Dec 162017
 
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Tamara de Lempicka The refugees 1937

 

Note: I feel kind of sorry this has become such a long essay. But I still left out so much. You know by now I care a lot about Greece, and it’s high time for another look, and another update, and another chance for people to understand what is happening to the country, and why. To understand that hardly any of it is because the Greeks had so much debt and all of that narrative.

The truth is, Greece was set up to be a patsy for the failure of Europe’s financial system, and is now being groomed simultaneously as a tourist attraction to benefit foreign investors who buy Greek assets for pennies on the dollar, and as an internment camp for refugees and migrants that Europe’s ‘leaders’ view as a threat to their political careers more than anything else.

I would almost say: here we go again, but in reality we never stopped going. It’s just that Greece’s 15 minutes of fame may be long gone, but its ordeal is far from over. If you read through this, you will understand why that is. The EU is deliberately, and without any economic justification, destroying one of its own member states, destroying its entire economy.

 

 

A short article in Greek paper Kathimerini last week detailed the latest new cuts in pensions the Troika has imposed on Greece, and it’s now getting beyond absurd. For an economy to function, you need people spending money. That is what keeps jobs alive, jobs which pay people the money they need to spend on their basic necessities. If you don’t do at least that, there’ll be ever fewer jobs, and/or ever less money to spend. It’s a vicious cycle.

We may assume the Troika is well aware of this, and that would mean they are intentionally killing off the Greek economy. Something I’ve said a thousand times before. Still, both the Greek Tsipras government and exterior voices continue to claim the economy is recovering. Even if that is mathematically impossible. There undoubtedly are sectors of the economy being boosted, but they are only the ones the Troika members are interested in.

The economy’s foundation, the ‘normal’ people, who work jobs if they’re lucky, are not recovering or being boosted. Quite the contrary. Half of young people are unemployed and receive no money at all. Most of those who do have jobs receive less than €500 for a full month of work. Mind you, this is while the cost of living is as high as it is in Germany or Holland, where people would protest vehemently if even their unemployment benefits were cut that low. Unemployment benefits hardly exist at all in Greece.

This situation, as also mentioned often before, means that entire families must live off the pension a grandmother or grandfather gets. As of next year, such a pension will be cut to net €480. Of which most will go to rent. And the cuts are not finished. There are plenty neighborhoods in Athens where there are more boarded-up shops then there are open ones. It is fiscal waterboarding, it is strangulation of an entire society, and there is no valid economic reason for it, nor is there a justification.

If Greece had access to international debt markets, if would perhaps pay a higher interest rate, but investors would buy its bonds. The Troika denies Greece that access. Likewise, if the ECB had not excluded the country from its QE bond-buying programs, the country would be nowhere near its present disastrous predicament. The ECB’s decision not to buy Greek bonds can only be a political one, it’s not economic. There is something else going on.

Here’s that latest pension news:

 

Greek Pension Cuts To Hit 70% Since The Start Of The Bailouts

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

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

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

 

As half of the pensioners see their pensions cut to €480 a month, they’re not the worst off in the country. There are about a million unemployed who get nothing at all, and 580,000 who do have ‘jobs’ but ‘earn’ just €407 a month. And that’s if they’re lucky enough to get a contract. Many don’t, and work for even less. Yeah, that’s how you keep unemployment numbers down; Americans should know all about it.

 

Unemployment Decreases, Yet 580,000 Workers Earn Just €407 Per Month

Greece’s jobless rate fell to 20.2% in July-to-September from 21.1% in the second quarter, data from the country’s statistics service ELSTAT have showed. About 75.6% of Greece’s 970,000 jobless are long-term unemployed, meaning they have been out of work for at least 12 months, the figures showed on Thursday. Greece’s highest unemployment rate was recorded in the first quarter of 2014, when joblessness hit 27.8%.

Athens has already published monthly unemployment figures through June, which differ from quarterly data because they are based on different samples and are seasonally adjusted. Quarterly figures are not seasonally adjusted. At the same time, part-time employment has been constantly increasing. According to latest data, 580,000 workers earn just 407 euros per month. An amount that is for sure not enough to help people come through the month. And this data refers to declared work contracts. In undeclared work market people earn even 200 or 300 euros.

 

While all these Greeks don’t make enough to feed themselves and their families, the Troika-induced tax rises keep on coming like a runaway train with broken brakes. Every single day, more people are added to the list of those who simply can’t afford to pay their taxes, under the guise of going after ‘strategic defaulters’. There is no way out if this other than large scale debt forgiveness, debt restructuring, debt write-offs. Consumer spending is what keeps economies alive, but in Greece that is what’s shrinking day after day.

 

Greeks Crushed By Tax Burden

Tax authorities have confiscated the salaries, pensions and assets of more that 180,000 taxpayers since the start of the year, but expired debts to the state have continued to rise, reaching almost €100 billion, as the taxpaying capacity of the Greeks is all but exhausted. In the month of October, authorities made almost 1,000 confiscations a day from people with debts to the state of more than €500. In the first 10 months of the year, the state confiscated some €4 billion, and the plans of the Independent Authority for Public Revenue provide for forced measures to be imposed on 1.7 million state debtors next year.

IAPR statistics show that in October alone, the unpaid tax obligations of households and enterprises came to €1.2 billion. Unpaid taxes from January to October amounted to €10.44 billion, which brings the total including unpaid debts from previous years to almost €100 billion, or about 55% of the country’s GDP. The inability of citizens and businesses to meet their obligations is also confirmed by the course of public revenues, which this year have declined by more than €2.5 billion. The same situation is expected to continue into next year, as the new tax burdens and increased social security contributions look set to send debts to the state soaring. Notably, since 2014, there has been a consolidated trend of a €1 billion increase each month in expired debts to the state.

There are now 4.17 million taxpayers who owe the state money. This means that one in every two taxpayers is in arrears to the state, with 1,724,708 taxpayers facing the risk of forced collection measures. Of the €99.8 billion of total debt, just €10-15 billion is still considered to be collectible, as the lion’s share concerns debts from previous years, in many cases of bankrupt enterprises and deceased individuals.

 

Lately, a narrative is being force-fed into, and by, western media about Greece becoming some sort of paradise for investors. But why would anyone want to invest into an economy that clearly is no longer functioning, not even viable? Well, in such an economy, all kinds of things can be bought on the cheap. And because Greece is very beautiful, and has beautiful weather, why not buy it all and turn it into a tourist colony owned by foreigners and the odd rich Greek?

One tiny thing: they would prefer a different, even more business-friendly government. As if Tsipras hasn’t crawled up the Troika’s where-the-sun-never-shines parts enough. That’s the context into which to place for instance Kyle Bass’s comments:

 

Kyle Bass: Investors to Pour Billions into Greece after Political Change

Hedge fund manager Kyle Bass believes that Greece will come out of the crisis and investors will pour billions into its economy once the government changes, according to a CNBC report. The founder and chief investment officer of Hayman Capital Management; which manages an estimated $815 million in assets, is closely following the course of the Greek economy and political situation, and has invested in Greek bank stocks.

Bass says that foreign investors are waiting on the sidelines for a political shift to take place in 2018. “My best guess is a snap election for prime minister will be called between April and September of next year and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will lose power. When that happens, there will be a massive move into the Greek stock market. Big money will flow in as investors feel more confident with a more moderate administration,” Bass said.

“It’s going to take Kyriakos Mitsotakis; president of New Democracy, the Greek conservative party, to be voted in as prime minister to reform the culture and rekindle investor confidence,” the investor said. “I have no doubt 15 billion euros in bank deposits will come back to Greek banks if he’s elected. The stock and bond markets will also jump following the election.” Bass says that global investors are waiting for the political change in order to invest in real estate, energy and tourism.

So far, the hedge fund manager noted, Greece has proceeded with privatizations of its main port; regional airports; its railway system; the largest insurance company, and there are more important ones to be completed within the next two years. “There is so much potential in Greece,” Bass said, noting that investors are waiting for the right moment to enter, the CNBC report concludes.

Kyle Bass and all his ilk are lining up for the goodies for pennies on the dollar. If only the desolate pensioners and unemployed young are desperate enough to believe that, and vote for, a right-wing government is good, simultaneously, for both their interests and that of international vultures and hedge funds.

 

Funds Take Positions Ahead Of Government Change In Greece

Brevan Howard Asset Management, one of Europe’s biggest hedge funds, revealed to Bloomberg on Tuesday that it has set up two investment funds whose exclusive targets are assets in Greece such as real estate, enterprises and securities, and is aiming to collect 500 million euros from private investors. Co-founder of Brevan Howard and head of one of the two funds Trifon Natsis said that some 250 million euros has already been collected. The company was co-founded by four others, including Alan Howard, in 2002. “After eight years of crisis and recession that’s hit Greece, we’re at a point where the tail risks have disappeared and the country is stabilizing at a low base,” he said.

“We anticipate a material uplift in the Greek economy and asset prices.” “The likely political transition over the next 12 to 18 months will add momentum and reinforce that process,” Natsis said. Brevan Howard seems to be in agreement with Hayman Capital, whose head Kyle Bass said a few weeks ago that the brewing change in government in Greece within the next 18 months will benefit the market: “You’re starting to see green shoots, you’re starting to see the banks do the right things finally in Greece, and you’re about to have new leadership,” he stated recently.

My personal assessment after spending much of my time over the past 2.5 years in Athens is that they will be disappointed. Not only does a country, to make it attractive for foreigners, need a functioning economy, which Greece no longer has even at a “low base”, but the anger that has been building up here, which was held in check by Syriza and its ultimately empty promises, is bound to explode when some right winger manages to seize power.

Athens is the most peaceful city you can imagine, the only violence is between ‘anarchists’ and police, and it mostly takes place at set dates and places. Violence among people is virtually non-existent, despite all the deception, the betrayal, the poverty and the youthful testosterone energy that has nowhere to go. But that’s not going to last, I’m afraid.

 

And that will also be because many Greeks understand the contents of the following, devastating, interview by Michael Nevradakis for Mint Press News with Nicholas Logothetis, former member of the board of the Greek Statistical Authority (ELSTAT). Greece has been set up. And many people here know it. They have put their hopes in the democratic process, in voting into power a different government from the same old clique they have seen for many decades.

The likely winner of the next elections is New Democracy, led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the man the hedge-funders want in. Mitsotakis, a banker, is very much part of the old Greek elite, his father was a prime minister. If he gets elected things are not very likely to remain peaceful. Says my gut.

 

Update: while I was writing this article, the following came out. Eurogroup head Dijsselbloem admitting the first Greek referendum had nothing to do with helping Greece, the reason always provided for why it happened. Instead, it was always, as we’ve said so many times, meant to save German and French banks. And now that he’s leaving the job, Dijsselbloem, who obviously feels untouchable, just lays it out there. After having played a large role in destroying the country, the society, the economy. It’s almost hard to believe. But only almost. Because the Troika doesn’t answer to anyone. Then again, Greece has an independent judicial system.

 

The Aim Of The First Memorandum Was To Rescue Investors Outside Greece, Dijsselbloem Admits

The main aim of the first Greek memorandum, especially, was to rescue investors outside Greece, outgoing Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem admitted in the Europarliament on Thursday. “There were mistakes in the first programmes, we improvised. The way we dealt with the banks was expensive and ineffective. It is true that our aim was to rescue investors outside Greece and for this reason I support the rules for bail-ins, so that investors aren’t rescued with tax-payers’ money,” said Dijsselbloem in reply to independent Greek MEP Notis Marias.

Dijsselbloem noted that it had been a huge crisis because the fiscal sector had faced the risk of a total collapse that would have left many countries with a high debt. However, he pointed out that banks had only needed €4.5 billion in the third programme because the private sector had a huge participation. Referring to the non-performing loans, he said that a private solution that did not once again place the burden on tax-payers was near. He also pointed to measures being taken in Greece for the protection of the socially weaker groups, to make sure that they were not the victims of the auctions.

Referring to the early payment of the IMF loans with the remaining money of the programme, the Eurogroup chief said that this made sense financially, given that the IMF’s loans were more expensive than those of the Europeans. However, from a political point of view, the Eurogroup prefers that the IMF remain fully involved in the Greek programme, with its own responsibilities, he added. In any case, he noted that the final decisions on debt relief will be made later, when the programme is concluded and the sustainability of the Greek debt has been examined.

 

As an introduction, a piece of that interview with former Greek Statistical Authority bioard member Nicholas Logothetis (see the rest below). Greece being set up is not just some fantasy idea.

In my opinion, joining these medieval memorandums, which have brought about this economic crisis that Greece is still experiencing, was beyond any doubt pre-planned and predetermined. This arises not only from Strauss-Kahn’s own admission that the IMF had been preparing every detail of this with Papandreou, it also arises for other reasons that subsequently became known – that Greece was chosen by the designers of the European Union to become the guinea pig for the implementation of harsh austerity and other forms of economic punishment, set up for all as an example to be avoided, in the context of a new EU economic policy for handling the member countries with fiscal problems.

Indeed, the policy of the memorandums gave the opportunity not only to the IMF to put a foot in Europe – until then its activities always were, with devastating consequences, limited to developing countries in Africa and Latin America – but also gave the opportunity to the French and German banks to get rid of their so-called toxic bonds, that were loaded onto the Greek people by turning a private debt into a state debt.

In order to achieve all of this, of course, they had to plant the appropriate person in ELSTAT at a time when certain statistical adjustments were required, in order to support their treacherous plan. Where did this lead eventually? To the bankruptcy of the Greek state.

This is some story. It’s being denied in what just about amounts to a full blast PR campaign by many of those involved on the Troika side. Their narrative is: how dare the Greeks attack, and drag into court, their own unblemished ex-IMF statistician (who’s not even a statistician)? Whereas the actual question should be: how dare the Troika et al attack the Greek judicial system?

They’re getting away with it so far, but there are still court cases pending. And as Nicholas Logothetis says, he is confident that the Greek court system is the only party that has the power and the independence to set this straight.

I wanted to take bits and pieces out of this, shorten it etc., but it’s just too good. Sorry, Michael, sorry MintPress! It reads like a crime novel. And you can never again say you didn’t know. We can only hope that the Greek court system will hold Europe to task.

But while they can probably call on Papandreou to stand trial, what about Strauss-Kahn or Lagarde? Or Schäuble and Dijsselbloem? What if they can even prove Greece was set up, who’s going to pay the damage done to the Greek population, society, and the Greek economy, over a decade?

It’ll take many decades for the country to recover from what has been perpetrated upon it. And this could only happen because western media have been too lazy and compliant to question what has been going on. 90%+ of what you’ve been reading about Greece has been fake news. Note: I always put everything I quote in italics, but this is an exception to that rule:

Here we go:

 

The Trials of Andreas Georgiou and the Fraud That Drove Greece into Austerity

The mainstream narrative regarding the cause of the severe economic crisis Greece has experienced is that the Greek people and Greek state were irresponsible with their finances, lived “beyond their means” at the expense of EU taxpayers, and provided overly generous social benefits and pensions to an underproductive, uncompetitive, and lazy populace.

These characterizations have then been used to justify the successive memorandum agreements, or “bailouts,” and the austerity measures that have been imposed in Greece since 2010, as the country’s “just deserts” — the “bitter medicine” that must be prescribed to correct Greece’s previous ills.

A different view exists, however — one that is based on allegations that Greece was driven into the memorandum and austerity regime not by economic incompetence and cultural deficiencies, but by a fraud that was perpetrated against the Greek people and the country of Greece.

In this interview, which aired in November on Dialogos Radio, Nicholas Logothetis, a former member of the board of the Greek Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), describes allegations that have been made against Andreas Georgiou, ELSTAT’s former president, and against EU statistical authority Eurostat, regarding how Greece’s deficit and debt figures were illegitimately inflated in 2010, providing the rationale to drag Greece under a regime of austerity and extreme economic oversight.

Logothetis details how debt swaps and other questionable financial dealings were added to Greece’s debt and deficit, as well as the consequences of these actions, the criminal and civil convictions against Georgiou, and the court cases that are still pending.

 

MPN: Let’s begin with a discussion about Andreas Georgiou, the embattled former president of ELSTAT, who oversaw the augmentation of the Greek deficit and debt. Describe for us Georgiou’s background prior to taking on the role of president of ELSTAT. Was Georgiou even a statistician?

NL: No, he wasn’t. The operation of the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), as a continuation of the initial National Statistical Authority, as we called it, officially began in late June of 2010. This was the time that the members of ELSTAT’s management board were selected and approved by the conference of parliamentary presidents, with the required supermajority of four-fifths.

Georgiou has been working at the International Monetary Fund since the late 1980s. For a few years before he came to Greece, he was deputy head of a division of the IMF’s statistics department, the financial institutions division. However, the Greek Ministry of Finance announced the appointment of ELSTAT’s board of directors through a press release to all Greek newspapers. In that press release, it presented Georgiou as deputy head of the entire IMF statistics department, a very big department in the IMF and a very important one, hiding his actual organizational position in the IMF, a position of an economic nature rather than a statistical nature, in a subordinate division of the statistics department.

Obviously, the objective of the Greek Minister of Finance was to present Georgiou as an experienced statistician with a significant management position at the IMF, who supposedly left America and came here to “save” Greece by putting in order all of its statistics. In fact, this gentleman was not only unable to run an important institution such as ELSTAT, with over 1,000 employees, but he wasn’t even a statistician, with no academic publications and no knowledge of statistics.

Moreover, for at least six months after assuming the ELSTAT presidency, Georgiou still held his organizational position at the IMF, something that was explicitly forbidden by ELSTAT’s founding law.

 

MPN: What were the actions undertaken by Georgiou as president of ELSTAT? In other words, how were the Greek deficit and debt figures manipulated and in what other ways were Greece’s official economic figures altered?

NL: First of all, Georgiou’s first moves were to remove from the other members of the board any ability and initiative to propose discussion topics or to be involved in the calculation of the deficit or the debt. They were forbidden even to communicate with the remaining staff of ELSTAT! This behavior of Georgiou was not only due to his inability to act as a manager but also due to the fact that he understood from the very beginning, even from the second meeting of the board in September 2010, our refusal to adopt the deficit and debt calculation procedures he wanted to follow. He knew that eventually, the majority of the board members would not approve his deficit figures to be officially published before the end of October 2010.

 


Andreas Georgiou, stands outside the headquarters of the Statistics agency, in Athens, Greece. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

 

Shortly after the last meeting of the board in early October 2010, the final silencing of the whole board followed and we were never convened again, thus leaving the way free for Georgiou, always under the auspices of senior Eurostat executives, on the one hand, to change the founding law—as he always wanted, to turn ELSTAT into one-person authority—and on the other hand, to inflate the 2009 figures. Exactly how he did this became clear later, but we had suspected soon enough what he was going to do.

My first disagreement with him was when I realized he would add to the deficit figures and to the national debt of Greece the Simitis swaps — that is, the swaps that former Greek prime minister Costas Simitis had made use of in 2001 in order for Greece to get accepted to the Eurozone. Allow me to briefly explain what these swaps are, as they indicate clearly an activity typical of the statistical mishandlings that had always been used and are still taking place in our country, every time the government’s leaders want to achieve something with communication or financial benefits for themselves or for third parties. Swaps are a type of a bond, a banking derivative or simply a stock exchange bet, a currency exchange bet. Many countries do it, even now they are doing it, converting their existing debt into currencies of other countries, say in Swiss francs or Japanese yen, betting that the value of that currency will rise and at the maturity of this debt, the owner will gain from the difference in the value of currencies.

In a way, what happened in 2001 is that much of Greece’s debt was converted into yen, but at the value that the yen had in 1995, which was higher than that of 2001! Remember, the swaps were made in 2001, but the price of the yen in 1995 was the one used for this swap. We can put a big question mark here because I don’t know how legitimate this was, to consider as valid the exchange value of the yen of six years ago. But anyway, this was what happened.

From this action, Greece was theoretically gaining an amount of 2.8 billion euros, which theoretically reduced our debt by this amount, and also reduced the annual deficit below 3%, thus meeting the requirement of the Maastricht Treaty for Greece’s entry into the Eurozone. But let us not forget, however, that this was a bet. It’s not unlike, say, a bond that matures and is redeemable after 30 years: at the time of the swap, there was no applicable European regulation allowing the “bond” to be cashed in prior to maturity, and therefore the swaps were of indeterminate value.

However, Walter Radermacher — at the time the general director of Eurostat, the EU’s statistical authority — decided only for Greece and only for that time and while the value of the yen had collapsed, that this swap value had to be included in our total debt, thus raising our national debt by 21 billion euros because of the losses of the yen. So we found ourselves with an additional fiscal debt of 21 billion euros.

Radermacher’s additional act was to instruct Georgiou to divide this amount by four and to include what came out of it in the deficits for the years 2009, 2008, 2007, and 2006. So eventually, for 2009 and all the three previous years, we found ourselves with an additional deficit of about 5.5 billion euros. But I’m pointing out again that swaps should not be used in any way before their maturity, in order to manipulate negatively or positively the fiscal debt, let alone the yearly deficit.

Another illegal augmentation of our deficit made by Georgiou included the addition of 3.6 billion euros in hospital costs that were not even approved by the Court of Auditors. The Court of Auditors is one of the three institutions of Greek justice, along with the Supreme Court and the Council of State. With regards to this cost, as it turned out later, no one committed to it and no one was paying for it. And finally, the major swelling of the budget deficit was accomplished by the overnight inclusion of the deficits of 17 public utilities, violating many Eurostat criteria and rules. That alone added 18.2 billion euros, equivalent to 20 billion dollars, to the fiscal debt of Greece.

As a result of all the above, Greece ended up with a huge deficit for the year 2009 — 36 billion euros, or equivalently, 15.4% of GDP. This legitimated the first memorandum, paved the way for the second and worst memorandum, and justified the imposition of these cumbersome austerity measures, such as the pension cuts, social insurance and healthcare, and the tax increases — huge tax increases — measures that we are still suffering today.

 

MPN: Dominique Strauss-Kahn himself, the former president of the International Monetary Fund, has gone on the record as saying that he met with George Papandreou to discuss an IMF “bailout” of Greece in April 2009. This was several months before Papandreou was elected as prime minister and at a time when Papandreou was saying, while campaigning, that plenty of money existed to fund the social programs he was promising to Greek voters. Do you believe that the economic “crisis” in Greece was pre-ordained or pre-planned?


Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, right, shakes hand with the head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, during a joint news conference in Athens, Dec. 7, 2010. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

NL: Yes, I do. In my opinion, joining these medieval memorandums, which have brought about this economic crisis that Greece is still experiencing, was beyond any doubt pre-planned and predetermined. This arises not only from Strauss-Kahn’s own admission that the IMF had been preparing every detail of this with Papandreou, it also arises for other reasons that subsequently became known — that Greece was chosen by the designers of the European Union to become the guinea pig for the implementation of harsh austerity and other forms of economic punishment, set up for all as an example to be avoided, in the context of a new EU economic policy for handling the member countries with fiscal problems.

Indeed, the policy of the memorandums gave the opportunity not only to the IMF to put a foot in Europe — until then its activities always were, with devastating consequences, limited to developing countries in Africa and Latin America — but also gave the opportunity to the French and German banks to get rid of their so-called toxic bonds, that were loaded onto the Greek people by turning a private debt into a state debt.

In order to achieve all of this, of course, they had to plant the appropriate person in ELSTAT at a time when certain statistical adjustments were required, in order to support their treacherous plan. Where did this lead eventually? To the bankruptcy of the Greek state.

 

MPN: Andreas Georgiou is no longer in Greece, despite the fact that various legal cases and judicial decisions are outstanding against him. Where does Georgiou find himself today and what is he presently involved with?

NL: He’s away, because he knows what he’s faced with, with trials and legal cases. Georgiou is currently in his comfortable villa in Maryland. He left Greece in the summer of 2015, one month before the end of his five-year term as ELSTAT chairman. Coincidentally, this was shortly after the call from the House of Parliament to testify before the examination committee that had been formed at that time to investigate the reasons for our accession to the first memorandum. He never came to the examination room, pretending to be in the hospital with “pneumonia.” Who on earth has ever heard of a pneumonia case in the middle of the Greek summer?

