Oct 212017
 
 October 21, 2017  Posted by at 9:07 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Robert Doisneau Vitrine, Galerie Romi, Paris 1948

 

Will Trump Oversee The Financial Apocalypse? (Cohan)
Calm Before The Storm (Peter Schiff)
The Big Story: Edge Of The Cliff (RV/ZH)
A $4 Trillion Hole in Bond Market May Start Filling in 2018 (BBG)
US Fiscal Year Deficit Widens To $666 Billion (R.)
Fed’s Yellen Defends Past Policies As Trump Mulls Top Fed Pick (R.)
‘Dr. Doom’, Marc Faber, Removed From More Boards After Comments On Race (R.)
China Still Needs Loans From World Bank (Caixin)
Betrayed by Banks, 40,000 Italian Businesses Are in Limbo (BBG)
Catalan Rebels Say Spain Will Live to Regret Hostile Power Grab (BBG)
A Giant Insect Ecosystem Is Collapsing Due To Humans. It’s A Catastrophe (G.)

 

 

“The bond market determines how much you pay to borrow money to buy a home, a car, or when you use your credit cards.”

Will Trump Oversee The Financial Apocalypse? (Cohan)

Let’s face it: people’s eyes tend to glaze over when someone starts talking about bonds and interest rates. Which is why much of the audience inside the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, and those watching the livestream, probably missed the import of Gundlach’s answer. But the bond market is hugely important. The stock markets get most of the attention from the media, but the bond market, four times the size of the stock market, helps set the price of money. The bond market determines how much you pay to borrow money to buy a home, a car, or when you use your credit cards. The Bond King said the returns on bonds have been anemic at best for the past seven years or so.

While the Dow Jones Industrial Average has nearly quadrupled since March 2009, returns on bonds have averaged something like 2.5% for treasuries and something like 8.5% for riskier “junk” bonds. Gundlach urged investors to be “light” on bonds. Of course, that makes the irony especially rich for the Bond King. “I’m stuck in it,” he said of his massive bond portfolio. He said interest rates have bottomed out and been rising gradually for the past six years. (Rising interest rates hurt the value of the bonds you own, as bonds trade in inverse proportion to their yield. Snore . . .) Gundlach said his job now, on behalf of his clients, “is to get them to the other side of the valley.” When the bigger, seemingly inevitable hikes in interest rates come, “I’ll feel like I’ve done a service by getting people through,” he said. “That’s why I’m still at the game. I want to see how the movie ends.”

But it can’t end well. To illustrate his point about the risk in owning bonds these days, Gundlach shared a chart that showed how investors in European “junk” bonds are willing to accept the same no-default return as they are for U.S. Treasury bonds. In other words, the yield on European “junk” bonds is about the same—between 2% and 3%—as the yield on U.S. Treasuries, even though the risk profile of the two could not be more different. He correctly pointed out that this phenomenon has been caused by “manipulated behavior”—his code for the European Central Bank’s version of the so-called “quantitative easing” program that Ben Bernanke, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, initiated in 2008 and that Mario Draghi, the head of the E.C.B., has taken to heart.

Bernanke’s idea was to have the Federal Reserve buy up trillions of dollars of bonds, increasing their price and lowering their yields. He figured lower interest rates would help jump-start an economy in recession. Whereas Janet Yellen, Bernanke’s successor, ended the Fed’s Q.E. program in 2014, Draghi’s version of it is still going, which has led to the “manipulation” that so concerns Gundlach. European interest rates “should be much higher than they are today,” he said, “. . . [and] once Draghi realizes this, the order of the financial system will be turned upside down and it won’t be a good thing. It will mean the liquidity that has been pumping up the markets will be drying up in 2018 . . . Things go down. We’ve been in an artificially inflated market for stocks and bonds largely around the world.”

Read more …

Excellent from Schiff. The VIX/CAPE ratio looks to be a valuable tool.

Calm Before The Storm (Peter Schiff)

Before the crisis, there was still a strong belief that stock investing entailed real risk. The period of stock stagnation of the 1970s and 1980s was still well remembered, as were the crashes of 1987, 2000, and 2008. But the existence of the Greenspan/Bernanke/Yellen “Put” (the idea that the Fed would back stop market losses), came to ease many of the anxieties on Wall Street. Over the past few years, the Fed has consistently demonstrated that it is willing to use its new tool kit in extraordinary ways. While many economists had expected the Fed to roll back its QE purchases as soon as the immediate economic crisis had passed, the program steamed at full speed through 2015, long past the point where the economy had apparently recovered. Time and again, the Fed cited fragile financial conditions as the reason it persisted, even while unemployment dropped and the stock market soared.

The Fed further showcased its maternal instinct in early 2016 when a surprise 8% drop in stocks in the first two weeks of January (the worst ever start of a calendar year on Wall Street) led it to abandon its carefully laid groundwork for multiple rate hikes in 2016. As investors seem to have interpreted this as the Fed leaving the safety net firmly in place, the VIX has dropped steadily from that time. In September of this year, the VIX fell below 10. Untethered optimism can be seen most clearly by looking at the relationship between the VIX and the CAPE ratio. Over the past 27 years, this figure has averaged 1.43. But just this month, the ratio approached 3 for the first time on record, increasing 100% in just a year and a half. This means that the gap between how expensive stocks have become and how little this increase concerns investors has never been wider. But history has shown that bad things can happen after periods in which fear takes a back seat.

Investors may be trying to convince themselves that the outcome will be different this time around. But the only thing that is likely to be different is the Fed’s ability to limit the damage. In 2000-2002, the Fed was able to cut interest rates 500 basis points (from 6% to 1%) in order to counter the effects of the imploding tech stock bubble. Seven years later, it cut rates 500 basis points (from 5% to 0) in response to the deflating housing bubble. Stocks still fell anyway, but they probably would have fallen further if the Fed hadn’t been able to deliver these massive stimuli. In hindsight, investors would have been wise to move some funds out of U.S. stocks when the CAPE/VIX ratio moved into record territory. While stocks fell following those peaks, gold rose nicely.

Past performance is not indicative of future results. Created by Euro Pacific Capital from data culled from Bloomberg.

But interest rates are now at just 1.25%. If the stock market were again to drop in such a manner, the Fed has far less fire power to bring to bear. It could cut rates to zero and then re-launch another round of QE bond buying to flood the financial sector with liquidity. But that may not be nearly as effective as it was in 2008. Given that the big problem at that point was bad mortgage debt, the QE program’s purchase of mortgage bonds was a fairly effective solution (although we believe a misguided one). But propping up overvalued stocks, many of which have nothing to do with the financial sector, is a far more difficult challenge. The Fed may have to buy stocks on the open market, a tactic that has been used by the Bank of Japan.

Read more …

A whole family of bears.

The Big Story: Edge Of The Cliff (RV/ZH)

Real Vision released a video early today containing interviews with some of the biggest names in the hedge fund universe. Though the interview was shot a few weeks ago, remarks from Hayman Capital’s Kyle Bass resonated with market’s mood. Bass discussed what he sees as the many short- and long-term risks to the US equity market, including the rise of algorithmic trading and passive investment, which have enabled investors to take risks without understanding what they’re doing, leaving the market vulnerable to an “air pocket.” And with so many traders short vol, Bass said investors will know the correction has begun when a 4% or 5% drop in equities snowballs into a 10% to 15% decline at the drop of a hat.

“The shift from active to passive means that risk is in the hands of people who don’t know how to take risk. Therefore we’re likely to have a 1987 air pocket. This is like portfolio insurance on steroids, the way algorithmic trading is now running the market place. Investors are moving from active to passive, meaning they’re taking the wheel themselves all at a time when CTAs are running their own algo strategies where they’re one and a half times long and half short and they all believe they can come out at the same time.” “If you see the equity market crack 4 or 5 points, buckle up, because I think we’re going to see a pretty interesting air-pocket, and I don’t think investors are ready for that,” Bass said.

“Our trade relationship with China is worsening our relationship with north korea whatever it is continually worsens. We’ve got three people at the head of these countries that are trying ot maike their countries great again, I think that’s a real risk geopolitically.” “But when you think about it financially, which is actually easier to calculate, the financial reason is the G-4 central banks going from a period of accommodation to a period of tightening, and that’s net of bond issuance.

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Yeah, that’s right. We’re not issuing enough debt yet. What will central banks purchase?

A $4 Trillion Hole in Bond Market May Start Filling in 2018 (BBG)

A key dynamic that’s been holding down bond yields since the global financial crisis is poised to ease next year – presenting a test to riskier parts of the market, according to analysis by Oxford Economics. In the aftermath of the crisis, banks and shadow financial institutions in developed economies sharply cut back their issuance of bonds, to the tune of about $4 trillion, according to the research group’s tally. That happened thanks to banks shrinking their balance sheets amid a regulatory crackdown, and due to a contraction in supply of mortgages that were regularly securitized into asset-backed bonds. “Against stable demand for fixed-income securities, the large negative supply shock created an increasingly acute shortage of these assets,” said Guillermo Tolosa, an economic adviser to Oxford Economics in London who has worked at the IMF.

The impact of that shock was an “almost decade-long yield squeeze,” he wrote. That compression “may start to ease in 2018,” Tolosa wrote in a report distributed Tuesday. Using slightly different metrics, the chart below shows how the market for financial company debt securities in the Group of Seven nations shrank after the 2009 global recession, and now appears to have flat-lined. Continued demand among mutual funds, pensions and insurance companies for fixed income then created the opportunity for nonfinancial companies to ramp up issuance, Tolosa wrote – a dynamic also seen in the chart. It’s one of a number of supply factors that have been identified explaining why bond yields globally remain historically low. Perhaps the most well documented one is the QE programs by the Fed, ECB and Bank of Japan that gobbled up about $14 trillion of assets.

Tolosa’s analysis suggests that Fed QE has had less of an impact than generally accepted, as the initiative was “more than offset” by increased public-sector borrowing. The large portfolio rebalancing in fixed income was instead “essentially a switch within private sector securities,” he said. There was a “massive shift” from financial securities into Treasuries, along with nonfinancial corporate and overseas debt, Tolosa concluded. “This explains a considerable part of the post-crisis surge in demand for other spread products and the issuance boom for global nonfinancial corporates and emerging-market borrowers,” Tolosa wrote. Over the decade through 2007, 10-year U.S. Treasury yields averaged 4.85%. But since the start of 2009 they’ve averaged just 2.46% – giving investors incentives to find higher rates elsewhere.

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What’s in a number?

US Fiscal Year Deficit Widens To $666 Billion (R.)

The U.S. budget deficit widened to $666 billion for the fiscal year 2017 as record spending more than offset record receipts, the Treasury Department said on Friday. The 2017 deficit increased to 3.5% of gross domestic product. The previous fiscal year deficit was $586 billion, with a deficit-to-GDP ratio of 3.2%. The latest fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, straddled the presidencies of Barack Obama, a Democrat, and Donald Trump, a Republican. Accounting for calendar adjustments, the 2017 fiscal year deficit was $644 billion compared with $546 billion the prior year. Fiscal 2017 revenues increased 1% to $3.315 trillion, while spending rose 3% to $3.981 trillion. Since taking office in January, the Trump administration has sought to overhaul the U.S. tax code with precise details currently being worked on in Congress.

The Republican tax plan currently calls for as much as $6 trillion in tax cuts, which would sharply reduce government revenues. It has prompted criticism that it favors tax breaks for business and the wealthy and could add trillions of dollars to the deficit. The administration contends tax cuts will pay for themselves by boosting economic growth. In addition to the annual deficit, the national debt – the accumulation of past deficits and interest due to lenders to the Treasury – now exceeds $20 trillion. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has said the ever-rising debt levels are unsustainable as the government pays for the medical and retirement costs of the aging Baby Boomer generation.

