May 182017
 
 May 18, 2017  Posted by at 9:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrFlattr the authorDigg thisShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone


Paul Klee Fire at Full Moon 1933

 

‘Bobby Three Sticks’ Mueller to Probe Russia-Trump imbroglio (R.)
Trump To Announce $350bn Saudi Arabia Arms Deal – One Of Largest Ever (Ind.)
America’s Reign of Terror: A Nation Reaps What It Sows (Whitehead)
Investors Supercharge Bet Amazon Will Destroy US Retail (BBG)
Fed’s Kashkari Says Don’t Use Rate Hikes To Fight Bubbles (R.)
US Banks Tighten Auto Lending as More Borrowers Fall Into Default (BBG)
Canadian Officials Say Housing Risks Are Contained (BBG)
Prosecutor To Label Deutsche Bank An International Criminal Association (BBG)
Germany Asks US For Classified Briefing On Lockheed’s F-35 Fighter (R.)
Brazil: Explosive Recordings Implicate President Michel Temer In Bribery (G.)
Get Ready For The Franco-German Revival (Pol.)
Greek Parliament Committee Finds Salary, Pension Cuts Unconstitutional (GR)
Deal On Greece Is Touch And Go (K.)
Traffickers, Smugglers Exploit Record Rise In Unaccompanied Child Refugees (G.)

 

 

The echo chamber expands. It’s ironic to see how everyone praises Mueller’s independence, yet many are sure he will be Trump’s undoing. What flack will he get when he doesn’t do what the MSM demand?

‘Bobby Three Sticks’ Mueller to Probe Russia-Trump imbroglio (R.)

Former FBI director and prosecutor Robert Mueller, known for his independence in high-profile government investigations, is taking on a new challenge in the midst of a crisis that threatens the presidency of the United States. Mueller, 72, was named on Wednesday by the Justice Department to probe alleged Russian efforts to sway November’s presidential election in favor of Donald Trump and to investigate whether there was any collusion between Trump’s campaign team and Moscow. President Trump said in a statement there was no collusion between his campaign and “any foreign entity.” Mueller is known by some as “Bobby Three Sticks” because of his full name – Robert Mueller III – a moniker that belies the formal bearing and no-nonsense style of the former Marine Corps officer who was decorated during the Vietnam War.

Democrats and Republicans alike praised his appointment and hailed his integrity and reputation. Mueller was named to the post by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. His investigation will run in parallel to those being carried out by the FBI and the U.S. Congress. It would be difficult to fire Mueller, and past special counsel appointments have shown that the job comes with independence and autonomy. Chicago federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed during the George W. Bush administration in 2003 to a similar role to investigate the leak of the identity of Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA officer whose husband had criticized Bush administration policies. Fitzgerald indicted I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. Bush granted Libby clemency from a prison sentence before he left office.

Read more …

If you want to protest Trump, protest this….

Trump To Announce $350bn Saudi Arabia Arms Deal – One Of Largest Ever (Ind.)

Donald Trump will use his upcoming Saudi Arabia trip to announce one of the largest arms sales deals in US history – somewhere in the neighbourhood of $98bn to $128bn worth of arms. That could add up to $350bn over ten years. The deal will be what the Washington Post said is a “cornerstone” of the proposal encouraging the Gulf states to form its own alliance like the NATO military alliance, dubbed “Arab Nato.” Nato is comprised of 28 countries including the US. Mr Trump been an outspoken critic of the organisation but after a face-to-face meeting with Nato Secretary General Jens Stollenberg, he said the alliance was “no longer obsolete.” The White House said the president will propose it as a template for an alliance that will fight terrorism and keep Iran in check.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began negotiations on this deal shortly after the 2016 US election when he sent a delegation to Trump Tower to meet with the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is serving as a senior advisor of sorts to Mr Trump. The idea of an Arab Nato is not new. There was talk in 2015 of a “response force” in Egypt, comprised of approximately 40,000 troops from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and a few other Gulf nations. The “response force” would have had a Nato-like command structure, with soldiers paid for by their own countries and the Gulf Cooperation Council made up of wealthy oil economies finance operations and management of the force.

President Barack Obama’s administration brokered more arms sales than any US administration since World War II – estimated at $200bn. They sold Saudi Arabia alone $60bn in arms, which sparked criticism by Democrats concerned with Saudi Arabia’s alleged human rights violations. Mr Trump benefits by bringing about a more “fair” deal; he has claimed several times that Nato is unfair to the US because of the amount of contributions and support provided by the US compared to countries like Germany. If Arab Nato succeeds, the White House official said the US could shift the responsibility for security to those in the region and create jobs at home through the arms sales.

Read more …

…because that Saudi arms deal is a further expansion of this long-term insanity. Military industrial complex.

America’s Reign of Terror: A Nation Reaps What It Sows (Whitehead)

Who designed the malware worm that is now wreaking havoc on tens of thousands of computers internationally by hackers demanding a king’s ransom? The US government. Who is the biggest black market buyer and stockpiler of cyberweapons (weaponized malware that can be used to hack into computer systems, spy on citizens, and destabilize vast computer networks)? The US government. What country has one the deadliest arsenals of weapons of mass destruction? The US government. Who is the largest weapons manufacturer and exporter in the world, such that they are literally arming the world? The US government. Which is the only country to ever use a nuclear weapon in wartime? The United States. How did Saddam Hussein build Iraq’s massive arsenal of tanks, planes, missiles, and chemical weapons during the 1980s? With help from the US government.

Who gave Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida “access to a fortune in covert funding and top-level combat weaponry”? The US government. What country has a pattern and practice of entrapment that involves targeting vulnerable individuals, feeding them with the propaganda, know-how and weapons intended to turn them into terrorists, and then arresting them as part of an elaborately orchestrated counterterrorism sting? The US government. Where did ISIS get many of their deadliest weapons, including assault rifles and tanks to anti-missile defenses? From the US government. Which country has a history of secretly testing out dangerous weapons and technologies on its own citizens? The US government. Are you getting the picture yet? The US government isn’t protecting us from terrorism. The US government is creating the terror. It is, in fact, the source of the terror.

Just think about it for a minute: almost every tyranny being perpetrated against the citizenry—purportedly to keep us safe and the nation secure—has come about as a result of some threat manufactured in one way or another by our own government. Cyberwarfare. Terrorism. Bio-chemical attacks. The nuclear arms race. Surveillance. The drug wars. In almost every instance, the US government has in its typical Machiavellian fashion sown the seeds of terror domestically and internationally in order to expand its own totalitarian powers.

Read more …

Let’s celebrate progress.

Investors Supercharge Bet Amazon Will Destroy US Retail (BBG)

Investors who think Amazon.com Inc. is about to destroy the retail industry as we know it have figured out a way to supercharge that bet – by buying the online giant’s stock and pairing it with a short position in the SPDR S&P Retail ETF, symbol XRT, a foundering fund that primarily holds bricks-and-mortar stores. “If you are long Amazon, wouldn’t it make sense to be short the stocks Amazon will look to decimate?” said Ihor Dusaniwsky, head of research for S3 Partners. “It’s going long the ‘best of the breed’ and shorting the ‘worst of the breed.’” Traders are building up short positions in anticipation of XRT dropping to $40 or $41, Dusaniwsky said. The fund, which is down more than 5% this year, closed at $41.74 on Tuesday.

XRT’s top holdings include furniture stores, supermarkets and groceries, electronics chains and media streaming, all areas where Amazon is spending heavily, Dusaniwsky said. “If Amazon succeeds, it will be at the expense of companies like Wayfair, Sprouts Farmers Market, Whole Foods, Best Buy and Netflix,” Dusaniwsky said. These five companies make up around 7% of XRT, which also holds $3.37 million of Amazon stock, making it 1.2% to the portfolio. So far Amazon is holding up its end of the bet. The world’s largest online retailer beat profit and revenue estimates in the first quarter and said sales may top projections in second quarter, according to an April 27 statement. The stock’s up 28% this year, as the company continues to add subscribers to its $99-a-year Prime program, locking in loyalty and building a moat against competitors.

Read more …

Is Kashkari denying the existence of bubbles?

Fed’s Kashkari Says Don’t Use Rate Hikes To Fight Bubbles (R.)

Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank President Neel Kashkari on Wednesday warned against using interest-rate hikes to address unwanted asset bubbles, saying that bubbles are hard to identify and such hikes would likely do more harm than good. Kashkari is a voting member this year on the U.S. central bank’s policy committee, and in March was the lone dissenter on a Fed vote to raise rates for the third time since the Great Recession. He has previously said he opposed the rate hike because he felt keeping rates low would result in more jobs for Americans who want to work. Some Fed officials have worried that keeping rates too low for too long could create asset bubbles that could set the U.S. economy up for another recession.

But the main reason Fed chair Janet Yellen and others have given for raising rates is not to tamp down bubbles, but to keep a now nearly fully employed economy from going into overdrive. Kashkari’s latest essay argues that keeping a sharp eye out for potential bubbles and using supervisory powers to protect banks from failures are better options than raising rates. “Given the challenges of identifying bubbles with any confidence and the costs of making a policy mistake, I believe the odds of circumstances ever making sense to use monetary policy to try to slow asset prices down are very low,” he wrote. “I won’t say never but a whole lot of evidence would have to line up just right for it to be the prudent course of action.”

Read more …

Horse. Barn.

US Banks Tighten Auto Lending as More Borrowers Fall Into Default (BBG)

Lenders are tightening the spigot on new auto loans, making it harder for U.S. consumers with weak credit to buy a car, data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York show. New car loans for subprime borrowers fell in the first quarter to $25.9 billion, the lowest in two years, according to the New York Fed’s quarterly report on household debt and credit. Drivers with credit scores below 620 now comprise less than 20% of new loans, down from almost 30% a decade ago. Borrowers with the highest credit scores – 760 or more – made up nearly a third of new auto loan originations in the first quarter as lenders target the safer deals. Banks including Fifth Third Bank have been trimming their loan books and cutting back on riskier credit as delinquent auto loan balances surge.

The share of auto debt more than 90 days overdue rose to 3.82% in the first quarter, the highest in four years. While caution may be good for banks’ balance sheets, it doesn’t offer much relief for automakers, who relied on cheap credit to fuel a seven-year stretch of booming sales. Now they’re boosting discounts and cutting production to address swelling inventory on dealer lots. Ford said Wednesday it’s cutting 1,400 jobs in North America and Asia to improve profits as the U.S. auto industry recorded a fourth straight drop in monthly sales in April, after eking out a record year in 2016. Tighter credit “is a big impediment to future strength in auto sales,” said Yelena Shulyatyeva, senior U.S. economist for Bloomberg Intelligence. “A lot of this demand was driven by loose lending standards.”

Read more …

Not helping.

Canadian Officials Say Housing Risks Are Contained (BBG)

Canadian government officials delivered a vote of confidence in the country’s housing sector and banking system, telling lawmakers that Vancouver and Toronto’s real estate markets are supported by fundamentals that leave risks well-contained. Senior officials from Canada’s Finance Department testified Wednesday evening to the Senate finance committee, fielding questions about the stability of the housing market, risks posed by high household debt levels in Canada and the recent downgrade of banks by Moody’s Investors Service Inc. The hearing came amid questions about the future of Home Capital and any knock-on effect that a potential failure there could have on Canada’s housing sector, particularly in Vancouver and Toronto.

The core message from the officials was Canada’s market was stable and, despite some risks, policy makers’ measures are taking effect. “We don’t think there’s any systemic risk across the country,” said Phil King, a director at the economic and fiscal policy branch at Finance Canada. “There are specific pockets of concern, which seem to have ameliorated somewhat in the very-near term but we’re keeping a very close eye on those.” Vancouver and Toronto have “very, very strong fundamentals” supporting prices including immigration, strong job creation, strong income gains and high wealth, he said. King described a national housing market with distinct regions — surging Toronto and Vancouver, soft markets in energy-producing regions such as Calgary, and other cities like Montreal and Ottawa where policy makers have “no concerns whatsoever.”