Anyway, immediately after his “discharge” from the hospital, he left for America. I repeat, one month before the end of his term and without requesting a renewal of the chairmanship position for another five years. He could have done that, but he didn’t, apparently having realized that he could not have avoided the imminent court hearing on the prosecutions for breach of duty and for the felony of inflating the deficit figures — which in the legal language is expressed as “felony of false certification at the expense of the state” together with the “aggravating order for public abusers,” a very impressive legal phrase. This is a legal category that leads to life imprisonment.

I presume that he’s engaged at this time in preparing his defense, through statements via his lawyers in Greece, while he remains absent, missing from every trial that has taken place regarding him.

 

MPN: A few months ago Georgiou was found guilty by the Greek justice system. What were the charges for which Georgiou was convicted and sentenced?

NL: There are two convictions Georgiou had this year. In March, in a criminal court, he was convicted for libel and for written defamation, and he was given one-year imprisonment with a three-year suspension. He appealed through his lawyers, but the Penal Court of Appeals condemned Georgiou again, giving him the same sentence.

Georgiou’s crime was that, in an official ELSTAT news release, he accused former ELSTAT board member Dr. Nicholas Stroblos of being a statistical swindler, obviously trying to divert guilt from himself for statistical fraud. I’m pointing out here that Dr. Stroblos is the former director of the national accounts department of ELSTAT, whom Georgiou illegally replaced with one of his now co-defendants. Consequently, Stroblos sued him in both criminal and civil courts and, apart from the one-year imprisonment imposed by the criminal court, the civil court fined Georgiou 10,000 euros for damages resulting from libel.

Georgiou’s most recent conviction is concerned with one of the three accusations included in the prosecution for breach of duty. The first accusation was related to the fact that he was in parallel for several months, from July to November 2010, as head of the statistical authority in Greece but also as an employee of the IMF, a duplication of employment explicitly prohibited by ELSTAT’s founding law 3832 of 2010. That law required him to work exclusively and with full employment in the ELSTAT board. Georgiou deluded the Greek parliament about his ongoing post with the IMF — and note that the IMF is one of the lenders of Greece — while at the same time he had accepted the post as president of ELSTAT’s board. He would not have been selected as ELSTAT president, not even as a simple member of the board, had the parliament known about his double post.

The second accusation concerned the fact that Georgiou did not convene the ELSTAT board for a whole year, violating the law that required meetings at least once a month.

The third accusation, and the most important of all three, concerned the fact that the decision to endorse the revised figures for 2009’s deficit was taken only by Georgiou, without the agreement of the other members of the board — which had been selected, I remind you, and approved exactly for this purpose by the conference of the parliamentary presidents with a majority of four-fifths. For this accusation, he was convicted in the context of breach of duty, and this had to do with the publication of deficit figures without our approval, as required by law. Georgiou appealed this conviction to the Supreme Court, and we are waiting to see what the Supreme Court will decide.

Georgiou was acquitted on the charge that he did not timely convene the ELSTAT board, although this is intimately interconnected with the non-convening of the board for the approval of the data, for which he was convicted. So we ended up with a paradoxical situation here. He was also acquitted of the charge that while he was a member of the IMF — that is to say, a servant of the lender — he was also chairman of ELSTAT — that is, a servant of the borrower — something that is inconceivable worldwide and yet happened in today’s occupied and economically enslaved Greece.

Naturally, the people who were present in the courtroom were annoyed and protested these acquittals, but when they heard the announcement of his conviction on the third charge they were relieved, of course, and for this charge he was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment with a three year suspension — without being granted, of course, any mitigation.

I, together with fellow whistleblower and former ELSTAT board member Zoe Georganta, filed an objection against the court judgment for the two accusations for which he was acquitted, and we expect a Supreme Court decision as to whether or not Georgiou will go to a new trial for these new accusations. At the moment, the two acquittals cannot be considered irrevocable. But it is true that the most important accusation, for which Georgiou desperately wanted to be acquitted, was the one for which he got convicted.

Indeed, the fact that Georgiou published the inflated elements of the deficit without approval by the ELSTAT board not only proves his guilt of the second accusation, of not convening the board as he should have, but it also implies a deception, because he knew that his swollen deficit figures would never be accepted by a majority of the board members. He further recognized that such a disagreement would sooner or later become public and reveal the irregularities he used with the help of Eurostat itself. Such a revelation would result in the failure of the plan to legitimize the first memorandum and thence to impose onerous austerity measures on Greece. That was not acceptable by the initiators of this plan, who I believe had to use Georgiou and instructed him to silence the rest of the ELSTAT board.

 

MPN: Following the guilty verdicts against Georgiou this past spring, a barrage of positive coverage and PR in favor of Georgiou appeared in the Greek and international media — including Bloomberg, the Washington Post and Politico. We also heard numerous statements of support from major political figures in Greece, the European Union, and elsewhere. These statements criticized the supposed lack of independence of the Greek justice system in the verdicts against Georgiou. How would you describe or characterize Georgiou’s network of support within and outside of Greece, and these arguments made in his favor?

NL: Yes, indeed, various statements have been heard and continue to be heard in support of Georgiou, trying to sanctify him, to elevate him as a serious personality and as an honest scientist. All this in order to justify everything he did illegally as ELSTAT president. All that has been said rests on myths that have been circulated by the domestic and foreign supporters of Georgiou, who are desperate that the case not be brought to the court of justice — the major case of the inflation of the deficit figures.

But this also proves their own guilt in the matter. If they really believe that Georgiou is innocent and that we are the slanderers and the liars, why don’t they let Greek justice do its job and prove his presumed innocence in a court hearing? I would even expect Georgiou himself to be the first to grab this opportunity to be redeemed. This furious effort of all his supporters to prevent the case from being brought to trial reveals their panic as well as their guilt, because they know very well that in the forthcoming court hearing all the evidence will be revealed proving that Greece has suffered the greatest national betrayal since the time of the Thermopylae treason, 2500 years ago, when Efialtes betrayed the Greek army which was fighting the Persian invasion.

The participation of all those major political figures in Greece and the European Union in the betrayal perpetrated by Georgiou will also be revealed. Indeed, the core of this support network includes first and foremost Eurostat, whose senior staff advised Georgiou on how to inflate the 2009 deficit and also how to change ELSTAT’s founding laws in order to neutralize the rest of the board.

Imagine therefore what impact Georgiou’s conviction would have on Eurostat’s image! Eurostat’s political chief is the European Commission, Brussels — that is, one-third of the troika — with all that implies, of course, for many high-ranking political figures in the European Union and beyond. So one can clearly understand why high-level managers from Eurostat and major political figures from the EU itself are continuing to build a wall of protection and support for Georgiou — in the hope that the government and the Supreme Court of Greece will believe all these myths they are promoting.


Greece’s Statistics agency employees walk past the logo of the agency in Piraeus, near Athens. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

The first myth is that in recent years Georgiou was acquitted many times but the persecution against him continues. That’s what they say. The supporters of Georgiou claim again and again that Georgiou was acquitted, but it’s not true. The acquittal may occur only after the irrevocable final judgment in a court trial, or after an exonerating court order is accepted by the Supreme Court. As appeals against all rulings in Georgiou’s case have been filed with the Supreme Court, he has not been acquitted irrevocably for any charges brought against him.

On the contrary, he has had an irrevocable conviction for defamation, as I said before, and a conviction for one of the three accusations for breach of duty — regarding which the Supreme Court decision is awaited, whether or not it will become irrevocable. But the other two accusations for breach of duty for which he has been acquitted, as I have already said, for these we have filed a complaint and they cannot, therefore, be considered irrevocable or a final acquittal. So it’s in keeping with due process that the prosecutions against him still continue.

The second myth goes as follows: Georgiou took over the presidency of ELSTAT after the first memorandum. He cannot, therefore, be regarded responsible for the memorandum and the economic crisis that followed. Well indeed, when Georgiou took action in ELSTAT, we were already under the first memorandum. If you remember, our entry into the first memorandum was announced by George Papandreou in his speech made on the Greek island of Kasterllorizo in April 2010, and the reason for this was allegedly the high level of the 2009 deficit, which was put by Papandreou at 13.6% of GDP. That’s equivalent to about 30 billion euros.

However, it was not the actual deficit, but the prediction by Papandreou of what it would be after all relevant calculations took place. Papandreou did not have the right to take such an important decision, one that would affect Greek society so much, based only on a prediction that had not even been approved by the Court of Auditors. We would be the ones, as ELSTAT’s management board, to supervise the calculations of the actual deficit, to approve it and publish it in October 2010, six months later.

Actually, if we had been given the opportunity to do that and found these deficit figures to be less than 10%, we would have been able to denounce the first memorandum and cancel it! And of course, the rest of the memorandums that followed. But obviously, this would not be something that the designers of the first memorandum wished to happen, and so the appropriate person must be found who, with specific statistical adjustments, could make the deficit of 2009 “confirm” the “validity” of Papandreou’s deficit “forecast” in April 2010, and fully justify our entry into the first memorandum. This is what they wanted.

Furthermore, in order to avoid any controversies with the rest of the board that could endanger their plan, it was decided to neutralize not only the dissidents on the board but the whole of ELSTAT’s board. As a result of all these unlawful actions, the first memorandum was legitimized — and the door opened for the second and worst memorandum and obviously the rest of the memorandums that have followed, and for the austerity measures that have been imposed since then. Therefore, it’s perhaps wrong to say that the first memorandums was due to Georgiou. It’s more appropriate to say that all memorandums and their related medieval austerity measures that we still have on our backs are actually due to Georgiou!

The third myth: since Eurostat has approved Georgiou’s practices and figures, they must be right, they must be correct. But would it have been possible for Eurostat not to approve these statistics, provided by Georgiou, and the methods of administration that he was using? It was Eurostat’s director himself, Walter Radermacher, who gave orders to Georgiou as to what data to add to the deficit. Correspondence has been revealed, from Radermacher to Georgiou, that shows how to add this amount of debt that was incurred by the Simitis swaps, how to add it into four years’ deficits until 2009 — prior to the expiry date, as we previously explained, and although no European regulation existed at the time that would allow this.

Also, it was the permanent representative of Eurostat at ELSTAT, Hallgrimur Snorrason, who — with the assistance of Eurostat’s legal adviser, Per Samuelson — advised Georgiou on how to change ELSTAT’s founding law in order to transform ELSTAT into one-man authority. It’s hardly surprising therefore that Eurostat approved the practices and the deficit figures of Georgiou. Of course, that does not mean that they were correct.

The final myth that I want to mention is that his proponents are saying Georgiou applied all proper European regulations. On the contrary, most European regulations and Eurostat’s own criteria for the deficit and debt calculations were violated by Georgiou and his advisers from Eurostat, in order to justify the unjustifiable integration of deficits of many public utilities into the 2009 deficit — a decision that would require a thorough study of several months for each public utility. You can’t just decide to include the deficit of a utility in the public debt; you need a thorough study, for several months, six months. So what kind of European regulations did Georgiou actually apply, I wonder? No one knows.

 

MPN: What is plainly evident is that there is a very extensive and very powerful network of support for the likes of Andreas Georgiou, a network that includes powerful media voices, major politicians and political figures, major centers of power and influence and decision-making. How can such a powerful and seemingly unified network of political and media forces even be countered by the Greek people?

NL: Indeed, Georgiou’s support network, composed of high-ranking political figures — domestic and foreign — is powerful. But no matter how much influence this network can have on political affairs in Greece, I think that it is not in a position to influence the Greek justice system, which I consider impartial. The fact that the case has reached up to the level of the Supreme Court, which so far has justified many of our objections and appeals against Georgiou, gives us hope that ultimately the systemic power network that exists supporting Georgiou can be successfully dealt with.

At the end of the day, our justice system, perhaps the only irreproachable institution in our country, seems to have borne the burden of this matter. I believe that the truth will soon be revealed, no matter how many powerful political and media forces try to force an acquittal of Georgiou.

 

MPN: What are the judicial cases still outstanding regarding the ELSTAT case and Andreas Georgiou? What are the charges which Georgiou is still facing? And what is your expectation regarding the outcome of these cases?

NL: Most importantly, the cases of the false inflation of data and of the breach of duty by Georgiou, involve crimes of public document forgery and violation of ELSTAT’s founding law. As I have already said, Georgiou was convicted of one of the more important accusations related to the breach of duty — that of the publication of the 2009 deficit figures without the approval of the ELSTAT board. He has been acquitted on the other two charges — the duplication of his appointment in the IMF and ELSTAT and the non-convening of the board — but we have appealed these two verdicts, and we hope that the Supreme Court will decide to repeat the trial for these two related charges.

If this affair is remanded back to the trial courts, we certainly expect Georgiou to be convicted, because the evidence we have against him is rock solid and undeniable. This is what Georgiou’s supporters know. That’s why they push as hard as they can to prevent the case from reaching the high court of justice.

 

MPN: In what way do you believe the verdicts that will be reached by the Greek justice system concerning the ELSTAT and Georgiou cases impact the future of Greece, particularly with regard to the austerity policies and memorandums that are being imposed and the non-serviceable public debt of Greece?

NL: I agree with you that Greek debt is non-serviceable. Even if we get away from the memorandums, we don’t get away from the related loan agreements, and we will continue to be under supervision by the EU until we pay 75% of our debt, something impossible for the next 60 years!

If, however, as we hope, there is an irrevocable conviction of Georgiou for the act of inflating the deficit figures, this will prove that all these medieval memorandums were imposed on the basis of false figures — which gives Greece the right to claim compensation from the European Union for the damage we suffered in the last seven years of the financial crisis.

Article 340 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union gives us the right to claim this compensation, and we have even estimated the financial loss since Georgiou set foot in Greece, a cost that may well exceed 210 billion euros. A compensation of this magnitude would certainly overturn the disgraceful economic situation we are experiencing today. However, I emphasize again that a necessary condition is an irrevocable conviction of Georgiou regarding the felony of inflating the deficit figures.

And what about these instigators who used Georgiou to carry out their treacherous plans? Even Grigoris Peponis — the impeccable investigator who proposed the criminal prosecution of Georgiou in the first place — has suggested that the possible existence of certain instigators within the Greek and European political systems, who directed Georgiou on what to do, has to be taken into consideration. These are the ones who do not want the case to reach an open court hearing — the ones who are so desperate for the acquittal of Georgiou as early as possible, in order to cover their own involvement in the above crime, because they’re well aware that we have evidence of their unlawful intervention in inflating the deficit and also in transforming ELSTAT from an independent authority into one-man authority.

If the Supreme Court sends Georgiou to trial in the high court of justice, all his supporters know that this will mean a likely conviction for him. The support network will then collapse, and they will find themselves accused for their betrayal of their homeland and crimes against its citizens. Our country will then pass from an underprivileged position of a beggar, to the strong position of a challenger, on the basis of specific articles of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union itself.


Protesters hold a banner during a rally in Athens, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

As far as we are concerned, we do not really care about the strict or non-strict punishment of Georgiou, who is now a pensioner of the IMF. What interests us is to prove his guilt and thereby to remove the injustice that has been committed against Greece through the false inflation of the public debt and deficit of 2009, and also prove the criminal involvement of the European Commission and Eurostat. This will only be done when the case is referred to an open court hearing, in which Eurostat and Georgiou will have to be present, in order to testify under oath whether or not they have falsely inflated the statistical figures of Greece, and the reasons for doing so.

I do not know when and if this will happen, and how many battles we have to give from now on in order to achieve this. Some tell us that there’s no point in continuing to fight, as it seems that with such a front of support for Georgiou by strong decision-making centers, the battle has already been won against us. We reply by saying that if we stop fighting, there will simply be no other battle — something we don’t want, because let’s not forget what Bertolt Brecht said once: “He who fights, can lose. He who doesn’t fight, has already lost.”

 

MPN: Looking at the situation in Greece today and the economic claims that are being made by the Greek government — that the country has returned to economic growth, that Greece has turned a corner — do you believe that the Greek statistical figures today are credible, or are they perhaps still being manipulated?

NL: Unfortunately, the statistical figures have already been exploited by any government in power so far in Greece. We have seen this happen with the alchemies of swaps in order to get into the Eurozone. By the way, I wish that we had never gotten into the Eurozone in the first place! Our economy was not in a position to handle such a strong and competitive currency. We saw another exploitation of the statistical figures, of the deficit, this time. They became the reason for an economic crisis of the past seven years.

I cannot say what is happening these days with the statistical figures, as I am not in ELSTAT. But we will find out sooner or later what is happening. The truth always comes out for any case of mishandling of statistical figures. We’ve seen this happen. But unfortunately, as long as there is no reliable team to correctly manage the handling of the statistical data in the Greek Statistical Authority, I’m afraid we should again expect irregularities and alchemies of the data.

 

 

Sep 132017
 
 September 13, 2017  Posted by at 9:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Sergio Larraín Valparaiso Chile 1963

 

Greece Property Value Review A Hard Task (K.)
Creditors Set To Increase Pressure On Athens (K.)
US Threatens To Cut Off China From SWIFT If It Violates North Korea Sanctions (ZH)
Yuan Fixing Takes Center Stage, Again (BBG)
Cryptocurrency Chaos As China Cracks Down On ICOs (R.)
JPMorgan’s Dimon Says Bitcoin ‘Is A Fraud’ (R.)
America’s Fiscal Doomsday Machine (Stockman)
IMF Is Resisting A Moratorium On Barbuda’s Sovereign Debt Repayments (Ind.)
UK’s High Street Banks Are Accident Waiting To Happen (G.)
We Must Repeal The Authorization For The Use Of Military Force (Rand Paul)
Democrats Fought For 25 Years Over Single-Payer. Now Many Back Sanders (Sirota)
China Plans Nationwide Use Of Ethanol Gasoline By 2020 (R.)
Capitalism Can’t Save The Planet – It Can Only Destroy It (Monbiot)

 

 

As EU President Juncker this morning unveils his vision of more Europe all the time, here’s what Europe is really like:

42% of Greek mortgage loans are non-performing. Today’s sale prices are 70-80% lower than in 2008. And that’s before 200-300,000 homes will be forced onto the market this fall.

Greece Property Value Review A Hard Task (K.)

The government is facing a daunting task in adjusting the so-called objective values (the property rates used for tax purposes) to market levels by the end of the year, as its bailout agreement dictates. The huge slump in transactions and the forced sales of properties due to their owners’ debts do not lead to any safe conclusions for the values per area. One in four sales are conducted with prices that lag the objective value by 60-70%, and the prices of 2008 by 70-80%. The Finance Ministry must overcome all the obstacles to bring to Parliament all the necessary adjustments and regulations.

Moreover, once the objective values are brought in line with market rates, the government will have to maintain the same amount of revenues from the Single Property Tax (ENFIA) either by raising the tax’s rates or by introducing a new tax in the form of the old Large Property Tax. Furthermore, once the objective values are reduced by 40-50% to match the going prices, banks’ may see problems with their capital adequacy, as lenders will incur losses by having to revise the collateral they get. Mortgage loans in Greece amount to €59.44 billion, of which 42%, or €25.4 billion are nonperforming.

Read more …

Forget about more Europe, or you’ll wind up with a whole lot less Europe.

Creditors Set To Increase Pressure On Athens (K.)

Technical experts representing the country’s creditors started visiting the country’s ministries in Athens on Monday, paving the way for the third bailout review, which has long ceased to be viewed as a simple matter and is increasingly burdened with problems. Pressure for a satisfactory conclusion to the review will grow with the planned visit on September 25 of Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who will meet with Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos. Responding to a question by Kathimerini, Dijsselbloem’s spokesman said that the head of the Eurogroup will discuss eurozone issues and certainly the progress of the adjustment program. Government officials estimate that the discussion on the course of the review and the Greek program may be combined with the expiry of Dijsselbloem’s mandate at the Eurogroup chair at year-end.

The Dutch minister – whose last visit in Athens and his meeting with his counterpart at the time, Yanis Varoufakis, was quite eventful – would obviously like to leave on a positive note in regards to the Greek program. It has been rumored that he may seek another office in the eurozone. Sources from Brussels also say that the top European Commission’s top representative, Declan Costello, will also be coming to Athens in the next few days. In addition to the main cluster of 113 prior actions, of which 95 should be implemented by year-end, the creditors have expressed their objections and doubts about recent legislative moves made by the government, such as the labor law passed last Thursday.

Sources say that the creditors have also expressed concerns about clauses related to the reduced value-added tax on agricultural supplies, the opening up of closed professions, as well as the civil service. A large number of the 95 prior actions the government must implement in record time have a high degree of difficulty, and government officials believe this may require revisions on family benefits, the operation of the sell-off hyperfund and its subsidiaries, the opening up of the energy market, etc.

Read more …

How would the US pay for all the shiny trinkets?

US Threatens To Cut Off China From SWIFT If It Violates North Korea Sanctions (ZH)

In an unexpectedly strong diplomatic escalation, one day after China agreed to vote alongside the US (and Russia) during Monday’s United National Security Council vote in passing the watered down North Korea sanctions, the US warned that if China were to violate or fail to comply with the newly imposed sanctions against Kim’s regime, it could cut off Beijing’s access to both the US financial system as well as the “international dollar system.” Speaking at CNBC’s Delivering Alpha conference on Tuesday, Steven Mnuchin said that China had agreed to “historic” North Korean sanctions during Monday’s United Nations vote. “We worked very closely with the U.N. I’m very pleased with the resolution that was just passed. This is some of the strongest items. We now have more tools in our toolbox, and we will continue to use them and put additional sanctions on North Korea until they stop this behavior.”

In response, Andrew Ross Sorkin countered that “we haven’t been able to move the needle on China, which seems to be the real mover on this, in terms of being able to apply the real pressure. What do you think the issue is? What is the problem?” The stunner was revealed in Mnuchin’s answer: “I think we have absolutely moved the needle on China. I think what they agreed to yesterday was historic. I’d also say I put sanctions on a major Chinese bank.That’s the first time that’s ever been done. And if China doesn’t follow these sanctions, we will put additional sanctions on them and prevent them from accessing the U.S. and international dollar system. And that’s quite meaningful.”

And to underscore his point, the Treasury Secretary also said that “in North Korea, economic warfare works. I made it clear that the President was strongly considering and we sent a message that anybody that wanted to trade with North Korea, we would consider them not trading with us. We can put on economic sanctions to stop people trading.” In other words, to force compliance with the North Korean sanctions, Mnuchin threatened Beijing with not only trade war, but also a lock out from the dollar system, i.e. SWIFT, something the US did back in 2014 and 2015 when it blocked off several Russian banks as relations between the US and Russia imploded. Of course, whether the US would be willing to go so far as to use the nuclear option, and pull the dollar plug on its biggest trade partner, in the process immediately unleashing an economic depression domestically and globally is a different matter.

So far Washington has been reluctant to impose economic sanctions on China over concerns of possible retaliatory measures from Beijing and the potentially catastrophic consequences for the global economy. Washington runs a $350 billion annual trade deficit with Beijing, while the PBOC also holds over $1 trillion in US debt. Ironically, the biggest hurdle to the implementation of the just passed sanctions may be the president himself. “We think it’s just another very small step, not a big deal,” Trump told reporters at the start of a meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. “I don’t know if it has any impact, but certainly it was nice to get a 15-to-nothing vote, but those sanctions are nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen,” said Trump who has vowed not to allow North Korea to develop a nuclear ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States.

Read more …

Xi demands peace for the Party Congress. Brokerages have been told: no holidays during Congress.

Yuan Fixing Takes Center Stage, Again (BBG)

China’s yuan fixing is back in focus, with a run of surprises moving the market in recent days. The central bank set its reference rate – which limits onshore moves to 2% on either side – at a weaker than expected level for the third day in a row Wednesday. The rates, and the removal of a reserve requirement rule on the trading of foreign-exchange forwards, are fueling bets that authorities want to limit gains after the onshore yuan surged more than 4% against the dollar in the three months through Sept. 7. The People’s Bank of China set Wednesday’s fixing at 6.5382 per dollar, compared with the average forecast of 6.5355 in a Bloomberg survey of 19 traders and analysts. The authorities have had greater opportunity to sway the fixing either way since May, with the introduction of a “counter-cyclical factor” to the rate-setting mechanism.

