Jan 112018
 
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Gutzon Borglum Repairing the Face of Abraham Lincoln, Mount Rushmore 1962

 

Japan Will Trigger ‘The Great Unwind’ – Albert Edwards (MW)
Central Banks Ready To Pop The ‘Everything’ Bubble (Smith)
The $50 Trillion Question for Bonds (BW)
China Weighs Slowing or Halting Purchases of US Treasuries (BBG)
Is Beijing Bluffing On Treasuries? (BBG)
South Korea’s Largest Cryptocurrency Exchanges Raided For Tax Evasion (R.)
South Korea Preparing Bill That Will Ban All Cryptocurrency Trading (CNBC)
China Moves To Shutter Bitcoin Mines (CNBC)
Buy Off Trump With the Wall (Lowry)
Russian Bid To Influence Brexit Vote Detailed In New US Senate Report (G.)
Assange Gets Ecuador ID; ‘First Step’ To Diplomatic Immunity? (RT)
Greece to Remain Under Lenders’ Supervision Until 2059 – Handelsblatt (GR)
Insect Declines: New Alarm Over Mayfly Is ‘Tip Of Iceberg’ (G.)
Theresa May Vows To Eliminate UK Plastic Waste By 2042 (Ind.)

 

 

As Abenomics goes belly-up, so will a large segment of financial markets. Japan is done.

Japan Will Trigger ‘The Great Unwind’ – Albert Edwards (MW)

Japan is the catalyst that could bring the record-setting bull market for stocks across the globe to a screeching halt, according to Société Générale’s uberbear Albert Edwards. The prominent SocGen strategist says surprise monetary tightening in Japan could be the trigger that finally upend what has been an protracted and unrelenting global rally for assets considered risky. While most investors are busy eyeing rate increases in the U.S. and tapering by the ECB in the eurozone, Edwards says they should also watch developments in the world’s third-largest economy, Japan, where corporate profits are surging and inflation has picked up.

“We’ve been looking for surprises and one thing that can catch us out is if the Bank of Japan starts tightening. If it actually follows the Fed and the ECB and announces some sort of tapering,” he said, speaking at SocGen’s annual strategy conference in London on Tuesday. “This could be far more important than the Fed. A lot of major trends start with Japan. People don’t focus on Japan enough in my view,” he added. Investors on Tuesday got a taste of how BOJ tightening can rattle the markets. The central bank said it would buy less of its long-dated bonds, sparking speculation Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda could back away from its ultraloose monetary policy as early as this year. The surprise announcement sent global bond markets into spin on Tuesday. The yield on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes jumped above 2.5% to its highest since March and the 30-year bond yield logged its biggest one-day jump since Dec. 19.

[..] The BOJ has for years been among the most accommodative central banks in the world and as recent as December reaffirmed its commitment to aggressive qualitative and quantitative-easing program, also known as QQE. With inflation stubbornly running below the BOJ’s 2% annual target, the central bank has since early 2016 kept interest rates in negative territory and even introduced a 0%-target for its 10-year government bond yields to avoid deflation. The determined efforts by the BOJ to boost consumer prices have turned investors against the yen with data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission showing an extreme bearishness toward the Japanese currency. However, downbeat investors on the yen could be caught flat-footed if inflation starts to pick up, prompting the BOJ to halt easing efforts, Edwards warned.

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A concerted effort to let markets implode. And blame Trump.

Central Banks Ready To Pop The ‘Everything’ Bubble (Smith)

Many people do not realize that America is not only entering a new year, but within the next month we will also be entering a new economic era. In early February, Janet Yellen is set to leave the Federal Reserve and be replaced by the new Fed chair nominee, Jerome Powell. Now, to be clear, the Fed chair along with the bank governors do not set central bank policy. Policy for most central banks around the world is dictated in Switzerland by the Bank for International Settlements. Fed chairmen like Janet Yellen are mere mascots implementing policy initiatives as ordered. This is why we are now seeing supposedly separate central banking institutions around the world acting in unison, first with stimulus, then with fiscal tightening. However, it is important to note that each new Fed chair does tend to signal a new shift in action for the central bank.

For example, Alan Greenspan oversaw the low interest rate easy money phase of the Fed, which created the conditions for the derivatives and credit bubble and subsequent crash in 2008. Ben Bernanke oversaw the stimulus and bailout phase, flooding the markets with massive amounts of fiat and engineering an even larger bubble in stocks, bonds and just about every other asset except perhaps some select commodities. Janet Yellen managed the tapering phase, in which stimulus has been carefully and systematically diminished while still maintaining delusional stock market euphoria. Now comes the era of Jerome Powell, who will oversee the last stages of fiscal tightening, the reduction of the Fed balance sheet, faster rate increases and the final implosion of the ‘everything’ bubble.

As I warned before Trump won the election in 2016, a Trump presidency would inevitably be followed by economic crisis, and this would be facilitated by the Federal Reserve pulling the plug on fiat life support measures which kept the illusion of recovery going for the past several years. It is important to note that the mainstream media is consistently referring to Jerome Powell as “Trump’s candidate” for the Fed, or “Trump’s pick” (as if the president really has much of a choice in the roster of candidates for the Fed chair). The public is being subtly conditioned to view Powell as if he is an extension of the Trump administration. This could not be further from the truth. Powell and the Fed are autonomous from government.

[..] So, why is the media insisting on misrepresenting Powell as some kind of Trump agent? Because Trump, and by extension all the conservatives that support him, are meant to take the blame when the ‘everything’ bubble vaporizes our financial structure. Jerome Powell is “Trump’s guy” at the Fed; so any actions Powell takes to crush the recovery narrative will also be blamed on the Trump administration.

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Bond markets want their cake and eat it. First, low yields are a good thing; then rising yields show how good everything has become.

The $50 Trillion Question for Bonds (BW)

Government bond yields, exemplified by the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury, have enjoyed three decades of decline. Their recent jump is prompting a heated debate over whether that bull market is over. It matters because there’s more riding on the question than ever before.

The value of benchmark bonds eligible for inclusion in the Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Bond Index, which includes government, corporate and securitized debt from 24 local currency markets, has doubled in the past decade to almost $50 trillion.

While calling the turn in bonds, especially in Europe, has been a widow-making trade in recent years, recent moves certainly look like the trend is no longer your friend. The yield on the two-year Treasury has about doubled in the past year, and is a whisker away from 2%. Even at its current super-low level of about 0.55%, the 10-year German yield is up from its nadir of about minus 0.2% reached in July 2016.

Here’s the thing, though. Even if government bond yields are on a sustained path to higher levels, it’s arguably a positive sign for the global economy. A return to more normal borrowing costs would reinforce hopes that the world is finally free from the debilitating aftershocks from the financial crisis. Moreover, the new normal is still likely to be at lower levels than the old normal. Note that in the past 30 years, the 10-year Treasury yield peaked at about 9.4% in August 1988 and plateaued at 1.36% in July 2016. Its current poke above 2.5% still leaves it at about half of its three-decade average. For central banks seeking to normalize monetary policy, rising government bond yields will come as something for a relief. For investors who bought at the peak of the bull market, however, there could be painful times ahead.

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Only game in town.

China Weighs Slowing or Halting Purchases of US Treasuries (BBG)

China added to bond investors’ jitters on Wednesday as traders braced for what they feared could be the end of a three-decade bull market. Senior government officials in Beijing reviewing the nation’s foreign-exchange holdings have recommended slowing or halting purchases of U.S. Treasuries, according to people familiar with the matter. The news comes as global debt markets were already selling off amid signs that central banks are starting to step back after years of bond-buying stimulus. Yields on 10-year Treasuries rose for a fifth day, touching the highest since March. China holds the world’s largest foreign-exchange reserves, at $3.1 trillion, and regularly assesses its strategy for investing them. It isn’t clear whether the officials’ recommendations have been adopted.

The market for U.S. government bonds is becoming less attractive relative to other assets, and trade tensions with the U.S. may provide a reason to slow or stop buying American debt, the thinking of these officials goes, according to the people [..] “With markets already dealing with supply indigestion, headlines regarding potentially lower Chinese demand for Treasuries are renewing bearish dynamics,” said Michael Leister at Commerzbank. “Today’s headlines will underscore concerns that the fading global quantitative-easing bid will trigger lasting upside pressure on developed-market yields.” The Chinese officials didn’t specify why trade tensions would spur a cutback in Treasuries purchases, though foreign holdings of U.S. securities have sometimes been a geopolitical football in the past.

[..] Any reduction in Chinese purchases would come just as the U.S. prepares to boost its supply of debt. The Treasury Department said in its most recent quarterly refunding announcement in November that borrowing needs will increase as the Federal Reserve reduces its balance sheet and as fiscal deficits look set to widen. “It’s a complicated chess game as with everything the Chinese do,” said Charles Wyplosz, a professor of international economics at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. “For years they have been bothered by the fact that they are so heavily invested in one particular class of U.S. bonds, so it’s just a question of time before they would try to diversify.”

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The dollar is still king.

Is Beijing Bluffing On Treasuries? (BBG)

The Bloomberg News report that senior government officials in Beijing recommended slowing or halting purchases of U.S. Treasuries is encountering a wall of skepticism, and rightly so. Even China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange said Thursday that the report “might have cited wrong sources or may be fake news.” There’s a third possibility: that Beijing floated a trial balloon to see how the market would react.To the extent China would have to scoop up incoming dollars to keep the value of the yuan from rising too much too soon, what else can it possibly purchase with those dollars? Treasuries maturing in five years pay 2.32%. If China tries to alter the composition of its $3.1 trillion foreign-exchange war chest by swapping dollars to buy comparable securities denominated in any of the world’s main reserve currencies, it will find German bunds and British gilts paying even less.

Japanese and Swiss bonds offer somewhat higher yields. However, if every central bank in the world had given up on the world’s most liquid security every time it got a half-percent extra yield somewhere else, the dollar’s share in the world’s known reserves wouldn’t have held above 60% for almost a quarter-century. (It’s 63.5% now.) If Beijing wants a bargaining chip in trade tensions with the U.S., it should look elsewhere.In 2009, the Chinese central bank did try to diversify away from the dollar. The euro’s share in known global reserves peaked at 28% a few months after Wen Jiabao, the then Chinese premier, said he was “worried” about the huge amount of money his country had lent to the U.S.Then he – and the world – got something rather more real to worry about as the European debt crisis became an existential threat to that region’s single currency. According to the most recent data from the IMF, the euro’s share in worldwide foreign-exchange reserves is now down to 20%.

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As 2018 progresses, we’ll see many reports, across the globe, of taxes owed on 2017 crypto gains.

South Korea’s Largest Cryptocurrency Exchanges Raided For Tax Evasion (R.)

South Korea’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges were raided by police and tax agencies this week for alleged tax evasion, people familiar with the investigation said on Thursday. “A few officials from the National Tax Service raided our office this week,” an official at Coinone, a major cryptocurrency exchange in South Korea, told Reuters. “Local police also have been investigating our company since last year, they think what we do is gambling,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said Coinone was cooperating with the investigation. Bithumb, the second largest virtual currency operator in South Korea, was also raided by the tax authorities on Wednesday.

“We were asked by the tax officials to disclose paperwork and things yesterday,” an official at Bithumb said, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue. South Korean financial authorities had previously said they are inspecting six local banks that offer virtual currency accounts to institutions, amid concerns the increasing use of such assets could lead to a surge in crime. The crackdown on Seoul-based operators of some of the world’s busiest virtual currency exchanges comes as the government attempts to calm frenzied demand for cryptocurrency trading in Asia’s fourth largest economy. Bitcoin’s 1,500% surge last year has stoked huge demand for cryptocurency in South Korea, drawing college students to housewives and sparking concerns about a gambling addiction.

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They’re getting serious.

South Korea Preparing Bill That Will Ban All Cryptocurrency Trading (CNBC)

South Korea’s justice minister said on Thursday that a bill is being prepared to ban all cryptocurrency trading in the country. That news is a major development for the cryptocurrency space, as South Korea is one of the biggest markets for major coins like bitcoin and ethereum. According to industry website CryptoCompare, more than 10% of ethereum is traded against the South Korean won — the second largest concentration in terms of fiat currencies behind the dollar. Meanwhile, 5% of all bitcoin are traded against the won. “There are great concerns regarding virtual currencies and justice ministry is basically preparing a bill to ban cryptocurrency trading through exchanges,” Park Sang-ki said at a press conference, according to the ministry’s press office.

Bitcoin tumbled more than 12% following Park’s remarks, according to CoinDesk’s bitcoin price index that tracks prices from four exchanges. At 1:26 p.m. HK/SIN, the cryptocurrency price retraced some of its losses to trade at $13,547.7. Park added that he couldn’t disclose more specific details about proposed shutdown of cryptocurrency trading exchanges in the country, adding that various government agencies would work together to implement several measures. Reuters further reported that a press official said the proposed ban on cryptocurrency trading was announced after “enough discussion” with other government agencies including the nation’s finance ministry and financial regulators.

Cryptocurrency trading in South Korea is very speculative and similar to gambling. Major cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ethereum are priced significantly higher in the country’s exchanges than elsewhere in the world. For example, bitcoin traded at $17,169.65 per token at local exchange Bithumb, which was a 31% premium to the CoinDesk average price. That difference in price is called a “kimchi premium” by many traders. [..] earlier this week, industry data provider CoinMarketCap tweeted that it would exclude some South Korean exchanges in price calculations due to the “extreme divergence in prices from the rest of the world” and for “limited arbitrage opportunity.”

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Beijing doesn’t see bitcoin as an asset to its power politics.

China Moves To Shutter Bitcoin Mines (CNBC)

China is moving to eradicate the country’s bitcoin mining industry over concerns about excessive electricity consumption and financial risk, reflecting authorities’ judgment that cryptocurrencies are not a strategic industry. A multi-agency task force has instructed provincial governments to “actively guide” companies in their respective regions to exit the cryptocurrency mining industry, according to a document seen by the Financial Times. The move to pressure miners follows China’s shutdown of local bitcoin exchanges and its ban on initial coin offerings. Miners create new bitcoins by solving complex maths problems whose solutions are used to validate new bitcoin transactions. Though ostensibly a computational task, the reliance on raw computing power makes the process more akin to industrial manufacturing than traditional high-technology businesses.

Many bitcoin miners have established operations in remote areas without even registering a company. Some have also skirted Chinese regulations that forbid end users from purchasing electricity directly from power producers rather than grid operators. China mines about three-quarters of the world’s bitcoins, according to Liao Xiang, chief executive of Lightningasic, a Shenzhen-based mining operation. Chinese miners have taken advantage of cheap electricity in regions rich in coal or hydroelectric power, including Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Sichuan and Yunnan. The global industry accounts for 0.17% of global electricity consumption, more than 161 individual countries, according to Digiconomist, a website that tracks the industry.

[..] Bitcoin mining “consumes a large amount of electricity and also encourages a spirit of speculation in ‘virtual currencies'”, according to the document. Mining operations contradict efforts to prevent financial risk and to discourage activities that “deviate from the needs of the real economy”, it added. The internet finance task force, which includes the People’s Bank of China, has previously led regulatory tightening efforts on peer-to-peer lending and online consumer loans. The order does not call on regional authorities to shut mining operations directly, but rather to squeeze them out by strictly enforcing policies on electricity consumption, land use, tax collection and environmental regulation

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How Democrats sell out Dreamers.

Buy Off Trump With the Wall (Lowry)

There is a very easy way for Democrats to get major concessions from President Donald Trump on immigration: Give him his Wall. This is the key to a deal codifying the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the Obama-era de facto amnesty for a segment of so-called Dreamers. All it takes is giving Trump a plausible start to the Wall that the president can then, in his inimitable way, promote as the greatest structure built on a border since Hadrian began his famous handiwork at the northern limit of the Roman Empire in 122. That the Democrats very likely won’t do this speaks to their irrational aversion to a Wall that they can’t view dispassionately any more than Trump can. It used to be that enhanced security on the border, and yes, a physical structure that in places is effectively a wall, had bipartisan support.

The Secure Fence Act of 2006 passed the House by a vote of 283-138 and the Senate 80-19. It called for building roughly 700 miles of double-layer fencing on the border, and no one seemed to believe that the United States had irreparably sullied its reputation. This wasn’t the first time anyone had thought of a fence, of course. There had been barriers in the San Diego area for a very long time, although not particularly robust ones. Beginning in the 1980s, more serious structures were built. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, there are 46 miles of fencing overall and 13 miles of double fencing in the San Diego-Tijuana corridor, where there used to be a nightly influx of undocumented immigrants. In some sections, the barriers are 10-feet-tall military helicopter pads indistinguishable from a wall.

Again, no one believes San Diego has closed itself off from the world by adopting a common-sensical and — in this urban area — effective prophylactic against illegal immigration. But Democrats now find find physical barriers on the border offensive, especially if they have enough solidity to be called a Wall. One immigration advocate, in a typical sentiment, told The Huffington Post that the Wall is a “tool to instill hate and division.” This lunacy has rapidly become Democratic orthodoxy. Harry Enten of 538 notes that in 2006 almost 40% of Democrats supported building a Wall. By February of last year, Democrats were against it by 89% to 8%.

The hostility toward the Wall is part of a broader Democratic leftward lurch on immigration, but also a simple schoolyard calculus that if Trump supports something, they must oppose it. This forecloses the most basic legislative give-and-take. If Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer gave Trump something significant on the Wall, they would be able to find their way home — as John Jay said after concluding an unpopular treaty with the British in 1795 — by the light of their own burning effigies. Their voters would scorn them as traitors complicit in the alleged horrid bigotry of Donald J. Trump.

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Well, no. Just another instance of everything being insinuated, in the hope that a sliver is remembered. Fake news.

Russian Bid To Influence Brexit Vote Detailed In New US Senate Report (G.)

Russia’s attempts to influence British democracy and the potential vulnerability of parts of the UK political system to anti-democratic meddling during the EU referendum have been detailed in a report prepared by the US Senate. The report by Democrats on the Senate foreign relations committee, titled Putin’s asymmetric assault on democracy in Russia and Europe: implications for US national security, pinpoints the way in which UK campaign finance laws do not require disclosure of political donations if they are from “the beneficial owners of non-British companies that are incorporated in the EU and carry out business in the UK”. This opacity, the report suggests, “may have enabled Russian-related money to be directed with insufficient scrutiny to various UK political actors”.

“Investigative journalists have also raised questions about the sources of sudden and possibly illicit wealth that may have been directed to support the Brexit ‘Leave’ campaign.” The UK Electoral Commission has already launched an investigation into the issue. The senators point out that Ukip and its then-leader, Nigel Farage, did not just fan anti-EU sentiment but also “criticised European sanctions on Russia, and provided flattering assessments of Russian President Putin”. The report adds that although officially the Russian government asserted its neutrality on Brexit, its English-language media outlets RT and Sputnik covered the referendum campaign extensively and offered ‘’systematically one-sided coverage’’. The senators also challenge the adequacy of the investigations by Facebook and Twitter into the allegations of widespread social media interference by the Russians during the referendum.

They reference University of Edinburgh research showing more than 400 Russian-run Twitter accounts that had been active in the US election had also been actively posting about Brexit. In addition, the senators noted that research conducted by a joint team of experts from the University of California at Berkeley and Swansea University reportedly identified 150,000 Twitter accounts with various Russian ties that disseminated messages about Brexit. The report also points to the vast flow of Russian money into the UK, including the London property market. It records how the Metropolitan police noted that a total value of £180m in properties in the UK had been put under investigation as possibly purchased with corrupt proceeds by secretive offshore companies.

Overall the report breaks little new ground in terms of fresh evidence but says the picture remains incomplete. “The allegations that have emerged of Russian interference prior to the Brexit referendum are all the more stunning given the innate resilience within British society to the Kremlin’s anti-democratic agenda,” the senators wrote. The report, which chronicles Russian disinformation efforts in 19 countries, calls on Donald Trump to assert leadership on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, saying: “Never before in American history has so clear a threat to national security been so clearly ignored by a US president.”

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Don’t hold your breath. US and UK want revenge.

Assange Gets Ecuador ID; ‘First Step’ To Diplomatic Immunity? (RT)

The Ecuadorian ID reportedly granted to Julian Assange could mark his first step to obtaining diplomatic immunity, as Ecuador wants to resolve Assange’s indefinite embassy stay, human rights activist Peter Tatchell told RT. “Granting an identity card is potentially the first step towards granting citizenship of Ecuador. And there is a possibility that he could be then granted a diplomatic status, which would give him diplomatic immunity,” Tatchell said. He added that diplomatic immunity would mean that the WikiLeaks co-founder would be “free to leave the embassy and travel to Ecuador and the British government would not be able to lay a finger on him.”

Ecuadorian media reports Assange was given an ID card issued on December 21, citing “reliable sources” and providing the civil registry number of the document. The whistleblower also uploaded a photo of himself on Twitter wearing a yellow, blue and red shirt, the colors of the Ecuadorian flag, but made not comments on the issue. nEcuador usually issues such ID cards for people claiming residency status, which are called cedulas. It is, however, unclear whether Assange was granted residency status or full citizenship.

However, Tatchell says “the Ecuadorian government has made it very clear that it wants a resolution [of this whole situation around Assange] and they are prepared to negotiate [to give] a way for Julian Assange [to leave] the embassy.” He added that “granting him [Assange] an identity card is a new development that can open the door for further things in the future.” The Vienna convention on diplomatic relations states that someone who holds a diplomatic passport is immune from prosecution, the activist explained. It is still no guarantee, however. “There is still a possibility that, even if he was granted diplomatic immunity by the Ecuadorians, the British government might still try to snatch him,” Tatchell said, although “many British officials would be glad to see Assange getting a diplomatic passport and leaving [the UK],” he added.

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Debt. Colony. Forever.

Greece to Remain Under Lenders’ Supervision Until 2059 – Handelsblatt (GR)

In a report about Greece’s new omnibus bill and a potential break from its bailout in August 2018, German newspaper Handelsblatt claims the country will remain under lenders’ supervision for another 40 years. The newspaper says the enormous bill, which was introduced to parliament on Tuesday and is expected to be put to vote next Monday, is highly detailed but lawmakers have not been given enough time to scrutinize it. “The plan is that the multi-bill will pass from the Greek parliament before the next Eurogroup meeting on January 22, so that Greece’s lenders can release the next €5.5 billion bailout tranche, leading the country out of its bailout obligations by August 2018,” the paper notes. It adds that the short time afforded to lawmakers to study the bill and debate it is exactly what Greek PM Alexis Tsipras needs for a smooth vote.

The German paper also notes protests and strikes against the bill scheduled for next Friday and Monday. In spite of the fact the bill will lead to further wage and pension cuts, as well as tax increases, the government majority in parliament — despite vocal unhappiness from some of Tsipras’ own SYRIZA lawmakers — is expected to vote for it, the report says. “Tsipras has pledged to his supporters that the country will break its austerity vicious circle next August and throw out its despised lenders for good,” the report adds. “But with the country committed to more austerity measures until 2022, that is self-delusion.” “A total of 80% of the Greek debt remains in the hands of the country’s lenders,” Handelsblatt concludes. “This means that until Greece pays up its debt, which, with today’s rates it will manage to do by 2059, the country will be under its lenders’ financial supervision.”

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Same findings as the German report last year. This is the food chain that feeds us.

Insect Declines: New Alarm Over Mayfly Is ‘Tip Of Iceberg’ (G.)

Modest levels of pollution found in many English rivers are having a devastating impact on mayflies, new research suggests, killing about 80% of all eggs. Clouds of emerging mayflies were once a regular sight on English summer evenings and they are a key part of the food chain that supports fish, birds and mammals. The finding that even pollution well below guidelines can cause serious harm adds to concerns about plummeting insect numbers. In October, a study found that the abundance of flying insects has plunged by 75% in 25 years, prompting warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society.

Paul Knight, chief executive of Salmon and Trout Conservation (STC), which is conducting an in-depth three-year survey of rivers, said: “The results of this groundbreaking new study are irrefutable. We believe this is just the tip of the iceberg. Lose your invertebrates and other species will follow.” The new research looked at the blue-winged olive, a common mayfly present across the British Isles and most of continental Europe. Its numbers have fallen significantly in recent decades and it has almost vanished from some English rivers. The prime suspects for this decline are fine sediment and phosphate pollution in rivers, which are washed off farmed fields and also result from untreated sewage. Some research has been done on how the larval and adult stages of mayflies are affected by pollution, but not on their eggs.

“The young life stages are the most vulnerable, just as with human babies,” said Nick Everall, at the Aquascience Consultancy and who led the research published in the journal Environmental Pollution. Blue-winged olive eggs are laid on river beds and then have to survive for up to eight months over winter before hatching into nymphs. However, experiments in the laboratory found that the fine sediment settles on the eggs and suffocates them, by preventing oxygen transferring into the egg. The sediment can also allow fungus to grow and kill the eggs, while phosphate is known to affect the development of eggs.

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The Cynical Society:

1) The BBC broadcasts David Attenborough’s new Blue Planet 2 series, in which one episode is all about -plastics- pollution
2) All of Britain watches, so the national conversation becomes ‘something must be done’
3) May has to do/say something, but the plastics industry are her friends, and she judges it’s all lip service anyway that will fade (and those who really care are not her voters)
4) She decides to pay only lip service too, and pushes the issue forward by 25 years, i.e. not her problem

Theresa May Vows To Eliminate UK Plastic Waste By 2042 (Ind.)

Theresa May will commit the UK to eliminating all avoidable plastic waste by 2042 as she launches the Government’s environmental plan for the next 25-years. Under the pledge waste such as the carrier bags, food packaging and disposable plastic straws that litter the country and pollute the seas would be abolished. But the target was given a frosty reception from environmental groups with one leading organisation saying it “lacks urgency, detail and bite”, while another said the country “can’t afford to wait” so long. The broader 25-year plan, first promised three years ago, will also urge supermarkets to set up “plastic-free aisles” for goods with no packaging and confirm plans to extend the 5p charge for carrier bags to all English retailers.

It comes as the Government seeks to burnish its environmental credentials with recent pledges on animal protection and plastic microbeads. But with concern growing around plastic waste, Ms May will say: “We look back in horror at some of the damage done to our environment in the past and wonder how anyone could have thought that, for example, dumping toxic chemicals, untreated, into rivers was ever the right thing to do. “In years to come, I think people will be shocked at how today we allow so much plastic to be produced needlessly. [..] Friends of the Earth CEO Craig Bennett said: “A 25 year plan is clearly needed – but with the nation facing an accelerating environmental crisis we can’t afford to wait a quarter of a century for urgent action to tackle the issues that already threaten our lives, health and planet.”

He went on: “If Theresa May wants to champion the environment she must spell out the bold measures her Government will take in the next few weeks and months.” WWF Chief Executive Tanya Steele welcomed “any step” to reduce plastic waste, adding that plastic-free aisles can spur change. But she said: “If we really want to solve this problem, we need to think bigger and ultimately move towards an end to single-use plastics.” Shadow Environment Secretary Sue Hayman said the plan was now “years behind schedule” branding the plan “a cynical attempt at rebranding the Tories image”. She went on: “[It] appears to contain only weak proposals with Britain’s plastic waste crisis kicked into the long grass.” Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said “The Conservatives should be eliminating all avoidable plastic waste now – a target of 2042 beggars belief.”

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Apr 032017
 
 April 3, 2017  Posted by at 9:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Paul Wolff Frankfurt Opera House 1934

 

‘Buy Property In Sydney And You’re ‘Pretty Well Set For Life’ (WS)
Sydney Property Prices Rise Almost 20% In Past 12 Months (G.)
Australia Sticks With Blunt Instruments To Battle Housing Bubble (R.)
A ‘Sleeping Beast’ In The Markets Is About To Be Unleashed – SocGen (BI)
Commercial Real Estate Is The Next ”Big Short” (F.)
Euro Is A ‘Knife In The Ribs’ Of The French Says Le Pen (R.)
ECB Leads The Cure For Euro-Pessimism (CNBC)
Scotland Yard Examines Allegations Of Saudi War Crimes In Yemen (G.)
Greek Households Spend €40 Less Per Month On Supermarket Purchases (KTG)
Greece To Accelerate Return Of Migrants To Turkey As Arrivals Pick Up (K.)

 

 

“Once you are in the Sydney housing market, you are pretty well set then for the rest of your life.”

‘Buy Property In Sydney And You’re ‘Pretty Well Set For Life’ (WS)

How far can a desperate government go to keep the whole overleveraged edifice of a housing bubble from tumbling down and doing God-knows-what to the economy and the banks? Australia is trying to find out. The housing bubble in Sydney and Melbourne, by now among the top in the world, is taking on grotesque proportions, not only in price increases, but also in political pronouncements. So much of the economy depends on this bubble that no politician can imagine bringing it down to earth. Prices for all types of homes in Sydney jumped 19% in March year-over-year, according to CoreLogic, with houses up nearly 20% and “units” (we’d call them condos) up 15%. Sydney’s home prices have nearly doubled since 2008. In Melbourne, overall home prices jumped 16%, with houses up 17%, and condos up 5%. The index for all dwellings in Canberra and Hobart also rose in the double-digits.

In Adelaide and Brisbane, prices rose in the mid-single digits. Perth and Darwin showed declines in the 4.5% range. The CoreLogic index is not based on sales pairs, such as the Case-Shiller index in the US, or on median prices, but on its own “hedonic methodology,” which, like the other two methods, has plenty of critics. The government has its own Residential Property Price Indexes. The latest edition, released on March 21, was for Q4 2016, so a little slow. Based on the median price, the index for Sydney jumped 10.3% and for Melbourne 10.8%. Real estate is highly leveraged, and household debt is at an all-time high. Wages even in Sydney haven’t risen at the same pace. So the inevitable is beginning to happen. Affordability becomes a political issue, and delinquencies become a financial issue.

[..] On February 24, Anthony Roberts, New South Wales Minister for Planning and Housing, was speaking at the launch of a 690-unit apartment development at Olympic Park, a suburb of Sydney, heaping praise on the developer for having committed to offer 60 units first to first-time buyers. A new policy on housing affordability would be announced in the “very near future,” Roberts said. But as a first step, he threw in an incentive for first-time buyers. Instead of the normal 10% down payment, they’d only need to make 5%. “This is the beginning, this is the start,” he said. And in hyping the Sydney housing market and the importance of getting in now or be priced out forever, he also said this: “This is about fairness, and this is about enabling people to get into the Sydney housing market. Once you are in the Sydney housing market, you are pretty well set then for the rest of your life.

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Get out while you can.

Sydney Property Prices Rise Almost 20% In Past 12 Months (G.)

Sydney property prices have increased by almost 20% in just 12 months, putting the city at the front of a nationwide trend that has seen dwelling values increase by 12.9% on average. Sydney house values soared by 19.65% in the past year, and unit values increased by 15.27%. New data from CoreLogic, released on Monday, shows house values in Melbourne (up 17.15%), Canberra (13.64%), and Hobart (11.05%) have followed Sydney’s rapid rise. Only homes in Perth (-4.68%) and Darwin (-4.41%) have bucked the trend, slipping backwards over the past year. CoreLogic’s five capital city aggregate – which includes Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and the Gold Coast, Adelaide and Perth – shows prices for houses and units rose 12.9% on average last year.

But the news comes as the ratings agency Moody’s warned an increasing number of borrowers have fallen behind on their mortgage and car repayments, saying more borrowers are set to join them amid rising underemployment, record-low wages growth and a more difficult housing market. On Monday, Moody’s said delinquencies for prime residential mortgage-backed securities increased to 1.61% in January, from 1.57% in December, while 30-day delinquencies for car loan asset-backed securities rose to 1.80%, from 1.54% over the same period. “Weaker economic conditions in states reliant on the mining industry, rising underemployment, weak wages growth and less favourable housing market conditions will drive delinquencies higher,” vice president and senior analyst Alena Chen said on Monday.

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More like no instruments at all: “..limit new interest-only loans to 30% of total new mortgage lending..”

Australia Sticks With Blunt Instruments To Battle Housing Bubble (R.)

In their struggle to cool red-hot property prices in Australia’s big cities, authorities are ratcheting up measures that could dent the whole market but avoiding more targeted steps that have had some success in New Zealand and China. Australian regulators first focused on reining in investment loans nationally in 2015, by imposing an annual limit of 10% on how much banks could expand their investor loan book. Those steps worked for a while, but the heat is on again in Sydney, where prices are rising almost 20% a year, having more than doubled since 2008, and Melbourne, where the pace is over 15%, according to property consultant Core Logic.

That and all-time high household debt prompted the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA) to move again on Friday, asking banks to limit new interest-only loans to 30% of total new mortgage lending, from 40% now, and promising a lot of “monitoring”, “scrutinizing” and “observing”. Industry players doubt that will do the trick. “I personally don’t think this will have a material impact,” said Simon Orbell at mortgage broker Smartmove, as prices kept rising even though it was already a tough lending market. “Maybe more needs to be done,” he added. [..] There has been market speculation that the Reserve Bank of Australia will be forced to hike interest rates, a yet blunter instrument, though record low inflation and weak wages growth make that an unattractive option. There is also political resistance to measures that could make prices actually fall, with two thirds of households owning their homes.

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Too much uncertainty to unleash it.

A ‘Sleeping Beast’ In The Markets Is About To Be Unleashed – SocGen (BI)

The bond market has been quiet. Too quiet in fact. That’s about to change, says Societe Generale’s fixed income team led by Vincent Chaigneau. “Spring is likely to be more threatening for bond investors as US data improves, political risk in Europe ebbs and investors refocus on a slow central bank exits,” the team wrote in a note to clients on Thursday. The note is titled “The Sleeping Beast.” In the wake of the U.S. Presidential election, traders priced in the prospect that Donald Trump’s agenda of a protectionist trade policy, cutting taxes, rolling back regulations, and massive infrastructure would bring back inflation to the United States. Reflecting this, the yield on 10-year Treasurys rallied more than 80 basis points, reaching a high of 2.64%, in the weeks following the election.

But for the last few months, the yield has been trapped in a tight 35 basis point range as traders take a wait-and-see approach in regards to Trump’s ability to execute his proposed agenda. “We expect that to reverse in spring, especially if Trump proves a little more effective in pushing his agenda through Congress,” Societe Generale wrote. “Treasuries too present some seasonal patterns: the average of the past five years shows the 10yT reaching a low around mid-April before bearish forces start to take over.”

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America turns on the mall.

Commercial Real Estate Is The Next ”Big Short” (F.)

A small but growing group of hedge funds are positioning themselves to profit from the collapse of the real estate market. Sounds like 2007, right? It’s actually happening right now. But this time, hedge funds (along with Deutsche Bank and Morgan Stanley) aren’t targeting subprime mortgages—they’re going after commercial real estate. It’s no secret retailers and malls have been struggling for years, but it looks like the perfect storm is set to hit them in 2017. Bearish bets against commercial loans jumped 50% year-over-year in February—and with problems piling up for malls, it’s no wonder. Around $3.5 billion in retail loans were liquidated in 2016. Investment firm Gapstow Capital said losses on mall loans have been “meaningfully higher than in other areas.” This is because malls are reliant on retailers like Macy’s, J.C. Penny and Sears. Unfortunately for these landlords, their tenants’ businesses are failing, which brings us to…

As a result of falling sales, retailers are shutting up shop at a rate that has not been seen since the 2008 financial crisis.

…and they plan to close hundreds more over the coming years, which is very bad news for malls. Most malls are dependent on one or more of these big retailers. When anchor stores close, it reduces foot traffic, and that hurts other retailers. This begins a cycle of blight, leading other tenants to leave. Alder Hill (a hedge fund started by associates of billionaire David Tepper) is bearish on commercial loans and expects 2017 to be a “tipping point.” Morningstar Credit Ratings estimates roughly 40% of the loans due this year won’t be paid. This comes at a bad time for the industry. Commercial real estate prices have been on a tear since 2009, but with vacancies rising, prices have stagnated.

This, coupled with new rules that came into effect in December (which force banks to hold at least 5% of the loans they make on their books), has caused loan growth to stall. As a result, leading retail analyst Jan Rogers Kniffen expects around one-third of American malls to close in the coming years. So, what are the implications of this commercial collapse?

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But the French love the euro. Hard sell.

Euro Is A ‘Knife In The Ribs’ Of The French Says Le Pen (R.)

