry it, and place it upon the top 5% of earners and arrogantly tax-dodging corporations.

The Britain we currently live in is untenable for young people, university students, teachers, NHS workers, policemen, the disabled, people with long-term illnesses, people who can’t find work, first-time buyers, and those living in rented accommodation. Britain is working for a wealthy few, and Labour’s manifesto highlights the fact, often forgotten, that this is not inevitable. At Bradford University, a huge cheer went up when Corbyn promised to scrap tuition fees and end hospital parking charges. The scandal of zero hours contracts would be a thing of the past under Labour, as will NHS cuts and rises in VAT and income tax for 95% of earners. The manifesto is a document filled with long-overdue, common sense policies.

It addresses the important questions that accompany the Brexit process, including concerns about the protection of jobs and hard-won workers’ rights. It puts children and young people first, promising to invest in them through a National Education Service rather than rely on the failed academies experiment or a ridiculous and divisive reintroduction of grammar schools. In-work poverty is unacceptable. My partner and I both work two jobs and we struggle to make ends meet. We don’t indulge in avocado toast but finding enough for a deposit on a mortgage is sadly out of reach. The pledge to build one million new homes and introduce a £10 living wage by 2020 is crucial for young couples and for anyone working in poorly paid or part-time jobs, notably in care work and service industry roles. If Labour’s manifesto and the promise of more public ownership will transport us to the 1970s, where do we currently live? 1870, perhaps?

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Single payer rules. Supreme.

Study Of Healthcare Quality In 195 Countries Names The Best And Worst (AFP)

Neither Canada nor Japan cracked the top 10, and the United States finished a dismal 35th, according to a much anticipated ranking of healthcare quality in 195 countries, released Friday. Among nations with more than a million souls, top honours for 2015 went to Switzerland, followed by Sweden and Norway, though the healthcare gold standard remains tiny Andorra, a postage stamp of a country nestled between Spain (No. 8) and France (No. 15). Iceland (No. 2), Australia (No. 6), Finland (No. 7), the Netherlands (No. 9) and financial and banking centre Luxembourg rounded out the first 10 finishers, according to a comprehensive study published in the medical journal The Lancet.

Of the 20 countries heading up the list, all but Australia and Japan (No. 11) are in western Europe, where virtually every nation boasts some form of universal health coverage. The United States – where a Republican Congress wants to peel back reforms that gave millions of people access to health insurance for the first time – ranked below Britain, which placed 30th. The Healthcare Access and Quality Index, based on death rates for 32 diseases that can be avoided or effectively treated with proper medical care, also tracked progress in each nation compared to the benchmark year of 1990.

Virtually all countries improved over that period, but many – especially in Africa and Oceania – fell further behind others in providing basic care for their citizens. With the exceptions of Afghanistan, Haiti and Yemen, the 30 countries at the bottom of the ranking were all in sub-Saharan Africa, with the Central African Republic suffering the worst standards of all. “Despite improvements in healthcare quality and access over 25 years, inequality between the best and worst performing countries has grown,” said Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, and leader of a consortium of hundreds of contributing experts.

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“Dogs and cats and pigs and sheep were counted in Australia before Aboriginal people”

50 Years Since Indigenous Australians First ‘Counted’, Little Has Changed (G.)

Sol Bellear, a former rugby league player for South Sydney Rabbitohs and Aboriginal rights activist, sits in the soft autumn sunshine at a cafe intersecting Redfern Park and the oval that remains the spiritual home of his beloved club. He sips a Red Bull “heart starter” and English breakfast tea. And he shakes his head while contemplating the anniversaries of what ought to have been transformative moments for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – starting with the 1967 “citizenship” referendum that first made their existence in Australia “official”. “Things should be so much better for Aboriginal people. I think the country saw 1967 as the end of the fight,” Bellear says.

“Before 1967, we weren’t counted in the census or anything as people. Dogs and cats and pigs and sheep were counted in Australia before Aboriginal people.” Indigenous people had never previously been officially included among the Australian citizenry, nor counted in the Commonwealth census – so the federal government could not legislate for them. But on 27 May 1967, more than 90% of the Australian electorate voted at the “citizenship” referendum to effectively bring Indigenous people into the Commonwealth. “After the referendum, though, it was like the work was done for the rest of the country and governments – when it was actually just the bloody beginning,” Bellear says. “Every little thing we’ve won since, we’ve had to fight for.”

2017 is also the 25th anniversary of two more critical moments in the story: the Mabo decision – a High Court ruling that led to native title land rights, and former prime minister Paul Keating’s landmark “Redfern speech” (“We committed the murders – we took the children from their mothers”). It was Bellear who introduced Keating at Redfern Park. This was the first time an Australian prime minister had frankly, without qualification, acknowledged the violence, sickness, dispossession and ongoing oppression that colonialism had imposed on Indigenous people. Yet a quarter of a century on, Bellear says his country remains deaf to all the non-government reports into Indigenous lives – and to the savage critiques of Commonwealth policies that purported to make them better.

[..] Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders constitute some 3% of the country’s overall population – yet in 1991, they comprised 14% of Australia’s prisoners. A quarter of a century later, that figure was up to 27% – while more than 150 Indigenous people had died in custody in the intervening 25 years. In some parts of Australia, many more young Indigenous men complete prison terms than high school. The Indigenous rate of imprisonment is 15 times the age-standardised non-Indigenous rate. As Thalia Anthony pointed out in her 2015 book Indigenous People, Crime and Punishment, rates of Indigenous incarceration in Australia today match those of black imprisonment in apartheid South Africa.

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Apr 232017
 
 April 23, 2017  Posted by at 2:31 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »
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René Magritte Le Cri du Coeur 1960

 

Austerity is over, proclaimed the IMF this week. And no doubt attributed that to the ‘successful’ period of ‘five years of belt tightening’ a.k.a. ‘gradual fiscal consolidation’ it has, along with its econo-religious ilk, imposed on many of the world’s people. Only, it’s not true of course. Austerity is not over. You can ask many of those same people about that. It’s certainly not true in Greece.

IMF Says Austerity Is Over

Austerity is over as governments across the rich world increased spending last year and plan to keep their wallets open for the foreseeable future. After five years of belt tightening, the IMF says the era of spending cuts that followed the financial crisis is now at an end. “Advanced economies eased their fiscal stance by one-fifth of 1pc of GDP in 2016, breaking a five-year trend of gradual fiscal consolidation,” said the IMF in its fiscal monitor.

In Greece, the government did not increase spending in 2016. Nor is the country’s era of spending cuts at an end. So did the IMF ‘forget’ about Greece? Or does it not count it as part of the rich world? Greece is a member of the EU, and the EU is absolutely part of the rich world, so that can’t be it. Something Freudian, wishful thinking perhaps?

However this may be, it’s obvious the IMF are not done with Greece yet. And neither are the rest of the Troika. They are still demanding measures that are dead certain to plunge the Greeks much further into their abyss in the future. As my friend Steve Keen put it to me recently: “Dreadful. It will become Europe’s Somalia.”

An excellent example of this is the Greek primary budget surplus. The Troika has been demanding that it reach 3.5% of GDP for the next number of years (the number changes all the time, 3, 5, 10?). Which is the worst thing it could do, at least for the Greek people and the Greek economy. Not for those who seek to buy Greek assets on the cheap.

 

But sure enough, the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) jubilantly announced on Friday that the 2016 primary surplus was 4.19% (8 times more than the 0.5% expected). This is bad news for Greeks, though they don’t know it. It is also a condition for receiving the next phase of the current bailout. Here’s what that comes down to: in order to save itself from default/bankruptcy, the country is required to destroy its economy.

And that’s not all: the surplus is a requirement to get a next bailout tranche, and debt relief, but as a reward for achieving that surplus, Greece can now expect to get less … debt relief. Because obviously they’re doing great, right?! They managed to squeeze another €7.3 billion out of their poor. So they should always be able to do that in every subsequent year.

The government in Athens sees the surplus as a ‘weapon’ that can be used in the never-ending bailout negotiations, but the Troika will simply move the goalposts again; that’s its MO.

A country in a shape as bad as Greece’s needs stimulus, not a budget surplus; a deficit would be much more helpful. You could perhaps demand that the country goes for a 0% deficit, though even that is far from ideal. But never a surplus. Every penny of the surplus should have been spent to make sure the economy doesn’t get even worse.

Greek news outlet Kathimerini gets it sort of right, though its headline should have read “Greek Primary Surplus Chokes Economy“.

Greek Primary Surplus Chokes Market

The state’s fiscal performance last year has exceeded even the most ambitious targets, as the primary budget surplus as defined by the Greek bailout program, came to 4.19% of GDP, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos announced on Friday. It came to €7.369 billion against a target for €879 million, or just 0.5% of GDP. A little earlier, the president of the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), Thanos Thanopoulos, announced the primary surplus according to Eurostat rules, saying that it came to 3.9% of GDP or €6.937 billion.

The two calculations differ in methodology, but it is the surplus attained according to the bailout rules that matters for assessing the course of the program. This was also the first time since 1995 that Greece achieved a general government surplus – equal to 0.7% of GDP – which includes the cost of paying interest to the country’s creditors. There is a downside to the news, however, as the figures point to overtaxation imposed last year combined with excessive containment of expenditure.

The amount of €6-6.5 billion collected in excess of the budgeted surplus has put a chokehold on the economy, contributing to a great extent to the stagnation recorded on the GDP level in 2016. On the one hand, the impressive result could be a valuable weapon for the government in its negotiations with creditors to argue that it is on the right track to fiscal streamlining and can achieve or even exceed the agreed targets. On the other hand, however, the overperformance of the budget may weaken the argument in favor of lightening the country’s debt load.

Eurogroup head Dijsselbloem sees no shame in admitting this last point :

Dijsselbloem Sees ‘Tough’ Greek Debt Relief Talks With IMF

“That will be a tough discussion with the IMF,” said Dijsselbloem, who is also the Dutch Finance Minister in a caretaker cabinet, “There are some political constraints where we can go and where we can’t go.” The level of Greece’s primary budget surplus is key in determining the kind of debt relief it will need. The more such surplus it has, the less debt relief will be needed.

That’s just plain insane, malicious even. Greek PM Tsipras should never have accepted any such thing, neither the surplus demands nor the fact that they affect debt relief, since both assure a further demise of the economy.

Because: where does the surplus come from? Easy: from Troika-mandated pension cuts and rising tax levels. That means the Greek government is taking money OUT of the economy. And not a little bit, but a full 4% of GDP, over €7 billion. An economy from which so much has already vanished.

The €7.369 billion primary surplus, in a country of somewhere between 10 and 11 million people, means some €700 per capita has been taken out of the economy in 2016. Money that could have been used to spend inside that economy, saving jobs, and keeping people fed and sheltered. For a family of 3.5 people that means €200 per month less to spend on necessities (the only thing most Greeks can spend any money on).

I’ve listed some of the things a number of times before that have happened to Greece since the EU and IMF declared de facto financial war on the country. Here are a few (there are many more where these came from):

25-30% of working age Greeks are unemployed (and that’s just official numbers), well over 1 million people; over 50% of young people are unemployed. Only one in ten unemployed Greeks receive an unemployment benefit (€360 per month), and only for one year. 9 out of 10 get nothing.

Which means 52% of Greek households are forced to live off the pension of an elderly family member. 60% of Greek pensioners receive pensions below €700. 45% of pensioners live below the poverty line with pensions below €665. Pensions have been cut some 12 times already. More cuts are in the pipeline.

40% of -small- businesses have said they expect to close in 2017. Even if it’s just half that, imagine the number of additional jobs that will disappear.

 

But the Troika demands don’t stop there; they are manifold. On top of the pension cuts and the primary surplus requirement, there are the tax hikes. So the vast majority of Greeks have ever less money to spend, the government takes money out of the economy to achieve a surplus, and on top of that everything gets more expensive because of rising taxes. Did I ever mention businesses must pay their taxes up front for a full year?

The Troika is not “rebalancing Greece’s public finances in a growth-friendly manner”, as Dijsselbloem put it, it is strangling the economy. And then strangling it some more.

There may have been all sorts of things wrong in Greece, including financially. But that is true to some degree for every country. And there’s no doubt there was, and still is, a lot of corruption. But that would seem to mean the EU must help fight that corruption, not suffocate the poor.

 


Yes, that’s about a 30% decline in GDP since 2007

 

The ECB effectively closed down the Greek banking system in 2015, in a move that’s likely illegal. It asked for a legal opinion on the move but refuses to publish that opinion. As if Europeans have no right to know what the legal status is of what their central bank does.

The ECB also keeps on refusing to include Greece in its QE program. It buys bonds and securities from Germany, which doesn’t need the stimulus, and not those of Greece, which does have that need. Maybe someone should ask for a legal opinion on that too.

The surplus requirements will be the nail in the coffin that do Greece in. Our economies depend for their GDP numbers on consumer spending, to the tune of 60-70%. Since Greek ‘consumers’ can only spend on basic necessities, that number may be even higher there. And that is the number the country is required to cut even more. Where do you think GDP is headed in that scenario? And unemployment, and the economy at large?

The question must be: don’t the Troika people understand what they’re doing? It’s real basic economics. Or do they have an alternative agenda, one that is diametrically opposed to the “rebalancing Greece’s public finances in a growth-friendly manner” line? It has to be one of the two; those are all the flavors we have.

You can perhaps have an idea that a country can spend money on wrong, wasteful things. But that risk is close to zilch in Greece, where many if not most people already can’t afford the necessities. Necessities and waste are mutually exclusive. A lot more money is wasted in Dijsselbloem’s Holland than in Greece.

In a situation like the one Greece is in, deflation is a certainty, and it’s a deadly kind of deflation. What makes it worse is that this remains hidden because barely a soul knows what deflation is.

Greece’s deflation hides behind rising taxes. Which is why taxes should never be counted towards inflation; it would mean all a government has to do to raise inflation is to raise taxes; a truly dumb idea. Which is nevertheless used everywhere on a daily basis.

In reality, inflation/deflation is money/credit supply multiplied by the velocity of money. And in Greece both are falling rapidly. The primary surplus requirements make it that much worse. It really is the worst thing one could invent for the country.

For the Greek economy, for its businesses, for its people, to survive and at some point perhaps even claw back some of the 30% of GDP it lost since 2007, what is needed is a way to make sure money can flow. Not in wasteful ways, but in ways that allow for people to buy food and clothing and pay for rent and power.

If you want to do that, taking 4% of GDP out of an economy, and 3.5% annually for years to come, is the very worst thing. That can only make things worse. And if the Greek economy deteriorates further, how can the country ever repay the debts it supposedly has? Isn’t that a lesson learned from the 1919 Versailles treaty?

The economists at the IMF and the EU/ECB, and the politicians they serve, either don’t understand basic economics, or they have their eyes on some other prize.

 

Mar 152017
 
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Otto Dix The Triumph of Death 1934

 

Yes, austerity really kills real people, and it kills the societies they live in. Let’s try and explain this in simple terms. It’s a simple topic after all. Austerity is a mere left-over from faith-based policies derived from shoddy economics, and economics is a shoddy field to begin with. The austerity imposed on and in several countries and their economies after 2008, and the consequences it has had in these economies, cannot fail to make you wonder what level of intelligence the politicians have who did the imposing, as well as the economists who advised them in the process.

We should certainly not forget that the people who make these decisions are never the ones affected by them. Austerity hurts the poor. For those who are living comfortably -which includes politicians and economists that “matter”-, austerity at worst means eating and living somewhat less luxuriously. For the poor, taken far enough, it will mean not eating at all, not being able to afford clothing, medical care, even housing. Doing without 10% of very little hits much harder than missing out on 10% of an abundance.

And even then there are differences, for instance between countries. The damage done to British housing, education and health care by successive headless chicken governments is very real, and it will require a huge effort to restore these systems, if that is possible at all. Still, if the British have any complaints about the austerity unleashed upon them, they should really take a look at Greece. As this graph of households having a hard time making ends meet makes painfully clear:

 

 

Britain ‘only’ suffers from economically illiterate politicians and economists. Greece, on top of that, has to cope with a currency it has no control over, and with the foreign -dare we say ‘occupying’?- powers that do. A currency that is geared exclusively to the benefit of the richer Eurozone nations. The biggest mistake in building the EU, and the Eurozone in particular, is that the possibility has been left open for the larger and richer nations to reign over the smaller and poorer almost limitlessly. These things only become clear when things get worse, but then they really do.

This ‘biggest mistake’ predicted the end of the ‘union’ from the very moment it was established; all it will take is time, and comprehension. Eurozone rules say a country’s public debt cannot exceed 60% and its deficit must remain less than 3%. Rules that have been broken left right and center, including by the rich, Germany, France, who were never punished for doing so. The poor are.

These limits are completely arbitrary. They come from the text books of the same clueless cabal of economists that the entire Euro façade is based on. The same cabal also who now demand a 3.5% Greek budget surplus into infinity, the worst thing that can happen to an already impoverished economy, because it means even more money must flow out of an entity that already has none.

But let’s narrow our focus to austerity itself, and what makes it such a disaster. And then after that, we’ll take it a step further. We can blame economists for this mess, and hapless politicians, but that’s not the whole story; in the end they’re just messenger boys and girls. First though, here’s what austerity does. Let’s start with Ed Harrison talking about some revealing data that Matt Klein posted on FT Alphaville about comparing post-2008 Greece to emerging economies:

Europe’s Delusional Economic Policies

Here’s how Matt put it: “Greece had a very different post-crisis experience: it never recovered. By contrast, all the other countries were well past their pre-crisis peak after this much time had elapsed. On average, Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Thailand, and Turkey have outperformed Greece by more than 40 percentage points after nine years.”

.. unlike those countries, Greece lacked the ability to use the exchange rate as a shock absorber. So while Brazil and Greece faced the same type of downturn in dollar terms – about 45% in GDP per person – Brazilian living standards only deteriorated about 2%, compared to 26% in Greece. The net effect is that Greece had a relatively typical crisis in dollars but an unprecedently painful one in the terms that matter most”.

[..] Greece doesn’t have its own currency so the currency can’t depreciate. Greece must use the internal devaluation route, which makes its labor, goods and services cheaper through a deflationary path – and that is very destructive to demand, to growth, and to credit.

[..] it’s not about reforms, people. It’s about growth. And the euro – and the policies tied to membership – is anti-growth, particularly for a country like Greece that is forced to hit an unrealistic 3.5% primary surplus indefinitely.

 

Another good report came from the WaPo at about the same time Ed wrote his piece, some 4 weeks ago. After Matt Klein showing how hard austerity hit Greece compared to emerging economies, Matt O’Brien shows us how austerity hit multiple Eurozone countries, compared to what would have happened if they had not cut spending (or introduced the euro). It is damning.

Austerity Was A Bigger Disaster Than We Thought

Cutting spending, you see, shouldn’t be a problem as long as you can cut interest rates too. That’s because lower borrowing costs can stimulate the economy just as much as lower government spending slows it down. What happens, though, if interest rates are already zero, or, even worse, you’re part of a currency union that means you can’t devalue your way out of trouble? Well, nothing good.

House, Tesar and Proebsting calculated how much each European economy grew — or, more to the point, shrank — between the time they started cutting their budgets in 2010 and the end of 2014, and then compared it with what actually realistic models say would have happened if they hadn’t done austerity or adopted the euro.

According to this, the hardest-hit countries of Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain would have contracted by only 1% instead of the 18% they did if they hadn’t slashed spending; by only 7% if they’d kept their drachmas, pounds, liras, escudos, pesetas and the ability to devalue that went along with them if they hadn’t become a part of the common currency and outsourced those decisions to Frankfurt; and only would have seen their debt-to-GDP ratios rise by eight percentage points instead of the 16 they did if they hadn’t tried to get their budgets closer to being balanced.

In short, austerity hurt what it was supposed to help, and helped hurt the economy even more than a once-in-three-generations crisis already had.

[..] the euro really has been a doomsday device for turning recessions into depressions. It’s not just that it caused the crisis by keeping money too loose for Greece and the rest of them during the boom and too tight for them during the bust. It’s also that it forced a lot of this austerity on them. Think about it like this. Countries that can print their own money never have to default on their debts – they can always inflate them away instead – but ones that can’t, because, say, they share a common currency, might have to.

Just the possibility of that, though, can be enough to make it a reality. If markets are worried that you might not be able to pay back your debts, they’ll make you pay a higher interest rate on them – which might make it so that you really can’t.

In other words, the euro can cause a self-fulfilling prophecy where countries can’t afford to spend any more even though spending any less will only make everything worse.

That’s actually a pretty good description of what happened until the ECB belatedly announced that it would do “whatever it takes” to put an end to this in 2012. Which was enough to get investors to stop pushing austerity, but, alas, not politicians. It’s a good reminder that you should never doubt that a small group of committed ideologues can destroy the economy. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

 

 

So those are the outcomes, But what’s the theory, where does the “small group of committed ideologues” go so wrong? Let’s go really basic and simple. Last week, Britsh economist Ann Pettifor, promoting her new book “The Production of Money: How to Break the Power of Bankers”, said this to Vogue:

Politicians who advocate for austerity measures—cutting spending—like to say that the government ought to run its budget the way women manage our households, but unlike us, the government issues currency and sets interest rates and so on, and the government collects taxes. And if the government is managing the economy well, it ought to be expanding the numbers of people who are employed and therefore paying income tax and tax on purchases—purchases that turn a profit for businesses which then hire more employees, and on and on it goes. That’s called the multiplier effect, and for 100 years or so, it’s been well understood. And it’s why governments should invest not in tax breaks for wealthy people, but in initiatives like building infrastructure.

Around the same time, Ann wrote in the Guardian:

[..] the public are told that cuts in spending and in some benefits, combined with rises in income from taxes will – just as with a household – balance the budget. Even though a single household’s budget is a) minuscule compared to that of a government; b) does not, like the government’s, impact on the wider economy; c) does not benefit from tax revenues (now, or in the foreseeable future); and d) is not backed by a powerful central bank. Despite all these obvious differences, government budgets are deemed analogous (by economists and politicians) to a household budget.

[..] If the economy slumps (as in 2008-9) and the private sector weakens, then like a see-saw the public sector deficit, and then the debt, rises. When private economic activity revives (thanks to increased investment, employment, sales etc) tax revenues rise, unemployment benefits fall, and the government deficit and debt follow the same downward trajectory. So, to balance the government’s budget, efforts must be made to revive Britain’s economy, including the indebted private sector.

