Sep 142017
 
 September 14, 2017  Posted by at 9:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Edward Hopper Chop Suey 1929

 

Top Democrats Announce Deal With Trump To Protect ‘Dreamers’ (MW)
Fed Balance Sheet Reduction Will Reduce Funds Sent To Treasury (BI)
“You Should Take the Fed at Their Word” (WS)
“Markets Have Always Been Wrong” – Jamie Dimon (ZH)
10% of Global GDP Is Stashed In Tax Havens (BI)
Did You Know Housing Gets Counted Twice In GDP? (Murray)
The Real Earnings of Men (WS)
China’s Steel Mills Run at Full Tilt as Output Hits New Peak (BBG)
China’s Economy Cools Again (BBG)
US Senate Rejects Bid To Repeal War Authorizations (R.)
Has the NYT Gone Collectively Mad? (Robert Parry)
Crisis Brings Sea Change To Greek Housing Market (K.)
More Austerity May Be Ahead (K.)

 

 

They dine together, close a deal, and then can’t wait to tell entirely different stories to the press. But Trump has forced them into action.

Top Democrats Announce Deal With Trump To Protect ‘Dreamers’ (MW)

Top Democratic leaders said Wednesday night that they had reached a compromise agreement with President Donald Trump to enact protections for the children of undocumented immigrants in exchange for increased border security measures that do not include funding for a wall — which the White House then disputed. “We had a very productive meeting at the White House with the president,” read a joint statement from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “The discussions focused on DACA. We agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides.” But shortly after that statement, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders disputed that border-wall funding was off the table. “Excluding the wall was certainly not agreed to,” she said.

Schumer, of New York, and Pelosi, of California, had dinner with Trump at the White House on Wednesday night. It was apparently the second bipartisan agreement between Democrats and Trump in the past week, after last week’s surprise deal that provided funding for Hurricane Harvey relief and extended the debt ceiling for three months, much to Republicans’ chagrin. Extending protections for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which were rescinded by the Trump administration last week, is a top priority for Democrats and many Republican lawmakers. Without new legislation, the 690,000 children of undocumented immigrants — so-called “Dreamers” — enrolled in the program could face deportation as their status expires over the next two years. Trump had said he may “revisit” the issue of Dreamers in six months if Congress didn’t act.

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It’s like driving into a dark and wet dead end alley.

Fed Balance Sheet Reduction Will Reduce Funds Sent To Treasury (BI)

The Federal Reserve is not expected to raise interest rates again until at least December, and even that increase is now in doubt given low inflation and high political uncertainty in the United States. That doesn’t mean the central bank has no plans to tighten monetary policy, however. Officials are widely expected to announce the start of a gradual reduction of the Fed’s $4.4 trillion balance sheet, which more than quintupled in response to the Great Recession and financial crisis of 2007-2009. Policymakers are hoping the shrinkage, which they intend to accomplish by ceasing reinvestments of maturing bonds back into the central bank’s portfolio, will have minimal market impact. But a previous episode in 2013 known as the “taper tantrum,” when bond yields spiked sharply higher at the mere mention of a possible end to the Fed’s bond-buying program, offers a cautionary tale.

Regardless of immediate market impact, there will be a longer term effect on the government budget, currently the subject of heated debate, that most investors and politicians are ignoring. That’s because the Fed’s bond-buying program, in addition to lowering the government’s borrowing costs at a time when weak economic activity called for bigger budget deficits, created a stream of yearly returns of nearly $100 billion for the Federal Reserve which it then siphoned back to the Treasury. Sometimes these are referred to as the Fed’s “profits,” but that is a deceptive way of describing what is in effect an intra-government transaction. “As assets under management drop, so too will revenue on that portfolio. This will be a lost revenue source for the Treasury that will raise deficits and add to the Treasury’s financing” costs, writes Societe Generale Economist Stephen Gallagher in a research note to clients.

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Downward volatility.

“You Should Take the Fed at Their Word” (WS)

The markets have been brushing off the Fed and have done the opposite of what the Fed has set out to accomplish. The Fed wants to tighten financial conditions. It’s worried about asset prices. It’s worried that these inflated assets which are used as collateral by the banks, pose a danger to financial stability. It has mentioned several inflated asset classes by name, including commercial real estate, which backs $4 trillion in loans heavily concentrated at regional banks. And yet, markets have loosened financial conditions since the Fed started its tightening cycle in earnest last December. Markets are hiding behind “low” inflation, when the Fed is focused on asset prices. So longer-term yields have been falling even as short-term yields have moved up in line with the Fed’s target rate, and thus the yield curve has flattened.

The dollar has been falling. Equities have been soaring to new highs. And companies, if they’re big enough, are able to get funding for the riskiest projects at stunningly low rates. “I think there is maybe too much confidence that the Fed is not really going to do too much more on interest rates, that we’ll have one or two more rate hikes and that’s it,” Brian Coulton, chief economist for Fitch Ratings, told Reuters on Tuesday. Market participants are expecting “just one or two interest rate increases a year” despite the Fed’s stated expectation of seeing long-run interest rates at around 3.0%. “When the Fed says they’re going to engage in a gradual rate of interest rate increases, they mean three or four rate hikes every year and we think that’s what they’re going to do,” Coulton said. “We think that you should take them at their word and it may even be a little faster than that.”

This disconnect between market expectations and the Fed’s stated intentions could create volatility in fixed-income markets when markets finally catch up, he said. Volatility, when it’s used in this sense, always means downward volatility: a sudden downward adjustment in prices and spiking yields – a painful experience for the coddled bond market with big consequences for the stock market. “We think they’re going to be … getting more worried about some of the negative consequences of QE, the fact that it encourages risk taking and may create some issues for the banks,” he said. And he expects – this is “more of a personal view,” he said – that the Fed will continue with the rate hikes, or even accelerate them, even if consumer price inflation remains low.

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“There’s low volatility until they’re highly volatile.” Sounds like Minsky.

“Markets Have Always Been Wrong” – Jamie Dimon (ZH)

Oh, listen, markets are markets. There’s low volatility until they’re highly volatile. The stock market is high until it goes low. Markets therefore have always been wrong. And I think people are making mistakes. I can give you reasons why it might be low. We’ve had this fairly consistent, coherent, consistent growth. But forget the geopolitical noise and stuff like that. We’re chugging along, 2%. Europe is doing 2%. Russia – I mean, Japan is doing 1.5%, China’s doing their 6%. You know, earnings are doing okay. We’ve had a fairly benign economic environment. That’s a reason. I can give you another reason is that the Central Banks of the world that bought $12 trillion of securities. 12 trillion. Since they started doing QE. And that’s only just the U.S. That’s an awful lot of security purchases that might – in all things be equal, and remember things are never all equal – can reduce volatility.

And there may be other sides that are known. And once other sides happen, watch out. Then volatility goes way up. They’ll say they’re a genius, they figured out when it’s going to happened. I don’t guess on which kind of volatility. Like I said, we do a business. And we have to manage the volatility.” [..] The hurricanes are irrelevant. I wouldn’t have any policy matter as a function of hurricanes. Going to reduce GDP in the short run, they’ll probably increase it after that. I’ll let the economists figure it out. But almost a $20 trillion economy, that isn’t a reason to change monetary policy. It will create a lot of noise in the numbers, but I wouldn’t overreact to that. Advice, it’s very sympathetic. We’re doing – just so you know, we’re going to do a lot for affordable housing, get these people in these states 20,000 people in Florida, 6,000 in Houston. Most of the banks are waiving fees, delaying loan payments, offering special services for your employees and stuff like that.”

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Saw the graph before. Greece is the big one here.

10% of Global GDP Is Stashed In Tax Havens (BI)

The Panama Papers and other major leaks from offshore tax havens have helped shed light on just how much money the world’s wealthiest people are parking in untaxed obscurity, away from the authorities and, importantly, economic researchers. This new evidence has helped economists gain greater insight into just how steep disparities between the rich and the poor have become, because having actual data on offshore holdings tends to widen wealth gaps considerably. Three of these researchers have teamed up on two important papers that offer a more in-depth look at what the world’s worst tax-evading and -avoiding nations are, and they find that the existence of tax havens makes inequality much worse than it appears with standard, publicly available economic data.

“The equivalent of 10% of world GDP is held in tax havens globally, but this average masks a great deal of heterogeneity—from a few % of GDP in Scandinavia, to about 15% in Continental Europe, and 60% in Gulf countries and some Latin American economies,” Annette Alstadsæter at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Niels Johannesen of the University of Copenhagen, and Gabriel Zucman of the University of California at Berkeley write in the first of the two articles. Global gross domestic product is about $75.6 trillion, according to World Bank figures. They then apply these estimates to build revised series of top wealth shares in 10 countries accounting for nearly half of world GDP. “Because offshore wealth is very concentrated at the top, accounting for it increases the top 0.01% wealth share substantially in Europe, even in countries that do not use tax havens extensively,” the authors write. “It has considerable effects in Russia, where the vast majority of wealth at the top is held offshore.”

