Dec 062017
 
 December 6, 2017  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Balthus Therèse dreaming 1938

 

Just How Big Could The Next Correction Be? (Roberts)
Second Canadian Mortgage Lender Crashes After Admitting Mortgage Fraud (ZH)
Toronto Housing Prices Fall Amid Growing Pool of Homes for Sale (BBG)
Plunder Capitalism (Paul Craig Roberts)
‘We Can’t Go On Like This’: Resignation In EU As Brexit Talks Stutter (G.)
Theresa May Faces New Brexit Revolt From Boris Johnson (BBG)
Most Brits Still Want Brexit But Expect It All to End Badly (BBG)
Juncker Seeks Greater Commission Control over Eurozone (Spiegel)
What Now? (Jim Kunstler)
The Premature Delisting of the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear (CP)
Greek Pension Cuts To Hit 70% Since The Start Of The Bailouts (K.)
Aid Groups Warn Of Looming Emergency At Greek Asylum Centres (G.)
Europe’s Migrant Crisis: Millions Still to Come (Kern)
US Homeless Population Rises For The First Time Since The Great Recession (G.)
Nearly 130,000 British Children To Wake Up Homeless This Christmas (Ind.)

 

 

From a larger article by Lance, This is Nuts. A 40% crash is starting to sound like a lowball.

Just How Big Could The Next Correction Be? (Roberts)

Just how big could the next correction be? As stated above, just a correction back to the initial “critical support” set at the 2016 lows would equate to a 29.1% decline. However, the risk, as noted above, is that a correction of that magnitude would begin to trigger margin calls, junk bond defaults, blow up the “VIX” short-carry and trigger a wave of automated selling as the algorithms begin to sell in tandem. Such a combination of events could conceivably push markets to either strong support at the previous two bull market peaks or to support at the 2011 peak which coincides with the topping formations of 2000 and 2007. Such a correction would entail either a 41.1% to 49.2% decline.

I won’t even mention the remote, but real, possibility of a nearly 75% retracement to the previous lows of the last two “bear markets.” That can’t happen you say? It wouldn’t even match the decline following the 1929 crash of 85%. Furthermore, as technical analyst J. Brett Freeze, CFA, recently noted: “The Wave Principle suggests that the S&P 500 Index is completing a 60-year, five-wave motive structure. If this analysis is correct, it also suggests that a multi-year, three-wave corrective structure is immediately ahead. We do not make explicit price forecasts, but the Wave Principle proposes to us that, at a minimum, the lows of 2009 will be surpassed as the corrective structure completes.” Anything is possible.

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Behing every bubble there is fraud.

Second Canadian Mortgage Lender Crashes After Admitting Mortgage Fraud (ZH)

Back in April/May, Canada’s biggest mortgage lender, Home Capital Group, crashed its way into the headlines, coming clean over its balance sheet-full of liar loans, suffered a bank run, and was forced to take emergency liquidty from taxpaying pensioners, and was eventually bailed out by good old Warren Buffett. “Probably nothing…”

Well just when everyone though that crisis was over, a second cockroach in the Canadian mortgage bubble fiasco just emerged… Laurentian Bank of Canada fell the most in almost nine years after reporting it found customer misrepresentations on some mortgage loans it sold to another firm.

Echoing problems that almost sunk Home Capital Group, Bloomberg reports that: An audit “identified documentation issues and client misrepresentations” with some mortgages from its B2B Bank unit that were sold to a third-party firm, the lender said Tuesday in its annual report. Laurentian said it will repurchase about C$89 million ($70 million) of those mortgages in the first quarter, or 4.9% of such loans sold to the firm. It will buy back an additional C$91 million of mortgages “inadvertently” sold to the firm, also in the first quarter. Just as we saw with Home Capital, the CEO initially shrugged it off as immaterial: “This is largely a documentation and securitization-eligibility issue,” Chief Executive Officer Francois Desjardins said in a call with analysts. “It is not material for the bank, its operations, its funding nor its capital. We have worked to change processes to ensure that this issue is resolved.”

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Pop.

Toronto Housing Prices Fall Amid Growing Pool of Homes for Sale (BBG)

Canada’s largest housing market continues to see prices fall amid a widening pool of homes for sale, though there are signs the correction is beginning to lure in some new buyers. The Toronto Real Estate Board’s benchmark home price index fell for the sixth consecutive month, down another 0.4% from October. The index has fallen 8.8% since May – the largest six-month decline in the history of data back to 2000. For the first time since 2009, the average price of a home sold in Toronto – at C$761,757 ($600,991) in November – failed to surpass levels from a year earlier.

Toronto’s housing market, dubbed one of the riskiest housing bubble cities by UBS, has slumped over the past few months amid government rules and harsher mortgage guidelines aimed at curbing demand. That’s coincided with a sharp increase in supply with new listings up 37% from a year earlier. [..] Toronto realtors sold 7,374 units in November. While that’s down 13% from a year earlier, the number is one of the highest readings for the month over the past decade. The correction in Toronto’s housing market has been primarily in Toronto’s detached market, where average prices surpassed C$1.2 million earlier this year. The price index for single family detached homes is down 12% since May. The condominium price index is little changed from record levels earlier this year.

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“..the tax cut edges us closer to revolution resulting from complete distrust of government..”

Plunder Capitalism (Paul Craig Roberts)

I deplore the tax cut that has passed Congress. It is not an economic policy tax cut, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with supply-side economics. The entire purpose is to raise equity prices by providing equity owners with more capital gains and dividends. In other words, it is legislation that makes equity owners richer, thus further polarizing society into a vast arena of poverty and near-poverty and the One%, or more precisely a fraction of the One% wallowing in billions of dollars. Unless our rulers can continue to control the explanations, the tax cut edges us closer to revolution resulting from complete distrust of government. The current tax legislation drops the corporate tax rate to 20%. This means that global corporations registered in the US will be taxed at a lower income tax rate than a licensed practical nurse making $50,000 per year.

The nurse, if single, faces in 2017 a 25% marginal tax rate on all income over $37,950. A single person is taxed at a rate of 33% on all income above $191,651. 33% was the top tax rate extracted from medieval serfs, and approaches the tax rate on US 19th century slaves. Such an upper middle class income as $191,651 sounds extraordinary to most Americans, but it is so far from the multi-million dollar annual incomes of the rich as to be invisible. In America, it is the shrinking middle and upper middle class incomes that bear the burden of income taxation. The rich with their capital gains from their equity holdings are taxed at 15%. Even single individuals who earn between $1 and $9,325 are taxed at 10% on their pittance.

The neoliberal economists who are the shills for the rich, Wall Street, and the Banks-Too-Big-Too-Fail claim, erroneously, that by cutting the corporate income tax rate to 20% all sorts of offshored profits will be brought back to the US and lead to a booming economy and higher wages. This is absolute total nonsense. The money won’t come back, because it is invested abroad where labor costs are lower, if invested at all instead of buying back the corporation’s stock or buying other existing companies. After 20 years of offshoring US manufacturing and professional tradable skills and the incomes associated with the jobs, who is going to invest in America? The American population has no income with which to purchase the goods and services from new investment, and the American population’s credit cards are maxed out.

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“We have to treat the UK political system like a rotten egg..”

‘We Can’t Go On Like This’: Resignation In EU As Brexit Talks Stutter (G.)

Theresa May has less than a week to salvage a Brexit deal that would open the way to trade talks before the end of the year, amid increasing signs of impatience within the EU over her handling of the process. EU negotiators expect the prime minister to return to Brussels very soon, but have said time is running out to strike a deal at a European summit next week. “The show is now in London,” said the chief spokesman of the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker. “We stand ready here in the commission to resume talks with the United Kingdom at any moment in time when we get the sign that London is ready.” While the next “final” deadline for stage one has not been defined publicly, several EU sources said the deal would have to be struck by the end of the week, with either Friday or Sunday as the last resort.

One EU ambassador told the Guardian the failure to reach a deal on Northern Ireland was a microcosm of a wider problem. “At root the problem is that [May] seems incapable of making a decision and is afraid of her own shadow,” the source said. “We cannot go on like this, with no idea what the UK wants. She just has to have the conversation with her own cabinet, and if that upsets someone, or someone resigns, so be it. She has to say what kind of trading relationship she is seeking. We cannot do it for her, and she cannot defer forever.” For weeks, European officials have walked a tightrope between sticking to the EU’s tough negotiating stance and seeking to avoid action or words that could destabilise the fragile May government. “We have to treat the UK political system like a rotten egg,” said one EU source in the run-up to Monday’s talks, suggesting that if “the realities of the world” dawned too soon, the British government could become more fragile.

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Cats in a sack.

Theresa May Faces New Brexit Revolt From Boris Johnson (BBG)

Prime Minister Theresa May is facing a revolt from inside her Cabinet over her plan to keep U.K. regulations aligned with the European Union after Brexit, a split that threatens to undermine her hopes of breaking the deadlock in negotiations. Efforts to rescue Brexit talks from an embarrassing breakdown on Monday prompted fresh divisions in the U.K. Cabinet on Tuesday, as leading Brexit-backers challenged the prime minister just days before a key deadline in talks. Brexit Secretary David Davis told Parliament he wanted the whole country to remain close to EU economic regulations after the split, a move that could have helped unblock talks that broke down over the issue of the Irish border.

Keeping the whole U.K. close to EU regulation would make it easier to avoid a border on the island of Ireland without putting up a new barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. The prospect of a border within the U.K. is a red line for the Northern Irish party that keeps Theresa May in power in London. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who together led the Brexit campaign in last year’s referendum, raised concerns about the plan, according to people familiar with the matter. The ministers believe the proposals threaten to dilute Brexit and Johnson raised his fears during a meeting of May’s Cabinet on Tuesday. Part of the Brexit narrative in the last 18 months has been that the split will allow the U.K. to break free from EU rules and chart its own course with free-trade deals around the world.

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“What’s clear, is that May will be blamed for any failure.”

Most Brits Still Want Brexit But Expect It All to End Badly (BBG)

British voters increasingly think Brexit is being mishandled. But that doesn’t mean they’re turning their backs on the idea of abandoning the EU – just on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government. A report by the National Centre For Social Research published Wednesday found that 52% of people believe the country will get a bad deal, compared to 37% in February, a month before May began divorce proceedings. Even before this week’s embarrassing breakdown, only one in five Brits said the government was handling the talks well. Among those supporting Brexit, 61% thought May was conducting talks badly. The survey of 2,200 people was completed in October, before reports that May was increasing the amount of money she was willing to pay to leave and also before the recent dramatic turn of events that has May at the mercy of a Northern Irish ally.

The findings speak to the sense of disconnect between how the population feels about a process they triggered with the 2016 referendum – and the political realities of a fragile government riven with divisions and bogged down in increasingly technical negotiations. The survey found little change in people’s attitude to Brexit itself. [..] this suggests that rather than regretting their vote, Leave supporters are coming to see it as a good idea badly implemented, something that could help Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition Labour Party. While Britons wonder what is going on – and perhaps even why leaving needs to be so complicated – the EU gave May until the end of the week to deliver a solution to an intractable problem – how to avoid a hard border in Ireland after Northern Ireland leaves the bloc along with the rest of the U.K.

Britain needs to provide an answer that satisfies all sides to move on to trade. What’s clear, is that May will be blamed for any failure. She set the clock for Britain’s exit in March 2019 and was relying on a summit next week to get EU leaders to allow discussions to begin on commerce, as well as a grace period to give businesses time to adapt.

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Merkel blinking will have far reaching repercussions. But Europeans don’t want more centralization.

Juncker Seeks Greater Commission Control over Eurozone (Spiegel)

Jean-Claude Juncker never lets others outshine him if he spots an opportunity to give the European project a boost. And that goes for friends and enemies alike. Indeed, the European Commission president has now come up with a project that not only transgressions the mandate given him by the leaders of the European Union member states, but also pits him against all the Eurozone finance ministers as well. Juncker was supposed to reach an agreement with finance ministers from the common currency area on proposals for deepening European integration he will present at the forthcoming EU summit later this month. Plans for greater EU integration are currently in vogue, a trend started by French President Emmanuel Macron, who presented his ideas for a better Europe two days after the German election in late September.

But instead of getting the finance ministers on board, Juncker has embarked on an ego trip. On Wednesday, the Commission is to present its plan without any input from the finance ministers whatsoever. The Eurogroup of 19 Eurozone finance ministers met in Brussels on Monday and on Tuesday it was the turn of Ecofin, which represents the EU finance ministers, but officially neither group was consulted on the Commission’s plans. “The entire approach is a disaster,” one participant complained. And because the national experts had no input, it’s unlikely that EU heads of state and government will do more than simply take note of Juncker’s proposals. The timing is an expression of rivalry between the Commission and the EU member states when it comes to questions relating to theeconomic and currency union. And the finance ministers aren’t likely to be impressed with the content, either. After all, the Commission’s proposals are designed to increase its own influence at the expense of the member states.

But there is more at stake than just a few bruised Brussels egos. The clash over competencies between European institutions risks torpedoing the French president’s drive for reform. For the first time in years, the French have seized the opportunity to once again set the tone in the EU. Yet, their call to arms is being met with hardly any response. Germany is preoccupied with forming a new government – and nothing much happens in Brussels without Chancellor Angela Merkel. Juncker, though, does not want to stand accused of wasting the chance to implement reforms. His central idea is to turn the EU bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, into an EU institution.

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How much longer for Mueller now the WSJ has called for his head?

What Now? (Jim Kunstler)

“Contact with Russians.” Grown men and women, doubling and re-doubling down on a political fantasy, repeat this prayer hour after hour on the cable channels and Web waves as if trying to exorcise a nation possessed by the unholy hosts of Hell. But such vicars of the news as Wolf Blitzer, Rachel Maddow, Chuck Todd, and Dean Baquet (of The New York Times) only shove the country closer to a cliff of constitutional crisis. To a certain class of people — a class that includes a lot of Intellectuals-Yet-Idiots, as Nassim Taleb has dubbed them — President Donald Trump is a figure of supernatural malignity who must be ousted at all costs. I did not vote for Donald Trump and I do not admire him; but I rather resent the dishonesty that is being marshaled against him, especially the mis-use of judicial procedure and the mendacious propagandizing of the nation in service to that end.

This is what it comes down to: General Mike Flynn, designated National Security Advisor, conferred with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak after the 2016 election about two pressing matters: a vote in the UN orchestrated against Israel, and sanctions imposed against Russia by outgoing President Obama on December 28, two weeks before the inauguration. Both these matters could be viewed as bits of mischief designed deliberately to create foreign policy problems for the incoming administration. Flynn’s discussions with Ambassador Kislyak amounted to what are called “back channel talks.” These informal, probing communications occur all the time and everywhere in American foreign policy, especially the transitional months every four or eight years when a new president comes in. They are necessarily secret because they concern issues of high sensitivity.