In other words, when faced with economic hard times, a government should not cut spending, it should increase it -and it can-. Because cutting spending is sure to make things worse. At the same time of course, this is not an option available to Greece, because it has ceded control of its currency, and therefore its economy, to a largely unaccountable and faceless cabal that couldn’t care less what happens in the country.

All they care about is that the debts the banks in the rich part of the eurozone incurred can be moved onto someone else’s shoulders. Which is where -most of- Greece’s crisis came from to begin with. And so, yes, Germany and Holland and France are sitting sort of pretty, because they prevented a banking crisis from happening at home; they transferred it to Greece’s pensioners and unemployed youth. The ‘model’ of the Eurozone allows them to do this. Coincidence? Bug or feature?

 

 

Oh, and it’s not only Greece, though it’s by far the hardest hit. Read Roberto Centeno in the Express below. Reminds me of Greeks friends saying: “In 2010, we were told we had €160 billion or so in debt, and we needed a bailout. Now we have over €600 billion in debt, they say. How is that possible? What happened? What was that bailout for?”

‘Spain Is Ruined For 50 Years’

A leading Spanish economist has hit out at the ECB saying “crazy” loans will ruin the lives of the population for the next 50 years. And it is only a matter of time before the Government is forced to default as a debt bubble and low wages effectively forge the worst declines in “living memory”. Leading economist Roberto Centeno, who was an advisor to US president Donald Trump’s election team on hispanic issues, says the country has borrowed €603 billion that it cannot conceivably pay back. And he says Spanish politicians including Minister of Economy Luis de Guindos are “insulting their intelligence” after doing back door deals with the ECB. In a blog post Mr Centeno says there needs to be audits so the country can understand the magnitude of its debt mountain.

He said Spain was “moving steadily towards the suspension of payments which is the result of out of control public waste, financed with the largest debt bubble in our history, supported by the ECB with its crazy policy of zero interest rate expansion and without any supervision.” The expert added the doomed situation will “lead to the ruin of several generations of Spaniards over the next 50 years”. [..] He said the country is currently suffering from a “third world production model”. He added: “We have a third world production model of speculators and waiters, with a labour market where the majority of jobs created are temporary and with remunerations of €600, the largest wage decline in living memory. “And all this was completed with a broken pension system and an insolvent financial system.”

Forecasting an unprecedented shock to the European financial model, Mr Centento is calling for an immediate audit despite a recent revelation that the ECB is failing in its supervisory role over Europe’s banks. He also claimed the Spanish government and European Union leaders have been manipulating figures since 2008. Mr Centento said: “We will require the European Commission and Eurostat to audit and audit the Spanish accounting system for serious accounting discrepancies that may jeopardise stability. “The gigantic debt bubble accumulated by irresponsible governments, and that never ceases to grow, will be the ruin of several generations of Spaniards. “The Bank of Spain’s debt to the Eurosystem is the largest in Europe. “The day that the ECB minimally closes the tap of this type of financing or markets increase their risk aversion, the situation will be unsustainable.”

 

 

But then it’s time to move on, courtesy of Michael Hudson, prominent economist, who should be a guest of honor, at the very least, at every Eurogroup meeting. You know, to give Dijsselbloem and Schäuble a reality check. Michael shines a whole different additional light on European austerity policies. This is from an interview with Sharmini Peries:

Finance as Warfare: IMF Lent to Greece Knowing It Could Never Pay Back Debt

MICHAEL HUDSON: You said the lenders expect Greece to grow. That is not so. There is no way in which the lenders expected Greece to grow. In fact, the IMF was the main lender. It said that Greece cannot grow, under the circumstances that it has now. What do you do in a case where you make a loan to a country, and the entire staff says that there is no way this country can repay the loan? That is what the IMF staff said in 2015.

It made the loan anyway – not to Greece, but to pay French banks, German banks and a few other bondholders – not a penny actually went to Greece. The junk economics they used claimed to have a program to make sure the IMF would help manage the Greek economy to enable it to repay. Unfortunately, their secret ingredient was austerity.

[..] for the last 50 years, every austerity program that the IMF has made has shrunk the victim economy. No austerity program has ever helped an economy grow. No budget surplus has ever helped an economy grow, because a budget surplus sucks money out of the economy.

As for the conditionalities, the so-called reforms, they are an Orwellian term for anti-reform, for cutting back pensions and rolling back the progress that the labor movement has made in the last half century. So, the lenders knew very well that Greece would not grow, and that it would shrink.

 

So, the question is, why does this junk economics continue, decade after decade? The reason is that the loans are made to Greece precisely because Greece couldn’t pay. When a country can’t pay, the rules at the IMF and EU and the German bankers behind it say, don’t worry, we will simply insist that you sell off your public domain. Sell off your land, your transportation, your ports, your electric utilities.

[..] If Greece continues to repay the loan, if it does not withdraw from the euro, then it is going to be in a permanent depression, as far as the eye can see. Greece is suffering the result of these bad loans. It is already in a longer depression today, a deeper depression, than it was in the 1930s.

[..] when Greece fails, that’s a success for the foreign investors that want to buy the Greek railroads. They want to take over the ports. They want to take over the land. They want the tourist sites. But most of all, they want to set an example of Greece, to show that France, the Netherlands or other countries that may think of withdrawing from the euro – withdraw and decide they would rather grow than be impoverished – that the IMF and EU will do to them just what they’re doing to Greece.

So they’re making an example of Greece. They’re going to show that finance rules, and in fact that is why both Trump and Ted Malloch have come up in support of the separatist movement in France. They’re supporting Marine Le Pen, just as Putin is supporting Marine Le Pen. There’s a perception throughout the world that finance really is a mode of warfare.

Sharmini Peries: Greece has now said, no more austerity measures. We’re not going to agree to them. So, this is going to amount to an impasse that is not going to be resolvable. Should Greece exit the euro?

MICHAEL HUDSON: Yes, it should, but the question is how should it do it, and on what terms? The problem is not only leaving the euro. The problem really is the foreign debt that was bad debt that it was loaded onto by the Eurozone. If you leave the euro and still pay the foreign debt, then you’re still in a permanent depression from which you can never exit. There’s a broad moral principle here: If you lend money to a country that your statistics show cannot pay the debt, is there really a moral obligation to pay the debt? Greece did have a commission two years ago saying that this debt is odious. But it’s not enough just to say there’s an odious debt. You have to have something more positive.

[..] what is needed is a Declaration of Rights. Just as the Westphalia rules in 1648, a Universal Declaration that countries should not be attacked in war, that countries should not be overthrown by other countries. I think, the Declaration of International Law has to realize that no country should be obliged to impose poverty on its population, and sell off the public domain in order to pay its foreign creditors.

[..] the looming problem is that you have to pay debts that are so far beyond your ability to pay that you’ll end up like Haiti did after it rebelled after the French Revolution.

[..] A few years after that, in 1824, Greece had a revolution and found the same problem. It borrowed from the Ricardo brothers, the brothers of David Ricardo, the economist and lobbyist for the bankers in London. Just like the IMF, he said that any country can afford to repay its debts, because of automatic stabilization. Ricardo came out with a junk economics theory that is still held by the IMF and the European Union today, saying that indebted countries can automatically pay.

Well, Greece ended up taking on an enormous debt, paying interest but still defaulting again and again. Each time it had to give up more sovereignty. The result was basically a constant depression. Slow growth is what retarded Greece and much of the rest of southern Europe. So unless they tackle the debt problem, membership in the Eurozone or the European Union is really secondary.

There is no such question as “why did austerity fail ‘in a particular case'”?. Austerity always fails. You could perhaps come up with a theoretical example in which a society greatly overspends and toning down spending might balance some things, but other than that, and nothing in what we see today resembles such an example, austerity can only work out badly. And that’s before, as Michael Hudson suggests, austerity is used as a means to conquer people and countries in a financial warfare setting.

This is because our economies (as measured in GDP) are 60-70% dependent on consumer spending. Ergo, when you force consumer spending down through austerity measures, GDP must and will of necessity come down with it. And if you cut spending, stores will close, and then their suppliers will, and they will fire their workers, which will further cut consumer spending etc. It doesn’t get simpler than that.

There is a lot of talk about boosting exports etc., but exports make up only a relatively small part of most economies, even in the US, compared to domestic consumption. As still is the case in virtually every economy, more exports will never make up for what you lose by severely cutting wages and pensions while at the same time raising taxes across the board (Greek reality). The only possible result from this is misery and lower government revenues, in a vicious circle, dragging an economy ever further down.

Since this is so obvious a 5-year old can figure it out in 5 minutes, the reason for imposing the kind of austerity measures that the Eurogroup has unleashed upon Greece must inevitably be questioned in the way professor Hudson does. If someone owes you a substantial amount of money, the last thing you want to do is make sure they cannot pay it back. You want such a person to have a -good- job, a source of income, that pays enough so that they can pay you back. Unless you have your eyes on their home, their car, their daughters, their assets.

What the EU and IMF do with Greece is the exact opposite of that. They’re making sure that Greece gets poorer every day, and the Greeks get poorer, ensuring that the debt, whether it’s odious or not -and that is a very valid question-, will never be paid back. And then they can move in and snap up all of the country’s -rich- resources on the cheap. But in the process, they create a very unstable country, something that may seem to be to their benefit but will blow up in their faces.

It’s not the first time that I say the EU and the US would be well advised to ensure Greece is a stable society, but they all continue to forcibly lead the cradle of democracy in the exact opposite direction.

The best metaphor I can think of is: Austerity is like bloodletting in the Middle Ages, only with a lower success rate.

 

 

Feb 022017
 
 February 2, 2017  Posted by at 11:01 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso The Bull state VII 1945

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Wonderful graph even like this. Click the link to see the larger interactive one.

200 Years of US Immigration Data Put Trump’s Ban Into Context (Stat)

President Trump’s temporary ban on immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen — is big news right now. And its effects are being felt widely throughout the worlds of science and medicine. Observing the fervid debate as someone who has recently had firsthand experience with the immigration system, I was interested in seeing as much of the larger immigration trends as government data permitted. In the interactive data visualization below, each country or region of last residence is represented by color, in a stream whose thickness represents the number of people arriving from that area in a given year. Immediately, two things stand out: boom and bust in the immigration rate (it’s easy to assume that it has always been increasing) and the new diversity of immigrants after World War II.

Immigration collapsed after the 1924 Immigration Act, which restricted entrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, severely limited African immigration, and prohibited it from East Asia, India, and the Arab world. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which removed national origins quotas imposed by the 1924 act, led to the diversity of the immigrant population that we see to this day. That diversity is reflected in the data visualization in the flowering of a completely new range of colors directly after the act was passed. Regardless of the political moves ahead, nearly 200 years of immigration suggests that no one leader or piece of legislation is capable of staunching the diverse flow of immigrants to the US.

The x axis displays years, the y axis displays the number of immigrants (in millions), and each country or region of last residence is represented by its own color and stream whose thickness represents the number of people from that area becoming legal permanent residents in a given year.

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Oz media say Turnbull stood his ground. Lots of ‘reports’ by people who were not present.

Australia PM Turnbull Denies Trump ‘Hang Up’ (Sky)

Donald Trump has blasted as ‘dumb’ a refugee deal between Australia and the United States, but Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is confident the president won’t backflip on their agreement. An explosive tweet from Mr Trump has once again cast doubt on the deal, in which the US would take refugees currently held on Manus Island and Nauru in return for Australia accepting refugees from Central America. ‘Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!’ the US president tweeted on Thursday. Mr Turnbull said despite the president’s tweet, he had received multiple assurances from Mr Trump, his press secretary and the US embassy the deal would be progressed. ‘This is not a deal that he would’ve done or that he would regard as a good deal,’ Mr Turnbull told Fairfax radio. ‘But the question is, will he commit to honour the deal? And he has given that commitment.’

The prime minister wouldn’t tell Sydney radio Macquarie Radio whether Mr Trump had labelled the deal dumb or otherwise in their phone conversation on Sunday, but has denied reports the call ended abruptly or in anger. ‘I want to make one observation about it, the report the president hung up is not correct, the call ended courteously,’ he said. The US president reportedly told Mr Turnbull he was ‘going to get killed’ politically and accused Australia of seeking to export the ‘next Boston bombers’, according to senior US officials quoted by The Washington Post. Mr Turnbull said the deal with the former president was always for the Americans to use their own vetting processes and determine how many of the people on Nauru and Manus Island would be resettled. ‘It wasn’t a commitment to take everybody sight unseen,’ he said. ‘It is possible they could take a smaller number or a larger number – it will depend on the assessments.’

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That would be a no. The discussion is more about globalism than Trump or cash.

Will Donald Trump Reverse The War On Cash? (IM)

Jason Burack : It seems that globalism may be on the retreat. What’s your opinion about that, in light of Brexit, Donald Trump winning, and the Italian referendum failing?
Nick Giambruno : I think you’re right, Jason. Right now globalism is on the decline. But let’s define “globalism” before I explain why. This word gets thrown around a lot. But most people don’t really know what it means. It’s very simple. Globalism is the centralization of power into a couple of global institutions: the EU, the United Nations, the IMF, the World Bank, NAFTA, NATO, and so on. It’s really just a polite way of describing world government, or what George H.W. Bush termed the New World Order. I think globalism and the centralization of power is always a bad thing. People who value individual freedom and economic freedom… really, freedom in general, should oppose it. It’s an interesting moment in history. Those three things you just mentioned—Brexit, Trump, and the failure of the Italian referendum—are clear signs that globalism is losing steam. Whether it’s a sort of one step back, two steps forward thing or the ideology of globalism is really on its way out remains to be seen.

[..] Italy hasn’t had any real economic growth since it joined the euro in 1999. That’s pretty profound. The Italian economy is in the same place it was 17 years ago. A lot of that is because the euro makes Italy uncompetitive with countries like Germany. The next Italian government could be a coalition of anti-EU populist parties. If that happens, there’s an excellent chance Italy could leave the euro. Keep in mind that Italy is a core member of the euro. If it leaves, France would probably leave, too. And if that happens, the euro is finished.

Jason : Without the euro, what’s left holding the EU together?
Nick Giambruno : Almost nothing. The euro is the main glue. Without it, the whole EU could unravel. We’re still early in the process. But it doesn’t look good for the globalists and the Eurocrats. I think historians will look back at the failure of the December 4 Italian referendum as a crucial tipping point. With globalism failing, I’m not sure what happens next. No one does. We could see a rise of nationalism, which wouldn’t be a good thing. Or political power could diffuse even further, which would be a better outcome. Decentralization is good for individual and economic freedom.

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Canada, Australia, Germany, who’s next?

Problems ‘Resolved’ For German Dual Citizens Under Trump’s Travel Ban (Loc.)

American President Donald Trump’s travel ban initially looked to block more than 100,000 German dual citizens from entering the US, but now the two allies say they have found a solution. Acting commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection, Kevin McAleenan, said on Tuesday that travelers would be evaluated based on the passport they present rather than their dual citizen status, even if they have citizenship in one of the seven predominantly Muslim countries with temporary blocks. This was the first clarification about what the bans mean for people with dual citizenship, after US embassies, including Berlin’s, issued statements indicating that dual citizens were included in the bans.

The update on Tuesday means that people who are citizens of one of the seven countries as well as another country not named in the ban will be able to enter the US. EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos explained that this applies to people with European citizenship. “[I am] glad that issue of EU dual nationals is resolved,” Avramopoulos wrote on Twitter. Trump’s executive order issued on Friday suspends all refugee admissions into the United States for 120 days, bars all Syrians indefinitely, and blocks citizens of seven mostly Muslim countries for 90 days. German politicians were concerned about what it would mean for the more than 130,000 dual citizens, including the Green party’s German-Iranian representative Omid Nouripour, who is the vice chair of a German-American parliamentary group.

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The victims of this German economic imperialism are not in the US, but in southern Europe.

German Current Account Surplus To Hit Record, World’s Largest In 2016 (R.)

Germany’s current account surplus is expected to have hit a new record of $297 billion in 2016, overtaking that of China again to become the world’s largest, the Munich-based Ifo economic institute said on Monday. This would be equivalent to 8.6% of total output, which means it would once again breach the European Commission’s recommended upper threshold of 6%. In 2015 the current account surplus stood at $271 billion. The European Commission and the United States have urged Germany to lift domestic demand and imports to help reduce global economic imbalances and fuel global growth, including within the euro zone. Germany rejects such criticism, saying it already lifted domestic demand by introducing a national minimum wage in 2015 and agreeing on a strong hike in pension entitlements in 2016. In addition, the government has increased state spending on roads, digital infrastructure and asylum seekers while sticking to its goal of keeping a balanced budget.

Asked about Ifo’s estimate, a spokeswoman for the economy ministry said the government views the surplus as high but the imbalance was not excessive. “The federal government shares the view of the European Commission that the German current account surplus has to be assessed as high – but it doesn’t represent an excessive imbalance,” spokeswoman Tanja Alemany Sanchez de Leon said. She added that Germany’s current account surplus with other euro zone countries halved to some 2% of GDP in 2015 from roughly 4% in 2007. “That shows there is a reduction of trade imbalances within the euro zone,” the spokeswoman said, adding that 44% of Germany’s current account surplus was due to business relations with the United States and Britain. Ifo estimated China’s current account surplus at $245 billion last year due to weaker exports. By contrast, the United States is predicted to have the world’s largest capital imports, with a deficit of $478 billion for 2016, Ifo said.

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But Switzerland doesn’t count.

Switzerland’s Record Surplus Raises Questions Amid Trump Trade Agenda (WSJ)

Switzerland’s exports to the U.S. surged last year to a record high, pushing the trade surplus higher and putting the Alpine export powerhouse in a potentially uncomfortable position amid rising protectionist sentiment in the U.S. The figures come alongside heightened attention brought by President Donald Trump to bilateral trade balances and the policies countries have pursued to weaken their currencies against the dollar to gain a competitive edge. Switzerland has largely escaped much focus in the U.S. and is unlikely to be in the new administration’s crosshairs now, given its relatively small size. Still, its swelling surplus, and the Swiss National Bank’s multiyear efforts to weaken the franc, could at a minimum raise questions as to why the U.S. may treat some countries like China and Mexico more harshly than others down the road when it comes to trade.

Switzerland’s overall trade surplus was 37.5 billion Swiss francs ($37.6 billion) last year, the country’s customs office said Thursday, up one billion francs from 2015 and an all-time high. Nearly half of that surplus—17.2 billion francs—came from the U.S., as Swiss exports there jumped 15% to 31.5 billion francs. Switzerland ran smaller trade surpluses with Japan and the Middle East, while it had trade deficits with Germany and China. “Looking forward if this is truly Donald Trump’s agenda to level the playing field, Switzerland has to be on that list,” said Peter Rosenstreich at Swissquote Bank. [..] Switzerland’s current account surplus was 9% of GDP in 2016, according to IMF estimates, well above the 3%-of-GDP level the Treasury considers material. Meanwhile, Switzerland has in recent years engaged in one-way interventions to weaken the franc, thereby making Swiss exports more competitive in world markets. The Swiss National Bank has for years said the franc was significantly overvalued.

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There we go. The fear of Russia goes a long way.

Dutch Will Count All Election Ballots By Hand To Thwart Hacking (AFP)

Dutch authorities will count by hand all the votes cast in next month’s general elections, ditching “vulnerable” computer software to thwart any cyber hacking bid, a senior minister has said. “I cannot rule out that state actors may try to benefit from influencing political decisions and public opinion in the Netherlands,” interior minister Ronald Plasterk said in a letter to parliament on Wednesday. On 15 March, the Netherlands kicks off a year of crucial elections in Europe which will be closely watched amid the rise of far-right and populist parties on the continent. Dutch officials are already on alert for signs of possible cyber hacking following allegations by US intelligence agencies that Russia may have meddled in November’s US presidential polls to help secure Donald Trump’s victory.

Plasterk told parliament that fears over “the vulnerabilities of the software” used by the country’s election committee “had raised questions about whether the upcoming elections could be manipulated”. He insisted in a letter to MPs that “no shadow of a doubt should hang over the results” of the parliamentary polls, which some analysts predict could result in a five-party coalition. Therefore the interior ministry and the election committee had decided “to calculate the results based on a manual count”. Plasterk told broadcaster RTL that possible external actors included Russia. “Now there are indications that Russians could be interested, for the following elections we must fall back on good old pen and paper,” he said.

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NAFTA increased immigration.

Renegotiating NAFTA Is A Good Idea – For Mexico (Coppola)

[..] perhaps there just aren’t that many jobs going across the border. Certainly not enough to occupy all the Mexicans looking for work. Yet we know significant numbers of jobs HAVE relocated to Mexico: employment in automobile manufacture, for example, has quadrupled since 1994. Clearly something is very wrong. The figures just don’t make sense. Jobs have gone from the U.S. to Mexico, but people continue to migrate from Mexico to the US in search of work, though the rate has slowed dramatically in recent years. In fact Mexico has become somewhat dependent on its migrants: it now receives more foreign currency from migrant remittances than it does from exports of crude oil. This is mainly because of falling oil prices and production since 2014. But it also reflects a distorted and unhealthy economic relationship between Mexico and the U.S.

The truth is that NAFTA has been a rotten deal, not for the U.S. but for Mexico. Firstly, NAFTA did not establish a level playing field for agricultural production. It ended tariffs, but not subsidies. Mexico opened its borders to American agricultural exports, particularly corn. But America continued to subsidize the production of corn: between 1995-2014, corn subsidies totaled nearly $95bn. Coupled with America’s higher productivity, the subsidies made it impossible for Mexican farmers to compete. Agricultural employment dropped 19% between 1994 and 2007, a loss of about 2 million jobs, mostly in family farms. There was a corresponding increase in seasonal work, as agricultural production shifted to fruit and vegetable production, so the unemployment figures perhaps did not rise as much as might have been expected.

But Americans mourning the loss of steady well-paid manufacturing jobs surely should be the first to appreciate that seasonal work is no substitute for steady family farm employment. Unsurprisingly, Mexicans headed for the border. Between 1994 and 2000, emigration to the U.S. rose by 79%, though it slowed somewhat due to recession and increased border security after the 9/11 attacks. Secondly, NAFTA has rendered the Mexican economy entirely dependent on the U.S. Over 80% of Mexico’s exports go to the U.S., and about half of its imports come from there. Mexico is deeply integrated in U.S. supply chains, particularly manufacturing production. The IMF observes that Mexican and American industrial production are co-integrated and follow a common cycle. Increases in American economic output are transmitted one-for-one to Mexican output.