About 60% of the wealth of Russia’s richest households is held offshore, the economists estimate. “More broadly, offshore wealth is likely to have major implications for the concentration of wealth in many of the world’s developing countries, hence for the world distribution of income and wealth.” “These results highlight the importance of looking beyond tax and survey data to study wealth accumulation among the very rich in a globalized world,” they continue. They say that despite lip service to transparency, “very little has been achieved” in recent years. “With the exception of Switzerland, no major financial center publishes 18 comprehensive statistics on the amount of foreign wealth managed by its banks.”

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GDP is a lousy measure.

Did You Know Housing Gets Counted Twice In GDP? (Murray)

Your car gets counted once in GDP when it is built, not when it is driven. Your clothes, your bicycle, your furniture, all get counted once when they are manufactured, and not again when they are worn, ridden, or sat on. But homes are counted twice: Once when they are constructed, and again when they are occupied. The argument to include both housing construction (as a new capital investment good) and housing occupancy (as a consumption good) arises from a conceptual trick at the heart of national accounting. That trick is to separate out two types of ‘final’ goods when adding up the ‘value-added’ in the economy, which is what GDP does. One good is a consumption good. These are goods (and services) that households consume, like clothes, food, entertainment, and so forth. All the value added at intermediate stages in the production chain of these goods can be captured by looking only at the final retail value of the goods.

That value represents the total value-added across the economy to produce that good. The other type of good is an investment good. This is a good that lasts a long time and contributes to future production. A new rail line, for example, is classified a new investment good, and the value of its production is counted in GDP, even though households don’t get any value from it until it is used to run trains. Once the rail line is being used to run trains, the value of those travel services is also counted in GDP as a consumption good, which will include within it the value contribution of the rail line itself. Thus there is a type of double-counting when it comes to investment goods — you count them when they are made, and you count them again when they are used to make consumption goods.

This is intentional. The production of investment goods is a large share of GDP — between 20 and 40% in most countries. By ignoring this production, which is also the more volatile part of production over the business cycle, GDP loses much of its value as a measure of how economically active a country is. The construction of new homes is, therefore, an investment good, which gets counted in GDP. But then the occupancy of these same homes gets counted gain as a consumption ‘home rental’ good each period after. This applies to the 70% of households (in Australia at least) who own their own home, not just the renters. Although they don’t pay themselves rent to occupy their home, GDP is calculated as if they do by ‘imputing’ the rent that homeowners would have to pay themselves if they instead rented their home.

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” On this inflation-adjusted basis, men had earned more than that in 1972″
..

The Real Earnings of Men (WS)

For women who were working full-time year-round, median earnings (income obtained only from working) rose 0.7% on an inflation-adjusted basis from a year ago to $48,328, continuing well-deserved increases over the data series going back to 1960. The female-to-male earnings ratio hit a new record of 80.5%, after steady increases, up from the 60%-range, where it had been between 1960 and 1982. And while that may still be inadequate, and while more progress needs to be made for women in the workforce, it was nevertheless the good news.

Men in the workforce haven’t been so lucky. They have experienced the brunt of the wage repression over the past four decades, obtained in part via inflation, where wages inch up, but not quite enough to keep up with the Fed-engineered loss of purchasing power of the dollar. Median earnings for men who worked full-time year-round fell 0.4% in 2016, adjusted for inflation, to $51,640. On this inflation-adjusted basis, men had earned more than that in 1972 ($52,361). And it’s down 4.4% from the earnings peak in 1973 ($54,030). This translates into 44 years of real earnings decline:

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Just in time for the Party Congress. What a lucky coincidence!

China’s Steel Mills Run at Full Tilt as Output Hits New Peak (BBG)

Steel production in China chalked up a fresh monthly record as mills in the world’s top supplier increase output to profit from a rally in prices to six-year highs before government-ordered pollution curbs are implemented. Crude steel output climbed to 74.59 million metric tons last month, surpassing the previous peak of 74.02 million in July, and up from 68.57 million in August 2016, according to the statistics bureau Thursday. While that’s an all-time high for the month, daily output was less than the record in June. Production surged 5.6% to 566.4 million tons in the first eight months, also a record. Steel prices have been supercharged this year in the country that accounts for half of global output. A crackdown on illegal mills shuttered some supply, boosting the remaining producers, while demand has been underpinned by significant state-backed stimulus.

Investors are also eyeing signals that the government will press ahead with anti-pollution curbs over winter. “Steel mills have boosted output as profit margins are good,” said Helen Lau at Argonaut Securities in Hong Kong. “Production cuts won’t set in until September or October, so steelmakers are churning out as much as they can in the meantime.” Spot reinforcement bar in China, a benchmark product used in construction, hit 4,396 yuan a ton early this month, the highest level since October 2011. Prices have gained 30% this year. Steel output may drop in coming months as Asia’s top economy presses ahead with supply-side reforms. Hebei province, the center of China’s mammoth steel industry, has plans that’ll allow for winter output cuts of as much as 50% to reduce pollution. Citigroup Inc. has estimated daily production could shrink 8% because of the environmental crackdown.

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But wait! Same source, same day, opposite views.

China’s Economy Cools Again (BBG)

The pace of China’s economic expansion unexpectedly cooled further last month after a lackluster July, as factory output, investment and retail sales all slowed. • Industrial output rose 6.0% from a year earlier in August, versus a median projection of 6.6% and July’s 6.4%. That’s the slowest pace this year • Retail sales expanded 10.1% from a year earlier, versus a projection of 10.5% and 10.4% in July, also the slowest reading in 2017 • Fixed-asset investment in urban areas rose 7.8% in the first eight months of the year over the same period in 2016, compared with a forecast 8.2% rise. That’s the slowest since 1999.

The continued cooling of the world’s second-largest economy suggests that efforts to rein in credit expansion and reduce excess capacity are hitting home ahead of the key 19th Party Congress in October. Still, producer-price inflation and a manufacturing sentiment gauge both exceeded estimates earlier this month, signaling some resilience. The Shanghai Composite Index reversed earlier gains to fall 0.4%. “Today’s data shows that the economy clearly already peaked in the first half of this year,” said Larry Hu at Macquarie in Hong Kong. “Recently both property and exports are slowing down and that’s why the whole economy is slowing.” “Regulatory tightening in the financial sector is putting a squeeze on highly indebted firms reliant on shadow bank financing,” said Frederic Neumann at HSBC in Hong Kong.

“And officials are unlikely to take their foot off the regulatory brakes any time soon. Growth therefore looks set to weaken further into year end, as regulators step up their campaign to rein in shadow banking.” “That’s still on track to a gradual moderation,” Chang Jian, chief China economist at Barclays in Hong Kong, said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “The government has been closing capacity, especially those that don’t meet environmental standards, and enforcement this year has been much stricter in the run-up to the 19th Party Congress.”

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An empire built on war.

US Senate Rejects Bid To Repeal War Authorizations (R.)

The U.S. Senate rejected an amendment on Wednesday that would have forced the repeal of war resolutions used as the legal basis for U.S. military actions in Iraq, Afghanistan and against extremists in Syria and other countries. The Senate voted 61 to 36 to kill the measure, which six months after it became law would have put an end to authorizations for the use of military force (AUMF) passed in 2001 and 2002. The legislation was offered by Republican Senator Rand Paul as an amendment to a must-pass annual defense policy bill, which lawmakers are using as a vehicle to gain a greater say in national security policy. Paul’s measure was aimed at asserting the constitutional right of Congress to approve military action, rather than the president.

Some of the other amendments address issues such as sanctions on North Korea and President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender troops in the military. Many members of Congress are concerned the 2001 AUMF, passed days after the Sept. 11 attacks to authorize the fight against al Qaeda and affiliates, has been used too broadly as the legal basis for a wide range of military action in too many countries. The majority of support for the amendment came from Democrats, who joined Paul in arguing that it is long past time for Congress to debate a new authorization for the use of force. “We should oppose unauthorized, undeclared, unconstitutional war. At this particular time, there are no limits on war,” Paul said.

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Not really. They’re just chasing illusions.

Has the NYT Gone Collectively Mad? (Robert Parry)

For those of us who have taught journalism or worked as editors, a sign that an article is the product of sloppy or dishonest journalism is that a key point will be declared as flat fact when it is unproven or a point in serious dispute – and it then becomes the foundation for other claims, building a story like a high-rise constructed on sand. This use of speculation as fact is something to guard against particularly in the work of inexperienced or opinionated reporters. But what happens when this sort of unprofessional work tops page one of The New York Times one day as a major “investigative” article and reemerges the next day in even more strident form as a major Times editorial? Are we dealing then with an inept journalist who got carried away with his thesis or are we facing institutional corruption or even a collective madness driven by ideological fervor?

What is stunning about the lede story in last Friday’s print edition of The New York Times is that it offers no real evidence to support its provocative claim that – as the headline states – “To Sway Vote, Russia Used Army of Fake Americans” or its subhead: “Flooding Twitter and Facebook, Impostors Helped Fuel Anger in Polarized U.S.” In the old days, this wildly speculative article, which spills over three pages, would have earned an F in a J-school class or gotten a rookie reporter a stern rebuke from a senior editor. But now such unprofessionalism is highlighted by The New York Times, which boasts that it is the standard-setter of American journalism, the nation’s “newspaper of record.” In this case, it allows reporter Scott Shane to introduce his thesis by citing some Internet accounts that apparently used fake identities, but he ties none of them to the Russian government.

