Mar 212018
 
 March 21, 2018  Posted by at 9:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Dirk de Herder Amstel Bridge, Amsterdam1946

 

Sign of Pending Recession? Total American Net Worth Ratio At New High (CNBC)
EU To Unveil Digital Tax Targeting Facebook, Google (AFP)
UK Tells Facebook’s Auditors Visiting Cambridge Analytica To Stand Down (CNBC)
Whatsapp Co-Founder Who Made Billions From Facebook Now Says To Delete It (MW)
The NSA Worked To “Track Down” Bitcoin Users – Snowden Documents (IC)
Bitcoin Bust Is Like Nasdaq Crash, But Faster (BBG)
German Prosecutors Launch New Enquiry Into VW Over Market Manipulation (R.)
Capitalism And The Veil Of Ignorance (Claire Connelly)
Libya: The True Face Of ‘Humanitarian Intervention’ (RT)
France’s Bird Population Collapses As Pesticides Kill Off Insects (AFP)

 

 

Net worth my ass.

Sign of Pending Recession? Total American Net Worth Ratio At New High (CNBC)

Nine years into the second-longest bull market run in history, the level of total net worth compared with income has reached a record, according to Joe LaVorgna, chief economist for the Americas at Natixis, citing Federal Reserve data. Since the Great Recession ended in June 2009, the disparity between net worth and income has soared, attributable in large part to the growth in financial assets, which have increased by $33.9 trillion, compared with $10.4 trillion in nonfinancial assets. Essentially, that means that American wallets have grown fatter from the accumulation of financial assets like stocks and mutual fund holdings than they have from gains in their homes and other physical assets like autos.

In all, total net worth of $98.75 trillion is now 6.79 times the $14.55 trillion in disposable income for households as of the fourth quarter, according to Fed financial accounts figures. That’s up from 6.71 times in the third quarter. The previous tops came in the first quarter of 2006, with 6.51, and the first quarter of 2000, at 6.12. Those two levels cast ominous signals over the U.S. economy. “A recession started four quarters from the peak of the former and eight quarters from the zenith in the latter,” LaVorgna said Tuesday in a note to clients. As a practical matter, the level should serve as a yellow flag for Fed officials, who are on a course of hiking rates gradually but steadily.

[..] The Fed is an important part of the equation in that it helped boost financial assets through historically low interest rates and an aggressive policy of monthly bond buying called quantitative easing. This is the first meeting for new Chairman Jerome Powell, who must navigate the Fed through rate increases aimed at controlling but not stopping growth. After years of mostly steady gains since the bull market run began in 2009, volatility has crept in 2018 and raised the specter that forward gains will be tougher to achieve. “Powell needs to be mindful of the current backdrop and not signal aggressive rate hikes to come,” LaVorgna said. “Otherwise, stock prices and the economy are in trouble.”

Read more …

Brussels and Facebook: they’re going to come for part of the loot of selling your data.

EU To Unveil Digital Tax Targeting Facebook, Google (AFP)

The EU will unveil proposals for a digital tax on US tech giants on Wednesday, bringing yet more turmoil to Facebook after revelations over misused data of 50 million users shocked the world. The special tax is the latest measure by the 28-nation European Union to rein in Silicon Valley giants and could further embitter the bad-tempered trade row pitting the EU against US President Donald Trump. EU Economics Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici will present proposals aimed at recovering billions of euros from mainly US multinationals that shift earnings around Europe to pay lower tax rates.

The transatlantic blow has been championed by French President Emmanuel Macron and will be discussed over dinner at an EU leaders summit on Thursday. “This will be given top priority as tax file. There is a lot of political momentum on this issue,” an EU official said ahead of the announcement. The unprecedented tech tax follows major anti-trust decisions by the EU that have cost Apple and Google billions and also caught out Amazon. The commission’s tax, expected to be about 3% of sales, would affect revenue from digital advertising, paid subscriptions and the selling of personal data.

The EU tax plan will target mainly US companies with worldwide annual turnover above 750 million euros ($924 million), such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, Airbnb and Uber. Spared are smaller European start-ups that struggle to compete with them. Companies like Netflix, which depend on subscriptions, will also avoid the chop. Brussels is seeking to choke tax-avoidance strategies used by the tech giants that, although legal, deprive EU governments of billions of euros in revenue.

Read more …

Got to admit, hard to say who I’d trust least with this, Facebook or the UK deep state.

UK Tells Facebook’s Auditors Visiting Cambridge Analytica To Stand Down (CNBC)

The U.K.’s data protection watchdog ordered Facebook’s auditors to back down from a probe into a political analytics company accused of wrongly harvesting the data of millions of its users. The tech giant was planning to investigate Cambridge Analytica’s servers and systems, but the Information Commissioner’s Office told Facebook on Monday that it should withdraw from the research firm’s London premises. The ICO said it would seek to gain its own warrant to access the company’s computers and servers.

Facebook had said Monday that it was pursuing a forensic audit of Cambridge Analytica and had hired digital forensics firm Stroz Friedberg to determine whether the data analytics company still possessed Facebook user data. But in an updated statement later that day, Facebook said: “Independent forensic auditors from Stroz Friedberg were on site at Cambridge Analytica’s London office this evening. At the request of the U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office, which has announced it is pursuing a warrant to conduct its own on-site investigation, the Stroz Friedberg auditors stood down.”

Read more …

Sold his shares first?!

Whatsapp Co-Founder Who Made Billions From Facebook Now Says To Delete It (MW)

WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton left Facebook last year. Now he’s saying others should do the same. In a tweet Tuesday, Action said: “It is time. #deletefacebook,” referencing the online movement that is gaining steam in the wake of revelations that the personal data of 50 million Facebook users was used without their permission by political data company Cambridge Analytica during the 2016 presidential campaign. He did not immediately expand on his comment. While his Facebook profile was still active for hours after his tweet, it appeared deactivated later Tuesday night.

Acton and fellow co-founder Jan Koum sold the messaging service WhatsApp to Facebook in 2014 for $22 billion. Acton received about $3 billion in the deal, and has a net worth of about $5.5 billion, according to Forbes. After staying on for three years, Acton quit Facebook in September, and is now a major backer of rival messaging service Signal, which boasts encryption to make its messages resistent to government surveillance. In February, he joined the newly launched nonprofit Signal Foundation as executive chairman, and invested $50 million into the app.

Read more …

Now connect this to the Facebook stories.

The NSA Worked To “Track Down” Bitcoin Users – Snowden Documents (IC)

Classified documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden show that the National Security Agency indeed worked urgently to target bitcoin users around the world — and wielded at least one mysterious source of information to “help track down senders and receivers of Bitcoins,” according to a top-secret passage in an internal NSA report dating to March 2013. The data source appears to have leveraged the NSA’s ability to harvest and analyze raw, global internet traffic while also exploiting an unnamed software program that purported to offer anonymity to users, according to other documents. Although the agency was interested in surveilling some competing cryptocurrencies, “Bitcoin is #1 priority,” a March 15, 2013 internal NSA report stated.

The documents indicate that “tracking down” bitcoin users went well beyond closely examining bitcoin’s public transaction ledger, known as the Blockchain, where users are typically referred to through anonymous identifiers; the tracking may also have involved gathering intimate details of these users’ computers. The NSA collected some bitcoin users’ password information, internet activity, and a type of unique device identification number known as a MAC address, a March 29, 2013 NSA memo suggested. In the same document, analysts also discussed tracking internet users’ internet addresses, network ports, and timestamps to identify “BITCOIN Targets.”

The agency appears to have wanted even more data: The March 29 memo raised the question of whether the data source validated its users, and suggested that the agency retained bitcoin information in a file named “Provider user full.csv.” It also suggested powerful search capabilities against bitcoin targets, hinting that the NSA may have been using its XKeyScore searching system, where the bitcoin information and wide range of other NSA data was cataloged, to enhance its information on bitcoin users. An NSA reference document indicated that the data source provided “user data such as billing information and Internet Protocol addresses.” With this sort of information in hand, putting a name to a given bitcoin user would be easy.

Read more …

One took 519 days, the other 35 days. That’s an actual compariosn?

Bitcoin Bust Is Like Nasdaq Crash, But Faster (BBG)

Bitcoin has long been compared to the dot-com bubble. Morgan Stanley says its recent moves are similar to the tech boom and bust, but on steroids. Bitcoin’s recent moves almost mirror that of the Nasdaq Composite Index in the lead-up to and aftermath of 2000, but at 15 times the speed, Morgan Stanley said. The Nasdaq climbed 278% in 519 days in the rally leading up to its high in March 2000, while Bitcoin soared 248% in 35 days in the last leg of the rally to its $19,511 high in December, according to the report. There have been three waves of weakness since Bitcoin peaked in December, with prices falling between 45% and 50% each time, before rebounding.

The Nasdaq’s bear market from 2000 had five price declines, averaging a similar 44%. The bear market also looks similar on the way up. There have been two Bitcoin bear market rallies of 43% on average, while the Nasdaq bear market rallies averaged 40%. Bear markets are nothing new for the first decentralized digital currency. Since the coin’s creation in 2009 there have been four bear markets with price declines ranging from 28% to 92%. From the December peak to the most recent low on February, Bitcoin’s price fell by 70%, “nothing out of the ordinary,” Morgan Stanley said.

Read more …

C’mon, close them down already. This movie’s getting boring.

German Prosecutors Launch New Enquiry Into VW Over Market Manipulation (R.)

German prosecutors said on Tuesday they had searched Volkswagen’s headquarters as part of a new investigation into whether the carmaker had overstated the fuel efficiency of more vehicles than previously disclosed. The news is the latest setback in the German company’s efforts to move on from a 2015 scandal in which it admitted to cheating U.S. emissions tests on diesel engines. Prosecutors from the city of Braunschweig searched 13 offices at Volkswagen’s (VW) headquarters in nearby Wolfsburg at the start of March, seizing documents and computer files that will now be reviewed, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office said, confirming a report by German magazine WirtschaftsWoche.

They were checking a statement issued by VW on Dec. 9, 2015—about three months after its “dieselgate” scandal broke in the United States—over suspicions its contents were incorrect In that statement, VW said its own investigations found it had understated fuel consumption, and hence carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, on no more than 36,000 vehicles. That was much lower than its preliminary estimate of around 800,000 diesel and gasoline vehicles produced five weeks earlier, which caused VW to warn it could face a 2 billion euro ($2.5 billion) hit to profits from the disclosure. VW also said in its December 2015 statement that it had found no evidence of unlawful alterations to CO2 emissions data.

Read more …

We might as well keep thinking as long as we still can.

Capitalism And The Veil Of Ignorance (Claire Connelly)

So our taxes don’t pay for spending, so what? So the government can’t run out of money. Big deal. Does that change anything? ‘We can’t afford it’ has been the proverbial comforter of opponents of the welfare state harking back to the Clinton / Blair days. Perhaps even earlier. And while it might make you feel good to believe that, it is simply untrue. This argument has been used as an emotional crutch for people who don’t want to admit that they’re comfortable with homelessness and unemployment if it keeps export prices low. Or the currency competitive. Or their bottom line stable. Ultimately, this comes down to what government is for, and what role markets should play in our lives. People are divided on this. And that is ok. Civil disagreements are a hallmark of a civilised society.

Economies and markets are complex beasts, that perform differently in different environments, under different conditions. Arguably across the duration of time, a range of potential solutions could apply at any given scenario. And the best solution is to pick and choose from a range of different economic schools of thought, and use them in combination. Unfortunately, across the world, the economists and historians that are seeking to gain greater clarity of how to do just that, by understanding the true function of economies and markets are being pushed out of universities and barred from institutions and organisations that would allow their research to come to fruition. This is not a mark of a civilised society, but corporate fascism that is actively suppressing research that threatens the dominance of late-stage capitalism.

If you feel comfortable convincing yourself that unemployment and homelessness is acceptable, if you think the fact that wages have not only stagnated but are in many countries actually going backwards somehow doesn’t affect you, that what most people earn in a lifetime will be insufficient to cover a modestly comfortable retirement should not concern you, that addressing any one of these things would be a detriment not only to your bottom line but to the economy itself, if you can justify that position without relying on arguments over deficits and balanced budgets, well, more power to you, I guess. But we should be honest about our disagreements. And our opinions should be informed by an as accurate understanding of how wealth is created as possible.

For many people, whether or not government can afford to address unemployment and social spending isn’t the issue, the question is whether it should. The argument over budgets, debt ceilings and deficits have been used as a national pacifier that would have us believe that the health of the economy and our ability to earn a living relies on a degree of human suffering. We have been convinced that the balancing of federal budgets somehow relates to our ability to put food on the table, when in fact the opposite is true. These lies have made us paranoid and competitive, where the well-being of everyone else is a direct threat to our own. It’s a pretty genius strategy, really.

Read more …

On the 15th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.

“Libya had the highest GDP per capita and life expectancy on the continent. Less people lived below the poverty line than in the Netherlands.”

Libya: The True Face Of ‘Humanitarian Intervention’ (RT)

Seven years ago today, NATO began its “humanitarian bombing” of Libya. While “humanitarian bombing” is an oxymoron, many believe that a country is not truly advancing human rights if it’s not bombing another back to the Stone Age. As an initial matter, it must be said that while the UN had authorized a NATO fly-zone over Libya to protect civilians – all civilians, by the way – there was never authorization for the full-scale invasion which was carried out and which quickly became aimed at regime change. Therefore, the NATO operation which actually took place was illegal.

[..] the intervention was spearheaded by Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power and Susan Rice – three self-described warriors for human and women’s rights. Instead, they became three ushers of the Apocalypse. In addition, Italy and France, which also helped lead the charge for invasion, had their own reasons for intervening in Libya. For his part, French President Nicolas Sarkozy appeared to be singularly focused on killing Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who allegedly gave him €50 million for his presidential campaign – a claim which was just coming to light and to which Gaddafi was the chief witness.

[..] Gaddafi had taken Libya from being the least prosperous country in Africa to the being the most prosperous by the time of the NATO operation. Thus, as one commentator explains, before the intervention, “Libya had the highest GDP per capita and life expectancy on the continent. Less people lived below the poverty line than in the Netherlands.” Moreover, one of the main reasons, we were told, that NATO needed to intervene in 2011 was to save Benghazi from imminent harm from the government forces of Gaddafi.

However, Hillary Clinton’s own internal emails show that her team recognized that any humanitarian problems confronting Benghazi had passed by the time of the NATO bombing. For example, Clinton’s assistant, Huma Abedin, in an email dated February 21, 2011 – that is, just a mere four days after the initial anti-government protests broke out in Libya – explains that the Gaddafi forces no longer controlled Benghazi and that the mood in the city was indeed “celebratory” by that time. Then, on March 2, just over two weeks before the bombing began, Harriet Spanos of USAID sent an email describing “[s]ecurity reports” which “confirm that Benghazi has been calm over the past couple of days.”

Read more …

Rhinos, insects, birds. You are next.

Bird populations in France have fallen by 33% in just 15 years.

France’s Bird Population Collapses As Pesticides Kill Off Insects (AFP)

Bird populations across the French countryside have fallen by a third over the last decade and a half, researchers have said. Dozens of species have seen their numbers decline, in some cases by two-thirds, the scientists said in a pair of studies – one national in scope and the other covering a large agricultural region in central France. “The situation is catastrophic,” said Benoit Fontaine, a conservation biologist at France’s National Museum of Natural History and co-author of one of the studies. “Our countryside is in the process of becoming a veritable desert,” he said in a communique released by the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), which also contributed to the findings.

The common white throat, the ortolan bunting, the Eurasian skylark and other once-ubiquitous species have all fallen off by at least a third, according a detailed, annual census initiated at the start of the century. A migratory song bird, the meadow pipit, has declined by nearly 70%. The museum described the pace and extent of the wipe-out as “a level approaching an ecological catastrophe”. The primary culprit, researchers speculate, is the intensive use of pesticides on vast tracts of monoculture crops, especially wheat and corn. The problem is not that birds are being poisoned, but that the insects on which they depend for food have disappeared.

“There are hardly any insects left, that’s the number one problem,” said Vincent Bretagnolle, a CNRS ecologist at the Centre for Biological Studies in Chize. Recent research, he noted, has uncovered similar trends across Europe, estimating that flying insects have declined by 80%, and bird populations has dropped by more than 400m in 30 years. Despite a government plan to cut pesticide use in half by 2020, sales in France have climbed steadily, reaching more than 75,000 tonnes of active ingredient in 2014, according to EU figures. “What is really alarming, is that all the birds in an agricultural setting are declining at the same speed, even ’generalist’ birds,” which also thrive in other settings such as wooded areas, said Bretagnolle.

Read more …

Dec 292017
 
 December 29, 2017  Posted by at 10:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Snowy landscape with Arles in the background 1888

 

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Natural Time Cycles: A Dow Forecast For 2018-2020 (Freeze)
Trump Says Russia Inquiry Makes US ‘Look Very Bad’ (NYT)
Russiagate Is Devolving Into an Effort to Stigmatize Dissent (Carden)
US Fiscal Path Will Rattle the Rafters of the Casino – Stockman (SG)
China May Be A Bigger Worry For 2018 (CNBC)
China’s Leaders Fret Over Debts Lurking In Shadow Banking System (R.)
China Temporarily Waives Taxes To Get Foreign Firms To Stay (AFP)
How Far the Scams & Stupidities around “Blockchain Stocks” are Going (WS)
IRS Guidance on Property Taxes Has the US Confused (BBG)
Turns out, Uber Shareholders Are Eager to Sell at 30% Discount (WS)
UK Holds Back Historic Files on EU as It Prepares for Brexit (BBG)
Greek Migration Ministry Responds To Criticism Over Island Camps (K.)

 

 

Gann is all the vogue these days. Why has it taken so long? Lots of graphs here.

Natural Time Cycles: A Dow Forecast For 2018-2020 (Freeze)

The analysis and forecasts presented in this article are based on the analytical framework of W.D. Gann. Gann is an investing legend, labeled as genius by many financial historians. He reportedly accumulated $50 million in profits during his trading career. His superior track record and those of others using his methods argues that, regardless of our opinion of his methodology, we should heed the advice of his work. A more detailed explanation of his analytical framework is included in the last section of this article.

Forecast: 2018-2020

The Dow Jones Industrial Average forecast, in the graph above, is based upon the natural 20-year cycle that Gann identified. The lines in the graph show the projected monthly cumulative percentage returns from the peak level. The yellow line is the average scenario and the aqua line is the pessimistic scenario. The graph provides monthly estimates for 2018. The last data point represents June 2020, which covers the entire 30-month period from December 2017. My average scenario forecasts a -15.29% price return for 2018. The cumulative price return is forecast to bottom in June 2020 at -20.39%, at which time an extended rally should ensue. My pessimistic scenario forecasts a -32.90% price return for 2018. The cumulative price return is forecast to be little-changed in June 2020 at -31.23%, at which time an extended rally in should ensue.

Read more …

The New York Times feels obliged to cede the stage to the one person they’ve sought to discredit for the past 2 years. Must be humiliating.

Trump Says Russia Inquiry Makes US ‘Look Very Bad’ (NYT)

President Trump said Thursday that he believes Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel in the Russia investigation, will treat him fairly, contradicting some members of his party who have waged a weekslong campaign to try to discredit Mr. Mueller and the continuing inquiry. During an impromptu 30-minute interview with The New York Times at his golf club in West Palm Beach, the president did not demand an end to the Russia investigations swirling around his administration, but insisted 16 times that there has been “no collusion” discovered by the inquiry. “It makes the country look very bad, and it puts the country in a very bad position,” Mr. Trump said of the investigation. “So the sooner it’s worked out, the better it is for the country.”

Asked whether he would order the Justice Department to reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, Mr. Trump appeared to remain focused on the Russia investigation. “I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department,” he said, echoing claims by his supporters that as president he has the power to open or end an investigation. “But for purposes of hopefully thinking I’m going to be treated fairly, I’ve stayed uninvolved with this particular matter.” Hours after he accused the Chinese of secretly shipping oil to North Korea, Mr. Trump explicitly said for the first time that he has “been soft” on China on trade in the hopes that its leaders will pressure North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program. He hinted that his patience may soon end, however, signaling his frustration with the reported oil shipments.

[..] Mr. Mueller’s investigation appears to be moving ahead despite predictions by Mr. Trump’s lawyers this year that it would be over by Thanksgiving. Mr. Trump said that he was not bothered by the fact that he does not know when it will be completed because he has nothing to hide. Mr. Trump repeated his assertion that Democrats invented the Russia allegations “as a hoax, as a ruse, as an excuse for losing an election.” He said that “everybody knows” his associates did not collude with the Russians, even as he insisted that the “real stories” are about Democrats who worked with Russians during the 2016 campaign. “There’s been no collusion. But I think he’s going to be fair,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Mueller.

[..] Mr. Trump said he believes members of the news media will eventually cover him more favorably because they are profiting from the interest in his presidency and thus will want him re-elected. “Another reason that I’m going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes,” Mr. Trump said, then invoked one of his preferred insults. “Without me, The New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times, but the failed New York Times.” He added: “So they basically have to let me win. And eventually, probably six months before the election, they’ll be loving me because they’re saying, ‘Please, please, don’t lose Donald Trump.’ O.K.”

Read more …

Russiagate has turned into a huge embarrassment.

Russiagate Is Devolving Into an Effort to Stigmatize Dissent (Carden)

Of all the various twists and turns of the year-and-a-half-long national drama known as #Russiagate, the effort to marginalize and stigmatize dissent from the consensus Russia-Trump narrative, particularly by former intelligence and national-security officials and operatives, is among the more alarming. An invasion-of-privacy lawsuit, filed in July 2017 by a former DNC official and two Democratic donors, alleges that they suffered “significant distress and anxiety and will require lifelong vigilance and expense” because their personal information was exposed as a result of the e-mail hack of the DNC, which, the suit claims, was part of a conspiracy between Roger Stone and the Trump campaign.

According to a report in The New York Times published at the time of the suit’s filing, “Mr. Trump and his political advisers, including Mr. Stone, have repeatedly denied colluding with Russia, and the 44-page complaint, filed on Wednesday in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, does not contain any hard evidence that his campaign did.” (Emphasis added.) In a new development, in early December, 14 former high-ranking US intelligence and national-security officials, including former deputy secretary of state William Burns; former CIA director John Brennan; former director of national intelligence James Clapper; and former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul (a longtime proponent of democracy promotion, which presumably includes free speech), filed an amicus brief as part of the lawsuit.

The amicus brief purports to explain to the court how Russia deploys “active measures” that seek “to undermine confidence in democratic leaders and institutions; sow discord between the United States and its allies; discredit candidates for office perceived as hostile to the Kremlin; influence public opinion against U.S. military, economic and political programs; and create distrust or confusion over sources of information.” The former officials portray the amicus brief as an offering of neutral (“Amici submit this brief on behalf of neither party”) expertise (“to offer the Court their broad perspective, informed by careers spent working inside the U.S. government”).

The brief claims that Putin’s Russia has not only “actively spread disinformation online in order to exploit racial, cultural and political divisions across the country” but also “conducted cyber espionage operations…to undermine faith in the U.S. democratic process and, in the general election, influence the results against Secretary Hillary Clinton.”