Every incoming presidential staff in my lifetime (going back to Dwight Eisenhower) has conducted back-channel talks with foreign diplomats in order to directly assess where things stand, minus public posturing and bloviating. And so that is what Mike Flynn did, as incoming National Security Advisor, after an eight-year run of worsening relations with Russia under Obama that Trump publicly pledged to improve. And now he’s been charged with lying to the FBI about it. Which raises some enormous and troubling questions well beyond the simple charge, questions that suggest a US government at war against itself.

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What’s America without grizzlies?

The Premature Delisting of the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear (CP)

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has decided to delist the Yellowstone grizzly bears, removing them from the protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). And state wildlife agencies in Wyoming and Montana are anxious to start sport hunting the bears. If you follow environmental politics, it is very clear why industries like the oil and gas industry, livestock industry and timber industry and the politicians they elect to represent their interests are anxious to see the bear delisted. Without ESA listing, environmentally destructive practices will have fewer restrictions, hence greater profits at the expense of the bear and its habitat. Delisting is opposed by a number of environmental groups [..] Conspicuously absent from the list of organizations opposing delisting is the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

Proponents of delisting, including the FWS, argue that with as many as 700 grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, thus ensuring the bears are now safe from extinction. Seven hundred bears may sound like a big number. But this figure lacks context. Consider that the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is nearly 28 million acres in total area. That is nearly the same acreage as the state of New York. Now ask yourself if 700 bears spread over an area the size of New York sounds like a lot of bears? Many population ecologists believe 700 bears is far too small a number of animals to ensure long-term population viability. Rather than hundreds, we need several thousand bears.

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But politicians talk of growth.

Greek Pension Cuts To Hit 70% Since The Start Of The Bailouts (K.)

The next batch of pension cuts, voted through in the last couple of years and set to come into force within the next two years, will take total losses for pensioners since the start of the bailout period in 2010 up to 70%. A recent European Commission report on the course of Greece’s bailout program revealed that the reforms passed since 2015 will slash up to 7% of the country’s GDP up to 2030. The United Pensioners network has made its own calculations and estimates that the impending cuts will exacerbate pensioners’ already difficult position, with 1.5 million of them threatened with poverty. The network argues that when the cuts expected in 2018 and 2019 are added to those implemented since 2010, the reduction in pensions will reach 70%.

Network chief Nikos Hatzopoulos notes that “owing to the additional measures up until 2019, the flexibility in employment and the reduction of state funding from 18 billion to 12 billion euros, by 2021, one in every two pensioners will get a net pension of 550 euros [per month]. If one also takes into account the reduction of the tax-free threshold, the net amount will come to 480 euros.” Pensioners who retired before 2016 stand to lose up to 18% of their main and auxiliary pensions, while the new pensions to be issued based on the law introduced in May 2016 by then minister Giorgos Katrougalos will be up to 30% lower.

More than 140,000 retirees on low pensions will see their EKAS supplement decrease in 2018, as another 238 million euros per year is to be slashed from the budget for benefits for low income pensioners. The number of recipients will drop from 210,000 to 70,000 in just one year. There will also be a reduction in new auxiliary pensions (with applications dating from January 2015), a 6% cut to the retirement lump sum, and a freeze on existing pensions for another four years, as retirees will not get the nominal raise they would normally receive based on the growth rate and inflation.

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A few hundred have been moved, but thousands more must be.

Aid Groups Warn Of Looming Emergency At Greek Asylum Centres (G.)

Humanitarian groups have warned of a looming emergency on Greece’s eastern Aegean islands, the day after residents converged on Athens in protest at policies that have seen thousands of migrants and refugees marooned in reception centres. A surge in arrivals from neighbouring Turkey has seen numbers soar with officials speaking of a four-fold increase in men, women and children seeking asylum on Chios, Kos, Leros, Lesbos and Samos. Conditions are deteriorating in the vastly overcrowded camps in a situation that Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) on Wednesday warned was “beyond desperate”. “In Lesbos, entire families who recently arrived from countries including Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq are packed into small summer tents, under the rain and in low temperatures struggling to keep dry and warm,” said Aria Danika, MSF’s project coordinator on the island.

“In our mental health clinic we have received an average of 10 patients with acute mental distress every day, including many who tried to kill themselves or self-harm. The situation on the island was already terrible. Now it’s beyond desperate.” Demonstrators – led by delegations of officials from Chios, Lesbos and Samos – gathered in the Athens sunshine on Tuesday to demand that the government move people out of camps. “Action has to be taken now, before it is too late,” said Panos Pitsios, president of the town council of Mytilene, Lesbos’s capital. “We are heading towards an eruption, a situation that is on the verge of getting out of control.”

The strategy of stranding migrants and refugees in remote camps where tensions have also mounted between rival ethnicities has also been condemned by human rights groups. Organisations increasingly fear that unless asylum seekers are transferred to the mainland where facilities are less crowded and better equipped, thousands could be left out in the cold as winter approaches.

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Biblical proportions.

Europe’s Migrant Crisis: Millions Still to Come (Kern)

The African Union-European Union (AU-EU) summit, held in in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, on November 29-30, 2017, has ended in abject failure after the 55 African and 28 European leaders attending the event were unable to agree on even basic measures to prevent potentially tens of millions of African migrants from flooding Europe. Despite high expectations and grand statements, the only concrete decision to come out of Abidjan was the promise to evacuate 3,800 African migrants stranded in Libya. More than six million migrants are waiting in countries around the Mediterranean to cross into Europe, according to a classified German government report leaked to Bild. The report said that one million people are waiting in Libya; another one million are waiting in Egypt, 720,000 in Jordan, 430,000 in Algeria, 160,000 in Tunisia, and 50,000 in Morocco.

More than three million others who are waiting in Turkey are currently prevented from crossing into Europe by the EU’s migrant deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The former head of the British embassy in Benghazi, Joe Walker-Cousins, warned that as many as a million migrants from countries across Africa are already on the way to Libya and Europe. The EU’s efforts to train a Libyan coast guard was “too little and too late,” he said. “My informants in the area tell me there are potentially one million migrants, if not more, already coming up through the pipeline from central Africa and the Horn of Africa.” The President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, said that Europe is “underestimating” the scale and severity of the migration crisis and that “millions of Africans” will flood the continent in the next few years unless urgent action is taken.

In an interview with Il Messagero, Tajani said there would be an exodus “of biblical proportions that would be impossible to stop” if Europe failed to confront the problem now: “Population growth, climate change, desertification, wars, famine in Somalia and Sudan. These are the factors that are forcing people to leave. “When people lose hope, they risk crossing the Sahara and the Mediterranean because it is worse to stay at home, where they run enormous risks. If we don’t confront this soon, we will find ourselves with millions of people on our doorstep within five years. “Today we are trying to solve a problem of a few thousand people, but we need to have a strategy for millions of people.”

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Recovery.

US Homeless Population Rises For The First Time Since The Great Recession (G.)

America’s homeless population has risen this year for the first time since the Great Recession, propelled by the housing crisis afflicting the west coast, according to a new federal study. The study has found that 553,742 people were homeless on a single night this year, a 0.7% increase over last year. It suggests that despite a fizzy stock market and a burgeoning gross domestic product, the poorest Americans are still struggling to meet their most basic needs. “The improved economy is a good thing, but it does put pressure on the rental market, which does put pressure on the poorest Angelenos,” said Peter Lynn, head of the Los Angeles homelessness agency. The most dramatic spike in the nation was in his region, where a record 55,000 people were counted. “Clearly we have an outsize effect on the national homelessness picture.”

Ben Carson, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which produced the report, said in a statement: “This is not a federal problem – it’s everybody’s problem.” Advocates who have witnessed the homelessness crisis unfold since it emerged in the early 1980s are grimly astonished by its persistence. “I never in a million years thought that it would drag on for three decades with no end in sight,” said Bob Erlenbusch, who began working in Los Angeles in 1984. The government mandates that cities and regions perform a homeless street count every two years, when volunteers fan out everywhere from frozen parks in Anchorage to palm-lined streets in Beverly Hills and enumerate people by hand. Those numbers are combined with the total staying in shelters and temporary housing. The tally is considered a crucial indicator of broad trends, but owing to the difficulties involved it is also widely regarded as an undercount.

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There is neither a valid reason nor a justification for this. It’s simply a lack of basic values.

Nearly 130,000 British Children To Wake Up Homeless This Christmas (Ind.)

Nearly 130,000 children in Britain will wake up homeless and in temporary accommodation this Christmas as child homelessness reaches a 10-year high, new research shows. The number of youngsters who will be spending the festive period in temporary accommodation such as B&Bs and hostels – often with a single room for the whole family and no kitchen – is up 7% on last year, amounting to an additional 8,000 children, according to a report by charity Shelter. Interviews carried out by the charity reveal a quarter of families in temporary accommodation have no access to a kitchen, with many having to eat meals on the bed or floor of their room. The vast majority live in a single room, with more than a third of parents saying they have to share a bed with their children.

An analysis of government figures by Shelter shows that one in every 111 children is currently homeless in the UK, with at least 140 families becoming homeless every day. In England, where the highest number of families are placed into B&Bs, 45% stay beyond the six-week legal limit. The report also lays bare the psychological turmoil experienced by families living in these cramped conditions for often long periods of time, with three-quarters of parents saying their children’s mental health had been badly affected by living in such settings.

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May 262017
 
 May 26, 2017  Posted by at 9:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Henri Matisse Le Bonheur de Vivre 1906

 

Trump Directly Scolds NATO Allies, Says They Owe ‘Massive’ Sums (R.)
Trump Joins New-Look G7 Amid Trade, Climate Discord (AFP)
US Appeals Court Refuses To Reinstate Travel Ban (R.)
NSA Under Obama Secretly Spied On Americans For Years (Circa)
UK Labour Party Slashes Tory Lead To Just Five Points In Latest Poll (Ind.)
UK Election Campaign Resumes After Manchester Attack (AFP)
Not A Little List: EU Draws Up Brexit Bill (R.)
China’s Reforms Not Enough To Arrest Mounting Debt – Moody’s (R.)
Toronto Area Home Sales Sink After Cooling Measures (G&M)
World Bank Star Economist Paul Romer Sidelined in War Over Words (BBG)
Fed Faces A ‘Surprise’ Problem On US Inflation (R.)
No-Nonsense Finns Ready to Rain on Franco-German Euro Parade (BBG)
Greece Debt Talks Remain Fraught Despite IMF Optimism (AFP)
Unease On Greek Island of Chios Over New Migrant Detention Center (K.)

 

 

It’s an anti-Trump love fest.

Spending $1 billion on a new building that you will never be able to visit tells you what these people think of you. But the, NATO is the ideal vehicle for the arms industry: no democracy anywhere in sight.

Trump Directly Scolds NATO Allies, Says They Owe ‘Massive’ Sums (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday intensified his accusations that NATO allies were not spending enough on defense and warned of more attacks like this week’s Manchester bombing unless the alliance did more to stop militants. In unexpectedly abrupt remarks as NATO leaders stood alongside him, Trump said certain member countries owed “massive amounts of money” to the United States and NATO – even though allied contributions are voluntary, with multiple budgets. His scripted comments contrasted with NATO’s choreographed efforts to play up the West’s unity by inviting Trump to unveil a memorial to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States at the new NATO headquarters building in Brussels.

“Terrorism must be stopped in its tracks, or the horror you saw in Manchester and so many other places will continue forever,” Trump said, referring to Monday’s suicide bombing in the English city that killed 22 people, including children. “These grave security concerns are the same reason that I have been very, very direct … in saying that NATO members must finally contribute their fair share,” Trump said. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg defended Trump, saying that although he was “blunt” he had “a very plain and clear message on the expectations” of allies. But one senior diplomat said Trump, who left the leaders’ dinner before it ended to fly to Italy for Friday’s Group of Seven summit, said the remarks did not go down well at all. “This was not the right place or time,” the diplomat said of the very public harangue. “We are left with nothing else but trying to put a brave face on it.”

In another unexpected twist, Trump called on NATO, an organization founded on collective defense against the Soviet threat, to include limiting immigration in its tasks. And Trump did say that the United States “will never forsake the friends who stood by our side” but NATO leaders had hoped he would more explicitly support the mutual defense rules of a military alliance’s he called “obsolete” during his campaign. Instead, he returned to a grievance about Europe’s drop in defense spending since the end of the Cold War and failed to publicly commit to NATO’s founding Article V rule which stipulates that an attack on one ally is an attack against all. “23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying for their defense,” Trump said, standing by a piece of the wreckage of the Twin Towers. “This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States, and many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years,” Trump said as the other leaders watched.

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It’ll give the press some more material to talk about on handshakes; it’s all they do these days anyway.

Trump Joins New-Look G7 Amid Trade, Climate Discord (AFP)

G7 leaders meet Friday determined to put on a display of united resolve in the fight against jihadist terrorism, despite deep divisions on trade and global warming. The two-day summit in Sicily’s ancient hilltop resort of Taormina kicks off four days after children were among 22 people killed in a concert bomb attack in Manchester. British Prime Minister Theresa May will lead a discussion on terrorism in one of Friday’s working sessions and is expected to issue a call for G7 countries to put more pressure on internet companies to remove extremist content. “The fight is moving from the battlefield to the internet,” a senior British official said ahead of the talks.

With May and Donald Trump among four new faces in the club of the world’s major democracies, the gathering in Italy is being billed as a key test of how serious the new US administration is about implementing its radical policy agenda, particularly on climate change. Senior officials are preparing to work through the night of Friday-Saturday in a bid to bridge what appear to be irreconcilable differences over Trump’s declared intention of ditching the US commitment to the landmark Paris according on curbing carbon emissions. Officials acknowledge the summit, one of the shortest in the body’s history, is effectively about damage limitation against a backdrop of fears among US partners that the Trump presidency, with its ‘America First’ rhetoric, could undermine the architecture of the post-World War II world. Summit host Paolo Gentiloni, a caretaker Italian prime minister also making his G7 debut, acknowledged as much on the eve of the meeting.

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Long dead. It was supposed to be for 30 days only anyway, and those are long gone.

US Appeals Court Refuses To Reinstate Travel Ban (R.)

In a stinging rebuke to President Donald Trump, a U.S. appeals court refused on Thursday to reinstate his travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority nations, calling it discriminatory and setting the stage for a showdown in the Supreme Court. The decision, written by Chief Judge Roger Gregory, described Trump’s executive order in forceful terms, saying it uses “vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement that the government, which says the temporary travel ban is needed to guard against terrorist attacks, would seek a review of the case at the Supreme Court. “These clearly are very dangerous times and we need every available tool at our disposal to prevent terrorists from entering the United States and committing acts of bloodshed and violence,” said Michael Short, a White House spokesman.

He added that the White House was confident the order would ultimately be upheld by the judiciary. In its 10-3 ruling, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said those challenging the ban, including refugee groups and individuals, were likely to succeed on their claim that the order violates the U.S. Constitution’s bar against favoring one religion over another. Gregory cited statements by Trump during the 2016 presidential election calling for a Muslim ban. During the race, Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslim’s entering the United States” in a statement on his website. The judge wrote that a reasonable observer would likely conclude the order’s “primary purpose is to exclude persons from the United States on the basis of their religious beliefs.”