Acting like he has minimal familiarity with the Internet – yes, a lot of people do use fake identities – Shane builds his case on the assumption that accounts that cited references to purloined Democratic emails must be somehow from an agent or a bot connected to the Kremlin. For instance, Shane cites the fake identity of “Melvin Redick,” who suggested on June 8, 2016, that people visit DCLeaks which, a few days earlier, had posted some emails from prominent Americans, which Shane states as fact – not allegation – were “stolen … by Russian hackers.” Shane then adds, also as flat fact, that “The site’s phony promoters were in the vanguard of a cyberarmy of counterfeit Facebook and Twitter accounts, a legion of Russian-controlled impostors whose operations are still being unraveled.”

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See my article yesterday.

Crisis Brings Sea Change To Greek Housing Market (K.)

“What we are experiencing is the end of the era of home ownership in Greece as households can no longer save to buy property,” says Nikos Hatzitsolis, chief executive at real estate firm CB Richard Ellis-Axies, underscoring the fundamental changes that the crisis has triggered in the Greek property market. This change, the experts explain, is not just evident in the case of those just flying the nest who wouldn’t be in any position to own their home anyway unless it was given to them by their family, but also existing homeowners who are opting to leave their property and rent it out or sell it. “Around 70% of homeowners are becoming renters because they choose to sell their property to pay off debts such as mortgages, late taxes or credit card debt,” says Lefteris Potamianos, vice president of the Athens-Attica Estate Agents Association.

“If any money is left over from the transaction, it is not reinvested in another property, as was the case in the past, but used to rent another home. Basically, the dream of ownership that drove past generations has come to an end.” A significant%age of homeowners choosing to rent out their home and lease a different property for themselves also consists of young people who see their accommodation requirements increasing, due to the birth of a child for example, or want to live in an area with better schools or security. “We are seeing more and more such cases in the property market,” says Potamianos. “Given that sales prices are very low and it is hard to find a buyer, many owners prefer to rent out their property and then rent another for themselves, as getting bank funding for a purchase is incredibly difficult. Some even move around to see which area suits them best. Renting has this flexibility, allowing you to relocate if you’re not happy.”

For the overwhelming majority, however, renting is the only option, as buying is seen as bringing no advantages whatsoever anymore. “Even from a purely economic perspective, it’s not worth owning a home today. In contrast, people who rent avoid all the additional tax costs and are not exposed to the instability of the tax framework for real estate assets, which has become a tool of politics and results in no taxpayer knowing what tomorrow will bring,” explains Hatzitsolis. “Previous generations believed that buying houses was a form of investment. This is no longer the case, as we’re seeing a completely different mentality in younger people.”

The expert also draws attention to the cases of people who are stuck with their properties. “I know an owner who inherited a house in [the upscale Athenian suburb of] Ekali and has to pay 80,000 euros a year in property tax,” he recounts. “At best, the house could fetch 50,000 euros a year in rent, which means that this man has to cover losses of 30,000 euros every year, something that is a complete dead end.” This owner has little choice but to sell, says Hatzitsolis, adding that such cases also explain why an increasing number of people are refusing their inheritances.

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Europe won’t rest until they have created their very own Somalia.

More Austerity May Be Ahead (K.)

Greek authorities will honor their commitments as laid out in the latest loan deal with international creditors, even if this results in the need for additional austerity measures next year, a top government official indicated Wednesday. In an unusual show of honesty and realism, the same official suggested that there might not be a “clean exit” for Greece after its third bailout expires next summer but something more restrictive. There are a range of possible scenarios between that of a clean exit, which Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has heralded, and the prospect of a credit line for Greece, the official said. On the prospect of more austerity next year, the official said he believed that there would not be a big divergence in fiscal targets next year. “If there is, we’ll see what happens, but were are committed to a target of 3.5% of GDP,” the official said, referring to the primary surplus goal set by creditors.

The official also noted that, once a primary surplus target is reached, residual revenue will go toward boosting the Social Solidarity Income program for 2017 for Greeks who have been hardest hit by austerity but also toward paying off state debts to the private sector and to growth programs. Decisions on these matters are expected to be taken following talks with the mission chiefs representing Greece’s foreign lenders, who are expected to travel to Athens next month and to assess the progress of authorities in boosting tax collection and curbing spending. Although Greek officials have underlined the importance of completing the next bailout review by the end of the year, sources suggest that the process might drag into January.

The most important thing, the official noted, is “that we are not part of the problem” when important discussions about the future of the Greek program get under way in the first quarter of next year, touching on the participation (or not) of the IMF in Greece’s third bailout and relief for the country’s debt burden. Greek authorities are concerned about the IMF’s stance opposite Athens. Apart from the Fund’s traditionally tough position on fiscal matters, there are concerns too about its demands for a further recapitalization of Greek banks. The official, however, assumed the stance of the ECB on this issue, noting that there is no need for Greek banks to receive further capital. The official said that Greece planned to tap international bond markets in the next 6-9 months following a successful return in July.

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Apr 012017
 
 April 1, 2017  Posted by at 9:12 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle April 1 2017
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Claude Monet The Pond at Montgeron 1876

 

Boaty McBoatface, or Don’t Listen To The Public -BoE’s Haldane (Tel.)
UK Households’ Savings Fall To Record Low (G.)
Multiple Bubbles Are Going To Bring America To Its Knees (Lang)
Ports In China Have Enough Iron Ore To Build 13,000 Eiffel Towers (R.)
French Banks Posted ‘Multi-Billion Euro Profits’ In Tax Havens (F24)
European Right Hopes Macron Will Save France (EUO)
Racket of Rackets (Jim Kunstler)
The Big Contraction – An Interview With Jim Kunstler
Julian Assange Waits For Ecuador’s Election To Decide His Future (G.)

 

 

Haldane is not the dumbest of central bankers. But this is crazy. See, the question is this: would Brexit have been prevented by not listening to people, or did not listening to them cause Brexit? And what’s wrong with calling a ship Boaty McBoatface? Maybe it’s an idea to listen more to people, not less? What else would you like to decide for people to protect them from their own madness?

Boaty McBoatface, or Don’t Listen To The Public -BoE’s Haldane (Tel)

The public should not have a direct say in setting interest rates because they can show “madness” when making collective decisions – just look at Boaty McBoatface, the Bank of England’s chief economist has warned. Central bankers have come under pressure to be more accountable to the public after the financial crisis and years of ultra-low interest rates, but it could be dangerous to hold a referendum on rates. It would be feasible to canvas the public online, said Andy Haldane, but could be dangerous. He pointed to the example of Boaty McBoatface, the name chosen in a public ballot for a new polar research ship last year, winning 80pc of votes cast. The National Environmental Research Council overruled the public and called the ship “Sir David Attenborough”, instead using the comedy name for a smaller submersible.

“This is an object lesson in the perils of public polling for policy purposes,” Andy Haldane, the chief economist, said in a speech at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. “Sometimes, there is madness in crowds.” He joked: “For some, it was a shameful example of the perils of populism.” He does propose more regular surveying of the public on the economy so the Bank of England knows what people think and how they are affected by monetary policy, however. Mr Haldane also said that “Marmite-gate” – the public row between Tesco and supplier Unilever over the price of the yeast extract spread – was useful in preparing the public for a bout of price rises. “Arguably, “Marmitegate” raised public awareness of rising inflation much more effectively than any amount of central bank jawboning,” he said. “Stories, like Marmite itself, stick.”

Typically the Bank of England struggles to get its message through to the public, often because officials use long words and technical language rather than using phrases which normal people use. “Simple words can make a dramatic difference to readability. ‘Inflation and employment’ leaves the majority of the public cold. ‘Prices and jobs’ warms them up,” he said. Officials should learn from Facebook and from pop songs to learn how to speak in a way which is more clear for the general public, rather than specialist audiences of financiers, Mr Haldane said. “Facebook posts are more likely to be shared the more frequent nouns and verbs and the less frequent adverbs and adjectives,” he said. “The ratio of nouns and verbs to adverbs and adjectives in an Elvis song is 3.3. In my speeches it is 2.7.”

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Hard to believe, this. Brits are scared, they would hoard. It’s just not in their banks accounts that they do. It’s Go To The Mattresses time.

UK Households’ Savings Fall To Record Low (G.)

British households ran down their savings to a record low at the end of 2016 and disposable incomes fell in a warning sign for the economy that a squeeze in living standards is under way. The savings ratio – which estimates the amount of money households have available to save as a%age of their total disposable income – fell sharply in the fourth quarter to 3.3% from 5.3% in the third. It was the lowest since records began in 1963 according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), and suggested that people are increasingly dipping into their savings to maintain spending. “Today’s figures should set alarm bells ringing. The last thing our economy needs right now is another consumer debt crisis,” said the TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady.