“The PBOC still wants a relatively stable yuan,” said Nathan Chow at DBS. “Even if it strengthens or weakens, the pace needs to be controlled, and in an orderly and gradual manner. This will be easier for exporters to manage risks. The market expectation is that there should be no big changes or surprises before the party congress next month.” The yuan’s rally began to falter on Friday as the removal of the reserve rule made it less expensive to bet on yuan declines. The monetary authority weakened Tuesday’s fixing by the most in eight months following an overnight surge in a gauge of the greenback, pushing the onshore spot rate lower.

Read more …

“There are a lot of companies raising a lot of money for not very good ideas..”

Cryptocurrency Chaos As China Cracks Down On ICOs (R.)

China’s move last week to ban initial coin offerings (ICO) has caused chaos among start-ups looking to raise money through the novel fund-raising scheme, prompting halts, about-turns and re-thinks. China is cracking down on fundraising through launches of token-based digital currencies, targeting ICOs in a market that has ballooned this year in what has been a bonanza for digital currency entrepreneurs. The boom has fueled a jump in the value of cryptocurrencies, but raised fears of a potential bubble. “This is not unlike the dotcom bubble of 2000,” said a partner at a venture capital fund in Shanghai, who didn’t want to be named because of the issue’s sensitivity. “There are a lot of companies raising a lot of money for not very good ideas, and these will eventually be weeded out. But even from the big dotcom bust, you still have gems.”

“One of the reasons regulators stepped in was that the ICO fever extended beyond the traditional crypto community. The timing was an attempt to pre-empt this before it goes into a much broader mass market in China,” the partner said. Investors in China contributed up to 2.6 billion yuan ($394 million) worth of cryptocurrencies through ICOs in January-June, according to a state-run media report citing National Committee of Experts on Internet Financial Security Technology data. Pre-ICO roadshows featuring elaborate standing room-only presentations at 5-star hotels drew a diverse crowd, including grandmothers – a likely tipping point for regulators. The hype and subsequent crackdown came as China focuses on economic and social stability ahead of next month’s congress of the Communist Party, a once-in-five-years event.

Beijing is also waging a broader campaign against fraudulent fundraising and speculative investment, which analysts attribute to China’s underdeveloped financial regulation and lack of legitimate investment options. While several start-ups said the exuberance had got out of control and they had expected Beijing to act, they said last week’s move panicked investors and caused confusion.

Read more …

Worse than tulip bulbs.

JPMorgan’s Dimon Says Bitcoin ‘Is A Fraud’ (R.)

Bitcoin “is a fraud” and will blow up, Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, said on Tuesday. Speaking at a bank investor conference in New York, Dimon said, “The currency isn’t going to work. You can’t have a business where people can invent a currency out of thin air and think that people who are buying it are really smart.” Dimon said that if any JPMorgan traders were trading the crypto-currency, “I would fire them in a second, for two reasons: It is against our rules and they are stupid, and both are dangerous.” Dimon’s comments come as the bitcoin, a virtual currency not backed by any government, has more than quadrupled in value since December to more than $4,100.

[..] “It is worse than tulips bulbs,” Dimon said, referring to a famous market bubble from the 1600s. JPMorgan and many of its competitors, however, have invested millions of dollars in blockchain, the technology that tracks bitcoin transactions. Blockchain is a shared ledger of transactions maintained by a network of computers on the internet. Dimon said such uses will roll out over coming years as it is adapted to different business lines. Financial institutions are hoping blockchain can be adapted to simplify and lower the costs of processes such as securities settlement, loan trading and international money transfers. Dimon predicted big losses for bitcoin buyers. “Don’t ask me to short it. It could be at $20,000 before this happens, but it will eventually blow up.” he said.

Read more …

From Reagan’s Budget Director.

America’s Fiscal Doomsday Machine (Stockman)

Maybe the Democrats did win the 2016 election. Or at least the the Deep State and its accomplices among the beltway political class, K-Street lobbies and the media did. That’s because the media won a giant victory against something they deplore and despise more than anything else — the public debt ceiling. They sanctimoniously admonish that it’s a relic of the nation’s fiscally benighted past. They operate on a belief that this is an episodic tendency to threaten America’s credit and to offer Capitol Hill an opening to grandstand about the fiscal verities is a blight on orderly governance. So the Donald’s latest burst of impetuosity — agreeing with Sen. Schumer to permanently abolish the public debt ceiling — has descended on the beltway like manna from heaven.

Not Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter or even the Great Texas Porker, Lyndon Johnson, dared to utter the thought of it — at least not in polite company. Suddenly, and notwithstanding all the good he has done disrupting the status quo, the Donald has become the foremost enemy of America’s very financial survival. The Federal budget is a Fiscal Doomsday Machine. The depository of American wars and entitlements have run rampant. Under the pile drivers of a global empire and the retiring baby boom, it is rapidly propelling the nation toward fiscal catastrophe. That grim outcome is virtually guaranteed if the only remaining safety brake — the debt ceiling — is summarily abolished. Due to entitlements, debt service and the slow pipeline of appropriated spending there is no such thing as an annual Federal budget or accountability for how much Uncle Sam spends and borrows.

Instead, the $4.1 trillion that Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects the Federal government will spend in FY 2018, and the $563 billion it will borrow, reflects the dead hand of the past. Entitlements and other mandatory spending alone is projected to reach $2.566 trillion or 63% of total FY 2018 outlays. Another $307 billion will be required for interest on the nation’s $20 trillion public debt, while upwards of half the $1.22 trillion for so-called “discretionary” or appropriated programs also reflects funds appropriated years ago. Altogether, $3.5 trillion, or 85% of outlays, will be essentially baked into the cake before a single Congressional vote is taken on anything regarding the FY 2018 budget.

Read more …

They just want to lend more.

IMF Is Resisting A Moratorium On Barbuda’s Sovereign Debt Repayments (Ind.)

The IMF is resisting putting a moratorium on Barbuda’s sovereign debt repayments in the wake of the devastation left by Hurricane Irma on the tiny Caribbean island. Barbuda is said to have lost around 90% of its structures in the wake of the storm and the national repair and reconstruction bill has been estimated at $150m. The prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, has also said that around half or the island’s population of 1,600 is now homeless. Yet Antigua and Barbuda have debt with the IMF of around $15.8m and a coalition of US faith institutions have been calling on the Fund to pause the repayments of states battered by the hurricane. However, the IMF’s special representative to the UN, Christopher Lane, reportedly suggested late last week that the Fund would rather lend more money to the island, rather than stop collecting the repayments due.

“Our general view is that we’d rather put new money in than to have moratoria,” he said, according to Court House News. Stressing that were technical and political difficulties in simply stopping the debt collection he said: “We borrow money from our members who lend. So we’d have to get agreement from the lending parties.” “We might borrow money from the United States and loan that to Antigua. If we don’t get paid back on time, we’d have to make an arrangement with the source of the funds themselves. It gets a bit arcane, but there’s a number of constraints on how we operate. We’re like a bank. We borrow and lend.”

In a letter to the IMF managing director Christine Lagarde on 7 September the Jubilee USA network wrote: “We invite the IMF to implement an immediate moratorium on debt payments for countries severely impacted by the Category 5 storm until they have rebuilt and recovered.” “For example, the nation of Antigua and Barbuda has almost $3m in debt payments due to the Fund today and a debt payment moratorium could immediately be put into rebuilding Barbuda where almost the entire population is homeless.” The group also urged that further IMF reconstruction payments to Barbuda, and other affected islands, should be in the form of grants, rather than loans.

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All major banks are.

UK’s High Street Banks Are Accident Waiting To Happen (G.)

The UK’s high street banks are an accident waiting to happen and could struggle in another financial crisis, according to a report published on Wednesday to mark the 10th anniversary of the run on Northern Rock. The report criticises the annual health checks – stress tests – that have been conducted by the Bank of England since the crisis and concludes that the methodology used by Threadneedle Street is flawed and the tests not gruelling enough. [..] Kevin Dowd, a professor of finance and economics at Durham University and a long-standing critic of the stress tests, said the Bank does not use the correct measures to assess the health of the banking system. Dowd is also a senior fellow at the Adam Smith Institute, a rightwing thinktank. His analysis – which the Bank of England has previously rejected – focuses on the health check of the major lenders published last November.

Those tests were based on a number of hypothetical scenarios including house prices falling and the global economy contracting by 1.9%. Royal Bank of Scotland failed the test and Barclays and Standard Chartered would both have struggled to cope. Dowd argued that the scenarios were “hardly doomsday” and disputes the way banks’ capital strength is measured. “The stress tests are about as useful as a cancer test that cannot detect cancer. They seek to demonstrate a financial resilience on the part of UK banks that simply isn’t there,” said Dowd in the report. “Our banking system is an accident waiting to happen.” The Bank uses the value of assets as calculated by the banks rather than their value on the markets which, he argued, would give a more accurate assessment of their financial health. “It is disturbing that 10 years on from Northern Rock, the best measures of leverage – those based on market values – indicate that UK banks are even more leveraged than they were then,” said Dowd.

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“American warfare in 7 different countries..”

We Must Repeal The Authorization For The Use Of Military Force (Rand Paul)

As Congress takes up the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), I will insist it vote on my amendment to sunset the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force. Why? Because these authorizations to use military force are inappropriately being used to justify American warfare in 7 different countries. Sunsetting both AUMFs will force a debate on whether we continue the Afghanistan war, the Libya war, the Yemen war, the Syria war, and other interventions. Our military trains our soldiers to be focused and disciplined, yet the politicians who send them to fight have for years ignored those traits when developing our foreign policy. The result? Trillions spent in seemingly endless conflicts in every corner of the globe, while we find ourselves 16 years into the war in Afghanistan wondering what our purpose there even is any more, or if we’ll ever bring our troops home.

If we don’t get this rudderless foreign policy under control now, we’ll still be asking the same questions another 16 years down the road. It’s time to demand the policymakers take their own jobs as seriously as the men and women we ask to risk it all for our nation. Doing so means restoring constitutional checks and balances. Congress has no greater responsibility than defending our country, and the Founders entrusted it with the power of declaring war because they wanted such a weighty decision to be thoroughly debated by the legislature instead of unilaterally made by the Executive branch. Yet Congress has largely abdicated its role anyways, and its sidekick status was plainly evident when former President Obama proposed a new AUMF for the fight against ISIS while insisting he really had all the authority he needed – it being more of a “wouldn’t it be nice” afterthought than an acknowledgement of any required step.

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Not a lot of insight into what’s wrong with US Democrats.

Democrats Fought For 25 Years Over Single-Payer. Now Many Back Sanders (Sirota)

When U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ introduces his Medicare-for-All legislation on Wednesday, advocates of a single-payer, government-sponsored health care hope it will be the end of a bitterly fought policy battle that has roiled the Democratic Party for generations. Since Democratic President Harry Truman first proposed a government-sponsored universal health care system in 1945 — and since a Democratic president and Democratic congress first enacted Medicare and Medicaid in the mid-1960s — progressives have hoped that the United States would follow other industrialized countries by guaranteeing health care to all citizens. Indeed, many of the original proponents of Medicare hoped the system would ultimately be expanded to cover the entire country — as former Social Security commissioner Robert Ball wrote, “We expected Medicare to be a first step toward universal national health insurance.”

And although the intervening years saw the rise of Republican President Ronald Reagan, who derided “socialized medicine,” some Democrats continued to champion the idea. The party’s 1992 presidential contender Jerry Brown ran for the White House promising to support single-payer. But when Bill Clinton defeated him and won the presidency, the Clinton administration opted to back health care reforms that preserved the existing private insurance system — even as Hillary Clinton made favorable comments about single-payer. A generation later, Barack Obama also retreated from single-payer, and instead pushed the Affordable Care Act, which subsidizes the private insurance system.

Now, things appear once again to be shifting. Even as Sanders has declared that his Medicare-for-All bill is not a litmus test, Democrats from across the party’s ideological spectrum are flocking to his legislation. On the progressive side, Democratic senators such as Elizabeth Warren (MA), Jeff Merkley (OR) and Al Franken (MN) have signed onto the legislation. Within the party establishment, former Vice President Al Gore has expressed support, as has conservative former Sen. Max Baucus — one of the architects of the Affordable Care Act whom single-payer advocates saw as a nemesis. With polls showing rising support for government-sponsored health care, the party’s long civil war over the issue may be over, potentially allowing a more unified party to campaign on Medicare-for-All in 2018.

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China has hardly enough land to feed its people.

China Plans Nationwide Use Of Ethanol Gasoline By 2020 (R.)

China plans to roll out the use of ethanol in gasoline nationally by 2020, state media reported on Wednesday citing a government document, as Beijing intensifies its push to boost industrial demand for corn and clean up choking smog. It’s the first time the government has set a targeted timeline for pushing the biofuel, known as E10 and containing 10% corn, across the world’s largest car market, although it has yet to announce a formal policy. Mandates requiring that a minimum amount of biofuel must be blended into fuel for the nation’s cars, similar to the United States and Brazil, are currently set at a provincial level. “This news has greatly boosted confidence inside the industry,” said Michael Mao, analyst with Sublime China Information, adding that without government support ethanol would likely be too expensive to survive in the market.

Shares in biofuel producers rallied on the news, with Shandong Longlive Bio-Technology Co surging 10%, on track for its biggest one-day gain since December 2015. Major producer COFCO Biochemical Anhui Co, a listed unit of state-owned grains trader COFCO, was up almost 6%. A renewed effort to promote the nation’s fledging biofuels industry will be a further blow to major oil producers. On Saturday, the government said it has begun studying when to ban the production and sale of cars using traditional fuels. The news comes after the government said late last year it would aim to double ethanol output by 2020 amid growing pressure to whittle down mountains of ageing corn in state warehouses.

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Some good points, but needs much more work.

Capitalism Can’t Save The Planet – It Can Only Destroy It (Monbiot)

There was “a flaw” in the theory: this is the famous admission by Alan Greenspan, the former chair of the Federal Reserve, to a congressional inquiry into the 2008 financial crisis. His belief that the self-interest of the lending institutions would lead automatically to the correction of financial markets had proved wrong. Now, in the midst of the environmental crisis, we await a similar admission. We may be waiting some time. For, as in Greenspan’s theory of the financial system, there cannot be a problem. The market is meant to be self-correcting: that’s what the theory says. As Milton Friedman, one of the architects of neoliberal ideology, put it: “Ecological values can find their natural space in the market, like any other consumer demand.” As long as environmental goods are correctly priced, neither planning nor regulation is required.

Any attempt by governments or citizens to change the likely course of events is unwarranted and misguided. But there’s a flaw. Hurricanes do not respond to market signals. The plastic fibres in our oceans, food and drinking water do not respond to market signals. Nor does the collapse of insect populations, or coral reefs, or the extirpation of orangutans from Borneo. The unregulated market is as powerless in the face of these forces as the people in Florida who resolved to fight Hurricane Irma by shooting it. It is the wrong tool, the wrong approach, the wrong system. There are two inherent problems with the pricing of the living world and its destruction. The first is that it depends on attaching a financial value to items – such as human life, species and ecosystems – that cannot be redeemed for money. The second is that it seeks to quantify events and processes that cannot be reliably predicted.

[..] A system that depends on growth can survive only if we progressively lose our ability to make reasoned decisions. After our needs, then strong desires, then faint desires have been met, we must keep buying goods and services we neither need nor want, induced by marketing to abandon our discriminating faculties, and to succumb instead to impulse. [..] Continued economic growth depends on continued disposal: unless we rapidly junk the goods we buy, it fails. The growth economy and the throwaway society cannot be separated. Environmental destruction is not a byproduct of this system: it is a necessary element.


Illustration: Sebastien Thibault

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

 

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

 

 

It’s an anti-Trump love fest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Where’s the anger?

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

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

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

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May was losing a lot of votes before AMnchester.

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

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

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

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

UK Election Campaign Resumes After Manchester Attack (AFP)

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

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

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Will May be part of these discussions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Down 26% yoy.

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

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

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

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

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The fight over conventional economic theories.

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

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

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

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

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A fight between fabricated numbers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greece Debt Talks Remain Fraught Despite IMF Optimism (AFP)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 May 23, 2017  Posted by at 8:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  12 Responses »
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Henri Matisse Bathers by a River 1910

 

Trump Seeks $3.6 Trillion in Cuts to Reshape Government (BBG)
The US Economy Has Left 10s Of Millions Of Forgotten Americans Behind (Snyder)
UK General Election Campaigning Suspended After Manchester Attack (G.)
US Healthcare Industry Blames Trump And GOP For Obamacare Rate Hikes (F.)
China Pushes Public to Accept GMO as Syngenta Takeover Nears (BBG)
China Spins a Global Food Web From Mozambique to Missouri (BBG)
Auto Lender Santander Checked Income on Just 8% in Subprime ABS (BBG)
Germany Commemorates The 500th Anniversary Of Luther’s Reformation (AFP)
Do You, Mr. Jones…? (Jim Kunstler)
Getting Julian Assange: The Untold Story (John Pilger)
EU Ministers Fail To Reach Greek Debt Deal, Delay Release Of Bailout (Tel.)
Macron Tells Tsipras France Hopes To Ease Greek Debt (K.)
German Government At Odds With Itself Over Greek Debt Relief (R.)
1.2 Million Greek Pensioners Live on Less than €500 a Month (GR)
Amnesty Urges Greece to Provide Safe Housing to Elliniko Refugees (GR)

 

 

Congress will never accept this.

Trump Seeks $3.6 Trillion in Cuts to Reshape Government (BBG)

President Donald Trump would dramatically reduce the U.S. government’s role in society with $3.6 trillion in spending cuts over the next 10 years in a budget plan that shrinks the safety net for the poor, recent college graduates and farmers. Trump’s proposal, to be released Tuesday, claims to balance the budget within a decade. But it relies on a tax plan for which the administration has provided precious little detail, the elimination of programs backed by many Republican lawmakers, and heavy use of accounting gimmicks. Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal has already been declared dead on arrival by many of his Republican allies in Congress. The plan would slash Medicaid payments, increase monthly student loan payments and cut food stamps and agricultural subsidies, each backed by powerful constituencies.

The administration is unbowed. “We’re no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs,” White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said. “We’re going to measure compassion and success by the number of people we help get off those programs and back in charge of their own lives.” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has already said he expects the Republican-led Congress to largely ignore the proposal, saying in an interview last week with Bloomberg News that early versions reflected priorities that “aren’t necessarily ours.” The president’s proposal would fulfill his campaign promise of leaving Social Security retirement benefits and Medicare untouched while increasing national security spending. He’s also proposing severe cuts to foreign aid and tighter eligibility for tax cuts that benefit the working poor. He also seeks cuts in food stamps and disability insurance.

The plan calls for some new domestic spending, including $25 billion over 10 years for nationwide paid parental leave – a cause championed by First Daughter Ivanka Trump – and an expansion of the Pell Grant program for low-income students. The Department of Homeland Security’s budget would increase $3 billion versus the final full year of President Barack Obama’s term, while the Pentagon’s budget would see a $6 billion increase over that same time. The sheer ambition of the president’s plan, which would cut domestic agencies by 10% in 2018 and by 40% in 2027, make the budget even less likely to gain traction on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers regularly flout the annual blueprint offered by the executive branch. But lawmakers are also likely to view some of the administration’s accounting gimmicks with extreme skepticism.

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Now add another financial crisis to that.

The US Economy Has Left 10s Of Millions Of Forgotten Americans Behind (Snyder)

The evidence that the middle class in America is dying continues to mount. As you will see below, nearly half the country would be unable “to cover an unexpected $400 expense”, and about two-thirds of the population lives paycheck to paycheck at least part of the time. Of course the economy has not been doing that well overall in recent years. Barack Obama was the only president in all of U.S. history not to have a single year when the economy grew by at least 3%, and U.S. GDP growth during the first quarter of 2017 was an anemic 0.7%. During the Obama era, it is true that wealthy enclaves in New York, northern California and Washington D.C. did thrive, but meanwhile most of the rest of the country has been left behind. Today, there are approximately 205 million working age Americans, and close to half of them have no financial cushion whatsoever.

In fact, a new survey conducted by the Federal Reserve has found that 44% of Americans do not even have enough money “to cover an unexpected $400 expense”… “Nearly eight years into an economic recovery, nearly half of Americans didn’t have enough cash available to cover a $400 emergency. Specifically, the survey found that, in line with what the Fed had disclosed in previous years, 44% of respondents said they wouldn’t be able to cover an unexpected $400 expense like a car repair or medical bill, or would have to borrow money or sell something to meet it.” Not only that, the same survey discovered that 23% of U.S. adults will not be able to pay their bills this month…

“Just as concerning were other findings from the study: just under one-fourth of adults, or 23%, are not able to pay all of their current month’s bills in full while 25% reported skipping medical treatments due to cost in the prior year. Additionally, 28% of adults who haven’t retired yet reported to being grossly unprepared, indicating they had no retirement savings or pension whatsoever.” But just because you can pay your bills does not mean that you are doing well. Tens of millions of Americans barely scrape by from paycheck to paycheck each and every month. In fact, a survey by CareerBuilder discovered that 75% of all Americans live paycheck to paycheck at least some of the time…

“Three-quarters of Americans (75%) are living paycheck-to-paycheck to make ends meet, according to a survey from CareerBuilder. 38% of employees said they sometimes live paycheck-to-paycheck, 15% said they usually do and 23% said they always do. While making ends meet is a struggle for many post-recession, those with minimum wage jobs continue to be hit the hardest. Of workers who currently have a minimum wage job or have held one in the past, 66% said they couldn’t make ends meet and 50% said they had to work more than one job to make it work.” So please don’t be fooled into thinking that the U.S. economy is doing well because the stock market has been hitting new record highs. The stock market was soaring just before the financial crisis of 2008 too, and we remember how that turned out.

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Politicians can only react to tragedies in regurgitated bland terminology. Only, they now do it on Twitter. Progress?

UK General Election Campaigning Suspended After Manchester Attack (G.)

Theresa May and the leaders of other political parties have suspended campaigning for the general election following the terrorist attack in Manchester, which has killed at least 22 people. The prime minister, who had been due to speak at a campaign event in southwest England, will instead chair a meeting of the government’s emergency Cobra committee. May said the incident at Manchester Arena was being treated by police as an “appalling terrorist attack”. She added: “All our thoughts are with the victims and the families of those who have been affected.”

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who was to have spoken in the West Midlands, said it was a “terrible incident”. He tweeted: “My thoughts are with all those affected and our brilliant emergency services.” In a later statement, Corbyn said: “I would like to pay tribute to the emergency services for their bravery and professionalism in dealing with last night’s appalling events. “I have spoken with the prime minister and we have agreed that that all national campaigning in the general election will be suspended until further notice.” The Scottish National party was due to unveil its election manifesto on Tuesday, but it has now postponed the event.

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Saved by the terror attack?

Theresa May Ditches Manifesto Plan With ‘Dementia Tax’ U-Turn (G.)

Theresa May has announced a U-turn on her party’s social care policy by promising an “absolute limit” on the amount people will have to pay for their care but is not planning to say what level the cap will be set at before the election. The prime minister’s decision came after Conservative party proposals to make people pay more of the costs of social care were branded a “dementia tax” – but she insisted it was simply a clarification. “Since my manifesto was published, the proposals have been subject to fake claims made by Jeremy Corbyn. The only things he has left to offer in this campaign are fake claims, fear and scaremongering,” she said, during a speech in Wrexham to launch the Welsh Tory manifesto. “So I want to make a further point clear. This manifesto says that we will come forward with a consultation paper, a government green paper. And that consultation will include an absolute limit on the amount people have to pay for their care costs.”

The prime minister said key elements of her party’s social care policy – to limit winter fuel allowance to the poorest and take people’s properties into account in the means test for social care at home – would remain in place. It is understood that the party will not pre-empt the consultation with a figure, not least because the level will depend on where the means test is set for winter fuel allowance. But the Conservative manifesto and a briefing for journalists on the policy had made no mention of a cap, with the policy only announced after days of backlash and amid a slight tightening in the opinion polls. May immediately faced a string of difficult questions from reporters, with one saying the announcement amounted to a “manifesto of chaos”. A testy prime minister responded by insisting that there was always going to be a consultation and the “basic principles” of the policy were unchanged.