Read more …

“The Fed will sell more bonds in the next 3-4 years than had been accumulated by all of the central banks of the world in all of recorded history as of 1995!”

US Fiscal Path Will Rattle the Rafters of the Casino – Stockman (SG)

[..] the US government is spending money like a drunken sailor. But nobody really seems to care. Since Nov. 8, the US national debt has risen $1 trillion. Meanwhile, the Russell 2000 (a small-cap stock market index) has risen by 30%. Former Reagan budget director David Stockman said this makes no sense in a rational world, and he thinks the FY 2019 is going to sink the casino. In a rational world operating with honest financial markets those two results would not be found in even remotely the same zip code; and especially not in month #102 of a tired economic expansion and at the inception of an epochal pivot by the Fed to QT (quantitative tightening) on a scale never before imagined.” Stockman is referring to economic tightening recently launched by the Federal Reserve. It’s not only the increasing interest rates.

By next April the Fed will be shrinking its balance sheet at an annual rate of $360 billion and by $600 billion per year as of next October. By the end of 2020, the Fed will have dumped $2 trillion of bonds from its books. Stockman puts this into perspective. So the net of it is this: The Fed will sell more bonds in the next 3-4 years than had been accumulated by all of the central banks of the world in all of recorded history as of 1995!” Now pause for just a moment and think about this. The GOP just passed a tax plan that will add another $1.5 trillion to the deficit. And word is Trump’s next big push will be to pass an infrastructure bill – even more spending and debt. Meanwhile, during a time of rising debt, the Fed will be flooding the market with bonds. And what do governments have to do to finance debt? That’s right. They sell bonds.

There is literally a fiscal red ink eruption heading straight at the Fed’s balance sheet shrinkage campaign that will rattle the rafters in the casino … Uncle Sam’s borrowing requirements are likely to hit $1.25 trillion or more than 6% of GDP in FY 2019 owing to the fact that the tax bill is so heavily front-loaded and the GOP’s wild spending spree for defense, disasters and much else.”

Read more …

It’s starting to feel like Xi is seriously stuck. Let zombies default, and accept the lost jobs and mom and pop investments, or keep propping them up.

China May Be A Bigger Worry For 2018 (CNBC)

For a market dependent on synchronized global growth, investors may be betting too much that China will not rock the boat next year. Part of the S&P 500’s rally to record highs this year comes on the back of better economic growth around the world. A major contributor to that growth was stability in China as leaders prepared for a key 19th Communist Party Congress this fall. Now that the congress is over and Beijing looks set to take action on its growing debt problems, worries about a sharper-than-expected slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy could hurt U.S. stocks. “With the 19th Party Congress now behind us, the risk is that the peak growth in China is also behind us,” David Woo, head of global rates, FX and EM FI strategy & econ research at Bank of America, said in an outlook report.

“Curiously, the market has been ignoring the string of negative Chinese data surprises in recent weeks. It is possible that the market views them as temporary.” “We are concerned that China could be vulnerable to US tax reform getting done,” Woo said, noting that a resulting increase in U.S. rates and the U.S. dollar would likely cause capital flight from China to accelerate and weaken the Chinese yuan. If that happens, China’s central bank would be likely “to tighten liquidity, which in turn would raise further concerns about the growth outlook,” he said. Fears of negative spillover from a rapid slowdown in China’s economy hit global markets in August 2015 after a surprise yuan devaluation. Further weakness in the currency in the first few weeks of 2016 contributed to the worst start to a year on record for both the Dow and S&P 500.

Since then, Chinese authorities have proven they are still able to control their economy. But stability has come at the cost of ever-increasing debt levels. The IMF warned in October that China’s banking sector assets have risen steadily to 310% of GDP from 240% of GDP at the end of 2012. S&P Global Ratings downgraded China’s long-term sovereign credit rating in September, following a similar downgrade by Moody’s in May. “If clusters of credit defaults start to form, concerns about contagion into the wider economy could take hold if fears of default in wealth management products arise,” UBS Wealth Management’s chief investment office said in its 2018 outlook. “Should this happen, the Chinese government, in our view, would likely have sufficient resources to prevent widespread contagion.”

Read more …

Xi made the conscious choice to rise on the shadow’s coat tails. Now he has to keep riding or else.

China’s Leaders Fret Over Debts Lurking In Shadow Banking System (R.)

Before the 2008 financial crisis, there was very little shadow banking in China. In the aftermath of that shock, Chinese authorities launched a massive effort to stimulate the economy, mostly through a huge increase in lending. This led to a boom in property and infrastructure spending that continues today. Demand for credit increased sharply, especially from local and municipal government-owned companies. To meet this demand, banks began selling wealth management products offering higher interest rates than normal deposits. Many investors believed these products were implicitly guaranteed by the issuer, even if it was not expressly stated in the contract. Banks also borrowed cash from other banks and companies. For banks, these funds can then be lent to borrowers prepared to pay higher rates.

But the banks want to sidestep rules designed to restrict lending to overheated sectors including property, mining and other resources. So, people in the shadow banking industry say, these loans are often disguised by directing them through a complex chain of intermediaries, including trusts, securities companies, other banks and asset managers. To earn interest on these loans, a bank will buy a financial product from one of the intermediaries, which directs earnings back to the bank. That allows the bank to describe what is really a loan as an investment on its books. This type of lending can be more profitable because banks can set aside much less capital than they are required to hold for regular loans as a safeguard against defaults. By the end of 2015, shadow lending was growing faster than traditional bank lending, and was equivalent to 57% of total bank loans, according to a 2016 report from investment bank CLSA.

This dramatically accelerated the speed at which overall debt expanded in China’s financial system. Moody’s said in a November report that China’s shadow banking assets grew more than 20% in 2016 to 64 trillion yuan ($9.8 trillion), equivalent to 86.5% of GDP. [..] At the center of shadow banking are the 12 nationally licensed joint stock banks and many of the more than 100 city commercial lenders which hold about a third of China’s commercial banking assets. From 2010, these mid-tier banks and regional lenders set about competing with the country’s so-called Big Five lenders, the state-controlled behemoths that dominate the economy. The key to the upstarts’ growth is selling wealth management products and borrowing from other banks, allowing them to create loans wrapped in financial instruments to give the appearance of investments.

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Translation: foreign reserves are fleeing. Blame the Trump tax plan.

China Temporarily Waives Taxes To Get Foreign Firms To Stay (AFP)

China will temporarily waive income taxes for foreign companies on profits they reinvest in the country as Beijing battles to retain foreign firms and investment. The finance ministry announced Thursday the new tax policy, which will apply retroactively from January so businesses will be able to take advantage of the exemption for this year’s taxes. The new incentives for foreign business to keep their earnings in China follow the passing last week of a corporate tax overhaul in the United States. The US reform will lower the tax rate for most corporations to 21%. Businesses in China pay 25%. The temporary exemption “will create a better investment environment for foreign investors and encourage foreign investors to sustain their investments in China,” a spokesman for the ministry of commerce said.

The policy announcement also comes as China has struggled with capital flight and tightened capital controls this year to stem the outflow of money. But foreign companies have long complained of the onerous bureaucracy they must navigate, barriers to market access, and policies that favour local firms. The new tax incentives aim to make China more attractive but come with a slew of restrictions. To be eligible, the profits must be invested in industries and activities where the Chinese government encourages foreign investment: manufacturing, services, research and development. Locations in the west of the country are also prioritised for development. Companies have three years to apply for the exemptions after paying tax.

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“This can happen only during the very late stage of a bubble.”

How Far the Scams & Stupidities around “Blockchain Stocks” are Going (WS)

It just doesn’t let up. UBI Blockchain Internet, a Hong Kong outfit whose shares trade in the US [UBIA], filed with the SEC to sell an additional 72.3 million shares owned by its executives. In other words, it isn’t selling the shares to raise money for corporate purposes, but to allow its executives, including CEO Tony Liu, to bail out. This is happening after the company – which sports zero revenues and a disconnected phone number in its SEC filings – managed to get its shares to spike briefly by over 1,100%, pushing its market capitalization to $8 billion. UBI Blockchain didn’t do an IPO. Instead, in October 2016, it acquired a publicly traded shell company registered in Las Vegas, called “JA Energy.” It then changed the name and ticker symbol to what they’re now.

Over the six trading days starting on December 11, 2017, its shares soared over 1,100%, from $7.20 to $87 on December 18, as the word “blockchain” in its name and sufficient hype and speculator-idiocy took hold. By December 21, shares had plunged 67% to $29. They closed on Wednesday at $38.50. At this price, it still has a ludicrous market cap of $3.64 billion. In its prospectus for the share sale, filed with the SEC on December 26, UBI explains the overcooked spaghetti of its dreamed-up activities: UBI Blockchain Internet Ltd. business encompasses the research and application of blockchain technology with a focus on the Internet of things covering areas of food, drugs and healthcare. Management plans to focus its business in the integrated wellness industry, by providing procedures for safety and effectiveness in food and drugs, but also preventing counterfeit or fake food and drugs.

With the advancement of the blockchain technology, the Company plans to trace a food or drug product from its original source within the context of the Internet of Things to the final consumer. It explains that “management is uncertain that the Company can generate sufficient revenues in the next 12-months to sustain our operations. We shall need to seek additional funding to continue our operations and implement our plan of operations.” It added that “due to the uncertainty of our ability to meet our financial obligations and to pay our liabilities as they become due,” the auditors in the financial statement for the year ended August 31, 2017, questioned “our ability to continue as a going concern.” For the year, UBI had an operating loss of $1.83 million on zero revenues. It had $15,406 in cash, and: “In order to keep the company operational and fully reporting, management anticipates a burn rate of approximately $220,000 per month, pre and post-offering.”

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Overtime for accountants.

IRS Guidance on Property Taxes Has the US Confused (BBG)

New guidance from the Internal Revenue Service that limits taxpayers’ ability to deduct prepaid property levies on their 2017 tax returns is causing confusion nationwide as people rush to pay in advance without knowing whether they’re wasting their time and money. The IRS said Wednesday that taxpayers can deduct prepaid state and local property taxes for 2018 on 2017 returns only if the taxes were assessed before 2018. The brief guidance – which doesn’t define the term “assessed” – had local tax officials scratching their heads. Some see the issue as an early signal of far wider confusion that’s coming soon – the predictable result of passing a bill that rewrites the tax code just two weeks before many of the changes take hold.

“This is the tip of the iceberg as state and local governments try to figure this out – and by the way, they’re trying to figure it out with one week before the changes take effect,” said Richard Auxier, a researcher with the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, a Washington public policy group. “And that week happens to be the week between Christmas and New Year’s.” The IRS guidance comes after many state and local officials – including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie – have taken pains to clear the way for their residents to accelerate property-tax payments. The nationwide flurry came ahead of the new tax law that will cap property tax deductions – along with those for state and local income taxes or sales taxes – at an overall total of $10,000.

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Uber just lost a third of its valuation.

Turns out, Uber Shareholders Are Eager to Sell at 30% Discount (WS)

Softbank, an acquisitive junk-rated Japanese holding company that also owns about 80% of Sprint, has been preparing for months to buy a large stake in Uber. At the end of November, it launched a tender offer to buy enough shares from investors and employees to give it a 14% stake. It dangled out a price of $33 a share, which valued Uber at $48 billion – a 30% discount from Uber’s “valuation” of $69 billion, which had been established behind closed doors during the last fund-raising round. The offer at a $48-billion valuation is even lower than Uber’s valuation back in June 2015 of $51 billion. When the tender offer was started, there was uncertainty if enough sellers would be willing to dump their shares at this discount. The other option for them would be to hold out until the IPO, in the hopes for a better deal. The tender offer expired today at noon Pacific Time.

Turns out, there are plenty of eager sellers – despite any dreams of a blistering IPO: The tendered shares amount to about 20% of the company’s equity, “people familiar with the matter” told the Wall Street Journal. But SoftBank will likely acquire only a 15% stake, “the people said.” Other members of the consortium SoftBank is leading – including Dragoneer Investment Group and Tencent Holdings – are likely to buy some but not all of the remaining tendered shares. This deal will not raise money for Uber itself but will allow employees and early investors to cash out some of their holdings – at a steep discount. But to maintain the illusion of the previous “valuation” of $69 billion – which is critical for a properly hyped future IPO – SoftBank will also make a $1-billion direct investment into Uber at the $69-billion “valuation,” as part of the deal.

Since startup “valuations” are based on the price paid during fund-raising, this $1-billion deal forms Uber’s new “valuation,” the same as the prior one. So the “valuation” illusion remains intact. [..] SoftBank already owns major stakes in other rideshare startups, including Didi Chuxing, the largest rideshare company in China; Grab, a major rideshare company in Southeast Asia; Ola, the largest rideshare company in India, slightly ahead of Uber; and 99, the largest rideshare company in Brazil. So SoftBank is serious about getting into this business on a global scale. But all rideshare companies are competing with each other, with taxis, rental cars, mass transit, and other modes of transportation on service and low fares, and they’re competing with each other to rope in drivers by offering them incentives.

The plan is to dominate the markets. And all of them are losing money hand over fist. The chart below shows what quarterly “adjusted” losses look like for Uber. Actual losses under GAAP would be much larger since the costs of employee stock compensation, interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization have been stripped out of the figures that Uber shows the media:

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It’s hard to keep track of all the Monty Python moves at Downing Street 10.

UK Holds Back Historic Files on EU as It Prepares for Brexit (BBG)

As Prime Minister Theresa May prepares for the next round of Brexit negotiations, her government has held back publication of secret files relating to the creation of the European Union. The documents from 1992 were due to be released Friday at the National Archives under British rules that allow government papers to enter the public domain. Out of 495 files from the prime minister’s office that year, a total of 114 were held back. Of those, 12 related to European policy. The main opposition party was quick to pounce. Jon Trickett, a high-ranking Labour politician described it as “profoundly shocking, particularly given the current state of the national debate.”

May’s government has had a series of problems with information around Brexit. Last week, after months of ministers trying to keep them secret, the government published an assessments of how different segments of the economy will cope with leaving the EU. Lawmakers commented that the documents contained little that couldn’t be found on Wikipedia. The Cabinet Office, which supports May in running the government, said in an email that “there is no question that any files are deliberately ‘withheld’ from the media.” A further 26 files covering the EU were sent to the archives too late for journalists to read them before publication.

It explained that “we have to ensure all files are properly reviewed and prepared before they are transferred, so that they do not harm national security or our relations with other countries or disclose the sensitive personal data of living individuals.” The files that were released reveal the extent to which Britain’s 1992 expulsion from the Exchange Rate Mechanism turned Conservatives against Europe. That year, Sept. 16 was christened “Black Wednesday” after the government’s failed attempt to keep the pound within the system by pushing interest rates up to 15%.

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Everybody accuses everybody else, because assigning the blame is more important than helping the refugees.

Greek Migration Ministry Responds To Criticism Over Island Camps (K.)

The Migration Ministry has blamed local authorities for the grim conditions inside island migrant camps in the wake of criticism from a senior European Union official. In an interview with news website New Europe on Sunday, the EU’s special envoy on migration, Maarten Verwey, said the European Commission had made funding available to ensure appropriate accommodation for all. “However, the Commission cannot order the creation or expansion of reception capacity against the opposition of the competent authorities,” he added. Speaking to Kathimerini on Thursday, sources inside the ministry did not deny the existence of EU funds, adding however that Verwey had omitted any mention of the difficulties “although he has personal experience.”

Authorities on Lesvos and Chios have opposed government plans to expand screening centers for refugees. Meanwhile, only a small amount of the available funds have been absorbed. Of the 540 million euros earmarked until 2020, Greece has received just 97 million euros, according to the Economy Ministry. The same sources referred to recent remarks by Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas, who accused EU governments of “hypocrisy” for failing to shoulder their fair share of the refugee burden.

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Dec 032017
 
 December 3, 2017  Posted by at 9:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Nicolas de Staël Paris la nuit 1954

 

Are We Too Optimistic On Global Growth? (Saxo Bank)
The Government Is Coming For Your Bitcoin (Black)
Bitcoin & Tax: The Coming Coinbase Fiasco (Mike Maloney)
Theresa May Faces New Crisis After Mass Walkout Over Social Policy (O.)
Corbyn Signals Labour Could Be Open to Second Brexit Referendum (BBG)
Theresa May Has Got To Come Clean About The Cost Of Brexit (Ind.)
The Coming Days Will Stretch The Politics Of Brexit To The Limit (RTE)
EU’s Net Starts To Close On Tax Havens (G.)
Greece, Creditors Strike Deal on the Conditions for Fresh Cash (BBG)
Islanders To Descend On Athens Over Refugee Crisis (K.)
US Pulls Out of UN’s Global Compact on Migration (AFP)
Why Did We Start Farming? (LRB)

 

 

Bits and pieces from A Saxo banks missive.

First graph: China credit impulse in the world economy plummeted 25% in Q2.

Second graph: Saxo smokes funny stuff. It says: Global trade but also non-construction investment in Western countries has been catching up with the pre-crisis long-term trend.. Well, not that I can see there.

Third graph: Stuff about inflation. Look, velocity is sinking through the floor. And Broad Money is not rising much (despite QE). Ergo: no inflation.

Are We Too Optimistic On Global Growth? (Saxo Bank)

Is economic growth on a solid footing?We have a contrarian view on global growth in 2018 and consider that the consensus is a bit too rosy. We expect lower GDP growth in the second and third quarters due to the contraction in the credit impulse in China. As mentioned by the IMF, China still represents one-third of the global growth impulse. In Q2’17, China’s credit impulse declined by 25% year-on-year, therefore reaching a new post-crisis low. Since this index leads the real economy by nine to 12 months, we expect worse data next year for China, but also for the global economy.

The global economic situation has been improving over the past years. Global trade but also non-construction investment in Western countries has been catching up with the pre-crisis long-term trend.

[..] Will inflation ever come back? Lowflation has been one of the main macroeconomic issues in recent years and it is expected to remain a thorn in the foot of central bankers for longer yet. Since September 2016, China – the main exporter of deflation – has started to export inflation along with higher global commodity prices (up 3% in October 2017 year-on-year, based on data from the World Bank), but global inflation still remains subdued. Central bankers, and particularly ECB president Mario Draghi, consider that low inflation is only a transitory phenomenon linked to hysteresis and underemployment and that job gains will eventually push inflation to target. Those elements certainly play a role in the short and medium terms but as pointed out by Benoit Coeuré, the problem is that the Phillips curve is “flatter, non-linear, mid-specified”.

We don’t expect that inflation will significantly pick up next year since, in our view, lowflation is primarily a structural phenomenon. More and more economists are agreeing with that take, including outgoing Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen who recently confirmed that we don’t properly understand inflation dynamics. Monetarists explain low inflation by the slow rate of growth in broad money since the great recession. This might be part of the problem, but it is not completely convincing since the money stock has not been constant and has started to decrease since 1997 in the United States.

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Two pieces on the same issue: the IRS and bitcoin. First Simon Black, then Mike Maloney.

The Government Is Coming For Your Bitcoin (Black)

The same day Bitcoin cracked its all-time high above $11,000, the government dealt its first blow to the crypto world… On Wednesday, a federal judge in San Francisco ordered the popular Bitcoin exchange, Coinbase, to provide the IRS with information on over 14,000 account holders. The taxman noticed that only 800-900 people reported gains related to Bitcoin in each of the years between 2013-2015. It seemed unusual given Bitcoin’s meteoric rise. So the IRS went for its pound of flesh. Initially, the government wanted complete data on every Coinbase user that transacted between 2013 and 2015. The exchange’s website says it has 13 million users (more than the number of Schwab brokerage accounts).

But Coinbase pushed back… and the government agreed to only take limited data (including name, date of birth, address, tax ID number, transaction statements and account logs) for accounts that have bought, sold, sent or received at least $20,000 worth of Bitcoin in a given year. Don’t say I didn’t warn you about Coinbase. I told Sovereign Man: Confidential readers last month: “If you’re tempted to purchase Bitcoin from the popular Coinbase exchange, don’t bother. They’ve sold out to regulators.” The IRS is calling this a “partial win.” But you can be sure, there will be a public beheading. This is something governments almost always do. [..] Now that it’s at all-time highs, the government wants its piece.

I read the 400+ pages of the proposed tax code. How many lines in there do you think deal with cryptocurrency? ZERO. How many lines deal with e-commerce? ZERO. The government had every opportunity to set the rules for the 21st century. And they failed miserably. So the rules remain as clear as mud. Instead of trying to make it clear, their tactic is intimidation, force and coercion. This is just the beginning. There will be more. And my advice is don’t be one of those guys. Every transaction that you make in Bitcoin is potentially a taxable event.

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“And guess what they’re going to have to sell to come up with the cash [to pay the IRS]; because you can’t pay your taxes with bitcoin…

Bitcoin & Tax: The Coming Coinbase Fiasco (Mike Maloney)

Mike Maloney takes a look at a very important Bitcoin issue that could prove to be a market-mover in the new year: The IRS has realized that Bitcoin is a cash cow for them, but at the same time there is just a small percentage of Coinbase users who are filing gains or losses. What could this add up to?

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May’s problems grow fast. Her own people are starting to leave her. They fear for their own political futures. Cue Corbyn.

Theresa May Faces New Crisis After Mass Walkout Over Social Policy (O.)

Theresa May was plunged into a new crisis on Saturday night after the government’s social mobility adviser revealed he and his team were quitting, warning that the prime minister was failing in her pledge to build a “fairer Britain”. In a major blow to No 10, Alan Milburn, the former Labour cabinet minister who chairs the government’s social mobility commission, said that he and all three of his fellow commissioners were walking out – including a leading conservative, Gillian Shephard. The move will be seen as a direct challenge to May’s vow in Downing Street to place fairness and social justice at the heart of her premiership. In his resignation letter, seen by the Observer, Milburn warns that dealing with Brexit means the government “does not seem to have the necessary bandwidth to ensure the rhetoric of healing social division is matched with the reality.

“I have little hope of the current government making the progress I believe is necessary to bring about a fairer Britain,” he tells the prime minister. “It seems unable to commit to the future of the commission as an independent body or to give due priority to the social mobility challenge facing our nation.” The resignations come with the prime minister already under pressure, as she faces crunch Brexit talks and questions over the future of her most senior minister, Damian Green. Milburn says failing to deal with the inequalities that fuelled the Brexit vote would simply lead to a rise of political extremes. In a devastating assessment of the lack of progress, Milburn says: “The worst position in politics is to set out a proposition that you’re going to heal social divisions and then do nothing about it. It’s almost better never to say that you’ll do anything about it.

“It’s disappointing at least that the government hasn’t got its shoulder to the wheel in the way it should to deal with these structural issues that lead to social division and political alienation in the country. “In America for 30 years real average earnings have remained flat. Now here the chancellor is predicting that will last for 20 years. That has a consequence for people, but a political consequence as well. It means more anger, more resentment and creates a breeding ground for populism.”

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Very risky, but once he can make the costs clear, he might pull it off. He’ll need Tory defectors, though, and they won’t want to help him. But if things get bad enough with May, they may.