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Where’s the anger?

NSA Under Obama Secretly Spied On Americans For Years (Circa)

The National Security Agency under former President Barack Obama routinely violated American privacy protections while scouring through overseas intercepts and failed to disclose the extent of the problems until the final days before Donald Trump was elected president last fall, according to once top-secret documents that chronicle some of the most serious constitutional abuses to date by the U.S. intelligence community. More than 5%, or one out of every 20 searches seeking upstream Internet data on Americans inside the NSA’s so-called Section 702 database violated the safeguards Obama and his intelligence chiefs vowed to follow in 2011, according to one classified internal report reviewed by Circa. The Obama administration self-disclosed the problems at a closed-door hearing Oct. 26 before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that set off alarm.

Trump was elected less than two weeks later. The normally supportive court censured administration officials, saying the failure to disclose the extent of the violations earlier amounted to an “institutional lack of candor” and that the improper searches constituted a “very serious Fourth Amendment issue,” according to a recently unsealed court document dated April 26, 2017. The admitted violations undercut one of the primary defenses that the intelligence community and Obama officials have used in recent weeks to justify their snooping into incidental NSA intercepts about Americans. Circa has reported that there was a three-fold increase in NSA data searches about Americans and a rise in the unmasking of U.S. person’s identities in intelligence reports after Obama loosened the privacy rules in 2011. Officials like former National Security Adviser Susan Rice have argued their activities were legal under the so-called minimization rule changes Obama made, and that the intelligence agencies were strictly monitored to avoid abuses.

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May was losing a lot of votes before AMnchester.

UK Labour Party Slashes Tory Lead To Just Five Points In Latest Poll (Ind.)

Labour has slashed the Conservatives’ lead in the polls to just five points, the latest YouGov/Times results show. The party has made consistent gains in recent weeks as leader Jeremy Corbyn claimed his message was finally getting through to voters. The results show a four point change since last week when the Tories were leading by 9 percentage points – the first time Labour had narrowed the gap to single figures since Theresa May called the snap election on 18 April. The latest poll comes after the Prime Minister made an unprecedented U-turn over her “dementia tax” plans, just four days after making them the centrepiece of her election manifesto.

A separate poll, conducted after the Tory manifesto launch, found 28% of voters said they were less likely to vote Conservative because of the social care package. It comes as Mr Corbyn prepares to take the hugely controversial step of blaming Britain’s foreign wars for terror attacks such as the Manchester suicide bombing. The Labour leader will claim a link between “wars our government has supported or fought in other countries and terrorism here at home”, as he relaunches his party’s election campaign on Friday after the three-day pause. Mr Corbyn will stress his assessment is shared by the intelligence and security services and “in no way reduces the guilt of those who attack our children”. The Independent understands Mr Corbyn wishes to draw attention to his March 2011 vote against the Libya bombing – when he was one of just 13 MPs to oppose David Cameron.

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May will use Manchester and fear for all she can suck out of it. Corbyn will be portrayed as incapable leader for the country, in the same way he has been called unfit to lead his party. He would have been way ahead in the polls if his own party had not turned on him. Re: Bernie.

UK Election Campaign Resumes After Manchester Attack (AFP)

Britain’s politicians resume campaigning in earnest on Friday with national security in the spotlight, as police scramble to bust a Libya-linked jihadist network thought to be behind the Manchester terror attack. Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had suspended campaigning after Monday’s bombing at a Manchester pop concert, which killed 22 people, including many teenagers, and wounded dozens more. Eight suspects are currently in detention on UK soil in connection with the blast, for which the Islamic State group has claimed responsibility, while police in Libya have detained the father and brother of 22-year-old suicide bomber Salman Abedi. Washington’s top diplomat Rex Tillerson is due to visit London on Friday in an expression of solidarity, after Britain reacted furiously to leaks of sensitive details about the investigation to US media.

Opposition leader Corbyn in a speech in London later on Friday is expected to say it is the “responsibility” of governments to minimise the risk of terror by giving police the funding they need. A YouGov poll published in Friday’s edition of The Times put Conservatives on 43% compared to Labour on 38%, far better for Labour than the double-digit margin that had previously separately it from the ruling party. YouGov polled 2,052 people on Wednesday and Thursday. But analysts said that the Conservative prime minister – who previously served as interior minister for six years – could benefit at the polls from the shift in focus ahead of the general election on June 8. “If security and terrorism become more prominent then I can only see one winner from this – Theresa May,” said Steven Fielding, a professor of politics at the University of Nottingham. The YouGov poll also found that 41% of respondents said that the Conservatives would handle defence and security best, compared to 18% who said the same of Labour.

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Will May be part of these discussions?

Not A Little List: EU Draws Up Brexit Bill (R.)

The EU will next month demand Britain agree to pay a fixed percentage of the EU’s outstanding obligations on the day it leaves the bloc, in defiance of a British rejection of that logic as “preposterous”. A draft EU negotiating paper, seen by Reuters, that will be put to London when Brexit talks begin following a national election in Britain on June 8 makes clear that suggestions from Prime Minister Theresa May’s government that the Union might end up owing rather than getting money cut no ice in Brussels. The paper on principles of the financial settlement that the EU wants from London on departure in March 2019 sets no figure, and chief negotiator Michel Barnier has made clear it cannot be calculated until the end as it depends on the EU’s spending.

However, he wants an agreement on how the “Brexit bill” will be calculated, perhaps by late this year, before the Europeans agree to launch talks that May wants on a free trade agreement. EU chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker has said Britain may have to pay its 27 allies some €60 billion on departure and some experts estimated the up-front cost, before later refunds, could be nearly double that – suggestions May’s foreign minister Boris Johnson called “absolutely preposterous”. The paper to be discussed among diplomats next week before Barnier presents the opening demands to London in the week of June 19, spells out that while Britain will get some credit – notably its €39 billion share of the capital of the European Investment Bank.

But the list of what it must pay, and go paying for some years after Brexit, is much longer. Four pages of appendix details list more than 70 EU bodies and funds to which Britain has committed payment in a budget set out to 2020. Yet the three-page main document made no mention of Britain getting credit for a share of, say, EU buildings, as British ministers have said it should have. EU officials argue Britain was not asked to pay extra for existing infrastructure in Brussels when it first joined the bloc in 1973. Among obligations Britain will be asked to cover are the funding until summer 2021 of British teachers seconded to schools catering to the EU’s staff and diplomats.

Other payments include promises to fund Syrian refugees in Turkey, aid for the Central African Republic, the EU aviation safety agency and the European Institute for Gender Equality. “The United Kingdom obligations should be fixed as a percentage of the EU obligations calculated at the date of withdrawal in accordance with a methodology to be agreed in the first phase of the negotiations,” the paper states. It adds that people, businesses and organizations in Britain would continue to benefit from some EU funds for some time after Brexit. Britain has about 13% of the EU’s 507 million population and accounts for some 16% of its economy. Its net contribution to the EU’s €140 billion annual budget has typically been roughly €10 billion in recent years.

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CHina is not in good shape. Moody’s diagnosis came late.

China’s Reforms Not Enough To Arrest Mounting Debt – Moody’s (R.)

China’s structural reforms will slow the pace of its debt build-up but will not be enough to arrest it, and another credit rating cut for the country is possible down the road unless it gets its ballooning credit in check, officials at Moody’s said. The comments came two days after Moody’s downgraded China’s sovereign ratings by one notch to A1, saying it expects the financial strength of the world’s second-largest economy to erode in coming years as growth slows and debt continues to mount. In announcing the downgrade, Moody’s Investors Service also changed its outlook on China from “negative” to “stable”, suggesting no further ratings changes for some time.

China has strongly criticized the downgrade, asserting it was based on “inappropriate methodology”, exaggerating difficulties facing the economy and underestimating the government’s reform efforts. In response, senior Moody’s official Marie Diron said on Friday that the ratings agency has been encouraged by the “vast reform agenda” undertaken by the Chinese authorities to contain risks from the rapid rise in debt. However, while Moody’s believes the reforms may slow the pace at which debt is rising, they will not be enough to arrest the trend and levels will not drop dramatically, Diron said. Diron said China’s economic recovery since late last year was mainly thanks to policy stimulus, and expects Beijing will continue to rely on pump-priming to meet its official economic growth targets, adding to the debt overhang.

Moody’s also is waiting to see how some of the announced measures, such as reining in local government finances, are actually implemented, Diron, associate managing director of Moody’s Sovereign Risk Group, told reporters in a webcast. China may no longer get an A1 rating if there are signs that debt is growing at a pace that exceeds Moody’s expectations, Li Xiujun, vice president of credit strategy and standards at the ratings agency, said in the same webcast. “If in the future China’s structural reforms can prevent its leverage from rising more effectively without increasing risks in the banking and shadow banking sector, then it will have a positive impact on China’s rating,” Li said. But Li added: “If there are signs that China’s debt will keep rising and the rate of growth is beyond our expectations, leading to serious capital misallocation, then it will continue to weigh on economic growth in the medium term and impact the sovereign rating negatively.”

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Down 26% yoy.

Toronto Area Home Sales Sink After Cooling Measures (G&M)

House sales fell 26% in the Toronto region in the month following the Ontario government’s introduction of a foreign-buyer’s tax as many potential purchasers stepped back and waited to assess the market impact. In the 30 days after the province announced the immediate introduction of a 15-per-cent foreign-buyer’s tax on April 20, the number of houses sold in the Greater Toronto Area fell 26% compared with the same period last year, according to data compiled by Toronto realtor John Pasalis, president of Realosophy Realty Inc. Communities north of Toronto saw the greatest declines between April 20 and May 20, with sales falling 61% in Richmond Hill, 46% in Markham and 44% in Newmarket. The City of Toronto recorded a 23% drop in the number of homes sold, while Brampton and Mississauga west of Toronto had sales declines of 16% and 27%, respectively.

The sales review looked only at freehold homes, including detached and semi-detached houses, but did not include condominiums. The drop in selling activity is part of a broad cooling in the Toronto region market that began in April as buyers moved to the sidelines while home owners rushed to list their houses to try to cash in before the market peaked. In the first two weeks of May alone, sales of all types of homes in the GTA fell 16% compared with the same period in May last year, while the number of new listings soared 47%, according to data compiled by the Toronto Real Estate Board. The average GTA home sold for $890,284 in the first two weeks of May, a 17-per-cent increase from a year earlier, primarily because of large gains earlier this year. But the price was down 3% compared with April, when the average sale price for all types of GTA homes was $920,791.

Mr. Pasalis said he does not believe the new foreign-buyer’s tax is directly responsible for much of the drop in sales since April 20 because foreign buyers were not a large enough part of the market to cause such a significant decline, and many foreign buyers will qualify for rebates of the tax. Instead, he believes the drop is a result, in part, to a decline in demand from domestic investors who were purchasing second properties to rent or flip. Most investors have stopped buying as they wait to see the impact of a suite of new measures announced by the province in April, including the foreign-buyer’s tax, he said. “They disappeared – no one is talking about buying money-losing rental properties any more,” Mr. Pasalis said. “The whole excitement and euphoria is kind of gone right now.”

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The fight over conventional economic theories.

World Bank Star Economist Paul Romer Sidelined in War Over Words (BBG)

The World Bank’s chief economist has been stripped of his management duties after researchers rebelled against his efforts to make them communicate more clearly, including curbs on the written use of “and.” Paul Romer is relinquishing oversight of the Development Economics Group, the research hub of the Washington-based development lender, according to an internal staff announcement seen by Bloomberg. Kristalina Georgieva, the chief executive for the bank’s biggest fund, will take over management of the unit July 1. Romer will remain chief economist, providing management with “timely thought leadership on trends directly affecting our client countries, including the ‘future of work,’” World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said in the note to staff dated May 9.

Romer said he met resistance from staff when he tried to refine the way they communicate. “I was in the position of being the bearer of bad news,” he said in an interview. “It’s possible that I was focusing too much on the precision of the communications and not enough on the feelings my messages would invoke.” [..] But in recent years, his attacks on the credibility of macroeconomic models irritated many of his peers. His combativeness didn’t endear him to some of the more than 600 economists who work in DEC, according to people familiar with the matter. Romer wanted DEC to set the intellectual agenda among those who think deeply about how to help the world’s poorest countries, said one of the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The World Bank is already considered a major source of development research, ranking first among institutions in terms of the number of times its work is cited, ahead of Brown University, the London School of Economics and Harvard University. But Romer expressed to those around him that the department should communicate more clearly, dive right into public debates, and align its work with the institution’s goals of ending extreme poverty and reducing inequality. It didn’t take him long to shake things up. He declared several positions redundant and enforced term limits on senior managers. In the interview, Romer said he cut more than $1 million in annual expenses from the group’s budget.

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A fight between fabricated numbers.

Fed Faces A ‘Surprise’ Problem On US Inflation (R.)

Recent data on the performance of the U.S. economy has been generally on the soft side, a sore point discussed at length by Federal Reserve officials at their latest meeting, minutes of the gathering released on Wednesday showed. In fact, measures developed by Citigroup economists to track how incoming economic data stacks up against market expectations show the latest numbers from the United States have been falling persistently short of forecasts. Meanwhile, Citi’s comparable “economic surprise” indexes for other regions show just the opposite: upside surprises. Of particular concern for the Fed are recent undershoots on key gauges of inflation that have been lagging the central bank’s stated target of 2% annualized consumer price growth.

Market-based measures of long-term inflation expectations have also weakened substantially, enough so that Fed policymakers agreed at their last meeting that before raising rates again they would need stronger data to confirm recent weakness was not a new trend. With doubts rising over U.S. President Donald Trump’s ability to deliver policies to promote faster economic growth, many of these gauges have fallen back to near Election Day levels. Citi’s inflation surprise indexes underscore the Fed’s anxiety. [..] recent U.S. inflation readings have returned to their long-term trend of underperforming against forecasts after a brief run of upside surprises earlier this year.

Meanwhile, inflation reports from Europe have topped expectations by the widest margin on record. The rest of the so-called Group of 10 largest developed economies are meanwhile beating forecasts by the most since the financial crisis nearly a decade ago, even after taking into account the drag from U.S. numbers. Even Japan, notorious for its decades-long struggles against deflation, is posting inflation data notably above forecasts.

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Will France and Germany push through a closer union despite the protests? They could….

No-Nonsense Finns Ready to Rain on Franco-German Euro Parade (BBG)

The euro area should focus on implementing its banking union and consigning bailouts to the history books, rather than exploring ambitious ideas such as a common budget or shared liabilities, according to Finland’s finance minister. “We’re willing to engage in a discussion on different scenarios on the future of European Monetary Union,” Petteri Orpo said in an emailed response to questions Wednesday. “I would be cautious about proposals that aren’t consistent with the current stage of political union in Europe, such as eurobonds.” The debate over the future of the EU has received new impetus following the U.K.’s decision to leave, with the European Commission outlining five possible scenarios.