“Nothing has changed, nothing has changed,” she added tersely, raising her voice when asked towards the end of the session if anything else in the Tory manifesto was likely to be altered. The prime minister accused a Guardian journalist of borrowing a term from the Labour party after it was suggested that the “dementia tax” would still mean a wide disparity between the children of Alzheimer’s and cancer sufferers. “This is a system that will ensure that people who are faced by the prospect of either requiring care in their own home or go into a home are able to see that support provided for them and don’t have to worry on that month by month basis about where that funding is coming from. They won’t have to sell their family home when they are alive, and they will be able to pass savings on to their children,” she said.

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Yeah, curious.

US Healthcare Industry Blames Trump And GOP For Obamacare Rate Hikes (F.)

The healthcare industry is beginning to shift blame for Obamacare’s 2018 rate hikes and an unstable individual insurance market to Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress. An alliance of health insurers, doctors and employers are urging the Trump administration and Congress to fund cost-sharing subsidies for millions of Americans under the Affordable Care Act. Politico reported Friday that Trump is telling “advisers he wants to end key Obamacare subsidies.” If cost-sharing reductions (CSRs) aren’t funded through 2018, Trump and Republicans will be responsible for more insurers leaving public exchanges and a rate hike of nearly 20% on average, reports indicate.

The cost-sharing reductions (CSRs) are used to help 7 million Americans pay less out of pocket for healthcare services. “There now is clear evidence that this uncertainty is undermining the individual insurance market for 2018 and stands to negatively impact millions of people,” several powerful groups representing hospitals, doctors, patients, insurance companies and U.S. employers wrote in a letter to Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and GOP Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas.

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The worst idea in a long time. But since they bought Syngenta, probably inevitable.

China Pushes Public to Accept GMO as Syngenta Takeover Nears (BBG)

China will carry out a nationwide poll next month to test the public’s acceptance of genetically-modified food, a technology the government says would boost yields and sustainable agriculture in a country that’s seen consumption soar. [..] China is the world’s fourth-largest grower of GMO cotton and the top importer of soybeans, most of which are genetically modified and used for cooking oil and animal feed for pigs and chickens. But public concern over food safety issues and skepticism about the effects of consuming GMO foods have made the government reluctant to introduce the technology for staple crops. A 2012 trial of so-called Golden Rice – a yellow GMO variant of the grain that produces beta-carotene – caused a public storm after reports that the rice was fed to children without the parents being aware that it was genetically modified.

“Many Chinese turn pale when you mention the GMO word,” said Jin in his small office. Some still believe GMO food can cause cancer and impair childbirth, due to misleading reports in newspapers and social media, he said. A recent decision by a local legislative body against growing GMO crops has added to public confusion, Jin said. The national survey aims to discover what the public’s concerns are so that the government can resolve the confusion, Jin said. “If the government pushes ahead before the public is ready to accept the technology, it would be embarrassing – like offering a pot of half-cooked rice to eat.” Jin said he expected the poll result to show that the general public’s perception of GMO is still negative, but “as more people get to know the technology, more would be willing to accept it.”

The lack of an authoritative scientific institution to answer questions, the widespread illegal cultivation of GMO crops, and public mistrust of government authorities after a series of food scandals have all contributed to skepticism about GMO, Jin said. [..] Syngenta, which produces genetically modified seeds for corn, is gearing up for rapid expansion in the country after shareholders accepted a $43 billion offer for the Swiss agribusiness by China National Chemical. The Chinese state-owned company is expected to complete the deal this month. The American Chamber of Commerce in China had complained that U.S. strains of GMO suffered from slower and less predictable approval for import into China. Chinese and U.S. officials have agreed to evaluate pending U.S. biotechnology product applications by the end of the month, including corn and cotton.

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The GMOs will be used globally.

China Spins a Global Food Web From Mozambique to Missouri (BBG)

Faced with a shrinking area of good arable land and a population of 1.4 billion people who are eating more, Chinese agriculture companies have been buying or leasing farms abroad for decades. After the world food crisis, when grain prices soared from 2006 to 2008, that investment went into overdrive. But many projects were plagued by corruption, mistrust, local resistance and trade restrictions. “By and large, they have not achieved the goals they have set,” said Shenggen Fan, an agricultural economist who grew up on a farm near Shanghai and now heads the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute. “The general conclusion was that it was not a good investment—it was too quick.”

[..] China will still need to source an increasing amount of food from overseas as its growing middle class eats more and demands better quality and variety. The nation already consumes about half of the world’s pork and whole milk powder, and about a third of its soybeans and rice. So, as the global food crisis abated, Chinese companies turned their attention elsewhere—to finding farms with quality producers in more developed countries whose products would sell for a premium in Shanghai and Beijing. “China is just getting started,” said Kartini Samon, who runs the Asia program for Grain, a non-profit focused on farmers’ rights that tracks Chinese farm deals. “They’re slowly building their power and their supply chains.”

Chinese firms have spent almost $52 billion on overseas agriculture deals since 2005 and food industry-related transactions have quadrupled over the past six years, according to data compiled by the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation. “More and more of what we’re seeing is Chinese companies wanting to buy really good food businesses, as opposed to buying any food businesses,” said Ian Proudfoot, the Auckland-based global head of agribusiness for KPMG. They include WH Group’s 2013 purchase of Virginia-based Smithfield Foods Inc., the world’s biggest pork producer, and China National Chemical’s $43 billion agreement to take over Swiss pesticide maker Syngenta.

In a key rural policy statement issued by the Communist Party in February, the government said it supports Chinese companies investing in agriculture overseas, from production and processing to storage and logistics. “They won’t just want the production facilities, they’ll be looking for the story and the brand,” said Proudfoot. Of the 17 agricultural deals made by Chinese companies over the past two years, only two were in developing countries—Cambodia and Brazil—and six were in Australia, according to the AEI/Heritage Foundation data. Shanghai Pengxin, which has dairy-farming interests in New Zealand and a Brazilian grain-trading business, is looking for well-known brands in developed countries that can generate fast returns in markets like Shanghai, said a spokesman..

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This is based on ‘findings’ by Moody‘s, but it rated Santander ABS as high as AAA as late as February. We’ve definitely seen this before.

Auto Lender Santander Checked Income on Just 8% in Subprime ABS (BBG)

Santander Consumer USA, one of the biggest subprime auto finance companies, verified income on just 8% of borrowers whose loans it recently bundled into $1 billion of bonds, according to Moody’s. The low level of due diligence on applicants compares with 64% for loans in a recent securitization sold by General Motors Financial’s AmeriCredit unit. The lack of checks may be one factor in explaining higher loan losses experienced by Santander Consumer in bond deals that it has sold in recent years, Moody’s analysts Jody Shenn and Nick Monzillo wrote in a May 17 report, which reviewed data required of asset-backed bond issuers that’s recently been made available. Limited verification of loan applicants’ stated incomes and employment “creates more uncertainty around whether borrowers will be able to afford their monthly payments, which becomes particularly important if they have poor credit records and risky loan terms,” the analysts wrote.

Andrew Kang, Dallas-based Santander Consumer’s treasurer, acknowledged Moody’s findings and said the company’s practice on income verification has been consistent over time even if it’s lower than levels reported among competitors. The higher losses in the loans backing the bonds have been visible to investors, Kang said. Investors have been protected because Santander Consumer included extra loans in the securities in case some went bad, for example, creating a buffer against losses, he said. The Moody’s analysts didn’t make any claim that noteholders were at risk as the bond-grader simply looked at the new data available in the deals to provide analysis on how lenders underwrite. Moody’s rated the Santander deal as high as Aaa in February. Investors who bought into the securities included Massachusetts Mutual Life, according to data.

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Martin Luther rubber duckies. Nothing is holy. Our crisis is spiritual too.

Germany Commemorates The 500th Anniversary Of Luther’s Reformation (AFP)

From burgers to rubber duckies to liquor, Wittenberg is cashing in on its 16th century resident, who changed Christendom forever. It is on a door of a church here that Luther is said to have nailed his 95 theses in 1517, leading to a split with the Roman Catholic Church and giving birth to Protestantism. As Germany commemorates the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the seismic theological shift started by Luther, Wittenberg is decked out in full Luther regalia. On arrival at the town’s main train station, visitors are greeted with a giant rectangular block labelled “The Bible – Luther’s translation”. Walk a few metres and a billboard seeks to tempt the weary with a “Luther Burger”. In the display windows of shops running one kilometre through the centre of the old town, there is something for everyone – a toddler-sized Luther teddy bear, bags of Luther pasta and Luther tea.

Born in Eisleben on November 10, 1483, Luther moved to Wittenberg in 1511. It was in the eastern town where he married Katharina von Bora, became a father of six children, and published his ideas attacking papal abuses and questioning the place of saints. The theologian, who died in 1546, argued that Christians could not buy or earn their way into heaven but only entered by the grace of God, marking a turning point in Christian thinking. But Luther also came to be linked to Germany’s darkest history, as his later sermons and writings were marked by anti-Semitism – something that the Nazis used to justify their horrific persecution of the Jews. Yet the theologian’s part in reshaping the religious order has unequivocally secured his place as one of the most important figures in European history.

For the 500th Reformation anniversary, Germany has declared an exceptional public holiday on October 31. And tens of thousands of Christians from across the world are descending on the town of 47,000 inhabitants where history was made. [..] going by the number of tourists carrying jute bags featuring Luther’s image, or the steady stream of people picking up Luther cookies, it is clear that the crowd just can’t get enough of the theologian. The boom in Luther souvenirs has been driven by this year’s celebrations, Ruske noted. “There are Luther noodles, Luther tomatoes, Luther chocolate and also Luther coffee. There are many great products that we sell… but there are also bizarre souvenirs. But as long as the demand is there, there’ll always be offers,” said Ruske. The tourism office itself has been stocking 500 Playmobil figurines of Luther every month over the past year. “But they keep selling out,” she said.

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“The nation suffers desperately from an absence of leadership and perhaps even more from the loss of faith that leadership is even possible..”

Do You, Mr. Jones…? (Jim Kunstler)

In case you wonder how our politics fell into such a slough of despond, the answer is pretty simple. Neither main political party, or their trains of experts, specialists, and mouthpieces, can construct a coherent story about what is happening in this country — and the result is a roaring wave of recursive objurgation and wrath that loops purposelessly towards gathering darkness. What’s happening is a slow-motion collapse of the economy. Neither Democrats or Republicans know why it is so remorselessly underway. A tiny number of well-positioned scavengers thrive on the debris cast off by the process of disintegration, but they don’t really understand the process either — the lobbyists, lawyers, bankers, contractors, feeders at the troughs of government could not be more cynical or clueless.

The nation suffers desperately from an absence of leadership and perhaps even more from the loss of faith that leadership is even possible after years without it. Perhaps that’s why so much hostility is aimed at Mr. Putin of Russia, a person who appears to know where his country stands in history, and who enjoys ample support among his countrymen. How that must gall the empty vessels like Lindsey Graham, Rubio, Schumer, Feinstein, Ryan, et. al. So along came the dazzling, zany Trump, who was able to communicate a vague sense-memory of what had been lost in our time of American life, whose sheer bluster resembled something like conviction as projected via the cartoonizing medium of television, and who entered a paralysis of intention the moment he stepped into the oval office, where he proved to be even less authentic than the Wizard of Oz.

Turned out he didn’t really understand the economic collapse underway either; he just remembered an America of 1962 and though somehow the national clock might be turned back. The industrial triumph of America in the 19th and 20th century was really something to behold. But like all stories, it had a beginning, a middle, and an end, and we’re closer to the end of that story than the middle. It doesn’t mean the end of civilization but it means we have to start a new story that provides some outline of a life worth living on a planet worth caring about.

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Pilger is the source to turn to.

Getting Julian Assange: The Untold Story (John Pilger)

Julian Assange has been vindicated because the Swedish case against him was corrupt. The prosecutor, Marianne Ny, obstructed justice and should be prosecuted. Her obsession with Assange not only embarrassed her colleagues and the judiciary but exposed the Swedish state’s collusion with the United States in its crimes of war and “rendition”.

Had Assange not sought refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, he would have been on his way to the kind of American torture pit Chelsea Manning had to endure. This prospect was obscured by the grim farce played out in Sweden. “It’s a laughing stock,” said James Catlin, one of Assange’s Australian lawyers. “It is as if they make it up as they go along”. It may have seemed that way, but there was always serious purpose. In 2008, a secret Pentagon document prepared by the “Cyber Counterintelligence Assessments Branch” foretold a detailed plan to discredit WikiLeaks and smear Assange personally. The “mission” was to destroy the “trust” that was WikiLeaks’ “centre of gravity”. This would be achieved with threats of “exposure [and] criminal prosecution”. Silencing and criminalising such an unpredictable source of truth-telling was the aim.

Perhaps this was understandable. WikiLeaks has exposed the way America dominates much of human affairs, including its epic crimes, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq: the wholesale, often homicidal killing of civilians and the contempt for sovereignty and international law. These disclosures are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama, a professor of constitutional law, lauded whistle blowers as “part of a healthy democracy [and they] must be protected from reprisal”. In 2012, the Obama campaign boasted on its website that Obama had prosecuted more whistleblowers in his first term than all other US presidents combined. Before Chelsea Manning had even received a trial, Obama had publicly pronounced her guilty.

Few serious observers doubt that should the US get their hands on Assange, a similar fate awaits him. According to documents released by Edward Snowden, he is on a “Manhunt target list”. Threats of his kidnapping and assassination became almost political and media currency in the US following then Vice-President Joe Biden’s preposterous slur that the WikiLeaks founder was a “cyber-terrorist”. Hillary Clinton, the destroyer of Libya and, as WikiLeaks revealed last year, the secret supporter and personal beneficiary of forces underwriting ISIS, proposed her own expedient solution: “Can’t we just drone this guy.” According to Australian diplomatic cables, Washington’s bid to get Assange is “unprecedented in scale and nature”. In Alexandria, Virginia, a secret grand jury has sought for almost seven years to contrive a crime for which Assange can be prosecuted. This is not easy.

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The Troika has no intention of solving the issue. They demand a 3.5% surplus for years to come, making sure Greece can’t grow.

EU Ministers Fail To Reach Greek Debt Deal, Delay Release Of Bailout (Tel.)

Eurozone finance ministers failed to agree on a deal which would have released vital rescue funds for Athens on Monday night, after Greece’s creditors rejected calls for an upfront commitment to reduce the country’s debt burden. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who leads the Eurogroup of finance ministers, said the ministers had held an “in-depth discussion” on debt sustainability and said they were “very close” to an agreement. However, he added that they had “not reached an overall agreement on that part of the discussion”. “Tonight we were unable to close a possible gap between what could be done and what some of us had expected should be done or could be done. We need to close that by looking at additional options or by adjusting our expectations.”

“Both are possible and both perhaps should be done, and that I think will bring us to a more positive and definite positive conclusion at the next Eurogroup in June,” Mr Dijsselbloem said. Talks are expected to continue over the coming weeks ahead of the next meeting on June 15. Prior to the meeting, Eurozone finance ministers had said they were confident that a political agreement could be reached on Monday evening. This would have paved the way for a fresh tranche of financial aid to ensure Greece avoids a summer cash crunch. However, officials were at odds with the IMF over the critical issue of debt relief, which is a condition of the Fund’s participation in Greece’s third, €86bn bail-out. The IMF had stressed that debt relief was necessary to ensure the country can return to fiscal health, and had called for details on the scope and timing of relief before it joined the programme.

Ahead of the meeting in Brussels, Mr Dijsselbloem had said he was optimistic that creditors would release new loans to Athens after the Greek parliament passed fresh austerity measures last week, including pension cuts. Greece’s debt share currently stands at around 180pc of GDP, but Mr Dijsselbloem said detailed relief measures would not be thrashed out until 2018. Insiders said talks aimed at bridging the gap between the IMF and some of Greece’s creditors would be difficult. “Discussions are going to be long, and I am not sure they will be successful,” said one. Others said everyone was working hard to secure a deal that included the Fund. “If we lose the IMF now, we lose the IMF forever,” said one source.

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Macron is nothing but Merkel’s little helper.

Macron Tells Tsipras France Hopes To Ease Greek Debt (K.)

French President Emmanuel Macron says his new administration will push for an international debt relief deal for austerity-weary Greece. Macron’s office says that he spoke Monday with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and stressed “his determination to find an accord soon to lighten the burden of Greek debt over the long term.” The phone conversation was the first contact between the two since Macron’s election earlier this month. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, named last week, is joining EU finance ministers for talks Monday and Tuesday expected to focus on Greece’s debt problems. Athens hopes that the ministers will agree this week on a deal on easing Greece’s debt repayment terms. Successive Greek governments have slashed spending in return for bailout money to avoid bankruptcy.

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But no-one has the guts to stand up to Merkel and Schäuble.

German Government At Odds With Itself Over Greek Debt Relief (R.)

Germany’s coalition government split along party lines on Monday over the question of debt relief for Greece ahead of a crunch meeting in Brussels to tackle the thorny issue. Euro zone finance ministers and the International Monetary Fund are meeting to seek a deal on Greek debt relief that balances the IMF’s demand for a clear “when and how” with Berlin’s preference for “only if necessary” and “details later”. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat, caused the divergence in views by demanding that the euro zone make a firm commitment on granting debt relief to Greece, effectively criticising conservative Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble’s tough stance. “Greece has been promised debt relief over and over again if reforms are carried out,” Gabriel told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung paper. “Now we must stand by this promise.” “This must not fail due to German resistance,” said Gabriel.

Without the deal no new loans can be granted to Athens, even though the bailout is now handled only by euro zone governments and Greece needs new credit to repay some €7.3 billion worth of maturing loans in July. Schaeuble later described reforms agreed by Greece as “remarkable” but said the Greek economy was not yet competitive and that Athens must press ahead with implementing its existing reforms-for-aid program. “We are not talking about a new program but the implementation of the program agreed in 2015,” Schaeuble said. “At the end of the program, in 2018, we will, if necessary, put in place additional measures that we have defined.” “It is about one goal – namely to help Greece become competitive,” Schaeuble said, adding Greece was not there yet. Speaking at a regular government news conference, Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said institutions such as the IMF and the EC were not far apart in their assessment on Greece. “Germany should have an interest in not isolating itself too much,” Schaefer said.

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So obviously, more cuts are needed to make Greece ‘competitive’ again. Contradiction in terms.

1.2 Million Greek Pensioners Live on Less than €500 a Month (GR)

The report of the Unified System of Control and Payment of Pensions “ILIOS” made public by the Labor Ministry shows that 1.2 million Greek pensioners live on less than €500 per month. The figures date from December 2016 and show analytical pension data after Greece’s creditors have asked that pension data calculated with the new methodology should be made public at regular intervals. According to the “ILIOS” report, the average main pension is €722 per month, the average supplementary pension is 170 euros and the average dividend to State pensioners is €97 per month. The report shows that there are 2,892,259 main pensions paid each month, 1,252,241 supplementary pensions and 409,620 dividends with a total cost of €2,342,431,276.95. The figures show that 1.2 million pensioners are paid less than €500 per month.

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Elliniko is the site of the former main airport. It’s horrific. But cynically, it is being evacuated not because of the refugees’ conditions, but because there are plans to develop the site from a consortium of Greek, Chinese and Arab investors.

Amnesty should address Berlin on this, not Athens.

Amnesty Urges Greece to Provide Safe Housing to Elliniko Refugees (GR)

Greek authorities must ensure that refugees and migrants expected to start being evacuated from three Elliniko camps on Tuesday, are provided with safe, adequate, alternative housing, Amnesty International said in a press release on Monday. “Whilst no one will mourn the closure of these uninhabitable, unsafe camps, the failure to provide people living there with information about their imminent removal has only served to increase their fears and anxieties,” said Monica Costa Riba, Amnesty International’s Regional Campaigner. “There has been no consultation with Ellinko residents who have been kept in the dark as to when and where they will be moved to. The authorities must urgently guarantee that no one will be rendered homeless or placed at risk as a result of the closure. Safe and secure adequate alternative housing which takes account of the particular needs of women and girls must be made available,” she said.

Speaking to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency, an Amnesty International member said: “All NGOs active in Elliniko were asked to leave the area, except the two that provide medical help.” Sources from the ministry of Migration Policy denied the report on an imminent evacuation, saying that authorities will instead begin an “information campaign for the people who live in Elliniko,” adding that “misinformation doesn’t help in the real handling of the issue.” Amnesty International had requested to visit the camps between May 21 and 23 but was refused, however, its researchers managed to interview residents outside the camp. One Afghan man told Amnesty International: “They don’t give us information, which creates a lot of anxiety…They want to confuse us so that we cannot decide and they’ll decide for us.” An Afghan woman said: “We talked with everyone but no one tells us anything. I am really worried about ending up on the street.”

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May 182017
 
 May 18, 2017  Posted by at 9:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Paul Klee Fire at Full Moon 1933

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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If you want to protest Trump, protest this….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Let’s celebrate progress.

Investors Supercharge Bet Amazon Will Destroy US Retail (BBG)

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

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

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Is Kashkari denying the existence of bubbles?

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

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

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

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Horse. Barn.

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

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

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

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Not helping.

Canadian Officials Say Housing Risks Are Contained (BBG)

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

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

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As Goldman Sachs should be for its activities in Greece.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A child can tell that this is nonsense:

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

Deal On Greece Is Touch And Go (K.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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May 022017
 
 May 2, 2017  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Grand Central Station NY WWII

 

Trump Weighs Breaking Up Wall Street Banks, Raising Gas Tax (BBG)
Life After Oil Makes Real Estate Canada’s New Economic Crutch (BBG)
How Did Home Capital Get Into Trouble? (BBG)
China Leverage Rising At ‘Alarming Pace’: Central Bank Official (R.)
UBS, BNP, RBS Get Subpoenas in US Treasuries Probe (BBG)
The US Health Care Industry Is Bound To Collapse Soon (NYP)
Exhaustion Gaps and the Fear of Missing Out (John Hussman)
Barack Obama Cashes In, But Harry Truman And Jimmy Carter Refused (IC)
The Sound of One Wing Flapping (Jim Kunstler)
Emmanuel Macron Has Taken French Voters For Granted. Now He Risks Defeat (G.)
How Juncker’s Downing Street Dinner Turned Sour (G.)
Greece Reaches Deal With Creditors To Pave Way For Bailout Talks (G.)
Greece: Any Better Times Or More Pitfalls Ahead? (LSE)

 

 

Don’t hold your breath for breaking up banks. Gas tax is more interesting: keep oil prices low and off you go. Could be a huge source of revenue, and Trump needs a few of those.

Trump Weighs Breaking Up Wall Street Banks, Raising Gas Tax (BBG)

President Donald Trump said he’s actively considering a breakup of giant Wall Street banks, giving a push to efforts to revive a Depression-era law separating consumer and investment banking. “I’m looking at that right now,” Trump said of breaking up banks in a 30-minute Oval Office interview with Bloomberg News. “There’s some people that want to go back to the old system, right? So we’re going to look at that.” Trump also said he’s open to increasing the U.S. gas tax to fund infrastructure development, in a further sign that policies unpopular with the Republican establishment are under consideration in the White House. He described higher gas taxes as acceptable to truckers – “I have one friend who’s a big trucker,” he said – as long as the proceeds are dedicated to improving U.S. highways.

During the presidential campaign, Trump called for a “21st century” version of the 1933 Glass-Steagall law that required the separation of consumer and investment banking. The 2016 Republican Party platform also backed restoring the legal barrier, which was repealed in 1999 under a financial deregulation signed by then-President Bill Clinton. A handful of lawmakers blame the repeal for contributing to the 2008 financial crisis, an argument that Wall Street flatly rejects. Trump couldn’t unilaterally restore the law; Congress would have to pass a new version. Trump officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, have offered support for bringing back some version of Glass-Steagall, though they’ve offered scant details on an updated approach. Both Mnuchin and Cohn are former bankers who worked for Goldman Sachs.

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A deeply unstable economy.

Life After Oil Makes Real Estate Canada’s New Economic Crutch (BBG)

Two things happened last week that were a reminder of just how vital real estate has become to Canada’s economy. On Friday, Statistics Canada released GDP data that showed February was a banner month for sectors linked to housing. The real estate industry, residential construction, financial and legal services generated a combined 0.5% increase in output, the biggest one-month gain since 2014. Without those, the overall economy would have contracted slightly in February. A day earlier, the Ontario government released a budget that projects land transfer taxes will surpass C$3 billion ($2 billion) in the current fiscal year, from C$1.8 billion three years ago. For the province, it’s the difference between a balanced budget and a deficit.

