Jun 102016
 
 June 10, 2016  Posted by at 8:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Lewis Wickes Hine Workers in Maryland packing company 1909

Marc Faber: Brexit Would Be Best Thing To Happen in Britain’s History (CNBC)
Brexit Might Trigger Run On Britain’s Record Financial Debts, S&P Warns (AEP)
Heavy Cost Of UK’s Access To The Single Market In Europe (Connolly)
Germans Get Richer While Southern Europe Lags (R.)
Bill Gross Says Negative Rates Are Like ‘Supernova’ That Will Explode (BBG)
It Took The US $10 In New Debt To Create $1 Of Growth In Q1 (ZH)
Global Investors Are Fleeing US Stocks at a Record Pace (BBG)
US Tax Receipts Signaling Recession? (Mish)
Ready, Set, Crash – Could New Zealand Be Next To Fall? (NZ Herland)
Pity Poor China: There’s No Easy Fix to the S-Curve (CH Smith)
China’s Propaganda Department Not Good Enough At Propaganda (AFP)
How Mishandling Classified Info Affects People Not Named Clinton (USA T.)
They Died of Progress (Greer)
The Money Cult (Dmitry Orlov)
In Greek Refugee Camps, Wait For Asylum Fuels Unrest (R.)
3,000 Migrants Rescued Off Italian Coast; Two Bodies Found (R.)

Not a fan of the Union.

Marc Faber: Brexit Would Be Best Thing To Happen in Britain’s History (CNBC)

As investors wring their hands over the impact of Britain’s potential withdrawal from the European Union, otherwise known as “Brexit,” one of the market’s biggest bears delivered a surprising message. “I happen to think that a Brexit would be bullish for global economic growth,” Marc Faber told CNBC’s “Trading Nation” on Wednesday. “It would give other countries incentive to leave the badly organized EU.” The editor and publisher of The Gloom, Boom & Doom Report emphasized that a vote on June 23 by Britain to leave the EU would be an ideal course of action for the country. Additionally, Faber expressed the belief that small countries like Croatia, Estonia and Malta would also prosper as independent nations versus being a part of a larger system.

Currently, the EU has 28 members that operate within a single market with the goal of encouraging the free movement of goods and services. British Prime Minister David Cameron has expressed disdain for leaving the bloc, explaining in a piece for The Telegraph that doing so would “be the gamble of the century.” However, that’s a risk that Faber says Britain should be willing to take and noted that the EU is an “empire that is hugely bureaucratic.” Faber further reasoned that a Brexit would not be a disaster. “On the contrary, it would be the best thing for Britain that would ever happen!” Faber defended his case by citing Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU nor the European Economic Area, but instead operates in the “single” market. That enables the Swiss to have rights in the U.K., but theoretically allows them to operate independently of both groups.

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“The level of debt coming due over the next 12 months is 755pc of the country’s external receipts..”

Brexit Might Trigger Run On Britain’s Record Financial Debts, S&P Warns (AEP)

Britain is the world’s most vulnerable state on a key measure of short-term debt and credit markets might suddenly seize up if voters opt for Brexit, Standard & Poor’s has warned. The US credit rating agency is crystal clear that Britain will be stripped of its coveted AAA status immediately and may face a double-barrelled downgrade if the country takes a leap in dark, jeopardizing its trading and financial ties to its biggest market. “We are categorical about this,” said Moritz Kraemer, the agency’s head of sovereign ratings. “There is no clear ‘Plan B’ in the UK and we are not going to wait until we find out what the British position actually is. We could potentially see a two-notch downgrade,” he told The Daily Telegraph.

Mr Kraemer said the British financial system is extremely dependent on external financing. This is the Achilles Heel for an economy that relies so heavily on the City of London, and has a current account deficit above 5pc of GDP – the highest in Britain’s peace-time history. The level of debt coming due over the next 12 months is 755pc of the country’s external receipts, the highest for all 131 sovereign states rated by S&P. This compares to 318pc for the US and 316pc for France, the next two states most exposed. Much of this short-term debt is owed by banks operating in the City, some of them American, Japanese, European, or Mid-East institutions.

In theory, the liabilities are matched by assets and therefore simply ‘net out’ if stress forces banks to shrink their operations, but crises have a nasty habit of revealing skeletons in the cupboard. “If there is no currency and maturity mismatch, then there is no big issue. But we don’t know that for sure,” Mr Kraemer said. “These sums are very large and have to be rolled over constantly. Nobody has ever hesitated in the past because it was always assumed that Britain is a safe haven and there is no risk,” he said.

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Bernard Connolly was never a fan of the EU. He sees Germany take over if Britain remains in the Union.

Heavy Cost Of UK’s Access To The Single Market In Europe (Connolly)

We are told that Britain’s net contribution to the EU budget, about 0.5pc of our GDP after the rebate (our gross contribution is much bigger; what we “get back” is EU payments to universities and interest groups as part of the EU’s subversion strategy) is the entry fee we must pay for “access” to the EU single market. Why do numerous other countries, with equal access to the single market, receive substantial net payments from the EU – that is, from us and a few other countries? Jean-Claude Juncker has said that France gets away with breaking the budgetary rules “because it’s France”. Britain is gleefully given the rough end of the stick by our partners “because it’s Britain”.

What access brings to Britain is the enormous cost of single market regulations imposed on all firms, not just the very small minority of exporters to the EU. It also brings higher prices in the shops because we are forced to apply the EU’s common external tariff to imports from third countries. Importantly, it brings a massive deficit with the EU on trade in goods and services – reducing the amount we can spend without borrowing from abroad by close to a massive 4pc of our GDP. But we do borrow. The trade deficit with the EU is the biggest single contributor to Britain’s unsustainable current-account position.

We do not yet have much net debt to the rest of the world. But if the current account deficit continues at anything like its present rate it will not be long before we build up foreign debt that leaves us with four choices: default; an economic depression like that in Greece; substantial sterling depreciation; and total political submission to Germany in the hope of getting permanent transfers from that country. The last option is far-fetched beyond science fiction. The first and second are obviously unthinkable for a country such as Britain, at least if we restore control over our own affairs by leaving the EU. That leaves just sterling depreciation, and the sooner it happens the less disruptive it will be. The more Leave thrives in the opinion polls, the better it is for the prospect of avoiding default and depression.

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Why the eurozone should fall. Everything moves towards the center. Design flaw, intentional or not, can’t be fixed.

Germans Get Richer While Southern Europe Lags (R.)

The wealth disparity in the euro zone is increasing, with rising property prices helping Germans get richer while southern European countries lag behind, a study has found. While the gap between northern countries, such as the Netherlands, and southern states like Portugal has long been a feature of the euro bloc, the study by an arm of German fund manager Flossbach von Storch shows it is getting ever wider. Taking a basket of items including property, stocks, art and expensive wine, the research concluded that wealth in Germany and Austria jumped more than 7% at the end of 2015 compared to a year earlier.

That was roughly twice the growth rate of Italy and Spain, while Greeks saw their wealth drop by more than 4%. Property prices, which, for example, jumped by more than 6% in Germany, are the biggest driver of wealth. This difference leads to political tension in the 19-member euro zone, while weak property prices in southern countries hit their banks, which hold homes and commercial property as security for loans. “Until 2006 when the bubble burst, countries in the south were really taking off. Now they are in a Japan-like situation,” said Thomas Mayer, founder of the research institute that carried out the study.

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Inevitable.

Bill Gross Says Negative Rates Are Like ‘Supernova’ That Will Explode (BBG)

Bill Gross, the manager of the $1.4 billion Janus Global Unconstrained Bond Fund, warned central bank policies that pushed trillions of dollars into bonds with negative interest rates will eventually backfire violently. “Global yields lowest in 500 years of recorded history,” Gross, 72, wrote Thursday on the Janus Twitter site. “$10 trillion of neg. rate bonds. This is a supernova that will explode one day.” A supernova is a star at the end of its life that suddenly increases greatly in brightness because of a catastrophic explosion that ejects most of its mass. Gross has argued for some time that the economy is at the end of a decades-long cycle of expanding credit that has culminated in negative interest rates, a situation he said is unsustainable.

Rather than spurring economic growth, low rates are promoting asset bubbles as investors reach for higher yields while punishing individual savers and industries that rely on interest rates, such as bank and insurance companies, according to Gross. He said in a June 2 note that the era of 7.5% annualized investment gains is history and that investors should eventually take positions to protect principal or profit from market declines. Returns will be low, risk will be high and at some point the ‘Intelligent Investor’ must decide that we are in a new era with conditions that demand a different approach,” he wrote. “Negative durations? Voiding or shorting corporate credit? Buying instead of selling volatility? Staying liquid with large amounts of cash? These are all potential ‘negative’ carry positions that at some point may capture capital gains or at a minimum preserve principal.”

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You can neither purchase nor borrow growth. When China reaches this phase, watch out.

It Took The US $10 In New Debt To Create $1 Of Growth In Q1 (ZH)

today we had a chance to update the total US credit following the release of the Fed’s Flow of Funds (Z.1) statement, which is usually parsed for its tracking of changes to household wealth. And while it showed that in  the first quarter the net worth of US residents, mostly the wealthy ones as the bulk of financial assets is held by a small fraction of the total population, rose by $837 billion to $88 trillion mostly as a result of a change in real estate holdings, we were more interest in the aggregate picture. It wasn’t pretty.

As a reminder, according to the latest BEA revision, nominal Q1 GDP was $18.23 trillion, an increase of just $65 billion from the previous quarter or an annualized 0.7% rate, the question is how much credit had to be created to generate this growth. Well, according to the Z.1, total credit rose to a new record high $64.1 trillion. This was an increase of $645 billion from the previos quarter. It means that in the first quarter, it “cost” $10 in new debt to generate just $1 in new economic growth!