Read more …

As Goldman Sachs should be for its activities in Greece.

Prosecutor To Label Deutsche Bank An International Criminal Association (BBG)

Deutsche Bank, on trial in Milan for allegedly helping Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena conceal losses, must face accusations that it was running an international criminal organization at the time. Prosecutors used internal Deutsche Bank documents and emails to persuade a three-judge panel to consider whether there were additional, aggravating circumstances to the charges the German lender already faces related to derivatives transactions. The material included a London trader’s “well done!” message to a banker who is now on trial, evidence seen by Bloomberg shows. Allowing prosecutors to argue that the alleged market manipulation crimes were committed by an organization operating in several countries could lead to higher penalties if they win a conviction.

Giuseppe Iannaccone, a lawyer for Deutsche Bank and some of the defendants, sought to block the move at Tuesday’s hearing, saying there wasn’t a clear connection between the original charge of market manipulation and the alleged aggravating circumstances. “The trial for Deutsche Bank managers becomes more problematic after the judge’s decision,” said Giampiero Biancolella, an attorney specializing in financial crime who isn’t involved in the case. “If proven, the aggravating circumstance may increase the eventual jail sentence for the market manipulation to a maximum of nine years.” The German bank and Nomura went on trial in Milan in December, accused of colluding with Monte Paschi to cover up losses that almost toppled the Italian lender before its current battle for survival. Thirteen former managers of Deutsche Bank, Nomura and Monte Paschi were charged for alleged false accounting and market manipulation.

Deutsche Bank and Nomura are accused of using complex derivative trades to hide losses at the Italian lender, leading to a misrepresentation of its finances between 2008 and 2012. After the deals came to light in a 2013 Bloomberg News report, Monte Paschi restated its accounts and tapped shareholders twice to replenish capital. Deutsche Bank and six current and former managers were indicted in Milan Oct. 1 for allegedly helping falsify the Siena-based lender’s accounts through a deal known as Santorini. The prosecution’s request to label Deutsche Bank an international criminal association hinged on events that occurred in other parts of the globe, including the possible manipulation of an index, which isn’t the subject of charges in the Milan case.

Read more …

History’s biggest ever financial boondoggle. And nobody dares stop it.

Germany Asks US For Classified Briefing On Lockheed’s F-35 Fighter (R.)

The German Air Force this month sent the U.S. military a written request for classified data on the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet as it gears up to replace its current fleet of fighter jets from 2025 to 2035. The letter, sent by the Air Force’s planning command and seen by Reuters, makes clear that the German government has not yet authorized a procurement program and is not committed to any particular aircraft to replace its current warplanes. It said the defense ministry would carry out “an in-depth evaluation of market available solutions, including the F-35, later this year,” with a formal “letter of request” to be issued in coming months.

Germany’s interest in the F-35 – the Pentagon’s most advanced warplane and its costliest procurement program – may surprise some given that it is part of the four-nation consortium that developed the fourth-generation Eurofighter Typhoon, which continues to compete for new orders. The Eurofighter is built by Airbus as well as Britain’s BAE Systems and Leonardo of Italy. Germany will need to replace its current fleet of fourth-generation warplanes – Tornadoes in use since 1981 and Eurofighters – between 2025 and 2035. The F-35 is considered a fifth-generation fighter given stealth capabilities that allow it to evade enemy radars.

Berlin’s letter also comes amid growing tensions between the West and Russia over Moscow’s support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, with NATO officials saying that Russian naval activity now exceeds levels seen even during the Cold War. Britain, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey and Italy – key NATO allies of Germany – are already buying the F-35 fighter jet to replace their current aircraft, and other European countries such as Switzerland, Belgium and Finland are also looking at purchasing the fifth-generation warplane. Germany’s gesture may be aimed at strengthening its hand in negotiations with its European partners over the scale and timing of development of a next generation of European fighters. Any moves to buy a U.S. built warplane could run into political resistance in Germany, which has strong labor unions.

Read more …

Just turn parliament into a prison building. Most effective solution.

Brazil: Explosive Recordings Implicate President Michel Temer In Bribery (G.)

Angry crowds and outraged members of Brazil’s congress have demanded the impeachment of President Michel Temer following reports he was secretly recorded discussing hush money pay-offs to a jailed associate. The tapes were presented to prosecutors as part of a plea bargain by Joesley and Wesley Batista, brothers who run the country’s biggest meat-packing firm JBS, according to O Globo newspaper. They are said to contain conversations that incriminate several leading politicians, including the former presidential candidate Aecio Neves and the former finance minister Guido Mantega. Temer is alleged to have talked with Joesley about cash payments to Eduardo Cunha, the former speaker of the House who has been jailed for his role in the sprawling Petrobras corruption scandal.

Cunha is in the same ruling Brazilian Democratic Movement party as Temer and initiated the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff that allowed him to take over the presidency. He has alluded to the many secrets he knows about his former colleagues. In covert recordings made during two conversations in March, Joesley tells Temer he is paying Cunha to keep him quiet, to which the president allegedly replies: “You have to keep it going, OK?” According to Globo, police also have audio and video evidence that Temer’s aide Rocha Loures negotiated bribes worth 500,000 reais (US$160,000) a week for 20 years in return for helping JBS overcome a problem with the fair trade office.

No audio or transcripts were released. The supreme court has refused to comment on the validity of the alleged leak – but the news has enraged the public. Shouts and pot-banging (a traditional form of protest in Latin America) could be heard when the allegations were aired on TV. Crowds also gathered outside the presidential palace chanting “Fora Temer” (Temer out). Two congressmen submitted impeachment motions in the lower house.

Read more …

Macron falls in line with what Berlin wants as much as Hollande did. Where’s the difference? Merkel and Schäuble like it, because now no-one will dare speak up anymore.

Get Ready For The Franco-German Revival (Pol.)

With none of the previous three presidents Merkel has sat across from in the past 12 years did the cautious chancellor achieve the deep mutual understanding and political serendipity that powered European integration in the eras of Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle, Helmut Schmidt and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, or Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand. Macron promised to be a “frank, direct and constructive partner” for Berlin. If he can convince Merkel to revive the frequent, unscripted, plain-speaking meetings between French and German leaders of the past, it will be a crucial step toward setting a joint agenda for Europe. July’s joint cabinet session — where both defense and the economy will be on the agenda — will be a first test of the promised Franco-German revival.

Macron has made it clear he intends to use France’s major contribution to European defense and security as a lever to help secure progress in the eurozone. But his influence in Berlin, as he acknowledged, will depend on his ability to break the rigidities in the French labor market and put the country’s young people to work. He will need to overcome deep-seated resistance to eurozone intervention in national budget policies. The last Socialist government was as defiant as its Gaullist predecessors when the European Commission repeatedly criticized France’s excessive deficits, high tax burden on business and employment, and generous welfare and pension systems. But Macron is committed to the right track. Honoring commitments to EU-supervised economic reforms are part of his vision for a more integrated eurozone, he said in Berlin.

[..] When it comes to the eurozone, Germany will have to end its resistance to further risk-sharing to complete the EU’s banking union. And here progress is likely to be difficult. Macron will need Berlin to lift its blockade on common deposit insurance and a joint fiscal backstop for the European bank resolution fund. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble — who has expressed support for some of Macron’s ideas — will hold both steps hostage at least until after the German general election in September. Schäuble is holding out for a very different form of eurozone governance, in which an inter-governmental (i.e. German-controlled) European Monetary Fund, built on the existing European Stability Mechanism, would impose automatic debt restructuring and an austerity program on any eurozone country that needed assistance.

Read more …

Can Tsipras impose cuts when they violate his constitution? Can the Troika?

Greek Parliament Committee Finds Salary, Pension Cuts Unconstitutional (GR)

The Parliamentary Scientific Committee in its new report that accompanies the new omnibus bill expressed concern over the constitutionality of the provisions of Law 4387/2016 that calls for new cuts to pensions and special salaries. According to Professor and former SYRIZA lawmaker Alexis Mitropoulos, the report was posted on the parliament site shortly after midnight on Tuesday. Mitropoulos spoke on Ant1 television on Wednesday saying that, “After the recent Court of Audit decision, and following a long meeting, the committee found that the cuts in special wages, pensions and taxation were found to be unconstitutional.”

The new bill includes deep cuts in pensions and slashes in salaries of army and police personnel, sectors where special salary regulations apply. “The proposed reductions disrupt the balance that must exist between, on the one hand, the pension as a personal asset, which is protected by Article 1 and, on the other, of the public interest,” the report says regarding the pension cuts. As for cuts in special salaries, the report argues that, the cuts “are part of a wider fiscal adjustment program containing a package of measures to revive the Greek economy and consolidate public finances” but their implementation “is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the constitutionality of these cuts.”

Read more …

A child can tell that this is nonsense:

Growth predicted at “..2.1% this year and 2.5% in 2018, and continuing at a similar pace until 2060(!)..”. While the demanded budget surplus is 3.5% for the next 5 years. Which guarantees the growth predictions won’t be achieved.

Deal On Greece Is Touch And Go (K.)

A senior eurozone official put on Wednesday the chances of a complete agreement on Greece being reached at this Monday’s Eurogroup meeting at 50%, while many issues remain open and the negotiation battle at this stage is mainly between Berlin and the IMF. The official also reiterated that there will be no tranche disbursement without the IMF agreeing to participate in the Greek program. There are three scenarios on the negotiating table, according to two eurozone officials who took part in last Monday’s Euro Working Group. All three provide for the primary budget surplus to remain at 3.5% of GDP until 2022, showing that this is not negotiable anymore.

The main obstacle to an agreement among Greece’s creditors is that they disagree on the rate of Greek growth in the coming years, a key parameter for the extent of Greek debt easing. The first scenario provides for growth to match the European Commission’s estimates for 2.1% this year and 2.5% in 2018, and continuing at a similar pace until 2060. If there is a primary surplus of 2-2.6% of GDP, then the measures agreed last May will suffice to make the Greek debt sustainable. According to the second scenario, growth will be below even the IMF forecast and will not exceed 1% per year in the long term. That should take the primary surplus down to 1.5% of GDP from 2023, and more measures will be needed to render the debt sustainable. The third scenario is similar to the second, but the growth forecast is slightly higher, at 1.25%.

Read more …

Forget about hoping Brussels is looking for a solution NOT located in southern Libya. Just imagine what you would do if this was your child.

Traffickers, Smugglers Exploit Record Rise In Unaccompanied Child Refugees (G.)

A record increase in the number of refugee and migrant children travelling alone has left many exposed to sexual abuse and exploitation at the hands of traffickers and opportunists. At least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children were recorded in 80 countries in 2015-16, a rise of almost 500% on the 66,000 documented in 2010-2011, according to a Unicef report published on Wednesday. The central Mediterranean passage is one of several migration routes identified as particularly dangerous for children. More than 75% of the 1,600 14- to 17-year-olds who arrived in Italy reported being held against their will or forced to work.

“One child moving alone is one too many and yet, today, there are a staggering number of children doing just that – we as adults are failing to protect them,” said Unicef’s deputy executive director, Justin Forsyth. “Ruthless smugglers and traffickers are exploiting their vulnerability for personal gain, helping children to cross borders, only to sell them into slavery and forced prostitution. It is unconscionable that we are not adequately defending children from these predators.” The sheer number of migrant and refugee arrivals has left states struggling to cope, with children often falling through the cracks.