Those hoping for a re-start in the integration drive in response to populist criticisms have drawn new energy from the lovefest on display in Berlin when German Chancellor Angela Merkel hosted a first meeting with Emmanuel Macron, the new French president. Italy and Spain, meanwhile, are renewing their push for mutually-backed debt. The priorities of Finland’s finance minister are not as lofty. “The banking union is by far the most important element,” Orpo said. “Risk reduction must come before risk sharing.” Finland may have a special interest in boosting the banking union now that the largest Nordic lender, Nordea Bank, is considering relocating its headquarters to Helsinki from Stockholm.

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My long-term point exactly: “Greece cannot grow while maintaining such a high surplus,” Rice said.”

Greece Debt Talks Remain Fraught Despite IMF Optimism (AFP)

Critical talks on easing Greece’s massive debt burden remain fraught with conflict, despite assurances from the IMF on Thursday that the sides are closer to an agreement. A deal to secure debt relief for Athens from the eurozone is the missing piece to unlocking loans the country needs to make debt payments and begin to recover from the years-long crisis. But transcripts of part of the recent discussions between the IMF, the ECB and eurozone finance ministers published by Greek financial website Euro2day on Thursday show many disputes remain and few of the participants are satisfied, least of all Greece Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos. He slammed one of the proposals floated in the discussions the “worst of all worlds” for Greece. “I don’t think anyone here can say that is a good deal for us, who have negotiated in good faith.”

This seems to contradict comments from an IMF official Thursday, who said the differences are narrowing even though the fund needs more specifics on a debt relief plan before it can agree to release more financing. “Everyone is optimistic that agreement can be reached and hopefully can be reached at the next Eurogroup meeting” in mid-June, IMF spokesman Gerry Rice told reporters. In contrast, the IMF’s main negotiator, Poul Thomsen, said he was “very far away from being able to tell our board that we are close to a strategy we can agree to” on debt relief, according to the transcripts. [..] Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem floated the possibility of the IMF approving a loan for Greece, but withholding disbursement of the funds until it had sufficient details on the debt relief — something virtually unheard of in IMF aid programs.

Thomsen said it was an “interesting proposal” that he could raise with the management, even while Tsakalotos slammed the idea. One advantage to the unusual arrangement, were the IMF to agree, is that it would take the discussion of Greek debt relief out of play in Germany’s election in September. The German public is hostile to more financial support for Athens. Rice vehemently denied doing any political favors for Germany. “We are exploring all options within our existing practices and rules,” he said. IMF lending depends on each country’s circumstances “but we try to be as flexible as we can,” he added. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble called the lack of a deal at Monday’s talks “a major failure,” and said “I’m not very optimistic that things will improve.”

The IMF also disagrees with Europe’s forecasts for Greek growth and primary fiscal surplus which are key to the debt discussions, Rice said. Europe continues to forecast a surplus excluding debt payments of 3.5% of GDP even after 2022, which the IMF believes is not sustainable and would impose undue hardship on the country. Athens could better use its budget to fuel growth and “Greece cannot grow while maintaining such a high surplus,” Rice said. “It does not help anyone to have assumptions that are overly optimistic.”

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Detention centers for people fleeing western-induced misery and chaos breaks so many international laws that these laws are invalidated in one fell swoop.

Unease On Greek Island of Chios Over New Migrant Detention Center (K.)

People living near the location of a new migrant detention center on the island of Chios say they will fight its construction. The facility will be used as a holding center for those who have had their asylum requests rejected and are due to be deported. A high-ranking police official, Nikolaos Zisimopoulos, informed authorities on Chios that construction of the new center would begin immediately, and containers carrying building materials arrived on the island Thursday. The municipal council called an emergency meeting last night to discuss the matter, as residents say their patience is reaching breaking point and that they will take action to fight the center’s construction.

Chios Mayor Manolis Vournous has asked for more time to allow the island’s residents to discuss the location of the new center. The Hellenic Police (ELAS), however, says there is no more time for any further discussion as the situation on the island’s existing camps is dire. ELAS also notes that a shift in the main flow of migrants toward Chios and away from Lesvos is adding fuel to the fire. Authorities say this shift can be attributed to the migrants knowing Chios does not have a closed facility like Lesvos does. So far this month more than half of all refugee and migrant arrivals in Greece have come to Chios.

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Apr 212017
 
 April 21, 2017  Posted by at 8:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Fred Stein Nadinola 1944

 

Trump Signals Provide Comfort to Central Bankers, Finance Ministers (WSJ)
Protectionism Is More Than a Political Statement (Grant)
Fed Intensifies Balance-Sheet Discussions With Market Players (BBG)
Paul Tudor Jones Says U.S. Stocks Should ‘Terrify’ Janet Yellen (BBG)
China’s Stocks Refuse to Drop More Than 1% (BBG)
Toronto To Impose 15% Tax On Foreign Home Buyers (G.)
Why Not a Probe of ‘Israel-gate’? (Robert Parry)
Arresting Julian Assange Is A Priority, Says US Attorney General (G.)
German Chancellery Investigated In Probe Into WikiLeaks Sources (R.)
Coffee and Thin Liquidity on Traders’ Menus for French Vote (BBG)
EU leader: UK Would Be Welcomed Back If Voters Overturn Brexit (G.)
Britain Must Pay EU Divorce Bill In Euros (AFP)
Austria Calls For Closure Of Mediterranean Migrant Route (Pol.)

 

 

The system closes ranks.

Trump Signals Provide Comfort to Central Bankers, Finance Ministers (WSJ)

The Trump administration appears unlikely to upend seven decades of global financial cooperation by scorning the IMF and World Bank, a source of comfort to central bankers and finance ministers gathering this week in Washington. In recent days, the new administration has shown signs the U.S. is taking a more traditional approach to economic diplomacy and the use of “soft power” than early administration rhetoric suggested. President Donald Trump, after meeting with NATO’s chief earlier this month, praised the alliance and reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to it. Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has been leveraging the institution to advance Mr. Trump’s foreign-policy agenda. Other signals of the shift that are being seen by some officials at the meetings included the administration’s relatively modest proposed changes to NAFTA and its about-face last week on censuring China for its currency policy.

Meantime, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has reaffirmed the role of the IMF in promoting global economic growth and stability, saying at a gathering of global-finance chiefs last month that multilateral institutions can be “very important” to projecting U.S. interests abroad. Indeed, the U.S. signed off on an official communiqué by the Group of 20 largest economies that reaffirmed commitment to an international financial system “with a strong…and adequately resourced IMF at its center.” “There’re a number of things that global institutions can do to help strengthen global growth for all,” a senior Treasury official said ahead of the semiannual meetings in Washington this week of the World Bank and IMF’s member countries.

[..] The IMF has been criticized in the past for being too lax on China, especially when its exchange rate was estimated to have been up to 40% undervalued and its trade surplus topping 10% of GDP. The IMF has since stepped up its public censure of some Beijing policies, such as a bank lending boom that could endanger financial stability in the world’s second largest economy. The IMF is also planning to ramp up its warnings toward another Washington target—Germany—which maintains the world’s largest trade surplus. In particular. “Germany, with its aging population, should have, and can legitimately aim to have, a degree of surplus,” Ms. Lagarde said this week in a briefing with European press. “But not to the extent we see at the moment: 4% would perhaps be justified, but 8% is not.”

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France, Italy and Greece: Europe’s risk spots. US Treasuries and the dollar look inviting.

Protectionism Is More Than a Political Statement (Grant)

Yet again, Greece is another crisis in progress, as the nation has a $7 billion debt payment to make in July and nowhere near the cash on hand to pay it. The official debt-to-GDP figure is 183%, according to EU data, but it is a nonsensical number. The ECB lends money to the Greek banks and the banks lend money to the country. This is the epicenter of the rigged scheme. If you take the total public debt and add in the debt of Greek banks, then the total debt to GDP ratio is 302%, based on my calculations. One more time bomb ticking as the International Monetary Fund will not lend any new money to Greece, in my opinion, with the U.S. representatives on the IMF now reporting to the Trump administration.

It is not the size of the country that matters but the size of the debt, and a $560 billion public and bank debt load is no small figure. Since it is virtually impossible in many European countries to forgive the debt, given their political constraints, the “breakpoint” may finally be arriving. This means Greece will be leaving the EU, one way or another, and defaulting on its debts. Now, you can hold whatever view you like on these situations. You can ascribe to the “muddle through” theory or the “kick the can” theory. But what you cannot do is pretend that there are not significant risks facing the EU. We have these three “risk situations” in progress, and then we have Brexit under way, and it is my opinion that the EU is coming apart at the seams.

Many large financial institutions are looking aghast at the U.S. Treasury market. Virtually every leading bank has been predicting a return to a 3.00% yield for the benchmark 10-year note, and they have all been wrong – again. In fact, this is probably the biggest “pain trade” so far this year. Many people blame a “short squeeze” for the recent drop in yields on Treasuries. That is only part of the reason. The other has been the flow of capital, which is headed out of Europe and into the United States. “Protectionism” is more than a political statement. Asian money managers are exiting Europe, and the European money managers are exiting Europe, and the relative safety of the U.S. bond markets is providing a haven from European risk. This is a sound strategy, in my opinion. “Buy American, Sell American and Trade American” is where I want to be at the present time.

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The same market players who live off, and are propped up by, Fed largesse. Insane.

Fed Intensifies Balance-Sheet Discussions With Market Players (BBG)

Federal Reserve staff, widening their outreach to investors in anticipation of a critical turning point in monetary policy, are seeking bond fund manager feedback on how the central bank should tailor and communicate its exit from record holdings of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities. Fed officials are intent on shrinking their crisis-era $4.48 trillion balance sheet in a way that isn’t disruptive and doesn’t usurp the federal funds rate as the main policy tool. To do that, they need to find the right communication and assess market expectations on the size of shrinkage, which is why conversations with fund managers have picked up recently. “All indications suggest that conversations around the balance sheet have accelerated,” said Carl Tannenbaum at Northern Trust Company. “The consideration of everything from design of the program to communication seems to have intensified.”

Most U.S. central bankers agreed that they would begin phasing out their reinvestment of maturing Treasury and MBS securities in their portfolio “later this year,” according to minutes of the March meeting. They also agreed the strategy should be “gradual and predictable,” according to the minutes.Fed staff routinely seek feedback from investors and bond dealers to get a fix on sentiment and expectations. The New York Fed confirmed the discussions and said it is part of regular market monitoring. The Fed is getting closer to disclosing its plan, and conversations have become more intense. “They are gauging what’s the extent of weak hands in the market that will dump these assets,” said Ed Al-Hussainy, a senior analyst on the Columbia Threadneedle Investment’s global rates and currency team. “They are calling all the asset managers. It is not part of the regular survey.”

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“..years of low interest rates have bloated stock valuations to a level not seen since 2000..”

Paul Tudor Jones Says U.S. Stocks Should ‘Terrify’ Janet Yellen (BBG)

Billionaire investor Paul Tudor Jones has a message for Janet Yellen and investors: Be very afraid. The legendary macro trader says that years of low interest rates have bloated stock valuations to a level not seen since 2000, right before the Nasdaq tumbled 75% over two-plus years. That measure – the value of the stock market relative to the size of the economy – should be “terrifying” to a central banker, Jones said earlier this month at a closed-door Goldman Sachs Asset Management conference, according to people who heard him. Jones is voicing what many hedge fund and other money managers are privately warning investors: Stocks are trading at unsustainable levels. A few traders are more explicit, predicting a sizable market tumble by the end of the year.

Last week, Guggenheim Partner’s Scott Minerd said he expected a “significant correction” this summer or early fall. Philip Yang, a macro manager who has run Willowbridge Associates since 1988, sees a stock plunge of between 20 and 40%, according to people familiar with his thinking. Even Larry Fink, whose BlackRock oversees $5.4 trillion mostly betting on rising markets, acknowledged this week that stocks could fall between 5 and 10% if corporate earnings disappoint. Their views aren’t widespread. They’ve seen the carnage suffered by a few money managers who have been waving caution flags for awhile now, as the eight-year equity rally marched on.

But the nervousness feels a bit more urgent now. U.S. stocks sit about 2% below the all-time high set on March 1. The S&P 500 index is trading at about 22 times earnings, the highest multiple in almost a decade, goosed by a post-election surge. Managers expecting the worst each have a pet harbinger of doom. Seth Klarman, who runs the $30 billion Baupost Group, told investors in a letter last week that corporate insiders have been heavy sellers of their company shares. To him, that’s “a sign that those who know their companies the best believe valuations have become full or excessive.”

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Market vs government.

China’s Stocks Refuse to Drop More Than 1% (BBG)

In a Chinese stock market where superstition and government intervention often count for more than economic fundamentals, unusual trading patterns are par for the course. But even by China’s standards, the latest market anomaly to grab the attention of local investors stands out. The Shanghai Composite Index, notorious for its wild swings over the past two years, has gone 85 trading days without a loss of more than 1% on a closing basis, the longest stretch since the market’s infancy in 1992. On 13 days during the streak, the index recovered from intraday declines exceeding 1% to close above that threshold. The phenomenon has been especially stark recently, with the gauge erasing about half of its 1.6% drop in the final 90 minutes of trading on Wednesday.

For some investors, it’s a sign that state-directed funds are putting a floor under daily market swings – a development that presents short-term buying opportunities when the Shanghai Composite dips more than 1% during intraday trading. The theory may have merit: China’s securities regulator has this year sought to stabilize the stock market by limiting the extent of declines in the Shanghai Composite, according to people familiar with the strategy, who asked not to be identified discussing a matter that hasn’t been disclosed publicly. “There is room for arbitrage in the short term,” said Zhang Haidong, a money manager at Jinkuang Investment Management in Shanghai. The Shanghai Composite rose less than 0.1% on Thursday, rebounding from an intraday loss of as much as 0.7%.

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And no imagination either. Just copying others.

Toronto To Impose 15% Tax On Foreign Home Buyers (G.)

Foreigners who buy homes in Toronto and its surrounding area now face an additional 15% tax – echoing a recent measure adopted in Vancouver – as part of a slew of measures aimed at tempering a heated housing market that ranks as one of Canada’s most expensive. The tax – part of proposed legislation unveiled on Thursday by the Ontario provincial government – will be levied on houses purchased in the Golden Horseshoe, an area that stretches from the Niagara region and the Greater Toronto Area to Peterborough. It will apply to all residential purchases made by those who are not citizens or permanent residents of Canada, as well as foreign corporations. Once the legislation passes, the tax would be applied retroactively to purchases made as of 21 April. “When young people can’t afford their own apartment or can’t imagine ever owning their own home, we know we have a problem,” said Kathleen Wynne, the Ontario premier.