[..] Mexico is thus highly sensitive to changes in US policy and unable to protect itself from U.S.-generated economic shocks: the 2008 financial crisis in the US caused a shock to trade which knocked 6% out of the Mexican economy in 2009, though it bounced back quickly. Any attempt by the U.S. to decouple itself from Mexico through trade tariffs and impediments to financial flows would be likely to have a dramatic impact on the Mexican economy. This toxic dependence is to a large extent caused by NAFTA. Indeed, we might say that it was NAFTA’s primary purpose. And it unquestionably benefits the U.S. more than Mexico. Any small supplier to a giant corporation could tell you that being completely dependent on a single buyer is not a good situation. Diversification is strength. This is true for countries as much as businesses. By discouraging diversification, NAFTA has done Mexico no favors.

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By NATO.

Trump Is Being Sabotaged by the Pentagon (PCR)

President Trump says he wants the US to have better relations with Russia and to halt military operations against Muslim countries. But he is being undermined by the Pentagon. The commander of US forces in Europe, General Ben Hodges, has lined up tanks on Poland’s border with Russia and fired salvos that the general says are a message to Russia, not a training exercise. How is Trump going to normalize relations with Russia when the commander of US forces in Europe is threatening Russia with words and deeds? The Pentagon has also sent armored vehicles to “moderate rebels” in Syria, according to Penagon spokesman Col. John Dorrian. Unable to prevent Russia and Syria from winning the war against ISIS, the Pentagon is busy at work derailing the peace negotiations.

The military/security complex is using its puppets-on-a-string in the House and Senate to generate renewed conflict with Iran and to continue threats against China. Clearly, Trump is not in control of the most important part of his agenda—peace with the thermo-nuclear powers and cessation of interference in the affairs of other countries. Trump cannot simultaneously make peace with Russia and make war on Iran and China. The Russian government is not stupid. It will not sell out China and Iran for a deal with the West. Iran is a buffer against jihadism spilling into Muslim populations in the Russian Federation. China is Russia’s most important military and economic strategic ally against a renewal of US hostility toward Russia by Trump’s successor, assuming Trump succeeds in reducing US/Russian tensions.

The neoconservatives with their agenda of US world hegemony and their alliance with the military-security complex will outlast the Trump administration. Moreover, China is rising, while the corrupt and dehumanized West is failing. A deal with the West is worth nothing. Countries that make deals with the West are exposed to financial and political exploitation. They become vassals. There are no exceptions. Russia’s desire to be part of the West is perplexing. Russia should build its security on relations with China and Asia, and let the West, desirous of participating in this success, come to Russia to ask for a deal. Why be a supplicant when you can be the decider?

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They mean business. So does the other side.

US Veterans: Dakota Pipeline Won’t Get Completed. Not On Our Watch (CNBC)

A group of U.S. military veterans has vowed to block completion of the hotly disputed Dakota Access pipeline, despite the secretary of the Army giving the project the green light. “We are committed to the people of Standing Rock, we are committed to nonviolence, and we will do everything within our power to ensure that the environment and human life are respected. That pipeline will not get completed. Not on our watch,” said Anthony Diggs, a spokesman for Veterans Stand. Diggs added that the group hopes to raise enough funds “to have a larger, solid boots-on-the-ground presence.” The secretary of the Army instructed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to grant Energy Transfer Partners the easement it needs to complete the final stretch of its $3.7 billion pipeline, Sen. John Hoeven and Rep. Kevin Cramer, both of North Dakota, said Tuesday.

President Donald Trump last week signed executive actions to advance construction for Dakota Access and another disputed pipeline. Veterans Stand has raised $37,000 since launching a GoFundMe campaign last week. Part of that money will go to “basic transport of supplies and personnel,” Diggs told CNBC. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe also on Tuesday vowed to mount a legal challenge claiming the Corps lacks the statutory authority to stop an environment review and issue the easement. The tribe opposes construction, saying the pipeline passes beneath a source for its drinking water and construction would disrupt sacred land. Their campaign has drawn thousands of protesters to camps near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, in recent months. To abandon the study “would amount to a wholly unexplained and arbitrary change based on the president’s personal views and, potentially, personal investments,” the tribe said in a statement.

It’s difficult to argue that the secretary of the Army lacks the authority to grant the easement, said Bruce Huber, an associate professor of law at the University of Notre Dame who specializes in environmental law. However, any halt to the environmental study will face a high burden proof, he said. That’s because the Army’s assistant secretary for civil works is on the record as saying other routes should be explored and an environmental study is the best way to do that. In December, the Corps denied the easement and said the best path forward would be to consider alternative routes for the project by conducting an environmental review with public input and analysis. “That’s an unclear bit of law there, whether the process can simply be terminated,” Huber said. “You can bet your bottom dollar it will be litigated.”

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Merkel’s in Turkey today. She better put a stop to this while she has the chance. She cannot risk war in the region.

Turkish Air Force Jets Violate Greek Air Space 138 Times In One Day (IBT)

Greece intercepted 138 incursions into its air space by Turkish air forces on Wednesday (1 February) amid mounting tensions between the neighbouring countries. The unusually high number of incursions took place over islands in the central and southern Aegean and were condemned by Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos as reckless. “We want peace, we are not looking for a fight or for trouble in the Aegean, but there won’t be an aircraft which will not be intercepted,” Reuters quoted him as saying. Long-time regional rivals – notably over Cyprus – Greece and Turkey almost went to war in 1996 over two islets, Imia and Kardak, situated west of Bodrum and north of Kos in the Aegean Sea. On Wednesday (Feb 1) Kammenos flew over the area and threw a wreath in the sea to commemorate the death of three Greek officers in a helicopter crash in the 1996 incident.

The gesture followed Turkish military chiefs paying respects on Sunday (Jan 29). During the incident, a Turkish admiral reportedly refused to sink Greek ships. This time however a senior Turkish politician warned Turkey would respond with force if Greece started “playing games” over the disputed islets. According to Hurriyet, Justice and Development (AKP) Izmir deputy Hüseyin Kocabıyık warned: “I am warning Greece: You were saved owing to a cowardly [Turkish] admiral in 1996. Do not play the Kardak game with us. We will shoot you!”. The two countries are also at loggerheads over an asylum claim by eight Turkish military officers accused of involvement in the attempted coup in July 2016. A Greek court has blocked the extradition of the men back to Turkey, with Supreme Court judge Giorgos Sakkas ruling on Thursday (26 January) that they would not receive a fair trial in their homeland.

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Sep 042016
 
 September 4, 2016  Posted by at 9:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle September 4 2016
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NPC “Georgetown-Marines game” 1923

Dollar Hegemony Endures As Share Of Global Transactions Keeps Rising (AEP)
US Has 9.93 Million More Government Workers Than Manufacturing Workers (CI)
German Budget Surpluses Are Bad For The Global Economy (Economist)
ECB’s Mersch: Central Banking Based On “Mathematical Models”, Not Reality (ZH)
Europe’s Broken Banks Need the Urge to Merge (BBG)
Economic Czars Warn G-20 of Risk From Populist Backlash on Trade (BBG)
Chinese Consumers Take Credit For Boom In Car Loans (R.)
6 Steps To Avoiding All EU (Incl. Irish) And US Taxes Via Ireland (PP)
Rural France Pledges To Vote For Marine Le Pen As Next President (G.)
Shops Set For Christmas Price Hikes As Millions Of Shipments Stranded (Ind.)
Row On Tarmac An Awkward G20 Start For US, China (R.)
Barack Obama ‘Deliberately Snubbed’ By Chinese In Chaotic Arrival At G20 (G.)
Half The Forms Of Life On Earth Will Be Gone By 2050 (ZH)

 

 

It’s nice to be able to agree with Ambrose once in a while.

Dollar Hegemony Endures As Share Of Global Transactions Keeps Rising (AEP)

The US dollar is tightening its grip on the global financial system at the expense of the euro, entrenching American hegemony and rendering the US Federal Reserve more powerful than at any time in history. Newly-released data from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) show that the dollar’s share of the $5.1 trillion in foreign exchange trades each day has continued rising to 87.6pc of all transactions. It is the latest evidence confirming the extraordinary resilience of the dollar-based international order, confounding expectations of US financial decline a decade ago. Roughly 60pc of the global economy is either in the dollar zone or closely tied to it through currency pegs or ‘dirty floats’, and the level of debt issued in dollars outside US jurisdiction has soared to $9 trillion.

This has profound implications for monetary policy. The Fed has become the world’s central bank whether it likes it or not, setting borrowing costs for much of the global system. The BIS data shows that the volume of transactions in which the euro was on one side of the trade has slipped to 31.3pc from 37pc in 2007. The dollar share has ratcheted up to 87.6pc over the same period. It is much the same picture for the foreign exchange reserves of central banks, a good barometer of global trust. The dollar share has recovered to 63.6pc, roughly where it was a decade ago. The euro share has tumbled over the last eight years from 28pc to 20.4pc, and is barely above Deutsche Mark share in the early 1990s.

“There are no foreseeable rivals to the dollar as a viable reserve currency,” said Eswar Prasad from Cornell University, author of “The Dollar Trap: How the US Dollar Tightened Its Grip on Global Finance”. “The US is hard to beat. The US has deep financial markets, a powerful central bank and legal framework the rest of the world has a great deal of trust in,” he said. The eurozone is crippled by the lack of a unified EU treasury, joint bond issuance, and a genuine banking union to back up the currency. It would require a change in the German constitution to open the way for fiscal union, an unthinkable prospect in the current political climate.

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Many years ago I dubbed it the ‘Bulgaria Model’.

US Has 9.93 Million More Government Workers Than Manufacturing Workers (CI)

The August jobs report was filled with some interest factoids, like there are now 9.93 million government workers than there are manufacturing workers. That is a ratio of 1.81 government workers for every manufacturing worker. Such was not always the case. But a variety of factors such as labor cost differentials, EPA regulations and taxes had led to manufacturing jobs to be sent overseas. Now a 1.81 government to manufacturing employment ratio is called OVERHEAD. And you wonder why high paying manufacturing jobs are fleeing to other countries?

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“German saving and Greek suffering are two sides of the same coin..”

German Budget Surpluses Are Bad For The Global Economy (Economist)

On August 24th Germans received news to warm any Teutonic heart. Figures revealed a larger-than-expected budget surplus in the first half of 2016, and put Germany on track for its third year in a row in the black. To many such excess seems harmless enough—admirable even. Were Greece half as fiscally responsible as Germany, it might not be facing its eighth year of economic contraction in a decade. Yet German saving and Greek suffering are two sides of the same coin. Seemingly prudent budgeting in economies like Germany’s produce dangerous strains globally. The pressure may yet be the undoing of the euro area. German frugality and economic woes elsewhere are linked through global trade and capital flows.

In recent years, as Germany’s budget balance flipped from red to black, its current-account surplus—which reflects net cross-border flows of goods, services and investment—has soared, to nearly 9% of German GDP this year. The connection between budgets and current accounts might not be immediately obvious. But in a series of papers published in 2011 IMF economists found evidence that cutting budget deficits is associated with reduced investment, greater saving and a shift in the current account from deficit toward surplus. Two IMF economists, John Bluedorn and Daniel Leigh, reckoned that a fiscal consolidation of one percentage point of GDP led to an improvement in the ratio of the current-account balance to GDP of 0.6 percentage points.

On that reckoning, the German government’s thriftiness accounts for a small but meaningful share of its growing current-account surplus; perhaps as much as three percentage points of GDP over the past five years.

That has helped to resurrect an old problem. Global imbalances were a scourge of the world economy before the financial crisis of 2007-08. Back then, China and oil-exporting economies accounted for the surplus side of the world’s trade ledger, which reached nearly 3% of the world’s GDP on the eve of the crisis. Other countries, notably America, ran correspondingly large current-account deficits, financed in part by flows of investment from surplus countries that flooded into the country’s overheating housing market. A similar dynamic played out in miniature within the euro area, as core economies like Germany ran current-account surpluses and peripheral countries like Spain ran deficits.

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Taking away their powers is the only solution. But … that’s not going to happen.

ECB’s Mersch: Central Banking Based On “Mathematical Models”, Not Reality (ZH)

At first (literally the day the Fed announced QE1) it was just “tinfoil fringe blogs” who predicted the failure of the central bank’s attempt to boost the economy by printing money, instead warning that all the Fed would do is unleash an unprecedented income and wealth divide that may culminate in civil war and hyperinflation. Then, gradually, analysts, pundits and even the mainstream press admitted the truth, i.e., that tin-foilers were right all along, until recently even the Fed’s own mouthpiece, Jon Hilsenrath, one day before the Jackson Hole meeting wrote that “Years of Fed Missteps Fueled Disillusion With the Economy and Washington”, an article which set the stage for the pivot to the US issuance of much more debt, because apparently $9 trillion in new debt under Obama is not considered enough “fiscal stimulus.”

However, with virtually everyone else now slamming central banks for fooling the world for the past 7 years that they knew what they were doing, now that even Yellen admitted she has no idea what will happen in just the next 3 years projecting a 70% confidence interval of the Fed Funds rate of between 0% and 5% by the end of 2018 (we wonder what a 100% confidence would look like)…

.. overnight central bankers themselves attacked central bank policies, when ECB board member Yves Mersch warned on Saturday against using “extreme [policy] measures [with] unacceptable side effects” to shore up the eurozone’s weak economy, which he said could undermine trust in the single currency, a warning aimed squarely at Mario Draghi. Mersch’s comments come amid a growing debate over whether central banks in Europe and Japan should bolster economic growth by turning to even more tools such as “helicopter money.” Even more ludicrous, as we reported yesterday, Reuters already lobbed a tentative trial balloon, hinting that the ECB may be “forced” to buy ETFs and equities having virtually run out of bonds to monetize. Still, despite all ongoing ECB deflationary counter-measures, eurozone inflation was just 0.2% in August, far below the ECB’s near-2% target. Investors are increasingly concerned that the central bank is running out of tools.

Surprisingly, at this point Mersch joined the Weidmann bandwagon, and cautioned against “academic proposals [that] seem to prefer sophisticated models to social psychology.” Or in other words, for the first time, a central banker has suggested that broken (which is a far more accurate definition that sophisticated) financial models should be ignored when dealing with reality. “We cannot fulfill our mandate with mathematical equations, but only with instruments that maintain trust in the currency,” Mersch said at an annual economic forum on the shores of Lake Como, Italy. Expanding his tongue in cheek criticism of Mario Draghi’s relentless crusade to hurt the euro and reflate asset prices at all costs, Mersch then said that “extreme measures or legal violations of our mandate aren’t among those instruments.”

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Restructure. Only way. And again, not going to happen.

Europe’s Broken Banks Need the Urge to Merge (BBG)

The recent flurry of excitement at the idea that Germany’s Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank contemplated a merger reinforces the view that the European finance industry is ripe for consolidation. Banking leaders themselves talk about the need for mergers in an overbanked market, but no one among the bigger banks seems to want to go first. If something doesn’t change soon, Europe won’t have a banking industry worthy of the name. The relentless collapse in bank share prices this year may speak to difficult market conditions, but they also suggest that Europe’s banking model is broken, amid a deadly combination of negative interest rates, anemic economic growth and a lack of clarity about the future regulatory outlook (albeit in large part because European banks have fought every line of every proposed rule change).

The region’s banks have lost almost a quarter of their value this year, according to the Stoxx 600 Banks index. As Germany has by far the least consolidated banking sector in the euro zone, it’s no surprise that both Commerzbank and Deutsche Bank have done even worse. Merger talk sparked a bit of a rally in the two German banks in recent days, even though the discussions, reported to have taken place over two weeks this summer, have been abandoned. With both banks embarking on major cost-cutting and restructuring projects, it may have been too early to talk of a merger.

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It’s all in the choice of terminology: populism, protectionism, they sound very negative, so they are what you read. But it makes no difference: without growth, centralization withers away all by itself.

Economic Czars Warn G-20 of Risk From Populist Backlash on Trade (BBG)

The heads of three world economic bodies warned of the risk to trade from the protectionist headwinds sweeping many developed nations as global leaders met in Hangzhou, China. In a panel session Saturday ahead of the Group of 20 summit, Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF, urged business chiefs to lobby governments to help keep trade flows up as she issued a warning about the outlook for growth into 2017. Her views were echoed by Roberto Azevedo, Director-General of the WTO. “Trade is way too low and has been way too low for a long time,” Lagarde said. “There is at the moment an undercurrent of anti-trade movement. It’s at the political level. It’s at the public opinion level” and also being reflected in policy, she added.

“If there is no international trade, if there is no cross-border investment, if services, capital, people and goods do not cross borders, then it’s less activity for you, it’s less jobs in whichever country you are headquartered,” she said. Lagarde’s comments come as momentum for ratifying the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would link 12 nations making up about 40% of the world economy, falters in the final months of U.S. President Barack Obama’s term. Both presidential candidates have spoken against the deal, which does not include China, while progress on a U.S.-EU trade and investment deal, known as TTIP, has also stalled.

France’s trade minister Matthias Fekl said late last month that the U.S. hasn’t offered anything substantial in negotiations with the EU on the free-trade deal and that talks should come to an end. His comments followed those of German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who said discussions on the TTIP “have de-facto broken down, even if no one wants to say so.” Many Western nations are grappling with a mood of protectionism that is leading to calls for caution on free trade, and on foreign investment in things like property and utilities. Chinese companies recently were dealt a blow on prospective projects in both the U.K. and Australia.

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Let’s see: more debt AND more cars. It’s a win-win! Happy days!

Chinese Consumers Take Credit For Boom In Car Loans (R.)

Chinese households, traditional savers with an aversion to debt, are rapidly warming to the idea of borrowing to buy a car, as automakers push financing deals to boost sales and margins in an increasingly competitive market. Nearly 30% of Chinese car buyers bought on credit last year, up from 18% in 2013, according to analysts from Sanford C. Bernstein and Deloitte, helping a rebound in the car market after a sticky 2015. That is welcome news to China’s government, which wants consumers to borrow and spend more to shift its slowing economy away from heavy industry and investment-led growth. Beijing resident Wang Danian said he planned to buy his first car on credit, saying it was the smart move.

“I can use my cash to do other things,” the 28-year-old said. “If I use all my savings at once to buy a car, and then something happens, I can’t manage the risk.” Six consumers interviewed by Reuters said they would all consider loans, lured by low-fee and interest-free deals, with half saying they’d prefer to buy on credit and save cash for other items. “I’d estimate after the manufacturer came out with the low-interest deal that about 30% of potential cash buyers switched to buying on credit,” said a salesman at a Volkswagen dealership in eastern China’s Jiangsu province who gave his name as Mr. Zhao. That is still a far cry from the more than 80% of cars bought on loans in the United States, but Deloitte predicts China will reach 50% by 2020.

[..] China’s auto market struggled last year thanks to the slowest economic growth in 25 years and a stock market rout, but rebounded in October when the government cut sales tax on smaller cars. By July, vehicle sales were rising at their fastest monthly rate in three and a half years. “While the government’s tax reduction was the most obvious explanation for the rebound in Chinese car sales at the end of 2015, soaring auto financing penetration represented another, lesser noticed, driver of the boom,” Bernstein said in April.

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Excellent thread from The Property Pin. A lot more under the link.

6 Steps To Avoiding All EU (Incl. Irish) And US Taxes Via Ireland (PP)

1. Making the Intellectual Property (IP). Let’s say that Apple US spent $200m (validly) developing iOS (it’s iPhone operating system). What Apple does next is to “sell” a non-US version of iOS to an Apple Ireland entity (generic name), for c $500m. Apple US will then pay full US taxes on this gain of $300m. Easy so far. The US IRS is already starting to probe these “internal” sales.

2. Stepping up the IP value (when the “magic” happens). Specialist IP corporate finances (why Dublin accountancy firms have big corporate finance practices) make two discoveries. First, if the Apple device has no iOS software, it can’t function. iOS is the “secret sauce” (like a drug patent). They then show Apple Ireland that it has done an amazing deal at the expense of its parent, Apple US. They show that if the non-US version of iOS is converted in to 200 different languages (and local network formats), then Apple Ireland can sell devices all over the world (fancy that). The global commercial value is over €50bn (why many MNC jobs in Ireland are “localisation”, or language translation, jobs). Apple has the tax equivalent of “Alchemy”.

3. Avoiding tax on the IP step-up. A €50bn gain in Apple Ireland is going to incur tax (both Irish and US), and would distort Ireland’s National Accounts (our 2014 GDP was only €200bn). Apple, and the Irish State, worked a scheme to have Apple Ireland both resident in Ireland (essential so Apple Ireland can avail of EU TP (Transfer Pricing) rules; you can’t do EU TP from Cayman, or worse, “Stateless” locations), and non-resident in Ireland (to avoid Irish tax). The EU’s Apple report, proves the recent 26% increase in Irish GDP (“leprechaun economics”) was all Apple, forced to unwind it’s “dual” status (as EU report drew near). Apple paid a once-off tax on the transfer (€500m vs. €50bn gain), which increased our EU GDP levies by 380m. Per Annum.

4. Executing the TP of this IP into Europe. Before step 3., if Apple Ireland sold an iPhone in Germany for €500, Apple Germany would offset valid incurred cash costs (Apple China/Foxconn manufacturing costs of about €150, and Apple Germany marketing costs of about €50) giving a German profit of €300 on that iPhone. German Revenue would take €100 of this in German taxes, and €200 can go back to Ireland. EU TP rules allow EU resident companies, like Apple Ireland, to charge Apple Germany a share of their €50bn IP value, expressed as a royalty charge. Charging this royalty to Apple Germany wipes out all Apple’s German profits. Apple Germany pays no German taxes, and the full €300 goes back to Apple Ireland tax-free.

5. The Cherry on Top. EU challenged step 4. in 2011 (we will get to CCCTB), but the UK Veto stopped it (Osborne was turning Britain into an even bigger EU tax-haven than Ireland). Despite Ireland having the “golden ticket” of being INSIDE the EU’s TP system (why Apple Ireland had to be legally resident in Ireland), AND having the lowest EU corporate tax rate, that was not enough. In 2010, Apple Ireland’s tax rate collapsed from a tiny 0.5% to effectively 0%. Apple Ireland’s profits quadrupled (and doubled every year after). The Irish State had perfected a “straw” for Apple, stuck into the EU, allowing Apple to suck all its EU profits (Germany, France, Italy etc.), via Ireland, to offshore locations, free of EU, Irish and US taxes.

