Dec 122017
 
 December 12, 2017  Posted by at 10:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Wassily Kandinsky Clear connection 1925

 

How Fed Rate Hikes Impact US Debt Slaves (WS)
Why Obamacare Is Locked In An Inescapable Death Spiral (ZH)
Sitting Closer To The Exit (Roberts)
Oil Producers Turning to Crypto to Solve Sanctions Problems (Luongo)
Peak Bitcoin Media Mania Yet? (WS)
Bitcoin – Millennials’ “Fake Gold” (Katsenelson)
Next Bank of Japan Governor Faces a ‘Job From Hell’ (BBG)
Sweden: More Signs The World’s Biggest Housing Bubble Is Cracking (ZH)
Trump Tells NASA to Send Americans to the Moon (AFP)
Exxon To Provide Details On Climate Change Impact To Its Business (R.)
Apple Aims To Block Climate, Rights Using SEC Guidance (R.)
EU Could ‘Scrap Refugee Quota Scheme’ (G.)
Lesvos Authorities Block Ship With Container Homes For Refugees (AP)
Germany Rejects Additional Winter Aid For Refugees On Greek Islands (KTG)

 

 

“If the average interest rate on this debt is 20%, credit-cart interest payments alone add $233 a month to their household expenditures.”

How Fed Rate Hikes Impact US Debt Slaves (WS)

Revolving credit outstanding of $1 trillion, spread over 117.72 million households, would amount to $8,300 per household. But many households do not carry interest-bearing credit card debt; they pay their cards off in full every month. Finance charges are concentrated on households that use this form of debt to finance their spending and that cannot pay off their balances every month. Many of these households are already strung out and are among the least able to afford higher interest payments. Consumer credit bureau TransUnion shed some light on this in its Q3 2017 Industry Insights Report, according to which 195.9 million consumers had a revolving credit balance at the end of Q3, with total account balances of $1.35 trillion. This equals $6,892 per person with revolving credit balances.

If there are two people with balances in a household, this would amount to nearly $14,000 of this high-cost debt. If the average interest rate on this debt is 20%, credit-cart interest payments alone add $233 a month to their household expenditures. What is next for these folks? For now, the Fed has penciled in, and economists expect, three hikes next year. But recent developments – particularly the expected tax cuts and what the Fed calls “elevated asset prices” – suggest that the Fed might “surprise” the markets with its hawkishness in 2018. The Fed is currently pegging the “neutral” rate – the rate at which the federal funds rate is neither stimulating nor slowing the economy – at somewhere near 2.5% to 2.75%, so about five or six more rates hikes from today’s target range.

Interest rates on credit cards would follow in lockstep. These rate hikes to “neutral” would extract another $8 billion or so a year, on top of the additional $7.5 billion from the prior rate hikes. But that’s not all. Credit card balances continue to rise as our brave consumers are trying to prop up US consumer spending and thus the global economy by borrowing more and more. Thus, rising credit card balances combined with rising interest rates on those balances conspire to produce sharply higher interest costs. Since consumers with high-interest credit-card balances already don’t have enough money to pay off their costly debt, these additional interest payments will further curtail their efforts at making principal payments and thus inflate their credit card balances further.

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And if/when you manage to pay off your credit cards, there’s the next challenge…

Why Obamacare Is Locked In An Inescapable Death Spiral (ZH)

Ever since it was signed into law in 2010, defenders of Obamacare have dismissed staggering surges in annual premiums by highlighting only the rates paid by those fortunate enough to receive subsidies. In fact, last year we wrote about Marjorie Connolly’s, from Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services, response to the Tennessee insurance commissioner’s fear that the exchanges in his state were “very near collapse” after a staggering 59% premium surge: “Consumers in Tennessee will continue to have affordable coverage options in 2017. Last year, the average monthly premium for people with Marketplace coverage getting tax credits increased just $2, from $102 to $104 per month, despite headlines suggesting double digit increases,” said Marjorie Connolly, HHS spokeswoman, in a statement.

We’re unsure whether Connolly’s comment was just propaganda intended to defend a failing piece of legislation or an intentional, blatant admission that the Department of Health and Human Services just doesn’t care about the majority of Americans, the so-called 1%’ers, who are facing debilitating increases in healthcare costs simply because they manage to live above the poverty line. We’ll let you decide on that one. Be that as it may, as the Miami Herald points out this morning, roughly half of all Obamacare participants, nearly 9 million people in aggregate, don’t qualify for the subsidies that Connolly praised and have been forced to absorb debilitating premium increases for the past several years.

[..] As open enrollment for Affordable Care Act coverage nears the deadline of Dec. 15, and Florida once again leads all states using the federal exchange at healthcare.gov, Heidi and Richard Reiter sit at the kitchen table at their Davie home and struggle to piece together the family’s health insurance for 2018. The Reiters buy their own coverage, but they earn too much to qualify for financial aid to lower their monthly premiums. For 2017, they bought a plan off the exchange and paid $26,000 in premiums for family coverage, including their two sons, ages 21 and 17. Keeping the same coverage for 2018 would have cost the Reiters $40,000 in premiums, a 54% increase. So they selected a lower-priced plan that covers less but costs $29,000 in premiums. “That’s more than a lot of people’s mortgage payments,” Richard Reiter said. “For me, it’s a crisis situation.”

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The odds of a correction (reversion).

Sitting Closer To The Exit (Roberts)

While valuation risk is certainly concerning, it is the extreme deviations of other measures to which attention should be paid. When long-term indicators have previously been this overbought, further gains in the market have been hard to achieve. However, the problem comes, as identified by the vertical lines, is understanding when these indicators reverse course. The subsequent “reversions” have not been forgiving. The chart below brings this idea of reversion into a bit clearer focus. I have overlaid the real, inflation-adjusted, S&P 500 index over the cyclically-adjusted P/E ratio. Historically, we find that when both valuations and prices have extended well beyond their intrinsic long-term trendlines, subsequent reversions beyond those trend lines have ensued. Every. Single. Time.

Importantly, these reversions have wiped out a decade, or more, in investor gains. As noted, if the next correction began in 2018, and ONLY reverts back to the long-term trendline, which historically has never been the case, investors would reset portfolios back to levels not seen since 1997. Two decades of gains lost. With everyone crowded into the “ETF Theater,” the “exit” problem should be of serious concern. “Over the next several weeks, or even months, the markets can certainly extend the current deviations from long-term mean even further. But that is the nature of every bull market peak, and bubble, throughout history as the seeming impervious advance lures the last of the stock market ‘holdouts’ back into the markets.”

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“..the petrodollar is not the source of the U.S. dollar’s power around the world, but rather the U.S.’s main fulcrum by which to keep competition out of the markets..”

Oil Producers Turning to Crypto to Solve Sanctions Problems (Luongo)

Last week, Venezuela announced it would develop a national cryptocurrency backed by its oil reserves, the Petro. Now there is a report that Russia is considering the same thing. Iran will likely follow suit. As of right now this is just a rumor, but it makes some sense. So, let’s treat this rumor as fact for the sake of argument and see where it leads us. The U.S. continues to sanction and threaten all of these countries for daring to challenge the global status quo. There is no denying this. [..] at the heart of this is the petrodollar. Contrary to what many believe, the petrodollar is not the source of the U.S. dollar’s power around the world, but rather the U.S.’s main fulcrum by which to keep competition out of the markets. It is a secondary effect of the dollar’s dominance in global finance today. But it is not the main driver.

Financial market are simply too big relative to the size any one commodity market for it to be the fulcrum on which everything hinges. It was that way in the past. But it is not now. That said, however, getting out from underneath the petrodollar gives a country independence to begin building financial architecture that can be levered up over time to threaten the institutional control it helped create. U.S. foreign policy defends the petrodollar along with other systems in place – the IMF, the World Bank, SWIFT, LIBOR and the central banks themselves – to maintain its control. The main oil producers, however, can escape this control simply by selling their oil in currencies other than the U.S. dollar. That’s not enough to dethrone the dollar, but, like I just said, it is where the process has to start. Therefore, any and all means must be employed to defend the dollar empire by keeping everyone inside that system.

[..] The problem with backing any currency with physical reserves is the fluctuations in value of those reserves. It’s not like oil is a low-beta commodity or anything. But, like everything else in the commodity space, price movements are supposed to be smoothed out by the futures markets helping to coordinate price with time. But the bigger problem is the estimation of those reserves the coin’s value is based on. First, how do you accurately quantify them? Can holders of Petro or Neft-coin trust the Russian or Venezuelan governments to provide accurate assessments of their reserves? Second, there is the ability of the country to pull it out of the ground and sell it into the market at anything close to a fair price. This isn’t a concern for Russia, the world’s 2nd largest supplier of oil and very stable government but Venezuela is the opposite. And, its “Petro” would probably trade at quite a discount early on to the dollar price of oil.

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I doubt it. If only because as Taleb said, you can’t actually short BTC, and they should have introduced options along with futures. They didn’t. This story is far from over.

Peak Bitcoin Media Mania Yet? (WS)

Bitcoin mania is now everywhere. It’s hard to have a conversation with regular people without sooner or later getting into bitcoin. Some of this is just for fun. Manias breed amazement. Miracles are wonderful to behold. But some of it is pretty serious. “We’ve seen mortgages being taken out to buy bitcoin,” said Joseph Borg, president of the North American Securities Administrators Association and director of the Alabama Securities Commission, on CNBC’s Power Lunch today. “People do credit cards, equity lines,” he said. Bitcoin futures trading started Sunday night on the Cboe futures exchange. Next week, the CME will offer trading in bitcoin futures.

This way, speculators can bet with unlimited derivatives on an unregulated digital entity that is backed by nothing and whose cash trading takes place in unregulated opaque and easily hacked exchanges around the world. But Borg doesn’t think that futures contracts legitimize bitcoin. Innovation and technology always outrun regulation, he said. “You’re on this mania curve. At some point in time there’s got to be a leveling off,” he said. “Cryptocurrency is here to stay. Blockchain is here to stay. Whether it is bitcoin or not, I don’t know.” And so the media mania over bitcoin has become deafening.

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But there’s definitely a media bubble, even if there’s no BTC one yet.

Bitcoin – Millennials’ “Fake Gold” (Katsenelson)

If you cannot value an asset you cannot be rational. With Bitcoin at $11,000 today, it is crystal clear to me, with the benefit of hindsight, that I should have bought Bitcoin at 28 cents. But you only get hindsight in hindsight. Let’s mentally (only mentally) buy Bitcoin today at $11,000. If it goes up 5% a day like a clock and gets to $110,000 – you don’t need rationality. Just buy and gloat. But what do you do if the price goes down to $8,000? You’ll probably say, “No big deal, I believe in cryptocurrencies.” What if it then goes to $5,500? Half of your hard-earned money is gone. Do you buy more? Trust me, at that point in time the celebratory articles you are reading today will have vanished. The awesome stories of a plumber becoming an overnight millionaire with the help of Bitcoin will not be gracing the social media.

The moral support – which is really peer pressure – that drives you to own Bitcoin will be gone, too. Then you’ll be reading stories about other suckers like you who bought it at what – in hindsight – turned out to be the all-time high and who got sucked into the potential for future riches. And then Bitcoin will tumble to $2,000 and then to $100. Since you have no idea what this crypto thing is worth, there is no center of gravity to guide you or anyone else to make rational decisions. With Coke or another real business that generates actual cash flows, we can at least have an intelligent conversation about what the company is worth. We can’t have one with Bitcoin. The X times Y = Z math will be reapplied by Wall Street as it moves on to something else.

People who are buying Bitcoin today are doing it for one simple reason: FOMO – fear of missing out. Yes, this behavior is so predominant in our society that we even have an acronym for it. Bitcoin is priced today at $11,000 because the fool who bought it for $11,000 is hoping that there is another, greater fool who will pay $12,000 for it tomorrow. This game of greater fools is not new. The Dutch played it with tulips in the 1600s– it did not end well. Americans took the game to a new level with dotcoms in the late 1990s – that round ended in tears, too. And now millennials and millennial-wannabes are playing it with Bitcoin and few hundred other competing cryptocurrencies.

The counterargument to everything I have said so far is that those dollar bills you have in your wallet or that digitally reside in your bank account are as fictional as Bitcoin. True. Currencies, like most things in our lives, are stories that we all have (mostly) unconsciously bought into. Of course, society and, even more importantly, governments have agreed that these fiat currencies are going to be the means of exchange. Also, taxation by the government turns the dollar bill “story” into a very physical reality: If you don’t pay taxes in dollars, you go to jail. (The US government will not accept Bitcoins, gold, chunks of granite, or even British pounds).

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Compared to Japan, all other central banks are wimps and pussies.

Next Bank of Japan Governor Faces a ‘Job From Hell’ (BBG)

The next governor of the Bank of Japan faces a “job from hell.” That’s according to Takeshi Fujimaki, a banker-turned-lawmaker who sees any attempt by Japan’s central bank to exit its program of unprecedented easing as triggering a Greek-like debt crisis. “This is the calm before the battle,” Fujimaki, an opposition Japan Innovation Party politician who once served briefly as an adviser to George Soros, said in an interview at his Tokyo office on Monday. BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda’s five-year term runs out in April, with recent praise from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe strengthening expectations that the 73-year-old will stay on for a second stint. His massive easing program has weakened the yen, bolstered exports and helped stock prices to more than double. But inflation is still short of the government’s 2% target, and critics say the BOJ’s swollen balance sheet is unsustainable.

Fujimaki, 67, said he agreed with the view expressed by Kuroda’s predecessor Masaaki Shirakawa in his 2013 resignation press conference, when he said no judgment could be made on non-traditional monetary easing in Japan and in other developed economies until exits had been completed. Last week, Kuroda said the BOJ can take the appropriate steps to exit when the time comes, but talking specifics of an exit now would end up confusing markets. Even so, Fujimaki said Kuroda should stay on to oversee an exit from the policies he introduced. “Because Mr. Kuroda has taken it this far, he should carry on until the end,” Fujimaki said. “Just taking the good part and running away would be unfair.”

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“(SEB) says 63% of households in Stockholm now expect prices to decline in the coming year while only 21% expect an increase; that’s “a dramatic shift compared with only two months’ ago..”

Sweden: More Signs The World’s Biggest Housing Bubble Is Cracking (ZH)

We like to highlight that although Sweden’s property bubble is not the longest running (that accolade goes to Australia at 55 years), it is probably the world’s biggest, even though it gets relatively little coverage in the mainstream financial media. A month ago, we noted that SEB’s housing price indicator suffered its second biggest ever drop, falling by 39 points, only lagging a steeper fall from ten years earlier. This month the indicator, which shows the balance between households forecasting rising or falling prices, fell into negative territory, dropping to -5 from +11 in November. Households expecting prices to rise has almost halved from 66% In October, to 43% in November and 36% this month. The percentage of households expecting prices to fall has risen from 16% in October, to 32% in November and 41% this month.

After the housing price indicator was published, the Swedish krona fell as much as 0.7% versus the Euro to 10.0118, its lowest level since 5 December 2017. Not surprisingly, the focal point of Sweden’s property boom has been Stockholm, where the decline in the housing price indicator in December 2017 was precipitous. According to Bloomberg. “SEB says sharp drop in home-price expectations in Stockholm was main culprit behind the decline in its Swedish home-price indicator, with the indicator falling to -42 in the Swedish capital in Dec. from -6 in Nov. That means the Stockholm indicator is now close to the record low of -47 that was reached in Dec. 2008, at the height of the global financial crisis. (SEB) says 63% of households in Stockholm now expect prices to decline in the coming year while only 21% expect an increase; that’s “a dramatic shift compared with only two months’ ago..”

Given the disproportionate rate of decline in December in Stockholm, SEB was minded to ask whether special factors are at work “rather than general drivers such as fears over rising interest rates or a weak business cycle”. Indeed, aside from south-eastern Sweden, the outlook in all other regions remains positive. With regard to Stockholm, the bank notes that a large increase in new supply of expensive residential property and what it terms “very negative media reporting” have had an impact. Whether that’s a fair assessment, or whether it’s realist reporting of a monumental asset bubble is a moot point. What is indisputable is that the number of Swedish homes for sale has surged in November 2017 compared with the same month last year.

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After talking to Musk and Bezos. Who target billions in profits from the bridges to nowhere on steroids.

Trump Tells NASA to Send Americans to the Moon (AFP)

US President Donald Trump directed NASA on Monday to send Americans to the Moon for the first time since 1972, in order to prepare for future trips to Mars. “This time we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint,” Trump said at a White House ceremony as he signed the new space policy directive. “We will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars and perhaps someday to many worlds beyond.” The directive calls on NASA to ramp up its efforts to send people to deep space, a policy that unites politicians on both sides of the aisle in the United States. However, it steered clear of the most divisive and thorny issues in space exploration: budgets and timelines.

Space policy experts agree that any attempt to send people to Mars, which lies an average of 140 million miles (225 million kilometers) from Earth, would require immense technical prowess and a massive wallet. The last time US astronauts visited the Moon was during the Apollo missions of the 1960s and 1970s. Trump, who signed the directive in the presence of Harrison Schmitt, one of the last Americans to walk on the Moon 45 years ago, said “today, we pledge that he will not be the last.” The better known Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the Moon after Armstrong and a fervent advocate of future space missions, was also present at the ceremony but not mentioned by Trump during his speech.

[..] Trump vowed his new directive “will refocus the space program on human exploration and discovery,” and “marks an important step in returning American astronauts to the Moon for the first time since 1972.” The goal of the new Moon missions would include “long-term exploration and use” of its surface. “We’re dreaming big,” Trump said. His administration has previously held several meetings with SpaceX boss Elon Musk and Amazon owner Jeff Bezos, who also owns Blue Origin.

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The article has two authors, and at least one editor (Reuters), and still it says this: “world temperatures are likely to rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius (35.6°F) this century..

Exxon To Provide Details On Climate Change Impact To Its Business (R.)

Exxon Mobil on Monday said it would publish new details about how climate change could affect its business in a move aimed at appeasing critics and forestalling another proxy fight next year. The largest U.S. oil and gas producer said in a filing to U.S. securities regulators that its board agreed to provide shareholders with information on “energy demand sensitivities, implications of two degree Celsius scenarios, and positioning for a lower-carbon future.” Scientists have warned that world temperatures are likely to rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius (35.6°F) this century, surpassing a “tipping point” that a global climate deal aims to avert. Exxon’s statement, which came three days before the deadline for its 2018 annual meeting resolution submissions, said additional information would be released in the near future, but did not provide details.

The company’s board originally opposed providing shareholders with a report outlining the potential impact of global warming on Exxon’s long-term outlook. Thomas P. DiNapoli, New York state’s comptroller, heads one the two lead sponsors of a shareholder resolution calling for Exxon to issue a climate-impact report. He called Monday’s decision “a win for shareholders and for the company’s ability to manage risk.” However, another sponsor noted the lack of specificity in the company’s statement. “This is giving no detail,” said Tim Smith, who leads shareholder engagement efforts at Walden Asset Management, a co-filer of last spring’s resolution. He said Exxon’s statement “needs to be expanded to assure shareowners that they’re responsive to last year’s request.”

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Apple, Exxon, everybody seeks to escape their own shareholders.

Apple Aims To Block Climate, Rights Using SEC Guidance (R.)

Apple is pushing back on shareholder proposals on climate issue and human rights concerns, an effort activists worry could sharply restrict investor rights. In letters to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last month, an attorney for the California computer maker argued at least four shareholder proposals relate to “ordinary business” and therefore can be left off the proxy Apple is expected to publish early next year, ahead of its annual meeting. The attorney, Gene Levoff, cited guidance issued by the SEC on Nov. 1 saying that company boards are generally best positioned to decide if a resolution raises significant policy issues worth putting to a vote.

While companies routinely seek permission to skip shareholder proposals, Apple’s application of the new SEC guidance shows how it could be used to ignore many investor proposals by claiming boards routinely review those areas, said Sanford Lewis, a Massachusetts attorney representing Apple shareholders who had filed two of the resolutions. Were the SEC to side with Apple, “this would be an incredibly dangerous precedent that would essentially say a great many proposals could be omitted,” Lewis said. [..] Often seen as distractions in the past, shareholder measures have taken on new significance as big asset managers increasingly back those on areas like climate change or board diversity.

Apple cited the SEC’s new guidance among other things in seeking to omit the shareholder measures from its proxy, according to letters Apple sent to the SEC. These include calls for Apple to take steps such as establishing a “human rights committee” to address concerns on topics like censorship, and for Apple to report on its ability to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

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Tusk against the rest. Couldn’t be because he’s Polish, could it? And looking at big jobs back home?!

EU Could ‘Scrap Refugee Quota Scheme’ (G.)

The EU could scrap a divisive scheme that compels member states to accept quotas of refugees, one of the bloc’s most senior leaders will say this week. The president of the European council, Donald Tusk, will tell EU leaders at a summit on Thursday that mandatory quotas have been divisive and ineffective, in a clear sign that he is ready to abandon the policy that has created bitter splits across the continent. Tusk will set a six-month deadline for EU leaders to reach unanimous agreement on reforms to the European asylum system, but will propose alternatives if there is no consensus. “If there is no solution … including on the issue of mandatory quotas, the president of the European council will present a way forward,” states a draft letter from Tusk to national capitals, seen by the Guardian.

In effect this means scrapping mandatory quotas, because Hungary, Poland and Czech Republic are fiercely opposed to the idea of dispersing refugees around the bloc based on a formula drawn up in Brussels. Tusk is likely to face opposition, however, from other EU bodies, including the European commission. EU leaders introduced compulsory quotas in 2015 at the height of the migration crisis, as thousands of people arrived daily on Europe’s shores, many of whom were refugees from Syria, Iraq and Eritrea. Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and the Czech Republic voted against the move, but the policy was forced through by a majority vote. Hungary and Poland have defied the rest of the EU by not taking a single refugee under the scheme, which aimed to relocate about 120,000 refugees, mainly Syrians. The Czech republic has taken in only 12. All three countries were referred to the European court of justice last week for failing to implement the policy, the usual procedure for flouting EU rules.

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All refugees living on Lesbos should be evacuated.

Lesvos Authorities Block Ship With Container Homes For Refugees (AP)

Authorities on the Greek island of Lesvos say they have blocked a ship carrying container homes for refugees and other migrants in protest at the refusal of the government and the European Union to move more people to Greece’s mainland. A government-chartered ship carrying the containers remained anchored at Mytilene, the island’s main town, on Monday after municipal vehicles were used to block port facilities. The island’s municipal board was due to meet later on Monday to decide on whether to lift the blockade following talks with the government, state-run TV ERT said. The mayors of five Greek islands facing the coast of Turkey are demanding that the government and EU end a policy of containment for migrants – introduced last year as a deterrent against illegal migration – because living facilities are severely overcrowded.

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Merkel, the story of a great and bitter failure.

Germany Rejects Additional Winter Aid For Refugees On Greek Islands (KTG)

The German Foreign Ministry has made it clear that it will not provide additional winter assistance to refugees on the Aegean islands. In a related question from German newspapers, the foreign ministry replied that “responsibility for accommodating and feeding refugees falls under the jurisdiction of each country.” According to dpa, the Foreign Ministry recalled that Berlin recently funded the installation of 135 heated containers for a total of 800 people in two camps in the Thessaloniki region and that the EU has allocated up to now 1.4 billion euros to tackle the refugee crisis in Greece.

Meanwhile, there is media report that Greece has persuaded Turkey to accept migrant returns from the mainland in order to reduce critical overcrowding in its refugee camps. The Kathimerini daily said the agreement came during a strained two-day state visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week, during which he angered his hosts with talk of revising borders and complaints about Greece’s treatment of its Muslim minority. The deal is in addition to Turkey’s existing agreement to take back migrants from Aegean island camps, under the terms of an EU-Turkey pact.

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Dec 102017
 
 December 10, 2017  Posted by at 10:22 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Robert Frank Motorama, Los Angeles 1956

 

Peak Fantasy Time (David Stockman)
Deflation Remains Biggest Threat As Lofty Stock Markets Head Into 2018 (F.)
Global Powers Lobby To Stop Special Brexit Deal For UK (G.)
The US Media Yesterday Suffered its Most Humiliating Debacle in Ages (GG)
Principles of Political Economy: The Opening Lines (Steve Keen)
Half A Salary, Half A Job, Half A Life (K.)
Erdogan, Tsipras Strike Secret Deal On Refugees (K.)
Refugee Arrivals in Greece Offset Decongestion Efforts (K.)
Super Rich Shown To Have Grown Out Of Ancient Farming (G.)
India Gov. Files Suits Against Monsanto et al Over Bollworm Cotton Attack (VoI)

 

 

Politics is the entertainment division of the military industrial complex.
-Frank Zappa

The decline in quality of jobs -and compensation- is as horrible as the jobs reports’ attempts at hiding that decline.

