Dec 022017
 
 December 2, 2017  Posted by at 9:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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James McNeill Whistler Harmony in Blue and Silver: Trouville 1865

 

Senate Approves Republicans’ Tax Overhaul (R.)
Debt, Taxes, Growth And The GOP Con Job (Stockman)
SocGen: The Good Times Are Coming To An End In 2018 (BI)
Keeping You Awake At Night (Roberts)
Stock Market Acceleration In Final Stage (Kessler)
Pensions Aren’t The Ticking Timebomb – Rents Are (G.)
Carmageddon for Tesla (WS)
AI Has Already Taken Over, It’s Called the Corporation (Lent)
The UN Is Investigating Extreme Poverty … In America (G.)
Despite Greek Shelter, Yazidis Struggle To Integrate (AFP)

 

 

Largely hastily and secretly written by lobbyists, and mostly unread by lawmakers. Doesn’t seem to be the way to do things. Have you no pride?

Senate Approves Republicans’ Tax Overhaul (R.)

The U.S. Senate approved a sweeping tax overhaul on Saturday, moving Republicans and President Donald Trump a major step closer to their goal of slashing taxes for businesses and the rich while offering everyday Americans a mixed bag of changes. In what would be the largest U.S. tax overhaul since the 1980s, Republicans want to add $1.4 trillion over 10 years to the $20 trillion national debt to finance changes that they say would further boost an already growing economy. U.S. stock markets have rallied for months in hopes Washington would provide significant tax cuts for corporations. Following the 51-49 vote, talks will begin, likely next week, between the Senate and the House of Representatives, which has already approved its own tax bill. The two chambers must craft a single bill to send to Trump to sign into law.

Trump wants that to happen before the end of the year, allowing him and his Republicans to score their first major legislative achievement of 2017, despite controlling the White House, the Senate and the House since he took office in January. Celebrating their victory, Republican leaders said the tax cuts would encourage U.S. companies to invest more and boost economic growth. “We have an opportunity now to make America more competitive, to keep jobs from being shipped offshore and to provide substantial relief to the middle class,” said Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate. The tax overhaul is seen by Republicans as crucial to their prospects in the November 2018 mid-term election campaigns when they will have to defend their majorities in Congress.

In a legislative battle that moved so fast a final draft of the bill was unavailable to the public until just hours before the vote, Democrats slammed the measure as a give-away to businesses and the rich financed with billions in taxpayer debt.

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Stockman agrees.

Debt, Taxes, Growth And The GOP Con Job (Stockman)

During more than four decades in Washington and on Wall Street it is quite possible that we never picked up any useful skills. But along the way we did unavoidably acquire what amounts to a survival tool in those fair precincts—-namely, a nose for the con job. And what a doozy we have going now as a desperate mob of Capitol Hill Republicans attempts to enact something—anything— that can be vaguely labeled tax reform/tax cut. And for a reason that lies only slightly below the surface. In a word, they are scared to death that the political train wreck in the Oval Office will put them out of business for years to come. So they are attempting to erect a shield of legislative accomplishment that can be sold in 2018 as the work of the GOP Congress, not the unhinged tweet-storm in the White House.

To be sure, some element of political calculus always lies behind legislation. For instance, the Dems didn’t pass the Wagner Act in 1935, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 or the Affordable Care Act of 2010 as an exercise in pure civic virtue—-these measures targeted huge constituencies with tens of millions of votes at stake. Still, threadbare theories and untoward effects are just that; they can’t be redeemed by the risible claim that this legislative Rube Goldberg Contraption is being jammed through sight unseen (in ACA redux fashion) for the benefit of the rank and file Republican voters—and most especially not for the dispossessed independents and Dems of Flyover America who voted for Trump out of protest against the failing status quo. To the contrary. The GOP tax bill is of the lobbies, by the PACs and for the money. Period.

There is no higher purpose or even nugget of conservative economic principle to it. The battle cry of “pro-growth tax cuts” is just a warmed over 35 year-old mantra from the Reagan era that does not remotely reflect the actual content of the bill or disguise what it really is: Namely, a cowardly infliction of more than $2 trillion of debt on future American taxpayers in order to fund tax relief today for the GOP’s K-Street and Wall Street paymasters. On a net basis, in fact, fully 97% of the $1.412 trillion revenue loss in the Senate Committee bill over the next decade is attributable to the $1.369 trillion cost of cutting the corporate rate from 35% to 20% (and repeal of the related AMT). All the rest of the massive bill is just a monumental zero-sum pot stirring operation.

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She sings.

SocGen: The Good Times Are Coming To An End In 2018 (BI)

The party’s almost over, Societe Generale strategists say. A strong earnings recovery and a growing economy have fueled investor interest in buying risky corporate bonds this year. SocGen’s credit strategists see 2018 as a transition year for the credit market, with the low-yield environment that has driven some investors into riskier credit instruments likely to turn. “We expect 2018 to see the last of the good times, with very positive conditions early in the year,” the strategists Juan Esteban Valencia and Guy Stear said. “In our view, the ultra-low yield environment will remain in place, making credit a very attractive proposition, even at current levels. Additionally, economic growth should remain healthy and the CSPP (and QE program) should remain supportive of the asset class. However, at some point, we expect these idyllic conditions to start shifting.”

By stopping their bond-buying programs, the ECB and the Fed would leave credit, including the market for government bonds, more vulnerable to market movements, according to SocGen. Global credit already looks overvalued, the strategists said. Sustained demand for riskier corporate bonds has reduced the spread between their yields and comparable government bonds to the lowest levels in three years. A previous study they conducted showed that the level of spreads explained about half of the following year’s performance. “Low spreads are the mother of negative excess returns,” they said, adding that credit markets would start 2018 on the wrong footing with tight valuations and low breakevens. Like Societe Generale’s credit strategists, the firm’s economists see a risk that the US economy starts to slow down in 2019 or 2020 amid lower profit margins.

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More great graphs from Lance. The last breaths of the system: It now requires nearly $4.00 of debt for each $1.00 of economic growth..

Keeping You Awake At Night (Roberts)

[..] while Janet Yellen was focused on Federal Debt, the real issue is total debt as a percentage of the economy. Every piece of leverage whether it is government debt, personal debt and even leverage requires servicing which detracts “savings” from being applied to more productive uses. Yes, in the short-term debt can be used to supplant consumption required to artificially stimulate growth, but the long-term effect is entirely negative. As shown in the chart below, total system debt how exceeds 370% of GDP and is rising.

It now requires ever increasing levels of debt to create each $1 of economic growth. From 1959 to 1983, it required roughly $1.25 of debt to create $1 of economic activity. However, as I have discussed previously, the deregulation of the financial sector, combined with falling interest rates, led to a debt explosion. That debt explosion, which allowed for an excessive standard of living, has led to the long-term deterioration in economic growth rates. It now requires nearly $4.00 of debt for each $1.00 of economic growth.

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Tick. Tock.

Stock Market Acceleration In Final Stage (Kessler)

Secular stock-market bullish trends tend to accelerate as they mature. The last three big bull moves in the Dow Jones Industrial Average look very similar and suggest a near-term major correction. See below:

 

 

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What happens when you blow bubbles to hide your failures. But just make homes places to live in again, not speculative assets. It’s not that hard to understand, or do.

Pensions Aren’t The Ticking Timebomb – Rents Are (G.)

Scottish Widows is the sort of unassuming pensions company that rarely likes to publicly criticise government policy. But an analysis it published this week is a stark warning about the ticking time bomb that will explode in 10 to 20 years’ time. And it’s not pension incomes that are the worry – it’s the fact that so many of tomorrow’s pensioners who never got on to the property ladder in the 2000s and 2010s will have to find huge amounts of money to pay ever-escalating rents to private landlords. Scottish Widows skirts around the issue by suggesting that non-homeowners currently in their 50s should start saving an extra £6,000 a year now to be able to afford their rent in retirement. As if people on low incomes are going to find that sort of money. The reason they are renting is that they were never able to find the savings for a deposit on a house in the first place, or didn’t earn enough to qualify for a mortgage.

The reality is that these people are likely to retire with little more than the state pension plus a small bit of private pension. Maybe they will be picking up about £200 a week once they are 67. Given that the average rent in England and Wales is £845 a month – and in London it’s about £1,250 a month – then the whole lot will be gobbled up by the landlord. So the taxpayer will have no alternative but to step in and pay most of the rent, and we are then on the hook for payments going on for maybe 20 or 30 years. All so that the buy-to-let landlord with multiple properties can enjoy a lavish retirement themselves. This is the lunacy of promoting buy to let as a long term form of tenure for millions of people. Even in developed countries where renting is common, such as Germany, most people are living in a home they own by the time they reach retirement.

Renting all the way through retirement, funded by the taxpayer, to a landlord who has the power to evict without reason and at short notice, is the worst possible situation. And it’s one we are hurtling towards. Make no mistake about the dramatic change in the retirement landscape that is coming. Scottish Widows projects that one in eight retirees will be renting by 2032 – treble today’s figure. After that it will continue rising. It says there is a £43bn gap between the income and savings people have now and what the rent bill will be in retirement. That’s more than one-third of the entire NHS budget for a year – to be squandered on rent.

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“In February 2017, Tesla hyped these Model 3 production numbers for 2017: “Our Model 3 program is on track to start limited vehicle production in July and to steadily ramp production to exceed 5,000 vehicles per week at some point in the fourth quarter and 10,000 vehicles per week at some point in 2018.” November is solidly in the fourth quarter. 5,000 vehicles per week would mean over 20,000 a month. OK, this is November and not December, so maybe 4,000 a week for a total of 16,000. We got 345.”

Carmageddon for Tesla (WS)

Today was the monthly moment of truth for automakers in the US. They reported the number of new vehicles that their dealers delivered to their customers and that the automakers delivered directly to large fleet customers. These are unit sales, not dollar sales, and they’re religiously followed by the industry. Total sales in November rose 0.9% from a year ago to 1,393,010 new vehicles, according to Autodata, which tracks these sales as they’re reported by the automakers. Sales of cars dropped 8.2%. Sales of trucks – which include SUVs, crossovers, pickups, and vans – rose 6.6%. Strong replacement demand from the hurricane-affected areas in Texas papered over weaknesses elsewhere. As always, there were winners and losers. And one of the losers was Tesla.

First things first: There is nothing wrong with a tiny automaker trying to design, make, and sell cool but expensive cars that a few thousand Americans might buy every month, and trying to do so on a battleground dominated by giants. Porsche has been doing that for years. Porsche AG is owned by Volkswagen AG, which is itself majority-owned by Porsche Automobil Holding SE. Tesla is out there by itself. And Tesla has put electric vehicles on the map. That was a huge feat. EVs have been around since the 1800s, but given the challenges that batteries posed, they simply didn’t catch on until Tesla made EVs cool. Yet Tesla has to buy the battery cells from battery makers, such as Panasonic. Tesla isn’t quite out there by itself, though. The Wall Street hype machine backs it up, dousing it with billions of dollars on a regular basis to burn through as fast as it can.