 

And here are the two other key charts: the first, showing total credit (debt and loans) vs GDP growth since 1950. The trend is hardly anyone’s friend, except for those who create the debt out of thin air to pocket the ever lower cash flows associated with it (and await the next inevitable bailout):

 

More importantly, on a leverage ratio basis, the US economy is now at a level of 352% total credit/GDP, the highest since Q1 2013, and a level which has been relatively flat since it peaked at 380% just before the crash. One way to read this chart perhaps is that the “carrying debt capacity” of the US economy is roughly 380% at which point something “unexpected” happens. At the current rate of surging credit relative to slowing GDP, the US economy should be there in the not too distant future.

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This supposes people merely switch their money somewhere else, but some may simply need it fr other purposes.

Global Investors Are Fleeing US Stocks at a Record Pace (BBG)

The most determined seller of U.S. stocks may not be in the U.S. at all. Investors outside the country dumped $128 billion in American shares over the past year, data from the U.S. Treasury International Capital System show. Despite the higher quality of companies in the U.S., long-term investors may be drawn to the faster pace of growth in other economies, said Stewart Warther, an equity strategist at BNP Paribas.

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There’s those nasty pesky withholding taxes again.

US Tax Receipts Signaling Recession? (Mish)

US federal personal tax receipts receipts are falling fast. So is the Evercore ISI State Tax Survey. The last two times the survey plunged this much, the US was already in recession. Is it different this time?

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Boy oh boy.

Ready, Set, Crash – Could New Zealand Be Next To Fall? (NZ Herland)

“We’ve almost got the perfect storm,” says veteran fund manager Brian Gaynor as he reels off the many reasons New Zealand house prices and debt levels are soaring to precipitous heights. There are many ingredients. But right now, New Zealand seems to have them all: not enough building, restrictions on development, surging migration, baby boomer savings, low interest rates and banks that are all too happy to lend for property investment. “When you get the perfect storm like we did in the 1980s with the sharemarket, you see things just go up and up. People start to believe they will never fall,” he says.

“People didn’t believe the sharemarket would fall in the 80s. I’d come in from a trip to Australia and the guy at customs wouldn’t let me in unless I gave him sharemarket tips. It was just euphoria. Everyone was talking about the sharemarket. Now everyone is talking about the property market.” New Zealand’s gross debt is a whopping half trillion dollars; housing now accounts for $218 billion of that. As of April that housing debt was growing at an annualised rate of 8.3% – and that rate is accelerating. The median price of an Auckland house has almost doubled since the bottom of the last cycle in 2009, in the depths of the global financial crisis. The boom has now spilt over into the regions, with places like Hamilton and Tauranga surging 26 and 23% respectively in the past 12 months.

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We should think about how scary this is.

Pity Poor China: There’s No Easy Fix to the S-Curve (CH Smith)

The fundamental context of China’s economy is that it has traced out an S-Curve – as did previous fast-developing nations such as Japan and South Korea. The S-Curve can be likened to a rocket’s trajectory: first, there’s an ignition phase, as the fuel of financialization, cheap labor and untapped productive capacity is ignited. The boost phase lasts as long as credit-fueled production and consumption expand rapidly. In the boost phase, investors and financial authorities can do no wrong. The high growth rate of credit and production overwhelms all other factors, as the virtuous cycle of expanding profits and production increases wages which then support further expansion of credit and consumption which then supports more production, and so on.

A vast tide of foreign investment fuels an equally vast expansion of fixed capital assets such as factories and new homes. But then the fuel of financialization is consumed, and the previously fast-growing economy slows to stall speed. Depending on how much leverage, corruption and wealth has piled up in the boost phase, this phase may last a few years. This is the top of the S-Curve. As the economy weakens, everything that worked in the boost phase no longer works: expanding credit no longer boosts growth, inflating yet another real estate bubble no longer generates a widespread wealth effect, and every effort to shift from being an export-dependent economy to a self-supporting consumer economy fails to achieve liftoff.

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Study western media to see how it’s done?!

China’s Propaganda Department Not Good Enough At Propaganda (AFP)

hina’s propaganda department, tasked with controlling the media and arts, has been given a slap on the wrist for not being good enough at shaping public opinion, according to a report on a government website. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) posted an article on its website Wednesday that described findings from its two-month-long probe of the ruling Communist party’s propaganda department, which began in February. Leaders in the department did not feel a sufficient sense of responsibility for undertaking ideological work, the piece cited CCDI member and investigation spokesman Wang Huaichen as saying. Art was not directed clearly enough towards socialist aims and political thought not emphasised enough in universities, he was quoted as saying.

News propaganda was not targeted or effective enough, especially in the field of new media, where the department had failed to fully implement the principle of “the party controlling the media”, the post cited him as saying. Wang called upon the department to make propaganda appear more valid by enhancing its attractiveness and appeal, it said. The Communist party tolerates no opposition to its rule and newspapers, websites, and broadcast media are strictly controlled. An army of censors patrols social media and many Western news websites are blocked. President Xi Jinping reminded top state media outlets to “strictly adhere to the orders of the Chinese Communist Party” during a series of high-profile visits to their headquarters in February.

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How Hillary stands out against the US Marine Corps. Click the link to read a young man’s sense of duty and honor. Perhaps a bit overcharged, but what Clinton tries to get away with drags down the entire nation. She’s not the only one to flaunt the rules, but if the commander-in-chief -supposing she’s elected- does this, what does that tell everyone else? I can’t see the military and the FBI accepting it. Maybe the higher-ups would, but you don’t want widespread unrest in the ranks.

How Mishandling Classified Info Affects People Not Named Clinton (USA T.)

Clinton is the antithesis of that young captain, someone with no honor, little courage and commitment only to her endless ambition. This has nothing to do with gender, party affiliation, ideology or policy. It is a question of character — not just hers, but ours. Electing Clinton would mean abandoning holding people accountable for grievous errors of integrity and responsibility. What we already know about her security infractions should disqualify her for any government position that deals in information critical to mission success, domestic or foreign. But beyond that, her responses to being found out — dismissing its importance, claiming ignorance, blaming others — indict her beyond anything the investigation can reveal. Those elements reveal her character. And the saddest thing is that so many in America seem not to care.

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The downfall of the tech religion?!

They Died of Progress (Greer)

[..] the unspeakable has become the inescapable in today’s world. It’s become a running joke on the internet that the word “upgrade” inevitably means poorer service, fewer benefits, and more annoyances for those who have to deal with the new and allegedly improved product. The same logic can be applied equally well across the entire landscape of modern technology.  What’s new, innovative, revolutionary, game-changing, and so on through the usual litany of overheated adjectives, isn’t necessarily an improvement. It can be, and very often is, a disaster. Examples could be drawn from an astonishingly broad range of contemporary sources, but I have a particular set of examples in mind. 

To make sense of those examples, it’s going to be necessary to talk about military affairs. As with most things in today’s America, the collective conversation of our time provides two and only two acceptable ways to discuss those, and neither of them have anything actually useful to say. The first of them, common among the current crop of American pseudoconservatives, consists of mindless cheerleading; the second, common among the current crop of pseudoliberals all over the industrial world, consists of moralizing platitudes. I don’t particularly want to address the moralizing platitudes just now, other than to say that yes, war is ghastly; no, it’s not going away; and it’s not particularly edifying to watch members of the privileged classes in the countries currently on top of the international order insist piously that war ought to be abandoned forever, just in time to keep their own nations from being displaced from positions they won and kept at gunpoint not that many decades ago. 

The cheerleading is another matter, and requires a more detailed analysis. It’s common among the pseudoconservative right these days to insist that the United States is by definition the world’s most powerful nation, with so overwhelming a preponderance of military might that every other nation will inevitably have to bow to our will or get steamrollered. That sort of thinking backstops the mania for foreign intervention that guides neoconservatives such as Hillary Clinton on their merry way, overthrowing governments and destabilizing nations under the fond delusion that the blowback from these little adventures can never actually touch the United States. 

In America these days, a great deal of this sort of cheerleading focuses on high-tech weapons systems—inevitably, since so much of contemporary American pop culture has become gizmocentric to the point of self-parody. Visit a website that deals with public affairs from a right-of-center viewpoint, and odds are you’ll find a flurry of articles praising the glories of this or that military technology with the sort of moist-palmed rapture that teenage boys used to direct to girlie-mag centerfolds. The identical attitude can be found in a dizzying array of venues these days, very much including Pentagon press releases and the bombastic speeches of politicians who are safely insulated from the realities of war. There’s only one small difficulty here, which is that much of the hardware in question doesn’t work. 

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Lovely from Dmitry.

The Money Cult (Dmitry Orlov)

are there any unintended consequences of negative interest rates? Unintended consequences are hard to think about, and most people get a headache even trying. How can it be that clean, plentiful nuclear energy will eventually pollute the whole planet with long-lived radionuclides, resulting sky-high cancer rates? How can it be that wonderful genetically modified seeds will render us sickly and infertile in just a few generations? And how can it be that ingenious mobile computing technology has turned our children into zombies who are constantly twiddling their smartphones as they sleepwalk through life? It s hard to think about any of this without taking some happy pills; and how can it be that taking those happy pills has… you get the idea.

The unintended consequence of negative interest rates is that they destroy money. This is true in an entirely trivial sense: if you deposit x dollars at -p% annual, then a year later you will only have x(1-p) dollars because xp dollars has been destroyed. (In case you prefer to count on your fingers and toes, if you deposit $10 at -10% annual, then a year later you will only have $9 because $1 has been destroyed.) But what I mean is something slightly more profound: negative interest rates erode the very concept of money. To get at the reason for this, we have to ask a slightly more profound question: What is money? I think that money is the cult of the god Mammon.