Peak Fantasy Time (David Stockman)

If you want to know why both Wall Street and Washington are so delusional about America’s baleful economic predicament, just consider this morsel from today’s Wall Street Journal on the purportedly awesome November jobs report. “Wages rose just 2.5% from a year earlier in November—near the same lackluster pace maintained since late 2015, despite a much lower unemployment rate. But in a positive sign for Americans’ incomes, the average work week increased by about 6 minutes to 34.5 hours in November…. November marked the 86th straight month employers added to payrolls.” Whoopee! Six whole minutes added to a work week that has been shrinking for decades owing to the relentlessly deteriorating quality mix of the “jobs” counted by the BLS establishment survey.

In fact, even by that dubious measure, the work week is still shorter than it was at the December 2007 pre-crisis peak (33.8) and well below its 2000 peak level. The reason isn’t hard to figure: The US economy is generating fewer and fewer goods producing jobs where the work week averages 40.5 hours and weekly pay equates to $58,400 annually and far more bar, hotel and restaurant jobs, where the work week averages just 26.1 hours and weekly pay equates to only $21,000 annually. In other words, the ballyhoed headline averages are essentially meaningless noise because the BLS counts all jobs equal – that is, a 10-hour per week gig at the minimum wage at McDonald’s weighs the same as a 45 hour per week (with overtime) job at the Caterpillar plant in Peoria that pays $80,000 annually in wages and benefits.

In fact, what has been the weakest expansion in history by far may now be finally running out of gas. During the last several weeks the pace of US treasury payroll tax collections has actually dropped sharply – and it is ultimately Uncle Sam’s collection box which gives the most accurate, concurrent reading on the state of the US economy. Some 20 million employers do not tend to send in withholding receipts for the kind of phantom seasonally maladjusted, imputed and trend-modeled jobs which populate the BLS reports.

Yet we we are not close to having recovered the 4.3 million goods producing jobs lost in the Great Recession; 40% of them are still AWOL – meaning they are not likely to be recovered before the next recession hits. Stated differently, the US economy has been shedding high paying goods producing jobs ever since they peaked at 25 million way back in 1980. Indeed, we are still not even close to the 24.6 million figure which was posted at the turn of the century.

By contrast, the count of leisure and hospitality jobs( bars, hotels and restaurants), or what we have dubbed the “Bread and Circuses Economy” keeps growing steadily, thereby filling up the empty space where good jobs have vacated the BLS headline total. Thus, when goods-producing jobs peaked at 25 million back in 1980, there were only 6.7 million jobs in leisure and hospitality. Today that sector employs 16.0 million part-time, low-pay workers..

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“.. the Fed has erroneously predicted 2% inflation for 66 months and continues to tell us that the low levels of inflation are “transitory.“

Deflation Remains Biggest Threat As Lofty Stock Markets Head Into 2018 (F.)

In the two weeks running up to the passage of the Senate’s version of the tax bill, the equity markets moved significantly depending on how any particular Republican senator intended on voting. Then, when the Senate finally passed the bill on the next business day, markets made new intra-day record highs, but then reversed course. Given the current sky-high market valuation levels, the tax benefits are already priced in. Economist David Rosenberg examined market reaction to the five major tax bills of the last 70 years. He found that, on average, the S&P 500 rises 14.3% (median 18.9%) in the year leading up to the passage of the tax legislation. In the year following, on average, the index falls 7.5% (median 13.1%). It could be he is on to something.

If it has been historically easy money that has propelled the U.S. and every other major stock market to record heights over the past few years, then it is noteworthy that the last 12 moves from the world’s central banks have been tightening moves. We know that the Fed is certain to tighten next week at its December 12-13 meeting. This, despite the fact that the Fed’s governing board is deeply divided on the outlook for interest rates and inflation. According to their own minutes, some Fed-governing members continue to hold to the academic view that the Phillips curve (i.e., inflation always rises when the unemployment rate is low) is alive and well. Under this view, inflation is just around the corner and the Fed had better be pre-emptive, lest inflation get ahead of them.

The other view is that today’s economy exhibits behaviors that are significantly different from those that dominated the 60+ years of post-WWII America, and that inflation is no longer the threat it used to be. In fact, deflation may be a bigger threat, especially given the high and rising debt levels. Regular readers know that I have espoused the latter viewpoint. I have pointed out several times that the Fed has erroneously predicted 2% inflation for 66 months and continues to tell us that the low levels of inflation are “transitory.” Fed Chair-Elect Powell espoused this viewpoint in his confirmation hearing, so, there is not much hope that they Fed will back off.

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US, Canada et al don’t want any special treatment for Britain. But that’s not their decision.

Global Powers Lobby To Stop Special Brexit Deal For UK (G.)

Theresa May’s hopes of securing a unique post-Brexit trade deal with the EU were under threat on Saturday night as Brussels said it was coming under international pressure to deny Britain special treatment. After a week that saw May reach a deal with the EU that will allow Brexit talks to move forward on to future trade relations, EU officials insisted a bespoke deal more favourable to the UK than other non-EU nations was out of the question. One EU source close to the talks said: “We have been approached by a number of [non-member] countries expressing concerns and making it clear that it would constitute a major problem for them if suddenly the UK were to get better terms than they get.”

The official said that once the UK is out of the single market and customs union in March 2019, there could be no replication of the terms of the current trading relationship, or anything close to it, and no special treatment. “It is not just an indication of some strange rigid principle. It is because things won’t work,” he said. “First and foremost we need to stick to this balance of rights and obligations, otherwise we will be undermining our own customs union and single market. Second, we cannot upset relations with other third countries,” the official said. “If we were to give the UK a very lopsided deal, then the other partners with whom we have been engaging and who entered into balanced agreements would come back and question those agreements.”

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Julian Assange on Twitter: “Is the fake news story about @WikiLeaks yesterday the worst since Iraq? It’s a serious question. Three outlets, CNN, NBC and ABC all independently “confirmed” the same false information. Has there previously been a serious triple origin fake news story? i.e not just re-reporting.”

The US Media Yesterday Suffered its Most Humiliating Debacle in Ages (GG)

Friday was one of the most embarrassing days for the U.S. media in quite a long time. The humiliation orgy was kicked off by CNN, with MSNBC and CBS close behind, with countless pundits, commentators and operatives joining the party throughout the day. By the end of the day, it was clear that several of the nation’s largest and most influential news outlets had spread an explosive but completely false news story to millions of people, while refusing to provide any explanation of how it happened. The spectacle began on Friday morning at 11:00 am EST, when the Most Trusted Name in News™ spent 12 straight minutes on air flamboyantly hyping an exclusive bombshell report that seemed to prove that WikiLeaks, last September, had secretly offered the Trump campaign, even Donald Trump himself, special access to the DNC emails before they were published on the internet.

As CNN sees the world, this would prove collusion between the Trump family and WikiLeaks and, more importantly, between Trump and Russia, since the U.S. intelligence community regards WikiLeaks as an “arm of Russian intelligence,” and therefore, so does the U.S. media. This entire revelation was based on an email which CNN strongly implied it had exclusively obtained and had in its possession. The email was sent by someone named “Michael J. Erickson” – someone nobody had heard of previously and whom CNN could not identify – to Donald Trump, Jr., offering a decryption key and access to DNC emails that WikiLeaks had “uploaded.”

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Steve is busy introducing economics to energy. Another thing the entire field entirely overlooked.

Principles of Political Economy: The Opening Lines (Steve Keen)

Labor without Energy is a Corpse; Capital without Energy is a Statue

Economics went astray from the very first sentence of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations in 1776: “The annual labour of every nation”, Smith asserted, “is the fund which originally supplies it with all the necessaries and conveniences of life which it annually consumes, and which consist always, either in the immediate produce of that labour, or in what is purchased with that produce from other nations.” This paragraph mimicked the structure, and even the cadence (though not the brevity), of the opening sentence of Richard Cantillon’s 1730 treatise Essai sur la Nature du Commerce en Général (which Smith read). However, Smith made one crucial substitution: he asserted that “Labor … is the fund” from which our wealth springs, whereas Cantillon asserted that it was Land:

“Land”, Cantillon began, “is the source or matter from which all wealth is drawn; man’s labor provides the form for its production, and wealth in itself is nothing but the food, conveniences, and pleasures of life.” (21) Both these assertions are strictly false. The true source of the wealth that humanity has generated from production is neither Labor nor Land, but the Energy that humanity’s production systems harness and turn into useful work (now known as “Exergy”). However, Smith’s assertion is irredeemably false, whereas Cantillon’s merely needs generalization to make it consistent with the fundamental laws of the universe known as the Laws of Thermodynamics. These Laws are still poorly known by economists, which in part explains why economic theory has managed to be in conflict with them for so long. Illustrating why this is so, and why it is crucial, will take time, and effort on your part too to understand them (if you do not already).

But the fact that no theory that contradicts them can be taken seriously, was stated eloquently by the physicist Arthur Eddington in his 1928 book for lay readers The Nature of the Physical World: The law that entropy always increases—the second law of thermodynamics—holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations—then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observations—well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation. (37)

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Life in Greece. Every day gets worse.

Half A Salary, Half A Job, Half A Life (K.)

Two in three Greeks fail to pay their bills on time, mainly because they don’t have the money. Three in 10 private sector workers, meanwhile, work part time and get paid a salary of 407.15 euros a month, on average. The first case puts Greece at the top of the list of EU countries in terms of citizens that don’t keep up with their bills, according to the European Consumer Payment Report 2017, with the main reason being the lack of money. In the rest of Europe, the main causes of delays are simple absentmindedness or forgetfulness. The second case is something entirely different. In one sense, it can be interpreted as a reduction in unemployment, which dropped to 20.5% in September. Basically, unemployment falls as part-time work rises, with 30.6% of employees in the private sector working such jobs.

Is this something to be glad about? Should we welcome it as an improvement in the country’s economy? Flexible forms of labor that bring in a pittance of a salary strengthen the ranks of the nouveau pauvre, but at the same time bring down unemployment – albeit dragging down every index that points to a normal life along with it. This is the new normal. But how can 400 euros a month possibly be considered normal? We are beyond the viral videos of the first months of the crisis, of frenzied officials claiming that children were fainting of hunger at school, of images of people rummaging through trash cans looking for food, of pensioners falling over each other for a bag of free potatoes and other such dramatic scenes, real or contrived, that appeared on screens all over the world, and which the present government is quick to claim no longer exist.

Today, some really “lucky” Greeks are insured and have a daily wage of 51 euros, adding up to 1,193 euros a month. But the majority, the less fortunate – yet still fortunate enough to have a job – need to make do with 400 euros a month. It is a conundrum that requires a good deal of math. This month you’ll pay the water bill but not the electricity, you’ll limit your purchases to the bare essentials and you’ll adapt your diet to your budget. What’s left after that? A constant knot in your stomach that you have to learn to put up with. You won’t faint in the street, but each day will be a struggle. You will die a little bit inside, but this is not a measurable reaction and the indices don’t care. Neither does the government, whose slogan when it was in the opposition was that there are real people behind the data. Now the only number it cares to talk about is the shrinking unemployment rate.[..]

The line that defines normal is constantly being shifted and with it the definition of poverty.

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Erdogan was in Greece the past week and tried to stir up as much shit as he could. Refugees remain his main weapon.

Erdogan, Tsipras Strike Secret Deal On Refugees (K.)

As pressure due to overcrowding continues to build at reception centers for migrants on the islands of the eastern Aegean, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accepted a request by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that Turkey take back migrants from the Greek mainland as well as the islands, Kathimerini understands. During a joint press conference with Erdogan on Thursday, Tsipras declared that “new measures have been agreed for cooperation in the context of the European Union-Turkey agreement,” referring to a deal signed between Ankara and Brussels in March 2016 to curb human trafficking across the Aegean. Tsipras’s comments spurred much speculation about what those measures might be. It appears that they would involve triggering the return of migrants to Turkey, a process that has largely halted as new arrivals often lodge applications for asylum, a lengthy process.

Thousands of migrants, particularly those deemed to be the most vulnerable such as children, pregnant women and the elderly, have already been transferred from cramped facilities on the islands to the mainland. But conditions remain overcrowded at the island camps amid a constant stream of new arrivals from neighboring Turkey. What remains unclear is whether officials in Brussels have approved the deal; as it stands, it would basically undermine the basis of last year’s EU-Ankara agreement, according to which migrants should remain on the islands until a decision has been reached on their status (whether they are considered to belong to vulnerable groups meriting priority treatment, to be granted asylum etc). In recent comments, Dutch Ambassador in Athens Caspar Veldkamp expressed concerns about the prospects of mass relocations to the mainland if returns are not being made to Turkey, noting that this could undermine the EU-Turkey deal and encourage human smugglers rather than averting them.

For the leftist-led government, however, moving migrants from cramped facilities to mainland camps would appease those in the party concerned about inhumane conditions on the islands. As winter looms, and hundreds of migrants continue to live in tents around the reception centers, Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas has conceded that he could not rule out the risk of people dying from hypothermia. In an interview with Der Spiegel that was published on Friday, Mouzalas said that authorities were making preparations to ensure that island camps are ready to deal with plunging temperatures. Everything should be in place by December 15, he said. “The key though is the number of new arrivals,” he said, adding that if there is no large increase in numbers “then we are well prepared.” Authorities might reserve some rooms at local hotels if necessary, he said.

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Haven’t heard this one before, and it feels like an ominous sign: “Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas told Germany’s Spiegel Online that he cannot guarantee that no one will die in the camps with the onset of winter.”

Refugee Arrivals in Greece Offset Decongestion Efforts (K.)

The effort to improve the living conditions of refugees and migrants stranded at overcrowded reception centers on the eastern Aegean islands of Lesvos, Chios and Samos by transferring some of them to the mainland will fail to yield the desired result as long as flows from Turkey continue. In its latest report, the UNHCR said that 17,764 people were transferred from the islands to the mainland in the period from July 2016 to November 2017. UNHCR sources clarified, however, that the number of those removed from the islands is significantly higher than the official figure. Many of the people who have completed the necessary procedures or are deemed to be vulnerable, and as such are allowed to depart for the mainland, do so at their own cost, the same sources said.

They also reckoned that in 2016 around 40% of transfers were conducted by the UNHCR but the%age rose to 80% in 2017 after a request by the Migration Policy Ministry. At the same time, however, in the period between early April 2016, when Ankara and Brussels reached a deal to limit migrant flows into Europe, until late November, some 48,600 people arrived in Greece. In November, 3,800 people arrived on the Greek islands from Turkey, while 2,128 asylum seekers were transferred to the mainland in the same month. The Migration Policy Ministry on Saturday dismissed rumors on Chios that there are plans for the immediate removal of some 1,000 people from the Vial hotspot. It said that removals will take place gradually.

Meanwhile, Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas told Germany’s Spiegel Online that he cannot guarantee that no one will die in the camps with the onset of winter. “What we can do,” he said, “is try the utmost to prevent death.” Moreover, the German newspaper Bild said that an increasing number of refugees in Greece are trying to get to other European Union countries using forged passports.

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There are multiple pieces coming out lately that prove the obvious: once mankind started gathering surpluses, hierarchies developed, and so did inequality.

Super Rich Shown To Have Grown Out Of Ancient Farming (G.)

To measure relative wealth in a society, the team worked with archaeologists studying 62 different societies in Europe, Asia and North America. Some of these were up to 10,000 years old and included digs in ancient Babylonia, Catalhoyuk (now in Turkey) and Pompeii. Researchers analysed the sizes of houses at these sites and used these as indicators of the variations of wealth that existed there at any one time. “House size gives a very good indication of wealth,” said Smith. This point was backed by Kohler. “We consider house size to be a proxy for wealth.” The figures produced by these analyses provided the team with an indication of a particular society’s wealth. The greater the diversity in house size, the greater the inequality. In turn this disparity was measured using a system based on the Gini coefficient.

“Gini coefficients range from zero for societies in which each person has exactly the same amount of wealth to a society in which a single person owns the resources of an entire society. Such a society would have a Gini coefficient of one,” Kohler said. The team found that ancient farming societies had an inequality with a coefficient of around 0.35. That is a higher level of inequality than the level that is likely to have existed in earlier millennia when humans lived as hunter gatherers and shared many resources. “However, this inequality among these, the first farmers, is an awful lot less than the inequality you find in the US today,” said Kohler. “Here we have a Gini coefficient of around 0.8 today.” In the ancient farms of the New World, inequality stayed more or less the same. However, in Eurasia it started to climb over time until it reached levels of around 0.6 a few thousand years ago. This rise coincides with the introduction of oxen and horses and their exploitation in the ploughing of fields.

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More. Monsanto. Mayhem.

India Gov. Files Suits Against Monsanto et al Over Bollworm Cotton Attack (VoI)

The Maharashtra government on Friday announced that it would file police complaints against seed companies like Monsanto, which supplied seeds of BT Cotton, the crops from which were destroyed in a large-scale bollworm attack. Maharashtra’s Revenue Minister Chandrakant Patil said on Friday more than 70% of the cotton crop in Vidarbha has been destroyed due to the bollworm attack. He added that companies like Monsanto had provided the BT Cotton seeds with the promise that they were immune to attacks by the pest. The Vasantrao Naik Shetkari Swavalamban Mission, a state government body, has estimated that the output of cotton in Maharashtra would fall to 43.10 lakh quintal as compared to 78.61 quintals in December 2016.

The opposition parties are however demanding that the Maharashtra government pay compensation to cotton farmers on the lines of the ongoing farm loan waiver extended to cultivators. The Nationalist Congress Party is demanding that the government provide a compensation of Rs 25,000 per hectare for farmers whose crop has been destroyed in the bollworm attack. NCP leader Dhananjay Munde said his party would hold protests in the cotton-growing areas of Vidarbha to force the government raise compesation to farmers. With the opposition parties likely to paralyse the state legislature during the Winter Session to be held in Nagpur from Monday, Chief Ministre Devendra Fadnavis’s government on Friday asked revenue officials to carry out panchnama of crops destroyed in the bollwork attack. “We are working on a compensation package for farmers,” Patil told reporters.

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Politics is the entertainment division of the military industrial complex.
-Frank Zappa

 

Dec 092017
 
 December 9, 2017  Posted by at 10:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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MC Escher Belvedere 1958

 

The Fed’s QE-Unwind is Really Happening (WS)
2017 US Wage Growth Failed To Pick Up Despite Unemployment Rate Decline (BBG)
The Bitcoin Whales: 1,000 People Who Own 40% of the Market (BBG)
Bitcoin Futures Could Be “A Clusterf*ck Of Monumental Proportions” (Blain)
Central Banks Or Bitcoin: What’s The Greater Bubble? (Jim Kunstler)
Chinese Banks Didn’t Object to New Asset Rules, Association Says (BBG)
Enron? Citi, BofA, HSBC, Goldman, BNP on the Hook as Steinhoff plunges (WS)
CNN Corrects a Trump Story, Fueling Claims of ‘Fake News’ (NYT)
Aim Of First Greek Memorandum: Rescue Foreign Investors – Dijsselbloem (Amna)
The Most Valuable Companies of All Time (VC)

 

 

They can because other CBs have taken over. Smart move?!

The Fed’s QE-Unwind is Really Happening (WS)

The Fed’s balance sheet for the week ending December 6, released today, completes the second month of the QE-unwind. Total assets initially zigzagged within a tight range to end October where it started, at $4,456 billion. But in November, holdings drifted lower, and by December 6 were at $4,437 billion, the lowest since September 17, 2014:

“Balance sheet normalization?” Well, in baby steps. But the devil is in the details. The Fed’s announced plan is to shrink the balance sheet by $10 billion a month in October, November, and December, then accelerate the pace every three months. By October 2018, the Fed would reduce its holdings by up to $50 billion a month (= $600 billion a year) and continue at that rate until it deems the level of its holdings “normal” – the new normal, whatever that may turn out to be. Still, the decline so far, given the gargantuan size of the balance sheet, barely shows up. As part of the $10-billion-a-month unwind from October through December, the Fed is supposed to unload $6 billion in Treasury securities a month plus $4 billion in mortgage-backed securities (MBS) a month.

The Fed doesn’t actually sell Treasury securities outright. Instead, it allows some of them, when they mature, to “roll off” the balance sheet without replacement. When the securities mature, the Treasury Department pays the holder the face value. But the Fed, instead of reinvesting the money in new Treasuries, destroys the money – the opposite process of QE, when the Fed created the money to buy securities. This happens only on dates when Treasuries that the Fed holds mature, usually once or twice a month. In October, the big day was October 31, when $8.5 billion of Treasuries on the Fed’s books matured. The Fed reinvested $2.5 billion and let $6 billion “roll off.” Hence, the amount of Treasuries fell by about $6 billion from an all-time record $2,465.7 billion on October 25 to $2,459.8 billion on November 1.

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If you can get two people to work for the same price as one did before, you have job growth.

2017 US Wage Growth Failed To Pick Up Despite Unemployment Rate Decline (BBG)

This rising tide isn’t lifting many boats. Wage growth in the U.S. has failed to pick up this year despite a steady decline in the unemployment rate. The sluggishness has been relatively broad-based across the labor market, including among low-skilled workers, who might seem to be the most likely candidates for bigger pay increases as labor becomes scarcer. The bottom 20% of workers by average industry pay received a 3.9% increase in hourly earnings in October from a year earlier, marking an acceleration from a 3.4% advance in the year through October 2016. The detailed industry numbers for October were released on Friday along with the Labor Department’s main employment report for November.

However, the following chart shows that the entire pickup over the last year can be traced to a single industry: security and armored car services, which only accounts for 0.6% of private-sector employment, but has seen wages shoot up by almost 20%. Removing security and armored car services from the picture knocks the 3.9% wage growth for the bottom quintile down to 3.3%. That means it’s been more than a year since workers in the other low-paying industries have seen any acceleration in wage growth. The biggest employers of low-skilled workers are restaurants, general merchandise retailers, grocery stores, elderly care services, janitorial services and child day-care. Among those industries, restaurants are doling out the biggest pay increases (4.4% in the year through October), even though wage growth for those workers has been decelerating this year. General merchandise stores are giving out the smallest raises of the group at 1.4%.

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Creating new elites and bolstering old ones.

The Bitcoin Whales: 1,000 People Who Own 40% of the Market (BBG)

On Nov. 12, someone moved almost 25,000 bitcoins, worth about $159 million at the time, to an online exchange. The news soon rippled through online forums, with bitcoin traders arguing about whether it meant the owner was about to sell the digital currency. Holders of large amounts of bitcoin are often known as whales. And they’re becoming a worry for investors. They can send prices plummeting by selling even a portion of their holdings. And those sales are more probable now that the cryptocurrency is up nearly twelvefold from the beginning of the year. About 40% of bitcoin is held by perhaps 1,000 users; at current prices, each may want to sell about half of his or her holdings, says Aaron Brown, former managing director and head of financial markets research at AQR Capital Management.

What’s more, the whales can coordinate their moves or preview them to a select few. Many of the large owners have known one another for years and stuck by bitcoin through the early days when it was derided, and they can potentially band together to tank or prop up the market. “I think there are a few hundred guys,” says Kyle Samani, managing partner at Multicoin Capital. “They all probably can call each other, and they probably have.” One reason to think so: At least some kinds of information sharing are legal, says Gary Ross, a securities lawyer at Ross & Shulga. Because bitcoin is a digital currency and not a security, he says, there’s no prohibition against a trade in which a group agrees to buy enough to push the price up and then cashes out in minutes.

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Can’t see futures doing well, even if initially they may soar.

Bitcoin Futures Could Be “A Clusterf*ck Of Monumental Proportions” (Blain)

Crypto-‘currency’ or total carnage? Mike Novogratz doesn’t see “quick adoption” of Bitcoin as a currency, preferring to think of it as ‘digital gold’. Perhaps this is one reason why. Amid its meteroic rise, Bitcoin is now 20 times more volatile than the US Dollar… As MINT Partners’ Bill Blain exclaims, next week sees the improbable launch of Bitcoin futures:

“This looks like having the potential to be a clusterf*ck of monumental proportions when it bursts. Every bank knows BTC’s extraordinary gains are a crowd delusion fuelled by the extraordinary promise of free wealth! Yet, many will be willing to trade and settle them for their clients – largely retail. Bitcoin has become the ultimate Klondyke. Most folk don’t have a clue what BTC and the associated Blockchain ledger might be, but everyone knows what the price action has been. Where that price is going is clouded by a lack of clarity on the technological nuances, distorted by Libertarian/Geek monetary gobbledy-gook, confused by a plethora of me-too coin offerings, speculators who see the chance of a quick buck, and investors scared they are missing out.”

“I’ve spent most of this week learning more and more about the limitations of Blockchain and two things are crystal clear – it doesn’t work, and it’s an evolutionary dead end that nimbler cryptocurrencies will take the niche of. But I still don’t understand why we need them at all? If its central banks you object to, let’s have a private cryptocurrency based on gold, or oil, or something else tangible… but based on some computer babble? Not for me. On the other hand, the long-term possibilities that BTC exploits in terms of Blockchain distributed ledgers are very real. Blockchain applications are going to utterly change finance.