6. Locking it in. US tax law requires US MNCs to remit non-US profits back to the US for final taxing. US tax rate is high at 35% (even by EU standards). The Double Tax Treaty system allows the MNCs to get a credit for taxes paid in the countries in which the profits were made. If Apple pays 35% on German profits, no further US taxes apply. The US IRS allows MNCs to leave non-US profits outside of the US if these non-US profits are going to be re-invested in the non-US location. Apple claimed this right in their US 10K Returns (Margrethe showed how Apple violate this). That is how Apple built the largest offshore cash hoard of modern economic history. Profits from the EU, on which they have never paid EU, Irish or US taxes. Period.

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In France, as in UK and US and many other places, voters vote against someone, not for.

Rural France Pledges To Vote For Marine Le Pen As Next President (G.)

In the picturesque hamlet of Brachay, in scorching late summer heat, Marine Le Pen was preaching to the politically converted. “Marine, président”, they chanted. “On va gagner” (we’re going to win). A banner stretching the length of one of the stone buildings overlooking the village square read: “Marine: Save France.” Le Pen’s stump speech was the most closely watched and significant campaign launch of la rentrée, the national return to work after the long summer holidays, and the leader of France’s far-right Front National was welcomed like a conquering hero. Le Pen has been largely absent from the political scene for several weeks and has refrained from adding her 10 cents’ worth to the raging polemic over the burkini and rows about security following deadly attacks by Islamic fundamentalists, both fertile ground for her party.

In the meantime, the country’s governing Socialists and centre-right opposition Les Républicains have engaged in what one FN heavyweight described with schadenfreude as a “bloodbath, left and right”. The Parti Socialiste is bitterly split and in turmoil over whether François Hollande, with his calamitous popularity ratings will, or indeed should, stand for a second term. The alternative, to stand down, would be unprecedented for a serving leader. Emmanuel Macron, the finance minister who resigned last week, might be the rabbit that the party pulls out of the hat, but he is disliked by the PS’s leftwing, which is fielding its own candidates. In any case, Macron has not said whether he will even throw his hat into the presidential ring.

On the right, things are scarcely more harmonious. The deadline for Les Républicains candidates is Friday, and already former president Nicolas Sarkozy, mayor of Bordeaux Alain Juppé and former prime minister François Fillon have either announced they are standing or are expected to do so. Amid this political free-for-all, Le Pen is trying to throw off the party’s divisive reputation and market herself as a politician above and beyond the fray of the same-old-same-old French elite: a new, unifying, patriotic force who will break the shackles of Europe, end “mass immigration” and give France back to the French. Her slogan is La France apaisée – a soothed France.

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So if people have to spend more to buy the same stuff, that’s good for the economy, right?

Shops Set For Christmas Price Hikes As Millions Of Shipments Stranded (Ind.)

Summer is not yet over but Christmas could be about to get more expensive as millions of gifts including TVs and electrical gadgets could be stranded at sea for months. Retailers have been thrown into turmoil after one of the world’s largest shipping companies collapsed into bankruptcy. South Korean company Hanjin’s vessels have been seized at Chinese ports, while others have been banned from docking until unpaid fees are received. As a result, the cost of transporting goods from Asia to the US and Europe has jumped by more than half, threatening margins as retailers begin stocking up for Christmas. September marks the start of the busiest period of the year for transporting goods.

The US National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade association, wrote to Penny Pritzker, secretary of commerce, on Thursday, urging them to work with the South Korean government, ports and others to prevent disruptions. The bankruptcy is having “a ripple effect throughout the global supply chain” that could cause significant harm to both consumers and the economy, the association wrote. “Retailers’ main concern is that there (are) millions of dollars’ worth of merchandise that needs to be on store shelves that could be impacted by this,” said Jonathan Gold, the group’s vice president for supply chain and customs policy.

“Some of it is sitting in Asia waiting to be loaded on ships, some is already aboard ships out on the ocean and some is sitting on US docks waiting to be picked up. It is understandable that port terminal operators, railroads, trucking companies and others don’t want to do work for Hanjin if they are concerned they won’t get paid.” With an estimated half a million 40-foot containers full of goods stuck at sea or in ports there appears to be little hope of a quick resolution to the issue. September marks the start of the busiest time of the year for transporting goods, but a Korean court on Thursday set a deadline of 25 November to submit a plan to resolve the dispute.

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Hilarious!

Row On Tarmac An Awkward G20 Start For US, China (R.)

A Chinese official confronted U.S. President Barack Obama’s national security adviser on the tarmac on Saturday prompting the Secret Service to intervene, an unusual altercation as China implements strict controls ahead of a big summit. The stakes are high for China to pull off a trouble-free G20 summit of the world’s top economies, its highest profile event of the year, as it looks to cement its global standing and avoid acrimony over a long list of tensions with Washington. Shortly after Obama’s plane landed in the eastern city of Hangzhou, a Chinese official attempted to prevent his national security adviser Susan Rice from walking to the motorcade as she crossed a media rope line, speaking angrily to her before a Secret Service agent stepped between the two.

Rice responded but her comments were inaudible to reporters standing underneath the wing of Air Force One. It was unclear if the official, whose name was not immediately clear, knew that Rice was a senior official and not a reporter. The same official shouted at a White House press aide who was instructing foreign reporters on where to stand as they recorded Obama disembarking from the plane. “This is our country. This is our airport,” the official said in English, pointing and speaking angrily with the aide. The U.S. aide insisted that the journalists be allowed to stand behind a rope line, and they were able to record the interaction and Obama’s arrival uninterrupted, typical practice for U.S. press traveling with the president.

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“.. the leader of the world’s largest economy, who is on his final tour of Asia, was forced to disembark from Air Force One through a little-used exit in the plane’s belly..”

Barack Obama ‘Deliberately Snubbed’ By Chinese In Chaotic Arrival At G20 (G.)

China’s leaders have been accused of delivering a calculated diplomatic snub to Barack Obama after the US president was not provided with a staircase to leave his plane during his chaotic arrival in Hangzhou ahead of the start of the G20. Chinese authorities have rolled out the red carpet for leaders including India’s prime pinister Narendra Modi, Russian president Vladimir Putin, South Korean president Park Geun-hye, Brazil’s president Michel Temer and British prime minister Theresa May, who touched down on Sunday morning. But the leader of the world’s largest economy, who is on his final tour of Asia, was forced to disembark from Air Force One through a little-used exit in the plane’s belly after no rolling staircase was provided when he landed in the eastern Chinese city on Saturday afternoon.

When Obama did find his way onto a red carpet on the tarmac below there were heated altercations between US and Chinese officials, with one Chinese official caught on video shouting: “This is our country! This is our airport!” “The reception that President Obama and his staff got when they arrived here Saturday afternoon was bruising, even by Chinese standards,” the New York Times reported. Jorge Guajardo, Mexico’s former ambassador to China, said he was convinced Obama’s treatment was part of a calculated snub. “These things do not happen by mistake. Not with the Chinese,” Guajardo, who hosted presidents Enrique Peña Nieto and Felipe Calderón during his time in Beijing, told the Guardian.

“I’ve dealt with the Chinese for six years. I’ve done these visits. I took Xi Jinping to Mexico. I received two Mexican presidents in China. I know exactly how these things get worked out. It’s down to the last detail in everything. It’s not a mistake. It’s not.” Guajardo added: “It’s a snub. It’s a way of saying: ‘You know, you’re not that special to us.’ It’s part of the new Chinese arrogance. It’s part of stirring up Chinese nationalism. It’s part of saying: ‘China stands up to the superpower.’ It’s part of saying: ‘And by the way, you’re just someone else to us.’ It works very well with the local audience. “Why [did it happen]?” the former diplomat, who was ambassador from 2007 until 2013, added. “I guess it is part of Xi Jinping playing the nationalist card. That’s my guess.”

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I am not optimistic.

Half The Forms Of Life On Earth Will Be Gone By 2050 (ZH)

Humanity should start saving nature and switch to 80% renewables by 2030, otherwise the Earth will keep losing species, and within 33 years around 800,000 forms of life will be gone, conservation biologist Reese Halter told RT’s News with Ed. Humans have changed the Earth so much that some scientists think we have entered a new geological age. According to a report in the Science Magazine, the Earth is now in the anthropocene epoch. Millions of years from now our impact on Earth will be found in rocks just like we see fossils of plants and animals which lived years ago – except this time scientists of the future will find radioactive elements from nuclear bombs and fossilized plastic.

RT: Tell us about this new age.
Reese Halter: Yes. There are three things that come to mind. First of all, imagine you’re back on the football field. Each year in America – America alone – we throw away the equivalent of one football field, a 100 miles deep. That is the first thing. The second thing, we’ve entered the age of climate instability. That means from burning subsidized climate altering fossil fuels our food security is in jeopardy. The third thing that is striking is we’re losing species a thousand times faster than in the last 65 million years. At this rate within 33 years, by midcentury – that means 800,000 forms of life, or half of everything we know will be gone. The only way we can reverse this is to two things: save nature now, our life support system, and we do this by switching to 80% renewables by 2030. It is a WWIII mentality. In America we have the technology; we have the blueprint. We lack the political will just right now. But in the next short while we will, because it is a matter of survival.

RT: We’ve just gone through the hottest month on record. There is plenty of data out there to suggest that we truly are entering something our world has never seen in our lifetime. To brand it as a new geological age, what impact is that going to have? RH: It’s got the impact that humans are here. As I said earlier, we’re talking a 160% more than mother Earth can sustain 7.4 billion people. The way to do it is to pull it back to 90%. If we were a big bathtub the ring will read: toxicity, toxicity, toxicity. We’ve got to peal that back, because what we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves.

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Aug 162016
 
 August 16, 2016  Posted by at 9:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Harris&Ewing Army surplus 1919

Mining Giant BHP Slumps To Record Loss (BBC)
Chinese Traders Are Falling Out Of Love With Commodities (BBG)
China’s Fading Animal Spirits (BBG)
Germany Amassing Huge Surpluses – And Huge Risks (MW)
Bundesbank Floats Higher Retirement Age -69- in German Pension Debate (BBG)
Top UK Firms Paid Five Times More In Dividends Than Into Pensions (G.)
Pension Funds Are Driving The Biggest Bond Bubble In History (ZH)
Hedge Funds Bet Dollar Will Lose More Ground Versus Yen (BBG)
Krugman’s Arrow Theory Misses Target by Light Years (Mish)
A Government of Scoundrels, Spies, Thieves, And Killers (JW)
Jimmy Carter: The US Is an ‘Oligarchy With Unlimited Political Bribery’ (IC)
Burning Down the House (Jim Kunstler)
Sleeping Bear Of Debt Set To Wake (Herald Sun)
One-Third Of New Zealand Children Live Below The Poverty Line (G.)

 

 

No matter what anybody does, the overbuilding, overcapacity and overconsumption in China can no longer be extended. Infrastructure investment in other countries won’t be enough to pick up the slack.

Mining Giant BHP Slumps To Record Loss (BBC)

Mining giant BHP Billiton has reported a record loss for the past year following a mining disaster in Brazil and a slump in commodity prices. The Anglo-Australian commodities firm reported an annual net loss of $6.4bn (£5bn) for the year to 30 June. The global mining sector has seen years of weak demand attributed largely to slowing growth in China. BHP results were also hit by costs after the Samarco mining disaster in Brazil, which killed 19 people. The record losses come after the company had reported a $1.9bn net profit. “While commodity prices are expected to remain low and volatile in the short to medium term, we are confident in the long-term outlook for our commodities, particularly oil and copper,” chief executive Andrew Mackenzie said in a statement.

Underlying earnings for the past year, which strip out one-off costs, came in at $1.22bn. The financial fallout from the Samarco mining tragedy is still not clear though warns James Butterfill, head of research & investment strategy at ETF Securities. “There’s a huge uncertainty overhang,” he told the BBC. “The report hasn’t been published with regard to the Samarco dam collapse and there’s currently a $48bn lawsuit. It’s unrealistic to be that amount, but this is really BHP’s Macondo well incident theoretically that BP endured.”

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As consumption and investment falls, so will prices. Commodity producers worldwide are sitting on huge overcapacity. They must shrink their operations, but the first reaction is always to produce more to make up for falling revenue.

Chinese Traders Are Falling Out Of Love With Commodities (BBG)

Chinese traders are falling out of love with commodities. Aggregate volumes across the nation’s three biggest exchanges have shrunk to the lowest level in six months, a shadow of the fevered trading in March and April when retail investors charged into markets for everything from iron ore to cotton, driving up prices and stoking fears of a bubble. Chinese authorities brought an end to the frenzy by introducing curbs on excessive speculation and trading has failed to recover since. Flush with record credit and hunting for returns, investors piled into commodities in the first half of the year, spurred by bets that China’s economic stimulus and industrial reforms would lead to shortages of raw materials. Now, there’s just not much for traders to get excited about, according to Wei Lai, an analyst with Cofco Futures.

Industrial production and fixed-asset investment slowed in July and a measure of new credit expanded the least in two years, spurring concern over growth in the world’s second-largest economy. “Investors are reluctant as there isn’t much information to play around with in the market,”’ Shanghai-based Wei said in an e-mail. High prices for some commodities may also be deterring traders, Wei said. Combined aggregate volume across the Shanghai Futures Exchange, Dalian Commodity Exchange and Zhengzhou Commodity Exchange slid to 23 million contracts as of Aug. 12, the lowest since February and compared with a peak of more than 80 million on April 22 when a total of $261 billion changed hands. Chinese exchanges double count trading volume and turnover.

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China will become known for the biggest misallocation of investment in history.

China’s Fading Animal Spirits (BBG)

The July wobble in China’s economy – like its multi-year slowdown – has much to do with the waning “animal spirits” of Chinese businesses caused by an historic shift in housing. That’s according to Chi Lo, greater China senior economist at BNP Paribas Investment Partners in Hong Kong. A property-led pick up in the first half lost momentum in July, suggesting the market is struggling to digest an overhang in supply of apartments. “In the past, the economic players expanded supply first and created jobs so as to create demand, but that is gone now,” Lo said in a telephone interview after Friday’s disappointing data. “It has to clean out the excess capacity, which means the supply-expansion model has to change.”

Another way of putting it: China’s build-it-and-they-will-come strategy needs to shift to one where demand, not supply, is in the drivers’ seat. It’s a change companies are struggling to come to terms with, leaving private investment in the doldrums. “Little attention has been paid to the underlying structural factor that is hurting private investment incentive,” Lo wrote in a research note ahead of the data last week. “This is the weakening of the final demand for output produced by the investment or capital-intensive sector in China. The key to understand this puzzle is China’s housing market.” That’s because it accounts for about half of all investment in China once spillovers into industries like metals and machinery are thrown in.

With such pervasive impact on everything from cement to cars, China’s property market was dubbed the most important sector in the universe back in 2011 by a UBS economist. BNP’s Lo says it’s unlikely to ever recapture the glory days of old. “China’s housing demand has likely passed its high-growth phase, with housing construction growth expected to go into a secular decline soon,” according to Lo. “This means that the capital-intensive sector, which has focused on producing all this housing units through the decades, is facing a structural decline in demand for its output.”

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One might be forgiven for thinking Berlin is blowing up the eurozone on purpose. What is needed are transfer payments to southern Europe, but there is too much resistance to those.

Germany Amassing Huge Surpluses – And Huge Risks (MW)

As one of the world’s largest exporters, Germany saw an important part of the political and economic rationale of entering European economic and monetary union in 1999 as lowering risks on its international commercial interactions. Nearly two decades later, Germany, more than ever, is an export champion. It is likely to register the world’s largest trade surplus this year, according to the OECD, at $324 billion (against China’s $314 billion), and will amass a record current-account surplus of 9.2% of gross domestic product. Yet, as a result of the large imbalances within EMU that these surpluses symbolize, Germany is a long way from insulating itself against foreign-currency risks.

The Bundesbank provides the strongest indicator of this change. The quintessentially hard-money central bank provided a role model for the ECB at the heart of the euro bloc. Yet the Bundesbank now confronts on its balance sheet a range of potential hazards that the euro’s founding fathers in the 1980s and 1990s would have regarded as inimical to economic stability and, for that reason, impossible to countenance. The Bundesbank’s balance sheet rose to €1.2 trillion in July from €222 billion when monetary union started in January 1999. Underlining the Bundesbank’s pivotal role in eurozone monetary operations, the German central bank’s balance sheet has expanded faster than that of the Eurosystem (the ECB and the constituent national central banks) as a whole.

The Bundesbank’s balance sheet now encompasses around 37% of Eurosystem assets of €3.3 trillion (computed on a net basis that strips out individual central banks’ claims and liabilities against each other under the Target-2 payments system), against 32% at the inception of EMU. The acceleration stands in marked contrast to the central bank’s stated desire, when monetary union started, to slim down its balance sheet and especially to economize on foreign-exchange reserves, held mostly in dollars. These have traditionally (together with gold) made up the lion’s share of the Bundesbank’s foreign assets, but have been cut from €45 billion to €50 billion when the euro was launched to only €30 billion to €35 billion in recent years.

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You’re not going to solve the problems by tweaking the age; that merely shifts the issue into the future. Can, road.

Bundesbank Floats Higher Retirement Age -69- in German Pension Debate (BBG)

Germany’s Bundesbank said raising the legal retirement age to 69 by 2060 could ease some of the pressure on the country’s state pension system as the population ages. Recent reforms won’t protect citizens from a drop in the level of pension payments from 2050, the central bank said in its monthly report published on Monday. Citizens who don’t opt for state-supported private insurance may face shortfalls a lot sooner. Low average interest rates could further reduce available provisions. While higher premiums could theoretically keep payouts stable, they would “raise the strain on those paying the contributions, and an increasing, high burden of payments overall has negative consequences on economic development,” the Bundesbank wrote. To avoid that, “the legal retirement age ultimately needs to be adjusted.”

The Bundesbank said the government’s current plans that include raising the retirement age to 67 by 2030 and increasing contributions don’t account for the fact that the ratio of retirees to contributors is set to widen further. Increasing life expectancy means retirees will draw from pension funds for a longer period of time, and a generation of baby boomers that retires post-2030 means there will be more pensioners to take care of per working adult, while birth rates remain low, according to the report. “Amid demographic change, the parameters of a contribution-based pension system can’t all be kept stable,” the Bundesbank said. “Confidence in pension insurance could be strengthened and uncertainty about financial stability at old age could be decreased if it were made clear how the parameters of retirement age, provision levels, and contribution rates can be adjusted in the long term.”

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Short termism perfected.

Top UK Firms Paid Five Times More In Dividends Than Into Pensions (G.)

Britain’s biggest companies paid five times more in dividends than they did pension contributions last year, according to a new report that highlights the pressure on retirement schemes. FTSE 100 companies paid £13.3bn towards their defined benefit pension schemes, compared with £71.8bn in payments to shareholders, according to the consultancy firm LCP’s annual study of pensions. The report has been published after Sir Philip Green was heavily criticised by a parliamentary investigation into the collapse of BHS for leaving the retailer with a £571m pension deficit, despite his family and other investors banking more than £400m in dividends. BHS’s 164 stores are all scheduled to close by 28 August, a week later than administrators planned last month as the retailer continues to sell its remaining stock.

Green remains locked in talks with the Pensions Regulator about a rescue deal for the BHS pension scheme. He has pledged to sort out the problems facing it, but the regulator has launched an investigation into whether the billionaire tycoon should be forced to make a financial contribution to fill the black hole. Other companies with large pension deficits could face action from the regulator if they are paying dividends, LCP says in its report. The 56 FTSE 100 companies that disclosed a pension deficit at the end of their 2015 financial year had a combined deficit of £42.3bn, but the same companies paid out dividends worth £53bn, 25% more than their pension contributions.

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“..a $1BN pension that is fully funded at prevailing interest rates would be nearly $700mm underfunded if interest rates declined 300bps and all of their assets were invested in 30-year treasury bonds.”

Pension Funds Are Driving The Biggest Bond Bubble In History (ZH)

We’ve frequently discussed the many problems faced by pension funds. Public and private pension funds around the globe are massively underfunded yet they continue to pay out current claims in full despite insufficient funding to cover future liabilities…also referred to as a ponzi scheme. In fact, we recently noted that the Central States Pension Fund pays out $3.46 in pension funds for every $1 it receives from employers. The pension problem is often attributed to low returns on assets. As Bill Gross frequently points out, low interest rates are the enemy of savers and pension funds have some of the biggest savings accounts around. That said, the impact of declining interest rates on the asset side of a pension’s net funded status is dwarfed by the much more devastating impact of declining discount rates used to value future benefit obligations.

The problem is one of duration. By definition, pension liabilities represent the present value of future benefit payments owed to retirees which is a virtually perpetual cash flow stream. Obviously, the longer the duration of a cash flow stream the larger the impact of interest rate swings on the present value of that stream. We created the chart below as a simplistic illustration of the pension “duration dilemma.” The chart graphs how a pension liability grows in a declining interest rate environment versus the value of 5-year and 30-year treasury bonds. As you can see, a $1BN pension that is fully funded at prevailing interest rates would be nearly $700mm underfunded if interest rates declined 300bps and all of their assets were invested in 30-year treasury bonds. The result is obviously even worse if the fund’s assets are invested in shorter duration 5-year treasuries.

Pension Duration

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How Abenomics gets strangled.

Hedge Funds Bet Dollar Will Lose More Ground Versus Yen (BBG)

Hedge funds and other large speculators increased net bets the dollar will weaken against the yen to the highest level in a month, according to Commodity Futures Trading Commission data as of Aug. 9. Traders will focus on the meetings of the Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan next month for direction, after disappointing stimulus announced last month by the BOJ failed to halt yen strength.

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“Krugman would do himself a favor if he threw away what he thinks he knows about economics and went back for a nice 5th grade education.”

But the saddest part of course is that belugas are kept in an aquarium and learn tricks to amuse Japanese. Who are we?