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“Despite its intention to process all cases, Greece lacks the manpower to deal with the volume of applications. It says it needs more help from EU institutions. As many as 6,656 people applied for asylum in March and April this year, up from 1,899 in those months last year. Even if it could hire more people, they would need to be highly qualified legal experts, government officials say.”

In Greek Refugee Camps, Wait For Asylum Fuels Unrest (R.)

Tents were set on fire, punches were thrown, children cried through the night and families were forced to flee the burning detention camp and sleep in open fields. The tension is palpable on Greece’s islands, where about 8,000 asylum seekers feel stranded by a European Union deal with Turkey to stem the arrival of refugees and other migrants on European shores from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond. The deal, hailed a success by its European architects, prevents migrants from going beyond Greece – or even its islands – in their search for a new home in Europe, until their asylum claims are processed and those rejected are sent back to Turkey, from where they arrived. But some European officials say the assessment has been slow, and the wait long for those confined to often overcrowded camps.

In June, the most violent month yet, dozens were injured in clashes on three islands, police said. Videos in Greek media showed clouds of smoke rising over the centers on three occasions. In clashes on Lesvos the night of June 1-2, families with young children had to flee and spend the night in nearby fields or Mytilene town, several kilometers away, Amnesty International said. Many returned to burned down tents and destroyed belongings. Women told Amnesty they “live in constant fear” in camps where fights break out in food queues. Journalists are barred from entering the camps on the islands. But humanitarian organizations and police officials on the ground speak of people on edge. “They’re reacting. They want to leave the islands,” said a police official for the northern Aegean region which includes the islands of Lesvos, Samos and Chios where rival migrant groups brawled. “We’re bracing for all eventualities.”

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We will never know how many people drown unnoticed. If a tree falls in a forest…

3,000 Migrants Rescued Off Italian Coast; Two Bodies Found (R.)

More than 3,000 boat migrants have been rescued in the Mediterranean over the past two days and two bodies have been recovered, Italy’s coastguard said on Thursday. The coastguard coordinated rescues of migrants from 15 different boats on Thursday, bringing 1,950 people to safety. Two bodies were recovered from a rubber boat. Some 1,100 migrants were rescued at sea on Wednesday. The coastguard had no details about the nationalities of the migrants, nor about the two deaths.

All the rescues took place between Italy and Libya, where people-smugglers operate with impunity amid the chaos of civil war. Britain’s HMS Enterprise and Germany’s FGS Frankfurt, patrolling the area as part of the European Union’s anti-people-smuggling operation, together rescued migrants from seven boats, a coastguard spokesman said. A Doctors without Borders vessel, the Dignity 1, rescued almost 500 from four boats, while the Phoenix, run by humanitarian group Migrant Offshore Aid Station, took 243 people from two boats.

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Mar 272016
 
 March 27, 2016  Posted by at 11:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


NPC Pittsburg Water Heater Co., Washington DC 1920

Hugh Hendry: “If China Devalues By 20% The World Is Over” (ZH)
The Great Deflation: Stocks To Plunge 80-90% – Harry Dent (Maloney)
You Are -Still- Here (ZH)
US Banks Ramp Up Push for Home-Equity Lines (WSJ)
China Warns Officials: No Unrest, Or Lose Your Job (WSJ)
China Coal Use Slides Further On Weakening Industrial Demand (BBG)
Guessing The Future Without Say’s Law (Macleod)
Seven Ugly Latina Sisters In Deep Political Trouble (Bawerk)
California Lawmakers, Unions Reach Deal for $15 an Hour Minimum Wage
The Church of Economism and Its Discontents (EI)
The State Has Lost Control: Tech Firms Now Run Western Politics (Morozov)
Trump Questions US Position On OPEC Allies, NATO, China (NY Times)
Greece Removes Migrants From FYROM Border Camp (AFP)
The Bar at the End of the Road (WSJ)

Hendry finds trouble sticking to his bull position.

Hugh Hendry: “If China Devalues By 20% The World Is Over” (ZH)

For now, as we showed just ten days ago, those short the Yuan have swung to wildly profitable to losing money as both the USD has slid and the Yuan has spiked, although both of these trades appear to be reversing now. Needless to say, Hendry disagrees with the China contrarians and believes that the way to fix the Chinese economy is through a stronger currency, even if there is no logical way how that could possibly work when China’s debt load is 350% of GDP while its NPLs are over 10% and rising.

So, borrowing form a favorite Keynesian trope, one where when the countrfactual to his prevailling – if incorrect – view of the world finally emerges, Hendry is convinced that a 20% devaluation would lead to global devastation; the same way if Paulson did not get Congress to sign off on his three page term sheet that would lead to the “apocalypse.” Only unlike Paulson who only hinted at a Mad Max world, for Hendry the alternative to him being right is a very explicit doomsday scenario, as he explains in the following excerpt from his RealVision interview:

Tomorrow we wake up and China has devalued 20%, the world is over. The world is over. Euro breaks up. The world is over. The euro breaks up. Everything hits a wall. There’s no euro in that scenario. The US economy, I mean everything hits a wall! Everything hits a wall!

The dollar strength that you imagined is devastation because you just eliminated dollars. They’re a scarce commodity. You’ve wiped them out. And China is a pariah state.

It’s a ‘Mad Max’ movie, right. OK, China gets to be the king in ‘Mad Max’ world. How appealing is that? There is no world after the tomorrow where China devalues by 20%. There is no world. Yeah, it’s looney tunes to believe that, people say, ‘oh wow, they needed to catch a break.’

Their share of world trade has never been higher. They’re facing no pressure, immense terms of trade improvement, and you would destroy world trade. World trade is down 25%. You would probably have passport restrictions, the world is over.

And while it is clear on which side of the Yuan Hugh is currently positioned (Hendry’s Eclectica is down 2.1% through March 18 and -5.9% YTD) either directly or synthetically, we can’t wait to see who is right in the end: China and its central bank (as well as Hugh Hendry) or reason and common sense (as well as some of the smartest hedge funds in the world).

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Mike Maloney’s a TAE fan.

The Great Deflation: Stocks To Plunge 80-90% – Harry Dent (Maloney)

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Look out below.

You Are -Still- Here (ZH)

Buybacks blacked out, option expiration ramp over, and real investors fleeingwhat happens next?

Dip, Jawbone, Rip… Repeat…

 

And close-up…


 

But this time it’s different, 150 days of almost perfect correlation and co-movement means nothing – right?

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Insane that this is possible.

US Banks Ramp Up Push for Home-Equity Lines (WSJ)

At hardware stores along the U.S. East Coast in recent weeks, TD Bank has been trying to persuade shoppers to think bigger than paint and plumbing supplies: The bank wants them to start taking cash out of their homes again. The TD Bank tour bus, equipped with a galley kitchen and iPads where homeowners can start the application process, is part of a marketing push unusual for the mortgage industry since the housing bust. As the broader mortgage market remains in the doldrums, banks are again touting home-equity lines of credit, which allow homeowners to draw down the equity in their home as they need the cash, as well as cash-out refinances, which involve taking cash out of a home while refinancing and ending up with a larger mortgage balance.

The effort is gaining steam as banks try to offset faltering mortgage originations and a refinancing wave that is fizzling out. Lenders are betting that offers for home-equity lines of credit, or helocs, will resonate with many borrowers whose home values are higher than they were just a couple of years ago and who need cash for renovations or other expenses after holding on to their homes for longer than expected. Lenders extended just over $156 billion in home-equity lines of credit last year, the largest dollar amount since 2007, the beginning of the housing bust, according to new figures from mortgage-data firm CoreLogic. That marks a 24% increase from 2014 and a 138% spike from 2010 when new approvals hit a low point. The average line amount extended to homeowners last year reached a record $119,790, according to the firm, which tracks the data back to 2002.

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No. 1 worry.

China Warns Officials: No Unrest, Or Lose Your Job (WSJ)

In China, the timing of an announcement is sometimes more significant than the announcement itself. The Communist Party’s Central Committee and the State Council, China’s cabinet, this week warned party and state officials that they will lose their jobs if they fail to control public unrest. That’s not altogether surprising: on one level,it’s just a restatement of longstanding practice. “For more than 10 years, one of the assessment criteria for promotion of regional officials is the extent to which they can minimize protests,” said Willy Lam, a China politics analyst at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “So most local officials pull out all stops to prevent petitioners going to Beijing.” But this week’s announcement marks the first time authorities have come up with a definitive public statement explicitly warning party and state officials “at all levels” that their jobs are on the line, state media said.

Why the urgency? The policy announcement comes two weeks after hundreds of unpaid coal workers took to the streets in the gritty northeastern city of Shuangyashan, after their provincial governor claimed a troubled coal company there did not owe its miners any wages. The governor, Lu Hao, later said he misspoke. Mr. Lu remains in office. It’s quite likely the Shuangyashan incident was pivotal in galvanizing the State Council and the party’s Central Committee, Mr. Lam and others say. The incident, widely publicized in the media, came in the thick of China’s annual meeting of its top legislature in Beijing, where Mr. Lu made his comments. At the meeting, known as the lianghui or “two sessions,” a battery of top officials including Premier Li Keqiang repeatedly vowed that they would be able to navigate a sharp slowdown in the economy without seriously affecting workers caught in the transition.

Mr. Li’s public positioning percolates through to a wide swathe of policy in the immediate wake of the congress. “In China, the political calendar doesn’t start in January – it starts with the lianghui in March,” human rights activist Hu Jia said. Government officials are likely worried that the Shuangyashan incident and others could inflict a political cost on the leadership by highlighting issues such as the deficit of labor rights in China, Mr. Hu said. Party chiefs face a difficult task. Over the next five years, they need to shut down millions of tons of industrial capacity that’s making China’s economy inefficient. This means downsizing scores of steel, coal and other large industries that currently employ hundreds of thousands of workers. They have promised to do this without large-scale layoffs. Those displaced, Mr. Li said, would be given new jobs or government assistance.