Border closures, aggressive pushback measures, overcrowded shelters, makeshift camps and heavy-handed authorities have only served to exacerbate the risk of child exploitation, encouraging unaccompanied minors to take highly dangerous routes in a desperate bid to reach their destinations. One 17-year-old girl from Nigeria told Unicef that she was trapped in Libya for three months and sexually assaulted by her smuggler-turned-trafficker as she attempted to travel alone to Italy. “Everything [he] said – that we would be treated well and that we would be safe – it was all wrong. It was a lie,” she said of the man who offered to help her. “He said to me if I didn’t sleep with him, he would not bring me to Europe. He raped me.”

Read more …

Dec 012015
 
 December 1, 2015  Posted by at 10:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrFlattr the authorDigg thisShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone


John Vachon Hull-Rust-Mahoning, largest open pit iron mine in the world, Hibbing, Minnesota 1941

4 Telltale Signs The Credit Cycle Is Turning Now (Zero Hedge)
This Chart Should Put Stock Investors On High Alert (MarketWatch)
There’s a Big Drop in US Treasury Debt Supply Coming in 2016 (BBG)
Perverse Incentives : Stock Buybacks Blow Up Corporate America (Lebowitz)
IMF Approves Reserve-Currency Status for China’s Yuan (BBG)
Euro to Bear Brunt of Yuan’s Inclusion in Reserve-Currency Club (BBG)
No QE: Easy Money Is The Source Of China’s Problems, Not The Solution (Balding)
China Manufacturing At Three-Year Low (AFP)
The Debt Deadlines Faced By 5 Chinese Firms With Alarming Cash Problems (BBG)
Sydney Home Prices Drop Most in 5 Years (BBG)
Greek Debt Relief Talks To Focus On Net Present Value (Reuters)
The War on Terror is Creating More Terror (Ron Paul)
TPP Clauses That Let Australia Be Sued: Weapons Of Legal Destruction (Guardian)
Why the US Pays More Than Other Countries for Drugs (WSJ)
The Story Line Dissolves (Jim Kunstler)
The Slow Death Of Hope For America’s Loyal Friends In Iraq (FT)
Migrant Blockades Of Train Tracks In Northern Greece Hit Commerce (Kath.)

Otherwise known as deflation.

4 Telltale Signs The Credit Cycle Is Turning Now (Zero Hedge)

Earlier today, the FT wrote an article in which it found that “companies have defaulted on $78bn worth of debt so far this year, according to Standard & Poor’s, with 2015 set to finish with the highest number of worldwide defaults since 2009” which together with a chart we have been showing for the past year, namely the staggering disconnect between junk bond yields and the S&P500… has made many wonder if the credit cycle – a key leading indicator to economic inflection points and in the case of the last credit bubble, the Great Financial Crisis – has already turned. According to a recent analysis by Ellington Management, the answer is a resounding yes. [..] Ellington concludes: “once “fickle investors exit the market, high yield bonds and leveraged loan prices should settle at a supply/demand equilibrium well below today’s levels.”

Telltale Signs the Credit Cycle is Turning Now

We believe that we are now at the end of the “over-investment” phase of the corporate credit cycle in the US that has been playing out since the depths of the GFC. This view is supported by a number of telltale signs of a reversal in the credit cycle:
Worsening Fundamentals – Declining corporate profits, record levels of corporate leverage, and an elevated high yield share of total corporate debt issuance
Defaults/Downgrades – Credit rating downgrades at a pace not seen since 2009
Falling Asset Prices – Price deterioration in the lowest quality loans and the most junior CLO tranches
Tightening Lending Standards – Weak investor appetite for new distressed debt issues, declines in CLO and CCC HY bond issuance, and tightening in domestic bank lending standards

Read more …

Similar stocks vs junk bonds data. But do note the differences in the graphs too, in the 2012-14 period.

This Chart Should Put Stock Investors On High Alert (MarketWatch)

The continued downtrend in the high-yield bond market is warning that liquidity is drying up, which could bode very badly for the stock market. When financial markets are flooded with liquidity, investors tend to feel safer about investing in riskier, higher-yielding assets, like noninvestment grade, or “junk,” bonds, and stocks. When the flow of money slows, the appetite for risk tends to decrease as well. That’s why many stock market watchers keep a close eye on the longer-term trends in the high-yield bond market. If money is flowing steadily into junk bonds, investors are likely to be just as willing, if not more willing, to buy equities.

When money is coming out of junk bonds, like the chart below shows, many see that as a warning that investors could start selling stocks. “High yield corporate bonds are thought by many to behave like the rest of the bond market, but they actually behave a lot more like the stock market,” Tom McClellan, publisher of the investment newsletter McClellan Market Report, wrote in a recent note to clients. “And when high-yield bonds start to suffer, that is usually a reliable sign that liquidity is drying up, and bad times are about to come for the stock market.”

Read more …

Oh, well, they’ll have to buy the ones China will be selling.

There’s a Big Drop in US Treasury Debt Supply Coming in 2016 (BBG)

Lost in the debate over the U.S. Treasury market’s resilience as the Federal Reserve starts to raise interest rates is one simple fact: supply is falling – and fast. Net issuance of U.S. notes and bonds will tumble 27% next year, according to estimates by primary dealers that are obligated to bid at Treasury debt auctions. The $418 billion of new supply would be the least since 2008. While a narrowing budget deficit is reducing the U.S.’s funding needs, the Treasury has shifted its focus to T-bills as post-crisis regulations prompt investors to demand a larger stock of short-term debt instead. The drop-off in longer-term debt supply may keep a lid on yields, providing another reason to believe Fed Chair Janet Yellen can end an unprecedented era of easy money without causing a jump in borrowing costs that derails the economy.

“Longer-term yields will be slower to move up next year because the Treasury will be funding more with bills,” said Ward McCarthy, the chief financial economist at Jefferies, who has analyzed U.S. debt markets for over three decades and was a senior economist at the Richmond Fed. “There is also a global appetite for Treasuries as U.S. debt is one of the world’s highest-yielding and is among the most liquid markets.” Excluding bills, Jefferies forecasts net issuance of $404 billion in 2016, down from their $607 billion estimate for this year. Of the ten estimates compiled by Bloomberg, the Bank of Montreal was the lone primary dealer calling for an increase in 2016. Net issuance of interest-bearing securities, or those with maturities from two years to 30 years, has fallen every year since the U.S. borrowed a record $1.61 trillion in 2010, data compiled by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association show.

After the market for Treasuries more than doubled since the financial crisis to $12.8 trillion as the government ran deficits to bail out banks and support the economy, the U.S. has started to scale back supply. One reason is the narrowing budget gap. With the Fed holding its benchmark rate near zero since December 2008, the jobless rate has fallen by half from its post-crisis peak in 2009, to 5% today. As tax revenue increases, the Congressional Budget Office forecasts the shortfall will narrow to $414 billion in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2016, from $439 billion in the previous 12 months and $483 billion in the prior annual period. To lock in record-low long-term borrowing costs, the government has also lengthened the average maturity of its debt to 5.8 years from 4.1 years at the end of 2008. One consequence is that the Treasury market’s share of bills has shrunk to about 10%, the smallest in Bloomberg data going back to 1996.

Read more …

Perverse incentives 101. How corporate America blows itself up.

Perverse Incentives : Stock Buybacks Blow Up Corporate America (Lebowitz)

Vast swaths of the population in the United States are not enjoying the benefits of the so-called post-crisis recovery. Meanwhile, the top executives of major corporations are prospering in a way never before seen. This contrast between the rich becoming ultra-rich and the rest of the population stagnating at best, was a characteristic of the pre-depression “Roaring 20’s” as well. A report issued by the Economic Policy Institute on CEO pay highlights that in 2014 the CEO-to-worker compensation ratio was 303X compared with 58x in 1989 and 20X in 1965. The exponential rise in executive compensation has occurred in both relative and absolute terms. From 1978 to 2014, inflation-adjusted CEO compensation increased 997%, almost double the rise in stock market value.

When compared with other highly paid workers (defined as those earning more than 99.9% of other wage earners), CEO compensation was 5.84 times greater. The rate at which CEO compensation outpaced the top 0.1% of wage earners reflects the power of CEO’s to extract “concessions” rather than an outsized contribution to productivity. The composition of executive pay has gone from one predominately salary based with less than 15% stock and option rewards in the mid-1960’s to one heavily dependent on stock and option rewards averaging well over 80% in 2013. These stock-based incentives make executives highly motivated to keep their stock price elevated at all costs.

The compensation structure in conjunction with the rise in pressure from Wall Street and investors to keep stock prices elevated arguably leads to short-term decision-making that ultimately does not afford proper consideration of the long-term problems those decisions create. One of the most prevalent ways in which executives can carry out such a compensation-maximizing scheme is through share buybacks. Share buybacks as a percentage of corporate use of cash are at near-record levels and rising rapidly. In a market where all major indices and the majority of publicly-traded company shares are near all-time highs, the proper question is, why? As Warren Buffett wrote in his 1999 letter to shareholders, “Managements, however, seem to follow this perverse activity (buy high, sell low) very cheerfully.”

It is vital to give proper consideration to the improper liberties that are being taken by those with “unwarranted influence” and “misplaced power”. Value extraction has replaced value creation in pursuit of short-term, self-serving benefits at the expense of long-term stability and durability of corporate America and therefore the country as a whole.

Read more …

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens when China falls into recession. Will the IMF be inclined to pretend to believe Beijing’s ‘official’ numbers because otherwise it would look dumb? Or will it insist on real data and stifle Xi that way?

IMF Approves Reserve-Currency Status for China’s Yuan (BBG)

The IMF will add the yuan to its basket of reserve currencies, an international stamp of approval of the strides China has made integrating into a global economic system dominated for decades by the U.S., Europe and Japan. The IMF’s executive board, which represents the fund’s 188 member nations, decided the yuan meets the standard of being “freely usable” and will join the dollar, euro, pound and yen in its Special Drawing Rights basket, the organization said Monday in a statement. Approval was expected after IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde announced Nov. 13 that her staff recommended inclusion, a position she supported. It’s the first change in the SDR’s currency composition since 1999, when the euro replaced the deutsche mark and French franc.

It’s also a milestone in a decades-long ascent toward international credibility for the yuan, which was created after World War II and for years could be used only domestically in the Communist-controlled nation. The IMF reviews the composition of the basket every five years and rejected the yuan during the last review, in 2010, saying it didn’t meet the necessary criteria. “The renminbi’s inclusion in the SDR is a clear indication of the reforms that have been implemented and will continue to be implemented and is a clear, stronger representation of the global economy,” Lagarde said Monday during a press briefing at the IMF’s headquarters in Washington. Renminbi is the currency’s official name and means “the people’s currency” in Mandarin; yuan is the unit.

The addition will take effect Oct. 1, 2016, with the yuan having a 10.92% weighting in the basket, the IMF said. Weightings will be 41.73% for the dollar, 30.93% for the euro, 8.33% for the yen and 8.09% for the British pound. The dollar currently accounts for 41.9% of the basket, while the euro accounts for 37.4%, the pound 11.3% and the yen 9.4%.

Read more …

Sorry, but that’s not quite true. Sterling loses more, percentage wise. It goes to 8.09% from 11.3%, while the euro moves to 30.93% from 37.4%.

Euro to Bear Brunt of Yuan’s Inclusion in Reserve-Currency Club (BBG)

The euro’s worst year in a decade is looking even grimmer after the Chinese yuan’s inclusion in the IMF’s basket of reserve currencies. The 19-nation currency’s weighting in the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights basket will drop to 30.93%, from 37.4%, the organization said Monday. The yuan will join the dollar, euro, pound and yen in the SDR allocation from Oct. 1, 2016, at a 10.92% weighting. The euro has tumbled 13% against the dollar this year, the most in a decade, and central banks have reduced the proportion of the currency in their reserves to the lowest since 2002. ECB Mario Draghi signaled on Oct. 22 that policy makers are open to boosting stimulus, after embarking on a €1.1 trillion asset-purchase program in March. “The euro will get the most impact from this weight adjustment,” said Douglas Borthwick at New York-based brokerage Chapdelaine. “The IMF is taking from euro to give to China; the other rebalancing amounts are largely negligible.”