“And when the rising cost of housing is making more and more people insecure about their future, and about their quality of life in Ontario, we know we have to act.” Amid two years of double-digit gains and mounting fears of a housing bubble, her government has consistently fended off calls to intervene. The pressure ramped up earlier this month, after figures showed the average price of homes in the Greater Toronto Area soared 33% in the past year, pushing the cost of a detached home to an average of C$1.21m. “There is a need for interventions right now in order to calm what’s going on,” said Wynne. The tax would be revenue neutral, she added, aimed squarely at tempering demand. “In some ways, we have to realise this is a good problem to have … [It] is the unwanted consequences of a strong economy with a promising future.”

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“..many U.S. pols grovel before the Israeli government seeking a sign of favor from Prime Minister Netanyahu, almost like Medieval kings courting the blessings of the Pope at the Vatican.”

Why Not a Probe of ‘Israel-gate’? (Robert Parry)

The other day, I asked a longtime Democratic Party insider who is working on the Russia-gate investigation which country interfered more in U.S. politics, Russia or Israel. Without a moment’s hesitation, he replied, “Israel, of course.” Which underscores my concern about the hysteria raging across Official Washington about “Russian meddling” in the 2016 presidential campaign: There is no proportionality applied to the question of foreign interference in U.S. politics. If there were, we would have a far more substantive investigation of Israel-gate. The problem is that if anyone mentions the truth about Israel’s clout, the person is immediately smeared as “anti-Semitic” and targeted by Israel’s extraordinarily sophisticated lobby and its many media/political allies for vilification and marginalization.

So, the open secret of Israeli influence is studiously ignored, even as presidential candidates prostrate themselves before the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both appeared before AIPAC in 2016, with Clinton promising to take the U.S.-Israeli relationship “to the next level” – whatever that meant – and Trump vowing not to “pander” and then pandering like crazy. Congress is no different. It has given Israel’s controversial Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a record-tying three invitations to address joint sessions of Congress (matching the number of times British Prime Minister Winston Churchill appeared). We then witnessed the Republicans and Democrats competing to see how often their members could bounce up and down and who could cheer Netanyahu the loudest, even when the Israeli prime minister was instructing the Congress to follow his position on Iran rather than President Obama’s.

Israeli officials and AIPAC also coordinate their strategies to maximize political influence, which is derived in large part by who gets the lobby’s largesse and who doesn’t. On the rare occasion when members of Congress step out of line – and take a stand that offends Israeli leaders – they can expect a well-funded opponent in their next race, a tactic that dates back decades. [..] .. there have been fewer and fewer members of Congress or other American politicians who have dared to speak out, judging that – when it comes to the Israeli lobby – discretion is the better part of valor. Today, many U.S. pols grovel before the Israeli government seeking a sign of favor from Prime Minister Netanyahu, almost like Medieval kings courting the blessings of the Pope at the Vatican.

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This comes two days after the Intercept published an interview with Assange, who among other things said:“In fact, the reason Pompeo is launching this attack is because he understands we are exposing in this series all sorts of illegal actions by the CIA, so he’s trying to get ahead of the publicity curve and create a pre-emptive defense..”

Arresting Julian Assange Is A Priority, Says US Attorney General (G.)

The arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is now a “priority” for the US, attorney general Jeff Sessions has said. Hours later it was reported by CNN that authorities have prepared charges against Assange, who is currently holed up at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Donald Trump lavished praise on the anti-secrecy website during the presidential election campaign – “I love WikiLeaks,” he once told a rally – but his administration has struck a different tone. Asked whether it was a priority for the justice department to arrest Assange “once and for all”, Sessions told a press conference in El Paso, Texas on Thursday: “We are going to step up our effort and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks. This is a matter that’s gone beyond anything I’m aware of. We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious.”

He added: “So yes, it is a priority. We’ve already begun to step up our efforts and whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail.” Citing unnamed officials, CNN reported that prosecutors have struggled with whether the Australian is protected from prosecution from the first amendment, but now believe they have found a path forward. A spokesman for the justice department declined to comment. Barry Pollack, Assange’s lawyer, denied any knowledge of imminent prosecution. “We’ve had no communication with the Department of Justice and they have not indicated to me that they have brought any charges against Mr Assange,” he told CNN. “They’ve been unwilling to have any discussion at all, despite our repeated requests, that they let us know what Mr Assange’s status is in any pending investigations. There’s no reason why Wikileaks should be treated differently from any other publisher.”

US authorities has been investigating Assange and WikiLeaks since at least 2010 when it released, in cooperation with publications including the Guardian, more than a quarter of a million classified cables from US embassies leaked by US army whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

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And no protest from Berlin?

German Chancellery Investigated In Probe Into WikiLeaks Sources (R.)

Berlin’s chief public prosecutor has extended an investigation into the release of a trove of documents by WikiLeaks to include the chancellery as well as the Bundestag lower house of parliament, broadcaster NDR said on Thursday. Last December, WikiLeaks released the confidential documents, which German security agencies had submitted to a parliamentary committee investigating the extent to which German spies helped the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) to spy in Europe. The extension of the investigation to include the chancellery did not necessarily mean the Berlin public prosecutor had firm suspicions that individuals at Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office were involved in the leak, NDR said.

Government sources told Reuters that the chancellery had agreed several weeks ago to the investigation “against unknown” persons, to allow the inquiry to proceed. There were no firm suspicions against chancellery officials, the sources added. Surveillance is a sensitive issue in Germany where East Germany’s Stasi secret police and the Nazi era Gestapo kept a close watch on the population. Merkel told the parliamentary committee in February that she did not know how closely Germany’s spies cooperated with their U.S. counterparts until 2015, well after an uproar over reports of U.S. bugging of her cellphone.

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Plenty nerves on Monday morning. And that’s just for round 1.

Coffee and Thin Liquidity on Traders’ Menus for French Vote (BBG)

It may not be cafe au lait, but traders are likely to need plenty of coffee to sustain them through the first round of the French election. Ten thousand miles away in Melbourne, IG’s trading crew are due at their desks before dawn on Monday to deal with any fallout, while back in Europe, Societe Generale will be staffed overnight, according to a person familiar with their plans who asked not to be named because they aren’t authorized to speak publicly. Staff at HSBC will work extended hours, a spokeswoman said, Tradition is asking more voice brokers to come in on Sunday, while London-based Caxton FX is providing its night owls with pizzas. Other analysts and investors will be nervously watching from home, ready to dash to the office should French voters spring a surprise.

With the first predictions from France due at 8 p.m. Sunday in Paris, currency markets – which open one hour later – will give traders an early chance to react. At IG in Australia a “fully-manned” team will be on deck as the results roll in, according to Chris Weston, the firm’s chief market strategist. “Political events have a significant ability to alter volatility, more than any other event,” he said. Shifts in opinion polls have bolstered the focus on Sunday’s first round, which decides which of the top candidates progress to the run-off vote. The campaign has turned into a four-way race, with anti-euro candidate Marine Le Pen and independent Emmanuel Macron running just ahead of Republican Francois Fillon and the Communist-backed Jean-Luc Melenchon.

While polls show that either Macron or Fillon – considered the more market-friendly candidates – would be favored against the less-centrist opponents in a run-off, it’s the outside prospect of a Le Pen-Melenchon one-two that will keep traders sweating on Sunday. That’s reflected in the options market, which reflects the first round of French elections as posing the greater risk.

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UK democracy couldn’t take a Brexit overturn.

EU leader: UK Would Be Welcomed Back If Voters Overturn Brexit (G.)

The president of the European parliament has said Britain would be welcomed back with open arms if voters changed their minds about Brexit on 8 June, challenging Theresa May’s claim that “there is no turning back” after article 50. Speaking after a meeting with the prime minister in Downing Street, Antonio Tajani insisted that her triggering of the departure process last month could be reversed easily by the remaining EU members if there was a change of UK government after the general election, and that it would not even require a court case. “If the UK, after the election, wants to withdraw [article 50], then the procedure is very clear,” he said in an interview. “If the UK wanted to stay, everybody would be in favour. I would be very happy.”

He also threatened to veto any Brexit deal if it did not guarantee in full the existing rights of EU citizens in Britain and said this protection would forever be subject to the jurisdiction of the European court of justice (ECJ). Both are potential sticking points for May, who has promised to end free movement of EU citizens and rid Britain forever of interference by the ECJ, but the European parliament must ratify any Brexit deal agreed by negotiators before it can be completed. Lawyers are divided on whether the UK can unilaterally change its mind about leaving and are bringing a test case to establish the legal reversibility of article 50, but the parliament president spelled out a process by which a simple political decision by other member states would be sufficient. “If tomorrow, the new UK government decides to change its position, it is possible to do,” said Tajani. “The final decision is for the 27 member states, but everybody will be in favour if the UK [decides to reverse article 50].”

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Says who?

Britain Must Pay EU Divorce Bill In Euros (AFP)

Britain may be leaving the EU but it will still have to settle the divorce bill in euros, not pounds, according to an EU document on the upcoming negotiations Thursday. “An orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the Union requires settling the financial obligations undertaken before the withdrawal date,” said the European Commission document seen by AFP. “The agreement should define the precise way in which these obligations will be calculated … the obligations should be defined in euro,” it added. The document did not say how much the Brexit settlement might cost but EU officials have previously said it could be as much as €60 billion, sparking howls of outrage in London which puts the figure nearer €20 billion.

Titled “Non Paper on key elements likely to feature in the draft negotiating directives,” the document was drawn up for the European Commission which will conduct the Brexit negotiations with Britain. It covers in more detail the same ground outlined last month by EU president Donald Tusk in response to Prime Minister Theresa May’s official March 29 notification that Britain was leaving the bloc.

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A sea route. And a landlocked country. Nuff said.

Austria Calls For Closure Of Mediterranean Migrant Route (Pol.)

Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka has called for the immediate closure of the Mediterranean route used by refugees seeking asylum in Western European countries, local media reported Wednesday. Closing the route “is the only way to end the tragic and senseless dying in the Mediterranean,” Sobotka said. Asked about the potential of a barrier being erected at the Brenner Pass on the border between Italy and Austria, Sobotka said: “In the event of a sudden influx, we are equipped and able to ramp up border management within hours.” According to U.N. aid agencies, nearly 9,000 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean over the Easter weekend.

As weather conditions improve, more migrants are expected to make their way to Europe. “A rescue in the open sea cannot be a ticket to Europe, because it gives organized crime every argument to persuade people to escape for economic reasons,” Sobotka said. Last summer, Austria advocated for the closure of the Western Balkan route used by migrants coming from the Middle East seeking their way to Western European countries. Austrian Defense Minister Hans Peter Doskozil last February said Vienna planned to increase cooperation with 15 countries along the Balkan route to keep migrants from reaching northern Europe, claiming the EU is not adequately protecting its external borders.

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Apr 102017
 
 April 10, 2017  Posted by at 8:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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Todd Webb Rue des Plantes, Paris 1950

 

Americans Are Becoming Obsessed With Putting Everything On Credit (MW)
Cash Is Dead. Long Live Cash. (WSJ)
A Change In The Change Of Change (Peters)
Great Debt Unwind: Bankruptcies Surge (WS)
Trump’s Rollback of Bank Regulations Risks a Bondholder Backlash (Street)
Syria Strike Designed To Intimidate North Korea: China State Newspaper (G.)
Is Globalisation Dead? (Pettifor)
Housing Costs Are Pushing People Further Out of Sydney (BBG)
Toronto Mayor Says He’s Open to Sale of City Real Estate Assets
Secret Recording Implicates Bank of England In Libor Manipulation (BBC)
The Fire In The Hold Of The Doomed Euro (Ward)
Tsipras: Debt Relief Prerequisite to Legislate New Measures (GR)
Great Barrier Reef at ‘Terminal Stage’ (G.)
John Clarke has Died

 

 

We need a war on plastic, not cash.

Americans Are Becoming Obsessed With Putting Everything On Credit (MW)

It’s more likely that the last time you bought a pack of gum or a can or soda, you used a credit card. People like their credit cards so much they’re using them even for the tiniest purchases, according to a new survey released Monday from the credit cards site CreditCards.com. Among people with credit cards, 17% said they use them to buy items in brick-and-mortar stores that cost less than $5, up from 11% last year. CreditCards.com surveyed about 1,000 U.S. adults in March 2017. After a lull in the wake of the Great Recession, credit cards are once again being used with increased frequency. The Federal Reserve reported last week that collective credit card debt in the U.S. had reached $1 trillion.

Credit-card debt and auto loan debt balances for people ages 60 and older have also risen since 2008, that Fed data showed, whereas credit-card debt for those 59 and younger has fallen. The Fed, when describing that phenomenon, said lending standards have tightened since the recession, and those who are older may also be more creditworthy. But when consumers can pay their balances each month, turning to credit cards for small purchases isn’t a bad thing, said Matt Schulz, a senior industry analyst for CreditCards.com. Putting more charges on a credit card may indicate consumers feel more optimistic about their financial picture for the future, he said. “People who are chasing rewards realize that those little purchases can add up to a lot of rewards over the course of a year,” he added.

Indeed, several high-profile credit cards offer cash back and perks for spending. For example, Amazon introduced a credit card this year for Prime members that gives 5% cash back on Amazon purchases (Prime itself costs $99 per year.) Some retailers, however, prohibit credit-card purchases below a certain amount to avoid paying transaction fees to the credit-card issuers for such purchases. That said, cash and debit cards still are the go-to options for making small purchases, despite the speed with which credit cards are gaining on them. Of those surveyed, 24% said they use debit cards for small purchases, and 55% said they use cash. It appears younger consumers are behind at least some of the growth in credit card use: Some 70% of baby boomers and their older cohorts, the Silent Generation, still choose cash for small purchases versus 43% of those under 53.

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A little incoherent article, but point taken. Countries that try to go cashless should be careful.

Cash Is Dead. Long Live Cash. (WSJ)

[..] the push to get rid of cash is hitting speed bumps all over. India, for example, is already partly reintroducing its 500- and 1000-rupee bills after the government’s abrupt demonetization program drew sharp criticism for hurting its cash-dependent rural population. The U.S. shows no inclination to pare back its notes. “I’m very conscious of the $100 bill being the world’s reserve currency, and every central bank around the world has stacks of $100 bills where they used to have gold,” Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal shortly before he left office in January. One reason it’s a non-starter in the U.S.: About 8% of people don’t have a checking or savings account, making it all-but-impossible for them to participate in a cashless economy.

Banning cash “would bring the economy and many people to their knees if enforced,” said Hoover Institution economist John Cochrane. In the aboveground economy, card-based and digital payment systems offering ever-greater speed, safety and convenience have been steadily encroaching on paper money, even for small consumer transactions. Euromonitor International, a market-research firm, said the volume of global cash payments in 2016 for the first time fell below payments on credit and debit cards. Some of the growth in cash can be attributed to the financial crisis and the aftermath, when people lost faith in banks, and when ultralow interest rates and anemic investment returns reduced the opportunity costs of holding savings in cash. The number of $100 bills in circulation, worth $1.15 trillion in December, has surged 76% since 2009, according to Federal Reserve data.