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We know they don’t know a thing.

Fed’s Yellen Defends Past Policies As Trump Mulls Top Fed Pick (R.)

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said on Friday that asset purchases and other unconventional policy tools must remain part of the Fed’s arsenal as long as the economy remains stuck in a low interest-rate economy. Yellen’s remarks offered a contrast between her legacy as Fed chair with the policy views of others who President Donald Trump is considering for her position when her term expires in February. Yellen told the National Economists Club, “We must keep our unconventional policy tools ready to be deployed again.” Reaching the near-zero lower bound would force the Fed to turn to other means to stimulate the economy. Following the 2007 to 2009 financial crisis, the Fed used both a spoken commitment to lower rates and $3.5 trillion in asset purchases to pull rates lower than they would have been otherwise, boosting consumption and growth.

Those asset holdings are now on the decline, the Fed’s policy rate is being increased, and the economy in general is doing well, Yellen said. But she cautioned that the world may not return to its old normal, and “future policymakers” may need to use emergency steps similar to those used in the past decade. Persistent low inflation has caught the Fed by surprise and is “of great concern,” Yellen said. She and other Fed officials are also convinced that the “neutral” rate, which neither stimulates nor discourages economic activity, is much lower than in the past, likely limiting how far the Fed can go during this rate increase cycle. As President Donald Trump mulls a switch at the Fed, Trump is considering several possible replacements for Yellen.

One of the possible nominees Trump has interviewed, former Fed Governor Kevin Warsh, was critical of Fed asset purchases at the time, and argued that Fed has stayed too deeply involved in asset markets. Another, Stanford Economist John Taylor, advocates use of an interest rate rule that would have recommended higher rates through the downturn and recovery. Once rates reach the lower bound, moreover, Taylor’s rule-based approach would likely have to give way to judgment about what steps to take.

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What curious ideas.

‘Dr. Doom’, Marc Faber, Removed From More Boards After Comments On Race (R.)

Marc Faber, the markets prognosticator known as “Dr. Doom,” has been dismissed from three more company boards after comments in his latest newsletter this week suggested the United States had only prospered because it was settled by white people. U.S-based Sunshine Silver Mining, Vietnam Growth Fund managed by Dragon Capital, and Indochina Capital Corporation, had all dismissed him, Faber told Reuters on Friday, Faber has now been fired from six boards with Canadian fund manager Sprott, NovaGold Resources and Ivanhoe Mines letting him go on Tuesday after his remarks went viral on social media platform Twitter. In the October edition of his newsletter, “The Gloom, Boom & Doom Report,” in a section discussing capitalism versus socialism, Faber criticized the move to tear down monuments commemorating the U.S. Civil War military leaders of the Confederacy.

“Thank God white people populated America, not the blacks,” Faber wrote in his newsletter. “Otherwise, the U.S. would look like Zimbabwe, which it might look like one day anyway, but at least America enjoyed 200 years in the economic and political sun under a white majority.” “I am not a racist,” Faber continued, “but the reality – no matter how politically incorrect – needs to be spelled out as well.” Faber, a Swiss investor based in Thailand, who oversees $300 million in assets, said he has not lost any client money, and still stands by his comments and will keep publishing his newsletter. ”My clients all know me for more than 30 years. They know that to call me a racist is inappropriate,” he said. Faber said he has not seen a significant amount of subscribers cancel their subscriptions to his newsletter as a result of the controversy. “No, I think most people actually agree with me and certainly defend freedom of expression even if it does not coincide with their views.”

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Strange indeed.

China Still Needs Loans From World Bank (Caixin)

The World Bank’s former country director for China has defended the organization’s lending to Chinese governments. Yukon Huang, who now serves as a senior fellow at the Carnegie Asia Program, made the remarks after reports said the U.S. has rejected a capital increase plan for the multilateral lender because of dissatisfaction with its loans to wealthier countries, including China. The provincial-level and local governments need the World Bank loans because structural impediments prevent domestic banks from providing sufficient credit to finance public projects, Huang said. Chinese governments that borrow from the World Bank benefit from the support, Huang told Caixin. For example, he said, loans help agencies finance public services without having to rely so much on land sale revenues.

World Bank loans also help those governments improve their debt management. World Bank funds made available in January through its Development Policy Financing program are now helping governments within Hunan province and the municipality of Chongqing “achieve fiscal sustainability through a comprehensive and transparent public finance framework that integrates budget, public investment and debt management,” according to a statement on the World Bank’s website. For two years, the World Bank Group had been working to get member countries to agree on a capital increase plan for its International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) lending arm before the 2017 World Bank and IMF annual meetings, which began last week, according to Reuters.

The IBRD, the world’s largest development bank, is dedicated to helping countries reduce poverty and extending the benefits of sustainable growth by providing them with financial products and policy advice, its official website says. The U.S. is currently the largest IBRD shareholder out of its 189 member nations, with the greatest voting power of 16.28%. China is the third-largest shareholder, after Japan, with 4.53% voting power. The Trump administration was reluctant to endorse the capital increase, with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin saying in an Oct. 13 statement that “more capital is not the solution when existing capital is not allocated effectively.” “We want to see a significant shift in allocation of funding to support countries most in need of development finance,” Mnuchin said.

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Yes, Italy’s troubles run deep.

Betrayed by Banks, 40,000 Italian Businesses Are in Limbo (BBG)

The Most Serene Republic, as the area around Venice was known for a millennium, is now the troubled epicenter of a banking meltdown that’s threatening to derail one of globalization’s great success stories. The base of brands like Benetton, De’Longhi, Geox and Luxottica, Veneto has also become home to as many as 40,000 small businesses suddenly stranded without access to financing since a pair of regional banks collapsed in June. The implosions of Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca, which also wiped out the life savings of many of their 200,000 shareholders, set off economic and political tremors felt from Rome to Frankfurt. Anger over what many view as lax oversight by national authorities is animating a movement for more autonomy that’s already emboldened by Catalonia’s efforts to split from Spain.

“The pain for Veneto’s banks may be over, but the pain for Veneto’s businesses is just beginning,” said Andrea Arman, a lawyer advising some of the companies and individuals who’ve been hit the hardest. “We’re just starting to see the consequences of the collapse and what we’re seeing is alarming.” Nestled between the Alps and the Adriatic, Veneto is home to about 5 million people. Like Catalonia, it has a seafaring heritage, its own language and incomes far above the national average. Veneto President Luca Zaia, who’s called Italy and its 64 governments in 71 years a “bankrupt state,” plans to use the results of a nonbinding referendum on Oct. 22 to press Rome for more autonomy. Three out of four Veneti want more local power and 15% would support complete independence, according to a Demos poll published by La Repubblica this week.

While Intesa Sanpaolo SpA, Italy’s second-largest bank, paid a symbolic sum to acquire the healthiest parts of the two Veneto lenders, the state entity that’s absorbing the 18 billion euros ($21.3 billion) of troubled debt the banks amassed, called SGA, isn’t fully operational yet. That has left small and midsized companies in the lurch—in many cases unable to do business. “Many of these borrowers are profitable companies, but they’re stuck in limbo,” said Mauro Rocchesso, head of Fidi Impresa e Turismo Veneto, a financial firm that provides collateral to companies seeking lines of credit. “They don’t have a counterparty anymore and can’t find fresh capital from a new lender because of their exposure to the two Veneto banks.”

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More violence and Rajoy is out.

Catalan Rebels Say Spain Will Live to Regret Hostile Power Grab (BBG)

Catalan separatists say Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into as he moves to quash their campaign for independence. As the government in Madrid prepares to deploy its most powerful legal weapons, three leading members of the movement in Barcelona said Rajoy isn’t equipped to achieve his goals and risks a damaging entanglement in hostile terrain. They reckon they have enough support among the Catalan civil service and police to thwart Spain’s plan. Rajoy’s cabinet meets in Madrid on Saturday to consider specific measures to reassert control over the rebel region, a process set out in the Spanish Constitution that’s never yet been tested. Among the top priorities is bringing to heel the Catalan police force and deciding what to do with President Carles Puigdemont.

The plan still needs approval by the Senate, so it could be another two weeks before Spain can take any action. “This is a minefield for Rajoy,” said Antonio Barroso, an analyst in London at Teneo Intelligence, a company advising on political risk. “The implementation on the ground is a risk for him when the government may face some regional civil servants who don’t cooperate.” The three Catalan officials – one from the parliament, one from the regional executive and one from the grass-roots campaign organization – spoke on condition of anonymity due to the legal threats against the movement. It all comes down to Article 155 of the constitution, a short passage that gives the legal green light for Spain to revoke the semi-autonomy of Catalonia. Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said at a press conference in Madrid on Friday that it would be applied in a “prudent, proportionate and gradual manner.”

The problem for Rajoy is that the separatists already proved with their makeshift referendum on Oct. 1 that they can ignore edicts from Madrid with a degree of success. That means he will need to back up his ruling with people on the ground, and it didn’t work as planned the last time around. The Catalan police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, ignored orders to shut down polling stations before the illegal vote on Oct. 1. After Rajoy sent in the Civil Guard, images of Spanish police beating would-be voters were broadcast around the world. Mossos Police Chief Josep Lluis Trapero is a local hero, his face worn on T-shirts at separatist demonstrations. When he returned this week from an interrogation in Madrid, where he’s facing possible sedition charges, staff greeted him with hugs and applause.

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And we worry about a financial apocalypse. If you value money over life, you will lose both.

A Giant Insect Ecosystem Is Collapsing Due To Humans. It’s A Catastrophe (G.)

They are multitudinous almost beyond our imagining. They thrive in soil, water, and air; they have triumphed for hundreds of millions of years in every continent bar Antarctica, in every habitat but the ocean. And it is their success – staggering, unparalleled and seemingly endless – which makes all the more alarming the great truth now dawning upon us: insects as a group are in terrible trouble and the remorselessly expanding human enterprise has become too much, even for them. The astonishing report highlighted in the Guardian, that the biomass of flying insects in Germany has dropped by three quarters since 1989, threatening an “ecological Armageddon”, is the starkest warning yet; but it is only the latest in a series of studies which in the last five years have finally brought to public attention the real scale of the problem.

Does it matter? Even if bugs make you shudder? Oh yes. Insects are vital plant-pollinators and although most of our grain crops are pollinated by the wind, most of our fruit crops are insect-pollinated, as are the vast majority of our wild plants, from daisies to our most splendid wild flower, the rare and beautiful lady’s slipper orchid. Furthermore, insects form the base of thousands upon thousands of food chains, and their disappearance is a principal reason why Britain’s farmland birds have more than halved in number since 1970. Some declines have been catastrophic: the grey partridge, whose chicks fed on the insects once abundant in cornfields, and the charming spotted flycatcher, a specialist predator of aerial insects, have both declined by more than 95%, while the red-backed shrike, which feeds on big beetles, became extinct in Britain in the 1990s. Ecologically, catastrophe is the word for it.

[..] It seems indisputable: it is us. It is human activity – more specifically, three generations of industrialised farming with a vast tide of poisons pouring over the land year after year after year, since the end of the second world war. This is the true price of pesticide-based agriculture, which society has for so long blithely accepted. So what is the future for 21st-century insects? It will be worse still, as we struggle to feed the nine billion people expected to be inhabiting the world by 2050, and the possible 12 billion by 2100, and agriculture intensifies even further to let us do so. You think there will be fewer insecticides sprayed on farmlands around the globe in the years to come? Think again. It is the most uncomfortable of truths, but one which stares us in the face: that even the most successful organisms that have ever existed on earth are now being overwhelmed by the titanic scale of the human enterprise, as indeed, is the whole natural world.