This masterful hype has created a giant market capitalization of about $52 billion, more than most automakers, including Ford ($50 billion). It’s not far behind GM ($61 billion). But Tesla – which lost $619 million in Q3 – delivered only 3,590 vehicles in November in the US, down 18% from a year ago. There are all kinds of interesting aspects about this. One: 3,590 vehicles amounts to a market share of only 0.26%, of the 1,393,010 new cars and trucks sold in the US in November. Porsche outsold Tesla by 55% (5,555 new vehicles). Two: Tesla doesn’t report monthly deliveries. It wants to play with the big boys, but it doesn’t want people to know on a monthly basis just how crummy and by comparison inconsequential its US sales numbers are. Opaque and dedicated to hype, it refuses to disclose how many vehicles it delivered that month in the US.

So the industry is estimating Tesla’s monthly US sales. Tesla discloses unit sales data in its quarterly earnings reports, long after everyone has already forgotten about the months in which they occurred. Three: So how are Model 3 sales doing? Since Tesla doesn’t disclose its monthly deliveries in the US, the industry is guessing. The assembly line still isn’t working. “Manufacturing bottlenecks,” as Tesla calls it, and “manufacturing hell,” as Elon Musk calls it, rule the day. In Q3, Tesla delivered 220 handmade Model 3’s. In October, it delivered about 145 handmade units. In November, the assembly line still wasn’t assembling cars. Inside EVs estimates that Tesla delivered a whopping 345 units in November.

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Interesting angle.

AI Has Already Taken Over, It’s Called the Corporation (Lent)

When corporations were first formed back in the seventeenth century, their inventors—just like modern software engineers—acted with what they believed were good intentions. The first corporate charters were simply designed to limit an investor’s liability to the amount of their investment, thus encouraging them to finance risky expeditions to India and Southeast Asia. However, an unintended consequence soon emerged, known as moral hazard: with the potential upside greater than the downside, reckless behavior ensued, leading to a series of spectacular frauds and a market crash that resulted in corporations being temporarily banned in England in 1720. Thomas Jefferson and other leaders of the United States, aware of the English experience, were deeply suspicious of corporations, giving them limited charters with tightly constrained powers.

However, during the turmoil of the Civil War, industrialists took advantage of the disarray, leveraging widespread political corruption to expand their influence. Shortly before his death, Abraham Lincoln lamented what he saw happening with a resounding prophecy: “Corporations have been enthroned … An era of corruption in high places will follow… until wealth is aggregated in a few hands … and the Republic is destroyed.” Corporations, just like a potential runaway AI, have no intrinsic interest in human welfare. They are legal constructions: abstract entities designed with the ultimate goal of maximizing financial returns for their investors above all else. If corporations were in fact real persons, they would be sociopaths, completely lacking the ability for empathy that is a crucial element of normal human behavior.

Unlike humans, however, corporations are theoretically immortal, cannot be put in prison, and the larger multinationals are not constrained by the laws of any individual country. With the incalculable advantage of their superhuman powers, corporations have literally taken over the world. They have grown so massive that an astonishing sixty-nine of the largest hundred economies in the world are not nation states but corporate entities.

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The UN fails to speak out on far too many issues. It has made itself a lame duck.

The UN Is Investigating Extreme Poverty … In America (G.)

The United Nations monitor on extreme poverty and human rights has embarked on a coast-to-coast tour of the US to hold the world’s richest nation – and its president – to account for the hardships endured by America’s most vulnerable citizens. The tour, which kicked off on Friday morning, will make stops in four states as well as Washington DC and the US territory of Puerto Rico. It will focus on several of the social and economic barriers that render the American dream merely a pipe dream to millions – from homelessness in California to racial discrimination in the Deep South, cumulative neglect in Puerto Rico and the decline of industrial jobs in West Virginia. With 41 million Americans officially in poverty according to the US Census Bureau (other estimates put that figure much higher), one aim of the UN mission will be to demonstrate that no country, however wealthy, is immune from human suffering induced by growing inequality.

Nor is any nation, however powerful, beyond the reach of human rights law – a message that the US government and Donald Trump might find hard to stomach given their tendency to regard internal affairs as sacrosanct. The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, is a feisty Australian and New York University law professor who has a fearsome track record of holding power to account. He tore a strip off the Saudi Arabian regime for its treatment of women months before the kingdom legalized their right to drive, denounced the Brazilian government for attacking the poor through austerity, and even excoriated the UN itself for importing cholera to Haiti. The US is no stranger to Alston’s withering tongue, having come under heavy criticism from him for its program of drone strikes on terrorist targets abroad.

In his previous role as UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Alston blamed the Obama administration and the CIA for killing many innocent civilians in attacks he said were of dubious international legality. Now Alston has set off on his sixth, and arguably most sensitive, visit as UN monitor on extreme poverty since he took up the position in June 2014. At the heart of his fact-finding tour will be a question that is causing increasing anxiety at a troubled time: is it possible, in one of the world’s leading democracies, to enjoy fundamental human rights such as political participation or voting rights if you are unable to meet basic living standards, let alone engage, as Thomas Jefferson put it, in the pursuit of happiness?

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Untreated traumas. A largely forgotten part of the refugee crisis.

Despite Greek Shelter, Yazidis Struggle To Integrate (AFP)

Having run the gauntlet of invasion, combat, killings and enslavement by Islamic State jihadists in Iraq, the members of this religious minority have found temporary shelter in the largely agricultural region of Serres in northern Greece. The camp they have been allocated to is one of the best in the country – their prefabricated homes have air conditioning and solar panels to heat water. The grounds are clean and there is a playground for the children. Many hope to be reunited with other Yazidis stranded in Greece, but with the country struggling to manage more than 50,000 refugees and migrants stranded on its territory, that is not always an option. “Creating a camp just for Yazidis is neither possible nor viable,” said a Greek official with knowledge of refugee management efforts.

The camp can normally accommodate 700 people. At the moment there are some 350 Yazidis, most of them women and children, waiting for EU-sponsored relocation to other parts of Europe. Greece’s policy is to move eligible refugees from overcrowded island camps – where they undergo identity checks upon arrival from Turkey – to the mainland, where more comfortable accommodation is available in better camps, UN-funded flats and hotels. But the Yazidis, who have already faced an ordeal keeping their dwindling community together thus far, oppose this policy. This is partly down to fear of other communities. They had a scare earlier this year, when a Yazidi celebration in Kilkis, another part of northern Greece, descended into violence between Arabs and Kurds.

[..] In areas controlled by Islamic State, thousands of women and girls from the Yazidi minority were used as sex slaves and suffered horrific abuse, including rape, abduction, slavery and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. The suffering the Yazidis have endured explains why community elders in Serres have written to the migration ministry to officially request that the camp be assigned to Yazidis alone. “We ask for our community not to be disturbed and to live here in safety until we depart,” says Hajdar Hamat, a self-styled spokesman for the Yazidis at the camp. “Everybody knows about our peoples’ genocide. We did not come from Sinjar to Greece for fun. Europe must protect us,” says Hamat.

Read more …

Dec 012017
 
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Edward S. Curtis Mosa Mohave girl c. 1903

 

The Mean Reverting History Of Profit Growth (Roberts)
US Household Debt Is Rising 60% Faster Than Wages (ZH)
We Give Up! Government Spending And Deficits Soar Everywhere (Rubino)
Lemmings In Full Stampede Toward The Fiscal Cliff (Stockman)
Brexit Risks Leaving Banks on the Hook for Impossible Contracts (BBG)
I’m Glad Morgan Stanley Has Warned Us About Jeremy Corbyn (Ind.)
US Senate Suspends Tax Bill Votes to Friday Morning (BBG)
Australian Banks Face Public Inquiry Amid String of Scandals
Gold Trader Implicates Erdogan In US Sanctions Breaking Case (BBC)
From The Caucasus To The Balkans, China’s Silk Roads Are Rising (Escobar)
Paris – The Financial Capital Of West And Central Africa (Gefira)
Chinese Satellite Closes In On Dark Matter Mystery (AFP)

 

 

Another great set of graphs from Lance Roberts, who just keep churning them out. I picked these two to show how dependent economies have become on suppressing wages. Problem is, that threatens economies. You need money rolling at the ground level to keep your economy going.

The Mean Reverting History Of Profit Growth (Roberts)

Since 2000, each dollar of gross sales has been increased to more than $1 in operating and reported profits through financial engineering and cost suppression. The next chart shows that the surge in corporate profitability in recent years is a result of a consistent reduction of both employment and wage growth. This has been achieved by increases in productivity, technology, and off-shoring of labor. However, it is important to note that benefits from such actions are finite. (Note the acceleration in profits starting with the Reagan Tax Cuts in the 1989’s. There is no evidence that cutting taxes for corporations leads to higher wages for employees.)

Given the economic landscape of recent years, large offsetting sectoral deficits and surpluses are not surprising, but they should not be taken as evidence that the long-term profitability of the corporate sector has permanently shifted higher. Stocks are not a claim to a few years of cash flows, but decades and decades of them. By pricing stocks as if current profits are representative of the indefinite future, investors have ensured themselves a rude awakening over time. Equity valuations are decidedly a long-term proposition, and from present levels, the implied long-term returns are quite dim.

Read more …

And then you get this…

US Household Debt Is Rising 60% Faster Than Wages (ZH)

The good news: total mortgage debt has decreased since 2008, to $8.743 trillion from $9.29 trillion, but as of the third quarter of 2017, still accounts for 67.5% of overall consumer debt. The bad news: since 2008, the growth in total debt has been attributable to the auto loan and student loan sectors. Auto loan debt has increased by 50% since 2008, to slightly over $1.2 trillion from approximately $800 billion. The most dramatic growth rate, as Zero Hedge readers know well, has been in student loan debt which has grown by 122% since 2008, to $1.357 trillion from $611 billion. But a bigger concern flagged by DBRS is that the growth in consumer debt is raising concerns when viewed in the context of the existing wage stagnation hampering the current economic environment.

The rating agency cites a paper published in October 2017 by the Harvard Business Review which stated that the inflation-adjusted hourly wage has grown by only 0.2% per year since the mid-1970s and labor’s share of income has decreased to its current level of 57% from 65%. Meanwhile, in the second quarter of 2017, wages were only 5.7% higher than they were a decade earlier. In comparison, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York/Equifax data shows that consumer debt growth over the same period was 9.3%. In other words, the purchasing power of US households has been largely a function of rapidly rising debt, which over the past decade has risen 60% faster than wages. There is another concern: while overall delinquency rates have stabilized in recent years, the one stubborn outlier remains student debt, where 90+ day delinquencies have risen to more than 10%.

Read more …

“Obviously debts of this magnitude can’t and therefore won’t be repaid. Which means the coming decade will be defined by how — and how quickly — we end up defaulting.”

We Give Up! Government Spending And Deficits Soar Everywhere (Rubino)

A recurring pattern of the past few decades involves governments promising to limit their borrowing, only to discover that hardly anyone cares. So target dates slip, bonds are issued, and the debts keep rising. This time around the timing is especially notable, since eight years of global growth ought to be producing tax revenues sufficient to at least moderate the tide of red ink. But apparently not. In Japan, for instance, government debt is now 250% of GDP, a figure which economists from, say, the 1990s, would have thought impossible. Over the past decade the country’s leaders have proposed a series of plans for balancing the budget, and actually did manage to shrink debt/GDP slightly in 2016. But now they seem to have given up, and are looking for excuses to keep spending.