French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen told a political rally on Sunday that the euro currency which she wants France to ditch was like a knife in the ribs of the French people. The leader of the eurosceptic and anti-immigrant National Front (FN) also told the rally in the city of Bordeaux that the forthcoming election for president could herald a “change in civilization”. Encouraged by the unexpected election of Donald Trump in the United States and by Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Le Pen hopes to profit from a similar populist momentum in France, though opinion polls suggest she will lose the May 7 run-off. “We are at the mercy of a currency adapted to Germany and not to our economy. The euro is mostly a knife stuck in our ribs to make us go where others want us to go,” Le Pen said to loud cheers and applause.

Reiterating her anti-globalization and anti-immigration views, she declared: “We do not want France to be open to all commercial and human flows, without protection and borders.” A government under Le Pen’s presidency would take France out of the euro zone and bring back a national currency, hold a referendum on its EU membership and slap taxes on imports and on companies hiring foreigners. Le Pen says she would curb migration, expel all illegal migrants and restrict certain rights now available to all residents, including free education, to French citizens. She hit out at her two main opponents in the French election, independent centrist Emmanuel Macron and conservative candidate Francois Fillon, saying they belonged to “the same system” “The system is panicking because it sees people are waking up,” she said.

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Draghi slays austerity?

ECB Leads The Cure For Euro-Pessimism (CNBC)

The euro-sclerosis and the euro-pessimism are only a few of the old neologisms that got a new lease on life thanks to “reformers” and “crisis managers” who devastated the euro area economy with their – take a deep breath – “austerity growth model,” consisting of deep public spending cuts, tax hikes, jobs-destroying structural reforms and a monetary policy that should look the other way. Predictably, the area’s economy took it on the chin and went down for the count, with millions of lives destroyed by soaring poverty and destitution – until the ECB stepped in to provide the antidote to that cruel nostrum and to begin a long process of healing and recovery.

The ECB’s intervention eventually stiffened the spines, and gave some oxygen, to scared and disoriented political leaders in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal – exactly one-half of the euro area’s GDP – who abandoned the fiscal madness and structural destruction to latch on to the life jacket thrown at them by their lender of last resort. The economic recovery we see now is a result of that policy mix. At 1.7%, the euro area growth last year matched the pace of the U.S. economy and seems poised for further gains in the months ahead. The ECB-driven recovery was also reflected in steadily rising asset values. As of last Friday, the euro area equity prices (Euro Stoxx 50 in dollar terms) were 17.3% above their year-earlier level, with nearly half of that increase (7.6%) recorded since the beginning of this year.

[..] France is the next political test with the first round of elections on April 23. Again, anybody betting against the euro and the EU will lose big. According to the French media, voters are largely indifferent toward the presidential candidates, but the economy is improving and low credit costs have unleashed a real estate boom that’s triggering solid consumer spending. The French are also great fans of the euro: An opinion poll published last Tuesday (March 25) shows that 75% of the French like the European currency, and half of them are pleased with the EU, although they believe that some of their neighbors were greater beneficiaries of the whole project. The French, of course, have Germany in mind. They are looking at Germany’s huge trade surpluses and the industrial takeover by the world-beating manufacturing companies across the Rhine.

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It should be investigating British war crimes.

Scotland Yard Examines Allegations Of Saudi War Crimes In Yemen (G.)

Scotland Yard is examining allegations of war crimes by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, the Guardian can reveal, triggering a possible diplomatic row with Britain on the eve of Theresa May’s visit to the Arab state. The Metropolitan police confirmed that their war crimes unit was assessing whether criminal prosecutions could be brought over Saudi Arabia’s devastating aerial campaign in Yemen. The force’s SO15 counter-terrorism unit revealed to a London human rights lawyer that it had launched a “scoping exercise” into the claims before Maj Gen Ahmed al-Asiri’s visit to the capital last week. The revelation comes as May plans to underline Britain’s close relationship with the Saudi royal family on her visit to the Arab state this week, in which tackling the terror threat from Islamic State will be a key factor.

Speaking in advance of the trip, in which she will also visit Jordan, the prime minister said she wanted to “herald a further intensification in relations between our countries and deepen true strategic partnerships”. She argued that the intelligence relationship with Saudi Arabia had been critical, potentially saving hundreds of lives in the UK, and claimed there were huge possibilities for closer trade links as the UK moves towards leaving the European Union. May plans to stress the need for collaboration in the wake of the Westminster terror attack, while also pledging humanitarian support to Jordan to help it handle the huge volumes of refugees displaced by the Syrian conflict.

But the trip comes under the shadow of a war in Yemen that has killed more than 10,000 civilians and displaced more than 3 million people. The Saudi-led coalition has been accused of killing thousands of civilians and triggering a humanitarian catastrophe in one of the region’s poorest countries. The UK, which along with the US supports the Saudis against the Houthis, has been urged to reconsider its arms exports to Saudi Arabia in light of the bloody air campaign.

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Austerity kills people and economies.

Greek Households Spend €40 Less Per Month On Supermarket Purchases (KTG)

A significant decrease of 13% has been recorded in the amount Greek households spend for daily purchases at the country’s supermarkets. This is the logical consequence caused by low wages, high unemployment rates and increased direct and indirect taxes. Factors that have lead to impoverishment of large groups of the Greek society. Worth mentioning are the extra charges (special consumption fees) imposed as of 1.1.2017 in a variety of supermarket products like coffee. Greek households spend monthly forty euros less for their shopping at the supermarket than in the previous year. The average monthly expenditure of households at the supermarket amounts to 274 euros from 310 last year.

According to research conducted by the Economic University of Athens, the expenditure decrease has been confirmed also by the turnover of the supermarkets. The decrease in sales was 10% in January 2017. The was a slight increase of 2.9% in February, but a serious decline of 15% in March. 63% of respondents said they buy fewer products. 45.8% said they restricted to what is necessary. At the same time, 54.4% said that buy cheaper products especially following a market investigation and that they chase discount offers and products of private label. 81.5% said that they compare prices before they decide which product they will pick up from the supermarket shelf.

99.2% of consumers stated that they do research before going to the supermarket, they know in advance what to buy and they avoid impulse purchases. 38% of respondents said that they would make fewer purchases in 2017, 5% that they will increase their purchases. 57% estimate that their purchases will remain unchanged. The average expenditure per supermarket visit remains almost unchanged. Expenditure in 2017 is at an average of €50.4 euros. It was at 49.5 euros in 2016. However, the frequency of visits has declined down to 6.8 visits per month from 8.5 visits last year.

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Yes, it can still get worse.

Greece To Accelerate Return Of Migrants To Turkey As Arrivals Pick Up (K.)

As the inflow of undocumented migrants to the islands of the eastern Aegean rises with the improving weather, the government is planning action to ease the pressure on increasingly overcrowded reception centers. In the coming days, Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas is expected to issue a circular, banning migrants who appeal against a rejection of their application for political asylum from a voluntary repatriation scheme being run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Meanwhile police on the islands are boosting efforts to locate and detain migrants who face deportation to Turkey in line with an agreement signed last year between Ankara and Brussels.

Last week, a new detention center opened on Kos, the function of which will be to detain migrants facing deportation. Others awaiting the outcome of asylum applications or inclusion in the IOM’s repatriation scheme are to remain in the island’s main reception center. A similar “closed” center for migrants awaiting deportation is operating on Lesvos. However, police face a problem on Chios, which has seen arrivals from Turkey intensify in recent days, and where local residents vehemently oppose the creation of such a center. A police official told Kathimerini that the main police precinct on the island is already full of migrants and there are no other facilities to accommodate new arrivals. “We don’t know what to do,” he said.

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Feb 102017
 
 February 10, 2017  Posted by at 10:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Al Capone’s free soup kitchen, Chicago, 1931

 

US Appeals Court Upholds Suspension Of Trump Travel Ban (AP)
The Crash Will Be Violent (David Stockman)
Foreign Governments Dump US Treasuries as Never Before; Who is Buying? (WS)
Impediments to Growth (Lacy Hunt)
A Game Of Chess (BP)
Biography of President Donald Trump, a.k.a. “Wayne Newton” (Jim Kunstler)
What Would it Cost a Country to Leave the Euro? (WS)
Varoufakis Accuses Creditors Of Going After Greece’s ‘Little People’ (Ind.)
Greece Hopeful Of Imminent EU Debt Deal Despite German Warning (G.)
Greek Crisis Descends Into Blame Game (Tel.)
China Bitcoin Exchanges Halt Withdrawals After PBOC Talks (BBG)
Where US Immigrants Have Come From Over Time (BI)
The World According to a Free-Range Short Seller (BBG)
Radiation at Japan’s Fukushima Reactor Is Now at ‘Unimaginable’ Levels (Fox)
Ground-Breaking Research Uncovers New Risks of GMOs, Glyphosate (NGR)
‘No One Accepts Responsibility’: Thirteen Refugees Dead In Greece (IRR)

 

 

It is crucial for the US political system to be tested this way. So far, it seems to work, but we’re in very early innings. Important to recognize that Trump and Bannon merely attempt to use the broader executive powers developed under Clinton, Bush and Obama. A major problem can be that the judiciary has alredy become very politicized, with presidents getting to pick judges.

US Appeals Court Upholds Suspension Of Trump Travel Ban (AP)

Trump’s ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations, dealing another legal setback to the new administration’s immigration policy. In a unanimous decision, the panel of three judges from the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to block a lower-court ruling that suspended the ban and allowed previously barred travelers to enter the U.S. An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is possible. The court rejected the administration’s claim that it did not have the authority to review the president’s executive order. “There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy,” the court said. The judges noted that the states had raised serious allegations about religious discrimination.

Following news of the ruling, Trump tweeted, “See you in court, the security of our nation is at stake!” U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle issued a temporary restraining order halting the ban last week after Washington state and Minnesota sued. The ban temporarily suspended the nation’s refugee program and immigration from countries that have raised terrorism concerns. Justice Department lawyers appealed to the 9th Circuit, arguing that the president has the constitutional power to restrict entry to the United States and that the courts cannot second-guess his determination that such a step was needed to prevent terrorism. The states said Trump’s travel ban harmed individuals, businesses and universities. Citing Trump’s campaign promise to stop Muslims from entering the U.S., they said the ban unconstitutionally blocked entry to people based on religion.

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“..the first half of the year will be consumed in nasty partisan battles over cabinet appointments, the Gorsuch nomination, interminable maneuvers over the travel ban and follow-on measures of extreme vetting and the Obamacare repeal/replace battle.”

The Crash Will Be Violent (David Stockman)

[..] What will be coming soon, however, is the mother of all debt ceiling crises — an eruption of beltway dysfunction that will finally demolish the notion that Trump is good for the economy and the stock market. The debt ceiling holiday ends on March 15, and it appears that the rudderless Treasury Department — Mnuchin has not yet been approved as Treasury Secretary and there are no Trump deputies, either — may be engaging in a bit of sabotage. That is, the cash balance has run down from a peak of about $450 billion to just $304 billion as of last Friday. Unless reversed soon, this means that the Treasury will run out of cash by perhaps July 4th rather than Labor Day. After that, all hell will break loose.

Washington has been obviously dysfunctional for years, but the virtue of the Great Disrupter is that his tweets, tangents, inconsistencies and unpredictabilities guarantee that the system will soon shut down entirely. Consequently, the first half of the year will be consumed in nasty partisan battles over cabinet appointments, the Gorsuch nomination, interminable maneuvers over the travel ban and follow-on measures of extreme vetting and the Obamacare repeal/replace battle. Then, the second half of 2017 will degenerate into a non-stop battle over raising the debt ceiling and continuing resolutions for fiscal year (FY) 2018 which begins October 1. That will mean, in turn, that there is no budget resolution embodying the Trump/GOP fiscal agenda, and therefore no basis for filibuster-proof “reconciliation instructions” on the tax cut.

This latter point, in fact, needs special emphasis. The frail GOP majorities now in place will be too battered and fractured by the interim battles to coalesce around a ten-year budget resolution that embodies the $10 trillion of incremental deficits already built into the CBO baseline — plus trillions more for defense, veterans, border control, the Mexican Wall, an infrastructure bonanza and big tax cuts, too. It will never happen. There is not remotely a GOP majority for such a resolution. But without an FY 2018 budget resolution, inertia and the K-Street lobbies will rule. Without a 51-vote majority rule in the Senate, a material, deficit-neutral cut in the corporate tax rate would be absolutely impossible to pass. Yet that’s exactly what the casino is currently pricing-in.

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Foreign investors.

Foreign Governments Dump US Treasuries as Never Before; Who is Buying? (WS)

It started with a whimper a couple of years ago and has turned into a roar: foreign governments are dumping US Treasuries. The signs are coming from all sides. The data from the US Treasury Department points at it. The People’s Bank of China points at it in its data releases on its foreign exchange reserves. Japan too has started selling Treasuries, as have other governments and central banks. Some, like China and Saudi Arabia, are unloading their foreign exchange reserves to counteract capital flight, prop up their own currencies, or defend a currency peg. Others might sell US Treasuries because QE is over and yields are rising as the Fed has embarked on ending its eight years of zero-interest-rate policy with what looks like years of wild flip-flopping, while some of the Fed heads are talking out loud about unwinding QE and shedding some of the Treasuries on its balance sheet.

Inflation has picked up too, and Treasury yields have begun to rise, and when yields rise, bond prices fall, and so unloading US Treasuries at what might be seen as the peak may just be an investment decision by some official institutions. The chart below from Goldman Sachs, via Christine Hughes at Otterwood Capital, shows the net transactions of US Treasury bonds and notes in billions of dollars by foreign official institutions (central banks, government funds, and the like) on a 12-month moving average. Note how it started with a whimper, bounced back a little, before turning into wholesale dumping, hitting record after record (red marks added):

The People’s Bank of China reported two days ago that foreign exchange reserves fell by another $12.3 billion in January, to $2.998 trillion, the seventh month in a row of declines, and the lowest in six years. They’re down 25%, or almost exactly $1 trillion, from their peak in June 2014 of nearly $4 trillion (via Trading Economics, red line added):

China’s foreign exchange reserves are composed of assets that are denominated in different currencies, but China does not provide details. So of the $1 trillion in reserves that it shed since 2014, not all were denominated in dollars. The US Treasury Department provides another partial view, based on data collected primarily from US-based custodians and broker-dealers that are holding these securities for China and other countries. But the US Treasury cannot determine which country owns the Treasuries held in custodial accounts overseas. Based on this limited data, China’s holdings of US Treasuries have plunged by $215.2 billion, or 17%, over the most recent 12 reporting months through November, to just above $1 trillion.

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From a Mish article quoting an unpublished report. I wonder when all these people will begin to understand my point that growth is gone. Only then will the pieces fall into place. Note: calling Weak Global Growth and Impediment to Growth sounds a bit silly.

Impediments to Growth (Lacy Hunt)

1. Unproductive Debt At the end of the third quarter, domestic nonfinancial debt and total debt reached $47.0 and $69.4 trillion, respectively. Neither of these figures includes a sizeable volume of vehicle and other leases that will come due in the next few years nor unfunded pension liabilities that will eventually be due. The total figure is much larger as it includes debt of financial institutions as well as foreign debt owed. The broader series points to the complexity of the debt overhang. Netting out the financial institutions and foreign debt is certainly appropriate for closed economies, but it is not appropriate for the current economy.

Total debt gained $3.1 trillion in the past four quarters, or $5.70 dollars for each $1.00 of GDP growth. From 1870 to 2015, $1.90 of total debt generated $1.00 dollar of GDP. We estimate that approximately $20 trillion of debt in the U.S. will reset within the next two years. Interest rates across the curve are up approximately 100 basis points from the lows of last year. Unless rates reverse, the annual interest costs will jump $200 billion within two years and move steadily higher thereafter as more debt obligations mature. This sum is equivalent to almost two-fifths of the $533 billion in nominal GDP in the past four quarters. This situation is the same problem that has constantly dogged highly indebted economies like the U.S., Japan and the Eurozone.

2. Record Global Debt The IMF calculated that the gross debt in the global non-financial sector was $217 trillion, or 325% of GDP, at the end of the third quarter of 2016. Total debt at the end of the third quarter 2016 was more than triple its level at the end of 1999. Debt in China surged by $3 trillion in just the first three quarters of 2016. Chinese debt at the end of the third quarter soared to 390% of GDP, an estimated 20% higher than U.S. debt-to-GDP. This debt surge explains the shortfall in the Chinese growth target for 2016, a major capital flight, a precipitous fall of the Yuan against the dollar and a large hike in their overnight lending rate. Such policies lose their effectiveness over time. [As stated by] Nobel laureate F. A. Hayek (1933):“To combat the depression by a forced credit expansion is to attempt to cure the evil by the very means which brought it about.”

3. Weak Global Growth Based on figures from the World Bank and the IMF through 2016, growth in a 60-country composite was just 1.1%, a fraction of the 7.2% average since 1961. Even with the small gain for 2016, the three-year average growth was -0.8%. As such, the last three years have provided more evidence that the benefits of a massive debt surge are elusive. World trade volume also confirms the fragile state of economic conditions. Trade peaked at 115.4 in February 2016, with September 2016 1.7% below that peak, according to the Netherlands Bureau of Economic Policy Analysis. Over the last 12 months, world trade volume fell 0.7%, compared to the 5.1% average growth since 1992.

4. Eroding Demographics World trade volume also confirms the fragile state of economic conditions. Trade peaked at 115.4 in February 2016, with September 2016 1.7% below that peak, according to the Netherlands Bureau of Economic Policy Analysis. Over the last 12 months, world trade volume fell 0.7%, compared to the 5.1% average growth since 1992.

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Absolutely delightful.

A Game Of Chess (BP)

Chess is a game where the number of possible positions rises at an astronomical rate. By the 2nd move of the game there are already 400 possible positions and after each person moves twice, that number rises to 8902. My coach explained to me that I was not trained enough to even begin to keep track of those things and that my only chance of ever winning was to take the initiative and never give it up. “You must know what your opponent will do next by playing his game for him.” was the advice I received. Now, I won’t bore you with the particulars but it boiled down to throwing punches each and every turn without exception. In other words, if my opponent must always waste his turn responding to what I am doing then he never gets an opportunity to come at me in the millions of possibilities that reside in the game. Again, if I throw the punch – even one that can be easily blocked, then I only have to worry about one combination and not millions.

My Russian chess coach next taught me that I should Proudly Announce what exactly I am doing and why I am doing it. He explained to me that bad chess players believe that they can hide their strategy even though all the pieces are right there in plain sight for anyone to see. A good chess player has no fear of this because they will choose positions that are unassailable so why not announce them? As a coach, I made all of my students tell each other why they were making the moves that they made as well as what they were planning next. It entirely removed luck from the game and quickly made them into superior players.

My Russian coach next stressed Time as something I should focus on to round out my game. He said that I shouldn’t move the same piece twice in a row and that my “wild punches” should focus on getting my pieces on to the board and into play as quickly as possible. So, if I do everything correctly, I have an opponent that will have a disorganized defense, no offense and few pieces even in play and this will work 9 out of 10 times. The only time it doesn’t work for me is when I go against players that have memorized hundreds of games and have memorized how to get out of these traps.

With all that said, let’s see if President Trump is playing chess. First, we can all agree that Trump, if nothing else, throws a lot of punches. We really saw this in the primaries where barely a day could go by without some scandal that would supposedly end his presidential bid. His opponents and the press erroneously thought that responding to each and every “outrage” was the correct thing to do without ever taking the time to think whether or not they had just walked into a trap. They would use their turn to block his Twitter attack but he wouldn’t move that piece again once that was in play but, instead, brought on the next outrage – just like my coach instructed me to do.

Second, Trump is very vocal in what he is going to do. Just like I had my students announced to each other their plans, Trump has been nothing but transparent about what he intends to do. After all, announcing your plans only works if your position is unassailable. It demoralizes your opponent. You rub their face in it. Another benefit to being vocal is that it encourages your opponent to bring out his favorite piece to deal with said announced plans. This is a big mistake as any good chess player will quickly recognize which piece his opponent favors and then go take them.

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“Fraid Jim lost it.

Biography of President Donald Trump, a.k.a. “Wayne Newton” (Jim Kunstler)

And so it happened years ago on the Trump family’s annual Christmas pilgrimage to Paraguay that Papa Fred and Mama Mary Anne fell in socially with the circle around Klaus Furtwänkler, Waffen-SS Gruppenführer (ret.) in the little resort village of Nueva Bavaria. The former commandant of the Flossenbürg work camp (granite quarries) introduced young Donald to the song “Danke Schoen” popularized by the vocalist Eva Braun at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Since earliest childhood, with his love for the “spotlight,” Donald had entertained the family with renditions of Disney’s beloved hits, “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah,” “When I See an Elephant Fly,” and “Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee (an Actor’s Life for Me).” The next evening, on Furtwänkler’s 3,000-hectare estancia, before an audience of fifty “special guests” at the Heiliger Abend buffet (Arapaima snapper with red cabbage and potato salad), Donald performed “Danke Schoen” to wild applause, propelling him into a career in show business. Not a few of the frauleins present fainted.


Young Donald or someone else?

To protect Papa’s real estate business interests in Queens, New York, Donald adopted the professional name “Wayne Newton” and was withdrawn from military school to perform on the county fair circuit across the states that would later self- identify by the color “red” — but which, given our adversarial relations with the USSR at the time, styled themselves red, white, and blue. Six month’s later, “Wayne” caught the eye of Las Vegas promoter Sal “Cukarach” Vaselino while playing the Refrigeration Engineers annual meet-up at the Sands Hotel, and then after a six-week smash engagement at the Golden Nugget in 1963, “Wayne” was inducted into the notorious Frank Sinatra / Dean Martin Rat-pack as its first underage member. (Rat-pack consigliere Peter Lawford introduced the talented lad to the concept of “sloppy seconds”).

[..] Back on the convention circuit with Jules the Singing Jackrabbit, Wayne played the 1983 National Realtors Association Pump-and-Dump Expo and was influenced to get his first real estate license. “Why pay for milk when you can own the cash cow,” keynote speaker Ivan Boesky advised “Wayne,” prompting him to return to his New York City “roots” and resume his identity as “The Donald,” son of “The Fred” Trump. A carefully orchestrated life of public appearances at Gotham charity events and a lavish wedding to model Ivana Zelníková reestablished Donald Trump as a fixture on the glittering Manhattan scene – meanwhile, a Greyhound Bus mechanic and aspiring country crooner named Bud Gorch, a “dead-ringer” look-alike for the erstwhile “Wayne Newton,” was recruited by the Trump Organization to impersonate the once-again in-demand Las Vegas star. Gorch-as-Wayne successfully premiered his new act at the National Colorectal Surgeons Association Chron’s and Colitis Congress and the “great switch” was achieved. The rest, as they say, is history!


Who actually was it onstage at the National Organ Transplant Association Convention, 1967?

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The door is ajar.

What Would it Cost a Country to Leave the Euro? (WS)

[Le Pen] is campaigning on taking France out of the euro (after holding a referendum) and re-denominating the entire €2.4 trillion pile of French government debt into new franc. Then the government can just print the money it wants to spend. There are some complications with her plan, including that the diverse and bickering French political class will unite into a slick monolithic bloc against her during the second round. And if she still wins, her government will face that bloc in parliament. But hey. And now people are seriously thinking about it. Greece was on the verge of leaving the euro, but then within a millimeter of actually taking the step, it blinked and inched back from the precipice in the hot summer of 2015. And so for now still no one knows what the cost would be to leave…

[..] Now ECB President Mario Draghi is stumbling into the fray. “The euro is irrevocable,” he told the European Parliament on Monday, to counter the populist rejection of the euro. “This is the treaty,” he said. Which evoked memories of the good ol’ days of the sovereign debt crisis, when, to put an end to it in July 2012, Draghi said that the euro was “irreversible” and that the ECB was “ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro.” At the time, the Spanish 10-year yield was above 7% and the Italian 10-year yield was above 6%. So now, same tune, different scenario. It’s not a debt crisis. It’s just a question of whether or not it’s possible to leave the euro, and if yes, how much it would cost. And that question has already been raised officially.

On January 18, Draghi had sent a letter to European Union lawmakers Marco Valli and Marco Zanni, telling them: “If a country were to leave the Eurosystem, its national central bank’s claims on or liabilities to the ECB would need to be settled in full.” That was the opening – the IF. “If a country were to leave…” It meant that a country could leave! It was the first official admission that this was actually possible. It was just a matter of cost. That’s how Zani saw Draghi’s response. Bloomberg: “I wanted to bring up the issue of exit from the euro and how it can happen,” he said in an interview before the testimony. “Draghi has now clearly admitted that such an exit is possible and now there is need to have more clarity about the cost. I’m sure that in case of Italy’s exit from the euro, benefits exceed costs.”

Alas, in his testimony before the European Parliament, Draghi refused to put a price tag on leaving the euro. Valli asked him whether the “liabilities” Draghi had referred to that would “need to be settled in full” were the so-called Target2 imbalances. These are a result of payment settlements within the European System of Central Banks. They’d soared during the debt crisis to hundreds of billions of euros, a sign of the underlying financial tensions between debtor and creditor countries. But Draghi dodged the question: “I cannot answer a question that is based on hypotheses, on assumptions which are not foreseen” by the European treaties, he said. “What I could do is send you a written answer which compares our Target2 system with the Federal Reserve-based system.” Which was very helpful.

But even though he refused to put a price tag on leaving the euro, the whole exchange confirmed that it’s possible to leave the euro, though there is nothing in the treaties that mentions leaving the euro.

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Yanis is spot on right. The Greeks are now being sacrificed on the altar of incumbents afraid to lose elections. The insane narrative that Germans and Dutch ‘give’ billions to Greece persists. That says a lot about the press in these countries.

Varoufakis Accuses Creditors Of Going After Greece’s ‘Little People’ (Ind.)

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has said that everyday life in Greece is unsustainable and that the country’s European creditors are going after the “little people” rather than “corrupt oligarchs”. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the 55-year old economist said that the country has been put on a fiscal path which makes everyday life “unsustainable” in Greece. “The German finance minister agrees that no Greek government, however reformist it might be, can sustain the current debt obligations of Greece,” he said. Earlier in the day, Wolfgang Schäuble told German broadcaster ARD that Greece must reform or quit the euro. “A country in desperate need of reform has been made unreformable by unsustainable macroeconomic policies,” Mr Varoufakis said.

He said that “instead of attacking the worst cases of corruption, for six years now the creditors have been after the little people, the small pharmacists, the very poor pensioners instead of going for the oligarchies”. Greece in 2010 was given a huge loan that Mr Varoufakis said was not designed to save the bankrupt country but to “cynically transfer huge banking losses from the books of the Franco German banks onto the shoulders of the weakest taxpayers in Europe”. Earlier this week, the IMF warned Greece’s debts are on an “explosive” path, despite years of economic reform. The IMF has insisted on additional debt relief and reduced fiscal targets before it participates financially in Greece’s current bailout program. Germany, which faces national elections, has resisted such moves. Statistics agency ELSTAT said on Thursday that Greece’s jobless rate came in at 23% in November, unchanged from the previous month. But although the jobless rate has come down from record highs, it remains more than double the euro zone’s average of 9.8% in November.

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Why try anymore?

Greece Hopeful Of Imminent EU Debt Deal Despite German Warning (G.)

The Greek government has expressed hope of an imminent deal with its EU creditors, despite a warning from the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, that the country could cut its debts only by leaving the single currency. Athens is in a familiar stand-off with the German finance ministry as it seeks easier repayment terms on its €330bn debt pile, which the IMF has described as unsustainable and explosive. The IMF has so far declined to get involved in the latest Greek rescue effort, a three-year EU bailout worth €86bn set to run until August 2018. The fund says it will only join if Greece gets significant debt relief, although its board is split. Germany and the Netherlands, which both face elections this year, think the IMF’s involvement is crucial for the bailout plan to continue.

Tensions – and Greek borrowing costs – have risen in recent weeks, ahead of a meeting of eurozone finance ministers on 20 February, which is widely seen as the last moment to reach agreement before the eurozone election cycle. The Dutch go to the polls in March; French presidential elections follow in April-May and German elections in the autumn. George Katrougalos, Greece’s Europe minister, voiced confidence that a deal was within reach: “I am optimistic that we can have such an agreement before the Eurogroup of 20 February.” He told journalists in Brussels that Europe was not the problem. “If we had just to deal with the Europeans we would have already completed this review in December. All the delay is due to the ambivalence of the IMF to participate or not to participate.”

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“Klaus Regling, the managing director of the European Stability Mechanism, argued that “Greece’s debt situation does not have to be cause for alarm”…

Greek Crisis Descends Into Blame Game (Tel.)

Greece is under mounting pressure to embark on a new wave of economic reforms, as its international creditors demand extra efforts to drag the country out of its latest crisis. At the same time Germany is facing fresh demands from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to write off some of the money it loaned to Greece in the most recent €86bn (£73bn) bailout. And the IMF has been forced to defend its dire predictions of permanent economic gloom as the Greek government rejects the IMF’s assessment of its reforms, public finances and economic performance. On top of that, the IMF itself is split, with a minority of directors pushing for extra spending cuts and tax hikes in Greece to try to improve its public finances. The IMF tried to address its internal splits, stressing that it wants debt relief for Greece combined with economic reforms, not austerity. It does still demand serious action, though – unless the economy picks up and debts are slashed, it has warned Greece’s debts are on an “explosive” path.

“Our strong preference is for a primary [Greek budget] surplus target of 1.5pc and that this should be accompanied by significant debt relief. We’ve referred to this as the ‘two legs’ of the programme that we think is required,” said Gerry RIce, the IMF’s spokesman. “We think this target, the 1.5, can be obtained by the policies envisaged by the current European Stability Mechanism programme – in short, the IMF is not asking for any more austerity for Greece.” That passes much of the pressure on to Germany and the other nations which have loaned Greece money, but are unwilling to write off the debt. Germany renewed the pressure on Greece to press ahead with more economic reforms. Its finance minister Wolfgang Schauble told a German TV station that the Lisbon Treaty prevents governments from writing off these debts.

Instead, he argued, Greece must continue reforming to make its economy more competitive. Meanwhile Klaus Regling, the managing director of the European Stability Mechanism, argued that “Greece’s debt situation does not have to be cause for alarm”. Writing in the Financial Times, he said that the IMF has failed to fully appreciate the amount of support on offer from other eurozone countries to Greece, largely in the form of very generous loans. “It is hard to overestimate the significance of this pledge, made by the finance ministers of the eurozone. Solidarity with Greece will continue,” he said. “We would not have lent this amount if we did not think we would get our money back,” he said, ruling out debt relief and backing more economic reforms.

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Beijing decides what bitcoin is.

China Bitcoin Exchanges Halt Withdrawals After PBOC Talks (BBG)

China’s three biggest bitcoin exchanges took steps to prevent withdrawals of the cryptocurrency amid pressure from the nation’s central bank to clamp down on capital outflows. BTC China subjected all bitcoin withdrawals to a 72-hour review, while Huobi and OKCoin suspended them completely, the three venues said in separate statements on Thursday. They all said the measures were in response to central bank requirements. Conversion to and from the yuan is not affected and the curbs will be dropped after updates to compliance systems, the exchanges said. The People’s Bank of China told nine bitcoin venues at a meeting in Beijing on Wednesday that it will close exchanges that violate rules on foreign exchange management, money laundering, and payment and settlement.

Chinese authorities are scrutinizing the cryptocurrency amid concerns it’s being used to spirit money out of the country, undermining official efforts to clamp down on capital outflows and prop up the yuan. Demand from investors in Asia’s largest economy, home to most of the world’s bitcoin trades, has fueled a 160% rally versus the dollar over the past year. Huobi and OKCoin said it will take about a month to upgrade systems in line with new PBOC guidelines. BTC China did not give a timing for when any upgrade would be completed. “The Chinese government is worried about capital flight,” said Arthur Hayes, a former market maker at Citigroup who now runs BitMEX, a bitcoin derivatives venue in Hong Kong. “Bitcoin is seen as another way to move money out of China, even though most people trade it for onshore capital appreciation and as another asset in their portfolio.”

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A long history of immgrant bans.

Where US Immigrants Have Come From Over Time (BI)

President Donald Trump’s recent executive orders on immigration may have reignited public debate, but Americans have long harbored anti-immigrant sentiments. One-third of Americans said in a 2016 Pew Research Center survey that immigrants are a “burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health care,” and 38% say immigration should be decreased. On the flip side, 59% of Americans say immigrants “strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents” and either think immigration should stay at its present level or increase. Today, immigrants make up 13.5% of the US population — on par with the share in 1860, according to the Migration Policy Institute. The overall number of immigrants coming to the US peaked from 2000-05 at 5 million, and has been declining since then. Here are the major regions where immigrants entering the US have come from since 1820:

US immigrants were largely of European descent in the 1800s, and started coming from the Americas (largely Mexico) in the 1960s. The sharp decrease in the 1920s is due to Congress passing the Exclusion Act, which set limits on the number of immigrants who could enter the US, based on a quota system of the percentage of nationalities already in the country. Barely anyone from Asia could enter at all. Congress revised the law in 1952, and immigration started to tick up again.

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Wonderful story.

The World According to a Free-Range Short Seller (BBG)

Some of the most respected people in the investing industry say that, dating back to the 1980s, nobody has had a better nose for sniffing out fraud than the 56-year-old Cohodes. He’s exposed suspect accounting at a number of high-profile companies, including the Belgian speech-recognition software developer Lernout & Hauspie, which went bankrupt in 2001 after being valued at about $10 billion, and mortgage lender NovaStar Financial, where his efforts earned him a Harvard Business School case study published in 2013. “I would not want to be his adversary if I was still a criminal today,” says Sam Antar, who was sentenced to six months of house arrest and 1,200 hours of community service for cooking the books at New York consumer-electronics chain Crazy Eddie in one of the largest securities frauds unearthed in the 1980s. “A character like Marc”—the two crossed paths later in his life when both were focused on detecting fraud—“you stay away from.”

And that’s been relatively easy for at least part of the past eight years. In 2008 the hedge fund Cohodes worked at for more than two decades went out of business under controversial circumstances. He maintains that Goldman Sachs, its prime broker, closed it too hastily by making needless margin calls, a claim Goldman disputes. The fallout spurred a bout of what Cohodes likens to post-traumatic stress disorder. “What happened to me would put the average person under,” he says. He retreated to his farm, where he recuperated by spending his days delivering eggs to San Francisco, cheering on the Oakland Raiders, and traveling to see a friend’s rock band, Collective Soul. Besides, the vast majority of stocks were rising because of central bank stimulus, depriving him of ideal opportunities as a short seller.

Now Cohodes is back. His time among the horses and chickens—outside the money management industry—may even have helped him return to the top of his game. Slimmed down and fighting fit, he’s been winning big on a series of short bets against Canadian companies since he made his comeback. Cohodes says he’s been betting against embattled Valeant Pharmaceuticals International since the summer of 2015. Around the same time, he began shorting another debt-laden Canadian drugmaker, Concordia International, which he calls “the poor man’s Valeant.” Both stocks lost most of their value last year. Cohodes says he’s committed to exposing companies that he believes may be ripping off ordinary, unwary investors—“Joe Six-pack,” as he puts it. “Legitimate companies don’t know who the f— I am. And they don’t care,” Cohodes says. “The bad guys? They know. And they do care.”

And he’ll go to great lengths to chase them down: dumpster-diving to find clues of wrongdoing, lambasting enemies on Twitter (where his rambunctious character is on full display), and hotfooting it across Las Vegas to check whether new business offices reported by NovaStar were real. (They weren’t, according to Cohodes; one was a private home, another a massage parlor.) “I’m a pretty driven guy,” he says.

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Still trying to find a good report on this, it’s frustrating. One detail: radiation levels are measured at a certain distance from the source, having some suggest real levels at that source could be 5000 sievert.

Radiation at Japan’s Fukushima Reactor Is Now at ‘Unimaginable’ Levels (Fox)

The radiation levels at Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant are now at “unimaginable” levels. Adam Housley, who reported from the area in 2011 following the catastrophic triple-meltdown, said this morning that new fuel leaks have been discovered. He said the radiation levels – as high as 530 sieverts per hour – are now the highest they’ve been since 2011 when a tsunami hit the coastal reactor. “To put this in very simple terms. Four sieverts can kill a handful of people,” he explained.

He said that critics, including the U.S. military in 2011, have long questioned whether Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) and officials have been providing accurate information on the severity of the radiation. TEPCO maintains that the radiation is confined to the site and not a risk to the public. It’s expected to take at least $300 billion and four decades to fix it. Housley said small levels of radiation are still being detected off the coasts of California and Oregon and scientists fear it could get worse. “The worry is with 300 tons of radioactive water going into the Pacific every day, what is that doing to the Pacific Ocean?” said Housley. He added that critics are now questioning whether the radiation has been this severe all along.