Corbyn Signals Labour Could Be Open to Second Brexit Referendum (BBG)

U.K. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn hinted that he could be open to holding a second referendum on Brexit as the consequences of leaving the European Union become clearer. Asked if he was prepared to rule out a second vote after meeting with Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa in Lisbon on Saturday, Corbyn said his party hasn’t fixed its position on the issue. “We’ve not made any decision on a second referendum,’’ Corbyn said at a European Socialist Party conference in the Portuguese capital. “What we’ve said is that we would respect the result of the first referendum.”

Britain’s main opposition party is trying to portray itself as a government-in-waiting after gaining seats in June’s general election and stripping Prime Minister Theresa May of her majority. Since going into that vote with a Brexit strategy similar to May’s Conservatives, Labour has diverged in recent months, saying it would keep open the options of remaining in the single market and customs union, both of which the premier has ruled out. “If we were in government, we would immediately legislate to guarantee British residence to all European Union nationals that live and work in Britain, and the right to bring their families to Britain as well,’’ Corbyn told reporters. “We will negotiate the issues of relations with Europe on the basis of a free-trade relationship with Europe.’’

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This is only about the divorce bill. Someone should ask about the total cost.

Theresa May Has Got To Come Clean About The Cost Of Brexit (Ind.)

We know what the Prime Minister is up to. She wants to keep quiet about the size of the exit fee she is offering to the European Union until after Monday’s lunch with Jean-Claude Juncker, the Europan Commission President, and Michel Barnier, the EU negotiator. Indeed, she does not want her own MPs to know the sum until after the European Council on 14 and 15 December, at which she hopes to secure agreement to move to the next phase of Brexit talks. Once again, the national interest is being subordinated to the higher cause of holding the Conservative Party together – the sort of thing that prompted David Cameron to get us into the mess we are now in.

It is a small consolation, therefore, that the official opposition, led on this question by Sir Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary, is holding the Government to account. Labour is tabling an amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill on Wednesday that would require any financial settlement to be assessed by the Office for Budget Responsibility and the National Audit Office. Of course, The Independent regards the prospect of a settlement amounting to between £45bn and £55bn as reasonable in principle. The reasons Conservative Eurosceptics might find it hard to accept are obvious. One is that they ran a referendum campaign on the assumption that leaving the EU would save the British people vast sums that could be diverted to the health service or other popular causes. The divorce bill gives the opposite impression.

This impression is reinforced by the way the sum, made up of several separate items, is rolled up into one very big number. In fact, of the £45bn-£55bn, about £20bn represents the continuation of our net contributions for the two years of a transition period, in which we would continue to be an EU member in all but name (and influence). The rest, Ms May insists, is similarly money that we owe in any case as a consequence of our membership. f so, there can be no objection to its being scrutinised to confirm it – or to giving Parliament the chance to approve or reject it in a vote. As Lord Heseltine, the former Deputy Prime Minister, told The Independent, “What would a Conservative opposition do if a Labour Party proposed to spend £30bn, £40bn or £50bn without telling Parliament what it was doing with it?”

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And then there’s the Irish question.

The Coming Days Will Stretch The Politics Of Brexit To The Limit (RTE)

When it comes to the border on the island of Ireland, the coming days will stretch the politics of Brexit to the limit. “For a border community, it impacts on every aspect of everyday life. When you get up in the morning, which road do you go out on?” “In Dublin or Belfast they won’t understand.” These are the views of one resident reported in a comprehensive survey of people living along both sides of the border on how Brexit will impact their lives, economically, socially, and psychologically. The paper, Bordering on Brexit: The Views of Local Communities in the Central Border Region of Ireland/Northern Ireland, has been published by a Queen’s University research team led by Dr Katy Hayward.

“That very close, tight way that it affects everything you think about and everything you do” continues the respondent. “For example, the man who fixes my car lives in Newtownbutler, Co Fermanagh – to drive you’d go out the Cavan road into Co Fermanagh, then into Co Monaghan, then into Co Fermanagh and then you get to his house. I could do that journey in 10 or 15 minutes; what would that be like if crossing an international European border?” These parochial but very real concerns, from Derry to Dundalk, are this weekend the subject of intense international diplomacy, gripping London, Dublin, Belfast and Brussels in a seemingly irreconcilable tug of politics. Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, has set Monday as an absolute deadline for Theresa May to tell the EU, during a working lunch with the Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, how she intends to solve the border problem, as well as the issue of Britain’s financial settlement and the rights of EU citizens.

Whether that deadline can be met, and what happens between Monday and the summit of EU leaders on 14 and 15 December, will have untold implications for the history of Ireland and the United Kingdom. The outcome may determine whether there is a hard border, no border, or something in between. It will have ramifications for the civil war in the Conservative Party and the stand-off between Sinn Féin and the DUP in Northern Ireland. It will have implications for millions of euro in cross-border trade, for cross-border healthcare, education, energy, waterways and other daily activities whose very nature is encouraged and facilitated by the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). And it will have implications for the man in Co Cavan who gets his car fixed in Newtownbutler, Co Fermanagh.

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Just not their own., Ireland; Luxembourg; The Netherlands; Malta.

EU’s Net Starts To Close On Tax Havens (G.)

When Europe’s finance ministers sit down to a working breakfast in Brussels on Tuesday, after deciding whether to order the continental or the full English, the British delegation will be faced with an even tougher decision. Chancellor Philip Hammond and his counterparts will be asked to approve a list of those countries, island states and former colonies which the European Union has deemed to be “non-cooperative jurisdictions”. Put more plainly, the EU will be announcing a blacklist of tax havens. Coming as it does less than a month after the publication of the Paradise Papers – an investigation by the Guardian and 95 partners worldwide into a leak of 13.4 million files from two offshore service providers – the announcement is hotly anticipated. Campaigners, lobbyists and politicians on both sides of the offshore debate are on tenterhooks.

For the kind of small island economies whose GDP depends on selling secrecy and tax breaks, a blacklisting could be devastating, particularly if Brussels follows up with a series of sanctions for doing business in these countries. Speculation about who will be placed on the EU’s naughty step has reached fever pitch. The latest draft, according to reports last week, contains 20 names, down from a possible 92 at the beginning of the year. That number could be further whittled down – the horse-trading is continuing up to the wire. So fierce is the debate that some believe publication might be postponed. “The finance ministers of the member states must not let political considerations cloud their judgment when agreeing their final list next week,” says the influential tax reform campaigner and German MEP Sven Giegold.

One of the big questions is how many, if any, members of the UK’s sprawling offshore network will be named. Any decision taken by ministers on Tuesday will have to be unanimous. Britain may be exiting Europe, but it retains its veto until 2019 and Theresa May’s government has been pulling every lever to protect its dependencies. Whitehall sources have confirmed that those Caribbean territories which suffered the most damage during this year’s devastating hurricanes will be given extra time to get their house in order. It has been reported that seven jurisdictions, not all of them British, have been given a temporary reprieve in order to recover from the damage. This is likely to mean the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat and the Turks & Caicos Islands – all of which are UK territories that took a battering from hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria – are safe for now.

[..] In a recent report, Blacklist or Whitewash?, Oxfam applied the criteria the EU is using to draw up the blacklist to 92 countries screened by the union and its 28 member states. The criteria exclude EU member states, but if they did not, Oxfam concluded that four countries should be blacklisted: Ireland; Luxembourg; The Netherlands; Malta. It also concluded that 35 non-EU states should be on the list: Albania; Anguilla; Antigua and Barbuda; Aruba; Bahamas; Bahrain; Bermuda; Bosnia and Herzegovina; British Virgin Islands; Cook Islands; Cayman Islands; Curaçao; Faroe Islands; Macedonia; Gibraltar; Greenland; Guam; Hong Kong; Jersey; Marshall Islands; Mauritius; Montenegro; Nauru; New Caledonia; Niue; Oman; Palau; Serbia; Singapore; Switzerland; Taiwan; Trinidad and Tobago; UAE; US Virgin Islands; Vanuatu.

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Drip drip drip bloodletting.

Greece, Creditors Strike Deal on the Conditions for Fresh Cash (BBG)

Greece and its international creditors agreed on a set of economic overhauls the country must undertake in exchange for fresh loans, paving the way for a payment that will help it build a cash buffer as it seeks to prepare for its bailout exit. The so-called staff level agreement came after a week of talks in Athens saw the two sides reach common ground on politically sensitive issues such as reforms in the energy sector, public administration, the financial system, social-cohesion programs and fiscal performance among others. “We reached the staff-level agreement” Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos said after the last meeting with creditor’s representatives in Athens. Greece is going to implement as soon as possible all the measures needed in order to get fresh bailout money, he added.

After January’s Eurogroup, Tsakalotos expects that discussions will start for further debt relief, the fourth bailout review that is expected to conclude in May or June, and for exiting the crisis. The deal marks the completion of a key step in the negotiations between Athens and the auditors of its aid program – representing euro-area governments and the IMF – as the country is starting to prepare for its post-bailout life. A successful conclusion of the current review will not only entail the release of fresh loans but it will also help Greece regain the trust of investors, as it plans to tap financial markets again. The continent’s most indebted state was the first euro-area nation to seek a lifeline from its peers in 2010 and the only one still reliant on such concessional loans to stay afloat. Additional bond sales are a crucial step in the efforts to build up a post-program cash cushion and ensure it can stand on its own feet without external help. “Looking ahead, our baseline remains that Greece will achieve a clean exit from the bailout program when it ends next summer,” Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo Intelligence said in a note to clients.

“To this aim, Greece would need to build a buffer of around 12-15 billion euros ahead of its exit from the program.” Still, the Greek government will first have to implement a long list of around 100 overhauls before it can receive any fresh disbursements and formally conclude the ongoing audit of its bailout. Some measures will be voted in December while an omnibus bill to implement the remaining prior actions must be voted in parliament before Jan. 11. Once Greece has undertaken the agreed reforms, euro-area finance ministry deputies can examine whether Athens has fully complied with the conditions attached to its bailout at a meeting on Jan. 11 and green-light the disbursement of fresh loans, which could take place by mid-February, an EU official said on Dec. 1.

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Athens will end up bringing thousands to the mainland. And housing many in deplorable conditions.

Islanders To Descend On Athens Over Refugee Crisis (K.)

Protesters will converge outside the Immigration Policy Ministry on Tuesday to demand immediate relief for the eastern Aegean islands of Samos, Lesvos and Chios, where facilities for migrants and refugees are overflowing with thousands of stranded asylum seekers. The rally is being organized by the municipalities of the three islands and aims to publicize the plight of asylum seekers who have been trapped there for more than a year, testing local communities. “We have decided to protest and to demand again the immediate decongestion of our islands, so that the government reacts to the problem,” a joint statement by the municipalities read. To this end, Samos Mayor Michalis Angelopoulos is in contact with islander associations in Athens to get their support.

Currently the islands of the Aegean are home to a total of 15,486 refugees and migrants, of whom 6,520 are at Lesvos’s Moria hotspot, which was designed to hold 2,300 people. Similarly, on Samos there are 2,083 people sheltered at the center near Vathi which has a capacity of just 700, as does the Vial facility on Chios, which is currently sheltering 2,377 people. With winter arriving, hundreds of people – half of whom are children – at the Lesvos and Chios hotspots are still living in summer tents and exposed to the elements, without access to basic hygiene facilities.

Reports said that work to place prefabricated huts next to the Vial hotspot to help ease the crowded conditions at the center and to make improvements to existing facilities was put on hold on Friday by a local court, pending a January 16 trial which will examine a lawsuit filed by the Chios Municipality against the Immigration Policy Ministry over its decision to house migrants and refugees at that specific hotspot. Meanwhile, in a government bid to relieve some of the pressure on the islands, 500 people were transferred in the last two days alone from the islands to the Greek mainland. Nonetheless, 50 more people arrived on the islands’ shores from Turkey on Friday.

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Given what we see of refugee conditions globally, that Compact doesn’t seem to amount to much.

US Pulls Out of UN’s Global Compact on Migration (AFP)

The administration of President Donald Trump has withdrawn the United States from a United Nations pact to improve the handling of migrant and refugee situations, deeming it “inconsistent” with its policies, the US mission to the global body announced Saturday. “Today, the US Mission to the United Nations informed the UN Secretary-General that the United States is ending its participation in the Global Compact on Migration,” the Americans said in a statement. In September 2016, the 193 members of the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a non-binding political declaration, the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, pledging to uphold the rights of refugees, help them resettle and ensure they have access to education and jobs.

“The New York Declaration contains numerous provisions that are inconsistent with US immigration and refugee policies and the Trump Administration’s immigration principles. As a result, President Trump determined that the United States would end its participation in the Compact process that aims to reach international consensus at the UN in 2018,” the US statement said. US Ambassador Nikki Haley said the country would continue its “generosity” in supporting migrants and refugees around the world, but that “our decisions on immigration policies must always be made by Americans and Americans alone.” “We will decide how best to control our borders and who will be allowed to enter our country. The global approach in the New York Declaration is simply not compatible with US sovereignty.”

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Great discussion. Many false assumptions. Farming was not exactly a health booster.

Why Did We Start Farming? (LRB)

Fire changed humans as well as the world. Eating cooked food transformed our bodies; we developed a much shorter digestive tract, meaning that more metabolic energy was available to grow our brains. At the same time, Homo sapiens became domesticated by its dependence on fire for warmth, protection and fuel. If this was the start of human progress towards ‘civilisation’, then – according to the conventional narrative – the next step was the invention of agriculture around ten thousand years ago. Farming, it is said, saved us from a dreary nomadic Stone Age hunter-gatherer existence by allowing us to settle down, build towns and develop the city-states that were the centres of early civilisations. People flocked to them for the security, leisure and economic opportunities gained from living within thick city walls.

The story continues with the collapse of the city-states and barbarian insurgency, plunging civilised worlds – ancient Mesopotamia, China, Mesoamerica – into their dark ages. Thus civilisations rise and fall. Or so we are told. The perfectly formed city-state is the ideal, deeply ingrained in the Western psyche, on which our notion of the nation-state is founded, ultimately inspiring Donald Trump’s notion of a ‘city’ wall to keep out the barbarian Mexican horde, and Brexiters’ desire to ‘take back control’ from insurgent European bureaucrats. But what if the conventional narrative is entirely wrong? What if ancient ruins testify to an aberration in the normal state of human affairs rather than a glorious and ancient past to whose achievements we should once again aspire?

What if the origin of farming wasn’t a moment of liberation but of entrapment? Scott offers an alternative to the conventional narrative that is altogether more fascinating, not least in the way it omits any self-congratulation about human achievement. His account of the deep past doesn’t purport to be definitive, but it is surely more accurate than the one we’re used to, and it implicitly exposes the flaws in contemporary political ideas that ultimately rest on a narrative of human progress and on the ideal of the city/nation-state.

[..] But why did it take so long – about four thousand years – for the city-states to appear? The reason is probably the disease, pestilence and economic fragility of those Neolithic villages. How did they survive and grow at all? Well, although farming would have significantly increased mortality rates in both infants and adults, sedentism would have increased fertility. Mobile hunter-gatherers were effectively limited by the demands of travel to having one child every four years. An increase in fertility that just about outpaced the increase in mortality would account for the slow, steady increase in population in the villages. By 3500 BCE the economic and demographic conditions were in place for a power-grab by would-be leaders.

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Nov 122017
 
 November 12, 2017  Posted by at 9:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Fifth Avenue at 25th Street. New York City 1905

 

“Bitcoin Cash” Quadruples in 2 Days. Bitcoin Crashes by $35 Billion (WS)
Podesta Group “Will Not Exist At The End Of The Year” (ZH)
Global Banks, City of London Raise “Disorderly Brexit” Alarm (DQ)
Forty UK Conservative Lawmakers Ready To Oust PM May (R.)
Theresa May Faces Defeat By MPs Demanding Vote On Final Brexit Deal (G.)
Sack Boris Johnson For Shaming Our Nation, Jeremy Corbyn Tells PM (G.)
German War Reparations ‘Matter Of Honor’ For Poland (R.)
750,000 Protesters Flood Barcelona Demanding Release Of Catalan Leaders (R.)
EU Has Become A ‘Caricature’ Of Its Founding Values – Puidgemont (RT)
Trafficking Laws ‘Target Refugee Aid Workers In EU’ (G.)
Greece’s Middle Incomes Go Under The Knife (K.)

 

 

Safe to say that Wolf Richter is not a big fan.

“Bitcoin Cash” Quadruples in 2 Days. Bitcoin Crashes by $35 Billion (WS)

I’m writing this Saturday night, Pacific Time, and cryptos never rest. By Sunday morning, “Bitcoin Cash” might have soared another $1,000 or crashed by $1,000; and bitcoin might have soared or crashed by another $1,500. Neither would surprise me, the way these things are going. One thing for sure, you’re not watching grass grow. Bitcoin Cash, which was split from bitcoin in August, began surging from $630 on Thursday mid-day Pacific Time. Within 24 hours, it jumped 50% (or by $320) to $950. It then lost steam. But in the wee hours of Saturday morning, it fired up again and soared another $450 to $1,400 by late morning. It then fell off, but Saturday night, it returned to form and spiked to $2,448 at the moment, nearly quadrupling in two days. Here is what the move looks like in US dollars in a seven-day chart (via WorldCoinIndex):

Its market valuation jumped by $30 billion over the two days, from $10.6 billion to $41 billion. I mean why even bother with the stock market. Bitcoin went the opposite way. It plunged from a peak of $7,771 on November 8 mid-morning to $5,519 at this moment, losing $2,252 or 29% in three days. It’s now back where it first had been in late October. Its market valuation plunged by $35 billion from $127 billion to $92 billion. $35 billion is starting to add up, so to speak (via WorldCoinIndex):

Bitcoin ran into an entanglement on November 8, when developers called off a planned software upgrade, SegWit2x. The upgrade was supposed to have improved transactions speeds. This was blamed for the plunge that started on Wednesday. Then the fun focused on Bitcoin Cash. By Friday, as Bitcoin Cash had soared 50% while bitcoin was crashing, it was blamed on traders that were switching from chasing after bitcoin to chasing after Bitcoin Cash. At the time, Joshua Raymond, a director at the foreign-exchange and CFD broker XTB, told Business Insider: “The delay to Segwit2x has damaged confidence amongst bitcoin investors concerning the much-needed resolution to speed up bitcoin’s slow processing speed.

“Everyone was hoping the Segwit2x would address this but unfortunately, the delay due to a lack of consensus on the mechanics has affected confidence. Confidence on transaction speed in Bitcoin has deteriorated significantly in recent months. As Bitcoin Cash enjoys much faster transaction speeds, we have started to see a recycling of positions out of Bitcoin into Bitcoin Cash as a consequence.” Just don’t call cryptos an investment or asset or asset class or currency. While they could be used as currency, in reality, these kinds of violent moves make their use as currency way too risky and nonsensical. What’s left? The blockchain technology, which underpins these cryptos, is free and open source. Currently a lot of smart brains are trying to figure out how to put the technology to work in all kinds of industries.

Some of them will likely succeed. I’m looking forward to the moment when there is a way of transferring money around the world that is universal, convenient, cheap, fast, not subject to violent fluctuations, and 100% reliable. But that moment isn’t here yet, and neither bitcoin nor Bitcoin Cash will have anything to do with it. Instead of being usable currencies, cryptos – CoinMarketCap lists nearly 1,300 of them, with many of them already worthless – are a form of online betting based on a new technology, and they’re subject to different dynamics than classic online betting, but not regulated or forbidden by governments, unlike classic online betting.

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“..both sides of the swamp should probably control themselves in any premature celebrations as this appears to be far from over..”

Podesta Group “Will Not Exist At The End Of The Year” (ZH)

Just three weeks after we reported that special counsel Mueller was targeting lobbying firm Podesta Group. and just two weeks after Tony Podesta resigned from his position at the firm he founded, The Hill reports that Kimberley Fritts, the Podesta Group’s chief executive, told employees on Thursday that the firm would not exist at the end of the year and that they would likely not be paid through the end of November, sources told CNN. Fritts announced her resignation from the top Washington lobbying group after Podesta left the company amid ties to indictments filed in the Russia investigation. Fritts is beginning work on launching a new firm. Her last day at the company Friday created new uncertainty for the Podesta Group after the departure of Podesta on Oct. 30.

Multiple employees who spoke to The Hill said the mood at the firm was mostly optimistic, though they said many of the firm’s dozens of employees could be in limbo as Fritts sets up the new firm and brings Podesta Group talent and clients with her. As a reminder, Mueller is now investigating whether the Podesta Group properly identified to U.S. authorities its foreign work on behalf of a Ukrainian advocacy group in Europe, CNN reported. An NBC report found that the Podesta Group was one of several firms working on Paul Manafort’s public relations campaign for European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, which the Podesta Group claims it thought was a nonpartisan think tank, something which this site reported first last August. And here is one reason why we suspect more than a few on the left are now concerned…

It goes without saying, that Podesta’s brother, John, is arguably one of the top figure in Democratic politics, serving most recently as chief of staff in the Bill Clinton White House and also as the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. What happens next to Tony (and perhaps his brother John) is to be determined, but one thing is clear: both sides of the swamp should probably control themselves in any premature celebrations as this appears to be far from over.

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“..the Brexit vote has presented rival European nations and the ECB with a golden opportunity to undermine the UK’s domination of Europe’s financial industry. They won’t let it go to waste.”

Global Banks, City of London Raise “Disorderly Brexit” Alarm (DQ)

For the City of London Corporation, the prospect of a messy Brexit is even more terrifying than it is for many of the global banks it hosts within its coveted Square Mile. The Bank of England has warned that up to 75,000 jobs could be lost in the financial sector following Britain’s departure from the European Union. But it’s not just jobs that are on the line; so, too, is the Square Mile’s role as the world’s most important financial center, not to mention the backbone of the UK economy. In recent months the European Commission and the European Central Bank have redoubled their efforts to compel financial institutions to move at least some of their operations onto the continent. “I have a very clear message to both smaller and larger banks: the clock is ticking,” said Sabine Lautenschläger, Member of the Executive Board of the ECB and Vice-Chair of the Supervisory Board of the ECB.

“No one knows how Brexit will play out, and that’s why all affected banks should prepare themselves with a hard Brexit in mind.” Some banks are already taking action. Goldman has set aside the top eight floors of a 37-story block under construction in Frankfurt which is expected to be ready for occupation in the third quarter of 2019. Just a few months before that, construction work on the bank’s new £350m European headquarters in central London should be completed. Ten days ago, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, posted a tweet of an aerial shot of the half-finished construction in London, with the words “expecting/hoping to fill it up, but so much outside our control.” As the head of an organization with alumni at the very top of both the Bank of England and the ECB as well as tentacles that reach out to just about every corner of the old continent, Blankfein is clearly selling Goldman short, if you’ll excuse the pun.

Goldman’s not the only major bank hedging its bets. On Tuesday Germany’s struggling behemoth, Deutsche Bank, announced that it had signed an agreement to occupy at least 469,000 square feet at a site under construction in the City of London. The move comes despite a warning in April that thousands of Deutsche Bank’s UK staff may have to relocate after Brexit. To that end, Deutsche has begun work on a Frankfurt booking center that would take up some of the slack if the German lender was forced to turn its London branch into a subsidiary when Britain leaves the EU.

Most banks would prefer the status quo to continue, with the lion’s share of their operations remaining in London, which already has the physical infrastructure, legal apparatus and friendly political and regulatory culture needed to support the full gamut of global financial services. But the Brexit vote has presented rival European nations and the ECB with a golden opportunity to undermine the UK’s domination of Europe’s financial industry. They won’t let it go to waste.