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“Brexit was a joke. Trump was a joke..”

A Change In The Change Of Change (Peters)

“The change of change is now negative,” said the CIO. “Global growth is still rising, but the rate of improvement is slowing,” he explained. “Same holds true for global inflation, oil prices, copper, iron ore. Credit growth is slowing in the US, Europe, Japan, China.” If these things were all contracting, we’d plunge into recession, but we’re not there. We’re simply at the point in the cycle where the rate of acceleration is slowing – which is both evidence of a pause, and a precondition for every major turn. “The last time we had a major shift in the change of change was a year ago.” In Jan/Feb 2016, China was imploding. Commodity prices were tanking with equity markets, the dollar soared alongside volatility. Then China unleashed explosive credit stimulus, while the Fed blinked, guiding forward interest rates dramatically lower. Within a short time, the change of change turned positive.

Which is not to say things immediately accelerated, it’s just that they started contracting more slowly. And that marked the time to buy. “Pretty much everything that happened in 2016 can be explained by two things; China and oil prices,” he said. “Literally, that’s it.” China’s stimulus-induced rebound and the oil price recovery is all that mattered. “Brexit was a joke. Trump was a joke. In fact, the only real significance of those events was that they provided investors with opportunities to jump on board the reflation trade at back near Q1 prices.” The reflation trade quietly began in the Q1 collapse, and accelerated off the extreme post-Brexit summer lows in global interest rates. That’s what made last year remarkable. Even investors who missed the first opportunity, had two chances to make a lot of money.” You see, that reward is usually reserved for those who act on the first signs of a change in the change of change.

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Credit shrinks, the Zombies fall.

Great Debt Unwind: Bankruptcies Surge (WS)

Commercial bankruptcy filings, from corporations to sole proprietorships, spiked 28% in March from February, the largest month-to-month move in the data series of the American Bankruptcy Institute going back to 2012. They’re up 8% year-over-year. Over the past 24 months, they soared 37%! At 3,658, they’re at the highest level for any March since 2013. Commercial bankruptcy filings skyrocketed during the Financial Crisis and peaked in March 2010 at 9,004. Then they fell sharply until they reached their low point in October 2015. November 2015 was the turning point, when for the first time since March 2010, commercial bankruptcy filings rose year-over-year.

Bankruptcy filings are highly seasonal, reaching their annual lows in December and January. Then they rise into tax season, peak in March or April, and zigzag lower for the remainder of the year. The data is not seasonally or otherwise adjusted – one of the raw and unvarnished measures of how businesses are faring in the economy. Note that there is no “plateauing” in this chart: since the low-point in September 2015, commercial bankruptcies have soared 65%! That red spike is the mega-increase in March:

At first, they blamed the oil bust. The price of oil began to collapse in mid-2014. By 2015, worried bankers put their hands on the money spigot, and a number of companies in that sector, along with their suppliers and contractors, threw in the towel and started filing for bankruptcy protection. But now the price of oil has somewhat recovered, banks have reopened the spigot, Wall Street has once again the hots for the sector, new money is gushing into it, and oil & gas bankruptcy filings have abated. So now they blame brick-and-mortar retail which is in terminal decline, given the shift to online sales. I have reported extensively on the distress of the larger chain stores, but brick-and-mortar retailers include countless smaller operations and stores that no ratings agency follows because they’re too small and can’t issue bonds, and many of them are even more distressed.

[..] Now come the consumers – not all consumers, but those with mounting piles of debt and stagnating or declining real incomes, of which there are many. They’d been hanging on by their teeth, with bankruptcy filings consistently declining since 2010. But that ended in November 2016. In December, bankruptcy filings rose 4.5% from a year earlier. In January they rose 5.4%. It was the first time consumer bankruptcies rose back-to-back since 2010. I called it “a red flag that’ll be highlighted only afterwards as a turning point.” In March, consumer bankruptcy filings rose 4% year-over-year, to 77,900, the highest since March 2015, when 79,000 filings occurred, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute data. The turning point has now been confirmed. Total US bankruptcy filings by consumers and businesses in March spiked 40% from February and rose 4% year-over-year to 81,590, the highest since March 2015:

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Trust at risk.

Trump’s Rollback of Bank Regulations Risks a Bondholder Backlash (Street)

President Donald Trump’s pledge to roll back regulations on U.S. banks could face resistance from an influential constituency: bondholders. While stockholders of firms like JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs have cheered Trump’s plans to repeal or soften rules imposed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, bond-rater Standard & Poor’s is warning that such a move could undermine the industry’s creditworthiness. Measures like “stress testing,” in which regulators evaluate banks annually to determine if they’re sufficiently prepared to withstand a deep economic or market downturn, have made the firms safer, according to S&P. And so-called resolution planning – the practice of planning in advance how big banks would be wound down following a Lehman Brothers-style collapse – also has contributed to the industry’s resilience, the ratings firm wrote in a March 20 report.

The timetable for any such changes isn’t yet clear, however. Trump in February signed an executive order directing U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to identify any laws that might impede economic growth or vibrant markets. Those could include the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, signed by former President Barack Obama to curb risky activities like using excessive borrowings to fuel earnings growth and allowing in-house traders to speculate on markets with proprietary capital. “An overhaul of Dodd-Frank could be detrimental for bank creditors,” S&P wrote in the report. “If changes to Dodd-Frank watered down these features, and if banks reacted to such changes by weakening their financial management, we could lower ratings.” The fresh concerns could contribute to a shift in investor sentiment that’s been mostly positive toward banks since Trump’s surprise election on Nov. 8.

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Xi responds after he’s left Mar-a-Lago.

Syria Strike Designed To Intimidate North Korea: China State Newspaper (G.)

Donald Trump’s decision to attack Syria had also been designed to intimidate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, a Chinese newspaper has claimed, as G7 foreign ministers meet to discuss the fallout from last week’s missile incursion. The state-run Global Times said a US strike against North Korea would unleash carnage on the Korean peninsula. The US navy has deployed a strike group towards the western Pacific Ocean, to provide a presence near the Korean peninsula. South Korean officials suspect Kim may be planning to hold his country’s sixth nuclear test later this week to mark the 105th anniversary of the birth of founder Kim Il-sung on 15 April, an event a number of foreign journalists have been invited to cover.

In an editorial entitled: ‘After Syria strikes, will North Korea be next?’, the Global Times suggested the US might now be preparing to launch “similar actions” against Pyongyang and warned of catastrophic consequences if it did. “A symbolic strike against North Korea by the US would bring a disaster to the people in Seoul,” the newspaper said, claiming a “decapitation attack” on North Korea was now “highly possible”. Such a strike would “very likely evolve into large-scale bloody war on the peninsula”. The Global Times noted the decision to deploy a strike force to the Western Pacific over the weekend and cautioned Pyongyang against doing anything that might further inflame the situation.

“New nuclear tests will meet with unprecedented reactions from the international community, even to a turning point.” The warnings came after the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, claimed that the situation in North Korea had “reached a certain level of threat that action has to be taken”. Asked if the attack on Syria could be seen as a message to Pyongyang, Tillerson told ABC: “The message that any nation can take is: ‘If you violate international norms, if you violate international agreements, if you fail to live up to commitments, if you become a threat to others, at some point a response is likely to be undertaken.”

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“Hayek: state regulation leads to totalitarianism. But instead self-regulating markets led to today’s authoritarians.”

Is Globalisation Dead? (Pettifor)

In the BBC’s brief and pressured half-hour I wanted to get across that globalisation had not delivered on its promise – to make ‘the market’ the main driver of a more effective, more productive economy; to transform societies into nations of ‘shareholders’; to ensure a revolution in homeownership, and to avoid what Hayek called the threat of a totalitarian state. Instead financial globalisation has been an era largely fuelled by carbon (oil and coal) – as had been the case for over a century. However, unlike the Bretton Woods era, post 1970s de-regulated financial globalisation was built on mountains of private and public debt. The first – private debt – led to recurring financial crises, and the second – public debt – rose as private sector activity weakened, and tax revenues fell.

The consequences of these recurring financial crises in ‘advanced’ economies included ‘austerity’, the removal of employment protection, rising housing and education costs, the return of deflationary pressures, high unemployment, falling real wages, low productivity and rising inequality. These crises have led to increased insecurity and over-rapid social and economic change- as well as the greatest financial and economic crisis since 1929 (itself a product of excessive laissez-faire ideology). More widely, the insecurities and dislocations generated by financial globalisation have led whole populations to seek the ‘protection’ of a strong man (e.g. Presidents Trump, Duterte in the Philippines, Modi in India, Erdogan in Turkey, Putin in Russia).

Not that this worries the extreme adherents of laissez-faire – recall how Hayek supported the murderous dictator Pinochet in Chile for his brutal imposition of deregulatory ‘reform’. And so, contrary to Hayek’s expectations, financial globalisation has proved that it is market fundamentalism, and not the regulatory state that is leading the world into an era of authoritarianism and totalitarianism – in the US, Eastern Europe, India and China.

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But politicians will keep saying that it’s all because not enough is being built. Why don’t you raise rates first and see what happens?

Housing Costs Are Pushing People Further Out of Sydney (BBG)

New South Wales has taken over as Australia’s economic engine as the mining investment boom tails off, with central Sydney contributing almost a quarter of the nation’s growth last fiscal year. That success has come with a price. As workers flock to Sydney, an under-supply of housing, coupled with record-low interest rates, has made the city the world’s second-most expensive property market. Home prices jumped 19 percent in the past 12 months, stoking concern home ownership is increasingly beyond the reach of younger people. That’s a big political problem for the state’s new Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who made housing affordability one of her priorities when she took the job in late January. Housing affordability is “a barbecue stopper,” Berejiklian, 46, said in an interview in her Sydney office on Thursday.

“We are convinced if we put downwards pressure on prices through supply, that’s the best way we can solve it as a state government.” Sydney’s housing completions reached a 15-year high in 2016, though Berejiklian says the state is only now playing catch-up after “a decade of under-investment.” “There are about 100,000 dwellings we are behind on in terms of really digging into the demand,” she said. [..] There are several barriers to boosting housing supply in Sydney. The city is bordered by mountains to the west, the ocean to the east and rivers and national parks to the north and south, restricting the supply of new land, while moves to increase housing density in established suburbs have run into opposition from residents. That’s meant in the past three years, almost 70 percent of new detached houses have been built more than 30 kilometers from Sydney’s central business district…

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“..the Canadian government has been trying to find ways to “crystallize” the value in some of its property assets…”

Toronto Mayor Says He’s Open to Sale of City Real Estate Assets

Toronto’s mayor won’t rule out selling some of the city’s prime downtown real estate as he looks to make better use of assets amid an unprecedented property boom. “Would I take that off the table? No, I wouldn’t,” Mayor John Tory said in an interview last week at Bloomberg’s Toronto office. Selling buildings in the city’s costly downtown market probably wouldn’t be “quite as politically charged” as divesting other types of assets, such as the parking authority or power utility Toronto Hydro, he said. The need for North America’s fourth-largest city to fund critical transit upgrades and housing improvements coincides with skyrocketing property prices in the region. Toronto’s real estate portfolio includes 6,976 buildings with 106.3 million square feet (9.9 million square meters), almost half of which is multifamily, according to a Dec. 6 report on the city’s assets.

With all of the demands on the city to raise money for building transit lines and repairing existing housing, then “might you be looking at the business case for handling real estate in a different way? Because this is the most expensive downtown real estate you could possibly have,” said the mayor, elected in 2014. The report, commissioned by the city and conducted by Deloitte, estimates the value of municipal real estate including community housing, parks and forestry is C$27 billion ($20 billion), while the annual operating costs in “core” real estate and facilities management is C$1.1 billion. Tory said he watched with passing interest the federal government’s sale earlier this year of the Dominion Public Building. The historic downtown property beside Toronto’s Union Station sold for about C$275 million ($205 million), according to newspaper reports.

The property was “super underutilized,” BMO analyst Heather Kirk said in an interview, adding the Canadian government has been trying to find ways to “crystallize” the value in some of its property assets. “What a building is worth to the government in current form is totally different than the value to a developer,” Kirk said. “They are buying density.” When asked how any properties might be sold, Tory stressed he didn’t currently have any specific recommendations to make to the city council, although “I just know those are things that sit out there still as options that are in front of the city government to raise money to do the things we have to do,” he said.

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Ehh.. how do you lock up the Bank of England?

Secret Recording Implicates Bank of England In Libor Manipulation (BBC)

A secret recording that implicates the Bank of England in Libor rigging has been uncovered by BBC Panorama. The 2008 recording adds to evidence the central bank repeatedly pressured commercial banks during the financial crisis to push their Libor rates down. Libor is the rate that banks lend to each other and it sets a benchmark for mortgages and loans for ordinary customers. The Bank of England said Libor was not regulated in the UK at the time. The recording calls into question evidence given in 2012 to the Treasury select committee by former Barclays boss Bob Diamond and Paul Tucker, the man who went on to become the deputy governor of the Bank of England. Libor, the London Interbank Offered Rate, tracks how much it costs banks to borrow money from each other.

As such it is a big influence on the cost of mortgages and other loans. Banks setting artificially low Libor rates is called lowballing. In the recording, a senior Barclays manager, Mark Dearlove, instructs Libor submitter Peter Johnson, to lower his Libor rates. He tells him: “The bottom line is you’re going to absolutely hate this… but we’ve had some very serious pressure from the UK government and the Bank of England about pushing our Libors lower.” Mr Johnson objects, saying that this would mean breaking the rules for setting Libor, which required him to put in rates based only on the cost of borrowing cash. Mr Johnson says: “So I’ll push them below a realistic level of where I think I can get money?” His boss Mr Dearlove replies: “The fact of the matter is we’ve got the Bank of England, all sorts of people involved in the whole thing… I am as reluctant as you are… these guys have just turned around and said just do it.”

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The warnings have always been there. Totally ignored.

The Fire In The Hold Of The Doomed Euro (Ward)

The more basic stuff goes back at least twenty years, to the period where trouble was stored up for the future by fanatical federalists cutting every corner and pulling out all the stops to get EMU (the prototype single currency) up and running. Several eminent economists on continents ranging from Australia and the US to the UK and Europe itself made very sound predictions at the time about coming disaster, and they did so saying two related things: 1) It would offer Germany a cheap, fixed currency leading inevitably to its economic dominance, 2) It would point up the economic consequences of imposing one rigid means of exchange on 18 varietal cultures, leading generally to Southern/South Eastern Europe falling behind.

Just to add more weedkiller to the poisonous formulation, the key European leaders not only ignored the advice; they also first, ignored all the data showing that several member States were nowhere near ready to join the eurozone based on agreed criteria; and then second, were implicated in several corrupt deals on commodities – as varied as German butter, Italian wines and Greek olive oil – to cloud the existence of stark differentials in both export and industrial development. For once, the economic naysayers proved to be soothsayers. Messrs Hollande and Muscovici shrink from the limelight about their own book on the subject of cultural difference (fancy that) but it proved to be spot on….as did the musings of Lawson and Thatcher et al in relation to Germany’s dominance.