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Keep paying attention.

Ground-Breaking Research Uncovers New Risks of GMOs, Glyphosate (NGR)

Within just a few weeks, two studies were published in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports that cast new doubts on the safety of genetically modified foods and glyphosate herbicide. The first found that a genetically modified corn, NK 603, was not substantially equivalent to a non-GMO counterpart, which is contrary to claims of GMO proponents. The second study found that glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, can cause a serious liver disease at doses thousands of times lower than that allowed by law. Dr. Michael Antoniou, Head of the Gene Expression and Therapy Group at King’s College London in the United Kingdom, led the ground-breaking research.

The main focus of research within Dr. Antoniou’s group is the study of the molecular mechanisms of the regulation of gene function. He has used these discoveries to develop efficient gene expression systems for efficacious and safe biotechnological applications, including gene therapy. More recently, Dr. Antoniou has expanded his research program to include using molecular profiling “omics” methods in evaluating the safety of foods derived from GMO crops, low dose exposure from their associated pesticides, and other chemical pollutants. Dr. Antoniou is also a co-author of GMO Myths and Truths, an evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety of genetically modified crops and foods.

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Too many parties involved see misery as being a positive for their goals. Very few aim at actually solving the problems.

‘No One Accepts Responsibility’: Thirteen Refugees Dead In Greece (IRR)

The IRR has been trying to ascertain the circumstances in which thirteen refugees and migrants died since April 2016 in Greece, with six of these deaths occurring in hotspots. In only one of these cases are we in a position to provide the full name of the deceased; the only available identifier is nationality. At least six of the dead were refugees from Syria, including Syrian Kurds, three were from Afghanistan. Five of the dead were living at the hotspot at Moria, on the Greek island of Lesbos where over 3,000 refugees are accommodated, well above stated capacity. Those who died here did so because the heaters and gas canisters they had obtained in order to keep warm or cook food were faulty, or used in dangerous situations. An Iraqi man died of a cardiac arrest at a hotspot in Samos (refugee population around 1,800 in a place designed for less than half that number).

Since the Idomeni makeshift migrant camp close to the Macedonian border was cleared by police in May 2016, sub-standard government refugee camps lacking basic amenities have been set up, with three of the dead living in such facilities around Thessaloniki. The oldest to die was a grandmother of 66, the youngest a two-month-old baby. There are three children amongst the dead. The remaining two deaths we have recorded were of men who died of hypothermia after having crossed from Turkey via the river Evros. It’s likely that they made the perilous crossing in order to avoid being detained in the hotspots on the Greek islands. Autopsy results are shrouded in secrecy. Nevertheless, the facts speak for themselves. Overcrowded, unprotected and dangerous conditions are all symptoms of institutional neglect. The simple truth is that the securitisation of asylum policy has come at the expense of refugee protection, as well as basic human rights.

[..] The deaths that have occurred over the winter have at least been reported in the media, partly because human rights defenders, wary of the positive communication strategy of the UNHCR and the EU, issued a number of press releases. Even so, officialdom does not appear over- anxious to investigate. What is particularly worrying is the secrecy shrouding autopsy results, which, if left unchallenged, will ensure that completely avoidable deaths such as these become the new normal. Philippa Kempson, of the Eftalou/ Molovos refugee support group on Lesbos, told IRR News of her fear that the ‘deaths could be subject to cover ups’, and her particular concern that ‘the “accidental” deaths in Moria still do not have a conclusive cause of death’. She also drew attention to the escalation in suicide attempts, particularly amongst unaccompanied minors, at Moria. ‘No one accepts responsibility for what is going on, just a circle of blame,’ she said.

In fact, evading accountability is hard-wired into the way refugee reception is organised in Greece, as there is no central authority responsible for the camps’ administration but a number of actors – a mixture of EU officials, the Greek army and other Greek institutions, the Red Cross and the UNHCR. This means that when anything goes wrong, the various actors end up blaming each other – something academics refer to as a process of distanciation, in which complex chains of responsibility make it difficult to connect cause (ie, government policies) with effect (ie, border-related deaths). Guardian journalist Patrick Kingsley made a similar point in his recent exposé of how a multi-million pound fund administered by the EU’s aid department ECHO, implemented in Greece by UNHCR and aimed at creating adequate facilities to protect refugees from the winter, has been mishandled. Kingsley points out that as ‘no single actor has overall control of all funding and management decisions in the camps, this has allowed most parties to distance themselves from blame’.

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Dec 142016
 
 December 14, 2016  Posted by at 10:02 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Louise Rosskam General store in Lincoln, Vermont 1940

Janet Yellen Needs To Announce Her Resignation — Not A Rate Hike (Crudele)
Stephen Roach Flags Trade, China Under Trump, Tillerson (CNBC)
Trump May Be Turning China’s $1.16 Trillion Of Treasuries Into A Weapon (F.)
China To Fine Unnamed US Automaker For ‘Monopolistic Behavior’ (R.)
Top US Spy Agency Has Not Embraced CIA Assessment On Russia Hacking (R.)
Lavrov Hints ISIS Recapture Of Palmyra Orchestrated By US (R.)
There Is More Than One Truth To Tell In The Awful Story Of Aleppo (Fisk)
How To Make A Profit From Defeating Climate Change (Carney/Bloomberg)
Greece ‘Boxed In’ as EU and IMF Fight Over Nation’s Debt Relief Plan (G.)
Tsipras To Propose To EU Leaders That IMF Be Excluded (Kath.)
Crisis Leaves Greeks Gloomiest In Europe And Beyond (R.)
Final EPA Study Confirms Fracking Contaminates Drinking Water (EW)
A Crack In Antarctica Is Forming An Iceberg The Size Of Delaware (PopSci)

 

 

“Yellen is a lame-duck chair. And Trump is going to want to cook her goose. It isn’t going to be pheasant.”

Janet Yellen Needs To Announce Her Resignation — Not A Rate Hike (Crudele)

If Janet Yellen had any class, she wouldn’t just be announcing an interest rate hike this week – she would also be offering her resignation. Yellen was appointed chair of the Federal Reserve by President Obama in 2014. While most heads of government agencies will soon be offering their resignations to President-elect Donald Trump, the Fed is not a government agency. It’s an independent entity. Which means Yellen doesn’t have to resign. Her term as chair – which makes her, perhaps, the second-most powerful person in Washington — doesn’t end until January 2018. And even then, she can hang around as a mere board member – one of 14 – until 2024. So, although Yellen and her colleagues have screwed things up, they get to keep their jobs. And boy has the Fed screwed things up — both before and since the financial crisis that started in 2007. [..]

It’s clear that Trump doesn’t like Yellen. And she hasn’t said anything nice about the incoming president or his policies either. So the two aren’t likely to get along. Yellen has shown no inclination to give up her job even though Trump has lashed out at her. “I think the Fed is being totally controlled,” Trump said during a campaign stop at the Economic Club of New York. “They’re not raising rates. And they’re being controlled politically.” Welcome to reality, Mr. Trump. The Fed lost its independence four decades ago. And you’ll be trying to control it soon. Yellen has hit back at Trump, saying that his pledge to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure to help the economy was dangerous. She said that after Trump spent that much money, there “is not a lot of fiscal space should a shock to the economy occur.”

Yellen also continued to assert her preposterous notion that the “economy is operating close to full employment.” If true, why hasn’t she already raised interest rates vigorously? And why, if the economy was doing so well, did the election go so badly for the incumbents — the Democrats? The Fed boss understands economics better than Trump. The higher borrowing costs that are already being seen (and which the Fed will pile onto this week) will automatically cause government borrowing costs – and therefore, spending – to increase and make US debt levels much worse. How much worse? That depends on how high rates go and how reluctant the Chinese are to continue to lend us money, especially now that Trump has picked a fight with Beijing. Yellen is a lame-duck chair. And Trump is going to want to cook her goose. It isn’t going to be pheasant.

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Few people in the west know China the way Roach does.

Stephen Roach Flags Trade, China Under Trump, Tillerson (CNBC)

Stock markets are euphoric after Donald Trump’s victory as pundits bet on U.S. economic growth based on the president-elect’s stimulus plans, but be aware of trade deficits and funding U.S. consumption, said Yale economist and noted author on China, Stephen Roach. “Given the overall savings of the U.S., that spells bigger trade deficits and for a president who is clearly raising some protectionist flags at a time when our trade deficits are going to widen, that’s a big disconnect,” Roach, a former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia and chief economist, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box”. “The idea of larger trade deficits colliding with protectionist shifts in policy is a very worrisome development for the U.S. and for the broader global economy,” added Roach.

Roach’s comments come against a background of Trump having campaigned on remedying a wide trade gap in favor of Beijing that he said was spurred by moves to artificially weaken the yuan and restrict entry into home markets. He has also angered China by taking a congratulatory phone call from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and calling into question the foundations of the “One China” policy. China is the world’s top holder of U.S Treasurys, and any major change in that stance would have broad macroeconomic impact. “The deeper question is less about the integrity of the leadership skills he can bring to the job, but how much scope for action he will have in the Trump administration … (after) Mr Trump has made some very strong statements about a number of critical foreign policy issues,” said Roach.

Roach also commented broadly on issues that will have to be resolved in the early phase of a Trump administration, including how a U.S. savings shortfall will be financed, suggesting choices of higher interest rates or a weak dollar as possibilities. He also expects a reassessment of Trump’s economic policies and outcomes in late 2017. As for Trump’s goals to shore up the battered manufacturing industries, Roach said Americans will have to pay a price for penalizing offshore operations. “As they bring those activities home, the cost of goods sold, the prices that go to American families who are hard strapped who voted for Mr. Trump, those prices are going to go up … We can’t have it both ways,”he said.

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Only, the author doesn’t really say how.

Trump May Be Turning China’s $1.16 Trillion Of Treasuries Into A Weapon (F.)

When Donald Trump talks about China devaluing its currency it’s difficult for investors to figure out exactly what he’s trying to convey. China, in fact, is trying to strengthen its own currency against the dollar as part of an effort to prevent capital from leaving the country. It leaves people uncertain whether Trump–who has access to people who know the capital markets and can point out his mistake–simply misunderstands what’s happening in global capital markets, or if he’s picking a fight with China. Trump’s decision to take a phone call Dec. 2 from Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen, sent off alarms in Beijing, and leaders there appear to be moving toward the conclusion that Trump is picking a fight. Trump’s response that the longstanding U.S. “one China” policy may be a bargaining chip in potential trade negotiations made matters worse.

China subsequently sent a bomber capable of carrying a nuclear payload outside its borders over the contested South China Sea in a show of force aimed at expressing displeasure with Trump’s posture. China held $1.16 trillion of U.S. government debt as of September, according to the most recent data available from the Treasury. That’s down by $100 billion from the year before. During that period Treasuries have actually rallied, with the benchmark 10-year note yield falling to 1.60% from 1.99%. China’s reduction in holdings didn’t hurt the bond market, as the economic stresses that led them to allocate cash away from Treasuries led other investors to seek out safety in the debt. China is well-positioned to use the bond market to show its displeasure with the U.S. in a manner that would be more than symbolic: it could sell more Treasuries. For the President-elect, who has plans to borrow to pay to ramp up infrastructure spending, that could cause real pain. The 10-year note yield has risen to a two-year high of 2.49% up from 1.88% on election day.

For more than a decade, politicians have expressed concern that China and other foreign government could use their significant stakes in Treasuries against the U.S. by dumping them on the market. Such a move would potentially drive borrowing costs throughout the U.S. sharply higher. Bond market conventional wisdom has been that this would be unlikely because it would reduce the value of the seller’s remaining reserves, weakening it’s own capital bulwarks against a future crisis. Trump’s pugnacity mixed with his seeming willingness to ignore facts contrary to his argument make it hard to assess his motives, which may scramble conventional thinking and raise the risks of an unorthodox response from China.

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Let the games begin.

China To Fine Unnamed US Automaker For ‘Monopolistic Behavior’ (R.)

China will soon slap a penalty on an unnamed U.S. automaker for monopolistic behavior, the official China Daily newspaper reported on Wednesday, quoting a senior state planning official. News of the penalty comes at a sensitive time for China-U.S. relations after U.S. president-elect Donald Trump called into question a long-standing U.S. policy of acknowledging that Taiwan is part of “one China”. Beijing maintains that self-ruled Taiwan is a wayward province of China and has never renounced the use of force to take it back. Investigators found the U.S. company had instructed distributors to fix prices starting in 2014, Zhang Handong, director of the National Development and Reform Commission’s price supervision bureau, was quoted as saying.

In an exclusive interview with the newspaper, Zhang said no one should “read anything improper” into the timing or target of the penalty. China, the world’s largest auto market, has become crucial to the strategies of car companies around the world, including major U.S. players General Motors and Ford. “We are unaware of the issue,” said Mark Truby, Ford’s chief spokesman for its Asia-Pacific operations. In a statement, GM said: “GM fully respects local laws and regulations wherever we operate. We do not comment on media speculation.”

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There’s just so much borrowing going on. And that was never the Chinese way.

Just Another Chinese Cash Crunch, But Bigger (BBG)

In markets where investors are highly leveraged, things tend to happen slowly at first, then fast. China is having one of those moments, and as with the 2008 crisis, it can’t be pinned on one event. On Monday, the Shanghai Composite Index sank 2.5%, then extended that decline Tuesday before rebounding to close little changed. The one-year government note yield rose 7 basis points to 2.72%, on top of Monday’s 15 basis-point increase. The root cause may be banks. There’s clearly a liquidity squeeze on Chinese lenders. Nothing new there: Financial institutions tend to face higher demand for cash in December, and this year that’s been exacerbated because Chinese New Year falls early – the holiday, when many people withdraw deposits to buy gifts and travel, begins Jan. 28.

Perhaps more important, banks also want to boost the deposits they can account for as of Dec. 31, when they close their books. Financial institutions struggled to meet a loan-to-deposit ratio ceiling of 75%, and that cap was scrapped in June. None of the banks wants to show that the amount they lend is completely disconnected from what they have in the coffers, however. Which may explain why short-term deposit rates are far higher than longer-term ones. In simple terms, this is a seasonal cash crunch. The issue is that this time it’s on steroids, because it comes after several months when the People’s Bank of China increased short-term rates. This boosted funding costs for wealth-management products and for investors using leverage to buy everything from stocks to bonds to iron ore. As some of the trades begin to offer negative returns, these investors are selling.

Curiously, Hong Kong is going through a similar issue because of the impending Federal Reserve rate increase. Then the vicious circle of leverage begins: Assets being sold drop below agreed levels, triggering margin calls – or the requirement that someone borrowing money to buy securities post more cash to back up the loan. To meet those calls, investors sell more of their securities, putting further pressure on prices and prompting new margin calls. The slump in Chinese stocks last year was exacerbated by just such a dynamic. Investors must now hope that China has learned the lesson from that rout and will use its pension funds to steady the market. Otherwise, if this selloff really is the result of a liquidity squeeze, it’s unlikely to stop before February, when people return from the holiday.

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And neither has the FBI.

Top US Spy Agency Has Not Embraced CIA Assessment On Russia Hacking (R.)

The overseers of the U.S. intelligence community have not embraced a CIA assessment that Russian cyber attacks were aimed at helping Republican President-elect Donald Trump win the 2016 election, three American officials said on Monday. While the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) does not dispute the CIA’s analysis of Russian hacking operations, it has not endorsed their assessment because of a lack of conclusive evidence that Moscow intended to boost Trump over Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, said the officials, who declined to be named. The position of the ODNI, which oversees the 17 agency-strong U.S. intelligence community, could give Trump fresh ammunition to dispute the CIA assessment, which he rejected as “ridiculous” in weekend remarks, and press his assertion that no evidence implicates Russia in the cyber attacks.

Trump’s rejection of the CIA’s judgment marks the latest in a string of disputes over Russia’s international conduct that have erupted between the president-elect and the intelligence community he will soon command. “ODNI is not arguing that the agency (CIA) is wrong, only that they can’t prove intent,” said one of the three U.S. officials. “Of course they can’t, absent agents in on the decision-making in Moscow.” The FBI, whose evidentiary standards require it to make cases that can stand up in court, declined to accept the CIA’s analysis – a deductive assessment of the available intelligence – for the same reason, the three officials said. [..] In October, the U.S. government formally accused Russia of a campaign of cyber attacks against American political organizations ahead of the Nov. 8 presidential election. President Barack Obama has said he warned Vladimir Putin about consequences for the attacks.

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That’s quite the claim. Especially since all western reporting contradicts even the possibility.

Lavrov Hints ISIS Recapture Of Palmyra Orchestrated By US (R.)

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said talks with the United States on Syria were at a dead end, and Islamic State’s advance to Palmyra may have been staged by the United States and its regional allies to allow Syrian rebels in Aleppo a respite. During a visit to Belgrade, Lavrov said Russia was ready to quickly negotiate with the United States the opening of corridors for the pullout of rebels from Aleppo, but said these would have to be agreed before any ceasefire happened. “Our American colleagues do, so to speak, agree with that, and from Dec. 3 when we met John Kerry in Rome they supported such a concept and even gave us their approval on paper,” Lavrov told reporters at a news conference with his Serbian counterpart on Monday.

“But after three days they revoked that agreement and returned to their old, dead-end position which comprises this: Before the agreement on corridors there has to be a truce… as I understand, this would just mean the rebels would get a break,” he said. Earlier in the day, a military source said the Syrian army was on the verge of announcing victory in its battle to retake rebel-held eastern Aleppo. The Syrian army made new advances on Monday after taking the Sheikh Saeed district, leaving rebels trapped in a tiny part of the city. Lavrov also said he believed that Islamic State’s seizure of Palmyra might have been engineered by the U.S.-led coalition to divert attention from Aleppo. “That leads us to a thought – and I am sincerely hoping I am wrong, that this is all orchestrated, coordinated to give a break to those bandits that are in eastern Aleppo,” he said.

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Robert Fisk suggests Lavrov may be on to something.

There Is More Than One Truth To Tell In The Awful Story Of Aleppo (Fisk)

[..] it’s time to tell the other truth: that many of the “rebels” whom we in the West have been supporting – and which our preposterous Prime Minister Theresa May indirectly blessed when she grovelled to the Gulf head-choppers last week – are among the cruellest and most ruthless of fighters in the Middle East. And while we have been tut-tutting at the frightfulness of Isis during the siege of Mosul (an event all too similar to Aleppo, although you wouldn’t think so from reading our narrative of the story), we have been willfully ignoring the behaviour of the rebels of Aleppo. Only a few weeks ago, I interviewed one of the very first Muslim families to flee eastern Aleppo during a ceasefire. The father had just been told that his brother was to be executed by the rebels because he crossed the frontline with his wife and son.

He condemned the rebels for closing the schools and putting weapons close to hospitals. And he was no pro-regime stooge; he even admired Isis for their good behaviour in the early days of the siege. Around the same time, Syrian soldiers were privately expressing their belief to me that the Americans would allow Isis to leave Mosul to again attack the regime in Syria. An American general had actually expressed his fear that Iraqi Shiite militiamen might prevent Isis from fleeing across the Iraqi border to Syria. Well, so it came to pass. In three vast columns of suicide trucks and thousands of armed supporters, Isis has just swarmed across the desert from Mosul in Iraq, and from Raqqa and Deir ez-Zour in eastern Syria to seize the beautiful city of Palmyra all over again.

It is highly instructive to look at our reporting of these two parallel events. Almost every headline today speaks of the “fall” of Aleppo to the Syrian army – when in any other circumstances, we would have surely said that the army had “recaptured” it from the “rebels” – while Isis was reported to have “recaptured” Palmyra when (given their own murderous behaviour) we should surely have announced that the Roman city had “fallen” once more under their grotesque rule. Words matter. These are the men – our “chaps”, I suppose, if we keep to the current jihadi narrative – who after their first occupation of the city last year beheaded the 82-year-old scholar who tried to protect the Roman treasures and then placed his spectacles back on his decapitated head.

By their own admission, the Russians flew 64 bombing sorties against the Isis attackers outside Palmyra. But given the huge columns of dust thrown up by the Isis convoys, why didn’t the American air force join in the bombardment of their greatest enemy? But no: for some reason, the US satellites and drones and intelligence just didn’t spot them – any more than they did when Isis drove identical convoys of suicide trucks to seize Palmyra when they first took the city in May 2015. There’s no doubting what a setback Palmyra represents for both the Syrian army and the Russians – however symbolic rather than military. Syrian officers told me in Palmyra earlier this year that Isis would never be allowed to return. There was a Russian military base in the city. Russian aircraft flew overhead. A Russian orchestra had just played in the Roman ruins to celebrate Palmyra’s liberation.

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The craziest thing I’ve seen in a long time.

How To Make A Profit From Defeating Climate Change (Carney/Bloomberg)

From rising sea levels to more severe storms and more intense droughts, climate change will present serious risks to, and create major opportunities for, nearly every industry. Citizens, consumers, businesses, governments, and international organisations are all taking action. And entrepreneurs are developing disruptive technologies that will create and destroy value. The challenge is that investors currently don’t have the information they need to respond to these developments. This must change if financial markets are going to do what they do best: allocate capital to manage risks and seize new opportunities. Without the necessary information, market adjustments to climate change will be incomplete, late and potentially destabilising.

Public policy, consumer demand and technological innovation are driving a shift towards a low-carbon economy. Which companies and industries are most, and least, dependent on fossil fuels? And who stands ready to provide resilient and sustainable infrastructure? Which financial institutions are best positioned to gain and which to lose? In every case, which firms have the governance, resources and the strategy to manage, and profit from, these major shifts? We believe that financial disclosure is essential to a market-based solution to climate change. A properly functioning market will price in the risks associated with climate change and reward firms that mitigate them. As its impact becomes more commonplace and public policy responses more active, climate change has become a material risk that isn’t properly disclosed.

In response to a G20 request to consider the financial stability risks, the Financial Stability Board created a taskforce on climate-related financial disclosures. Its purpose is to develop voluntary, consistent disclosures to help investors, lenders and insurance underwriters manage material climate risks. As befits a solution by the market for the market, the taskforce is led by members of the private sector from across the G20, including major companies, large investors, global banks and insurers. After a year of intensive work and widespread consultation its recommendations are now publicly available. They concentrate on the practical, material disclosures most relevant to investors and creditors and which can be compiled by all companies that raise capital as well as financial institutions.

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Poul Thomsen was always a disgrace.

Greece ‘Boxed In’ as EU and IMF Fight Over Nation’s Debt Relief Plan (G.)

The row over how to stabilise the indebted Greek economy has resurfaced with renewed vigour after the European Union on Tuesday angrily rejected charges by the IMF that its current rescue programme is “not credible”. The spectre of the country’s economic crisis flaring up again deepened as the extent of the differences between creditors was laid bare. Caught in the middle, Athens also ratcheted up the rhetoric, as its finance minister told the Guardian that the IMF was “economising with the truth”. “Greece is being boxed into a corner,” said Euclid Tsakalotos, claiming that the country was under intense pressure to specify new austerity measures that made “no economic or political sense”. The war of words intensified after the IMF issued a 1,300-word statement distancing itself from the economic policies underpinning the nation’s latest bailout.

The adjustment programme agreed last summer in exchange for €86bn (£72bn) worth of rescue loans – a plan the IMF has so far refused to support – was based on measures that were “unfriendly to growth”, wrote Poul Thomsen, who directs the IMF’s European department, and Maurice Obstfeld, its chief economist. “It is not the IMF that is demanding more austerity,” the officials argued in a blog published late on Monday. “If Greece agrees with its European partners on ambitious fiscal targets, don’t criticise the IMF … when we ask to see the measures required to make such targets credible.” Athens, they said, had agreed to achieve a budget surplus – where state tax income exceeds expenditure – of 3.5% of GDP once the bailout expired in 2018, a feat that was not feasible without further cuts, said the IMF.

On Tuesday, the European commission hit back, insisting that the economic fundamentals were not only sound, but working. “The European institutions consider that the policies of the ESM program are sound and if fully implemented can return Greece to sustainable growth and can allow Greece to regain market access,” said commission spokeswoman Annika Breidthardt. The plan, she added, had undergone “several parts of scrutiny”, and even the European court of auditors had provided feedback, which had been taken into account. [..] Hopes of a political breakthrough are now resting on meetings Tsipras will have later this week with German and French leaders. But on past form, lenders are unlikely to yield, and Greek officials are now worrying that the row could be the precursor of the IMF pulling out of the programme altogether.

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“s it likely when around 45% of pensioners receive monthly payments below the poverty line of €665, and almost 4 million people, that is more than a third of the population, have been classed as being at risk of poverty or social exclusion, that Greece’s main problem is that pensions and tax credit allowances are too generous?”

Tsipras To Propose To EU Leaders That IMF Be Excluded (Kath.)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is to suggest to European counterparts this week that the IMF should be left out of the Greek program, sources have told Kathimerini. Tsipras is expected to sound out Francois Hollande, who he is due to hold talks with Wednesday, and Angela Merkel, with whom he will have a working lunch on Friday, about the idea of the Fund no longer having a role in Greece’s bailout. If an agreement cannot be reached on this proposal, Tsipras will put forward the possibility of the IMF retaining just a technical role in the program. Athens believes that the political cost of the Fund remaining on board has become too high after the latest spat between the government and the organization, which flared up as the institutions returned to the Greek capital for further talks aimed at completing the bailout review.

The talks resumed under a cloud after the IMF’s European director Poul Thomsen and head of research Maurice Obstfeld published a blog post on Monday night in which they denied that the Fund was responsible for asking Greece to adopt more austerity measures and claimed that the country’s pensions and tax benefits are still too generous. Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos confronted the IMF mission chief Delia Velculescu over the blog post when talks between the Greek government and the institutions resumed in Athens Tuesday. Velculescu is said to have assured the Greek minister that the IMF did not want to make negotiations harder but simply to express its view.

A little earlier, Tsakalotos had publicly countered the claims made by the IMF officials in their article. “In effect [the Fund] is arguing for Greek pensioners and poorer wage earners to make further economies, while it economizes on the truth,” he told The Guardian. “Greek expenditure on both pensions and other subsidies is about 70% of the EU average and 52% of that of Germany. Is it likely when around 45% of pensioners receive monthly payments below the poverty line of €665, and almost 4 million people, that is more than a third of the population, have been classed as being at risk of poverty or social exclusion, that Greece’s main problem is that pensions and tax credit allowances are too generous?” he added.

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But of course they are short on anti-depressants too.

Crisis Leaves Greeks Gloomiest In Europe And Beyond (R.)

Greece’s debt crisis has made its population the unhappiest not only in western Europe but also in comparison with people in some former Communist countries, a study showed on Tuesday. The “Life in Transition” survey conducted by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the World Bank has questioned households across a broad region since 1991 as the Cold War came to an end, but Greece was included for the first time this year. Over 92% of Greeks said the debt crisis had affected them, with 76% of households suffering reduced income due to wage or pension cuts, job losses, delayed or suspended pay or fewer working hours.

Only one in 10 Greeks were satisfied with their financial situation and only 24% with life overall, compared with 72% in Germany and 42% in Italy, the two western European countries used as comparisons. The figure was 48% in post-communist countries. Austerity measures demanded by international creditors have been tough on Greeks. Pensions, for example, have been reduced by about a third since the crisis began in 2009. Only 16% of the respondents in Greece saw their situation improving over the next four years, compared with 48% in post-communist countries and 35 and 23% in Germany and Italy, respectively. “This signals that, despite the recent political changes and attempts at economic reforms that have taken place in the country, Greeks do not see their situation improving for the foreseeable future”, the report said.

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So that stops all fracking, right?!

Final EPA Study Confirms Fracking Contaminates Drinking Water (EW)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released its widely anticipated final report on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, confirming that the controversial drilling process indeed impacts drinking water “under some circumstances.” Notably, the report also removes the EPA’s misleading line that fracking has not led to “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.”The report, done at the request of Congress, provides scientific evidence that hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources in the United States under some circumstances,” the agency stated in a media advisory. This conclusion is a major reversal from the EPA’s June 2015 pro-fracking draft report. That specific “widespread, systemic” line baffled many experts, scientists and landowners who—despite the egregious headlines—saw clear evidence of fracking-related contamination in water samples.

Conversely, the EPA’s top line encouraged Big Oil and Gas to push for more drilling around the globe. But as it turns out, a damning exposé from Marketplace and APM Reports revealed last month that top EPA officials made critical, last-minute alterations to the agency’s draft report and corresponding press materials to soft-pedal clear evidence of fracking’s ill effects on the environment and public health. Thomas Burke, EPA deputy assistant administrator and science advisor, discussed the agency’s final report released Tuesday. “There are instances when hyrdofracking has impacted drinking water resources. That’s an important conclusion, an important consideration for moving forward,” Burke told reporters today, according to The Hill. Regarding the EPA’s contentious “national, systemic conclusion,” Burke said, “that’s a different question that this study does not have adequate evidence to really make a conclusive, quantified statement.”

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Small state, but big chunk of ice.

A Crack In Antarctica Is Forming An Iceberg The Size Of Delaware (PopSci)

An iceberg the size of Delaware is starting to break away from Antarctica. It began with a small crack, but has now grown 70 miles long and more than 300 feet wide. When it reaches the edges of the ice sheet, the state-sized chunk will drift away into the sea. The crack is a third of a mile deep—reaching all the way to the sea below. It’s a relatively new rift in the ice sheet, called Larsen C, but is following in its icy brethren’s footsteps: Larsen A and B both broke away from the main Antarctic sheet in the last two decades in much the same way. All three began with clefts in the ice and eventually floated away to disintegrate. That dramatic a cleft is unusual—it’s more common for ice sheets to slowly break up along the edges and fall in smaller chunks. Only in the last half century has it become common for the Antarctic to form these dramatic fault lines, and scientists say global warming is likely to blame.

NASA has been monitoring the Larsen ice sheets since Larsen A broke off in 1995. Larsen B followed it in 2002, and Larsen C is expected to go the same way soon. Operation IceBridge has surveyed the polar ice caps annually for the past eight years as a way to track changes in the glaciers and ice sheets. The MIDAS Project, a U.K.-based research group, first reported the Larsen C rift in 2014 and has kept a watchful eye on it ever since. [..] The more than 2,400 square miles that is likely to break away from Larsen C will only be about 12% of the ice sheet’s total area. But once that part comes loose, the MIDAS Project predicts that the rest of the sheet could become unstable and completely disintegrate. The crack is growing steadily and shows no signs of stopping, though the break won’t happen immediately. It takes much longer for ice sheets to break up—unlike many human relationships, this one will last through the holiday season.


A rare ice crack not formed by that squirrel from the Ice Age movies – NASA/John Sonntag

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Oct 182016
 
 October 18, 2016  Posted by at 9:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Russell Lee Hollywood, California. Used car lot. 1942

US Bondholders Risk a $1.1 Trillion Hit if Rates Spike (BBG)
US First Home Buyers Even More Leveraged Than During Housing Bubble (MW)
China’s Bad Credit (Balding)
Foreigners Shun Gilts On Hard Brexit Talk, As Hallowe’en Verdict Awaits (AEP)
The Cashless Society Is a Creepy Fantasy (BBG)
Greece in 2050: A Country For Old Men (Kath.)
Judge Rejects Riot Charges For Journalist Amy Goodman On Pipeline Protest (G.)
State Department Official Pressured FBI To Declassify Clinton Email (R.)
RBS Backtracks Over Closure Of RT Bank Accounts (RT)
The Odor of Desperation (Jim Kunstler)
Pentagon Backtracks, Voices Caution On Latest Yemen Missile Incident (R.)
We Have To Begin To Look Outside. Because There Is More Out There (Adam Curtis)

 

 

As Gilts sell off… Very reassuring.

US Bondholders Risk a $1.1 Trillion Hit if Rates Spike (BBG)

First they came for the yield, then they came for the duration. A Goldman Sachs analysis says investors could be mired in a world of pain if yields on long-dated assets snap higher. Just a modest backup in rates could inflict outsized losses on bond portfolios — a sobering prospect in light of the recent jump in longer-dated bond yields that’s already eating into bondholders’ capital returns. A 1% increase in interest rates could inflict a $1.1 trillion loss to the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Index, analysts at Goldman calculate, representing a larger loss for bondholders than at any other point in history. With the bank predicting the selloff in bonds has further to run, that remains “far from a tail scenario,” its analysts write.

Bets on longer-maturity obligations had paid off handsomely for most of the year amid a global bond rally triggered by expectations that weak economic activity will persuade central banks in advanced economies to postpone tightening monetary policy. Asset purchases by the BOJ, BOE and the ECB helped the average maturity of new U.S. corporate bonds climb to a peak of 11.3 years in August. With average bond maturities worldwide now more than double the inflation-adjusted level of 2009, and three times that of 1994, Goldman says there’s an elevated risk of losses if rates spike higher. “We see potential for the rates market to continue to sell off, and the notional amount of duration dollars at risk is unprecedentedly large,” Goldman fixed-income analysts, led by Marty Young, wrote in the report on Monday.

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“..lack of affordability. “We have our eye on the wrong ball..”

US First Home Buyers Even More Leveraged Than During Housing Bubble (MW)

Ever since the shock of the financial crisis ebbed and buyers began to return to the housing market, one truth has dominated: mortgage lending is tight. But is it? It’s true that only the borrowers with the highest credit scores get home loans now. So much lending to people with higher credit scores and so little to those on the lower end of the spectrum has shifted the average FICO score up about 40 points since before the bubble burst. But measured in another way, lending is shockingly loose. And, according to one economist, that tells us a lot not just about the housing market, but about the economy as a whole. The 20% down payment may linger in Americans’ imagination, but it’s even less real today than Jimmy Stewart’s small-town banker from 1946.

American homeowners, particularly those at the lower end of the market, are increasingly leveraged to pay for their houses, says Sam Khater, deputy chief economist at data provider CoreLogic. In fact, owners of entry-level homes, those in the $150,000 to $300,000 range — have more debt and less equity now than they did in 2005, at the height of mortgage mania. For Khater, that says less about credit markets and more about another defining feature of the post-recession housing market — its lack of affordability. “We have our eye on the wrong ball,” he told MarketWatch. “What I worry about is the leverage not from a default perspective but from an affordability perspective. Demand for credit has been weak. But the much bigger issue is the supply of housing, not supply of credit.”

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Swaps won’t rescue China’s bad debt. It’s just multiple state-owned firms selling each other the things.

China’s Bad Credit (Balding)

There is good news when it comes to China’s scary and still-growing pile of debt: At least the government recognizes the problem. Its attempts to mitigate those risks, however, seem doomed to fall short. The government’s recent decision to create a market for credit default swaps is a case in point. The idea, as elsewhere, is to give banks and investors a means of pricing and trading the risk of Chinese companies defaulting on their debts. The need is obvious: Official measures of non-performing loans are worsening, while unofficial estimates say their share may have reached anywhere from 8% to 20%. Anything that spreads that risk should improve financial stability. Yet, as envisioned, this new CDS market is unlikely to do much to improve the situation.

For one thing, all but the largest companies already have to purchase credit insurance when taking out loans from giant state banks. There’s no pricing differential on this insurance, of course. But for the new system to function effectively, the government would have to let markets freely set the price of credit risk. China doesn’t exactly have a stellar record of allowing markets to set prices in any field, whether in stocks, real estate or currencies. If credit default swaps started to indicate a rising risk of default at a major state-owned company, it’s hard to imagine officials wouldn’t intervene to reverse that impression. This is dangerous on multiple levels. Already, several Chinese credit insurance firms have collapsed because they underestimated credit risk, forcing government bailouts. Continuing to underprice risk will only encourage the over-allocation of credit that’s gotten China into trouble thus far.

There’s also little reason to think that creating a CDS market would shift risk away from the most vulnerable banks. In a heavily concentrated banking and lending market such as China, where major financial institutions all trade with each other, swaps are likely to produce no net change to risk levels. Think of a simple example. Assume that Bank A has loans totaling 100 billion yuan but wants to protect itself against the risk of default by buying a CDS from Bank B that covers these companies. Now assume that Bank B does the same to cover its 100 billion yuan of loans, with A as the counter-party. If we assume these are similar baskets of loans – a reasonable assumption for major banks within a single country – then there’s been no net change in credit risk for either bank.

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It doesn’t get much more serious than this: “The UK faces a balance of payments crisis..”