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The ZH graph is nice, since it only runs until BTC 11,000.

Central Banks Or Bitcoin: What’s The Greater Bubble? (Jim Kunstler)

The third round of QE was officially halted in 2014 in the USA. However, the world’s other main central banks acted in rotation — passing the baton of QE, like in a relay race — so that when the US slacked off, Japan, Britain, the ECB, and the Bank of China, took over money-printing duties. And because money flies easily around the world via digital banking, a lot of that foreign money ended up in “sure-thing” US capital markets (as well as their own ). Mega-tons of “money” were created out of thin air around the world since the near-collapse of the system in 2008. And magically, with no negative consequences! Yet. Now, Europe and Japan are making noises about dropping their batons. China’s banking system is so opaque and perverse — because it is unaccountable except to the ruling party with its own agenda — that it’s quite impossible to tell what they are really doing, though the signs of mal-investment are obvious and startling.

And the UK’s finances are tied up in its messy divorce proceedings with the EU (with the British standard of living dropping markedly meanwhile). In short, the torrent of global “liquidity” looks to be slowing to a trickle. The expectation is that this would make stock markets go down and bond interest rates to go up (fewer buyers), perhaps a lot. The dirty open secret here is that these central bank interventions are the only means for keeping the capital markets up, and that the markets are just a Potemkin false front for Western economies that are drying up and blowing away. That is certainly the experience here in the USA, where banking hocus-pocus now accounts for about 30% of GDP, and most of that activity is either out-and-out fraud or swindling, or collecting rents and dividends on past frauds and swindles.

Dem/Prog America in its Silicon Valley gourmet employee bistros and Hamptons lawn parties thinks that the flyover Trumpist Red State world of meth, joblessness, and anomie is some kind of a Netflix hallucination. But no, it’s for real. The center of the ole US of A is hollowed out. The bad news is that it probably has enough juice left in its disaffected youth, and certainly enough weaponry, to start a very serious insurrection if it continues to get dissed. Enter the joker in the deck: Bitcoin. Though it pulled back a couple of thou overnight, this strange investment vehicle blasted through $18,000-per-Bitcoin in the past 24 hours, roughly tripling from $6000 in one month. It even endured the hacking of one of its exchanges, NiceHash, where $70 million was looted without so much as a stutter in the upward thrust of the chart. Whatever else Bitcoin is — and I would suggest a “Ponzie,” a “mania,” a “con” — this thing is a message.

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They’re too scared of Xi.

Chinese Banks Didn’t Object to New Asset Rules, Association Says (BBG)

China’s banking association is organizing discussions on the nation’s proposed new asset-management rules, the group said in a social media posting, dismissing as “untrue” reports that some lenders have submitted a petition to policy makers on the subject. The statement comes after regulators last month proposed sweeping guidelines to curb risks in the nation’s $15 trillion of asset-management products, prompting a three-day drop in sovereign bonds and driving stocks to a two-month low before a late rally amid speculation state-backed funds would stem excessive losses.

The rules are scheduled to come into effect in 2019. Earlier this week, Reuters cited three people it didn’t identify as saying that some Chinese joint-stock banks had objected to the proposals, saying they would have a big impact on financial markets and possibly trigger systemic risks. The China Banking Association, in its WeChat post Friday, said it is helping formulate opinion on the draft. The new rules will be applied to the 29 trillion yuan ($4.4 trillion) of wealth-management products issued by banks, 17.5 trillion yuan of trust products, as well as asset-management plans sold by insurers, fund managers and brokerages, according to the regulators’ statement. Institutions will be required to set aside risk provisions equivalent to 10% of the management fees, they said.

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Mario Draghi and the ECB are heavily invested in Steinhoff.

Enron? Citi, BofA, HSBC, Goldman, BNP on the Hook as Steinhoff plunges (WS)

Steinhoff International Holdings – which acquired nine companies in the past two years, including Mattress Firm Holding in the US, and which presides over a cobbled-together empire of retailers and assorted other companies in the US, Europe, Africa, and Australasia – issued another devastating announcement today: It cancelled its “private” annual meeting with bankers in London on Monday and rescheduled it for December 19. This is the meeting when the company normally discusses its annual report with its global bankers. The annual report should have been released on Wednesday, December 6. But on precisely that day, the company announced cryptically that “accounting irregularities” had “come to light” that required “further investigation,” and that CEO Markus Jooste had been axed “with immediate effect,” and that it would postpone its annual report indefinitely.

This is raising serious questions about the company’s viability as a going concern. The lack of transparency doesn’t help. To soothe investors, the company announced on Thursday that it was trying to prop up its liquidity by selling some units ASAP. And it made more cryptic statements: It “has given further consideration to the issues subject to the investigation and to the validity and recoverability” of some assets of “circa €6 billion” ($7 billion). “The validity and recoverability” of assets worth $7 billion? The company is infamous for its opaque communications which equal its opaque corporate structure. It’s considering selling “certain non-core assets that will release a minimum of €1 billion of liquidity.” It also “committed” to wringing out €2 billion from its subsidiary Steinhoff Africa Retail Limited (STAR) by refinancing “on better terms” some debt that the subsidiary owes the parent company, which the subsidiary should be able to handle, “given the strong cash flow.”

With these measures, it hopes “to be able to fund its existing operations and reduce debt.” Shareholders and bondholders were aghast. The shares, traded in Frankfurt and held widely by international investors, had still been in the €5-range in June. But in August, German prosecutors said they were probing if Steinhoff had booked inflated revenues at its subsidiaries. Shares began to drop. By Tuesday, there were down 41% at €2.95. On Wednesday, after the “accounting irregularities” had “come to light,” shares crashed 64% to €1.07. By Friday, they’d dropped to €0.47. Market capitalization plunged by about €18 billion ($21 billion) since June to €2 billion.

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With every false report, more credibility is lost of the MSM. And they still don’t understand that.

CNN Corrects a Trump Story, Fueling Claims of ‘Fake News’ (NYT)

CNN on Friday corrected an erroneous report that Donald Trump Jr. had received advance notice from the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks about a trove of hacked documents that it planned to release during last year’s presidential campaign. In fact, the email to Mr. Trump was sent a day after the documents, stolen from the Democratic National Committee, were made available to the general public. The correction undercut the main thrust of CNN’s story, which had been seized on by critics of President Trump as evidence of coordination between WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign. It was also yet another prominent reporting error at a time when news organizations are confronting a skeptical public, and a president who delights in attacking the media as “fake news.”

Last Saturday, ABC News suspended a star reporter, Brian Ross, after an inaccurate report that Donald Trump had instructed Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser, to contact Russian officials during the presidential race. The report fueled theories about coordination between the Trump campaign and a foreign power, and stocks dropped after the news. In fact, Mr. Trump’s instruction to Mr. Flynn came after he was president-elect. Several news outlets, including Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal, also inaccurately reported this week that Deutsche Bank had received a subpoena from the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, for President Trump’s financial records. The president and his circle have not been shy about pointing out the errors.

[..] CNN’s erroneous scoop, about the email to Donald Trump Jr., rocketed around cable news and social media on Friday morning. But it fell apart after The Washington Post reported that the email — which included a decryption key to access hacked documents — was dated Sept. 14, not Sept. 4, as CNN initially reported. WikiLeaks publicized links to the documents in question on Sept. 13. CNN said that its report had been based on information from two sources and vetted by the network’s in-house fact-checking team. But both sources were apparently incorrect about the date of the message. [..] “Between this and Brian Ross’ Flynn mistake, the mainstream media is doing a great job of bolstering Trump’s claims about fake news,” wrote James Surowiecki, a former columnist for The New Yorker. “It’s the most obvious thing to say, but reporters need to SLOW DOWN. Being right is more important than being first.”

Read more …

Only AFTER destroying an entire economy, the EU explains why. Lock them up!

Aim Of First Greek Memorandum: Rescue Foreign Investors – Dijsselbloem (Amna)

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 Dijsselblem 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.

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Perspective. Large number of bubbles.

The Most Valuable Companies of All Time (VC)

Before speculative bubbles could form around Dotcom companies (late-1990s) or housing prices (mid-2000s), some of the first financial bubbles formed from the prospect of trading with faraway lands. Looking back, it’s pretty easy to see why. Companies like the Dutch East India Company (known in Dutch as the VOC, or Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) were granted monopolies on trade, and they engaged in daring voyages to mysterious and foreign places. They could acquire exotic goods, establish colonies, create military forces, and even initiate wars or conflicts around the world. Of course, the very nature of these risky ventures made getting any accurate indication of intrinsic value nearly impossible, which meant there were no real benchmarks for what companies like this should be worth.

The Dutch East India Company was established as a charter company in 1602, when it was granted a 21-year monopoly by the Dutch government for the spice trade in Asia. The company would eventually send over one million voyagers to Asia, which is more than the rest of Europe combined. However, despite its 200-year run as Europe’s foremost trading juggernaut – the speculative peak of the company’s prospects coincided with Tulip Mania in Holland in 1637. Widely considered the world’s first financial bubble, the history of Tulip Mania is a fantastic story in itself. During this frothy time, the Dutch East India Company was worth 78 million Dutch guilders, which translates to a whopping $7.9 trillion in modern dollars.

Read more …

Dec 072017
 
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MC Escher Convex and concave 1955

 

Note: no Debt Rattle tomorrow due to travel

 

The Great Credit Party Is Almost Over, Societe Generale Says (BBG)
Mother of All Bubbles Too Big to Pop – Peter Schiff (USAW)
One Day Soon, The Sun Will Not Rise (Econimica)
China’s Financial System Has Three Important ‘Tensions’ – IMF (CNBC)
Bitcoin Mining Service NiceHash Says Hackers Emptied Its Wallet (BBG)
Trump: Government Shutdown ‘Could Happen’ Saturday (CNBC)
Trump Calls On Saudi Arabia To End Yemen Blockade Immediately (Ind.)
Why the Deep State Is at War With Trump (Stockman)
How Corporate Power Killed Democracy (CP)
EU Regulators Threaten Court Challenge To EU-US Data Transfer Pact (R.)
Greek Stability Attracts US Investors Amid Turkey, Middle East Tumult (CNBC)
Greek Islands Boiling Over As Winter Arrives (K.)
Scientists Warn Of 93% Chance Global Warming Will Exceed 4°C (Ind.)

 

 

“Emerging market and high-yield markets are the most alarming.”

The Great Credit Party Is Almost Over, Societe Generale Says (BBG)

The great credit party that’s taken yield premiums in major markets down around lowest in a decade is probably months away from an end, as central banks normalize monetary policy and the economic outlook softens, Societe Generale predicts. “We expect next year to be a transition year, when the ultra-low yield environment finally starts to lose its grip,” Societe Generale credit strategists Juan Esteban Valencia and Guy Stear wrote in a note. “The U.S. and the eurozone are heading for an economic slowdown in 2019, and given the rising levels of corporate leverage, this should have an impact on credit.” U.S. investment-grade bond premiums will widen by mid-2018, with European counterparts following suit, as credit markets price in the economic slowdown, they wrote.

“The sword falls in 2H,” they predicted in a report that recognized last year’s annual outlook proved too bearish. Societe Generale had anticipated political risk to hurt credit in 2017, but changed tack by March as that didn’t pan out. Now, with global premiums having fallen further, “credit looks very pricey indeed,” they wrote. “Emerging market and high-yield markets are the most alarming.”

Read more …

Schiff is right, except he keeps being focused on the dollar alone. It’s an American thing.

Mother of All Bubbles Too Big to Pop – Peter Schiff (USAW)

Money manager Peter Schiff correctly predicted the financial meltdown in 2008. Now, 10 years later, what does Schiff see today? Schiff says, “I predicted a lot more than just the stock market going down back then. I predicted the financial crisis, but more importantly, I predicted what the government would do as a result of the financial crisis and what the consequences of that would be because that’s where we’re headed. The real crash I wrote about in my most recent book is still coming. . . . This is the third gigantic bubble that the Fed has inflated, and when this one pops, it’s not going to be ‘the third time is a charm.’ It’s going to be ‘three strikes and you’re out.’ I think this bubble is too big to pop. I think it’s the mother of all bubbles, and when it bursts, there is not a bigger one that the Fed is going to be able to inflate to mask these problems, meaning we can’t kick the can down the road anymore.”

This time, the crisis is going to hit everyone in the wallet. Schiff goes on to say, “I think the problem we are going to be confronted with is going to be much worse than a financial crisis. It is going to be a dollar crisis, and it is going to be a sovereign debt crisis where the bonds people are worried about are not some sub-prime mortgages. . . . It’s going to be the U.S. government that people are worried about and the solvency of the U.S. government and the Treasury bonds. If it’s a dollar crisis and people are worried about the dollar, the only thing worse than owning a dollar today is owning the promise of being paid in dollars in the future. I don’t think we have the courage to default and admit to our creditors that we don’t have the money and we can’t repay. I think we will create all the money that we need so we can pretend to repay, but what we end up doing is wiping out the debt with inflation.”

Read more …

Many more graphs in this from Chris Hamilton. US population growth? It was all immigration: “.. the US fertility rate has been negative for 45 years..”

One Day Soon, The Sun Will Not Rise (Econimica)

When the Q4 US resident population data is released, something that has not happened in the post WWII era will take place. The population of adults aged 15-64 years old will decline. This was not supposed to happen and will put an end to seven plus decades of continuous population growth which has meant a growing workforce, a growing consumer base, and growing tax base. A growing core US population, something considered as sacrosanct as the sun rising, will not happen. On a year over year basis, where there once were up to 3 million more homebuyers than the previous year, 3 million more car buyers than the year before, 3 million more potential customers…there will be likely be thousands fewer.

Many will assume this is a demographic issue of boomers exiting the working age population… but actually demographics is simply the early onset of a disease that will only progressively worsen. This is truly a population growth issue, not simply a demographic distribution problem. The economic system the US and world have adopted are dependent on perpetual growth on a quarter over quarter and year over year basis. Two negative quarters (or even zero growth) and a recession is called and all the Federal Reserve’s and federal governments tools are employed. Given the importance of growth, the most important factor in growing the economy is the rising demand represented by a growing population. But the US fertility rate has been negative for 45 years (chart below) meaning the native population (plus immigrants) have continually failed to replace themselves.

This means US population growth has simply been a story of immigration. And until 2000, N. America was the primary destination for the majority of the world’s immigrants. However, since ’00 and particularly since ’05, the migration patterns have significantly changed.

Read more …

The soft approach.

China’s Financial System Has Three Important ‘Tensions’ – IMF (CNBC)

An almost two-year long study of the Chinese financial system by the International Monetary Fund found three major tensions that could derail the world’s second-largest economy. Those tensions emerged as China moves away from its role as the world’s factory to a more modern, consumer-driven economy, the IMF said. The financial sector is critical in facilitating that transition, but in the process it evolved into a more complicated and debt-laden system. “The system’s increasing complexity has sown financial stability risks,” the fund said in the 2017 China Financial Sector Stability Assessment report released on Thursday morning Asia hours. The report was a culmination of the fund’s several visits to China between October 2015 and September 2017.

The assessment is intended to identify key sources of systemic risk in the financial sector so that policies can be implemented to enhance resilience to shocks and problems that could spread across the globe. The first tension in China’s financial system, according to the IMF, is the rapid build-up in risky credit that was partly due to the strong political pressures banks face to keep non-viable companies open, rather than letting them fail. Such struggling firms have, in recent years, taken on more debt to achieve growth targets set by the authorities. The overall debt-to-GDP ratio in the Asian economic giant grew from around 180% in 2011 to 255.9% by the second quarter of 2017, data by the Bank for International Settlements showed. The rise coincided with a slowdown in productivity growth and pressures on asset quality in the banking system – increasing the risks faced by the Chinese economy.

The second tension identified by the IMF is that risky lending has moved away from banks to the less-regulated parts of the financial system, commonly known as the “shadow banking” sector. That adds to the complexity of the financial sector and makes it more difficult for authorities to supervise activities in the system, the IMF said. And the third issue identified by the international organization is that there’s been a rash of “moral hazard and excessive risk-taking” because of the mindset that the government will bail out troubled state-owned enterprises and local government financing vehicles. An example is the “implicit guarantees” that financial institutions offer when selling products to retail investors. That is a situation where the financial product sold are not guaranteed, but banks almost always compensate investors for principal losses by dipping into their own capital.

The People’s Bank of China, in response to the IMF assessment, said in a statement on its website that it disagrees with some points in the report but the fund’s recommendations are “highly relevant in the context of deepening financial reforms” in the country. One of the points the Chinese central bank said it disagrees with is the conclusion that many banks lack the ability to withstand shocks. The IMF’s stress tests found that 27 out of 33 banks studied were under-capitalized. But the PBOC said the Chinese financial system is resilient.

Read more …

NiceHash is the largest bitcoin-mining exchange. Well, its coins have been found. But what now?

“a highly professional attack with sophisticated social engineering”

Bitcoin Mining Service NiceHash Says Hackers Emptied Its Wallet (BBG)

NiceHash, the marketplace for cloud-based mining of cryptocurrencies, said hackers breached its systems and stole an unknown amount of bitcoin from its virtual wallet. “We are working to verify the precise number of BTC taken,” the company said Wednesday in a statement on its Facebook page. It’s halting operations for 24 hours, it said. The venture’s main webpage showed a “maintenance” error message, linking to its social media accounts. NiceHash helps match people who can spare computing capacity with miners looking to solve complex math problems to obtain a variety of new coins. It later facilitates periodic payments to the service providers with bitcoin. A wallet address circulated by NiceHash users shows that more than $60 million of bitcoins might be affected, according to CoinDesk, the cryptocurrency research and news website.

Read more …

Seems a bit early, but echo chambers are deafening.

Trump: Government Shutdown ‘Could Happen’ Saturday (CNBC)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday said that a government shutdown “could happen” as soon as Saturday. “It could happen,” Trump said during a Cabinet meeting at the White House, in response to a reporter’s question about the Friday deadline for a spending bill to fund the government. “The Democrats are really looking at something that could be very dangerous for our country,” Trump said. “They are looking at shutting down. They want to have illegal immigrants, in many cases people that we don’t want in our country, they want to have illegal immigrants pouring into our country, bringing with them crime, tremendous amounts of crime.” Congress has until midnight on Friday to approve a short-term spending package to keep the government open. Despite majorities in both chambers, Republicans will need Democratic votes to pass the bill.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., responded on Twitter to Trump’s comments saying: “President Trump is the only person talking about a government shutdown. Democrats are hopeful the President will be open to an agreement to address the urgent needs of the American people and keep government open.” What congressional Democrats want in exchange for supporting the spending bill are permanent protections for the nearly 800,000 young, undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States who were brought here as children, the so-called Dreamers. Earlier this year, Trump canceled an Obama-era protection policy for Dreamers, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. The president’s order gave Congress until March 2018 to pass a bill with DACA-like protections.

Read more …

To balance out the Jerusalem decision? Jerusalem should be a religious city, not a political one.

Trump Calls On Saudi Arabia To End Yemen Blockade Immediately (Ind.)

US President Donald Trump has called on Saudi Arabia to end its Yemen blockade immediately, citing humanitarian concerns. Mr Trump said in a statement that he has directed US officials to call Saudi Arabian leaders and request they “completely allow food, fuel, water and medicine to reach the Yemeni people.” He said Yemenis “desperately need it.” A Saudi-led coalition has been fighting to defeat the Iran-backed Houthis and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s forces in Yemen since March 2015 with the aim of reinstating the internationally recognized government of Mr Saleh’s successor, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The US has been supporting the coalition through weapons sales, some intelligence sharing, and refuelling capabilities for air operations.

Since the conflict began, at least 10,000 people have died as a result and 40,000 have been wounded, Al Jazeera reported. Mr Saleh was killed earlier this week after moving to switch allegiances in the bloody conflict, making the situation in the country unpredictable according to experts. [..] The Saudi-led coalition had imposed a blockade on the country last month after Houthi rebels fired a missile on the Saudi capital of Riyadh. It responded by sending a slew of missiles into Yemen’s capital Sanaa. The blockade was partially lifted at the Hudaya port of the international airport in Sanaa and the first aid shipments were allowed to enter the country just last week. In the meantime, aid groups were forced to buy their own fuel in order to assist with relief work.

Read more …

Stockma’s not the lonly one pointing out that the NSA already knows everything. They don’t have to interview Flynn for that.

Why the Deep State Is at War With Trump (Stockman)

If you were a Martian visitor just disembarked from of one of Elon Musk’s rocket ships and were therefore uninfected by earth-based fake news, the culprits in Washington’s witch-hunt de jure would be damn obvious. They include John Brennan, Jim Comey, Sally Yates, Peter Strzok and a passel of deep state operatives – all of whom baldly abused their offices. After Brennan had concocted the whole Russian election meddling meme to sully the Donald’s shocking election win, the latter three holdovers – functioning as a political fifth column in the new Administration – set a perjury trap designed to snare Mike Flynn as a first step in relitigating and reversing the voters’ verdict. The smoking gun on their guilt is so flamingly obvious that the ability of the Trump-hating media to ignore it is itself a wonder to behold.

After all, anyone fresh off Elon’s rocket ship would learn upon even cursory investigation of the matter that the National Security Agency (NSA) intercepts electronically every single communication of the Russian Ambassador with any person on US soil – whether by email, text or phone call. So the clear-minded visitor’s simple question would be: What do the transcripts say? In fact, a Martian visitor would also quickly understand that the entire world – friend, rival, foe and enemy, alike – already knows of NSA’s giant digital spying operation owing to Snowden’s leaks, and that therefore there are no “sources and methods” on the SIGINT (signals intelligence) front to protect. Accordingly, the disinterested Martian would undoubtedly insist: Declassify the NSA intercepts and publish them on Facebook (and, for old timers, on the front page of the New York Times) so that the truth would be known to all.

Of course, that would punch a deep hole in the entire RussiaGate witchhunt because NSA, in fact, did record Flynn’s late December conversations with Russian Ambassador Kislyak. And there was not a single word in them that related to alleged campaign collusion or otherwise inappropriate communications by the in-coming national security adviser to a newly-elected President who was three-weeks from inauguration. Indeed, as explained below, Mueller has effectively told us that Flynn’s communications with Kislyak were clean as a whistle.

Read more …

Corporatism. Another name for Mussolini’s version of fascism.

How Corporate Power Killed Democracy (CP)

The rise of Corporate Power was the fall of democracy. Over the long haul, US politics has revolved around a deep tension between democracy and an unrelenting drive for plunder, power and empire. Granted that our democracy has been seriously flawed and only rarely revolutionary, yet the democratic movements are the source of every good thing America has ever stood for. Since the mid-1970s, when the corporations fused with the state, a new imperial order emerged that killed what remained of representative democracy. Not only would corporations exercise public authority as only government once had, but government would coordinate and serve corporate activity. Power and profits became one and the same. Corporate power has replaced democracy with oligarchy and justice with a vast militarized penal system.

Instead of innovative production, they plunder people and planet. To achieve this new order, elections and the economy had to be drained of any remaining democratic content. Both Democrats and Republicans were eager to have at it. By the 1990s “Third Way” Democrats like Bill Clinton abandoned what was left of the New Deal to try to outdo the Republicans as the party of Wall Street. The Republicans pioneered election fraud on a national scale in 2000, 2004, and 2016; a lesson the Democrats learned all too well by the 2016 Primary. Neither major party wants election reform since free and fair elections would threaten the system itself. So-called private corporations like Facebook, Google and Twitter control information and manage the 1st Amendment.

The corporate media now broadcast propaganda and play the role of censor once monopolized by the FBI and CIA. The migration of propaganda work to civilian organizations began under Ronald Reagan. While both major parties offer the people nothing beyond austerity and the worst kind of identity politics, the big banks like Goldman Sachs gained positions of real influence with both Republican and Democratic administrations and always with the Department of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve. Without pubic money and political protection the banking system — the headquarters of the mythical free market — could not function.

Read more …

Yes, this has everything to do with Google, Facebook et al (not just government spies). It involves some $260 billion in digital trade.

EU Regulators Threaten Court Challenge To EU-US Data Transfer Pact (R.)

European Union privacy regulators have threatened to bring a legal challenge to a year-old EU-U.S. pact on the cross-border transfer of personal data if their concerns about its functioning and U.S. surveillance practices are not resolved by the autumn of 2018, they said in a report. The EU-U.S. Privacy Shield pact was agreed last year after the European Union’s highest court had struck down the previous Safe Harbour Principles agreement which allowed companies to transfer European citizens’ personal data to the United States, due to concerns about intrusive U.S. surveillance of online data. The Privacy Shield pact enables companies to easily conduct everyday cross-border data transfers in compliance with EU data protection rules.