[..] To put the above in visual terms, here’s an infographic from Howmuch.com that shows per-capita government debt for the world’s major countries. Note that a Japanese family of five’s share of its government’s debt is close to $450,000 while in the US a similar family owes $300,000. That’s in addition to their mortgages, car loans, credit cards, etc. Obviously debts of this magnitude can’t and therefore won’t be repaid. Which means the coming decade will be defined by how — and how quickly — we end up defaulting.

Read more …

More of that same story.

Lemmings In Full Stampede Toward The Fiscal Cliff (Stockman)

The lemmings are now in full stampede toward the cliffs. You can literally hear the cold waters churning, foaming and crashing on the boulders far below. From bitcoin to Amazon, the financials, the Russell 2000 and most everything else in between, the casinos are digesting no information except the price action and are relentlessly rising on nothing more than pure momentum. The mania has gone full retard. Certainly earnings have nothing to do with it. As of this morning, the Russell 2000, for instance, was trading at 112X reported LTM earnings. Likewise, Q3 reporting is all over except for the shouting and reported LTM earnings for the S&P 500 came in $107 per share. That’s of signal importance because fully 36 months ago, S&P earnings for the September 2014 LTM period posted at $106 per share.

That’s right. Three years and $1 of gain. They talking heads blather about “strong earnings” only because they think we were born yesterday. What happened in-between, of course, was the proverbial pig passing through the python. First, the global oil, commodities and industrial deflation after July 2014 took earnings to a low of $86.44 per share in the March 2016 LTM period. After that came the opposite—the massive 2016-2017 Xi Coronation Stimulus in China. The new Red Emperor and his minions pumped out an incredible $6 trillion wave of new credit, thereby artificially stimulating a global rebound and a profits recovery back to where it started three years ago.

The difference of course is that $106 of earnings back then were priced at an already heady (by historical standards) 18.6X, whereas $107 of earnings today are being priced at a truly lunatic 24.6X. After all, nothing says earnings bust ahead better than an aging business cycle, a cooling Red Ponzi, an epochal shift toward central bank QT (quantitative tightening) and a massive Washington Fiscal Cliff. Yet every one of those headwinds are self-evident and have made their presence known with a loud clang in the last few days.

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For good measure, let’s throw in some Catch 22.

Brexit Risks Leaving Banks on the Hook for Impossible Contracts (BBG)

As far as Brexit headaches go, John McFarlane, who chairs Barclays and London’s bank lobby, says that while his firm is on top of job moves, he’s more concerned about rewriting “hundreds of thousands” of contracts. He’s not alone. Andrew Bailey, head of the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority, said “contract continuity” was among the biggest potential disruptions from a no-deal, no-transition Brexit. Both men were testifying to lawmakers Wednesday. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney and ECB President Mario Draghi have also expressed concern about the issue and the dearth of time left for a fix. A week ago, data from the European Banking Authority showed the scope of the issue, and that money is already on the move for precisely this reason: European banks have slashed their U.K. assets by $425 billion, driven by a 35% drop in derivatives exposures.

Insurance policies are affected too: Carney estimates about 20 billion pounds of insurance liabilities in Britain could be affected without swift action. The issue arises because one side or the other of a contract can meet its obligations only thanks to an authorization that’s set to disappear once the U.K. leaves the European Union in 2019. This might result in a firm being obliged by contract law to do something that regulation prohibits it from carrying out, and impossibility generally isn’t a defense against non-performance of a contract, said Simon Gleeson at Clifford Chance in London. “A bank which enters into a contract which becomes illegal to perform by reason of Brexit may well be liable in damages for its non-performance to the counterparty,” said Gleeson. “Dealing with this is so much in everyone’s interest that I’m amazed it hasn’t been addressed.”

[..] Cross-border revolving credits – credit lines that can be drawn down, repaid, then drawn down again – are among such contracts. Many of these are issued to EU companies by syndicates with members based in the U.K. For example, lenders to Volkswagen Financial Services’s €2.5 billion ($3 billion) line include London-based entities for Bank of America and Citigroup, as well as the U.K. units of the major British banks, data compiled by Bloomberg show. A lender that lost its authorization but made an advance to the company under the revolver might find itself in breach of local law in jurisdictions including Germany and France, according to Clifford Chance. On the other hand, it might be in breach of contract if it failed to make the loan.

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Because Morgan Stanley exposes itself this way. As Corbyn himself said: Yes, we’re a threat. To you.

I’m Glad Morgan Stanley Has Warned Us About Jeremy Corbyn (Ind.)

This week, Morgan Stanley claimed that “Corbyn would be more of a danger to markets than hard Brexit”, something which I saw as supremely ironic. Because the actions of Morgan Stanley, and others like it, laid the foundations for Leave because of their role in the financial crisis: a crisis of capitalism, which ushered in seven years of austerity, falling wages and insecure work. Precisely the conditions that would encourage the majority of British people to vote against the status quo and opt for Leave. Morgan Stanley’s role in the financial crisis cannot be understated; and, given describing things as a “danger to markets” appears to be in fashion right now, let’s remind ourselves what they got up to just over a decade ago.

Essentially, they packaged up sub-prime mortgages as something called Collateralised Debt Obligations (CDOs), got credit ratings agencies – who were entirely conflicted as their clients were the investment banks – to rate these absolute garbage CDOs triple-A investments. Morgan Stanley then misled investors who bought them. Because they knew what those investments were actually worth, Morgan Stanley’s traders bought what are known as “credit default swaps” on those CDOs – effectively amounting to a bet on it defaulting. You can buy or sell a credit default swap even if you don’t own the investment. They did this thousands of times.

[..] the right-wing press, which gleefully reported on this Corbyn/Brexit warning, clearly has a short memory about what really happened. After all, the lie that Labour caused the financial crisis, and not investment banks like Morgan Stanley, was a convenient pretext for maintaining the economic status quo while cutting to public spending. This forced ordinary working people to pay for a financial crisis they did not cause. It’s little wonder that people voted Leave having been totally shafted by the system. But the opportunity to do so only arose because the narrative that “Labour crashed the economy” helped secure David Cameron a majority in 2015 on a manifesto that promised a referendum.

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Make it 2018.

US Senate Suspends Tax Bill Votes to Friday Morning (BBG)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said votes on the tax bill will resume at 11 a.m. on Friday as the collapse of a key compromise to win a majority for a Senate tax overhaul left Republicans scrambling to salvage the legislation. Debate over the bill may continue into the evening, McConnell said. It’s unclear when the unlimited amendment vote series known as “vote-a-rama” would begin. After seeming to gain momentum during the day, the GOP’s tax cut plan smacked into a decision from the Senate’s rule-making office that said a so-called trigger proposed by GOP holdouts didn’t pass procedural muster. At least three Republicans – Bob Corker of Tennessee, Jeff Flake of Arizona and James Lankford of Oklahoma – had tied their votes to the mechanism, which would have increased taxes if revenue targets weren’t met.

The trio is now demanding that leaders agree to other changes in the bill to avoid a huge deficit increase. Republicans have a slim majority in the Senate and can only afford to lose two members if they want to pass the tax bill without Democratic support. Adding to the difficulty was a ruling by a key fiscal referee that the tax plan would blow a $1 trillion hole in the nation’s debt – even after accounting for economic growth. The day’s events left GOP leaders contemplating a variety of potentially unpalatable measures — including making some tax cuts on the individual and corporate side end within six or seven years. The current version of the Senate bill would sunset individual breaks in 2026.

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Wait till home priced start to plummet. That’s when the scandals will break.

Australian Banks Face Public Inquiry Amid String of Scandals

Australia’s banks will be subject to a wide-ranging public inquiry after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull bowed to pressure to address scandals besetting the industry. The yearlong royal commission will examine the conduct of the nation’s banks, insurers, financial services providers and pension funds, and consider whether regulators have enough power to tackle misconduct, Turnbull said Thursday. He pledged the inquiry would not put “capitalism on trial.” The announcement came just minutes after Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Australia & New Zealand Banking, Westpac and National Australia Bank dropped their opposition to an inquiry, saying in an open letter to the government that months of political squabbling over the issue risked undermining offshore investor confidence.

More than A$8 billion ($6 billion) was wiped off the market value of the big four lenders in early Sydney trading, with Commonwealth Bank declining as much as 2.7%. “Ongoing speculation and fear-mongering about a banking inquiry or royal commission is disruptive and risks undermining the reputation of Australia’s world-class financial system,” Turnbull said. The inquiry will “further ensure our financial system is working efficiently and effectively.” The main opposition Labor party has for months been demanding a royal commission into the finance industry, amid a string of scandals ranging from misleading financial advice, attempted rate-rigging and alleged breaches of anti-money laundering laws. Pressure was growing on Turnbull to hold an inquiry, with some lawmakers in his Liberal-National coalition threatening to force a vote in parliament next week.

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A big problem for Erdogan. The US takes its sanctions seriously.

Gold Trader Implicates Erdogan In US Sanctions Breaking Case (BBC)

A controversial Turkish-Iranian gold trader has told a US court that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan personally approved his sanction-breaking deals with Iran. Reza Zarrab, 34, is a key witness in the criminal trial of a Turkish banker whom he allegedly worked with to help Iran launder money. Mr Erdogan has denied that Turkey breached US sanctions on Iran. The case has strained relations between Ankara and Washington. In his testimony, Mr Zarrab implicated Mr Erdogan in an international money laundering scheme that he and the banker, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, ran between 2010 and 2015 that allegedly allowed Iran to access international markets despite US sanctions.

He said that he was told in 2012 by the then economy minister that Mr Erdogan, who was prime minister at the time, had instructed Turkish banks to participate in the multi-million dollar scheme. Mr Erdogan said earlier on Thursday that Turkey did not breach US sanctions on Iran, Turkish media report. His government has described the case as “a plot against Turkey”. The Turkish president is yet to respond to the new allegations about him made in court. Mr Atilla has pleaded not guilty. Nine people have been charged in total. Mr Zarrab was arrested by US officials in 2016 and accused of engaging in hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of transactions on behalf of the Iranian government, money laundering and bank fraud. But he decided to cooperate with prosecutors and is now their star witness in the New York trial.

On Wednesday, he told the court he paid Zafer Caglayan, then Turkey’s economy minister, bribes amounting to more than €50m to facilitate deals with Iran. Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister, Bekir Bozdag, responded to the allegations, saying that Mr Zarrab had been “pressured into committing slander”. Speaking to state-run news agency Anadolu, Mr Bozdag called the trial a “theatre”. The Turkish government had previously said that Mr Caglayan acted within Turkish and international law.

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Overcapacity export.