Foreigners Shun Gilts On Hard Brexit Talk, As Hallowe’en Verdict Awaits (AEP)

The bond vigilantes are sharpening their knives. The last five trading sessions have seen a sudden and potentially ominous shift in the reflexes of the Gilts market, a sign that ‘hard Brexit’ rhetoric has rattled global debt managers. “For the first time, foreign investors are beginning to question the credit-worthiness of the United Kingdom,“ said Vatsala Datta, UK rates strategist at RBC. We will find out how serious it is on October 31 – Hallowe’en day – when the UK Debt Management Office publishes its monthly data on foreign holdings of Gilts. Central banks, sovereign wealth funds, and the like, currently hold £503bn of British public debt or 27pc of the total, a bigger share than UK pension funds and insurance companies.

Yields on 10-year Gilts have spiked by 62 basis points to 1.14pc from their trough in August. Until last week this was pure a ‘reflation trade’, a turbo-charged variant of what has been happening in the US and other parts of the world as markets price in accelerating global growth and a commodity rebound. Britain got a double-dose because the sharp fall in sterling automatically pushed up the likelihood of future inflation, and that is what bondholders hate most. It is easy to measure the inflation component of moves by tracking how the ‘break-even inflation rate’ rises in tandem with the headline bond yield. “The correlation was exact. It has now broken down,” said Ms Datta. Break-even rates stopped rising last week, yet this time Gilt yields spiked higher, a divergence of 18 basis points.

RBC said the pattern in the interlocking currency and debt markets is clear: sterling is no longer trading like a bona fide reserve currency. “The parallel sell-off in gilts and sterling is potentially a worrying development, consistent with the UK’s having growing difficulty funding its internal and external deficits,” it said. What typically happens when a blue chip currency like the US dollar or the Swiss franc falls is that central banks and fund managers buy more of that country’s bonds to keep a constant weighting. This is a mechanical practice. It happens unless managers take a conscious decision to override their model. It is why foreign holdings of UK Gilts have risen by 20pc over the last year, and why they surged at an even faster rate after the referendum.

This foreign rush into Gilts happened not in spite of the falling pound, but because of it. All of a sudden this has stopped. Loose proxies such as ‘swap spreads’ suggest an outright exodus from Gilts even as the pound weakens. It is symptomatic that the Japanese bank Nomura has issued a string of tough reports about what could happen if the British government opts to leave the EU single market, warning that an erratic UK can no longer count on the “kindness of strangers” to fund its current account deficit. “The UK faces a balance of payments crisis,” it says, menacingly.

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“..if we’re going to cite unlawful transactions as a rationale for banning cash, it only makes sense to ban banks and accounting firms first.”

The Cashless Society Is a Creepy Fantasy (BBG)

It’s fun to imagine a world without cash. Liberated from the burden of physical currency, consumers could make purchases from the convenience of a mobile device. Every transaction would come equipped with fraud protection, reward points and a digital record of its time and location. Comprehensive tracking could help the Internal Revenue Service reclaim billions of tax dollars lost to unreported income, like the $80 I made selling a used refrigerator on Craigslist. Drug dealers, helpless without an anonymous medium of exchange, would acquire wholesome professions. El Chapo might become a claims adjuster. Such is the utopia recently described by Nathan Heller in the New Yorker and by a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, Kenneth Rogoff, in a new book, “The Curse of Cash.”

But this universe is missing one of the fundamental aspects of human civilization. A world without cash is a world without money. Money belongs to its current holder. It doesn’t matter if a banknote was lost or stolen at some point in the past. Money is current; that’s why it’s called currency! A bank deposit, however, grants custody of money to the bank. An account balance is not actually money, but a claim on money. This is an important distinction. A claim is only as good as its enforceability, and in a cashless society every transaction must pass through a financial gatekeeper. Banks, being private institutions, have the right to refuse transactions at their discretion. We can’t expect every payment to be given due process.

This means that politically unpopular organizations could easily be deprived of economic access. Past attempts to curb money laundering have already inadvertently cut off financial services for legitimate individuals, businesses, and charities. The removal of paper currency would undoubtedly leave similar collateral damage. The crime-fighting case against cash is overstated. Last year, a risk assessment of money laundering and terrorist financing conducted by the U.K. government found that regulated institutions such as banks (like HSBC) and accountancy service providers (like the Panamanian tax-shelter specialist Mossack Fonseca) posed the highest risk of facilitating the illicit storage or movement of funds. Cash came in a close third, but if we’re going to cite unlawful transactions as a rationale for banning cash, it only makes sense to ban banks and accounting firms first.

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Extrapolating trends is a pretty much useless exercise.

Greece in 2050: A Country For Old Men (Kath.)

By 2050, Greece’s population is expected to shrink by 800,000 to 2.5 million people to between 8.3 and 10 million, and one in three of its residents will be over the age of 65 (30-33% compared to the present 21% and 7% in 1951), while under-14s will represent just 12-14.8% from 15% today and 28% in 1951. This dystopian view of the country – with empty schools and offices – emerges from a recent study on Greece’s demographic prospects, presented by the Athens-based Dianeosis research organization. The study explored eight different scenarios, all of which calculated a significant drop in the population by 2050. The most optimistic saw a reduction of 800,000 people and the rapid aging of society. The median age is seen reaching 49-52 years from 44 today and 26 in 1951.

By then, the study says, 50-year-olds will be the young ’uns. The number of school-age children (3-17) will drop from 1.6 million today to 1.4 million in the optimistic scenario and 1 million in the pessimistic one and the economically active population will shrink from 4.7 million people today to between 3 and 3.7 million, meaning that a much lower number of people will be able to work to cover the country’s needs. The study by Dianeosis reflects trends that are already being noted: On January 1, 2015, Greece’s population came to 10.8 million from 11.1 million in 2011, marking the first time since 1951 that the number of the country’s residents has gone down.

There are three factors that affect population fluctuations – births, deaths and migration – which can be separated into two categories, the natural process of births and deaths, and the migration factor, which includes both inflows and outflows. Today, births are decreasing and deaths going up due to sliding standards of living and a crumbling public healthcare system. Meanwhile, the outflow of mainly young Greeks and foreigners from the country is on the rise, while, despite the arrival of thousands of migrants, the crisis is preventing their numbers from being made up by fresh inflows.

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It helps when politicians actually know the law.

Judge Rejects Riot Charges For Journalist Amy Goodman On Pipeline Protest (G.)

A North Dakota judge rejected prosecutors’ “riot” charges against Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman for her reporting on the oil pipeline protests, a decision that advocates hailed as a major victory for freedom of the press. After the award-winning broadcast journalist filmed security guards working for the Dakota access pipeline using dogs and pepper spray on protesters, authorities issued a warrant for Goodman’s arrest and alleged that she participated in a “riot”, a serious offense that could result in months in jail. On Monday, judge John Grinsteiner ruled that the state lacked probable cause for the riot charge, blocking prosecutors from moving forward with the controversial prosecution.

“I feel vindicated. Most importantly, journalism is vindicated,” Goodman told reporters and supporters on a live Facebook video Monday afternoon. “We have a right to report. It’s also critical that we are on the front lines. Today, the judge sided with … freedom of the press.” The case stems from a 3 September report when Goodman traveled to the Native American-led protest against a controversial $3.8bn oil pipeline that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe says is threatening its water supply and cultural heritage. Goodman’s dispatch on the use of dogs went viral and has since garnered 14m views on Facebook and also prompted coverage from many news outlets, including CBS, NBC, NPR and CNN.

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I picked the Reuters take on this. There are many others, some much more negative. The crux: This is getting way out of hand. Trying to interfere with classified material is crazy and desperate. And very illegal.

State Department Official Pressured FBI To Declassify Clinton Email (R.)

A senior State Department official sought to shield Hillary Clinton last year by pressuring the FBI to drop its insistence that an email on the private server she used while secretary of state contained classified information, according to records of interviews with FBI officials released on Monday. The accusation against Patrick Kennedy, the State Department’s most senior manager, appears in the latest release of interview summaries from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s year-long investigation into Clinton’s sending and receiving classified government secrets via her unauthorized server.

Although the FBI decided against declassifying the email’s contents, the claim of interference added fuel to Republicans’ belief that officials in President Barack Obama’s administration have sought to protect Clinton, a Democrat, from criminal liability as she seeks to succeed Obama in the Nov. 8 election. The FBI recommended against bringing any charges in July and has defended the integrity of its investigation. Clinton has said her decision to use a private server in her home for her work as the U.S. secretary of state from 2009 to 2013 was a mistake and has apologized. One FBI official, whose name is redacted, told investigators that Kennedy repeatedly “pressured” the various officials at the FBI to declassify information in one of Clinton’s emails.

The email was about the deadly 2012 attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, and included information that originated from the FBI, which meant that the FBI had final say on whether it would remain classified. The dispute began in the summer of 2015 as officials were busy reviewing the roughly 30,000 emails Clinton returned to the State Department ahead of their court-ordered public release in batches in 2015 and 2016. The official said the State Department’s office of legal counsel called him to question the FBI’s ruling that the information was classified, but the FBI stood by its decision. Soon after that call, one of the official’s FBI colleagues received a call from Kennedy in which Kennedy “asked his assistance in altering the email’s classification in exchange for a ‘quid pro quo.'”

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From the Times (behind paywall): “The state-owned bank withdrew its planned punitive action after Moscow claimed it would freeze the BBC’s finances in Russia and report Britain to international watchdogs for breaching commitments to freedom of speech.”

RBS Backtracks Over Closure Of RT Bank Accounts (RT)

The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) appears to have backtracked from its earlier statement that the looming closure of RT accounts is not up for discussion. In a letter to RT, the bank said the situation is being reviewed and the bank is contacting the customer. The e-mailed response began with apologies for the delay in the reply. These decisions are not taken lightly. We are reviewing the situation and are contacting the customer to discuss this further. The bank accounts remain open and are still operative,” Sarah Hinton-Smith, Head of Corporate & Institutional, Commercial & Private Media at RBS Communications, wrote. However, the response by Hinton-Smith contradicted an earlier statement by RBS, which said that the decision to suspend banking services to RT was final and not up for discussion.

The broadcaster addressed the Royal Bank of Scotland representative over the contradiction, pointing out that “your statement seems to suggest that the bank will contact RT and that there will be a review and further discussion.” “There’s not much more of a steer I can give other than what is in the statement,” Hinton-Smith replied via email. Earlier Monday, the National Westminster Bank (NatWest), which is part of RBS Group, informed RT UK’s office in London that it will no longer have the broadcaster among its customers, without providing any explanation for the decision.

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“..the fact that the US polity now so desperately has to fight for survival shows how frail its legitimacy is.”

The Odor of Desperation (Jim Kunstler)

It must be obvious even to nine-year-old casual observers of the scene that the US national election is hacking itself. It doesn’t require hacking assistance from any other entity. The two major parties could not have found worse candidates for president, and the struggle between them has turned into the most sordid public spectacle in US electoral history. Of course, the Russian hacking blame-game story emanates from the security apparatus controlled by a Democratic Party executive establishment desperate to preserve its perks and privileges . (I write as a still-registered-but-disaffected Democrat).

The reams of released emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, and other figures in HRC’s employ, depict a record of tactical mendacity, a gleeful eagerness to lie to the public, and a disregard for the world’s opinion that are plenty bad enough on their own. And Trump’s own fantastic gift for blunder could hardly be improved on by a meddling foreign power. The US political system is blowing itself to pieces. I say this with the understanding that political systems are emergent phenomena with the primary goal of maintaining their control on the agencies of power at all costs. That is, it’s natural for a polity to fight for its own survival. But the fact that the US polity now so desperately has to fight for survival shows how frail its legitimacy is.

It wouldn’t take much to shove it off a precipice into a new kind of civil war much more confusing and irresolvable than the one we went through in the 1860s. Events and circumstances are driving the US insane literally. We can’t construct a coherent consensus about what is happening to us and therefore we can’t form a set of coherent plans for doing anything about it. The main event is that our debt has far exceeded our ability to produce enough new wealth to service the debt, and our attempts to work around it with Federal Reserve accounting fraud only make the problem worse day by day and hour by hour. All of it tends to undermine both national morale and living standards, while it shoves us into the crisis I call the long emergency.

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If anything ever smelled like a flase flag, it was this. Mere days after the world turned on the US and its Saudi friends for bombing a funeral procession, the Houthis supposedly shot at a US destroyer, missed by a mile and a half, and next thing you knew all of a sudden the US was itself involved in the so-called war, which is really just slaughter.

Pentagon Backtracks, Voices Caution On Latest Yemen Missile Incident (R.)

The Pentagon declined to say on Monday whether the USS Mason destroyer was targeted by multiple inbound missiles fired from Yemen on Saturday, as initially thought, saying a review was under way to determine what happened. Any determination that the USS Mason guided-missile destroyer was targeted on Saturday could have military repercussions, since the United States has threatened to retaliate again should its ships come under fire from territory in Yemen controlled by Iran-aligned Houthi fighters. The United States carried out cruise missile strikes against radar sites in Yemen on Thursday after two confirmed attempts last week to hit the USS Mason with coastal cruise missiles. “We are still assessing the situation. There are still some aspects to this that we are trying to clarify for ourselves given the threat – the potential threat – to our people,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told a news briefing.

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Unfortunately, Curtis’ film Hypernormalization is for now still only available in Britain. Far as I know.

We Have To Begin To Look Outside. Because There Is More Out There (Adam Curtis)

Power is all around us. It’s just that it has shifted and mutated into a massive system of management and control, whose tentacles reach into all parts of our lives. But we can’t see it because we still think of power in the old terms – of politicians telling us what to do. The aim of the film I have made – HyperNormalisation – is to bring that new power into focus, and show its true dimensions. It ranges from a giant computer high up in the mountains of northeast America that manages and controls over 7% of the worlds total wealth, to the complex algorithms that constantly monitor every move and choice you make online, to modern scientific ideas about what the normal human being should be – in their weight and in their feelings and moods.

What links all these systems is an overriding aim is to keep the world stable. To avoid all change. The giant computer constantly compares events happening around the world to events in the past. If it sees a dangerous pattern, it immediately adjusts its trillions of dollars to keep things stable. That is real power. The algorithms on social media constantly look at the patterns of what you like and then feed you more of that – so you enter into an echo chamber that constantly feeds you back to you. So again nothing changes – and you learn nothing new that would contradict how you feel. That too is real power. What results is a system which cocoons us and makes us feel safe. And that means we have become terrified of all change.

But that fear of change is in the interest of a system that wants to hold everything stable. And stops us from ever challenging it. But it is impossible to keep things frozen forever. The world is dynamic. Things happen that you can never predict just by reading the past. This is why more and more we are being hit by events – the horror in Syria, Brexit, Trump, the waves of refugees – that neither we nor our leaders have the mental map to understand let alone deal with. Because we have bought into the dream that the world can be held stable and safe. The short film I have made for VICE is about how, if you pull back and look at the everyday life all around you, you can see the cracks appearing through the shiny surface of the cocoon we are living in.

So much of the modern world is beginning to feel odd, unreal and sometimes fake. I think these are the dynamic forces outside beginning to pierce through as the system begins to fail. It will fail – because a system of power that has no vision of the future can never last. It cannot deal with change. We have to begin to look outside. Because there is more out there…

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Jan 222016
 
 January 22, 2016  Posted by at 9:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle January 22 2016
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DPC The steamer Cincinnati off Manhattan 1900

Two Refugee Boats Sink off Greek Islands; At Least 21 Dead (GR)
At Least 12 Refugees Killed In New Tragedy Off Turkey (AFP)
Japanese Stocks Surge by Most in 4 Months In ‘Short Squeeze Galore’ (BBG)
Japan Must Let Zombie Companies Die (BBG)
China Shares Struggle Higher On Global Stimulus Hopes (Reuters)
Draghi’s Groundhog Day Heralds Seven Weeks of ECB Market Dialog (BBG)
A Scared World Is Taking Its Money And Running Back Home – and to the US (BBG)
Battered Emerging Markets Race to Stem Outflows (WSJ)
US Is Hiding -Saudi- Treasury Bond Data That’s Suddenly Become Crucial (BBG)
Is Something Blowing Up In OIL? (ZH)
Trillions Could Be Lost In British Housing Bubble Collapse (WMN)
Hundreds Of Mountain Tops Leveled To Make Way For The New Silk Road (Forbers)
Glory Days Of Chinese Steel Leave Behind Abandoned Mills And Broken Lives (G.)
Italy Could Trigger Europe’s Next Financial Crisis (Stratfor)
IMF Demands EU Debt Relief For Greece Before New Bailout (Guardian)
Capital Controls Cut Greek Exports By €3.5 Billion In 6 Months (Kath.)
Over 120,000 Greek Homes Close To Repossession (Kath.)
One Third of Greeks Cannot Afford Heating Or Hot Water (KTG)
Greece Demands That Refugees Declare Final EU Destination (Reuters)
Germany Takes Refugees’ Valuables ‘To Pay For Their Stay’ (Local)

And these f**king clowns are partying in Davos?

Two Refugee Boats Sink off Greek Islands; At Least 21 Dead (GR)

Two boats carrying refugees and migrants from Turkey to Greece have sunk in the Aegean, leaving 21 dead with six children among them. In two separate incidents off the Greek islands of Kalolymnos and Farmakonisi, at least 21 people lost their lives dead, while dozens were saved by the Hellenic Coast Guard. In the Kalolymnos island area, a boat carrying an unknown number of refugees and migrants sank, despite the good weather conditions. The coast guard rescue boats pulled 14 dead out of the water and managed to rescue 26 people so far.

According to survivors, more than 50 people were aboard the vessel. Rescue efforts continue. Earlier, on another similar incident off Farmakonisi island, seven refugees drowned with six of them being children. According to the coast guard, the refugees were aboard a wooden boat that crashed on rocks. As a result a woman and six children lost their lives. A Frontex boat and a Hellenic Coast Guard boat rushed on the spot and managed to rescue an underage girl. The remaining passengers had managed to reach the coast safely.

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That’s a total of at least 33 deaths overnight.

At Least 12 Refugees Killed In New Tragedy Off Turkey (AFP)

At least 12 migrants were killed and several more went missing Thursday when their boat sank while trying to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey to EU member Greece, Turkish media reports said. The boat, carrying some 50 migrants, struck trouble after leaving the western Turkish resort of Foca in the Izmir region for the Greek island of Lesvos. Twenty-eight people were saved while up to dozen more are still feared missing, NTV television said.

Turkey, which is home to some 2.2 million refugees from Syria’s civil war, has become a hub for migrants seeking to reach Europe, many of whom pay people smugglers thousands of dollars for the risky crossing. Ankara reached an agreement with the EU in November to stem the flow of refugees heading to Europe, in return for financial assistance. Brussels vowed to provide €3 billion as well as political concessions to Ankara in return for its cooperation in tackling Europe’s worst migrant crisis since World War II. But onset of winter and rougher sea conditions do not appear to have deterred the migrants, with boats still arriving on the Greek islands daily.

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Yeah, central banks offered some ‘hope’ too, but that‘s not it: some ‘barrier’ in the markets got triggered big time. Is it that Japan fell into bear territory yesterday?

Japanese Stocks Surge by Most in 4 Months In ‘Short Squeeze Galore’ (BBG)

Japanese stocks surged by the most in four months as investors weighed prospects for central bank stimulus and bought back into a bear market to cover short positions. The Topix index jumped 5.6% to 1,374.19 at the close in Tokyo, the most since Sept. 9 and paring its worst monthly loss since October 2008. The Nikkei 225 Stock Average soared 5.9% to 16,958.53, also supported by a report the Bank of Japan is considering extra monetary easing. Global equities halted losses on the brink of a bear market as oil rallied and the ECB signaled it may boost stimulus. “We’re seeing short squeeze galore,” said Mikey Hsia at Sunrise Brokers. “Much of this is technical. Japan has had big moves for three days in a row now – it’s becoming common.”

All of the 33 Topix industry groups rose, led by developers, oil explorers and harbor transporters. Volume was 21% above the 30-day average. The index still closed down 2% for the week. [..] The Topix’s 14-day relative strength index closed at 21.29 Thursday, below the level of 30 that some traders say indicates shares will rise. When the measure slid to 24.4 on Jan. 12, the Topix jumped 2.9% the next day. Bearish bets on Tokyo’s stock exchange accounted for more than 40% of total trading value on Thursday. [..] The Japanese gauges fell into a bear a bear market on Wednesday. The Nikkei 225 previously entered a bear market in June 2013, after plunging 20% in less than a month. The gauge soon rebounded, rallying 31% from its low on June 13, 2013, through the end of that year.

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FoxConn is reportedly preparing a bid for Sharp.

Japan Must Let Zombie Companies Die (BBG)

[..] one day, in May 2015, you open your newspaper and see that Sharp has been bailed out by two of Japan’s largest banks, Mizuho Bank and Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi. These banks are themselves backed by government bailout guarantees, meaning that Sharp has been indirectly rescued by the government – a prime example of the zombie-firm phenomenon that economists have been complaining about for decades. With those cheap bank loans, the ailing Japanese giant can afford to keep putting out TVs at fire sale prices, making no profit but squeezing your own margins. But you soldier on. The bank bailout does nothing to improve Sharp’s corporate strategy — the company’s managers are content to drag out the status quo for as long as possible.

Eventually, you think, Sharp will quit, the market will become less crowded, and your innovative products and manufacturing processes will be rewarded with bigger profit margins. Then, in January 2016, the Japanese government steps directly into the fray. The Innovation Network Corp. of Japan offers to bail out Sharp with an injection of 200 billion yen (about $1.7 billion). INCJ, which is funded by industrial giants but backed by government guarantees, will keep Sharp’s struggling LCD division alive and merge it with a rival, Japan Display Inc., itself a consortium of large corporations. Faced with this kind of firepower, there is no way you can stay in the market. Nor can you expect a similar bailout – you employ only 100 people, while Sharp employs 50,000.

You fold your startup and move across the Pacific to Silicon Valley, following in the footsteps of other Japanese entrepreneurs. The story of this young Japanese entrepreneur is fictitious, though there are some real-world parallels. But the part about the Sharp bailouts – first by the banks and now by the government – is all too true. Japan Inc. looks dead set on keeping the flailing electronics giant alive. That will keep the market flooded with artificially cheap Sharp products – mobile phones, solar panels, air conditioners, printers, microwave ovens and a host of other items. Entrepreneurs looking to use the Japanese market as a launching pad for innovative products and processes will find themselves blocked by zombies.

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Beijing needs to get cautious about its reassuring statements. It’s about credibility.

China Shares Struggle Higher On Global Stimulus Hopes (Reuters)

China’s fragile shares rose modestly on Friday, showing only a muted response to hints of more policy stimulus in Europe and Japan, which prompted a rally in battered oil prices and global equities. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index was up 0.6% in the early afternoon, recovering a little of Thursday’s sharp losses. The CSI300 index of the largest listed companies in Shanghai and Shenzhen was also up 0.6%. The indexes veered between positive and negative territory in the morning, with little volume behind the trading. Investors appear increasingly reluctant to risk their money on China’s fickle markets, which have slumped about 17-18% so far this year, and morning gains have often turned to losses by close of day as traders quickly take profits.

Highlighting the lack of faith in the markets, trading volumes in January have been about a third of typical levels last year, which only exaggerates price movements. On Thursday, Vice President Li Yuanchao sought to reassure investors that Beijing would use regulations to prevent volatility in a market that was “not yet mature”. “An excessively fluctuating market is a market of speculation where only the few will gain the most benefit when most people suffer,” Li, who is attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, said in an interview with Bloomberg. Measured by actions rather than words, regulators’ attempts to curb volatility, notably a new circuit breaker mechanism that was ditched after three days of violent falls, have conspicuously failed. The stock markets and China’s yuan currency have come under pressure as a raft of economic indicators have confirmed the country’s declining growth, putting the world’s second-largest economy at the top of global investors’ worry list along with plunging crude oil prices.

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That stupid inflation focus is a killer.

Draghi’s Groundhog Day Heralds Seven Weeks of ECB Market Dialog (BBG)

Once again, Mario Draghi has given himself a month and a half to convince investors he’ll do what’s needed to reignite consumer prices. This time he may hone the message more. The ECB president’s hint that policy makers will bolster stimulus on March 10 raises the prospect of the Governing Council delivering another expansion to its €1.5 trillion bond-buying program, including potentially taking it into new asset classes. Emphasizing the ECB’s ambition to reporters on Thursday, Draghi said that there are “no limits” to how far officials will go to safeguard their inflation goal. “It’s a bit like Groundhog Day,” said Carsten Brzeski at ING-Diba in Frankfurt, reminiscing about the 1993 Bill Murray comedy. “The only question is, will he fulfill the dreams of markets this time around, or will he disappoint again?”

Draghi’s comments herald seven weeks of expectation management as officials hope to better guide some investors stung by the result of the last meeting of 2015, when fresh stimulus fell short of predictions stoked at the previous decision. While the president didn’t elaborate on how he plans to better explain things this time round, he also didn’t exclude that officials had a role in an outcome that sent bond yields and the euro surging. “Communication is a two-way affair,” Draghi said. “It’s very hard to put the blame of some disappointment on one side only.” His challenge has become tougher. With an inflation rate that hasn’t been near the goal of just under 2% in three years, and China’s economic slowdown increasingly dragging on global trade and disrupting markets, the 25-member Governing Council risks being seen as too slow and cumbersome.

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Long predicted: the USD is coming home.

A Scared World Is Taking Its Money And Running Back Home – and to the US (BBG)

A tide of money went out to emerging markets for more than a decade, pushed by accommodative monetary policy in the U.S. and pulled by the promise of robust growth. Now that tide is coming back in as investors seek to repatriate funds or flock to U.S.-dollar denominated assets as a safe haven amid sluggish economic growth and global market turmoil. “There are around $47 trillion in private and official investment abroad and far too many that wish to retreat home or to the U.S.,” writes Deutsche Bank Macro Strategist Sebastien Galy in a report titled “The Retreat of Global Balance Sheets.” “These flows are triggered in good part by a recognition that emerging markets’ potential growth is slowing down structurally without enough compensating growth in developed economies.”

The broad implications of this is that liquidity will be starved in parts of the emerging markets but ample in advanced economies and that the U.S. dollar and euro should benefit, the latter more so from direct investments than from portfolio inflows. In some respects, emerging markets have become victims of their own success, notes Galy, who explains how we reached this point: “Growth is easier initially in an emerging economy as each additional unit of capital and labor offers a high return. As the economy grows their returns diminish as the relatively inefficient services sector grows relative to manufacturing. Intervening against currency appreciation accelerates this transition by importing easier Fed policy. But with a mispricing of capital, it typically leads to an over usage, inefficiencies and in some cases excessive domestic valuations. As growth slows down structurally, the promises of ever stronger growth fades leaving investors potentially with unsustainable debt levels.”

China, which has seen its marginal return on credit growth continue to shrink, is perhaps the poster child for the sequence Galy describes. This course of events has led Beijing to begin drawing down on its foreign reserves, which are primarily composed of U.S. debt, in a move that puts upward pressure on U.S. Treasury yields and has the opposite effect on the value of the dollar. This dynamic, however, is swamped by the appetite for Treasuries from the private sector, says the strategist. [..] Repatriation will be fueled primarily by portfolio outflows from riskier emerging market positions and sovereign wealth fund liquidations. Since U.S. investors have far and away the highest stock of foreign equity ownership, this trend is also conducive to more greenback strength.

In fact, Galy found that “during the rapid rise in the dollar in 2015, the foreign exchange hedging decision had a clear causal and feedback loop on the spot price.” That is, as the dollar rose, more investors chose to use hedged equity exchange-traded funds, which provided an impetus for further gains in the greenback.

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But they can’t.

Battered Emerging Markets Race to Stem Outflows (WSJ)

A number of emerging markets are taking a risky approach to dealing with growing pressure on their currencies: They’re trying to ban it. Oil-dependent Azerbaijan said this week it would slap a 20% tax on any transaction that takes money out of the country. Saudi Arabia told banks with branches there to stop allowing traders to make certain bets on further depreciation of its currency, the riyal. Nigeria recently halted imports of goods including rice and toothpicks and imposed spending limits on credit and debit cards denominated in foreign currency. The capital controls are aimed at deterring or slowing the outflow of money and reducing the downward pressure on currencies that traders are betting have farther to fall.

But they also risk exacerbating the problem by driving away foreign investors who bristle at limitations on the flow of capital and hurting businesses that need to hedge. “It’s a sign of economic weakness and a dramatic shift in terms of trade, and it also increases the risk premium because of the policy uncertainty,” said George Hoguet at State Street Global Advisors. How emerging markets will manage a massive outflow of capital, weakness in their currencies and a swollen debt burden is a major question hanging over the global economy. Trillions of dollars flowed into emerging markets in the years after the financial crisis. But slowing growth in China and a collapse in oil and other commodity prices has reversed the tide.

Emerging markets suffered record net outflows of $732 billion in 2015, with China accounting for the bulk of that, according to the Institute of International Finance. Their currencies, meanwhile, weakened an average 17.6% against the dollar last year, according to money manager Ashmore Group, and the trend has shown no signs of letting up. The Russian ruble, Mexican peso and Colombian peso all hit record lows against the dollar on Wednesday. Emerging-market currencies fell 3% in the first two weeks of 2016.

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Bonkers.

US Is Hiding -Saudi- Treasury Bond Data That’s Suddenly Become Crucial (BBG)

It’s a secret of the vast U.S. Treasury market, a holdover from an age of oil shortages and mighty petrodollars: Just how much of America’s debt does Saudi Arabia own? But now that question – unanswered since the 1970s, under an unusual blackout by the U.S. Treasury Department – has come to the fore as Saudi Arabia is pressured by plunging oil prices and costly wars in the Middle East. In the past year alone, Saudi Arabia burned through about $100 billion of foreign-exchange reserves to plug its biggest budget shortfall in a quarter-century. For the first time, it’s also considering selling a piece of its crown jewel – state oil company Saudi Aramco. The signs of strain are prompting concern over Saudi Arabia’s outsize position in the world’s largest and most important bond market.

A big risk is that the kingdom is selling some of its Treasury holdings, believed to be among the largest in the world, to raise needed dollars. Or could it be buying, looking for a port in the latest financial storm? As a matter of policy, the Treasury has never disclosed the holdings of Saudi Arabia, long a key ally in the volatile Middle East, and instead groups it with 14 other mostly OPEC nations including Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Nigeria. For more than a hundred other countries, from China to the Vatican, the Treasury provides a detailed breakdown of how much U.S. debt each holds. “It’s mind-boggling they haven’t undone it,” said Edwin Truman, the former Treasury assistant secretary for international affairs during the late 1990s. Because relations were rocky and the U.S. needed their oil, the Treasury “didn’t want to offend OPEC. It’s hard to justify this special treatment for OPEC at this point.”

For its part, the Treasury “aggregates data where more detailed reporting might disclose the positions of individual holders,” spokeswoman Whitney Smith said. While that position is consistent with the International Investment and Trade in Services Survey Act, which governs disclosures of investments made by foreign persons and governments, and shields individuals in countries where Treasuries are narrowly held, it hasn’t kept the Treasury from disclosing figures for a whole host of other countries – large and small. They range from the $3 million stake held by the Seychelles, to the $69.7 billion investment from the oil-producing economy of Norway, and those of China and Japan, which are both in excess of $1 trillion. Apart from the kingdom itself, only a handful of Treasury officials, and those at the Federal Reserve who compile the data on their behalf, have a clear picture of Saudi Arabia’s U.S. debt holdings and whether they’re rising or falling. For everyone else, it’s a guessing game.

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“Even after [yesterday’s] drop, OIL is still at a roughly 20% premium to its underlying index.”

Is Something Blowing Up In OIL? (ZH)

A week ago we warned of some insane movements and mysterious bid in OIL (the Barclays iPath oil tracking ETN) as it traded a stunning 36% rich to its underlying NAV. Well with oil resurgent today, as contracts roll, something just imploded in OIL…

As Barrons noted, the sharp performance divergence stems from the ETN’s massive price premium over the value of the index it tracks. Pravit Chintawongvanich, head derivatives strategist at Macro Risk Advisors, notes that OIL’s premium rose sharply in recent days and accelerated to 48% by Wednesday’s close. He told Barron’s that institutional traders noticed the extreme premium and are now betting against OIL on the premise that the unusually large premium will revert to normal.

Trading volume in OIL was already more than triple the average over the past month on Thursday with three hours left in the trading day. Even after today’s drop, OIL is still at a roughly 20% premium to its underlying index. Chintawongvanich says that it’s not too late for investors who own OIL to ditch it for USO: “You don’t want to be stuck holding the bag when this drops to NAV.” Simply put – retail moms and pops who piled into OIL without thinking about NAV or technical flows just got f##ked! As we concluded previously, The current situation is eerily reminiscent to the heyday of the mortgage market in 2007, when mortgage defaults started to pick up, and yet the credit default swaps that tracked them continued to decline, bringing losses to those brave enough to trade against the crowd.

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Not could, will.

Trillions Could Be Lost In British Housing Bubble Collapse (WMN)

It is interesting how the Brits’ fascination with property has evolved over time. At present prices, UK residential property is now ‘worth’ about £5 trillion (£5,000 billion) and about 65% is owner occupied. Commercial property, all those shops, factories, offices, plant is ‘only’ £400 billion. The London Stock Exchange, which includes multinational giants with most of their assets and income overseas, is only worth £2.25 trillion. British Government Bonds are £1.5 trillion. There is approximately £700 billion of cash on deposits held by individuals.

It is interesting how something in which we live – and costing us considerable upkeep – has become so significant in terms of our societal structure. I am very alarmed at the excessive price levels of the average ‘home’ but our governments must be concerned that so much of our economics are impacted by what is happening in housing – and the confidence of those who own it. We should all never forget that over-reliance upon one economic asset, a simple box in which to live, however pretty or comfortable, does not make it immune from irrational excess and frankly, the figures are all out of kilter regardless of the lack of enough new homes being built and the insatiable demand for them – apparently (but never forget that all the people here at the moment do have somewhere to live).

[..] the order of asset values should perhaps be: stock market (the base of all our commerce), residential property, commercial property, government bonds. You can see the model requires some considerable re-balancing but perhaps a doubling of the stockmarket is more unlikely than a halving of the value of homes (though the latter would still constitute significant ‘value’ though I shouldn’t wish even to countenance what that would mean for the economy and bad debts). Sadly though, this may be the necessary adjustment required to return to ‘normality’ so watch-out as each could indeed arise.

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Man’s respect for his planet.

Hundreds Of Mountain Tops Leveled To Make Way For The New Silk Road (Forbers)

“Four years ago, all mountains,” my local driver Li Wang said as we putted slowly forward in his diminutive, beaten and battered old Japanese car through the newly built-up downtown of Lanzhou New Area (LNA). This is a place where hundreds of mountain tops have been removed to make flat land for development — an initiative which surely ranks among the most extreme undertakings in the history of urbanization. Lanzhou, the 3.6 million person provincial capital of western China’s Gansu province, was once a big market town on the ancient Silk Road, and there is now a major movement underway to revive this historic relevance. Strategically located on the geographic and cultural cusps between the Chinese heartland and Central Asia, Lanzhou is again being utilized as a gateway to the west, and is being primed to be a major hub of the Silk Road Economic Belt.

The Silk Road Economic Belt is the land-based half of China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative that will facilitate the creation of a colossal network of new highways, rail lines, logistics and industrial zones, pipelines, power plants, sea ports, administrative centers, and new cities that will stretch from East Asia to Western Europe, spanning 60 countries and over half of the world’s GDP. I was on my way out to see where some of this New Silk Road infrastructure was going to be built, riding along the new six lane highway that extended over an expanse of perfectly flat land through the center of LNA. On both sides of the road were arrays of nearly identical 30-story high-rises packed neatly within their respective 500X500 meter plots. Dozens of these complexes were lined up in bunches, amounting to hundreds of towers and tens of thousands of new apartments.

This was a planned city, a giant grid branded onto the parched desert silt, devised by urban designers who seemed to deify the right angle, and built in a singular blast of development. Most of the buildings of this new city were still empty, but it was evident that life here was starting to simmer. Some of the apartment complexes had opened and residents had already moved in; there were people walking on the sidewalks and cars in the streets. Shops were beginning to open. Li Wang took great pride in pointing out the almost ridiculous amount of banks that lined the main drag. Sprinklers showered the bare desert in hopes that something would grow. An excessive amount of gigantic jumbotrons — mainstays in new Chinese cities — were switched on, blasting promotional videos from the development companies and the local government about the great things they were building here. Just a few years ago none of this existed; it was all mountains.