“The WP29 (Article 29 Working Party) has identified a number of significant concerns that need to be addressed by both the (European) Commission and the U.S. authorities,” the regulators – known as the Article 29 Working Party – said in their report. The European Commission, which negotiated the Privacy Shield deal, conducted its first annual review in September and said it was satisfied with the way it was working. It did however ask Washington to improve it, including by strengthening the privacy protections contained in a controversial portion of the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), known as Section 702. Section 702 allows the U.S. National Security Agency to collect digital communications from foreign suspects living outside the United States. It is due to expire on Dec. 31 in the absence of congressional action.

Read more …

It won’t remain stable. Or rather, it never was: poevry is making more victims every day.

Greek Stability Attracts US Investors Amid Turkey, Middle East Tumult (CNBC)

A series of positive factors for the Greek economy are attracting U.S. investors back to the embattled euro zone nation, a government minister told CNBC. “There are many American investors who are interested in participating in projects in Greece, because every clever investor would be interested in an economy that now starts to have positive growth rates,” Dimitris Tzanakopoulo, Greek minister of state and the government spokesperson, told CNBC Monday. Following a meeting between President Donald Trump and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in October, there’s a renewed interest from the U.S. in shoring up its investments in Greece, especially in the energy sector.

Aside from a bounce back in economic growth, Tzanakopoulo said that Greece was “a pillar of stability in a region” and is winning back investors. “(The region) has many, many problems, wherever you look there’s destabilization, there is turbulence,” Tzanakopoulo said in his office in Athens. “We think we are one of the factors which will secure and guarantee stability in the region and this is something everybody knows, from the U.S. to our European partners,” he said. At the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa, Greece is a key ally for many Western countries in the face of escalating tumult in Turkey and the rest of the Middle East.

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Apparently Berlin has not given permission to move refugees to the mainland. Shame on you, mutti Merkel.

Greek Islands Boiling Over As Winter Arrives (K.)

The decision by the Migration Policy Ministry to expand and upgrade hot spots on Chios and Lesvos have cultivated a tense atmosphere, as critics say it will do nothing to ease pressure on the eastern Aegean islands and or to alleviate the situation of thousands of stranded refugees and migrants crammed in camps designed to hold far less people. Moreover, the onset of winter has made a bad situation even worse and the calls for authorities to accelerate asylum applications so as to transfer people to the mainland have become even louder. In the bid to deal with the deteriorating conditions, a team from Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) has, since last week, set up operations outside the Moria camp in Lesvos, offering assistance to those in need in cooperation with the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KEELPNO).

In a Facebook post, MSF said the harsh conditions and the cold are posing a serious threat to the health of the some 7,000 people that remain at the Moria hot spot. The group, which has called for the immediate transfer of those living at Moria to the mainland, has set up a mobile unit outside the camp to help children under the age of 16 and pregnant women. MSF is also distributing blankets, mattresses and other basic necessities as the situation, it said, is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis. At the same time, the Migration Policy Ministry is planning to transfer another 65 prefabricated huts to Moria in a bid to increase the camp’s capacity and to improve the living conditions of those that are still staying in summer tents. But the move is set to trigger more acrimony, as islanders and local authorities have said they do not agree with the expansion of the hot spot’s capacity.

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That would mean much higher sea levels.

Scientists Warn Of 93% Chance Global Warming Will Exceed 4°C (Ind.)

Current predictions of climate change may significantly underestimate the speed and severity of global warming, according to a new study. Reappraisal of the models climate scientists use to determine future warming has revealed that less optimistic estimates are more realistic. The results suggest that the Paris Climate Agreement, which aims to keep global average temperatures from rising by 2C, may be overly ambitious. “Our study indicates that if emissions follow a commonly used business-as-usual scenario, there is a 93% chance that global warming will exceed 4C by the end of this century,” said Dr Ken Caldeira, an atmospheric scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, who co-authored the new study. This likelihood is an increase on past estimates, which placed it at 62%.

Climate models are vital tools for scientists attempting to understand the impacts of greenhouse-gas emissions. They are constructed using fundamental knowledge of physics and the world’s climate. But the climate system is incredibly complex, and as a result there is disagreement about how best to model key aspects of it. This means scientists have produced dozens of climate models predicting a range of different global warming outcomes resulting from greenhouse-gas emissions. Based on a “business-as-usual” scenario in which emissions continue at the same rate, climate models range in their predictions from a 3.2C increase in global temperatures to a 5.9C increase The new study, published in the journal Nature, sought to resolve this situation and establish whether the upper or lower estimates are more accurate.

To do this, Dr Caldeira and his collaborator Dr Patrick Brown reasoned that the most accurate models would be the ones that were best at simulating climate patterns in the recent past. “It makes sense that the models that do the best job at simulating today’s observations might be the models with the most reliable predictions,” said Dr Caldeira. Their conclusion was that models with higher estimates were more likely to be accurate, with the most likely degree of warming 0.5C higher than previous best estimates.

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If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life.
—Thoreau

 

Dec 052017
 
 December 5, 2017  Posted by at 10:01 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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The Kennedies

 

China’s Property Binge Fuels Mortgage Fraud Frenzy (R.)
This Time IS Different, It Just Ends The Same (Roberts)
What Sowed The Seeds Of The Bitcoin Mania? (TM)
Bitcoin Is A ‘Dangerous Speculative Bubble’ – Stephen Roach (CNBC)
The Two-Tiered European Community (Bilbo)
This Could Mean The End Of May – And The Beginning Of Corbyn (Ind.)
Theresa May Humiliated As DUP Scuppers Border Deal (Ind.)
Confused May In Alignment Only With Herself Over Irish Issue (G.)
White House Weighing Plans For Private Spies To Counter “Deep State” (IC)
Apple Agrees To Pay Over $15 Billion To Ireland In Back Taxes (ArsT)
China, the Digital Giant (PS)
Pilots Across Germany Are Blocking The Deportation Of Asylum Seekers (IBT)
Push To Move Refugees From Greek Islands To Mainland (K.)
The World’s Oceans Are Under The Greatest Threat In History – Attenborough (G.)

 

 

It’s all fraud, and none of it is persecuted: “When everyone is doing it, you can’t put everyone in jail..”

“Operating out of small, cramped offices, often in residential blocks, loan agents “re-package” – or falsify documents for mortgage applications. “Around 60% of property buyers in Shanghai are involved in some kind of re-packaging..”

China’s Property Binge Fuels Mortgage Fraud Frenzy (R.)

[..] across China, unqualified borrowers use fake documents to secure mortgages, while loans deceptively obtained for other purposes are funnelled into property. These frauds are often committed with the consent and encouragement of other parties to the transactions, including lending brokers, property agents, valuation companies and the banks themselves. And these alleged crimes are rarely punished. Hu Weigang, a senior partner at Guangdong Shen Dadi Law Firm, would like to see the law enforced on the mainland as it is in Hong Kong, where creating a bogus document can lead to jail. But, he acknowledges, the scale of this cheating makes it virtually impossible. “When everyone is doing it, you can’t put everyone in jail,” says Hu, who specializes in real estate litigation.

While property prices in China continue to rise, mortgage fraud remains largely a hidden danger, much as subprime loans in the United States remained mostly out of sight ahead of the 2008 global financial crisis. The fear is that in a property correction, fraudulent mortgages would unravel, accelerating a collapse of housing prices in the world’s second biggest economy. This, in turn, would imperil China’s debt-laden financial system. The danger from gravity-defying home prices is clear to the ruling Communist Party. In his marathon speech at the 19th Party Congress in October, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned about the overheated property market. “Houses are built to be lived in, not for speculation,” he said. Top bank officials are also worried. Xu Zhong, head of the research bureau at the central bank, the People’s Bank of China, sees pitfalls ahead.

“We must be very aware that rapidly rising housing prices could not only hamper our economic development, but could easily result in systemic risks and negatively impact the macroeconomy..” The motive for widespread mortgage fraud is simple: fear of missing out. Millions of homeowners are enjoying the sensation of ever-expanding wealth. The average value of residential housing in China more than tripled between 2000 and 2015 as a huge property market emerged from the early decades of economic reforms. So far, China’s new home-owning class has yet to experience a sustained downturn in housing values. Official data showed prices grew 12.4% in 2016, the fastest rate since 2011. A report tracking home price trends by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a state think tank, showed prices in 33 major cities soared 42% in 2016. Private estimates and anecdotal evidence suggest prices in most big Chinese cities actually doubled or tripled since late 2015.

Read more …

Look at them bubbles…

This Time IS Different, It Just Ends The Same (Roberts)

“Market bubbles have NOTHING to do with valuations or fundamentals.” [..] Stock market bubbles are driven by speculation, greed, and emotional biases – therefore valuations and fundamentals are simply a reflection of those emotions. In other words, bubbles can exist even at times when valuations and fundamentals might argue otherwise. Let me show you a very basic example of what I mean. The chart below is the long-term valuation of the S&P 500 going back to 1871.

The pattern of bubbles is interesting because it changes the argument from a fundamental view to a technical view. Prices reflect the psychology of the market which can create a feedback loop between the markets and fundamentals. This pattern of bubbles can be clearly seen at every bull market peak in history. The chart below utilizes Dr. Robert Shiller’s stock market data going back to 1900 on an inflation-adjusted basis with an overlay of the asymmetrical bubble shape.

There is currently a strong belief that the financial markets are not in a bubble. The arguments supporting those beliefs are all based on comparisons to past market bubbles. The inherent problem with much of the mainstream analysis is that it assumes everything remains status quo. However, the question becomes what can go wrong for the market? In a word, “much.” Economic growth remains very elusive, corporate profits appear to have peaked, and there is an overwhelming complacency with regards to risk. Those ingredients combined with an extraction of liquidity by the Federal Reserve leaves the markets more vulnerable to an exogenous event than currently believed.

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I can hear the protests from here…

What Sowed The Seeds Of The Bitcoin Mania? (TM)

2017 was an unusual year where financial conditions actually eased despite the Federal Reserve raising rates. The financial tightness in 2015 and 2016 was catalyzed by weakness in the energy market. With the help of central banks, as we have previously stated, the economy narrowly avoided a recession. It’s still remarkable to see how much financial conditions have eased since. According to the Taylor Rule, financial conditions are the easiest since 1970. The Chicago Fed’s net financial conditions index has financial conditions the easiest since 1993.


Chicago Fed- Financial Conditions Index

This explains why GDP growth was above 3% in Q2 and Q3 2017 for the first time since 2004-2005. It also explains why stock volatility has been very low; the S&P 500 has been up for 13 straight months which is the longest streak since at least 1928 (the index was created in 1923). With low interest rates and easy financial conditions, it’s not surprising that we’ve seen intense speculation in bitcoin. The cryptocurrency space has had other years with great performance, but the break out in 2017 is partially a result of the easy monetary environment. As you can see, the financial conditions in the 1990s and in the past year have both been very loose. The economic expansions were both elongated which further increases speculation as traders forget what a recession is. The chart below compares bitcoin’s rally since 2016 with other bubbles.

As you can see, Qualcomm’s performance in the 1990s is like bitcoin’s rally. This is a great analogy because Qualcomm saw its stock collapse in the dot com bust, but it has had a viable business model recently, making the Snapdragon chips in smartphones. The tech bubble was based on optimism which ended up being realized with the expansion of the mobile internet. However, the tech bubble witnessed exaggerated valuations, much like cryptocurrencies are experiencing today. Most of the blockchain startups today will fail like Pets.com did in the 1990s. However, blockchain technology in the future will likely become as synonymous with daily life as the internet is today.

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And more protests. Lots of older economists speak out against bitcoin.

Bitcoin Is A ‘Dangerous Speculative Bubble’ – Stephen Roach (CNBC)

With the price of bitcoin moving toward $12,000, a top economist on Tuesday sent a stark warning to investors: The cryptocurrency is in a “dangerous speculative bubble.” “This is a toxic concept for investors,” said Stephen Roach, Yale University senior fellow and the former Asia chairman and chief economist at investment bank Morgan Stanley. Roach, described by Yale as one of Wall Street’s most influential economists, spent the bulk of his 30-year career at Morgan Stanley heading up a highly regarded team of economists around the world. He had a critical take on the explosion of buying the world’s most popular cryptocurrency. “This is a dangerous speculative bubble by any shadow or stretch of the imagination,” he told CNBC’s “The Rundown.” “I’ve never seen a chart of a security where the price really has a vertical pattern to it. And bitcoin is the most vertical of any pattern I’ve ever seen in my career,” he added.

Bitcoin has surged more than 1,000% this year, accelerated by rising interest from retail and institutional investors who view the digital currency as a possible future means of exchange and store of value. Major exchanges like the CME and CBOE have also legitimized the currency’s investment credentials by saying they plan to introduce futures contracts to their respective exchanges, likely further supporting the price. Roach suggested that exchange legitimization makes bitcoin “somewhat dangerous” for investors, given what he described as a “lack of intrinsic underlying economic value to the concept.” Many investors admit to not understanding the technicalities of the instrument or the blockchain technology that underpins its existence, hoping instead to profit on the expectation that bitcoin as an investment will simply continue to rise. “Like all bubbles, they burst,” Roach said. “They go down, and the one who’s made the last investment gets hurt the most, there’s no question about it.”

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But the Troika demands 3.5% surpluses! “My estimate is that Greece should be running deficits close to 8 to 10% of GDP to move the economy in the right direction.”

The Two-Tiered European Community (Bilbo)

This is the final part of my four-part discussion of a so-called progressive proposal advanced by German academic Fritz Sharpf to reform the Eurozone into two tiers: a ‘Northern’ hard currency tier and a ‘Southern’ non-euro tier with the latter nations tying their currencies to the euro. We have seen that rather than providing a framework for convergence between the current Eurozone Member States, Sharpfs’ proposal would not liberate the weaker nations from the yoke of the euro, In fact, the proposal would just tie the exiting nations to the euro in a slightly different way – one that will not provide sufficient flexibility to make much difference.

In questioning the current orthodoxy, Sharpf also notes that if the ECB strictly behaved within the Maastricht rules then the need for even more aggressive internal devaluation would be required as the “sanctions would be inflicted by anonymous market forces”. That is, the Member States currently in trouble would soon go broke as they would have trouble raising funds from the bond markets at acceptable yields, given they do not issue their own currencies. In this context, Sharpf concludes that: “It is hard to see why Southern governments, after all the sacrifices that they have already been forced to make under the present regime, should opt for an alternative that would not loosen economic constraints but remove the present protections against state insolvency.” The same might be said of his Proposal 2.

Why would the Southern states, who would be forced to exit under his plan, not then fully exploit their new found currency capacities to improve domestic demand conditions immediately, which would then, after a while push their external balances into deficit, and once there was sufficient volumes of their own currency in the system, place downward pressure on their exchange rates? Greece only has a current account close to balance because the enduring Depression has killed import growth. Turn the growth back on and they will soon be back in deficit. As I noted in Part 1, the real exchange rate data shows that despite the painful internal devaluation that has been imposed on many Eurozone nations, only Ireland has improved its international competitiveness against Germany.

I also cannot see the ECB agreeing to unconditionally provide euro and other foreign currency reserves to the exiting nations who are running their fiscal policy outside the parameters of the Northern states. Can you imagine Germany, which proudly runs fiscal surpluses while its major transport network is falling apart (bridges etc) tolerating Greece running the fiscal deficits it needs to restore some sense of prosperity? While Germany sits on current account surpluses of around 7-8% and thus creating massive imbalances within the Eurozone, they lecture everyone else about fiscal rectitude. My estimate is that Greece should be running deficits close to 8 to 10% of GDP to move the economy in the right direction.

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More entertainment.

This Could Mean The End Of May – And The Beginning Of Corbyn (Ind.)

Is this it? The moment when the May premiership is over? Could Corbyn end up taking power in a matter of weeks? It’s at least possible, though I concede it sounds far-fetched at first. In history, some British Prime Ministers have had their premierships wrecked by the “Irish Question”. Others, in more recent times, have been destroyed by Europe. Theresa May is unique in managing to combine both famously intractable and insoluble issues into one lethal cocktail. And so, it seems she is about to swallow the poison. Her premiership may be even shorter than many anticipated, and a Jeremy Corbyn-led government could be a fact of British life by the time the snows melt next year. Here’s how.

From what we can discern, the Government is perfectly happy to concede “special status” for Northern Ireland / Ireland in the Brexit talks – anathema to the Ulster Unionists. This is because the Government desperately needs to get onto the second phase of the process – the trade talks for the whole UK – and MPs, without being too crude about it, are happy to sign whatever the EU sticks under their nose and worry about the consequences later. In the end, they will risk their support from the DUP to get moving on Brexit. Jobs (Tory MPs’ included) are at stake. After all, ministers such as David Davis always say that “nothing’s agreed until everything’s agreed”, so having now ratted on the Democratic Unionists, they can, in due course, re-rat on the Irish and the EU, after a trade deal is sorted out.

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This looks very amateurish. And everybody knows.

Theresa May Humiliated As DUP Scuppers Border Deal (Ind.)

Theresa May’s Brexit strategy is in disarray after the Irish Prime Minister dramatically accused her of reneging on an agreement that would have ended the deadlock in the talks. On a day of drama, the Prime Minister pulled the plug on a deal on the Irish border after it was rejected by the Democratic Unionist Party which props her up in power – triggering claims she is being “held to ransom”. The embarrassment left Ms May scrambling to arrange crisis talks with the DUP before she heads back to Brussels later this week, with the clock ticking on the negotiations. EU leaders have demanded she guarantee there will no hard land border in Ireland before a summit next week, if the talks are to move on to discussing future trade and a transitional deal.

The unravelling of the deal also left many Conservatives questioning Ms May’s handling of the talks, amid disbelief that the DUP had not been squared off in advance. The talks broke down after Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, ruled out any move “which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the United Kingdom”. “We have been very clear. Northern Ireland must leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom,” she said, speaking at Stormont. The party – despite being the Tories’ partner in government – appeared to be blindsided by the UK’s apparent concession of “regulatory alignment” on both sides of the border, to avoid checks. Within 20 minutes, Ms May interrupted her talks with Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU Commission President, to telephone Ms Foster. When she went back to the lunch, the deal was off.

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“By the time Cornwall had got in on the act by insisting its dogs be allowed to surf wherever they wanted..”

Confused May In Alignment Only With Herself Over Irish Issue (G.)

“Are you sure we can’t fudge the Northern Ireland border issue just a little bit?” she had asked Juncker on arrival in Brussels. Juncker had sniggered. Absolutely not. What bit of “regulatory alignment” did she not get? Theresa had another go. How about we say that pigs, cheese and a few cows are allowed to wander across the border without a passport? So you’re basically giving in and accepting that Northern Ireland must stay inside the single market and the customs union, Juncker had observed. Mmm, yes and no, Theresa whispered, checking over her shoulder to make sure no one was listening. It was like this. Regulatory divergence and regulatory alignment could almost mean exactly the same thing. It just depended which side you were looking at it from. The secret was to persuade the divergers that you weren’t aligning and the aligners you weren’t diverging by drafting something that was equally open to misinterpretation by both.

“Whatever,” Juncker had yawned. Having persuaded herself she had got a deal she could sell – to herself if no one else – Theresa set about drafting an agreement with the Irish government. As the news seeped out that an agreement had been reached, all hell broke loose. If the Northern Irish could have a special nod and a wink for pigs, the Scots must have the same exemptions for scotch. And heather. Then London started making demands. Just because it could. It had never fancied leaving the EU anyway. By the time Cornwall had got in on the act by insisting its dogs be allowed to surf wherever they wanted, it dawned on the prime minister that maybe she ought to run the agreement past the DUP. Arlene Foster’s response had been unequivocal. Theresa could keep her £1bn. Any deal that didn’t make Northern Ireland exactly the same as the rest of the UK was unacceptable. No special status, no nothing. And if push came to shove, she’d bring down the UK government.

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Erik Prince and Oliver North. Yeah, those are the guys I would trust.

White House Weighing Plans For Private Spies To Counter “Deep State” (IC)

The Trump administration is considering a set of proposals developed by Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a retired CIA officer — with assistance from Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal — to provide CIA Director Mike Pompeo and the White House with a global, private spy network that would circumvent official U.S. intelligence agencies, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials and others familiar with the proposals. The sources say the plans have been pitched to the White House as a means of countering “deep state” enemies in the intelligence community seeking to undermine Trump’s presidency. The creation of such a program raises the possibility that the effort would be used to create an intelligence apparatus to justify the Trump administration’s political agenda.

“Pompeo can’t trust the CIA bureaucracy, so we need to create this thing that reports just directly to him,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official with firsthand knowledge of the proposals, in describing White House discussions. “It is a direct-action arm, totally off the books,” this person said, meaning the intelligence collected would not be shared with the rest of the CIA or the larger intelligence community. “The whole point is this is supposed to report to the president and Pompeo directly.” Oliver North, who appears frequently on Trump’s favorite TV network, Fox News, was enlisted to help sell the effort to the administration. He was the “ideological leader” brought in to lend credibility, said the former senior intelligence official.

Some of the individuals involved with the proposals secretly met with major Trump donors asking them to help finance operations before any official contracts were signed. The proposals would utilize an army of spies with no official cover in several countries deemed “denied areas” for current American intelligence personnel, including North Korea and Iran. The White House has also considered creating a new global rendition unit meant to capture terrorist suspects around the world, as well as a propaganda campaign in the Middle East and Europe to combat Islamic extremism and Iran. “I can find no evidence that this ever came to the attention of anyone at the NSC or [White House] at all,” wrote Michael N. Anton, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, in an email. “The White House does not and would not support such a proposal.”

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“The deal had allowed Apple to pay an effective corporate tax rate of 1% on its European profits in 2003, down to as low as 0.005% in certain years..”

Apple Agrees To Pay Over $15 Billion To Ireland In Back Taxes (ArsT)

According to a top Irish official, Apple has agreed to to pay Ireland around $15.4 billion in back taxes. “We have now reached agreement with Apple in relation to the principles and operation of the escrow fund,” Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe told reporters before a meeting with European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager. “We expect the money will begin to be transmitted into the account from Apple across the first quarter of next year.” Ireland was formally referred to the European Court of Justice after it failed to implement a 2016 order that required the island nation to collect the same amount in unpaid taxes. Over a year ago, as Ars reported, the EU’s competition chief Vestager said that a two-year investigation into so-called sweetheart tax deals in 1991 and 2007 had found Apple guilty of receiving illegal state aid from the Emerald Isle.

The deal had allowed Apple to pay an effective corporate tax rate of 1% on its European profits in 2003, down to as low as 0.005% in certain years, according to Vestager. Apple has denied any wrongdoing and has also said that it received no “special deal.” “We have a dedicated team working diligently and expeditiously with Ireland on the process the European Commission has mandated,” Apple said in a Monday statement according to UPI. “We remain confident the General Court of the EU will overturn the Commission’s decision once it has reviewed all the evidence.” Both Apple and Ireland have challenged the EU’s court order.

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Why not check this for fraud too?

China, the Digital Giant (PS)

China has firmly established itself as a global leader in consumer-oriented digital technologies. It is the world’s largest e-commerce market, accounting for more than 40% of global transactions, and ranks among the top three countries for venture capital investment in autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, robotics, drones, and artificial intelligence (AI). One in three of the world’s unicorns (start-ups valued at more than $1 billion) is Chinese, and the country’s cloud providers hold the world record for computing efficiency. While China runs a trade deficit in services overall, it has lately been running a trade surplus in digital services of up to $15 billion per year. Powering China’s impressive progress in the digital economy are Internet giants like Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent, which are commercializing their services on a massive scale, and bringing new business models to the world.

Together, these three companies have 500-900 million active monthly users in their respective sectors. Their rise has been facilitated by light – or, perhaps more accurate, late – regulation. For example, regulators put a cap on the value of online money transfers a full 11 years after Alipay introduced the service. Now, these Internet firms are using their positions to invest in China’s digital ecosystem – and in the emerging cadre of tenacious entrepreneurs that increasingly define it. Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent together fund 30% of China’s top start-ups, such as Didi Chuxing ($50 billion), Meituan-Dianping ($30 billion), and JD.com ($56 billion). With the world’s largest domestic market and plentiful venture capital, China’s old “copy-cat” entrepreneurs have transformed themselves into innovation powerhouses.

They fought like gladiators in the world’s most competitive market, learned to develop sophisticated business models (such as Taobao’s freemium model), and built impregnable moats to protect their businesses (for example, Meituan-Dianping created an end-to-end food app, including delivery). As a result, the valuation of Chinese innovators is many times higher than that of their Western counterparts. Moreover, China leads the world in some sectors, from livestreaming (one example is Musical.ly, a lip-syncing and video-sharing app) to bicycle sharing (Mobike and Ofo exceed 50 million rides per day in China, and are now expanding abroad).