From The Caucasus To The Balkans, China’s Silk Roads Are Rising (Escobar)

The 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress made it clear that the New Silk Roads – aka, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – launched by President Xi Jinping just four years ago, provides the concept around which all Chinese foreign policy is to revolve for the foreseeable future. Up until the symbolic 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, in 2049, in fact. Virtually every nook and cranny of the Chinese administration is invested in making the BRI Grand Strategy a success: economic actors, financial players, state-owned enterprises (SOEs), the private sector, the diplomatic machine, think tanks, and – of course – the media, are all on board. It’s under this long-term framework that sundry BRI projects should be examined. And their reach, let’s be clear, involves most of Eurasia – including everything from the Central Asian steppes to the Caucasus and the Western Balkans.

Representatives of no fewer than 50 nations are currently gathered in Tbilisi, Georgia, for yet another BRI-related summit. The BRI masterplan details six major economic “corridors,” and one of these is the Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor. That’s where Georgia fits in, alongside neighboring Azerbaijan: both are vying to position themselves as the key Caucasus transit hub between Western China and the European Union. [..] The action in the Caucasus was mirrored in Europe earlier in the week as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban opened the sixth “16+1” summit, involving China and 16 Central and Eastern European nations, in Budapest. “16+1” is yet another of those trademark Chinese diplomatic “away wins.”

Some of these nations are part of the EU, some part of NATO, some neither. From Beijing’s point of view, what matters is the relentless BRI infrastructure and connectivity drive. Beijing may have invested as much as US$8 billion so far in Central and Eastern Europe. China is having a ball in the Western Balkans – especially in Serbia, in Montenegro, and in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where EU financial muscle is absent. China has invested in multiple connectivity and energy projects in Serbia – including the much-debated Belgrade-Budapest high-speed rail link. Construction of the Serbian stretch started this week, with 85% of the total cost (roughly €2.4 billion) coming from the Export-Import Bank of China.

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Dream of power are always costly.

Paris – The Financial Capital Of West And Central Africa (Gefira)

France’s current zone of influence in Africa is the result of the policies of President Charles de Gaulle, who was unable to come to terms with his defeats in Indochina (1954) and Algeria (1962) and therefore sought to achieve the dominance of France in his former colonies. After de Gaulle, however, other presidents did not refrain from using military force and violence in Africa to defend their interests, on the pretext of protecting human rights and democracy. The French often achieved the opposite, because they made the same mistakes in their military actions as Americans made elsewhere in the world: they supported people who later became their enemies or violated human rights.

For example, it was the regime of Juvenal Habyariman in Rwanda that was supported by Paris: the French supplied Hutu combat groups with weapons, thus contributing to the Tutsi massacre. Hollande, who in Paris and Europe was perceived as a weakling, showed the face of a warrior and sent heavy units and fighter planes to Mali in 2013. This would not have been necessary if French President Sarkozy and the USA had not overthrown Qaddafi. It was Sarkozy that initiated the NATO led airstrikes against Libya. The removal of Colonel Qaddafi gave rise to the creation of the Caliphate with the help of Tuaregs in the north of Niger and Mali. After a few years since the start of the mission in Mali one wonders: has it made Europe safer?

Has the flow of migrants been stopped through Sahel countries? Are the Jihadists of African descent a lesser threat in Europe? The cost of the military action in Mali in 2013 amounted to €650 million. Operation Barkhane (as it is called) continues to this day and costs the French budget €500 million per year. Of course, democracy in Mali is a top priority for most Europeans, right? A total of 9,000 French soldiers are currently stationed in Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Gabon, the Central African Republic and Djibouti. The growing military presence is intended to support the fight against terrorism and crime, in fact it is about the French elites extending their power to the south, reaching for cheap raw materials and outlet markets.

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“..if we can identify it is dark matter for sure then that is very significant. And if not, it is even more significant because they would be fresh new particles that no one had predicted before..”

Chinese Satellite Closes In On Dark Matter Mystery (AFP)

Scientists have detected cosmic ray energy readings that could bring them closer to proving the existence of dark matter, a mysterious substance believed to comprise a quarter of our universe, a study revealed on Thursday. Likely made up of unknown sub-atomic material, dark matter is invisible to telescopes and can be perceived only through its gravitational pull on other objects in the universe. Beijing’s first astronomical satellite launched two years ago detected 1.5 million cosmic ray electrons and protons, the study said, and unprecedented measurements found curiously low-energy rays. The team of researchers from China, Switzerland and Italy, who published their first results in the journal Nature, said the data may cast light on “the annihilation or decay of particle dark matter”.

“This new unseen phenomena can bring breakthroughs,” Bai Chunli, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said at a briefing. “After collecting more data, if we can identify it is dark matter for sure then that is very significant. And if not, it is even more significant because they would be fresh new particles that no one had predicted before,” Bai added, to applause from fellow scientists. The Dark Matter Particle Explorer (DAMPE) is now collecting more data from space to help researchers figure out what it could be. DAMPE was launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the Gobi desert in December 2015, after nearly 20 years in development. Its designers boast that DAMPE is superior to its US counterpart, the AMS-02 (Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer) that NASA installed on the International Space Station in 2011.

“Our cosmic ray detection range is 10 times that of AMS-02 and three times as accurate,” said DAMPE chief scientist Chang Jin. “Proving the existence of dark matter takes a lot of time. Now we have worked out the most precise spectrum, but we are not 100% sure that this can lead us to the location of dark matter,” he said.

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Nov 292017
 
 November 29, 2017  Posted by at 10:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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Claude Monet The Manneporte (Étretat) 1883

 

VIX – From Fear Index To Greed Index (Tchir)
When VIX Trade Finally Blows Up, It Could Get Ugly All Over (MW)
DB’s “2018 Credit Outlook” – Bearish Not Benign Conclusion (ZH)
The GOP Tax Bill: Fuggedaboutit! (Stockman)
Number Of US Store Closings Triples From Last Year (Snyder)
Trump Deserves Some Credit for the Rally in Stocks (A. Gary Shilling)
Fed Chair Nominee Jerome Powell Says Too Big To Fail Is Over (BI)
Britain Close To Deal On Brexit Bill With EU (R.)
Former New Zealand PM John Key Lied About Mass Surveillance Program (NZH)
Senior Saudi Prince Freed In $1 Billion Settlement Agreement (R.)
Europe Needs a Way to Prevent the Next Greek-Style Debt Crisis (BBG)
Controversial Glyphosate Weedkiller Wins New 5-Year Lease In Europe (G.)
New Zealand Fault Line Wakes Up: “We Must Think Japan 2011 Ruptures” (SHTF)
Libya “Chose” Freedom, Now It Has Slavery (CP)
The EU Created Libya’s Migrant Abuses, Now It Must Address Them (CP)

 

 

The crazy idea of ultra low risk will be found out.

VIX – From Fear Index To Greed Index (Tchir)

We have all heard the VIX or volatility index referred to as the Fear Index or Fear Gauge. Rising VIX was meant to signal fear in the markets. That is how most investors have historically thought about VIX and traded it (directly or through Exchange Traded Products). I have gone back in time and combined the total assets under management of XIV and SVXY (two short VIX products) and UVXY and VXX (the two largest long VIX products). There are others and it doesn’t account for the fact that UVXY incorporates leverage, but the point is the same. The funds that in theory helped investors ‘hedge’ their portfolios went from being the dominant species to those that enable investors to sell volatility.


Short VIX Funds are Larger than Long VIX Funds (source Bloomberg)

This has rarely been the case. Typically investors had more interest in hedging their portfolios despite the evidence that the long VIX ETFs and ETNs had to continually perform reverse splits as their share prices drifted lower (some would argue “raced” lower is a more accurate description). While the products looking to benefit on a volatility spike still attract inflows (otherwise their assets under management would be even lower), they have lost the competition to the VIX sellers. The only other gap of similar size and duration was in late August 2015 – AFTER the market sold off and volatility spiked. This time, it is occurring as stock markets are near all-time highs and VIX is still close to the all-time low it set just a few weeks ago (VIX is only calculated since 1990). [..] A spike in volatility could be far more problematic than the market is prepared for as even a small spike could turn into a larger problem with so many people positioned the other way.

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“.. it has the potential to destabilize the entire financial system on its own.”

When VIX Trade Finally Blows Up, It Could Get Ugly All Over (MW)

Bitcoin’s face-melting rally toward $10,000 is the talk of financial circles these days. But if the digital currency is, indeed, the dangerous bubble many believe it to be, its inevitable implosion will pale in comparison to the potential damage caused by the demise of one of the best trades the Wall Street has ever seen: Shorting the VIX. You’d have to be living under a rock — or maybe just a normal person who doesn’t fixate on the stock market — to not notice the incredible lack of volatility in this bull run. This persistent trend has lined the pocket of any investor who’s been savvy/lucky enough to bet against the VIX. Count Seth Golden, a former Target manager, among those fortunate to be on the right side of it. He told the Times this summer his net worth exploded from $500,000 to $12 million in about five years thanks to his VIX shorts. This chart shows insane it’s been:

But all good things come to an end, and when this historic trend finally reverses, the fallout could be devastating. In our call of the day, Kevin Muir of the Macro Tourist blog warns that these people face getting completely “wiped out” when volatility returns to this market. And it won’t end there. “A VIX spike is dangerous not only for everyone that is playing in the VIX square, but for all market participants,” he explained in a recent blog post. “Given the size of the VIX complex, it has the potential to destabilize the entire financial system on its own. If the move is abrupt and large enough, it will not only bankrupt many different parties, but will cause a ripple effect in other markets.”

Muir went on to warn the real worry here is not just that those who have made enormous sums on shorting the VIX are about to give it all back. No, he believes they, as well as many others, stand to lose a whole lot more. “Shorting VIX, at these low levels, in the size they are doing, is not only dumb, but crazily dangerous, not only to the parties trading it, but also to the stability of the entire financial system,” he said.

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How can the VIX remain low in the face of this?

DB’s “2018 Credit Outlook” – Bearish Not Benign Conclusion (ZH)

Heading into 2018, Reid characterises risk assets as a tightrope walker who’s successfully negotiated a hire wire since the 2008 crisis. However, the confidence of our risk asset funambulist was always fortified by the knowledge that there was a huge safety net direct beneath him in the shape of the central bank put. In Reid’s own words. “The best analogy for our view on 2018 is that risk assets are like a highly skilled but still relatively inexperienced tightrope walker. Our tightrope walker started his career immediately after the GFC and earned his apprenticeship in very difficult conditions with lots of crosswinds but with the knowledge that a huge safety net existed beneath him. This allowed him to walk across the narrow line with slow but ever-increasing confidence, skill and aplomb. In our analogy the safety net is the central bank put that has continued to help financial markets’ confidence over the last several years in spite of very challenging conditions.”

As the tightrope walker steps from December 2017 into January 2018, he’s going to notice a disconcerting change in his safety net. “However in 2018 our tightrope walker will have to move onto the next phase of his career where the structural support of the safety net will likely be slowly weakened. Every time he looks down he’ll figuratively see a central banker loosen or take away a supporting rope. As such his skills and confidence are likely to be tested more than in recent years.” Reid is specifically referring to the growth in the size of the big four DM central bank balance sheets, i.e. the Federal Reserve, ECB, Bank of Japan and the Bank of England. At the end of 2017, the combined size of the big four’s balance sheets is estimated to reach about $14.9 trillion, an increase of about $1.8 trillion on the end of 2016. That’s about to change radically, as he notes. “Assuming fairly neutral and consensus assumptions, central bank balance sheet growth will fall sharply over the next 12-24 months from the near peak levels currently seen.”