The Mark from around 1963 until the creation of EMU was the most reliable, performance-related currency on the planet. But only massive debt forgiveness by the victors after the Second World War enabled that outcome. Both the realities in that last paragraph explain why lectures from Hollande and Merkel today – when joined by hypocrisy from Draghi at the ECB – evoke so much hatred of the EU’s prime movers among the so-called ClubMed nations….and those of us Brits in the Brexit camp. I make these points not to be nihilistic, but rather to level the playing field of media coverage that has been so bombed, excavated, deliberately over-watered and then tilted for good luck by Brussels, Wall Street and Berlin obfuscation and mendacity since 2010. A very real outcome of nihilism is being encouraged (and indeed made inevitable) by the EC’s refusal to recognise that – even as the SS Eunatic set sail – there was a raging fire in the hold.

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Big words.

Tsipras: Debt Relief Prerequisite to Legislate New Measures (GR)

The mid-term debt relief measures so that Greece can enter the quantitative easing program is the prerequisite to vote for the new measures, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Sunday. Addressing the SYRIZA Central Committee, the party leader spoke about the new austerity measures his administration has agreed to with creditors. He spoke of a compromise that had to be made so that measures had to be counter-balanced by social relief measures of equal fiscal value and aid that the Greek negotiating team. “There are measures that are neither necessary, nor are they the ones we would ever choose, but the compromise achieved would have counter-measures that would counterbalance the fiscal impact and generate zero fiscal balance, and both will be legislated and implemented simultaneously,” Tsipras said.

Speaking on the initial agreement reached at the Malta Eurogroup on Friday, the prime minister said that, “After Malta the way for the identification of the medium-term measures for the debt is open. This will send a clear message to the markets that the uncertainty is over.” “Now we will be the ones to decide the fiscal path the country will follow after the end of the program,” Tsipras said, explaining the strategy for the next round of negotiations. He stressed that without medium-term measures for debt relief that would allow Greece to enter the QE program, he would not implement the new measures.

The prime minister also unleashed an indirect attack against main opposition New Democracy claiming that, “Some were scheming so that the evaluation would not close, because they didn’t want us to be the ones who will pull Greece out of the crisis.” He also attacked ND leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis accusing him of “rushing to meet with the German finance minister to get his blessing and undermine the negotiations.” He also said that the conservative party espouses extreme neoliberalism.

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It was a big mistake to put the Great Barrier Reef near Australia.

Great Barrier Reef at ‘Terminal Stage’ (G.)

Back-to-back severe bleaching events have affected two-thirds of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, new aerial surveys have found. The findings have caused alarm among scientists, who say the proximity of the 2016 and 2017 bleaching events is unprecedented for the reef, and will give damaged coral little chance to recover. Scientists with the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies last week completed aerial surveys of the world’s largest living structure, scoring bleaching at 800 individual coral reefs across 8,000km. The results show the two consecutive mass bleaching events have affected a 1,500km stretch, leaving only the reef’s southern third unscathed. Where last year’s bleaching was concentrated in the reef’s northern third, the 2017 event spread further south, and was most intense in the middle section of the Great Barrier Reef.

This year’s mass bleaching, second in severity only to 2016, has occurred even in the absence of an El Niño event. Mass bleaching – a phenomenon caused by global warming-induced rises to sea surface temperatures – has occurred on the reef four times in recorded history. Prof Terry Hughes, who led the surveys, said the length of time coral needed to recover – about 10 years for fast-growing types – raised serious concerns about the increasing frequency of mass bleaching events. “The significance of bleaching this year is that it’s back to back, so there’s been zero time for recovery,” Hughes told the Guardian. “It’s too early yet to tell what the full death toll will be from this year’s bleaching, but clearly it will extend 500km south of last year’s bleaching.”

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A really funny man died over the weekend.

John Clarke has Died

We featured quite a few Clarke and Dawe videos through the years. Here’s a few favorites:

How does the financial system work?

European Debt Crisis

The Greek Economy

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Apr 082017
 
 April 8, 2017  Posted by at 8:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Dorothea Lange Wife of sharecropper in town to sell crop at tobacco auction, Douglas Georgia 1938

 

US Credit Card Debt Tops $1 Trillion For The First Time In A Decade (ZH)
Store Wars: US Retail Sector Is Shedding Jobs Like It’s A Recession (MW)
Apparel Retailers Lead The Charge Out Of Brick-And-Mortar (Forbes)
Wall Street Is Making It Harder to Buy a Car (BBG)
US Jobs Growth Slumps To 98,000 In March (MW)
Millions Of Americans Desperate To Trade Part-Time Work For Full-Time (MW)
Toronto Real Estate Is In A Bubble Of Historic Proportions (Rosenberg)
Rosenberg: Toronto Housing Bubble ‘On Par With What We Had In The US’ (BNN)
Could Europe Copy America’s Supersized Corporate Debt? (BBG)
Syrian Gas Attack is a Lie: “Stop Your Governments!” – Russia (FR)
US Missile Strikes in Syria Cross Russian ‘Red Lines’ (RI)
Greece On Course To Avoid Debt Default As Athens Agrees Pension Cuts (Tel.)
Letting People Drown Is Not A European Value (EUO)

 

 

On top of auto and student loans, both already well over $1 trillion. Get a fork and turn ’em over.

US Credit Card Debt Tops $1 Trillion For The First Time In A Decade (ZH)

Unlike last month’s unexpectedly week consumer credit report, which saw a plunge in revolving, or credit card, debt moments ago the Fed, in its latest G.19 release, announced that there were few surprises in the February report: Total revolving credit rose by $2.9 billion, undoing last month’s $2.6 billion drop – the biggest since 2012 – while non-revolving credit increased by $12.3 billion, for a total increase in February consumer credit of $15.2 billion, roughly in line with the $15 billion expected. However, while in general the data was uneventful, there was one notable milestone: in February, following modest prior revisions, total revolving/credit card debt, has once again risen above the “nice round number” of $1 trillion for the first time since January 2007… where it now joins both auto ($1.1 trillion) and student ($1.4 trillion) loans, both of which are well above $1 trillion as of this moment.

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It IS a recession.

Store Wars: US Retail Sector Is Shedding Jobs Like It’s A Recession (MW)

The U.S. retail industry is shedding jobs at an unparalleled pace outside of recession and stands to lose many more as the industry continues to shrink its physical footprint, a response to the shift in consumer shopping habits away from purchasing in stores and malls in favor of e-commerce. The U.S. retail sector lost 60,600 jobs in February and March, the worst two months for the sector since the tail end of 2009, according to Labor Department data. The category called general merchandise stores – Target, J.C. Penney and the like – has shed jobs for five consecutive months. Media reports have tallied more than 3,500 store closures for 2017, with retailers including J.C. Penney, Sears, Macy’s and others announcing that they are shutting doors and making job cuts.

Ralph Lauren has outlined the next phase of its turnaround effort, which includes shutting stores and cutting jobs. Bankruptcies and liquidations have also picked up, with Payless ShoeSource just this week announcing nearly 400 store closures. Wet Seal, Aeropostale, Sports Authority, and Hhgregg are among the many other retailers that have either filed for bankruptcy or liquidated. The current state of retail, which is weighed by less foot traffic, more promotions, and increased competition, particularly from Amazon.com, suggests that additional closures are on the horizon. The U.S. simply has too many stores, according to a report from Cowen & Company titled “Retail’s Disruption Yields Opportunities – Store Wars!,” which found that up to 2,000 stores should close.

“[W]e expect online penetration of apparel to increase to 35% to 40% from 20%, yielding closures of 20% at oversized chains,” the report said. Cowen analysts say there are about 1,200 malls in the U.S. and they represent about 15% of retail square footage. Cowen anticipates that up to about 20%, or 240 malls, will close or be repurposed, with anchor store closures and the rise of digital among the primary drivers.

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The Amazon bubble. Killing off America’s last remaining meeting places.

Apparel Retailers Lead The Charge Out Of Brick-And-Mortar (Forbes)

This week, Payless ShoeSource filed for bankruptcy, joining many other U.S. apparel brands, including The Limited and Wet Seal, that have sought Chapter 11 protection in recent months. These three chains alone will shutter almost 1,000 stores. Fung Global Retail & Technology estimates that all of the major U.S. store closures announced so far this year total 2,507. That total is just for announcements made in the three months through April 4, 2017, yet it already dwarfs the 1,674 store closures we recorded across major U.S. chains in all of 2016. Closures are impacting multiple sectors: electronics is represented by RadioShack, furniture and appliances by Hhgregg, office products by Staples and healthcare by CVS. Apparel, however, is leading the charge out of brick-and-mortar. We calculate that apparel retailers and department stores account for 2,060 (82%) of the 2,507 closures announced so far this year.

What can we infer from this surge in store closures? We see three principal takeaways: Weak demand for apparel persists. The most obvious conclusion from the recent bankruptcy filings is that apparel retailers continue to feel the impact of subdued consumer demand. American shoppers have been flush with cash thanks to low gas prices, but they have chosen to spend on cars and their homes rather than on fashion. The latest retail sales data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that apparel specialist stores saw a 1% year-over-year decline in sales in February. There is little reason to think shoppers will switch back to apparel as interest rates rise and if fuel prices creep up.

Second, pure-play retailing is fashionable again. Amid all the talk of omnichannel retailing and Internet pure plays opening brick-and-mortar stores, we are now seeing a trend of retailers going the opposite way, moving from operating stores to selling only online. Bebe is one such retailer that is planning to become an Internet pure play. The Limited considered a similar plan but is no longer selling online after filing for bankruptcy. Third, more retailers are facing reality. Not all store closures are being forced by bankruptcies. J.C. Penney and Macy’s, for instance, are slimming down their store networks in order to prepare for the future. We expect more retailers to join them in recognizing a need for fewer stores. Accordingly, we do not expect this year’s store-closure count to stop at 2,507.

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Just in time economy?!

Wall Street Is Making It Harder to Buy a Car (BBG)

On countless occasions in recent years, the U.S. auto industry has relied on cheap and easy credit from Wall Street to get it through rough patches. Not this time. With both bad loans and interest rates on the rise, financial institutions are becoming more selective in doling out credit for new-car purchases, adding to the pressure for automakers already up against the wall with sliding sales, swelling inventories and a used-car glut. “We’ve been having a party for a few years and it was fun,” said Maryann Keller, an industry consultant in Stamford, Connecticut. “Now lenders are getting back to basics.” Many figure they have to. For one thing, subprime borrowers have been falling behind on their car-loan payments at a rate not seen since just after the 2008 financial crisis.

Delinquencies for auto debt of all stripes have been climbing, with the value of those behind for at least 30 days swelling to $23.3 billion in December, a 14% jump from a year earlier, according to the Federal Reserve. This helps explain why 10% of senior bank-loan officers said they expect to pull back on extending credit to car buyers this year, according to a Fed survey. Expectations are that terms will toughen for loans the vast majority of Americans need to buy new vehicles as the Fed boosts benchmark rates. “There are only so many people wanting a new car and only so much capital available,” said Daniel Parry, CEO of Praxis Finance and co-founder of Exeter Finance, a subprime lender. “Manufacturers and lenders will have to reset to reduced volume levels.”

The reset has already started, with auto sales dipping in each of the first three months of the year. In March, the annualized pace, adjusted for seasonal trends, slowed to 16.6 million from 16.7 million a year earlier, according to Autodata Corp. Analysts had projected it would accelerate to about 17.2 million. Now Goldman Sachs economists figure there’s only demand for about 15 million per year, they said in an April 4 report. The industry set a record by selling 17.6 million cars and trucks in 2016 and has been on a seven-year growth streak. But General Motors, Ford and others had to pile on discounts and incentives to keep the expansion going, with both their finance arms and third-party lenders giving them a boost with easy credit. “This has come full circle,” Keller, the consultant, said. “We’ve created an auto market of 17.5 million vehicles based on accommodating credit. There will be consequences.”

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Whaddaya think? Yup, weather.

US Jobs Growth Slumps To 98,000 In March (MW)

The U.S. created just 98,000 new jobs in March to mark the smallest gain in almost a year, a sign the labor market is not quite as strong as big hiring gains earlier in 2017 suggested. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, fell to 4.5% from 4.7% and touched a nearly 10-year low despite the slowdown in hiring. U.S. stocks ended the session pretty much where they started as investors sifted through the March employment report. The U.S. had added more than 200,000 jobs in January and February, but hiring in weather-sensitive industries such as construction was helped by unusually high temperatures in the dead of winter.

Many economists were skeptical the recent pace of job creation was sustainable after a six-year hiring boom that chopped the unemployment rate in half and ignited growing complaints among companies about a shortage of skilled workers to fill open jobs. As a result, economists polled by MarketWatch had estimated the number of new jobs created in March would taper off to 185,000 in the third month of Donald Trump’s young presidency. Instead the decline was even steeper, speared by plunging employment in a beleaguered retail industry. “The 200,000-plus numbers reported for job gains in January and February always seemed a bit outlandish,” said Steven Blitz, chief U.S. economist at TS Lombard. Added economist Harm Bandholz of UniCredit: “Most of this is weather related and correct for exaggerated strengths seen earlier in the year.”

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It’s going so well, get me come shades.

Millions Of Americans Desperate To Trade Part-Time Work For Full-Time (MW)

Millions of Americans don’t want to work part-time. The U.S. economy added just 98,000 jobs in March, the smallest gain in nearly a year, after adding more than 200,000 jobs in January and February. Economists predicted that the number of jobs created in March would hit 180,000, so the actual figures fell far short of that. Unemployment fell to a 10-year-low of 4.5% in March from 4.7% in February, but the “real” unemployment rate that includes part-time workers who would rather work full-time and job hunters who gave up searching for work was 8.9%, although this was also down from 9.2% in February. Part-time work is still a contentious alternative for many workers. On Thursday, Amazon said it will create 30,000 part-time jobs in the U.S. over the next year, nearly double the current number. Of those, 25,000 will be in warehouses and 5,000 will be home-based customer service positions.

Amazon said in January it would create 100,000 full-time jobs over the next 18 months, according to a separate announcement made in January. Last year, Amazon’s world-wide workforce grew by 48% to 341,400 employees. In the U.S., it has over 70 “fulfillment centers” and 90,000 full-time employees. There were some 5.6 million involuntary part-time workers in March 2017, little changed from the month before, but down from 6.4 million a year earlier, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number is up from 4.5 million in November 2007, but way off a peak of 8.6 million in September 2012. These figures are almost entirely due to the inability of workers to find full-time jobs, leaving many workers to take or keep lower-paying jobs, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit think-tank in Washington, D.C. And 54% of the growth in these involuntary part-time jobs between 2007 and 2015 were in retail, leisure and hospitality industries, the EPI said.