Read more …

How you can write that without adding that this is true everywhere, I don’t get it. “..[a] yawning gap between capacity and demand is what’s driving the precipitous fall in prices..”

No QE: Easy Money Is The Source Of China’s Problems, Not The Solution (Balding)

The first of the month means one thing in China: more gloomy numbers. On Tuesday, the official purchasing managers’ index fell to its weakest level in three years. If analysts aren’t panicking, that’s partly because the benchmark lending rate still stands at 4.35%. The central bank has plenty of room to juice the economy with rate cuts, as its counterparts in the U.S., Japan and Europe have done for years. That assumption, however, may be flawed. The People’s Bank of China has already slashed rates six times in a year, without producing any uptick in growth. To the contrary, deflationary pressures remain intense: Factory-gate prices have declined for four years running, falling 6% annually. Further easing might actually make the problem worse, not better.

This flies in the face of post-crisis orthodoxy. Since 2009, as inflation rates have converged to zero and growth slowed across the world, central bankers have almost uniformly sought to stimulate their economies using various loose-money policies. The Fed, Bank of Japan and ECB have all lowered interest rates and made more credit available in hopes of spurring investment and demand. Though inflation remains subdued in the major developed economies, the underlying logic behind quantitative easing hasn’t been seriously questioned. The consensus is that without these radical interventions, the world’s biggest economies would be in even worse shape than they are.

China is in a category of its own, however. Its reaction to the financial crisis – much praised at the time – was to launch a credit-fueled investment-and-construction binge. Using borrowed capital to build roads, airports, factories and homes at a frenzied pace has created massive overcapacity throughout the economy. To take just one example, China will install around 14 gigawatts of solar panels in 2015. Yet domestic panel-manufacturing capacity dwarfs this number: According to the Earth Policy Institute, in 2014 Chinese manufacturers produced 34.5 gigawatts of solar panels. The world as a whole only installed 38.7 gigawatts that year. In other words, Chinese manufacturers alone could meet nearly 90% of global demand.

This yawning gap between capacity and demand is what’s driving the precipitous fall in prices. A recent Macquarie report found that the Chinese steel industry is losing around 200 yuan ($31) per ton because its mills are churning out too much steel. One might think manufacturers would scale back production to bring things into balance. But as Macquarie notes, “mills are concerned about losing market share and having to spend fresh capital to resume operation if they stop producing now.” At the same time, Chinese “banks have been pushing mills to stay in the market so they don’t have to admit large bad loans.”

Read more …

Not going well.

China Manufacturing At Three-Year Low (AFP)

A key measure of China’s manufacturing activity dropped to its weakest level in more than three years in November, underlining weaknesses in the world’s second-largest economy. The official Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), which tracks activity in the crucial factories and workshops sector, fell to 49.6, the government statistics bureau said. It was the fourth consecutive month of decline and the lowest figure since August 2012. Investors closely watch the index as a barometer of the country’s economic health. A reading above 50 signals expanding activity while anything below indicates shrinkage. The statistics bureau blamed the disappointing figure on weak overseas and domestic demand, falling commodity prices and manufacturers’ reluctance to restock.

“Facing downward pressures on the economy, companies’ buying activities slowed and their will to restock was insufficient,” it said. China’s economy expanded 7.3% in 2014, the slowest pace since 1990, the government says, and at 7% in each of the first two quarters of this year. Officials say it decelerated further to 6.9% in the July-September period, its slowest rate since the aftermath of the financial crisis. But those statistics are widely doubted and many analysts believe the real rate of growth could be several percentage points lower. The government has depended on monetary loosening to stimulate growth. In October it cut interest rates for the sixth time in a year and abolished the official cap on interest rates for savers.

Read more …

Can Beijing still bail them out now it’s in the SDR basket?

The Debt Deadlines Faced By 5 Chinese Firms With Alarming Cash Problems (BBG)

A chemical producer, chicken processor, a sausage maker, a tin smelter and a coal miner have something in common. Surging losses and high leverage have prompted brokerages to put red flags on their debt. China International Capital, Guotai Junan Securities and Haitong Securities all flagged the five companies’ liquidity risks this month after China Shanshui Cement Group Co. became at least the sixth firm to default in the onshore bond market on Nov. 12. Corporate notes are suffering, with the yield premium for five-year AA- rated debentures over the sovereign widening 19.8 basis points this month, the most this year.

“One of the triggers for a financial crisis in China would be high-profile corporate defaults, which could change a deep-rooted mindset among investors that the government would always stand behind troubled companies,” said Xia Le at Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria“Then a panic would follow.” Premier Li Keqiang has pledged to weed out zombie companies to help restructure the economy while trying to prevent a hard landing amid the worst slowdown in a quarter century. A Chinese producer of pig iron, Sichuan Shengda Group said on Thursday it may not be able to repay bonds next month if investors demand their early redemption. Fertilizer maker Jiangsu Lvling Runfa Chemical is asking its guarantor to repay debt due Dec. 4. The following is a list of other companies wrestling with high debt and low liquidity, according to CICC, Guotai Junan and Haitong.

Read more …

The madness is far from over, though. It could be in a split second, mind you.

Sydney Home Prices Drop Most in 5 Years (BBG)

Sydney home prices fell the most in five years in November as a regulatory crackdown forces banks to tighten lending and increase mortgage rates. Dwelling values in Australia’s largest city dropped 1.4% from a month earlier, data from property researcher CoreLogic Inc. showed on Tuesday. That was the biggest drop since December 2010 and the first decline since May. Prices across the nation’s capital cities declined 1.5%, with Melbourne leading with a 3.5% decrease. “The fact that mortgage rates have risen independently of the cash rate has, in all likelihood, become a contributor to the slowdown in housing market conditions,” Tim Lawless, head of research at the firm, said in an e-mailed statement. “Tighter mortgage servicing criteria across the board and affordability constraints in the Sydney and Melbourne markets are also having an impact on market demand.”

The drop in home prices is yet another indicator of the cooling Sydney property market after mortgage rates close to five-decade lows and buying by foreigners sent prices up 44% in the past three years. Sydney auction clearance rates, a measure of demand, have dropped for nine consecutive weeks and loans to investors climbed at the slowest pace in 14 months as banks raised interest rates to protect themselves from the risks of an overheated market. Buyers are hesitating after the price rise hurt affordability, and a regulatory clampdown prompted banks to raise rates for owner-occupiers for the first time in five years. Economists from Macquarie to Bank of America forecast a decline in prices over the next two years. Values in New South Wales state, where Sydney is the capital, are expected to climb 2.2% in 2016, a survey by National Australia Bank showed Monday.

“Supervisory measures are helping to contain risks that may arise from the housing market,” the Reserve Bank of Australia said Tuesday as it left its benchmark cash rate at a record-low 2%. “The pace of growth in dwelling prices has moderated in Melbourne and Sydney over recent months.” Still, Sydney home prices are up 12.8% in the past 12 months and Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. said in a note Monday “strong underlying demand” is likely to contain any price declines in the major capital cities to less that 10% in the absence of an economic downturn. On Saturday, 106 of 111 yet-to-be-built apartments worth about A$160 million ($116 million) in Chatswood, 10 kilometers north of Sydney’s business district, were sold in three hours, according to Domain, an online real estate website.

Read more …

In other words: no real debt restructuring. But didn’t the IMF label that highly important?

Greek Debt Relief Talks To Focus On Net Present Value (Reuters)

Future talks on debt relief for Greece will focus on the debt’s net present value, Greek deputy central bank governor Ioannis Mourmouras told a business conference on Tuesday. Eurozone governments believe that forgiving Greece part of its debt – a “nominal haircut” – is not necessary, because thanks to very low interest, long maturities and grace periods, the net present value of the debt is manageable. “I estimate that the basis of the discussion will be the net present value of the debt,” Mourmouras said. He also said that once Greece completes reforms agreed with creditors under the first review of its bailout program, it could benefit from the ECB’s bond-buying program. “The participation in the ECB’s QE, after the first review, will be a catalyst for the Greek economy,” he said. “In the beginning the amounts will be minor, something like €3 billion.”

Read more …

Michael Moore had it oh-so right: “You can’t declare war on a noun”.

The War on Terror is Creating More Terror (Ron Paul)

The interventionists will do anything to prevent Americans from seeing that their foreign policies are perpetuating terrorism and inspiring others to seek to harm us. The neocons know that when it is understood that blowback is real – that people seek to attack us not because we are good and free but because we bomb and occupy their countries – their stranglehold over foreign policy will begin to slip. That is why each time there is an event like the killings in Paris earlier this month, they rush to the television stations to terrify Americans into agreeing to even more bombing, more occupation, more surveillance at home, and more curtailment of our civil liberties. They tell us we have to do it in order to fight terrorism, but their policies actually increase terrorism. If that sounds harsh, consider the recently-released 2015 Global Terrorism Index report.

The report shows that deaths from terrorism have increased dramatically over the last 15 years – a period coinciding with the “war on terrorism” that was supposed to end terrorism. According to the latest report: “Terrorist activity increased by 80% in 2014 to its highest recorded level. …The number of people who have died from terrorist activity has increased nine-fold since the year 2000.” The world’s two most deadly terrorist organizations, ISIS and Boko Haram, have achieved their prominence as a direct consequence of US interventions. Former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Michael Flynn was asked last week whether in light of the rise of ISIS he regrets the invasion of Iraq. He replied, “absolutely. …The historic lesson is that it was a strategic failure to go into Iraq.” He added, “instead of asking why they attacked us, we asked where they came from.”

Flynn is no non-interventionist. But he does make the connection between the US invasion of Iraq and the creation of ISIS and other terrorist organizations, and he at least urges us to consider why they seek to attack us. Likewise, the rise of Boko Haram in Africa is a direct result of a US intervention. Before the US-led “regime change” in Libya, they just were a poorly-armed gang. Once Gaddafi was overthrown by the US and its NATO allies, leaving the country in chaos, they helped themselves to all the advanced weaponry they could get their hands on. Instead of just a few rifles they found themselves armed with rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns with anti-aircraft visors, advanced explosives, and vehicle-mounted light anti-aircraft artillery. Then they started killing on a massive scale. Now, according to the Global Terrorism Index, Boko Haram has overtaken ISIS as the world’s most deadly terrorist organization.

Read more …

Signing these deals is going to be far more expensive than any nation can afford.

TPP Clauses That Let Australia Be Sued: Weapons Of Legal Destruction (Guardian)

Andrew Robb, the Australian trade minister, was quick to defend the agreement from its detractors. He lauded Australia’s efforts to secure significant exemptions, which he said would make it impossible for foreign corporations to sue the Australian government for enacting environmental policy. “It’s a trade agreement which looks at issues relating to trade that can affect public policy in the environmental area … It does provide safeguards, the best safeguards that have ever been provided in any agreement in this regard.” Robb said critics were just the usual suspects “jumping at shadows”, “peddling lines they’ve been peddling for years without having a decent look at what’s been negotiated”. But George Kahale III is not one of the usual suspects.