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It truly is Monty Python by now.

Forty UK Conservative Lawmakers Ready To Oust PM May (R.)

Forty members of parliament from Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party have agreed to sign a letter of no-confidence in her, the Sunday Times newspaper reported. That is eight short of the number needed to trigger a party leadership contest, the mechanism through which May could be forced from office and replaced by another Conservative. May has been struggling to maintain her authority over her party since a snap election on June 8 which she called thinking she would win by a wide margin but instead resulted in her losing her parliamentary majority. Divided over how to extricate Britain from the European Union and hit by multiple scandals involving ministers, May’s government has failed to assert control over a chaotic political situation that is weakening London’s hand in Brexit talks.

An earlier attempt to unseat May in the wake of her disastrous speech at the annual party conference fizzled out, but many Conservatives remain unhappy with the prime minister’s performance and talk of a leadership contest has not gone away. May has lost two cabinet ministers in as many weeks: Michael Fallon stepped down as defense secretary after becoming implicated in a wider scandal about sexual misconduct in parliament, while Priti Patel resigned as aid minister after she was found to have had secret meetings with top Israeli officials.

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So there’s those who just want her gone, and then there’s the ones who look for a reason.

Theresa May Faces Defeat By MPs Demanding Vote On Final Brexit Deal (G.)

Theresa May faces a devastating Commons defeat over Brexit within weeks if she continues to deny parliament a meaningful vote on the final deal with the EU, Tory and Labour MPs have warned. With the withdrawal bill returning to the Commons on Tuesday, a cross-party group who oppose a hard Brexit and are co-operating on tactics say they believe they have the numbers to defeat the government if they are denied such a vote. While the critical amendments and closest votes are not expected to be taken until next month, Tories who oppose a hard Brexit insist there is no softening of their position and that they are biding their time ready to strike before Christmas. Some Tories say they are even more determined to insist on parliament’s right to veto a bad or no deal because the prime minister appears not to have responded to any of their concerns over recent weeks.

Instead, in what was seen by many as a provocative move, she announced last week that the government had tabled its own amendment that would commit the UK to formally leaving on 29 March 2019, whatever the outcome of negotiations and even if there were no deal. Meanwhile, a secret memo to May written by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove dictating terms for a hard Brexit has emerged. In blunt terms, the pair tell the prime minister to “underline her resolve” to achieve a total break with Brussels, and name 30 June 2021 as the fixed end of Britain’s transition period after leaving the EU in March 2019. The missive will undoubtedly lead critics to say the prime minister is being held hostage by the leading Brexiters. A Commons defeat for May over Brexit, at a time when her government is reeling from the loss of two cabinet ministers in six days – and may lose more – would raise further questions over her ability to survive as prime minister.

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She better be quick then, or she won’t have the job anymore.

Sack Boris Johnson For Shaming Our Nation, Jeremy Corbyn Tells PM (G.)

jeremy Corbyn has fired an extraordinary broadside against Boris Johnson, calling for him to be sacked immediately as foreign secretary for “undermining our country” and “putting our citizens at risk”. The blistering attack – and demand that Theresa May fire him – was delivered exclusively in a statement to the Observer on Saturday night, as pressure mounted on Johnson over his diplomatic blunder in the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British mother imprisoned in Iran. The Labour leader cites a litany of undiplomatic and ill-chosen statements from Johnson since his appointment by May as foreign secretary in July last year. Corbyn accuses him of having a “colonial throwback take on the world”, and of repeatedly “letting our country down”.

It is the mishandling of the “heartbreaking” case of Zaghari-Ratcliffe that persuaded Corbyn to call for his dismissal. His statement ends: “We’ve put up with Johnson embarrassing and undermining our country with his incompetence and colonial throwback views and putting our citizens at risk for long enough. It’s time for him to go.” The intervention places both May and Johnson under renewed pressure after 10 days in which the prime minister has been forced to dismiss defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon for inappropriate behaviour towards women, and the international development secretary, Priti Patel, for conducting a freelance aid policy in the Middle East without informing No 10 or the Foreign Office.

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Get in line.

German War Reparations ‘Matter Of Honor’ For Poland (R.)

Demanding reparations from Germany for its actions in Poland during World War Two is a matter of honor for Warsaw, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Polish ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, said on Saturday. The issue of reparations, revived by Poland’s eurosceptic PiS after decades of improving relations with Germany, could escalate tensions between the two European Union members. In September Polish parliamentary legal experts ruled that Warsaw has the right to demand reparations from Germany, although Poland’s foreign minister indicated that no immediate claim would be made. “The French were paid, Jews were paid, many other nations were paid for the losses they suffered during World War Two. Poles were not,” Kaczynski said.

“It is not only about material funds. It is about our status, our honor … And this is not theater. This is our demand, a totally serious demand,” added Kaczynski, Poland’s de facto leader. The PiS government, deeply distrustful of Germany, has raised calls for wartime compensation in recent months but Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski has said further analysis was needed before any claims were lodged. Six million Poles, including three million Polish Jews, were killed during the war, and the capital Warsaw was razed to the ground in 1944 after a failed uprising in which 200,000 civilians died.

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They’ll have to do a lot more demonstrating.

750,000 Protesters Flood Barcelona Demanding Release Of Catalan Leaders (R.)

Hundreds of thousands of Catalan independence supporters clogged one of Barcelona’s main avenues on Saturday to demand the release of separatist leaders held in prison for their roles in the region’s banned drive to split from Spain. Wearing yellow ribbons on their lapels to signify support, they filled the length of the Avenue Marina that runs from the beach to Barcelona’s iconic Sagrada Familia church, while the jailed leaders’ families made speeches. Catalonia’s two main grassroots independence groups called the march, under the slogan “Freedom for the political prisoners,” after their leaders were remanded in custody on charges of sedition last month. The protest is seen as a test of how the independence movement’s support has fared since the Catalan government declared independence on Oct. 27, prompting Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to fire its members, dissolve the regional parliament and call new elections for December.

An opinion poll this week showed that pro-independence parties would win the largest share of the vote, though a majority was not assured and question marks remain over ousted regional head Carles Puigdemont’s leadership of the separatist cause. “Look at all the people here,” said 63-year-old Pep Morales. “The independence movement is still going strong.” Barcelona police said about 750,000 people had attended, many from across Catalonia. The protesters carried photos with the faces of those in prison, waved the red-and-yellow striped Catalan independence flag and shone lights from their phones. The Spanish High Court has jailed eight former Catalan government members, along with the leaders of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Omnium Cultural, while investigations continue.

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That’s true in many ways.

EU Has Become A ‘Caricature’ Of Its Founding Values – Puidgemont (RT)

Sacked Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has lashed out against the European Union (EU) over its response to the Catalan crisis, in which Brussels sided with Madrid in suppressing the independence drive of the region. Puigdemont criticized the EU as a “caricature of what Europe is and of what we want Europe to be,” claiming, there is “no will to help solve the politics of the conflict.” Catalonia staged a regional independence referendum on October 1, amid a massive crackdown by police on voters in which nearly 900 people were injured. Following the ‘yes’ vote, Barcelona attempted to initiate dialogue with the central government, hoping the EU would step in and act as mediator to help defuse tensions.

Leaders of European nations, as well as the EU’s main institutions, sided with the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy instead, and refused to recognize Catalonia’s self-determination call, referring to the crisis as an internal Spanish matter. The former Catalan leader sees it as a betrayal of the fundamental “values that took us to constitute Europe.” Puigdemont believes the EU leadership, which he said comprises “four or five governments,” are “probably not the most appropriate to lead the EU.” “What will the EU become in hands of this people?” the former Catalan leader asked, pointing out that he does not want the EU’s leadership to “confuse” traditional European values with “their political and economic interests.”

Just this week, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called on all member nations to fight against separatist tendencies in Europe, apparently in reference to Scotland, Lombardy, Venice and other regions throughout the continent which have expressed strong self-determination ambitions. “Nationalisms are a poison that prevent Europe from working together,” Juncker said Thursday in the Spanish city of Salamanca. “We cannot stay with our arms crossed because it is time for us to do what needs to be done. I say ‘no’ to any form of separatism that weakens Europe and further widens the existing fissures.” [..] “To be treated like a criminal, like a drug-trafficker, like a paedophile, like a serial killer, I think this is abuse,” the Catalan leader lamented. “This isn’t politics, this is using the courts to do politics.”

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The shame of the EU keeps getting bigger and deeper.

Trafficking Laws ‘Target Refugee Aid Workers In EU’ (G.)

Aid workers are being targeted throughout Europe as countries including the UK use laws aimed at traffickers and smugglers to discourage humanitarian activity, a study claims. A six-month investigation by the London-based Institute of Race Relations documented the prosecutions of 45 individual “humanitarian actors” under anti-smuggling or immigration laws in 26 separate actions over the past two years. Examples include a 25-year-old British volunteer with a refugee support group, who last January sought to bring an Albanian mother and two children to the UK in the boot of her car so they could join their husband and father. She was sentenced in March to 14 months in jail, although the sentence was suspended to take into account her “misguided humanitarianism”.

UK law does not distinguish between humanitarian and commercial motives in such prosecutions, but does take such factors into account in sentencing. In Switzerland, a 43-year-old woman known to refugees as Mother Teresa for her work in providing food for those stranded on the Italian side of the border, was sentenced in September to a fine and a suspended 80-day jail term for helping unaccompanied children into the country. In France, British volunteers helping refugees in Calais have frequently been harassed by the authorities. In October 2015, former British soldier Rob Lawrie was arrested at the border for hiding a four-year-old Afghan child in his van in response to her father’s pleas to take her to relatives in Leeds. Lawrie, from West Yorkshire, avoided jail after a French court found him guilty of the lesser charge of endangerment rather than assisting illegal entry.

And in March this year three French and British volunteers with charity Roya Citoyenne were arrested for distributing food to migrants. The 68-page IRR report chronicles a culture of criminalisation in which volunteers for charities and aid groups, attempting to fill the gaps in state provision, are targeted for providing food, shelter and clean water to migrants in informal encampments or on streets. The EU’s border force, Frontex, has accused aid groups including Médecins Sans Frontières of co-operating with migrant traffickers in the Mediterranean. The report criticises senior Frontex officials for “attempts to bully and delegitimise” NGO search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean by accusing aid groups of working with smugglers and encouraging trafficking. The IRR’s vice-chair, Frances Webber, said: “Across the continent, criminal laws designed to target organised smuggling gangs and profiteers are distorted and stretched to fit an anti-refugee, anti-humanitarian agenda, and in the process criminalise decency itself.”

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Disposable income down by 50%. Taxes and social security up 96.8%. The Troika is taxing Greece to death. On purpose. It’ll be a tourist destination only. And a refugee camp.

Greece’s Middle Incomes Go Under The Knife (K.)

The disposable income of Greece’s average earners has been slashed by more than 50% due to overtaxation in recent years, according to the latest data examined by Kathimerini, which also paints a grim picture for the coming years. What’s more, the reduction of the income tax threshold is expected to further impact the disposable income of households. Brussels expects Greece’s primary surplus to beat its target of 3.5% of GDP again next year, rising to 3.9%, and then to 3.7% in 2019. However, the primary surpluses Greece has posted in the last two years are largely due to exorbitant taxes rather the result of growth. Moreover, while the European Commission’s statistics point to a disproportionate increase in taxation in Greece, at a time when the economy was shrinking, the country’s industrialists and political opposition say overtaxation has led to more tax evasion and the failure of the tax system.

Those hardest hit have been freelance professionals, who since 2009 have been subjected to unprecedented raids by the tax office, and more recently by social insurance contribution hikes, resulting in the gradual exhaustion of their income. And high taxes, including property taxes, are the reason why both freelancers and self-employed professionals submitted incomes last year that were 20% lower than their actual earnings. A telling example of overtaxation concerns freelance professionals who own a car and an apartment and earn 50,000 euros a year: In 2009 they had to pay 16,333 euros of their annual income to the tax office and their social security fund, leaving them with a net income of 33,667 euros. Five years later, their clear income dropped by a further 4,344 euros to 29,323.

The situation today is even more dire as the same self-employed professional making 50,000 euros must pay 32,151 euros in taxes and contributions, leaving them with a disposable income of 17,849. Taxes and social security contributions have rocketed by 96.8% since 2009, while compared to 2014 they have risen by 55.5%.

Read more …

Nov 112017
 
 November 11, 2017  Posted by at 9:15 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Jean-Léon Gérôme Truth Coming Out of Her Well to Shame Mankind 1896

 

An entire library of articles about Big Tech is coming out these days, and I find that much of it is written so well, and the ideas in them so well expressed, that I have little to add. Except, I think I may have the solution to the problems many people see. But I also have a concern that I don’t see addressed, and that may well prevent that solution from being adopted. If so, we’re very far away from any solution at all. And that’s seriously bad news.

Let’s start with a general -even ‘light’- critique of social media by Claire Wardle and Hossein Derakhshan for the Guardian:

 

How Did The News Go ‘Fake’? When The Media Went Social

Social media force us to live our lives in public, positioned centre-stage in our very own daily performances. Erving Goffman, the American sociologist, articulated the idea of “life as theatre” in his 1956 book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, and while the book was published more than half a century ago, the concept is even more relevant today. It is increasingly difficult to live a private life, in terms not just of keeping our personal data away from governments or corporations, but also of keeping our movements, interests and, most worryingly, information consumption habits from the wider world.

The social networks are engineered so that we are constantly assessing others – and being assessed ourselves. In fact our “selves” are scattered across different platforms, and our decisions, which are public or semi-public performances, are driven by our desire to make a good impression on our audiences, imagined and actual. We grudgingly accept these public performances when it comes to our travels, shopping, dating, and dining. We know the deal. The online tools that we use are free in return for us giving up our data, and we understand that they need us to publicly share our lifestyle decisions to encourage people in our network to join, connect and purchase.

But, critically, the same forces have impacted the way we consume news and information. Before our media became “social”, only our closest family or friends knew what we read or watched, and if we wanted to keep our guilty pleasures secret, we could. Now, for those of us who consume news via the social networks, what we “like” and what we follow is visible to many [..] Consumption of the news has become a performance that can’t be solely about seeking information or even entertainment. What we choose to “like” or follow is part of our identity, an indication of our social class and status, and most frequently our political persuasion.

That sets the scene. People sell their lives, their souls, to join a network that then sells these lives -and souls- to the highest bidder, for a profit the people themselves get nothing of. This is not some far-fetched idea. As noted further down, in terms of scale, Facebook is a present day Christianity. And these concerns are not only coming from ‘concerned citizens’, some of the early participants are speaking out as well. Like Facebook co-founder Sean Parker:

 

Facebook: God Only Knows What It’s Doing To Our Children’s Brains

Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, gave me a candid insider’s look at how social networks purposely hook and potentially hurt our brains. Be smart: Parker’s I-was-there account provides priceless perspective in the rising debate about the power and effects of the social networks, which now have scale and reach unknown in human history. [..]

“When Facebook was getting going, I had these people who would come up to me and they would say, ‘I’m not on social media.’ And I would say, ‘OK. You know, you will be.’ And then they would say, ‘No, no, no. I value my real-life interactions. I value the moment. I value presence. I value intimacy.’ And I would say, … ‘We’ll get you eventually.'”

“I don’t know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because [of] the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people and … it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other … It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

“The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, … was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?'” “And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you … more likes and comments.”

“It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.” “The inventors, creators — it’s me, it’s Mark [Zuckerberg], it’s Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it’s all of these people — understood this consciously. And we did it anyway.”

Early stage investor in Facebook, Roger McNamee, also has some words to add along the same lines as Parker. They make it sound like they’re Frankenstein and Facebook is their monster.

 

How Facebook and Google Threaten Public Health – and Democracy

The term “addiction” is no exaggeration. The average consumer checks his or her smartphone 150 times a day, making more than 2,000 swipes and touches. The applications they use most frequently are owned by Facebook and Alphabet, and the usage of those products is still increasing. In terms of scale, Facebook and YouTube are similar to Christianity and Islam respectively. More than 2 billion people use Facebook every month, 1.3 billion check in every day. More than 1.5 billion people use YouTube. Other services owned by these companies also have user populations of 1 billion or more.

Facebook and Alphabet are huge because users are willing to trade privacy and openness for “convenient and free.” Content creators resisted at first, but user demand forced them to surrender control and profits to Facebook and Alphabet. The sad truth is that Facebook and Alphabet have behaved irresponsibly in the pursuit of massive profits. They have consciously combined persuasive techniques developed by propagandists and the gambling industry with technology in ways that threaten public health and democracy.

The issue, however, is not social networking or search. It is advertising business models. Let me explain. From the earliest days of tabloid newspapers, publishers realized the power of exploiting human emotions. To win a battle for attention, publishers must give users “what they want,” content that appeals to emotions, rather than intellect. Substance cannot compete with sensation, which must be amplified constantly, lest consumers get distracted and move on. “If it bleeds, it leads” has guided editorial choices for more than 150 years, but has only become a threat to society in the past decade, since the introduction of smartphones.

Media delivery platforms like newspapers, television, books, and even computers are persuasive, but people only engage with them for a few hours each day and every person receives the same content. Today’s battle for attention is not a fair fight. Every competitor exploits the same techniques, but Facebook and Alphabet have prohibitive advantages: personalization and smartphones. Unlike older media, Facebook and Alphabet know essentially everything about their users, tracking them everywhere they go on the web and often beyond.

By making every experience free and easy, Facebook and Alphabet became gatekeepers on the internet, giving them levels of control and profitability previously unknown in media. They exploit data to customize each user’s experience and siphon profits from content creators. Thanks to smartphones, the battle for attention now takes place on a single platform that is available every waking moment. Competitors to Facebook and Alphabet do not have a prayer.

Facebook and Alphabet monetize content through advertising that is targeted more precisely than has ever been possible before. The platforms create “filter bubbles” around each user, confirming pre-existing beliefs and often creating the illusion that everyone shares the same views. Platforms do this because it is profitable. The downside of filter bubbles is that beliefs become more rigid and extreme. Users are less open to new ideas and even to facts.

Of the millions of pieces of content that Facebook can show each user at a given time, they choose the handful most likely to maximize profits. If it were not for the advertising business model, Facebook might choose content that informs, inspires, or enriches users. Instead, the user experience on Facebook is dominated by appeals to fear and anger. This would be bad enough, but reality is worse.

And in a Daily Mail article, McNamee’s ideas are taken a mile or so further. Goebbels, Bernays, fear, anger, personalization, civility.

 

Early Facebook Investor Compares The Social Network To Nazi Propaganda

Facebook officials have been compared to the Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels by a former investor. Roger McNamee also likened the company’s methods to those of Edward Bernays, the ‘father of public’ relations who promoted smoking for women. Mr McNamee, who made a fortune backing the social network in its infancy, has spoken out about his concern about the techniques the tech giants use to engage users and advertisers. [..] the former investor said everyone was now ‘in one degree or another addicted’ to the site while he feared the platform was causing people to swap real relationships for phoney ones.

And he likened the techniques of the company to Mr Bernays and Hitler’s public relations minister. ‘In order to maintain your attention they have taken all the techniques of Edward Bernays and Joseph Goebbels, and all of the other people from the world of persuasion, and all the big ad agencies, and they’ve mapped it onto an all day product with highly personalised information in order to addict you,’ Mr McNamee told The Telegraph. Mr McNamee said Facebook was creating a culture of ‘fear and anger’. ‘We have lowered the civil discourse, people have become less civil to each other..’

He said the tech giant had ‘weaponised’ the First Amendment to ‘essentially absolve themselves of responsibility’. He added: ‘I say this as somebody who was there at the beginning.’ Mr McNamee’s comments come as a further blow to Facebook as just last month former employee Justin Rosenstein spoke out about his concerns. Mr Rosenstein, the Facebook engineer who built a prototype of the network’s ‘like’ button, called the creation the ‘bright dings of pseudo-pleasure’. He said he was forced to limit his own use of the social network because he was worried about the impact it had on him.

As for the economic, not the societal or personal, effects of social media, Yanis Varoufakis had this to say a few weeks ago:

 

Capitalism Is Ending Because It Has Made Itself Obsolete – Varoufakis

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has claimed capitalism is coming to an end because it is making itself obsolete. The former economics professor told an audience at University College London that the rise of giant technology corporations and artificial intelligence will cause the current economic system to undermine itself. Mr Varoufakis said companies such as Google and Facebook, for the first time ever, are having their capital bought and produced by consumers.

“Firstly the technologies were funded by some government grant; secondly every time you search for something on Google, you contribute to Google’s capital,” he said. “And who gets the returns from capital? Google, not you. “So now there is no doubt capital is being socially produced, and the returns are being privatised. This with artificial intelligence is going to be the end of capitalism.”

Ergo, as people sell their lives and their souls to Facebook and Alphabet, they sell their economies along with them. That’s what that means. And you were just checking what your friends were doing. Or, that’s what you thought you were doing.

The solution to all these pains is, likely unintentionally, provided by Umair Haque’s critique of economics. It’s interesting to see how the topics ‘blend’, ‘intertwine’.

 

How Economics Failed the Economy

When, in the 1930s, the great economist Simon Kuznets created GDP, he deliberately left two industries out of this then novel, revolutionary idea of a national income : finance and advertising. [..] Kuznets logic was simple, and it was not mere opinion, but analytical fact: finance and advertising don’t create new value, they only allocate, or distribute existing value in the same way that a loan to buy a television isn’t the television, or an ad for healthcare isn’t healthcare. They are only means to goods, not goods themselves. Now we come to two tragedies of history.

What happened next is that Congress laughed, as Congresses do, ignored Kuznets, and included advertising and finance anyways for political reasons -after all, bigger, to the politicians mind, has always been better, and therefore, a bigger national income must have been better. Right? Let’s think about it. Today, something very curious has taken place.

If we do what Kuznets originally suggested, and subtract finance and advertising from GDP, what does that picture -a picture of the economy as it actually is reveal? Well, since the lion’s share of growth, more than 50% every year, comes from finance and advertising -whether via Facebook or Google or Wall St and hedge funds and so on- we would immediately see that the economic growth that the US has chased so desperately, so furiously, never actually existed at all.

Growth itself has only been an illusion, a trick of numbers, generated by including what should have been left out in the first place. If we subtracted allocative industries from GDP, we’d see that economic growth is in fact below population growth, and has been for a very long time now, probably since the 1980s and in that way, the US economy has been stagnant, which is (surprise) what everyday life feels like. Feels like.

Economic indicators do not anymore tell us a realistic, worthwhile, and accurate story about the truth of the economy, and they never did -only, for a while, the trick convinced us that reality wasn’t. Today, that trick is over, and economies grow , but people’s lives, their well-being, incomes, and wealth, do not, and that, of course, is why extremism is sweeping the globe. Perhaps now you begin to see why the two have grown divorced from one another: economics failed the economy.

Now let us go one step, then two steps, further. Finance and advertising are no longer merely allocative industries today. They are now extractive industries. That is, they internalize value from society, and shift costs onto society, all the while creating no value themselves.