These promises now hang in the balance. The Shuangyashan incident came amid a surge in other forms of public unrest. Data from labor rights watchdog China Labour Bulletin show a 200% increase in the number of strikes, industrial action and other protests occurring in China from July last year to January this year. Disparate groups of Chinese, from jobless migrant workers to angry taxi drivers have taken to the streets to protest a new era of economic dislocation. The slowing economy has wiped out at least 156 billion yuan ($24 billion) worth of investments in wealth management products across the country, mostly involving small investors. Many of these failures have sparked public protests. Dogged by the prospect of more layoffs and deepening economic woes, the question looms: How many officials will China axe?

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Not because it wants to come clean.

China Coal Use Slides Further On Weakening Industrial Demand (BBG)

China’s coal use is forecast to fall a third year as industrial output slows, adding force to President Xi Jinping’s drive to cut overcapacity and dimming the hopes of global miners for an uptick in demand by the world’s biggest consumer. Demand will slide 2% this year and prices will remain at a low level, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency, citing Xu Liang, deputy secretary general of the China Coal Industry Association. Output by the world’s largest producer will also fall by 2%. Consumption has weakened amid a push to use cleaner fuels and shift a slowing economy away from heavy industry. Demand for coal, which accounted for 64% of the country’s total energy use last year, contracted 3.7% last year, following a 2.9% decline in 2014, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

“This year’s coal situation is equally bleak,” Xinhua quoted Xu as saying. China’s easing coal appetite has helped push prices in Asia to their lowest since 2006, punishing mining companies and prompting the government to propose capacity cuts that threaten the jobs of 1.3 million coal miners. By cutting capacity in the next two to three years, production could fall to about 3.5 billion to 3.6 billion tons, balancing supply and demand, Xu said. The country aims to eliminate as much as 500 million metric tons of coal capacity by 2020, almost 9% of its total. Coal output dropped 3.3% to 3.75 billion metric tons last year, while consumption slipped to 3.965 billion tons, both sliding from record highs in 2013, according to Xu. Use of the fuel in power generation dropped 6.2% last year, while demand from industries including steel, cement and glass making declined.

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“..when an economist talks of economic growth being above or below trend, he is talking about a measure that has no place in sound economic reasoning, and that is gross domestic product.

Guessing The Future Without Say’s Law (Macleod)

With Japanese and Eurozone interest rates becoming increasingly negative, and the Fed backing off from at least some of the planned increases in the Fed funds rate this year, economists are reassessing the interest rate outlook. Economists lack consensus, with some expecting yet more easing, based on the apparent collapse in cross-border trade last year. The fact that the Bank of Japan and the European Central Bank see fit to pursue increasingly aggressive monetary reflation is taken as evidence of underlying difficulties faced in these key economies. And lingering doubts about the sustainability of China’s credit bubble point to a high risk of a credit-induced slump in the world’s growth engine.

Other economists, citing official US data and relying on the Fed’s statements, point out that unemployment levels have more than satisfied the Fed’s target, and that core inflation has picked up to the point where the Fed would be fully justified to increase interest rates over the course of this year, or risk overheating in 2017. These two opposite camps conflict in their forecasts, but where they fundamentally differ is in expectations of future economic growth. Far from displaying the highest levels of macroeconomic discipline, their diversity of opinion should alert us that their forecasts may lack sound theoretical foundation. The purpose of reasoned theory is to reduce uncertainty, not promote it. And the explanation for most of the failures behind modern macroeconomic thinking is the substitution of market-based economics by economic planning.

The fact that today’s macroeconomics dismisses the laws of the markets, commonly referred to by economists as Say’s law, explains all. Subsequent errors confirm. The many errors are a vast subject, but they boil down to that one fateful step, and that is denying the universal truth of Say’s law. Say’s law is about the division of labour. People earn money and make profits from deploying their individual skills in the production of goods and services for the benefit of others. Despite the best attempts of Marxism and Keynesianism along with all the other isms, attempts to override this reality have always failed. The failure is not adequately reflected in government statistics, which have evolved to the point where they actually conceal it. So when an economist talks of economic growth being above or below trend, he is talking about a measure that has no place in sound economic reasoning, and that is gross domestic product.

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The CIA still has a lot of power to the south.

Seven Ugly Latina Sisters In Deep Political Trouble (Bawerk)

Get beyond endless Latin American headlines burning column inches and you come to far broader strategic conclusion: The seven ‘ugly Latino sisters’, namely Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico and Argentina are all deep political trouble from collapsed benchmark prices. It’s merely a case of who’s in more advanced states of political decay where left leaning governments’ can’t hang on much longer vs. those trying to buy a bit of time with more ‘centrist’ positions. In either case, it’s going to be a classic example of too little too late where the seven ugly sisters have committed at least seven deadly sins when it comes to resource mismanagement over the past decade. This isn’t about whether crisis can be avoided, but how bad the impacts will be. Another ‘lost Latino decade’ beckons. The ugliest twins are obviously Brazil and Venezuela right now.

We firmly expect Rousseff to be impeached next month on the back of endless corruption scandals, and the drastically ill-judged return of Lula that poured far more oil on corruption cover up flames. Watch for Michel Temer to take over the reins of a coalition PMDB government, busily negotiating posts behind closed doors with other players to tee up a formal Worker’s Party split to form a caretaker government through to 2018. How much Temer can get done depends on how far the outstanding ‘car wash’ scandal still rubs off on PMDB factions for major economic reforms, where the rot still runs pretty deep. Initial rhetoric (and inevitable market lifts) on supposed ‘structural reforms’ and far broader liberalisation measures remain unlikely to play through. Although it’s possible Petrobras might push through 2017 licencing rounds purely for political appearances, it’s not going to deliver tangible results in current price environments.

Dig just ‘under the salt’, and Petrobras leverage will remain high; local content even higher. Until Brazil can properly clear its electoral decks in 2018 Mr. Temer is going to have a very limited mandate. If anything, his core challenge is trying to make sure his caretaker outfit doesn’t end up ‘washed out’ day one, given Temer is by no means beyond political reproach, with the PMDB basically as corrupt as the ruling PT. The smart move for Brazil would actually be calling fresh elections with the TSE (electoral authority) invalidating the entire Rousseff-Temer 2014 ticket to put a line under what currently shapes up to be the worst commodity driven economic crash Brazil has ever experienced. Regrettably, Brazilian politics has nothing to do with national interests at this stage, and everything to do with narrow self-preservation societies.

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“..most proposals have the wage increasing about a dollar a year until it reaches $15 an hour”

California Lawmakers, Unions Reach Deal for $15 an Hour Minimum Wage

California legislators and labor unions on Saturday reached an agreement aims to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 from $10 an hour, a state senator said, a move that would make for the highest statewide minimum in the nation. Sen. Mark Leno (D., San Francisco) said the proposal would go before the Legislature as part of his minimum-wage bill that stalled last year. Mr. Leno didn’t confirm specifics of the agreement, but most proposals have the wage increasing about a dollar a year until it reaches $15 an hour. The Los Angeles Times, which first reported the deal, said the wage would rise to $10.50 in 2017, with subsequent increases to take it to $15 by 2022. Businesses with fewer than 25 employees would have an extra year to comply.

At $10 an hour, California already has one of the highest minimum wages in the nation along with Massachusetts. Only Washington, D.C., at $10.50 an hour is higher. The hike to $15 would make it the highest statewide wage in the nation by far, though raises are in the works in other states. The deal means the issue won’t have to go to the ballot, Mr. Leno said. One union-backed initiative has already qualified for the ballot, and a second, competing measure is also trying to qualify. Union leaders, however, said they wouldn’t immediately dispense with planned ballot measures. Sean Wherley, a spokesman for SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, confirmed that his group was involved in the negotiations. But he said the group would continue pushing ahead with its initiative on the ballot. “Ours is on the ballot. We want to be certain of what all this is,” Mr. Wherley said.

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The Econocene.

The Church of Economism and Its Discontents (EI)

The global human population increased from approximately 1 billion in the year 1800 to 7 billion in 2011. Over this period, the field of economics emerged, transforming political discourse. The institutional conditions for market expansion were put in place, and the success of markets suppressed myriad other ways societies have organized themselves. Economic activity per capita increased somewhere between 10 and 30-fold, resulting in a 70 to 210-fold increase in total economic activity.1 Population growth has slowed significantly in recent decades, but both economic growth through market expansion and its attendant environmental destruction have only continued.

Econocene is a fitting term for this new era because it makes us think about the expanding market economy, the ideological system that supports it, and its impact on society and the environment. Reflecting on environmental boundaries led ecological economist Herman Daly to propose limits on material throughput. Environmental economists propose taxes on greenhouse gas emissions and the creation of markets to resolve environmental conflicts. While acknowledging the importance of making markets work within the limits of nature and for the common good, I will explore how this new dominance of economic thinking, which I will call economism, has reshaped the diverse cultures of the world and come to function as a modern secular religion.

An advantage of the term Econocene is that it evokes the everyday cosmos of modern people. Artifacts of the economy—towering buildings, sprawling shopping malls, and swirling freeways—surround the 50% of the globe’s population who live in cities. A combination of smog and bright lights now obliterates the starry heavens so important to humanity’s historic consciousness and so humbling to our species’s historic sense of importance, focusing our attention on the economic constructs all around us. The cosmos reflected in the term Econocene includes not only the material artifacts of the economy, but also the market relations that bind us and define our place in the system. Urban dwellers are now fully dependent on markets for material sustenance.