The chart below shows that on a rolling twelve-month basis, growth will fall sharply, beginning in 2Q 2018. By the end of 2018, DM estimates that the rolling twelve-month growth will have declined about 75% from its 2017 level to about $450 billion. By August 2019, growth will have declined to zero according to DB’s estimate.

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Hope the GOP reads these missives.

The GOP Tax Bill: Fuggedaboutit! (Stockman)

The GOP has become so politically desperate that they might as well enact a two-word statute and be done with it. It would simply read: Tax Bill! Actually, that’s not far from where they are in the great scheme of things. The Senate Finance Committee’s bill is a dog’s breakfast of K-Street/Wall Street pleasing tax cuts, narrowly focused revenue raisers that will be subject to withering attack on the Senate floor, nonsensical vote-driven compromises and outrageous fiscal gimmicks – the most blatant of which is the sun-setting of every single individual tax provision after 2025. This latter trick is designed to shoe-horn the revenue loss into the $1.5 trillion 10-year allowance in the budget reconciliation instruction and also comply with the Senate’s “Byrd Rule” which allows a point of order to strike down a reconciliation bill that increases the deficit after year 10.

Save for these gimmicks, the actual 10-year cost of the Senate bill would be $2.2 trillion including interest on the added deficits. Nevertheless, this and other sunset gimmicks also underscore how threadbare the whole undertaking has become. To wit, the bill provides interim, deficit-financed tax relief of $1.38 trillion during 2018-2025 before these budget gimmicks kick-in, which is not a big number in the scheme of things: it amounts to just 4.2% of current law revenue collections during the eight year period, and only 0.8% of GDP. Since the bill doesn’t even really cut marginal rates during this interim period (the top bracket drops from 39.6% to 38.5%), its hard to see how a mere 0.8% “stimulus” to GDP is going to incite a tsunami of growth and jobs.

As we have frequently pointed out, the Reagan tax cut of 1981 – which had no measureable effect on the trend rate of economic growth – slashed marginal rates from 70% to 50% and as a total package paled the current Senate Plan into insignificance: It reduced the Federal revenue base by 26%, not 4.2%; and it amounted to 6.2% of GDP, not 0.8%, when fully effective in the later 1980s. Moreover, the “fully effective” part is especially salient because the Senate bill’s impact does not widen with time, as do most permanent tax cuts which require phase-in periods, but, instead, shrinks into virtual insignificance. Thus, the bill’s net tax cut amounts to $225 billion or 1.1% of GDP in 2019, but by 2022 the net cut shrinks to $199 billion and 0.9% of GDP – and then to just $145 billion or 0.6% of GDP in 2025 when the sunset gimmick kicks in.

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Changing the landscape.

Number Of US Store Closings Triples From Last Year (Snyder)

Did you know that the number of retail store closings in 2017 has already tripled the number from all of 2016? Last year, a total of 2,056 store locations were closed down, but this year more than 6,700 stores have been shut down so far. That absolutely shatters the all-time record for store closings in a single year, and yet nobody seems that concerned about it. In 2008, an all-time record 6,163 retail stores were shuttered, and we have already surpassed that mark by a very wide margin. We are facing an unprecedented retail apocalypse, and as you will see below, the number of retail store closings is actually supposed to be much higher next year. Whenever the mainstream media reports on the retail apocalypse, they always try to put a positive spin on the story by blaming the growth of Amazon and other online retailers.

And without a doubt that has had an impact, but at this point online shopping still accounts for less than 10% of total U.S. retail sales. Look, Amazon didn’t just show up to the party. They have been around for many, many years and while it is true that they are growing, they still only account for a very small sliver of the overall retail pie. So those that would like to explain away this retail apocalypse need to come up with a better explanation. [..] Of course the truth is that the economy is not doing well. The U.S. economy has not grown by at least 3% in a single year since the middle of the Bush administration, and it isn’t going to happen this year either. Overall, the U.S. economy has grown by an average of just 1.33% over the last 10 years, and meanwhile U.S. stock prices are up about 250% since the end of the last recession.

The stock market has become completely and utterly disconnected from economic reality, and yet many Americans still believe that it is an accurate barometer for the health of the economy. [..] So far this year, more than 300 retailers have filed for bankruptcy, and we are currently on pace to lose over 147 million square feet of retail space by the end of 2017. Those are absolutely catastrophic numbers. And some analysts are already predicting that as many as 9,000 stores could be shut down in the United States in 2018.

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Deregulation.

Trump Deserves Some Credit for the Rally in Stocks (A. Gary Shilling)

Reducing government regulation is tough. It’s resisted by all those who benefit, including government employees who administer the many programs. Every president since Jimmy Carter has attempted to lower the cost of regulation. At best, any cuts have been tiny and mostly centered on trimming paperwork. But less regulation is one campaign promise made by Donald Trump that is coming true. With tax and health-care reform problematic and given the president’s protectionist leanings, deregulation is probably a major driver of the stock market rally. The size and scope of the federal government give the president immense powers. In relation to gross domestic product, federal spending rose from 16% in 1946 to 22% in the 2017 fiscal year. Executive orders give the chief executive, in effect, legislative powers.

President Barack Obama issued many in his waning days, especially affecting power plants and oil pipelines. The Competitive Enterprise Institute last year found regulation cost American businesses $1.9 trillion, dwarfing the $344 billion in corporate taxes. About 56% of CEOs see overregulation as a major threat to their organization, more than cybersecurity (50%), rising taxes (41%) or even protectionism (27%). Whenever a new regulation is made or changed, it must be chronicled in the Federal Register. In the last years of the Obama administration, regulatory activity went parabolic, hitting almost 97,000 pages in a year. The annualized pace under Trump through July 31 was 61,330 pages, the fewest since the 1970s.

This year through June, the federal government had made 1,731 preliminary, proposed or final rules, the least since 2000 and down 40% from the 2011 peak under Obama. Many actions taken under Trump are reversals of earlier rules made under Obama. Of 66 completed actions at the Environmental Protection Agency, a third were rule withdrawals. Shares of banks have benefited, as those with more than $50 billion in assets are now able to merge without increased scrutiny. Scaling back the Volcker Rule would allow big banks to resume proprietary lending. The delay and likely alterations of the fiduciary requirement would aid brokers and insurers. The House has already approved a widespread rewrite of Dodd-Frank.

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I think he meant it.

Fed Chair Nominee Jerome Powell Says Too Big To Fail Is Over (BI)

Jerome Powell, Donald Trump’s nominee to replace Janet Yellen as Federal Reserve Chair, just made a frightening statement that suggests he is far too sanguine about risks in the US and global financial systems. During his confirmation hearing at the Senate on Tuesday, when pressed on the issue of whether any US banks are still considered too big to fail, Powell said simply: “No.” It’s the kind of blind optimism that could come back to haunt him during his tenure, which begins in February. Too big to fail, of course, is the financial crisis-era term for banks that the US government would be forced to bail out in a crisis because they might take the entire system down with them. Think of Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Goldman Sachs. They underpin too much of our financial network to be allowed to falter.

“Dodd-Frank did a lot of things, but ending Too Big To Fail can’t be listed among its accomplishments,” Isaac Boltansky, director of policy research at Compass Point, told Business Insider. “The system is far safer given the capital and liquidity rules, and new mandates such as living wills and orderly liquidation authority should blunt panic in a crisis, but I doubt anyone in Washington or on Wall Street truly believes the federal government would stand idly by in the event of another systemic banking crisis,” he said. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren also took issue with Powell’s opening statement, which talked about “easing the burden” of regulation for banks.

“I’m troubled that you believe the biggest problem with bank regulations is that they are too tough,” Warren said during the hearing, arguing that it was that kind of mindset that led to the financial crisis of 2007-2008. At that time, many large investment banks were rescued by the Treasury and the Federal Reserve after their investments in housing soured quickly as a historic boom turned to bust. Treating the banks as victims of burdensome rules — rather than perpetrators of a historic crisis in need of deeper and more constant supervision — could lay the groundwork for a repeat. When it comes, Powell is going to regret that he didn’t have more to say about this.

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The pound surged on this news, but without solving the Irish border issue, none of it is worth a thing.

Britain Close To Deal On Brexit Bill With EU (R.)

Britain has offered to pay much of what the European Union was demanding to settle a Brexit “divorce bill”, bringing the two sides close to agreement on a key obstacle to opening talks on a future free trade pact, EU sources said on Tuesday. The offer, which British newspapers valued at around 50 billion euros, reflected the bulk of outstanding EU demands that include London paying a share of post-Brexit EU spending on commitments made before Britain leaves in March 2019 as well as funding of EU staff pensions for decades to come. A British government official said they “do not recognize” this account of the talks going on ahead of a visit by Prime Minister Theresa May to Brussels this coming Monday.

EU officials close to the negotiations stressed that work was still continuing ahead of May’s talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and his chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. But EU diplomats briefed on progress said the British offer was promising and that, on the financial settlement, the two sides were, as one said, “close to a deal”. Nonetheless, others cautioned that Britain had yet to make a fully committed offer and that essential agreement from the other 27 member states could not yet be taken for granted. The EU set the condition of “significant progress” on three key elements of a withdrawal treaty before it would accede to London’s request for negotiations on a free trade pact that could keep business flowing after Brexit in 16 months.

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See you in court.

Former New Zealand PM John Key Lied About Mass Surveillance Program (NZH)

Sir John Key’s story of how and why he canned a “mass surveillance” programme are at odds with official papers detailing development of the “Speargun” project. The issue blew up in the final days of the 2014 election with Key claiming the programme was long-dead and had been replaced by a benign cyber-security system called Cortex. Key always claimed the Speargun project to tap New Zealand’s internet cable was stopped in March 2013. But new documents show development of Speargun continued after the time he had said he ordered a halt – apparently because the scheme was “too broad”. Instead, they show Speargun wasn’t actually stopped until after Key was told in a secret briefing that details were likely to become public because they could be in the trove of secrets taken by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

With days to go until voting in 2014, Key found himself accused by some of the world’s most high-profile and outspoken surveillance critics of secretly developing a mass surveillance system with the United States’ National Security Agency. It was high stakes for Key, also Minister of the GCSB, as he had previously promised the public he would resign as Prime Minister if there was ever mass surveillance of New Zealanders At the Kim Dotcom-organised “Moment of Truth” event, journalist Glenn Greenwald and Snowden claimed our Government Communications Security Bureau spy agency had developed the “Speargun” project to tap New Zealand’s internet cable and suck out masses of data.

Key denied it, saying Speargun had been canned in March 2013 because it was too intrusive. He said: “We made the call as government and I made the call as the Minister and as Prime Minister, that actually it was set too broadly. “What we ultimately did, when it comes to Speargun, in my opinion, I said it’s set too far. I don’t even want to see the business case.” The NZ Herald has found – after three years of refusals and information going missing – that the former Prime Minister’s version of events doesn’t match that of documents created at the time.