Most important, China is at the frontier of mobile payments, with more than 600 million Chinese mobile users able to conduct peer-to-peer transactions with nearly no fees. China’s mobile-payment infrastructure – which already handles far more transactions than the third-party mobile-payment market in the United States – will become a platform for many more innovations.

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Merkel is losing ground fast. First inviting refugees and then paying them to leave, what is that?

Pilots Across Germany Are Blocking The Deportation Of Asylum Seekers (IBT)

Pilots across Germany are refusing to carry out deportations of asylum seekers and have prevented at least 222 planned flights so far, the government said on Monday (4 December) Germany’s main airline Lufthansa and its subsidiary Eurowings halted at least 85 flights in the first eight months of this year, according to a freedom of information request obtained by the Left party. The majority of the cancellations took place at Frankfurt airport, Germany’s largest and most important transport hub. A large number of the flights were scheduled to repatriate refugees to Afghanistan, a move which has been widely condemned by human rights organisations. Earlier this year, Amnesty International called on European governments to “implement a moratorium on returns to Afghanistan until they can take place in safety and dignity”.

Anna Shea, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Refugee and Migrant Rights, said that government was being “wilfully blind” to the fact that violence was at a record high in Afghanistan. Despite an increase in deportations, Germany remains the top destination for refugees in the European Union. This year, Germany has taken in more asylum seekers than all other 27 EU countries combined. In the first six months of 2017 the country processed 388,201 asylum cases, Die Welt reported, quoting statistics agency Eurostat. To try and curb the numbers, the German government is offering rejected asylum seekers up to €1000 in benefits if they voluntarily return home. Families who agree to leave are entitled to receive up to €3000. Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière (CDU) told the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Sunday (3 December): “If you decide by the end of February for a voluntary return, you will get in addition to first aid, a housing aid for the first 12 months in your country of origin.”

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Tsipras has to ask Brussels (re: Merkel) for permission.

Push To Move Refugees From Greek Islands To Mainland (K.)

Municipal officials from the islands of Lesvos, Chios and Samos, which are bearing the brunt of an increased influx of migrants from neighboring Turkey, are due in Athens on Tuesday to press the government for action to ease the pressure on their local communities. The officials decided to coordinate their protests and seek a meeting with Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas to speed up the transfer of migrants from the islands to mainland Greece. There are currently more than 15,000 migrants living in state-run camps on Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos. More than 15,000 have been transferred to the mainland over the past year. Of those more than 3,500 were transferred in the last month alone. But islanders say more action is needed due to growing tensions in the reception centers and among the local communities as arrivals from Turkey have increased.

Hopes that a European Union refugee relocation program could ease some of the pressure have been largely frustrated as the process is a slow one. European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos has said the so-called Dublin Regulation, which dictates that refugees apply for asylum in the first EU country they enter, must be reformed for pressure on countries such as Greece and Italy to ease. In a related development on Monday, a court on Lesvos indicted 16 North African migrants who participated in the occupation of a central square in Mytilene, the main port of Lesvos. Authorities on the island detained a total of 25 protesters late on Sunday but the other nine were released as they are minors. The migrants had staged the protest in a bid to press authorities to accelerate their asylum applications and their transfer to mainland Greece.

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No question there.

The World’s Oceans Are Under The Greatest Threat In History – Attenborough (G.)

The world’s oceans are under the greatest threat in history, according to Sir David Attenborough. The seas are a vital part of the global ecosystem, leaving the future of all life on Earth dependent on humanity’s actions, he says. Attenborough will issue the warning in the final episode of the Blue Planet 2 series, which details the damage being wreaked in seas around the globe by climate change, plastic pollution, overfishing and even noise. Previous BBC nature series presented by Attenborough have sometimes been criticised for treading too lightly around humanity’s damage to the planet. But the final episode of the latest series is entirely dedicated to the issue. “For years we thought the oceans were so vast and the inhabitants so infinitely numerous that nothing we could do could have an effect upon them. But now we know that was wrong,” says Attenborough.

“It is now clear our actions are having a significant impact on the world’s oceans. [They] are under threat now as never before in human history. Many people believe the oceans have reached a crisis point.” Attenborough says: “Surely we have a responsibility to care for our blue planet. The future of humanity, and indeed all life on Earth, now depends on us.” BBC executives were reportedly concerned about the series appearing to become politicised and ordered a fact-check, which it passed. The series producer, Mark Brownlow, said it was impossible to overlook the harm being caused in the oceans: “We just couldn’t ignore it – it wouldn’t be a truthful portrayal of the world’s oceans. We are not out there to campaign. We are just showing it as it is and it is quite shocking.”


Strict management of the herring fishery in Norway has saved it from collapse. Herring now draw in humpback whales and orca. Photograph: Audun Rikardsen

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Dec 042017
 
 December 4, 2017  Posted by at 1:44 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Saul Leiter Raining on two 1957

 

First of all, let me reiterate that I don’t think Brexit is a bad thing per se. Getting rid of Brussels is at least as much of a relief as it is a headache. Moreover, Britain needed a makeover, badly, as has ironically been shown especially after the referendum. But as an outsider it is still top class theater to see it playing out. And the real high value drama hasn’t even started.

But we can already hear the orchestra changing tone, and mood, and the fat lady’s warming up her voice. To see the whole negotiating process being led and conducted by a woman who voted against initiating it in the first place is a guaranteed added bonus. Not sure Shakespeare would have found it a credible plotline, but there you go.

It’s much less amusing to see that poverty in Britain is soaring and a fifth of the population is now poor, including an additional 400,000 children in the past 5 years. But that is a strong indicator of how much of a failed state the country has become, and it makes the Brexit vote outcome that much easier to explain. Still, whether the vote had been Leave or Remain, the real damage had been done long before.

The people doing the negotiations are to a large extent accountable for that damage, they’re all Tories from the Cameron era, and Tony Blair, who’s just as much to blame, is speaking up again as well. The Brexit mess thus functions to expose the abject failure of the entire British political system as much as Donald Trump’s ascent to the US presidency does in America.

It’s now just a matter of learning the right lessons from these events. And that is not that the US would be fine if Trump were not there, or that Brexit itself is the main problem in the UK. It’s that these are the consequences of systems failing across the board, with Blair turning UK’s Labour party into a right wing force, and the DNC doing the same with the Democrats.

Try to take away people’s voices along with their money, and they will speak up. It’s one easy step from there for the other side of the spectrum to claim they are the real voice of the people, and getting the benefit of the doubt. Not that it will end there, but until and unless the left has re-defined itself as actual left again, representing people instead of themselves, there will be no easy way out.

That said, both Trump and Brexit will become mired in cesspools, just not because of Russia but because both turn against their fast impoverishing populations. But even then, redefining is a crucial issue.

 

As Theresa May is in Brussels to hold talks aimed merely at just getting negotiations started, something she will have to make hefty concessions for, the majority her party had before she called a snap election keeps slip sliding away. Labour would now get that majority. If she were smart, she’d call another election today, lose it and let Corbyn deal with the mess, but she won’t, the Tories are addicted to the smell of power in the morning, and so is May herself.

May seems to have reached some shaky sounding deal with the EU about the Irish border issue (“regulatory alignment”), but that will only lead to more problems (as will all deals she manages to reach in the talks). In this case, her coalition with Northern Ireland DUP party, which keeps her in power to begin with, comes under strain. Every solution will lead to another problem, and she can’t keep everybody happy.

Brexit is Pandora’s gift to Britain. Suppose the DUP accepts open borders with EU member Ireland, why would not Scotland, for instance, demand a similar deal?

 

Labour Open Up 8-Point Lead Over Conservatives In Latest Opinion Poll

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party has extended its lead over the Conservatives to eight points, according to a new poll that will provide grim reading for the Prime Minister. The poll by Survation puts Labour on 45%, with Theresa May’s Conservatives trailing behind on 37%, and the Liberal Democrats under Vince Cable on six%. An eight point lead, the polling company added, would likely put Labour into overall majority territory if such vote share totals were reflected at the ballot box.

Meanwhile, ever more people want a say in what Brexit will look like, via another referendum. Before the negotiations are finished, someone will add up how much Brexit will really cost, and that’ll be the end of it, unless the Tories prevent that second referendum. There will come a point that the Tories realize this whole process will push them out of power for a long time, but it’ll be too late then.

 

Second Brexit Referendum Has 16-Point Lead As Half Of Britons Back New Vote

Half of Britons want a public vote on the UK’s final Brexit deal with the EU once the Government’s negotiations are over, a new poll suggests. Of the 1,003 people surveyed in the Survation poll , 497, or 50%, said they would “support holding a referendum asking the public if they will accept or reject the deal”. A total of 343, or 34%, said they were against the idea of a public vote, while 164 (16%) said they did not know. Of the people who were in favour of a referendum on the UK’s deal for exiting the EU, 271 (54.5%) had voted Remain in the 2016 Brexit vote, while 145 (29%) voted Leave.

Jeremy Corbyn is set to become UK PM, if he can shake off Tony Blair, but he hasn’t quite screwed up the courage to turn his back on the Brexit vote, so he’s as much in an impossible split as May is. It’s all he can do is to wait until she makes ever more mistakes and then stumbles over them. Meanwhile, he can carefully open up the second referendum option, because it doesn’t directly contradict the outcome of the first.

 

Corbyn Signals Labour Could Be Open to Second Brexit Referendum

U.K. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn hinted that he could be open to holding a second referendum on Brexit as the consequences of leaving the European Union become clearer. Asked if he was prepared to rule out a second vote after meeting with Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa in Lisbon on Saturday, Corbyn said his party hasn’t fixed its position on the issue. “We’ve not made any decision on a second referendum,’’ Corbyn said at a European Socialist Party conference in the Portuguese capital. “What we’ve said is that we would respect the result of the first referendum.”

And May’s own people are starting to turn their backs on her, slowly at first but that will pick up, because they start fearing for their own future careers if they back her for too long. She has to balance this with her fanatical Brexiteers who are only looking to replace her.

 

Theresa May Faces New Crisis After Mass Walkout Over Social Policy

Theresa May was plunged into a new crisis on Saturday night after the government’s social mobility adviser revealed he and his team were quitting, warning that the prime minister was failing in her pledge to build a “fairer Britain”. In a major blow to No 10, Alan Milburn, the former Labour cabinet minister who chairs the government’s social mobility commission, said that he and all three of his fellow commissioners were walking out – including a leading conservative, Gillian Shephard. The move will be seen as a direct challenge to May’s vow in Downing Street to place fairness and social justice at the heart of her premiership. In his resignation letter, seen by the Observer, Milburn warns that dealing with Brexit means the government “does not seem to have the necessary bandwidth to ensure the rhetoric of healing social division is matched with the reality.

An interesting suggestion from commission chair Milburn was that while he thought May might actually want to tackle inequality and connected issues, he doesn’t think the government has the time to do that, because all its attention is most be focused on Brexit. That suggests the country effectively has no functioning government at the moment, and perhaps for years to come. Great prospect for a country deep in doodoo.

And it’s not a big surprise in this climate that May tries to keep all kinds of things secret. Not a big surprise, but certainly a big mistake.

 

Theresa May Under Growing Pressure To Reveal True Cost Of Divorce Bill

Senior Conservatives are demanding Theresa May be clear about how much the British public will be forced to pay to settle the Brexit “divorce bill”. MPs and peers, including former cabinet ministers, say that with the bill agreed this week and likely to be between £40bn and £50bn, the time has come for the Prime Minister to be completely open on how much Brexit will cost. Labour is threatening to bring the matter to a head by calling on Tory MPs to back a plan to let the UK’s spending watchdogs assess the financial settlement and give Parliament a vote on it, The Independent can reveal.

It comes 24 hours before Ms May will sit down with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to secure an agreement-in-principle on the withdrawal terms of Brexit – including the divorce bill, Irish border and EU citizens’ rights. But despite any deal being likely to gain approval at the European Council in mid-December, the British public have not been told by the Government how big the divorce bill is likely to be, or how it is being worked out.

Indeed, secrecy is a policy in Tory Britain.

 

Irish warn Theresa May: Change Course Or Risk Brexit Chaos

Ministers are under mounting pressure to come clean over the extent of economic damage that a “no deal” outcome could cause to the economy. In the budget, Philip Hammond announced that the Office for Budget Responsibility revised downwards forecasts for UK growth over the next few years, mainly because of concerns of low productivity growth. But the OBR made clear that these downgrades were premised on a benign outcome to Brexit negotiations. Both the Treasury, privately, and leading independent economists recognise that actual growth will be considerably lower than the gloomy budget projections if the UK does not achieve most of its negotiating goals, or if there is a “no deal” result.

Government sources said ministers would this week release sections of assessments into the potential economic impact of Brexit carried out across Whitehall, which until recently they had tried to keep secret. Many MPs believe the published sections will be heavily redacted and will not make clear the extent of potential economic damage. Last night Nicky Morgan, who chairs the Treasury select committee, said it was essential that as many projections as possible were made public.

The latest work by economists at the London School of Economics estimates that, if the UK crashes out of the EU with no deal, the impact will be far more severe than the projections in the budget suggested. Thomas Sampson of the LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance said Brexit could reduce UK living standards by up to 9% in the most pessimistic case.

The best thing by a mile that May could possible do is to get out of the way before the way steamrollers all over her. But as I said, she won’t. And that is as tragic for her as it is for Britain. It’ll be entertaining to see the show -and May- go down. As long as you don’t live in Britain.

 

 

Nov 252017
 
 November 25, 2017  Posted by at 1:48 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Zao Wu-Ki The red sun 1950

 

Once again, to my delight, we’re back with former British diplomat and MI6 ‘ranking figure’ Alastair Crooke and his Conflicts Forum organization. We posted a few of his articles this year and last. This time, Alastair writes a reaction to one of his own articles posted at Consortium News, which I included in the November 18 Debt Rattle at the Automatic Earth. My short comment then: “Former (and current?!) TAE contributor Alastair Crooke draws his conclusions.” This morning, the Conflicts Forum reached out again:

Dear Raul, We took the hint on a recent posting your site that referred to one of Alastair’s articles! …. and below is a comment piece he has done. It is an attempt to be strategic at where we’re going.

Anytime, guys! My first reaction to that piece was that Alastair makes Donald Trump and Jared Kushner’s role in the Saudi crackdown seem very large, which makes the role played by deep state America look small in comparison. And I’m not so sure about that. The riddle of ‘who’s playing who?’ is not a straightforward one. But that’s by no means a criticism (I ain’t criticizing no MI6!). It’s a question.

First, here are two paragraphs of that article to ‘get in the mood’:

 

Trump’s Saudi Scheme Unravels

Aaron Miller and Richard Sokolsky, writing in Foreign Policy, suggest “that Mohammed bin Salman’s most notable success abroad may well be the wooing and capture of President Donald Trump, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.” Indeed, it is possible that this “success” may prove to be MbS’ only success. “It didn’t take much convincing”, Miller and Sokolski wrote: “Above all, the new bromance reflected a timely coincidence of strategic imperatives.” Trump, as ever, was eager to distance himself from President Obama and all his works; the Saudis, meanwhile, were determined to exploit Trump’s visceral antipathy for Iran – in order to reverse the string of recent defeats suffered by the kingdom.

So compelling seemed the prize (that MbS seemed to promise) of killing three birds with one stone (striking at Iran; “normalizing” Israel in the Arab world, and a Palestinian accord), that the U.S. President restricted the details to family channels alone. He thus was delivering a deliberate slight to the U.S. foreign policy and defense establishments by leaving official channels in the dark, and guessing. Trump bet heavily on MbS, and on Jared Kushner as his intermediary. But MbS’ grand plan fell apart at its first hurdle: the attempt to instigate a provocation against Hezbollah in Lebanon, to which the latter would overreact and give Israel and the “Sunni Alliance” the expected pretext to act forcefully against Hezbollah and Iran.

Since the crackdown seems to have had limited success so far on an international level, this is certainly an interesting issue to delve deeper into. MbS has reportedly, assisted by US mercenaries, hung members of his own family upside down from ceilings in posh hotels and palaces to break them into submission and steal their fortunes, but if the international part of his plan falls short, this becomes a very unpredictable story.

But this new article has a much broader scope. I’ve often said that the falling apart of the American, European and global political systems is caused one-on-one by deteriorating economies (even if 90% of media and politicians stick the recovery narrative). Alastair agrees, and even quotes me again.

 

 

Alastair Crooke: Robert Kagan first called attention to the fact that America would need to awake from its ‘dream’ a decade ago in End of Dreams: The Return of History, and would have to manage the rise of ‘other’ powers, (some greater than others), with adroitness, if it were to avoid a bad road-crash as emerging competitors clashed with the waning dominant power.  

This meant that the US no longer would be able to assert its will everywhere, and on everything – and would have to give ground – especially to China and Russia.  “There’s going to have to be some very painful horse trading”, historian Sir Max Hastings suggests, adding that its pain will be none the less traumatic, since – like Germany after WW1 – America, does not feel itself defeated: Quite the converse, it sees itself having emerged from the Cold War wholly vindicated: in terms of its societal, governmental and capitalist models.

The American-shaped globalist order, in which three American generations have been steeped, had seemed so naturally to flow out from the Cold War, that the onset of world ‘order’ dissolution seems – shockingly, for many – to have struck out of the blue – as it were – with Brexit, and the election of Mr Trump. 

Commentators speak of America needing to be wary of the Thucydides’ Trap (when the then aspiring power, Athens, threatened the primacy of the established hegemon, Sparta, leading to war). But ‘the trap’ today is not simply just about who’s rising ‘up’, and who’s heading ‘down’, in the great-power stakes – for, as Josh Feinman, chief economist for Deutsche Bank, last year  warned, the problem is not just great power competition. But rather: “We’ve seen this movie before. The first great globalization wave, in the half-century or so before World War I, sparked a populist backlash too, and ultimately came crashing down in the cataclysms of 1914 to 1945.”  In short, the two world wars were not just about Germany challenging British hegemony, but were also about globalization ‘backlash’ too – something that is often overlooked. 

In other words, in the wake of WW2, America has been backing itself into the corner of an ‘American-shaped’ (imposed), second wave ‘globalisation’, and that is the major risk posed today (as much as rising China), with ‘populism’ again markedly on the up. And ‘second wave globalisation’ is again yielding predictable political volatility (i.e. in ‘unexpected’ election results).  However, as Max Hastings  suggests, (quoting former UK politician Michael Howard), “we must recognize that the élites, of which he [Howard] himself freely admits to having been a part, have failed to sustain the consent of electorates for this [Euro-centralisation and for globalisation]. This ignoring the need to sustain the consent of the electorate, bears a considerable responsibility for getting us into this mess”.

Further, as Andrew Bracevich underlines globalism has its distinct social ‘flipside’: “[A] war [has been waged] on (genuine) culture: Under whatever guise, liberal-market globalism is hostile to tradition, community, established norms, and the very idea of a common culture – all of which impinge [adversely] upon the operation of the market, or claims of radical individual autonomy”.

 

 
The Thucydides’ Trap for America, rather, as Professor Lears of Rutgers writes, then, is not just the rising of Russia and China, but that of Americans being backed into the corner of not recognizing “that ‘they’ [the liberal globalists] are no longer defending either liberalism or democracy; [these] forms of élite rule – that provoke [such] popular anger – are merely the husk of liberal democracy: The once-vital discourse of liberal democracy has been hollowed out, and transformed into a language of managerial technique … Within this discourse, freedom has been reduced to market behaviour; citizenship to voting; and, efficiency for the public good to efficiency for profit. The rich civic culture that gave rise to popular American politics in the past—unions, churches, local party organizations—has been largely replaced, in both parties, by élites who have benefited from the ‘technocratic turn’”.

“As long as prosperity continued to increase as it has since 1945, western electorates were willing to give élites a very considerable measure of discretion about what they did, [whether in creating the EU], or whatever it might be. They were willing to acquiesce. Now, prosperity is being squeezed, wages are stagnant, and for many people unlikely to rise much in real terms.   It is going to be much more difficult to sustain the consent of Western electorates for purposes which the élites might consider as [somehow] ‘enlightened and unselfish’”. (Hastings again – with emphasis added).

And here lies the real ‘trap’: it is not that “prosperity is being squeezed” as per Hastings, but that the economy has rather, been divaricated into the ‘squeezed 60%’ and the asset-holding, and enriched 40% (as Ray Dalio describes it). Last month Dalio, the billionaire founder of top hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, posted a new article, “The Two Economies: The Top 40% and the Bottom 60%”.  He believes it is a serious mistake to think you can analyze or understand “the” economy because we now have two of them. The wealth and income levels are so skewed between top and bottom that “average” indicators no longer reflect the average person’s experience or living conditions. Dalio explains with this chart:

 

 

The red line is the share of US wealth owned by the bottom 90% of the population, and the green line is the share held by the top 0.1%. Right now they are about the same, but notice the trend. The wealthiest 0.1% has been increasing its share of wealth since the 1980s, while the bottom 90% has been losing ground. But it would be a mistake to understand this phenomenon – ‘populism’ as it is labelled in Dalio’s chart – or, the push to recover national culture and sovereignty – as simply a gripe about inequity. It has become since 2009 much more than that: it has become a matter of survival for a major segment of the American and European population (especially, as it coincides with a pensions crisis, which will leave many impoverished in their old age): 

“Prior to 2009, debt was able to support a rising standard of living…”, Raúl Ilargi Meijer says, “but less than a decade later, [personal debt], can’t even maintain the status quo. That’s what you call a breaking point.” (Alastair: Or, even, a precursor to civil violence?)

“To put that in numbers, there’s a current shortfall of $18,176 between the standard of living and real disposable incomes. In other words, no matter how much people are borrowing, their standard of living is in decline. 

“Something else we can glean from the graphs is that after the Great Financial Crisis of 2008-9, the economy never recovered. The S&P may have, and the banks are back to profitable ways and big bonuses, but that has nothing to do with real Americans in their own real economy. 2009 was a turning point, and the crisis never looked back”.

 

 

And Max Hastings’ point is that with austerity gone, early popular acquiescence has turned to anger against the élites – for having so taken them for granted in their utopian globalist projects.

Now the wider point: what we have here is the intersection of geo-politics with geo-finance. Both are now wholly contingent on the ‘saving of appearances’.  One co-constitutes the other.  One is the saving of appearance that America is not losing ‘respect’, or being disdained in the international arena, as it attenuates its global commitments (that is the Thucydides ‘syndrome’), and two, saving the appearance that ‘recovery’ and ‘prosperity for all’, are continuing to unfold nicely in the economy (the world converging globally to western values ‘syndrome’). 

Both these aspects to the dissolution of today’s western ‘modernity’ are intertwined, and co-constituting, and therefore likely to march in tandem – at least for now:  western ‘prosperity’ underwrites the global order, and the global order underwrites American ‘prosperity’.  The American and European élites therefore find themselves painted into a globalised ‘rules-based order’ corner, geo-politically, just as the Central Bankers have been backed into their QE, low or negative interest rate corner – from which there is no easy escape, either. 

The term ‘globalisation’ has been used to paint a landscape that is both inevitable, and beneficent: “free trade floats all boats; everywhere” is the meme. Devotees of globalisation however, never examine rigorously whether David Ricardo’s comparative advantage theory still holds good in the contemporary world (Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, however, being a notable exception). There just has been no point in asking the fundamentally political (as opposed to technical) question: Has the resulting off-shoring of supply lines, truly been in our interest – politically, as well as financially?  And has the concomitant – globalist disembedding of humans from national culture, community and sovereignty, and the rise of the apolitical, neo-liberal, chameleon-identity ‘Self’, been in the general political and societal interest, too?

It may be objected that Trump is not a globalist.  Whilst it is true that he does not favour America shouldering the claims of a world order; he – himself – protests loudly that he is a globalist – but it is just that he is a hard-nosed, New York businessman, type of globalist: that’s all.  Globalisation (in the neo-liberal mode), remains as a western totem, rightly, or not, according to political taste.

 

Where now? In the domestic field, the Central Banks’ easy ‘group think’ on QE, low or negative interest-rates, and ballooning public and private debt, has been pursued now for so long and so extensively, that it has both given us Dalio’s Two Economies, and no way back.   It has become a vicious circle: as high debt, to GDP ratios, low-interest zombification of entities and shrinking personal disposable income in the 60%, have depressed growth. Yet, paradoxically, never has the need for more of the same – QE, low or negative interest rates, or even ‘helicopter’ income – been so widely extolled — and, at the very moment when their drawbacks have become so widely identified, even by central bankers, themselves.

So here we are: there is a messy, and bitter, divorce taking place in our societies between the 60% and the 40% ‘tribes’. Asset valuations indeed have never been higher. Yet growth by contrast, has, on average, been ratcheting down, decade by decade – and for some, the situation has become truly existential (those for whom even additional debt cannot sustain their non-discretionary outgoings).