Krugman’s Arrow Theory Misses Target by Light Years (Mish)

With full employment, roads paved and repaved to nowhere, and bubble blowing beluga whales, just what the hell is Japan supposed to waste money on? Curiously, Krugman says it doesn’t matter. He once proposed a fake aliens from outer space scare as the solution to stimulate the economy. But roads and bridges and bubble blowing blowing beluga whales are surely better than fabricating space aliens or paying people to dig ditches and others to fill them up again. The problem is, it’s hard arguing with economic illiterates like Krugman. He can (and will) say “spending wasn’t enough”.

One can never prove him wrong. The implosion of Japan would not do it. His built-in excuse would be Japan did too little, too late. Just once I would like Krugman to address in his model what happens when the stimulus stops. He cannot and he won’t because he has no answer. The average 5th grader understands it’s absurd to pay money for something guaranteed to be useless, but the average Keynesian economist doesn’t. Krugman would do himself a favor if he threw away what he thinks he knows about economics and went back for a nice 5th grade education.

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John Whitehead does not mince words.

A Government of Scoundrels, Spies, Thieves, And Killers (JW)

“There is nothing more dangerous than a government of the many controlled by the few.”—Lawrence Lessig, Harvard law professor

The U.S. government remains the greatest threat to our freedoms. The systemic violence being perpetrated by agents of the government has done more collective harm to the American people and our liberties than any single act of terror. More than terrorism, more than domestic extremism, more than gun violence and organized crime, the U.S. government has become a greater menace to the life, liberty and property of its citizens than any of the so-called dangers from which the government claims to protect us. This is how tyranny rises and freedom falls.

As I explain in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, when the government views itself as superior to the citizenry, when it no longer operates for the benefit of the people, when the people are no longer able to peacefully reform their government, when government officials cease to act like public servants, when elected officials no longer represent the will of the people, when the government routinely violates the rights of the people and perpetrates more violence against the citizenry than the criminal class, when government spending is unaccountable and unaccounted for, when the judiciary act as courts of order rather than justice, and when the government is no longer bound by the laws of the Constitution, then you no longer have a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

What we have is a government of wolves. Worse than that, we are now being ruled by a government of scoundrels, spies, thugs, thieves, gangsters, ruffians, rapists, extortionists, bounty hunters, battle-ready warriors and cold-blooded killers who communicate using a language of force and oppression. Does the government pose a danger to you and your loved ones? The facts speak for themselves. We’re being held at gunpoint by a government of soldiers—a standing army. While Americans are being made to jump through an increasing number of hoops in order to exercise their Second Amendment right to own a gun, the government is arming its own civilian employees to the hilt with guns, ammunition and military-style equipment, authorizing them to make arrests, and training them in military tactics.

Among the agencies being supplied with night-vision equipment, body armor, hollow-point bullets, shotguns, drones, assault rifles and LP gas cannons are the Smithsonian, U.S. Mint, Health and Human Services, IRS, FDA, Small Business Administration, Social Security Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Education Department, Energy Department, Bureau of Engraving and Printing and an assortment of public universities. There are now reportedly more bureaucratic (non-military) government civilians armed with high-tech, deadly weapons than U.S. Marines. That doesn’t even begin to touch on the government’s arsenal, the transformation of local police into extensions of the military, and the speed with which the nation could be locked down under martial law depending on the circumstances. Clearly, the government is preparing for war—and a civil war, at that—but who is the enemy?

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2 weeks old, but highly relevant.

Jimmy Carter: The US Is an ‘Oligarchy With Unlimited Political Bribery’ (IC)

Former president Jimmy Carter said on the nationally syndicated radio show the Thom Hartmann Program that the United States is now an “oligarchy” in which “unlimited political bribery” has created “a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors.” Both Democrats and Republicans, Carter said, “look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves.” Carter was responding to a question from Hartmann about recent Supreme Court decisions on campaign financing like Citizens United. Transcript: HARTMANN: Our Supreme Court has now said, “unlimited money in politics.” It seems like a violation of principles of democracy. … Your thoughts on that?

CARTER: It violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. And the same thing applies to governors and U.S. senators and congress members. So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over. … The incumbents, Democrats and Republicans, look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves. Somebody’s who’s already in Congress has a lot more to sell to an avid contributor than somebody who’s just a challenger.

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“..generate Money-Out-Of-Thin-Air (QE) for the purpose of allowing “liquidity” flows to end up in US equity and bond markets in order to paint a false picture of “recovery” so as to insure the election of Hillary Clinton.”

Burning Down the House (Jim Kunstler)

There’s a new feature to the Anything-Goes-and-Nothing-Matters economy: Nothing-Adds-Up. The magicians who pretend to measure the growth of GDP (Gross Domestic Product — the monetary value of all the finished goods and services) came up with a second quarter “adjusted” figure of 1.2 percent. That would have to be construed by anyone acquainted with basic econ stats as perfectly dismal. And yet the Bureau of Labor Statistics put out a sparkly Nonfarm Payroll Report of 255,000 for July, way above the forecast 180,000. There were so many ways to game the jobs number — between people forced to work more than one shit job and the notorious “birth/death model” used to just make up any old number for political purposes — that no one can take this information seriously.

Anyway, the GDP number was instantly forgotten and the jobs number launched the stock markets to previously uncharted record altitude. It’s that time of the year for the hedge fund boys, with their testosterone flowing, to start burning down their house rentals in the Hamptons. And it’s also the time of year for an ever more stressed financial system to go down in flames. And, of course, it’s a presidential election season. Even for one allergic to conspiracy theories, it’s not farfetched to imagine a coordinated effort by central banks — under government direction — to generate Money-Out-Of-Thin-Air (QE) for the purpose of allowing “liquidity” flows to end up in US equity and bond markets in order to paint a false picture of “recovery” so as to insure the election of Hillary Clinton.

I think that is exactly behind the recent money-printing activities by the Japanese and European Central Banks, and the Bank of England. Why would it end up in US markets? For bonds, because the Euro and Japanese bond sovereign yields are in sub-zero territory and the BOE just cut its prime rate lower than the US Federal Reserve’s prime rate; and for stocks, because the value of the other three currencies is sliding down and the dollar has been rising — so, dump your falling currency for the rising dollar and jam it into rising US stocks. It’ll work until it doesn’t.

Why do this for Hillary? Because she represents the continuity of all the current rackets being used to prop up belief in the foundering business model of western civilization. If she doesn’t get into the White House there may be no backstopping of the insolvent banks and bankrupt governments and a TILT message will appear in the sky.

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Australia is a private debt disaster. Public debt is much less important.

Sleeping Bear Of Debt Set To Wake (Herald Sun)

The great sleeping bear of Australia’s economic future – of your economic future – is the current account deficit and our foreign debt. They have completely disappeared from the front page – indeed, even from the business pages. Nobody seems to mention them. But they most certainly haven’t disappeared in reality. And in reality, they’ve never been bigger. The deficit, the CAD, in the latest March quarter was more than $20 billion. It will top $80 billion for the full 2015-16 year. The net foreign debt sits at a tad more than $1 trillion. To give you a sense of the scale, that’s more than half the size of the Australian economy; more than double the total of all federal tax revenues in a year.

The CAD is the difference between what we earn from exports and from our international investments each year and what we pay for imports and to foreign investors in Australia. That last bit includes the interest we pay on our existing foreign debt. And the deficit each year is mostly covered by borrowing more from foreigners. In recent years, the biggest borrowers have been our banks. So we have this merry-go-round. The bigger the foreign debt, the bigger the deficit tends to be because of the interest paid on the debt. Then, the bigger the deficit, the bigger the foreign debt gets. Sound familiar? Because it’s exactly the same as the merry-go-round with the Budget deficit and the national debt. The deficit increases the national debt; and the interest on the debt increases the next year’s deficit; and that deficit further increases the debt.

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“..as a society, are we really prepared to let our children grow up this way?”

One-Third Of New Zealand Children Live Below The Poverty Line (G.)

One-third of New Zealand children, or 300,000, now live below the poverty line – 45,000 more than a year ago. Unicef’s definition of child poverty in New Zealand is children living in households who earn less than 60% of the median national income – NZ$28,000 a year, or NZ$550 a week. The fact that twice as many children now live below the poverty line than did in 1984 has become New Zealand’s most shameful statistic. “We have normalised child poverty as a society – that a certain level of need in a certain part of the population is somehow OK,” said Vivien Maidaborn, executive director of Unicef New Zealand. “The empathy Kiwis are famous for has hardened. Over the last 20 years we have increasingly blamed the people needing help for the problem.

“If you can’t afford your children to have breakfast, you’re a bad budgeter. If you aren’t working you’re lazy. But our subconscious beliefs about some people ‘deserving’ poverty because of poor life choices no longer apply in today’s environment. We have to ask ourselves as a society, are we really prepared to let our children grow up this way?” For a third of New Zealand children the Kiwi dream of home ownership, stable employment and education is just that – a dream. For poor children in the developed South Pacific nation of 4.5 million illnesses associated with chronic poverty are common, including third world rates of rheumatic fever (virtually unknown by doctors in comparable countries like Canada and the UK), and respiratory illnesses.

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May 132016
 
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Jack Delano AT&SF Railroad locomotive shops, San Bernardino, CA 1943

Iron Ore Goes From Boom To Bust In Just Three Weeks (BBG)
With $100 Billion In Debt, Glencore Emerges As The Next Lehman (ZH)
China Bubble Set To Rock Global Markets (CNBC)
The Biggest Source Of Global Growth In 2016 Is About To Hit A Brick Wall (ZH)
Middle Class Shrinks In 9 Of 10 American Cities As Incomes Fall (AP)
Congressman X: ‘Screw The Next Generation’ (DM)
Nassim Taleb Compares Monetary Policy to Novocaine (BBG)
Yellen Says Won’t Completely Rule Out Negative Rates (R.)
Dear Homeowner, What Exactly Do You “Own”? (CH Smith)
IMF Under Pressure From Germany Over Greece (WSJ)
The German Current Account Surplus Requires Deficits Elsewhere (Harrison)
Ideas For Reducing The Debt Burden (Economist)
‘Death Awaits’: Africa Faces Worst Drought in Half a Century (Spiegel)
Europol To Send Experts To Greek Islands To ‘Identify Terrorists’ (Kath.)
EU Mission ‘Failing’ To Disrupt Mediterranean People-Smugglers (BBC)

So predictable one must wonder what Xi was/is thinking. A lot of money is being lost in China, and much of it by mom and pop. They’re not going to like it.

Iron Ore Goes From Boom To Bust In Just Three Weeks (BBG)

Don’t say there wasn’t any warning. Iron ore’s gone from boom to bust in the space of just three weeks, fulfilling predictions for a slump in prices that were jacked up to unsustainable levels by a short-lived speculative frenzy in China. The SGX AsiaClear contract for June settlement in Singapore sank as much as 3.5% to $48.64 a metric ton in Singapore [..] It’s collapsed 12% this week, the most since December, after losing 11% the week before. In Dalian, iron ore futures plunged on Friday to the lowest since February as steel in Shanghai headed for the biggest weekly loss on record.

Iron ore and steel are buckling once again after widespread predictions that the trading frenzy in China that had propelled prices upward in April wouldn’t endure as regulators clamped down and the rallies themselves induced higher production. Iron ore stockpiles at ports in China have expanded to near 100 million tons, while mills produced more steel than ever in March. Lower steel prices erode mills’ margins, cutting their ability to restock on iron ore, according to China Merchants Futures. “As steel profits have dropped sharply recently, the desire to replenish iron ore stocks is not strong,” said Zhao Chaoyue, an analyst at China Merchants, said in a note on Friday. “Supplies of steel are recovering as demand weakens. Steel prices remain vulnerable.”

Among those that foresaw a retracement, Goldman Sachs said on April 22 that iron ore’s rally was unsustainable, and a tight steel market in China was a “temporary distraction” from fundamentals. Days later, Fitch said the surge in steel prices wouldn’t last. And at the end of last month, Brazil’s Itau Unibanco said iron would soon drop by $10, describing the speculation as a short-term issue. Spot iron ore with 62% content delivered to Qingdao fell 0.9% to $55.05 a dry ton on Thursday, according to Metal Bulletin. Prices have sunk 22% since they peaked at more than $70 last month.

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China’s commodity casino starts to spread its losses…

With $100 Billion In Debt, Glencore Emerges As The Next Lehman (ZH)

One week ago, in a valiant attempt to defend the stock price of struggling commodity trading titan Glencore, one of the company’s biggest cheerleaders, Sanford Bernstein’s analyst Paul Gait (who has a GLEN price target of 450p) appeared on CNBC in what promptly devolved into a great example of just how confused equity analysts are when it comes to analyzing highly complex debt-laden balance sheets. In the clip below, starting about 2:30 in, CNBC’s Brian Sullivan gets into a heated spat with Gait over precisely how much debt Glencore really has, with one saying $45 billion the other claiming it is a whopping $100 billion. The reason for Gait’s confusion is that he simplistically looked at the net debt reported on Glencore’s books… just as Ivan Glasenberg intended.

However, since Glencore – like Lehman – is first and foremost a trading operation, one also has to add in all the stated derivative exposure (something we did ten days ago), in addition to all the unfunded liabilities, off balance sheet debt, bank commitments and so forth, to get a true representation of just how big, or rather massive, Glencore’s true risk is to its countless counterparties. Conveniently for the likes of equity analysts such as Gait and countless others who still have GLEN stock at a “buy” rating, Bank of America has done an extensive analysis breaking down Glencore’s true gross exposure. Here is the punchline:

“We consider different approaches to Glencore’s debt. Credit agencies, such as S&P, start with “normal” net debt, i.e. gross debt less cash and then deduct some share (80% in the case of S&P of “RMIs” – Readily Marketable Inventories. These are considered to be “cash like” inventories (working capital) in the marketing business. At the last results, RMIs were about US$17.7 bn. Giving full credit for RMIs plus a pro-forma for the equity raise and interim dividend we derive a “Glencore Adjusted Net Debt” of c. US$28 bn.

On the other hand, from discussions with our banks team, we believe the banks industry (and ultimately regulators) may look at the number i.e. gross lines available (even if undrawn) + letters of credit with no credit for inventories held. On this basis, we estimate gross exposure (bonds, revolver, secured lending, letters of credit) at c. $100 bn. With bonds at around $36 bn, this would still leave $64 bn to the banks’ account (assuming they don’t own bonds).”

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Never listen to people predicting black swans.

China Bubble Set To Rock Global Markets (CNBC)

For the moment, the following is the shock NOT heard ’round the world … at least not yet. Rampant speculation in China’s commodities markets could very well be the next “black swan” event that rocks global markets and possibly the global economy. Though very little attention has been paid to this recent action, speculative excesses in China’s commodity markets have taken traders and investors on a wild ride, which may likely soon spill over to the rest of the world. Trading volumes and volatility have been so extreme they make the recent swings in Shanghai and Shenzhen’s stock markets look mild by comparison. Chinese speculators have driven up, and then down, the prices of everything from iron ore to steel, and from soybeans to egg futures.

Prices in most of these commodities have fallen back to earth after massive, but relatively brief, spikes in prices. But, that’s not to say more damage hasn’t been done to China’s already fragile market system and economy. One truly astonishing feature of this bout of speculation is that the average holding period of a commodity futures contract was just three hours in April, according to Bloomberg. That makes other speculative trading episodes look like long-term investing. It also suggests a massive appetite for risk, which in and of itself, is potentially destabilizing, both in China and, by extension, elsewhere in the world. Why do we care? Well, first of all, the recent rebound in commodity prices, here at home, and the affiliated rebound in raw materials stocks, could have been driven, at least in part, by those very speculative excesses in China.

It also means that the rebound in inflation expectations could be a false signal, which on its face, reads as an indicator of a rebound in demand for raw materials, or a sign that the global economy could be stabilizing and re-accelerating. That’s the type of false signal that could convince the Fed that inflation is accelerating, causing them to mistakenly raise rates. While that hasn’t happened yet, it is a risk that bears watching. The “fake-out breakout” also could have suggested that supply of, and demand for, raw materials is coming back into balance in a world burdened by a commodity glut. That, too, appears to be have been a diversion. There is still more cotton, more copper, more steel and more soybeans than the world demands. The market-based signaling matrix appears to be broken thanks to this bout of speculative excess.

This is the Wild Wild East of markets these days. After speculating excessively in real estate a few years ago, in stocks last year, driven by heavy margin buying and then a crash, Chinese investors and traders have quickly moved on to commodities. These rolling bubbles are making the Chinese economy more and more unstable and more susceptible to a much-feared “hard landing” in the economy. That has implications for the Mild Mild West, where growth has been hard to come by and could be upended by another deceleration in Chinese economic activity.

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Yup. China again.

The Biggest Source Of Global Growth In 2016 Is About To Hit A Brick Wall (ZH)

After issuing a record $1 trillion in combined bank and shadow loans in the first quarter which just like during the financial crisis provided a short-term boost to global growth (while sending China’s debt/GDP to all time highs), China’s dramatic debt issuance binge is about to hit a brick wall. According to MarketNews, Chinese bank loan growth is expected to slow sharply in April compared with March as the pillar of bank lending, mortgage loans, slowed as the property market cooled. Citing bank officials, the news service said that robust first-quarter lending almost depleted their resources, making it difficult to find good targets to lend to, which also hurt loan growth. It also means that suddenly the credit impulse that drove both Chinese and global growth for the past two months is about to evaporate.

How big is the drop? Sources familiar with the loan number told MNI that combined new loans in April by the Big Four state-owned banks were more than halved from March’s level. As a reminder, the Big Four banks lent out CNY402 billion in March, according to the People’s Bank of China. While there is no preview of how bit (or small) the combined TSF number will be, it is safe to assume it will be a far smaller total than the CNY2.34 trillion in total social financing that flooded the Chinese economy in March. The slowdown mainly came from moderating mortgage growth, which has been the key driving force behind loan growth so far this year. In the city of Shanghai, mortgage loans hit a record high of CNY36.1 billion in March, beating the previous record of CNY34.6 billion set in January, according to PBOC data.

The PBOC said the country’s total outstanding mortgage loan was up 25.5% y/y at the end of March, much faster than the 14.7% of average outstanding loan growth. But that mortgage strength in the first quarter failed to continue into April as property sales growth slowed sharply on government tightening measures. According to Essence Securities, new residential house sales in tier one cities, namely Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, fell 21.2% on month in April and only edged up 0.5% from a year ago, including a 38.6% m/m and 30.8% y/y plunge in the city of Shenzhen, which leads the current round of property rebound. But if April was bad, May was a disaster: “it appears the situation is even worse into May. Shenzhen saw house sales in the first week of May plummet another 49% when compared with the previous week, dragging year-to-date sales into a 1% drop in terms of floor space.”

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More on the Rew report. It warrants attention, lots of it. It paints the real picture of America. And that’s with Pew’s perhaps somewhat distorting definition of ‘middle class’, which includes 3-person households with incomes of up to $125,000. This may be statistically correct if you try hard enough, but an awful lot of people living on $40,000 or less will not agree.

Middle Class Shrinks In 9 Of 10 American Cities As Incomes Fall (AP)

In cities across America, the middle class is hollowing out. A widening wealth gap is moving more households into either higher- or lower-income groups in major metro areas, with fewer remaining in the middle, according to a report released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center. In nearly one-quarter of metro areas, middle-class adults no longer make up a majority, the Pew analysis found. That’s up from fewer than 10% of metro areas in 2000. That sharp shift reflects a broader erosion that occurred from 2000 through 2014. Over that time, the middle class shrank in nine of every 10 metro areas, Pew found. The squeezing of the middle class has animated this year’s presidential campaign, lifting the insurgent candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Many experts warn that widening income inequality may slow economic growth and make social mobility more difficult. Research has found that compared with children in more economically mixed communities, children raised in predominantly lower-income neighborhoods are less likely to reach the middle class. Pew defines the middle class as households with incomes between two-thirds of the median and twice the median, adjusted for household size and the local cost of living. The median is midway between richest and poorest. It can better capture broad trends than an average, which can be distorted by heavy concentrations at the top or bottom of the income scale.

By Pew’s definition, a three-person household was middle class in 2014 if its annual income fell between $42,000 and $125,000. Middle class adults now make up less than half the population in such cities as New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Houston. “The shrinking of the American middle class is a pervasive phenomenon,” said Rakesh Kochhar, associate research director for Pew and the lead author of the report. “It has increased the polarization in incomes.”

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‘We spend money we don’t have and blithely mortgage the future with a wink and a nod. Screw the next generation..’ [..] ‘Nobody here gives a rat’s a** about the future and who’s going to pay for all this stuff we vote for. That’s the next generation’s problem. It’s all about immediate publicity, getting credit now, lookin’ good for the upcoming election.’

Congressman X: ‘Screw The Next Generation’ (DM)

A new book threatens to blow the lid off of Congress as a federal legislator’s tell-all book lays out the worst parts of serving in the House of Representatives – saying that his main job is to raise money for re-election and that leaves little time for reading the bills he votes on. Mill City Press, a small Minnesota-based ‘vanity press’ publisher describes ‘The Confessions of Congressman X’ as ‘a devastating inside look at the dark side of Congress as revealed by one of its own.’ ‘No wonder Congressman X wants to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. His admissions are deeply disturbing.’ The 84-page exposé is due in bookstores in two weeks, and Washington is abuzz with speculation about who may be behind it.

The book, a copy of which DailyMail.com has seen, discloses that the congressman is a Democrat – but not much else. The anonymous spleen-venter has had a lot to say about his constituents, however. Robert Atkinson, a former chief of staff and press secretary for two congressional Democrats, took notes on a series of informal talks with him – whoever he is – and is now publishing them with his permission. ‘Voters claim they want substance and detailed position papers, but what they really crave are cutesy cat videos, celebrity gossip, top 10 lists, reality TV shows, tabloid tripe, and the next f***ing Twitter message,’ the congressman gripes in the book. ‘I worry about our country’s future when critical issues take a backseat to the inane utterings of illiterate athletes and celebrity twits.’

Much of what’s in the book will come as little surprise to Americans who are cynical about the political process. ‘Fundraising is so time-consuming I seldom read any bills I vote on,’ the anonymous legislator admits. ‘I don’t even know how they’ll be implemented or what they’ll cost.’ ‘My staff gives me a last-minute briefing before I go to the floor and tells me whether to vote yea or nay. How bad is that?’ And on controversial bills, he says, ‘I sometimes vote “yes” on a motion and “no” on an amendment so I can claim I’m on either side of an issue.’ ‘It’s the old shell game: if you can’t convince ’em, confuse ’em.’