As chairman of the world’s leading legal arbitration firm – Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle – his core business is to defend governments being sued by foreign investors under ISDS. Some of his clients are included in the TPP, and he says the trade minister’s critics are right: “There are significant improvements in this treaty, but they do not immunise Australia from any of these claims. If the trade minister is saying, ‘We’re not at risk for regulating environmental matters’, then the trade minister is wrong.” Speaking via Skype from his office in New York, Kahale thumbs through the investment chapter, pointing out the critical loopholes that leave Australia wide open. “The one where all the discussion should be focused is 9.15,” he says, referring to one of the “safeguards”.

“That’s a very nice provision, which I imagine the trade minister points to as, ‘We’ve really protected ourselves on anything of social importance.’ I think that’s nonsense, frankly.” Here’s what 9.15 says: “Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to prevent a party from adopting, maintaining or enforcing any measure otherwise consistent with this chapter that it considers appropriate to ensure that investment activity in its territory is undertaken in a manner sensitive to environmental, health or other regulatory objectives.” This entire provision is negated, says Kahale, by five words in the middle: “unless otherwise consistent with this chapter”. “So at the end of the day, this provision, which really held out a lot of promise of being very protective, is actually much ado about nothing.”

Read more …

“The U.S. is responsible for the majority of profits for most large pharmaceutical companies..”

Why the US Pays More Than Other Countries for Drugs (WSJ)

Norway, an oil producer with one of the world’s richest economies, is an expensive place to live. A Big Mac costs $5.65. A gallon of gasoline costs $6. But one thing is far cheaper than in the U.S.: prescription drugs. A vial of the cancer drug Rituxan cost Norway’s taxpayer-funded health system $1,527 in the third quarter of 2015, while the U.S. Medicare program paid $3,678. An injection of the asthma drug Xolair cost Norway $463, which was 46% less than Medicare paid for it. Drug prices in the U.S. are shrouded in mystery, obscured by confidential rebates, multiple middlemen and the strict guarding of trade secrets. But for certain drugs—those paid for by Medicare Part B—prices are public. By stacking these against pricing in three foreign health systems, as discovered in nonpublic and public data, we were able to pinpoint international drug-cost differences and what lies behind them.

What we found, in the case of Norway, was that U.S. prices were higher for 93% of 40 top branded drugs available in both countries in the third quarter. Similar patterns appeared when U.S. prices were compared with those in England and Canada’s Ontario province. Throughout the developed world, branded prescription drugs are generally cheaper than in the U.S. The upshot is Americans fund much of the global drug industry’s earnings, and its efforts to find new medicines. “The U.S. is responsible for the majority of profits for most large pharmaceutical companies,” said Richard Evans, a health-care analyst at SSR LLC and a former pricing official at drug maker Roche. The reasons the U.S. pays more are rooted in philosophical and practical differences in the way its health system provides benefits, in the drug industry’s political clout and in many Americans’ deep aversion to the notion of rationing.

The state-run health systems in Norway and many other developed countries drive hard bargains with drug companies: setting price caps, demanding proof of new drugs’ value in comparison to existing ones and sometimes refusing to cover medicines they doubt are worth the cost. The government systems also are the only large drug buyers in most of these countries, giving them substantial negotiating power. The U.S. market, by contrast, is highly fragmented, with bill payers ranging from employers to insurance companies to federal and state governments. Medicare, the largest single U.S. payer for prescription drugs, is by law unable to negotiate pricing. For Medicare Part B, companies report the average price at which they sell medicines to doctors’ offices or to distributors that sell to doctors. By law, Medicare adds 6% to these prices before reimbursing the doctors. Beneficiaries are responsible for 20% of the cost.

The arrangement means Medicare is essentially forfeiting its buying power, leaving bargaining to doctors’ offices that have little negotiating heft, said Sean Sullivan, dean of the School of Pharmacy at the University of Washington.

Read more …

“It all looks like a feckless slide provoked by our side into World War III, and for what? To make the world safe for the Kardashians?”

The Story Line Dissolves (Jim Kunstler)

Sometimes societies just go crazy. Japan, 1931, Germany, 1933. China, 1966. Spain 1483, France, 1793, Russia, 1917, Cambodia, 1975, Iran, 1979, Rwanda, 1994, Congo, 1996, to name some. By “crazy” I mean a time when anything goes, especially mass killing. The wheels came off the USA in 1861, and though the organized slaughter developed an overlay of romantic historical mythos — especially after Ken Burns converted it into a TV show — the civilized world to that time had hardly ever seen such an epic orgy of death-dealing. I doubt that I’m I alone in worrying that America today is losing its collective mind. Our official relations with other countries seem perfectly designed to provoke chaos. The universities have melted into toxic sumps beyond even anti-intellectualism to a realm of hallucination.

Demented gunmen mow down total strangers weekly in what looks like a growing competition to end their miserable lives with the highest victim score. The financial engineers have done everything possible to pervert and undermine the operations of markets. The political parties are committing suicide by cluelessness and corruption. There is no narrative for our behavior toward Russia that makes sense anymore. Our campaign to destabilize Ukraine worked out nicely, didn’t it? And then we acted surprised when Russia reclaimed the traditionally Russian territory of Crimea, with its crucial warm-water naval ports. Who woulda thought? Then we attempted to antagonize them further with economic sanctions. The net effect is that Vladimir Putin ended up looking more rational and sane than any leader in the NATO coalition.

Lately, Russia has filled the vacuum of competence in Syria, cleaning up a mess that America left with its two-decade-long crusade to leave a train of broken governments everywhere in the region. A few weeks back, Mr. Putin made the point before the UN General Assembly that wrecking every national institution in sight among weak and unstable nations was probably not a recipe for world peace. President Obama never did formulate a coherent comeback to that. It’s a little terrifying to realize that the leader of our former arch-adversary is the only figure onstage who can come up with a credible story about what needs to happen there. And his restraint this week following what may have been a US-assisted shoot-down of a Russian bomber by idiots in Turkey is really estimable. It all looks like a feckless slide provoked by our side into World War III, and for what? To make the world safe for the Kardashians?

Read more …

Yeah, Americans are your best friends…

The Slow Death Of Hope For America’s Loyal Friends In Iraq (FT)

The phone calls in the past week were tearful. I spoke to two Iraqis, former colleagues who had risked their lives for Americans, to tell them I doubted they would ever be welcomed in my country. As France mourned murders by Islamist terrorists, and US politicians thousands of miles away spewed anti-refugee rhetoric, I realised my friends probably had no friends in Washington. For years after the 2003 invasion, Americans relied on Iraqis to navigate a country whose terrain we barely knew and whose sectarian loyalties it was vital to understand. Journalists could not have survived without them. Neither could the troops, aid workers or diplomats. The goodwill of those caught in the middle of these war zones — whether in Iraq or now perhaps in Syria — allowed us to stay safe and do our jobs.

The men I knew had been translators and drivers for the Chicago Tribune, then my employer. They reported through mortar attacks, even a car bomb. Then Sinan Adhem and Nadeem Majeed decided they wanted to live in the US. They applied 10 years ago for visas. As they waited, they became fathers, perfected their English and found better jobs. Sinan is now a security analyst for the UN. Nadeem works for Nissan Motors. Both live in Baghdad. Last year, both Sinan and Nadeem received emails from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services stating that they could not be trusted. No one disputed they had presented all the proper papers or that the visa applications were credible. Yet form letters dismissed Sinan, then Nadeem, with vague finality: “Denied as a matter of discretion for security-related reasons.”

“Are the Americans calling me a terrorist?” Sinan sputtered over the phone. I calmed him down; it had to be a clerical error by USCIS and the Department of Homeland Security. I was sure I could sort it and I knew we had to work fast. Neighbouring Syria was falling apart; my friends could soon be vying with thousands of desperate refugees. In the weeks that followed, though, I found few people in my government willing to help. No single bureaucrat wanted to accept responsibility.

Read more …

Huh?: “..losses in excess of around €1.5 million.” Is that the same as around in excess of?

Other than that: hey, it works. Let the 1500 refugees go and you can ship your holiday rush gadgets and trinkets. Easy.

Migrant Blockades Of Train Tracks In Northern Greece Hit Commerce (Kath.)

Trainose, the company that manages Greece’s state-owned railway system, has said that a blockade of the tracks at the country’s northern border has led to losses in excess of around €1.5 million. Speaking to Skai on Tuesday, Trainose CEO Thanasis Ziliaskopoulos said that about 1,800 cars waiting to cross the border between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) have been affected by protests as an estimated 1,500 refugees and migrants remain stuck at the crossing as they try to make their way deeper into Europe.

About a dozen or so protesters have been lying or camping out on the tracks since November 18 in demand that FYROM relax its border controls, following its decision in the wake of the Paris terror attacks to bar entry to what it deems are “economic migrants.” Ziliaskopoulos said that Trainose has been receiving complaints from some of its biggest clients – including Cosco, Hewelett Packard and Sony – over the delays in shipments, adding that contracts may be at stake unless the situation is resolved, particularly given the pre-holiday rush to meet orders.

Read more …

Nov 152015
 
 November 15, 2015  Posted by at 8:47 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrFlattr the authorDigg thisShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone


Osama Hajjaj Madeleine Pleure 2015

9/11, 3/11, 7/7, 11/13 = New York, Madrid, London, Paris

Better to wait a day before writing, after a night like that. What does one write after such a night anyway? And why write anything at all if you can be dead sure to always antagonize some one on some side of some spectrum, ideological or not, no matter what you write, unless you tag some safe official line, and even then, or especially then?

Better to soak in what the official media have to say, or so one might think. After all, they got all the resources and the reporters and the analysts and -access to- the politicians, and most of all the attention of the people.

Unfortunately, all that firepower -pun intended- is used only to tag official lines. To provide air space to ‘leaders’ who profess their utmost grief and sadness and anger and solidarity over barbarous criminal “acts of war” that they swear will be avenged with all the power they have. It’s so predictable it’s like all of their spin doctors have been sent on a Caribbean holiday at the same time, and together.

Still, it also doesn’t seem very appropriate to address the economic issues we usually talk about, at least not at first glance. Respect for victims and families must come first, that is a given. Then again, it does seem appropriate, out of that very same respect, to get to the bottom of what’s behind these attacks that will at final count leave perhaps 200 people dead on what started as a nice and balmy autumn evening in the city of lights. And the politicians’ truisms and platitudes don’t exactly help.

But how does one go about that truth finding? French President Hollande declared eerily early in the ‘game’ he was sure ISIS is behind the tragedy, and ISIS statements seem to confirm that conclusion. But what is ISIS? And where does it come from?

It’s no longer really credible to entirely ignore the role of the west, including France, in the origins of the ‘movement’, if it can be called that. From Al Queda to ISIS, and scores of groups and factions in between and beyond, there is at least some kind of link to western military action in the middle East. And that link goes back quite a few years, if not decades.

So if we really want to pay the kind of respect to the victims that comes with trying to figure out what’s behind these attacks, it would seem that we can’t get it done without a critical look at our own roles in what led up to this. Not to say that we’re the only guilty party, or that the perpetrators are not cuckoos, but to say we’re not credible if we completely ignore our own roles and don’t look in a mirror.

Hence, the first reaction we probably might want to have is that it’s enough alright with the ‘us’ vs ‘them’ meme. Even if, or exactly because, that reaction is, obviously, 180º removed from what the initial reactions to the attacks are, whether they’re provoked by media coverage or not. And they are. It cannot be only ‘us’ vs ‘them’. No black, no white. To understand this world you need a lot more than that.

If we try to phrase it that way, and we’re only halfway decent and honest about it, there’s no escaping that in the final analysis we indeed are them. We’re not like them, we are them. ‘We’ have spread terror, death and mayhem across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regions for a long time (to a large extent because that’s where the oil is, but that’s a story for a different day).

And then ‘we’ took it up a notch with the removal of the likes of Saddam and Gaddafi, leaving rudderless societies in their wake.