The story is easiest to understand via Facebook’s example: it makes its users sadder, lonelier, and unhappier, and also corrodes democracy in spectacular and catastrophic ways. There is not a single upside of any kind that is discernible -and yet, all the above is counted as a benefit, not a cost, in national income, so the economy can thus grow, even while a society of miserable people are being manipulated by foreign actors into destroying their own democracy. Pretty neat, huh?

It was BECAUSE finance and advertising were counted as creative, productive, when they were only allocative, distributive that they soon became extractive. After all, if we had said from the beginning that these industries do not count, perhaps they would not have needed to maximize profits (or for VCs to pour money into them, and so on) endlessly to count more. But we didn’t.

And so soon, they had no choice but to become extractive: chasing more and more profits, to juice up the illusion of growth, and soon enough, these industries began to eat the economy whole, because of course, as Kuznets observed, they allocate everything else in the economy, and therefore, they control it.

Thus, the truly creative, productive, life-giving parts of the economy shrank in relative, and even in absolute terms, as they were taken apart, strip-mined, and consumed in order to feed the predatory parts of the economy, which do not expand human potential. The economy did eat itself, just as Marx had supposed – only the reason was not something inherent in it, but a choice, a mistake, a tragedy.

[..] Life is not flourishing, growing, or developing in a single way that I or even you can readily identify or name. And yet, the economy appears to be growing, because purely allocative and distributive enterprises like Uber, Facebook, credit rating agencies, endless nameless hedge funds, shady personal info brokers, and so on, which fail to contribute positively to human life in any discernible way whatsoever, are all counted as beneficial. Do you see the absurdity of it?

[..] It’s not a coincidence that the good has failed to grow, nor is it an act of the gods. It was a choice. A simple cause-effect relationship, of a society tricking itself into desperately pretending it was growing, versus truly growing. Remember not subtracting finance and advertising from GDP, to create the illusion of growth? Had America not done that, then perhaps it might have had to work hard to find ways to genuinely, authentically, meaningfully grow, instead of taken the easy way out, only to end up stagnating today, and unable to really even figure out why yet.

Industries that are not productive, but instead only extract money from society, need to be taxed so heavily they have trouble surviving. If that doesn’t happen, your economy will never thrive, or even survive. The whole service economy fata morgana must be thrown as far away as we can throw it. Economies must produce real, tangible things, or they die.

For the finance industry this means: tax the sh*t out of any transactions they engage in. Want to make money on complex derivatives? We’ll take 75+%. Upfront. And no, you can’t take your company overseas. Don’t even try.

For Uber and Airbnb it means pay taxes up the wazoo, either as a company or as individual home slash car owners. Uber and Airbnb take huge amounts of money out of local economies, societies, communities, which is nonsense, unnecessary and detrimental. Every city can set up its own local car- or home rental schemes. Their profits should stay within the community, and be invested in it.

For Google and Facebook as the world’s new major -only?!- ad agencies: Tax the heebies out of them or forbid them from running any ads at all. Why? Because they extract enormous amounts of productive capital from society. Capital they, as Varoufakis says, do not even themselves create.

YOU are creating the capital, and YOU then must pay for access to the capital created. Yeah, it feels like you can just hook up and look at what your friends are doing, but the price extracted from you, your friends, and your community is so high you would never volunteer to pay for it if you had any idea.

 

The one thing that I don’t see anyone address, and that might prevent these pretty straightforward ”tax-them-til they-bleed!” answers to the threat of New Big Tech, is that Facebook, Alphabet et al have built a very strong relationship with various intelligence communities. And then you have Goebbels and Bernays in the service of the CIA.

As Google, Facebook and the CIA are ever more entwined, these companies become so important to what ‘the spooks’ consider the interests of the nation that they will become mutually protective. And once CIA headquarters in Langley, VA, aka the aptly named “George Bush Center for Intelligence”, openly as well as secretly protects you, you’re pretty much set for life. A long life.

Next up: they’ll be taking over entire economies, societies. This is happening as we speak. I know, you were thinking it was ‘the Russians’ with a few as yet unproven bucks in Facebook ads that were threatening US and European democracies. Well, you’re really going to have to think again.

The world has never seen such technologies. It has never seen such intensity, depth of, or such dependence on, information. We are simply not prepared for any of this. But we need to learn fast, or become patsies and slaves in a full blown 1984 style piece of absurd theater. Our politicians are AWOL and MIA for all of it, they have no idea what to say or think, they don’t understand what Google or bitcoin or Uber really mean.

In the meantime, we know one thing we can do, and we can justify doing it through the concept of non-productive and extractive industries. That is, tax them till they bleed. That we would hit the finance industry with that as well is a welcome bonus. Long overdue. We need productive economies or we’re done. And Facebook and Alphabet -and Goldman Sachs- don’t produce d*ck all.

When you think about it, the only growth that’s left in the US economy is that of companies spying on American citizens. Well, that and Europeans. China has banned Facebook and Google. Why do you think they have? Because Google and Facebook ARE 1984, that’s why. And if there’s going to be a Big Brother in the Middle Kingdom, it’s not going to be Silicon Valley.

 

 

Aug 282017
 
 August 28, 2017  Posted by at 9:01 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Lou Reed New York City 1966

 

Harvey’s Cost Reaches Catastrophe: Only 15% Of Homes Have Flood Insurance (BBG)
Gasoline Surges, Oil Holds Near $48 as Harvey Shuts Refineries (BBG)
Mammoth Flood Disaster in Houston: More Rain Yet to Come (WU)
The Coming Collapse Of China’s Ponzi Scheme Economy (SCMP)
What’s Driving The Growth In US ‘Shadow Banking’ (CBR)
Volatility Makes a Comeback (Rickards)
YouTube “Economically Censors” Ron Paul (ZH)
Should The Rich Be Taxed More? (G.)
The West’s Wealth Is Based On Slavery. Reparations Should Be Paid (G.)
Danone Sends 5,000 Cows to Siberia in Quest for Cheaper Milk (BBG)

 

 

The real tragedy takes place below the surface. Sort of literally. Much more rain to come.

Harvey’s Cost Reaches Catastrophe: Only 15% Of Homes Have Flood Insurance (BBG)

Hurricane Harvey’s second act across southern Texas is turning into an economic catastrophe – with damages likely to stretch into tens of billions of dollars and an unusually large share of victims lacking adequate insurance, according to early estimates. Harvey’s cost could mount to $24 billion when including the impact of relentless flooding on the labor force, power grid, transportation and other elements that support the region’s energy sector, Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research, said by phone on Sunday. That would place it among the top eight hurricanes to ever strike the U.S. “A historic event is currently unfolding in Texas,” Aon wrote in an alert to clients. “It will take weeks until the full scope and magnitude of the damage is realized,” and already it’s clear that “an abnormally high portion of economic damage caused by flooding will not be covered,” the insurance broker said.

[..] Most people with flood insurance buy policies backed by the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program. As of April, less than one-sixth of homes in Houston’s Harris County had federal coverage, according to Aon. That would leave more than 1 million homes unprotected in the county. Coverage rates are similar in neighboring areas. Many cars also will be totaled. “A lot of these people are going to be in very serious financial situations,” said Loretta Worters, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute. “Most people who are living in these areas do not have flood insurance. They may be able to collect some grants from the government, but there are not a lot, usually they’re very limited. There are no-interest to low-interest loans, but you have to pay them back.”

The federal program itself is already struggling with $25 billion of debt. The existing program is set to expire on Sept. 30 and is up for review in Congress, which ends its recess Sept. 5. Costs still will likely soar for insurance companies and their reinsurers, biting into earnings. As Harvey bore down on the coastline Friday, William Blair, a securities firm that tracks the industry, said the storm could theoretically inflict $25 billion of insured losses if it landed as a “large category 3 hurricane.” Policyholder-owned State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance has the largest share in the market for home coverage in Texas, followed by Allstate, which is publicly traded. William Blair estimated that, in that scenario, Allstate could incur $500 million of pretax catastrophe losses, shaving 89 cents off of earnings per share.

Read more …

Most shutdowns so far are precautionary. But…

Gasoline Surges, Oil Holds Near $48 as Harvey Shuts Refineries (BBG)

Gasoline surged to the highest in two years and oil was steady as flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey inundated refining centers along the Texas coast, shutting more than 10% of U.S. fuel-making capacity. Motor fuel prices rose as much as 6.8%, while oil held gains near $48 a barrel. Harvey, the strongest storm to hit the U.S. since 2004, made landfall as a hurricane Friday, flooding cities and shutting plants able to process some 2.26 million barrels of oil a day. Pipelines were closed, potentially stranding some crude in West Texas and starving New York Harbor of gasoline. Gasoline prices are going to continue to rise this week as we expect another three days of rain in the Houston area,” Andy Lipow, president of consultant Lipow Oil in Houston, said by phone.

“With pipeline operators beginning to shut down their crude oil and refined product infrastructure, I expect to see further curtailment of refinery operations. A spike in gasoline and diesel prices will drag up crude oil prices.” Oil has traded this month in the tightest range since February as investors weigh rising global supply against output cuts by members of OPEC and its allies. As Harvey led to widespread flooding, Shell shut its Deer Park plant, while Magellan Midstream suspended its inbound and outbound refined products and crude pipeline transportation services in the Houston area. Gasoline for September delivery climbed as much as 11.33 cents to $1.7799 a gallon on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the highest intraday price for a front-month contract since July 2015.

It traded at $1.7621 at 12:36 p.m. in Hong Kong. West Texas Intermediate oil for October delivery fell 16 cents to $47.71 a barrel after advancing 0.9% on Friday. Brent crude’s premium to WTI widened to the largest in two years with the global benchmark trading at as much as $4.96 above the U.S. marker. Brent for October settlement gained 18 cents, or 0.3%, to $52.59 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange.

Read more …

Waether Underground is probably the best source.

Mammoth Flood Disaster in Houston: More Rain Yet to Come (WU)

Harvey’s winds are expected to remain modest, and it could become a tropical depression at any point, but winds are not the problem here. The NOAA/NWS National Hurricane Center now predicts that Harvey will inch its way into the Gulf of Mexico—though just barely—by Monday night, then arc northeast and make a second landfall just west of Houston on Wednesday. The 12Z GFS and 00Z European model runs agree on a general northward motion for Harvey across eastern Texas, beginning around midweek. At this point it may make little difference whether Harvey stays just inland or moves just offshore, since rainbands would continue to be funneled toward Houston either way. The fine-scale particulars of this outlook may shift over time, but the overall message is consistent: Harvey will be a devastating rainmaking presence in southeast Texas for days to come.

Harvey’s circulation is located in a near-ideal spot for funneling vast amounts of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico toward the upper Texas coast. Here, converging winds at low levels have been concentrating the moisture into north-south-oriented bands of intense thunderstorms with torrential rain. Since Harvey is barely moving, these bands are creeping only slowly eastward as individual cells race north along them—a “training” set-up that is common in major flood events. Mesoscale models, our best guidance for short-term, small-scale behavior of thunderstorms, show little sign of relief for southeast Texas anytime soon. Convection-resolving mesoscale models, which have a tight enough resolution to depict individual thunderstorms, are an invaluable tool in situations like this. The mesoscale nested NAM model predicts that 20” – 30” of additional rainfall is likely through Tuesday across the Houston metro area, with even larger totals at some points.

Read more …

Hmm. But what if China manages to unload all its overcapacity on the Belt Road, and makes other countries pay?

The Coming Collapse Of China’s Ponzi Scheme Economy (SCMP)

Friends who have a greater interest than I do in reading the tea leaves in Beijing tell me that the emphasis in relations with Hong Kong from now on will be on one country rather than two systems. I think this phrases things the wrong way. The one country bit was never in issue. What they actually mean to say is that Beijing’s system of state command of the economy will become dominant and Hong Kong’s more freewheeling system will fade away. I don’t think it will happen. In my view human society is so dynamic that no command system can last long in charge of an economy. Attempts at this particular form of hubris inevitably end in either war or financial crisis. For the Soviet Union it was financial crisis. I think the same fate awaits Beijing.

Consider crude steel production, a test-tube example of how command economies get it wrong. In the mainland this stood in June at an all time monthly record of 73 million tonnes, five times the total production in all of Europe. Steel was recently targeted for a reduction in capacity but then a regime of easy money intended to help the industry overcome a difficult period of contraction instead stimulated production. It has happened across the mainland’s rust belt industries. Why is so much steel needed? Simple. It is needed to build more steel mills so as to build more shipyards, ports, railways and bridges so that more ships can be built to carry more iron ore to more ports and thence along more rails and bridges to more steel mills so as to build more shipyards, ports, railways …

What we have here, in short, is a giant Ponzi scheme. In a Ponzi scheme you pay out the winnings of the first entrants with what others later pay into it. As long as it keeps growing everything is fine. When it stops growing it collapses. In this case you justify production with demand based purely on more production. As long as you keep pushing production up everything looks fine. At its peak in 2014 China turned out 30 times more cement than the United States, and the latest production figures are only a smidgen less than 2014’s.

Read more …

What do you think? A good sign? It isn’t in China….

What’s Driving The Growth In US ‘Shadow Banking’ (CBR)

In the wake of the 2007–10 financial crisis, there’s been sizeable growth of “shadow banking”— companies without banking charters entering lines of business traditionally associated with deposit-taking banks. Hedge funds that make direct loans to midsize businesses, online mortgage originators, peer-to-peer lending platforms, and payday lenders have all been on the rise. What’s behind this? According to Chicago Booth’s Gregor Matvos, Booth PhD candidate Greg Buchak, Columbia’s Tomasz Piskorski, and Stanford’s Amit Seru, much of the growth is due to regulations that have pushed banks out of traditional lending businesses. The researchers also attribute some growth to online technology that has lowered the barrier to entry in markets where lenders once needed networks of physical branches to have any hope of building business.

The researchers focus on the US residential lending market, the largest consumer loan market in the country—and the market that drew the most attention from regulators after 2008. Between 2007 and 2015, shadow banks nearly tripled their market share, from 14% to 38%. They gained the most in the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage market, which serves lower-quality borrowers and is where shadow banks’ share rose from 20% to 75%. Traditional banks retreated from sectors of the mortgage market where the regulatory burden grew the most, the researchers note. Traditional banks have been particularly hindered by rules that increased monitoring of balance-sheet holdings and constrained what banks could hold in their own accounts.

Their retreat helped shadow banking succeed in the riskier FHA market and in more-traditional, conforming mortgages. The researchers also separated shadow banks into those that did and didn’t originate loans online. During the study period, lenders that originated loans online (fintech lenders) saw market share rise from 4% to 13%—but that remains less than half of the shadow-banking sector.

Read more …

Super spikes.

Volatility Makes a Comeback (Rickards)

Volatility has languished near all-time lows for months on end. That’s about to change. For almost a year, one of the most profitable trading strategies has been to sell volatility. Since the election of Donald Trump stocks have been a one-way bet. They almost always go up, and have hit record highs day after day. The strategy of selling volatility has been so profitable that promoters tout it to investors as a source of “steady, low-risk income.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, sellers of volatility have made steady profits the past year. But the strategy is extremely risky and you could lose all of your profits in a single bad day. Think of this strategy as betting your life’s savings on red at a roulette table. If the wheel comes up red, you double your money. But if you keep playing eventually the wheel will come up black and you’ll lose everything.

That’s what it’s like to sell volatility. It feels good for a while, but eventually a black swan appears like the black number on the roulette wheel, and the sellers get wiped out. I focus on the shocks and unexpected events that others don’t see. Right now looks like one of those highly favorable windows when the purchase of volatility is the right move. You could collect huge winnings as the short sellers scramble to cover their bets before they are wiped out completely. The chart below shows a 20-year history of volatility spikes. You can observe long periods of relatively low volatility such as 2004 to 2007, and 2013 to mid-2015, but these are inevitably followed by volatility super-spikes. During these super-spikes the sellers of volatility are crushed, sometimes to the point of bankruptcy because they can’t cover their bets.

The period from mid-2015 to late 2016 saw some brief volatility spikes associated with the Chinese devaluation (August and December 2015), Brexit (June 23, 2016) and the election of Donald Trump (Nov. 8, 2016). But, none of these spikes reached the super-spike levels of 2008 – 2012. In short, we have been on a volatility holiday. Volatility is historically low and has remained so for an unusually long period of time. The sellers of volatility have been collecting “steady income,” yet this is really just a winning streak at the volatility casino. The wheel of fortune is about to turn and luck is about to run out for the sellers. It will soon be time for the buyers of volatility to collect their winnings, big time.

Read more …

Sliding scales. One step before large tech is declared utility?!

YouTube “Economically Censors” Ron Paul (ZH)

Former US Congressman Ron Paul has joined a growing list of independent political journalists and commentators who’re being economically punished by YouTube despite producing videos that routinely receive hundreds of thousands of views. In a tweet published Saturday, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange tweeted a screenshot of Paul’s “Liberty Report” page showing that his videos had been labeled “not suitable” for all advertisers by YouTube’s content arbiters. Assange claims that Paul was being punished for speaking out about President Donald Trump’s decision to increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan, after Paul published a video on the subject earlier this week. The notion that YouTube would want to economically punish a former US Congressman for sharing his views on US foreign policy – a topic that he is unequivocally qualified to speak about – is absurd.

Furthermore, the “review requested” marking on one of Paul’s videos reveals that they were initially flagged by users before YouTube’s moderators confirmed that the videos were unsuitable for a broad audience. Other political commentators who’ve been censored by YouTube include Paul Joseph Watson and Tim Black – both ostensibly for sharing political views that differ from the mainstream neo-liberal ideology favored by the Silicon Valley elite. Last week, Google – another Alphabet Inc. company – briefly banned Salil Mehta, an adjunct professor at Columbia and Georgetown who teaches probability and data science, from using its service, freezing his accounts without providing an explanation. He was later allowed to return to the service. Conservative journalist Lauren Southern spoke out about YouTube’s drive to stifle politically divergent journalists and commentators during an interview with the Daily Caller.

“I think it would be insane to suggest there’s not an active effort to censor conservative and independent views,” said Southern. “Considering most of Silicon Valley participate in the censorship of alleged ‘hate speech,’ diversity hiring and inclusivity committees. Their entire model is based around a far left outline. There’s no merit hiring, there’s no support of free speech and there certainly is not an equal representation of political views at these companies.” Of course, Google isn’t the only Silicon Valley company that’s enamored with censorship. Facebook has promised to eradicate “fake news,” which, by its definition, includes political content that falls outside of the mainstream. Still, economically punishing a former US Congressman and medical doctor is a new low in Silicon Valley’s campaign to stamp out dissent.

Read more …

The most prosperous times of our societies coincide with the highest tax levels for the rich.

Should The Rich Be Taxed More? (G.)

The past four decades have been extremely kind to those at the top. They have seen their incomes grow faster than the rest of the population and hold a far bigger share of wealth in the form of property and financial investments than the rest of the population. Over the years a bigger slice of national income has gone to capital at the expense of labour, and the rich have been the beneficiaries of that, because they are more likely to own shares and expensive houses. The trend has been particularly strong in the US, where labour’s share of income has fallen from a recent peak of 57% at the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency to 53% by 2015. The Gini coefficient – a measure of inequality – has been steadily rising since 1970 and is now at levels normally seen in developing rather than advanced economies.

Hatgioannides, Karanassou and Sala seek to take account of these profound changes in the distribution of income and wealth. They do so by dividing the average income tax rate of a particular slice of the US population by the%age of national income commanded by that same group and by their share of wealth. They then look at whether by this measure – the fiscal inequality coefficient – the US tax system has become more or less progressive over time. The findings show quite clearly that it has become less progressive. In terms of income, the poorest 99% of the US population paid nine times as much income tax as the richest 1%, both when John F Kennedy was president in the early 1960s and when Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter in the 1980 race for the White House. By 2014, they paid 21 times as much.

Similarly, the bottom 99.9% in the US paid 28 times as much tax as the elite 0.1% in the early 1960s and the early 1980s, but by 2014 they were paying 76 times as much. The same trend applies – although it is not pronounced – when income tax is divided by the share of wealth. The bottom 99% paid 22 times as much income tax as the wealthiest 1% in 1980 but were paying 47 times as much in 2014. The bottom 99.9% paid 58 times as much income tax as the top 0.1% before the onset of Reaganomics; by 2014 they were paying 175 times as much. [..] As the authors note, since 1980, economic policy making has been dominated by the idea that deregulation, less generous welfare and tax cuts will stimulate higher investment, higher productivity, higher growth and higher living standards for all. None of this has occurred and, what’s more, the social mobility in the decades after the second world war has been thrown into reverse. The great American dream – the notion that anybody can strike it rich – is dead.

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They won’t be.

The West’s Wealth Is Based On Slavery. Reparations Should Be Paid (G.)

Malcolm X explained that “if you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, that’s not progress. If you pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. The progress comes from healing the wound that the blow made”. Instead of attempting to fix the damage, we are completely unable to progress on issues of equality because countries such as Britain “won’t even admit the knife is there”. It is the height of delusion to think that the impact of slavery ended with emancipation, or that empire was absolved by the charade of independence being bestowed on the former colonies.

[..]It is not just governments that owe a debt; some of the biggest institutions and corporations built their wealth on slavery. Lloyds of London is one of Britain’s most successful companies and its roots lie in insuring the merchant trade in the 17th century. The fact that this was the slave trade has already led to civil action being taken by African Americans in New York. The church, many of the biggest banks, much of the ironworks industry and port cities gorged themselves on the profits from human flesh. It is clear that it would be just to pay reparations, and it is also possible to calculate the amount that Britain and other nations owe. A lot of work has been done in the United States to determine the damages owed to African Americans. The figure owed comes to far more than the “forty acres and a mule” that were promised to some African Americans who fought in the civil war.

The latest calculations from researchers estimates that for unpaid labour, taking into account interest and inflation, African Americans are owed anywhere between $5.9tn and $14.2tn. It would not be prohibitively complicated to work out the debts owed by the western powers, or the companies that enriched themselves off exploitation. The obviousness of the issue is such that a federation of Caribbean countries (Caricom) is now demanding reparations, as is the Movement for Black Lives in America and Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe. In many ways the calls for reparatory justice do not take go far enough. Caricom includes a demand to cancel third world debt, and the Movement for Black Lives for free tuition for African Americans.

Both of these are examples of removing the knife from our backs, rather than healing the wound. Third world debt was an unjust mechanism for maintaining colonial economic control and; allowing free access to a deeply problematic school system will not eradicate the impacts of centuries of oppression. In order to have racial justice we need to hit the reset button and have the west account for the wealth stolen and devastation caused. Nothing short of a massive transfer of wealth from the developed to the underdeveloped world, and to the descendants of slavery and colonialism in the west, can heal the deep wounds inflicted.

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Cows to Qatar, cown to SIberia: the new backpackers?!

Danone Sends 5,000 Cows to Siberia in Quest for Cheaper Milk (BBG)

President Vladimir Putin’s ban on European Union cheese imports has driven up milk prices in Russia by so much that French yogurt maker Danone is transporting almost 5,000 cows to a farm in Siberia to ensure it has an affordable supply. The Holstein cows are traveling as many as 2,800 miles (4,500 kilometers) in trucks from the Netherlands and Germany, boosting the herd on a farm near the city of Tyumen, according to Charlie Cappetti, head of Danone’s Russian unit. That should protect the company from the increase in raw milk prices, which are up 14% this year, he said. “Milk prices have been going up steadily,” Cappetti said in an interview in Moscow. “That puts products such as yogurt under pressure.” While the French dairy company doesn’t normally invest in agriculture, it made an exception for Russia.