Where do we go from here?  A continuation of the existing financial paradigm is what everyone believes; what everyone expects (wants) – and is what we likely will get.  It might even be deepened a little, in the wake of a market hiccough (S&P down by more than 2%).  And in the case of a financial black swan, we may witness the system literally ‘hosed down’ with newly created ‘money’.  But essentially, the business and trade cycle will continue to be heavily repressed – volatility slammed down – and the S&P be the metric of national well-being.

Not only do the markets ‘believe it’, President Trump needs it: geo-politically he likes to do his style of negotiating from a position of strength (and not from one of economic crisis); and internally, he is at ‘war’ with the Establishment.  With the S&P touching records daily, he is immune from taunts of incompetence (regardless of whether not the highs have anything to do with the President).  His base likes it too: their meagre retirement portfolios at least are rising in value. And in any event, it is not surprising if Trump is a low interest, plentiful liquidity, expanding balance sheet, man globally:  It is how he made his billions, personally.

 

Of course, the flip side to continuing the ‘easing’ paradigm is the ongoing hidden transfer of wealth from general taxpayers (the 60%) to the 40%: more populism; more unexpected election outcomes in Europe; more fake-ness; quicker dissolution of the glue holding society together; more political process, less outcome; less ability to address the needs of collective purpose, etcetera — rising rancour and push-back, in a word. This is the implication.

In parallel, the saving of appearance in geo-politics seems to require its slamming down of volatility too (and in the EU, not least – i.e. Catalonia).  People want to believe it (in American power); important sectors of the economy want it, (need it): the appearance of America’s global standing must be preserved.  Repressing North Korea, ‘slamming down’ Iran can save appearances (America is strong), but the flip-side is the increased danger of war – whether inadvertently triggered, or by the US cornering itself into it.  Actually, ebbing power is something that you smell: false bravura only heightens the odour of weakness.

So, continuance of the paradigms (financial and geopolitical), and the continuance of ‘populist push-back’ (i.e. volatility) seem set. Is Josh Feinman of Deutsche Bank then right when he says: “We’ve seen this movie before. The first great globalization wave, in the half-century or so before World War I, [it] sparked a populist backlash too, and ultimately came crashing down in the cataclysms of 1914 to 1945.” Is a financial crisis inevitable – ultimately?  Is war – a confrontation with either Russia, China or N. Korea – unavoidable?

Who can say, for sure?  But the repeating of history is not inevitable.  Financial re-set at some point, has become inevitable, it would appear. It has taken time for the old meme to fade, and weaken its hold sufficiently. Hemingway famously said about bankruptcy (his), that it starts only very slowly, but ends lightningly fast.  The political impulse for a change in the social and cultural paradigm however does seem to be unfolding at an accelerating pace. ‘Populism’ and ‘unexpected’ election results are acting as its accelerant. And the intellectual context for a seismic economic policy shift, is in place too:  monetary policy is seen to be bust, and the economic ‘models’ have been seen to be plain wrong. TINA (there is no alternative) is wobbling on her pedestal, and seems poised to topple over.

Of course there are alternatives.  But will they arrive in time?  Perhaps the existing paradigms are destined to endure a while yet … ’til Hemingway’s observation about bankruptcy sliding unstoppably fast towards the end is further proven as a truism?  In the meantime: we wait; shackled by inertia, and backed into a corner.
 

 

 

Nov 212017
 
 November 21, 2017  Posted by at 9:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Notting Hill Gate Station, London 1860s

 

China’s $15 Trillion Problem: Investors Don’t Believe in Losses (BBG)
Household Debt, Size Of Home Loans A Worry – Australia Regulator (ND)
Fiscal Sundown In America, Part 1 (Stockman)
The Approaching Silicon Valley Meltdown (St. Cyr)
Merkel Prefers Fresh Elections To Minority Government As Talks Fail (G.)
Italy To Go Beyond GDP, Measure La Dolce Vita (BBG)
Your Retirement Cash May Be In The Caymans. Can You Get It Back? (IBT)
Room Rates At Trump’s Hotels Have Fallen By Up To 63% (Tel.)
Why Are We Helping Saudi Arabia Destroy Yemen? (Ron Paul)
Spain ‘Ready To Discuss’ Greater Fiscal Autonomy For Catalonia (G.)
37.5% of Greece’s Children Are At Risk Of Poverty (KTG)
Greek Online Foreclosures To Start With Big Debtors’ Assets (K.)
EU Orders Greece To Recover Up To €55 Million In State Aid (R.)
As Oceans Warm, the World’s Kelp Forests Begin to Disappear (Yale)

 

 

They wouldn’t let that happen…

China’s $15 Trillion Problem: Investors Don’t Believe in Losses (BBG)

When China unveiled plans on Friday to end the implicit guarantees underpinning asset-management products worth trillions of dollars, it should have been a bombshell for the nation’s savers. But for Yolanda Yuan and other individual investors who’ve piled into AMPs issued by banks, insurers and securities firms, the government’s announcement was largely a non-event. The reason: they didn’t believe it. “I don’t think any big banks will dare to take the risk of allowing defaults on AMPs, as that will lead to a flood of fund redemptions,” said Yuan, a 29-year-old sales manager at a state-run financial company in Shanghai. She has about 100,000 yuan ($15,069) of personal savings in products covered by the new regulations.

Over the past 13 years, assets in Chinese AMPs have swelled from almost nothing to $15 trillion in large part due to one key assumption: that investors would be made whole no matter what happened to the products’ underlying assets. Authorities are now moving to quash that belief amid concern that rampant moral hazard is distorting market prices and making the financial system vulnerable to crises. Yuan’s enduring faith in implicit guarantees suggests the government’s task won’t be easy. It may ultimately require an AMP blowup for Chinese regulators to convince investors that they’re serious about the new rules, which are set to take effect in mid-2019. But a major product failure is risky: In a worst-case scenario, it could spark a destabilizing stampede out of AMPs, which have become a key source of funding for banks and other financial institutions.

It’s not clear that’s a chance Beijing is willing to take, despite last week’s rhetoric. “It’s very hard,” said David Loevinger, a former China specialist at the U.S. Treasury Department who now works at TCW Group in Los Angeles. “You have to show people that there are no longer guarantees. The only way to show it is to force investors to take losses. They have to see it to believe it.”

Read more …

Not at all late.

Household Debt, Size Of Home Loans A Worry – Australia Regulator (ND)

The banking regulator is concerned about the size of mortgages being taken on by homeowners, issuing a warning to both lenders and borrowers. Australian Prudential Regulation Authority chairman Wayne Byres on Tuesday said Australia’s household debt was high and would continue to rise, and that too many loans were still being approved above people’s ability to pay. “Household indebtedness is high. Perhaps more importantly, the trajectory is clearly for it to rise further,” Mr Byres told the Australian Securitisation Forum in Sydney. “Lenders need to be vigilant to ensure their policies and practices are both prudent and responsible. “In short, heightened risk requires heightened prudence by APRA but also – and preferably – by lenders and borrowers themselves.”

Mr Byres said APRA’s moves to limit investor and interest-only mortgages had worked, bringing growth in lending to property investors back into line with owner-occupier lending. APRA decreed in March that big banks should limit interest-only loans to 30% of new residential mortgages, on top of a 10% cap on investor lending growth. But Mr Byres said the size of loans being issued by the big banks was still an issue, with consumers vulnerable if historically low interest rates are lifted by the Reserve Bank of Australia. Mr Byres said there had been only a slight drop in the proportion of borrowers being granted loans six times the amount of their income – a level at which they would spend about half their net income on repayments if interest rates returned to their long-term average of about 7%.

Such leverage was far higher in Australia than in comparable markets such as the UK and Ireland, he said. That left considerable potential for banks to further tighten lending practices, Mr Byres said. “Aided by file reviews conducted by external auditors, we have confirmed there is more to do in this area to improve serviceability measures, particularly in relation to the assessment of living expenses and the identification of a borrower’s existing debts.” APRA’s move to limit investor lending has borne fruit, with interest-only lending accounting for about 23% of new lending in the three months to September 30, well below its 30% limit.

Read more …

Dave’s still an angry young man.

Fiscal Sundown In America, Part 1 (Stockman)

[..] at least the Democrats did attempt to finance the trillions in new tax credits and Medicaid costs generated by ObamaCare with some revenue raisers such as the medical device and insurance company taxes and the added levies on upper income earners and investment returns. Back in the day, in fact, this kind of “tax and spend” welfare statism is exactly what the Democrats stood for. And it was also the party’s political Achilles Heel because it enabled the GOP to periodically arouse the electorate on the dangers of “big government” and thereby obtain a resurgence in Washington’s corridors of political power. But after the break from the old-time fiscal religion of balanced budgets during the so-called Reagan Revolution in 1981, the GOP has slowly morphed into the “borrow and spend” party.

Indeed, as the historically ordained party of fiscal rectitude, the GOP’s apostasy has enabled two-party complicity in a mindless regime of fiscal kick-the-can since the turn of the century. That lapse, in turn, acutely aggravated an already perilous fiscal equation owing to the baby boom retirement wave and the Fed induced slowdown in the trend rate of economic growth (see below). In this context, it should be noted that the Senate bill is a farce insofar as it claims to be a middle class tax cut and growth stimulant – since it actually accomplishes neither. On a honestly reckoned basis (counting debt service and eliminating budget gimmicks), however, it would add $2.2 trillion of new debt over the next decade on top of the $12 trillion already built-in under current policy.

Accordingly, the Senate version of Trumpite “tax reform” would accelerate the public debt toward $35 trillion by 2027 or 140% of GDP. Yet all of this added red ink would be “wasted” on cuts for 150 million individual taxpayers that are written in disappearing ink (i.e. they lapse after 2025) and on misbegotten corporate rate cuts that will do virtually nothing for economic growth. Indeed, contrary to the old Washington saw about “wasting a good crisis” the Senate bill involves something more like creating a good crisis and wasting it, too.

Read more …

“The Valley” (and its entire ancillary complex aka “the disruptor class”) is on the verge of receiving a wake up call..”

The Approaching Silicon Valley Meltdown (St. Cyr)

[..] there has been one outlier, for the most part, which seemed to skirt around all the current chaos, relatively unscathed. That would be Silicon Valley and all its ancillary provinces aka “Disruptive Tech.” So far the coveted group known collectively as “FAANG” (e.g., Facebook™, Apple™, Amazon™, Netflix™, Google™) seems to have held the “barbarians at the gates” known as investors relatively at bay, or “stable” in their positions, if you will. What has been, anything but, is their cohort of IPO brethren that were supposed to have joined them. “The Valley” seems to fit nicely as a moniker for a now self-recognized nation-state, after-all, if you include the market cap of these and a few others (e.g., Tesla™ and more) their combined valuations rival those of sovereign nations.

For all intents and purposes one could say they’re already developing and embracing their own newly formed currency, aka “Bitcoin™.” All that’s needed would seem is proposing a charter, and recognition. And that’s why it’s all about to burst, in my opinion. All of it. Why? Just as there are always clues, it’s in the consistency of further developments, along with weighing any prior, coupling them with the current, then trying to extrapolate whether or not they still stand, or are valid. This is the work most people (especially those paraded across the sycophantic mainstream business/financial media) won’t do. And not doing so for many – as of today – will have ramifications, maybe for a lifetime. So what’s the “Why?” Of course, it’s only my opinion, but I stand behind it more fervently than ever before. And it is this…

“The Valley” (and its entire ancillary complex aka “the disruptor class”) is on the verge of receiving a wake up call, the likes, that may make the dot-com era look relatively “stable” in hindsight. To use the political as an analogy, let’s just say, I believe the newly formed “nation-state” of FAANG will have much more in common with the turmoil in Brazil, Spain, Venezuela, and a few others in the coming months as it continues to desperately cling to the mythical Utopia of magical creatures known as unicorns, and cash out riches known as IPO’s. That “Utopia” has already been found to be a Potemkin Village made of spreadsheet papier-mâché analysis and valuation metrics, not worth the digital paper they’re written on.

Read more …

All of a sudden, both Merkel’s career and Germany’s role in Europe are under fire.

Merkel Prefers Fresh Elections To Minority Government As Talks Fail (G.)

Angela Merkel has indicated that she would rather have fresh elections than try to rule in a minority government as the collapse of German coalition talks posed the most serious threat to her power since she became chancellor more than a decade ago. Merkel, who has headed three coalitions since 2005, said she was “very sceptical” about ruling in a minority government and suggested she would stand again as a candidate if elections were called in the new year, telling public broadcaster ARD she was “a woman who has responsibility and is prepared to take responsibility in the future”. Exploratory talks to form the next German government collapsed on Sunday night after the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) walked out of marathon negotiations with Merkel’s Christian Democrats, its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Green party.

Germany’s president had earlier urged political parties to resume efforts to a build a governing coalition following a meeting with Merkel. “I expect the parties to make the formation of a new government possible in the foreseeable future,” Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, adding that the parties had a responsibility that “cannot be simply given back to the voters.” Elections in September saw Merkel’s bloc poll first place but with a reduced share of the vote and with the FDP and Greens as its only plausible coalition partners. The collapse in the talks and possibility of fresh elections brings further uncertainty for the British government over Brexit, which had hoped that a strong German coalition, including the FDP, might help smooth the next phase of negotiations.

Read more …

“There may be cases when a government is willing to press ahead with a policy even if it reduces short-term growth because it produces benefits in terms of broader welfare.”

Italy To Go Beyond GDP, Measure La Dolce Vita (BBG)

Italy has long prided itself for its quality of life – and with good reason. Italy may be only just recovering from a long economic crisis, but its citizens are healthier and live longer than those of most other countries in the world. It is perhaps no coincidence then that the Italian government is pioneering the use of welfare indicators in its budget process. As of this year, the finance ministry will produce official forecasts for 12 indicators, ranging from income inequality to CO2 emissions to obesity – the first country to do so in the EU and the G7. Measuring “la dolce vita” is a complex task, but one other countries should consider too. Growth will remain the main indicator to judge a country’s economic success because of its conciseness.

But, to the extent they can, it is hard to see why governments should not monitor the broader impact their policies have on the well-being of citizens. The push to go beyond GDP as a measure of welfare dates back at least to former U.S. presidential candidate Robert Kennedy. “The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play,” said Kennedy in a speech in 1968. Since then, economists have produced a long list of reports on well-being – the most famous of which was probably one by the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission set up by the French Government in 2008. Yet, so far this paperwork has produced little action: Governments still base their economic policy-making primarily on the basis of GDP.

There are very good reasons for continuing to do so. The choice of other welfare indicators is arbitrary and may be imprecise. In Italy, one of the biggest drivers of inequality is the gap between the young, whose incomes have fallen the most during the crisis, and the elderly and yet this is not included in the range of selected measures. There is also an issue of weighting: How will the Italian government decide which of the 12 indicators it has chosen is the most important? Finally, forecasting some variables such as “predatory crime” is bound to pose some serious headaches. Yet, this does not mean the principle is wrong. There may be cases when a government is willing to press ahead with a policy even if it reduces short-term growth because it produces benefits in terms of broader welfare.

Read more …

Chasing yield. What ultra low rates do.

Your Retirement Cash May Be In The Caymans. Can You Get It Back? (IBT)

The release of the so-called “Paradise Papers” touched off new scrutiny of how moguls, celebrities and politicians stash their cash in offshore tax havens. The practice, though, is hardly limited to the global elite. In fact, government documents show that local government officials have sent hundreds of billions of dollars of public sector workers’ retirement savings to a tiny archipelago most famous for white-sand beaches — and laws that shield investors from taxes. Operating outside the U.S. legal system, the offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands give Wall Street firms leeway to make complex international investments and to earn big fees off investors’ capital. But with offshore accounts featuring prominently in high-profile Ponzi schemes, some critics warn that the use of tax havens can endanger the retirement savings of millions of teachers, firefighters, cops and other public workers — a situation that could put taxpayers on the hook for losses if the investments go bust, or the money goes missing.

The tidal wave of cash has flowed from public pension systems into so-called “alternative investments”: private equity, hedge funds, venture capital firms and real estate. While many alternative investment firms operate in Lower Manhattan, more than a third of all the cash in those private funds flows through vehicles domiciled in the Caymans, according to Securities and Exchange Commission records reviewed by International Business Times. Those same records show that public pension plans, university endowments and other nonprofits have funneled a massive $1.8 trillion into alternative investments.

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From the Telegraph’s travel section. Is it Airbnb?

Room Rates At Trump’s Hotels Have Fallen By Up To 63% (Tel.)

There is further evidence that Donald Trump’s occupation of the Oval Office has had a negative impact on his business empire, with new research showing that average room rates have fallen by as much as 63%at all but one of his 13 hotels. Hardest hit was Trump Las Vegas. The average cost of a two-night stay in a standard double room during January 2017, just before his inauguration, was priced at £637, according to analysis by FairFX, the currency provider. But a two-night break in January 2018, one year on, can be secured for just £237.

At Trump Turnberry, his Ayrshire golf hotel, the average cost of a two-night stay has fallen by 57%, from £498 to £215, while steep drops have also been found for stays at Trump Doral in Miami (down 53%), Trump Washington DC (down 52%), Trump Vancouver (down 48%), and Trump New York (down 32%). Only the president’s Irish hotel, Trump Doonbeg, has seen a rise in rates, from £334 to £357. “One year after Trump’s inauguration, prices for a weekend in one of his hotels have for the most part decreased,” said Ian Strafford-Taylor, FairFX CEO. “While big events, like the inauguration in Washington, will usually cause prices to rise in that city for a particular weekend, the decreases in other places suggest that it doesn’t necessarily pay to be president.”

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“Does holding hands with Saudi Arabia as it slaughters Yemeni children really reflect American values?”

Why Are We Helping Saudi Arabia Destroy Yemen? (Ron Paul)

It’s remarkable that whenever you read an article about Yemen in the mainstream media, the central role of Saudi Arabia and the United States in the tragedy is glossed over or completely ignored. A recent Washington Post article purporting to tell us “how things got so bad” explains to us that, “it’s a complicated story” involving “warring regional superpowers, terrorism, oil, and an impending climate catastrophe.” No, Washington Post, it’s simpler than that. The tragedy in Yemen is the result of foreign military intervention in the internal affairs of that country. It started with the “Arab Spring” which had all the fingerprints of State Department meddling, and it escalated with 2015’s unprovoked Saudi attack on the country to re-install Riyadh’s preferred leader.

Thousands of innocent civilians have been killed and millions more are at risk as starvation and cholera rage. We are told that US foreign policy should reflect American values. So how can Washington support Saudi Arabia – a tyrannical state with one of the worst human rights record on earth – as it commits by what any measure is a genocide against the Yemeni people? The UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs warned just last week that Yemen faces “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades with millions of victims.” The Red Cross has just estimated that a million people are vulnerable in the cholera epidemic that rages through Yemen. And why is there a cholera epidemic? Because the Saudi government – with US support – has blocked every port of entry to prevent critical medicine from reaching suffering Yemenis.

This is not a war. It is cruel murder. The United States is backing Saudi aggression against Yemen by cooperating in every way with the Saudi military. Targeting, intelligence, weapons sales, and more. The US is a partner in Saudi Arabia’s Yemen crimes. Does holding hands with Saudi Arabia as it slaughters Yemeni children really reflect American values? Is anyone even paying attention?

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What they refused to do 5 years ago. Now withdraw the warrants for Catalan elected officials.

Spain ‘Ready To Discuss’ Greater Fiscal Autonomy For Catalonia (G.)

Madrid is paving the way for Catalonia to be given the power to collect and manage its own taxes, similar to the system enjoyed by the autonomous Basque country, in an attempt to defuse the crisis over an illegal referendum on independence for the region. Senior sources in the Spanish government have told the Guardian that although there remains intense opposition within the ruling People’s party (PP) to any future referendum on self-determination, there is a renewed willingness to open discussions on a new fiscal pact under which Catalonia would have greater control of its finances. “If the Catalans ask for a fiscal pact, we are ready to discuss this,” one senior source said.

“The Basque country [in northern Spain] and Navarre collect their own taxes. They have their own system and there is a meeting between the Basque country and the central government and they decide how much they contribute to foreign policy and defence. It‘s a negotiation. Every five years. “We are open to discuss this, taking into account that the constitution of Spain also establishes solidarity [among the Spanish regions].” A fiscal pact was proposed in 2012 by Catalonia’s then president, Artur Mas, but the Spanish government blocked the move over concerns that it would be destabilising at a time when Spain appeared to be in dire economic peril. A cross-party commission on potential constitutional reform opened discussions last week on a new settlement between the Catalans and the Spanish government, with the support of the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy.

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Child poverty is high all over the EU. In Greece, it’s criminal.

37.5% of Greece’s Children Are At Risk Of Poverty (KTG)

Year in, year out since 2010, the number of children at risk of poverty is continuously increasing in Greece. With 37.5%, Greece is tops among members of the eurozone and third after Romania and Bulgaria within the European union. Four in 10 children aged up to 17 years old in Greece are at risk of poverty or social exclusion, Europe’s statistical agency Eurostat has found, putting the crisis-hit country at the top of the eurozone child poverty scale. In its report published on Monday and using 2016 data, Eurostat reported that with 37.5% of children facing the threat of poverty, Greece has the highest rate of at-risk children in the eurozone and the third highest in the European Union, behind Romania (49.2%) and Bulgaria (45.6%). At the opposite end of the scale, the lowest shares of children at risk of poverty or social exclusion were recorded in Denmark (13.8%), Finland (14.7%) and Slovenia (14.9%), ahead of the Czech Republic (17.4%) and the Netherlands (17.6%).

Greece also saw the highest rise in the number of at-risk children in the period between 2010 and 2016, growing 8.8% from a pre-crisis level of 28.7%. Cyprus also saw a spike of 7.8%, followed by Sweden (5.4%) and Italy (1.1%). In total in 2016, 24.8 million children in the EU, or 26.4% of the population aged up to 17 years old, were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. This means that the children were living in households with at least one of the following three conditions: at-risk-of-poverty after social transfers (income poverty), severely materially deprived or with very low work intensity. The proportion of children at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU has slightly decreased over the years, from 27.5% in 2010 to 26.4% in 2016, Eurostat reported.

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Prediction: a big mess.

Greek Online Foreclosures To Start With Big Debtors’ Assets (K.)

The first online foreclosures, set to start on November 29, will concern the assets of individuals or enterprises with debts of €500,000 or more (in some cases over €2 million). Villas, large buildings, historic buildings with one owner, plots of land, professional facilities and even parking spaces are among the assets slated to go under the electronic hammer as of end-November, when the online process finally begins. The amount of debts banks are seeking from these foreclosures comes to tens of millions of euros and concerns loans issued between 2005 and the outbreak of the crisis, when credit flowed handsomely.

Such is the case of one property with a single owner that will be auctioned for that individual’s debts of over €1.5 million to two systemic banks. The amount banks hope to claim is just €100,000, as it is common practice that the starting price is far smaller than the actual debt. The banks have vowed not to auction the homes of vulnerable groups or families without any other assets, but bank sources cannot rule out any exceptions made either intentionally or not, as 98% of debtors have failed to update their property details.

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The EU shouldn’t get to order Greece to do anything.

EU Orders Greece To Recover Up To €55 Million In State Aid (R.)

The European Commission ordered Greece on Monday to recover up to €55 million in state aid from Hellenic Defense Systems (HDS), a largely state-owned company that makes defense-related products. Greece granted a number of support measures between 2004 and 2011 including a direct grant of €10 million, a capital increase of €158 million and state guarantees for loans of up to €942 million. The Commission said in a statement that its investigation had concluded that the vast majority of Greek measures fell outside the scope of EU state aid control because they served Greek security interests. However, some measures worth up to €55 million did amount to illegal state aid because they supported the HDS’s civil activities, which include small pistols, explosives for construction and fireworks.

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Global.

As Oceans Warm, the World’s Kelp Forests Begin to Disappear (Yale)

A steady increase in ocean temperatures — nearly 3 degrees Fahrenheit in recent decades — was all it took to doom the once-luxuriant giant kelp forests of eastern Australia and Tasmania: Thick canopies that once covered much of the region’s coastal sea surface have wilted in intolerably warm and nutrient-poor water. Then, a warm-water sea urchin species moved in. Voracious grazers, the invaders have mowed down much of the remaining vegetation and, over vast areas, have formed what scientists call urchin barrens, bleak marine environments largely devoid of life. Today, more than 95 percent of eastern Tasmania’s kelp forests — luxuriant marine environments that provide food and shelter for species at all levels of the food web — are gone.

With the water still warming rapidly and the long-spine urchin spreading southward in the favorable conditions, researchers see little hope of saving the vanishing ecosystem. “Our giant kelp forests are now a tiny fraction of their former glory,” says Craig Johnson, a researcher at the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies. “This ecosystem used to be a major iconic feature of eastern Tasmania, and it no longer is.” The Tasmanian saga is just one of many examples of how climate change and other environmental shifts are driving worldwide losses of giant kelp, a brown algae whose strands can grow to 100 feet.