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“China is blessed with the strong and long-term focused leadership of President Xi Jinping, the best leader in the world … With his leadership, we can deal with the inevitable risks and volatilities arising out of the transition.”

Glory Days Of Chinese Steel Leave Behind Abandoned Mills And Broken Lives (G.)

A billboard on the motorway into China’s steel capital evokes the golden era of the country’s blistering economic rise. “Gathering great wealth!” it boasts. “Business wins the future!” But at the Fufeng steel plant on the outskirts of Tangshan, a once booming industrial hub about 200km south-east of Beijing, there is scant sign of those glory days. Since Fufeng’s owners declared bankruptcy early last year – laying off about 2,000 workers and sparking protests in the process – weeds and rust have begun to consume the steel mill’s industrial ruins. “There’s nobody here – just us,” said one of three security guards braving snow and sub-zero temperatures to watch over the dilapidated facility, which, like many others in the region, has been forced out of business by massive over-capacity and plummeting demand.

Tangshan, a city of about seven million inhabitants in Hebei, China’s steel-making heartlands, was levelled by a devastating 1976 earthquake that is said to have claimed 250,000 lives. But it rose from the ashes to become a heavy-industry powerhouse, propping up a massive Chinese construction boom and churning out more steel in 2014 than the United States. Those days now appear over, as concerns mount over the health of China’s economy and its possible impact on the rest of the world, and Beijing fights to reinvent the world’s second-largest economy and clear its smog-choked skies, in turn piling the pressure on heavily polluting steel plants.

Since China began ramping up efforts to slash steel over-capacity and transition to a more sustainable, consumption-led economic model, some corners of Tangshan’s once bustling industrial sprawl have taken on the appearance of ghost towns. [..] “Things are bleak,” said one retired mill worker who lives in Kua Number One village, just beside Fufeng. Another man, who works at the nearby Guofeng mill, which is still operating, but only just, claimed his monthly pay had been cut by 25%. “Life is really hard right now,” he complained. “Everything here is about steel. If it shuts down, it’s over. If our mill closes, we will have no land, no money and no work,” said the 52-year-old father of one, who declined to give his name.

This week, China announced that its economy last year grew at its slowest rate in 25 years, contributing to fears of an accelerated slowdown that could affect financial markets across the world. On Thursday, Fang Xinghai, a Stanford-educated top economic adviser to president Xi Jinping, attempted to reassure the world over his country’s ability to avoid a hard landing that would have severe consequences for the global economy. “China is blessed with the strong and long-term focused leadership of President Xi Jinping, the best leader in the world,” Fang, the former deputy head of the Shanghai Stock Exchange, told the Wall Street Journal. “With his leadership, we can deal with the inevitable risks and volatilities arising out of the transition.”

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How will the ECB try to solve this with Hollande stating that France is in an economic emergency?

Italy Could Trigger Europe’s Next Financial Crisis (Stratfor)

In the current period of uncertainty, Italy – particularly its banks – appears to be the victim of the moment. The Italian banking index is down 18% this year, and Italy’s third-largest and most historically troubled bank, Monte dei Paschi, has lost 50% of its value during the same period. The most dramatic drops have taken place this week. The Italian stock market regulator has deemed it necessary to ban short selling on Monte dei Paschi stock in an attempt to prevent speculators from benefiting by driving it lower, yet it continues to fall. As is so often the case with the markets, these actions are rooted in fact but with a layer of sentiment on top. Italy’s banks are indeed troubled; their non-performing loans amount to more than €200 billion, and Monte dei Paschi had an extremely weak balance sheet long before a 2013 derivatives scandal dealt it another blow.

But those non-performing loans have been growing ever since 2008, and that growth has slowed of late. Italy’s banking crisis has long been brewing, and the markets appear to be taking it seriously for the first time since ECB President Mario Draghi defused the last market panic by promising to do “whatever it takes to save the euro” in mid-2012. Either way, the market sell-off could seriously damage Italy’s economy. New regulations brought in at the start of the year heighten the risk of a bank run because investors and depositors must now bear the pain of an Italian bank going bust. This is a strong incentive for a bank’s depositors and investors to move their funds elsewhere if they believe the bank is in danger (sentiment plays a role again), and there are reports that Monte dei Paschi depositors are doing just that.

Italy and the European institutions must now look for ways to reverse the sentiment that is making Italian banks the victims and reassure the markets of the banks’ safety. The drastic way of achieving this would be a government bailout, but this is unlikely both because of the new rules and because bailouts typically occur when a crisis is in a more developed state. Another way would be persuading another Italian bank to buy Monte dei Paschi and take on its risky assets at a discount, thereby reassuring the market that Italy’s largest problem is now solved. This is possible in theory, though the travails of banks that bought their weaker peers in the crisis of 2008 might make it a hard sell for potential suitors.

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And the EU won’t give it.

IMF Demands EU Debt Relief For Greece Before New Bailout (Guardian)

The EU will need to provide significant debt relief for Greece if it is to persuade the IMF to put its financial clout behind the country’s third bailout package, the Washington-based organisation has said. After what was described as a cordial meeting between the IMF’s managing director, Christine Lagarde, and the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, the fund said it was only prepared to support the recession-ravaged eurozone country on a strings-attached basis. It said Greece had to be prepared to implement a tough package of economic reform and the country’s eurozone partners had to be willing to write down Greece’s debts.

The IMF took part in the first two Greek bailouts but is concerned that, at 175% of GDP, Greece’s debts are too burdensome and will prevent a lasting recovery. Lagarde told Tsipras the IMF regarded reform of Greece’s pension system, which accounts for 10% of GDP, as vital. The IMF said of the talks: “The managing director reiterated that the IMF stands ready to continue to support Greece in achieving robust economic growth and sustainable public finances through a credible and comprehensive medium-term economic programme. “Such a programme would require strong economic policies, not least pension reforms as well as significant debt relief from Greece’s European partners to ensure that debt is on a sustainable downward trajectory.” The Greek government said the talks had been sincere.

Earlier in the day, Tsipras told Davos he was committed to reforming the Greek economy, which lost 25% of its GDP through austerity programmes which sent jobless rates to twice the eurozone average. But he criticised Europe’s insistence on lowering budget deficits, saying: “We must all understand that, next to balanced budgets, we must also have growth … We need to be more realistic, and show more solidarity too.” The German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, appeared unimpressed by Tsipras’s call for greater solidarity, and suggested he needed to deliver on the promises made to creditors. “My advice is, if we want to make Europe stronger we should implement what we agreed to implement. We can simply say, ‘implementation, stupid’,” Schäuble said.

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The EU leaves behind only rubble.

Capital Controls Cut Greek Exports By €3.5 Billion In 6 Months (Kath.)

From end-June to November 2015, the capital controls cost Greek exports, and therefore the economy in general, some €3.5 billion, or 2 %age points of the country’s GDP, according to an analysis of Bank of Greece data by the Panhellenic Exporters Association. In addition to the €1.88 billion net loss in takings in the first 11 months of last year compared with the year before, exports are believed to have missed out on another €1.65 billion as according to the course set in the first half of the year, the momentum would have seen exports swell considerably in 2015.

At the same time, the transactions terms between Greek enterprises and foreign partners (clients or suppliers) remain very tough, according to the exporters. Furthermore, foreign clients of Greek companies are delaying payments as the local firms are at a disadvantage and cannot exert pressure on them. In 2015 foreign companies extended the payment time for Greek exports by an average of 13 days compared to 2014. The ratio of payments to declared exports dropped to 96.27% in 2015, from 98.48% in 2014, the Bank of Greece data showed. The value of exported goods came to €23.6 billion last year while payments came to just €22.7 billion.

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Who’s better off when all these people are evicted? BTW, you think Tsipras is going to throw them out on the street?

Over 120,000 Greek Homes Close To Repossession (Kath.)

An estimated 122,700 households in Greece are facing the threat of losing their homes due to accumulated loan and tax obligations that they cannot pay, a survey by Marc research company for the Hellenic Confederation of Professionals, Craftsmen and Merchants showed on Thursday. Households’ fears are on the rise due to a change in the legislative framework concerning repossessions valid as of January 1 that has made the criteria for acquiring protection status stricter. A great number of households surveyed (36.3%) said that they live on up to €10,000 per year, which is the lowest income bracket. This is up from 34.4% in 2014 and 28.1% in 2013. Of particular concern is the finding that more than half of the households polled (51.8%) have a pension as their main source of income, up from 42.3% in 2012. Just 6.1% of respondents said they have a business activity as the main source of income, less than half of the share recorded in 2012 (12.6%).

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Dire straits.

One Third of Greeks Cannot Afford Heating Or Hot Water (KTG)

Residents in several underprivileged suburbs of Athens and Piraeus have seen their economic situation to have dramatically deteriorate and consequently also their living standards. According to a survey conducted by the Greek Ombudsman: one in five residents seeks soup kitchens and social groceries in order to get food. Three in ten have no heating and hot water. One in four living in apartment buildings have not turn on the radiators since 2010. The survey has been conducted in 2015 and in Kypseli, Ano Patisia and Agios Panteleimonas districts of Athens as well as in Nikaia-Rendis and Perama suburbs of Piraeus. 17% of the residents of these areas have experienced electricity and/or water outage due to unpaid bills. One in four had to make debt arrangements with the Power or Water company in order to gain again access to electricity and/or water.

Almost half (48.5%) said that in the last five years, they have faced difficulties in the repayment of debts to banks, credit cards, taxes, rents, building maintenance cost, tutor schools and schools. One in six (17%) said that they have experienced power/water outage and one in four (23.4%) said that they live in apartment buildings where the central heating does not operate for economic reasons. 80.2% said that their need for heating in winter and cooling in summer is not covered. 29.2% said that their needs for heating/cooling, cooking, hot water, refrigerator and electricity are not covered due to economic reasons. 35.03% use electricity for heating (electric radiator or A/C), 33.09% use heating oil, 9.04% use natural gas, 8.47% use firewood and 7.34% use LPG. 17% said that they had no telephone landline, 23.2 had no personal computer and 27.7% had no internet access.

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All I can think is: poor people. Children freezing to death, caught between politicians playing a power game, who care nothing about human lives.

Greece Demands That Refugees Declare Final EU Destination (Reuters)

Migrants and refugees arriving in Greece must state their final destination to travel further into the European Union, a Greek police source told Reuters on Thursday, following moves by neighbouring states to quell migrant flows. Serbia on Wednesday said it would deny migrants access to its territory unless they planned to seek asylum in Austria or Germany. “As of today, the final destination – as stated by the migrants – will be registered in the official documents,” the official said without disclosing the reason for the decision.

It was not clear whether the refugees would be banned from travelling further depending on their final destination. But most migrants were expected to state Austria or Germany, refugee agency officials said. Greece, a main gateway to Europe for migrants crossing the Aegean sea, has faced criticism from other EU governments who say it has done little to manage the flow of hundreds of thousands of people arriving from Turkey on its shores. Austria wants to cap the number of people it allowed to claim asylum this year at less than half last year’s figure, it said on Wendesday. It has said it would bar all migrants intending to pass through its northern neighbour Germany to other western European countries.

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Sure, why not. They haven’t lost enough yet.

Germany Takes Refugees’ Valuables ‘To Pay For Their Stay’ (Local)

Germany’s southern states are confiscating cash and valuables from refugees after they arrive, authorities in Bavaria confirmed on Thursday. “The practice in Bavaria and the federal rules set out in law correspond in substance with the process in Switzerland,” Bavarian interior minister Joachim Herrmann told Bild on Thursday. “Cash holdings and valuables can be secured [by the authorities] if they are over €750 and if the person has an outstanding bill, or is expected to have one.” Authorities in Baden-Württemberg have a tougher regime, where police confiscate cash and valuables above €350. The average amount per person confiscated by authorities in the southern states was “in the four figures,” Bild reported.

By confiscating valuables, the states are implementing federal laws, which require asylum seekers to use up their own resources before receiving state aid. “If you apply for asylum here, you must use up your income and wealth before receiving aid,” Aydan Özoguz, the federal government’s integration commissioner, told Bild. “That includes, for example, family jewellery. Even if some prejudices persist – you don’t have it any better as an asylum seeker as someone on unemployment benefit,” Özoguz added. [..] Only the Left party (Die Linke) criticized the confiscations, with MP Ulla Jelpke telling Der Tagesspiegel that “those who apply for asylum are exercising their basic rights [under the German Constititution]. “That must not – even if they are rejected – be tied up with costs,” she argued.

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Jan 162016
 
 January 16, 2016  Posted by at 9:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle January 16 2016
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DPC Union Station, Worcester, Massachusetts 1906

US Stocks Post Worst 10-Day Start To A Year In History (MW)
What Goes Up, Comes Down Considerably Faster (ZH)
Wall Street Hemorrhages As Oil Tumbles And China Fears Deepen (Reuters)
Weak US Data Deluge Points To Sharply Slower Growth (Reuters)
A Recession Worse Than 2008 Is Coming (Michael Pento)
Looming Recession Shifts Fed Support From Equities To Dollar, Banks (Brodsky)
Global Earnings Downgrades Haven’t Been This Bad in Seven Years (BBG)
Retail Sales in U.S. Decrease to End Weakest Year Since 2009 (BBG)
Wal-Mart to Shut Hundreds of Stores (BBG)
A New Year Of Turmoil For China (WaPo)
Currency War Revival Seen After Yen, Euro Rally (BBG)
One Year On, ‘Franckenschock’ Still Hurts Swiss (CNBC)
America’s Student-Debt Crisis Is Only Getting Worse (MW)
MH-17’s Unnecessary Mystery (Robert Parry)
Toxic Chemicals In Scottish Waters Wiping Out Killer Whales (Scotsman)
Baby Found Dead On Greece Migrant Boat (AP)

History being written.

US Stocks Post Worst 10-Day Start To A Year In History (MW)

U.S. stocks closed sharply lower Friday, locking in the worst 10-day start to a calendar year ever, as oil prices plunged and investors worried about slowing growth in the U.S. During the course of the session, the S&P 500 broke below its Aug. 24 low—which several market strategists said would be tantamount to a major sell signal—to trade at its lowest level since October 2014. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was briefly down as much as 537 points. Oil appeared to be the main driver of concern. Both the U.S. and global benchmarks settled below $30 a barrel, as investors feared that supplies will continue to rise as Iran prepares to enter the market ad Russia continues pumping oil to help support its flagging economy.

”There’s not a lot of people willing to take their foot off the gas and prices are adjusting accordingly,” said David Meier, portfolio manager at Motley Fool Asset Management. “As a result of that you’re seeing fear just creep in.” The Dow slumped 390.97 points, or 2.4%, to 15,988.08, while the S&P 500 slid 44.85 points, or 2.3%, to 1,876.99, led lower by the financial, technology and energy sectors. The Nasdaq Composite tumbled 126.59 points, or 2.7%, to 4,488.42. All Dow components ended in negative territory, as were all 10 sectors on the S&P 500. Selling began in China after official data showed that new bank loans were lower than expected in December as lenders sharply curtailed activity amid worries about slowing growth and bad debt.

In a bid to boost liquidity, China’s central bank said it pumped $15 billion of funds into the market via a medium-term lending facility on Friday. The Shanghai Composite dropped 3.5% and is down 20% from a Dec. 22 high, which by one definition puts it in a bear market. All of this was exacerbated as options stopped trading ahead of their expiration on Saturday. Dave Lutz, head of ETFs at JonesTrading, said because of how the market was positioned, options dealers needed to sell more futures to hedge their positions as stocks fell.

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Yeah, those are real losses. Transitory is no longer a valid term.

What Goes Up, Comes Down Considerably Faster (ZH)

What goes up, comes down considerably faster. For global stocks, Bloomberg notes, the way down ($15 trillion lost in 7 months) has been much easier than the climb up ($30 trillion added in 4 years).

With markets from Asia to Europe entering bear markets this month, stocks worldwide have lost more than $14 trillion, or 20%, in value from a record last June amid worries over global growth and deepening oil declines. The pace of the drop has been so fast that it has already unraveled about half of the rally since a low in 2011. And here is a bonus chart from Bank of America, which looks at the S&P on an equal weighted basis, to avoid such aberrations as the collapsing market breadth phenomenon, also known as FANG. Spot the symmetry.

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“Initially when oil was down, the convenient line was ‘Well, it’s good for the other nine sectors’.. [..] Now, it’s contagion to Main Street and Wall Street.”

Wall Street Hemorrhages As Oil Tumbles And China Fears Deepen (Reuters)

Wall Street bled on Friday, with the S&P 500 sinking to its lowest since October 2014 as oil prices sank below $30 per barrel and fears grew about economic trouble in China. Pain was dealt widely, with the day’s trading volume unusually high and more than a fifth of S&P 500 stocks touching 52-week lows. The major S&P sectors all ended sharply lower. The Russell 2000 small-cap index dropped as much as 3.5% to its lowest since July 2013. The energy sector dropped 2.87% as oil prices fell 6.5%, in part due to fears of slow economic growth in China, where major stock indexes also slumped overnight. The energy sector has lost nearly half its value after hitting record highs in late 2014. “Initially when oil was down, the convenient line was ‘Well, it’s good for the other nine sectors’,” said Jake Dollarhide, CEO of Longbow Asset Management.

“That tune has changed. Now, it’s a contagion to the other nine sectors. It’s a contagion to Main Street and Wall Street.” The technology sector was the day’s biggest loser, sliding 3.15% as weak quarterly results from chipmaker Intel weighed heavily on chip stocks. The S&P 500 has fallen about 12% from its high in May, pushing it into what is generally considered “correction territory.” China’s major stock indexes shed over 3%, raising questions about Beijing’s ability to halt a sell-off that has now reached 18% since the start of the year. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 2.39% to end at 15,988.08 and the S&P 500 fell 2.16% to 1,880.33. The Nasdaq Composite lost 2.74% to 4,488.42. For the week, the Dow fell 2.2%, the S&P 500 lost 2.2% and the Nasdaq dropped 3.3%. U.S. stock exchanges will be closed on Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, while China’s equity markets will be open.

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And this is news to whom, exactly?

Weak US Data Deluge Points To Sharply Slower Growth (Reuters)

U.S. retail sales fell in December as unseasonably warm weather undercut purchases of winter apparel and cheaper gasoline weighed on receipts at service stations, the latest indication that economic growth braked sharply in the fourth quarter. The growth picture was further darkened by other data on Friday showing industrial production fell in December, dragged down by cutbacks in utilities and mining output. Business inventories were also weak, posting their biggest drop in just over four years in November. Signs the economy has hit a soft patch – together with weak inflation, a stock market sell-off and faltering global growth – raises doubts on whether the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates again in March. The Fed lifted its benchmark overnight interest rate from near zero last month, the first rate hike in nearly a decade.

“The economy got hit from all sides in December. If these weak data keep going into 2016, the outlook is going to grow even dimmer given the recent financial market turbulence and the fears over what a slowdown in China means for the rest of the world,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG Union Bank in New York. The Commerce Department said retail sales slipped 0.1% after increasing 0.4% in November. For all of 2015, retail sales rose just 2.1%, the weakest reading since 2009, after advancing 3.9% in 2014. Retail sales excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services fell 0.3% after a 0.5% gain the prior month. These so-called core retail sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product.

Though another report from the University of Michigan showed its consumer sentiment index rose to 93.3 early this month from a reading of 92.6 in December, households were less upbeat about current conditions, reflecting the recent equity market turmoil. Friday’s reports joined weak data on construction, manufacturing and export growth in suggesting that growth slowed abruptly in the final three months of 2015. They could raise fears that the malaise from manufacturing and export-oriented sectors was filtering to the rest of the economy.

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“Now that this debt bubble is unwinding, growth in China is going offline”

A Recession Worse Than 2008 Is Coming (Michael Pento)

The S&P 500 has begun 2016 with its worst performance ever. This has prompted Wall Street apologists to come out in full force and try to explain why the chaos in global currencies and equities will not be a repeat of 2008. Nor do they want investors to believe this environment is commensurate with the dot-com bubble bursting. They claim the current turmoil in China is not even comparable to the 1997 Asian debt crisis. Indeed, the unscrupulous individuals that dominate financial institutions and governments seldom predict a down-tick on Wall Street, so don’t expect them to warn of the impending global recession and market mayhem. But a recession has occurred in the U.S. about every five years, on average, since the end of WWII; and it has been seven years since the last one — we are overdue.

Most importantly, the average market drop during the peak to trough of the last 6 recessions has been 37%. That would take the S&P 500 down to 1,300; if this next recession were to be just of the average variety. But this one will be worse. A major contributor for this imminent recession is the fallout from a faltering Chinese economy. The megalomaniac communist government has increased debt 28 times since the year 2000. Taking that total north of 300% of GDP in a very short period of time for the primary purpose of building a massive unproductive fixed asset bubble that adds little to GDP. Now that this debt bubble is unwinding, growth in China is going offline.

The renminbi’s falling value, cascading Shanghai equity prices (down 40% since June 2014) and plummeting rail freight volumes (down 10.5% year over year), all clearly illustrate that China is not growing at the promulgated 7%, but rather isn’t growing at all. The problem is that China accounted for 34% of global growth, and the nation’s multiplier effect on emerging markets takes that number to over 50%. Therefore, expect more stress on multinational corporate earnings as global growth continues to slow. But the debt debacle in China is not the primary catalyst for the next recession in the United States. It is the fact that equity prices and real estate values can no longer be supported by incomes and GDP. And now that the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing and zero interest-rate policy have ended, these asset prices are succumbing to the gravitational forces of deflation. The median home price to income ratio is currently 4.1; whereas the average ratio is just 2.6.

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An inevitable development that we’ve long predicted.

Looming Recession Shifts Fed Support From Equities To Dollar, Banks (Brodsky)

Investors are blaming Fed rate hikes, and hence a strong dollar, for weakening global output, commodity prices, and global equity prices so far in 2016. The Fed knows exactly what it’s doing. Equity returns are certainly dismal thus far in 2016. Through January 14 at 14:00PM EST, the MSCI World Index had declined by 8.6%. Accordingly, “the markets” had begun to doubt the Fed’s resolve to hike rates four times in 2016. Fed funds futures implied the December Fed Funds rate at 0.70%, up only 34 basis points from the current rate (0.36%). This implies the market is betting the Fed will hike once or twice more. Clearly, investors see the equity markets as the leading indicator of Fed policy. We disagree.

The Fed no longer works implicitly for equity investors (i.e., “the Fed Put”); it is primarily working for the U.S. banking system by stabilizing and increasing its deposit base, and for the state by providing an incentive across the world to invest in Treasury debt. By raising rates, it increases the exchange value of the U.S. dollar. We have argued that global output growth would have to naturally decline given the extraordinary leverage already built into the global economy, leaving observers to acknowledge in 2016 that recession is near. We have argued further that the Fed is very aware of an imminent global slowdown, and that a logical strategy in such an environment would be for it to import global capital by keeping the dollar un-challenged as a store of value.

We would like to reiterate and refine our view: despite increasing discomfort among equity investors, we think the Fed will remain resolute in its effort to maintain or increase the interest rate differential between U.S. and foreign sovereign rates. The one thing that would change the Fed’s current policy would be if global growth shows signs of increasing – not decreasing. If the world economy were to strengthen then the Fed’s incentive to keep the dollar strong would fade. Investors should consider this meaningful shift in policy when deciding how to allocate across asset classes. As we noted in The Pain Trade last year, falling long-term Treasury yields are the last thing speculative (i.e., levered) investors expect. Following this week’s auctions, it may be time for them to cover shorts.

“Global equity markets are suffering so far in 2016 because the Fed’s primary policy has shifted from protecting asset prices to protecting the exchange value of the dollar. Buy USDs and Treasuries”

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Bubbles have limited lifespans.

Global Earnings Downgrades Haven’t Been This Bad in Seven Years (BBG)

Stocks are losing their last line of defense. Amid a selloff that erased more than two years of gains – about $14 trillion – from global stocks now on the brink of a bear market, at least earnings stood as a potential bright spot. Those hopes are fading: analyst profit downgrades outnumbered upgrades by the most since 2009 last week, according to monthly data from a Citigroup index that tracks such changes. Declines in oil and and other commodities, the withdrawal of Federal Reserve support, Europe’s fragile recovery and China slowdown fears are combining to jeopardize one of the few remaining stock catalysts after a global rally of as much as 156% since 2009. And profit growth estimates are still too high for this year and 2017, says Bankhaus Lampe’s Ralf Zimmermann.

“The momentum in the global economy is slowing down to such an extent that people are seriously talking about recession,” said Zimmermann, a strategist at Bankhaus Lampe in Dusseldorf. “This is not just China, it’s far more widespread. There are few places to hide. Even defensives will feel the pain.” Economists’ projections for worldwide expansion in 2016 have dropped steadily in the past months to just 3.3%, with estimates for China and the U.S. falling since the summer. The biggest bears are getting more bearish – DoubleLine Capital’s Jeffrey Gundlach sees global growth slowing to just 1.9% in 2016, making it the worst year since the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2009.

This earnings season may not provide much reassurance, say strategists at JPMorgan. Analysts project a 6.7% contraction in fourth-quarter profits for Standard & Poor’s 500 Index members. For peers in Europe, estimates call for growth of just 2.7% for all of 2015, about half the pace predicted four months ago. Investors are also running for the door – they pulled about $12 billion from global stock funds last week.

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No, no, no ‘socking away’, they’re paying off debt: “Americans probably preferred to sock away the savings from cheaper fuel..”

Retail Sales in U.S. Decrease to End Weakest Year Since 2009 (BBG)

Sales at U.S. retailers declined in December to wrap the weakest year since 2009, raising concern about the momentum in consumer spending heading into 2016. The 0.1% drop matched the median forecast of 84 economists surveyed by Bloomberg and followed a 0.4% gain in November, Commerce Department figures showed Friday in Washington. For all of 2015, purchases climbed 2.1%, the smallest advance of the current economic expansion.

The slowdown, including electronics stores, clothing merchants and grocers, indicates Americans probably preferred to sock away the savings from cheaper fuel instead of splurging during the holiday season. While hiring has been robust in recent months, faster wage gains remain elusive, one reason household spending may have a tougher time accelerating as the new year gets under way. “There isn’t anything encouraging in this report,” said Thomas Simons at Jefferies in New York. “It’s very disappointing. The labor market is in good shape, which suggests the outlook is probably better than this.”

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“I think they need to exit some markets totally and close a lot more than they are closing.”

Wal-Mart to Shut Hundreds of Stores (BBG)

Wal-Mart plans to shutter 269 stores, the most in at least two decades, as it abandons its experimental small-format Express outlets and looks to streamline the chain. The move by the largest private employer in the U.S. will affect about 10,000 jobs domestically at 154 locations, according to a statement Friday. Overseas, the effort will eliminate 6,000 jobs and includes the closing of 60 money-losing stores in Brazil, a country where Wal-Mart has struggled. The plan will affect less than 1% of its total square footage and revenue, the company said. CEO Doug McMillon took the step after reviewing the chain’s 11,600 stores, evaluating their financial performance and fit with its broader strategy.

The move also marks the end of its pilot Wal-Mart Express program, a bid to create a network of small corner stores to compete with dollar-store chains and drugstores. Wal-Mart will continue its larger-size Neighborhood Markets effort, though 23 poor-performing stores in that chain also will be closed. The company is still expanding its footprint in the U.S., adding 69 new stores and 6,000 jobs in January alone. “We invested considerable time assessing our stores and clubs and don’t take this lightly,” McMillon said. “We are supporting those impacted with extra pay and support, and we will take all appropriate steps to ensure they are treated well.”

Wal-Mart shares fell 1.8% to $61.93 in New York as the broader market tumbled. They have lost 29% of their value over the past 12 months, dragged down by slow growth and profit declines. Some investors may be disappointed that the cuts aren’t deeper, said Brian Yarbrough, an analyst with Edward Jones. “I don’t think this is enough to move the needle,” he said. “I think they need to exit some markets totally and close a lot more than they are closing.”

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“The endgame of Chinese communist rule has now begun.”

A New Year Of Turmoil For China (WaPo)

A year ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping appeared to be living what he called the “Chinese Dream.” China’s economy seemed strong, its military power was growing and Xi was aggressively consolidating domestic political power. But Xi is off to a bad new year. The Chinese economy is slowing sharply, with actual gross domestic product growth last year now estimated by U.S. analysts at several points below the official rate of 6.5%. The Chinese stock market has fallen 15% this year, and the value of its currency has slipped. Capital flight continues, probably at the $1 trillion annual rate estimated for the second half of last year. But China’s economic woes are manageable compared with its domestic political difficulties. Xi’s anti-corruption drive has accelerated into a full-blown purge.

The campaign has rocked the Chinese intelligence service, toppled some senior military commanders and frightened Communist Party leaders around the country. Jittery party officials are lying low, avoiding decisions that might get them in trouble; the resulting paralysis makes other problems worse. “Xi is in an unprecedentedly powerful position. But because he has dismantled the tools of collective leadership that had been built up over decades, he owns this crisis,” said Kurt Campbell, who was the Obama administration’s top Asia expert until 2013. He worries that Xi will “double down” on his nationalistic push for greater power in Asia, which is one of the few themes that can unite the country. “To scale back shows weakness, which Xi can ill afford now,” Campbell said.

Chinese sometimes use historical parables to explain current domestic political issues. The talk recently among some members of the Chinese elite has been a comparison between Xi’s tenure and that of Yongzheng, the emperor who ruled China from 1722 to 1735. Yongzheng waged a harsh campaign against bribery, but he came to be seen by many Chinese as a despot who had gained power illegitimately. “A lot of historical events of that period are repeating in China today, from power conspiracy to corruption, from a deteriorating economy to an external hostility threat,” one Chinese observer said in an email. Xi’s political troubles illustrate the difficulty of trying to reform a one-party system from within.

Much as Mikhail Gorbachev hoped in the 1980s that reforms could revitalize a decaying Soviet Communist Party, Xi began his presidency in 2013 by attacking Chinese party barons who had grown rich and comfortable on the spoils of China’s economic boom. Many of Xi’s rivals were proteges of former President Jiang Zemin, which meant that Xi made some powerful enemies. David Shambaugh, a China scholar at George Washington University, was an outlier when he argued in March that Xi’s reform campaign would backfire. “Despite appearances, China’s political system is badly broken, and nobody knows it better than the Communist Party itself,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “The endgame of Chinese communist rule has now begun.”

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The USD is the only possible winner.

Currency War Revival Seen After Yen, Euro Rally (BBG)

A flare-up in the global currency war is looming, as a resurgent yen and euro threaten to give policy makers in Japan and Europe an incentive to add monetary stimulus. Japan’s currency advanced versus the dollar for the third time in four weeks, while the euro climbed versus most of its peers. Hedge funds lifted bets on yen strength to the highest in more than three years, and pared wagers against the European common currency. The greenback suffered as sentiment cooled for further currency-supportive interest-rate increases in the U.S. amid sustained market volatility and weaker-than-forecast domestic economic data.

A growing divergence in U.S. growth and monetary policy versus the rest of the world has stalled amid signs the American economy can’t wholly escape a slowdown in China and a patchy recovery elsewhere. That’s weighing on the dollar, while stymieing the economic goals of the Bank of Japan and ECB, which benefit when their currencies depreciate. Further monetary easing is on the cards if the yen strengthens beyond 115 per dollar and the euro gains toward $1.15, according to Lee Ferridge, head of macro strategy for North America at State Street Global Markets. “The currency war is still alive and well,” Ferridge said. “If the dollar starts to suffer, then the ECB or the BOJ come back into play.”

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$23 billion lost in 2015. How much worse could not acting have been?

One Year On, ‘Franckenschock’ Still Hurts Swiss (CNBC)

The Swiss National Bank’s (SNB) decision to scrap its cap on the franc against the euro a year ago today shocked markets and sent the country’s currency rocketing 30%. One year on, the franc is still high, 10% up against the euro, and export-focused Switzerland is still feeling the pain. Looking back at the SNB’s shock move James Watson, MD for UK and Europe at ADS Securities, told CNBC “a lot of people were caught in the headlights.” Hashtags such as #Francogeddon and #Franckenschock were soon trending on Twitter. The decision to impose a maximum value on the franc – the cap had been in place at 1.20 franc per euro since 2011 when investors seeking a safe haven amid the turmoil created by the euro zone debt crisis pushed the franc higher – was made to help Swiss exporters compete.

Switzerland’s goods exports grew by 3.5% in 2014, exceeding the record set in 2008. After the cap was lifted, Swiss exports weakened in the first 11 months of 2015, down 3% according to Swiss Customs Office data, although they picked up to growth of 1% in November. Swiss watch sales – the country exports iconic luxury brands such as Hublot and LVMH’s Tag Heuer – remain depressed and recorded their worst November in five years. “I don’t think the SNB really thought about what the effect would be of what they did,” Watson said. The SNB argued that recent falls in the currency meant that maintaining the peg was no longer justifiable. Analysts have also argued the SNB removed the peg for political reasons. The expected introduction of quantitative easing by the ECB at the time also meant that defending the level against an even weaker euro would have required yet more intervention.

Watson believes the central bank took the approach of stimulating the economy, but “maybe they didn’t give it as much thought as they could have”. While it has been painful for exporters, the strong franc has also made imports cheaper. Inflation for 2015 is forecast at –1.1%. Domestic demand looks set to remain robust, according to the bank, which expects growth of approximately 1.5% this year. For 2015, the SNB anticipates growth of just under 1% in Switzerland. Unemployment stood at 4.9% in the third quarter of 2015, according to the ILO, still well below the 6.3% recorded in November in neighbor Germany. The central bank has also indicated that it is prepared to take measures to curb the strength of the franc. The currency, which has weakened in recent months to trade at about 1.09 euros, is still “considerably” overvalued according to the SNB. Vice chairman Fritz Zurbrügg said in speech earlier this week “business as usual is still a long way off”.

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Servitude.

America’s Student-Debt Crisis Is Only Getting Worse (MW)

It’s getting harder and harder to graduate college without taking on student loans. Nearly 70% of bachelor’s degree recipients leave school with debt, according to the White House, and that could have major consequences for the economy. Research indicates that the $1.2 trillion in student loan debt may be preventing Americans,from making the kinds of big purchases that drive economic growth, like house and cars, and reaching other milestones, such as having the ability to save for retirement or move out of mom and dad’s basement. This student debt crisis has become so huge it’s even captured the attention of presidential candidates who are searching for ways to make college more affordable amid an environment of dwindling state funding for higher education and rising college costs. But meanwhile, the approximately 40 million Americans with student debt have to find ways to manage it.

[..] A few numbers to consider (and some that bear repeating):
• The total outstanding student loan debt in the U.S. is $1.2 trillion, that’s the second-highest level of consumer debt behind only mortgages. Most of that is loans held by the federal government.
• About 40 million Americans hold student loans and about 70% of bachelor’s degree recipients graduate with debt.
• The class of 2015 graduated with $35,051 in student debt on average, according to Edvisors, a financial aid website, the most in history.
• One in four student loan borrowers are either in delinquency or default on their student loans, according the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Over the past few decades a variety of factors coalesced to make student debt an almost-universal American experience. For one, state investment in higher education dwindled and colleges made up the difference by raising tuition. At the same time, financial aid hasn’t kept up with tuition growth. In the 1980s, the maximum Pell Grant — the money the federal money gives to low-income students to attend college — covered more than half the cost of a four-year public school, according to The Institute for College Access and Success, a think tank focused on college affordability. Now, it covers less than one-third the cost.

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18 months after MH-17 was shot down, it has become a full-tard propaganda tool for the west. There’s zero respect for the victims and their families.

MH-17’s Unnecessary Mystery (Robert Parry)

[..] despite the flimsiness of the “blame-Russia-for-MH-17” case in July 2014, the Obama administration’s rush to judgment proved critical in whipping up the European press to demonize President Vladimir Putin, who became the Continent’s bete noire accused of killing 298 innocent people. That set the stage for the EU to accede to U.S. demands for economic sanctions on Russia. The MH-17 case was deployed like a classic piece of “strategic communication” or “Stratcom,” mixing propaganda with psychological operations to put an adversary at a disadvantage. Apparently satisfied with that result, the Obama administration stopped talking publicly, leaving the impression of Russian guilt to corrode Moscow’s image in the public mind.