“People raiding their piggy banks and borrowing more than they can afford is what helped drive the last financial crash.” In a further sign that household finances are coming under increasing strain from rising inflation and falling wage growth, disposable incomes also fell over the quarter. Real household disposable income – which adjusts for the impact of inflation – shrank by 0.4% compared with the previous three months, the steepest drop in nearly three years. UK growth since the financial crisis has been heavily reliant on consumer spending. The ONS confirmed the wider UK economy grew by 0.7% between October and December, but economists said a weaker consumer backdrop could weigh on growth in the coming months. Growth in 2016 was unrevised at 1.8% as the ONS updated its estimates.

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And the rest of the world.

Multiple Bubbles Are Going To Bring America To Its Knees (Lang)

If you’ve been paying attention to the ongoing degradation of the American economy since the last financial crisis, you’re probably flabbergasted by the fact that our economy has managed to make it this far without imploding. I know I am. I find myself shocked with every year that passes without incident. The warning signs are there for anyone willing to see, and they are flashing red. Even cursory research into the numbers underlying our system will tell you that we’re on an unsustainable financial path. It’s simple math. And yet the system has proven far more durable than most people thought. The only reasonable explanation I can think of, is that the system is being held up by wishful thinking and willful ignorance.

If every single person knew how unsustainable our economy is, it would self-destruct within hours. People would pull their money out of the banks, the bonds, and the stock market, and buy whatever real assets they could while their money is still worth something. It would be the first of many dominoes to fall before the entire financial system collapses. But most people don’t want to think about that possibility. They want the relative peace and prosperity of the current system to continue, so they ignore the facts or try to avoid them as much as possible. They keep their money right where it is and cross their fingers instead. In other words, the only thing propping up the system is undeserved confidence.

Unfortunately, confidence can’t keep an unsustainable system running forever. Nothing can. And our particular system is brimming with economic bubbles that aren’t going to stay inflated for much longer. Most recessions are associated with the bursting of at least one kind of bubble, but there are multiple sectors of our economy that may crash at roughly the same time in the near future. [..] Our economy is awash in cheap money and financial bubbles that threaten to wipe out tens of trillions of dollars worth of savings, investments, and assets. Everyone can close their eyes and hum while they hope that everything is going to be just fine, but it won’t be.

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But the economy is fine, of course…

Ports In China Have Enough Iron Ore To Build 13,000 Eiffel Towers (R.)

With enough iron ore to construct Paris’s Eiffel Tower nearly 13,000 times over, China’s ports are bursting with stockpiles of the raw material and some of them are demolishing old buildings to create more storage space, trading sources said. China’s domestic iron ore production jumped 15.3% in January-February as a price rally last year extended into 2017, causing imported ore to pile up at the ports of the world’s top buyer. Stockpiles are at their highest in more than a decade and are affecting prices. Inventory of imported iron ore at 46 Chinese ports reached 132.45 million tonnes on March 24, SteelHome consultancy said, the highest since it began tracking the data in 2004. A third of the stocks belongs to traders and the rest is owned by China’s steel mills, SteelHome said.

That volume would make about 95 million tonnes of steel, enough to build 12,960 replicas of the 324-metre (1,063-foot) high Eiffel Tower in Paris. Global iron ore prices are now at just above $80 a tonne from a 30-month peak of $94.86 reached in February, largely due to the growing port inventory. Prices surged 81% last year, bringing relief to miners after a three-year rout. The rally stretched into 2017, inspiring marginal producers to resume business and lifting supply as China’s steel demand waned. Further falls in the price of iron ore risk shuttering Chinese capacity again. That could boost China’s reliance on top-grade exporters Vale, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton.

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Not going to stop as long as we don’t stop it.

French Banks Posted ‘Multi-Billion Euro Profits’ In Tax Havens (F24)

The Eurozone’s 20 biggest banks earned over a quarter of their profits in tax havens in 2015, according to a report released Monday by Oxfam. The report details how, in 2015, top Eurozone banks generated €25 billion in profits in low-tax territories like the Republic of Ireland, Luxembourg, the Cayman Islands and the American state of Delaware. Despite the massive profits, the banks only conducted 12% of their total business and employed 7% of their workers in those countries – a clear sign of the “tricks” that banks are willing use to avoid countries with stricter tax regimes, according to Oxfam’s Manon Aubry, one of the report’s authors. In Europe, banking is now the only sector in which companies must declare country-by-country tax and profit figures, thanks to legislation passed in the wake of the financial crisis.

The anti-poverty NGO Oxfam took advantage of the new data to write its report. Several of France’s biggest banks figure prominently in the report, including BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole, Société Générale and BPCE (which owns Banque Populaire and Caisse d’Epargne). French banks declared almost €2 billion in profit in Luxembourg, as much as they reported in Germany and Spain combined, despite the fact that Luxembourg’s population is only 1% that of Spain’s. Some of the most telling figures come from discrepancies between profit and other key economic measures. “Société Générale, for instance, reported 22% of its profits in tax havens,” Oxfam’s Aubry told FRANCE 24, “but only 4% of its employee pay was generated there.”

In another example, BNP Paribas declared €134 million of profit in the Cayman Islands in 2015, although it had zero employees there. However, Servane Costrel, Wealth Management Press Officer for BNP Paribas, said that these figures were “obsolete”. “Profits earned in the Cayman Islands were taxed in the United States,” Costrel told FRANCE 24 by email. “But this is a non-issue since that figure [of profits in the Cayman Islands] dropped to zero in 2016.”

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Save the right from the right. That should work. The French massively hate their own politicial system.

European Right Hopes Macron Will Save France (EUO)

Not long ago, Francois Fillon was considered the most likely winner of the French presidential election in May. But after he was charged for embezzlement over suspicions of fake parliamentary jobs for his wife and children, even his European allies seem to have lost hope. Meanwhile, the fear of seeing far-right candidate Marine Le Pen taking power is growing. “People are worried, they are wondering what is going on in France,” Joseph Daul, president of the European People’s Party (EPP), told EUobserver on the margins of the EPP congress in Malta this week. “And it goes further than that. There are already committees, at the highest level, working on the hypothesis that France leaves the euro and the EU,” he said. He declined to specify whether these working groups were in EU capitals or in the EU institutions.

Officials in Brussels have warned about the consequences for France and the EU if Le Pen were to be elected, but have said so far that that they do not want to envisage a Le Pen scenario. The National Front (FN) leader has said that she wants to “do away with the EU,” and has promised to organise a referendum on the country’s EU membership. Her possible election “has been a risk for some time,” a high level EU source said recently, pointing to the “explosion” of the two main parties, the Socialist Party (PS) of outgoing president Francois Hollande and Fillon’s Republicans. In the most recent poll published on Wednesday (29 March), Socialist Party (PS) candidate Benoit Hamon was credited with only 10% of voting intentions and Fillon with 18%. Both were far behind Le Pen (with 24%) and independent candidate Emmanuel Macron (with 25.5%).

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Pecora for health care.

Racket of Rackets (Jim Kunstler)

My suggestion for real reform of the medical racket looks to historical precedent: In 1932 (before the election of FDR, by the way), the US Senate formed a commission to look into the causes of the 1929 Wall Street Crash and recommend corrections in banking regulation to obviate future episodes like it. It is known to history as the Pecora Commission, after its chief counsel Ferdinand Pecora, an assistant Manhattan DA, who performed gallantly in his role. The commission ran for two years. Its hearings led to prison terms for many bankers and ultimately to the Glass-Steagall Act of 1932, which kept banking relatively honest and stable until its nefarious repeal in 1999 under President Bill Clinton — which led rapidly to a new age of Wall Street malfeasance, still underway.

The US Senate needs to set up an equivalent of the Pecora Commission to thoroughly expose the cost racketeering in medicine, enable the prosecution of the people driving it, and propose a Single Payer remedy for flushing it away. The Department of Justice can certainly apply the RICO anti-racketeering statutes against the big health care conglomerates and their executives personally. I don’t know why it has not done so already — except for the obvious conclusion that our elected officials have been fully complicit in the medical rackets, which is surely the case of new Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, a former surgeon and congressman who trafficked in medical stocks during his years representing his suburban Atlanta district. A new commission could bypass this unprincipled clown altogether.

It is getting to the point where we have to ask ourselves if we are even capable of being a serious people anymore. Medicine is now a catastrophe every bit as pernicious as the illnesses it is supposed to treat, and a grave threat to a nation that we’re supposed to care about. What party, extant or waiting to be born, will get behind this cleanup operation?

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“..it’s unclear whether we will land back in something like the mid-nineteenth century, or go full-bore medieval, or worse.”

The Big Contraction – An Interview With Jim Kunstler

We’ve been sowing the seeds for our predicament since the end of World War II. You might even call this process “The Victory Disease.” In practical terms it represents sets of poor decisions with accelerating bad consequences. For instance, the collective decision to suburbanize the nation. This was not a conspiracy. It was consistent with my new theory of history, which is Things happen because they seem like a good idea at the time. In 1952 we had plenty of oil and the ability to make a lot of cars, which were fun, fun, fun! And we turned our war production expertise into the mass production of single family houses built on cheap land outside the cities. But the result now is that we’re stuck in a living arrangement with no future, the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.