Read more …

Oct 042017
 
 October 4, 2017  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso Vue de Notre-Dame de Paris 1945

 

Why Greece Took The Fall For A European Banking Crisis (Ren.)
The Fed is a Slave to the S&P 500 (Albert Edwards)
Trump Gets Final List Of Fed Candidates, Yellen Gets The Cold Shoulder (ZH)
Trump Says Puerto Rico’s Debt Will Have To Be Wiped Out (BBG)
White House To Request $29 Billion For Hurricane Relief (R.)
White House: A Tax Plan That Doesn’t Add To The Deficit Won’t Spur Growth (BBG)
IMF Warns That Using Consumer Debt To Fuel Growth Risks Crisis (G.)
IMF Warns That Australia’s Household Debt Hangover Will Hurt (Aus.)
A Debt Bomb Is Growing Down Under (Satyajit Das)
The End of Empire (Chris Hedges)
‘What In God’s Name Were You Thinking?’ Senators Grill Wells Fargo CEO (MW)
King Felipe: Catalonia Authorities Have ‘Scorned’ All Spaniards (G.)
Spain Rules Out Mediator In Catalan Crisis (Pol.)
Goodbye – And Good Riddance – To Livestock Farming (G.)

 

 

“If Greece continues to participate in the EU, democracy is doomed”

Claire Connelly’s damning version of the events. Please read the whole thing.

Why Greece Took The Fall For A European Banking Crisis (Ren.)

The Greek financial crisis was actually a French and German banking crisis for which Greece took the fall, the result of decades of irresponsible spending and lending. When Greece joined the Euro it went on a spending spree, building roads, airports, new subway systems, infrastructure and a state-of-the-art military arsenal all built and provided by German companies. Companies which, incidentally, have been accused of bribing Greek politicians to secure military and civilian government contracts. Siemens allegedly paid €100 million to Greek officials to secure a contract to upgrade Athens’s telecommunications infrastructure for the 2004 Olympic Games. The Euro was designed to limit competition between the industries of member nations while shifting deficits and surpluses around the continent. Greece’s deficits are Germany’s surplus, and so on.

Had Greece still been using the Drachma, it had a chance of keeping its deficits in check, because it could decide on its own how to set interest rates and tax currency, but when replaced with the Euro, French and German loans caused its deficits to explode and it had no option but to accept the terms of its creditors, even though they knew the debt had no chance of being repaid. Banks – having been bankrupted by the 2008 Global Financial Crisis – stopped lending, and Greece, unable to rollover its debt, became insolvent. As a result, the three French banks which had issued loans to its European nations faced peripheral losses twice the size of its economy. More to the point, the French and German banks didn’t want the debts to be repaid. But they also didn’t want countries like Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland to default.

France’s top three banks had loaned €627 billion to Italy, Spain and Portugal and €102 billion to Greece and were staring down a 30 to 1 leverage ratio, meaning that if it lost only 3.33% of its loans to defaults, its capital would be wiped out and banking regulators would be forced to shut the banks down. And if Greece defaulted on its debt, the banks were concerned Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland would follow, resulting in a 19% loss of French debt assets, far and above the 3% that would lead to its insolvency. The three French banks needed a €562 billion bailout, but unlike the US which can shift its losses to its central bank, the Federal Reserve, France a) had no such central bank to shift its losses to, having dismantled it in favour of the European Central Bank, and b) the ECB was prohibited upon its formation to shift bad debts onto its books.

Likewise, Germany’s banks also went bust and required a €406 billion bailout – which it received – but it was barely enough to cover its US-based toxic derivative trades which led to the crisis in the first place, let alone what they had leant to their European neighbours. The banks came back begging, mere months after being cut a €406 billion cheque by the German government. “Greece’s bankruptcy would force the French state to borrow six time its total annual tax revenues just to hand it over to three idiotic banks,” former Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis wrote in his expose of the ‘bailout’ negotiations, Adults In The Room. Had the markets found out this secret, interest rates would have skyrocketed and €1.29 trillion of French government debt would have gone bad and the country bankrupted, and the EU with it.

Read more …

Edwards likes Kevin Warsh, frontrunner for Fed chief….

The Fed is a Slave to the S&P 500 (Albert Edwards)

I was the first speaker and afterward I enjoyed listening to every other speaker at the two-day event. Most notable of the outside economics speakers were Paul Volcker, Larry Summers, and most significantly for me, ex Fed-Governor Kevin Warsh. Much to my own regret, I had never familiarised myself with the views of Governor Warsh, who was at the Fed from 2006-11, and played a key role in navigating the Fed through the crisis. He got a rousing reception from the BCA audience as he talked a lot of sense – in particular on how the Yellen Fed has lost its way and current policy is deeply flawed. He explained that the Fed has been “captured” by a groupthink of academics led by the ‘Secular Stagnation’ ideas of his friend, Larry Summers.

Rather than admitting they are wrong, this group, who failed to predict the current economic malaise, have constructed this theory to explain why ever more stimulus is required. In particular, Warsh warned that the Fed had become the slave of the S&P. Summers’ relaxed view on the debt build-up, particularly visible in the corporate sector, is in sharp contrast with our own view that this looks set to wreck the US economy. The problem with Summers’ analysis in my view is that it is the higher debt that is being used to push up asset values (via share buybacks), just as it did during the housing bubble in 2005-7. And by pushing asset values well beyond fundamentals you build debt structures on false asset values, which only become apparent when the asset bubble bursts. And am I in any way reassured that the Fed sees no bubbles? No, I am not. These dudes will never identify an asset bubble – at least before the event!

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… bur Warsh might endanger easy money policies, and make the dollar stronger.

Trump Gets Final List Of Fed Candidates, Yellen Gets The Cold Shoulder (ZH)

[..] we can cross out economist Glenn Hubbard and U.S. Bancorp Chairman Richard Davis, both of whom have been floated as possible candidates, although Trump has no intention of interviewing them. A potential wildcard is Stanford economist John Taylor, a favorite of fiscal conservatives, who is also said to be under consideration. It has also been previously reported that Trump has spoken to Yellen, Cohn, Warsh and Powell about the Fed post, although there is no frontrunner at the moment. According to Bloomberg, “the latest developments show that Trump is closer to making a final selection than previously known.” Last Friday, Trump said that he is “two or three weeks away from announcing his nominee” for the post overseeing the nation’s central bank.

Meanwhile, speaking at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit on Tuesday in Los Angeles, Jeffrey Gundlach – who accurately predicted Trump’s presidency – predicted that Neel Kashkari would be picked as next Fed chair. “I actually have a very non-consensus point of view. I think it’s going to be Neel Kashkari… He happens to be the most easy money guy that’s in the Federal Reserve system today and that’s why he may win.” The Bond King said that Trump needs someone who will keep rates low in order to keep his populist reputation and help his base voters and that’s why he’ll pick Kashkari. “A stronger dollar is not good for achieving that agenda,” he said. Gundlach also is confident that Yellen would not get reappointed: “I think there is no chance that she wants to be chairwoman, nor do I think the president wants her to be,” said the manager of $109 billion.

Judging by the latest PredictIt odds, if Gundlach is right, and if he is willing to bet some money on it, he could make a killing, as Kashkari does not even have a contract. As to the current ranking, Warsh remains in top spot with 38% odds, although following today’s Politico news, Powell surged to second place with 31% odds, and now following the Bloomberg report, John Taylor finds himself in third spot with 20% odds, above both Gary Cohn in 4th and Janet Yellen who has tumbled to 5th with just 13% odds of being reappointed.

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“I don’t know if it’s Goldman Sachs but whoever it is, you can wave good-bye to that.” Wonder how it would be done. And what does it mean for Texas, Florida debt?

Trump Says Puerto Rico’s Debt Will Have To Be Wiped Out (BBG)

President Donald Trump suggested that the government debt accumulated by bankrupt Puerto Rico would need to be wiped clean to help the island recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. “We are going to work something out. We have to look at their whole debt structure,” Trump said during an interview on Fox News Tuesday. “You know they owe a lot of money to your friends on Wall Street. We’re gonna have to wipe that out. That’s gonna have to be – you know, you can say goodbye to that. I don’t know if it’s Goldman Sachs but whoever it is, you can wave good-bye to that.” Puerto Rico is dealing with an immediate humanitarian disaster made worse by the long-term debt crisis that led it to declare a form of bankruptcy this year.

The island’s government for decades had been plagued by budget deficits caused by wasteful spending, and borrowed $74 billion. Much of that went to operations. The commonwealth’s budget is under the control of a federally appointed oversight board, a panel that the U.S. Congress created to wield broad sway over the territory’s finances. The panel approves the island’s budget and is meant to help make unpalatable decisions such as closing schools and cracking down on tax evasion. Trump paid a four-and-a-half-hour visit to the island earlier Tuesday, greeting local officials and offering consolation to residents who have been without power and, in many cases, drinking water since the storm struck on Sept. 20. Some in Puerto Rico’s government already are estimating reconstruction costs will be as high as $60 billion.

Prices of the U.S. territory’s bonds have plunged to record lows, signaling investors expect that there will be even less money available to repay its $74 billion of debt. Puerto Rico has little financial ability to navigate the disaster on its own, leaving the recovery heavily dependent on how much aid comes from Washington. It began defaulting on its debts two years ago, seeking to avoid draconian budget cuts officials said would deal another blow to an already shrinking economy. With nearly half of its 3.4 million residents living in poverty, the government filed for bankruptcy protection in May.

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Are they going to fight over this?

White House To Request $29 Billion For Hurricane Relief (R.)

The White House is preparing a $29 billion disaster aid request to send to the U.S. Congress after hurricanes hit Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida, a White House official said on Tuesday. The request is expected to come on Wednesday. It will combine nearly $13 billion in new relief for hurricane victims with $16 billion for the government-backed flood insurance program, the White House official told Reuters. The White House wants Congress to forgive $16 billion of the debt that the National Flood Insurance Program, which insures about 5 million homes and businesses, has racked up.

The request comes as the program is close to running out of money, congressional aides said. The program had racked up nearly $25 billion in debt before this season’s major hurricanes. The Trump administration is also proposing more than a dozen reforms including new means testing and an extreme-loss repetition provision, aides said. Some homes insured under the program have gotten payments repeatedly from the program after multiple storms. The flood insurance money is aimed primarily for areas impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which struck Texas and Florida, aides said.

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Don’t think the GOP will like this.

White House: A Tax Plan That Doesn’t Add To The Deficit Won’t Spur Growth (BBG)

The White House is showing “softness” on ending a $1.3 trillion federal tax deduction filers get for their state and local taxes, Senator Bob Corker said Monday, warning that it raises questions about the GOP’s “intestinal fortitude” and could imperil a tax overhaul. The framework that President Donald Trump and Republican leaders released Wednesday calls for deep rate cuts and would abolish existing tax breaks to help pay for them. Without such “pay-fors,” Congress might have to settle for only temporary tax cuts. Corker, who insists he won’t vote for a tax bill that adds a penny to the deficit, said in an interview that he’s concerned about the early signals from the White House. On Friday – two days after the tax framework was rolled out – National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn said that ending the state and local tax break was negotiable.