But the intelligence source who spoke to me several times after he received additional briefings about advances in the investigation said that as the U.S. analysts gained more insights into the MH-17 shoot-down from technical and other sources, they came to believe the attack was carried out by a rogue element of the Ukrainian military with ties to a hard-line Ukrainian oligarch. But that conclusion – if made public – would have dealt another blow to America’s already shaky credibility, which has never recovered from the false Iraq-WMD claims in 2002-03. A reversal also would embarrass Kerry, other senior U.S. officials and major Western news outlets, which had bought into the Russia-did-it narrative. Plus, the EU might reconsider its decision to sanction Russia, a key part of U.S. policy in support of the Kiev regime.

Still, as the MH-17 mystery dragged on into 2015, I inquired about the possibility of an update from the DNI’s office. But a spokeswoman told me that no update would be provided because the U.S. government did not want to say anything to prejudice the ongoing investigation. In response, I noted that Kerry and the DNI had already done that by immediately pointing the inquiry in the direction of blaming Russia and the rebels. But there was another purpose in staying mum. By refusing to say anything to contradict the initial rush to judgment, the Obama administration could let Western mainstream journalists and “citizen investigators” on the Internet keep Russia pinned down with more speculation about its guilt in the MH-17 shoot-down. So, silence became the better part of candor. After all, pretty much everyone in the West had judged Russia and Putin guilty. So, why shake that up?

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PCBs ware phased out decades ago.

Toxic Chemicals In Scottish Waters Wiping Out Killer Whales (Scotsman)

Killer whales could vanish from Scottish waters as a result of the lingering effects of toxic chemicals banned more than 30 years ago, according to new international research. Scientists say European seas are a global hotspot of contamination from man-made polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which weaken the immune systems of whales and dolphins and seriously affect their reproduction. The seas around the Hebrides are home to the UK’s only known resident killer whales, known as the West Coast Community. Only eight are left in the pod, after a female died earlier this month. But experts at the international conservation charity, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), say the group will go extinct in the future as no young have been recorded in more than 20 years.

And other killer whale and dolphin populations around Europe face the same fate. The researchers suggest a failure to breed could be down to high levels of man-made PCBs building up in the animals body fat. “The long life-expectancy and position as apex or top marine predators make species like killer whales and bottlenose dolphins particularly vulnerable to the accumulation of PCBs through marine food webs”, said Dr Paul Jepson, a wildlife vet at ZSL and lead author of the study. “Few coastal orca populations remain in western European waters. Those that do persist are very small and suffering low or zero rates of reproduction. The risk of extinction therefore appears high for these discrete and highly contaminated populations.”

“Without further measures, these chemicals will continue to suppress populations of orcas and other dolphin species for many decades to come.” Dr Jepson’s team will analyse samples taken from the West Coast killer whale known as Lulu, who died recently after entanglement in fishing gear. “This Scottish population feeds on seals, so PCB exposure through diet will be much higher than for killer whales that only eat fish”, he said. “I think the group will, very regrettably, become extinct. Like any animal population, once you stop reproducing you will eventually die out.” But killer whales are very long-lived animals -at least one adult female has lived to over 100 years old in the wild- so local extinction can still take a long time to play out.

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Why the EU must be disbanded.

Baby Found Dead On Greece Migrant Boat (AP)

Greek authorities say a baby has been found dead after a boat full of migrants reached the small eastern Aegean Sea island of Farmakonissi, while 63 people were picked up alive. The incident raises to four the number of deaths that Greek authorities recorded Friday, as migrants continue to make the short but dangerous sea crossing from nearby Turkey to Greeces Aegean islands despite the winter weather. Earlier, three children drowned and 20 people were rescued when another boat carrying migrants foundered off the islet of Agathonissi.

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Jan 142016
 
 January 14, 2016  Posted by at 9:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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DPC Oyster luggers along Mississippi, New Orleans 1906

Asia Stocks Extend Losses, Japan’s Nikkei Falls 3.67% (CNBC)
Oil and US Stocks Tumble Over Fears For Global Economy (Guardian)
China Bear Market Looms as PBOC Fails to Stop Flight to Safety (BBG)
Q4 Will Be Worst US Earnings Season Since Third Quarter Of 2009 (ZH)
The Real Price of Oil Is Far Lower Than You Realize (BBG)
Crude At $10 Is Already A Reality For Canadian Oil-Sands Miners (BBG)
Tanker Rates Tumble As Last Pillar Of Strength In Oil Market Crashes (ZH)
Currency Swings Sap US Corporate Profits by Most in Four Years (BBG)
African Exports To China Fell By 40% In 2015 (BBC)
Money Leaving Emerging Markets Faster Than Ever Amid China Slump (BBG)
China Bond Yield Sinks To Record Low As Central Bank Injects $24 Billion (BBG)
China’s Better-Than-Expected Trade Numbers Raise Questions (WSJ)
Surging China-Hong Kong Trade Raises Doubts Over Recovery (BBG)
The Quiet Side of China’s Market Intervention (WSJ)
As China Dumps Treasuries, Other Buyers Expected To Step In (BBG)
Reporting Rule Adds $3 Trillion Of Leases To Balance Sheets Globally (FT)
EU Scientists In Bitter Row Over Safety Of Monsanto’s Round-Up (Guardian)
Thousands Of Farmer Suicides Prompt India Crop Insurance Scheme (Guardian)
Greece Said To Propose Return Trips For Illegal Migrants (AP)
Tighter Border Checks Leave Migrants Trapped In Greece (AP)
Refugee Influx To Greece Continues Unabated Through Winter (Reuters)
Europe Sees No Let Up in Refugee Crisis as January Arrivals Soar (BBG)

“In Japan, core machinery orders in November fell 14.4%..”

Asia Stocks Extend Losses, Japan’s Nikkei Falls 3.67% (CNBC)

[..] major Asian stock markets continued their downward slide, following a massive sell-off on Wall Street overnight, pressured by concerns over a global economic slowdown and low oil prices. After a late sell-off Wednesday afternoon, the Chinese markets opened in negative territory before trimming losses, with the Shanghai composite down some 1.05%, while the Shenzhen composite was flat. At market open, Shanghai was down 2.73% and Shenzhen saw losses of 3.37%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was down 1.51%. Offering some sign of stability in a generally volatile market, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) set Thursday’s yuan mid-point rate at 6.5616, compared with Wednesday’s fix of 6.5630. The dollar-yuan pair was nearly flat at 6.5777.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 erased all of Wednesday’s 2.88% gain and plunged 3.95%, weighed by commodities and machinery sectors, which were all down between 3 and 4%. Earlier, it fell as low as 4% before paring back some of the losses. South Korea’s Kospi traded down 1.45%. Down Under, the ASX 200 dropped 1.61%, with energy and financials sectors sharply down. All sectors were in the red except for gold, which saw an uptick of 3.71%. In Japan, core machinery orders in November fell 14.4% from the previous month, according to official data, down for the first time in three months. The data is regarded as an indicator of capital spending and fell more than market expectations for a 7.9% decline.

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Or is it just price discovery?

Oil and US Stocks Tumble Over Fears For Global Economy (Guardian)

US stocks fell heavily on Wednesday, with the Standard & Poor’s 500 falling 2.5% to take the index below 1,900 points for the first time since September, due to growing concerns about the falling oil price, which dipped below $30 a barrel for the first time in nearly 12 years. The S&P 500, which closed at 1,890 points, suffered its worst day since September and has fallen by 10% since its November peak taking it into “correction” territory, something that has not happened since August 2014. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped by 364 points, or 2.2%, to 16,151, and the Nasdaq composite dropped 159 points, or 3.4%, to 4,526. This deepened the New York stock exchange’s already worst start to a year on record.

Wednesday’s stock market declines were triggered by new figures showing US gasoline stockpiles had increased to record high, which caused Brent crude prices to fall as low as $29.96, their lowest level since April 2004, before settling at $30.31, a 1.8% fall. The oil price has fallen by 73% since a peak of $115 reached in the summer of 2014. Industry data showed that US gasoline inventories soared by 8.4m barrels and stocks of diesel and heating oil increased by more than 6m barrels – confirming the forecasts of many analysts that a huge oversupply of oil could keep prices low during most of 2016. Analysts said that growing fears of a weakening outlook for the global economy, made worse by falling oil prices, was behind the steep falls. Some oil analysts this week predicted that the price could fall as low as $10.

In recent days several analysts have warned that the global economy could suffer a repeat of the 2008 crash if the knock-on effects of a contraction in Chinese output pushes down commodity prices further and sparks panic selling on stock and bond markets. [..] Earlier in the day China’s stock market fell more than 2% after officials played down the significance of better-than-expected trade figures for December, saying exports could sink further before they find a floor.

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Looms?!

China Bear Market Looms as PBOC Fails to Stop Flight to Safety (BBG)

Chinese stocks headed for a bear market while government bond yields fell to a record as central bank cash injections and a stable yuan fixing failed to shore up confidence in the world’s second-largest economy. The Shanghai Composite Index sank as much as 2.8%, falling more than 20% from its December high and sinking below its closing low during the depths of a $5 trillion rout in August. Investors poured money into government bonds after the People’s Bank of China added the most cash through open-market operations since February 2015, sending the yield on 10-year notes down to 2.7%. While the central bank kept its yuan reference rate little changed for a fifth day, the currency dropped 0.5% in offshore trading and Hong Kong’s dollar declined to the weakest since March 2015.

The selloff is a setback for Chinese authorities, who have been intervening to support both stocks and the yuan after the worst start to a year for mainland markets in at least two decades. As policy makers in Beijing fight to prevent a vicious cycle of capital outflows and a weakening currency, the resulting financial-market volatility has undermined confidence in their ability to manage the deepest economic slowdown since 1990 “You can’t really find buyers in this environment,” said Ken Peng, a strategist at Citigroup Inc. in Hong Kong. “It’s a very, very fragile status quo China is trying to maintain.” The government faces a dilemma with the yuan, according to Samuel Chan at GF International.

On one hand, a weakening exchange rate would help boost exports and is arguably justified given declines in other emerging-market currencies against the dollar in recent months. The downside is that a depreciating yuan encourages capital outflows and makes it harder to keep domestic interest rates low. The monetary authority “doesn’t want the yuan to depreciate fast because it will push funds to leave China very quickly,” Chan said. The country saw capital outflows for 10 straight months through November, totaling $843 billion, according to an estimate from Bloomberg Intelligence. Foreign-exchange reserves, meanwhile, sank by a record $513 billion last year to $3.33 trillion, according to the central bank.

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Still sinking after all these years.

Q4 Will Be Worst US Earnings Season Since Third Quarter Of 2009 (ZH)

Couple of things: first of all, any discussion whether the US market is in a profit (or revenue) recession must stop: the US entered a profit recession in Q3 when it posted two consecutive quarters of earnings declines. This was one quarter after the top-line of the S&P dropped for two consecutive quarters, and as of this moment the US is poised to have 4 consecutive quarters with declining revenues as of the end of 2015. Furthermore, as we showed on September 21, when Q4 was still expected to be a far stronger quarter than it ended up being, in the very best case, the US would go for 7 whole quarters without absolute earnings growth (and even longer without top-line growth).

Then, as always happens, optimism about the current quarter was crushed as we entered the current quarter, and whereas on September 30, 2015, Q4 earnings growth was supposed to be just a fraction negative, or -0.6%, as we have crossed the quarter, the full abyss has revealed itself and according to the latest Factset consensus data as of January 8, the current Q4 EPS drop is now expected to be a whopping -5%. And just to shut up the “it’s all energy” crowd, of the 10 industries in the S&P, only 4 are now expected to post earnings growth and even their growth is rapidly sliding and could well go negative over the next few weeks. It gets even worse. According to Bloomberg, on a share-weighted basis, S&P 500 profits are expected to have dropped by 7.2% in 4Q, while revenues are expected to fall by 3.1%.

This would represent the worst U.S. earnings season since 3Q 2009, and a third straight quarter of negative profit growth. It’s no longer simply a recession: as noted above, the Q4 EPS drop follows declines of 3.1% in Q3 and 1.7% in Q2. it is… whatever comes next. As Bloomberg adds, the main driving forces behind drop in U.S. earnings are the rise in the dollar index (thanks Fed) and the drop in average WTI oil prices. However, since more than half of all industries are about to see an EPS decline, one can’t blame either one or the other. So while we know what to expect from Q4, a better question may be what is coming next, and according to the penguin brigade, this time will be different, and the hockey stick which was expected originally to take place in Q4 2015 and then Q1 2016 has been pushed back to Q4 2016, when by some miracle, EPS is now expected to grow by just about 15%.

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WTI/Brent prices are just a story.

The Real Price of Oil Is Far Lower Than You Realize (BBG)

While oil prices flashing across traders’ terminals are at the lowest in a decade, in real terms the collapse is even deeper. West Texas Intermediate futures, the U.S. benchmark, sank below $30 a barrel on Tuesday for the first time since 2003. Actual barrels of Saudi Arabian crude shipped to Asia are even cheaper, at $26 – the lowest since early 2002 once inflation is factored in and near levels seen before the turn of the millennium. Slumping oil prices are a critical signal that the boom in lending in China is “unwinding,” according to Adair Turner, chairman of the Institute for New Economic Thinking.

Slowing investment and construction in China, the world’s biggest energy user, is “sending an enormous deflationary impetus through to the world, and that is a significant part of what’s happening in this oil-price collapse,” Turner, former chairman of the U.K. Financial Services Authority, said. The nation’s economic expansion faltered last year to the slowest pace in a quarter of a century. “You see a big destruction in the income of the oil and commodity producers,” Turner said. “That is having a major effect on their expenditure across the world.” The benefit for consumers from historically low oil prices is being blunted by changes in fuel taxation and a reduction in subsidies, according to Paul Horsnell at Standard Chartered in London. “But it certainly shows that current prices are very low by any description,” he said.

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“..$8.35 on Tuesday, down from as much as $80 less than two years ago.”

Crude At $10 Is Already A Reality For Canadian Oil-Sands Miners (BBG)

Think oil in the $20s is bad? In Canada they’d be happy to sell it for $10. Canadian oil sands producers are feeling pain as bitumen – the thick, sticky substance at the center of the heated debate over TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline – hit a low of $8.35 on Tuesday, down from as much as $80 less than two years ago. Producers are all losing money at current prices, First Energy Capital’s Martin King said Tuesday at a conference in Calgary. Which doesn’t mean they’ll stop. Since most of the spending for bitumen extraction comes upfront, and thus is a sunk cost, production will continue and grow. Canada will need more pipeline capacity to transport bitumen out of Alberta by 2019, King said.

Bitumen is another victim of a global glut of petroleum, which has sunk U.S. benchmark prices into the $20s from more than $100 only 18 months ago. It’s cheaper than most other types of crude, because it has to be diluted with more-expensive lighter petroleum, and then transported thousands of miles from Alberta to refineries in the U.S. For much of the past decade, oil companies fought environmentalists to get the pipeline approved so they could blend more of the tar-like petroleum and feed it to an oil-starved world. TransCanada is mounting a $15 billion appeal against President Barack Obama’s rejection of Keystone XL crossing into the U.S. – while simultaneously planning natural gas pipelines from Alberta to Canada’s east coast to carry diluted bitumen. Environmentalists are hoping oil economics finish off what their pipeline protests started.

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Inventories are overflowing. How predictable.

Tanker Rates Tumble As Last Pillar Of Strength In Oil Market Crashes (ZH)

If there was one silver-lining in the oil complex, it was the demand for VLCCs (as huge floating storage facilities or as China scooped up ‘cheap’ oil to refill their reserves) which drove tanker rates to record highs. Now, as Bloomberg notes so eloquently, it appears the party is over! Daily rates for benchmark Saudi Arabia-Japan VLCC cargoes have crashed 53% year-to-date to $50,955 (as it appears China’s record crude imports have ceased). In fact the rate crashed 12% today for the 12th straight daily decline from over $100,000 just a month ago…

China imported a record amount of crude last year as oil’s lowest annual average price in more than a decade spurred stockpiling and boosted demand from independent refiners. China’s crude imports last month was equivalent to 7.85 million barrels a day, 6% higher than the previous record of 7.4 million in April, Bloomberg calculations show.

China has exploited a plunge in crude prices by easing rules to allow private refiners, known as teapots, to import crude and by boosting shipments to fill emergency stockpiles. The nation’s overseas purchases may rise to 370 million metric tons this year, surpassing estimated U.S. imports of about 363 million tons, according to Li Li, a research director with ICIS China, an industry researcher. But given the crash in tanker rates – and implicitly demand – that “boom” appears to be over.

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What neighbors can the US beggar?

Currency Swings Sap US Corporate Profits by Most in Four Years (BBG)

Volatility in the $5.3-trillion-a-day foreign exchange market is dragging down U.S. corporate earnings by the most since 2011, according to a report from FiREapps. Currency fluctuations eroded earnings for the average North American company by 12 cents per share in the third quarter, according to the Scottsdale, Arizona-based firm, which advises businesses and makes software to help reduce the effect of foreign-exchange swings. That’s the most in data going back at least four years, and is up from an average 3 cents per share in the second quarter. “This is the worst I’ve seen it,” FiREapps chief executive officer Wolfgang Koestersaid in a telephone interview. “Investors and analysts are taking a very close look at corporate results impacted by foreign exchange and recognize how material they are.”

A JPMorgan measure of currency volatility averaged 10.1 % during the third quarter, up from 6.3 % 12 months earlier. Last year, some of the biggest price swings came from unscheduled events, such as China’s August devaluation of the yuan, Switzerland’s decision to scrap its currency cap and plummeting commodity prices. Companies in North America lost at least $19.3 billion to foreign-exchange headwinds in the third quarter of 2015, FiREapps data showed. The losses grew by about 14 % from the second quarter. Of the 850 North American corporations that Fireapps analyzed, 353 cited the negative impact of currencies in their earnings, more than double the previous quarter. “That is the largest number of companies talking about currency impact that we’ve ever seen,” Koester said.

China’s yuan is garnering more attention from corporations amid concern that growth in the world’s second-largest economy is slowing, according to FiREapps. Yet North American firms remain most concerned about the effects of the euro, Brazilian real and Canadian dollar on their results. The currencies have fallen 8.3 %, 34 % and 16 % against the greenback over the past 12 months. The stronger U.S. dollar means higher, less-competitive prices for U.S. businesses seeking to sell their products overseas. Companies also take a hit when they account for revenue denominated in weaker overseas currencies, unless they hedged their exposure.

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That is a very big number.

African Exports To China Fell By 40% In 2015 (BBC)

African exports to China fell by almost 40% in 2015, China’s customs office says. China is Africa’s biggest single trading partner and its demand for African commodities has fuelled the continent’s recent economic growth. The decline in exports reflects the recent slowdown in China’s economy. This has, in turn, put African economies under pressure and in part accounts for the falling value of many African currencies. Presenting China’s trade figures for last year, customs spokesman Huang Songping told journalists that African exports to China totalled $67bn (£46.3bn), which was 38% down on the figure for 2014.

BBC Africa Business Report editor Matthew Davies says that as China’s economy heads for what many analysts say will be a hard landing, its need for African oil, metals and minerals has fallen rapidly, taking commodity prices lower. There is also less money coming from China to Africa, with direct investment from China into the continent falling by 40% in the first six months of 2015, he says. Meanwhile, Africa’s demand for Chinese goods is rising. In 2015 China sent $102bn worth of goods to the continent, an increase of 3.6%. Last year, South Africa hosted a China-Africa summit during which President Xi Jinping announced $60bn of aid and loans, symbolising the country’s growing role on the continent.

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And for now that’s still largely due to China.

Money Leaving Emerging Markets Faster Than Ever Amid China Slump (BBG)

Investors pulled more money from emerging markets in the three months through December than ever before as investors dumped riskier assets in China amid concern the country’s currency will weaken further, according to Capital Economics. Capital outflows from developing nations reached $270 billion last quarter, exceeding withdrawals during the financial crisis of 2008, led by an exodus from China as investors pulled a record $159 billion from the country just in December, Capital Economics’ economist William Jackson said in a report. Excluding outflows from the world’s second-largest economy, emerging markets would have seen inflows in the quarter, he said.

“This appears to reflect a growing skepticism in the markets that the People’s Bank can keep the renminbi steady,” Jackson said in the note, which was published Wednesday. “Given the fresh sell-off in EM financial markets and growing concerns about the level of the renminbi, it seems highly likely that total capital outflows will have increased” in January, he said. Investor skepticism increased last year as a surprise devaluation of China’s yuan roiled global markets and triggered a $5 trillion rout in the nation’s equity markets, casting doubt on the government’s ability to contain the selloff and support growth.

Chinese leaders have since then stepped up efforts to restrict capital outflows and prop up share prices despite pledges to give markets greater sway and allow money to flow freely across the nation’s borders within five years. The yuan traded in the mainland market declined 4.4% in 2015, the most since 1994. Outflows from emerging markets rose to a record $113 billion in December, Capital Economics said. Over 2015, investors pulled $770 billion from developing nations, compared with $230 billion a year earlier.

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“For local investors, there’s nothing to buy..”

China Bond Yield Sinks To Record Low As Central Bank Injects $24 Billion (BBG)

China’s government bonds advanced, pushing the 10-year yield to a record low, as the central bank stepped up cash injections and volatile stock and currency markets drove demand for safety. The offshore yuan traded in Hong Kong declined for the first time in six days on speculation a narrowing gap with the Shanghai rate will dissuade the People’s Bank of China from stepping into the market, while Chinese equities slid below the lowest levels of last year’s market selloff. “For local investors, there’s nothing to buy,” said Li Liuyang at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi. “Equities are not performing well, so bonds become the natural investment target. The PBOC increased reverse repo offerings partly because it may be taking some preemptive measures before next month’s Lunar New Year holidays.”

The yield on debt due October 2025 fell as much as three basis points to 2.70%, the least for a benchmark 10-year note in ChinaBond data going back to September 2007. The previous low was 2.72% in January 2009, during the global financial crisis. The PBOC conducted 160 billion yuan ($24 billion) of seven-day reverse-repo agreements in its open-market operations on Thursday, up from 70 billion yuan a week ago. That’s the biggest one-day reverse repo offerings since February 2015, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The PBOC injected a net 40 billion yuan this week, taking its total additions to 230 billion yuan so far this month. “The PBOC wants to keep liquidity abundant onshore to bolster the economy,” said Nathan Chow at DBS Group. “It’s also trying to calm the currency market as the yuan declined significantly last week and caused high volatility. But in the long run, the yuan will depreciate as the fundamentals are still weak.”

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Fake invoices. It’s as simple as that.

China’s Better-Than-Expected Trade Numbers Raise Questions (WSJ)

China’s better-than-expected trade figures in December have sparked questions over whether trade flows have been inflated by investors evading capital controls and the extent of incentives being offered by government agencies to prop up exports. China reported Wednesday that exports in December declined 1.4% year on year. This was much better than the 8% drop expected by economists in a WSJ survey and compared with a 6.8% decline in November, allowing Beijing to end the trading year on a stronger note. Imports fell by 7.6% last month, better than the expected 11% decline, compared with an 8.7% drop in November. The December trade figures also were helped by favorable comparisons with year-earlier figures, economists said.

Of particular note was a 64.5% jump in China’s imports from Hong Kong, the strongest pace in three years, analysts said. This compared with a 6.2% decline for the January-November period. ”It really looks like capital flight,” said Oliver Barron with investment bank North Square Blue Oak. “This has artificially inflated the total import data.” China in recent months has struggled to adjust to massive capital outflows as Chinese investors seek better returns overseas. China saw its foreign exchange hoard drop 13.3% in 2015, or by $500 billion, to $3.3 trillion by the end of December. Under Beijing’s strict capital controls, consumers are only allowed to purchase $50,000 worth of U.S. dollars each calendar year. But manipulated foreign trade deals offer a way around tightening restrictions, say economists.

In an effort to stem the outflow, Beijing’s foreign exchange regulator announced stricter supervision starting January 1 to screen suspicious individual accounts and crack down on organized capital flight, according to an online statement. Bank customers also have reported more difficulty recently exchanging yuan into dollars, with some forced to wait four days to complete a transaction that normally takes one. And China has cracked down on illegal foreign-exchange networks, including a bust announced in November in Jinhua, a city of five million people in eastern Zhejiang province, allegedly involving eight gangs operating from over two dozen “criminal dens” that reportedly handled up to $64 billion in unauthorized transactions, according to state media and a detailed police report.

The official People’s Daily newspaper said 69 people had been criminally charged and another 203 people had been given administrative sanctions. ”Regulators have been trying really hard to close the loopholes,” said Steve Wang with Reorient Financial, adding that the market seems skeptical of Wednesday’s trade figures. The Shanghai Composite Index fell 2.4%. “I don’t think Hong Kong has been buying or selling any more from China. The December data is a huge question mark,” he added. An example of how a Chinese company might move capital abroad using trade deals would be to import 1 million widgets at $2 apiece from a Hong Kong partner or subsidiary company, paying the $2 million, analysts said. It then exports the same widgets at $1 apiece, receiving $1 million from the Hong Kong entity. The goods are back where they started, but $1 million has now moved offshore.

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“..the surprise gains may harken back to past instances of phony invoicing and other rules skirted to escape currency restrictions.”

Surging China-Hong Kong Trade Raises Doubts Over Recovery (BBG)

China exports to Hong Kong rose 10.8% from a year earlier for the biggest gain in more than a year, making the city the biggest destination for shipments last month and spurring renewed skepticism over data reliability and the broader recovery in the nation’s outbound trade. Exports to Hong Kong rose to $46 billion last month, according to General Administration of Customs data released Wednesday. That was the highest value in almost three years and the biggest amount for any December period in the last 10 years, customs data show. Imports from Hong Kong surged 65%, the most in three years, to $2.16 billion. Economists said the surprise gains may harken back to past instances of phony invoicing and other rules skirted to escape currency restrictions.

China’s government said in 2013 some data on trade with Hong Kong were inflated by arbitrage transactions intended to avoid rules, an acknowledgment that export and import figures were overstated. The increase in exports to Hong Kong and China’s imports from the city probably indicate “fake invoicing,” said Iris Pang at Natixis in Hong Kong. Invoicing of China trade should be larger in December because of the wider gap between the onshore yuan and the offshore yuan traded in Hong Kong, she said. China’s exports to the Special Administrative Region of more than 7 million people eclipsed the $35 billion tallies last month for both the U.S. and the EU, the data show. Exports to Brazil, Canada, Malaysia, Russia all dropped more than 10%.

The imports gain “points to potential renewed fake trade activities,” said Larry Hu at Macquarie. When the yuan rose in 2013, exports to Hong Kong were inflated artificially, he said, and “now it’s just the opposite.” China’s total exports rose 2.3% in yuan terms from a year earlier, the customs said, after a 3.7% drop in November. Imports extended declines to 14 months. The recovery in exports in December may prove to be a temporary one due to a seasonal increase at the end of the year, and it doesn’t represent a trend, a spokesman for customs said after the Wednesday briefing. A weak yuan will help exports, but that effect will gradually fade, the spokesman told reporters in Beijing. Morgan Stanley economists led by Zhang Yin in Hong Kong also said in a note Wednesday that the higher-than-expected trade growth may have been affected by currency arbitrage. Overall external demand remained weak, as shown by anemic export data reported by South Korea and Taiwan, he said.

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State firms buying/holding lousy paper.

The Quiet Side of China’s Market Intervention (WSJ)

As Chinese markets tanked last week, China Inc. appeared to be rallying to their support. At least 75 Chinese companies issued statements during the past week and a half, saying their biggest shareholders would be holding on to their stakes in order to protect investor interests. Officially, the companies were acting spontaneously. But privately, people close to Chinese regulators as well as some of the companies themselves said they were prompted to release the statements by exchange officials, who had called and asked them to issue expressions of support. In many cases, the statements contained similar or nearly identical language. The behind-the-scenes activity reflects the secretive, unofficial side to Chinese regulators’ attempts to bolster the country’s sagging stock markets.

The regulators’ varied arsenal includes tactics such as phone calls from exchange officials to big holders of shares, urging them not to sell, as well as pumping hundreds of billions of yuan into the markets through government-affiliated funds. The hand of the regulators was most apparent over the summer, when a 43% plunge in the Shanghai Composite Index over slightly more than two months was accompanied by dozens of declarations by brokerages and fund managers abjuring stock sales, as well as huge purchases of shares in bellwether Chinese stocks by a shadowy group of firms known as the “national team.” Brokers, company executives and people close to Chinese regulators say tactics have become more subtle during the current market downturn: The national team hasn’t been making the high-profile buys of half a year ago, and regulators have been less overt in their requests for cooperation.

An executive at one environmental technology firm listed on the Shenzhen exchange said that in July, the bourse sent a letter demanding the company release a statement saying its controlling shareholders wouldn’t unload stock. Last week, the exchange was more low key, he said, phoning up and urging the company to release another statement to set an example for other firms. But the flurry of companies declaring their support for the market in recent days shows that Chinese regulators still haven’t given up on behind-the-scenes efforts to guide the direction of stocks. “We issued the statement because the [Shenzhen] exchange encouraged listed firms to maintain shareholdings,” said an executive at LED device-maker Shenzhen Jufei who requested anonymity. “You can think of this as a concerted effort by listed firms to voluntarily stabilize the market.”

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The popularity of T-Bills is guaranteed.

As China Dumps Treasuries, Other Buyers Expected To Step In (BBG)

It might be easy to conclude China’s unprecedented retreat from Treasuries is bad news for America. After all, as the biggest overseas creditor to the U.S., China has bankrolled hundreds of billions of dollars in deficit spending, particularly since the financial crisis. And that voracious appetite for Treasuries in recent years has been key in keeping America’s funding costs in check, even as the market for U.S. government debt ballooned to a record $13.2 trillion. Yet for many debt investors, there’s little reason for alarm. While there’s no denying that China’s selling may dent demand for Treasuries in the near term, the fact the nation is raising hundreds of billions of dollars to support its flagging economy and stem capital flight is raising deeper questions about whether global growth itself is at risk.

That’s likely to bolster the haven appeal of U.S. debt over the long haul, State Street Corp. and BlackRock Inc. say. Any let up in Chinese demand is being met with record buying by domestic mutual funds, which has helped to contain U.S. borrowing costs. “You have China running down reserves and Treasuries are a big portion of reserves, but even with that we still think the weight of support” will boost demand for U.S. debt, said Lee Ferridge, the head of macro strategy for North America at State Street, which oversees $2.4 trillion. The question is “if China slows, where does growth come from. That’s what’s been worrying a lot of people coming into 2016.”

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And then the TBTFs will need rescue again?!

Reporting Rule Adds $3 Trillion Of Leases To Balance Sheets Globally (FT)

Companies around the world will be forced to add close to $3tn of leasing commitments to their balance sheets under new rules from US and international regulators — significantly increasing the debt that must be reported by airlines and retailers. A new financial reporting standard — the culmination of decades of debate over “off-balance sheet” financing — will affect more than one in two public companies globally. Worst hit will be retail, hotel and airline companies that lease property and planes over long periods but, under current accounting standards, do not have to include them in yearly reports of assets and liabilities. In these sectors, future payments of off-balance sheet leases equate to almost 30% of total assets on average, according to the International Accounting Standards Board, which collaborated with the US Financial Accounting Standards Board on the new rule.

Hans Hoogervorst, IASB chairman, said: “The new Standard will provide much-needed transparency on companies’ lease assets and liabilities, meaning that off-balance-sheet lease financing is no longer lurking in the shadows”. As a result of the accounting change, net debt reported by UK supermarket chain Tesco would increase from £8.6bn at the end of August to £17.6bn, estimated Richard Clarke, an analyst from Bernstein. However, while the new standard would make Tesco look more indebted, Mr Clarke added that the assets associated with the leases would also come on to the company’s balance sheet, so “the net effect would be neutral.” Investors warned that the new standards could affect some groups’ banking covenants and debt-based agreements with lenders, but said they would make it easier to compare companies that uses leases with those that prefer to borrow and buy.

Vincent Papa, director financial reporting policy at the Chartered Financial Analysts Institute, which has been pushing for these changes since the 1970s, said: “Putting obligations on balance sheets enables better risk assessment. It is a big improvement to financial reporting.” For some airlines, the value of off-balance- sheet leases can be more than the value of assets on the balance sheets, the IASB noted. It also pointed out that a number of retailers that had gone into liquidation had lease commitments that were many times their reported balance sheet debt. [..] In 2005, the SEC calculated that US companies had about $1.25 trillion of leasing commitments that were not included in assets or liabilities on balance sheets. Six years later, the Equipment Leasing and Finance Foundation in the US said that “Capitalising operating leases will add an estimated $2 trillion and 11% more reported debt to the balance sheets of US-based corporations…and could result in a permanent reduction of $96bn in equity of US companies. ”

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“..used so widely that its residues are commonly found in British bread.”

EU Scientists In Bitter Row Over Safety Of Monsanto’s Round-Up (Guardian)

A bitter row has broken out over the allegedly carcinogenic qualities of a widely-used weedkiller, ahead of an EU decision on whether to continue to allow its use. At issue is a call by the European Food and Safety Authority (Efsa) to disregard an opinion by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) on the health effects of Glyphosate. Glyphosate was developed by Monsanto for use with its GM crops. The herbicide makes the company $5bn (£3.5bn) a year, and is used so widely that its residues are commonly found in British bread. But while an analysis by the IARC last year found it is probably carcinogenic to humans, Efsa decided last month that it probably was not. That paves the way for the herbicide to be relicensed by an EU working group later this year, potentially in the next few weeks.

Within days of Efsa’s announcement, 96 prominent scientists – including most of the IARC team – had fired off a letter to the EU health commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis, warning that the basis of Efsa’s research was “not credible because it is not supported by the evidence”. “Accordingly, we urge you and the European commission to disregard the flawed Efsa finding,” the scientists said. In a reply last month, which the Guardian has seen, Andriukaitis told the scientists that he found their diverging opinions on glyphosate “disconcerting”. But the European Parliament and EU ministers had agreed to give Efsa a pivotal role in assessing pesticide substances, he noted. “These are legal obligations,” the commissioner said. “I am not able to accommodate your request to simply disregard the Efsa conclusion.”

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What’s Monsanto’s role in this?

Thousands Of Farmer Suicides Prompt India Crop Insurance Scheme (Guardian)

India’s government has approved a $1.3bn insurance scheme for farmers to protect against crop failures, saying it was intended to put a halt to a spate of suicides. Two successive years of drought have battered the country’s already struggling rural heartland, with farmer suicides in rural areas regularly hitting the headlines. More than 300,000 farmers have killed themselves in India since 1995. Under the new scheme, farmers will pay premiums of as little as 1.5% of the value of their crops, allowing them to reclaim their full value in case of natural damage, the government said. “The scheme will be a protection shield against instances of farmer suicides because of crop failures or damage because of nature,” home minister Rajnath Singh said on Wednesday after the cabinet approved the scheme.

The Prime Minister Crop Insurance Scheme is also an attempt by Narendra Modi’s government to woo the country’s powerful farming community after being beaten in two recent state elections. “This scheme not just retains the best features of past policies but also rectifies all previous shortcomings… This is a historic day,” Modi said in a tweet. Previous crop insurance schemes have been criticised by the agricultural community as being too complex or for having caps that prevented them from recouping the full commercial value in the case of damage. Take-up of existing schemes by farmers is as low as 23%, the agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh said, adding that he hoped to increase coverage to 50%. The heavily subsidised scheme will come into effect in April, a major crop-sowing season.

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Priorities.

Greece Said To Propose Return Trips For Illegal Migrants (AP)

A senior Greek official has said the government will ask Europe’s border protection agency Frontex to help set up a sea deportation route to send migrants who reach the country illegally back to Turkey. The official told AP the plan would involve chartering boats on Lesvos and other Greek islands to send back migrants who were not considered eligible for asylum in the EU. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because Athens hasn’t yet formally raised the issue with other European governments. More than 850,000 migrants and refugees reached Greece in 2015 on their route through the Balkans to central Europe. But the EU is seeking to toughen and better organize procedures for asylum placements, while Balkan countries outside the EU have also imposed stricter transit policies.

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NIMBY.

Tighter Border Checks Leave Migrants Trapped In Greece (AP)

As twilight falls outside the Hellenikon shelter – a former Olympic field hockey venue currently housing about 280 people – Iranian men play volleyball, a red line on the ground serving as a notional net. Inside, migrants are coming to terms with their bleak future. “I can’t go back to Somalia,” said English teacher Ali Heydar Aki, who hoped to settle in Europe and then bring his family. “I have sold half my house” to fund the trip. While it’s unclear exactly how many are stuck in Greece, a comparison of arrivals there and in FYROM since late November leaves about 38,000 people unaccounted for. Greek immigration minister Ioannis Mouzalas’ best guess is “a few thousand.” “But (that’s) a calculation based on experience, not something else,” he said.