After Putin’s ban on dairy imports took hold in 2014, demand for milk surged as local cheesemakers rushed to replace French camembert and Italian pecorino. That has exacerbated the inflationary effects of the ruble’s weakness. Danone invested in the 60-hectare (150-acre) farm with local producer Damate, Cappetti said. The first cows started to provide milk for Danone in May, and a final shipment of cattle is due to arrive in September. “We hope that Russian milk inflation will slow down next year,” the executive said. The difference between supply and demand is narrowing as new milk is coming to the market, including from the Siberian farm. While easing milk inflation may help the Russian dairy market rebound in volume terms, Danone isn’t expecting a fast economic recovery in the country, according to Cappetti. Sales in Russia have been growing in line with inflation in the first half and should rise in 2018, he said.

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Jul 172017
 
 July 17, 2017  Posted by at 9:37 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Willem de Kooning Woman III 1953

 

Donald Trump Approval Rating At 70-Year Low (G.)
China Blacklists Winnie the Pooh (CNBC)
Private Equity Fund Once Valued at $2 Billion Is Now ‘Nearly Worthless’ (R.)
The Credit Bubble Only Seems To Blow Larger And Larger (Exp.)
United Arab Emirates Behind Hacking Of Qatari Media That Incited Crisis (AP)
Australia Moves To Dial Down Financial Stability Risks In Home Loans (R.)
EU: May Should Make Corbyn Part Of Brexit Negotiating Team (Ind.)
China: Ghost Cities and Ghost Recovery (Snider)
IMF To Insist On ‘Unsustainable Debt’, Says Greek Banks Need €10 Billion (K.)
Greek Taxpayers Have A Mountain Of Taxes To Climb (K.)
Other EU Nations Are Inviting Rich Greeks (K.)

 

 

Had to include this one just for the headline. Anything goes at the Guardian. And it’s a WaPo poll, so who cares? Still, did they poll him when he was a baby? But good for Trump that he’s been more popular all his life than he is now. Only way is up?!

Donald Trump Approval Rating At 70-Year Low (G.)

Donald Trump’s approval rating has plunged in a national poll, published on Sunday, that charts Americans’ perceptions of a stalling domestic policy agenda and declining leadership on the world stage. The Washington Post/ABC News poll, which put Trump’s six-month approval rating at a historic 70-year low, came amid mounting controversy over Russian interference in the 2016 election. It emerged on Saturday that Trump’s campaign committee made a payment to the legal firm representing the president’s eldest son almost two weeks before a meeting between Trump Jr and a Russian lawyer promising compromising information on Hillary Clinton was made public.

Trump now has a 36% approval rating, down six points from his first 100 days’ rating. The poll found that 48% believed America’s leadership in the world is weaker than before the billionaire took office, while support for Republican plans to replace Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act was at just 24% compared with 50% who support the former president’s signature healthcare policy. Trump, who has spent the weekend at his private golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, attempted to downplay the poll’s findings. On Sunday morning he used Twitter to claim, incorrectly, that “almost 40% [approval] is not bad at this time” and that the poll in question had been “just about the most inaccurate around election time!”.

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And while we’re selecting for headlines…

Wait, I just saw another one (not really a headline, but worth citing): “Today could be a good day to sell your tulips.”

China Blacklists Winnie the Pooh (CNBC)

Winnie the Pooh has been blacked out from Chinese social media in the lead-up to the country’s 19th Communist Party Congress this fall, the Financial Times reported Sunday. No official explanation was given, but the FT cited observers who said the crackdown may be related to past comparisons of the physical appearance of President Xi Jinping to the fictional bear. One observer said “talking about the president” appeared to be among activities deemed sensitive ahead of the upcoming party congress, when leadership renewal is expected. The following year, the comparison was extended to Xi’s meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was pictured as Eeyore, the sad donkey, alongside the bear.

Comparisons between Xi and Disney-owned Winnie the Pooh first circulated in 2013 during the Chinese leader’s visit with then U.S. President Barack Obama. A photo of Xi standing up through the roof of a parade car, next to a picture of Winnie the Pooh in a toy car, was named the “most censored image of 2015” by political consultancy Global Risk Insights. The FT report said posts with the Chinese name of the portly character were censored on China’s Twitter-like platform Sina Weibo. A collection of animated gifs featuring the bear were also removed from social messaging app WeChat, according to the FT.

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Why am I thinking we’ll see many more of these stories? It ain’t fun if it’s YOUR pension fund.

Private Equity Fund Once Valued at $2 Billion Is Now ‘Nearly Worthless’ (R.)

Wells Fargo and a number of other lenders are negotiating to take control of a hedge fund previously valued at more than $2 billion that is now worth close to nothing, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. EnerVest, a Houston private equity firm that focuses on energy investments, manages the private equity fund that focused on oil investments. The fund will leave clients, including major pensions, endowments and charitable foundations, with at most pennies on the dollar, WSJ reported. The firm raised and started investing money beginning in 2013 when oil was trading at around $90 a barrel and added $1.3 billion of borrowed money to boost its buying power. West Texas Intermediate crude prices closed at $46.54 a barrel on Friday. “We are not proud of the result,” John Walker, EnerVest’s co-founder and chief executive, wrote in an email to the Journal.

Only seven private – equity fund s worth more than $1 billion have ever lost money for investors, according to data from investment firm Cambridge Associates cited in the report. Among those of any size to end in the red, losses greater than around 25% are extremely rare, though there are several energy-focused fund s in danger of doing so, according to public pension records. Clients included the J. Paul Getty Trust, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur and Fletcher Jones foundations, which each invested millions in the fund , according to their tax filings, the Journal reported. Michigan State University and a foundation that supports Arizona State University also disclosed investments in the fund. The Orange County Employees Retirement System was also an investor and has reportedly marked the value of its investment down to zero.

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Story of our lives: “The Bank is trapped between rock-bottom rates and a hard place. So are the rest of us.”

The Credit Bubble Only Seems To Blow Larger And Larger (Exp.)

The decision by the Bank of England and other central bankers to slash interest rates to near zero after the financial crisis may have averted financial meltdown, but only by triggering another debt binge. British household debt recently soared to a record high of more than £1.5 trillion, after growing at the fastest pace since before the credit crunch, according to The Money Charity. The Bank of England is now forcing banks to strengthen their financial position by another £11.4 billion in the face of rapid growth in borrowing on credit cards, car finance and personal loans, up another 10 per cent over the last year. Record low mortgage rates have also driven house prices to dizzying highs.

The average UK property now costs 7.6 times earnings, more than double the figure 20 years ago, squeezing the next generation off the property ladder. The problem is getting more acute as rising inflation is pushing the Bank ever closer to hiking base rates for the first time in a decade. It needs to do something to deter yet more borrowing, and to offer some hope for hard-pressed savers. Its dilemma is that higher borrowing costs could finally prick the consumer debt bubble it has helped to create. The Bank is trapped between rock-bottom rates and a hard place. So are the rest of us.

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Why do I think I smell CIA? Then again, this is about a WaPo report, and who believes them? Anyway, can’t be the Russians, pretty sure they were otherwise occupied.

United Arab Emirates Behind Hacking Of Qatari Media That Incited Crisis (AP)

The United Arab Emirates orchestrated the hacking of a Qatari government news site in May, planting a false story that was used as a pretext for the current crisis between Qatar and several Arab countries, according to a Sunday report by The Washington Post. The Emirati Embassy in Washington released a statement in response calling the Post report “false” and insisting that the UAE “had no role whatsoever” in the alleged hacking. The report quotes unnamed U.S. intelligence officials as saying that senior members of the Emirati government discussed the plan on May 23. On the following day, a story appeared on the Qatari News Agency’s website quoting a speech by Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al Thani, in which he allegedly praised Iran and said Qatar has a good relationship with Israel. Similarly incendiary statements appeared on the news agency’s Twitter feed.

The agency quickly claimed it was hacked and removed the article. But Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt all blocked Qatari media and later severed diplomatic ties. The ongoing crisis has threatened to complicate the U.S.-led coalition’s fight against the Islamic State group as all participants are U.S. allies and members of the anti-IS coalition. Qatar is home to more than 10,000 U.S. troops and the regional headquarters of the U.S. Central Command while Bahrain is the home of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. President Donald Trump has sided strongly with Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the dispute, publicly backing their contention that Doha is a supporter of Islamic militant groups and a destabilizing force in the Middle East. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently concluded several days of shuttle diplomacy in the Gulf, but he departed the region without any public signs of a resolution.

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Horses, barns and fake news.

Australia Moves To Dial Down Financial Stability Risks In Home Loans (R.)

The Australian government is seeking to broaden the powers of the country’s prudential regulator to include non-bank lenders as concerns about financial stability take center stage amid bubble risks in the nation’s sizzling property market. A draft legislation released by the government on Monday, if passed, will help the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA) dial down some of the risky lending in the A$1.7 trillion ($1.33 trillion) mortgage market, the size of the country’s economic output. Australia’s four biggest banks have already cut back on home loans in recent months and pulled away from institutional lending to real estate developers, as regulators force them to keep aside more capital and slow lending to speculative property investors.

Non-bank lenders have been quick to pick up the slack, with their loan-books expanding at a much faster clip than the banking sector’s 6.5 percent overall credit growth. This development is stoking concerns for authorities as a combination of record-high property prices and stratospheric household debt sit uncomfortably with slow wages growth. “APRA does not have powers over the lending activities of non-bank lenders, even where they materially contribute to financial stability risks,” Treasurer Scott Morrison and financial services minister Kelly O’Dwyer said in a joint statement. “Today, the government is releasing draft legislation for public consultation that will provide APRA with new powers. These new powers will allow APRA to manage the financial stability risks posed by the activities of non-bank lenders, complementing APRA’s current powers.”

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Brussels smells blood.

EU: May Should Make Corbyn Part Of Brexit Negotiating Team (Ind.)

Theresa May should make Jeremy Corbyn a member of her Brexit negotiating team, a top EU official has suggested. Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, said the Prime Minister losing her majority in the general election was a “rejection” of her hard Brexit plan and other voices should be listened to as negotiations with the European Union get into full swing. The former Prime Minister of Belgium was critical of Ms May and described the election result as an “own goal”. He said it was now the Government’s responsibility to determine whether or not they would take the result into account when determining their negotiating position. “Brexit is about the whole of the UK. It will affect all UK citizens, and EU citizens in the UK. This is much bigger than one political party’s internal divisions or short term electoral positioning. It’s about people’s lives.”

“I believe the negotiations should involve more people with more diverse opinions. Some recognition that the election result was, in part, a rejection of Theresa May’s vision for a hard Brexit would be welcome.” Asked if that meant Ms May should include other party leaders in her negotiating team, a spokesman for Mr Verhofstadt said: “Absolutely.” Mr Verhofstadt was also highly critical of the manner in which Ms May has handled the negotiations thus far, describing her actions as “somewhat chaotic”, but stopped short of offering any advice. “I am not going to give Theresa May advice on the Brexit negotiations,” he told The Independent. “That is a matter for her and her government. However, in line with the European Parliament’s resolution, I do think that the negotiations need to be conducted with full transparency. But that is a general point.

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I think people just love the China miracle too much to let it go.

China: Ghost Cities and Ghost Recovery (Snider)

To the naked eye, it represents progress. China has still an enormous rural population doing subsistence level farming. As the nation grows economically, such a way of life is an inherent drag, an anchor on aggregate efficiency Chinese officials would rather not put up with. Moving a quarter of a billion people into cities in an historically condensed time period calls for radical thinking, and radical doing. In one official party plan, it was or has to happen before 2026. The idea has been to build 20 new cities for this urbanization, and then maybe 20 more. It led to places like Yujiapu in Tianjin. China’s answer to Manhattan was to include a replica Lincoln Center, a Rockefeller Center and even twin towers. Built to fit half a million, barely 100,000 live there. There are numerous other examples of these ghost cities, including Kangbashi dug out of the grassy plains of Inner Mongolia.

It is in every sense a modern marvel, 137 sq. miles of tower blocks and skyscrapers that sit almost entirely empty. There are now plans to build yet another one, south of the capital Beijing this time, to supposedly relieve pressure and pollution of that city’s urban sprawl. In the Xiongan New Area, this newest city will be three times the size of NYC, enough, if plans were ever to actually work out, to draw almost 7 million Chinese. These are mind-boggling numbers and end up making truly eerie places for the few times when their existence is allowed to be acknowledged in the mainstream. The reasons for them are really not hard to comprehend, however. The older ghost cities started out as pure demographics, a place for China’s new middle class to urbanize and economize. The more the rest of the world demanded for China to produce and ship, the more Chinese (cheap) labor it would all require.

And there had to be something other than slums for this to happen, else any such intrusive transformation risked what was and remains a delicate power balance. Then in 2008 suddenly the world paused in its love affair of Chinese-made goods. No problem, though, as Chinese officials assuming it was temporary merely sped up the process of building for the future, getting ahead of the curve, as it were. Surely China would need to after the full global recovery get right back on the same trajectory as before. That never happened, and though some economists in particular still believe it will, there isn’t the slightest sign of global demand getting nearly that far back. What do you do, then, if you are China? There is logic to keeping up the illusion, that the future will eventually look a lot like the “miracle” past, because what else would China Inc. otherwise do? If it won’t be building stuff for export to the West, then it will have to be building something.

No matter how many times in the Western media they say demand is robust, catching up, or resilient, the Chinese know better. “China’s overseas shipments rose from a year earlier as global demand held up and trade tensions with the U.S. were kept in check amid ongoing talks. At home, resilient demand led to a rise in imports. Demand for Chinese products has proven resilient this year as global demand holds up.” Chinese exports in June 2017 are estimated (currently) to have risen 11.3% year-over-year. It sounds like what was written above about the global condition. But in truth, 11% growth, as 15% or even 20% growth at this stage, keeps China in the ghost city state. It isn’t anything close to “resilient”, let alone enough to make up for lost time and absorb the empty cities already built.

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Angela Merkel owns Christine Lagarde.

IMF To Insist On ‘Unsustainable Debt’, Says Greek Banks Need €10 Billion (K.)

The IMF has again found that Greece’s debt is unsustainable under every scenario, according to the report the Executive Council will be discussing on Thursday to decide on the Fund’s participation in the Greek program, sources say. The word from Washington is that the Fund’s technocrats have included various scenarios in their debt sustainability analysis (DSA), including one that incorporates the eurozone’s commitments for short-term measures and a high primary surplus, but none see Greece’s debt becoming sustainable. Washington sources suggest that the Executive Council will tell the eurozone that unless creditors offer more debt-relief measures, the IMF will not be able to participate in the Greek program with funds.

The IMF’s baseline scenario is identical to the one presented in February, with the debt being unsustainable after 2030, as servicing it will require more than 20% of GDP. The IMF will also likely warn about weaknesses in the Greek credit system, claiming it will need additional funding of €10 billion. An IMF source said that the chances of the fund disbursing the €1.6 billion Athens has requested “are limited.” However, what it seems the Fund is really waiting for is whether a government more amenable to Greek debt relief will emerge from September’s elections in Germany, something that is not at all certain right now.

As things stand, we are probably heading for the worst combination, as Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos said in May: that the IMF is heeded only in its demands for more austerity and not for debt relief. This is why, according to IMF sources, the report to be discussed includes no time limit for the review of the debt’s sustainability that would determine the Fund’s definitive participation in the program.

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Tax arrears to the state are a huge problem in Greece. The EU is hellbent on aggravating the issue.

Greek Taxpayers Have A Mountain Of Taxes To Climb (K.)

Greek taxpayers are being stunned by the realization that demands concerning their 2016 incomes are up to twice as high as last year. Changes to the tax system have sent rates soaring for the 40% of taxpayers that have been notified of the additional tax they will have to pay. Changes in income brackets as well as in the brackets used for calculating the solidarity tax are mainly responsible for increasing taxpayers’ burden this year. This mainly concerns salaried workers and freelance professionals, as well as taxpayers with revenues from properties. In some cases the annual difference in the tax due is more than the difference between the incomes of 2015 and 2016.

For instance, a taxpayer with incomes of €66,000 in 2015 and €76,000 in 2016 is now forced to pay tax amounting to €21,646, against €10,692 last year. This means that the extra €10,000 he or she managed to earn last year is being siphoned off by the taxman. The huge amounts of tax due are virtually impossible to pay in the three installments (in July, September and November) foreseen by the government. Many taxpayers are considering signing up now for the 12-installment pay plan, while others fear they will simply fail to meet their obligations, particularly as the Single Property Tax (ENFIA) is also coming soon.

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Greece tax policy is decided in Brussels, not Athens. So how is it possible people pay much more in Greece than in other EU nations?

Other EU Nations Are Inviting Rich Greeks (K.)

Ever more European states are trying to attract rich Greeks and other European Union nationals suffering from overtaxation at home. Cyprus, Malta, Ireland, Luxembourg, Monaco, Portugal and the Netherlands, as well as bigger countries such as France, Spain and Italy, are offering generous incentives to bring on to their registers people with high incomes that would benefit their economies in a number of ways. The relocation “invitation” concerns Greek entrepreneurs as well, given the excessive taxation the government has imposed on them and the uncertainty regarding the future tax situation that high incomes will face.

The concept behind the tax policies adopted in other countries so as to attract wealthy citizens is focused on a steady annual lump sum tax and their exemption from any other burdens, except for those concerning their activities at their new tax home. Italy’s case is interesting, as it is a country in the hard core of the EU that has created a favorable framework: It allows rich individuals with large international incomes to become “non-doms” (ie paying tax without being residents) by paying an annual levy of €100,000 plus €25,000 for each family member. They are relieved of any other tax on incomes abroad or imported into Italy and only pay regular tax on activities within the country. This boosts revenues, the property market and consumption.

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Oct 102016
 
 October 10, 2016  Posted by at 6:46 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Elliot Erwitt New York 1955

If the US presidential debate last night showed anything, it must be that just about everyone has dug themselves into their trenches and had no desire whatsoever to ever came out.

This seemed especially clear on the Hillary side, which appeared to include -to an extent- ‘moderators’ Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz, judging from their interruptions. But, granted, they were the only biased side in the discussion, so we don’t really know what trenches the Republicans have dug.

The biggest problem with biased moderators is that people notice their bias. Not those who are on one side already, it passes them by. But others do. And perhaps more importantly, -in this case-, Hillary’s team loses its ability to adopt a neutral view. And she will therefore hear so much praise that she can’t figure out if she’s not done too well.

To illustrate that point: the main takeaway must be that Trump won the debate hands down, but that’s the opposite of what Hillary sympathizers concluded and what various polls said. It’s still true though, if only for one simple reason. That is, for 48 hours straight all talk and ‘reporting’ had been about Trumps lewd ‘words’ on the Access Hollywood tapes.

Trump really was cornered, and he knew it, everyone knew it. But after the second debate, and within 90 minutes, most of the talk turned towards how he ‘threatened’ to jail Hillary. Now, that’s not what he said, but even if he had, it’s something a lot more people sympathize with than with his language on the tapes. That’s a lot of territory ‘conquered’.

Meanwhile, even the likes of Paul Ryan don’t seem to grasp what happened overnight (he apparently think Hillary already won). What he doesn’t appear to see is, again, that Trump looked completely lost for 48 hours, but doesn’t look so lost now. There are 4 weeks and a day left in the campaign, and a lot can still happen.

Look, Trump is a buffoon. The word could have been invented specifically to define him. And it would be a very bad idea to make him president of the US. But that doesn’t mean the idea of making Hillary president is any better. It may well be worse, for a variety of reasons.

What the debate made clear once more is that America stands face to face with itself, it’s looking in a giant mirror, one which -only- in choice moments does not contort its own image, and America finds there’s nothing to like about what it sees in those brief moments in that mirror. And then therefore immediately proceeds to contort that image like it’s used to doing.

America may not like to look at its own stone cold hard reality, but it’s better than any culture ever in painting a picture of itself that it does like. In fact, it’s the first nation ever that made exactly that its main goal in life.

The Brits, the French and the Dutch try to hide their dark colonial and slave trading pasts, but America built an entire culture around contorting its history, right there in Hollywood, with ‘stars’ like John Wayne and John Ford being celebrated for movies that celebrate the annihilation and violent submission by the white man of both Native Americans and African slave populations.

In that same vein, the ‘heroic exploits’ of US soldiers in Muslim countries from Libya to Afghanistan in the past decades are now a major topic for the next generation of twisted history in movies and other media, in which invasions, drone killings and carpet bombings are portrayed as acts of bravery that warrant Purple Hearts. While the people whose lives and cultures are destroyed are swept under the first available carpet.

 

But that’s another story for another time. Back to last night’s debate. Trump may have won big, but he left some substantial scraps on the table that he may yet come to regret. Perhaps he was too focused on digging himself out of the ‘grab that pu**y’ hole -and yes, that is foul- to notice he was already out. Hard to say. He has the intuition, but does he have the brain?!

The first thing either The Donald or one of his team members must hammer down, urgently, is the way past stupid narrative of Russia’s involvement in US politics. Hillary repeatedly brought it up again, and it’s cheap fare for her, she can say anything she likes on the issue, no-one will contradict her or check any facts.

There were all these alleged fact-checkers ‘active’, but they dare not check the facts on this (there are none). Anything the Democratic Party wants to hide, it is free to hide behind Putin. No questions asked. That is insane at best, and Trump should have halted the narrative.

As should Cooper and Raddatz, and the army of fact checkers, but the fix was in. The low point must have been the allegation that Wikileaks is linked to Putin. Really? Come with facts, or forever hold your tongue. Too much cheap fare, hollow as can be, and Hillary build much of her story on it. Not good on the part of the Trump people.

I was reading an August 2 piece by Timothy O’Brien at Bloomberg the other day on Trump’s Russian connections, and Tim seems to start off with good hope of ‘inking the deal’, but ends up admitting there’s no there there.. The entire narrative of Trump’s Russian connections is as false as John Wayne’s heroism in slaughtering Native Americans. He should have cut that tale short in the debate, He didn’t.

Hillary gets to say, without any interruption or fact checking that “Russia has decided who it wants to be president, and it’s not me.” and that is way beyond any comprehension, really. There is zero proof of that, as there is of everything the US claims about Russia.

For all we know, Putin would much prefer Hillary to be president, because he sees Trump as a much stronger opponent when the chips are down. Hillary’s allegations are just a narrative she thinks will appeal to voters. She’s wrong. At least when it comes to those who wouldn’t have voted for her regardless of the narrative.

 

The second issue Trump desperately needs to put to bed is the one of his taxes. And mind you, I did say Trump should not ever be president of the US. That’s my perspective.

Hillary again last night painted a picture of Trump leaving US veterans out in the cold by not paying enough taxes. Trump retorted by saying Buffett (not Jimmy) and Soros do the same. But that’s a huge missed opportunity.

Paying taxes in America, and in any western nation, is not some voluntary exercise; there are laws, and they are some of the most stringent and most punishable there are. You cheat on your taxes, and the IRS or their equivalent in other countries have the power to go after you like no other government institution. Tax cheats very often go to jail.