They awake to radio announcers discussing supposedly significant changes in exchange rates, stock markets, and the proportion of people looking for work. The dominance of the market is not just an urban phenomenon: its “invisible hand” guides rural life as well. The crops planted reflect expected future prices, and soils reflect their history of economic use. Farmers have become so specialized that they, too, buy most of their food in supermarkets. In order to grapple with the challenges of this new era, we need to give it a name that resonates with people’s lived experiences.

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The role of Google and Facebook clearly warrants more scrutiny.

The State Has Lost Control: Tech Firms Now Run Western Politics (Morozov)

[..] The grim reality of contemporary politics is not that it’s impossible to imagine how capitalism will end – as the Marxist critic Fredric Jameson once famously put it – but that it’s becoming equally impossible to imagine how it could possibly continue, at least, not in its ideal form, tied, however weakly, to the democratic “polis”. The only solution that seems plausible is by having our political leaders transfer even more responsibility for problem-solving, from matters of welfare to matters of warfare, to Silicon Valley. This might produce immense gains in efficiency but would this also not aggravate the democratic deficit that already plagues our public institutions? Sure, it would – but the crisis of democratic capitalism seems so acute that it has dropped any pretension to being democratic; hence the proliferation of euphemisms to describe the new normal (with Angela Merkel’s “market-conformed democracy” probably being the most popular one).

Besides, the slogans of the 1970s that were meant to bolster the democratic pillar of the compromise between capital and labour, from economic and industrial democracy to codetermination, look quaint in an era where workers of the “gig economy” cannot even unionise, let along participate in some broader management of the enterprise. There’s something even more sinister afoot though. “Buying time” no longer seems like an adequate description of what is happening, if only because technology companies, even more so than the banks, are not only too big too fail but also impossible to undo – let alone replicate – even if a new government is elected. Many of them have already taken on the de facto responsibilities of the state; any close analysis of what’s happening with “smart cities” – whereby technology firms become key gateways to essential services of our cities – easily confirms that.

In fact, technology firms are rapidly becoming the default background condition in which our politics itself is conducted. Once Google and Facebook take over the management of essential services, Margaret Thatcher’s famous dictum that “there is no alternative” would no longer be a mere slogan but an accurate description of reality. The worst is that today’s legitimation crisis could be our last. Any discussion of legitimacy presupposes not just the ability to sense injustice but also to imagine and implement a political alternative. Imagination would never be in short supply but the ability to implement things on a large scale is increasingly limited to technology giants. Once this transfer of power is complete, there won’t be a need to buy time any more – the democratic alternative will simply no longer be a feasible option.

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Some questions must be asked. If nobody else does that, you get Trump.

Trump Questions US Position On OPEC Allies, NATO, China (NY Times)

Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner, said that if elected, he might halt purchases of oil from Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies unless they commit ground troops to the fight against the Islamic State or “substantially reimburse” the United States for combating the militant group, which threatens their stability. “If Saudi Arabia was without the cloak of American protection,” Mr. Trump said during a 100-minute interview on foreign policy, spread over two phone calls on Friday, “I don’t think it would be around.” He also said he would be open to allowing Japan and South Korea to build their own nuclear arsenals rather than depend on the American nuclear umbrella for their protection against North Korea and China. If the United States “keeps on its path, its current path of weakness, they’re going to want to have that anyway, with or without me discussing it,” Mr. Trump said.

And he said he would be willing to withdraw United States forces from both Japan and South Korea if they did not substantially increase their contributions to the costs of housing and feeding those troops. “Not happily, but the answer is yes,” he said. Mr. Trump also said he would seek to renegotiate many fundamental treaties with American allies, possibly including a 56-year-old security pact with Japan, which he described as one-sided. In Mr. Trump’s worldview, the United States has become a diluted power, and the main mechanism by which he would re-establish its central role in the world is economic bargaining. He approached almost every current international conflict through the prism of a negotiation, even when he was imprecise about the strategic goals he sought.

He again faulted the Obama administration’s handling of the negotiations with Iran last year — “It would have been so much better if they had walked away a few times,” he said — but offered only one new idea about how he would change its content: Ban Iran’s trade with North Korea. Mr. Trump struck similar themes when he discussed the future of NATO, which he called “unfair, economically, to us,” and said he was open to an alternative organization focused on counterterrorism. He argued that the best way to halt China’s placement of military airfields and antiaircraft batteries on reclaimed islands in the South China Sea was to threaten its access to American markets. “We have tremendous economic power over China,” he argued. “And that’s the power of trade.” He did not mention Beijing’s ability for economic retaliation.

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Keep it peaceful.

Greece Removes Migrants From FYROM Border Camp (AFP)

Greece has begun evacuating refugees from the main Idomeni camp on the Macedonia border, while the flow of refugees arriving on the Aegean islands has slowed to a trickle, officials said on Saturday. Eight buses transported around 400 refugees from Idomeni to nearby refugee camps on Friday, police sources said. A dozen more buses were waiting for migrants reluctant to leave the border, which has been shut down since earlier this month. “People who have no hope or have no money, maybe they will go. But I have hope, maybe something better will happen tomorrow, maybe today,” said 40-year-old Fatema Ahmed from Iraq, who has a 13-year-old son in Germany and three daughters with her in the camp. She said she would consider leaving the squalid Idomeni camp – where people are sheltering even on railway tracks – if the Greek government decides to give every migrant family “a simple house”.

Those persuaded to board the first buses were mainly parents with children who can no longer tolerate the difficult conditions. Janger Hassan, 29, from Iraqi Kurdistan, who has been at the Idomeni camp for a month with his wife and two young children, thinks he will probably leave. “There’s nothing to do here. “The children are getting sick. It’s a bad situation the last two days: it’s windy, sometimes it’s raining here,” he said. “We don’t have a choice. We have to move,” he said. Desperation was evident in the camp. One tent bore the slogan: “Help us open the border”. A total of 11,603 people remained at the sprawling border camp on Saturday, according to the latest official count. Giorgos Kyritsis, spokesman of the SOMP agency, which is coordinating Athens’s response to the refugee crisis, said the operation to evacuate Idomeni will intensify from Monday.

“More than 2,000 places can be found immediately for the refugees that are at the Idomeni camp and from Monday on, this number can double,” Kyritsis added, pledging to create 30,000 more places in the next three weeks in new shelters. Meanwhile, the flow of refugees arriving in Greece is slowing. Athens on Thursday said no migrants had arrived on its Aegean islands in the previous 24 hours, for the first time since the controversial EU-Turkey deal to halt the massive influx came into force at the weekend. The agreement, under which all migrants landing on the Greek islands face being sent back to Turkey, went into effect last Sunday. Despite the deal, 1,662 people arrived on Monday, but this fell to 600 on Tuesday and 260 on Wednesday.

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“Today we had little people, but if we have all the people then we will succeed.”

The Bar at the End of the Road (WSJ)

A tiny bar in a rundown train station in a remote Greek town has become the center of the universe for the migrants stuck at the border of Macedonia. When Macedonia shut its border to Greece in early March, the Greek border town of Idomeni, once a quick stopover for migrants on route to Europe became the end of the line for many. At least for now. But that isn’t stopping many migrants from trying to make their way across the border and beyond. On a recent cold and wet few days at the camp, migrants hang out in the bar for the warmth it provides and the food and friendship it offers. People talk over chips, pizza and beer, but mostly take solace in having a temporary escape from the misery of the camp. Out of their cold, muddy tents and playing games like checkers and backgammon, or connecting with distant relatives on their phones.

Groups are usually separated by nationality, but talking about how to get out of Greece and farther into Europe is a topic everyone discusses. One morning, someone had a plan to cross a fast-flowing, ice-cold river to the border, despite the fence and increased police presence. It was a dangerous plan, but any escape would do. Someone had a printout of a map showing the route across the river all the way to the border. People study it and take photos of it. Zakaria, a migrant from Aleppo, Syria, says, “I want to continue my studies. I don’t care which country. It can be Germany or another country so long as I can continue my studies. I will wait here until I cross somehow. I would go back home to Syria if I could. Believe me I don’t want to be here, I want to be home, but I don’t even have a home there. No country and no home.”

By noon that day, hundreds of people amassed at the meeting point on the map. Following the trail through forests and fields, this group of men and women, young and old carry their belongings and eventually come to the river. The water is freezing. People are yelling and crying. Children are terrified. But they made it across. They were lucky. Earlier that morning, a separate group attempted to cross and three people reportedly died attempting the cross. After resting, they continue to the border, but are turned back by the Macedonian army. Back at the camp, they are exhausted and downtrodden, but they have the bar, and talk soon turns to finding another way to escape. Sarwar, a migrant from Lahore, Pakistan, who has been in Idomeni for 16 days and just returned from trying to cross the border says, “They stop us today but we will try again. We are many, many people and more come now. Soon we can run through the fence. Today we had little people, but if we have all the people then we will succeed.”