In western Australia, increases in ocean temperatures, accentuated by an extreme spike in 2011, have killed vast beds of an important native kelp, Ecklonia radiata. In southern Norway, ocean temperatures have exceeded the threshold for sugar kelp — Saccharina latissima — which has died en masse since the late 1990s and largely been replaced by thick mats of turf algae, which stifles kelp recovery. In western Europe, the warming Atlantic Ocean poses a serious threat to coastal beds of Laminaria digitata kelp, and researchers have predicted “extirpation of the species as early as the first half of the 21st century” in parts of France, Denmark, and southern England.

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Nov 182017
 
 November 18, 2017  Posted by at 9:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Henri Cartier Bresson Juvisny, France 1938

 

Consumers Are Both Confident And Broke (John Rubino)
You Have Been Warned (Lance Roberts)
Norway Plan to Sell Off $35 Billion in Oil, Gas Stocks Rattles Markets (BBG)
The World’s Biggest Wealth Manager Won’t Touch Bitcoin (BBG)
Trump’s Saudi Scheme Unravels (Alastair Crooke)
Saudi ‘Corruption’ Probe Widens: Dozens Of Military Officials Arrested (ZH)
Hariri Arrives in Paris With Family Amid Saudi-Iran Tensions (BBG)
Qatar Says It Has US Backing in Lingering Gulf Crisis (BBG)
House Prices Aren’t The Issue – Land Prices Are (G.)
ECB Denies EU Auditors Access To Information On Greek Bailouts (EuA)
Greek Pensioners Forced To Return ‘Social Dividend’ (K.)
UK Considers Tax On Single-Use Plastics To Tackle Ocean Pollution (G.)
Irish Catholic Priest Urges Christians To Abandon The Word Christmas (G.)

 

 

Powerful graph from Bob Prechter.

Consumers Are Both Confident And Broke (John Rubino)

Elliott Wave International recently put together a chart (click here or on the chart to watch the accompanying video) that illustrates a recurring theme of financial bubbles: When good times have gone on for a sufficiently long time, people forget that it can be any other way and start behaving as if they’re bulletproof. They stop saving, for instance, because they’ll always have their job and their stocks will always go up. Then comes the inevitable bust. On the following chart, this delusion and its aftermath are represented by the gap between consumer confidence (our sense of how good the next year is likely to be) and the saving rate (the portion of each paycheck we keep for a rainy day). The bigger the gap the less realistic we are and the more likely to pay dearly for our hubris.

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“Prior to 2000, debt was able to support a rising standard of living..” Two decades later, it can’t even maintain the status quo. That’s what you call a breaking point.

You Have Been Warned (Lance Roberts)

There is an important picture that is currently developing which, if it continues, will impact earnings and ultimately the stock market. Let’s take a look at some interesting economic numbers out this past week. On Tuesday, we saw the release of the Producer Price Index (PPI) which ROSE 0.4% for the month following a similar rise of 0.4% last month. This surge in prices was NOT surprising given the recent devastation from 3-hurricanes and massive wildfires in California which led to a temporary surge in demand for products and services.

Then on Wednesday, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) was released which showed only a small 0.1% increase falling sharply from the 0.5% increase last month.

This deflationary pressure further showed up on Thursday with a -0.3 decline in Export prices. (Exports make up about 40% of corporate profits) For all of you that continue to insist this is an “earnings-driven market,” you should pay very close attention to those three data points above. When companies have higher input costs in their production they have two choices: 1) “pass along” those price increase to their customers; or 2) absorb those costs internally. If a company opts to “pass along” those costs then we should have seen CPI rise more strongly. Since that didn’t happen, it suggests companies are unable to “pass along” those costs which means a reduction in earnings. The other BIG report released on Wednesday tells you WHY companies have been unable to “pass along” those increased costs.

The “retail sales” report came in at just a 0.1% increase for the month. After a large jump in retail sales last month, as was expected following the hurricanes, there should have been some subsequent follow through last month. There simply wasn’t. More importantly, despite annual hopes by the National Retail Federation of surging holiday spending which is consistently over-estimated, the recent surge in consumer debt without a subsequent increase in consumer spending shows the financial distress faced by a vast majority of consumers. The first chart below shows a record gap between the standard cost of living and the debt required to finance that cost of living. Prior to 2000, debt was able to support a rising standard of living, which is no longer the case currently.

With a current shortfall of $18,176 between the standard of living and real disposable incomes, debt is only able to cover about 2/3rds of the difference with a net shortfall of $6,605. This explains the reason why “control purchases” by individuals (those items individuals buy most often) is running at levels more normally consistent with recessions rather than economic expansions.

If companies are unable to pass along rising production costs to consumers, export prices are falling and consumer demand remains weak, be warned of continued weakness in earnings reports in the months ahead. As I stated earlier this year, the recovery in earnings this year was solely a function of the recovering energy sector due to higher oil prices. With that tailwind now firmly behind us, the risk to earnings in the year ahead is dangerous to a market basing its current “overvaluation” on the “strong earnings” story.

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Another way to push up prices?

Norway Plan to Sell Off $35 Billion in Oil, Gas Stocks Rattles Markets (BBG)

Norway’s proposal to sell off $35 billion in oil and natural gas stocks brings sudden and unparalleled heft to a once-grassroots movement to enlist investors in the fight against climate change. The Nordic nation’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund said Thursday that it’s considering unloading its shares of Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell and other oil giants to diversify its holdings and guard against drops in crude prices. European oil stocks fell. Norges Bank Investment Management would not be the first institutional investor to back away from fossil fuels. But until now, most have been state pension funds, universities and other smaller players that have limited their divestments to coal, tar sands or some of the other dirtiest fossil fuels. Norway’s fund is the world’s largest equity investor, controlling about 1.5% of global stocks. If it follows through on its proposal, it would be the first to abandon the sector altogether.

“This is an enormous change,” said Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, a non-profit that advocates for sustainable investing. “It’s a shot heard around the world.” The proposal rattled equity markets. While Norwegian officials say the plan isn’t based on any particular view about future oil prices, it’s apt to ratchet up pressure on fossil fuel companies already struggling with the growth of renewable energy. Norway’s Finance Ministry, which oversees the fund, said it will study the proposal and will take at least a year to decide what to do. The fund has already sold off most of its coal stocks. “People are starting to recognize the risks of oil and gas,” said Jason Disterhoft of the Rainforest Action Network, which pushes banks to divest from fossil fuels.

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From the biggest wealth fund to the biggest wealth manager.

The World’s Biggest Wealth Manager Won’t Touch Bitcoin (BBG)

UBS, the world’s largest wealth manager, isn’t prepared to make portfolio allocations to bitcoin because of a lack of government oversight, the bank’s chief investment officer said. Bitcoin has also not reached the critical mass to be considered a viable currency to invest in, UBS’s Mark Haefele said in an interview. The total sum of all cryptocurrencies is “not even the size of some of the smaller currencies” that UBS would allocate to, he said. Bitcoin has split investors over the viability of the volatile cryptocurrency and UBS is among its critics. Bitcoin capped a resurgent week by climbing within a few dollars of a record $8,000 on Friday. Still, events such as a bitcoin-funded terrorist attack are potential risks which are hard to evaluate, he said.

“All it would take would be one terrorist incident in the U.S. funded by bitcoin for the U.S. regulator to much more seriously step in and take action, he said. “That’s a risk, an unquantifiable risk, bitcoin has that another currency doesn’t.” While skeptics have called bitcoin’s rapid advance a bubble, it has become too big an asset for many financial firms to ignore. Bitcoin has gained 17% this week, touching a high of $7,997.17 during Asia hours before moving lower in late trading. The rally through Friday came after bitcoin wiped out as much as $38 billion in market capitalization following the cancellation of a technology upgrade known as SegWit2x on Nov. 8.

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Former (and current?!) TAE contributor Alastair Crooke draws his conclusions.

Trump’s Saudi Scheme Unravels (Alastair Crooke)

Aaron Miller and Richard Sokolsky, writing in Foreign Policy, suggest “that Mohammed bin Salman’s most notable success abroad may well be the wooing and capture of President Donald Trump, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.” Indeed, it is possible that this “success” may prove to be MbS’ only success. “It didn’t take much convincing”, Miller and Sokolski wrote: “Above all, the new bromance reflected a timely coincidence of strategic imperatives.” Trump, as ever, was eager to distance himself from President Obama and all his works; the Saudis, meanwhile, were determined to exploit Trump’s visceral antipathy for Iran – in order to reverse the string of recent defeats suffered by the kingdom.

So compelling seemed the prize (that MbS seemed to promise) of killing three birds with one stone (striking at Iran; “normalizing” Israel in the Arab world, and a Palestinian accord), that the U.S. President restricted the details to family channels alone. He thus was delivering a deliberate slight to the U.S. foreign policy and defense establishments by leaving official channels in the dark, and guessing. Trump bet heavily on MbS, and on Jared Kushner as his intermediary. But MbS’ grand plan fell apart at its first hurdle: the attempt to instigate a provocation against Hezbollah in Lebanon, to which the latter would overreact and give Israel and the “Sunni Alliance” the expected pretext to act forcefully against Hezbollah and Iran.

Stage One simply sank into soap opera with the bizarre hijacking of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri by MbS, which served only to unite the Lebanese, rather than dividing them into warring factions, as was hoped. But the debacle in Lebanon carries a much greater import than just a mishandled soap opera. The really important fact uncovered by the recent MbS mishap is that not only did the “dog not bark in the night” – but that the Israelis have no intention “to bark” at all: which is to say, to take on the role (as veteran Israeli correspondent Ben Caspit put it), of being “the stick, with which Sunni leaders threaten their mortal enemies, the Shiites … right now, no one in Israel, least of all Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is in any hurry to ignite the northern front. Doing so, would mean getting sucked into the gates of hell”.

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Targeting the military means MbS does not feel safe. How desperate is he?

Saudi ‘Corruption’ Probe Widens: Dozens Of Military Officials Arrested (ZH)

After jailing dozens of members of the royal family, and extorting numerous prominent businessmen, 32-year-old Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman has widened his so-called ‘corruption’ probe further still. The Wall Street Journal reports that at least two dozen military officers, including multiple commanders, recently have been rounded up in connection to the Saudi government’s sweeping corruption investigation, according to two senior advisers to the Saudi government. Additionally, several prominent businessmen also were taken in by Saudi authorities in recent days. “A number of businessmen including Loai Nasser, Mansour al-Balawi, Zuhair Fayez and Abdulrahman Fakieh also were rounded up in recent days, the people said. Attempts to reach the businessmen or their associates were unsuccessful.”

It isn’t clear if those people are all accused of wrongdoing, or whether some of them have been called in as witnesses. But their detainment signals an intensifying high-stakes campaign spearheaded by Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. There appear to be three scenarios behind MbS’ decision to go after the military: 1) They are corrupt and the entire process is all above board and he is doing the right thing by cleaning house; 2) They are wealthy and thus capable of being extorted (a cost of being free) to add to the nation’s coffers; or 3) There is a looming military coup and by cutting off the head, he hopes to quell the uprising. If we had to guess we would weight the scenarios as ALL true with the (3) becoming more likely, not less.

So far over 200 people have been held without charges since the arrests began on November 4th and almost 2000 bank accounts are now frozen, which could be why, as The Daily Mail reports, Saudi prince and billionaire Al-Waleed bin Talal has reportedly put two luxury hotels in Lebanon up for sale after being detained in his country during a corruption sweep. The Saudi information ministry previously stated the government would seize any asset or property related to the alleged corruption, meaning the Savoy hotel could well become the state property of the kingdom. ‘The accounts and balances of those detained will be revealed and frozen,’ a spokesman for Saudi Arabia’s information ministry said. ‘Any asset or property related to these cases of corruption will be registered as state property.’

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France and Germany play completely different roles. Hariri has said he will return to Lebanon by Wednesday.

Hariri Arrives in Paris With Family Amid Saudi-Iran Tensions (BBG)

Saad Hariri arrived in France with his family amid mounting concern that his country, Lebanon, may once again turn into a battleground for a showdown between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Lebanese prime minister and his family were invited to France by President Emmanuel Macron. French officials say they can’t say how long Hariri will stay. On Saturday, Macron and Hariri will meet at noon for talks, following which the Lebanese leader and his family will have lunch at the Elysee Palace. Hariri, 47, hasn’t returned to Lebanon since his shock resignation announcement from Saudi Arabia on Nov. 4, which sparked fears of an escalating regional conflict between the kingdom and Iran. The Saudi government has denied accusations it was holding Hariri against his will. The kingdom recalled its ambassador to Germany in response to comments made by Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel.

Hariri weighed in on the spat, suggesting that Gabriel has accused the kingdom of holding him hostage. “To say that I am held up in Saudi Arabia and not allowed to leave the country is a lie. I am on the way to the airport, Mr. Sigmar Gabriel,” he said on Twitter. In limited public comments and on Twitter, Hariri has sought to dispel speculation that Saudi Arabia asked him to resign because he wouldn’t confront Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim group that plays a key role in Lebanon’s fragile government. The group is considered a terrorist organization by countries including Israel and the U.S., and it has provided crucial military support to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria’s war.

Macron, who met with Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, said last week that the two agreed that Hariri “be invited for several days to France.” He also reiterated France’s pledge to help protect Lebanon’s “independence and autonomy.” Hariri will be welcomed in France “as a friend,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said a press conference in Riyadh on Thursday after meeting with Saudi authorities. French officials have said they still regard Hariri as Lebanon’s prime minister since the country’s president, Michel Aoun, rejected his resignation on the grounds that it must be handed over on Lebanese soil.

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And if you weren’t confused enough yet, there’s this:

Qatar Says It Has US Backing in Lingering Gulf Crisis (BBG)

Qatar’s foreign minister said the tiny emirate has U.S. backing to resolve the ongoing crisis with a Saudi-led alliance, but the country is also prepared should its Gulf Arab neighbors make military moves. The Trump administration is encouraging all sides to end the dispute and has offered to host talks at the Camp David presidential retreat, but only Qatar has agreed to the dialogue, Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Al-Thani said Friday. Four countries in the Saudi-led bloc severed diplomatic and transport links with Qatar in June, accusing it of backing extremist groups, a charge Doha has repeatedly denied. Saudi Arabia closed Qatar’s only land border. Sheikh Mohammed said he will meet Secretary of State Rex Tillerson next week after having talks this week with Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker and ranking member Ben Cardin as well as other congressional leaders.

“The Middle East needs to be addressed as the top priority of the foreign policy agenda of the United States,” he told reporters in Washington on Friday. “We see a pattern of irresponsibility and a reckless leadership in the region, which is just trying to bully countries into submission.” The Middle East has been a key foreign policy issue for the Trump administration, with much of it centered around support for the Saudis. The White House has backed the kingdom’s “anti-corruption” campaign that has ensnared top princes and billionaires once seen as U.S. allies, it has provided support for the Saudis in their war in Yemen and it has been muted in criticism of the crisis sparked when Lebanon’s prime minister unexpectedly resigned this month while in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, mediation attempts by Kuwait and the U.S. have failed to settle the spat with the Saudi-led bloc and Qatar.

Sheikh Mohammed accused Saudi Arabia of interfering in other countries’ affairs, citing the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri as an example of the oil-rich kingdom’s overreach and warning that other countries could be next. Asked about the prospect of the Saudi-led bloc taking military action, Sheikh Mohammed said though Qatar hopes that won’t happen, his country is “well-prepared” and can count on its defense partners, including France, Turkey, the U.K. and the U.S., which has a base in Qatar. “We have enough friends in order to stop them from taking these steps,” but “there is a pattern of unpredictability in their behavior so we have to keep all the options on the table for us,” he said. On the U.S. military presence, “if there is any aggression when it comes to Qatar, those forces will be affected,” he added.

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There is nothing secret about land tax. Nor is it anything new. It can be implemented tomorrow morning.

House Prices Aren’t The Issue – Land Prices Are (G.)

While reporting on the recent court case where controversial landlord Fergus Wilson defended (but lost) his right to refuse to let to Indians and Pakistanis, I learned something about how he’s now making money. He is now far from being Britain’s biggest buy-to-let landlord. He’s down to 350 homes, from a peak of 1,000. And what’s he doing with the cash made from sales? Buying agricultural land close to Kent’s biggest towns. One plot he bought for £45,000 is now worth, he boasted, £3m with development permission. And therein lies the reason why we have a housing crisis.

As long ago as 1909, Winston Churchill, then promoting Lloyd George’s “people’s budget” and its controversial measures to tax land, told an audience in Edinburgh that the landowner “sits still and does nothing” while reaping vast gains from land improvements by the municipality, such as roads, railways, power from generators and water from reservoirs far away. “Every one of those improvements is effected by the labour and the cost of other people … To not one of those improvements does the land monopolist contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is sensibly enhanced … he contributes nothing even to the process from which his own enrichment is derived.”

When Britain’s post-war housebuilding boom began, it was based on cheap land. As a timely new book, The Land Question by Daniel Bentley of thinktank Civitas, sets out, the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act under Clement Attlee’s government allowed local authorities to acquire land for development at “existing use value”. There was no premium because it was earmarked for development. The New Towns Act 1946 was similar, giving public corporation powers to compulsorily purchase land at current-use value. The unserviced land cost component for homes in Harlow and Milton Keynes was just 1% of housing costs at the time. Today, the price of land can easily be half the cost of buying a home..

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Democracy in 2017.

ECB Denies EU Auditors Access To Information On Greek Bailouts (EuA)

The European Central Bank (ECB) challenged an attempt by the European Court of Auditors (ECA), the watchdog of EU finances, to examine the Bank’s role in the Greek bailout and reform programmes and refused to provide access to some requested information, citing banking confidentiality. The European Court of Auditors published a report assessing the effectiveness and results of the Greek bailouts on Thursday (16 November). “In line with the ECA’s mandate to audit the operational efficiency of the management of the ECB, we have attempted to examine the Bank’s involvement in the Greek Economic Adjustment Programmes. However, the ECB questioned the Court’s mandate in this respect,” the report reads. The auditors examined the role of the European Commission and found some shortcomings in its approach, which they said overall lacked transparency.

They made a series of recommendations to improve the design and implementation of the Economic Adjustment Programmes. “These recommendations have been accepted in full,” the report said. However, the ECB had invoked the banking confidentiality and denied access to specific information. “It [ECB] did not provide sufficient amount of evidence and thus we were unable to report on the role of the ECB in the Greek programmes,” the auditors said. The report pointed out that the European Parliament had specifically asked the Court to analyse the role of the ECB in financial assistance programmes. It noted that EU auditors had faced similar problems with obtaining evidence from the ECB when reviewing the Single Supervisory Mechanism.

The report highlighted the ECB’s decision on 4 February 2015 to suspend the waiver for accepting Greek government bonds as loan collateral, thereby automatically increasing short-term borrowing costs for the banks. That happened during the tough negotiations between Greece’s leftist government and its international lenders before the third bailout. Many believed it was meant to put additional pressure on Alexis Tsipras’ government to back down and respect the obligations undertaken by the country’s previous governments.

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It just gets crazier all the time. If your intention was to make sure an economy slowly dies, this is the way to go.

“Retirees on low pensions will effectively have to return the handout they get in late December at the end of January..”

Greek Pensioners Forced To Return ‘Social Dividend’ (K.)

Salary workers, retirees on low pensions, property owners and families with three or more children will bear the brunt of the new austerity measures accompanying the 2018 budget, which come to 1.9 billion euros. Next year the primary budget surplus will have to rise to 3.5% of GDP, therefore more cuts will be required, with low-income pensioners – the recipients of next month’s so-called “social dividend” – set to contribute most, according to the new measures. Retirees on low pensions will effectively have to return the handout they get in late December at the end of January, as the cost of pension interventions according to the midterm fiscal strategy plan amounts to 660 million euros. This is just 60 million euros shy of the social dividend’s 720 million euros that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras promised this week.

The new measures for 2018 are set to be reflected in the final draft of the budget that is to be tabled in Parliament on Tuesday. They are likely to further increase the amount of expired debts to the state, after the addition of 34 billion euros from unpaid taxes and fines in the last three years, owing to the inability of most taxpayers to meet their obligations to the tax authorities. Plans for next year provide for the further reduction of salaries in the public sector in the context of the single salary system, additional cuts to pensions and family benefits, as well as the abolition of the handout to most low-income pensioners (EKAS). Freelance professionals are also in for an extra burden in 2018, due to the increase in their social security contributions that will be calculated on the sum of their taxable incomes and the contributions they paid in 2017.

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The UN should be all over this.

UK Considers Tax On Single-Use Plastics To Tackle Ocean Pollution (G.)

The chancellor, Philip Hammond, will announce in next week’s budget a “call for evidence” on how taxes or other charges on single-use plastics such as takeaway cartons and packaging could reduce the impact of discarded waste on marine and bird life, the Treasury has said. The commitment was welcomed by environmental and wildlife groups, though they stressed that any eventual measures would need to be ambitious and coordinated. An estimated 12m tonnes of plastic enters the oceans each year, and residues are routinely found in fish, sea birds and marine mammals. This week it emerged that plastics had been discovered even in creatures living seven miles beneath the sea. The introduction just over two years ago of a 5p charge on single-use plastic bags led to an 85% reduction in their use inside six months.

Separately, the environment department is seeking evidence on how to reduce the dumping of takeaway drinks containers such as coffee cups through measures such as a deposit return scheme. Announcing the move on plastics, the Treasury cited statistics saying more than a million birds and 100,000 sea mammals and turtles die each year from eating or getting tangled in plastic waste. The BBC series Blue Planet II has highlighted the scale of plastic debris in the oceans. In the episode to be broadcast this Sunday, albatrosses try to feed plastic to their young, and a pilot whale carries her dead calf with her for days in mourning. Scientists working with the programme believed the mother’s milk was made poisonous by pollution. The call for evidence will begin in the new year and will take into account the findings of the consultation on drinks containers.

Tisha Brown, an oceans campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said the decades-long use of almost indestructible materials to make single-use products “was bound to lead to problems, and we’re starting to discover how big those problems are”. She said: “Ocean plastic pollution is a global emergency, it is everywhere from the Arctic Ocean at top of the world to the Marianas trench at the bottom of the Pacific. It’s in whales, turtles and 90% of sea birds, and it’s been found in our salt, our tap water and even our beer.

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It’s either Christ or Santa Claus. Makes sense.

Irish Catholic Priest Urges Christians To Abandon The Word Christmas (G.)

An Irish Catholic priest has called for Christians to stop using the word Christmas because it has been hijacked by “Santa and reindeer”. Father Desmond O’Donnell said Christians of any denomination need to accept Christmas now has no sacred meaning. O’Donnell’s comments follow calls from a rightwing pressure group for a boycott of Greggs bakery in the UK after the company replaced baby Jesus with a sausage roll in a nativity scene. “We’ve lost Christmas, just like we lost Easter, and should abandon the word completely,” O’Donnell told the Belfast Telegraph. “We need to let it go, it’s already been hijacked and we just need to recognise and accept that.”

O’Donnell said he is not seeking to disparage non-believers. “I am simply asking that space be preserved for believers for whom Christmas has nothing to do with Santa and reindeer. “My religious experience of true Christmas, like so many others, is very deep and real – like the air I breathe. But non-believers deserve and need their celebration too, it’s an essential human dynamic and we all need that in the toughness of life.”

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Nov 112017
 
 November 11, 2017  Posted by at 9:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Henri Cartier Bresson Greenfield, Indiana 1960

 

How Economics Failed the Economy (Haque)
How Did The News Go ‘Fake’? When The Media Went Social (G.)
Global Economy: Communication Breakdown? (R.)
Financial Markets Are Still Blowing Off the Fed (WS)
Is There Any Way Out Of The ECB’s Trap? (Lacalle)
How to Break Out of Our Long National Tax Nightmare (BW)
Tesla’s Junk Bonds Trading Under Water, Could Spell Trouble For Elon Musk (MW)
China Faces Historic Corruption Battle, New Graft Buster Says (R.)
Putin, Trump Agree To Fighting ISIS In Syria, Kremlin Says (R.)
Uber Loses Appeal In UK Employment Rights Case (G.)
Greece Prepares Online Platform for ‘Airbnb Tax’ (GR)
Dijsselbloem: We Saved the Greek Banks but Overlooked Taxpayers (GR)
FOIA Litigation Is Shedding Light On The Case Of Julian Assange (Maurizi)

 

 

Absolute must read.

“Economics failed the economy by telling us that everything that could be traded should be traded, since trade is always beneficial to humankind.”

“..the economic growth that the US has chased so desperately, so furiously, never actually existed at all.”