Another bad choice was to offshore most of our industry. Seemed like a good idea at the time; now you have a citizenry broadly impoverished, immiserated, and politically inflamed. Of course, one must also consider the possibility that industrial society was a historic interlude with a beginning, middle, and end, and that we are closer to the end of the story than the middle. It was, after all, a pure product of the fossil fuel bonanza, which is also coming to an end (with no plausible replacement in view.) I don’t view all this as the end of the world, or of civilization, per se, but we’re certainly in for a big re-set of the terms for remaining civilized. I’ve tried to outline where this is all going in my four-book series of the “World Made By Hand” novels, set in the near future.

If we’re lucky, we can fall back to sets of less complex social and economic arrangements, but it’s unclear whether we will land back in something like the mid-nineteenth century, or go full-bore medieval, or worse. One thing we can be sure of: the situation we face is one of comprehensive discontinuity — a lot of things just stop, beginning with financial arrangements and long-distance supply lines of resources and finished goods. Then it depends whether we can respond by reorganizing life locally in this nation at a finer scale — if it even remains a unified nation. Anyway, implicit in this kind of discontinuity is the possibility for disorder. We don’t know how that will go, and how we come through it depends on the degree of disorder.

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At some point I can see this turning into a Free Mandela kind of movement.

Julian Assange Waits For Ecuador’s Election To Decide His Future (G.)

For Ecuador’s 15 million inhabitants, Sunday’s presidential election runoff will pose a fundamental question: whether to continue with a leftwing government that has reduced poverty but also brought environmental destruction and authoritarian censorship, or to take a chance on a pro-business banker who promises economic growth but is accused of siphoning money to offshore accounts. But they are not the only ones for whom the result will be critically important. Thousands of miles away, in the country’s tiny embassy in central London, Julian Assange will be watching closely to see if his four and a half years of cramped asylum could be coming to an abrupt, enforced end. Guillermo Lasso, the businessman and leading opposition candidate, has vowed that if he wins, the WikiLeaks founder’s time in the embassy will be up.

Lasso has said he would “cordially ask Señor Assange to leave within 30 days of assuming a mandate”, because his presence in the Knightsbridge embassy was a burden on Ecuadorian taxpayers. His government opponent, Lenin Moreno, has said Assange would remain welcome, albeit with conditions. “We will always be alert and ask Mr Assange to show respect in his declarations regarding our brotherly and friendly countries,” Moreno said. The most recent polling showed Moreno at least four percentage points ahead of his rival, though earlier polls had Lasso in the lead, and many analysts caution that the results are within the margin of error. Could this weekend really trigger the beginning of the end for Assange’s extraordinary central London refuge? Neither Lasso’s victory, nor precisely what he would do if he won, are certain (he later softened his position to say Assange’s status would be “reviewed”).

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Apr 052016
 
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DPC Surf Avenue, Coney Island, NY 1903

Panama Bombshell Spells Demise Of Shadow Finance, And Privacy (AEP)
Tax Havens Don’t Need To Be Reformed. They Should Be Outlawed (Brooks)
Thousands Protest Demanding Icelandic PM’s Resignation (AFP)
German Banks Enmeshed In Panama Papers Leak (DW)
Data From Panama Law Firm Came From Employee, Not Hackers (Rijock)
Panama Papers Cause Guardian to Collapse into Self-Parody (OG)
China State Paper Sees ‘Powerful Force’ Behind Panama Leak (BBG)
The Forces of Globalization Are Sputtering (WSJ)
China Hard Landing Could Trigger Global Market Bloodbath: IMF (Tel.)
Lagarde Says Risks to Weak Global Recovery Are Increasing (BBG)
Subprime Housing Risks Raise Red Flags In China (WSJ)
Bond Market ‘Exhausted’ as Kuroda Stimulus Enters Fourth Year (BBG)
Sperm Whales Found Full of Car Parts and Plastics (NatGeo)
Turkey: The Business Of Refugee Smuggling & Sex Trafficking (ZH)
Italy Pleads For Greek-Style Push To Return Its Migrants (FT)
So The Greece Deportations Are Going ‘Smoothly’? Take A Closer Look (G.)

Ambrose bets on a substantial fall-out.

Panama Bombshell Spells Demise Of Shadow Finance, And Privacy (AEP)

The secret world of offshore banks and money-laundering has been under the microscope ever since the financial crisis. Now it is the turn of lawyers, registrars, and the hidden network of facilitators. The treasure trove of 11.5m documents leaked – or more precisely stolen – from the Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca lifts the lid on the extraordinary practices of the global elites, and on the alleged services of off-shore legal cabinets for terrorist organisations, drug cartels, sanctions busting, and front companies of all kinds. The files on 213,000 firms first slipped to the Suddeutsche Zeitung and then shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) is the biggest data leak in history. It will have long-lasting ramifications. The avalanche of allegations has barely begun.

The red-hot dossier on US citizens has not even been released. Yet the scandal has already triggered a string of criminal investigations around the world, kicking off in Australia and New Zealand within hours. Germany’s vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said the files go far beyond issues of tax evasion, touching on vital national interests and the rule of law. “It is about organized crime, evasion of UN sanctions, and terrorist finance,” he said. “This shadow economy is a risk for global security. We must ban the anonymous letterbox companies. The international community must ostracize any country that allows these dirty dealings,” said Mr Gabriel. Mossack Fonseca’s clients include 23 people under sanctions for helping North Korea, Russia, Iran, Syria, and Zimbabwe. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that 33 of those named are on the US black list for terrorism.

Panama has cornered the trade in anonymous shell companies that allow owners to disguise their identity and carry out global operations secretly. While this may be a legitimate for those in the limelight trying to protect their privacy or to safeguard sensitive corporate dealings, many use it to avoid detection for money-laundering, tax avoidance, or predatory behaviour. The country has pushed through reforms in a bid to clear its name and to get off the OECD’s ‘grey list’ of uncooperative tax havens, but has clearly not yet done enough. “Panama has an extremely aggressive and obstructive attitude. Dialogue has broken down,” said Pascal Saint-Amans, the OECD’s tax chief. “It is the last financial centre that has refused to implement global standards of fiscal transparency. There has been very strong pressure from the law firms on the Panamanian government.”

Mr Saint-Amans said offshore secrecy in on the wane in most of the world, but becoming more concentrated in Panama. “The majority of undeclared clients are coming clean in other locations, but those who don’t are going to Panama,” he said.

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Thing is, that’s been obvious for ages.

Tax Havens Don’t Need To Be Reformed. They Should Be Outlawed (Brooks)

The Panama Papers are not really about a central American state. They are a glimpse through a Panamanian keyhole of an orgy of tax evasion, money laundering and kleptocracy – amid the legitimate financial planning – hosted by the world’s tax havens. Seven years after world leaders came together at a post-financial crisis G20 summit in London and committed to end tax haven abuse, it is clear from these papers that no such end is in sight. The good intentions have translated into a blizzard of international agreements on sharing information, amnesties through which tax evaders can come clean, and prosecution drives of variable quality to nail the cheats. All are demonstrably inadequate. Information will not, and cannot, be exchanged to any meaningful extent by countries and territories whose “offer” is that they don’t ask for it or will turn a blind eye to being deceived.

Amnesties teach rich tax evaders that, even if they are caught, they will get off far more lightly than somebody overclaiming a few pounds in social security benefits. Criminal pursuit of offenders, certainly in the UK, is little more than a joke. One prosecution from 1,000 tax evaders using HSBC’s Swiss accounts is the now infamously poor punchline. Here, the Panama Papers lay bare another national disgrace: Britain’s longstanding role at the centre of the offshore web. More than half of the 200,000 secret companies set up by the Panama lawyers Mossack Fonseca were registered in the British Virgin Islands, where details of company ownership don’t have to be filed with the authorities, never mind be made public. While this week’s leak is on an unprecedented scale, it exposes a historic as well as current failing.

As the British empire faded away after the second world war and territories such as the British Virgin Islands drifted into the constitutional limbo of semi-independence, they were encouraged to develop financial services as a way of sustaining precarious economies. If this meant a few of the world’s wealthier people paid a little less tax, thought successive British governments, it was a price worth paying for not having to support the territories. Late 20th-century financial liberalisation turned this already complacent calculation into something more lethal. With fortunes sloshing freely across borders, tax havens became voracious parasites on the world economy, most seriously sucking the life out of some of its poorer parts. All the great national robbers of recent decades, such as Nigeria’s Sani Abacha, have used tax haven companies, including British Virgin Islands ones, as the getaway cars.

Despite this long trail of evidence, leading economies refuse to address the problem at its source. The UK has great leverage over its 17 overseas territories and crown dependencies, all of which depend on the mother country for security and happily trade off its legal system. At a stroke our government could shut down the British Virgin Islands corporate system, for example. But under influence from a banking system that thrives on the legal benefits of offshore centres such as the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands, it takes a more relaxed view. Asked recently about whether Britain’s overseas territories should publish registers of beneficial owners of their companies, foreign office minister James Duddridge replied that these were a “direction, rather than an ultimate destination”. The Panama Papers should expose this indifference for the great scandal that it is.