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As if MbS is any different.

Senior Saudi Prince Freed In $1 Billion Settlement Agreement (R.)

Senior Saudi Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, once seen as a leading contender to the throne, was freed after reaching an “acceptable settlement agreement” with authorities paying more than $1 billion, a Saudi official said on Wednesday. Miteb, 65, son of the late King Abdullah and former head of the elite National Guard, was among dozens of royal family members, ministers and senior officials who were rounded up in a graft inquiry partly aimed at strengthening the power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The official, who is involved in the anti-corruption campaign, said Miteb was released on Tuesday after reaching “an acceptable settlement agreement”. The amount of the settlement was not disclosed but the official said it is believed to be the equivalent of more than $1 billion.

“It is understood that the settlement included admitting corruption involving known cases,” the official said. According to a Saudi official, Prince Miteb was accused of embezzlement, hiring ghost employees and awarding contracts to his own firms including a $10 billion deal for walkie talkies and bulletproof military gear worth billions of Saudi riyals. The allegations against the others included kickbacks, inflating government contracts, extortion and bribery.

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Easy: let the banks take the losses, not the people.

Europe Needs a Way to Prevent the Next Greek-Style Debt Crisis (BBG)

If there was ever a textbook example of how not to handle a sovereign debt crisis, it was Greece. Nearly a decade since Athens first asked for help from its euro zone partners and the IMF, the Greek economy is still struggling to recover. Even after a steep restructuring, sovereign debt remains unsustainable. If Greece is not to be crippled by its debt load, European governments will have to accept further debt-reducing measures, on top of the maturity extensions and the cut in interest rates they have already agreed to. So it’s no surprise that one of the key debates on the future of the euro zone relates to how sovereign debt restructuring should be made easier. There is little doubt that forcing losses on creditors at an earlier stage, as some propose, would increase the chance that a program of financial assistance is successful.

However, the euro zone should be wary of automatic triggers; they risk bringing on the very crisis they are designed to avert. The debate on the future of debt restructuring in the euro zone largely involves two positions. The first, which is widely shared in Germany, sees an orderly debt restructuring mechanism as an essential next step for the currency union. When a country applies for financial help from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), creditors should face some form of debt restructuring immediately. This would ensure a better distribution of risks between debt-holders and the ESM. The threat of a haircut will make investors more discerning in their lending, contributing to fiscal discipline within the euro zone.

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Because Bayer is a German chemical company with very deep roots in Berlin, and it’s buying Monsanto. Ironically, the only party that can stop that purchase is the EU… German media say Merkel was angry at the German representative for going it alone on Germany’s decision to support this stance. So let’s see her reverse it.

Controversial Glyphosate Weedkiller Wins New 5-Year Lease In Europe (G.)

Glyphosate, the key ingredient in the world’s bestselling weedkiller, has won a new five-year lease in Europe, closing the most bitterly fought pesticide relicensing battle of recent times. The herbicide’s licence had been due to run out in less than three weeks, raising the prospect of Monsanto’s Roundup disappearing from store shelves and, potentially, a farmers’ revolt. Instead, an EU appeal committee voted on Monday to reauthorise the substance despite a petition by 1.3 million EU citizens last week calling for a ban. In 2015, the World Health Organisation’s cancer agency, the IARC, famously declared glyphosate “probably carcinogenic to humans,” although several international agencies, including Efsa, subsequently came to opposite conclusions. Monsanto insists glyphosate is safe.

The EU health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said: “Today’s vote shows that when we all want to, we are able to share and accept our collective responsibility in decision making.” However, the approval falls far short of the 15-year licence the commission had originally sought and Conservative MEPs lashed out at what they called “an emotional, irrational but politically convenient fudge”. Ashley Fox, the Conservative party’s delegation leader in the European parliament, said that the vote “simply prolongs the uncertainty for our farmers, who are being badly let down. They cannot plan for the future without long term assurances about the availability of substances they rely on.”

A re-run of the struggle to reauthorise glyphosate will now begin again in two years’ time, with a new safety assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa). Greenpeace EU food policy director, Franziska Achterberg, commented: “The people who are supposed to protect us from dangerous pesticides have failed to do their jobs and betrayed the trust Europeans place in them.” The Green party called it “a dark day for consumers, farmers and the environment”.

[..] Traces of glyphosate are routinely found in tests of foodstuffs, water, topsoil, and human urine in amounts way above safe limits set by regulators. Ben & Jerry’s recently introduced a new line of organic ice cream, in a bid to sate public concern. Campaigners say Monsanto ghostwrote research papers for regulators, enlisted EPA officials to block a US government review of glyphosate and formed front groups to discredit critical scientists and journalists, citing documents revealed in a US lawsuit by non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma sufferers. More than 280 similar lawsuits are now pending against Monsanto, according to the US right to know campaign.

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A tad scary?!

New Zealand Fault Line Wakes Up: “We Must Think Japan 2011 Ruptures” (SHTF)

The devastating Kaikura earthquake in 2016 has resurrected the Hikurangi subduction zone where two tectonic plates clash and one is pushed down. Geologists are now warning that this trench could cause a massive earthquake on the ocean floor, and could trigger other 9.0 magnitude earthquakes and tsunamis that will reach the western coast of the islands in just seven minutes. The Australian plate is heading north while the Pacific plate is heading west, and the combination of these motions means that the Pacific plate, which includes much of the South Island, is moving relative to the Australian plate at a rate of about 40millimeters each year in a southwesterly direction. Ursula Cochran, from the science firm GNS, told The Marlborough Express: “We need to think Japan 2011 basically, because if our whole plate boundary ruptured it would be a magnitude-9 earthquake.”

The Great East Japan Earthquake and resulting tsunami smashed through the country’s north-eastern coast killing almost 16,000 people and destroying the lives of thousands more. It also triggered a major ongoing crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant. “One of the biggest hazards of that kind of earthquake is the tsunami that is triggered by a fault rupture offshore.,” Cochran added. “We know from tsunami modeling from a hypothetical earthquake from the Hikurangi subduction zone that the travel times could be very short to the coast, so seven minutes for some of the south Wairarapa coast.” One year after it struck, scientists are also warning that the Kaikoura quake was not the “big one” for the Hikurangi subduction zone. The quake on the Hikurangi subduction zone was devastating. The magnitude 7.8 that destroyed houses, lifted the Kaikoura seabed by 2m, tore apart farmland, and wrecked kilometers of State Highway 1, may be minor compared to what could come, Cochran said.

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Has the west ever ended slavery?

Libya “Chose” Freedom, Now It Has Slavery (CP)

NATO’s military intervention in Libya in 2011 has justifiably earned its place in history as an indictment of Western foreign policy and a military alliance which since the collapse of the Soviet Union has been deployed as the sword of this foreign policy. The destruction of Libya will forever be an indelible stain on the reputations of those countries and leaders responsible. But now, with the revelation that people are being sold as slaves in Libya (yes, you read that right. In 2017 the slave trade is alive and kicking Libya), the cataclysmic disaster to befall the country has been compounded to the point where it is hard to conceive of it ever being able to recover – and certainly not anywhere near its former status as a high development country, as the UN labelled Libya 2010 a year prior to the ‘revolution’.

Back in 2011 it was simply inconceivable that the UK, the US and France would ignore the lessons of Iraq, just nine years previously in 2003. Yet ignore them they did, highlighting their rapacious obsession with maintaining hegemony over a region that sits atop an ocean of oil, despite the human cost and legacy of disaster and chaos which this particular obsession has wrought. When former UK Prime Minister David Cameron descended on Benghazi in eastern Libya in the summer of 2011, basking in the glory of the country’s victorious ‘revolution’ in the company of his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy, he did so imbued with the belief he had succeeded in establishing his legacy as a leader on the global stage. Like Blair before him, he’d won his war and now was intent on partaking of its political and geopolitical spoils.

Cameron told the crowd, “Your city was an inspiration to the world, as you threw off a dictator and chose freedom.” The destruction of Libya by NATO at the behest of the UK, the US and France was a crime, one dripping in the cant and hypocrisy of Western ideologues for whom the world with all its complexities is reduced to a giant chessboard upon which countries such as Libya have long been mere pieces to be moved around and changed at their pleasure and in their interests – interests which are inimical to the people of the countries they deem ripe for regime change.

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Europe’s politicians care only about their careers.

The EU Created Libya’s Migrant Abuses, Now It Must Address Them (CP)

Revelations into Libya’s awful migrant detention centres showed the humanitarian emergency that occurs within them. The international community – particularly the European Union, has not only failed to address this problem, but is responsible for causing it. After Libya descended into chaos following long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi’s fall in 2011, the nation became a major hub of slavery and migrant-trafficking. For the hundreds of thousands of those fleeing war-torn areas in Sub-Saharan Africa, Libya serves as a strategic point to reach the safe havens of Europe. However, those who fail to reach Europe face equally dire circumstances to their homeland after being detained by Libyan authorities, as part of an EU-deal with the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) penned in February.

This deal entails the Libyan coastguard stopping migrant vessels leaving Libya. It was quite rightly slammed as ‘inhumane’ by the UN recently. Due to lack of protections for migrants from in this deal, migrants are either brutally tortured, abused and even sexually assaulted by Libyan authorities in camps, or are sold into slavery by unscrupulous smugglers. A CNN investigation showed the true horrors of human-trafficking. Migrants are treated like cattle, sold for as little as four hundred dollars, and sometimes moved from one slave master to another. Others on the scene report migrants in camps showing signs of torture, burns, lashings, and other abuses. An Italian doctor Pietro Bartolo slammed them as ‘concentration camps’. “You must realise that in Libya, black people are not considered human beings, they’re seen as inferior, you can do whatever you want to them,” Bartolo told Euro News.

Observers foresaw the humanitarian consequences soon after the deal with Libya was agreed. German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel warned in April that thousands of men, women and children would face “catastrophic conditions”. It turns out Gabriel and other’s predictions were correct. The EU must therefore accept the blame for creating this crisis, for backing these unregulated, barbaric camps with the Libyan authorities. However, Europe has a clear geopolitical aim: to contain migrants, rather than help them – even if their suffering is enhanced. In doing so it uses Libya – a frail nation itself, as a dumping ground, to rid itself of the migrant issue. It has no regard for the human rights of those in detention centres.

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Nov 192017
 
 November 19, 2017  Posted by at 10:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Wyland Stanley Pontiac coupe at San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts 1935

 

A Fiscal Disappointment – Tax Bill (Lebowitz)
Mt. Gox’s Bitcoin Customers Could Lose Again (R.)
The Coming Economic Downturn In Canada (MN)
How a Half-Educated Tech Elite Delivered Us Into Chaos (Naughton)
Europe Turns On Facebook, Google For Digital Tax Revamp (AFP)
When Unpaid Student Loan Bills Mean You Can No Longer Work (NYT)
Subways May Be the Latest Casualty of China’s Crackdown on Debt (BBG)
Upsurge In Big Earthquakes Predicted For 2018 As Earth Rotation Slows (G.)
Will Puerto Ricans Return Home After Hurricane María? (Conv.)
600 African Migrants Rescued Near Spain (AFP)
First Child Refugee From Greek Camps Comes To UK (G.)
Lesvos Authorities Going On Strike Over Rising Migrant Population (K.)
Over 50,000 Yemeni Children Expected To Die By The End Of 2017 (Ind.)