“That’s the easiest one,” said Corker, a Tennessee Republican. “Some of the others are actually more offensive and produce lesser amounts of money.” The budget rules that Senate leaders plan to use to pass the legislation require that any changes that boost the federal deficit would have to expire in time. But the nine-page framework released Wednesday provided few details on revenue raisers. It calls for eliminating deductions, but doesn’t specify them. By showing its willingness to negotiate on one such deduction, the White House appears to be charting a rocky path. “As a general matter in tax reform you have to acknowledge that you cannot negotiate with everybody’s single pay-for,” said Doug Holtz-Eakin, who runs the American Action Forum, a conservative group that’s working with GOP leaders on taxes. “If you do that for everything, you don’t get tax reform.”

Ending the state and local deduction, which Trump’s aides proposed in April, faces resistance from Republican lawmakers in high-tax states like New York and New Jersey. The same day Cohn commented on the state tax break, tax-writing chiefs Senator Orrin Hatch and Representative Kevin Brady dismissed a study that found ending personal exemptions, another one of the few offsets set forth, could raise taxes for some middle-class families. Their response: The committees haven’t made decisions about which tax breaks to end. Asked if the state tax break and personal exemptions were negotiable, Brady reiterated Monday the bill is a work-in-progress. “We’re continuing to work on the final design of the tax reform plan that we’ll have ready after the budget is completed,” he said.

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney is signaling similar flexibility, saying on CNN Sunday that decisions about deductions remain up in the air as “the bill is not finished yet.” He took it a step further on Fox News Sunday, by adding that a tax plan that doesn’t add to the deficit won’t spur growth. “I’ve been very candid about this. We need to have new deficits because of that. We need to have the growth,” Mulvaney said. “If we simply look at this as being deficit-neutral, you’re never going to get the type of tax reform and tax reductions that you need to get to sustain 3% economic growth.”

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Just-in-time politics.

IMF Warns That Using Consumer Debt To Fuel Growth Risks Crisis (G.)

The IMF has issued a warning to governments that rely on debt-fuelled consumer spending to boost economic growth, telling them they run the risk of another major financial collapse. In a report before the IMF’s annual meeting in Washington next week, it said analysis of consumer spending and levels of household debt showed that economies benefited in the first two to three years when households raised their levels of borrowing, but then risks began to mount. Once growth becomes dependent on household debt, it can be a matter of two to three years before a financial crash, the IMF said in its annual report on the global financial system. The study follows a series of warnings about rising levels of household debt in the UK from financial regulators and debt charities.

In a blogpost accompanying the report, one of the authors, Nico Valckx, warned: “Debt greases the wheels of the economy. It allows individuals to make big investments today – like buying a house or going to college – by pledging some of their future earnings. That’s all fine in theory. But as the global financial crisis showed, rapid growth in household debt – especially mortgages – can be dangerous.” He added: “Higher debt is associated with significantly higher unemployment up to four years ahead. And a one percentage point increase in debt raises the odds of a future banking crisis by about one percentage point. That’s a significant increase, when you consider that the probability of a crisis is 3.5%, even without any increase in debt.”

Earlier this year the IMF cut its forecast for the UK’s GDP growth in 2017 by 0.3 percentage points to 1.7% and it is expected to reduce its prediction further next week when its global outlook is published. The uncertainty created by the Brexit vote and negotiations to leave are likely to be blamed, along with a reliance on consumer spending, which has slowed this year. The Bank of England, which regulates the banking sector, said last month that the UK’s banks could incur £30bn of losses on their lending on credit cards, personal loans and for car finance if interest rates and unemployment rose sharply. The debt charity Stepchange has warned that 6.5 million people have used credit to pay for basic items such as food after a change in their circumstances. And MPs have called for an independent commission to examine the effects of rising household debt levels in the UK.

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Same IMF report, specifically for Australia.

IMF Warns That Australia’s Household Debt Hangover Will Hurt (Aus.)

Rapid growth in household debt works as a short-term sugar hit to the economy but leaves a long hangover with reduced growth, higher unemployment and the risk of a banking crisis, the International Monetary Fund has warned. The fund identifies Australia as one of the countries most exposed, with household debts rising to more than 100% of GDP compared with an advanced- country average of 63%. “In the short term, an increase in the household debt-to-GDP ratio is typically associated with higher economic growth and lower unemployment, but the effects are reversed in three to five years, the IMF says in its latest review of global financial stability. Moreover, higher growth in household debt is associated with a greater probability of banking crises.

Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe yesterday repeated his concern that housing debt has been outpacing the slow growth in household incomes and is now limiting growth in household spending. “Slow growth in real wages and high levels of household debt are likely to constrain growth in household spending,” he said. Announcing that the bank was keeping its benchmark cash rate at the record low of 1.5%, where it has now been sitting since August 2016, he said risks in the housing market were being contained by banking regulator the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, which had tightened supervision of real estate lending.

The IMF’s research shows that on average, a 5 percentage point rise in household debt to GDP over a three-year period foreshadows weaker growth in GDP, which would be 1.25 percentage points lower in three years’ time. Reserve Bank statistics on household balance sheets show that total debts have risen from 123% of GDP to 137% over the past five years, or a 14 percentage point increase.

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And Das has some more on the land of Oz.

A Debt Bomb Is Growing Down Under (Satyajit Das)

Australia’s record of 26 years without a recession flatters to deceive. The gaudy numbers mask serious flaws in the country’s economic model. First and most obviously, the Australian economy is still far too dependent on “houses and holes.” During part of the typical business cycle, national income and prosperity are driven by exports of commodities – primarily iron ore, liquefied natural gas and coal – that come out of holes in the ground. At other times, low interest rates and easy credit boost house prices, propping up economic activity. These two forces have combined with one of the highest population growth rates in the developed world (around 1.5% annually, driven mostly by immigration) to prop up headline growth. Yet a significant portion of housing activity is speculative. Going by measures such as price-to-rent or price-to-disposable income, Australia’s property market looks substantially overvalued.

Meanwhile, GDP per capita has been largely stagnant since 2008. Australia’s manufacturing industry, once a significant employer and an important part of the economy, has increasingly been hollowed out. The country’s cost structure is high. Improvements in productivity have, as elsewhere, been lackluster. Infrastructure is aging and unable to cope with the demands of a rising population, especially in major cities. Australia stands at 21st place in the 2017 Global Competitiveness Report. It ranks 15th in the World Bank’s ease of doing business list. Attempts to diversify the economy have had mixed results. Tourism and service exports, mainly of education and health services, have expanded significantly. But they’re nowhere near replacing the revenues brought in by mineral exports.

Second, a debt bomb is growing Down Under. Australia’s total non-financial debt is over 250% of GDP, up around 50% since 2010. Household debt is currently over 120% of GDP, among the highest proportions in the world. The ratio of household debt to income has nearly quintupled since the 1980s, reaching an all-time high of 194%. Stagnant real incomes have contributed to the problem, as have high home prices and the associated mortgage debt. Despite record-low interest rates, around 12% of income is now devoted to servicing all this debt. That’s a third more than in 1989-90, when interest rates neared 20%.

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“..a motley collection of imbeciles, con artists, thieves, opportunists and warmongering generals. And to be clear, I am speaking about Democrats, too.”

The End of Empire (Chris Hedges)

The American empire is coming to an end. The U.S. economy is being drained by wars in the Middle East and vast military expansion around the globe. It is burdened by growing deficits, along with the devastating effects of deindustrialization and global trade agreements. Our democracy has been captured and destroyed by corporations that steadily demand more tax cuts, more deregulation and impunity from prosecution for massive acts of financial fraud, all the while looting trillions from the U.S. treasury in the form of bailouts. The nation has lost the power and respect needed to induce allies in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa to do its bidding. Add to this the mounting destruction caused by climate change and you have a recipe for an emerging dystopia.

Overseeing this descent at the highest levels of the federal and state governments is a motley collection of imbeciles, con artists, thieves, opportunists and warmongering generals. And to be clear, I am speaking about Democrats, too. The empire will limp along, steadily losing influence until the dollar is dropped as the world’s reserve currency, plunging the United States into a crippling depression and instantly forcing a massive contraction of its military machine. Short of a sudden and widespread popular revolt, which does not seem likely, the death spiral appears unstoppable, meaning the United States as we know it will no longer exist within a decade or, at most, two.

The global vacuum we leave behind will be filled by China, already establishing itself as an economic and military juggernaut, or perhaps there will be a multipolar world carved up among Russia, China, India, Brazil, Turkey, South Africa and a few other states. Or maybe the void will be filled, as the historian Alfred W. McCoy writes in his book “In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power,” by “a coalition of transnational corporations, multilateral military forces like NATO, and an international financial leadership self-selected at Davos and Bilderberg” that will “forge a supranational nexus to supersede any nation or empire.”

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“We serve one out of every three Americans, we have 270,000 team members,” Sloan began, before Schatz cut him off. “So you’re too big?” Schatz asked.

‘What In God’s Name Were You Thinking?’ Senators Grill Wells Fargo CEO (MW)

The chief executive of Wells Fargo & Co. on Tuesday faced senators unimpressed with the bank’s claims of progress in rectifying a massive scandal that lasted years and ensnared millions of customers. “My task is to make sure nothing like this happens again at Wells,” CEO Tim Sloan, a former CFO who was elevated after the ouster of John Stumpf last fall, told the Senate Banking Committee. Sloan outlined steps Wells had taken to address the management structure that incentivized opening accounts for customers fraudulently, and to make affected customers whole. But most legislators said those actions – and Sloan’s testimony – fell far short. The hearing marked one year since regulators settled with Wells over the opening of 2 million phony accounts – and since then, additional wrongdoing has emerged.

In July, the New York Times broke the news that Wells had charged hundreds of thousands of customers for auto insurance they didn’t request or require – a practice that in many cases resulted in overdrawn accounts, fees, and car repossessions. Just days later, the bank told regulators that the number of unauthorized accounts should be revised much higher, to 3.5 million. On Tuesday, Sloan was asked whether the actual count of fraudulent accounts could be even higher than that. He told legislators that he was confident 3.5 million would be the final tally—and more than one noted that Stumpf had said the same thing, a year before. But many senators, it seemed, hadn’t even made peace with the revelations already reported.

“What in God’s name were you thinking?” said Senator John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican. “I’m not against large, I’m against dumb. I’m against a business practice which has Wells Fargo first and customers second,” he added. Senator Elizabeth Warren, the populist Massachusetts Democrat, was even more blunt. “At best you were incompetent, at worst you were complicit. And either way you should be fired,” she told Sloan. Warren has previously called for removal of the entire board of directors, and urged Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen to oust the board in her capacity as a regulator, if Wells doesn’t do it voluntarily. Yellen has said that the bank’s actions were “egregious and unacceptable” and has hinted at further penalties or enforcement actions.

“Why shouldn’t the OCC (Office of the Comptroller of the Currency) simply revoke your charter?” Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat, asked Sloan. “We serve one out of every three Americans, we have 270,000 team members,” Sloan began, before Schatz cut him off. “So you’re too big?” Schatz asked.

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The King represents the old Franco interests. He’s being used to turn Spaniards against Catalans.

King Felipe: Catalonia Authorities Have ‘Scorned’ All Spaniards (G.)

King Felipe of Spain has accused the Catalan authorities of attempting to break “the unity of Spain” and warned that their push for independence could risk the country’s social and economic stability. In a rare and strongly worded television address on Tuesday evening, he said the Catalan government’s behaviour had “eroded the harmony and co-existence within Catalan society itself, managing, unfortunately, to divide it”. Speaking two days after the regional government’s unilateral independence referendum, in which 90% of participants opted to secede from Spain, he described Catalan society as “fractured” but said Spain would remain united. The king made no mention of the violence that marred the referendum when Spanish police officers raided polling stations, beat would-be voters and fired rubber bullets at crowds.