Measures of housing’s contribution to the economy are imprecise, but estimates largely put the direct contribution in excess of 20%. It’s much more than that once you add all the indirect effects, with benefits spread widely from lawyer fees to government revenue and increased retail purchases through so-called wealth effects as rising home equity values prompt households to ramp up consumption. The big worry is that Canada has moved from a reliance on oil to a reliance on real estate. The influence of housing on the economy is so pervasive that it won’t take much of a slowdown to act as a major drag on the economy, said Mark Chandler, head of fixed-income research at RBC Capital Markets in Toronto.

“You don’t need a collapse in house prices, you don’t need housing starts to be cut in half for weaker real estate sector to have a significant effect on GDP and incomes,” Chandler said. RBC’s ballpark estimate is that a 10% decline in national home prices would knock a full percentage point off growth. A Toronto Dominion Bank report from 2015 found the housing wealth effect has been responsible for about one-fifth of all growth in consumption since 2001. “A lot of the strength we have seen in consumption is housing related,” said Brian DePratto, the economist who wrote the 2015 report. If you strip out the direct and indirect impact from housing on the economy, “you are talking about a much lower trend pace of growth.”

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Subprime.

How Did Home Capital Get Into Trouble? (BBG)

The world is suddenly paying attention to Home Capital, the tiny Canadian mortgage lender that’s on the ropes. The stock is plunging, it faces a run on deposits and regulators are probing management’s disclosure of fraudulent mortgages. Its troubles are raising questions: Is this an isolated case of a struggling mortgage company, or early signs of cracks forming in Canada’s red-hot housing market?

1. How did Home Capital get into trouble? It started in 2014 when the company, formed 31 years ago by Gerald Soloway, failed to screen a pile of questionable mortgages brought in by outside brokers. Some 45 brokers falsified income information on borrowers, prompting Home Capital to cut ties with them, leading to a drop in new business. This eventually led to an investigation by the Ontario Securities Commission, which said on April 19 that Home Capital had misled investors by not disclosing the fraud until five months after they became aware of the problem.

2. Will Home Capital fail? There are plenty of signs of stress. The stock has plunged almost 75% this year, cutting its market value to about C$515 million, from C$3.5 billion in 2014. Most pressing is the run on deposits. Customers pulled C$1.5 billion from high-interest savings accounts in four weeks, cutting the balances to C$500 million. The company has another C$13 billion in GICS. As these 30- and 60-day deposits come due, more withdrawals may follow. Without a deposit base, Home Capital can’t fund new mortgages. Home Capital hired investment bankers for a possible sale, though there is likely as much interest in the loan book as the company itself. Commercial banks may be interested, precluding any need for a government bailout. Financial regulators say they are watching closely.

3. Will this fallout spread to other lenders? Possibly. Home Capital competes with other companies in the so-called alternative mortgage space. They cater to small-business owners, new immigrants and other people who can’t get mortgages from the big commercial banks. It’s a niche segment but growing, accounting for almost 13% of the market. Unlike in the U.S. housing crash when loan defaults soared, there is little evidence of faulty loans so far. Home Capital’s delinquency rate, for example, was just 0.20% as of February. Still, shares of rivals First National and Equitable have been dragged lower by the Home Capital woes as investors fear contagion.

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Beijing sends a lot of signals, but it cannot make good on them without risking the economy, and everybody knows it. It’s all based on the idea that a centralized economy can be forced into a smooth descent, but that’s just a fallacy.

China Leverage Rising At ‘Alarming Pace’: Central Bank Official (R.)

China’s level of leverage is rising at an “alarming pace”, particularly in the finance sector, a senior central bank official said in a commentary, amid growing concern by the country’s senior leaders over financial security. The official Xinhua news agency on Monday cited Xu Zhong, head of the People’s Bank of China’s research bureau, as saying the country needed to deleverage at a “proper pace” to reduce financial sector debt and avoid systemic financial risk. “China’s overall leverage level is reasonable but is rising at an alarming pace, especially in the financial sector,” Xu said. The original commentary was published in business journal Caijing Magazine. Xu said high levels of stimulus spending from government paired with poor corporate management and financial supervision were key factors causing rising levels of leverage, Xinhua said.

He added the government should stick to “prudent and neutral” monetary policy, reduce emphasis on economic growth targets, and improve corporate governance so authorities did not have to step in so frequently to help companies out. “Financial security is achieved via reforms, not bail-outs,” Xinhua reported Xu as saying. Last week President Xi Jinping called for increased efforts to ward off systemic risks and help maintain financial security. Analysts say financial risk and asset bubbles pose a threat to the world’s second-largest economy if not handed well. Former Chinese finance minister Lou Jiwei also said last month that high leverage was the biggest risk facing China’s economy because debt has piled up despite government efforts to deleverage. The Bank for International Settlements warned last year that excessive credit growth in China is signaling an increasing risk of a banking crisis in the next three years.

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Well, maybe they’ll get serious because it’s about Treasuries this time, and foreign banks. Then again, these are primary dealers in Treasuries.

UBS, BNP, RBS Get Subpoenas in US Treasuries Probe (BBG)

Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed several banks as part of a criminal investigation into possible manipulation of the U.S. Treasuries market, according to people familiar with the matter. The Justice Department issued subpoenas last month to banks including UBS, BNP Paribas and the Royal Bank of Scotland seeking information on the $14 trillion market, said two people, who asked not to be named because the investigation is confidential. U.S. authorities have been examining the U.S. Treasuries market for roughly two years. In November 2015, Goldman Sachs disclosed that U.S. authorities had sought information related to its trading of when-issued securities, which are among the least transparent instruments in the world’s largest debt market. When-issued securities act as placeholders for bills, notes or bonds before they’re auctioned. The instruments change hands over the counter, with lifespans of just days. There’s scant public information on trading volumes or the market’s biggest players.

[..] The Justice Department in late 2015 asked about when-issued securities as part of broader requests for documents it sent to most or all of the roughly two dozen primary dealers in U.S. Treasuries, a person familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News at the time. UBS, BNP Paribas and RBS are primary dealers in U.S. Treasuries. Authorities haven’t accused any of the banks of wrongdoing. Trading of these instruments is also the subject of several lawsuits against primary dealers filed since July 2015. In them investors allege that traders at global banks colluded to artificially inflate the price of the when-issued securities, which allow the banks to sell U.S. debt before they own it. Then they bought the debt at auctions for an artificially suppressed price, unfairly profiting at investors’ expense, the lawsuits contend. The banks are scheduled to file motions to dismiss those lawsuits once the lead counsel for the plaintiffs is chosen.

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Increased health care spending presumably adds to GDP, so why worry?

The US Health Care Industry Is Bound To Collapse Soon (NYP)

As industry spending and debt servicing rage out of control, health care is ranked as the No. 1 US “systemic recession risk” in a new report. The sums at stake are staggering: Spending in the sector accounted for $3.3 trillion in 2015, and is 18% of the US economy today. The industry generates 16% of private sector jobs nationwide, up from 10% in 1990. US health care spending is forecast to grow by an average 5.6% annually in the coming decade, according to a report by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), a projection based on no changes out of Washington and in the Affordable Care Care through 2025. Meanwhile, national spending on health care is forecast to outpace US GDP growth by 1.2%. CMS has estimated that spending will comprise 19.9% of GDP by 2025, up from 17.8% in 2015.

“There’s no question that rising health care costs are hurting our overall economy,” said New York-based financial adviser Michael Mondiello. “With consumer spending accounting for some 70% of economic activity, the more we spend on health care, the less we have to purchase other things like a vacation or to save for retirement.” [..] The first murmurs of early trouble may have been detected. “Companies in the health care sector are starting to lay people off,” said John Burns, CEO of John Burns Real Estate Consulting.. [..] “Health care companies borrowed too much money, and have grown their debt faster than their revenue, so you have to have a pullback.”

[..] In a report published by Burns, health care is identified as the largest systemic risk to the economy, of the three sectors Burns examined, which also included technology and automotive. The conventional wisdom points to US demographic trends, and an aging population, as supportive of the long-term strength, but the report shows industry growth has surpassed what is sustainable:
• Health care company debt is up 308% since 2009.
• The number of hospitals in health systems has expanded by 26% since 1999.
• The yearly medical costs for a family of four have jumped 189% since 2002, from $9,000 to $26,000.
“It could be like a Lehman Brothers scenario, where a couple of big health care companies take the economy down,” Burns told The Post.

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As usual, a long essay from John. A few bites:

Exhaustion Gaps and the Fear of Missing Out (John Hussman)

To offer a sense of the market return/risk profile that has typically been associated with exhaustion gaps at overvalued, overbought, overbullish extremes, the chart below shows the maximum gain and maximum loss in the market as measured from each instance to the subsequent bear market low. Multiple exhaustion gaps in the same market cycle are depicted separately. I recognize that my regular comments about the likelihood of the S&P 500 losing half or more of its value over the completion of this cycle may seem preposterous. A review of market history may help to understand these expectations, which are consistent with both the valuation evidence later in this comment, and with the outcomes that have typically completed prior speculative market cycles.

Two caveats are important here. First, given the simplicity of the conditions that define an exhaustion gap above, and their reliance on daily market behavior, it’s not clear that investors should wait for such gaps in future market cycles if other danger signs are already present. The best way to view these exhaustion gaps, I think, is that they represent points, late in a bull market cycle, where investors become overwhelmed by fear of missing out (FOMO), leaving a lopsided equilibrium where the remaining pool of potential buyers evaporates and the pool of potential sellers becomes saturated. Conversely, it seems likely that simple daily signals like the exhaustion gaps above could be misleading in the future, if more robust measures still indicate persistent risk-seeking among investors.

As a reminder of where market valuations stand, based on what actually works across market cycles, the chart below presents several of the most historically reliable equity valuation measures we track. We can form expectations about the likely range of market losses over the completion of this cycle by asking what amount of retreat would be required to bring these measures to either: a) the highest level of valuation reached at any previous bear market low, or b) the historical norm of each measure. Emphatically, these estimates do not assume that valuations will move below their historical norms at the next bear market low (as they did, in fact, as recently as the 2009 low). The smallest expected loss estimate comes in at -45.6%, while the largest loss estimate (taking each measure to its respective historical norm) is -62.1%. The average range of estimated market losses is -47.7% to -60.1%, while the median range is -45.6% to -62.0%.

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I think I already know which way Trump will lean.

Barack Obama Cashes In, But Harry Truman And Jimmy Carter Refused (IC)

It used to be the norm for presidents to retire to ordinary life after their stint in the White House — just ask Harry Truman. When the Democratic president was getting ready to leave the White House in 1953, he was approached by many employers. The Los Angeles Times noted that if he was “unemployed after he leaves the White House it won’t be for lack of job offers … but [he] has accepted none of them.” One of those job offers was from a Florida real estate developer, asking him to become a “chairman, officer, or stockholder, at a figure of not less than $100,000” — the sort of position that is commonplace today for ex-politicians. Presumably, had Truman taken the position, it would have been a good deal for both parties: the president’s prestige and connections would also enrich the company.

Truman declined. “I could never lend myself to any transaction, however respectable, that would commercialize on the prestige and dignity of the office of the presidency,” he wrote of his refusal to influence-peddle. Although he had access to a small pension from his military service, Truman had little financial support after leaving office. He moved back into his family home in Independence, Mo., and insisted on being treated like anyone else. He would tell people not to call him “Mr. President,” and settled on a fairly ordinary routine once he was back in Independence. He would take a morning walk through the town square. He kept an office nearby where he would answer mail from Americans. He chose to engage with just about anyone who walked into his office — not only people who wrote him big checks, or invited him onto their private yachts and private islands.

“Many people,” he once said, “feel that a president or an ex-president is partly theirs — they are right to some extent — and that they have a right to call upon him.” Indeed, his office number was even listed in a nearby telephone directory. He eventually agreed to write a memoir for Life magazine, but it was a lengthy project that provided far from luxurious stipends. Truman’s modest life post-presidency moved Congress in 1958 to establish a pension system that provides an annual cash payout as well as expenses for an office and staff. Gerald Ford nevertheless shattered precedent when he joined the boards of corporations such as 20th Century Fox, hit the paid speech circuit, and was made an honorary director by Citigroup.

But his successor, Jimmy Carter, who grew up in a modest home in Plains, Georgia, did not follow Ford’s example. He refused to become a professional paid speaker or join corporate boards. He moved back to Plains, and was welcomed home by a crowd of neighbors and supporters. He quickly made himself busy as a nonprofit founder and a volunteer diplomat. He did make money post-presidency — but by serving ordinary people, not elites. He wrote dozens of best-selling books bought by millions of people across the world — the post-presidency equivalent of small donors. Carter explained his thinking to the Guardian in 2011, telling them that his “favorite president, and the one I admired most, was Harry Truman. When Truman left office he took the same position. He didn’t serve on corporate boards. He didn’t make speeches around the world for a lot of money.”

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“Rest easy America… oh, and buy every dip.”

The Sound of One Wing Flapping (Jim Kunstler)

And suddenly the storms of early Trumptopia subside, or seem to. The surface of things turns eerily placid as the sweets of May sweep away the toils of an elongated mud season. Somebody stuffed Kim Jong Un back in his bunker with a carton of Kools and the Vin Diesel video library. France appears resigned to Hollandaise Lite in the refreshing form of boy wonder Macron. It’s been weeks since The New York Times complained about the Russians stealing Hillary’s turn as leader of the free world. We’re given to understand that Congress managed overnight to cook up a spending bill that will avert a Government shut-down until September. Rest easy America… oh, and buy every dip.

A calm surface is exactly what Black Swans like to land on, though by definition we will not know they’re out there until our reveries are broken by the sound of wings flapping. Some kind of dirty bird showed up on Canada’s thawing pond last week when that country’s biggest home loan lender suffered a 60 percent pukage of shareholder equity and had to be bailed out — not by the Canadian government directly, but by the Ontario Province’s Health Care Workers Pension Fund, a neat bit of hocus pocus that amounts to a one-year emergency loan at ten percent interest. If that’s a way for insolvent public employee pension plans to find enough “yield” to meet their obligations, then maybe that could be the magic bullet for the USA’s foundering pension funds.

The next time Citibank, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and friends get a case of the Vapors, let them be bailed out by the Detroit School Bus Drivers’ Pension Fund at ten percent interest. That ought to work. And let Calpers take care of Wells Fargo. The situation across Western Civilization is as follows: virtually every major financial institution has become a check-kiting operation or a Ponzi scheme, and we’ve reached the point where they can only pretend to be rescued. Bailout or not, the Toronto-based Home Capital Group is still stuck with shit-loads of non-performing sub-prime mortgage loans — its specialty — and Canada’s spectacular real estate bubble has hardly begun to pop. The collateral is starting to turn, like dead meat in the May sunshine, and the odium will waft across the border.

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“It is truly astonishing that the man who inspired (as personal secretary) and implemented (as finance minister) the policies of President François Hollande could be branded as something radically new.”

Emmanuel Macron Has Taken French Voters For Granted. Now He Risks Defeat (G.)

The rise of Macron is characteristic of the age of spin doctors: it illustrates both their power and their limits. It is truly astonishing that the man who inspired (as personal secretary) and implemented (as finance minister) the policies of President François Hollande could be branded as something radically new. To achieve this feat, spin doctors resorted to celebrity-building in ways previously unknown in French political life. Macron was new because he was young and handsome, and because he had never been elected before. He appeared repeatedly on the front pages of Paris Match with his wife, whose name is chanted by his supporters at his rallies. In the final weeks of the campaign Macron was so careful not to expose the true nature of his programme (which amounts to little more than the unpopular liberalism-cum-austerity implemented by Hollande) that his speeches degenerated into vacuous exercises in cliche and tautology.

The strategy worked up to a point: he qualified for the second round. Yet its limits are also clear. Last spring, France saw nationwide protests against the labour laws that Macron had largely designed. The opposition was not only to their content, but also to the manner in which they were passed: the government bypassed a parliamentary vote. During these demonstrations police used high levels of violence, yet Macron never uttered a word to calm things down. He has already announced that he would resort to governing by decree if needed, and it is easy to anticipate increased social tensions by the autumn. To those who would oppose him, Macron would answer that he is implementing the programme on which he was elected. Theoretically, Macron should defeat Le Pen hands down. The problem is that the meaning of such a result would be unclear: how many would have voted for him, and how many against her?

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The EU can do what it wants with the UK, because whatever it is, the Brits will blame each other for anything that goes wrong. No need for divide and conquer, there’s a hopeless divide already; Brussels can focus on conquer.

How Juncker’s Downing Street Dinner Turned Sour (G.)

The meeting last Wednesday started with a kiss on the cheek, gratefully immortalised by the photographers on Downing Street’s pavement. It ended with a withering putdown: “I’m leaving Downing Street 10 times more sceptical than I was before,” Juncker told his host. It is said that the talks started pleasantly enough. During half of an hour of chit-chat in an anteroom, before taking their place at the dinner table, May told Juncker that she didn’t want just to talk Brexit during the evening but there were other matters of world affairs to discuss. “Like what?”, Juncker asked. In fact, little else seemed to be on the prime minister’s mind. Juncker did have a topic to raise though, and the issue at hand may just explain some of the current iciness between the two leaders.

That very morning the EU should have been shuffling around its money to deal with issues such as the migration crisis, which could not have been expected a few years ago when the bloc’s budget had been set. But on Monday morning Juncker had been made aware of an email from the UK’s permanent representative in Brussels explaining that because a general election had been announced, the British government couldn’t give its support to any changes in how the EU was going to spend its cash. Juncker smelled mischief – maybe it was a way to show the EU what trouble Britain could cause if it didn’t get its way? “What on earth is all this supposed to mean?” he is said to have asked May. Perhaps you won’t be able to talk about Brexit then, he queried, when May explained the rules of purdah, under which governments in an election are to avoid binding the hands of the next administration.

[..] it was the substance of the talks that were to cause Juncker the most unease. And it was Juncker’s despair that got to his colleagues. This was the man who through the trickiest of negotiations had always seen a path through. But when presented with May’s insistence that EU citizens in the UK would be treated in the future like any other foreign national, that trade talks needed to start before the issue of Britain’s divorce bill was settled or her claim that technically the UK owed nothing at all to the union, his lack of optimism for the future became clear. “Theresa May started by stating that the UK wanted to discuss first future arrangements, then article 50 stuff,” one source with knowledge of the dinner said.

“It felt to the EU side like she does not live on planet Mars but rather in a galaxy very far away.” She was “deluded” and appeared to be “living in a parallel universe”, Juncker told the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, in a phone call said to have taken place just moments after the delegation left Downing Street.

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Absolute insanity: “..pensions are to be cut by 9% on average..”

Greece Reaches Deal With Creditors To Pave Way For Bailout Talks (G.)

Greece has reached a preliminary deal with its creditors that should pave the way for long-awaited debt relief talks, the Greek finance minister said on Tuesday. “The negotiations are concluded,” Euclid Tsakalotos told reporters, according to state agency ANA. After overnight talks, Tsakalotos said a “preliminary technical agreement” had been achieved ahead of a 22 May meeting of eurozone finance ministers, which is required to approve the deal. Tsakalotos added he was “certain” that the agreement would enable Greece to secure debt relief measures from its creditors, which he has said is vital to spearhead recovery in the country’s struggling economy. A compromise is required to unblock a tranche of loans Greece needs for debt repayments of €7bn ($7.6bn) in July.

Under pressure from its creditors – the EU, ECB and the IMF – the government agreed earlier this month to adopt another €3.6bn in cuts in 2019 and 2020. Athens conceded fresh pension and tax break cuts in return for permission to spend an equivalent sum on poverty relief measures. A government source on Tuesday said pensions are to be cut by 9% on average, ANA said. The measures are to be approved by parliament by mid-May. However, prime minister Alexis Tsipras has said he will not apply these cuts without a clear pledge later this month on debt-easing measures for Greece. Athens also hopes to be finally allowed access to the ECB’s QE asset purchase programme, to help its return to bond markets.

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So many numbers it’s easy to forget this is about people.

Greece: Any Better Times Or More Pitfalls Ahead? (LSE)

In 2015, Greece, an EU state member since 1981 with a population of 10,846,979 people, recorded the highest level of GGD (General Government Gross Debt to GDP ratio) in the EU-28, at 176.9%. Concerning the volume index of GDP per capita in PPS (Purchasing Parity Standards) we find Greece’s GDP per capita dropped from 4% lower than the EU-28 average in 2004 to 29% lower in 2015. However, GDP is a measure of a country’s economic activity, and therefore it should not be considered a measure of a country’s well-being. If we take the AIC (Actual Individual Consumption) per capita in PPS (Purchasing Power Standard) as a better indicator to describe the material welfare of households, Greece showed an AIC index per capitalower by some 19% than the EU-28 average in 2015. Labour productivity per hour worked expressed in US $ (which means GDP per hour worked expressed in US $) was estimated among the lowest in the EU-28, at $32 in 2015.

Curiously, Greece has the highest average hours worked per year in the EU-28, at 2,042 hours, its average hourly labour cost is among the lowest in the EU-28, at €14.5, its average annual wages at US $25,211 and unemployment rate of 24.90%. 43% of pensioners live on €660/month on average, and many Greek pensioners are also supporting unemployed children and grandchildren. [..] Unemployment is a tragedy for Greece. The highest jobless rate was recorded in 2014, at 27.8%. The current level of unemployment, the highest in the EU, is about 24%. Unemployed workers between 45 and 64 years of age (currently almost one in three unemployed, around 347,400 people, whereof 280,000 are long-term unemployed, in 2009 they were one in five, or 99,000 people)- , and young unemployed people aged 15-24 (close to 50% of the total) are the most adversely affected demographics.

According to ELSTAT (Hellenic Statistical Authority) – GSEE (General Confederation of Greek Workers), nine out of ten Greeks without job do not receive unemployment benefits and 71.8-73.8% (around 807,000 people) of all unemployed (1,124,000 people) have been out of work for more than twelve months, while only 1.5% of them receive the 700 euro/month applicable to the long-term registered unemployed. In the last quarter report for 2016, ELSTAT shows that the amount of Greeks facing long-term unemployment has risen some 146% (from 327,700 to 807,000 people) over the 6-year period. Additionally, there are 350,000 Greek families without a single member working, and unemployment has led some 300,000 highly skilled professionals and workers to leave the country.

[..] According to a study carry out by the Cologne Institute of Economic Research, poverty rate in Greece increased by 40% from 2008 to 2015, the largest increase among EU countries. A new multidimensional poverty index was used to calculate poverty, which is not based on income alone but on other factors such as the deprivation of material goods, quality of education, underemployment and, access to healthcare. In 2015, according to Eurostat, more than one in three residents of Greece experienced conditions of poverty and/or social exclusion. The percentage of those within this group had risen from 29.1% in 2008 to 35.7% in 2015, or 3.8 million people. 21.4% of the Greek population are living below the national poverty line (with an income less than 60 % of the national average), 22.2 % are severely materially deprived,

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Apr 232017
 
 April 23, 2017  Posted by at 2:31 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »
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René Magritte Le Cri du Coeur 1960

 

Austerity is over, proclaimed the IMF this week. And no doubt attributed that to the ‘successful’ period of ‘five years of belt tightening’ a.k.a. ‘gradual fiscal consolidation’ it has, along with its econo-religious ilk, imposed on many of the world’s people. Only, it’s not true of course. Austerity is not over. You can ask many of those same people about that. It’s certainly not true in Greece.

IMF Says Austerity Is Over

Austerity is over as governments across the rich world increased spending last year and plan to keep their wallets open for the foreseeable future. After five years of belt tightening, the IMF says the era of spending cuts that followed the financial crisis is now at an end. “Advanced economies eased their fiscal stance by one-fifth of 1pc of GDP in 2016, breaking a five-year trend of gradual fiscal consolidation,” said the IMF in its fiscal monitor.

In Greece, the government did not increase spending in 2016. Nor is the country’s era of spending cuts at an end. So did the IMF ‘forget’ about Greece? Or does it not count it as part of the rich world? Greece is a member of the EU, and the EU is absolutely part of the rich world, so that can’t be it. Something Freudian, wishful thinking perhaps?