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Feb 062016
 
 February 6, 2016  Posted by at 10:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


NPC Shoomaker’s saloon at 1311 E Street N.W. Washington DC 1917

Oil Market Spiral Threatens To Prick Global Debt Bubble, Warns BIS (AEP)
Gundlach Says Financials Below Crisis Prices ‘Frightening’ (BBG)
Global Financial System Risk Is Soaring Worldwide (ZH)
Standard Chartered Down 57%, Returns to 1998 (WSJ)
US Exports Fell In 2015 For First Time Since Recession (AP)
Oil Rout Threatens Vicious Cycle for US Economy (WSJ)
The Chart of Doom: When Private Debt Stops Expanding… (CHS)
Why It Would Be Wise To Prepare For The Next Recession (Wolf)
Citi: World Economy Trapped In ‘Death Spiral’ (CNBC)
Negative-Interest-Rate Effect Already Dead, Central Banks Lost Control (WS)
China’s Reserves Pose The Next Hurdle For Yuan (CNBC)
Europe’s Economic Outlook Darkens, Sends Shudder Through Markets (BBG)
LinkedIn Sheds $11 Billion In Value On Stock’s Worst Day Since Debut (Reuters)
Armed With New US Money, NATO To Strengthen Russia Deterrence (Reuters)
Why Pensions Are The New Flashpoint In Greece’s Crisis (AP)

All growth is being exposed as debt. Don’t know that it’s wise to claim that it’s oil whodunnit.

Oil Market Spiral Threatens To Prick Global Debt Bubble, Warns BIS (AEP)

The global oil industry is caught in a self-feeding downward spiral as falling prices cause producers to boost output even further in a scramble to service $3 trillion of dollar debt, the world’s top watchdog has warned. The Bank for International Settlements fears that a perverse dynamic is at work where energy companies in Brazil, Russia, China and parts of the US shale belt are increasing production in defiance of normal market logic, leading to a bad “feedback-loop” that is sucking the whole sector into a destructive vortex. “Lower prices have not removed excess capacity from the market, but instead may have exacerbated it. Production has been ramped up, rather than curtailed,” said Jaime Caruana, the general manager of the Swiss-based club for central bankers.

The findings raise serious questions about the strategy of Saudi Arabia and the core Opec states as they flood the global crude market to knock out rivals in a cut-throat battle for export share. The process of attrition may take far longer and do more damage than originally supposed. Oil exporters are embracing austerity and slashing government spending, leading to a form of fiscal tightening that is slowing the global economy. Speaking at the London School of Economics, Mr Caruana said the sheer scale of leverage in the oil and gas industry is amplifying the downturn since companies are attempting to eke out extra production to stay afloat. The risk spreads on high-yield energy bonds have jumped from 330 basis points to 1,600 over the past 18 months, amplifying the effects of the oil price crash itself.

The industry has issued $1.4 trillion of bonds and taken out a further $1.6 trillion in syndicated loans, driving up the combined energy debt threefold to $3 trillion in less than a decade. While US shale frackers hog the limelight in the Anglo-Saxon press, many of these energy groups are giant “parastatals”, such as Rosneft, Petrobras or CNOOC. The BIS said state-owned oil companies increased debt at annual rate of 13pc in Russia, 25pc in Brazil and 31pc in China between 2006 and 2014, much it in the form of dollar debt through offshore subsidiaries. These oil companies do not respond to pure market pressures since they are cash cows for government budgets. The nexus of oil and gas debt is just one part of an over-stretched financial system, increasingly exposed to the dangers of a “maturing financial cycle” and to punishing moves in the global currency markets.

Mr Caruana said an “illusion of sustainability” has blinded borrowers and debtors, lulling them into a false of security when credit was easy and asset prices were rising. This illusion can die in the blink of an eye. “The turning of the financial cycle can be quite abrupt,” he said. The BIS calculates that debt in US dollars outside the United States has surged to $9.8 trillion, a fivefold rise since 2000 and an unprecedented level for the global monetary system as a whole. While some of this dollar debt is matched by dollar assets and dollar earnings, a big chunk has been used to play the local property markets of east Asia, Latin America or eastern Europe, and another chunk has been gobbled up by “non-tradable” sectors that have no natural currency hedge if it all goes wrong. [..] The BIS seems to be telling us that reckoning can still be orderly if we face up to reality, or end in a chaotic wave of defaults if we do not. Either way, the debt must clear.

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All banks.

Gundlach Says Financials Below Crisis Prices ‘Frightening’ (BBG)

DoubleLine Capital’s Jeffrey Gundlach said it’s “frightening” to see major financial stocks trading at prices below their financial crisis levels. He cited Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse as examples in a talk outlining bearish views at a conference in Beverly Hills, California, on Friday. Both banks fell this week to their lowest levels since the early 1990s in European trading. “We see the price of major financial stocks, particularly in Europe, which are truly frightening,” Gundlach said. “Do you know that Credit Suisse, which is a powerhouse bank, their stock price is lower than it was in the depths of the financial crisis in 2009? Do you know that Deutsche Bank is at a lower price today than it was in 2009 when we were talking about the potential implosion of the entire global banking system?”

The manager of the $54.7 billion DoubleLine Total Return Bond Fund said the dollar is headed lower in 2016 and that he’s buying non-U.S. currencies for the first time in five years. The euro is likely to strengthen against the greenback as the probability that the Federal Reserve will increase borrowing costs at its March meeting is virtually zero, and only 50% for the rest of the year, he told the Tiger 21 conference for high-net-worth investors. Gundlach, 56, said he’s considering buying corporate bonds later this year as prices continue to fall, including investing his personal money. “The whole question for me is when am I going to buy enormous amounts of corporate credit, because it’s crystal clear that that’s the next opportunity that’s out there,” Gundlach said. “There’s plenty of things out there that will have 100% returns. It’s a whole question of: Don’t tell me what to buy, tell me when to buy it.”

Debt related to energy and mining is still very risky, because of weakness in China’s economy and a worldwide oil glut, he said. “There’s simply no bullish case for oil right now,” Gundlach said. While he’s considering buying corporate debt, Gundlach said he’s moving away from municipal bonds, which have become overpriced. Puerto Rican general obligation bonds, which are priced for a haircut, are an exception, he said. The possibility for a workout is high because of the large number of Puerto Ricans in Florida, which is a key battleground state in this year’s presidential election, Gundlach said. “My guess is if you get defaulted on, you’re probably going to get something like 70 cents anyway,” he said.

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So are losses.

Global Financial System Risk Is Soaring Worldwide (ZH)

We warned earlier in the week that the credit risk of the world's financial institutions were on the rise and that trend has worsened as the week ends.

 

Global Bank Risk is spiking…

 

European Bank Risk is blowing out in Core and Peripheral nations…

 

And China Bank credit risk has broken to new cycle highs..

 

Some idiocysncratic names to keep an eye on…

Deutsche Bank – Europe's largest derivatives exposure (and thus epicenter of collapse should things turn out as bad as the bank's CoCos suggest) – is suffering seriously… It is becoming very clear that banks are buying protection on DB to hedge their counterparty exposure…

 

ICBC Bank is among China's largest banks (depending on the volatility of the day) and as China bank risk soars so China's sovereign risk is soaring too with devaluation and systemic crisis co-priced into these contracts…

 

National Commercial Bank – the largest Saudi bank and proxy for The Kingdom's wealth – is seeing its credit risk explode. As one analyst noted, if NCB has a crisis then Saudi military adventurism is in grave jeopardy…

 

And finally – yes it is spilling over to American banks and their "fortress" balance sheets…

 

But apart from that "storm in a teacup" – Buy The F**king Dip, right?

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Just one example.

Standard Chartered Down 57%, Returns to 1998 (WSJ)

Standard Chartered’s share price has fallen over 20% this year, reaching depths last seen in 1998, in the midst of the Asian economic crisis. The problems the bank faced back then are much the same as they are now. Back in 1997, StanChart’s share price was soaring. But following a crisis of confidence in Asia’s economy, the bank’s stock had collapsed 60% a year later. It was also still suffering from a tarnished reputation, after it was banned for a year from the Hong Kong IPO market in 1994 for creating a false market for shares. The board turned to a former senior banker from a Wall Street giant to solve its problems. Rana Talwar, a senior banker at Citigroup, was appointed head of StanChart in June 1998, a year after joining from the US bank. Talwar quickly set about re-organising the bank’s focus – binning unwanted regions (such as its British consumer finance arm) and concentrating on Asia via a series of acquisitions.

He also looked to refocus the investment bank, focusing in currency dealing, corporate banking and cash management, and eventually making some strategic deals in Asia. Fast forward almost 20 years, and new chief executive Bill Winters – an ex-JP Morgan banker – is also trying extract StanChart from a period of underperformance driven by a sputtering Asian economy, and ongoing run-ins with regulators. A new strategy is also underway, with a move toward retail, private banking and wealth management, cutting back on higher-risk corporate business and some investment banking units, such as equity capital markets. But investors have continued to sell the stock.Under Talwar, StanChart’s share price rebounded, as China’s economy kicked into overdrive. Today, while Standard Chartered’s share price continues to drop, Winters will be keen that China’s economy finds a second wind.

56.97%
The amount Standard Chartered share price has dropped since Winters joined in May 2015

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Omen.

US Exports Fell In 2015 For First Time Since Recession (AP)

The U.S. trade deficit rose in December as American exports fell for a third straight month, reflecting the pressures of a stronger dollar and spreading global weakness. Those factors contributed to the first annual drop in U.S. export sales since the Great Recession shrank global trade six years ago. The December deficit increased 2.7% to $43.4 billion, the Commerce Department reported Friday. Exports fell by 0.3%, driven by sales declines of civilian aircraft, autos and farm products. Imports increased 0.3% as Americans bought more foreign-made cars and petroleum. For all of 2015, the deficit rose 4.6% to $531.5 billion. Exports fell 4.8%, the first setback since 2009 when the world was in the grips of recession. Imports also retreated 3.1%.

American exporters have been hurt by global economic weakness and a stronger dollar, which makes their products more expensive on overseas markets. A wider trade deficit is a drag on economic growth because it means fewer overseas sales by American producers and larger imports of foreign goods. The deficit subtracted about one-half percentage point from growth in 2015, a year when the economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, grew by a modest 2.4%. Analysts say trade will also subtract from growth this year as well given that the dollar has continued to rise and China, the world’s second largest economy, is still struggling to cope with slowing growth. The U.S. deficit with China set a record in 2015, rising 6.6% to $365.7 billion. The deficit with the EU also set a record, rising 7.9% to $153.3 billion.