That none of this has happened to Trump means, it’s that simple, that he did not break the law. He has used to the law to his advantage, just like everyone else who could, sure, But there’s not an inch of evidence, not even a hint, that he did anything illegal.

Hillary’s campaign is well aware of this, so the issue gets presented as some -pretty opaque- moral issue: ‘You didn’t do well by our veterans’. But what could he have done? Should Trump be the only American, or only western citizen, to tell the IRS to please take another extra $10 million or so, or $100 million, after they were done auditing him? So he wouldn’t be attacked 20 years on when running for office? It makes no sense in any sense.

And yes, the situation is very different if you’re on a payroll for some company, you can’t deduct what Trump could. But he’s not alone in that; in fact, all American entrepreneurs are in the same boat, and they will all try to swing that boat in the direction that fits them best. And Hillary loves these entrepreneurs as much as anyone when it suits her purposes. And her accountants do the same thing, they follow the same principle. Perhaps for lesser amounts, but that’s not the point.

Trump’s taxes are a non-issue, a brainless narrative. Not something for Hillary or anyone else to use as some innuendo-laden topic, anymore than Trump can use Hillary’s tax files against her in an ‘innuendo illegal’ way. Any judgment on that is up to the IRS, not either the Republican or Democratic campaigns. It’s ridiculous that Hillary can use that in a debate, and Trump and his people should have shut that venue down long ago.

But anyway, we have that 4 weeks and a day to go, and there’ll by much more to ‘enjoy’. Still, Trump came back last night from very very far away. No matter what CNN and other polls may say. Those polls are as biased as the night’s moderators.

It might be a good idea to realize that a year ago nobody ever gave Trump a shot at the gold medal, and his support never came from the people who conform with CNN (which nobody watches stateside anyway) or ABC.

We’ll talk again soon. Meanwhile, I’m with Susan Sarandon, who says bring it on, bring on Trump, because she despises Hillary, and because:

Donald Trump will bring the revolution immediately; if he gets in then things will really explode.”

Sort of like what I wrote before, that if you must choose between two very bad options, might as well pick the worst and get it over with:

 

 

 

Oct 022016
 
 October 2, 2016  Posted by at 10:25 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Belle Isle Park Aquarium, Detroit 1905

Some Comments On The NYT Story About Donald Trump’s Tax Returns (Hempton)
US Government Deficit Numbers are a BIG Lie (WS)
Six (Ex-)Deutsche Bank Executives Charged in Monte dei Paschi Probe (BBG)
‘Merkel Cannot Afford To Bail Out Deutsche Bank’ (R.)
Theresa May To Propose ‘Great Repeal’ Bill To Unwind EU Laws (G.)
Stupefied: How Organisations Enshrine Collective Stupidity (Aeon)
How Brussels Is Obstructing The Prosecution Of Corruption Cases In Greece (IE)
Erdogan Says Turkey In ‘Endgame’ Over EU Membership (AFP)
Erdogan Slams US Congress Over Saudi 9/11 Law (AFP)
Hungary Votes On Government’s Rejection Of EU Refugee Quotas (AP)
Czech President Calls For Deportation Of Economic Migrants (Pol.)
Germany Interior Minister Urges Athens To Implement Dublin Rules (Kath.)

 

 

John Hempton doesn’t leave much of the NYT story standing.

Some Comments On The NYT Story About Donald Trump’s Tax Returns (Hempton)

The New York Times has published a story (including extracts) about Donald Trump’s tax returns over two decades ago. The money-quote is this: “Donald J. Trump declared a $916 million loss on his 1995 income tax returns, a tax deduction so substantial it could have allowed him to legally avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years…” According to the NYT the losses came … through mismanagement of three Atlantic City casinos, his ill-fated foray into the airline business and his ill-timed purchase of the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. There is an issue here. Donald Trump did not repay all the debt associated with those investments.

Either the loss is a real loss and the Donald was really was out of pocket by $916 million (in which case he has legitimate NOLs) or the loss was passed on to someone else by The Donald defaulting on debt – in which case Donald Trump should be assessed for income from debt forgiveness. After all if the debt is forgiven it is not Donald Trump’s loss. The loss is borne by the person who lent Donald money and did not get it back. That – clearly stated by example – is why most income tax systems assess debt forgiveness as income. I do not know whether Donald Trump had the wherewithal in 1995 to bear $916 million of losses personally. But I doubt it. (If he did his financial career is different from what is popularly accepted.)

So the alternative is the debt was forgiven in some way. But then the story the New York Times is running is wrong – because the $916 million of losses would not have survived the debt forgiveness and hence would have wiped out his NOLs and thus he would not be allowed to shelter his income for the next 18 years. Unless that is there is an avoidance scheme the New York Times has not worked out. Those schemes go by the name of “debt parking”. Here is how debt parking works. Suppose the debtor (in this case The Donald) is going to get his debt cancelled for (say) 1c in the dollar. When he gets the debt wiped out the debtor (ie The Donald) will have to report assessable income equal to the debt wiped out (in this case 99% of $916 million).

The alternative though is for the debtor to set up a dummy party. The dummy party might be his wife or children or some company or trust set up by them or more likely some completely opaque offshore trust. And that dummy party goes and buys the debt for say 1.1 cents in the dollar. Then they just sit there. They don’t force the debtor (ie The Donald) to repay. They don’t make a profit or loss on the debt. And because the debtor never has his debt forgiven he never gets the assessment on debt forgiveness and he gets to keep his NOLs even though the losses did not come out of his pocket. Every tax system worth its salt has some rules on “effective debt forgiveness” to prevent debt parking. And – from my experience which is now over twenty years old – none of them work entirely.

Now if Donald really has all those tax losses its pretty clear that the debt must be parked somewhere. There is a vehicle out there (say an offshore trust or other undisclosed related party effectively controlled by Donald Trump) – which owns over $900 million in debt and is not bothering to collect it. I do not have the time or energy to find that vehicle. But it is there. Now that this blog has gone public journalists are going to look for it. There is a Pulitzer prize for whoever finds it. Just give me a nod at the acceptance ceremony.

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“What happened to the $4 trillion that the government borrowed but never officially spent since 2013? Where did this money go?”

US Government Deficit Numbers are a BIG Lie (WS)

Remember when the US government had “surpluses” in the years 1998-2001? Well, yes, according to the Office of Management and Budget, those four years produced a combined $559 billion in “surpluses”: So did the debt fall by that amount? Nope. The debt continued to rise each year, as the government continued to borrow more and more money though it had a “surplus”: over the four years of “surpluses,” the government added $394 billion to its debt, as the scary chart below shows. But that was then and this is now. Now, the hole through which money disappears has gotten a lot bigger. In Fiscal 2016, the government ran a deficit of $590 billion, per the latest estimate of the Office of Management and Budget. Last year, the deficit was $438 billion. So combined over $1.0 trillion.

But it borrowed an additional $1.7 trillion to pay for $1.0 trillion in deficit spending. What happened to the $700 billion that it borrowed and that were not officially spent? It disappeared. Is it just a timing difference that averages out over the years? Nope. Since 2003, the government deficits published by the Office of Management and Budget amounted to $9.26 trillion. So the Treasury should have had to borrow that much to make up the difference. But over the same period, the national debt rose by $13.3 trillion. Meaning, $4.04 trillion had gone up in smoke. This chart shows the official deficits (red columns) and the increase in outstanding debt (blue columns) each year:

The $4 trillion was borrowed and the bonds were issued and the amounts are still outstanding, but the proceeds from the bond sales went out the door, off the books! We’ve all heard the stories of how the Pentagon’s books are sordid fiction [..] But that’s a different – and additional – matter. [..] With the missing $4 trillion, I’m talking about money that the government borrowed but never spent officially, that it never acknowledged even existed. This $4 trillion is on top of all the internal shenanigans at various departments, including the Department of Defense. What happened to the $700 billion in real money that the government borrowed over the past two fiscal years but never officially spent? What happened to the $4 trillion that the government borrowed but never officially spent since 2013? Where did this money go?

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6 out of the 13 charged were/are Deutsche execs. And yes, it’s derivatives again, i.e. attempts to hide losses from the books. Same practice, and same time period, as Goldman’s dealings with the then Greek government.

Six (Ex-)Deutsche Bank Executives Charged in Monte dei Paschi Probe (BBG)

Six current and former managers of Deutsche Bank – including ex-asset and wealth management head Michele Faissola – along with former executives at Nomura Holdings and Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena were charged in Milan for colluding to falsify the accounts of Italy’s third-biggest bank and manipulate the market. A judge in Milan approved a request by prosecutors to try 13 bankers on charges over separate derivative transactions Paschi arranged with the securities firms, said a lawyer involved in the case, who attended the closed-door hearing Saturday, where the decision was announced.

The charges deal another blow to Deutsche Bank, which is seeking to reassure investors and clients that it will be able to withstand pending U.S. penalties over the bank’s sale of mortgage-backed securities and its dealings with some Russian clients. Monte Paschi, the world’s oldest bank, restated its accounts and has been forced to tap investors twice to replenish capital amid a surge in bad loans and losses on derivatives. It’s now attempting to convince investors to buy billions of soured debt before a fresh stock sale. Deutsche Bank’s shares have slumped 49% in Frankfurt this year, swinging wildly last week on news that hedge-fund clients withdrew some funds. Monte Paschi has dropped 84% this year amid concern it will struggle to restore profitability and strengthen its finances.

The charges culminate a three-year investigation by prosecutors that showed Monte Paschi used the transactions to hide losses, leading to a misrepresentation of its accounts between 2008 and 2012. The deals came to light in January 2013, when Bloomberg News reported that Monte Paschi used derivatives struck with Deutsche Bank to mask losses from an earlier derivative contract dubbed Santorini.

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Between refugees and banks, Merkel has sure screwed up.

‘Merkel Cannot Afford To Bail Out Deutsche Bank’ (R.)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel cannot afford to bail out Deutsche Bank given the hard line Berlin has taken against state aid in other European nations and the risk of a political backlash at home, German media wrote on Saturday. The government denied a newspaper report on Wednesday that it was working on a rescue plan for Germany’s biggest bank, as its shares went into a tailspin fueled by a demand for up to $14 billion from U.S. authorities for misselling mortgage-backed securities before the financial crisis. Germany, which has insisted Italy and others accept tough conditions in tackling their problem lenders, can ill afford to be seen to go soft on its flagship bank, the Frankfurter Allgemeine wrote. “Of course Chancellor Merkel doesn’t want to give Deutsche Bank any state aid,” it wrote in a front-page editorial.

“She cannot afford it from the point of view of foreign policy because Berlin is taking a hard line in the Italian bank rescue.” The Sueddeutsche Zeitung wrote that Merkel would be breaking a promise to taxpayers if she were to bail the bank out, which could spell disaster for her re-election bid next year as the anti-immigration AfD party gains ground. The AfD is already benefiting from a backlash against Merkel’s open-door refugee policy, making huge gains in two regional elections last month and hitting an all-time high of 16% support in an opinion poll last week. “A state aid package would drive voters into the arms of the AfD,” the Sueddeutsche wrote in an editorial. “Domestic political considerations make it unlikely that Berlin would play this joker. Even more unlikely is that the European Commission would agree. The political risk would be simply too high.”

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Before the end of March 2017, she said this morning.

Theresa May To Propose ‘Great Repeal’ Bill To Unwind EU Laws (G.)

Theresa May will set Brexit in motion on Sunday , unveiling plans for a ‘great repeal bill’ to enshrine all EU regulations in UK law as soon as Brexit takes effect. In opening speeches at Conservative party conference in Birmingham, May and the Brexit secretary, David Davis, will announce the government’s plan to repeal the 1972 European Communities Act, the law that binds EU law to the British statute book, and new legislation to transpose EU legislation into British law, in its entirety, That law will only come into force on the day Britain leaves the EU, with future governments then able to unpick those laws as desired. The bill is set to be brought forward in the next parliamentary session, but will not take effect until after the formal two-year process of leaving the EU, which begins when the government triggers article 50.

In an interview in which the prime minister repeated her decision not to hold a general election before 2020, May told the Sunday Times: “We will introduce, in the next Queen’s speech, a ‘great repeal’ bill that will remove the European Communities Act from the statute book. “This marks the first stage in the UK becoming a sovereign and independent country once again. It will return power and authority to the elected institutions of our country. It means that the authority of EU law in Britain will end.” The prime minister has rejected calls from some Eurosceptic quarters to immediately repeal the 1972 act, saying the country needed “maximum security, stability and certainty for workers, consumers, and businesses, as well as for our international allies”.

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A nice read, but it misses out entirely on the fact that stupefication starts in universities -if not before-, not afterwards.

Stupefied: How Organisations Enshrine Collective Stupidity (Aeon)

Each summer, thousands of the best and brightest graduates join the workforce. Their well-above-average raw intelligence will have been carefully crafted through years at the world’s best universities. After emerging from their selective undergraduate programmes and competitive graduate schools, these new recruits hope that their jobs will give them ample opportunity to put their intellectual gifts to work. But they are in for an unpleasant surprise. Smart young things joining the workforce soon discover that, although they have been selected for their intelligence, they are not expected to use it. They will be assigned routine tasks that they will consider stupid. If they happen to make the mistake of actually using their intelligence, they will be met with pained groans from colleagues and polite warnings from their bosses.

After a few years of experience, they will find that the people who get ahead are the stellar practitioners of corporate mindlessness. One well-known firm that Mats Alvesson and I studied for our book The Stupidity Paradox (2016) said it employed only the best and the brightest. When these smart new recruits arrived in the office, they expected great intellectual challenges. However, they quickly found themselves working long hours on ‘boring’ and ‘pointless’ routine work. After a few years of dull tasks, they hoped that they’d move on to more interesting things. But this did not happen. As they rose through the ranks, these ambitious young consultants realised that what was most important was not coming up with a well-thought-through solution. It was keeping clients happy with impressive PowerPoint shows.

Those who did insist on carefully thinking through their client’s problems often found their ideas unwelcome. If they persisted in using their brains, they were often politely told that the office might not be the place for them. [..] For more than a decade, we’ve been studying dozens of organisations such as this management consultancy, employing people with high IQs and impressive educations. We have spoken with hundreds of people working for engineering firms, government departments, universities, banks, the media and pharmaceutical companies. We started out thinking it is likely to be the smartest who got ahead. But we discovered this wasn’t the case.

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To repeat once again: the EU is a criminal organization.

How Brussels Is Obstructing The Prosecution Of Corruption Cases In Greece (IE)

For a good eight years now, politicians, pundits and ordinary citizens have been quarreling over the merits (or lack thereof) of economic policies imposed on Greece by its lenders, notably the EU Commission. Was austerity beneficial or catastrophic? Did “reforms” help or hamper employment and growth? But while such issues are inherently contentious, the third and latest bailout agreement also provides for far less controversial policies. “Upgrade the fight against corruption”! “Strengthen the independence of institutions”! “De-politicise” the state! Insulate “financial crime and corruption investigations from political intervention”! All these are straight quotes from the third bailout agreement. Who would object to any of that?

Well, the EU, via its main institutions, does. Even the author of the bailout agreement, the EU Commission, seems to be quite allergic to all of the above, at least when it involves its own people. From the Commission’s spokespersons to the president of Eurogroup himself, a crowd of EU officials have been, at least twice in the recent months, actively and proactively doing their best to stop Greek judges from delivering on their job description: prosecuting corruption cases and financial crime. In August 2016, EU Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas reiterated the need for Greece “to depoliticise” its administration. Schinas was referring to the controversial prosecution of the former head of the Greek statistics authority Andreas Georgiou.

In a yet new twist in the “Greek Statistics” saga, Greece’s Supreme Court had reopened a criminal case against Georgiou for allegedly inflating the government’s budget data between 2010 and 2015 and thus overstretching the need for additional austerity measures. Mr. Georgiou had been appointed head of ELSTAT, the statistical authority, in 2010 in an attempt by the government and the country’s lenders to restore credibility to Greek statistics. The revelation in late 2009 that the fiscal deficit had been grossly underestimated had largely triggered the start of the euro crisis. Since Georgiou took over, the quality of Greece’s reported data was hailed by the country’s lenders and Eurostat as “reliable” and “accurately reported”, but contested by other ELSTAT board members, including academics and statisticians.

This led to a nasty and lengthy spat between the two sides and to the eventual prosecution of Mr. Georgiou despite huge political pressure (by Greek and international political actors) to dismiss the case. The case’s reopening provoked the immediate and angry reaction of Brussels. In an interview with Bloomberg TV, Jeroen Dijsselbloem said that the prosecution of Mr. Georgiou was “a big mistake”. Head of Eurostat, Marianne Thyssen, told reporters that Georgiou effectively had no case to answer. Brussels retaliated by threatening Greece to postpone the reimbursement of the next installment

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Turley will never be an EU member. And if Merkel tries to push through visa-free travel, she’ll blow up the EU AND her own country.

Erdogan Says Turkey In ‘Endgame’ Over EU Membership (AFP)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday warned that Turkey had reached the “end of the game” over its decades-long EU membership bid, saying it was time for Brussels once and for all to make clear if it wanted Ankara as a member. In a hard-hitting speech marking the opening session of parliament, Erdogan also told Brussels it needed to allow Turks visa-free travel to the bloc by October, as per a previous agreement to decrease migrant flows. Relations between the EU and Turkey have strained in the wake of the July 15 failed coup, with EU officials among the most vocal critics of the relentless crackdown against the alleged plotters and supporters “If the EU is going to make Turkey a full member, we are ready. But they should know that we have came to the end of the game,” Erdogan said in a televised speech in Ankara.

“There is no need to beat around the bush or engage in diplomatic acrobatics. “It’s their (the EU’s) choice to continue the path with or without Turkey. They should not hold us responsible,” he added. Erdogan said that October would be an important month in Turkey’s relations with the European Union and that “it is necessary” that visa-free travel for Turks to the Schengen Area comes into force this month. Under a March deal, Turks were to gain visa-free travel in exchange for Ankara helping reduce the flow of migrants to Europe. However the visa plan as stumbled over Turkey’s anti-terror laws. Turkey’s bid to join the EU dates back to the 1960s with formal talks starting in 2005. So far, only 16 chapters of the 35 chapter accession process have been opened for Turkey.

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Afraid he himself will be sued. But then, so are many Americans.

Erdogan Slams US Congress Over Saudi 9/11 Law (AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned Saturday a US Congress vote to override Barack Obama’s veto of a bill allowing 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia, saying he expected the move to be reversed as soon as possible. Relations between Ankara and Riyadh have tightened considerably in the past months as they pursue joint interests in Syria. Erdogan had just the day earlier hosted Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef for talks at his palace. “The allowing by the US Congress of lawsuits to be opened against Saudi Arabia over the 9/11 attacks is unfortunate,” Erdogan said in a speech for the opening of parliament.

“It’s against the principle of individual criminal responsibility for crimes. We expect this false step to be reversed as soon as possible,” he added. Families of 9/11 victims have campaigned for the law, convinced the Saudi government had a hand in the attacks that killed almost 3,000 people. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens, but no link to the government has been proven. The Saudi government denies any ties to the plotters. Obama called the vote a “dangerous precedent” while Saudi Arabia warned it risked having “disastrous consequences”.

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Western Europe has utterly failed to see how different eastern European, formerly Soviet-block, nations are from them.

Hungary Votes On Government’s Rejection Of EU Refugee Quotas (AP)

Hungarians were voting Sunday in a referendum called by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government to seek support for its opposition to any future, mandatory EU quotas for accepting relocated asylum seekers. The government’s position is expected to find wide support among voters, though there was uncertainty whether turnout would exceed the 50% plus-one-vote threshold needed for the referendum to be valid. The referendum asks: “Do you want the European Union to be able to prescribe the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary even without the consent of Parliament?” Orban has argued that “No” votes favor Hungary’s sovereignty and independence. If that position secures a majority of ballots, Hungary’s parliament would pass legislation to bolster the referendum’s goal whether or not turnout was sufficient for a valid election, he said.

Orban also said he would resign if the “Yes” votes won, but the vow was seen mostly as a ploy to boost turnout by drawing his critics to the polls. “The most important issue next week is for me to go to Brussels, hold negotiations and try with the help of this result — if the result if appropriate— achieve for it not to be mandatory to take in the kind of people in Hungary we don’t want to,” Orban said after casting his vote in an elementary school in the Buda hills. Orban, who wants individual EU member nations to have more power in the bloc’s decision-making process, said he hopes the anti-quota referendums would be held in other countries. “We are proud that we are the first” he said. “Unfortunately, we are the only ones in the European Union who managed to have a (referendum) on the migrant issue. I would be happy to see other countries to follow.”

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“..Greece has plenty of uninhabited islands, and big foreign debt. So if you have ‘hotspots’ in Greek islands, this would be a sort of payment of foreign debt..”

Czech President Calls For Deportation Of Economic Migrants (Pol.)

Czech President Milos Zeman has called for economic migrants arriving in Europe to be deported to “empty places” in North Africa or “uninhabited Greek islands.” “I am for deportation of all economic migrants,” Zeman said. “Of course I respect the cruelty of civil war in Syria, Iraq, and so on. But we do not speak about those people, we speak about economic migrants.” “We are in Greece, and Greece has plenty of uninhabited islands, and big foreign debt. So if you have ‘hotspots’ in Greek islands, this would be a sort of payment of foreign debt,” Zeman told the FT in an interview published on Sunday. He added that he is “sure there is a strong connection between the wave of migrants and the wave of jihadis … And those people who deny this connection are wrong.” The Czech president has been condemned for making Islamophobic remarks in the past.

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It was Germany that last year declared Dublin null and void. They will say that was only temporaray, but regulations like this are not light switches that selected parties can flick on and off when it suits them.

Greece is already little more than a greatly impoverished holding pen for the unwanted, and it threatens to fall much deeper into the trap. That’s why the Automatic Earth effort to support the poorest people is not just still needed, but more now than ever. We will soon start a new campaign to that end. In the meantime, please do continue to donate through our Paypal widget in amounts ending in $.99 or $.37.

Germany Interior Minister Urges Athens To Implement Dublin Rules (Kath.)

Germany Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has repeated his call for Greece to implement the so-called Dublin regulations, which state that migrants must seek asylum in the EU member-state they first arrived in. Due to deficiencies in Greece’s asylum processing system and the large number of migrants and refugees arriving in the country, Berlin has suspended deportations back to Greece since 2011. “The EU has since then provided financial and other support for Greek efforts, and given a lot of money to improve these conditions,” de Maiziere told Kathimerini. “That is why I would like to see the Dublin Convention implemented again,” he said. The German minister said Berlin recognized the burden shouldered by Greece in recent years. “But we still need a strategy to restore the legal situation,” he said, adding that the issue would be discussed at a meeting of interior ministers in October.