Instead, he focused on the actions of the government of the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont. “These authorities have scorned the attachments and feelings of solidarity that have united and will unite all Spaniards,” he said. “Their irresponsible conduct could even jeopardise the economic and social stability of Catalonia and all of Spain. He described the regional government actions as “an unacceptable attempt” to take over Catalan institutions, adding that they had placed themselves outside both democracy and the law. “They have tried to break the unity of Spain and its national sovereignty, which is the right of all Spaniards to democratically decide their lives together,” he said.

“Given all that – and faced with this extremely grave situation, which requires the firm commitment of all to the common interest – it is the responsibility of the legitimate state powers to ensure constitutional order and the normal functioning of the institution, the validity of the rule of law and the self-government of Catalonia, based on the constitution and its statute of autonomy.”

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The EU is making mistakes that will threaten its existence.

Spain Rules Out Mediator In Catalan Crisis (Pol.)

The Spanish government Tuesday dismissed calls to bring in a mediator between Madrid and the government of Catalonia in the wake of Sunday’s controversial independence vote. Spanish European Affairs Minister Jorge Toledo told POLITICO that no third-party mediator would be acceptable to Madrid, and that any dialogue must be bilateral. “You can change the law, you can oppose it, but you cannot disobey it,” Toledo said. The comments are a further sign of Madrid’s opposition to providing any sort of encouragement or reward to Catalan separatists as a result of Sunday’s violent clashes, which they blame on the Catalan government.

The European Commission Monday called for “all relevant players to now move very swiftly from confrontation to dialogue.” European Council President Donald Tusk on Monday “appealed for finding ways to avoid further escalation and use of force.” Ahead of Sunday’s vote Amadeu Altafaj, Catalonia’s representative in Brussels, told POLITICO’s EU Confidential podcast that he welcomed the idea of a third-party mediator and that “ideally it would have happened some time ago.”

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It’s World Animal Day.

Goodbye – And Good Riddance – To Livestock Farming (G.)

What will future generations, looking back on our age, see as its monstrosities? We think of slavery, the subjugation of women, judicial torture, the murder of heretics, imperial conquest and genocide, the first world war and the rise of fascism, and ask ourselves how people could have failed to see the horror of what they did. What madness of our times will revolt our descendants? There are plenty to choose from. But one of them, I believe, will be the mass incarceration of animals, to enable us to eat their flesh or eggs or drink their milk. While we call ourselves animal lovers, and lavish kindness on our dogs and cats, we inflict brutal deprivations on billions of animals that are just as capable of suffering. The hypocrisy is so rank that future generations will marvel at how we could have failed to see it.

The shift will occur with the advent of cheap artificial meat. Technological change has often helped to catalyse ethical change. The $300m deal China signed last month to buy lab-grown meat marks the beginning of the end of livestock farming. But it won’t happen quickly: the great suffering is likely to continue for many years. The answer, we are told by celebrity chefs and food writers, is to keep livestock outdoors: eat free-range beef or lamb, not battery pork. But all this does is to swap one disaster – mass cruelty – for another: mass destruction. Almost all forms of animal farming cause environmental damage, but none more so than keeping them outdoors. The reason is inefficiency. Grazing is not just slightly inefficient, it is stupendously wasteful. Roughly twice as much of the world’s surface is used for grazing as for growing crops, yet animals fed entirely on pasture produce just one gram out of the 81g of protein consumed per person per day.

A paper in Science of the Total Environment reports that “livestock production is the single largest driver of habitat loss”. Grazing livestock are a fully automated system for ecological destruction: you need only release them on to the land and they do the rest, browsing out tree seedlings, simplifying complex ecosystems. Their keepers augment this assault by slaughtering large predators. In the UK, for example, sheep supply around 1% of our diet in terms of calories. Yet they occupy around 4m hectares of the uplands. This is more or less equivalent to all the land under crops in this country, and more than twice the area of the built environment (1.7m hectares). The rich mosaic of rainforest and other habitats that once covered our hills has been erased, the wildlife reduced to a handful of hardy species. The damage caused is out of all proportion to the meat produced.

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Oct 022017
 
 October 2, 2017  Posted by at 8:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Claude Monet Boulevard des Capucines 1873

 

Catalans Signal They May Declare Independence Within a Week (BBG)
Catalan Referendum Results Show 90% In Favour Of Independence (G.)
Catalan Independence Referendum Is A Smokescreen For Other Issues (Ind.)
Global Retirement Reality: A $400 Trillion Shortfall (Mauldin)
Hedge Funds Are ‘Dancing On The Rim Of A Volcano’ (BI)
CDO Redux: Credit Spreads & Financial Fraud (Whalen)
No, Trump Didn’t Botch the Puerto Rico Crisis (BBG)
Trump Urges Staff To Portray Him As “Crazy Guy” (Axios)
Egypt Fears Disaster From Largest Hydroelectric Dam In Africa (AP)
Planes, Ships, Barges: The DIY Evacuation Of Vanuatu’s Volcano Island (G.)
Climate Change Will Make Some Countries Richer – IMF (BBG)

 

 

An appeal from Puerto Rico via Nicole:

Hurricane Maria destroyed many of Puerto Rico’s local seed and organic food-producing farm crops. Please, if you can, send me seeds. Even fruit seed for the tropics – I can plant them quickly. I will hand them out to those in need – as well as start flats in order to jumpstart their crops. Thank you!

Mara Nieves
PO BOX 9020931
Old San Juan, PR
00901-0931

 

 

Ready for more confrontation.

Catalans Signal They May Declare Independence Within a Week (BBG)

Catalan separatist leaders signaled they may be moving toward a unilateral declaration of independence as early as this week after hundreds of activists were injured on Sunday as they sought to stop Spanish police from shutting down an illegal referendum. Catalan President Carles Puigdemont appealed to the European Union for support as he pledged to inform the regional parliament of the result of the vote in the coming days. The assembly will then act in line with the referendum law, Puigdemont said — and that could lead to a unilateral declaration of independence within 48 hours of the notification. “The citizens of Catalonia have won the right to have an independent state,” Puigdemont said in a televised statement, flanked by members of his regional administration.

Two million Catalans backed independence out of 2.3 million votes cast in total, government spokesman Jordi Turull said at a press conference in the early hours of Monday. Just over 5 million people were eligible to vote. Before the government crackdown began, separatist leaders said they would be comfortable declaring independence with about 1.8 million votes. Puigdemont’s time frame could see him announce the formation of a Catalan republic on Oct. 6, exactly 83 years since his predecessor as regional president, Lluis Companys, also declared independence. Companys was executed by the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. [..] Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is wrestling with his country’s biggest constitutional crisis since Franco’s death in 1975 as Puigdemont looks to harness decades of frustration to force Catalonia out of Spain.

Heading a minority government, Rajoy is fighting to maintain his authority as allies peel off in the national parliament and his officials struggle to enforce the law in the rebel region. While a declaration of independence would have no legal force, and would most likely not be recognized by the international community, it would nevertheless constitute a historic challenge to the authority of the Spanish government and state institutions. On Sunday night, Rajoy praised police for their “calmness” in defending the constitutional order after they raided polling stations and seized ballot boxes in their efforts to shut down the vote. As forces deployed, camera phones beamed the confrontations to the world. In one video, broadcast by a local newspaper, a woman is seen being thrown down a flight of stairs.

In another, police rip ballot boxes from the hands of would-be electoral officials. “We’ve proved that our rule of law has the resources to repel an attack on democracy of this magnitude,” Rajoy said in a televised statement. “Look for no culprits other than those who organized an illegal act and have broken our common bonds. We’ve witnessed the type of behavior that would be repugnant for any democrat: the indoctrination of children, persecution of judges and journalists.”

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Just weeks ago there wasn’t even a majority in the polls.

Catalan Referendum Results Show 90% In Favour Of Independence (G.)

Catalan officials have claimed that preliminary results of its referendum have shown 90% in favour of independence in the vote vehemently opposed by Spain. Jordi Turull, the Catalan regional government spokesman, told reporters early on Monday morning that 90% of the 2.26 million Catalans who voted Sunday chose yes. He said nearly 8% of voters rejected independence and the rest of the ballots were blank or void. He said 15,000 votes were still being counted.The region has 5.3 million registered voters. Turull said the number of ballots did not include those confiscated by Spanish police during violent raids which resulted in hundreds of people being injured. At least 844 people and 33 police were reported to have been hurt, including at least two people who were thought to have been seriously injured.

Catalonia’s regional leader, Carles Puigdemont, spoke out against the violence with a pointed address: “On this day of hope and suffering, Catalonia’s citizens have earned the right to have an independent state in the form of a republic. “My government, in the next few days, will send the results of [the] vote to the Catalan parliament, where the sovereignty of our people lies, so that it can act in accordance with the law of the referendum.” Puigdemont had pressed ahead with the referendum despite opposition from the Spanish state, which declared the poll to be illegal, and the region’s own high court. He told crowds earlier in the day that the “police brutality will shame the Spanish state for ever”. The Spanish government defended its response after hundreds of people were hurt when riot police stormed polling stations in a last-minute effort to stop the vote on Sunday.

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Background.

Catalan Independence Referendum Is A Smokescreen For Other Issues (Ind.)

Tensions are running high in Catalonia, with riot police out in force and protesters advocating their right to vote being shot with rubber bullets. At the time of writing, more than 300 people have been injured and at least one person is currently undergoing surgery as a result of clashes between police and protesters. Police repression, the arresting of politicians and the intransigence of the Spanish government (“there will be no referendum” has been Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s favourite refrain over the last few weeks) make the temptation to simplify this into a simple left-right or good-bad discourse tantalising. But this issue is far from simple. Both sides in this debate are using the referendum to further their own political agendas.

Spain’s governing party, the Partido Popular (PP), is a right-wing party housing a spectrum of thought from neoliberalists to the hard-line right. The ruling party in Catalonia, PDeCAT, is a centre right party of the Catalan bourgeois which has historically been the natural ally of PP and not a traditional supporter of independence. Interestingly, their move to advocate a referendum has stopped their support from dropping in recent months. Alongside this, neither the national government nor the Catalan parliament are strangers to corruption in politics. PDeCAT has been plagued with allegations of corruption, debate around which has receded significantly as demands for independence have increased. PP, for its part, has often sought conflict as a means of garnering public support.

Positioning this referendum and the spectre of independence as a threat to Spanish citizens and their economic future – as well as tugging on the strings of nationalist patriotism in demanding the continued unity of Spain – PP has engaged widespread support. In recent days, Spanish flags have poured from windows and balconies, and in towns throughout Spain people have cheered the Civil Guard – Spain’s law enforcement agency which operates on military lines – with football chants advocating the defeat of the opposition. Against this political background, Spain is beginning to emerge from the crisis of which it has been in the grasp of since 2008. However, unemployment, particularly among young people, is still extremely high, with poverty and homelessness rates continuing to rise. Both Catalan and Spanish politicians have invoked nationalism as the banner beneath which popular support can be raised, allowing the referendum and its surrounding debates to create a vacuum in which these pressing social issues are demoted.

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John Mauldin is a scary man.

Global Retirement Reality: A $400 Trillion Shortfall (Mauldin)

I wrote a letter last June titled “Can You Afford to Reach 100?” Your answer may well be “Yes;” but, if so, you are one of the few. The World Economic Forum study I cited in that letter looked at six developed countries (the US, UK, Netherlands, Japan, Australia, and Canada) and two emerging markets (China and India) and found that by 2050 these countries will face a total savings shortfall of $400 trillion. That’s how much more is needed to ensure that future retirees will receive 70% of their working income. This staggering figure doesn’t even include most of Europe.