 

 

This is about much more than the Tax bill. It’s about how much growth you get per dollar in debt added. That is crucial.

A Fiscal Disappointment – Tax Bill (Lebowitz)

The Committee For A Responsible Budget penned after the passage of the tax bill: “The House approved debt-financed tax cuts based on predictions of magical economic growth that defy history and all credible analyses. Tax reform should grow the economy and not add to the debt. Unfortunately, lawmakers are assuming faster economic growth will pay for that debt increase when there is no evidence it will cover more than a fraction of the tax bill’s costs. The last time Congress added 10-figures worth of tax cuts to the debt in 2001, it blew a hole in the budget and helped erase our surpluses — despite claims that economic growth would cover the cost.The growth fairy did not appear then, and it would be unwise to assume she will this time around.” Read that again. Despite claiming to be “fiscally conservative,” what is so amazing is that Republicans are considering doing this when debt is at the highest level in history and climbing.

When the “Reagan” tax cuts of were passed, debt was less than 50% of GDP, inflation and interest rates were high and falling, and the economy was just recovering from back to back recessions. When the “Bush” tax cuts were passed, debt to GDP was only slightly higher than under Reagan but despite the tax cuts, the economy slid into a recession compounded by the “dot.com” bust. Currently, debt is 104% of GDP — higher than any time in history, the economy has been in a 9-year expansion at the lowest rate of growth on record, and interest rates and inflation are low with the Fed hiking rates and reducing monetary support. The situation currently is much more like Bush versus Reagan. Lastly, despite the continuing “talking points” that “tax cuts” spur economic growth and will pay for themselves over time….there is no evidence to support that claim.

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A curious tale.

Mt. Gox’s Bitcoin Customers Could Lose Again (R.)

When Mt. Gox, the world’s largest bitcoin trading exchange, collapsed in early 2014, more than 24,000 customers around the world lost access to hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency and cash. More than three years later, with the price of bitcoin skyrocketing to more than $7,000, not a single customer has recouped a single cent, crypto or otherwise. It’s not clear when they will. The failed exchange has become stuck in a morass of litigation – a Russian doll of bankruptcies in Japan and New Zealand, four in all, plus lawsuits in the United States and competing claims from creditors. And although the Mt. Gox bankruptcy trustee recovered digital currency now worth more than $1.6 billion, under Japanese law the exchange’s customers likely will recover only a fraction of that.

Kim Nilsson, a Swedish software developer who had more than a dozen bitcoins at Mt. Gox, isn’t optimistic of a payout soon. “It’s a legal twilight zone,” he says. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it took several years more.” There are few better examples of the dangers of investing in cryptocurrencies than Mt. Gox. As Reuters reported in September, cryptocurrency exchanges – where digital coins are bought, sold and stored – are largely unregulated and have become magnets for fraud and deception. At least 10 of them have closed, often after thefts, leaving customers without their funds. In all, more than 980,000 bitcoins have been stolen from exchanges since 2011 – two-thirds of those from Mt. Gox. Today, all of the stolen coins would be worth more than $6 billion, Reuters has calculated.

Mt. Gox is one of the few collapsed exchanges that ended up in bankruptcy court; some just vanished. But the problem for Mt. Gox’s thousands of creditors is that under Japanese bankruptcy law, their claims were valued at the market price of bitcoin in April 2014 just before the Tokyo District Court ordered the exchange be liquidated. At that time, one bitcoin was worth $483. On the basis of the April 2014 value, the claims ultimately approved were fixed at 45.6 billion Japanese yen, currently about $400 million. Based on the current price of bitcoin, Mt. Gox’s bankruptcy trustee is sitting on enough cash to repay creditors whose claims have been approved more than three times that amount, according to Reuters’ calculation. But that likely won’t happen, according to two Japanese bankruptcy attorneys.

In Japan, by law any funds left over in a bankrupt company’s estate after creditors have been paid go to shareholders. Mt. Gox is 88% owned by a Japanese company called Tibanne. And Mark Karpeles, a 32-year-old French software engineer and Mt. Gox’s former chief executive, owns 100% of Tibanne. Karpeles is currently on trial in Tokyo, accused of embezzling money from Mt. Gox and manipulating its data, as well as breach of trust. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges, some of which carry sentences of up to 10 years. He served nearly a year in jail following his arrest in August 2015.[..] In a three-hour interview, Karpeles told Reuters he doesn’t want the money. The main reason: He expects he would be inundated with lawsuits. He says he already is facing about a half dozen. “I don’t want to be the beneficiary of this,” he said. “I don’t really need money. I work, I get by.”

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Bubbles all around.

The Coming Economic Downturn In Canada (MN)

Given its natural resource-based economy, Canada is a boom and bust kind of place. This year, the country has enjoyed a significant boom. Thanks to a government stimulus program, rising corporate capital expenditures and consumer spending, Canada’s GDP growth has been nothing short of spectacular in 2017. According to Statistics Canada, the latest reading for year-over-year GDP growth is a healthy 3.5% (as of August 2017). While this is stronger than all major developed countries, growth is decelerating from its most recent peak in May 2017 (when GDP growth was an astounding 4.7%). A visual overview of historical GDP growth is shown below for reference:

Following the crude oil bust in the second quarter of 2014, Canadian growth rates cratered. While the country avoided a technical recession, the economic outlook was poor until early 2016. After crude oil returned to a bull market in the first quarter of 2016, the fortunes of the country turned. Given limited growth in 2015, the economy had no problem delivering 2%+ year-over-year growth rates in 2016. As a substantial stimulus program ramped up government spending in 2017, growth rates have continued to accelerate this year. While Canada has delivered exceptional growth in the last two years, the future outlook is much more challenging.

Beyond the issue of base effects (mathematically, year-over-year GDP growth will be much tougher next year), key sectors including the oil & gas industry and Canadian real estate look ripe for a downturn. As WTI crude strengthens beyond $55, crude oil is clearly in a bull market today. Looking at figures from the International Energy Agency, global demand growth continues to run ahead of supply growth. Thus the ongoing bull market is supported by fundamentals. Thanks to the impact of hurricanes and infrastructure bottlenecks in 2017, US shale hasn’t entirely fulfilled its role as the global ‘swing producer’ this year. The dynamics of supply growth versus demand growth are shown below:

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It’s a good thing this is getting addressed. It may well be too late though.

How a Half-Educated Tech Elite Delivered Us Into Chaos (Naughton)

One of the biggest puzzles about our current predicament with fake news and the weaponisation of social media is why the folks who built this technology are so taken aback by what has happened. Exhibit A is the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, whose political education I recently chronicled. But he’s not alone. In fact I’d say he is quite representative of many of the biggest movers and shakers in the tech world. We have a burgeoning genre of “OMG, what have we done?” angst coming from former Facebook and Google employees who have begun to realise that the cool stuff they worked on might have had, well, antisocial consequences.

Put simply, what Google and Facebook have built is a pair of amazingly sophisticated, computer-driven engines for extracting users’ personal information and data trails, refining them for sale to advertisers in high-speed data-trading auctions that are entirely unregulated and opaque to everyone except the companies themselves. The purpose of this infrastructure was to enable companies to target people with carefully customised commercial messages and, as far as we know, they are pretty good at that. (Though some advertisers are beginning to wonder if these systems are quite as good as Google and Facebook claim.) And in doing this, Zuckerberg, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and co wrote themselves licences to print money and build insanely profitable companies.

It never seems to have occurred to them that their advertising engines could also be used to deliver precisely targeted ideological and political messages to voters. Hence the obvious question: how could such smart people be so stupid? The cynical answer is they knew about the potential dark side all along and didn’t care, because to acknowledge it might have undermined the aforementioned licences to print money. Which is another way of saying that most tech leaders are sociopaths. Personally I think that’s unlikely, although among their number are some very peculiar characters: one thinks, for example, of Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel – Trump’s favourite techie; and Travis Kalanick, the founder of Uber. So what else could explain the astonishing naivety of the tech crowd? My hunch is it has something to do with their educational backgrounds.

Take the Google co-founders. Sergey Brin studied mathematics and computer science. His partner, Larry Page, studied engineering and computer science. Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard, where he was studying psychology and computer science, but seems to have been more interested in the latter. Now mathematics, engineering and computer science are wonderful disciplines – intellectually demanding and fulfilling. And they are economically vital for any advanced society. But mastering them teaches students very little about society or history – or indeed about human nature. As a consequence, the new masters of our universe are people who are essentially only half-educated. They have had no exposure to the humanities or the social sciences, the academic disciplines that aim to provide some understanding of how society works, of history and of the roles that beliefs, philosophies, laws, norms, religion and customs play in the evolution of human culture.

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It’s as much about the companies as it is about Europe’s own tax havens. The latter should be easier to tackle.

Europe Turns On Facebook, Google For Digital Tax Revamp (AFP)

They have revolutionised the way we live, but are US tech giants the new robber barons of the 21st century, banking billions in profit while short-changing the public by paying only a pittance in tax? With public coffers still strained years after the worst of the debt crisis, EU leaders have agreed to tackle the question, spurred on by French President Emmanuel Macron who has slammed the likes of Google, Facebook and Apple as the “freeloaders of the modern world”. As recently as March, five of the world’s top 10 valued companies were Silicon Valley behemoths: Apple, Google’s Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook. (Germany’s SAP was Europe’s biggest and 56th on the global list). But tax rules today are designed for yesterday’s economy when US multinationals -such as General Motors, IBM or McDonald’s- entered countries loudly, with new factories, jobs and more taxes for the taking.

These firms had what tax specialists call “permanent establishment”, when companies showed a clear physical presence measured and taxed through tangible, real world assets. But today in most EU nations, the US tech titans exist almost exclusively in the virtual world, their services piped through apps to smart phones and tablets from designers and data servers oceans away. Ghost-like, Silicon Valley has turned Europe’s economies upside down, but often with just a skeleton staff and some office space in markets with millions of users or customers. According to EU law, to operate across Europe, multinationals have almost total liberty to choose a home country of their choosing. Not surprisingly, they choose small, low tax nations such as Ireland, the Netherlands or Luxembourg. Thus, it is through Ireland that Facebook draws its wealth from millions of accounts across Europe.

There are 33 million accounts in France and 31 million in Germany, according to recent data. While users enjoy the platform, Facebook tracks likes, comments and page views and sells the data to companies who then target consumers. But unlike the economy of old, Facebook sells its data to French companies not from France but from a great, nation-less elsewhere, with no phone number, address or physical “presence” for a customer who probably cares little. It is in states like Ireland, whose official tax rate of 12.5% is the lowest in Europe, that the giants have parked their EU headquarters and book profits from revenues made across the bloc. Indeed, actual revenues from advertising are minimal in France and Germany, but at Facebook HQ Ireland they grew to 7.9 billion euros, even though the vast majority does not come from the tiny EU island-nation of a mere 2.5 million users.