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“There is no evidence that 0% is better than 3%. Show me the evidence.”

Nassim Taleb Compares Monetary Policy to Novocaine (BBG)

Nassim Taleb, distinguished scientific advisor at Universa Investments and New York University professor of risk engineering, discusses monetary policy. He speaks with Erik Schatzker from the SALT Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada on “Bloomberg Markets.”

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As Taleb says in the video above, Yellen is a very smart person but one who’s only recently found out that she’s stuck.

Yellen Says Won’t Completely Rule Out Negative Rates (R.)

Fed Chair Janet Yellen said on Thursday that while she “would not completely rule out the use of negative interest rates in some future very adverse scenario,” the tool would need a lot more study before it could be used in the United States. Yellen, in responses to written questions from U.S. Congressman Brad Sherman following her February testimony on Capitol Hill, said the Fed plans to raise interest rates gradually, given its expectations that the economy will continue to strengthen and inflation will move back up to the Fed’s 2% goal. She also said that if the economy unexpectedly takes a turn for the worse, the Fed will adjust its stance. Central banks in Europe and Japan have used negative interest rates to try to stimulate their economies, and Yellen said the Fed is attempting to learn as much as it can from their experiences. Before using negative rates at home, she said, policymakers would need to consider a number of issues, “including the potential for unintended consequences.”

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Charles revisits a theme Nicole and I talked a lot about in the past: “.. in effect, anyone “owning” a home with high property taxes is leasing the property from the local government for the “right” to gamble that a new housing bubble is underway.” As Nicole puts it: “..renting is paying somone else to carry the risk of owning..”.

Dear Homeowner, What Exactly Do You “Own”? (CH Smith)

We’re constantly told ours is an ownership society in which owning a home is the foundation of household wealth. The concept of ownership may appear straightforward, but consider these questions: 1. If the house is mortgaged, what does the homeowner “own” when the bank has the senior claim to the property? 2. If the homeowner owes local government $13,000 a year in property taxes, what does the homeowner “own” once they pay $260,000 in property taxes over 20 years? The answer to the first question: the homeowner only “owns” the homeowners’ equity, the market value of the home minus the the mortgage and closing costs. In a housing bubble, homeowners’ equity can soar as the skyrocketing value accrues to the homeowner, as the mortgage is fixed (in conventional mortgages). But when bubbles pop and housing prices return to reality-based valuations, the declines also accrue to the homeowner’s equity.

If the price declines below the mortgage due the lender, the homeowners’ equity vanishes and the property is underwater. The property may still be worth (say) $400,000, but if the mortgage(s) total $400,000, the owner owns nothing but the promise to pay the mortgage and property taxes and the right to claim a tax deduction for the mortgage interest paid. To answer the second question, let’s consider an example. In areas with high property taxes (California, New Jersey, New York, Illinois, etc.), annual bills in excess of $10,000 annually are not uncommon. If we take $13,000 annually as a typical total property tax in these areas (property taxes can include school taxes, library taxes, and a host of special assessments on top of the “official” base rate), the homeowner “owns” the obligation to pay local tax authorities $130,000 per decade for the right to “own” the house.

In states without Prop 13-type limits on how much property taxes can be raised, there is no guarantee that property taxes won’t jump higher in a decade, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s assume the rate is unchanged. In 20 years of ownership, the homeowner will pay $260,000 in property taxes.Let’s compare that with the rise in their homeowners’ equity. Since home values are high in high-tax regions, let’s assume a $400,000 purchase price with an $80,000 down payment and a conventional 4% 30 year mortgage of $320,000. In 20 years of mortgage and tax payments, the homeowners paid about $197,500 in interest to the bank (deductible from their income taxes), and about $170,000 in mortgage principle, leaving them total homeowner’s equity of the $80,000 down payment and the $170,000 in principle, or a total of $250,000. Since they paid $260,000 in property taxes in the period, have they gained anything?

If we look at the property as merely leased from the local government for the annual fee of $13,000, then was “ownership” a good deal for the local government or for the homeowner? If the homeowner subtracts the lease fee (i.e. property taxes) from their equity, they are underwater by $10,000. The real estate industry answer is that “ownership” is great because the skyrocketing appreciation accrues to the homeowner. If the house doubles in value from $400,000 to $800,000 in a decade, who cares about the $130,000 in property taxes paid? If we subtract this $130,000 lease fee, the homeowner would still pocket a hefty profit: $800,000 sales price minus the $400,000 purchase price, the $130,000 in property taxes, the costs of 10 years of maintaining the home and the selling commission and closing fees. So in effect, anyone “owning” a home with high property taxes is leasing the property from the local government for the “right” to gamble that a new housing bubble is underway.

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Greece has a major payment to the ECB coming in July. Something will be found, but it will not be advantageous to Athens.

IMF Under Pressure From Germany Over Greece (WSJ)

In Europe’s battle with the IMF over Greece, Germany has a way to win. Germany, Europe’s dominant economic power, is leaning heavily on the IMF to accept hypothetical assurances that Greece’s debt burden will be addressed in the future if needed, rather than the definite and far-reaching debt relief that the IMF wanted, according to people familiar with the talks. Berlin believes the IMF will have to accept what’s on offer, even if IMF staff are unhappy about it, these people say. The IMF is also under heavy European pressure to accept Greek austerity policies that are less specific than the cuts the IMF wanted. An accord hasn’t been reached yet, and some warn it could take several weeks. The IMF’s Achilles’ heel: Its board is controlled by Germany, other European Union countries, and the U.S., none of whom want a new crisis over Greece.

That power reality weakens the IMF’s threat to pull out of the Greek bailout if it is unsatisfied. The EU currently faces multiple challenges that threaten to unravel the 60-year-old project of European integration, including the U.K.’s referendum on leaving the bloc, the migration crisis, and the rise of EU-skeptic populist parties. Germany and other European governments have no appetite for another round of brinkmanship over Greece like in 2015, and want a deal in coming weeks that settles Greece’s future—at least for now. Any deal is nevertheless likely to include some important concessions to the IMF. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble -who until recently adopted the hard-line stance in public that Greece needs no debt relief at all- has already permitted discussions to start this week about how eurozone loans to Greece might be restructured in the future.

A deal, which many European officials are now confident of reaching in late May or early June, is expected to include a promise by Germany and other eurozone countries to keep Greece’s debt burden below a certain threshold. That promise would entail easing the terms of Greece’s loans “if necessary.” Crucially for Berlin, however, any decision to restructure the loans would be delayed until 2018—after Germany’s 2017 elections. Mr. Schäuble and his boss, Chancellor Angela Merkel, are determined to avoid, for now, any material change to Greece’s bailout plan that would force them to hold an awkward debate in Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, according to people familiar with their thinking.

An accord on Greek debt and austerity would allow Athens to stay afloat this summer, when large bonds fall due. But it is unlikely to resolve the country’s seven-year-old debt crisis. Participants in the troubled bailout are braced for further drawn-out negotiations in coming years about Greece’s fiscal and other overhauls. The main source of this year’s re-escalation of the Greek debt saga is Germany’s insistence that it cannot release any further bailout funds unless the IMF agrees to resume its own lending to Athens. IMF lending has been in limbo since last July, when IMF staff stated that “Greece’s public debt has become highly unsustainable.”

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One day perhaps more people will start to understand this. Germany is blowing up the eurozone. And the EU. The Q1 2016 growth announced today more than doubled, and that just makes it that much worse.

The German Current Account Surplus Requires Deficits Elsewhere (Harrison)

With the periphery’s downturn came austerity and internal devaluation. And this has meant two adjustments. First, the EU as a whole has moved from a roughly balanced external position to a net creditor position as the German and Dutch export-led model is forced onto the periphery via internal devaluation used to achieve export competitiveness. Second, the Germans and Dutch have been forced to turn elsewhere to maintain their mercantilist trading stance. And they have found willing buyers in Asia and the emerging markets writ large.

The thing to realize about multilateral trade is that the imbalances do not necessarily build up as bilateral imbalances between two countries. Rather, imbalances build multilaterally, with some countries – particularly the reserve-currency holding US – taking on the net debtor position. And we see that now, with the UK showing record trade deficits at the same time Germany is sporting huge surpluses. The IMF faults Germany for the surplus. Martin Wolf faults Germany for this too. Irrespective, there is no mechanism in the current global currency system to correct these imbalances except through balance of payments crisis and the rise of protectionist populist politicians.

And so my conclusion here is that these imbalances will only shift in a crisis – like the one we experienced within the eurozone. Except next time, the crisis will be global. It would be nice to think that world leaders would understand that dangerous imbalances are building that feed a populist and violent political response. Alas, there is no indication that the Germans or any other net surplus country gets this. And while the Swiss and the Dutch are small trading nations, Germany is a global behemoth. Like China, it will attract negative attention when the economy turns down. And the Germans will get the blame when the trade barriers go up. Right now, it seems only a matter of when not if.

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In which the Economist is found short of ideas.

Ideas For Reducing The Debt Burden (Economist)

DEBT levels grew spectacularly in the rich world from 1982 to 2007. When the financial crisis broke, worries about the ability of borrowers to repay or refinance that debt caused the biggest economic downturn since the 1930s. It could have been worse. The danger was that, as private-sector borrowers scrambled to reduce their debts, the resulting contraction in credit would drive the world into depression. Fortunately, this outcome was averted. First, the governments of rich countries allowed their debts to rise, offsetting the reduction in private debt. In addition, emerging markets (notably China) continued to borrow. So there was no global deleveraging; quite the reverse. Central banks also helped, slashing interest rates to zero and below.

Although lower policy rates have not always resulted in cheaper borrowing costs (in Greece, for example), debt-servicing costs have fallen in most developed countries. Although this approach has staved off disaster, it has not got rid of the problem, as a research note from Manoj Pradhan, an economist at Morgan Stanley, makes clear. “High debt forces interest rates to stay low, which encourages yet more debt,” Mr Pradhan writes. Central banks dare not push interest rates up too quickly for fear of causing another crisis; hence the stop-start nature of the Federal Reserve’s statements on monetary policy. The developed world seems stuck with sluggish growth and low rates. In health terms, the disease is chronic, not acute.

A lurch into another global crisis, Mr Pradhan reckons, would require three ingredients. First, the assets financed by the debt build-up would need to fall sharply in price or prove uneconomic. Second, the debtors would have to be concentrated in big, globalised economies. Lastly, global investors would have to be heavily exposed to the debt in question. All this was the case in 2007-08, as debt secured by American housing turned bad, raising doubts about the health of the Western banking system. This time round the debtors are in different places. Some of them are emerging-market governments and commodity producers. But, except for China, none of these is crucial to the world economy. And China’s debts are mainly in domestic hands, rather than widely dispersed in the portfolios of international banks, pension funds and insurance companies.

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“..more than 50 million people in Africa are acutely threatened by famine..”

‘Death Awaits’: Africa Faces Worst Drought in Half a Century (Spiegel)

Herdsman Ighale Utban used to be a relatively prosperous man. Three years ago, he owned around a hundred goats. Now, though, all but five of them have died of thirst at a dried-up watering hole, victims of the worst drought seen in Ethiopia and large parts of Africa in a half-century. Utban, a wiry man of 36 years, belongs to a nomadic people known as the Afar, who spend their lives wandering through the eponymously named state in northeastern Ethiopia. “This is the worst time I’ve experienced in my life,” he says. On some days, he doesn’t know how to provide for himself and his seven-member family. “We can no longer wander,” Utban says, “because death awaits out there.” For now, he’ll have to remain in Lii, a scattered little settlement in which several families have erected their makeshift huts. Lii means “scorching hot earth.”

Since time immemorial, shepherds have wandered with their animals through the endless expanses of the Danakil desert. They live primarily off of meat and milk, and it was always a meagre existence. But with the current drought, which has lasted for over a year, their very existence is threatened. “First the livestock die, then the people,” Utban says. The American relief organization USAID estimates that in Afar alone, over a half million cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys and camels have perished. Reservoirs are empty, pastures dried up, feed reserves nearly exhausted. With no rain, grass no longer grows. Many nomads are selling their emaciated livestock, but oversupply has led to a 50% decline in prices. Currently, millions of African farmers and herders are suffering similar fates to Utban’s. The UN estimates that more than 50 million people in Africa are acutely threatened by famine.

After years of hope for increased growth and prosperity, the people are once again suffering from poverty and malnutrition. The governments of Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Swaziland have already declared states of emergency, and massive crop losses have caused food prices to explode in South Africa. Particularly hard stricken are the countries in the southern part of the continent as well as around the Horn of Africa, Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea and especially Ethiopia. Meteorologists believe the natural disaster is linked to a climate phenomenon that returns once every two to seven years known as El Niño, or the Christ child, a disruption of the normal sea and air currents that wreaks havoc on global weather patterns. The El Niño experienced in 2015-2016 has been particularly strong.

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Summing it up. Europe doesn’t send help to relieve the conditions refugees live in. They send policemen instead. 200 of them.

Europol To Send Experts To Greek Islands To ‘Identify Terrorists’ (Kath.)

Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, is soon to deploy 200 officers to refugee centers on the Greek islands and mainland to help identify potential terrorists. The officers, specially trained experts in immigration and terrorism, will not be in charge of border protection but will examine individuals deemed to be suspicious. After several weeks of reduced inflows of migrants from neighboring Turkey, Thursday saw an increase in arrivals with 130 people arriving on Greek shores in one day, amid growing concerns about the fate of an agreement between Turkey and the European Union to curb migration.

The total number of migrants in Greece on Thursday stood at 54,542, according to the spokesman for the government’s coordinating committee for refugees, Giorgos Kyritsis. Of this total, nearly 10,000 are living in squalid conditions at a makeshift camp near the village of Idomeni close to the border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Kyritsis said the Idomeni camp would be evacuated but did not specify when. The situation at the camp is tense and local residents are running out of patience, with the head of the Idomeni community on Wednesday lodging a legal suit against Citizens’ Protection Minister Nikos Toskas for a “complete absence of state control” at the camp.

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Oh my, what a surprise.

EU Mission ‘Failing’ To Disrupt Mediterranean People-Smugglers (BBC)

The EU naval mission to tackle people smuggling in the central Mediterranean is failing to achieve its aims, a British parliamentary committee says. In a report, the House of Lords EU Committee says Operation Sophia does not “in any meaningful way” disrupt smugglers’ boats. The destruction of wooden boats has forced the smugglers to use rubber dinghies, putting migrants at even greater risk, the document says. Operation Sophia began in 2015. It was set up in the wake of a series of disasters in which hundreds of migrants died while trying to cross from Libya to Italy. The EU authorised its vessels to board, search, seize and divert vessels suspected of being used for people smuggling.

The report states that “the arrests made to date have been of low-level targets, while the destruction of vessels has simply caused the smugglers to shift from using wooden boats to rubber dinghies, which are even more unsafe”. It says that there are also “significant limits to the intelligence that can be collected about onshore smuggling networks from the high seas. “There is therefore little prospect of Operation Sophia overturning the business model of people smuggling,” the document concludes. It adds that the mission is still operating out in international waters, and not – as originally intended – in Libyan waters.

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 May 11, 2016  Posted by at 7:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Jack Delano Engineer at AT&SF railroad yard, Clovis, NM 1943

‘Miracle’ Needed To Save The World, Because Central Banks Can’t (SMH)
“Anonymous Voice” Signals Big Policy Change In China (ZH)
The Triggers For A New Financial Crisis (Das)
US: Neglected Nation (FT)
Big Oil Abandons $2.5 Billion in US Arctic Drilling Rights (BBG)
Germany Posts Record Current-Account Surplus (BBG)
Germany is the Eurozone’s Biggest Problem (Wolf)
London Is Building More Offices Than Ever (BBG)
NATO Is Much Worse Than A Cold War Relic (FFF.Org)
Greece Faces Its Toughest Austerity Measures Yet (G.)

Make it easier to pay off debt and we’ll all go deeper into debt.

‘Miracle’ Needed To Save The World, Because Central Banks Can’t (SMH)

The Bank of Japan and the ECB are printing billions in a “useless” attempt at stimulating demand as a “crisis of confidence” erupts over central banks and their diminishing influence. And for the same reason, the Reserve Bank of Australia may find itself powerless in trying to defeat low inflation by cutting interest rates to fresh record lows. That is the view of Vimal Gor, who is head of income and fixed interest at BT Investment Management. Mr Gor is the latest expert to question the wisdom of RBA rate cuts. “The theory says yes, but in practice it’s unclear as RBA monetary policy has no influence over commodity prices or overcapacity in Chinese and Japanese markets. This takes us back to the question of central bank credibility in being able to deliver on their objectives,” he said.

“Take negative rates any further and central banks risk putting the financial system at risk.” Inflation expectations implied by long-dated inflation swaps suggest markets are not convinced that central banks can lift prices through easy policy settings. “It is clear markets are giving up on central banks to fulfil their mandate in the inflation fighting arena.” Helicopter money, which Mr Gor agrees is a “ridiculous” idea, might be tested, but there is another idea worth exploring. “The other option is to abandon the inflation targeting mantra which has been pervasive over the last 25 years,” he says. Instead, central banks could come up with “a per capita measure of economic activity”. This would limit the pressure to keep lowering interest rates.

“The reality remains that the world is overwhelmed with debt, so that would suggest that we would need to have low rates to make repayment easier, and to discourage saving. “Ironically low rates spur further adoption of debt because of asset prices that are shooting skywards, and actually encourage more saving because income levels from the existing savings pile are too small to live on.”

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Xi doesn’t have the guts to come out and say it.

“Anonymous Voice” Signals Big Policy Change In China (ZH)

Overnight the People’s Daily published an interview with “anonymous authorities” on the topic of China’s economy. It’s a very important article as the “anonymous authorities” is considered to be Mr. Liu He, who is the economy brain of President Xi Jinping. The interview sends strong signals that China policy will shift from its aggressive easing in Q1 to a conservative position which focus on structural reforms. People’s Daily also published the “anonymous authorities” interviews in May 2015 and Jan 2016, which led to the subsequent collapse in the China A share market, because Mr. Liu (and President Xi’s camp) has been promoting structure reforms and risk controls.

For a credit driven China economy and the associated highly leveraged equities/commodities/properties markets, these’re the bad news. The A share market and China domestic commodities market had a big fall last night. Many overseas investors may think last night’s chaos is driven by the weak April import/export data announced during the weekend. I can tell you that it’s not. The local Chinese take the “anonymous authorities” article seriously and his opinion will have much deeper impact for China in the coming quarters. In general, the interview denied the “demand driven” stimulus policy adopted by China in Q1. Like other governments in the world, the CCP party and Chinese government have different sub-parties internally holding different views of the economy.

They believe their own claims are the best for China and advocate their ideas when the reality cling to them. For example, when the economy is really bad, the pro-growth camp will have upper hands and is able to push for their demand driven policies. That’s why we see China swings between structural reform and demand stimulus in the last two years. China pumped $1tn credit in Q1 to stop the falling knife, and this really cross the line of structural reform camp, so that’s why we see the article comes out right now. As the Politburo economy meeting just finished in the end of April, I believe the article delivers the consensus message agreed in the meeting.

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One overriding trigger: debt.

The Triggers For A New Financial Crisis (Das)

There are a number of potential triggers to a new crisis. The first potential trigger may be equity prices. The US stock market runs into trouble. A stronger dollar affects US exports and foreign earnings. Emerging market weakness affects businesses in the technology, aerospace, automobile, consumer products and luxury product industries. Currency devaluations combined with excess capacity, driven by debt fuelled over-investment in China, maintain deflationary pressures reducing pricing power. Lower oil prices reduce earnings, cash flow and asset values of energy producers. Overinflated technology and bio-tech stocks disappoint. Earnings and liquidity pressures reduce merger activity and stock buybacks which have supported equity values. US equity weakness flows into global equity markets.

The second potential trigger may be debt markets. Heavily indebted energy companies and emerging market borrowers face increased risk of financial distress. According to the Bank of International Settlements, total borrowing by the global oil and gas industry reached US$2.5 trillion in 2014, up 250% from US$1 trillion in 2008. The initial stress will be focused in the US shale oil and gas industry which is highly levered with borrowings that are over three times gross operating profits. Many firms were cash flow negative even when prices were high, needing to constantly raise capital to sink new wells to maintain production. If the firms have difficulty meeting existing commitments, then decreased available funding and higher costs will create a toxic negative spiral.

A number of large emerging market borrowers, such as Brazil’s Petrobras, Mexico’s Pemex and Russia’s Gazprom and Rosneft, are also vulnerable. These companies increased leverage in recent years, in part due to low interest rates to finance significant operational expansion on the assumption of high oil prices. These borrowers have, in recent years, used capital markets rather than bank loans to raise funds, cashing in on demand from yield hungry investors. Since 2009, Petrobras, Pemex and Gazprom (along with its eponymous bank) have issued US$140 billion in debt. Petrobras alone has US$170 billion in outstanding debt. Russian companies such as Gazprom, Rosneft and major banks have sold US$244 billion of bonds. The risk of contagion is high as institutional and retail bond investors worldwide are exposed.

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A nation on its way to becoming a sinkhole.

US: Neglected Nation (FT)

The American Society of Civil Engineers yesterday projected a $1.44tn investment funding gap between 2016 and 2025, warning of a mounting drag on business activity, exports and incomes. Politicians are demanding action. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, has called for a $275bn spending blitz, including the creation of an infrastructure bank, recalling past glories such as the interstate highway system and Hoover Dam. Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is bucking anti-spending dogma within the party by promising major programmes to renew infrastructure and create jobs — albeit without putting forward any detail on how to pay for them.

Without radical surgery, the decay in tunnels, railways and waterways will cost the US economy nearly $4tn in lost GDP by 2025 as costs rise and productivity is impeded, according to estimates from the ASCE, dragging on a recovery in output that is the shallowest since the end of the second world war. Faced with crimped public resources, President Barack Obama’s administration and some states have tried to fill infrastructure gaps by luring in private investment, including from public-private partnerships or P3s. A number of states and municipalities have lifted petrol taxes to pay for roads and bridges, even as the federal petrol tax that serves as the backbone of transport spending nationwide has remained frozen since 1993. Many argue that the recent fall in oil prices presented the perfect moment to raise petrol taxes.