However this may be, it’s obvious the IMF are not done with Greece yet. And neither are the rest of the Troika. They are still demanding measures that are dead certain to plunge the Greeks much further into their abyss in the future. As my friend Steve Keen put it to me recently: “Dreadful. It will become Europe’s Somalia.”

An excellent example of this is the Greek primary budget surplus. The Troika has been demanding that it reach 3.5% of GDP for the next number of years (the number changes all the time, 3, 5, 10?). Which is the worst thing it could do, at least for the Greek people and the Greek economy. Not for those who seek to buy Greek assets on the cheap.

 

But sure enough, the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) jubilantly announced on Friday that the 2016 primary surplus was 4.19% (8 times more than the 0.5% expected). This is bad news for Greeks, though they don’t know it. It is also a condition for receiving the next phase of the current bailout. Here’s what that comes down to: in order to save itself from default/bankruptcy, the country is required to destroy its economy.

And that’s not all: the surplus is a requirement to get a next bailout tranche, and debt relief, but as a reward for achieving that surplus, Greece can now expect to get less … debt relief. Because obviously they’re doing great, right?! They managed to squeeze another €7.3 billion out of their poor. So they should always be able to do that in every subsequent year.

The government in Athens sees the surplus as a ‘weapon’ that can be used in the never-ending bailout negotiations, but the Troika will simply move the goalposts again; that’s its MO.

A country in a shape as bad as Greece’s needs stimulus, not a budget surplus; a deficit would be much more helpful. You could perhaps demand that the country goes for a 0% deficit, though even that is far from ideal. But never a surplus. Every penny of the surplus should have been spent to make sure the economy doesn’t get even worse.

Greek news outlet Kathimerini gets it sort of right, though its headline should have read “Greek Primary Surplus Chokes Economy“.

Greek Primary Surplus Chokes Market

The state’s fiscal performance last year has exceeded even the most ambitious targets, as the primary budget surplus as defined by the Greek bailout program, came to 4.19% of GDP, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos announced on Friday. It came to €7.369 billion against a target for €879 million, or just 0.5% of GDP. A little earlier, the president of the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), Thanos Thanopoulos, announced the primary surplus according to Eurostat rules, saying that it came to 3.9% of GDP or €6.937 billion.

The two calculations differ in methodology, but it is the surplus attained according to the bailout rules that matters for assessing the course of the program. This was also the first time since 1995 that Greece achieved a general government surplus – equal to 0.7% of GDP – which includes the cost of paying interest to the country’s creditors. There is a downside to the news, however, as the figures point to overtaxation imposed last year combined with excessive containment of expenditure.

The amount of €6-6.5 billion collected in excess of the budgeted surplus has put a chokehold on the economy, contributing to a great extent to the stagnation recorded on the GDP level in 2016. On the one hand, the impressive result could be a valuable weapon for the government in its negotiations with creditors to argue that it is on the right track to fiscal streamlining and can achieve or even exceed the agreed targets. On the other hand, however, the overperformance of the budget may weaken the argument in favor of lightening the country’s debt load.

Eurogroup head Dijsselbloem sees no shame in admitting this last point :

Dijsselbloem Sees ‘Tough’ Greek Debt Relief Talks With IMF

“That will be a tough discussion with the IMF,” said Dijsselbloem, who is also the Dutch Finance Minister in a caretaker cabinet, “There are some political constraints where we can go and where we can’t go.” The level of Greece’s primary budget surplus is key in determining the kind of debt relief it will need. The more such surplus it has, the less debt relief will be needed.

That’s just plain insane, malicious even. Greek PM Tsipras should never have accepted any such thing, neither the surplus demands nor the fact that they affect debt relief, since both assure a further demise of the economy.

Because: where does the surplus come from? Easy: from Troika-mandated pension cuts and rising tax levels. That means the Greek government is taking money OUT of the economy. And not a little bit, but a full 4% of GDP, over €7 billion. An economy from which so much has already vanished.

The €7.369 billion primary surplus, in a country of somewhere between 10 and 11 million people, means some €700 per capita has been taken out of the economy in 2016. Money that could have been used to spend inside that economy, saving jobs, and keeping people fed and sheltered. For a family of 3.5 people that means €200 per month less to spend on necessities (the only thing most Greeks can spend any money on).

I’ve listed some of the things a number of times before that have happened to Greece since the EU and IMF declared de facto financial war on the country. Here are a few (there are many more where these came from):

25-30% of working age Greeks are unemployed (and that’s just official numbers), well over 1 million people; over 50% of young people are unemployed. Only one in ten unemployed Greeks receive an unemployment benefit (€360 per month), and only for one year. 9 out of 10 get nothing.

Which means 52% of Greek households are forced to live off the pension of an elderly family member. 60% of Greek pensioners receive pensions below €700. 45% of pensioners live below the poverty line with pensions below €665. Pensions have been cut some 12 times already. More cuts are in the pipeline.

40% of -small- businesses have said they expect to close in 2017. Even if it’s just half that, imagine the number of additional jobs that will disappear.

 

But the Troika demands don’t stop there; they are manifold. On top of the pension cuts and the primary surplus requirement, there are the tax hikes. So the vast majority of Greeks have ever less money to spend, the government takes money out of the economy to achieve a surplus, and on top of that everything gets more expensive because of rising taxes. Did I ever mention businesses must pay their taxes up front for a full year?

The Troika is not “rebalancing Greece’s public finances in a growth-friendly manner”, as Dijsselbloem put it, it is strangling the economy. And then strangling it some more.

There may have been all sorts of things wrong in Greece, including financially. But that is true to some degree for every country. And there’s no doubt there was, and still is, a lot of corruption. But that would seem to mean the EU must help fight that corruption, not suffocate the poor.

 


Yes, that’s about a 30% decline in GDP since 2007

 

The ECB effectively closed down the Greek banking system in 2015, in a move that’s likely illegal. It asked for a legal opinion on the move but refuses to publish that opinion. As if Europeans have no right to know what the legal status is of what their central bank does.

The ECB also keeps on refusing to include Greece in its QE program. It buys bonds and securities from Germany, which doesn’t need the stimulus, and not those of Greece, which does have that need. Maybe someone should ask for a legal opinion on that too.

The surplus requirements will be the nail in the coffin that do Greece in. Our economies depend for their GDP numbers on consumer spending, to the tune of 60-70%. Since Greek ‘consumers’ can only spend on basic necessities, that number may be even higher there. And that is the number the country is required to cut even more. Where do you think GDP is headed in that scenario? And unemployment, and the economy at large?

The question must be: don’t the Troika people understand what they’re doing? It’s real basic economics. Or do they have an alternative agenda, one that is diametrically opposed to the “rebalancing Greece’s public finances in a growth-friendly manner” line? It has to be one of the two; those are all the flavors we have.

You can perhaps have an idea that a country can spend money on wrong, wasteful things. But that risk is close to zilch in Greece, where many if not most people already can’t afford the necessities. Necessities and waste are mutually exclusive. A lot more money is wasted in Dijsselbloem’s Holland than in Greece.

In a situation like the one Greece is in, deflation is a certainty, and it’s a deadly kind of deflation. What makes it worse is that this remains hidden because barely a soul knows what deflation is.

Greece’s deflation hides behind rising taxes. Which is why taxes should never be counted towards inflation; it would mean all a government has to do to raise inflation is to raise taxes; a truly dumb idea. Which is nevertheless used everywhere on a daily basis.

In reality, inflation/deflation is money/credit supply multiplied by the velocity of money. And in Greece both are falling rapidly. The primary surplus requirements make it that much worse. It really is the worst thing one could invent for the country.

For the Greek economy, for its businesses, for its people, to survive and at some point perhaps even claw back some of the 30% of GDP it lost since 2007, what is needed is a way to make sure money can flow. Not in wasteful ways, but in ways that allow for people to buy food and clothing and pay for rent and power.

If you want to do that, taking 4% of GDP out of an economy, and 3.5% annually for years to come, is the very worst thing. That can only make things worse. And if the Greek economy deteriorates further, how can the country ever repay the debts it supposedly has? Isn’t that a lesson learned from the 1919 Versailles treaty?

The economists at the IMF and the EU/ECB, and the politicians they serve, either don’t understand basic economics, or they have their eyes on some other prize.

 

Apr 222017
 
 April 22, 2017  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle April 22 2017
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Andrei Rublev Trinity 1411

 

White House Orders Agencies to Prepare for Potential Government Shutdown (BBG)
Beware: The Next Financial Crisis Is Coming (Planet Ponzi)
Robert Prechter Is Awaiting A Depression-Like Shock In The US (MW)
Fed’s Fisher Warns Trump About Plans To ‘Do A Number’ On Dodd-Frank (BI)
Former FinMin Says China Should Let Local Governments Default on Debt (BBG)
Everything Gets Worse – Pakistan vs. India (Bhandari)
Dijsselbloem Sees ‘Tough’ Greek Debt Relief Talks With IMF (BBG)
Schaeuble Says Greece to Blame for Delays in Bailout Program
Greece Blows EU-IMF Bailout Targets Away With Strong Budget Performance (R.)
Greek Primary Surplus Chokes Market (K.)
On Neocons and their Mental Defects (Taleb)
28 Refugees Found Dead In Drifting Dinghy Off Libyan Coast (Ind.)

 

 

It could happen.

White House Orders Agencies to Prepare for Potential Government Shutdown (BBG)

The White House ordered federal agencies Friday to began preparations for a potential partial government shutdown after signaling President Donald Trump would demand money for key priorities in legislation to continue funding the government beyond April 29. But the president and his aides expressed confidence that Congress would work out a spending agreement and that there won’t be any halt in government operations. Administration officials portrayed the order as normal contingency planning, stressing that the previous administration had followed the same practice as funding deadlines approached. “I think we’re in good shape” on avoiding a deadlock on maintaining funding, Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Friday. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the administration is “confident” because negotiations are ongoing and “no one wants a shutdown.”

The push to reach an agreement on spending is complicated by White House efforts to try again for a House vote on replacing Obamacare next week, crowding the congressional schedule with two politically thorny measures the same week. House approval of an Obamacare repeal would give the president a legislative victory to boast about before his 100th day in office April 29. But failure to reach an agreement on spending legislation would risk marring the anniversary with a government shutdown. House Republicans plan a conference call Saturday with Ryan and other leaders to discuss the health-care bill as well as spending legislation. Republican Congressional leaders have pushed back against scheduling an Obamacare vote during the week, indicating there isn’t a clear strategy yet for achieving passage.

Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s director of Office of Management and Budget, said Thursday Democrats will need to agree to pay for some Trump’s top priorities, including a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, in legislation to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Oct. 1. Democrats responded harshly to Mulvaney’s remarks Thursday. “Everything had been moving smoothly until the administration moved in with a heavy hand,” said Matt House, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

Read more …

“Constantly printing more money will not end in prosperity, but in ruin.”

Beware: The Next Financial Crisis Is Coming (Planet Ponzi)

There is more debt, credit, and leverage today than there was preceding the banking crisis of 2008. No lessons were learned from that catastrophe as trillions of taxpayer dollars were provided in the form of bank bailouts from the US Federal Reserve. Despite their name, US Federal Reserve Banks are not part of the federal government and they are not banks. For the past 11 years, the Federal Reserve has been run by non-elected officials, Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen (career academics), alongside a host of X Goldman and JP Morgan bankers. Since 2007, these non-elected bankers have provided banks “temporary, emergency liquidity measures.” Since when is eight years temporary?

Banks have continued to lend trillions and trillions of dollars to fund the construction of grotesquely overpriced residential and commercial properties around the world. The trillions of dollars given in bank bailouts are a perfect example of government “pay-to-play.” When giving out this money, most bankers are making at least three flawed assumptions:
1. Real estate prices will always go up. Clearly, this is the denial phase of “a bubble mentality.”
2. Rents will always keep rising. Rents peaked a few years ago. There is a massive oversupply of high-end residential and commercial properties on the market while real wages have declined. This is a sign that a crash is imminent.
3. The Federal Reserve will always bail them out. With zero transparency or an audit the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet has ballooned from 500 billion to nearly 5 trillion in a short period. The Federal Reserve doesn’t have the money to keep bailing companies out.

The Federal Reserve has become nothing more than a rogue hedge fund taking leveraged, wildly speculative, gargantuan and high-risk positions in bonds and mortgages. Next up, the Fed will angle to dump these toxic real estate assets in your pension fund. There are several steps that need to be taken to address this situation and save your pensions:
1. The President and Congress need to order an immediate audit of the Fed.
2. The Fed’s positions need to be unwound.
3. No more taxpayer funded bailouts – save your pension!

Capitalism without bankruptcy is like Catholicism without hell. Constantly printing more money will not end in prosperity, but in ruin. The coming collapse will be much worse than in 2008-2009 because the debt is so much larger and the Federal Reserve has run out of bullets. Since the 1980s, we have seen real average wages decline, college tuition skyrocket nearly 2,000%, and housing prices hitting all-time new highs while high-paying jobs have disappeared. Rents have risen so much that many small businesses are no longer economically viable. The situation doesn’t look any better for graduates. Graduates entering the jobs market have nearly $250,000 in student debt. A graduate may get a job in Manhattan for $40,000 a year ($3,333 a month before tax) but rent on a studio apartment costs $3,000 a month. The numbers just don’t add up anymore.

Read more …

Social mood: “declining stock and property prices, contracting debt, angry and somber music, more intense horror movies..”

Robert Prechter Is Awaiting A Depression-Like Shock In The US (MW)

Avi Gilburt: You’ve said that, once the stock market tops, you expect a major bear market and economic contraction to take hold. What is your general timing for this to occur?

Robert Prechter: The true top for stocks in terms of real money (gold) occurred way back in 1999. Overall prosperity has waned subtly since then. Primary wave five in nominal terms started in March 2009, and wave B up in the Dow/gold ratio started in 2011. Their tops should be nearly coincident.

Gilburt: What do you foresee will set off this event?

Prechter: Triggers are a popular notion, borrowed from the physical sciences. But I don’t think there are any such things in financial markets. Waves of social mood create trends in the stock market, and economic and political events lag behind them. Because people do not perceive their moods, tops and bottoms in markets sneak right past them. At the top, people will love the market, and events and conditions will provide them with ample bases for rationalizing being heavily invested.

Gilburt: You’ve said we will be mired in a “depression-type” event. How long could that last?

Prechter: I don’t know. All I can say for sure is that the degree of the corrective wave will be larger than that which created the malaise of the 1930s and 1940s.

Gilburt: How are conditions going to change from what we have now?

Prechter: The increasingly positive trend in social mood over the past eight years has been manifesting in rising stock and property prices, expanding credit, buoyant pop music, lots of animated fairy tales and adventure movies, suppression of scandals, an improving economy and — despite much opinion — fairly moderate politics. This trend isn’t quite over yet. In the next wave of negative mood, we should see the opposite: declining stock and property prices, contracting debt, angry and somber music, more intense horror movies, eruption of scandals, a contracting economy and political upheaval. That’s been the pattern of history.

It’s all relative, though, and it’s never a permanent condition. Just as people give up on the future, its brightness will return. The financial contraction during the negative mood trend of 2006-2011 was the second worst in 150 years. Yet, thanks to the return of positive mood, many people have already forgotten about it. Investors again embrace stocks, ETFs, real estate, mortgage debt, auto-loan debt and all kinds of risky investments that they swore off just a few years ago.

Read more …

Because the Fed is doing such a great job of keeping banks in check.

Fed’s Fisher Warns Trump About Plans To ‘Do A Number’ On Dodd-Frank (BI)

Stanley Fischer, the vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, on Friday delivered an unusually sharp warning to President Donald Trump and his plan to “do a number” on post-crisis reforms aimed at reining in Wall Street. Fed officials usually go out of their way to not appear political, which makes the comments all the more startling. Fischer, a former Citigroup banker and respected policymaker who led the Bank of Israel for many years, appears truly concerned. “We seem to have forgotten that we had a financial crisis, which was caused by behavior in the banking and other parts of the financial system, and it did enormous damage to this economy,” Fischer told CNBC’s Sara Eisen in the lobby of the IMF, responding to a question about the potential rolling back of Dodd-Frank rules.

This happened just as the president was signing an executive order aimed at what he said was “reviewing” Dodd-Frank. “Millions of people lost their jobs. Millions of people lost their houses,” Fischer said. “This was not a small-time, regular recession. This was huge, and it affected the rest of the world, and it affected, to some extent, our standing in the world as well. We should not forget that. “The strength of the financial system is absolutely essential to the ability of the economy to continue to grow at a reasonable rate, and taking actions which remove the changes that were made to strengthen the structure of the financial system is very dangerous.”

Asked specifically about Trump’s vow to “do a number” on Dodd-Frank, Fischer shot back: “I’m not sure precisely what the president said and what a ‘number’ is, but there are aspects of Dodd-Frank, which if they were taken away would have very serious potential consequences for the economy — not immediately but when times get tough.” What provisions is he most worried about? The ability of the Fed and other regulators to wind down large banks, many of which are still seen as too big to fail. “I think it is very important that big banks be subject to the discipline of the possibility of going bankrupt. It is also very important that that discipline extends to not making those changes, the bankruptcy of a big bank, a huge shock and the source of crisis or damage to the overall economy,” Fischer said. “So we need the resolution mechanisms that have been put in place which will allow the authorities and the markets to wind up a big bank.”

Read more …

Beware the cascade.

Former FinMin Says China Should Let Local Governments Default on Debt (BBG)

Former Finance Minister Lou Jiwei said China should allow smaller local governments to default on debt because it would signal that central government bailouts aren’t assured. Such defaults would educate investors that their investments will be allowed to go bad, Lou said Friday at a public finance forum in Beijing. “They need to shoulder responsibility,” said Lou, who’s now chairman of the country’s social security fund. “Nobody will save them.” Lou’s comments reiterate those by Premier Li Keqiang and other central government officials such as current Finance Minister Xiao Jie that local government debt shouldn’t be bailed out, or benefit from assumptions it will be.

With economic growth accelerating for a second-straight quarter to 6.9% through March, policy makers have more room to cut leverage and rein in risks. A credit surge since 2014 that underpinned growth has also fueled a further buildup in borrowing. Total debt rose to 258% of economic output last year from 161% in 2008, Bloomberg Intelligence estimates show. Lou said government debt remains broadly safe, but borrowing levels are poised to keep climbing given increased investment in substandard public-private partnership projects.

Read more …

Great long read on India and its region.

Everything Gets Worse – Pakistan vs. India (Bhandari)

When Narendra Modi announced on 8th November 2016 that he was demonetizing 86% of the monetary value of all currency in circulation, he gave three major reasons for doing so: to end corruption, to end terrorism and to eliminate counterfeit currency. Ironically, all three are now in far worse condition than they were previously, and even worse than the predictions I made. Many ATMs in India still dispense no cash. The economy is in shatters. This had to happen, as any new cash is rapidly moving under the carpets of the financial powerful that hoard currency. Small businesses are traumatized by the lack of access to cash – many are closing for good. People continue to avoid making non-essential purchases. Even food demand has failed to recover. Poor people very likely are still forced to go to bed half-hungry.

No-one knows whether there are famines in parts of India, as none of the mainstream media are covering the issue. Not unlike North Koreans or the Chinese during the times of Mao, Indians today, particularly members of the so-called educated class, simply cannot see what Modi or their nationalistic paradigm does not want them to see. Indian banks and other financial institutions are extremely unethical. Since privatization was implemented in the 1990s, they have charged fees and commissions for accounts that were never agreed upon. Indians never fight, so this continues. After the demonetization exercise, these mysterious charges have started to appear more often. Then they deduct certain services and financial taxes, and most people don’t make the effort to try to understand them. Indians are getting very tired of the banks – not for moral, but simply for financial reasons.

Bank websites are extremely unwieldy. They require a sequence of passwords and OTPs (one time pad codes), which have an automatic expiry date. Getting the whole sequence right to make an online payment without having these websites freeze during the procedure leaves one with a sense of accomplishment. Most people prefer to walk down to their banks to get bank officials to perform such online transactions. India is simply not ready for the digital age. This experiment in going cashless will end in a disaster. Similar to every tyrant, Modi likes to think that tax collection should be at the heart of society. He imagines a society in which subjects dance around the state. The problem is, one can perfect the tax system or minimize corruption, but with a per capita GDP of $1,718, India simply does not have the required productivity.

Read more …

Anything you do can and will be used against you: The more such surplus it has, the less debt relief will be needed.

Dijsselbloem Sees ‘Tough’ Greek Debt Relief Talks With IMF (BBG)

Discussions between Greece’s European creditors and the IMF on additional debt relief for the Mediterranean euro region member will be difficult because of political hurdles within the 19-nation bloc, though a solution is on the horizon, Eurogroup Chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem said. “Greece: We’re very close, it’s really the last stretch,” he said in a Bloomberg Television interview on Friday in Washington with Francine Lacqua and Tom Keene. “We have a full agreement on the major reforms. How they are to be designed, when they are to be implemented, the size of them.”

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said Friday she had “constructive discussions” with Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos in preparation for the return of bailout auditors to Athens after euro-area finance ministers reached a tentative agreement on the measures Greece needs to implement to qualify for the next tranche of emergency loans. Dijsselbloem met Tsakalotos earlier on Friday in Washington. “That will be a tough discussion with the IMF,” said Dijsselbloem, who is also the Dutch Finance Minister in a caretaker cabinet, “There are some political constraints where we can go and where we can’t go.” The level of Greece’s primary budget surplus is key in determining the kind of debt relief it will need. The more such surplus it has, the less debt relief will be needed.

The Hellenic Statistical Authority on Friday unveiled data on last year’s primary surplus, which Eurostat is expected to validate on Monday. The surplus was 3.9% according to the European Union’s statistics office methodology, or 4.2% according to what has been agreed in the bailout program. The bailout target was for a primary surplus of 0.5% of GDP. In spite of its better-than-expected primary surplus last year, the IMF is not convinced Greece will be able to maintain that level of performance for 2018 and beyond. The fund estimates that at least half of the primarily surplus for 2016 came from one-off measures rather than structural changes that will continue delivering results in the years to come, according to a person familiar with its analysis. That has prompted the fund to demand more austerity measures.

Read more …

Groundhog man.

Schaeuble Says Greece to Blame for Delays in Bailout Program

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said the Greek government bore responsibility for current delays in the country’s bailout program. Greece is to blame that its creditors didn’t return to Athens during the Greek Easter break to finish negotiations on steps the nation must take to qualify for the next tranche of emergency loans, Schaeuble told reporters Friday on the sidelines of the IMF spring meetings. IMF European Department head Poul Thomsen said at a media briefing there’s been enough progress recently to send back a mission to Greece. Greece and its international creditors struck a tentative agreement at a meeting of euro-area finance ministers in Malta earlier this month, breaking the latest deadlock over the country’s rescue and paving the way for about €7 billion in aid for Athens.

Although the decision represents progress, the euro area won’t unlock the payout until their audit in Athens is concluded. “It would have been possible to continue the mission in Athens immediately in the week after Malta,” said Schaeuble. “This was not possible during the Greek Easter break.” In a statement on Friday, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said she had a “constructive dialogue” with Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos “in preparation for the return of the mission to discuss the two legs of the Greece program: policies and debt relief.” The IMF isn’t holding back progress, said Schaeuble. “The IMF isn’t delaying this process at all,” he said.

Read more …

The worst thing Greece could do.

Greece Blows EU-IMF Bailout Targets Away With Strong Budget Performance (R.)

Greece far exceeded its international lenders’ budget demands last year, official data showed on Friday, posting its first overall budget surplus in 21 years even when debt repayments are included. The primary surplus – the leftover before debt repayments that is the focus of IMF-EU creditors – was more than eight times what they had targeted. Data released by Greek statistics service ELSTAT – to be confirmed on Monday by the EU – showed the primary budget surplus at 3.9% of GDP last year versus a downwardly revised 2.3% deficit in 2015. This was calculated under European System of Accounts guidelines, which differ from the methodology used by Greece’s in bailout deliberations.

Under EU-IMF standards, the surplus was even larger. Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said the primary budget surplus under bailout terms reached 4.19% of GDP last year versus the 0.5% of GDP target. “It is more than eight times above target,” Tzanakopoulos said in a statement. “Therefore, the targets set under the bailout program for 2017 and 2018 will certainly be attained.” Debt-strapped Greece and its creditors have been at odds for months over the country’s fiscal performance, delaying the conclusion of a key bailout review which could unlock needed bailout funds. The IMF, which has reservations on whether Greece can meet high primary surplus targets, has yet to decide if it will fund Greece’s current bailout, which expires in 2018.