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Gone tomorrow.

Thousands Protest Demanding Icelandic PM’s Resignation (AFP)

Thousands of Icelanders took to the streets late Monday calling for their prime minister’s resignation after leaked tax documents dubbed the “Panama Papers” prompted allegations that he and his wife used an offshore firm to hide million-dollar investments. Protesters filled the square outside Iceland’s parliament in Reykjavik, footage on public television RUV showed, answering a call from opposition parties to demonstrate against Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson. Police provided no estimate of the size of the crowd, but said the demonstrators outnumbered the thousands who in 2009 brought down the right-wing government over its responsibility in Iceland’s 2008 banking collapse.

“Take responsibility” and “Where is the new constitution?” read some of the signs carried by demonstrators on Monday, referring to the country’s new charter drawn up after the 2009 political crisis and which has since been held up in parliament. Financial records published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists showed that Gunnlaugsson, 41, and his wife Anna Sigurlaug Palsdottir bought the offshore company Wintris Inc. in the British Virgin Islands in December 2007. The company was intended to manage Palsdottir’s inheritance from her wealthy businessman father, the amount of which has not been disclosed. Gunnlaugsson transferred his 50% stake to his wife at the end of 2009, for the symbolic sum of one dollar.

But when he was elected a member of parliament for the first time in April 2009 as a member of the centre-right Progressive Party, he neglected to mention the stake in his declaration of shareholdings, as required by law. Gunnlaugsson has meanwhile denied any wrongdoing or tax evasion and insisted Monday he would not step down. He said he never hid any money abroad and that his wife paid all her taxes on the company in Iceland. A motion of no-confidence was presented to parliament by the opposition, and will be submitted to a vote at an as yet undetermined date. Almost 28,000 Icelanders, in a country of just 320,000 inhabitants, have also signed a petition demanding his resignation.

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All global banks are involved.

German Banks Enmeshed In Panama Papers Leak (DW)

The two German financial institutions specifically mentioned in media reports as having helped high-ranking politicians, celebrities and sports stars hide their money abroad were Deutsche Bank, Germany’s largest lender, and the Hamburg-based Berenberg bank. The allegations were part of the so-called Panama Papers, a massive trove of leaked emails, PDFs and other records that expose a world of letterbox companies and business arrangements that until recently had been largely hidden from public view. The Panama Papers were first obtained by reporters at the German daily “Süddeutsche Zeitung,” and on Sunday, the head of the paper’s investigative unit suggested to a German TV host that every bank in Germany was somehow implicated.

“If you were to ask me which German bank hadn’t helped its customers go to Mossack Fonseca, I would have to think long and hard to see if a single one came to mind,” said Georg Mascolo, referring to the Panama-based law firm that is at the center of the leaks because it’s where the documents originated. Mascolo proceeded to single out Deutsche Bank and Berenberg bank, the latter of which he said had “especially distinguished itself.” Both institutions promptly denied any wrongdoing. Speaking to the news agency DPA, a spokesman for Berenberg’s Swiss subsidiary insisted there was nothing inherently illegal about dealing with offshore companies. “This is, of course, done in line with legal regulations, but it does require greater due diligence on the part of the banks,” he said, noting that such accounts were “permanently monitored.”

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Sort of funny. Note that this story had been playing out for a few years already.

Data From Panama Law Firm Came From Employee, Not Hackers (Rijock)

Now it’s Panama Leaks: massive amounts of customer data stored on the computers of the country’s principal provider of corporations, Mossack Fonseca, have been stolen and delivered to foreign journalists, who reportedly are planning on releasing it as early as Monday. The data is believed to contain information on Panama companies, and bank accounts, held by foreign government officials, other politically exposed persons (PEPs) and organized crime syndicates. The public release of this information could result in widespread criminal charges against corrupt heads of state and other officials who have banked the proceeds of illegal bribes and kickbacks they have received.

There will be special attention paid to individuals who accepted money from American and British firms to allow them to participate in lucrative business arrangements, as the US and UK both strictly enforce their foreign corruption laws. Mossack Fonseca, already reeling being implicated in a major corruption case in Brazil, in which present or former government officials at the highest level are under criminal investigation, has also been in the news lately due to allegations that senior officials in Malta hold secret banks accounts in Panama, facilitated by the Mossack firm. Investigative reporters are allegedly already to publish the names, and sordid details, of a large number of corrupt PEPs. Some television media are reportedly planning on running stories early this week.

Panama insiders have said that the source of the information was not, as Mossack is reporting, an intrusion by hackers, but an inside job. A former female employee, with access to the data, was allegedly involved in an intimate relationship with a Mossack name partner. The relationship ended badly some time ago, and the employee exacted her revenge by going public with Mossack client lists and related data. The impact of this leak cannot be underestimated; it will seriously undermine global confidence in the ability of Panamanian financial service providers to assist corrupt government officials, and career criminals in hiding their ill-gotten gains, which is the major segment of the client base in such firms. It is too early to know whether dirty money will now seek a different opaque haven to be hidden.

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To further illustrate the point I made yesterday.

Panama Papers Cause Guardian to Collapse into Self-Parody (OG)

You’d be forgiven for thinking, given the above picture, that the Panama Papers had something to do with Vladimir Putin. Maybe he was a kingpin of the whole thing. Maybe he was, at least, among the 12 world leaders implicated in various shady financial practices – along with Petro Poroshenko, the saviour of Ukrainian democracy, and the King of Saudi Arabia (dad of the recent Légion d’Honneur winner). Luke Harding, a bastion of ethical journalism (and not at all a paranoid lunatic), has churned out 2 articles totaling over 5000 words, each using the word “Putin”, almost as often as they use the phrases “allegedly”, “speculation suggests”, “has been described as” and “may have been”.

Neither of his articles mentions by name any of the 12 world leaders, past and present, actually identified in the documents, nor do they mention David Cameron’s dad, who is also in there. No, they focus on a cellist friend of Putin’s, talk about his daughter’s marriage, and include an awful lot of diagrams with big arrows that point at pictures of…Vladimir Putin. This is, apparently, all evidence of…something …I’m not sure what, but it will probably be discussed at length in the “book” Luke Harding is probably planning to publish in a couple of weeks. That’s if the NSA don’t delete it all while he’s typing. The only important, or even true, phrase Harding uses appears at the very top of this article:

…the president’s name does not appear in any of the records…

That’s a minor detail of course, I mean, they have a video: “How to hide $1 billion”. The title screen is, you guessed it, a photo of Putin. Presumably because he is SO GOOD at hiding his billions that, unlike Petro Poroshenko and David Cameron’s dad:

…the president’s name does not appear in any of the records…

So there you go. The Guardian falls into self parody, pasting up a massive picture, a misleading headline and 5000 words (that Harding presumably copied from someone else), at the merest suggestion of a tenuous connection to the Russian president. It’s a bit odd, really.

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While scrambling to delete any and all references. But still, they do have a point. It’s not as if something financed by Soros is even remotely neutral.

China State Paper Sees ‘Powerful Force’ Behind Panama Leak (BBG)

A “powerful force is behind” the leak of more than 11 million documents detailing the offshore accounts of some of the world’s wealthiest people, and the U.S. government stands to gain the most from the revelations, a state-run Chinese newspaper said. An editorial published by the Global Times newspaper Tuesday provided China’s first official reaction to investigations by more than 100 news organizations, detailing overseas holdings of about 140 politicians, public officials and family members, including President Xi Jinping’s brother-in-law. The editorial, which focused on Russian President Vladimir Putin and didn’t mention any of the Chinese examples, assessed the “eye-catching” revelations as a salvo in an East-West ideological struggle, echoing the Kremlin’s response.

“The Western media has taken control of the interpretation each time there has been such a document dump, and Washington has demonstrated particular influence in it,” said the Global Times, which is published by the Communist Party’s flagship People’s Daily. “Information that is negative to the U.S. can always be minimized, while exposure of non-Western leaders, such as Putin, can get extra spin.” The release of the so-called Panama Papers come at an embarrassing time for Xi, who’s requiring party members to give authorities more information about their family wealth to institutionalize his more than three-year-old war on graft. Mentions of the documents were widely scrubbed from China’s heavily censored Internet and news outlets, which have come under increased pressure from Xi to toe the party line.

Links shared on Tencent Holdings’s WeChat messaging service said the “page could not be found.” Attempts to search “Panama Papers” on Baidu’s Google-like search engine returned only a one-line warning that “search results may not comply with relevant laws or regulations.” The Global Times editorial was published only in English.

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Those forces are waiting for TTP and TTiP to be ratified.

The Forces of Globalization Are Sputtering (WSJ)

On the campaign trail, presidential candidates in both parties depict an America under siege from cheap imports, job-stealing globalization or waves of illegal immigration. The reality since the global recession is far more complicated. Across a range of measures, the forces that once pointed to an inexorable internationalization of the world’s economy have slowed, stuttered or swung into reverse. The slowdown points to deeper economic challenges far different from the political alarms. Much of the world is struggling with a sluggishness that is clouding the U.S. outlook, driven by aging demographics, slumping labor productivity and policy makers lacking the tools or the will to pump more life into the global economy. Whatever the causes, signs abound that the forces of globalization have slowed.