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A crazy world.

When Unpaid Student Loan Bills Mean You Can No Longer Work (NYT)

Fall behind on your student loan payments, lose your job. Few people realize that the loans they take out to pay for their education could eventually derail their careers. But in 19 states, government agencies can seize state-issued professional licenses from residents who default on their educational debts. Another state, South Dakota, suspends driver’s licenses, making it nearly impossible for people to get to work. As debt levels rise, creditors are taking increasingly tough actions to chase people who fall behind on student loans. Going after professional licenses stands out as especially punitive. Firefighters, nurses, teachers, lawyers, massage therapists, barbers, psychologists and real estate brokers have all had their credentials suspended or revoked.

Determining the number of people who have lost their licenses is impossible because many state agencies and licensing boards don’t track the information. Public records requests by The New York Times identified at least 8,700 cases in which licenses were taken away or put at risk of suspension in recent years, although that tally almost certainly understates the true number. [..] With student debt levels soaring — the loans are now the largest source of household debt outside of mortgages — so are defaults. Lenders have always pursued delinquent borrowers: by filing lawsuits, garnishing their wages, putting liens on their property and seizing tax refunds. Blocking licenses is a more aggressive weapon, and states are using it on behalf of themselves and the federal government.

Proponents of the little-known state licensing laws say they are in taxpayers’ interest. Many student loans are backed by guarantees by the state or federal government, which foot the bills if borrowers default. Faced with losing their licenses, the reasoning goes, debtors will find the money. But critics from both parties say the laws shove some borrowers off a financial cliff.

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Politicians everywhere dream of big and grandiose projects.

Subways May Be the Latest Casualty of China’s Crackdown on Debt (BBG)

China’s frenzied construction of subway systems in cities all over the country may be easing, amid reports funding has been pulled for some projects as Beijing pushes to rein in debt levels. The National Development and Reform Commission, China’s top economic planning body, is revising a 2003 policy on subway development, Caixin reported on Saturday. The NDRC wants to “raise the bar” for approving local rail projects amid growing concern over a debt-driven infrastructure boom, the financial magazine said, citing sources that it didn’t identify. Population levels, as well as the economy and fiscal conditions of Chinese cities seeking permission for subway projects will be more closely scrutinized, Caixin said. Subway construction is a constant presence in China’s cities, with streets torn up to build the capacity needed to transport the swelling ranks of urban commuters.

Beijing alone has been testing three lines: a driverless subway, a maglev train, and a tram to be launched in the city’s western suburbs at the end of the year, the official Xinhua News Agency reported in September. But investment in the sector appears to be tapering off, just as China’s leaders make reining in financial risks a top priority. Fixed-asset investment in rail transportation has slowed almost to a standstill in 2017, increasing just 0.4% in January-October from a year earlier, statistics bureau data show. That’s down from 3.5% growth in the first four months of the year. Private rail transport investment – which makes up a tiny share of an industry that’s dominated by state-backed enterprises – slumped 58.6% January-October from a year earlier.

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Rotation slowing by a millisecond per day.

Upsurge In Big Earthquakes Predicted For 2018 As Earth Rotation Slows (G.)

Scientists have warned there could be a big increase in numbers of devastating earthquakes around the world next year. They believe variations in the speed of Earth’s rotation could trigger intense seismic activity, particularly in heavily populated tropical regions. Although such fluctuations in rotation are small – changing the length of the day by a millisecond – they could still be implicated in the release of vast amounts of underground energy, it is argued. The link between Earth’s rotation and seismic activity was highlighted last month in a paper by Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado in Boulder and Rebecca Bendick of the University of Montana in Missoula presented at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America.

“The correlation between Earth’s rotation and earthquake activity is strong and suggests there is going to be an increase in numbers of intense earthquakes next year,” Bilham told the Observer last week. In their study, Bilham and Bendick looked at earthquakes of magnitude 7 and greater that had occurred since 1900. “Major earthquakes have been well recorded for more than a century and that gives us a good record to study,” said Bilham. They found five periods when there had been significantly higher numbers of large earthquakes compared with other times. “In these periods, there were between 25 to 30 intense earthquakes a year,” said Bilham. “The rest of the time the average figure was around 15 major earthquakes a year.”

The researchers searched to find correlations between these periods of intense seismic activity and other factors and discovered that when Earth’s rotation decreased slightly it was followed by periods of increased numbers of intense earthquakes. “The rotation of the Earth does change slightly – by a millisecond a day sometimes – and that can be measured very accurately by atomic clocks,” said Bilham. Bilham and Bendick found that there had been periods of around five years when Earth’s rotation slowed by such an amount several times over the past century and a half. Crucially, these periods were followed by periods when the numbers of intense earthquakes increased. “It is straightforward,” said Bilham. “The Earth is offering us a five-year heads-up on future earthquakes.”

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Many will not.

Will Puerto Ricans Return Home After Hurricane María? (Conv.)

Even before this year’s devastating hurricane season, the team of demographers I work with at Penn State and the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics had predicted that the population of Puerto Rico would decline over the next few decades. Have Hurricanes Irma and María accelerated this trend? Slowing population decline is central to the economic recovery plan drafted by the Puerto Rican government in March of this year. If migration off the island accelerates, it is likely that the government of Puerto Rico will face even greater challenges in meeting that plan’s milestones. Preliminary data from the Puerto Rican Diaspora Study, which I recently concluded, can help shed light on how many Puerto Ricans who have fled the island might return home – and how many are gone for good.

In the two months since María made landfall, Puerto Ricans have left the island in even higher numbers than before. Recent commercial flight passenger data indicate that between Sept. 20, the day Hurricane María made landfall, and Nov. 7, approximately 100,000 people left Puerto Rico. That number exceeds the 89,000 people who left island during all of 2015 and increases by the day. Lack of access to power, drinking water and health care are pushing people out. Recent forecasts of migration out of Puerto Rico from the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at CUNY suggest that, because of Hurricane María, the island may lose up to 470,335 residents, or 14% of its current population, by 2020. This would represent a doubling of migration off the island compared to previous years.

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3,000 died this year.

600 African Migrants Rescued Near Spain (AFP)

Around 600 African migrants were rescued off the coast of Spain in 24 hours, a sea rescue patrol said Saturday. The Guardia Civil and Salvamento Maritimo rescue service added that operations to recover further migrants were still under way. Spain is the third busiest gateway for migrants arriving in Europe, but far behind Italy and Greece. However, the number of people arriving by sea in Spain has nearly tripled over the last year to 17,687. Many Africans undertaking the long route to Europe are choosing to avoid crossing danger-ridden Libya to get to Italy along the so-called central Mediterranean route, and choosing instead to get there via Morocco and Spain.

On Saturday, most of the migrants arrived in the south-eastern region of Murcia, where 431 people aboard 41 makeshift boats were discovered. Patrols found more than 110 people in the Alboran Sea, between Morocco and Spain’s Andalusian coast. Operations were also conducted in the Strait of Gibraltar, recovering 48 people on four makeshift boats. The rescues were carried out by the Navy, the Guardia Civil police and Salvamento Maritimo. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) close to 160,000 people have made the dangerous crossing to Europe this year and almost 3,000 more died or went missing while trying.

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An irreversibly harmed child who has been waiting for a year for Britain to fulfill an already made pledge.

First Child Refugee From Greek Camps Comes To UK (G.)

More than a year after the UK government pledged to transfer hundreds of child refugees from Greece, the first unaccompanied minor from the country will arrive in London this week. However the 15-year-old Syrian is described by experts as profoundly traumatised because of the delay and has recently attempted to take his own life. Fourteen months have elapsed since the boy was first identified by the Home Office as especially vulnerable and eligible for immediate transfer. It has also emerged that Hammersmith and Fulham council in west London told the Home Office a year ago that it had a place for the teenager, but officials did not act on the offer – a decision that charities say has caused “irreversible damage” to the child, who has lost contact with his family in Syria.

Giannoula Kefala, the council’s principal social worker, said: “From my perspective, the impasse and likely irreversible harm already caused to this extremely vulnerable child is unbearably disturbing.” Kefala said that last December she informed the Home Office of her intention to travel to Greece to assess the boy. “It is absolutely clear from my visit that the long delay has caused this child terrible harm, and that it has been apparent for a long time that the available resources in Greece cannot cater for this child’s needs. Recent hospital records make clear that the ongoing uncertainty is having a devastating impact.” The teenager is currently on heavy psychiatric medication, which worries his doctor but which is believed to be necessary to prevent a fatal outcome.

Until last Monday the youngster was being detained in a police cell with no access to medical professionals, and forced to sleep on a mattress on the floor. On 22 October, police said the boy, after repeated self-harming, had made a suicide attempt and was at “imminent risk of killing himself”. Kefala said she was concerned the boy could die.

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They live in summer tents. It’s been pouring with rain for days. The UNHCR has many rolls of plastic sheeting just lying around.

Lesvos Authorities Going On Strike Over Rising Migrant Population (K.)

With reception centers for migrants on the Aegean islands reaching breaking point, local authorities on Lesvos go on strike on Monday to draw attention to the problem. The island’s mayor, Spyros Galinos, called the general strike last week, noting that the rising migrant population “has fueled insecurity among citizens.” Authorities on Lesvos want the government to move migrants from seriously overcrowded facilities on the islands to the mainland. Around 16,000 migrants have been relocated to the mainland since October last year, but more transfers are needed as dozens continue to reach the islands daily even as the pace of returns to Turkey remains slow. Concerns are also growing about hundreds of migrants living in tents around the reception centers amid worsening weather conditions. The Interior Ministry has said that measures to deal with the winter months will be implemented in phases through the end of December.

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Please stop.

Over 50,000 Yemeni Children Expected To Die By The End Of 2017 (Ind.)

More than 50,000 children in Yemen are expected to die by the end of the year as a result of disease and starvation caused by the stalemated war in the country, Save the Children has warned. Seven million people are on the brink of famine in the country, which is in the grips of the largest cholera outbreak in modern history. An estimated 130 Yemeni children are dying every day and an estimated 400,000 children will need treatment for acute malnutrition this year, the charity said. “These deaths are as senseless as they are preventable,” said Tamer Kirolos, Save the Children’s country director for Yemen. “They mean more than a hundred mothers grieving for the death of a child, day after day.”

Eighteen-month-old Nadhira from the Bani Qais district of Hajja, northern Yemen, is suffering from severe acute malnutrition and respiratory diseases. Her mother saved the family’s income for three days to afford to take her to Hajja city for treatment, but her condition deteriorated once again after they were left unable to afford the medicine. “I worry about my family’s food and medicine when they get sick. I want my daughter to live: she’s my biggest concern now. I wish my daughter recovers from her sickness soon,” her mother Shaika said.

The charity has warned the death toll as a result of starvation and disease could be even higher, as the calculations were made before Saudi Arabia tightened a blockade on rebel-held parts of the country in response to a missile fired from rebel territory towards Riyadh international airport this month. The blockade has closed the major entry ports of Hodeidah and Saleef, as well as the airport in the capital Sanaa, which has severely hindered the access of food and aid.

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