Read more …

The surplus kills the economy even more.

Greek Primary Surplus Chokes Market (K.)

The state’s fiscal performance last year has exceeded even the most ambitious targets, as the primary budget surplus as defined by the Greek bailout program, came to 4.19% of GDP, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos announced on Friday. It came to €7.369 billion against a target for €879 million, or just 0.5% of GDP. A little earlier, the president of the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), Thanos Thanopoulos, announced the primary surplus according to Eurostat rules, saying that it came to 3.9% of GDP or €6.937 billion. The two calculations differ in methodology, but it is the surplus attained according to the bailout rules that matters for assessing the course of the program. This was also the first time since 1995 that Greece achieved a general government surplus – equal to 0.7% of GDP – which includes the cost of paying interest to the country’s creditors.

There is a downside to the news, however, as the figures point to overtaxation imposed last year combined with excessive containment of expenditure. The amount of €6-6.5 billion collected in excess of the budgeted surplus has put a chokehold on the economy, contributing to a great extent to the stagnation recorded on the GDP level in 2016. On the one hand, the impressive result could be a valuable weapon for the government in its negotiations with creditors to argue that it is on the right track to fiscal streamlining and can achieve or even exceed the agreed targets. On the other hand, however, the overperformance of the budget may weaken the argument in favor lightening the country’s debt load. It is no coincidence that German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble noted in Washington that over the last couple of years, Greek government deficit forecasts are more realistic than those of the IMF.

Read more …

Skin in the game.

On Neocons and their Mental Defects (Taleb)

So we tried that thing called regime change in Iraq, and failed miserably. We tried it in Libya, and now there are now active slave markets in the place. But we satisfied the objective of “removing a dictator”. By the exact same reasoning, a doctor would inject a patient with “moderate” cancer cells “to improve his cholesterol numbers”, and claim victory after the patient is dead, particularly if the post-mortem shows remarkable cholesterol readings. But we know that doctors don’t do that, or, don’t do it in such a crude format, and that there is a clear reason for it. Doctors usually have some skin in the game. And don’t give up on logic, intellect and education, because a tight but higher order logical reasoning would show that the logic of advocating regime changes implies also advocating slavery.

So these interventionistas not only lack practical sense, and never learn from history, but they even make mistakes at the pure reasoning level, which they drown in some form of semi-abstract discourse. The first flaw is that they are incapable in thinking in second steps and unaware of the need for it –and about every peasant in Mongolia, every waiter in Madrid, and every car service operator in San Francisco knows that real life happens to have second, third, fourth, nth steps. The second flaw is that they are also incapable of distinguishing between multidimensional problems and their single dimensional representations –like multidimensional health and its stripped, cholesterol-reading reduced representation. They can’t get the idea that, empirically, complex systems do not have obvious one dimensional cause and effects mechanisms, and that under opacity, you do not mess with such a system.

An extension of this defect: they compare the actions of the “dictator” to the prime minister of Norway or Sweden, not to those of the local alternative. And when a blow up happens, they invoke uncertainty, something called a Black Swan, not realizing that one should not mess with a system if the results are fraught with uncertainty, or, more generally, avoid engaging in an action if you have no idea of the outcomes. Imagine people with similar mental handicaps, who don’t understand asymmetry, piloting planes. Incompetent pilots, those who cannot learn from experience, or don’t mind taking risks they don’t understand, may kill many, but they will themselves end up at the bottom of, say, the Atlantic, and cease to represent a threat to others and mankind.

So we end up populating what we call the intelligentsia with people who are delusional, literally mentally deranged, simply because they never have to pay for the consequences of their actions, repeating modernist slogans stripped of all depth. In general, when you hear someone invoking abstract modernistic notions, you can assume that they got some education (but not enough, or in the wrong discipline) and too little accountability. Now some innocent people, Yazidis, Christian minorities, Syrians, Iraqis, and Libyans had to pay a price for the mistakes of these interventionistas currently sitting in their comfortable air-conditioned offices. This, we will see, violates the very notion of justice from its pre-biblical, Babylonian inception. As well as the ethical structure of humanity.

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Just a week ago we commemorated a man on a cross whose image we remember but whose teachings we’ve forgotten.

28 Refugees Found Dead In Drifting Dinghy Off Libyan Coast (Ind.)

Almost 30 migrants have been found dead in a boat drifting off the coast of Libya as the number of refugees dying in attempts to reach Europe reach record highs. Fishermen found the bodies of 28 people, including four children, in waters near the smuggling hub of Sabratha after more than 8,300 asylum seekers were rescued over the Easter weekend. “Their boat stopped in the middle of the water because the engine was broken,” said Ahmaida Khalifa Amsalam, the interior ministry’s security commander. He said the victims appeared to have died of thirst and hunger after their vessel was left drifting in the Mediterranean.

They were buried in a cemetery dedicated to migrants whose bodies are regularly washed up on the coast of Libya, which remains embroiled in a bloody civil war six years after the UK helped overthrow Muammar Gaddafi. Smugglers have increasingly resorted to packing migrants into flimsy dinghies that are unable to survive the crossing to Europe, with some being intercepted and forced back by the Libyan coastguard, others being rescued by EU officials and aid agencies, and many sinking. Tuesday’s tragic discovery was the latest incident of refugees being found dead inside boats, with a worrying trend emerging suggesting engines are being removed or sabotaged at sea.

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Feb 212017
 
 February 21, 2017  Posted by at 9:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle February 21 2017
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DPC Masonic Temple, New Orleans 1910

 

Greece: The Economic Consequences of Depression Economics (Prime)
After Seven Years Of Bailouts, Greeks Sink Yet Deeper In Poverty (R.)
Greece’s Creditors Dash Hopes For Quick Deal (Tel.)
Greek Government In Damage Control Mode After Giving In To Troika, Again (K.)
Mr Draghi, What Are You Afraid Of? Release #TheGreekFiles! (DiEM25)
Fumbling Towards Collapse (Jim Kunstler)
Why Trumponomics Will Fail Spectacularly (Robert Reich)
Saudi Arabia Breaks Records on Oil Exports and Output for (BBG)
Chinese Banks’ Off-Book Wealth Products Exceed $3.8 Trillion (BBG)
Why Toronto (and Other Cities) Inflate Housing Bubbles to the Bitter End (WS)
Refugee Claimants From US Strain Canada’s Border Resources (R.)
‘Casa Nostra, Casa Vostra’ (K.)

 

 

A theoretical approach to austerity as a creator of poverty.

Greece: The Economic Consequences of Depression Economics (Prime)

The policy debate in Greece and the EU is burdened with hysteria over the issue of budget deficit and public debt. The proposition is that the less the governments borrow the better and, therefore, the main policy has been to put pressure on the State to curtail as far as possible all capital expenditure, without concern on how productive and desirable that is in itself. The idea is that cuts in government expenditures are not to be used by the government to tax the general population less but to borrow less on the assumption that if the government borrows less the private sector necessarily borrows more, though taxing less the highest rungs of the income distribution might be desirable as it is considered as an incentive to investment.

Second, led by the belief that the main thrust of policy should be internal devaluation, a program of cutbacks in expenditures, decrease in deficits and debts and wage and income restraint is pursued even in a time of recession. The idea is that if producers have reduced costs of production they will produce more and the prices of the produced goods will fall as much as wages. However, as Keynes pointed out that there is no reason to expect that any reduction of purchasing power will be offset by increases in other directions. Certainly, this reduction of purchasing power may cause a reduction of domestic expenditures on imports, which may improve the trade balance. It may also reduce savings, as public employees and others whose salaries are cut and those who lost their jobs may save less or draw on their passed savings to maintain their habitual standard of life.

However, producers will find that the expenditures of consumers (public employees, pensioners, unemployed) are reduced. Consequently, they can only match this reduction of revenue by either cutting down their own expenditure or making redundant some of their employees or both. As a necessary consequence of reduced incomes and profits there should be an increase in unemployment and a decrease in government tax revenues. Importantly, as Keynes noticed, deflation of wages, incomes and prices transfers wealth from the rest of the public to the rentiers and to those who hold titles to money. In effect, internal devaluation redistributes wealth as it transfers money from borrowers to lenders. The real assets in the country constitute the wealth of its citizens. Such real assets are buildings, stocks of commodities, goods in the process of production and the like. As is the usual practice, owners of these assets frequently purchase them by borrowing money.

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Don’t forget, it’s not Greece that’s being bailed out.

After Seven Years Of Bailouts, Greeks Sink Yet Deeper In Poverty (R.)

Greek pensioner Dimitra says she never imagined a life reduced to food handouts: some rice, two bags of pasta, a packet of chickpeas, some dates and a tin of milk for the month. At 73, Dimitra – who herself once helped the hard-up as a Red Cross food server – is among a growing number of Greeks barely getting by. After seven years of bailouts that poured billions of euros into their country, poverty isn’t getting any better; it’s getting worse like nowhere else in the EU. “It had never even crossed my mind,” she said, declining to give her last name because of the stigma still attached to accepting handouts in Greece. “I lived frugally. I’ve never even been on holiday. Nothing, nothing, nothing.” Now more than half of her €332 ($350) monthly income goes to renting a tiny Athens apartment. The rest: bills.

The global financial crisis and its fallout forced four euro zone countries to turn to international lenders. Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus all went through rescues and are back out, their economies growing again. But Greece, the first into a bailout in 2010, has needed three. Rescue funds from the EU and IMF saved Greece from bankruptcy, but the austerity and reform policies the lenders attached as conditions have helped to turn recession into a depression. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, whose leftist-led government is lagging in opinion polls, has tried to make the plight of Greeks a rallying cry in the latest round of drawn-out negotiations with the lenders blocking the release of more aid. “We must all be careful towards a country that has been pillaged and people who have made, and are continuing to make, so many sacrifices in the name of Europe,” he said this month.

Much of the vast sums in aid money has simply been in the form of new debt used to repay old borrowings. But regardless of who is to blame for the collapse in living standards, poverty figures from the EU statistics agency are startling. Greece isn’t the poorest member of the EU; poverty rates are higher in Bulgaria and Romania. But Greece isn’t far behind in third place, with Eurostat data showing 22.2% of the population were “severely materially deprived” in 2015. And whereas the figures have dropped sharply in the post-communist Balkan states – by almost a third in Romania’s case – the Greek rate has almost doubled since 2008, the year the global crisis erupted. Overall, the EU level fell from 8.5% to 8.1% over the period. The reality of such statistics becomes clear at places like the food bank run by the Athens municipality where Dimitra collects her monthly handouts.

Here, dozens more Greeks waited solemnly with a ticket in hand to get their share. All are registered as living below the poverty line of about €370 a month. “The needs are huge,” said Eleni Katsouli, a municipal official in charge of the center. Figures for the food bank, which serves central Athens, show a similar trend on a local scale to the wider Eurostat data. About 11,000 families – or 26,000 people – are registered there, up from just 2,500 in 2012 and 6,000 in 2014, Katsouli said. About 5,000 are children.

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Delusional theoretics: “..a greater emphasis on growth..”

Greece’s Creditors Dash Hopes For Quick Deal (Tel.)

Greece’s creditors have dashed hopes of a quick resolution to the country’s looming cash crunch, even as talks paved the way for debt inspectors to return to Athens. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the head of the Eurogroup, told reporters that there had been a “clear shift” in creditor demands following a meeting of finance ministers in Brussels on Monday. Yields on Greek government bonds fell sharply after he announced that representatives from the European Commission and IMF would return to Athens to thrash out an “additional package of structural reforms” to support long term growth and debt sustainability. Greece needs around €7bn in fresh rescue funds before July in order to cover substantial debt repayments to the ECB and private creditors. The Dutch finance minister said new measures would be “designed and agreed on the ground” in Athens, with a greater emphasis on growth.

“At face value, that means less tax rises and spending cuts and deep reforms to the country’s tax system, pensions and labour laws,” Mr Dijsselbloem told reporters. However, he played down reaching a solution before Dutch elections next month or even the French presidential election in May and said creditors were “looking towards the summer” for an agreement. “There is still a lot of work to do, a lot of issues to discuss and calibrate so I want to temper expectations,” he said. “There is no need for a disbursement in March, April or May.” Mr Dijsselbloem also signalled that differences remained between Greece, Brussels and the IMF over the reforms needed to unlock the next loan tranche and secure the institution’s participation in Greece’s third, €86bn rescue package.

Speaking after the meeting, a Greek government official said Athens was prepared to implement reforms beyond 2019. The official added: “The agreement includes the inviolable condition that was set by the Greek side for not even one euro more of austerity.” However, Pierre Moscovici, European Commissioner for economic and financial affairs, signalled that structural reforms, including pension cuts as well as tax and labour reforms would be required before pro-growth measures could be sanctioned. “I think that one word was forgotten [in the Greek official’s statement]. That was ‘net’,” he said.

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This one may be hard for Tsipras to explain. What’s the use of red lines if they mean nothing?

Greek Government In Damage Control Mode After Giving In To Troika, Again (K.)

After the government backed down on its vow not to take new measures at Monday’s Eurogroup, its number one priority now is damage control. In the runup to Monday’s meeting of eurozone finance ministers, Athens had insisted it had drawn its “red lines,” but it left Brussels having promised its EU partners that it will legislate measures after the current bailout program expires in 2018, in exchange for the return of technical experts to Athens in the bid to conclude the second review of the country’s third bailout. Faced with the challenge of explaining its turnaround and agreement to take new measures to an increasingly disillusioned electorate and lawmakers of ruling SYRIZA and Independent Greeks (ANEL), the government is using the term “neutral fiscal balance” in an attempt to sweeten the pill.

According to government sources, the term essentially means that for every euro saved from the new measures, there will be equivalent reductions in value-added, corporate or property taxes. In other words, the government’s narrative is that even though new measures will be implemented, these will be neutral as their burden will be canceled out by tax relief. Senior government officials were also busy laying the groundwork last week, saying that the government may have to accept new measures “for the good of the country” as the protracted negotiations to conclude the review were having a negative impact on the prospects of the country’s economic recovery.

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Nice legal twist.

Mr Draghi, What Are You Afraid Of? Release #TheGreekFiles! (DiEM25)

Deep in a vault in the headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) lie #TheGreekFiles, a legal opinion about the ECB’s actions towards Greece in 2015 that could send shockwaves across Europe. As a European taxpayer, you paid for these documents. But the ECB’s boss, ex-Goldman Sachs head Mario Draghi, says you can’t see them. So former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and MEP Fabio de Masi, together with a broad alliance of politicians and academics (below), have announced they will file a mass freedom of information request to the ECB to uncover #TheGreekFiles once and for all. If Mario says no, they’ll take the campaign to the next level, and consider all options – including legal action – to make this vital information public. Support their request to release critical documents you paid for by signing this petition now!

What are #TheGreekFiles? In June 2015, the newly-elected Greek government was locked in tense negotiations with its creditors (the ‘Troika’ – the ECB, EC and IMF), doing what it had been voted in to do: renegotiate the country’s public debt, fiscal policy and reform agenda, and save its people from the hardship of the most crushing austerity programme in modern history. The Troika knew they needed to make a drastic move to force the Greek government to capitulate. And that’s just what they did: through the ECB, they took action to force Greece’s banks to close, ultimately driving the Greek government – against its democratic mandate – to accept the country’s third ‘bailout’, together with new austerity measures and new reductions in national sovereignty.

But in their haste, their zeal to crush the Greek government’s resistance, the ECB feared their actions might be legally dubious. So they commissioned a private law firm to examine whether those decisions were legal. The legal opinion of this law firm is contained in #TheGreekFiles. In July 2015, the German MEP Fabio De Masi asked Mario Draghi to release the legal opinion. Mario refused, hiding behind ‘attorney-client privilege’. Clearly #TheGreekFiles contain something he doesn’t want you to see. One of the foremost experts on European Law, Professor Andreas Fischer-Lescano, examined whether the ECB was right to refuse to release #TheGreekFiles. His detailed conclusion leaves no room for doubt: the ECB has no case for withholding from MEPs and the citizens of Europe the legal opinion the ECB secured (and paid for using your money) regarding its own conduct.

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“..lost in a hall of mirrors with the lights off..” Building infrastructure for a world that’s gone, strip malls etc.

Fumbling Towards Collapse (Jim Kunstler)

[..] the real issue hidden in plain sight is how America — indeed all the so-called “developed” nations — are going to navigate to a stepped-down mode of living, without slip-sliding all the way into a dark age, or something worse. By the way, the Ole Maestro, Alan Greenspan, also chimed in on the “productivity” question last week to equally specious effect in this Business Insider article. None of these celebrated Grand Viziers knows what the fuck he’s talking about, and a nation depending on their guidance will find itself lost in a hall of mirrors with the lights off. So, on one side you have Trump and his trumpets and trumpistas heralding the return of “greatness” (i.e. a booming industrial economy of happy men with lunchboxes) which is not going to happen; and on the other side you have a claque of clueless technocrats who actually believe they can “solve” the productivity problem with measures that really only boil down to different kinds of accounting fraud.

You also have an American public, and a mass media, who do not question the premise of a massive “infrastructure” spending project to re-boot the foundering economy. If you ask what they mean by that, you will learn that they uniformly see rebuilding our highways, bridges, tunnels, and airports. Some rightly suspect that the money for that is not there – or can only be summoned with more accounting fraud (borrowing from our future). But on the whole, most adults of all political stripes in this country think we can and should do this, that it would be a good thing. And what is this infrastructure re-boot in the service of? A living arrangement with no future. A matrix of extreme car dependency that has zero chance of continuing another decade. More WalMarts, Target stores, Taco Bells, muffler shops, McHousing subdivisions, and other accoutrement of our fast-zombifying mode of existence? Isn’t it obvious, even if you never heard of, or don’t understand, the oil quandary, that we have shot our wad with all this? That we have to start down a different path if we intend to remain human?

It’s not hard to describe that waiting world, which I’ve done in a bunch of recent books. We’re going there whether we like it or not. But we can make the journey to it easier or harsher depending on how much we drag our heels getting on with the job. History is pretty unforgiving. Right now, the dynamic I describe is propelling us toward a difficult reckoning, which is very likely to manifest this spring as the political ineptitude of Trump, and the antipathy of his enemies, leaves us in a constitutional maelstrom at the very moment when the financial system comes unglued. Look for the debt ceiling debate and another Federal Reserve interest rate hike to set off the latter. There may be yet another converging layer of tribulation when we start blaming all our problems on Russia, China, Mexico, or some other patsy nation. It’s already obvious that we can depend on the Deep State to rev that up.

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US manufacturing is inferior.

Why Trumponomics Will Fail Spectacularly (Robert Reich)

When Donald Trump gave a speech last Friday at Boeing’s factory in North Charleston, South Carolina – unveiling Boeing’s new 787 “Dreamliner” – he congratulated Boeing for building the plane “right here” in South Carolina. It’s pure fantasy. I’ll let you know why in a moment. Trump also used the occasion to tout his “America First” economics, stating “our goal as a nation must be to rely less on imports and more on products made here in the U.S.A.” and “we want products made by our workers in our factories stamped by those four magnificent words, ‘Made in the U.S.A.’” To achieve this goal Trump would impose “a very substantial penalty” on companies that fired their workers and moved to another country to make a product, and then tried to sell it back to America. The carrot would be lower taxes and fewer regulations “that send our jobs to those other countries.” Trump seems utterly ignorant about global competition – and about what’s really holding back American workers.

Start with Boeing’s Dreamliner itself. It’s not “made in the U.S.A..” It’s assembled in the United States. But most of it parts come from overseas. Those foreign parts total almost a third of the cost of the entire plane. For example: The Italian firm Alenia Aeronautica makes the center fuselage and horizontal stabilizers. The French firm Messier-Dowty makes the aircraft’s landing gears and doors. The German firm Diehl Luftfahrt Elektronik supplies the main cabin lighting. The Swedish firm Saab Aerostructures makes the cargo access doors. The Japanese company Jamco makes parts for the lavatories, flight deck interiors and galleys. The French firm Thales makes its electrical power conversion system. Thales selected GS Yuasa, a Japanese firm, in 2005 to supply it with the system’s lithium-ion batteries. The British company Rolls Royce makes many of the engines. A Canadian firm makes the moveable trailing edge of the wings.

Notably, these companies don’t pay their workers low wages. In fact, when you add in the value of health and pension benefits – either directly from these companies to their workers, or in the form of public benefits to which the companies contribute – most of these foreign workers get a better deal than do Boeing’s workers. (The average wage for Boeing production and maintenance workers in South Carolina is $20.59 per hour, or $42,827 a year.) They also get more paid vacation days. These nations also provide most young people with excellent educations and technical training. They continuously upgrade the skills of their workers. And they offer universally-available health care. To pay for all this, these countries also impose higher tax rates on their corporations and wealthy individuals than does the United States. And their health, safety, environmental, and labor regulations are stricter.

Not incidentally, they have stronger unions. So why is so much of Boeing’s Dreamliner coming from these high-wage, high-tax, high-cost places?

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Yeah, big cuts, remember?

Saudi Arabia Breaks Records on Oil Exports and Output for (BBG)

Saudi Arabia boosted oil exports and production last year to the highest monthly averages on record as the global crude market endured oversupply. Exports climbed to 7.65 million barrels a day on average last year, from 7.39 million barrels a day a year earlier, according to Joint Organisations Data Initiative monthly data compiled by Bloomberg. Production rose to 10.46 million barrels a day from 10.19 million, on average, over the same period. Saudi Arabia led the push by global producers to end a crude glut by cutting output as of Jan. 1. JODI data indicate that the kingdom’s exports surged to more than 8 million barrels a day in November and December right before the cuts were due to start. Shipments in November were the highest since May 2003, JODI data show.

“Whenever there was no agreement with others, Saudi Arabia was running after expanding its market share,” said Mohamed Ramady, an independent analyst in London. Saudi Arabia pumped 10.2 million barrels to 10.67 million barrels a day in the first 10 months as producers discussed output cuts without making an agreement. It reined in production in January following the deal between the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and non-OPEC nations to reduce output by 1.8 million barrels a day, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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This is just a part of the shadow banking sector, the part that’s held by official banks.

Chinese Banks’ Off-Book Wealth Products Exceed $3.8 Trillion (BBG)

Chinese banks had more than 26 trillion yuan ($3.8 trillion) of wealth-management products held off their balance sheets at the end of December, a 30% increase from a year earlier, according to the central bank. The expansion of this form of shadow banking, with money eventually being diverted to quasi-loans and bonds, outpaced the 10% growth for normal lending during the same period, raising risks for the broader economy and undermining the country’s “deleveraging” efforts, the People’s Bank of China said Friday in its quarterly monetary policy report. The central bank is including off-balance sheet WMPs in its so-called macro prudential assessment framework starting this quarter to better gauge the expansion of credit and potential risks in the financial system.

The move will probably lead to banks reporting higher credit growth and may require them to take steps to maintain sufficient capital reserves to limit risks posed by the investment products. Since late 2014, the China Banking Regulatory Commission has been tightening rules on WMPs, most of which are non-principal guaranteed, meaning they can reside off banks’ balance sheets. The products are a key reason behind the growth of shadow banking in China, and have been used by some financial institutions as a way to extend funds to risky borrowers and evade capital requirements. The investment vehicles are asset-management products by nature and therefore investors should shoulder any risks by themselves, the central bank said in its report. More work is needed to solve problems such as the real amount of capital banks should hold to cover WMPs, risk segmentation, regulatory arbitrage, and the perception of an implicit guarantee of repayment, the PBOC said.

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Tax addiction.

Why Toronto (and Other Cities) Inflate Housing Bubbles to the Bitter End (WS)

“Let’s drop the pretense. The Toronto housing market and the many cities surrounding it are in a housing bubble,” Bank of Montreal (BMO) Chief Economist Doug Porter told clients in a note last week. Many have called it “housing bubble” for a while, but now it’s official, according to BMO. In January, the benchmark price and the average price were both up 22% year-over-year, with the average price of detached homes up 26%, of semi-detached homes 28%, of townhouses 27%, and of condos 15%. Double-digit price increases have become the rule in recent years. But this jump was “the fastest increase since the late 1980s – a period pretty much everyone can agree was a true bubble – and a cool 21 percentage points faster than inflation and/or wage growth,” Porter explained in his note, cited by BNN.