Manufacturing jobs in the U.S. declined every year from 1998 to 2009, regardless of whether the overall economy was expanding or in recession. But over the past six years, manufacturing employment has edged up. It’s hardly a renaissance—the U.S. has regained about 1 million manufacturing jobs after losing 8 million since the late 1970s—but it’s a halt to the decline. The U.S. share of global exports fell sharply, especially from 1998 to 2004, but has held steady over the past 12 years at roughly 8.5%. There’s even evidence the trend of illegal immigration in the 1990s and 2000s, when millions of Mexicans crossed the border for the U.S., has stalled or gone into reverse, despite frequent alarms raised by Republican front-runner Donald Trump. The Pew Research Center estimates that since 2007, the flow of illegal immigrants returning to Mexico has been larger than the number entering the U.S.

“The globalization process, which was firing on all cylinders during the 2000s, has stalled over the past six or seven years,” said Benjamin Mandel, global strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management and a former New York Fed economist. The trend isn’t specific to the U.S. Globalization has sputtered around the world. From 1992 to 2008, trade climbed to about 30% of total world economic output, from 20%. That climb has halted, and remains at about 30% of GDP in the latest World Bank estimates. If the historical trend between trade growth and GDP growth had continued, global trade would be $1.8 trillion larger, according to estimates from Eric Lascelles, chief U.S. economist of RBC Asset Management. That’s equivalent to an economy the size of Canada or Russia disappearing from global output.

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From the IMF research department.

China Hard Landing Could Trigger Global Market Bloodbath: IMF (Tel.)

Jitters over the health of the Chinese economy could trigger a bloodbath on financial markets if a hard landing materialises, the IMF has warned. The IMF said policy choices in the world’s second largest economy would also have “increasing implications for global financial stability” in the coming years as the country opens up its bond and equity markets. The fund said emerging market economies such as China, India, Brazil and Russia had driven more than half of global growth over the past 15 years. Stronger trade ties and financial linkages meant spillovers from these countries had become “the norm, not the exception”, increasing the risk that future shocks could send powerful reverberations around the globe. The IMF calculated that emerging market spillovers now accounted for a third of the fluctuations seen in equity and currency markets in advanced nations.

Highlighting last summer’s massive stock market sell-off after China devalued its currency, the IMF noted that Chinese growth had an “increasing” and “significant” impact on global equity prices. “The impact of shocks to China’s fundamentals on global financial markets is expected to grow stronger and wider over time,” the Fund said in a pre-released chapter of its Financial Stability report. “Clear and timely communication of its policy decisions, transparency about its policy goals, and strategies consistent with achieving them will, therefore, be essential to ensure against volatile market reactions, which may have broader repercussions.” The IMF also urged policymakers to do more to rein in corporate debt, which it has previously said could see a wave of defaults as the US hikes interest rates.

“Fire sales” of assets by money managers could also amplify emerging market spillovers in a downturn, if mutual funds rushed to sell illiquid assets, the IMF warned. Financial “spillbacks” triggered by policy actions in advanced economies such as tighter monetary policy in the US underscored “the importance of enhanced international macroeconomic and macroprudential policy co-operation”, the IMF said. The Fund issued a separate warning on the $24 trillion life insurance sector. It said herding behaviour created systemic risks that could make firms “too many to fail”. The IMF said the low interest rate environment had encouraged many firms to increase risk taking in order to “resurrect their fortunes”, particularly among smaller and less capitalised firms. “Jointly firms can propagate shocks, if they act similarly,” the IMF said. “They may be ‘too many to fail’,” it warned.

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From the other IMF orifice. She has absolutely nothing. Zilch. Not a word she utters has any meaning.

Lagarde Says Risks to Weak Global Recovery Are Increasing (BBG)

The global recovery is facing growing risks, and frustration with inequality is increasing the lure of protectionism, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said. The world economy’s outlook has dimmed over the last six months, exacerbated by China’s slowdown, lower commodity prices and the risk of financial tightening in many countries, Lagarde said Tuesday in the prepared text of a speech in Frankfurt. The expected passing of the “growth baton” from emerging markets to advanced economies hasn’t occurred, she added. Lagarde, fresh from winning a new five-year term at the fund’s helm, used the opportunity to caution against being drawn to the kinds of forces that have fueled the populism-driven candidacies of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election.

While inequality has been declining on a global scale, the perception remains that “the cards are stacked against the common man – and woman – in favor of elites,” said Lagarde, 60. “To some, the answer is to look inward, to somehow unwind these linkages, to close borders and retreat into protectionism,” she said, without naming any politicians. “As history has told us – time and again – this would be a tragic course.” Lagarde’s comments on the global economy add to signs that the IMF will downgrade its growth forecast when it releases its updated World Economic Outlook on April 12. Finance ministers and central bankers from the fund’s 188 member nations will gather later that week in Washington for the IMF’s spring meetings. “The good news is that the recovery continues; we have growth; we are not in a crisis,” Lagarde said. “The not-so-good news is that the recovery remains too slow, too fragile, and risks to its durability are increasing.”

Lagarde said U.S. growth is flat due partly to the strong dollar, while low investment and high unemployment are weighing on growth in the euro zone. Growth and inflation in Japan have been weaker than expected, she added. China’s transition to a more sustainable economic model involves slower growth, Lagarde said, adding that downturns in Brazil and Russia have been worse than expected and Middle Eastern nations have been hit hard by the decline in oil prices. “Certainly, we have made much progress since the great financial crisis,” Lagarde said. “But because growth has been too low for too long, too many people are simply not feeling it.” The persistent low growth can be “self-reinforcing,” because of negative effects on potential output that can be hard to reverse, she said.

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Beijing is deliberately creating an ever bigger housing bubble. Scary.

Subprime Housing Risks Raise Red Flags In China (WSJ)

China’s efforts to tackle a glut of vacant housing by spurring home lending have triggered a bigger problem: A surge in risky subprime-style loans that is generating alarm among regulators. Home buyers in China normally put down a third of the cost of a new property upfront. But a rapid rise in buyers borrowing for their down payments – an echo of the easy credit that cratered the U.S. housing market and sparked the financial crisis – has prompted authorities to clamp down. Peer-to-peer lenders, who raise money from investors and then lend it out at higher interest rates, made 924 million yuan ($143 million) in down-payment loans in January, more than three times the amount made in July, according to Shanghai-based consultancy Yingcan.

A senior banking executive at one of China’s top four state-owned banks said down-payment loans directly contributed to a recent run-up in housing prices in big cities. “It’s a risky practice that should be contained,” he said. Officials at various levels of government are now stepping on the brakes. The central bank and the housing ministry last month started to crack down on loans enticing home-buyers with “zero-down-payment” slogans. [..] Beijing began easing credit in late 2014 to help cities fill empty apartments — a legacy of a housing-construction boom fueled by a decade of urban population growth and cheap credit. As companies and local governments sag under crippling debt, authorities have seen room for more borrowing among households and have tried to widen the pool of home buyers.

But despite a rise in down-payment loans and lower mortgage barriers for groups such as rural migrant workers, it has proven hard to unleash buying in the right places. Instead, the easing measures and new incentives fed a property frenzy in China’s megacities, with buyers driven by fear of being left behind in a market increasingly out of reach. Shenzhen, where housing prices have soared 57% since last year, according to official data, has tightened down-payment requirements. So has Shanghai, where housing loans more than tripled in January compared with a year earlier. Data on loans used to finance down payments is sketchy, as such financing is a relatively new business. In addition, developers sometimes offer such loans, and banks offer mortgage applicants loans for renovations, taxes or travel that can be channeled toward the down payment, according to property agents. Depending on the housing market, agents say, these loans can attract annual interest rates of up to 24%.

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Until there’s nothing left.

Bond Market ‘Exhausted’ as Kuroda Stimulus Enters Fourth Year (BBG)

Three years since Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda embarked on an unprecedented monetary experiment, yields continue to test new lows even as concern grows that his policies will cripple the world’s second-biggest bond market. Yields have tumbled below zero on maturities up to a decade following the central bank’s surprise decision this year to implement negative interest rates, after unleashing two rounds of quantitative easing since April 4, 2013. As the BOJ’s bond holdings have swelled to one-third of total debt outstanding, the market has begun to seize up amid a dearth of liquidity, causing volatility to soar. Even so, inflation – and inflationary expectations – remain far from Kuroda’s 2% target.

That’s why an overwhelming majority of analysts predict the BOJ will expand stimulus again by July, even while some warn that the technical limits to the asset-purchase program are rapidly approaching. In the BOJ’s latest survey of bond market participants, 41% rated market functioning as “low.” Kuroda said Tuesday the central bank can lower the deposit rate from the current minus 0.1% if needed, and he doesn’t think negative rates will make asset purchases difficult. “The bond market is becoming increasingly exhausted, and increasingly volatile,” said Shuichi Ohsaki at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Tokyo. “It’s not a properly functioning market anymore. This stimulus can’t go on indefinitely.”