Even in the heart of Washington, Memorial Bridge, a symbolic link between the north and the south of the US, might have to be closed to traffic early in the next decade if major repairs are not carried out. Around the country more than 61,000 bridges were deemed structurally deficient in 2014. Last year US public capital investment, which includes infrastructure, was just 3.4% of GDP, or $611bn, according to the president’s Council of Economic Advisers — the lowest in more than 60 years. In the White House, the inability to do more to improve roads, bridges and other infrastructure is seen as one of the major policy failures since the crisis. Mr Obama last month bemoaned the absence of a major infrastructure programme from 2012 to 2014, when borrowing costs were low and the construction industry was short of jobs.

The administration included so-called shovel-ready infrastructure projects in its $800bn stimulus bill after Mr Obama took office, but the spending fell short of what was needed for repairs and to galvanise the economy. Critics see it as a squandered opportunity. However, Jason Furman, chairman of the council, says Mr Obama made repeated attempts to get more money into infrastructure and was rebuffed. “Congress has been unwilling to substantially expand infrastructure investment — it is as simple as that,” he says.

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Price discovery.

Big Oil Abandons $2.5 Billion in US Arctic Drilling Rights (BBG)

After plunking down more than $2.5 billion for drilling rights in U.S. Arctic waters, Royal Dutch Shell, ConocoPhillips and other companies have quietly relinquished claims they once hoped would net the next big oil discovery. The pullout comes as crude oil prices have plummeted to less than half their June 2014 levels, forcing oil companies to cut spending. For Shell and ConocoPhillips, the decision to abandon Arctic acreage was formalized just before a May 1 due date to pay the U.S. government millions of dollars in rent to keep holdings in the Chukchi Sea north of Alaska. The U.S. Arctic is estimated to hold 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, but energy companies have struggled to tap resources buried below icy waters at the top of the globe.

Shell last year ended a nearly $8 billion, mishap-marred quest for Arctic crude after disappointing results from a test well in the Chukchi Sea. Shell decided the risk is not worth it for now, and other companies have likely come to the same conclusion, said Peter Kiernan, the lead energy analyst at The Economist Intelligence Unit. “Arctic exploration has been put back several years, given the low oil price environment, the significant cost involved in exploration and the environmental risks that it entails,” he said. All told, companies have relinquished 2.2 million acres of drilling rights in the Chukchi Sea – nearly 80% of the leases they bought from the U.S. government in a 2008 auction. Oil companies spent more than $2.6 billion snapping up 2.8 million acres in the Chukchi Sea during that sale, on top of previous purchases in the Beaufort Sea.

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Bloomberg relates this to the US, but that’s not the point. It’s what the surplus does to the rest of the EU that counts.

Germany Posts Record Current-Account Surplus (BBG)

Germany posted a record current-account surplus just days after being placed on a U.S. watchlist for countries that may have an unfair foreign-exchange advantage. The current-account gap climbed to €30.4 billion in March, up from €21.1 billion the previous month, data from the Federal Statistics Office showed on Tuesday. The nation’s trade surplus, a narrower measure that only counts imports and exports of goods and services, widened to €26 billion, also a record. The U.S. put Germany, China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan on a new currency watchlist on April 29, saying their foreign-exchange practices bear close monitoring to gauge whether they provide an unfair trade advantage over America. The economies met two of the three criteria used to judge unfair practices under a February law that seeks to enforce U.S. trade interests.

Meeting all three would trigger action by the president to enter discussions and seek potential penalties, including being cut off from some U.S. development financing and exclusion from U.S. government contracts. While Germany has no direct influence over the value of its currency, being just one member of the 19-nation euro area, it was cited because of its current-account and trade surpluses. Taiwan made the list because of its current-account surplus and persistent intervention to weaken the currency, according to the Treasury. Germany’s excess savings could be used to boost growth in the euro area, the Treasury said at the time. A report by the IMF on Monday said the current-account surplus will probably stay near record levels this year.

The euro weakened by more than 10% against the dollar in each of 2014 and 2015, though it has strengthened this year. The single currency traded at $1.1383 at 9:04 a.m. Frankfurt time. It was at almost $1.40 in mid-2014, before the European Central Bank started an unprecedented monetary-stimulus drive that includes negative interest rates and bond purchases.

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Germany and Holland prey on Europe’s poor.

Germany is the Eurozone’s Biggest Problem (Wolf)

Why is conventional German thinking on macroeconomics so peculiar? And does it matter? The answer to the second question is that it matters a great deal. A part of the answer to the first is that Germany is a creditor. The financial crisis has given it a dominant voice in eurozone affairs. This is a matter of might, not right. Creditors’ interests are important. But they are partial, not general, interests. Recent complaints have focused on the European Central Bank’s monetary policies, especially negative interest rates and quantitative easing. Wolfgang Schauble, Germany’s finance minister, even claimed that the ECB bore half of the responsibility for the rise of the Alternative for Germany, an anti-euro party. This is an extraordinary attack.

Criticism of ECB policies is wide-ranging: they make it unnecessary for recalcitrant members to reform; they have failed to reduce indebtedness; they undermine the solvency of insurance companies, pension funds and savings banks; they have barely kept inflation above zero; and they foment anger with the European project. In brief, ECB policy has become a big threat to stability. All this accords with a conventional German view. As Peter Bofinger, an heretical member of Germany’s council of economic experts argues, the tradition goes back to Walter Eucken, the influential father of postwar ordoliberalism. In this approach, ideal macroeconomics has three elements: a balanced budget at (almost) all times; price stability (with an asymmetric preference for deflation); and price flexibility.

This is a reasonable approach for a small, open economy. It is workable for a larger country, such as Germany, with highly competitive tradeable industries. But it cannot be generalised to a continental economy, such as the eurozone. What works for Germany cannot work for an economy three times as large and far more closed to external trade. Note that in the last quarter of 2015, real demand in the eurozone was 2% lower than in the first quarter of 2008, while US demand was 10% higher. This severe weakness in demand is missing from most of the German complaints. The ECB is rightly trying to prevent a spiral into deflation in an economy suffering from chronically weak demand. As Mario Draghi, ECB president, insists, the low interest rates set by the bank are not the problem. They are instead “the symptom” of insufficient investment demand.

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Following the MO of China’s ghost cities.

London Is Building More Offices Than Ever (BBG)

Developers started a record number of central-London office projects in the six months through March as they tried to capitalize on rising rents. Construction work began on 51 office buildings during the period, Deloitte LLP said in a report on Tuesday. About 14 million square feet (1.3 million square meters) of space is now under construction, 28% more than the previous six months and the highest since March 2008, according to the report. “In just 18 months, we have seen activity nearly double,” Deloitte said in the report, which it started publishing in 1996. “This is perhaps the first survey in a long time where we are able to point to the pendulum swinging away from landlords and back toward tenants.”

About 42% of the space under construction has already been leased and vacancy rates remain at a record low of less than 4%, Deloitte said. The “tight market conditions” are likely to continue for a few more years, according to Tim Leckie at JP Morgan. “There is a risk of the cycle turning first in the City from 2018 as new supply comes online,” he said in an e-mail.

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It’s war machine.

NATO Is Much Worse Than A Cold War Relic (FFF.Org)

Whatever else might be said about Donald Trump, the fact is that he has provided a valuable service in producing a national and international discussion of NATO, the old Cold War organization whose mission was to protect Western Europe from an attack from the Soviet Union, which had been America’s partner and ally during World War II. The obvious question arises: Given that NATO was a Cold War institution, why didn’t it go out of existence when the Cold War ended, as its counterpart, the Warsaw Pact, did? Indeed, let’s not forget that that’s precisely what U.S. officials assured Soviet officials would happen as the Cold War was ending. Shut down the Warsaw Pact and we’ll shut down NATO. But U.S. officials double-crossed the Russians. Even though the Warsaw Pact, which consisted of the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries, dismantled, NATO didn’t.

[Recently], the New York Times said reminded readers that former Defense Secretary Robert Gates had expressed a concern back in 2011 that young Americans would have no memory of the Cold War and would consider NATO to be just an artifact. If only NATO was only an artifact, one in which people just sat around collecting tax-funded paychecks. Instead, after double-crossing the Russians, it continued operating as if the Cold War had never ended, moving ever close to Russia’s border by absorbing former members of the Warsaw Pact. When NATO forces ultimately reached Ukraine, which is on Russia’s border, how could anyone be surprised over Russia’s reaction? The U.S. would have reacted the same way. In fact, it did in 1961, when the Soviets installed defensive missiles in Cuba.

There is no way U.S. national-security state officials could have been shocked over Russia’s reaction to NATO’s plan to absorb Ukraine. U.S. officials had to know from the get-go that Russia would never permit NATO to take control over its longtime military base in Crimea, which is precisely what would have happened if NATO had absorbed Ukraine. The same New York Times article quotes Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, former supreme allied commander for Europe: “The United States absolutely needs NATO — a NATO that is strong, resilient and united.” According to the article, “Five members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff made a similar set of arguments at the Council on Foreign Relations on Tuesday, also avoiding any mention of Mr. Trump’s name.”

Well, duh! Of course, they favor NATO! What better way to ignite more crises and more Cold War than with NATO? After all, what if Americans demand that U.S. troops come home from the Middle East, thereby eliminating any more threat of anti-American terrorism? What better new official enemy than the old Cold War official enemy, Russia? What better way to keep the entire national-security establishment in high cotton with ever-increasing budgets? The Times article also expressed the concern among many that Trump intends to establish good relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Heaven forbid! Why, that’s heresy to any advocate of the national-security state! Everyone knows that Putin is a former KGB official. Everyone knows that the KGB was composed of communists. Everyone knows that a communist can never be trusted. The war on communism is on, once again.

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Allegedly to make sure the country can rebuild its economy. But there’s nothing left to rebuild with.

Greece Faces Its Toughest Austerity Measures Yet (G.)

In his tiny shop in downtown Athens, Kostis Nakos sits behind a wooden counter hunched over his German calculator. The 71-year-old might have retired had he been able to make ends meets but that is now simply impossible. “All day I’ve been sitting here doing the maths,” he sighs, surrounded by the undergarments and socks he has sold for the past four decades. “My income tax has just gone up to 29%, my social security payments have gone up 20%, my pension has been cut by 50 euros; they are taxing coffee, fuel, the internet, tavernas, ferries, everything they can, and then there’s Enfia [the country’s much-loathed property levy]. Now that makes me mad. They said they would take that away!” A mild man in milder times, Nakos finds himself becoming increasingly angry.

So, too, do the vast majority of Greeks who walked through his door on Monday. “Everyone’s outraged, they’ve been swearing, insulting the government, calling [prime minister] Alexis Tsipras a liar,” he exclaims after parliament’s decision on Sunday night to pass yet more austerity measures. “And they’re right. Everything he said, everything he promised, was a fairy tale.” Until the debt-stricken country’s financial collapse, shops like this were the lifeblood of Greece. For small-time merchants, the pain has been especially vivid because, like everyone Nakos knows, he voted for Tsipras and his leftist Syriza party. Now the man who was swept to power on a platform to eradicate austerity has passed the toughest reforms to date – overhauling the pension system, raising taxes and increasing social security fund contributions as the price of emergency bailout aid.

As MPs voted inside the red-carpeted 300-seat chamber on Sunday, police who had blocked off a large part of the city centre deployed teargas and water cannon against the thousands of anti-austerity demonstrators amassed outside. It was a world away from the day the tieless, anti-austerity leftists first assumed office, tearing down the barricades outside the sandstone parliament building. The latest measures – worth €5.4bn (£4.3m) in budget savings – mark a new era. After nine months of wrangling with the international creditors keeping the country afloat, Athens must apply policies that until now had been abstract concepts for a populace who have suffered as unemployment and poverty rates have soared.

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Apr 192016
 
 April 19, 2016  Posted by at 9:37 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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G.G. Bain Pelham Park Railroad, City Island monorail, NY 1910

The Hole at the Center of the Rally: S&P Margins in Decline (BBG)
US Nonfinancial Debt Rises 3.5 Times Faster Than GDP (Mauldin)
Asia’s Rich Urged to Buy US Dollars (BBG)
It’s All Suddenly Going Wrong in China’s $3 Trillion Bond Market (BBG)
China Will Bring All The BRICS Tumbling Down (Forbes)
China March Home Prices Rise At Fastest Rate In Two Years (Reuters)
Why Obama Administration Tries to Keep 11,000 Documents Sealed (Matt Taibbi)
Obama Official: Seed Money That Created Al Qaeda Came From Saudi Arabia (P.)
Saudis Are Going For The Kill But The Oil Market Is Turning Anyway (AEP)
A New Map for America (NY Times)
No One Worries Enough About Black Swans (ZH)
Credit Suisse: Germany’s Large Surplus Is The Problem, Not the ECB (BBG)
Talks With Creditors To Resume But Athens Rejects Fresh Austerity (Kath.)
Every Move You Make Is Being Monitored (Whitehead)
The Elephant Cometh (Jim Kunstler)
Over 400 Migrants Drown On Their Way To Italy (Reuters)

“Without the Federal Reserve chipping in with quantitative easing, investors have to go back to valuations and earnings..”

The Hole at the Center of the Rally: S&P Margins in Decline (BBG)

Stocks are rising, the worst start to a year is a memory, and short sellers are getting pummeled. And yet something is going on below the surface of earnings that should give bulls pause. It’s evident in quarterly forecasts for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, where profits are declining at the steepest rate since the financial crisis relative to revenue. The divergence reflects a worsening contraction in corporate profitability, with net income falling to 8% of sales from a record 9.7% in 2014. Bears have warned for years that such a deterioration would sound the death knell for a bull market that is about two weeks away from becoming the second-longest on record even as productivity sputters and industrial output weakens.

While none of it has prevented stocks from advancing in seven of the last nine weeks, rallies have seldom weathered a decline in profitability as violent as this one – and the squeeze is often a bad sign for the economy, too. “Analysts have seen the string pull as far as it can go, and there is no way for it to go but to reverse for the moment,” said Barry James at James Investment Research in Xenia, Ohio. “Without the Federal Reserve chipping in with quantitative easing, investors have to go back to valuations and earnings, and both of those – one is high and the other is low – that’s not a very good recipe for stocks.” James said his firm is raising cash amid the recent rally in stocks.

While energy producers are expected to suffer the biggest contraction in margins because of plunging oil prices, with a 28% drop in sales accompanying a first-quarter loss, analyst predicted six of the other 10 S&P 500 industries will also report lower profitability. Financial and raw-materials companies will see income growth trailing sales by at least 12 percentage points.

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It’s just like China.

US Nonfinancial Debt Rises 3.5 Times Faster Than GDP (Mauldin)

In my recent Outside the Box, good friend Dr. Lacy Hunt of Hoisington Investment Management gave us more ammunition to take on those who just don’t seem to get that the endless piling up of debt is not a sustainable way to run an economy. The most striking feature of the US economy’s performance in 2015, according to Lacy, was a massive advance in nonfinancial debt that kept the economy stuck in the doldrums of subpar growth.

US nonfinancial debt rose 3.5 times faster than GDP last year. (Nonfinancial debt is the sum of household debt, business debt, federal debt, and state and local government debt. Lacy also points out unfavorable trends in each component of nonfinancial debt.

Household debt: Delinquencies in household debt moved higher even as financial institutions continued to offer aggressive terms to consumers, implying falling credit standards. Furthermore, the New York Fed said subprime auto loans reached the greatest%age of total auto loans in ten years. Moreover, they indicated that the delinquency rate rose significantly.

Business debt: Last year business debt, excluding off balance sheet liabilities, rose $793 billion, while total gross private domestic investment (which includes fixed and inventory investment) rose only $93 billion. Thus, by inference this debt increase went into share buybacks, dividend increases, and other financial endeavors…. When business debt is allocated to financial operations, it does not generate an income stream to meet interest and repayment requirements. Such a usage of debt does not support economic growth, employment, higher paying jobs, or productivity growth. Thus, the economy is likely to be weakened by the increase of business debt over the past five years.

Federal debt: US government gross debt, excluding off balance sheet items, gained $780.7 billion in 2015 or about $230 billion more than the rise in GDP…. The divergence between the budget deficit and debt in 2015 is a portent of things to come. This subject is directly addressed in the 2012 book The Clash of Generations, published by MIT Press, authored by Laurence Kotlikoff and Scott Burns. They calculate that on a net present value basis the US government faces liabilities for Social Security and other entitlement programs that exceed the funds in the various trust funds by $60 trillion. This sum is more than three times greater than the current level of GDP.

State and local government debt: State and local governments … face adverse demographics that will drain underfunded pension plans…. The state and local governments do not have the borrowing capacity of the federal government. Hence, pension obligations will need to be covered at least partially by increased taxes, cuts in pension benefits or reductions in other expenditures.

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The currency wars simmer on. Time for the vigilantes.

Asia’s Rich Urged to Buy US Dollars (BBG)

Money managers for Asia’s wealthy families are telling clients to buy U.S. dollars as a rally this year in regional currencies begins to sputter. Credit Suisse is advising its private-banking clients to bet the greenback will gain versus a basket of peers that includes the South Korean won, Taiwan dollar, Thai baht and Philippine peso. UBS said investors should buy the currency against the Singapore dollar and yen. Stamford Management, which oversees about $250 million for Asia’s rich, urged clients to buy the U.S. dollar each time it falls below S$1.35. The Monetary Authority of Singapore’s unexpected easing on April 14 has fueled speculation that other policy makers, concerned about a worsening global economic outlook, will follow suit.

A gauge of 10 Asian currencies excluding the yen has fallen 0.1% this month. The Bloomberg-JPMorgan Asia Dollar Index climbed 1.9% in the first three months of the year, the first gain in seven quarters, as traders adjusted bets on the timing of U.S. interest-rate increases. “We see good opportunity now to hedge against U.S. dollar strength after the strong rally in Asian currencies in the first quarter,” said Koon How Heng at Credit Suisse in Singapore. “There are risks that other Asian central banks may follow up with some more easing in the second half if their respective growth outlooks deteriorate further.” The prospect of renewed weakness in the Chinese yuan and two interest rate increases by the Federal Reserve in the second half of the year will boost the greenback, Heng said.

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“China’s aggregate financing – a broad measure of credit that includes corporate bonds – almost doubled from a year earlier to 2.34 trillion yuan [..] Yet even that wasn’t enough to save the seven Chinese companies that reneged on bond obligations this year.”

It’s All Suddenly Going Wrong in China’s $3 Trillion Bond Market (BBG)

The unprecedented boom in China’s $3 trillion corporate bond market is starting to unravel. Spooked by a fresh wave of defaults at state-owned enterprises, investors in China’s yuan-denominated company notes have driven up yields for nine of the past 10 days and triggered the biggest selloff in onshore junk debt since 2014. Local issuers have canceled 60.6 billion yuan ($9.4 billion) of bond sales in April alone, while Standard & Poor’s is cutting its assessment of Chinese firms at a pace unseen since 2003. While bond yields in China are still well below historical averages, a sustained increase in borrowing costs could threaten an economy that’s more reliant on cheap credit than ever before.

The numbers suggest more pain ahead: Listed firms’ ability to service their debt has dropped to the lowest since at least 1992, while analysts are cutting profit forecasts for Shanghai Composite Index companies by the most since the global financial crisis. “The spreading of credit risks is only at its early stage in China,” said Qiu Xinhong at First State Cinda Fund Management. “Many people have turned bearish.” China’s leaders face a difficult balancing act. On one hand, allowing troubled companies to default forces investors to pay more attention to credit risk and accelerates government efforts to curb overcapacity. The danger, though, is that investor panic leads to tighter credit conditions, dealing a blow to President Xi Jinping’s plan to keep the economy growing by at least 6.5% over the next five years.

Economic figures for March reveal a growing dependence on debt. China’s aggregate financing – a broad measure of credit that includes corporate bonds – almost doubled from a year earlier to 2.34 trillion yuan, exceeding all 24 forecasts in a Bloomberg survey as policy makers turned on the taps to support economic growth. Yet even that wasn’t enough to save the seven Chinese companies that reneged on bond obligations this year. Three of those were part-owned by China’s government, seen not long ago as a provider of implicit guarantees for bondholders. Dongbei Special Steel on April 13 missed a third payment since its chairman was found dead by hanging last month, while Chinacoal Group failed to make a distribution on April 6.

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And not just the BRICS.

China Will Bring All The BRICS Tumbling Down (Forbes)

The concept of the BRICs isn’t heard much these days beyond some cooperative institution building efforts. Originally a Goldman Sachs authored attempt to identify growth opportunities for investors (referring to Brazil, Russia, India and China), it was picked up by those countries to symbolise a hoped-for rotation in the world order: away from the old hierarchy of the West and the Rest, towards a more balanced configuration of global economic progress. For inclusiveness, the ‘s’ was eventually capitalised into ‘South Africa’ so that the African continent was not left out. With hindsight, it remains curious that the idea was ever taken seriously beyond the confines of investor advice. The nominated states have little in common, although the public diplomacy of developing economy cooperation has a lingering appeal.

The Russian economy was always based largely on hydrocarbons, and Brazil’s expansion was a broader commodity play. Each, therefore, nurtured an important relationship with China. Now, though, as commodity prices have sunk, China is the only buyer left and has no qualms about driving a hard bargain. Massive Chinese infrastructure investment created the temporary illusion of wealth while global debt levels grew relentlessly. The commodity curse then undermined real economic progress around the world, as elites chased diminishing surplus for patronage and popularity. This has left producers exposed; one – Venezuela – rapidly becoming a wasteland. In other countries, what limited democracy there was has been hollowed out, leaving Russia in a state of egregious industrial and demographic decline, and Brazil confirming stereotypes about Latin American corruption.

All because the orders are drying up and the money has run out. Both Brazil and Russia are facing the possibility of imminent collapse. India, by contrast, is its own story, a perpetual tale of slow promise that plays tortoise to China’s hare. The only real story behind the BRICs was always just the ‘C,’ as in China, and the huge investment boom that powered commodity prices towards the fantasy of a ‘super-cycle’ – another word we don’t hear much anymore – drove the whole world mad. There was money for social programs in Brazil to lift up the poor, money for Putin’s new model army in Russia to restore imperial prestige, and money for the Olympics and World Cup in both countries. Then there was money for London palaces, money for Panamanian bank accounts, money for small wars and some leftover for the supposed institutions of a ‘new world order,’ since deferred.

Now, China’s policy dilemma belongs to everyone. Having spent 15 years sucking consumption and investment from everywhere, China now has a productive capacity it cannot possibly sustain, and faces a world reluctant any longer to make up for the deficiencies in Chinese demand. It therefore confronts a build up of debts it will struggle to pay and investors who expect a return they may not receive.