Syed Mohammad Jamil, head of the Pakistani-Hellenic Cultural Society, says about 4,000 Pakistanis could be stuck in Greece, mostly still on the islands, and about as many Bangladeshis. “Every day we get … phone calls from people in tears asking for help,” he said. “We can’t help – send them where? Germany, Spain, Italy, England? We can’t.” All now face two legal options: To seek asylum in Greece – which has 25% unemployment and a crumbling welfare system – or volunteer for repatriation. Greek authorities have recorded an increase in both since FYROM tightened controls. Karim Benazza, a Moroccan hotel worker in his 20s, has signed up to go home on Jan. 18.

“This is all I do now, smoke and smoke, but no money, no food,” he said, lighting a cigarette outside the International Organization for Migration building. “There is nothing for us in Greece, and the Macedonian border is closed.” Daniel Esdras, IOM office head in Greece, sees a steep increase in voluntary repatriations, which the IOM organizes. About 800 people registered in December and 260 have been sent home. “It’s one thing to return in handcuffs … and quite another to go as a normal passenger with some money in your pocket, because we give them each €400,” Esdras said.

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5,700 children in 12 days.

Refugee Influx To Greece Continues Unabated Through Winter (Reuters)

More than 1,000 migrants and refugees arrived at Greece’s biggest port of Piraeus near Athens on Wednesday as the influx of people fleeing conflict zones for Europe continued unabated into the winter months. More than 1 million refugees and migrants braved the seas in 2015 seeking sanctuary in Europe, nearly five times more than in the previous year, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency. Most entered through Greece’s outlying islands. So far this year, 31% of arrivals to Europe have been children, said medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres, which has been treating arrivals to the Greek islands. About 5,700 children crossed the narrow but dangerous sea passage between Greece and Turkey in just 12 days aboard rickety, overcrowded boats, it said.

“I leave my home, my country [because] there was violence, it was not safe,” said 18-year-old Idris, who left his home and family behind in Afghanistan three months ago, traveling alone through Turkey and hoping to reach Germany to study. As others disembarked from the ferry on Wednesday, volunteers passed out hot tea and fruit to help them get through the next leg of their journey, an eight-hour bus ride from Athens to Greece’s northern border with Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia [FYROM]. The ferry picked up a total of 1,238 migrants and refugees from the Eastern Aegean islands of Lesvos and Chios. Among those was 25-year-old Salam, from the Syrian city of Homs, who said he had lived in a number of different cities before the fighting led him and his friends to flee. “[They killed] women and children and men,” said Salam, who also hopes to reach Germany. [It was] very very very bad in Syria.”

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How blind is this? “Work must also step up on “returning those who have no right to international protection.” There are people who have no right to protection? Who gets to decide?

Europe Sees No Let Up in Refugee Crisis as January Arrivals Soar (BBG)

The number of refugees entering Europe in the first 10 days of 2016 is already three times the level in all of January 2015, signaling no let up in the pressure facing the region’s leaders amid the biggest wave of migration since World War II. The number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea to the European Union from Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa reached 18,384 through Jan. 10, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. That compares with 5,550 in January last year. “This year, these weeks, the coming months must be dedicated to delivering clear results in terms of regaining controls of flows and of our borders,” EC Vice President Frans Timmermans told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday after discussing the latest situation with EU commissioners.

Turmoil in Syria and across the Arab world triggered an influx of more than 1 million people arriving in the EU last year. Faced with migration in such unprecedented numbers, governments have reintroduced internal border checks, tried – and failed – to share refugees between one another and have been forced to defend their policies amid anger at violence allegedly perpetrated by the recent arrivals.

The number of refugees entering the EU increased month-on-month from January 2015 until hitting a peak of 221,374 in October, according to the agency. The level fell back to 118,445 last month as bad weather deterred people from making the journey. Almost a third of those arriving are children. So far this year 49 people have either died or are missing having attempted to cross into Europe. EU countries need to work together to tackle the “root causes” of the refugee influx, Timmermans said. Work must also step up on “returning those who have no right to international protection.”

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Dec 162015
 
 December 16, 2015  Posted by at 8:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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DPC Elephants in Luna Park promenade, Coney Island 1905

Fed Weighs Merits Of Jumbo Portfolio In Post-Crisis Era (Reuters)
This Is a Test of the Shadow Banking System (BBG ed.)
Why High-Yield Debt Selloff Isn’t 2007 All Over Again. Or Is It? (BBG)
Foreigners Sell A Record $55.2 Billion In US Treasuries In October (ZH)
The Guy Who Warned About Libor Sees Fast-Money Financing as New Risk (Alloway)
The Current Credit Crisis Might Be 35 Times Worse Than You Thought (Yahoo)
Inside Oil’s Deep Dive (BBG)
The Oil Market Just Keeps Tearing Up Draghi’s Inflation Forecasts (BBG)
Emergency OPEC Meeting Aired As Russia Braces For Sub-$30 Oil (AEP)
Italy Says Financial System Solid As Bank Rescue Furor Grows (Reuters)
Thousands Of Jobs To Disapper At Greek Banks (Kath.)
Hillary Clinton’s Chronic Caution On The Big Banks (Nomi Prins)
When The World Turns Dark (Coppola)
Vegetarian And ‘Healthy’ Diets May Actually Be Worse For The Environment (SA)
Decline In Over 75% Of UK Butterfly Species Is ‘Final Warning’ (Guardian)
Record High 2015 Arctic Temperatures Have ‘Profound Effects’ (Guardian)
Far Fewer People Entering Germany With Fake Syrian Passports Than Claimed (AFP)
EU Says Only 64 -Of 66,000- Refugees Have Been ‘Relocated’ From Greece (AP)

One conclusion only from things like this: they make it up as they go along. And then you can cite ‘experts’ all you want, but experts in what? Uncharted territory? That doesn’t make any sense.

Fed Weighs Merits Of Jumbo Portfolio In Post-Crisis Era (Reuters)

Once the Federal Reserve lifts interest rates from near zero, likely this week, the focus will turn to the other legacy of the crisis-era policies: the Fed’s swollen balance sheet. The prevailing view is that the U.S. central bank’s $4.5 trillion portfolio, vastly expanded by bond purchases aimed at stimulating the economy, will have to shrink once rates are on their way up, and the Fed will just need to decide how quickly. Now, however, there is a new twist to the debate, with some policymakers and outside experts saying that there are reasons to keep the balance sheet big. Arguments in favor of a leaner pre-crisis era Fed portfolio have been well laid out. A smaller balance sheet would mark a return to “normal” policy, minimize the Fed’s impact on the allocation of credit across the economy, and help defuse political pressure from critics accusing the Fed of overextending its influence beyond its core monetary mandate.

As recently as September 2014, the Fed pledged to eventually “hold no more securities than necessary,” in its “normalization” plan, a level widely interpreted as close to its pre-crisis $900 billion size. Today as the long-anticipated rate lift-off draws close, the central bank appears to be warming to the idea of a sizeable balance sheet. A “permanently higher balance sheet … is something that we haven’t studied that much but I think needs a lot more thought,” John Williams, president of the San Francisco Fed, said last month. A big Fed portfolio could help stabilize financial markets by inducing banks to keep greater amounts of money in reserve, advocates say. It could also give the Fed a permanent policy tool with which to target sectors of the economy and certain parts of the bond market.

For example, the Fed could buy and sell certain assets to stimulate or cool the mortgage market or to affect longer-term borrowing costs, says Benjamin Friedman, former chairman of Harvard University’s economics department. Experts addressing a conference hosted by the Fed last month, said the central bank Fed could use the assets as a new “macro prudential” tool to deal with financial market bubbles – by cooling particular sectors with targeted asset trades – and ward off investor runs by letting ample bank reserves act as a buffer. And while the Fed is now replenishing its portfolio as bonds mature and plans to continue doing so for another year or so, policymakers have directed staff to examine alternatives and to consult outside experts, according to minutes of the Fed’s July meeting.

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Apologists for shadow banking.

This Is a Test of the Shadow Banking System (BBG ed.)

It’s hard to know how bad the latest turmoil in the market for risky corporate debt will become. Already, though, it offers some insight into what’s good – and what could be better – about the so-called shadow banking system. Over several years following the 2008 recession, in an effort to reap better returns amid extremely low interest rates, investors piled into higher-yielding debt issued by companies with relatively shaky finances. This is a classic example of shadow banking: People put their savings into various types of funds, which in turn provided hundreds of billions of dollars in financing to companies, largely bypassing traditional banks. Now, inevitably, the cycle is turning. Investors are fleeing from funds that focus on high-yield bonds, precipitating sharp price declines and presenting portfolio managers with the difficult task of finding buyers for securities that rarely trade.

As a result, some mutual funds, including one run by Third Avenue Management, have frozen withdrawals as they raise the necessary cash. Others may follow. So what does this tell us? For one, it suggests that shadow banking can play an important role in making the financial system more resilient. Unpleasant as Third Avenue’s troubles may be for its investors, the broader repercussions are limited. That’s in part because mutual funds can’t use nearly as much borrowed money, or leverage, as banks typically do. As a result, the funds are very unlikely to end up owing more than their assets are worth – a disastrous outcome that, if it happened at a large institution or at many smaller ones, could destabilize the entire financial system and necessitate taxpayer bailouts. That said, mutual funds aren’t alone in holding risky corporate debt.

Large quantities of loans and bonds, as well as derivative contracts linked to them, reside in various other nonbank institutions – such as hedge funds – that can be highly leveraged and also active in other markets, making them potential conduits for contagion. Regulators have a hard time knowing where the risks are concentrated in this truly shadowy realm, in large part because their areas of responsibility are fragmented and they lack incentives to share information. One obvious solution, in which Congress has unfortunately taken no interest, would be to give the Financial Stability Oversight Council more power to shed light on dark corners and more authority to mitigate emerging risks. Beyond that, regulators should make use of tools – such as limits on the amount of money that can be borrowed against securities – that reduce the likelihood of distress among all financial-market participants, no matter what form they take.

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Keep rates low, and you get this.

Why High-Yield Debt Selloff Isn’t 2007 All Over Again. Or Is It? (BBG)

Wall Street is having a 2007 flashback as a high-yield debt rout triggers nightmares of hard-to-trade assets plunging in value and funds halting redemptions. Jim Reid, a strategist at Deutsche Bank, wrote Monday that this month’s turmoil, including Third Avenue Management’s suspension of cash redemptions from a mutual fund that invested in high-yield debt, may be a harbinger of things to come. Berwyn Income Fund’s George Cipolloni said the similarities between markets now and those before the financial crisis are too big to ignore. Get a grip, traders and analysts say: This isn’t the making of another financial crisis – at least not yet. “I don’t see any systemic risks out of this,” said Fred Cannon, a KBW Inc. bank analyst, likening the current situation more to the popping of the Internet bubble than to the credit crunch that crippled the financial system.

“If this is a signal of a recession, then you have to believe any kind of downturn in the economy, as it relates to the large banks, will look a lot more like 2001 than 2008.” Funds run by Third Avenue and Stone Lion Capital Partners have stopped returning cash to investors after clients sought to pull too much money as falling energy prices contributed to poor performance this year. In 2007, funds at Bear Stearns and BNP Paribas halted redemptions after the value of their subprime-mortgage investments plummeted. That served as a precursor to bigger losses and liquidity issues at major banks that hobbled the global economy over the next two years. [..]

The number of junk-debt funds that promise investors quick access to their money has exploded since September 2008 as zero interest rates spurred demand for higher returns. There are now 35 U.S.-based high-yield exchange-traded funds with $43 billion under management, compared with three funds with $1.3 billion in 2008, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The number of mutual funds has grown to 252 from 100 in 2008 and assets increased to $326 billion from $126 billion.

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Oh, those Belgians.

Foreigners Sell A Record $55.2 Billion In US Treasuries In October (ZH)

After several months of significant reserves liquidations by China (specifically by its Euroclear proxy “Belgium”) which tracked the drop in China’s reserves practically tick for tick, in October Chinese+Belgian holdings were virtually unchanged according to the latest TIC data, as China moderated its defense of its sliding currency. Of course, putting this in context still shows a China which has sold $600 billion of US paper since 2014, as this website was first to note over half a year ago.

And while we expect a prompt resumption of Treasury selling in the coming months following China’s recent aggressive devaluation of its currency, what was more notable in today’s TIC data was the consolidated total change of all foreign US Treasury holdings. As shown in the chart below, following an increase of $17.4 billion in September, foreign net sales of Treasuries hit an all time high of $55.2 billion, surpassing the previous record of $55.0 billion set in January. In absolute terms, October’s total foreign holdings by major holders declined to $6,046.3 trillion the lowest since the summer of 2014.

What is the reason? There are two possible explanations, the first being that foreigners are unloading US paper (ostensibly to domestic accounts) ahead of what they perceive an imminent Fed rate hike which would pressure prices lower, or more likely, the ongoing surge in the dollar and collapse in commodity prices continues to pressures foreign reserve managers to liquidate US Treasury holdings as they scramble to satisfy surging dollar demand domestically and unable to obtain this much needed USD-denominated funding, are selling what US assets they have. Should this selling continue or accelerate in the coming months and if it has an adverse impact on TSY yields, it may also force the Fed’s tightening hand if, as some expect, the liquidation of foreign reserves becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and leads to a material drop in Treasury prices.

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Fast money, shadow banking, call it what you want.

The Guy Who Warned About Libor Sees Fast-Money Financing as New Risk (Alloway)

The cash that finances the U.S. economy is now coming from a spigot that is more prone to rapidly turning off in times of stress than the traditional banking system has been, according to the strategist who first brought attention to banks misstating key benchmark lending rates during the financial crisis in 2008. The warning from Scott Peng, head of global portfolio solutions at Secor Asset Management in New York, comes as investors, analysts, and regulators fret about the recent selloff in the corporate bond market, which the strategist includes in his definition of the so-called “shadow banking system” of nonbank financial intermediaries. Such shadow banking includes all private-sector funding that isn’t provided by deposit-taking banks, so it encompasses bond funds as well as hedge funds, insurance companies, and pension funds, according to Peng.

While rules imposed in the wake of the financial crisis have shored up the banking system, he argues that regulators have swapped one set of systemic risks for another. World Bank data show that the percentage of U.S. private-sector funding provided by banks has fallen to almost the lowest point since 1960, illustrating the growing importance of nonbank financing. “Since 2008, we’ve reformed the banking system by ring-fencing our banks with more regulatory and capital requirements,” Peng told us. “But our economy is now much more dependent on the fast-money shadow-bank financing—which is more fickle in terms of extending credit and can expand or contract much quicker.” Peng was among the first during the financial crisis to suggest that the London interbank offered rate, known as Libor, was understating borrowing costs.

As the then-head of U.S. interest rate strategy at Citigroup Global Markets in New York, Peng co-authored a note titled “Is Libor Broken?” in April 2008. The report, which led to a global focus on the risk that the benchmark was mispricing bank lending rates, said European banks were probably submitting lower-than-actual transacted rates to avoid “being perceived as a weak hand in a fragile market.” Peng predicts that the share of private financing coming from banks at the end of this year will hold close to the 20.6% level of December 2014, given that flows into bond funds have remained positive and bank lending hasn’t risen materially.

Gross issuance of investment-grade U.S. dollar-denominated corporate bonds reached $1.23 trillion through Nov. 20, up from $1.15 trillion in all of 2014, marking a fourth successive year of record sales. In the second quarter of this year, assets in hedge funds reached a record $2.97 trillion before slipping to $2.9 trillion, according to HFR.

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All birds of the one same feather. Credit Suisse is the main protagonist.

The Current Credit Crisis Might Be 35 Times Worse Than You Thought (Yahoo)

Last week, Third Avenue Focused Credit Fund suspended investor redemptions, and credit markets reacted violently. This was the first time mutual fund investors were similarly gated since the financial crisis of 2008. However, the $788.5 million Third Avenue fund might be the tip of the iceberg. According to data obtained by Yahoo Finance*, there are currently $27.2 billion in mutual fund assets that have suffered peak-to-valley losses over the last year greater than 10%. This amount is 35 times greater than the size of the Third Avenue fund, which suffered the third worse loss in the list of -34.5%. The two greatest losses bear a common name, which dominates the list: Credit Suisse. Total assets of $15.9 billion are represented by Credit Suisse named funds, or 59% of the $27.2 billion total.

The largest fund in the list is Credit Suisse Institutional International, which has total assets of $9.9 billion. According to Morningstar, it is currently managed by American Funds. When the time period of the analysis is extended to the peak of June 19, 2014, fund performance for the Credit Suisse named fund reflects a loss of -24.6%, which is roughly half of the -47.4% loss of the Third Avenue fund. Today, the Federal Open Market Committee commences a two day meeting and is widely expected to announce on Wednesday an interest rate increase of 25 basis points for its benchmark Federal Funds rate. Further rate hikes may exacerbate problems in the credit markets, as companies that rely on high yield financing would face difficulty obtaining new loans and rolling over existing loans.

Contagion in risk markets might be contained, according to Goldman Sachs. In a report dated December 11, Goldman said credit markets are simply sending a “false recession signal” similar to the events that unfolded in 2011. Nevertheless, the trend of withdrawals in the mutual fund sector continues. According to the latest data from Lipper, U.S. based stock funds suffered $8.6 billion in net outflows over the week ending December 9, which is the worst reading in four months. As assets are shifted around into year end, the trend is likely to continue.

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History.

Inside Oil’s Deep Dive (BBG)

All oil crashes aren’t equal. This week West Texas Intermediate prices dipped below $35 a barrel, the lowest they’ve been since the 2008 financial crisis – from which oil prices have yet to fully recover. Previous oil crashes resulted from economic crises that temporarily blunted demand. This time, robust energy reserves created by the shale gas and oil revolution in the U.S. have put OPEC on the defensive. Shale reserves appear plentiful and are cheap to produce, forcing OPEC’s de-facto leader, Saudi Arabia, to focus on maximizing its own oil output. With Congress open to lifting the export ban, the oil market could also be awash in unfettered U.S. crude exports. Commercial crude stockpiles were at 485.9 million barrels through Dec. 4, more than 120 million barrels above the five-year seasonal average.

Excess oil inventories may be with us through 2016, according to my Gadfly colleague Liam Denning – and may not truly normalize until 2017. As you can see from the chart, the current crash in oil prices isn’t quite as deep as in 1985 or 2008 (the ’08 plunge was saw prices tank 77% in just over 100 trading days). The current crash is also not yet as lengthy as the less severe 1997 plunge, which took nearly 500 trading days to reach bottom and only about 200 trading days to return to its previous peak (following the Asian financial crisis). What is distinct about the current price plunge is that it’s unclear whether a robust price recovery will even arrive again – and if it does how it might align with previous rebounds.

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Central bank inflation targets are magic tricks meant to deceive.

The Oil Market Just Keeps Tearing Up Draghi’s Inflation Forecasts (BBG)

The oil market doesn’t seem to care about Mario Draghi’s inflation target. Less than two weeks after the European Central Bank president unveiled a beefed-up stimulus program to push inflation back toward its 2% target, fresh falls in the price of crude may have already undermined his efforts. Analysts at Nomura and JPMorgan say Draghi’s December forecast of 1% average inflation in 2016 may be too ambitious. Charles St-Arnaud and Sam Bonney at Nomura have found that the 25% slump in the WTI oil benchmark since the end of October may already be casting its shadow over inflation next year. They’ve calculated the so-called base effects – the contribution of outsized price swings in one year to the following year’s annual inflation rate – that they see as likely to have an impact in 2016.

The oil-price drop we’ve just seen may halve the base effect in some months next year, they write. And that could keep a tight lid on gains in the headline inflation rate, now just at 0.1%. “A weaker base effect early next year means that headline inflation should remain lower than we estimated only a couple of weeks ago,” the analysts say in a note to clients. “Whereas before we saw eurozone inflation reaching 1% in early 2016, the weaker oil prices could mean that headline inflation only reaches 0.5% to 0.6%.” In its December round of staff forecasts, the ECB staff based their prediction of 1% inflation in 2016 and 1.6% in 2017 on an average price for Brent of $52.2 and $57.5, respectively. However, Brent is now below $40 a barrel. If that’s maintained, euro-area inflation won’t meet the 1% average forecast, writes JPMorgan’s Raphael Brun-Aguerre. And if it falls to $20, the euro-area would be in outright deflation, his projections show.

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Ambrose is trying to convince us that demand is rising fast.

Emergency OPEC Meeting Aired As Russia Braces For Sub-$30 Oil (AEP)

OPEC will be forced to call an emergency meeting within weeks to stabilize the market if crude prices fail to rebound after crashing to seven-year lows of $35 a barrel, two of the oil cartel’s member states have warned. Emmanuel Kachikwu, Nigeria’s oil minister and OPEC president until last week, said the group is still hoping that the market will recover by February as low prices squeeze out excess production from US shale, Russia and the North Sea, but nerves are beginning to fray. “If it [the oil price] doesn’t [recover], then obviously we’re in for a very urgent meeting,” he said. Indonesia has issued similar warnings over recent days, suggesting that the OPEC majority may try to force a meeting if Saudi Arabia’s strategy of flooding the market pushes everybody into deeper crisis.

The comments came as Brent crude plunged to $36.76 as the fall-out from OPEC’s deeply-divided meeting earlier this month continued. Prices are now within a whisker of their Lehman-crisis lows in 2008. West Texas crude dropped to $34.54 before rebounding in late trading. Lower quality oil is already selling below $30 on global markets. Basra heavy crude from Iraq is quoted at $26 in Asia, and poor grades from Western Canada fetch as little as $22. Iran’s high-sulphur Foroozan is selling at $31. The oil market is now in the grip of speculative forces as hedge funds take out record short positions and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) liquidate paper holdings, making it extremely hard to read the underlying conditions. Russian finance minister Anton Siluanov said his country is bracing for the worst. “There is no defined policy by the OPEC countries: it is everyone for himself, all trying to recapture markets, and it leads to the dumping that is going on,” he said.

“Everything points to low oil prices next year, and it’s possible that it could be $30 a barrel, and maybe less. If someone had told us a year ago that oil was going to be under $40, everyone would’ve laughed. You have to prepare for difficult times.” The rouble fell to 71 against the dollar, helping to cushion the blow for the Kremlin’s budget but also further eroding Russian living standards. Elvira Nabiulina, the head of Russia’s central bank, said the authorities are now preparing for an average price of $35 next year, a drastic cut even from the earlier emergency planning. Bank of America says OPEC is effectively suspended as Saudi Arabia wages a price war within the cartel against Iran, its bitter rival for geo-strategic dominance in the Middle East. This duel is complicated yet further by a parallel fight with Russia outside the bloc.

Mike Wittner, from Societe Generale, said the Saudis’ motive for floating a proposal at the OPEC summit for a 1m barrel per day (b/d) output cut if Russia, Iraq and others agreed to join in was tactical, chiefly in order to demonstrate to critics at home that no such deal could be forged. He said the strategy to flood the market was not taken lightly and has support from the “highest possible level”. Part of the goal is to discourage energy efficiency and deter investment in renewables. OPEC is not due to meet again until June 2016 but by then a string of its own members could be facing serious fiscal crises. Even Saudi Arabia is freezing public procurement and drawing up austerity plans to rein in a budget deficit near 20pc of GDP.

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The kind of thing you shouldn’t have to say. Like when an owner of sports team goes public saying he ‘supports’ the coach. Never a good sign.

Italy Says Financial System Solid As Bank Rescue Furor Grows (Reuters)

Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan said on Tuesday that Italy’s financial system remained solid as the government faced a mounting furor over the rescue of four banks that wiped out the savings of thousands of retail investors. Italy saved Banca Marche, Banca Etruria, CariChieti and CariFe at the end of November, drawing €3.6 billion from a crisis fund financed by the country’s healthy lenders. Tougher European Union rules on bank rescues aimed at shielding taxpayers meant shareholders and holders of junior debt were hit, unleashing protests against the government. “The government is doing everything in its powers to put the banks on the right path and to reinforce the banking system,” Padoan said in a radio interview, adding that “the institutions and the system remain solid.”

The government has “full confidence” in the Bank of Italy and market regulator Consob, he said. Italian authorities came under fire after it emerged that many ordinary Italians had been sold risky subordinated bonds that, in case of bankruptcy, only get repaid after ordinary creditors have been reimbursed in full. Around 10,000 clients of the four banks held some €329 million in such junior bonds, the Treasury said on Monday. Padoan said he did not know if the government would be weakened by the affair which has hit bank bonds and shares. Retail investors have rushed to sell junior bank bonds after one pensioner who lost his savings committed suicide.

Padoan gave his support to the Minister for Reforms Maria Elena Boschi, one of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s closest allies, who faces a no-confidence motion in parliament tabled by the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, over an alleged conflict of interests. Boschi’s father was vice-president of Banca Etruria (PEL.MI) until the bank was put under special administration by the Bank of Italy this year and Boschi herself was a shareholder. “I am sure that Boschi will come out of this extremely well,” Padoan said. The political backlash for Renzi is particularly damaging because the four rescued banks mainly operate in central Italian regions that are traditional strongholds of his center-left Democratic Party.

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Thumbscrews. Why not just get Germans to run it openly?

Thousands Of Jobs To Disapper At Greek Banks (Kath.)

Greece’s four main banks will have to reduce their employees by a total of 4,350 and shut down about 180 branches between them up to the end of 2017. These new reduction demands result from the derailing of the Greek economy generated by the prolonged uncertainty during 2015 which brought the country to the brink of exiting the eurozone. The job cut and the branch shutdown will have been included in the revised restructuring plans that National, Alpha, Piraeus and Eurobank have submitted to the European Commission’s competition authorities which were required after the four lenders underwent their latest recapitalization process.

The new wave of cuts comes on the back of the Greek banking sector’s major contraction over the last few years. According to data compiled by the Hellenic Bank Association, in 2009 Greece boasted 19 domestic banks, 36 foreign ones (mainly branches of major international lenders) and 16 cooperative banks. Nowadays there are just seven banks remaining (the four systemic ones plus Attica Bank, HSBC and Panellinia) and only five foreign banks with branches in Greece, and it seems like only three cooperative banks will survive, if they manage to collect the funds required for their recapitalization.

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Stunning numbers: “..the Big Six banks collectively control 42% more deposits, 84% more assets and are hoarding 400% more cash then they were prior to the financial crisis..”

Hillary Clinton’s Chronic Caution On The Big Banks (Nomi Prins)

Hillary Clinton has a knack for saying what she believes she needs to. But when it comes to fortitude and detail, actions speak louder than rhetoric — including the rhetoric she espoused Monday at the New School to describe her self-defined pro-growth, pro-fairness economic blueprint. Over many years, via her actions and omissions in positions of high public responsibility, Clinton has failed to demonstrate an interest in reforming the power structures that fortify themselves at the expense of America’s middle class. In pursuit of the presidency, Hillary is crafting her message to capture the attention of the center as well as the progressives. Yet by doing so, it all feels scripted and safe, straining the boundaries of credulity.

[..] Hillary Clinton came to New York City to make her case on fighting inequality and spurring growth. Yet when she speaks about inequality, she’s either ignoring or unaware of the bigger picture. The very power structure of Wall Street has become more concentrated and thus presents a greater risk to stability than ever before due to a series of deregulatory moves and bailouts under Presidents from both sides of the aisle.

Yes, several of Hillary’s checklist items are useful to “ordinary Americans.” Raising the minimum wage, trying to gain salary parity for both genders and “putting families first” with paid sick leave and widely available free pre-kindergarten are all noteworthy policy agendas. They become less meaningful when dropped with such little detail by someone who has been in politics for so long. By how much should we raise minimum wages? How do we get parity? What does it mean to put families first if corporate boards vote their chairs massive compensation packages, regardless of whether the firm invests in R&D or employees? Will we put CEOs in jail for presiding over felonious firms or tacitly support their eight-figure bonuses and incarcerate bankers that aren’t her friends down the totem pole as she suggests?

Further, what does it mean to reduce Wall Street risk when the Big Six banks collectively control 42% more deposits, 84% more assets and are hoarding 400% more cash then they were prior to the financial crisis, and when just 10 big banks control 97% of bank trading assets? Bold, fresh ideas that shake up the core of the American power concentration structure did not come from Hillary Clinton. Nor will they come from Jeb Bush or other Republican frontrunners. The only way to articulate policies that can work for America as a whole is to re-imagine America as a country of equal opportunity for all — and that means limiting the concentration of power of the few that, by virtue of donations, lobbying forces and elite alliances, dictates policies that reinforce their dominance.

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Really nice from Frances.

When The World Turns Dark (Coppola)

The Poor Law reformers of the 1830s believed that hard work is a virtue in and of itself, regardless of usefulness to society or financial benefit to those doing it: the workless are “moral defectives” who must be forced to work in order to correct the defects in their personalities. Thomas Malthus believed that public spending that supports the poor encourages them to breed: the poor must be condemned to a life of poverty and deprivation to discourage them from choosing to have children at state expense. The children of workless parents must be protected from their malign influence. The Mother’s lament resonates with all too many of today’s mothers: How shall I feed my children on so small a wage? How can I comfort them when I am dead? This is the creed of meanness and selfishness, lampooned by Dickens in “A Christmas Carol”.

It is the creed of the false gods of Hard Work and Saving. But we, cocooned by the belief that we are better than our ancestors, invoke these false gods and publish the creed anew. The morality of the workhouse has become the morality of the Daily Mail. In bringing back the “old religion”, we have set the poor and vulnerable against each other. Solidarity disintegrates; the poor fight each other for a share of a pot of money that is deliberately kept too small to meet all needs, and demand that others who might need a share too are kept out. “Close the borders”. “Stop immigration NOW”. “We can’t afford refugees”. These are the cries of those who fear that the arrival of others will mean that they lose even more. In Europe, the same harshness is evident, but on an even larger scale.

Here, it is not just the poor within countries who are fighting over scraps: the countries themselves are at each other’s throats, as harshness is imposed by stronger countries on weaker in support of the same twisted morality. Countries that struggle to compete for export markets are morally defective: they must be forced to compete through harsh treatment. Countries that attempt to give citizens a decent life instead of paying creditors must be forced into poverty and deprivation to discourage others from the same path. Governments must be supervised by technocrats to make sure they obey fiscal rules even at the cost of recession and high unemployment. The Oppressed cry out: “When shall the usurer’s city cease? And famine depart from the fruitful land?”

Worshipping the false gods of hard work and saving comes at a terrible price. The sacrifices those gods demand are the lives of those who do not – or cannot – live as they dictate. But as yet, there is no widespread challenge to their authority. People still believe the lie they tell: “There is no more money”. People used to believe the promise of the gods of borrowing and spending, “The money will never run out”. But their belief was shattered in the crash of 2008, when the debt edifice abruptly collapsed, causing widespread financial destruction. People not only stopped believing that promise, they also stopped believing in themselves. The terrible recession and ensuing long slump created an enormous confidence gap. Into this gaping hole stepped the old gods and their new lie.

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Here goes controversy. Keep in mind: don’t shoot the messenger!

Vegetarian And ‘Healthy’ Diets May Actually Be Worse For The Environment (SA)

Advocates of vegetarianism – including everybody’s favourite Governator – regularly point out how how harmful human consumption of meat is to the environment, but is opting for a fully vegetable-based, meat-free diet a viable way to cut down on energy use and greenhouse gas emissions? Nope – according to a new study by scientists in the US – or, at least, it’s not that simple. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) say that adopting the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) current recommendations that people incorporate more fruits, vegetables, dairy and seafood in their diet would actually be worse for the environment than what Americans currently eat. “Eating lettuce is over three times worse in greenhouse gas emissions than eating bacon,” said Paul Fischbeck, one of the researchers.

“Lots of common vegetables require more resources per calorie than you would think. Eggplant, celery and cucumbers look particularly bad when compared to pork or chicken.” If these findings seem surprising in light of what we know about the impact of meat on the environment, you’re probably not alone. You’re also not wrong – meat production does take a high toll on the environment. But what we need to bear in mind is that the energy content of meat is also high, especially when compared to the energy content of many vegetables, which is why going on a salad diet is great for your waistline. Consuming less energy content means less you in the long run. But what if you don’t want to lose weight? What if you just want to replace the same amount of energy you get from meat with energy from vegetables?

Well, then, to put it very simply, you need to eat a lot of vegetables. And when you contrast meat and vegetables on their impact per calorie as opposed to by weight, veggies suddenly don’t look quite so environmentally friendly. [..] The researchers acknowledge that their findings may be somewhat surprising in light of the zeitgeist over meat’s impact. “These perhaps counterintuitive results are primarily due to USDA recommendations for greater caloric intake of fruits, vegetables, dairy, and fish/seafood, which have relatively high resource use and emissions per calorie,” they write in Environment Systems & Decisions. But controversial as the findings may sound, comparing the respective impact of different foods based on their calorie content isn’t new or radical.

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No-one’s listening. Flapping butterfly wings and all that.

Decline In Over 75% Of UK Butterfly Species Is ‘Final Warning’ (Guardian)

More than three-quarters of Britain’s 59 butterfly species have declined over the last 40 years, with particularly dramatic declines for once common farmland species such as the Essex Skipper and small heath, according to the most authoritative annual survey of population trends. But although common species continue to vanish from our countryside, the decline of some rarer species appears to have been arrested by last ditch conservation efforts. “This is the final warning bell,” said Chris Packham, Butterfly Conservation vice-president, calling for urgent research to identify the causes for the disappearance of butterflies from ordinary farmland. “If butterflies are going down like this, what’s happening to our grasshoppers, our beetles, our solitary bees? If butterflies are in trouble, rest assured everything else is.”

While 76% of species are declining, prospects for a handful of the most endangered butterflies in Britain have at least brightened over the past decade, according to the study by Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, with rare species responding to intensive conservation efforts. During the last 10 years, the population of the threatened Duke of Burgundy has increased by 67% and the pearl-bordered fritillary has experienced a 45% rise in abundance as meadows and woodlands are specifically managed to help these species. Numbers of the UK’s most endangered butterfly, the high brown fritillary, are finally increasing at some of its remaining sites in Exmoor and south Wales, showing the success of targeted conservation efforts there.

But The State of the UK’s Butterflies 2015 report cautions that such revivals still leave these vulnerable species far scarcer than they once were – the high brown fritillary has suffered a 96% decline in occurrence (meaning the sites at which it is present) since 1976, reflecting its disappearance from most of Britain. Other endangered butterflies, including the wood white (down 88% in abundance), white admiral (down 59% in abundance) and marsh fritillary have continued a relentless long-term decline.

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Endangering walruses.

Record High 2015 Arctic Temperatures Have ‘Profound Effects’ (Guardian)

The Arctic experienced record air temperatures and a new low in peak ice extent during 2015, with scientists warning that climate change is having “profound effects” on the entire marine ecosystem and the indigenous communities that rely upon it. The latest National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) report card on the state of the Arctic revealed the annual average air temperature was 1.3C (2.3F) above the long-term average – the highest since modern records began in 1900. In some parts of the icy region, the temperature exceeded 3C (5.4F) above the average, taken from 1981 to 2010. This record heat has been accompanied by diminishing ice. The Arctic Ocean reached its peak ice cover on 25 February – a full 15 days earlier than the long-term average and the lowest extent recorded since records began in 1979.

The minimum ice cover, which occurred on 11 September, was the fourth smallest in area on record. More than 50% of Greenland’s huge ice sheet experienced melting in 2015, with 22 of the 45 widest and fastest-flowing glaciers shrinking in comparison to their 2014 extent. Not only is the ice winnowing away, it is becoming younger – Noaa’s analysis of satellite data shows that 70% of the ice pack in March was composed of first-year ice, with just 3% of the ice older than four years. This means the amount of new, thinner ice has doubled since the 1980s and is more vulnerable to melting. The report card – compiled by 72 scientists from 11 countries – noted sharp variations in conditions in the northern part of the Arctic compared to its southern portion.

The melting season was 30-40 days longer than the long-term average in the north but slightly below average in the south, suggesting that changes to the jet stream, causing colder air to whip across the southern part of the Arctic, are having an impact. Noaa said warming in the Arctic is occurring at twice the rate of anywhere else in the world – a 2.9C (5.2F) average increase over the past century – and that it is certain climate change, driven by the release of greenhouse gases, is the cause. “There is a close association between air temperature and the amount of sea ice we see, so if we reduce the temperature globally it looks like it will stabilize the Arctic,” said Dr James Overland, oceanographer at Noaa. “The next generation may see an ice-free summer but hopefully their decedents will see more ice layering later on in the century.”