How Economics Failed the Economy (Haque)

When, in the 1930s, the great economist Simon Kuznets created GDP, he deliberately left two industries out of this then novel, revolutionary idea of a national income : finance and advertising. Don’t worry, this essay isn t going to be a jeremiad against them, that would be too easy, and too shallow, but that is where the story of how modern economics failed the economy and how to understand how to undo it should begin. Kuznets logic was simple, and it was not mere opinion, but analytical fact: finance and advertising don t create new value, they only allocate, or distribute existing value in the same way that a loan to buy a television isn’t the television, or an ad for healthcare isn’t healthcare. They are only means to goods, not goods themselves. Now we come to two tragedies of history.

What happened next is that Congress laughed, as Congresses do, ignored Kuznets, and included advertising and finance anyways for political reasons -after all, bigger, to the politicians mind, has always been better, and therefore, a bigger national income must have been better. Right? Let’s think about it. Today, something very curious has taken place. If we do what Kuznets originally suggested, and subtract finance and advertising from GDP, what does that picture -a picture of the economy as it actually is reveal? Well, since the lion’s share of growth, more than 50% every year, comes from finance and advertising -whether via Facebook or Google or Wall St and hedge funds and so on- we would immediately see that the economic growth that the US has chased so desperately, so furiously, never actually existed at all.

Growth itself has only been an illusion, a trick of numbers, generated by including what should have been left out in the first place. If we subtracted allocative industries from GDP, we’d see that economic growth is in fact below population growth, and has been for a very long time now, probably since the 1980s and in that way, the US economy has been stagnant, which is (surprise) what everyday life feels like. Feels like. Economic indicators do not anymore tell us a realistic, worthwhile, and accurate story about the truth of the economy, and they never did -only, for a while, the trick convinced us that reality wasn’t. Today, that trick is over, and economies grow , but people’s lives, their well-being, incomes, and wealth, do not, and that, of course, is why extremism is sweeping the globe. Perhaps now you begin to see why the two have grown divorced from one another: economics failed the economy.

Now let us go one step, then two steps, further. Finance and advertising are no longer merely allocative industries today. They are now extractive industries. That is, they internalize value from society, and shift costs onto society, all the while, creating no value themselves. The story is easiest to understand via Facebook’s example: it makes its users sadder, lonelier, and unhappier, and also corrodes democracy in spectacular and catastrophic ways. There is not a single upside of any kind that is discernible -and yet, all the above is counted as a benefit, not a cost, in national income, so the economy can thus grow, even while a society of miserable people are being manipulated by foreign actors into destroying their own democracy. Pretty neat, huh?

It was *because* finance and advertising were counted as creative, productive, when they were only allocative, distributive that they soon became extractive. After all, if we had said from the beginning that these industries do not count, perhaps they would not have needed to maximize profits (or for VCs to pour money into them, and so on) endlessly to count more. But we didn’t. And so soon, they had no choice but to become extractive: chasing more and more profits, to juice up the illusion of growth, and soon enough, these industries began to eat the economy whole, because of course, as Kuznets observed, they allocate everything else in the economy, and therefore, they control it.

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Discuss. Do social media make you depressed?

How Did The News Go ‘Fake’? When The Media Went Social (G.)

The Collins Dictionary word of the year for 2017 is, disappointingly, “fake news”. We say disappointingly, because the ubiquity of that phrase among journalists, academics and policymakers is partly why the debate around this issue is so simplistic. The phrase is grossly inadequate to explain the nature and scale of the problem. (Were those Russian ads displayed at the congressional hearings last week news, for example?) But what’s more troubling, and the reason that we simply cannot use the phrase any more, is that it is being used by politicians around the world as a weapon against the fourth estate and an excuse to censor free speech. Definitions matter. Take, for example, the question of why this type of content is created in the first place.

There are four distinct motivations for why people do this: political, financial, psychological (for personal satisfaction) and social (to reinforce our belonging to communities or “tribes”). If we’re serious about tackling mis- and disinformation, we need to address these motivations separately. And we think it’s time to give much more serious consideration to the social element. Social media force us to live our lives in public, positioned centre-stage in our very own daily performances. Erving Goffman, the American sociologist, articulated the idea of “life as theatre” in his 1956 book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, and while the book was published more than half a century ago, the concept is even more relevant today. It is increasingly difficult to live a private life, in terms not just of keeping our personal data away from governments or corporations, but also of keeping our movements, interests and, most worryingly, information consumption habits from the wider world.

The social networks are engineered so that we are constantly assessing others – and being assessed ourselves. In fact our “selves” are scattered across different platforms, and our decisions, which are public or semi-public performances, are driven by our desire to make a good impression on our audiences, imagined and actual. We grudgingly accept these public performances when it comes to our travels, shopping, dating, and dining. We know the deal. The online tools that we use are free in return for us giving up our data, and we understand that they need us to publicly share our lifestyle decisions to encourage people in our network to join, connect and purchase.

But, critically, the same forces have impacted the way we consume news and information. Before our media became “social”, only our closest family or friends knew what we read or watched, and if we wanted to keep our guilty pleasures secret, we could. Now, for those of us who consume news via the social networks, what we “like” and what we follow is visible to many – or, in Twitter’s case, to all, unless we are in that small minority of users who protect their tweets. Consumption of the news has become a performance that can’t be solely about seeking information or even entertainment. What we choose to “like” or follow is part of our identity, an indication of our social class and status, and most frequently our political persuasion.

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The Fed is not the biggest player anymore.

Global Economy: Communication Breakdown? (R.)

A flattening of government bond yield curves that may presage an economic downturn could prompt verbal interventions in the coming week by central bankers still struggling to hit this cycle’s inflation targets. ECB chief Mario Draghi, U.S. Fed Chair Janet Yellen, BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda and BOE head Mark Carney will form an all-star panel on Tuesday at an ECB-hosted conference in Frankfurt. The subject? “Challenges and opportunities of central bank communication.” Curve-flattening on both sides of the Atlantic, but more markedly in the United States, suggests investors have doubts over the future path of inflation and may be starting to price in a downturn just as the global economy picks up speed.

Since the Fed began raising rates in 2015, the difference between long- and short-term U.S. yields has shrunk to levels not seen since before the 2008 financial crisis, reaching 67 basis points – its flattest in a decade – in the past week. That partly reflects uncertainty about the passage of a Republican-sponsored bill to cut U.S. taxes, which has hauled down longer-term projections of inflation while expectations for upcoming rate increases push short-term yields higher. With curve-flattening typically signaling a muted outlook for both growth and inflation, the trend suggests investors see a risk that the Fed’s current monetary tightening cycle will start to slow the world’s biggest economy. A flatter curve, which makes lending less profitable, also poses a risk to the banking sector, nursed back to fragile health by central banks after it nearly collapsed a decade ago. But with crisis-era policies still largely in place, how would central banks cushion the impact of a downturn?

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Because of Draghi and Kuroda.

Financial Markets Are Still Blowing Off the Fed (WS)

There has been a lot of hand-wringing about junk bonds this week, that they have gotten clobbered, that losses have been taken, that this is a predictor of where stocks are headed, etc., etc., because after a steamy rally in junk-bond prices from the February 2016 low, there has now been a sell-off. When bond prices fall, bond yields rise by definition. And the average yield of BB-rated junk bonds – the upper end of the junk-bond spectrum – did this:

No one likes to lose money, and junk bonds did lose money this week, an astounding event, after all the easy money that had been made since early February 2016. But how far have yields really spiked? The chart below shows the same BofA Merrill Lynch US High Yield BB Effective Yield index, but it puts that “spike” into a three-year context:

For further context, the BB yield spiked – a true spike – to over 16% during the Financial Crisis, as bond prices crashed and as credit froze up. Currently, at 4.36%, the average BB yield is off record lows, but it’s still low, and junk bond prices are still enormously inflated, given the inherent credit risks, and have a lot further to fall before any hand-wringing is appropriate. The low BB yield means that risky companies with a junk credit rating can still borrow money at near record low costs in a world awash in global liquidity that is trying to find a place to go. This shows that “financial conditions” are very easy. The market has now four Fed rate hikes under its belt and the QE unwind has commenced. Another rake hike is likely in December. Tightening is under way. By “tightening” its monetary policy, the Fed attempts to tighten financial conditions in the markets. That’s its goal.

But that hasn’t happened yet. While short-term yields have responded to the rate hikes, longer-term yields are now lower than they’d been at the time of the rate hike in December 2016. Stocks have rocketed higher. Volatility indices are near record lows. And various yield spreads have narrowed sharply – for example, the difference between the 10-year Treasury yield and the 2-year Treasury yield is currently just 0.73 percentage points. In other words, raising money is easy and cheap. And “financial stress” in the markets, as measured by the St. Louis Fed’s Financial Stress Index, has just hit a record low. In the chart below, the red line (= zero) represents “normal financial market conditions.” Values below the red line indicate below-average financial market stress. Values above the red line indicate higher than average financial stress. The latest reading of the index dropped to -1.60, by a hair below the prior record low in 2014:

In other words, financial conditions have never been easier despite the current series of rate hikes, the Fed’s “balance-sheet normalization, and the hand-wringing about junk bonds this week. The chart below shows the Financial Stress Index going back to 2014. In that time frame, all values are below zero. Financial stress in the markets was heading back to normal in late 2015 and early 2016, as a small sector of the total markets – energy junk-bonds – were getting crushed and as the S&P 500 index experienced a downdraft. But in early February 2016, everything turned around:

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Europe’s problem is huge: “..the ECB repurchase program exceeds net sovereign bond issuances in the eurozone by more than seven times. Throughout the US QE (quantitative expansion) of the Federal Reserve, it never reached 100% of net issuances.” Thing is, it’s Draghi who keeps the global economy going.

Is There Any Way Out Of The ECB’s Trap? (Lacalle)

The ECB faces the Devil’s Alternative that Frederick Forsyth mentioned in one of his books. All options are potentially risky. Mario Draghi knows that maintaining the so-called stimuli involves more risks than benefits, but also knows that eliminating them could make the eurozone deck of cards collapse. Despite the massive injection of liquidity, he knows that he can not disguise political risks such as the secessionist coup in Catalonia. The Ibex reflects this, making it clear that the European Central Bank does not print prosperity, it only puts a floor to valuations. The ECB wants a weak euro. But it is a game of juggling to pretend a weak euro and at the same time a strong economy. The EU countries export mostly to themselves. Member countries sell more than two-thirds of their goods and services to other countries in the eurozone.

Therefore, the more they export and their economies recover, the stronger the euro, and with it, the risk of losing competitiveness. The ECB has tried to break the euro strength with dovish messages, but it has not worked until political risk reappeared. With the German elections and the prospect of a weak coalition, the results of the Austrian elections and the situation in Spain, market operators have realized – at last – that the mirage of “this time is different “in the European Union was simply that, a mirage. A weak euro has not helped the EU to export more abroad. Non-EU exports from the member countries have been stagnant since the monetary stimulus program was launched, even though the euro is much weaker than its basket of currencies compared to when the stimulus program began. The Central Bank Trap. This shows that export growth is not achieved by artificial subsidies such as a devaluation, but from added value, something that the EU has stopped looking for.

Escape From The Central Bank Trap explains that the ECB has got itself in a problem that is not easy to solve. The first evidence is that it should have finished its stimuli months ago according to its own plan, but is unable to do it. The second is that, with more than a trillion euros of excessive liquidity, the ECB keeps a figure of repurchases that were clearly unnecessary and that have resulted in the figure of excess liquidity being multiplied by more than ten. The third is that perverse incentives have taken over the European economic policy. Risks are relevant. This week I had the opportunity to speak at the Federal Reserve Bank of Houston and I explained that the ECB repurchase program exceeds net sovereign bond issuances in the eurozone by more than seven times. Throughout the US QE (quantitative expansion) of the Federal Reserve, it never reached 100% of net issuances.

Now that the ECB “reduces” these repurchases to 30 billion euros per month, it will continue to be more than 100% of net issuances. What does that mean? That the US always maintained a healthy secondary market alive, which guaranteed that there would not be huge risks of collapse when tapering started, because the Federal Reserve bought less than what was issued, paying attention to the market accepting the valuations of bonds and financial assets. By extending the repurchase program, the ECB admits that it does not know if there is a secondary market that would buy European government bonds at current yields. Ask yourself a question. Would you buy bonds from a heavily indebted state that has stopped its reform impulse with a 10-year yield of less than 2%, if the ECB did not buy them back? Exactly. No.

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What’s needed is a whole overthrow of taxation as we know it. The Paradise Papers point to where the changes should be.

How to Break Out of Our Long National Tax Nightmare (BW)

President Donald Trump wanted to call it the Cut Cut Cut Act. Congressional Republicans settled on the less catchy and no more descriptive Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. What the legislation that began making its way through the U.S. House of Representatives in early November actually would do is sharply reduce taxes for business while rearranging the personal income tax with a mix of cuts and increases. House Speaker Paul Ryan called the bill “a game changer for our country.” The president said it was “the rocket fuel our economy needs to soar higher than ever before.” That’s a lot to expect from some changes in the tax code. But then, here in the U.S. we’ve come to expect big things of our income taxes. On the right, cutting them has been portrayed for decades as a near-magical growth elixir. On the left, raising or rearranging them is seen as essential to making society fairer.

And across the political spectrum, economic and social policies have come to rely on carving credits, deductions, and other exceptions out of the tax code to favor this or that behavior. It can sometimes feel, in fact, as if “we have lost sight of the fact that the fundamental purpose of our tax system is to raise revenues to fund government.” That was the lament of President George W. Bush’s Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform in November 2005. But this bipartisan group of worthies couldn’t agree on how to raise those revenues either, instead offering two plans with differing priorities. Both were mostly ignored by Congress at the time, though some of the recommendations—such as shrinking the tax deductions for mortgage interest and state and local taxes—have found their way into this year’s bill. Overall, though, it appears that the legislation will only make it harder to raise revenue to fund government.

The House and Senate have passed budget resolutions clearing the way for $1.5 trillion in revenue losses over the next decade from the tax changes. That’s $150 billion a year to add to a federal deficit that totaled a sinister-sounding $666 billion, 3.5% of GDP, in the just-ended fiscal year. All of which is a longer way of saying that we’ll almost certainly be back at this once again in the all-too-foreseeable future, trying to figure out a better way to fund the government. Since 1981, the year of President Ronald Reagan’s big tax cut, Congress has passed and presidents have signed 55 bills that the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center counts as “major” tax legislation. During the prior 36 years there had been just 18. [..] Ominously, most previous U.S. tax eras ended with major wars that required big increases in government revenue. Let’s hope it doesn’t take that to break us out of the cut-reform-increase-repeat loop we’re currently trapped in.

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This will make the next debt round a lot harder, and more expensive.

Tesla’s Junk Bonds Trading Under Water, Could Spell Trouble For Elon Musk (MW)

Tesla’s first-ever pure corporate bonds are trading under water, boding ill for the Silicon Valley car maker’s next attempt to tap capital markets. Tesla sold $1.8 billion in the senior notes in August at a yield of 5.300%, at the height of excitement about the Model 3 and expectations the sedan’s production ramp would run as smoothly as Chief Executive Elon Musk had predicted. That same month, Tesla shares rose 10% to mark their last monthly gain this year so far. The stock lost 4.2% in September and 2.8% in October. The stock is down 9% so far in November, on the heels of a quarterly miss earlier in the month and news that the company has further pushed out its Model 3 production targets. “Third-quarter results put some pressure on the cash flow needs,” said Efraim Levy, an analyst with CFRA Research.

The wider-than-expected quarterly loss and production delays “makes it harder for them to get a sweeter deal than they had in the past,” on capital raising, be it when selling bonds or equity, he said. The 5.300% notes, which mature in 2025, were trading at 94 cents on the dollar on Friday to yield 6.287%, according to trading platform MarketAxess. On a spread basis, they were trading at 393 basis points above comparable Treasurys. The bonds fell under par within a week of issuance, but were holding above 97 cents for much of October. Wall Street has long seemed to accept that Tesla’s high capital expenses and negative free cash flow will be the reality for the company at least in the short term.

But the weak performance of the bonds may be a sign that bond investors, at least, are starting to disbelieve Tesla’s growth story and will be looking for higher premiums to take on higher risk, said Trip Miller, a managing partner at hedge fund, Gullane Capital LLC. That higher cost of borrowing will have its own negative implications, he said. “Maybe the dam is starting to break for Tesla,” Miller said. Gullane does not have a position in Tesla because “their balance sheet is very, very troublesome for us,” he said.

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Everyone’s fighting corruption these days. Time for us to start doing the same?

China Faces Historic Corruption Battle, New Graft Buster Says (R.)

China must win its battle against corruption or face being erased by history, its new top graft buster said in an editorial on Saturday, underscoring the ruling Communist party’s focus on eliminating corrupt behaviour. Zhao Leji, appointed to the new seven-member politburo standing committee last month and tasked to lead president Xi Jinping’s signature war on corruption, wrote in the state-run People’s Daily that failure would lead to the party’s downfall. “If our control of the party is not strong and party governance is not strict, then the party won’t be able to avoid being erased by history and the historic task the party carries will not be able to be fulfilled,” Zhao wrote. Xi, like others before him, has warned corruption is so serious it could lead to the end of the party’s grip on power.

The president’s corruption fight has ensnared more than 1.3 million officials. At last month’s five-yearly party congress he said it would continue to target both “tigers” and “flies“, a reference to elite officials and ordinary bureaucrats. Zhao, formerly a low-profile official, replaced Wang Qishan, whose sweeping anti-graft campaign had made him China’s second most-powerful politician. “The facts tell us and warn us that the party’s position as the top political leader and power is the foundation of our political stability, economic development, national unity and social stability,” Zhao wrote. Zhao leads the central commission for discipline inspection, having previously been in charge of the party’s powerful organisation department, which is in charge of personnel decisions. He added that there would be no tolerance of people who “just do what they want to do” and ignore orders or carry on with banned behaviours such as trying to get around policy decisions.

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It’s crazy these people are kept from talking.

Putin, Trump Agree To Fighting ISIS In Syria, Kremlin Says (R.)

Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed a joint statement on Syria on Saturday that said they would continue joint efforts in fighting Islamic State until it is defeated, the Kremlin said. The White House did not immediately respond to questions about the Kremlin announcement or the conversation the Kremlin said took place on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in the Vietnamese resort of Danang. The Kremlin said the statement on Syria was coordinated by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson especially for the meeting in Danang. Putin and Trump confirmed their commitment to Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and called on all parties to the Syrian conflict to take an active part in the Geneva political process, it said.

Moscow and Washington agree there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict, according to the text of the joint statement published on the Kremlin’s website. Television pictures from Danang showed Putin and Trump chatting – apparently amicably – as they walked to the position where the traditional APEC summit photo was being taken at a viewpoint looking over the South China Sea. Earlier pictures from the meeting show Trump walking up to Putin as he sits at the summit table and patting him on the back. The two lean in to speak to each other and clasp each other briefly as they exchange a few words. Although the White House had said no official meeting was planned, the two also shook hands at a dinner on Friday evening. Trump has shown little appetite for holding talks with Putin unless there is some sense that progress could be made on festering issues such as Syria, Ukraine and North Korea.

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“Companies are hiding behind technology, bogusly classifying people as self-employed so they can get away from paying minimum wage.”

Uber Loses Appeal In UK Employment Rights Case (G.)

The ride-hailing firm Uber has lost its appeal against a ruling that its drivers should be classed as workers with minimum-wage rights, in a case that could have major ramifications for labour rights in the growing gig economy. The US company, which claims that drivers are self-employed, said it would launch a further appeal against the Employment Appeal Tribunal decision, meaning the case could end up in thesupreme court next year. Drivers James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam won an employment tribunal case last year after arguing they should be classified as workers, citing Uber’s control over their working conditions. Uber challenged the ruling at the tribunal in central London, warning that it could deprive riders of the “personal flexibility they value”. It claims that the majority of its drivers prefer their existing employment status.

The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which backed the appeal, said drivers will still be able to enjoy the freedoms of self-employment – such as flexibility in choosing shifts – even if they have worker status. The union said the decision showed companies in the gig economy – which involves people on flexible working patterns with irregular shifts and minimal employment rights – have been choosing to “deprive workers of their rights”. Farrar said: “It is time for the mayor of London, Transport for London and the transport secretary to step up and use their leverage to defend worker rights rather than turn a blind eye to sweatshop conditions.” “If Uber are successful in having this business model, obliterating industrial relations as we know them in the UK, then I can guarantee you on every high street, in retail, fast food, any industry you like, the same thing will go on.”

Farrar said he was willing to fight the case all the way to the supreme court if necessary but called on Uber’s new chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, to intervene instead. “We’ve asked to meet him when he came to London and Uber declined to do that, which tells you everything.” Aslam said: “Today is a good day for workers, we made history. The judge confirmed that Uber is unlawfully denying our rights.” “It’s about making sure workers across the UK are protected. Companies are hiding behind technology, bogusly classifying people as self-employed so they can get away from paying minimum wage. That can’t be allowed to happen.”

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Good.

Greece Prepares Online Platform for ‘Airbnb Tax’ (GR)

Greece is cracking down on undeclared income of owners leasing residential lodgings on a short-term basis. Tax authorities are creating an online platform where Airbnb lodged properties should be declared, or face a hefty fine. According to a report in Naftemporiki, registration will be mandatory and it will provide property owners with a certification number, which should be declared on any digital platform, website and social media where it is advertised – including the Airbnb website. The platform will demand the declaration of the property, the names of the renters and the duration of the lease, or otherwise face a fine of up to €5,000. Naftemporiki says that income from short-term residential leasing will be taxed based on income.

Specifically, for a taxpayer with a yearly income of up to 12,000 euros, the tax rate for income derived from short-term residential leasing will reach 15%; 35% for a taxpayer with between 12,000 to 35,000 euros in annual income. Above an annual income of 45,000 euros, a taxpayer’s income from short-term residential leasing will reach the astronomical rate of 45%, i.e. nearly one in two euros goes to the state. Tax authorities aim to collect revenue from people who put their property for lease on Airbnb, as many crisis-hit Greeks try to make ends meet by renting their homes to foreign visitors. It is estimated that three million tourists will be hosted in Greek homes in 2017.

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He’s lying. They didn’t act to save the Greek banks, but the German and French ones. And he knows it.

Dijsselbloem: We Saved the Greek Banks but Overlooked Taxpayers (GR)

Outgoing Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem acknowledged on Thursday that Greece’s creditors put too much emphasis on saving the banks at the expense of ordinary taxpayers. In an exchange of views on Greece in the European Parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs Committee, Dijsselbloem was asked if he agrees with the view that Greece’s first bailout programme was designed to support the banks. Dijsselbloem noted that “banks were the biggest problem in all countries,” at the start of the crisis. “We had a banking crisis, a fiscal crisis and we spent a lot of the tax-payers’ money – in the wrong way, in my opinion – to save the banks so that the people criticizing us and saying that everything was being done for the benefit of the banks were to some extent right,” he said.

“This was the reason why we introduced the banking union and the introduction of higher standards, better supervision and a reform and rescue framework when banks have losses…Precisely so that we don’t find ourselves in that situation again,” Dijsselbloem added. Dijsselbloem also claimed that the labour market reforms adopted by Greece had brought “clear improvements” that were reflected in the latest unemployment figures in the country. Referring to the programme as a whole, the outgoing Eurogroup president said the economic situation in Greece had improved as a result of the reforms and stressed the need to conclude the third review on time.

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This story gets darker fast. The UK deleted a lot of documents relvant to the Assange accusations AND told the Swedes not to talk to him in London.

FOIA Litigation Is Shedding Light On The Case Of Julian Assange (Maurizi)

The siege by Scotland Yard agents around the red brick building in Knightsbridge has been gone for two years now. And with Sweden dropping the rape investigation last May, even the European arrest warrant hanging over Julian Assange’s head like the sword of Damocles has gone. Many expected the founder of WikiLeaks to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been confined for over five years, after spending one and a half years under house arrest. But Assange hasn’t dared leave the Embassy due to concern he would be arrested, extradited to the US and charged for publishing WikiLeaks’ secret documents.

Julian Assange’s situation is unique. Like him and his work or not, he is the only western publisher confined to a tiny embassy, without access to even the one hour a day outdoors maximum security prisoners usually receive. He is being arbitrarily detained, according to a decision by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions in February 2016, a decision which has completely faded into oblivion. December 7th will mark seven years since he lost his freedom, yet as far as we know, in the course of these last 7 years no media has tried to access the full file on Julian Assange.

That is why next Monday, La Repubblica will appear before a London Tribunal to defend the press’ right to access the documents regarding his case, after spending the last two years attempting Freedom of Information requests (FOI) without success. It is entirely possible, however, that we will never be able to access many of these documents, as last week London authorities informed us that “all the data associated with Paul Close’s account was deleted when he retired and cannot be recovered”. A questionable choice indeed: Close is the lawyer who supported the Swedish prosecutors in the Swedish investigation on Julian Assange from the beginning. What was the rationale for deleting historical records pertaining to a controversial and still ongoing case?

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