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Beijing still can’t seem to see the danger.

China March Home Prices Rise At Fastest Rate In Two Years (Reuters)

China’s home prices in March gained at the fastest pace in almost two years but that growth may slow as local authorities tighten home purchase requirements in the two top performing cities on fears of a bubble forming. The southern city of Shenzhen continued to be the top performer, with home prices surging 61.6% from a year ago, followed by Shanghai with a 25% gain. Prices in the two cities were up 3.7% and 3.6% respectively from a month earlier. Average new home prices in 70 major cities rose 4.9% last month from a year ago, picking up from February’s 3.6% rise, according to Reuters calculations based on data released by the National Statistics Bureau (NBS) on Monday. March prices were up 1.1% compared to a month ago.

China’s housing market bottomed out in the second half of 2015 on a series of government support measures, but a strong rebound in prices in the biggest cities has sparked concerns that some markets may be overheating, driving Shanghai and Shenzhen’s authorities to tighten downpayment requirements for second homes and raising the eligibility bar for non-residents. While home sales in the two cities plunged as much as 52% after the tightening, prices eased only by single digit, according to data from China Real Estate Index System (CREIS). April’s official data, which will reflect the impact of the tightening measures, is due to be released in mid-May. Area of property sold in the first quarter grew 33.1% to a near three-year high, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Friday.

While property in China’s top-tier cities is booming, prices in smaller centers, where most of China’s urban population lives, are still sinking and complicating government efforts to spread wealth more evenly and arrest slowing economic growth. “(Monthly) price rises among cities still showed big differences. Cities with big rises were concentrated in the first-tier and, in part, the hot tier-two cities. Their growth is much faster than other cities, with the rest of the second-tier and third-tier cities relatively stable,” Liu Jianwei, a senior statistician at the NBS, said in a statement accompanying the data. The NBS data showed 40 of 70 major cities tracked by the NBS saw year-on-year price gains, up from 32 in February.

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Another A-class piece from Taibbi.

Why Obama Administration Tries to Keep 11,000 Documents Sealed (Matt Taibbi)

[..] Even after the state took over the companies in September of 2008, Fannie and Freddie continued to buy as much as $40 billion in bad assets per month from the private sector. Fannie and Freddie weren’t just bailed out, they were themselves a bailout, used to sponge up the sins of private firms. The original takeover mechanism was a $110 billion bailout, followed by a move to place Fannie and Freddie in conservatorship. In exchange, the state received an 80% stake and the promise of a future dividend. All told, the government ended up pumping about $187 billion into the companies. But now here’s the strange part. Within a few years after the crash, the housing markets improved significantly, to the point where Fannie and Freddie started to make money again. Lots of money. The GSEs became cash cows again, and in 2012 the government unilaterally changed the terms of the bailout.

Now, instead of taking a 10% dividend, the government decided that the new number it preferred was 100%. The GSE regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), explained the new arrangement. “The 10% fixed-rate dividend was replaced with a variable structure, essentially directing all net income to the Treasury,” the FHFA wrote. “Replacing the current fixed dividend in the agreements with a variable dividend based on net worth helps ensure stability [and] fully captures financial benefits for taxpayers.” “I’m not worried about Fannie and Freddie’s health,” said former House Financial Services Committee chair Barney Frank. “I’m worried that they won’t do enough to help out the economy.” Translation: We’re taking all your money, not just the money you owe. In court filings later on, the government offered a strange excuse for this sudden and dramatic change in the bailout terms. It explained that at the time, the GSEs “faced enormous credit losses” and “found themselves in a death spiral.”

The government claimed that the poor financial condition of the GSEs would force the Treasury to throw more money at the operations, increasing the total commitment of taxpayers and leading quickly to insolvency. It absolutely denied any foreknowledge that the firms were on the verge of massive profitability. It got weirder. Despite the fact that the GSEs went on to pay the government $228 billion over the next three years, or $40 billion more than they owed, none of that money went to paying off Fannie and Freddie’s debt. When Sen. Chuck Grassley asked aloud how it was that the company and its shareholders were not yet square with the government, the Treasury Department testily answered, in essence, that the bailout had not been a loan, but an investment. This was not a debt that could be paid back. Like a restaurant owner who borrows money from a mobster, the GSEs found themselves in an unseverable relationship.

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Obama visits SA on Wednesday…

Obama Official: Seed Money That Created Al Qaeda Came From Saudi Arabia (P.)

President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser said that the government of Saudi Arabia had paid “insufficient attention” to money that was being funneled into terror groups and fueled the rise of Al Qaeda. Ben Rhodes was speaking to David Axelrod in his podcast “The Axe Files” out Monday when he was asked about the validity of the accusation that the Saudi government was complicit in sponsoring terrorism. “I think that it’s complicated in the sense that, it’s not that it was Saudi government policy to support Al Qaeda, but there were a number of very wealthy individuals in Saudi Arabia who would contribute, sometimes directly, to extremist groups. Sometimes to charities that were kind of, ended up being ways to launder money to these groups,” Rhodes said.

“So a lot of the money, the seed money if you will, for what became Al Qaeda, came out of Saudi Arabia,” he added. “Could that happen without the government’s awareness?” Axelrod asked. Rhodes said he doesn’t believe the government was “actively trying to prevent that from happening.” But he said that certain people, within the government or their family members, were able to operate on their own which allowed for the money flows. “So basically there was, at certainly, at least kind of a insufficient attention to where all this money was going over many years from the government apparatus,” Rhodes said. The remarks from Rhodes come as Obama prepares to head to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday and confront the strained relations between the two allies.

The Saudis are still fuming over an Atlantic magazine article that described Obama’s frustrations with Saudi Arabia’s religious ideology, its treatment of women and its rivalry with Iran. Obama also suggested in the piece that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states are “free riders” who rely too much on the U.S. military. Friction has also been created by a push from relatives of people who died on 9/11 and a bipartisan group of lawmakers to allow U.S. courts to hold the Saudi government responsible if it is found to have played a role in the 2001 attacks.

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Ambrose is always hit and miss. This one is BIG miss: “The scare earlier this year was misguided. It is the next oil supply crunch we should fear most.” No, it’s demand.

Saudis Are Going For The Kill But The Oil Market Is Turning Anyway (AEP)

The collapse of OPEC talks with Russia over the weekend makes absolutely no difference to the balance of supply and demand in the global oil markets. The putative freeze in crude output was political eyewash. Hardly any country in the OPEC cartel is capable is producing more oil. Several are failed states, or sliding into political crises. Russia is milking a final burst of production before the depleting pre-Soviet wells of Western Siberia go into slow run-off. Sanctions have stymied its efforts to develop new fields or kick-start shale fracking in the Bazhenov basin. Saudi Arabia’s hard-nosed decision to break ranks with its Gulf allies at the meeting in Doha – and with every other OPEC country – punctures any remaining illusion that there is still a regulating structure in global oil industry.

It told us that the cartel no longer exists in any meaningful sense. Beyond that it was irrelevant. Hedge funds were clearly caught off guard by the outcome since net ‘long’ positions on the futures markets were trading at a record high going into the meeting. Brent crude plunged 7pc to $41 a barrel in early Asian trading, but what is more revealing is how quickly prices recovered. Market dynamics are changing fast. Output is slipping all over the place: in China, Latin America, Kazakhstan, Algeria, the North Sea. The US shale industry has rolled over, though it has taken far longer than the Saudis expected when they first flooded the market in November 2014. The US Energy Department expects total US output to drop to 8.6m barrels per day (b/d) this year from 9.4m last year.

China is filling up the new sites of its strategic petroleum reserves at a record pace. Its oil imports have jumped to 8m b/d this year from 6.7m in 2015, soaking up a large part of the global glut. Some is rotating back out again as diesel: most is being consumed in China. Goldman Sachs says the twin effect of rising demand and supply disruptions across the world is bringing the market back into balance, leading to a “sustainable deficit” as soon as the third quarter. The inflexion point could come sooner than almost anybody expects if a strike this week in Kuwait drags on as oil workers fight pay cuts. The outage is already costing 1.6m b/d. Kuwait’s woes are the first taste of how difficult it will be for the petro-sheikhdoms to impose austerity measures or threaten the cradle-to-grave social contracts that keep a lid on dissent across the Gulf.

There is little doubt that Mohammad bin Salman, the deputy-crown prince and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, wanted an excuse to sabotage the Doha deal. He added a fresh demand that non-OPEC Norway should also limit output – a non-starter – as well as hardening the Saudi objection to Iran’s full return to pre-sanctions output. The calculus is that his country has the deepest pockets and will ultimately stand to gain by shaking out weaker players. This is a gamble. Saudi Arabia is running through $10bn of foreign exchange reserves a month to plug its fiscal deficit. The fixed riyal peg makes it much harder to roll with the budgetary punches as Russia is able to do with the floating rouble. Saudi Arabia is not as rich as often supposed. Per capita income is the same as in Greece. Standard & Poor’s has cut its credit rating twice to A-, and for good reason. The Saudis never built up a proper sovereign wealth fund in good times. Their reserve coverage is two-thirds less than in Kuwait, or Abu Dhabi.

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Decentralization goes global.

A New Map for America (NY Times)

These days, in the thick of the American presidential primaries, it’s easy to see how the 50 states continue to drive the political system. But increasingly, that’s all they drive — socially and economically, America is reorganizing itself around regional infrastructure lines and metropolitan clusters that ignore state and even national borders. The problem is, the political system hasn’t caught up. America faces a two-part problem. It’s no secret that the country has fallen behind on infrastructure spending. But it’s not just a matter of how much is spent on catching up, but how and where it is spent. Advanced economies in Western Europe and Asia are reorienting themselves around robust urban clusters of advanced industry. Unfortunately, American policy making remains wedded to an antiquated political structure of 50 distinct states.

To an extent, America is already headed toward a metropolis-first arrangement. The states aren’t about to go away, but economically and socially, the country is drifting toward looser metropolitan and regional formations, anchored by the great cities and urban archipelagos that already lead global economic circuits. The Northeastern megalopolis, stretching from Boston to Washington, contains more than 50 million people and represents 20% of America’s gross domestic product. Greater Los Angeles accounts for more than 10% of G.D.P. These city-states matter far more than most American states – and connectivity to these urban clusters determines Americans’ long-term economic viability far more than which state they reside in. This reshuffling has profound economic consequences.

America is increasingly divided not between red states and blue states, but between connected hubs and disconnected backwaters. Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution has pointed out that of America’s 350 major metro areas, the cities with more than three million people have rebounded far better from the financial crisis. Meanwhile, smaller cities like Dayton, Ohio, already floundering, have been falling further behind, as have countless disconnected small towns across the country. The problem is that while the economic reality goes one way, the 50-state model means that federal and state resources are concentrated in a state capital – often a small, isolated city itself – and allocated with little sense of the larger whole. Not only does this keep back our largest cities, but smaller American cities are increasingly cut off from the national agenda, destined to become low-cost immigrant and retirement colonies, or simply to be abandoned.

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Taleb’s take-down of Noah Smith on Twitter has been epic.

No One Worries Enough About Black Swans (ZH)

Over the weekend, Bloomberg View’s quasi-economist wrote his latest laughable article, one which supposedly “explained” how “Everyone Worries Too Much About ‘Black Swans'”, which in addition to being a rambling, meandering stream of consciousness that as is regularly the case with this particular author, made little sense, sparked a Twitter feud with the Nassim Taleb, the person who made the concept of a Black Swan into a household name. We were therefore very amused to note that none other than former FX trader and fund manager, Richard Breslow, who also writes for Bloomberg, seemingly had an epileptic fit upon reading the abovementioned drivel and wrote his own scathing reaction from the perspective of an actual trader, a rection which not only threw up on every argument of the so-called economist’s logic, but on everything else that now is passed off simply as, well, “the new normal.” Here is Richard Breslow:

No One Worries Enough About Black Swans

Trading is a hard business. The world is becoming a more complicated place: a number out of China may do more to the price of your U.S. shares in a retailer than, well, U.S. retail sales. Yet creeping, dangerously, into the investment advice dialog is the argument that buying and holding no matter what the event is the winning strategy. If you ever needed a “past results don’t guarantee…” disclaimer it’s especially true now. It’s not surprising that such shallow reasoning is becoming commonplace. Sure beats staying late at the office doing cash-flow analysis. Bad things happen and the Fed will cut rates. Worked time and again. Presto chango, that financial crisis was a buying event, stupid.

It’s gotten much worse post the latest financial crisis, as it’s assumed asset prices are the main (sole) focus of the all powerful central banks. To buy (pun intended) into this you have to presuppose that Black Swan events are easily controllable episodes that last short amounts of time. That the authorities have unlimited firepower to counteract every natural and man-made disaster. Equally scary, academics as well as analysts have taken to arguing that investors are overestimating the probability of crisis events. You don’t need to be a Taleb or Mandelbrot to calculate that we have been having once in a hundred year events on a regular basis for the last thirty years. Did a crisis happen, if you made money?

This flawed logic argues not only buy every dip, but why waste money on hedges? It assumes unlimited deep pockets and the nerve of a non-sentient computer. Just go “all in.” Looking more like today’s world all the time. Portfolio theory thrown right out the window. Perhaps Harry Markowitz will have his Nobel revoked. A portfolio built to only withstand stress thanks to central bank intervention is one destined to blow-up spectacularly. The embedded flaw in this new logic is that central banks give investors perfect foresight. And nothing can go wrong. Re-read the Investment Process section of those prospectuses.

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“His words sounded like a request of a bailout for his countries’ saving industry and savers, in an ironic twist from previous bailout requests coming from the periphery.”

Credit Suisse: Germany’s Large Surplus Is The Problem, Not the ECB (BBG)

Forget about Greek debt sustainability. Another part of the continent is in need of relief—and this time, it’s a part of the core, not the periphery. That’s how Credit Suisse analysts led by Peter Foley characterized comments from German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble earlier this month. “The German Finance minister said record low interest rates were causing ‘extraordinary problems’ for German financial institutions and pensioners and risked undermining voters’ support for European integration,” writes Foley. “His words sounded like a request of a bailout for his countries’ saving industry and savers, in an ironic twist from previous bailout requests coming from the periphery.” A common criticism of unconventional central bank policy is that the ultra-low interest rates are too onerous for savers. At present, the average German bund yield is barely above zero:

Some analysts have expressed more than a modicum of sympathy for Schaeuble’s position, indicating that the ECB’s policy represents a form of John Maynard Keynes’ prophesied ‘euthanasia of the rentier’ and is not justified by its positive side effects. But instead of blaming the ECB, Foley suggests that German fiscal policymakers should pull the levers at their disposal to help remedy this situation. “Germany has continued to run a large current account surplus, and has increased it further–from 5.7% of GDP in 2009 to 8.5% in 2015,” wrote the analyst, noting that this surplus constituted the largest imbalance among major economies by this metric. “In an environment short on aggregate demand, Germany’s surplus is a problem, both globally and to the rest of the euro area.”

Foley recommends that the German authorities move to more aggressively reduce financial imbalances by increasing public investment, support private demand in certain soft segments, and implement more structural reforms. This would support Germany’s growth as well as that of its European partners, and as an added bonus, would address Schauble’s concerns about the woes of savers all in one fell swoop, the analyst concludes, by lessening the ECB’s need to support the currency union with unconventional stimulus.

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I see a hot summer.

Talks With Creditors To Resume But Athens Rejects Fresh Austerity (Kath.)

With talks set to resume on Tuesday with Greece’s international creditors, Athens said on Monday it has no intention of implementing austerity measures beyond the commitments it signed on to in the third bailout last July and plans to seek “allies” among European countries that believe now is not the time create political instability in Greece. Government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili said on Monday that Athens will abide by the commitments it made last July, “nothing more, nothing less.” Her comments came after the IMF and the EU, which overcame their differences at the weekend over Greece’s budgetary outlook, took the wind out of the government’s sails by seeking another package of austerity measures to the tune of more than €3 billion (or 2% of GDP) in case there are target shortfalls over the next three years as a “guarantee” that Greece will achieve a primary budget surplus of 3.5% of GDP in 2018.

The government’s apparent defiance on Monday is a departure from its initial response at the weekend, when it implied that it could be open to discussion over the new measures – which relate to 2018 – as long as it received reassurances that it will get debt relief. Failure to wrap up the review could see negotiations drag on into June, which would put a further strain on the SYRIZA-led coalition’s fragile government, already struggling to stay afloat with a very slim majority of three deputies in Parliament. However, the new turn of events could foil the government’s ambitions, which include reaching a staff level agreement by Friday’s Eurogroup meeting in Amsterdam, to unlock vital tranches of rescue funds and pave the way for debt relief talks – a key demand by Greece.

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“..Simply by liking or sharing this article on Facebook or retweeting it on Twitter, you’re most likely flagging yourself as a potential renegade, revolutionary or anti-government extremist—a.k.a. terrorist.”

Every Move You Make Is Being Monitored (Whitehead)

“The way things are supposed to work is that we’re supposed to know virtually everything about what [government officials] do: that’s why they’re called public servants. They’re supposed to know virtually nothing about what we do: that’s why we’re called private individuals. This dynamic – the hallmark of a healthy and free society – has been radically reversed. Now, they know everything about what we do, and are constantly building systems to know more. Meanwhile, we know less and less about what they do, as they build walls of secrecy behind which they function. That’s the imbalance that needs to come to an end. No democracy can be healthy and functional if the most consequential acts of those who wield political power are completely unknown to those to whom they are supposed to be accountable.” – Glenn Greenwald

 

Government eyes are watching you. They see your every move: what you read, how much you spend, where you go, with whom you interact, when you wake up in the morning, what you’re watching on television and reading on the internet. Every move you make is being monitored, mined for data, crunched, and tabulated in order to form a picture of who you are, what makes you tick, and how best to control you when and if it becomes necessary to bring you in line. Simply by liking or sharing this article on Facebook or retweeting it on Twitter, you’re most likely flagging yourself as a potential renegade, revolutionary or anti-government extremist—a.k.a. terrorist. Yet whether or not you like or share this particular article, simply by reading it or any other articles related to government wrongdoing, surveillance, police misconduct or civil liberties is enough to get you categorized as a particular kind of person with particular kinds of interests that reflect a particular kind of mindset that might just lead you to engage in a particular kinds of activities.

Chances are, as the Washington Post reports, you have already been assigned a color-coded threat score—green, yellow or red—so police are forewarned about your potential inclination to be a troublemaker depending on whether you’ve had a career in the military, posted a comment perceived as threatening on Facebook, suffer from a particular medical condition, or know someone who knows someone who might have committed a crime. In other words, you might already be flagged as potentially anti-government in a government database somewhere—Main Core, for example—that identifies and tracks individuals who aren’t inclined to march in lockstep to the police state’s dictates. The government has the know-how.

As The Intercept recently reported, the FBI, CIA, NSA and other government agencies are increasingly investing in and relying on corporate surveillance technologies that can mine constitutionally protected speech on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in order to identify potential extremists and predict who might engage in future acts of anti-government behavior. Now all it needs is the data, which more than 90% of young adults and 65% of American adults are happy to provide.

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“This will go on until it can’t, which is what discontinuity is all about.”

The Elephant Cometh (Jim Kunstler)

The elephant’s not even in the room, which is why the 2016 election campaign is such a soap opera. The elephant outside the room is named Discontinuity. That’s perhaps an intimidating word, but it is exactly what the USA is in for. It means that a lot of familiar things come to an end, stop, don’t work the way they are supposed to — beginning, manifestly, with the election process now underway in all its unprecedented bizarreness. One reason it’s difficult to comprehend discontinuity is because so many operations and institutions of daily life in America have insidiously become rackets, meaning that they are kept going only by dishonest means. If we didn’t lie to ourselves about them, they couldn’t continue.

For instance the automobile racket. Without a solid, solvent middle-class, you can’t sell cars. Americans are used to paying for cars on installment loans. If the middle class is so crippled by prior debt and the disappearance of good-paying jobs that they can’t qualify for car loans, well, the answer is to give them loans anyway, on terms that don’t really pencil out — such as 7-year loans at 0% interest for used cars (that will be worth next to nothing long before the loan expires). This will go on until it can’t, which is what discontinuity is all about. The car companies and the banks (with help from government regulators and political cheerleaders) have created this work-around by treating “sub-prime” car loans the same way they treated sub-prime mortgages: they bundle them into larger packages of bonds called collateralized loan obligations.

These, in turn, are sold mainly to big pension fund and insurance companies desperate for “yield” (higher interest) on “safe” investments that ostensibly preserve their principal. The “collateral” amounts to the revenue streams of payments that are sure to stop because the payers are by definition not credit-worthy, meaning it was baked in the cake that they would quit making payments — especially when they go “under water” owing ever more money for junkers that have lost all value. It’s easy to see how that ends in tears for all concerned parties, but we “buy into it” because there seems to be no other way to a) boost the so-called “consumer” economy and b) keep the matrix of car-dependant suburban sprawl in operation. We took what used to be a fairly sound idea during a now-bygone phase of history, and perverted it to avoid making any difficult but necessary changes in a new phase of history.

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There is a very strange silence in western media about this.

Over 400 Migrants Drown On Their Way To Italy (Reuters)

Somalia’s government said on Monday about 200 or more Somalis may have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to cross illegally to Europe, many of them teenagers, when the boat they were on capsized after leaving the Egyptian shore. Italian President Sergio Mattarella had said earlier on Monday that several hundred people appeared to have died in a new tragedy in the Mediterranean, after unconfirmed reports spoke of up to 400 victims of capsizing near Egypt’s coast. More than 1.2 million African, Arab and Asian migrants have streamed into the EU since the start of last year, many of them setting off from North Africa in rickety boats that are packed full of people and which struggle in choppy seas.

“We have no fixed number but it is between 200 and 300 Somalis,” Somali Information Minister Mohamed Abdi Hayir told Reuters by telephone when asked about possible Somali deaths in the latest incident. Another Somali government statement, which offered condolences, put the number at “nearly 200”, saying they were mostly teenagers. It said the boat they were on had capsized after leaving Egypt. “There is no clear number since they are not traveling legally,” the minister said, adding that he understood the boat might have been carrying about 500 people, of which 200 to 300 were Somalis “and most of them had died”. He did not give a precise timing for the incident.

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