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The achievements of the ‘intelligent’ human species.

Sperm Whales Found Full of Car Parts and Plastics (NatGeo)

Fishing gear and an engine cover are just some of the startling contents found inside the stomachs of sperm whales that recently beached themselves on Germany’s North Sea coast. The 13 sperm whales washed up near the German state of Schleswig-Holstein earlier this year, the latest in a series of whale strandings around the North Sea. So far, more than 30 sperm whales have been found beached since the start of the year in the U.K., the Netherlands, France, Denmark, and Germany. After a necropsy of the whales in Germany, researchers found that four of the giant marine animals had large amounts of plastic waste in their stomachs. The garbage included a nearly 43-foot-long shrimp fishing net, a plastic car engine cover, and the remains of a plastic bucket, according to a press release from Wadden Sea National Park in Schleswig-Holstein.

However, “the marine litter did not directly cause the stranding,” says Ursula Siebert at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, whose team examined the sperm whales. Instead, the researchers suspect that the whales died because the animals accidentally ventured into shallow seas. Male sperm whales normally migrate from their tropical or subtropical breeding grounds to colder waters at higher latitudes. The species is one of the deepest diving animals in the cetacean family, known to plummet as far as 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) in search of squid, its favorite food. The beached whales were all young males between the ages of 10 and 15, and the necropsies revealed that they died of heart failure. The team believes this particular group mistakenly swam into the North Sea, a shallower zone in between the U.K. and Norway. There the whales could not support their own body weights, and their internal organs collapsed.

“It is thought that the sperm whales may have got lost and entered the North Sea (possibly chasing squid), where the sea floor is not deep enough, causing the whales to become disorientated and die,” Danny Groves, a spokesperson for the nonprofit Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), wrote in an email. According to the WDC, whales and dolphins may strand for many reasons, such as excessive noise pollution from ships and drilling surveys or even subtle shifts in Earth’s magnetic field. In addition, pilot whales that beached off the coast of Scotland three years ago showed high levels of toxins from ocean pollution, which scientists linked to stress on their brains that may have caused disorientation.

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The EU-Turket deal is a disgrace on more levels than we can count.

Turkey: The Business Of Refugee Smuggling & Sex Trafficking (ZH)

A detailed report on Syrian women refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants in Turkey, issued as far back as 2014 by the Association for Human Rights and Solidarity with the Oppressed (known in Turkish as Mazlumder), tells of early and forced marriages, polygamy, sexual harassment, human trafficking, prostitution, and rape that criminals inflicted upon Syrians in Turkey. According to the Mazlumder report, Syrians are sexually exploited by those who take advantage of their destitution. Children, especially girls, suffer most. Evidence, both witnessed and forensic, indicates that in every city where Syrian refugees have settled, prostitution has drastically increased. Young women between the ages of 15 and 20 are most commonly prostituted, but girls as young as thirteen are also exploited.

Secil Erpolat, a lawyer with the Women’s Rights Commission of the Bar Association in the Turkish province of Batman, said that many young Syrian girls are offered between 20 and 50 Turkish liras ($7-$18). Sometimes their clients pay them with food or other goods for which they are desperate. Women who have crossed the border illegally and arrive with no passport are at high risk of being kidnapped and sold as prostitutes or sex slaves. Criminal gangs bring refugees to towns along the border or into the local bus terminals where “refugee smuggling” has become a major source of income. Professional criminals convince parents that their daughters are going to a better life in Turkey. The parents are given 2000-5000 Turkish liras ($700-$1700) as a “bride price” – an enormous sum for a poor Syrian family – to smuggle their daughters across the border.

“Many men in Turkey practice polygamy with Syrian girls or women, even though polygamy is illegal in Turkey,” the lawyer Abdulhalim Yilmaz, head of Mazlumder’s Refugee Commission, told Gatestone Institute. “Some men in Turkey take second or third Syrian wives without even officially registering them. These girls therefore have no legal status in Turkey. Economic deprivation is a major factor in this suffering, but it is also a religious and cultural phenomenon, as early marriage is allowed in the religion.” Syrian women and children in Turkey also experience sexual harassment at work. Those who are able to get jobs earn little – perhaps enough to eat, but they work long and hard for that little. They are also subjected to whatever others choose to do to them as they work those long hours.

[..] The organization End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT) has produced a detailed report on the “Status of action against commercial sexual exploitation of children: Turkey.” ECPAT’s report cites, from the 2014 Global Slavery Index, estimates that the incidence of slavery in Turkey is the highest in Europe, due in no small measure to the prevalence of trafficking for sexual exploitation and early marriage.

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The problem merely shifts.

Italy Pleads For Greek-Style Push To Return Its Migrants (FT)

Italy is pleading for EU help to ramp up the deportation of migrants arriving on its southern shores, warning that the bloc’s immigration system is at risk of collapse without a more aggressive policy on so-called returns. In an interview with the FT, Angelino Alfano, Italy’s interior minister, says the EU should move to secure deals with African nations, which are the source of the vast majority of migrants arriving in Italy, offering economic aid in exchange for taking back their citizens and preventing new flows. His comments come as the EU enacts a scheme with Turkey in which thousands of Middle Eastern refugees will be sent back across the Aegean Sea from Greece in exchange for up to €6bn in EU aid for Ankara. A first group of 135 were returned to Turkey on Monday.

“Europe was able to find the resources when it was urgent – I am referring to Turkey. It’s a matter of political leadership,” Mr Alfano said. “If returns don’t work, the whole Juncker migration agenda will fail,” he said. Mr Alfano’s request reflects renewed nervousness in Rome about the migration crisis following an 80 per cent spike in the number of arrivals to Italy across the central Mediterranean Sea in the first quarter of this year compared to 2015. If that increase holds through the warmer spring and summer months, it would smash the record 170,000 migrants who arrived in Italy in 2014, straining resources and creating a political problem for the centre-left government led by Matteo Renzi. As the Greece plan goes into action, there are worries in Rome that it may compound problems by encouraging Middle Eastern migrants to switch routes and attempt to enter the EU through Italy, boosting the numbers even further.

“If Syrians don’t want to stay in Turkey but want to try the trip to Europe, they will go around and try to get here from Libya,” Mr Alfano said. “We still don’t have any evidence that this is happening, but we are monitoring.” Italy has held talks with Albania about containing a possible surge in flows through the Balkan nation. Mr Alfano also expressed hope that the recent, if wobbly, establishment of a national unity government in Libya could lead to a crackdown against migrant smugglers there. For those who do arrive, Italian officials are hoping that an EU plan to relocate thousands of refugees across its 28 member states will relieve some pressure. So far, only about 500 migrants have been moved from Italy under the plan – “apartment building numbers” – says Mr Alfano, derisively.

Italy last year deported 15,000 people, or about 10 per cent of all arrivals. Officials believe higher figures are essential to alleviate the country’s burden, even if mass returns could trigger concerns about possible violations of human rights and international law. “Irregular [migrants] have to be kept in closed camps from where they cannot escape. So how many tens of thousands of people can you keep, year after year? Without returns, either you organise real prisons, or it’s obvious that the system will collapse,” Mr Alfano said. “It doesn’t take a prophet to glimpse the future”.

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Yesterday’s deportations will prove to be mainly symbolic. From here on in the problems start.

So The Greece Deportations Are Going ‘Smoothly’? Take A Closer Look (G.)

Today had been declared the first day that migrants and refugees would be deported from Greece within the framework of the EU-Turkey deal, and European authorities seemed determined not to miss the date. So as of Sunday, Greek police, along with the EU border agency Frontex, organised a large-scale operation to ensure the smooth handling of today’s returns from the islands of Chios and Lesbos. The operation was initially deemed a success, with reports being limited to the boats and their occupants, which offered some digestible photo ops. There is plenty of evidence, though, that suggests that it has been no more than a media-savvy gesture on behalf of the European commission.

Officials from Frontex clarified that the boats carried mostly Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Afghans and Moroccans who were going to be deported to Turkey prior to the deal or didn’t request asylum. There were only two Syrians among them who appear not to have requested international protection. Indeed authorities appear to have rushed to identify such people so they could be available for today’s return. Termed “easy cases” by Frontex spokeswoman Eva Moncure, they are perfect material for today’s photo op. As it turns out, more than 90% of people arriving in Greek islands since 20 March – when the EU-Turkey deal was enacted – have opted for asylum, thus complicating their return under the arrangement. It is no surprise then that no further dates have been announced for future deportations.

The first day of deportations has been met with affirmative statements by credible international organisations, including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who confirmed that all procedures were regular and rights of deportees were observed. Everything is smooth and tidy, it seems. But this is one version of the story only. There is a second where things have gone less smoothly. Activist lawyers’ accounts and journalist reports from the islands raise the question of whether refugees have been given sufficient time and access to asylum procedures. It appears that many of them do not yet understand the content of the deal or why they have been restricted, and there has been a last-minute rush for asylum claims among the people who are possible deportees. It is also unclear how Turkey plans to handle returnees, how they will be received, and whether they will be able to receive the protection that was previously offered to them there.

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