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The real impact of low oil prices starts to shine through even for the dimmest amongst us.

Oil Rout Threatens Vicious Cycle for US Economy (WSJ)

With oil hovering at $30 a barrel and gasoline below $2 a gallon, the pleasure of lower fuel prices is turning painful for more of the U.S. economy. The problem isn’t just the layoffs and investment cutbacks in the oil patch, two effects that have been expected since crude oil began sliding in 2014. Worries about energy-related bankruptcies and loan defaults also are helping to tighten financial conditions, weighing on a broader swath of the economy. Can the U.S. have too much of a good thing? Few economists expect the crude slump will tip the economy into recession. But the fallout could grow harder to contain if the oil-price declines are instead a symptom of broader weaknesses in the global economy, including soft demand and an oversupply of raw material, productive capacity and labor.

Cheap oil reflects a strengthening dollar, which has already crimped U.S. exports. And consumer sentiment could take a hit if the early-year stock-market declines are sustained. The bottom line: Even if cheap gas is still good for consumers, the forces behind it could be more corrosive than initially imagined. This past month’s declines in oil “are less a sign that things are about to get a lot better, and more a sign that things are in danger of getting a lot worse,” said HSBC senior economist Stephen King. Typically, markets treat higher energy prices as tax increases and lower prices as tax cuts. Indeed, cheap gasoline has been a boon to American households, which saved around $140 billion last year as a result, roughly double the savings in 2014. Gas prices averaged $1.82 a gallon last week, down from $3.68 in June 2014.

And last year’s fuel-price drop contributed around 0.5 percentage point in consumption growth, according to Jason Thomas at private-equity firm Carlyle Group. But the overall boost was weaker than expected, suggesting high household debt levels along with rising housing, health-care and college-education costs have American consumers refraining from bigger purchases. Cutbacks in the oil patch have so far “swamped whatever benefits you had on the consumer side,” said Lewis Alexander, chief U.S. economist at Nomura Securities.

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NOTE: private debt is also what causes these crises. So adding more won’t solve the issue.

The Chart of Doom: When Private Debt Stops Expanding… (CHS)

Once private credit rolls over in China and the U.S., the global recession will start its rapid slide down the Seneca Cliff. Few question the importance of private credit in the global economy. When households and businesses are borrowing to expand production and buy homes, vehicles, etc., the economy expands smartly. When private credit shrinks-that is, as businesses and households stop borrowing more and start paying down existing debt-the result is at best stagnation and at worst recession or depression. Courtesy of Market Daily Briefing, here is The Chart of Doom, a chart of private credit in the five primary economies:

Why is this The Chart of Doom? It’s fairly obvious that private credit is contracting in Japan and the Eurozone and stagnant in the U.K. As for the U.S.: after trillions of dollars in bank bailouts and additional liquidity, and $8 trillion in deficit spending, private credit in the U.S. managed a paltry $1.5 trillion increase in the seven years since the 2008 financial meltdown. Compare this to the strong growth from the mid-1990s up to 2008. This chart makes it clear that the sole prop under the global “recovery” since 2008-09 has been private credit growth in China. From $4 trillion to over $21 trillion in seven years–no wonder bubbles have been inflated globally.

Combine this expansion of private credit in China with the expansion of local government and other state-sector debt (state-owned enterprises, SOEs, etc.) and you have the makings of a global bubble machine. In other words, the faltering global “recovery” and all the tenuous asset bubbles around the world both depend on a continued hyper-velocity rocket rise in China’s private credit. What are the odds of this happening? Aren’t the signs that this rocket ship has burned its available fuel abundant? Three out of the five major economies are already experiencing stagnant or negative private credit growth. Three down, two to go. Helicopter money-government issued “free money” to households-is no replacement for private credit expansion.

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Martin Wolf stating the obvious.

Why It Would Be Wise To Prepare For The Next Recession (Wolf)

What might central banks do if the next recession hit while interest rates were still far below pre-2008 levels? As a paper from the London-based Resolution Foundation argues, this is highly likely. Central banks need to be prepared for this eventuality. The most important part of such preparation is to convince the public that they know what to do. Today, eight-and-a-half years after the first signs of the financial crisis, the highest short-term intervention rate applied by the Fed, the ECB, the Bank of Japan or the Bank of England is the latter’s 0.5%, which has been in effect since March 2009 and with no rise in sight. The ECB and the BoJ are even using negative rates, the latter after more than 20 years of short-term rates of 0.5%, or less.

The plight of the UK might not be that dire. Nevertheless, the latest market expectations imply a base rate of roughly 1.6% in 2021 and around 2.5% in 2025 — less than half as high as in 2007. What are the chances of a significant recession in the UK before 2025? Very high indeed. The same surely applies to the US, eurozone and Japan. Indeed, the imbalances within the Chinese economy, plus difficulties in many emerging economies, make this a risk now. The high-income economies are likely to hit a recession with much less room for conventional monetary loosening than before previous recessions. What would then be the options? One would be to do nothing. Many would call for the cleansing depression they believe the world needs. Personally, I find this idea crazy, given the damage it would do to the social fabric.

A second possibility would be to change targets, possibly to ones for growth or level of nominal gross domestic product or to a higher inflation rate. It would probably have been wise to have had a higher inflation target. But changing it when central banks are unable to deliver today’s lower target might destabilise expectations without improving outcomes. Moreover, without effective instruments a more ambitious target might just seem empty bombast. So the third possibility is either to change instruments or to use the existing ones more powerfully. One instrument, not much discussed, would be to organise the deleveraging of economies. This might need forced conversion of debt into equity. But, while desirable in extreme circumstances, this would be practically difficult.

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Light at the end of the death spiral?! “Rational behavior, most likely, will prevail,..”

Citi: World Economy Trapped In ‘Death Spiral’ (CNBC)

The global economy seems trapped in a “death spiral” that could lead to further weakness in oil prices, recession and a serious equity bear market, Citi strategists have warned. Some analysts -including those at Citi- have turned bearish on the world economy this year, following an equity rout in January and weaker economic data out of China and the U.S. “The world appears to be trapped in a circular reference death spiral,” Citi strategists led by Jonathan Stubbs said in a report on Thursday. “Stronger U.S. dollar, weaker oil/commodity prices, weaker world trade/petrodollar liquidity, weaker EM (and global growth)… and repeat. Ad infinitum, this would lead to Oilmageddon, a ‘significant and synchronized’ global recession and a proper modern-day equity bear market.”

Stubbs said that macro strategists at Citi forecast that the dollar would weaken in 2016 and that oil prices were likely bottoming, potentially providing some light at the end of the tunnel. “The death spiral is in nobody’s interest. Rational behavior, most likely, will prevail,” he said in the report. Crude oil prices have tumbled by around 70% since the middle of 2014, during which time the U.S. dollar has risen by around 20% against a basket of currencies. The world economy grew by 3.1% in 2015 and is projected to accelerate to expand by 3.4% in 2016 and 3.6% in 2017, according to the IMF. The forecast reflects expectations of gradual improvement in countries currently in economic distress, notably Brazil, Russia and some in the Middle East.

By contrast, Citi forecasts the world economy will grow by only 2.7% in 2016 having cut its outlook last month. Overall, advanced economies are mostly making a modest recovery, while many emerging market and developing economies are under strain from the rebalancing of the Chinese economy, lower commodity prices and capital outflows.

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As I remarked the other day, the accelerating speed with which ‘policies’ lose steam looks very much like the Bernanke days.

Negative-Interest-Rate Effect Already Dead, Central Banks Lost Control (WS)

The Bank of Japan’s surprise Negative-Interest-Rate party for stocks set a new record: it lasted only two days. Today a week ago, the Bank of Japan shocked markets into action. As the economy has deteriorated despite years of zero-interest-rate policy and Quantitative and Qualitative Easing (QQE) – a souped-up version of QE – the BOJ announced that it would cut one of its deposit rates from positive 0.1% to negative 0.1%. Headlines screamed Japan had gone “negative,” that it had joined the NIRPs of Europe – the Eurozone countries, Switzerland, Sweden, and Denmark. It was another desperate move, a head fake, and once the dust would settle, the hot air would go out. Now the dust has settled and the hot air has gone out.

On Thursday, January 28, the Nikkei closed at 17,041 down 19% from its Abenomics peak of 20,953 in June 2015. This situation is a bit of an embarrassment for the BOJ which has pushed Japanese asset managers of all kinds, including pension funds, particularly the Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF), the largest such pension fund in the word, to get off their conservative stance, sell their Japanese Government Bonds which made up the bulk or entirety of their portfolios, and buy risk assets with the proceeds. This they did, near the peak of the Abenomics bubble. While the BOJ was eagerly mopping up JGBs, the asset managers bought mostly Japanese equities, but they also bought global equities and corporate bonds. And the mere prospect of all this buying, the front-running by hedge funds, and then the actual buying drove up Japanese stock prices in 2014 and early 2015.

The bet seemed to work out. Wealth had been created out of nothing. A few more years of this, and it might actually resolve the Japanese underfunded pension crisis. Then the party stopped, and Japanese stocks swooned. In the second quarter of fiscal 2015 (June through August), the most recent report available, the GPIF lost ¥7.9 trillion, or 5.6%! It was its first quarterly loss since 2008 during the Financial Crisis. Its decision to yield to the pressures of the government and the BOJ to plow into Japanese stocks, global equities, and corporate bonds, when they were at the peak, has turned into a fiasco. So now the BOJ is trying to re-inflate these assets. For over two years, BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has been giving whatever-it-takes and no-limits speeches that were once lapped up by hedge funds and that fueled the big Abenomics rally, but that have since become ineffectual, and perhaps the butt of many jokes, as Japanese stocks continued to swoon.