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Sep 272016
 
 September 27, 2016  Posted by at 8:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Arnold Genthe “Chinatown, San Francisco. The street of the gamblers at night” 1900

Why I Switched My Endorsement from Clinton to Trump (Scott Adams)
When America Was Great, Taxes Were High, Unions Strong, and Government Big (A.)
Global Debt Reaches Fresh High As Companies And Countries Keep Borrowing (Tel.)
When Small Is Evil (DQ)
Structural Growth and Dope Dealers on Speed-Dial (Hussman)
Treasury Market’s Biggest Buyers Are Selling as Never Before (BBG)
Deutsche Bank Crisis Could Take Angela Merkel Down – And The Euro (Tel.)
China’s Runaway Housing Market Poses Latest Challenge for Yuan (BBG)
Sydney Home Prices Need To Drop 25% To Help First Time Buyers (Abc)
Don’t Blame “Baby Boomers” For Not Retiring – They Can’t Afford To (Roberts)
Saudi Lobbyists Plot New Push Against 9/11 Bill As Veto Override Looms (Pol.)
Over 90% Of World Breathing Bad Air-WHO (AFP)
Canadians Are Embracing Syrian Refugees. Why Can’t We? (G.)

 

 

The most interesting and thought-provoking thing I’ve read about the election amidst a river of blubber.

Why I Switched My Endorsement from Clinton to Trump (Scott Adams)

5. Pacing and Leading: Trump always takes the extreme position on matters of safety and security for the country, even if those positions are unconstitutional, impractical, evil, or something that the military would refuse to do. Normal people see this as a dangerous situation. Trained persuaders like me see this as something called pacing and leading. Trump “paces” the public – meaning he matches them in their emotional state, and then some. He does that with his extreme responses on immigration, fighting ISIS, stop-and-frisk, etc. Once Trump has established himself as the biggest bad-ass on the topic, he is free to “lead,” which we see him do by softening his deportation stand, limiting his stop-and-frisk comment to Chicago, reversing his first answer on penalties for abortion, and so on.

If you are not trained in persuasion, Trump looks scary. If you understand pacing and leading, you might see him as the safest candidate who has ever gotten this close to the presidency. That’s how I see him. So when Clinton supporters ask me how I could support a “fascist,” the answer is that he isn’t one. Clinton’s team, with the help of Godzilla, have effectively persuaded the public to see Trump as scary. The persuasion works because Trump’s “pacing” system is not obvious to the public. They see his “first offers” as evidence of evil. They are not. They are technique. And being chummy with Putin is more likely to keep us safe, whether you find that distasteful or not. Clinton wants to insult Putin into doing what we want. That approach seems dangerous as hell to me.

6. Persuasion: Economies are driven by psychology. If you expect things to go well tomorrow, you invest today, which causes things to go well tomorrow, as long as others are doing the same. The best kind of president for managing the psychology of citizens – and therefore the economy – is a trained persuader. You can call that persuader a con man, a snake oil salesman, a carnival barker, or full of shit. It’s all persuasion. And Trump simply does it better than I have ever seen anyone do it. The battle with ISIS is also a persuasion problem. The entire purpose of military action against ISIS is to persuade them to stop, not to kill every single one of them. We need military-grade persuasion to get at the root of the problem. Trump understands persuasion, so he is likely to put more emphasis in that area.

Most of the job of president is persuasion. Presidents don’t need to understand policy minutia. They need to listen to experts and then help sell the best expert solutions to the public. Trump sells better than anyone you have ever seen, even if you haven’t personally bought into him yet. You can’t deny his persuasion talents that have gotten him this far. In summary, I don’t understand the policy details and implications of most of either Trump’s or Clinton’s proposed ideas. Neither do you. But I do understand persuasion. I also understand when the government is planning to confiscate the majority of my assets. And I can also distinguish between a deeply unhealthy person and a healthy person, even though I have no medical training. (So can you.)

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The Dream ended decades ago, it’s just a matter of picking which decade.

When America Was Great, Taxes Were High, Unions Strong, and Government Big (A.)

There is plenty about GOP hopeful Donald Trump to which potential primary voters respond. He’s successful. He’s plainspoken. At a time when politicians are historically unpopular, he’s not a politician. And he has a great slogan. That slogan resonates with his supporters, according to Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who ran a recent focus group, the results of which were written about in Time. “I used to sleep on my front porch with the door wide open, and now everyone has deadbolts,” one man told Luntz. “I believe the best days of the country are behind us.” Luntz concluded that people see Trump as a “real-deal fixer-upper,” able to make repairs that others have bungled. “We know his goal is to make America great again,” one woman astutely observed. “It’s on his hat.”

It could be on your hat too—Trump has begun selling “Make America Great Again” merchandise—if you can find one, that is. They have a tendency to sell out. As Russell Berman pointed out in The Atlantic earlier this month, many white Americans these days are pessimistic to the point of despair: “White Americans—and in particular those under 30 or nearing retirement age—have all but given up on the American Dream. More than four out of five younger whites, and more than four out of five respondents between the ages of 51 and 64 said The Dream is suffering.” No wonder Trump’s message is so powerful—it’s a sugar pill coated with nostalgia. He is not promising to make America great, he’s promising to make it great again. But to what era does he intend to take the nation back?

And what would that look like, practically speaking? The boundaries of America’s “golden age” are clear on one end and fuzzy on the other. Everyone agrees that the midcentury boom times began after Allied soldiers returned in triumph from World War II. But when did they wane? The economist Joe Stiglitz, in an article in Politico Magazine titled “The Myth Of The American Golden Age,” sets the endpoint at 1980, a year until which “the fortunes of the wealthy and the middle class rose together.” Others put the cut-off earlier, at the economic collapse of 1971 and the ensuring malaise. Regardless of when it ended, it would not be unfair to use the ’50s as shorthand for this now glamorized period of plenty, peace, and the kind of optimism only plenty and peace can produce.

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Ever more debt is the only way to keep the facade upright enough that people believe in it.

Global Debt Reaches Fresh High As Companies And Countries Keep Borrowing (Tel.)

Global debt issuance is on course to hit a record high in 2016 as figures showed sales this year topped $5 trillion (£3.9 trillion) at the end of September. Debt issuance rose to $5.02 trillion in the nine months to September 22, according to Dealogic, putting 2016 on course to beat the all-time high of $6.6 trillion recorded in 2006. Record low interest rates have encouraged countries and companies to issue debt as central banks around the world try to stimulate growth. The data also showed corporate issuance of investment-grade debt reached a record high of $1.54 trillion since the start of the year, up from $1.41 trillion in the same period a year earlier. Dealogic’s figures also highlighted the impact of the Brexit vote.

Sterling-denominated investment grade debt rose to $21.3bn in the first nine months of the year, up slightly from $20.9bn raised in the same period of 2015. Volumes in July fell to their lowest since 2000 as the referendum result slowed issuance, with just $564m issued, according to Dealogic. However, issuance is expected to pick up later this year following the Bank of England’s decision to buy £10bn of corporate debt as part of its revamped bond-buying programme. Sterling issuance in August jumped to six times the average following the Bank’s announcement. Green bonds – which raise money for environmentally friendly projects and often carry tax exemptions – are also rising in popularity.

Activity surpassed full-year 2015 levels in September as volumes reached a record high, worth $48.2bn. Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, has spoken out in favour of green finance, describing it as a “major opportunity” for investors. In a speech last week, he said long-term financing of green projects in emerging markets could help to promote financial stability. “By ensuring that capital flows finance long-term projects in countries where growth is most carbon intensive, financial stability can be promoted,” he said. More than $13 trillion of global sovereign and corporate debt trades at negative yields, highlighting the influence of central banks.

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Draghi’s comments on small banks remind me of Ken Rogoff’s war on cash.

When Small Is Evil (DQ)

There are plenty of reasons to be worried about the state of Europe these days, but if one had to choose one thing above all others, it would be the gaping disconnect between reality and senior European policy makers’ willful misperception of reality. A perfect case in point was a speech given in Frankfurt by ECB president Mario Draghi. He was addressing a conference of the European Systemic Risk Board (ERSB), an organization created in 2010 by the European Commission to warn about and mitigate systemic financial risks in Europe. During his address Draghi discussed what he saw as the biggest threats to Europe’s financial system.

Just as you’d expect from any senior central banker worth his or her salt, he did not point to the most obvious risk: the zombifying banks at the very top of the financial food chain — the same banks that coincidentally constitute the ECB’s number-one constituency and whose balance sheets are still filled to the rafters with toxic assets dating back to even before the last major crisis, in 2008. By now, virtually all of these banks are fully dependent on the never-ending and ever-growing welfare assistance provided by the ECB. Nor did Draghi mention the excessive complexity and interconnectedness of the banking system, routinely fingered as potential causes of the next global financial crisis.

Nor for that matter did he mention the destructive side effects of the ECB’s negative interest rate policy (NIRP), which – besides sacrificing millions of savers and retirees via their pension funds on the altar of rampant debt creation and completely undermining the crucial micro-economic role played by capital formation – is making it difficult for Europe’s largest banks to turn a meaningful profit. No, for Draghi, the biggest financial problem in Europe these days is that it is over-banked. “Over-capacity in some national banking sectors, and the ensuing intensity of competition, exacerbates this squeeze on margins,” he said. Put simply, there’s just too much competition from the thousands of smaller banks that are crowding out the profits for the big banks.

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“The weakness in real GDP growth is of greatest concern, because it’s largely the consequence of policies that encourage repeated cycles of bubbles and collapses..”

Structural Growth and Dope Dealers on Speed-Dial (Hussman)

In recent years, the U.S. equity market has scaled the third steepest cliff in history, eclipsed only by the 1929 and 2000 peaks, as investors rest their full confidence and weight on the protrusions of a structurally deteriorating economy, imagining that they are instead the footholds of a robust investment environment. The first of these is the current environment of low interest rates. While investors take this as quite a positive factor, it’s largely a reflection of a steep downturn in U.S. structural economic growth, magnified by reckless monetary policy. Over the past decade, the average annual nominal growth rate of GDP has dropped to just 2.9%, while real GDP growth has plunged to just 1.3%; both the lowest growth rates in history, outside of the Depression (see the chart below).

Indeed, probably the most interesting piece of information from last week’s FOMC meeting was that the Federal Reserve downgraded its estimate for the central tendency of long-run GDP growth to less than 2% annually. The weakness in real GDP growth is of greatest concern, because it’s largely the consequence of policies that encourage repeated cycles of bubbles and collapses, and chase debt-financed consumption instead of encouraging productive real investment. Indeed, growth in real U.S. gross domestic investment has collapsed since 2000 to just one-fifth of the rate it enjoyed in the preceding half-century, and has averaged zero growth over the past decade. While labor force growth has slowed, it’s really the self-inflicted collapse of U.S. productivity growth, enabled by misguided policy, that’s at the root of the problem.

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This is some investing tactic anymore. It’s about parties needing cash.

Treasury Market’s Biggest Buyers Are Selling as Never Before (BBG)

They’ve long been one of the most reliable sources of demand for U.S. government debt. But these days, foreign central banks have become yet another worry for investors in the world’s most important bond market. Holders like China and Japan have culled their stakes in Treasuries for three consecutive quarters, the most sustained pullback on record, based on the Federal Reserve’s official custodial holdings. The decline has accelerated in the past three months, coinciding with the recent backup in U.S. bond yields. For Jim Leaviss at M&G Investments in London, that’s cause for concern. A continued retreat could lead to painful losses in a market that some say is already too expensive.

But perhaps more important are the consequences for America’s finances. With the U.S. facing deficits that are poised to swell the public debt burden by $10 trillion over the next decade, foreign demand will be crucial in keeping a lid on borrowing costs, especially as the Fed continues to suggest higher interest rates are on the horizon. The selling pressure from central banks is “something you have to bear in mind,” said Leaviss, whose firm oversees about $374 billion. “This, as well as the Fed, all means we are nearer to the end of the low-yield environment.” Overseas creditors have played a key role in financing America’s debt as the U.S. borrowed heavily in the aftermath of the financial crisis to revive the economy.

Since 2008, foreigners have more than doubled their investments in Treasuries and now own about $6.25 trillion. Central banks have led the way. China, the biggest foreign holder of Treasuries, funneled hundreds of billions of dollars back into the U.S. as its export-based economy boomed. Now, that’s all starting to change. The amount of U.S. government debt held in custody at the Fed has decreased by $78 billion this quarter, following a decline of almost $100 billion over the first six months of the year. The drop is the biggest on a year-to-date basis since at least 2002 and quadruple the amount of any full year on record, Fed data show.

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“No one really knows where the losses would end up, or what the knock-on impact would be. It would almost certainly land a fatal blow to the Italian banking system, and the French and Spanish banks would be next.”

Deutsche Bank Crisis Could Take Angela Merkel Down – And The Euro (Tel.)

True, Merkel’s position is understandable. The politics of a Deutsche rescue are terrible. Germany, with is Chancellor taking the lead, has set itself up as the guardian of financial responsibility within the euro-zone. Two years ago, it casually let the Greek bank system go to the wall, allowing the cash machines to be closed down as a way of whipping the rebellious Syriza government back into line. This year, there has been an unfolding Italian crisis, as bad debts mount, and yet Germany has insisted on enforcing euro-zone rules that say depositors – that is, ordinary people – have to shoulder some of the losses when a bank is in trouble. For Germany to then turn around and say, actually we are bailing out our own bank, while letting everyone else’s fail, looks, to put it mildly, just a little inconsistent.

Heck, a few people might even start to wonder if there was one rule for Germany, and another one for the rest. In truth, it would become impossible to maintain a hard-line in Italy, and probably in Greece as well. And yet, if Deutsche Bank went down, and the German Government didn’t step in with a rescue, that would be a huge blow to Europe’s largest economy – and the global financial system. No one really knows where the losses would end up, or what the knock-on impact would be. It would almost certainly land a fatal blow to the Italian banking system, and the French and Spanish banks would be next. Even worse, the euro-zone economy, with France and Italy already back at zero growth, and still struggling with the impact of Brexit, is hardly in any shape to withstand a shock of that magnitude.

A rock and a hard place are hardly adequate to describe the options Merkel may soon find herself facing. The politics of a rescue are terrible, but the economics of a collapse are even worse. By ruling out a rescue, she may well have solved the immediate political problem. Yet when the crisis gets worse, as it may do at any moment, it is impossible to believe she will stick to that line. A bailout of some sort will be cobbled together – even if the damage to Merkel’s already fraying reputation for competence will be catastrophic. In fact, Merkel is playing a very dangerous game with Deutsche – and one that could easily go badly wrong. If her refusal to sanction a bail-out is responsible for a Deutsche collapse that could easily end her Chancellorship. But if she rescues it, the euro might start to unravel.

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Beijing purposely blows a giant bubble with money people don’t have.

China’s Runaway Housing Market Poses Latest Challenge for Yuan (BBG)

Here’s the latest uncertainty facing China’s currency: sky high house prices. A runaway boom in the largest cities will push investors to look for cheaper alternatives overseas, draining money out of China and putting downward pressure on the yuan in the process, according to analysis by Harrison Hu at Royal Bank of Scotland in Singapore. An “enlarged differential between domestic and foreign asset prices will lead to capital outflows and depreciation, until parity is restored,” Hu wrote in a note. He said that the 30% year-on-year price gain in Tier 1 and leading Tier 2 cities implies a 25% rise in dollar terms, which far outpaces the 5% gain in major U.S. cities. That ratio is here in red:

“It’s commonly believed that China’s policymakers will sacrifice the yuan exchange rate to avoid a sharp correction in domestic property prices, as the latter will more significantly derail China’s economy and the financial system,” Hu wrote. That’s because the importance of the property market in the world’s second largest economy far outweighs many sectors, including the stock market. Hu compares property as a percentage of economic output to the far lighter footprint of stocks. A real estate crash in China could have far reaching consequences and it would be a long time before investors regained their confidence, according to Hu.

That will put policy makers in a very difficult position. While the government has some cards in its hand, such as an ability to control land supply and enforce curbs on new home-buying, history shows that some tightening measures risk backfiring and only stoking speculative behavior such as “panic buying” like that seen in Shanghai earlier this year. Besides, the regulator’s handling of last year’s stock market turmoil did little to inspire confidence in the government’s ability to oversee the bubbly housing market. “No bubble has a happy ending,” Hu wrote.

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Someone should calculate the losses at a 25% price drop. And do 50% too. Losses for ‘owners’ and for lenders.

Sydney Home Prices Need To Drop 25% To Help First Time Buyers (Abc)

First home buyers are facing the biggest barrier in recent history to entering the housing market, with deposits at record high levels relative to incomes in the Sydney market. Research by Deutsche Bank’s chief Australian economist Adam Boyton shows it would take a 25% drop in Sydney home prices to bring the size of deposit required back to average levels over the past 20 years. Mr Boyton studied the Sydney market because it is the biggest, has seen rapid recent price growth and has the highest housing costs in the nation. In contrast to the record deposit needed – now estimated to be almost twice the typical annual earnings of a Sydney household – rising incomes over the early 2000s and falling interest rates since the global financial crisis have seen the burden of mortgage repayments remain comparatively stable relative to income.

Mr Boyton expresses this as “borrowing power”, which has broadly increased in line with Sydney home prices, albeit with prices jumping ahead somewhat during the most recent boom. At the low point in 2003, a Sydney household with a typical income could only borrow half what a typical house cost if their repayments were to be 30% of their gross incomes. At the best points for affordability, households could comfortably afford to borrow between 60-68% of the typical Sydney house price. Currently that figure is just over 50%.

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An epic clash unfolds before our eyes.

Don’t Blame “Baby Boomers” For Not Retiring – They Can’t Afford To (Roberts)

In business, the 80/20 rule states that 80% of your business will come from 20% of your customers. In an economy where more than 2/3rds of the growth rate is driven by consumption, an even bigger imbalance of the “have” and “have not’s” presents a major headwind. I have often written about the disconnect between Wall Street and Main Street. As shown in the chart below, while asset prices were inflated by continued interventions of monetary policy from the Federal Reserve, it only benefited the small portion of the population with assets invested in the market.

Cheap debt, excess liquidity and a buyback spree, led to soaring Wall Street and corporate profits, surging executive compensation and rising incomes for those in the top 10%. Unfortunately, the other 90% known as “Main Street” did not receive many benefits. This divide is clearly seen in various data and survey statistics such as the recent survey from National Institute On Retirement Security which showed the typical working-age household has only $2500 in retirement account assets. Importantly, “baby boomers” who are nearing retirement had an average of just $14,500 saved for their “golden years.”

[..] The gap between the young and elderly population has shrunk dramatically in recent years as the demographic trends have shifted. Old people are living longer and young people are delaying marriage and children. This means fewer people paying into a social welfare system, while more or taking out. Of course, the burden on the social safety net remains the 800-lb gorilla in the room no one wants to talk about. But with the insolvency of the welfare system looming in less than a decade, I am sure it will become a priority soon enough.

Of course, as we will discuss in a moment, the problem is that while the “baby boom” generation may be heading towards retirement years, there is little indication a large majority of them will be actually retiring. With a large majority of individuals being dependent on the welfare system in retirement, the burden will fall on those next in line. Welcome to the “sandwich generation” when more individuals will be “sandwiched” between supporting both parents and children in the same household. It should be no surprise multi-generational households in the U.S. are at their highest levels since the “Great Depression.”

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Obama’s fist veto override?

Saudi Lobbyists Plot New Push Against 9/11 Bill As Veto Override Looms (Pol.)

Saudi Arabia is mounting a last-ditch campaign to scuttle legislation allowing families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to sue the kingdom — and they’re enlisting major American companies to make an economic case against the bill. General Electric, Dow Chemical, Boeing and Chevron are among the corporate titans that have weighed in against the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA, which passed both chambers unanimously and was vetoed on Friday, according to people familiar with the effort. The companies are acting quietly to avoid the perception of opposing victims of terrorism, but they’re responding to Saudi arguments that their own corporate assets in the kingdom could be at risk if the law takes effect.

Meanwhile, Trent Lott, the former Senate majority leader who now co-leads Squire Patton Boggs’ lobbying group, e-mailed Senate legislative directors on Monday warning that the bill could lead other countries to withdraw their assets from the United States and retaliate with laws allowing claims against American government actions. “Many foreign entities have long-standing, intimate relations with U.S. financial institutions that they would undoubtedly unwind, to the further detriment of the U.S. economy,” reads one of the attachments, obtained by POLITICO. “American corporations with interests abroad may be at risk of retaliation, a possibility recently expressed by GE and Dow.” Still, the Saudis and their agents face a significant uphill battle, with lawmakers loath to take a vote against victims of the 9/11 attacks right before an election.

There was little public opposition to the bill as it made its way through the Capitol, and even now, efforts to tweak the bill haven’t caught much traction. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced Monday that the Senate will vote Wednesday on a motion to override President Barack Obama’s veto, and if override advocates are successful there, the House will take the same vote Thursday or Friday, a House Republican leadership aide said. But even if Obama receives the first veto override of his presidency, the story won’t end there: the Saudis will seek a new bill to scale back the law in the lame-duck session or in the next session, after lawmakers are relieved from the heat of the campaign, people familiar with the plans said. “It’s Washington at its finest,” one of the people said.

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How to kill off your own species.

Over 90% Of World Breathing Bad Air-WHO (AFP)

Nine out of 10 people globally are breathing poor quality air, the World Health Organization said Tuesday, calling for dramatic action against pollution that is blamed for more than six million deaths a year. New data in a report from the UN’s global health body “is enough to make all of us extremely concerned,” Maria Neira, the head of the WHO’s department of public health and environment, told reporters. The problem is most acute in cities, but air in rural areas is worse than many think, WHO experts said. Poorer countries have much dirtier air than the developed world, according to the report, but pollution “affects practically all countries in the world and all parts of society”, Neira said in a statement. “It is a public health emergency,” she said.

“Fast action to tackle air pollution can’t come soon enough,” she added, urging governments to cut the number of vehicles on the road, improve waste management and promote clean cooking fuel. Tuesday’s report was based on data collected from more than 3,000 sites across the globe. It found that “92% of the world’s population lives in places where air quality levels exceed WHO limits”. The data focuses on dangerous particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres, or PM2.5. PM2.5 includes toxins like sulfate and black carbon, which can penetrate deep into the lungs or cardiovascular system. Air with more than 10 microgrammes per cubic metre of PM2.5 on an annual average basis is considered substandard.

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Funny little story against a very serious backdrop.

Canadians Are Embracing Syrian Refugees. Why Can’t We? (G.)

Nobody warned the Hendawis about Canadian girls. Wadah and Raghdaa Hendawi survived the civil war in Syria, fleeing the devastation of Aleppo with their children for the relative safety of Lebanon. For three years their teenage sons missed out on an education while they worked to support the family. Then they hit the immigration jackpot – Canada. They were greeted at Halifax airport not by immigration officials or social workers, but by their sponsors – a bunch of well-meaning locals whose fundraising efforts would support the family for the next 12 months. And so the Hendawis arrived in the small fishing town of Shelburne, Nova Scotia, swaddled in new ski jackets, blinded by the winter sunshine bouncing off fresh February snow.

They were the only Syrians in the village, and had no idea what was in store for them. The Rev. Joanne McFadden knew the names and ages of the family she was helping to sponsor, but apart from that she too didn’t know what to expect. She certainly wasn’t prepared for the phone call that came three days after Saed (18), Mohamad (16) and Ahmed (15) started attending Shelburne Regional High School. I get a phone call from the principal. ‘Uhhh, Joanne, we have a problem.’ ‘What’s the problem, Mary?’ ‘Well, all the girls in the school are chasing the boys.’ This hadn’t even crossed our mind, right, that this was even a possibility. It was like, pardon me, we’ve got some things to figure out.

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