We can’t pretend to be honest and still ignore the fact that for many people in the Middle East a day like this Friday 13th is their everyday routine. And that that’s what makes them refugees. Many Parisians -or New Yorkers, for that matter- would do the same, get out of Dodge, if this were a common event in their city. Not only because of the danger and the fear, but also because there would be no functioning society or economy left, and hence no future.

No matter how you look at it, there’s no denying it’s kind of ironic that attacks on Beirut that were similar in many regards to the ones in Paris, even took place at the same time, and similar attacks on several other places, receive no media coverage at all in the west, while the Paris attacks dominate all western media.

That is not a coincidence. And it’s not either because most Americans would find it as easy to find Damascus or Beirut on a map as they would Paris. That is, they would not. But still Paris is on American TV about 48/7 (that’s the attention span limit), interrupted only by either a Kardashian body part -or two- or by the single The Donald’s body part that sticks in memory.

And that’s where we find our link to economics, because in geo-politics as in economics, we, all of us, think, talk and live exclusively in narratives. We have stories pre-fabricated for us, and these stories determine how we see the world, and our lives, and other people’s lives and dreams and wishes.

That is to say, whatever it is we want and dream of is per definition just and justified, and other people’s desires are not, as soon as they threaten to interfere with ours. As we read ad nauseam post-Paris in literally countless references to the ‘freedom’ that ‘we’ have and ‘they’ hate, and to ‘our way of life’ that is under threat -with nary a soul knowing what that way is.

We cannot forever fool ourselves and others into believing that we are the good guys and ‘the others’ are the bad guys. It’s tempting, and there’s a whole behemoth media apparatus to confirm it, but it doesn’t get us any closer to what happened, and why, and therefore no closer to paying our full and due respect to those who died in Paris on 11/13.

“They” don’t resent us for our freedom, “they” resent us for not allowing them to have their freedom, too. We need to recognize at some point that we owe our affluence to the misery of others, not to our superior intelligence or morals or religion or way of life. But there’s not a single voice among us which wants to make that recognition happen.

We are not a benevolent force, no matter what we tell ourselves or how many times we repeat it. We are a civilization of oppressors. Just like the Romans and the Mongols and so many others before and after. We seek to uphold our status and our wealth at the expense of others, of strangers, people who live conveniently far enough away in conveniently impoverished conditions.

We have been building our empire this way since well before Columbus, we’ve greatly expanded it over the past 500 years, and we’re now looking at the terminal phase of that empire. Just like the Romans and the Mongols and so many others before and after.

Interestingly enough, it’s our own technological prowess and ‘progress’ that leads us into that phase. The very moment we started exporting our oil drilling technologies, our smartphones, our databases and most of all our modern weaponry to what we still see as colonies, the very foundations of our civilization and our power started eroding.

But that’s getting too philosophical, and it would require too many words and lead us too far astray from Paris and the due diligence we owe those who lost their lives and those who mourn them.

Pope Francis said in a reaction to the Friday 13th attacks: “This is not human”. Unfortunately, 2000 years of Christianity say he’s dead wrong, wrong as he could be. This is very human. It’s as human as feeling an overbearing love for our children. It’s all human.

It’s very human, too, to go for the ‘us’ vs ‘them’ meme. Because it feels good, and you can be sure it makes those around you feel good too. Which is a big help in times of fear and insecurity and not having the answer, not having any other answers than the ubiquitous ones the media feed you.

But that still is not what the dead deserve. They deserve much more. They deserve that we try the best we can, not to settle for the first thing that comes to our reptilian minds. Not to make our entire lives come down to just fight or flight, but to attempt to find that area in between that is as close to truth finding as we know we can come.

To honor the dead, we need to look inside ourselves, and inside the societies we live in. And only when we’ve found, and eradicated, those things that make both us, and our communities, ‘guilty by association’ -for lack of a better term-, will we have paid proper respect to those who lost their lives.

Nov 152015
 
 November 15, 2015  Posted by at 10:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrFlattr the authorDigg thisShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone


Jack Delano Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe train at Emporia, Kansas 1943

Credit Bust In Rich Countries Caused Credit Boom In Emerging Markets (Economist)
Irish President: Unaccountable Forces Are Running EU (IT)
The Global Economy Slows Down. Is It Recession Or Protectionism? (Guardian)
Yuan’s Rise Means World Economy Takes Step To Greater Stability (Bloomberg)
Whistleblower At HBOS Bank Attacks ‘Ludicrously Bad’ City Regulation (Guardian)
More Tough Measures Loom As Greece Eyes Bailout Loans (Kath.)
ECB Demands Portugal’s Novo Banco Plug $1.5 Billion Capital Hole (Reuters)
The Streets of Paris Are as Familiar to Me as the Streets of Beirut (Joey Ayoub)
After Paris, Europe May Never Feel As Free Again (Guardian)
What’s Next for Migrants After Paris? (Atlantic)
Syrian Refugees In France Say Paris Terror Is The Terror They Fled (BuzzFeed)
There Is Only One Way to Defeat ISIS (Esquire)
Syrian Transition Plan Reached by US, Russia in Vienna (Bloomberg)
Poland to Shun Refugees After Paris Attack, Future Minister Says (Bloomberg)
After Mass Extinctions, The Meek (Fish) Inherit The Earth (WaPo)
Two Refugee Children Die In Greece In Separate Incidents (Kath.)

Recipe for mayhem.

Credit Bust In Rich Countries Caused Credit Boom In Emerging Markets (Economist)

The build-up of emerging-market credit began just as the rich world’s financial system started to creak in 2007. According to figures collated by JP Morgan, private-sector debt in emerging markets rose from 73% of GDP at the end of 2007 to 107% of GDP by the end of last year. These figures include loans made by banks and bonds issued by companies. Including the credit extended by non-bank financial institutions (so-called “shadow banks”) for the handful of emerging markets where such estimates are available gives a steeper rise and a higher total burden: 127% of GDP. The credit boom in emerging markets was in large part a response to the credit bust in the rich world. Fearing a depression in its richest export markets, the authorities in China brought about a massive increase in credit in 2009.


Meanwhile a flood of capital escaping the paltry yields on offer in developed economies pushed interest rates lower in developing ones. This search for yield by rich-world investors took them to ever more exotic places. A dollar-denominated government bond issued in 2012 by Zambia, a copper-rich country with an average GDP per person of $1,700 a year, offered just 5.4% interest; even so, it was 24 times oversubscribed as rich-world investors clamoured to buy. The following year a state-backed tuna-fishing venture in Mozambique, a country even poorer than Zambia, was able to raise $850m at an interest rate of 8.5%.

In contrast to the credit booms in America and Europe, where households were the main borrowers, three-quarters of the private debt burden in emerging markets is shouldered by businesses: corporate debt has ballooned from less than 50% of GDP in 2008 to almost 75% by 2014. Much of the lending was done in Asia, notably in China. But Turkey, Brazil and Chile also saw substantial increases in the ratio of company debt to GDP. Construction firms (notably in China and Latin America) increased their leverage a great deal. The oil and gas industry was a big player, too, according to the IMF’s latest Global Financial Stability Report.

Read more …

A point I’ve made 1000 times. “..a breakdown of trust between citizens and their institutions..”

Irish President: Unaccountable Forces Are Running EU (IT)

Unaccountable forces removed from democratic control are today in control in the European Union, President Michael D Higgins has declared in one of the most pointed speeches of his term in office. “The present institutional structure of the European Union can be seen as reflecting the distribution of political power in recent decades, decades that have seen the emergence of a new financialised global order, where unaccountable agencies and forces removed from democratic oversight or control are in the ascendancy,” he said. He made the speech as he opened the Royal Irish Academy’s Centre for the Study of the Moral Foundations of Economy and Society. The anti-austerity street protests in many EU states, he said, could be seen as “not just the mechanical result of deplorable levels of unemployment and deteriorating material circumstances”, but also a reflection of a “breakdown of trust between citizens and their institutions”.

Deep injury has been inflicted on people’s moral outlook in recent decades by an extraordinarily narrow version of economics which had cut ties with its ethical and philosophical roots, Mr Higgins said. European leaders must remain “attentive and open”, he added saying, “a social view of Europe demands that our fellow citizens should never be seen merely as ‘consumers’ of public policies, driven by a sense of their sectional interests.” He was confident, he said, that the new educational centre “will contribute in an important way, over the years to come, in tackling the deep injuries inflicted upon our moral imaginations by the extraordinary ascendancy in recent decades of what is an extraordinarily narrow version of economics”.

This connection “of economy, ecology and ethics” and “of policy, theory and method”, had been at the centre of his presidency, “because I believe that they are essential to reading and understanding the current situation in which we find ourselves”. Referring to upcoming commemorations in Ireland, he said: “One can legitimately wonder, for example, what shape would our economy and society have assumed, had our fellow citizens kept alive, during Ireland’s recent economic boom, the cultural, philosophical, political and moral motivations which underpinned the Irish national revival, or the spirit of other historical movements for social and political reform such as the co-operative movement. “We neglected the contribution of the co-operative instinct to our social cohesion,” he said.

Read more …

Every country will want to protect itself when times get worse.

The Global Economy Slows Down. Is It Recession Or Protectionism? (Guardian)

Goldman Sachs’s decision to close down its loss-making Bric fund was a symbolic reminder that the days are gone when the economic rise of Brazil, Russia, India and China (the four countries from which the fund drew its name) seemed guaranteed. Indeed, Brazil and Russia are both in recession. The US Federal Reserve’s plans to raise interest rates from near zero, which many experts now expect to happen next month, could deepen the agony of countries already struggling with plunging currencies and rising borrowing costs. The International Monetary Fund has warned of a flurry of bankruptcies in emerging economies as rates rise.

“A lot of these countries haven’t been helping themselves: Taiwan, Korea; they’ve all been cranking up their own credit growth,” says Russell Jones of Llewellyn Consulting, an economics advisory firm. But he too believes the world should escape a general slump. “I don’t think we’re on the cusp of a major downturn — probably more of the same.” Simon Evenett of St Gallen University in Switzerland, who collates detailed data for the thinktank Global Trade Alert, offers an alternative explanation for the recent slide in trade volumes. He calculates that about half of the fall, since exports peaked in September last year, has been caused by the commodity price rout; but the rest, rather than evidence of sickly global demand, has resulted from a creeping rise in protectionism.

His analysis suggests the declines have overwhelmingly taken place in just 28 categories of product. “That’s very concentrated; that makes me doubt that it’s a global downturn.” Eight of these categories are commodities; but the rest map closely on to areas where countries have taken protectionist measures. In the wake of the financial crisis, policymakers from the G20 countries pledged not to resort to the tit-for-tat protectionism that led to collapsing trade volumes in the wake of the Great Crash of 1929, and was ultimately seen as a contributor to the Great Depression. Since then, there has been little sign of anything with the scope of America’s Smoot-Hawley Act of 1930, which slapped import tariffs on more than 800 products.

But Evenett says there has been a flurry of more subtle manoeuvres: restricting public procurement to domestic firms, for example, or quietly tightening regulations to raise the bar against imports. “I think the China story is adding spice to it, but I think there’s more going on here,” he says. He is concerned that unless action is taken, politicians will continue to throw sand in the wheels of the international trading system. If he’s right, the downturn seen so far may not be sending a warning signal about global demand; instead, it would be best read as a measure of the fragility of globalisation.

Read more …

With China debt levels where they are, a curious idea.

Yuan’s Rise Means World Economy Takes Step To Greater Stability (Bloomberg)

With China’s yuan taking the biggest step yet toward joining the dollar and euro as a top-rank reserve currency, the global economy may be approaching an era of greater stability. So say economists who highlight the dollar’s role in the biggest financial crises in recent decades. Drawn to the liquidity and security of the unit of the world’s biggest economy, investors and governments relied on the dollar and produced dislocations including historically low borrowing costs in the 2000s even as the Federal Reserve raised interest rates. Rushes toward the safety of the dollar challenged global policy makers in 2008 as money markets seized up, prompting the Fed to open swap lines with counterparts that remain in place today.