Hence, on Friday last week, the bazooka: negative rates. After some volatility, the Nikkei soared 2.8% for the day. On Monday, it gained another 2%. But then the hot NIRP air came out of the market, and the Nikkei has dropped every single day since. Today, it closed at 16,819, having given up all of the two-day NIRP party gains, plus some. It’s now down 19.7% from its Abenomics high. Pension fund beneficiaries in Japan will be ecstatic when they learn what this strategy is doing to their future. [..] The bitter irony for Japanese pension funds? The very JGBs that they sold to the BOJ upon the BOJ’s urging have since soared in price, while the prices of the risk asset they bought upon the BOJ’s urging have plunged.

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Happy Lunar New Year. First, on Sunday China reserves numbers. ‘Eagerly anticipated’ though everyone knows they’re made up.

China’s Reserves Pose The Next Hurdle For Yuan (CNBC)

China has recently struggled to shore up the yuan amid hefty capital outflows. Reserves data over the weekend may offer a glimpse of the severity of the challenge. Analysts are generally calling for a drawdown of around $100 billion, following a decline of $107.9 billion in December. Reserves plunged by $512.66 billion in 2015, a record drop for the country, to $3.33 trillion, a move attributed in part to Beijing’s moves to prop up the yuan. In addition, China suffered almost $700 billion of capital flight in 2015, according to the Institute of International Finance. Local companies rushed to repay overseas loans as the yuan depreciated, while global investors grew increasingly wary of the country’s economic slowdown and Chinese authorities’ interventions in the financial markets.

The reserve data due Sunday will be closely watched, even though China’s financial markets will be closed for the Lunar New Year holiday for the next week. “Global markets aren’t closed. I think we’ll see some contagion effect there if we see a very significant drainage coming through,” Steve Brice at Standard Chartered Wealth Management told CNBC’s Street Signs. “If there were a trend acceleration we’ve seen in December and extended to January that would lead to people putting more pressure on the Chinese authorities to be more clear on their communications.” China’s policymakers have struggled recently to implement changes to the currency, attempting to move from a dollar-peg to a trade-weighted basket.

The move was targeted at shifting the currency towards an exchange rate that better reflects China’s trade links as well as divert attention away from the dollar/yuan exchange rate, which has risen sharply amid the divergence in monetary policy between the U.S. and China. The PBOC has also let market forces play a greater role in setting the value of the yuan although its recent actions have increased rather than curb confusion. In January, the central bank, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), guided the currency sharply lower without providing much indication to the market about its endgame – one factor in the China market selloff that triggered a global stock rout amid expectations the yuan would fall further. That spurred policymakers to intervene in the market by keeping the currency from falling further, but propping up the yuan also likely required selling dollars.

That’s opened up concerns about whether China’s reserves, the world’s largest, could become too depleted. Using IMF methodology, Khoon Goh, senior foreign-exchange strategist at ANZ, estimates that China will need a minimum of around $2.7 trillion in reserves if it keeps a fixed exchange-rate regime without capital controls. That leaves China only around a half a year of continuing to stabilize the yuan at the current drawdown rate, Goh said in a note Friday. Others have expressed concern about how the currency policy is affecting the reserves — and expectations of when the yuan will be allowed a freer float.

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Lipstick’s washing off the pig.

Europe’s Economic Outlook Darkens, Sends Shudder Through Markets (BBG)

Hints of investor optimism in Europe were snuffed out this week, as the darkening economic outlook registered across the continent and sent stocks and credit markets sliding. While market turmoil at the start of this year was sparked by a selloff in commodities and Chinese stocks, the reality of Europe’s own woes hit home as companies reported dismal earnings, and policy makers and institutions lined up to cut economic forecasts and warn of further risks. The European Commission cut its prediction for 2016 growth in the 19-nation bloc to 1.7% from 1.8% and said the largest economies of Germany, France and Italy will all perform worse than predicted just three months ago. While the ECB may spur into action again, moves in the euro and stocks suggest President Mario Draghi may be losing his ability to convince investors he can anesthetize the region from risks.

“Markets had a very rough start,” said Andreas Nigg at Vontobel Asset Management in Zurich. “There’s only so much central bankers, even Draghi, can do. Each incremental dose probably has a lower impact than the previous one. The weaker-than-expected economic growth and the associated increased likelihood of a recession led to selling of risky assets.” The blunt truth is that the euro area is still struggling to recover nearly six years after it first bailed out Greece, while European leaders are trying to tackle their latest crisis and stem the inflow of refugees. The doom and gloom nixed a nascent stock-market recovery in Europe, with a drop of 3.6% in the region’s shares this week almost completely erasing the rebound from the previous two. The losses have left the Stoxx Europe 600 Index down 9.9% this year, its worst start since 2008. It’s trading near its lowest valuation since July relative to a gauge of global equities.

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New tech, too, is just a bubble.

LinkedIn Sheds $11 Billion In Value On Stock’s Worst Day Since Debut (Reuters)

LinkedIn shares closed down 43.6% on Friday, wiping out nearly $11 billion of market value, after the social network for professionals shocked Wall Street with a revenue forecast that fell far short of expectations. The stock plunged as much as 46.5% to a more than three-year low of $102.89, registering its sharpest decline since the company’s high-profile public listing in 2011. The rout in the stock cost LinkedIn chairman Reid Hoffman about $1.2 billion based on his 11.1% stake in the company he co-founded, according to Reuters calculations. At least nine brokerages downgraded the stock to “hold” from “buy”, saying the company’s lofty valuation was no longer justified.

“With a lower growth profile, we believe that LinkedIn should not enjoy the premium multiple it has grown accustomed to,” Mizuho analysts wrote in a note. At least 36 brokerages cut their price targets, with Pacific Crest halving its target to $190. Their median target dropped 34% to $188, according to Reuters data. LinkedIn forecast full-year revenue of $3.60-$3.65 billion, missing the average analyst estimate of $3.91 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. “This would imply that LinkedIn will grow around 15% in 2017 and 10% in 2018,” Mizuho analysts said. Underscoring the slowdown in growth, LinkedIn said online ad revenue growth slowed to 20% in the latest quarter from 56% a year earlier.

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Told you -along with Ron Paul-, we should have dismantled it. Now NATO is a real and clear danger to all of us.

Armed With New US Money, NATO To Strengthen Russia Deterrence (Reuters)

Backed by an increase in U.S. military spending, NATO is planning its biggest build-up in eastern Europe since the Cold War to deter Russia but will reject Polish demands for permanent bases. Worried since Russia’s seizure of Crimea that Moscow could rapidly invade Poland or the Baltic states, the Western military alliance wants to bolster defenses on its eastern flank without provoking the Kremlin by stationing large forces permanently. NATO defense ministers will next week begin outlining plans for a complex web of small eastern outposts, forces on rotation, regular war games and warehoused equipment ready for a rapid response force. That force includes air, maritime and special operations units of up to 40,000 personnel.

The allies are also expected to offer Moscow a renewed dialogue in the NATO-Russia Council, which has not met since 2014, about improved military transparency to avoid surprise events and misunderstandings, a senior NATO diplomat said. U.S. plans for a four-fold increase in military spending in Europe to $3.4 billion in 2017 are central to the strategy, which has been shaped in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. The plans are welcomed by NATO whose chief, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, says it will mean “more troops in the eastern part of the alliance … the pre-positioning of equipment, tanks, armored vehicles … more exercises and more investment in infrastructure.”

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The only way I see to make any pensions sytem “remain viable” is to introduce basic income instead.

Why Pensions Are The New Flashpoint In Greece’s Crisis (AP)

Combine a rapidly aging population, a depleted work force and leaky finances and any country’s pension system would be in trouble. For debt-hobbled, unemployment-plagued Greece, it’s a nightmare. Hemmed in by a grim economic reality and tough-talking bailout creditors, the leftwing-led government in Athens is now attempting the seemingly impossible: to reform the pension system without cutting pensions, largely through a steep increase in social security contributions. The overhaul, which creditors are demanding in return for rescue loans, means Greeks who have a job — and who are outnumbered by the unemployed and retired — have to pay for the rest Unions are up in arms about the move, which has become the main hurdle in Greece’s negotiations with its European creditors and the IMF.

Critics say the reform will heap the most pain on self-employed professionals and farmers, forcing them to pay up to three quarters of their income in pension contributions and taxes. They warn the majority will be forced to change jobs or emigrate — accelerating the brain drain the country has suffered since the crisis started in 2010. “We are fighting for our very survival,” said Georgios Stassinos, head of the country’s biggest engineers’ union. If the reforms are adopted, he said, “the country will be left without engineers, doctors, lawyers, pharmacists and economists.” The head of Greece’s bar associations, Vassilios Alexandris, said the new system would reduce some lawyers’ net incomes to as little as 31% of their gross intakes, from the current 46%. “Professionals will not pay their (pension) contributions, not out of choice but because they will be unable to,” he said.

In Greek cities, a wave of protests has become known as the necktie revolution, from a series of demonstrations by formally-dressed professionals. The discontent is even more obvious in the countryside, where farmers have manned highway blockades for over two weeks. Costas Alexandris, a farmers’ union leader in the northeastern area of Thrace, said he stands to pay 75% of his income in taxes and contributions next year under the government’s proposals, which include taxation on subsidies and a leap in farmers’ pension contributions from 7 to 28%. But if Greece wants to make its pensions system viable, it has few options. Current retirees have already seen their pensions cut repeatedly under austerity programs since 2009 and the retirement age has been raised from about 62 to 67.

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