Home prices in Greater Toronto have become “dangerously detached” from economic fundamentals and are soaring simply on the belief that they will continue to soar, he wrote. “The market is far too hot for comfort.” BNN: “The often-cited mantra that Toronto’s real estate market is being driven largely by a lack of supply is wearing thin, he argues. Housing starts in Toronto and Vancouver recently hit an all-time high of 70,000 units per year and overall Canadian starts are above demographic demand at 200,000 units in the past year, according to BMO.” The “massive price gains” are not driven by lack of supply, but “first and foremost by sizzling hot demand, whether from ultra-low interest rates (negative in real terms), robust population growth, or non-resident investor demand.”

“Toronto and any city that is remotely within commuting distance are overheating, and perhaps dangerously so,” he said. But don’t expect the city of Toronto to do anything other than inflate the bubble further. It has to – unless it wants to fall into a fiscal and financial sinkhole. This became apparent last week, when the city councilors approved Toronto’s operating and capital budgets. What a mess!

The tax-supported operating budget is now expected to grow by 4.4% in 2017, to C$10.5 billion. So more taxes must be extracted from the hapless folks in Toronto. Among sundry fees, taxes, and levies, the councilors approved a 3.29% increase in the residential property tax and raised the municipal land transfer tax. Under the new budget, property taxes would provide 38% of the revenues, and the land transfer tax 7%, for a total of 45% of the C$10.5 billion in taxes, or C$4.7 billion. Just how dependent the funding for Toronto’s ballooning operating budget has become on the house price bubble – and the property-related taxes it generates – is made clear in this chart by Warren Lovely, Head of Public Sector Research & Strategy at National Bank Financial, Toronto:

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A most curious difference.

Refugee Claimants From US Strain Canada’s Border Resources (R.)

Canadian police said on Monday they had bolstered their presence at the Quebec border and that border authorities had created a temporary refugee center to process a growing number of asylum seekers crossing from the United States. The Canada Border Services Agency, or CBSA, said at a news conference that it had converted an unused basement into a refugee claimant processing center. Both the border agency and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are reassigning staff from other locations in the province, as needed, to accommodate rising demand. The CBSA said the number of people making refugee claims at Quebec-U.S. border crossings more than doubled from 2015 to 2016. Last month, 452 people made claims in Quebec compared with 137 in January 2016, the agency said.

The influx is straining police, federal government and community resources from the western prairie province of Manitoba, where people arrive frostbitten from hours walking in freezing conditions, to Quebec, where cabs drop asylum seekers off meters away from the Quebec-U.S.border, the border agency said. A Reuters reporter on Monday saw RCMP officers take in for questioning a family of four – two men, a woman and a baby in a car seat – who had walked across the snowy gully dividing Roxham Road in Champlain, New York, from Chemin Roxham in Hemmingford, Quebec. “Please explain to her that she’s in Canada,” one Canadian officer told another officer.

Police take people crossing the border in for questioning at the border agency’s office in Lacolle, Quebec, which is the province’s biggest and busiest border crossing. Police identify them and ensure they are not a threat or carrying contraband. They are then transferred to the CBSA for fingerprinting and further questions. If people are deemed a threat or flight risk, they are detained. If not, they can file refugee claims and live in Canada while they wait for a decision “It’s touching, and we are not insensitive to that,” Bryan Byrne, the RCMP’s Champlain Detachment commander, told reporters near the border. “Some of these people had a long journey. Some are not dressed for the climate here.”

Asylum seekers cross illegally because Canada’s policy under the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement is to turn back refugees if they make claims at border crossings. But as U.S. President Donald Trump cracks down on illegal immigrants, Amnesty International and refugee advocacy groups are pressuring the Canadian government to abandon the agreement, arguing the United States is no safe haven. On Monday, Montreal, Canada’s second most populous city, voted to declare itself a “sanctuary city,” making it the fourth Canadian city to protect illegal immigrants and to provide services to them.

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European governments criticizing Trump’s refugee policies have no credibility. But the people still can.

‘Casa Nostra, Casa Vostra’ (K.)

Thousands of people marched through the streets of downtown Barcelona on Saturday shouting the slogan “Casa nostra, casa vostra” (Our home, your home). Barcelona had prepared its plan for welcoming Syrian and Iraqi refugees back in September 2015. It put its municipal services on standby and organized an army of volunteers, whose generosity inspired residents in Madrid and Valencia to open their own cities to refugees. In the meantime, much of the rest of Europe was busy building walls, fencing itself in, warding inflows off, hardening its laws and ignoring not just the plight of the refugees themselves, but also the difficulties faced by Greece and Italy, Lesvos and Lampedusa. This amazing show of solidarity – not rhetorical but actual and tangible – from the Catalans convinced the Spanish government to raise its commitment for taking in refugees trapped in Greece and Italy from the 2,749 it had initially agreed to up to 17,680.

But numbers often suffer the same fate as words, dying out without leaving a single political or moral trace. Up until February 2016, just 18 refugees had been relocated to Spain, a number that makes sense when you consider that of the 160,000 relocations agreed on by the countries of the European Union, just 600 had actually taken place by that time. This failure to live up to commitments prompted Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau at this precise time last year to lash out against the Spanish government and the strategy centers in Brussels, which seem happy to confine their action to the deal made between the European Union and Turkey, even though this has been condemned by every respected humanitarian organization.

Colau’s protests fell on deaf ears, so on August 1, 2016, authorities in Barcelona placed a “counter of shame” on the city’s most popular beach, recording daily how many people are lost at sea in their effort to escape war or extreme poverty. We don’t know whether the counter triggered any feelings of guilt, but it certainly failed to awaken any sense of responsibility. When it was inaugurated, the number of victims stood at 3,034. By the end of the year, and according to official data from Europe, ever the passive observer, this surpassed 5,000. And as far as relocations to Spain go, these barely came to more than 1,000 last year. This, in general terms, is the background of that very encouraging rally we saw in Barcelona on Saturday. Whether the people who took to the streets were motived by their feelings or by their ideological beliefs is a question that only means something to those who think ideology is a fixation and feelings a sign of immaturity.

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Sep 122016
 
 September 12, 2016  Posted by at 8:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing WSS (War Savings Stamps) poster, Washington DC 1917

Clinton Health Another Landmine for Suddenly Vulnerable Markets (BBG)
Asia Stocks, Bonds Sell-Off In Central Bank Anxiety Attack (R.)
Global Stocks Sink With Bonds, Commodities as Fed Angst Builds (BBG)
A ‘Perfect Storm’ In Stocks Is Coming, And Nothing Can Stop It (CNBC)
Goldman: We’ve Reached ‘Maximum’ Bullishness; Bad News for US Stocks (BBG)
Governments May Boost Fiscal Stimulus As Central Banks Step Back (CNBC)
Oil Prices Fall As US Drillers Add New Rigs, Long Positions Are Cut (R.)
Woes at Italy’s Biggest Bank Reverberate in Europe (WSJ)
Where Have The Jobs Gone? Australians Grapple With Less Work, Low Pay (R.)
EU/IMF Rift On Greek Debt Is Hurting Country, Says Tsipras (R.)
It’ll Take More Than Hanjin’s Crisis To Fix Shipping’s Overcapacity (CNBC)
Low-Income US Teens Often Forced To Trade Sex For Food (G.)

 

 

Markets are in for a huge US election shock. An apt question Mish asked: what was she doing running around in public with a potentially highly contagious disease? More on this later.

Clinton Health Another Landmine for Suddenly Vulnerable Markets (BBG)

Investors nursing wounds after the worst selloff in three months for equity and debt markets got another stress to ponder after concerns over Hillary Clinton’s health flared anew. The 68-year-old Democratic presidential nominee, whose polling edge over Donald Trump has soothed traders who fear ruptures to U.S. policy and see virtue in political gridlock, is suffering from pneumonia and became overheated and dehydrated during a Sept. 11 commemoration Sunday, forcing her to leave abruptly, her doctor said. Clinton was prescribed antibiotics and advised to modify her schedule so she can rest.

Volatility is already resurfacing in markets that had purred along for two months inured to everything from politics to weakening global growth, with the S&P 500 Index getting jarred Friday out of its tightest trading range ever in a selloff that erased about $500 billion of share value. While investors and analysts were reluctant to speculate on Clinton’s health, they said expectations she will prevail in November have been a factor in the calm and predicted the scrutiny will intensify. “If we found out that there was something catastrophic about her health it obviously would matter, but you have to be very careful about extrapolating shorter-term news,” Jonathan Golub at RBC Capital Markets in New York, said by phone.

“What we do know is we have two candidates around 70 years old and in reality it must be brutal running around the world for two years.” Speculation central banks are losing their taste for extra stimulus on Friday tore through the blanket of tranquility that has enveloped global markets. The S&P 500, global equities and emerging-market assets tumbled at least 2 percent in the biggest drop since Britain voted to secede from the European Union. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note jumped to the highest since June and the dollar almost erased a weekly slide.

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It’s Brainard day. From Friday: “..investors recoiled over news that the central bank’s most dovish official, Governor Lael Brainard, will be delivering a previously unannounced speech Monday..”

Asia Stocks, Bonds Sell-Off In Central Bank Anxiety Attack (R.)

Asian shares suffered their sharpest setback since June on Monday as investors were rattled by rising bond yields and talk the Federal Reserve might be serious about lifting U.S. interest rates as early as next week. Reports that the Bank of Japan was considering ways to steepen the Japanese yield curve, along with worries that central banks more generally were running short of fresh stimulus options, also hit sovereign debt and risk appetite globally. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 2.4%, pulling away from a 13-month peak. It was the largest daily drop since the frenzy caused by Britain’s vote in late June to leave the European Union. On a technical basis the index had been overbought in recent sessions, leaving it vulnerable to a pullback.

Shanghai followed with a fall of 2%, while Australian stocks sank 2.2%. The Nikkei 225 lost 1.9% as the safe haven yen firmed and selling in bonds drove yields on 20-year JGBs to the highest since March. Traders were unsure how the BOJ would try to steepen the yield curve if it goes down that path at a policy review later this month, but markets are worried that tapering of its buying in long-dated bonds could be among the options. EMini futures for the S&P 500, traded in Chicago during Asian hours, swung 0.6% lower, though Treasuries were finding safe-haven demand. Some Fed members have been trying to convince markets that the September meeting would be “live” for a hike, even though futures only imply a one-in-four chance of a move.

No less than three Fed officials are expected to speak later in the day, including board member and noted dove Lael Brainard. Any hint of hawkishness would likely further pressure bonds and equities.

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Angst alright.

Global Stocks Sink With Bonds, Commodities as Fed Angst Builds (BBG)

Global selloffs in stocks and bonds resumed Monday, while commodities slumped amid concern central banks in the world’s biggest economies are questioning the benefits of loose monetary policy. Shares in Europe and Asia dropped by the most since the aftermath of Brexit, and futures foreshadowed declines in U.S. equities. Portugese debt led losses among euro-area bonds, while yields in Australia and New Zealand climbed to their highest levels of the quarter. Oil sank to about $45 a barrel as nickel tumbled the most in four weeks. The yen strengthened and South Korea’s won tumbled. Financial markets have been jolted out of a period of calm by an uptick in concern over the outlook for central bank policies.

Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President Eric Rosengren spurred bets on an interest-rate hike on Friday, saying the U.S. economy could overheat should policy makers wait too long to tighten. The comments came a day after European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi surprised markets by playing down the prospect of further stimulus. The S&P 500 slumped 2.5% Friday, breaking out of a range that hadn’t seen it move more than 1% in either direction for 43 days. “Central banks are reluctant to add additional stimulus and that’s causing a lot of concern,” Niv Dagan, executive director at Peak Asset Management in Melbourne, told Bloomberg Radio. “We expect additional downside in the near term. You want to wait and see and remain cautious,” he said.

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“..I wouldn’t be surprised that we see some kind of repeat as we had towards the end of last year into January-February, which was something close to a 12% correction.”

A ‘Perfect Storm’ In Stocks Is Coming, And Nothing Can Stop It (CNBC)

A sharp stock market pullback is imminent, according to David Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist at Gluskin Sheff. On Friday, stocks were hammered by fears the Federal Reserve might hike rates sooner than expected, sending the S&P 500 index and the Dow Jones industrial average into a tailspin. According to Rosenberg, there’s more trouble ahead. “You have a perfect storm here if you get something like a Fed rate hike into the next several months,” Rosenberg said Thursday on CNBC’s “Futures Now. “The problem is that the market is not priced for it. I wouldn’t be surprised that we see some kind of repeat as we had towards the end of last year into January-February, which was something close to a 12% correction.”

Rosenberg, who has been named to the U.S. Institutional Investor All-America All Star Team several times in his career, doesn’t think the shake-up can be avoided. His reasoning doesn’t just include a potential Fed rate hike. He also takes into account a more richly valued stock market, signs of investor complacency and a sluggish U.S. economy. “We entered into the third quarter with momentum and a lot of hope, and now we’re exiting the third quarter,” he said. “And, let’s face it: The last five or six [economic] numbers have been really soft,” he contended. “The problem now, looking at where the market is priced, you’ve got cycle high multiples, you’ve got a lot of hedge funds in the futures options market that have been chasing performance here up to the price highs, and it doesn’t take much in the way of any sort of near-term adverse news to cause the market to correct.”

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“Where to Invest Now: None of the Above.”

Goldman: We’ve Reached ‘Maximum’ Bullishness; Bad News for US Stocks (BBG)

U.S. stocks have climbed many walls of worry as they marched to fresh all-time highs in 2016. But the market calm that characterized the summer also propelled investor enthusiasm to extremely elevated levels, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which bodes ill for the near-term performance of equities. Goldman’s sentiment indicator, which tracks S&P 500 futures positioning, now stands at 100 – its maximum level. Readings above 90 or below 10 are contrarian indicators that are “significant in predicting future returns,” writes Chief U.S. Equity Strategist David Kostin in a note titled “Where to Invest Now: None of the Above.” This degree of enthusiasm “points to a 2% near-term S&P 500 fall,” he said.

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AKA: After central banks fail, governments have a go. But they are equally clueless.

Governments May Boost Fiscal Stimulus As Central Banks Step Back (CNBC)

Central banks have done bulk of the heavy lifting to boost growth since the global financial crisis, but economists now were expecting fiscal spending will get some life. Analysts and central bankers alike have talked up the benefits recently of letting the sun shine in on government spending after years of an austerity drumbeat amid an anaemic global recovery from the financial crisis. “Numerous central bankers, including Mario Draghi, have stressed that monetary policy alone cannot get the world out of its current malaise,” noted Andrew Kenningham, senior global economist at Capital Economics, in a note Wednesday.

“The U.S. Treasury Secretary, Jacob Lew, even claimed ahead of the G-20 summit in China last weekend that the U.S. had won the argument in favour of ‘growth rather than austerity’ and that this had prompted a policy shift by many G-20 governments.” That was in part due to the effects of long-running easing efforts by central banks, Kenningham noted. Many sovereigns have seen their bond yields turn negative, while smaller government budget deficits have reduced debt sustainability concerns, he said. “With global growth still lacklustre, monetary policy seemingly ineffective and government bond yields unprecedentedly low, the case for fiscal stimulus has become more compelling,” Kenningham said. “Partly as a result, we now expect advanced economies overall to benefit from a small fiscal boost in the next couple of years.”

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Oil is no longer an industry, it’s a gambling den.

Oil Prices Fall As US Drillers Add New Rigs, Long Positions Are Cut (R.)

Crude prices fell over 1.5% on Monday after U.S. oil drillers added rigs to look for new production as producers adapt to cheaper crude, with speculators cutting positions betting on further price rises. Brent crude futures were trading at $47.29 per barrel at 0200 GMT (10:00 p.m. EDT), down 72 cents, or 1.5%, from their last settlement. U.S. West Texas Intermediate futures were down 80 cents, or 1.74%, at $45.08 a barrel. Traders said the price falls on Monday and Friday were a result of increasing oil drilling activity in the United States, which indicated that producers can operate profitably around current levels.

“Each dollar is being used far more efficiently and, as a result, $50 oil appears much more palatable,” Barclays bank said in a note to clients. U.S. drillers added oil rigs for a tenth week in the past 11, according to a Baker Hughes rig count report on Friday. It was the longest streak without rig cuts since 2011. Speculative oil traders also became less confident of higher oil prices, cutting their net long U.S. crude futures and options positions for a second consecutive week last week, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) said on Friday. Oil’s near 5%price decline since Sept. 8 partly reverses a 10% rally early in the month, which was fueled by speculation that oil exporters could cap production.

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“Monte dei Paschi presented a plan in July to sell €28 billion of bad loans at 27% of face value. That has effectively set a new benchmark for the pricing of Italian bad loans..” But UniCredit expects to lose just 10%? Since UniCredit attributes a higher value to its bad loans, a sale of €20 billion of loans would force it to take €2 billion in write-downs…

Woes at Italy’s Biggest Bank Reverberate in Europe (WSJ)

For UniCredit, the summer of discontent for Italy’s banks looks likely to stretch well into the fall—and possibly beyond. UniCredit, Italy’s largest lender by assets, emerged as one of the weakest big banks in Europe in July’s stress tests, showcasing the failure of its attempts to respond to rock-bottom interest rates and a huge pile of bad loans. Now, as Jean-Pierre Mustier, the bank’s new CEO, readies a big-bang plan to revive UniCredit’s fortunes, he faces a series of unpalatable choices: Aggressive action to cut the bank’s €80 billion ($89.9 billion) in bad loans—the largest of any European bank—would force the Milanese bank to raise billions in fresh capital, while an asset sale could help bolster its capital position but would hurt already thin profit.

Meanwhile, the travails of Italy’s No. 3 lender, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, promise to only complicate Mr. Mustier’s job. On Thursday, Monte dei Paschi said its CEO, Fabrizio Viola, had agreed with the bank’s board to resign, in a surprise move that came as that bank works on a plan to shed €28 billion in bad loans. Troubles at UniCredit, which has a vast business in Germany and Eastern Europe, could threaten not only Italy’s ailing economy but also the continent’s already fragile financial stability. Brexit has upended Europe’s status quo, making the financial system more sensitive to shocks. Investors are watching UniCredit closely, as they expect its fate to affect both Italy and potentially other lenders on the continent.

[..] A major move to unload bad loans, perhaps as much as €20 billion, “will be key for a rerating of the stock,” said Vicenzo Longo at IG Markets. However, Monte dei Paschi presented a plan in July to sell €28 billion of bad loans at 27% of face value. That has effectively set a new benchmark for the pricing of Italian bad loans. Since UniCredit attributes a higher value to its bad loans, a sale of €20 billion of loans would force it to take €2 billion in write-downs…

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Quality vs quantity. If it can hide reality in the US, it can do so in Oz.

Where Have The Jobs Gone? Australians Grapple With Less Work, Low Pay (R.)

While the unemployment rate in Australia has been relatively stable, at 5.7% in July, there is a historically high underemployment rate – people who want to work more – of 8.5%. Combined, the measures lead to an underutilisation rate of 14.2%, much higher than during the global financial crisis and a worrying trend for the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA). That spare capacity in the labor market limits the ability of workers to push for pay rises, and feeds through to muted demand and confidence. If this trend persists, the RBA could be forced to lower rates again after already easing twice this year. Indeed, wages growth is already at record lows while inflation is likely to remain below the central bank’s target band of 2-3% until 2018.

“For that to turn around you need to see a pick-up in domestic demand,” said Gareth Aird, senior economist at Commonwealth Bank. “We have cash rates down to 1.5% and we’re still not seeing a pick-up in wages or inflation. We probably need to see a pick-up in investment in order to see full-time employment materially lift.” For policymakers – unable to do much in the face of slow global demand – the low business investment is a particularly worrying phenomenon, especially as the end of the mining boom and a slowdown in major trading partner China leave corporate managers leery about spending on new projects. Indeed, latest data showed business investment tumbled in the June quarter as miners continued to cut back while spending plans slipped 9%.

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The Troika enjoys its stranglehold on an entire people.

EU/IMF Rift On Greek Debt Is Hurting Country, Says Tsipras (R.)

A rift between the IMF and the EU on how to address Greece’s debt crisis is damaging for the country, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Sunday. “I would say that what is creating conditions of delay in regaining trust of markets and investors … is the constant clash and disagreement between the IMF and European institutions,” Tsipras told a news conference in the northern city of Thessaloniki. The IMF has yet to decide whether to participate in a third international bailout Greece signed up to in mid-2015, saying it is not convinced its debt is sustainable. The country’s current debt to GDP ratio exceeds 170% of national output, the highest in the eurozone. Tsipras said disagreements between the EU and the IMF was preventing timely participation of the country in the quantitative easing program of the ECB. “A country which has made such harsh adjustment cannot wait much more… It is entitled to a fair regulation of the debt issue. The Greek problem is a European problem,” Tsipras said.

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No-one’s ever considered that trade was a bubble?!

It’ll Take More Than Hanjin’s Crisis To Fix Shipping’s Overcapacity (CNBC)

The crisis surrounding Hanjin Shipping has rocked the industry, but even more shipping lines could find themselves in trouble thanks to the huge amount of overcapacity in the industry, warns the CEO of a logistics company. Hanjin, which had around 3% of market share in shipping, filed for court receivership at the end of August, which has meant that its ships have been denied access to ports and, in some cases, have been seized. One result of Hanjin’s troubles is that shipping rates have spiked. Prices for shipments between Asia and the U.S. have risen 50% through September, according to data from Freightos, an online shipping rate marketplace. However, this is likely to prove temporary, as prices will fluctuate and currently empty container slots are brought into use, the company added.

Not only have shipping rates risen, but companies which were using Hanjin have received charges from some ports, according to Philip Damas, director for supply chain advisors at Drewry. “Some ports have imposed surcharges on exporters and importers who used Hanjin as a carrier and are waiting for their products in the destination port to cover the port costs unpaid by Hanjin. This is also increasing exporters’ costs,” he told CNBC in an email. Hanjin has been a shock to the system, but a glut in the number of ships carrying goods around the world is still an issue, warns Dr. Zvi Schreiber, CEO of Freightos, an online logistics marketplace. “There has been a significant overcapacity, which is why rates have been so low and that’s why Hanjin went bankrupt in the first place, but it’s not clear if that’s enough..”

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A curious article on a curious report. I don’t quite know what to make of it.

Low-Income US Teens Often Forced To Trade Sex For Food (G.)

Teenagers in America are resorting to sex work because they cannot afford food, according to a study that suggests widespread hunger in the world’s wealthiest country. Focus groups in all 10 communities analysed by the Urban Institute, a Washington-based thinktank, described girls “selling their body” or “sex for money” as a strategy to make ends meet. Boys desperate for food were said to go to extremes such as shoplifting and selling drugs. The findings raise questions over the legacy of Bill Clinton’s landmark welfare-reform legislation 20 years ago as well as the spending priorities of Congress and the impact of slow wage growth. Evidence of teenage girls turning to “transactional dating” with older men is likely to cause particular alarm.

“I’ve been doing research in low-income communities for a long time, and I’ve written extensively about the experiences of women in high poverty communities and the risk of sexual exploitation, but this was new,” said Susan Popkin, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and lead author of the report, Impossible Choices. “Even for me, who has been paying attention to this and has heard women tell their stories for a long time, the extent to which we were hearing about food being related to this vulnerability was new and shocking to me, and the level of desperation that it implies was really shocking to me. It’s a situation I think is just getting worse over time.”

The qualitative study, carried out in partnership with the food banks network Feeding America, created two focus groups – one male, one female – in each of 10 poor communities across the US. The locations included big cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington and rural North Carolina and eastern Oregon. A total of 193 participants aged 13 to 18 took part and were allowed to remain anonymous. Their testimony paints a picture of teenagers – often overlooked by policymakers focused on children aged zero to five – missing meals, making sacrifices and going hungry, with worrying long-term consequences. Popkin said: “We heard the same story everywhere, a really disturbing picture about hunger and food insecurity affecting the wellbeing of some of the most vulnerable young people.”

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