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German interior minister just completely made that up. And he’s still in his job?

Far Fewer People Entering Germany With Fake Syrian Passports Than Claimed (AFP)

The proportion of people entering Germany with fake Syrian passports is far less than the 30% announced by the interior minister in September, the government has said. Germany has to date maintained an open-door policy for Syrians escaping their country’s bloodshed, giving them “primary protection” – the highest status for refugees. Among other benefits, this status includes a three-year residence permit and family reunification. The policy has sparked controversy, heightened after the interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, said in September that up to 30% of people were found coming into Germany with false Syrian passports and actually came from other nations.

He said the figures were based on estimates from people working on the ground. But in response to a question from the leftwing Die Linke party, the government said in a written note obtained by AFP late on Monday that only 8% of the 6,822 Syrian passports examined by authorities between January and October were actually found to be fake. Die Linke lawmaker Ulla Jelpke criticised the minister, saying: “Instead of looking into a crystal ball… the minister should lean towards facts and reality.” Germany is Europe’s top destination for refugees, most of whom travel through Turkey and the Balkans, and expects more than 1 million arrivals this year.

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Epic.

EU Says Only 64 -Of 66,000- Refugees Have Been ‘Relocated’ From Greece (AP)

Only 64 of the tens of thousands of refugees that Greece’s European Union partners should be taking to help lighten the country’s migrant burden have actually gone to other EU states. The EUs executive Commission also said on Tuesday that just one of the five “hotspot areas” on the Greek islands meant to register and fingerprint arriving migrants is operational. The hotspots are a key component of the EUs relocation plan to share 66,400 refugees in Greece with other EU nations over the next two years. The Commission noted that only nine of the 23 participating EU states have offered relocation places to Greece, almost three months after the scheme was launched.

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Aug 282015
 
 August 28, 2015  Posted by at 11:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Dorothea Lange Resettlement project, Bosque Farms, New Mexico Dec 1935

Real Chinese GDP Growth Is -1.1%, According to Evercore ISI (Zero Hedge)
BofA: China Stock Rout To Resume As Intervention Ends (Bloomberg)
Money Pours Out of Emerging Markets at Rate Unseen Since Lehman (Bloomberg)
What China’s Treasury Liquidation Means: $1 Trillion QE In Reverse (ZH)
Global Equity Funds Witness Biggest-Ever Exodus (CNBC)
PBOC Uses Derivatives to Tame Yuan Fall Expectations (WSJ)
China Local Govt Pension Funds To Start Investing $313 Billion ‘Soon’ (Reuters)
Chinese Banking Giants: Zero Profit Growth as Bad Loans Pile Up (Bloomberg)
The Great Wall Of Money (Hindesight)
China Will Respond Too Late to Avoid -Global- Recession: Buiter (Bloomberg)
China’s Ongoing FX Trilemma And Its Possible Consequences (FT)
China Has Exposed The Fatal Flaws In Our Liberal Economic Order (Pettifor)
Albert Edwards: “99.7% Chance We Are Now In A Bear Market” (Zero Hedge)
Who Will Be the Bagholders This Time Around? (CH Smith)
Now’s The Right Time For Yellen To Kill The ‘Greenspan Put’ (MarketWatch)
The Emperor Is Naked; Long Live The Emperor (Fiscal Times)
IMF Could Contribute A Fifth To Greek Bailout, ESM’s Regling Says (Bloomberg)
Yanis Varoufakis: ‘I’m Not Going To Take Part In Sad Elections’ (Reuters)
For Those Trying to Reach Safety in Europe, Land can be as Deadly as Sea (HRW)

That sounds more like it.

Real Chinese GDP Growth Is -1.1%, According to Evercore ISI (Zero Hedge)

With Chinese data now an official farce even among Wall Street economists, tenured academics, and all others whose job obligation it is to accept and never question the lies they are fed, the biggest question over the past year has been just what is China’s real, and rapidly slowing, GDP – which alongside the Fed, is the primary catalyst of the global risk shakeout experienced in recent weeks. One thing that everyone knows and can agree on, is that it is not the official 7% number, or whatever goalseeked fabrication the communist party tries to push to a world that has realized China can’t even manipulate its stock market higher, let alone its economy.

But what is it? Over the past few months we have shown various unpleasant estimates, the lowest of which was 1.6% back in April. Today we got the worst one yet, courtesy of Evercore ISI, which using its own GDP equivalent index – the Synthetic Growth Index (SGI) – gets a vastly different result from the official one, namely Chinese growth of -1.1% annually. Or rather, contraction. To wit, from Evercore:

Our proprietary Synthetic Growth Index (SG!) fell 1.1% mim in July, and was also down 1.1% y/y. No wonder global commodities are so weak. The most recent 18 months have been much weaker than the 2011-13 period. Even if we adjust our SG I upward (for too-little representation of Services — lack of data), we believe actual economic growth in China is far below the official 7.0% yly. And, it is not improving, Most worrisome to us; the ‘equipment’ portion of Plant & Equipment spending is very weak, a bad sign for any company or country. Expect more monetary and fiscal steps to lift growth.

And here is why the world is in big trouble.

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With confidence gone, is there another option left?

BofA: China Stock Rout To Resume As Intervention Ends (Bloomberg)

The rebound in China’s stocks will be short-lived because state intervention is too costly to continue and valuations aren’t justified given the slowing economy, says Bank of America. “As soon as people sense the government is withdrawing from direct intervention, there will be lots of investors starting to dump stocks again,” said David Cui at Bank of America in Singapore. The Shanghai Composite Index needs to fall another 35% before shares become attractive, he said. The Shanghai gauge rallied for a second day on Friday amid speculation authorities were supporting equities before a World War II victory parade next week that will showcase China’s military might. The government resumed intervention in stocks on Thursday to halt the biggest selloff since 1996.

China Securities Finance, the state agency tasked with supporting share prices, will probably end direct market purchases within the next month or two, Cui said. While the benchmark gauge trades 47% above the levels of a year earlier, data from industrial output to exports and retail sales depict a deepening slowdown. China’s first major growth indicator for August showed the manufacturing sector is at the weakest since the global financial crisis. Profits at the nation’s industrial companies fell 2.9% in July, data Friday showed. Equities on mainland bourses are valued at a median 51 times reported earnings, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s the most among the 10 largest markets and more than twice the 19 multiple for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index. Even after tumbling 37% from its June 12 peak, the Shanghai gauge is the best-performing equity index worldwide over the past year.

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This is going to be seminal.

Money Pours Out of Emerging Markets at Rate Unseen Since Lehman (Bloomberg)

This week, investors relived a nightmare. As markets from China to South Africa tumbled, they pulled $2.7 billion out of developing economies on Aug. 24. That matches a Sept. 17, 2008 exodus during the week Lehman Brothers went under. The collapse of the U.S. investment bank was a seminal moment in the timeline of the global financial crisis. The retreat from risky assets, triggered by concern over a slowdown in China and higher interest rates in the U.S., has taken money outflows from emerging markets to an estimated $4.5 billion in August, compared with inflows of $6.7 billion in July, data compiled by Institute of International Finance show. It’s lower stock prices that people are most worried about.

Equity outflows from developing nations increased to $8.7 billion this month, the highest level since the taper tantrum of 2013 when the prospect of higher rates in the U.S., making riskier assets less attractive, first shook emerging markets. Debt inflows softened this month while remaining positive at $4.2 billion, the IIF says. “Emerging market investors have been spooked by rising uncertainty about China, and stress has been exacerbated by a combination of fundamental concerns about EM economic prospects and volatility in global financial markets,” Charles Collyns, chief economist at the IIF, said.

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Interconnections.

What China’s Treasury Liquidation Means: $1 Trillion QE In Reverse (ZH)

Earlier today, Bloomberg – citing the ubiquitous “people familiar with the matter” – confirmed what we’ve been pounding the table on for months; namely that China is liquidating its UST holdings. As we outlined in July, from the first of the year through June, China looked to have sold somewhere around $107 billion worth of US paper. While that might have seemed like a breakneck pace back then, it was nothing compared to what would transpire in the last two weeks of August. Following the devaluation of the yuan, the PBoC found itself in the awkward position of having to intervene openly in the FX market, despite the fact that the new currency regime was supposed to represent a shift towards a more market-determined exchange rate.

That intervention has come at a steep cost – around $106 billion according to SocGen. In other words, stabilizing the yuan in the wake of the devaluation has resulted in the sale of more than $100 billion in USTs from China’s FX reserves. That dramatic drawdown has an equal and opposite effect on liquidity. That is, it serves to tighten money markets, thus working at cross purposes with policy rate cuts. The result: each FX intervention (i.e. each round of UST liquidation) must be offset with either an RRR cut, or with emergency liquidity injections via hundreds of billions in reverse repos and short- and medium-term lending ops.

It appears that all of the above is now better understood than it was a month ago, but what’s still not well understand is the impact this will have on the US economy and, by extension, on US monetary policy, and furthermore, there seems to be some confusion as to just how dramatic the Treasury liquidation might end up being. Recall that China’s move to devalue the yuan and this week’s subsequent benchmark lending rate cut have served to blow up one of the world’s most popular carry trades. As one currency trader told Bloomberg on Tuesday, “it’s a terrible time to be long carry, increased volatility – which I think we’ll stay with – will continue to be terrible for carry. The period is over for carry trades.”

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Negative records being set all over.

Global Equity Funds Witness Biggest-Ever Exodus (CNBC)

Investors yanked $29.5 billion out of global equity funds in the week that ended August 26, the biggest single-week outflow on record as markets around the world over went into meltdown mode, according to data from Citi. On a regional basis, U.S. funds suffered the highest level of outflows at $12.3 billion, followed by Asia funds, which saw $4.9 million in redemptions. Citi’s records go back to 2000. European funds, which broke their chain of 14 weeks of inflows, witnessed $3.6 billion in outflows for the week.

Concerns around the outlook for the Chinese economy and jitters around the U.S. Federal Reserve’s impending rate hike have sent global markets into a tailspin over the past week. The MSCI World Index and MSCI Emerging Market Index both slid over 7% between August 19 and August 26. China, the market at the heart of the global selloff, saw losses of a far higher magnitude. The notoriously volatile benchmark Shanghai Composite tumbled 22% over this period, leading to outflows of $1.2 billion from China and Greater China funds during the week.

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Yeah, sure, add more leverage…

PBOC Uses Derivatives to Tame Yuan Fall Expectations (WSJ)

China’s central bank used an unusual and complex financial tool Thursday to tame growing expectations for the yuan to fall, three people familiar with the matter said. The People’s Bank of China intervened in the market for U.S. dollar-yuan foreign-exchange swaps, causing their price to fall sharply, a movement that implies a stronger Chinese currency and lower interest rates in the world’s No. 2 economy in the future, said the people. The move came after waves of sharp selloffs in the Chinese currency in offshore markets, such as Hong Kong’s, where the yuan trades freely, following Beijing’s surprise nearly 2% yuan devaluation on Aug. 11.

Thanks to what each of the three people described as “massive” orders from a few commercial banks acting on the PBOC’s behalf, the so-called one-year dollar-yuan swap spread—in rough terms, a measure of the implied future differential between Chinese and U.S. interest rates—plunged to 1200 points from 1730 points Wednesday. In the offshore market, the spread dropped to 1950 points from 2310 points Tuesday, following the onshore move. A drop in the spread for dollar-yuan swaps, which consist of a spot trade and an offsetting forward transaction, would also imply a weaker spot exchange rate at a predetermined future date.

The currency derivatives are typically used by investors seeking to hedge against exchange-rate and interest-rate fluctuations. “The central bank chose a rarely used tool this time—the FX swaps—to intervene and it did so via a couple of midsize banks, instead of the usual big state lenders that serve as its agent banks,” one of the people said.

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Desperation. Again, remember when pensions were limited to AAA rated assets?

China Local Govt Pension Funds To Start Investing $313 Billion ‘Soon’ (Reuters)

China’s local pension funds will start investing 2 trillion yuan ($313.05 billion) as soon as possible in stocks and other assets, senior government officials said on Friday, in a bid to boost the investment returns of such funds. China said last weekend that it would let pension funds under local government units to invest in the stock market for the first time, a move that might channel hundreds of billions of yuan into the country’s struggling equity market. Up to 30 percent can be invested in stocks, equity funds and balanced funds. The rest can be invested in convertible bonds, money-market instruments, asset-backed securities, index futures and bond futures in China, as well as major infrastructure projects.

“We will actively make early preparations… we will formally start investment operations as soon as possible,” Vice Finance Minister Yu Weiping told a briefing. But the timing of investment will depend on preparations as the National Social Security Fund (NSSF), the manager of local pension funds, will entrust professional investment firms to make actual investments, Yu told reporters after the briefing. “When they (investment firms) will enter the market, the government will not intervene,” Yu said. You Jun, vice minister of human resources and social security, told the same news conference that pension investment will benefit the economy and the country’s capital market, but he downplayed any attempt to support the ailing stock market. “Supporting the stock market or rescuing the stock market is not the function and responsibility of our funds,” You said.

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The crucial point becomes how much of this can be kept hidden.

Chinese Banking Giants: Zero Profit Growth as Bad Loans Pile Up (Bloomberg)

The first two Chinese banking giants to report earnings this week have two things in common: zero profit growth and bad loans piling up at more than twice the pace of a year earlier. Industrial & Commercial Bank of China posted a 31% increase in bad loans in the first half, while Agricultural Bank of China had a 28% jump, their stock-exchange statements showed on Thursday. At a press briefing in Beijing, ICBC President Yi Huiman indicated that the lender may have to abandon a target of keeping its nonperforming loan ratio at 1.45% this year, citing “severe” conditions. The level at the end of June was 1.4%.

The economic weakness and $5 trillion stock-market slump that prompted the central bank to cut interest rates and lenders’ reserve requirements this week may make it harder for China’s banks to revive earnings growth and attract investors. For now, the biggest banks are trading below book value. “We are nowhere near the end of this down cycle, not with the economy wobbling like now,” said Richard Cao at Guotai Junan Securities. ICBC’s profit was little changed at 74.7 billion yuan ($11.7 billion) in the quarter ended June 30, based on an exchange filing, almost matching 74.8 billion yuan a year earlier. That compared with the 75.7 billion yuan median estimate of 10 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Nonperforming loans jumped to 163.5 billion yuan, the company said.

Agricultural Bank reported a profit decline of 0.8% to 50.2 billion yuan and bad loans of 159.5 billion yuan, including debt in the construction and mining industries. For ICBC, the biggest increases in nonperforming credit in the first half were in China’s western region, where coal businesses are struggling, the Yangtze River Delta and the Bohai Rim. ICBC, Agricultural Bank and another of China’s large lenders to report on Thursday, Bank of Communications, all reported declines in net interest margins, a measure of lending profitability. The rural lender had the biggest fall, a slide of 15 basis points from a year earlier to 2.78%.

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Bretton Woods.

The Great Wall Of Money (Hindesight)

China is in severe trouble and that trouble has already been reverberating around EM exporters for a number of years. It is just one of many dollar currency peg countries that have experienced tightening conditions because of higher US interest rate guidance and dollar strength. An unwelcome addition to their own domestic issues, but always a circular outcome, as they are inextricably linked to the US by their Bretton Woods II relationship. By devaluing and thus de-stabilising the ‘nominal’ anchor for Asian exchange rates, they will crush the growth engine of the developed countries on whose consumption they so rely on.

Since 2009, we have forecast and documented the unwinding of the Bretton Woods II currency system. Financialisation of our economies and markets, which escalated post-2008 at the instigation of governments and central bankers, is going to go into full reverse for all asset classes. Economies and markets are so entwined that a drop in asset classes will lead the world back into recession. In 2013, we believed the odds had tilted firmly towards increasing debt deflation at the hands of China. Large current account deficits had led to unsustainable debt creation, and as a consequence the trade deficit countries were the first to experience a severe financial crisis. However, on the other side of the equation, the surplus countries were now experiencing their reaction to the crisis.

In November 2013, we wrote: “The deleveraging process which began in 2008 has been a slow burner but is likely now in full swing. The deflationary risks are very high. China is the driver. All eyes on China.” We conceive that this slow-burner of deleveraging, which has occurred since the 2008 crisis, is potentially about to engulf all asset prices. We are beginning to think the unthinkable – that just maybe asset prices will back up 20 to 30% and fast and that through the autumn we could experience even greater price depreciation. Almost 8 years on from the GFC, the Dow Jones Industrials are perched on the edge of a sharp drop.

Will the Ghost of 1937 revisit us eight years on from the Great Crash of 1929, when U.S. stocks and the world economy got roiled all over again? This is already unfolding as we speak. The Yuan movement may well send more Chinese capital floating across the globe into financial assets and real estate, but it will be short-lived. The debt deleveraging which has been engulfing Emerging Markets has just begun to turn into a ranging inferno, which will eventually burn down all, especially overpriced, global assets. Since the GFC, ‘The Great Wall of Money’ that Bretton Woods II has furnished via its vendor-financing relationship, has masked the deleveraging of our world economy. The Great Wall is about to collapse and fall.

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Not too late, but too little. Because too little is all that is left.

China Will Respond Too Late to Avoid -Global- Recession: Buiter (Bloomberg)

China is sliding into recession and the leadership will not act quickly enough to avoid a major slowdown by implementing large-scale fiscal policies to stimulate demand, Citigroup’s top economist Willem Buiter said. The only thing to stop a Chinese recession, which the former external member of the Bank of England defines as 4% growth on “the mendacious official data” for a year, is a consumption-oriented fiscal stimulus program funded by the central government and monetized by the People’s Bank of China, Buiter said. “Despite the economy crying out for it, the Chinese leadership is not ready for this,” Buiter said in a media call hosted Thursday by the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. “It’s an economy that’s sliding into recession.”

Premier Li Keqiang is seeking to defend a 7% economic growth goal at a time when concern over slowing demand in China is fueling volatility in global markets. The true rate of expansion “is probably something closer to 4.5% or less,” Buiter said. Li has repeatedly pledged to avoid stimulus similar to the one following the global financial crisis in 2008 that led to a surge in debt for local governments and corporations. Some economists and investors have long questioned the accuracy of China’s official growth data. When Li was party secretary of Liaoning province in 2007, he said that figures for gross domestic product were “man-made” and therefore unreliable, according to a diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks in 2010.

“They will respond but they will respond too late to avoid a recession, which is likely to drag the global economy with it down to a global growth rate below 2% – which is in my definition a global recession,” said Buiter.

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“..open capital account, independent monetary policy, and stable tightly managed exchange rate”

China’s Ongoing FX Trilemma And Its Possible Consequences (FT)

From UBS’s Tao Wang on what, post China’s surprise revaluation, is now an oft used phrase, the impossible trinity — AKA the corner China finds itself in:

“The impossible trinity says that a country cannot simultaneously have an open capital account, independent monetary policy, and stable tightly managed exchange rate. Some academics argue that since capital controls are no longer as effective in the current day world, complete monetary policy independence is still not possible without some degree of exchange rate flexibility, even without a fully open capital account – or impossibly duality. Regardless of whether it is an impossible trinity or duality, the fact is that in recent years, as a result of substantial capital controls relaxation, China has found it increasingly difficult to manage independent monetary policy while simultaneously maintaining a fixed exchange rate.

Since last year, the PBOC has had to repeatedly inject liquidity and use the RRR to offset capital outflows – its efforts to ease monetary policy have been less effective because of FX leakages, while at the same time rate cuts are reducing arbitrage opportunities to add further downward pressures on the currency. As China’s government has announced and seems to be committed to fully opening the capital account soon, these challenges will only become greater. Therefore, it is the right thing to do to break the RMB’s dollar peg and move to materially increase its flexibility. At the moment, China’s weak domestic demand and deflationary pressures necessitate further interest rate cuts, which may further fan capital outflows and depreciation pressures.

Meanwhile, not only is the RMB’s recent effective appreciation still hurting China’s tradable goods sector, but the central bank’s defence of the exchange rate is also draining substantial domestic liquidity that necessitates constant replenishing, both of which is undermining the effectiveness of overall monetary policy easing. With a more flexible exchange rate, the RMB can be weakened by outflows and depreciation pressures without draining domestic liquidity, and domestic assets will become relatively cheaper and thus more attractive than foreign assets – which may ultimately alter market expectations to reduce capital outflows.

In addition, a weaker RMB should improve China’s current account balance to also alleviate depreciation pressures. Conversely, if China’s exchange rate is allowed to appreciate along with capital inflows and appreciation pressures, it will make domestic assets more expensive and less attractive, to ultimately worsen China’s current account balance.”

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“The Chinese should have been warned, for they won accolades from Western economists for their “Goldilocks” economy.”

China Has Exposed The Fatal Flaws In Our Liberal Economic Order (Pettifor)

How can we make sense of volatile global stock markets? Economists explained this week’s dramatic falls by pinning responsibility on China. They are at pains to assure us this is not 2008 all over again. I beg to disagree. Even though data is not reliable, it appears that China is slowing down. By 2009, the Chinese authorities were embracing the Western economic model that had just brought down much of Western capitalism. Undeterred, they launched a massive credit-fuelled investment programme. Growth soared at 10% per annum. Investment recently peaked at an extraordinary 49% of GDP. Total debt (private and public) rocketed to 250% of GDP – up 100 points since 2008, according to the IMF. Property and other asset markets boomed, as did consumption.

The Chinese should have been warned, for they won accolades from Western economists for their “Goldilocks” economy. China’s stimulus helped keep the global economy afloat in the years following. But there are economic, ecological, social and political limits to a developing country like China continuing to support richer economies. And there are limits to Beijing’s willingness to abandon control and adopt in full the Western neoliberal economic model; the Communist Party has begun intervening. It is this intervention, we are led to believe, that spooked global markets. Yet the real reason for global weakness lies elsewhere – in the Western neoliberal economic model itself, which lay behind the global financial crisis of 2007-9.

Financial and trade liberalisation, privatisation of taxpayer-financed assets, excessive private indebtedness and wage repression constituted an explosive economic formula and blew up the Western banking system. That model has not undergone even superficial change since 2009. On the contrary: economists and financiers used the “shock and awe” generated by the crisis to buttress the model. The crisis had its origins in banks suffering severe bouts of debt intoxication. Like alcohol addicts, they could not be treated effectively until admitting to the problem: the flawed liberal, financial and economic order. Yet neither the private finance sector nor central bankers and their political friends were willing to admit to the cause of the disease. Instead, central bankers rushed to offer life support in the form of QE to private banking systems in the UK, Japan and the US.

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“Although I am a bear of very little brain one thing I have learned is that most investors only realise the economy is in a recession well after it has begun. ”

Albert Edwards: “99.7% Chance We Are Now In A Bear Market” (Zero Hedge)

Over the years, SocGen’s Albert Edwards has repeatedly expressed his skepticism of both the economy and the market (the longest US equity “bull market” since 1945) both propped up by generous central banks injecting liquidity by the tens of trillions (at this point nobody really knows the number now that the ‘black box’ that is China has entered the global “plunge protection” game) and yet never did he have as “conclusive” a call as he does today. As the following note reveals, when looking at one particular indicator, Edwards is now convinced: ‘we are now in a bear market.” First, Edwards looks east, where he finds nothing short of China’s central bank succumbing to the “wealth effect” preservation pressures of its western peers:

After holding firm last weekend and resisting pressure to give the market what it wanted namely a cut in interest rates and the reserve requirement ratio – the PBoC caved in, unable to endure the riot in the equity markets. In giving the markets what they want China is indeed acting like a fully paid up member of the international financial community. I am not thinking here about freeing up their capital account and allowing the renminbi to be more market determined. I?m thinking instead of China?s replicating the failed US policies of ramping up the equity market to boost economic growth, only to then open the monetary flood gates as equity investors turn nasty.

We disagree modestly with this assessment because as we described first on Tuesday, the RRR-cut had much more to do with unlocking $100 billion in much needed funding so that China could continue to intervene in the FX market by dumping a comparable amount of US Treasurys since its August 11 devaluation, something which as we reported earlier today, China itself has also now admitted. But the reason why we do agree, is that while the RRR-cut may have had other “uses of funds”, today’s dramatic intervention by the PBOC in both the stock market, leading to a 5.5% surge in the last hour of trading, as well as a dramatic intervention in the FX market, it is quite clear that the PBOC will do everything in its power once again to prevent any market drops. Edwards, then goes on to observe something which is sure to anger the Keynesians and monetarists out there: no matter how many trillions central banks inject, they will never replace, or override, the most fundamental thing about the economy: the business cycle.

Despite deflation fears washing westward and US implied inflation expectations diving to levels not seen since the 2008 Great Recession, there remains a touching faith that the US is resilient enough to withstand further renminbi devaluation. And if it isn’t, why worry anyway, because QE4 will be around the corner. But let me be as clear as I can: the US authorities CANNOT eliminate the business cycle, however many QE helicopters they send up. The idea that developed economies will decouple from emerging market turmoil is as ridiculous as was the reverse in the first half of 2008. Remember EM and commodities had then de-coupled from the west’s woes until they too also crashed.

Which brings us to the key point – the state of the market, and why for Edwards the signal is already very clear – the bear market has arrived:

Although I am a bear of very little brain one thing I have learned is that most investors only realise the economy is in a recession well after it has begun. The same is true of an equity bear market. We need help before it is too late to react. Hence when Andrew Lapthorne shows that one of his key predictors of a bear market registers a 99.7% probability that we are already in a bear market, there might still be time to act!

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Just about everyone will.

Who Will Be the Bagholders This Time Around? (CH Smith)

Once global assets roll over for good, it’s important to recall that somebody owns these assets all the way down. These owners are called bagholders, as in “left holding the bag.” Those running the rigged casino have to select the bagholders in advance, lest some fat-cat cronies inadvertently get stuck with losses. In China, authorities picked who would be holding the bag when Chinese stocks cratered 40%: yup, the poor banana vendors, retirees, housewives and other newly minted punters who borrowed on margin to play the rigged casino. Corrupt Chinese officials, oil oligarchs and everyone else who overpaid for flats in London, Manhattan, Vancouver, Sydney, etc. will be left holding the bag when to-the-moon prices fall to Earth.

Anyone buying Neil Young’s 2-acre estate in Hawaii for $24 million will be a bagholder. (If nobody buys it at this inflated price, Neil may end up being the bagholder.) Bond funds that bought dicey emerging market debt (Mongolian bonds, anyone?) and didn’t sell at the top are bagholders. Everyone with bonds and stocks in the oil patch who didn’t sell last summer is a bagholder. Everyone holding yuan is a bagholder. Everyone who bought euro-denominated assets when the euro was 1.40 is a bagholder at euro 1.12. Everyone with 401K emerging market equities mutual funds who didn’t sell last summer is a bagholder. Everyone who reckons “buy and hold” will be the winning strategy going forward will be a bagholder.

Anyone buying anything with borrowed money is a bagholder. Leveraging up to buy risk-on assets like Mongolian bonds and homes in vancouver is brilliant in bubbles, but not so brilliant when risk-on turns to risk-off. As the asset’s value drops below the amount borrowed to buy it, the owner becomes a bagholder. Anyone betting China’s GDP is really expanding at 7% and the U.S. economy will grow by 3.7% next quarter is angling to be a bagholder.

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One of many views. My own notion is that too many people believe the Fed is looking out for the US economy, whereas they really look out for banks.

Now’s The Right Time For Yellen To Kill The ‘Greenspan Put’ (MarketWatch)

The Federal Reserve says the timing of its first interest rate hike in nine years depends on the data, but that doesn’t mean the Fed will be digging through the jobs, growth and inflation reports for the all-clear signal. Instead, the Fed will be doing what millions of people have been doing for the past couple of weeks: Watching the stock market. Many investors have assumed that the recent selloffs in markets from Shanghai to New York meant that the Fed definitely won’t pull the trigger on a rate hike at its Sept. 16-17 meeting. Many prominent talking heads – from Suze Orman to Jim Cramer – are explicitly begging the Fed to hold off on higher interest rates as a way to protect stock prices.

It seems they still fervently believe in the “Greenspan put.” They assume that the Fed will always come riding to the rescue of the markets, as Fed Chair Alan Greenspan did so many times. You can’t blame them for believing that, because from 1987 to today, the Fed has reacted to nearly every market hiccough and tantrum by flooding markets with liquidity and reassurances. They’ve given the markets rate cuts, quantitative easing and promises that easy-money policies will continue for a long time, if not forever. This “Greenspan put” means investing in the stock market is a one-way bet. On Wednesday, New York Fed President Bill Dudley seemed to close the door on a September rate hike when he said that, “at this moment,” a rate hike next month no longer seemed as “compelling” as it once did.

Traders in federal funds futures lowered the odds of an increase in September to about 24%, down from about 50% just before the global market selloff intensified last week. But Dudley didn’t take September off the table, as many people have assumed. Indeed, he explicitly said that a September rate hike “could become more compelling by the time of the meeting as we get additional information.” And what sort of additional information would make a rate hike more compelling? Dudley said the Fed is looking at more than the economic data, widening its scope to examine everything that might impact the economic outlook. They are looking at the value of the dollar, the price of commodities, the risk of contagion from Europe, from China, and from emerging markets. And, above all, the U.S. stock market.

I believe the market selloff has made a September rate hike even more compelling than it was before, because it gives Fed Chair Janet Yellen the opportunity she needs to kill the “Greenspan put” once and for all.

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Great pic.

The Emperor Is Naked; Long Live The Emperor (Fiscal Times)

Over at Barclays, economists Michael Gapen and Rob Martin pushed back their rate hike forecast to March 2016. They admit Fed policymakers are “market dependent” and won’t tighten policy in the maw of a stock correction, even as they see “economic activity in the U.S. as solid and justifying modest rate hikes.” Should the market turmoil continue, the rate hike could be pushed past March. Alberto Gallo, head of credit research at RBS, is more direct: “Policymakers responded to the financial crisis with easy monetary policy and low interest rates. The critics — including us — argued against ‘solving a debt crisis with more debt.’ Put differently, we said that QE was necessary, but not sufficient for a recovery. We are now coming to the moment of reckoning: central bankers look naked, and markets have nothing else to believe in.”

Gallo believes an overreliance on excess liquidity has actually hindered capital investment — as companies have focused on debt-funded share buybacks and dividend hikes instead — limiting the global economy’s potential growth rate. Now, contagion from China — lower commodity prices, lower demand, currency volatility — has revealed the structural vulnerabilities. More stimulus, in his words, “could be self-defeating without fiscal and reform support.” As for Fed hike timing, Gallo sees the odds of a September liftoff at just 30%, down from 36% last week, based on futures market pricing. December odds are at 60%. The open question is: Should the Fed delay its rate hike and the People’s Bank of China ease, will stocks actually rebound? Or has the Pavlovian reaction function been broken by a loss of confidence? We’re about to find out.

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The IMF would have to do a 180 on its own sustainability assessment.

IMF Could Contribute A Fifth To Greek Bailout, ESM’s Regling Says (Bloomberg)

The IMF will probably join Greece’s third bailout and might contribute almost a fifth to the €86 billion program, the head of Europe’s financial backstop said. Speaking to reporters in Berlin on Thursday, European Stability Mechanism Managing Director Klaus Regling said “it would make sense” for the fund to use the 16 billion euros it didn’t pay out to Greece during the second bailout, which expired at the end of June. “Up to 16 billion is something I could imagine,” Regling said. “I assume with a large probability that the IMF will contribute,” though less than the third it contributed to Greece’s bailout five years ago, he said.

Regling is expressing optimism on the IMF’s participation even after Managing Director Christine Lagarde said debt relief for cash-strapped Greece must go “well beyond what has been considered so far.” The IMF has accepted the euro-region view that Greece’s debt load as a percentage of its economy isn’t a proper debt sustainability gauge as long as bond redemptions and interest payments are largely suspended thanks to the financial support, Regling said. Greece’s gross financing need will be below 15% of GDP for a decade, he said. Maturities on outstanding Greek debt can be extended and interest rates lowered to a “certain” degree to achieve the debt easing demanded by the IMF, while a nominal haircut for public creditors is not on the agenda, Regling said. One “needn’t do a whole lot” to help Greece meet the revised debt sustainability requirement, he said.

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Europe-wide will not get you anywhere.

Yanis Varoufakis: ‘I’m Not Going To Take Part In Sad Elections’ (Reuters)

Yanis Varoufakis will not take part in “sad” elections expected next month in Greece and will instead focus on setting up a new movement to “restore democracy” across Europe, the former Greek finance minister told Reuters on Thursday. The combative, motorbike-riding academic was sacked as finance minister last month after alienating euro zone counterparts with his lecturing style and divisive words, hampering Greece’s efforts to secure a bailout from partners. The one-time political rock star has since steadily attacked the bailout programme that prime minister Alexis Tsipras subsequently signed up to and the austerity policies that go with it, rebelling against his former boss in parliament.

“I’m not going to take part in these sad elections,” Mr Varoufakis told Reuters by telephone when asked about the vote likely to be held on September 20th. Mr Tsipras’s Syriza party, which hopes to return to power with a strengthened mandate, says it will not allow Mr Varoufakis and others who voted against the bailout to run for parliament under the Syriza ticket anyway. “Not only him but other lawmakers who did not back the bailout will not be part of the ticket,” a party official said. Mr Tsipras has poured scorn on Mr Varoufakis, telling Alpha TV on Wednesday that he had realised in June that “Varoufakis was talking but nobody paid any attention to him” at the height of Greece’s negotiations with IMF and EU lenders.

“They had switched off, they didn’t listen to what he was saying,” Mr Tsipras said. “He didn’t say anything bad but he had lost his credibility among his interlocutors.” Mr Varoufakis, in turn, likened Mr Tsipras to the mythical Sisyphus condemned to push a rock uphill only to have it roll back down, telling Australia’s ABC Radio the prime minister had embarked on “pushing the same rock of austerity up the hill” against the laws of economics and ethical principles. The 54-year-old Mr Varoufakis has already dismissed speculation that he would join the far-left Popular Unity party that broke away from Syriza last week, telling ABC that he had “great sympathy” but fundamental differences with them and considered their stance “isolationist”.

Instead, he told Reuters he wanted to set up a European network aimed at restoring democracy that could eventually become a party, but at the moment was just an idea that he had seen a lot of support for. “Instead of having national parties that run on a national level it will be a European network which is active on a national level,” he said. “It’s not something immediate. It’s something slow-burning … something that gradually grows roots across Europe.”

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Hunderds die every day now. Blame Brussels.

For Those Trying to Reach Safety in Europe, Land can be as Deadly as Sea (HRW)

More gruesome details will undoubtedly emerge, but we already know enough to be horrified: Up to 50 people died in what were surely agonizing deaths, locked in a truck parked on an Austrian highway, leading to Vienna. That so many should die in a single episode, so close to a European capital where ministers are meeting to discuss migration in the Western Balkans, has made this international news. But the land route into the European Union trekked by migrants and asylum seekers has claimed thousands of victims over the years. In March, two Iraqi men died of hypothermia at the border between Bulgaria and Turkey. In April, 14 Somalis and Afghans were killed by a high-speed train in Macedonia as they walked along the tracks. Last November, a 45-day-old baby died with his father on those same tracks.

While deaths in the Mediterranean capture much of the attention, the list of those who have died of suffocation, dehydration, and exposure to the elements at land borders is unconscionably long. One count puts the overall death toll at EU borders at more than 30,000 since 2000. The smugglers directly responsible for deaths and abuse should be brought to justice. Ill-treatment by border guards and police in Macedonia and Serbia adds to the perils of the journey. But there’s lots of blame to spread around. Failed EU policies, which place an unfair burden on countries at its frontiers, and Greece’s inability to handle the numbers of migrants, have contributed to the crisis at EU borders.

Instead of erecting fences, as Hungary is, the EU should expand safe and legal alternatives for people seeking entry, especially those fleeing persecution and conflict. This means increasing refugee resettlement, facilitating access to family reunification, and developing programs for providing humanitarian visas. It also requires EU governments to meet their legal obligations to provide access to asylum and humane conditions for those already present. EU countries should step up to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in debt-stricken Greece, where 160,000 migrants have arrived since the start of the year. The umbrella group European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) has called for EU countries to relocate 70,000 asylum seekers from Greece within a year, double the insufficient relocation numbers agreed by governments for both Greece and Italy in July.

Many of those traveling along the Western Balkans route and into Austria are from Syria, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan – countries experiencing war or generalized violence. Others are hoping to improve their economic prospects and the lives of their children. None of them deserve to be exploited, abused, or to die.

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