[..] Perhaps not surprisingly, involuntary part-time workers tend to earn less than their voluntary part-time counterparts. Approximately 40% of involuntary part-time workers report a total family income of less than $30,000, compared with just 18% of the latter and 29% of the population as a whole, according to an earlier report published in 2015 by Rutgers University. More than four out of every five involuntary part-time workers says it’s hard to save for retirement and about seven out of every 10 say they earn less money than they and their family need to get by and pay bills.

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It’s too late to gently deflate.

Toronto Real Estate Is In A Bubble Of Historic Proportions (Rosenberg)

The concerns about froth in Toronto’s housing market are not likely to subside given the sticker-shock from the latest report from the Toronto Real Estate Board. As per the March report, the average single-detached house in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) sold for $1,214,422 last month up from $910,375 in March of last year – that is a 33% YoY surge, and follows a 16% run-up over the prior 12 months. Whatever the term is for an acceleration in an already parabolic curve, well, that is what we have on our hands today. And it isn’t just detached homes seeing this degree of rapid price appreciation — the benchmark single-family home selling price was up 29% YoY, the benchmark townhouse price was up 28% and the condo/apartment composite was up 24%. This is a bubble of historic proportions.

Not only to have home prices in the GTA now absorb an unprecedented 13 years of median family income, but to have 30%-ish run-ups against a backdrop of a 2% inflation rate, wages that are barely going up 2% as well, and nominal GDP growth of around 4%. This should put 30% into some sort of perspective when we conclude that what we have on our hands is a near three standard deviation event. That alone qualifies as a bubble — if you don’t like that term, then call it a giant sud. In the past, Toronto home prices went up at an annual rate of 4% in real terms, in the past year they have surged by nearly 30%. [..] it goes without saying that if the name of the game is to tame the flame then have the foreign investor share the blame. A tax on foreign transactions, as was already done in Vancouver, seems like a pretty good idea.

And the government can at the very least use the revenues to either provide greater tax incentives to build and/or provide tax relief for the low/mid income entry-level buyer who is struggling to cobble together the funds for a down payment. So yes, in this sense, I would be advocating a Robin Hood style of economic policy. Indeed, what may be needed is a very progressive tax on foreign buying of local residential real estate in the bid to cool demand and reverse the exponential surge in home prices – a surge that is creating tremendous social problems by crowding out young families (or individuals) from chasing the homeownership dream (a typical response is for these folks is to go out and buy a condo instead, but the reality is that average prices here have also skyrocketed 24% in the past year and are in a bubble of their own).

Everyone says that the Bank of Canada cannot raise interest rates to curb the excess demand because of the deleterious effect this would have on the economy writ large (for example, taking the Canadian dollar back up to or above 80 cents which would thwart our export competitiveness which has become a longstanding role of the central bank). Be that as it may, the home price surge in the GTA over the past year has impaired homeowner affordability to such an extent that it is basically the equivalent of the Bank of Canada having raised rates 150 basis points – actually a 200 basis point increase if you were to look at what home prices have done to affordability ratios over the past two years …

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“Where home prices are in Toronto, they absorb 13 years of average family income. That is completely abnormal. We’ve never seen this before.”

Rosenberg: Toronto Housing Bubble ‘On Par With What We Had In The US’ (BNN)

Gluskin Sheff Chief Economist David Rosenberg is joining the growing chorus of calls for government intervention into the Toronto housing market. In an interview on BNN, Rosenberg, who correctly called the U.S. housing bubble in 2005, said the massive deviation from historical norms has him drawing comparisons between the two situations. “This bubble is on par with what we had in the States back in ’05, ’06, ’07,” he said. “We have to actually take a look at the situation. The housing market here is in a classic price bubble. If you don’t acknowledge that, you have your head in the sand.” Rosenberg warned unchecked increases in home prices are becoming a social issue. “It’s not an equity, it’s not a bond – it’s where people live,” he said. “Where home prices are in Toronto, they absorb 13 years of average family income. That is completely abnormal. We’ve never seen this before.”

Rosenberg said he’d be singing a different tune if price increases were running in line with any of the usual economic fundamentals, such as job growth, rising incomes, or nominal GDP growth. “We’re out of equilibrium, and when we’re out of equilibrium, or there’s some sort of market failure, are there grounds there for government intervention? I think even the most ardent libertarian would say ‘yes,’” he said. Rosenberg said there are a trio of levers the government can pull to cool down the market. Authorities can address supply, which he said has already been “kiboshed.” Interest rates can be raised, but Rosenberg doesn’t believe the Bank of Canada will do that. Or new policy can be drafted to address the prevalence of speculation.

“These are not prices driven by the local fundamentals – this is the foreign buyer coming in,” Rosenberg said. “Toronto has really emerged as a first-class city, not just politically, not just culturally and economically, but also in terms of being a major financial centre. But if you’re going to ask me at this stage, ‘do we need to approach taxation of this capital coming in differently to curb the demand?’ [That’s] absolutely right.”

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In a word: YES.

Could Europe Copy America’s Supersized Corporate Debt? (BBG)

Unilever CEO Paul Polman must have had one eye focused across the Atlantic when he unveiled his revamp of the consumer goods giant this week. And not just because erstwhile suitors 3G Capital, Kraft Heinz and Warren Buffett will have been watching. In an effort to appease shareholders, Polman also ripped a couple of pages from any U.S. CEO’s post-crisis playbook: load more debt on the balance sheet and buy back lots of your own shares. So Unilever will lift its net debt to Ebitda ratio from 1.3 to 2 and buy back 5 billion euros ($5.3 billion) of stock.In Europe, that counts as relatively bold. Faced with anemic economic growth since the global financial crisis, non-financial companies here have typically been reluctant to take on more debt, as the chart below shows.

They’re also far less likely to buy back stock: U.S. corporations repurchased more than $530 billion of stock last year. In Europe the total was a fraction of that.Polman seems to have belatedly recognized the obvious: having a lightly geared balance sheet makes a company vulnerable to a takeover. That’s especially true if the buyer is holding dollars and your stock is priced in relatively cheap euros or pounds.

Of course there’s an argument what Polman is doing is common sense. Debt is cheap compared to equity, so Unilever’s balance sheet is simply becoming more efficient. Having more debt shouldn’t pose a problem for Unilever as its earnings power is considerable. People still need to buy soap and deodorant, even in a recession.Still, this sets a rather uncomfortable precedent. Polman rebuffed Kraft Heinz’s $143 billion bid in part because he’s no fan of financial engineering. It would be a shame if other European companies now drew the conclusion that to remain independent they need to indulge in some financial engineering of their own. Especially if they load up on too much debt just as the current economic cycle starts to look long in the tooth.

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She’s crystal clear.

Syrian Gas Attack is a Lie: “Stop Your Governments!” – Russia (FR)

On April 7th, US warships delivered an illegal blow to a Syrian airbase in Homs. Their justification was the recent “chemical weapon” attack on behalf of the Syrian government in Idlib. The Kremlin condemned the strike as an act of aggression against a sovereign state, and a violation of international law. Meanwhile, at the UN, representatives of Western governments attempt to push through a resolution that is based on information taken out of thin air. It includes the removal of Assad, whether or not he was behind the attack.

It is noteworthy, that the only real source of information on what took place, are the videos made by the White Helmets, an infamous propaganda organisation as it pertains to the Syrian civil war. In this clip, Maria Zakharova calls on Western respresenatives/ journalists to hear Russia, and what it has to say. The attack against the Syrian government, much like the Ghouta gas attack in 2013, which precipitated the Syrian civil war, is a giant facade for the military industrial warhawks in the US, to put their money where their mouth is.

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“Putin has a cool mind and we may anticipate that the Russian response will come at a time of his choosing and in a manner that is appropriate to the seriousness of the U.S. offense. Look for this before the end of the month.”

US Missile Strikes in Syria Cross Russian ‘Red Lines’ (RI)

My days as apologist for Donald Trump’s backsliding on his electoral campaign promise of a new direction in foreign policy are over. From being the solution, he has become an integral part of the problem. And with his bigger than life ego, petulance and stubbornness, Commander-in-Chief Trump is potentially a greater threat to world peace than the weak-willed Barack Obama whom he replaced. Trump has ignored Russian calls for an investigation into the alleged chemical gas attack in Idlib province before issuing conclusions on culpability, as happened within hours of the event. He has accepted a narrative that is very possibly a false flag produced by anti-government rebels in Syria, disseminated by the White Helmets and other phony NGO’s paid from Washington and London.

He ordered the firing of 50 or more Tomahawk missiles against a Syrian Government air base in Homs province, thereby crossing all Russian “red lines” in Syria. Until this point, the Kremlin has chosen not to react to all signs coming from Washington that Trump’s determination to change course on Russia and global hegemony was failing. The wait-and-see posture antedated Trump’s accession to power when Putin overruled the dictates of protocol and did not respond to Obama’s final salvo, the seizure of Russian diplomatic property in the U.S. and the eviction of Russian diplomats. The Russians also looked the other way when the new administration continued the same Neocon rhetoric from the tribune of the UN Security Council and during the visits of Vice President Pence, Pentagon boss Mattis and Secretary of State Tillerson to Europe.

However, the missile attack in Syria is a game changer. The pressure on Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin to respond in kind is now enormous. Putin has a cool mind and we may anticipate that the Russian response will come at a time of his choosing and in a manner that is appropriate to the seriousness of the U.S. offense. Look for this before the end of the month. In the meantime, we who have been hoping for a change of direction, for the rooting out of the Neocons and Liberal hawks directing the Deep State should drop what we are doing, and help form a grass roots political statement that Donald Trump and the political establishment will hear loud and clear.

A mass letter-writing campaign to Congress and the White House? A march on Washington? One way or another, the White House must be told that arranging foreign policy moves out of purely domestic calculations, such as likely happened yesterday puts the nation’s very existence at risk. Acting tough, striking out at Russia and its allies, is not the way to form a coalition to pass a tax reform act. The same may be said of an alternative reading of the missile attack yesterday: that it was intended as a message to visiting Chinese President Xi that should there be no joint action to restrain North Korea, the United States will act alone and with total disregard for international law. Either logic in the end is a formula for suicide.

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I predict very large demonstrations, and quite possibly more violent ones. This could well be the end of Tsipras, and of SYRIZA; there’s no credibility left. They should have fought for the people.

Greece On Course To Avoid Debt Default As Athens Agrees Pension Cuts (Tel.)

Greece is on course to avoid a debt default this summer after creditors reached a deal with Athens on reforms including pension cuts and tax changes that will continue until the end of the decade. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who leads the group of eurozone finance ministers, said creditors had reached an agreement in principle on the “size, sequencing and timing” of Greek reforms. The agreement also paves the way for the IMF to join the country’s third, €86bn bail-out programme. The Eurogroup chief said “significant progress” had been made in all areas, with debt inspectors expected to return to Greece shortly to “put the last dots on the ‘i’s and to reach a full staff-level agreement as soon as possible”.

A final agreement among finance chiefs will unlock a fresh tranche of rescue funds, enabling Athens to pay back around €6bn to creditors in July, including the ECB. “We’ve solved all the big issues,” said Mr Dijsselbloem. “The big blocks have now been sorted out and that should allow us to speed up and go for the final stretch.” The measures, which include controversial cuts to pensions and a widening of the tax base, amount to 2pc of Greek GDP in 2019 and 2020. Greece will be able to implement “parallel expansionary measures” if the economy is strong enough, said Mr Dijsselbloem. He said discussions on medium-term debt relief would not be discussed at a political level until a full agreement is reached and approved by the Greek government, which has a slim majority.

The pension cuts are likely to spark a fresh wave of protests across the country. Euclid Tsakalotos, the Greek finance minister, said austerity measures would be legislated “in the coming weeks”. “There are things that will upset the Greek people,” he said. Mr Tsakalotos said the government would also adopt stimulus measures in parallel, which will be “activated” if Athens meets its fiscal targets. Gerry Rice, a spokesman at the IMF, welcomed the “important progress” made in recent weeks, but said it still needed “satisfactory assurances” on debt sustainability before the Fund would seek board approval to participate in Greece’s third rescue programme.

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There is so much in the way of international law and UN conventions to protect refugees, but none of it has any meaning in Brussels.

Letting People Drown Is Not A European Value (EUO)

595. A nice round number, right? It refers to the dead and missing in the central Mediterranean, mostly between Libya and Italy, in the first three months of 2017. The known dead died from drowning, exposure, hypothermia, and suffocation. Horrible, agonising deaths. 24,474. This is a nicer number. It refers to the women, men, and children who made it safely to Italy this year, all of them plucked from flimsy, overcrowded boats by European vessels. Many were rescued by teams from nongovernmental organisations patrolling international waters just off Libya, where most migrant boats depart. Those groups – including Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), SOS Mediterranee, Proactiva Open Arms, Sea-Watch and others – are now being accused of encouraging boat migration. Or worse, of collusion with people smugglers.

The EU border agency, Frontex, has suggested that the presence of rescue operations by nongovernmental groups is a pull factor, encouraging people to take the dangerous journey in hopes of rescue. A prosecutor in Catania, Sicily, has opened an inquiry into the funding streams for these groups, indicating a suspicion that they may be profiting illicitly from the movement of people in search of safety and better lives. This is the latest cruel twist in the EU’s response to boat migration from Libya. It reflects concern over increasing numbers of people embarking from Libya, the strain on the reception system in Italy and beyond, and the rise of xenophobic populism in many EU countries. But blaming the lifesavers ignores history, reality, and basic morality.

As MSF’s Aurelie Ponthieu explained, the NGO group rescuers are not “the cause but a response” to an ongoing human tragedy. Even before the significant increase in numbers in 2015, tens of thousands of people have been risking their lives in unseaworthy boats in the Mediterranean for decades; almost 14,000 have died or been reported missing since 2011. After the October 2013 Lampedusa tragedy, in which 368 people lost their lives, there was increased talk among organisations about mounting rescue missions in the central Mediterranean. In 2015, that became a reality, in large part because the end of the Italian navy’s humanitarian rescue mission Mare Nostrum and the gaps in its poor replacement by the EU border agency Frontex. People embark on these dangerous journeys for myriad reasons; they are fleeing persecution, violence, and poverty, and moving toward freedom, safety, and opportunity.

Both pull and push factors are always in play when people are on the move. Insofar as more freedoms, liberties, and policies grounded in respect for human rights – including vital rescue-at-sea operations – serve as pull factors, these should not be sacrificed in the name of limiting migration. The presence of EU vessels just off Libyan waters has changed the dynamic of boat migration. There is more hope of rescue, and smugglers have adopted even more unscrupulous tactics like using inflatable (throw-away) Zodiacs instead of wooden boats and providing only enough fuel to reach international waters. But to question the humanitarian imperative of rescue at sea is to discard our most basic respect for life. And the logic of those who criticise the rescue operations as a pull factor is that the groups should stop rescuing people and let them drown to discourage others from coming.

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