China responded in 2009 with a call for reducing reliance on the dollar, with central bank Governor Zhou Xiaochuan floating the idea of a “super-sovereign” reserve currency. While the proposal fell flat, Zhou and his allies began a campaign to win inclusion for the yuan in the IMF’s special drawing rights unit. The SDR, as it’s called, is a kind of overdraft account for members of the IMF, convertible into dollars, euros, pounds and yen. The fund’s staff said Friday that the yuan has now met the qualification terms for inclusion in the SDR. “The current configuration of the global monetary-financial system that is centered and increasingly dominated by the dollar is not a stable or a sustainable one,” Stephen Jen of SLJ Macro Partners, a former IMF economist, wrote with colleague Joana Freire last week.

Some 87% of foreign-exchange trading involves the dollar, the most recent survey by the Bank for International Settlements showed. “The role of the U.S. dollar as the world’s dominant vehicle currency remains unchallenged,” the BIS said in 2013, noting that the euro had declined in the wake of the European debt crisis. With the world’s second-largest economy and as the number-one trading nation, China may offer the global system a currency that can complement the dollar. For now, restrictions on the ability to take money in and out of China, and on what foreign investors can buy, mean the yuan’s role will be limited.

Read more …

“..I hope and pray I’m not going to have to fight for the next five years.”

Whistleblower At HBOS Bank Attacks ‘Ludicrously Bad’ City Regulation (Guardian)

When the long-delayed official report into the near-collapse of HBOS is released on Thursday former bank bosses James Crosby, Andy Hornby and Lord Stevenson will be braced for a fresh round of condemnation. But if the report’s 500 pages are likely to revive painful criticism of their role in the demise of Britain’s biggest mortgage lender and savings institution, its publication also marks a crucial moment for a lesser known former executive at the bank: Paul Moore. Moore, 57, emerged some years ago as the whistleblower at HBOS. He said he was sacked as head of group regulatory risk at the end of 2004 – less than two years after joining – after warning that the then fast-growing bank was too strongly motivated by sales.

His views were first aired in public shortly after the bank had to be rescued by Lloyds in September 2008. The enlarged institution was later bailed out with £20bn of taxpayer money. On learning that the publication of the report by the Financial Conduct Authority and Bank of England – first promised in 2013 – has finally been scheduled for Thursday, Moore said: “I’m a bit nervous and a bit frightened and I hope and pray I’m not going to have to fight for the next five years.” His main fear now, he says, is that the report could turn out to be “a cover-up and a fudge”. If he was writing it, he says, he would refer the directors not just for banning orders but for criminal investigation, as well as demanding a proper judicial inquiry into the auditing of all the big banks and the conduct of the credit ratings agencies.

That is not all. “I would name and shame in the most rigorous detail the ludicrously bad regulators,” says Moore. Thursday’s report will be published alongside an analysis of the decision by the City regulator at the time of the collapse, the Financial Services Authority, to punish only one HBOS banker – Peter Cummings, who ran the bank’s commercial lending arm and has now been banned for life from the City and fined £500,000. Work on the official report only began after the enforcement action against Cummings, although in 2013 the parliamentary commission on banking standards, set up in the wake of the Libor-rigging scandal, published its own account of the collapse. It accused Crosby, Hornby and Stevenson of “colossal” management failures and questioned why it was only Cummings who had been censured by the City regulator.

Earlier evidence Moore had given to the Treasury select committee in 2009 had been so damning it led to a fresh examination of the role of Crosby, and forced his resignation as deputy chairman of the then City regulator, the Financial Services Authority. When Moore’s allegations were first aired at the select committee, Crosby had insisted there was no substance to them. A report – commissioned from the bank’s auditors, KPMG – concluded that he lost his job because of personality clashes inside the lender and not that Crosby sacked him because of warnings that HBOS was “going too fast”. Crosby has since handed back his knighthood and 30% of his pension, and keeps out of the public eye.

Read more …

The EU makes it impossible for Greece to leave its recession.

More Tough Measures Loom As Greece Eyes Bailout Loans (Kath.)

The government is hoping to clinch the release of €2 billion in loan funding, and another €10 billion for Greek banks, after a tough round of negotiations with representatives of the country’s international creditors which has focused mainly on the issue of nonperforming loans and foreclosures of primary residences. The money is linked to a series of additional measures that Greece must legislate next week before turning to a second set of prior actions including even more contentious reforms such as higher taxes on farmers and an overhaul of the pension system. Greece is already running behind schedule on reforms. But authorities are hoping the creditors will show some flexibility so the process of recapitalizing Greece’s banks is not derailed.

Talks are already under way within the key ministries on the next round of reforms. Labor and Social Security Minister Giorgos Katrougalos, whose ministry is overseeing the difficult task of pension reform, aims to reach a “comprehensive” agreement with creditors and approve it in Parliament by early next month, according to sources. The hope is that the creditors will reward an active effort by Greeks to make up for lost time by making some concessions in the pension overhaul. Already Greek authorities are seeking to soften the impact of the pension overhaul by exploring the possibility of increasing the social security contributions of employers and workers instead of further reducing monthly payouts.

Other politically contentious challenges the government faces in the coming weeks include raising taxes on Greek farmers, creating a new tax system, creating a task force that will manage a new fund for privatizing state assets and drafting new measures to meet fiscal targets for the next two years. SYRIZA officials have expressed concerns about the impact on social cohesion of the bailout program’s austerity measures, which has already struck the leftists’ popularity, according to opinion polls.

Read more …

Europe’s next powder keg…

ECB Demands Portugal’s Novo Banco Plug $1.5 Billion Capital Hole (Reuters)

The ECB has ordered Portugal’s Novo Banco to fill a €1.4 billion hole in its finances, possibly delaying its planned sale and hampering Lisbon’s efforts to draw a line under its biggest banking collapse. The request to repair Novo Banco, created from the failed Banco Espirito Santo (BES), presents a challenge for any anti-austerity, Socialist-led government that could come to power in coming weeks after a parliamentary vote this week. Of nine banks across the euro zone tested by the ECB as a follow-through on wider checks last year, only Novo Banco was found to be short of capital. It has two weeks to present a plan of action and nine months to plug the gap. The Bank of Portugal said in a statement that Novo Banco had already started working on a plan to raise capital through asset sales to meet the shortfall.

The plan will be presented in the coming weeks. The central bank failed to sell Novo Banco in September as the bids it received were seen as too low. The result of the ‘stress test’ means the sale can resume. “Preparation for the new phase of the sale process will be initiated immediately, now that one of the main factors of uncertainty hanging over the previous process is out of the way,” the Bank of Portugal said. The Bank of Portugal is in charge of the sale process under the terms of the €4.9 billion rescue plan for BES, which was carried out by a bank resolution fund that is formally the responsibility of Portugal’s other banks. The government lent part of the money to the fund used in the rescue and must be repaid.

Read more …

“The Human Body is not one. It sure feels that it should be by now. Maybe that in itself is an illusion.”

The Streets of Paris Are as Familiar to Me as the Streets of Beirut (Joey Ayoub)

I come from a privileged Francophone community in Lebanon. This has meant that I have always seen France as my second home. The streets of Paris are as familiar to me as the streets of Beirut. I was just in Paris a few days ago. These have been two horrible nights of violence. The first took the lives of over 40 in Beirut; the second took the lives of over 120 people and counting in Paris. It also seems clear to me that to the world, my people’s deaths in Beirut do not matter as much as my other people’s deaths in Paris. We do not get a “safe” button on Facebook. We do not get late night statements from the most powerful men and women alive and millions of online users. We do not change policies which will affect the lives of countless innocent refugees. This could not be clearer. I say this with no resentment whatsoever, just sadness.

It is a hard thing to realize that for all that was said, for all the progressive rhetoric we have managed to create as a seemingly united human voice, most of us members of this curious species are still excluded from the dominant concerns of the “world”. And I know that by “world”, I am myself excluding most of the world. Because that’s how power structures work. I do not matter. My “body” does not matter to the “world”. If I die, it will not make a difference. Again, I say this with no resentment. That statement is merely a fact. It is a political fact, true, but a fact nonetheless. Maybe I should have some resentment in me, but I am too tired. It is a heavy thing to realize. I know that I am fortunate enough that when I do die, I will be remembered by friends and loved ones.

Maybe my blog and an online presence might even gather some thoughts by people around the world. That is the beauty of the internet. And even that is out of reach to too many. Never so clearly as now have I understood what Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about when he spoke of the Black Body in America. I think there is a story to be told of the Arab Body as well. The Native American Body. The Indigenous Body. The Latin American Body. The Indian Body. The Kurdish Body. The Pakistani Body. The Chinese Body. And so many other bodies. The Human Body is not one. It sure feels that it should be by now. Maybe that in itself is an illusion.

But maybe it is an illusion worth preserving because without even that vague aspiration towards oneness on the part of some part of the body, I am not sure what sort of world we would be living in now. Some bodies are global, but most bodies remain local, regional, “ethnic”. My thoughts are with all the victims of today’s and yesterday’s horrific attacks, and my thoughts are with all those who will suffer serious discrimination as a result of the actions of a few mass murderers and the general failure of humanity’s imagination to see itself as a unified entity. My only hope is that we can be strong enough to generate the opposite response to what these criminals intended. I want to be optimistic enough to say that we are getting there, wherever “there” might be. We need to talk about these things. We need to talk about Race. We just have to.

Read more …

Interesting point of view.

After Paris, Europe May Never Feel As Free Again (Guardian)

How long will it be before European liberalism cracks? The aftermath of a terrorist massacre is the worst time to make predictions. The extremity of the outrage pushes policy-makers and citizens to play with equally outraged responses. It is worth steadying yourself with the thought that until Friday night, Europe’s response to terrorism has not been extreme. Despite gruesome predictions to the contrary, European democracies have not turned themselves into police states. There have been no backlashes or pogroms against Muslims. EU countries, including Britain, have remained free and good societies overall; nations we can be proud of in our necessarily grudging way, for all the faults and abuses we must tackle.

People running from real terror know our true state better than we do. They flee to Europe, not from Europe. Callous though it may sound today to say it, the modest response to terrorism is the consequence of the modesty of the violence. Since al-Qaida’s assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001, the most striking feature of Islamist terrorism in Europe is how little of it there has been. You can give credit to police forces and intelligence agencies for arresting suspects before they strike. You can repeat the essential point that we are up against Islamism, not Islam, and most Muslims want nothing to do with totalitarian religion. Whatever the reason, the practical consequence remains that no one in power has felt the need to move towards anything resembling martial law.

Europe has “just” endured the attacks on Madrid and the 7/7 assault on London, and the actual and attempted murders of Jews, satirists, freethinkers in Paris, Brussels, Copenhagen and Marseille. Beyond that, there have been “lone wolf” killers of the type who did for poor Lee Rigby. I am not pretending that Europe has stayed the same. After Islamists sanctioned the murder of cartoonists who mocked Muhammad, a cowardly self-censorship spread across the arts and journalism, which was all the more cowardly for being unacknowledged. But it remains true that radical Islam has not forced a radical break with the past.

If you could travel in a time machine, you would see the continuities between our world and the Britain or France or Denmark of 20 years ago hugely outweigh the differences. I do not mean to minimise Islamist crimes when I say that Europe has been lucky. From Nigeria to Afghanistan, a clerical fascist doctrine that mandates mass murder and self-murder has pushed whole regions into civil war. Yet divinely sanctioned violence has failed to engulf our continent. Suspects are still innocent until proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt. The European convention on human rights remains in force. Terrorism is still subject to the rule of law, not martial law. In spite of all the provocations, we are what we once were.