[..] The chart below shows the percentage of GDP needed to cover government pension payments in 2015 and 2050. But consider that the percentage of tax revenues required will be much higher. For instance, in Belgium the percentage of GDP going to pensions will be 18% in about 30 years, but that’s 40–50% of total tax revenues. That hunk doesn’t leave much for other budgetary items. Greece, Italy, Spain? Not far behind. And there is other research that makes the above numbers seem optimistic by comparison. The problem that the European economies have is that for the most part they are already massively in debt and have high tax rates. And they can’t print their own currencies. Many of Europe’s private pension companies and corporations are also in seriously deep kimchee. Low and negative interest rates have devastated the ability of pension funds to grow their assets.

Combined with public pension liabilities, the total cost of meeting the income and healthcare needs of retirees is going to increase dramatically all across Europe. Macron, the new French president, really is trying to shake up the old order, to his credit; and this week he came out and began to lay the foundation for the mutualization of all European debt, which I assume would end up on the balance sheet of the ECB. However, that plan still doesn’t deal with the unfunded liabilities. Do countries just run up more debt? It seems like the plan is to kick the can down the road just a little further, something Europe is becoming really good at. In this next chart, note the line running through each of the countries, showing their debt as a percentage of GDP. Italy’s is already over 150%. And this is a chart based mostly on 2006 and earlier data. A newer chart would be much uglier.

I could go on reviewing the retirement problems in other countries, but I hope you begin to see the big picture. This crisis isn’t purely a result of faulty politics – though that’s a big contributor – it’s a problem that is far bigger than even the most disciplined, future-focused governments and businesses can easily handle. Look what we’re trying to do. We think people can spend 35–40 years working and saving, then stop working and go on for another 20–30–40 years at the same comfort level – but with a growing percentage of retirees and a shrinking number of workers paying into the system. I’m sorry, but that’s magical thinking. And it’s not what the original retirement schemes envisioned at all. Their goal was to provide for a relatively small number of elderly people who were unable to work. Life expectancies were such that most workers would not reach that point, or would at least live just a few years beyond retirement.

As I have pointed out in past letters, when Franklin Roosevelt created Social Security for people over 65 years old, US life expectancy was about 56 years. If the retirement age had kept up with the increase in life expectancy, the retirement age in the US would now be 82. Try and sell that to voters. Worse, generations of politicians have convinced the public that not only is a magical outcome possible, it is guaranteed. Many politicians actually believe it themselves. They aren’t lying so much as just ignoring reality. They’ve made promises they aren’t able to keep and are letting others arrange their lives based on the assumption that the impossible will happen. It won’t.

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“..betting on the VIX is a ‘quick way to lose money.'”

Hedge Funds Are ‘Dancing On The Rim Of A Volcano’ (BI)

The market is calm. Perhaps too calm. The lack of price swings has investors mired in a sea of complacency, which has them ignoring potential risks, says Societe Generale. The firm specifically cites the CBOE Volatility Index – or VIX – which is used to track nervousness in the US stock market. Not only is the so-called fear gauge locked near the lowest levels on record, but hedge funds are betting it’ll decline even further. Their VIX positioning is the most bearish on record, according to data compiled by the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission. “Compare that with dancing on the rim of a volcano,” a group of SocGen strategists led by Alain Bokobza, the firm’s head of global asset allocation, wrote in a client note. “If there is a sudden eruption (of volatility) you get badly burned.”

This isn’t the first time SocGen has issued a warning about low volatility. Two weeks ago, the firm drew parallels to conditions leading up to the 2007 financial crisis. Describing the current situation as a “dangerous volatility regime,” the firm cited the strong mean-reverting tendency of price swings as a big reason why investors should be bracing themselves. Other heavyweights in the investment field have also spoken out about the low-price-swing situation that they see as untenable. In late July, JPMorgan global head of quantitative and derivatives strategy Marko Kolanovic compared rock-bottom volatility to the conditions leading up to the 1987 stock market crash. [..] Laszlo Birinyi, the investment guru who predicted the bull market and has been repeatedly correct over its 8 1/2-year run, said that betting on the VIX is a “quick way to lose money.”

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“..the large banks cannot survive without cheating customers, creditors and shareholders..”

CDO Redux: Credit Spreads & Financial Fraud (Whalen)

The moral of the story with Citi and other large banks is that there is no free lunch, but sadly no one on the FOMC seems to appreciate this subtlety. When the Fed pushes down interest rates and then manipulates credit spreads to achieve some illusory goal in terms of monetary policy, the result is a change in the behavior of investors and lenders that is profound. The fact that Citi, JPM and GS are now pushing back into the dangerous world of off-balance sheet (OBS) derivatives just illustrates the fact that the large banks cannot survive without cheating customers, creditors and shareholders. And just as retailers cannot compete with AMZN, Citi and GS certainly cannot compete against the monopoly power of the House of Morgan. In the case both of Citi and JPM, just half of the banks’ operating business comes from lending, while the remainder comes from risk bearing investments and trading.

With some $50 trillion in off-balance sheet (OBS) derivatives, which is almost six standard deviations above the $1.8 trillion peer average for large banks, Citi and JPM are now the outliers on Wall Street in terms of derivatives exposure. A move of 30bp in the OBS derivatives book of either bank would wipe out their capital. Chart One below shows the OBS derivatives exposure of Citi, JPM, GS and the other major banks. Notice that all three of the leading derivatives dealers have been increasing exposures since last year. Note too that the relatively small GS has a notional OBS derivatives book of more than $41 trillion, almost as large as that of Citi and JPM. More alarming, a move of just 7bp in the smaller bank’s OBS derivatives exposures would wipe out the capital of Goldman’s subsidiary bank. This gives GS an effective leverage ratio vs its notional OBS derivatives exposures of 8,800 to 1.

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Yesterday it was the HuffPo, now Bloomberg. Blaming Trump unfairly is a bad approach. Exit echo chamber.

No, Trump Didn’t Botch the Puerto Rico Crisis (BBG)

[..] to look at the larger context of the entire relief operation, I decided to talk to someone whose experience rivals that of General Honore: retired Navy Captain Jerry Hendrix. Now a senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security, Hendrix served for decades both on the high seas and in high-level staff jobs, including with the Chief of Naval Operations’ Executive Panel and the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy’s Irregular Warfare Quadrennial Defense Review. Few people know more about military history than Hendrix, who has degrees from Purdue, Harvard, the Naval Postgraduate School and a Ph.D. from Kings College in London. Little wonder that in 2012 was named the service’s director of naval history.

TH: So, it seems like everybody has blasted Trump administration’s response to the Puerto Rico crisis. Has that criticism been fair?

JH: No, I don’t think so. First of all, there was a fair amount of anticipatory action that is not being recognized. Amphibious ships including the light amphibious carriers Kearsarge and Wasp and the amphibious landing ship dock Oak Hill were at sea and dispatched to Puerto Rico ahead of the hurricane’s impact. These are large ships that have large flight decks to land and dispatch heavy-lift CH-53 helicopters to and from disaster sites. They also have big well-decks – exposed surfaces that are lower than the fore and aft of the ship – from which large landing craft can be dispatched to shore carrying over 150 tons of water, food and other supplies on each trip. These are actually the ideal platforms for relief operations owing to their range of assets. The ships, due to their designs to support Marine amphibious landings in war zones, also have hospitals onboard to provide medical treatment on a large scale. That these ships were in the area should be viewed as a huge positive for the administration and the Department of Defense.

TH: Your plaudits toward the White House on all this are surprising to say the least. But where does the response still need to improve?

JH: One area in which the Trump administration could possibly lend additional assistance would be looking at a more robust activation of its assets in the Defense Department’s Transportation Command to include more heavy-lift and cargo aircraft, as well as Maritime Administration shipping to move the logistics-heavy large infrastructure items on the ocean. Everything from bulldozers to transformers needs to come by ships, and it’s been decades since it was really flexed to its full capacity. This would have the dual purpose of revealing any significant weaknesses in the Transportation Command assets and readiness should we need it in a military emergency down the road.

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Does this mean everybody gets what they want?

Trump Urges Staff To Portray Him As “Crazy Guy” (Axios)

In an Oval Office meeting earlier this month, President Trump gave his top trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, an Art of the Deal-style coaching session on how to negotiate with the South Koreans. Trump’s impromptu coaching came in the middle of a pivotal conversation with top officials about whether or not to withdraw from the U.S.-Korean trade deal. Sources familiar with the conversation recounted the exchange for Axios, and the White House did not dispute this account. A number of senior officials and cabinet secretaries were present for the conversation, including Defense Secretary Mattis, Agriculture Secretary Perdue, and Secretary of State Tillerson. At issue was whether the U.S. would withdraw from the Korean trade deal — an action Trump threatened but still hasn’t done.

“You’ve got 30 days, and if you don’t get concessions then I’m pulling out,” Trump told Lighthizer. “Ok, well I’ll tell the Koreans they’ve got 30 days,” Lighthizer replied. “No, no, no,” Trump interjected. “That’s not how you negotiate. You don’t tell them they’ve got 30 days. You tell them, ‘This guy’s so crazy he could pull out any minute.'” “That’s what you tell them: Any minute,” Trump continued. “And by the way, I might. You guys all need to know I might. You don’t tell them 30 days. If they take 30 days they’ll stretch this out.” Why this matters: Plenty of world leaders think the president is crazy — and he seems to view that madman reputation as an asset. The downsides are obvious: the rhetoric can unnerve allies and has the potential to provoke enemies into needless, unintended war. But Trump keeps using the tactic, with varying degrees of success:

Just today, the president undercut his secretary of state by suggesting diplomacy with “Little Rocket Man” in North Korea was a waste of time — implying that only military action would resolve the conflict. “Save your energy Rex,” Trump tweeted, “we’ll do what has to be done!” We’ve never seen anything like this before. Trump’s tweet, undercutting Tillerson’s diplomatic efforts, comes a day after Tillerson acknowledged for the first time that the administration was in direct communication with North Korea. Trump’s tweet also undercuts a statement made Tuesday by Joint Chiefs Chairman General Dunford: “The military dimension today is in full support of the economic and diplomatic pressure campaign the secretary of state is leading in North Korea.”

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The kind of thing that can lead to war.

Egypt Fears Disaster From Largest Hydroelectric Dam In Africa (AP)

The only reason Egypt has even existed from ancient times until today is because of the Nile River, which provides a thin, richly fertile stretch of green through the desert. For the first time, the country fears a potential threat to that lifeline, and it seems to have no idea what to do about it. Ethiopia is finalizing construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, its first major dam on the Blue Nile, and then will eventually start filling the giant reservoir behind it to power the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa. Egypt fears that will cut into its water supply, destroying parts of its precious farmland, hampering its large desert reclamation projects and squeezing its bourgeoning population of 93 million people, who already face water shortages. Dam construction on international rivers often causes disputes over the downstream impact.

But the Nile is different: few nations rely so completely on a single river as much as Egypt does. The Nile provides over 90% of Egypt’s water supply. Almost the entire population lives cramped in the sliver of the Nile Valley. Around 60% of Egypt’s Nile water originates in Ethiopia from the Blue Nile, one of two main tributaries. Egypt barely gets by with the water it does have. Because of its population, it has one of the lowest per capita shares of water in the world, some 660 cubic meters a person. The strain is further worsened by widespread inefficiency and waste. With the population on a path to double in 50 years, shortages are predicted to become severe even sooner, by 2025. That is despite the fact that Egypt already receives the lion’s share of Nile waters: more than 55 billion of the around 88 billion cubic meters of water that flow down the river each year.

It is promised that amount under agreements from 1929 and 1959 that other Nile nations say are unfair and ignore the needs of their own large populations. Complicating the issue, no one has a clear idea what impact Ethiopia’s dam will actually have. Addis Ababa says it will not cause significant harm to Egypt or Sudan downstream. Much depends on management of the flow and how fast Ethiopia fills its reservoir, which can hold 74 billion cubic meters of water. A faster fill means blocking more water at once, while doing it slowly would mean less reduction downstream.[..] One study by a Cairo University agriculture professor estimated Egypt would lose a staggering 51% of its farmland if the fill is done in three years. A somewhat slower fill over six years would cost Egypt 17% of its cultivated land, the study claimed

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“..its 83 islands are stuck right in the middle of hurricane alley and they dot the border of the “ring of fire”..”

Planes, Ships, Barges: The DIY Evacuation Of Vanuatu’s Volcano Island (G.)

Vanuatu is no stranger to the rumblings, shakings, flood waters and wrecking winds of natural disaster. The south Pacific island nation was rated the most at-risk country in the world in a 2016 United Nations study. Its 83 islands are stuck right in the middle of hurricane alley and they dot the border of the “ring of fire” – a belt around the Pacific prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Despite their precarious situation being a day-to-day reality, the country has been galvanised by the prime minister Charlot Salwai’s order to evacuate the entire island of Ambae because of the threat that the volcano at its centre will blow. “People’s lives must be our first priority,” Salwai said. “Everybody has to go.” What followed has been Vanuatu’s own version of the Dunkirk evacuation. Folk began organising even before Salwai gave the order.

The Ni-Vanuatu – the people of this archipelago – are defined by two things: land and family. From the moment a state of emergency was announced, members of the Ambae community in Port Vila, the capital, began to mobilise. They knew better than to wait for the cash-strapped, resource-starved government and instead jury-rigged a disaster response centre at a church. Local companies began donating goods immediately. Before long they had stockpiles of water, food, bedding and other essentials ready to send. Then they chartered a ship. The MV Makila was one of the first of Vanuatu’s ragtag fleet of inter-island barges and coasters to reach Ambae with supplies. It unloaded those goods then took more than 100 passengers to safety on the nearby island of Espiritu Santo. Then it went back and did it again.

There was no hesitation, no reflection. The ships had to run. So the community members dug deep and shifted for themselves. [..] Nadia Kanegai has been a personal assistant to a prime minister, and a former political candidate herself. A past master at getting things done by Vanuatu’s often shambolic bureaucracy, she didn’t flinch at the difficulties presented by moving hundreds of her home island’s most vulnerable inhabitants to safety. She just hired a plane and told the pilot to keep flying until everyone was out. Kanegai won’t discuss how much this airlift is costing her, but whistle-stop charter flights to the outer islands typically cost the equivalent of £1,000 for a return hop. Her plane made 18 flights on the first day alone.

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Bloomberg headline “Why Russia Should Love Climate Change Deniers”. Because that sells better than Mongolia?

Climate Change Will Make Some Countries Richer – IMF (BBG)

President Donald Trump and other climate-change deniers probably don’t think of themselves as contributing to Russia’s future prosperity. But judging from a new International Monetary Fund report, that’s what they might be doing. In its latest World Economic Outlook, the IMF offers a sobering analysis of global warming’s potential repercussions. Looking at the historical relationship between climate and economic output, it finds that poor countries in hot regions – home to a majority of the world’s population – are likely to suffer the most as average temperatures rise. Here’s a map showing the effect of a one-degree-Celsius temperature increase on per-capita GDP, with countries scaled to reflect their populations:

Gazing at the map, though, I couldn’t help but ask: What about the winners? Those green areas in the north certainly suggest that somebody stands to gain. So I downloaded the data to see which countries would get a per-capita GDP boost. Mongolia, Iceland, Finland and Russia topped the IMF’s list. Here’s the whole thing:

To be sure, this doesn’t mean that the countries will turn into a tropical paradises. For one, the researchers derived their estimates from the relatively small weather fluctuations of the past – nobody can really know what will happen if temperatures go beyond what humans have experienced. Also, don’t forget bigger natural disasters, forced migrations and all the other ills that climate change is expected to bring. That said, the data do suggest that Russia could, at least initially, be an unintended beneficiary of what amounts to a global injustice of epic proportions. Look again at that map: The poor countries in the south stand to bear the brunt of a catastrophe created largely by the wealthy countries in the middle, while the countries in the north get a windfall. That’s an outcome to which Trump, by downplaying the dangers of global warming and withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, has already made a significant contribution.

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Oct 012017
 
 October 1, 2017  Posted by at 2:02 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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Catalunya October 1 2017

 

I’ve seen a lot of videos and photos of the Catalonia attempt to hold a referendum today (Tyler has a “nice” series of them), and what struck me most of all, apart from the senseless violence police forces were seen to engage in, is the lack of violence on the side of protesters.

So when I see the Interior Ministry claim that 11 policemen were injured, That is hard to take serious. Not that the Catalans had no reason to resist or even fight back. That hundreds of protesters, including scores of grandma’s, are injured is obvious from watching the videos. Since rubber bullets were used in large numbers, fatal injuries are quite possible.

Policemen hitting peaceful older ladies till they bleed is shocking, and we are all shocked. Many of us will be surprised too, but we shouldn’t be. Spain is still the land of Franco, and his followers continue to exert great influence in politics, police and military. And it’s not just them: one video from Madrid showed people singing a fascist theme from the Franco era.

 

 

That’s the shape the EU knowingly accepted Spain as a member in, and that shape has hardly changed since. The total silence from Brussels, and from all its capitals, speaks volumes. Belgian PM Michel said earlier today that he doesn’t want to talk about other countries’ politics, and that’s more than I’ve seen anyone else say. It’s of course a piece of gross cowardly nonsense, both Michel’s statement and the silence from all others.

Because this very much concerns the EU. As Julian Assange tweeted “Dear @JunckerEU. Is this “respect for human dignity, freedom and democracy”? Activate article 7 and suspend Spain from the European Union for its clear violation of Article 2.” (Article 7 of the European Union Treaty: “Suspension of any Member State that uses military force on its own population.”) Sure, technically the Guardia Civil is not military, but are Juncker, Michel and above all Merkel really going to try and hide behind that?

Assange also re-tweeted this: “Claude Taylor Breaking: contact with Ecuadorian Govt says they plan on removing Julian Assange from their Embassy in London. Expect his arrest to follow.” Assange’s reaction: “DC based ex-White House claims I’m to be arrested for reporting on Spain’s censorship & arrests in Catalonia. Dirty.”

But that should not be a surprise either. We know from the example of Greece, and the treatment of refugees, what the morals of Europe’s ‘leaders’ are. Their morals are bankrupt. In that sense, they fit in seamlessly with those of Mariano Rajoy’s governing PP party in Spain.

 

 

Still, this is not why people want to be part of the EU. So unless very strong statements come from the various capitals, and very soon, given that they’re already way too late, the EU as a whole will find itself in such a deep crisis it might as well pack its bags and go home. Wherever home may be for these career politicians.

If you’re void of any and all ethics and morals, which is what that silence shouts out very loudly, you can’t lay any claim at all to the right to make decisions for anyone at all. That is true for Rajoy and his party, and it’s just as true for all other deadly silent European leaders.

And this is by no means over, it hasn’t started yet. Here’s a map of close vs open polling stations in Catalonia, via Assange. ‘Nuff said. What will Rajoy’s next move be? Locking up everyone? The entire Catalan governing party that organized the referendum? Make no mistake: the Spanish military have long threatened they would destroy Catalonia before allowing it independence.

 


Catalan polling stations. Green=open. Red=closed

 

Philosopher Anna M. Hennessey, who has lived in both Spain and in Catalonia, put it this way:

Franco was victorious and did not lose his war, as Hitler and Mussolini lost theirs, but this must not mean that we should let the dictator’s toxic ideological infrastructure persist any further into the twenty-first century. Supporting Catalonia is a necessary step in putting an end to fascism in Europe.

When Fascism Won’t Die: Why We Need to Support Catalonia

People in the United States, especially those from the 1980s onward, know little of Spain’s Civil War (1936-1939) and the long dictatorship that followed. This knowledge is helpful in understanding the situation in Spain and Catalonia right now. The judge (Ismael Moreno) who is set to decide on sedition charges against Catalan activists for attempting to hold a democratic referendum on October 1st, for example, has roots that are deeply connected to Francisco Franco (1892-1975), the military leader who initiated the Civil War, won it, and then went on to rule as Head of State and dictator in Spain for almost forty years.

Franco is a major figure of twentieth-century fascism in Europe. A purge of Francoist government officials never took place when the dictatorship ended in the 1970s, and this leadership has had a lasting impact on how Spain’s government makes its decisions about Catalonia, a region traumatized during and after the war due to its resistance to Franco’s regime. The lingering effects of Franco’s legacy are at this point well-documented and need to be a part of the discourse that surrounds what is quickly unraveling in Barcelona.

[..] Like the Spanish government, the Spanish police force was never purged of its Francoist ties following the dictatorship. It is a deeply corrupt institution [..] Manuel Fraga Iribarne, one of Franco’s ministers during the dictatorship, founded Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party. The party is currently enmeshed in a corruption scandal of its own. Spain’s royal family is similarly linked to Franco and has also been brought to trial for its own set of corruption charges. It is impossible to ignore the fascist bedrock upon which modern Spain is founded, or to ignore the reality that this foundation has to do with the way Spain treats Catalonia.

And so we can see the dream of a united Europe die. At least one that most people will feel comfortable living in. And if you can’t achieve that, why have a union to begin with? Democracy in Europe is dying in Brussels, it’s dying in Greece and the Mediterranean, and it died today in the streets of Barcelona and other Catalan locations.

Are all Europeans simply going to sit back and wait till it dies where they live, too? My bet is they will only do that until they no longer see the EU as economically beneficial to them. And as of today, because of Catalunya, economics will no longer be the only consideration. Because Spain will not be thrown out, not even suspended. There will be lots of empty strong words, but not all Europeans are all that stupid.

Barcelona mayor Ada Colau has called for Rajoy to resign, but she knows as well as anyone that that will not be enough, and it won’t change a thing. Rajoy is merely one representative of a fascist system that is the underbelly of Spain, waiting for its opportunity to raise its ugly head. It’s found that opportunity today, and the whole world is silent. Well, the ‘leaders’ are.

 

And while we’re talking disaster, I can’t help myself from briefly addressing Puerto Rico. The anti-Trump echo chamber is louder than ever, and it’s getting absurd. I can’t see what part of it is Trump’s doing, and what is due to other sources, but it simply seems not true that help is not moving forward. In a destruction as complete as Puerto Rico, there are limits to what can be done in a limited amount of time.

All the criticism of Trump at some point becomes criticism of other people involved as well. The mayor of San Juan gets lauded as a hero in certain circles, but is she really? How about the US military, how about FEMA? They look to be doing a good job, and FEMA seems to have learned a lot from Katrina 12 years ago.

Again, I don’t know how much of that is Trump, but if I may be cynical, he’s smart enough to know how his response could or would be used against him, so he would be really thick if he let the situation get worse than it should be. Earlier today Cate Long, an expert on Puerto Rico due to its debt fiasco, and hence with a lot of contacts there, tweeted:

“Federal govt has leapfrogged Puerto Rico govt & made direct connection with 78 municipalities. Central to powerful supply chain & relief.”