Read more …

“What is clear is that there are 4 million people displaced by the crisis and, for them, a solution will need to be reached.”

What’s Next for Migrants After Paris? (Atlantic)

After a terrorist attack killed more than 120 people and injured hundreds more on Friday, France imposed border controls and authorities discovered a Syrian passport on one of the attackers. While it’s not clear whether any of the assailants were migrants themselves, the attack has nonetheless reignited the debate over Europe’s migrant crisis. As Quartz notes, the attacks attributed to ISIS are anything but good news for migrants in Europe. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front party in France, told reporters on Saturday that “urgent action is needed” to “annihilate” Islamic fundamentalism. Le Pen went on to advocate that France regain control of its borders and expel “illegal migrants.”

In Poland, incoming Minister of European Affairs Konrad Szymanski announced today that the country will not accept migrants without security guarantees. In September, Poland agreed to accept 4,500 refugees as part of a European Union quota system. In the U.S., the role the country should play in this refugee crisis is a subject of continued partisan debate. President Obama announced in September that at least 10,000 Syrian refugees will be resettled in the U.S. over the next year. While this number might seem small compared to the 4 million total refugees created by the war since 2011, it represents a marked jump from the fewer than 2,000 Syrian refugees accepted last year. But some GOP candidates argued against the administration’s policy by suggesting that ISIS militants could infiltrate the country by hiding among refugees.

According to Vox, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum quickly cited the Paris attacks to justify closing the borders to more Syrian refugees. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley, and Bernie Sanders have remained mostly quiet on the subject so far. All three have publically expressed their condolences for the victims and their families, but no one has yet made the leap to policy. Meanwhile, to the north, Canada has its own ambitious refugee agenda to assess. Newly elected Canadian PM Justin Trudeau committed to resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year — a number deemed unrealistic by some observers. [..] the Toronto Star reported earlier today that the country remains steadfast in its plan despite the Paris attacks. Ultimately, how the recent events will affect the debate surrounding migration in Europe and beyond remains to be seen. What is clear is that there are 4 million people displaced by the crisis and, for them, a solution will need to be reached.

Read more …

As should be obvious. But is not at all.

Syrian Refugees In France Say Paris Terror Is The Terror They Fled (BuzzFeed)

Syrians who fled a brutal war and often undertook deadly sea journeys to settle in France reacted with horror to Friday’s terror attacks in Paris, and said they recognized the enemy all too well. “Syrians left Syria in dangerous ways to live in peace, but the killers followed them to Europe,” said Moaz Shaklab, a businessman from the Syrian city of Homs who settled in France two years ago as a refugee. The Paris attacks could spark new waves of Islamophobia in France and beyond — and with it fear of the refugees pouring into Europe from Syria and other countries. This is exactly what ISIS wants; the group has vowed to make it impossible for Muslims to exist peacefully in the West. Yet citizens in France share an ally against Islamic extremism in most refugees settling there.

Many newly arrived Syrians sought to escape the terror of ISIS and other jihadi groups, in addition to the brutal campaign being waged by Bashar al-Assad. Many worked against ISIS and other jihadi groups before leaving or have friends and family doing so now. “We’re united with the French people against terrorism,” Shaklab said. “And we don’t forget that they are united with us to get our freedom.” French police officials told the AP on Saturday that they had found a Syrian passport at the scene of an attack that they believed belonged to an assailant. But because of the refugee crisis, fake Syrian passports are now prevalent and easy to obtain.

Whether or not the passport is authentic, news of its discovery promised to help to fan refugee fears — which may have been the intent of the man who brought it to the scene. Sakher Edris, a journalist and political organizer who worked against both ISIS and the Syrian government before fleeing to France this summer, said he expected a backlash against refugees following the attacks. “We are really scared,” he said. “French people are kind, and it’s understandable to have some backlash, but we want them to know that we are with them against terror.”

Read more …

Stop our ‘friends’ from funding it.

There Is Only One Way to Defeat ISIS (Esquire)

It’s not like this is any kind of secret. In 2010, thanks to WikiLeaks, we learned that the State Department, under the direction of then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, knew full well where the money for foreign terrorism came from. It came from countries and not from a faith. It came from sovereign states and not from an organized religion. It came from politicians and dictators, not from clerics, at least not directly. It was paid to maintain a political and social order, not to promulgate a religious revival or to launch a religious war. Religion was the fuel, the ammonium nitrate and the diesel fuel. Authoritarian oligarchy built the bomb. As long as people are dying in Paris, nobody important is dying in Doha or Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba – but the Saudi government is reluctant to stem the flow of money, according to Hillary Clinton. “More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaida, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups,” says a secret December 2009 paper signed by the US secretary of state. Her memo urged US diplomats to redouble their efforts to stop Gulf money reaching extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide,” she said. Three other Arab countries are listed as sources of militant money: Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. The cables highlight an often ignored factor in the Pakistani and Afghan conflicts: that the violence is partly bankrolled by rich, conservative donors across the Arabian Sea whose governments do little to stop them. The problem is particularly acute in Saudi Arabia, where militants soliciting funds slip into the country disguised as holy pilgrims, set up front companies to launder funds and receive money from government-sanctioned charities.

It’s time for this to stop. It’s time to be pitiless against the bankers and against the people who invest in murder to assure their own survival in power. Assets from these states should be frozen, all over the west. Money trails should be followed, wherever they lead. People should go to jail, in every country in the world. It should be done state-to-state. Stop funding the murder of our citizens and you can have your money back. Maybe. If we’re satisfied that you’ll stop doing it. And, it goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway – not another bullet will be sold to you, let alone advanced warplanes, until this act gets cleaned up to our satisfaction. If that endangers your political position back home, that’s your problem, not ours. You are no longer trusted allies. Complain, and your diplomats will be going home.

Complain more loudly, and your diplomats will be investigated and, if necessary, detained. Retaliate, and you do not want to know what will happen, but it will done with cold, reasoned and, yes, pitiless calculation. It will not be a blind punch. You will not see it coming. It will not be an attack on your faith. It will be an attack on how you conduct your business as sovereign states in a world full of sovereign states… And the still, stately progress of the news from Paris continues. There are arrests today in Brussels, of alleged co-conspirators. The body count has stabilized. New information comes at its own pace, as if out of respect for the dead. In the stillness of the news itself, there is refuge and reason and a kind of wounded, ragged peace, as whatever rolled up from the depths of the sickness of the human heart rolls back again, like the tide and, like the tide, one day will return.

Read more …

Given the American desire for world dominance, what are the odds?

Syrian Transition Plan Reached by US, Russia in Vienna (Bloomberg)

Seventeen nations, spurred on by Friday’s deadly attacks in Paris, overcame their differences on how to end Syria’s civil war and adopted a timeline that will let opposition groups help draft a constitution and elect a new government by 2017. As a first step, the United Nations agreed to convene Syria’s government with opposition representatives by Jan. 1, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Saturday at a joint press conference in Vienna. A cease-fire between the government in Damascus and recognized opposition groups should be in place within six months, according to their statement. The terrorist attacks in Paris galvanized the diplomats, who at previous talks had been unable to resolve the discord within their ranks.

While Russia and Iran had sided with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the U.S. and its regional allies had insisted upon his removal. With diplomats bogged down over the question of Assad, terrorist groups like Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, grew and become more powerful inside Syria. “It is time to deprive the terrorists of any single kilometer in which to hide,” Kerry said. “There can be no doubt that this crisis is not Syria’s alone to bear.” Assad has “cut his own deal” with Islamic State, buying oil from the group and failing to attack militants, Kerry said. Assad’s allies have conveyed that he’s prepared to be serious and engage in talks, but the “proof will be in the pudding,” he said. In a statement posted on Twitter, Islamic State said the Paris attacks that killed 129 people and injured 352 came in retribution for French involvement in the Syrian civil war.

The conflict has so far cost about 250,000 lives, sent millions fleeing the region, and triggered Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II. Diplomats meeting in the Austrian capital also decided to place Islamic State, along with the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front terrorist group, on a list of those subject to military strikes even when a cease-fire is in place. The list, managed by the Kingdom of Jordan, may later be expanded to include other groups in Syria, Kerry and Lavrov said. The Paris attacks “show that it doesn’t matter if you’re for Assad or against him,” said Lavrov, “ISIS is your enemy.”

Read more …

Many more countries will follow the example.

Poland to Shun Refugees After Paris Attack, Future Minister Says (Bloomberg)

Poland’s new government won’t accept migrant quotas imposed by the European Union, as the terror attacks in France have exposed the weakness in the bloc, the nation’s future minister for European affairs said. “In the wake of the tragic events in Paris, Poland doesn’t see the political possibilities to implement a decision on the relocation of refugees,” Konrad Szymanski was quoted as saying on Wpolityce.pl website on Saturday. “The attacks mean there’s a need for an even deeper revision of the European policy regarding the migrant crisis.” Szymanski’s rejection of the EU quotas hours after Paris was rocked by terrorist attacks underscore the divide among governments in the bloc over the influx of Middle Eastern migrants.

His Law & Justice party will take power in Poland this week after winning last month’s general election on a campaign that tapped into concerns among the country’s conservative Catholic base that too many Muslims are arriving in Europe. Poland’s previous cabinet, led by the Civic Platform party, also opposed efforts led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to force EU member states to take in more migrants. While incoming Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said Poland will meet an commitment by the Civic Platform to shelter 7,000 refugees, prime minister designate Beata Szydlo referred to the deal as “blackmail.” She will be sworn in on Monday.

Read more …

Only the small make it through. It takes many millions of years for larger creatures to develop.

After Mass Extinctions, The Meek (Fish) Inherit The Earth (WaPo)

A new study suggests that being a little shrimpy might come in handy when the going gets tough. A mass extinction called the Hangenberg event, which took place some 359 million years ago, led to a reduction in vertebrate size for around 40 million years afterward. The research, published Thursday in Science, adds support to the so-called Lilliput Effect, which suggests that mass extinctions cause marked shrinkage in the animal population. To study how fish fared after this devastating extinction, the University of Pennsylvania’s Lauren Sallen (along with Andrew K. Galimberti at the University of Maine) studied 1,120 fish fossils dating back 419 to 323 million years ago. She found that the ancient fish had been increasing in size over time — which is to be expected — but that body size plummeted after 97% of species were wiped out.

“Some large species hung on, but most eventually died out,” Sallan said in a statement. Before the extinction, some fish had grown to be as big as school buses. But in the unstable ecosystem of a post-mass-extinction ocean, only small fish — ones that could reproduce quickly and survive on less food — could thrive. That means an ocean full of enormous sea monsters gave way to an ocean full of sardine-like critters. “[T]he end result is an ocean in which most sharks are less than a meter and most fishes and tetrapods are less than 10 centimeters, which is extremely tiny. Yet these are the ancestors of everything that dominates from then on, including humans,” Sallan said. There’s a very good reason to look into these devastating extinctions of the distant past: Many scientists believe that Earth is on the verge of a sixth mass extinction — one caused by human activity.

Read more …

What Europe stands for.

Two Refugee Children Die In Greece In Separate Incidents (Kath.)

Two refugee children died in Greece in two separate incidents on Saturday. A 3-year-old boy drowned off the coast of Chios, in the eastern Aegean, after an engine blast on a refugee boat that threw the passengers in the sea, coast guard officials said. Fifteen other people were rescued while officials arrested an 18-year-old Turk believed to be a trafficker. Meanwhile, a 5-year-old Syrian girl was killed by an oncoming train while she was walking on rail tracks near the town of Alexandroupoli, police said.

Read more …