While the Huffington Post, not exactly Trump cheerleaders, posted this:

US Military On Puerto Rico: “The Problem Is Distribution”

Speaking today exclusively and live from Puerto Rico, is Puerto Rican born and raised, Colonel Michael A. Valle (”Torch”), Commander, 101st Air and Space Operations Group, and Director of the Joint Air Component Coordination Element, 1st Air Force, responsible for Hurricane Maria relief efforts in the U.S. commonwealth with a population of more than 3 million.

Since the ‘apocalyptic’ Cat 4 storm tore into the spine of Puerto Rico on September 20, Col. Valle has been both duty and blood bound to help. Col. Valle is a firsthand witness of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) response supporting FEMA in Puerto Rico, and as a Puerto Rican himself with family members living in the devastation, his passion for the people is second to none. “It’s just not true,” Col. Valle says of the major disconnect today between the perception of a lack of response from Washington verses what is really going on on the ground.

[..] some truck drivers from outside the island have been brought in, and more are coming, however it’s not a fix-all. “We get more and more offers to help, but there is no where to stay, we can’t take any more bodies, there’s no where to put them.” Col. Valle says, adding that their “air mobility” is good, and reiterating that getting more supplies or manpower is not the issue. When asked three times what else Washington can do to help, or anyone for that matter, three times Col. Valle answered, “It’s going to take time.”

Maybe it’s time to exit your echo chamber?

 

 

Oct 012017
 
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Edward Hopper Nighthawks 1942

 

US Military On Puerto Rico: “The Problem Is Distribution” (HP)
When Fascism Won’t Die: Why We Need to Support Catalonia (CP)
David Stockman: Stocks Are Heading For 40-70% Plunge (CNBC)
The Financialization of America… and Its Discontents
The US Economy is Failing (Paul Craig Roberts)
Debt-Slave Industry Frets over Impact of Mass Credit Freezes (WS)
Hong Kong Economy Most At Risk Of Financial Crisis – Nomura (BBG)
S&P Says China’s Debt Will Grow 77% by 2021 (BBG)
China Cuts Reserve Requirements To Boost Lending To Small Firms (R.)
Fukushima Potentially Leaking Radioactive Water For 5 Months (RT)

 

 

An appeal from Puerto Rico via Nicole:

Hurricane Maria destroyed many of Puerto Rico’s local seed and organic food-producing farm crops. Please, if you can, send me seeds. Even fruit seed for the tropics – I can plant them quickly. I will hand them out to those in need – as well as start flats in order to jumpstart their crops. Thank you!

Mara Nieves
PO BOX 9020931
Old San Juan, PR
00901-0931

 

 

Just dumping another 10,000 people on the island is not the (whole) answer. Too many people criticize too easily. Time to leave the echo chamber. If HuffPo can do it, so can you.

“As a Puerto Rican, I can tell you that the problem has nothing to do with the U.S. military, FEMA, or the DoD.”

US Military On Puerto Rico: “The Problem Is Distribution” (HuffPo)

Speaking today exclusively and live from Puerto Rico, is Puerto Rican born and raised, Colonel Michael A. Valle (”Torch”), Commander, 101st Air and Space Operations Group, and Director of the Joint Air Component Coordination Element, 1st Air Force, responsible for Hurricane Maria relief efforts in the U.S. commonwealth with a population of more than 3 million. Since the ‘apocalyptic’ Cat 4 storm tore into the spine of Puerto Rico on September 20, Col. Valle has been both duty and blood bound to help. Col. Valle is a firsthand witness of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) response supporting FEMA in Puerto Rico, and as a Puerto Rican himself with family members living in the devastation, his passion for the people is second to none. “It’s just not true,” Col. Valle says of the major disconnect today between the perception of a lack of response from Washington verses what is really going on on the ground.

“I have family here. My parents’ home is here. My uncles, aunts, cousins, are all here. As a Puerto Rican, I can tell you that the problem has nothing to do with the U.S. military, FEMA, or the DoD.” “The aid is getting to Puerto Rico. The problem is distribution. The federal government has sent us a lot of help; moving those supplies, in particular, fuel, is the issue right now,” says Col. Valle. Until power can be restored, generators are critical for hospitals and shelter facilities and more. But, and it’s a big but, they can’t get the fuel to run the generators. They have the generators, water, food, medicine, and fuel on the ground, yet the supplies are not moving across the island as quickly as they’re needed.

“It’s a lack of drivers for the transport trucks, the 18 wheelers. Supplies we have. Trucks we have. There are ships full of supplies, backed up in the ports, waiting to have a vehicle to unload into. However, only 20% of the truck drivers show up to work. These are private citizens in Puerto Rico, paid by companies that are contracted by the government,” says Col. Valle. Put another way, 80% of truck drivers do not show up to work, and yet again, it’s important to understand why. “There should be zero blame on the drivers. They can’t get to work, the infrastructure is destroyed, they can’t get fuel themselves, and they can’t call us for help because there’s no communication. The will of the people of Puerto Rico is off the charts. The truck drivers have families to take care of, many of them have no food or water. They have to take care of their family’s needs before they go off to work, and once they do go, they can’t call home,” explains Col. Valle.

[..] some truck drivers from outside the island have been brought in, and more are coming, however it’s not a fix-all. “We get more and more offers to help, but there is no where to stay, we can’t take any more bodies, there’s no where to put them.” Col. Valle says, adding that their “air mobility” is good, and reiterating that getting more supplies or manpower is not the issue. When asked three times what else Washington can do to help, or anyone for that matter, three times Col. Valle answered, “It’s going to take time.”

Read more …

The footage this morning from Catalonia is horrifying.

When Fascism Won’t Die: Why We Need to Support Catalonia (CP)

People in the United States, especially those from the 1980s onward, know little of Spain’s Civil War (1936-1939) and the long dictatorship that followed. This knowledge is helpful in understanding the situation in Spain and Catalonia right now. The judge (Ismael Moreno) who is set to decide on sedition charges against Catalan activists for attempting to hold a democratic referendum on October 1st, for example, has roots that are deeply connected to Francisco Franco (1892-1975), the military leader who initiated the Civil War, won it, and then went on to rule as Head of State and dictator in Spain for almost forty years. Franco is a major figure of twentieth-century fascism in Europe. A purge of Francoist government officials never took place when the dictatorship ended in the 1970s, and this leadership has had a lasting impact on how Spain’s government makes its decisions about Catalonia, a region traumatized during and after the war due to its resistance to Franco’s regime.

The lingering effects of Franco’s legacy are at this point well-documented and need to be a part of the discourse that surrounds what is quickly unraveling in Barcelona. Over the past week, Spain’s military body, the Guardia Civil, has forcibly taken control of the Mossos d’Esquadra, Catalonia’s own police force. It has also detained government officials, closed multiple websites, and ordered seven hundred Catalan mayors to appear in court. Ominously, Spanish police from all over the country have traveled up to Barcelona or are en route to the Catalan capital, holing up in three giant cruise ships, two anchored in the city’s port, one in the port of nearby Tarragona. They are doing this at a time when Spain is on high alert for terrorist attacks, removing their police forces from numerous regions that could be in danger of attack, including Madrid, in preparation to stop Catalan people from putting pieces of paper into voting boxes.

Like the Spanish government, the Spanish police force was never purged of its Francoist ties following the dictatorship. It is a deeply corrupt institution [..] Manuel Fraga Iribarne, one of Franco’s ministers during the dictatorship, founded Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party. The party is currently enmeshed in a corruption scandal of its own. Spain’s royal family is similarly linked to Franco and has also been brought to trial for its own set of corruption charges. It is impossible to ignore the fascist bedrock upon which modern Spain is founded, or to ignore the reality that this foundation has to do with the way Spain treats Catalonia.

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No tax reform, says Stockman.

David Stockman: Stocks Are Heading For 40-70% Plunge (CNBC)

David Stockman is warning about the Trump administration’s tax overhaul plan, Federal Reserve policy, saying they could play into a severe stock market sell-off. Stockman, the Reagan administration’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, isn’t stepping away from his thesis that the 8 1/2-year-old rally is in serious danger. “There is a correction every seven to eight years, and they tend to be anywhere from 40 to 70%,” Stockman said recently on CNBC’s “Futures Now.” “If you have to work for a living, get out of the casino because it’s a dangerous place.” He’s made similar calls, but they haven’t materialized. In June, Stockman told CNBC the S&P 500 could easily fall to 1,600, which at the time represented a 34% drop. This week, the index was trading at record levels above 2,500. Stockman puts a big portion of the blame on the Federal Reserve, and its ultra-loose monetary policy.

“This is a bubble created by the Fed,” he said. “We’re heading for higher yields. We are heading for a huge reset of pricing in the risk markets that’s been based on ultra-cheap yields that the central banks of the world created that are now going to go away because they’re telling you that they’re done.” At the height of the 2007-2009 financial crisis, the S&P 500 Index plummeted as much as 58%. It happened in March 2009. “This market at 24 times GAAP earnings, 21 times operating earnings, 100 months into a business expansion with the kind of troubles you have in Washington, central banks [are] going to the sidelines,” he said. “There’s very little reward, and there’s a heck of a lot of risk.” Stockman argued that President Donald Trump’s business-friendly tax reform bill, which was unveiled Wednesday, won’t prevent a damaging sell-off.

He previously said Wall Street is “delusional” for believing it will even be passed. “This is a fiscal disaster that when they [Wall Street] begin to look at it, they’ll see it’s not even remotely paid for. This bill will go down for the count,” said Stockman. He said White House economic advisor Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin “totally failed to provide any detail, any leadership, any plan. Both of them ought to be fired because they let down the president in a major, major way.” And, it’s not just Washington dysfunction and Fed policy that could ultimately make Stockman’s long-held bearish prediction a reality. He says there will be a catalyst, but it’s unknown exactly what it will be. “You get a black swan in the old days, or maybe you get an orange swan now, the one in the Oval Office who can’t seem to stop tweeting and distracting the whole process from accomplishing anything,” Stockman said of President Donald Trump.

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Koyaanisqatsi. “..capital and profits flow to the scarcities created by asymmetric access to information, leverage and cheap credit — the engines of financialization.”

The Financialization of America… and Its Discontents

Labor’s share of the national income is in freefall as a direct result of the optimization of financialization. The Achilles Heel of our socio-economic system is the secular stagnation of earned income, i.e. wages and salaries. Stagnating wages undermine every aspect of our economy: consumption, credit, taxation and perhaps most importantly, the unspoken social contract that the benefits of productivity and increasing wealth will be distributed widely, if not fairly. This chart shows that labor’s declining share of the national income is not a recent problem, but a 45-year trend: despite occasional counter-trend blips, labor (earnings from labor/ employment) has seen its share of the economy plummet regardless of the political or economic environment.

Given the gravity of the consequences of this trend, mainstream economists have been struggling to explain it, as a means of eventually reversing it. The explanations include automation, globalization/offshoring, the high cost of housing, a decline of corporate competition (i.e. the dominance of cartels and quasi-monopolies), a failure of our educational complex to keep pace, stagnating gains in productivity, and so on. Each of these dynamics may well exacerbate the trend, but they all dodge the dominant driver of wage stagnation and rise income-wealth inequality: our economy is optimized for financialization, not labor/earned income. What does our economy is optimized for financialization mean? It means that capital and profits flow to the scarcities created by asymmetric access to information, leverage and cheap credit — the engines of financialization.

Financialization funnels the economy’s rewards to those with access to opaque financial processes and information flows, cheap central bank credit and private banking leverage. Together, these enable financiers and corporations to get the borrowed capital needed to acquire and consolidate the productive assets of the economy, and commoditize those productive assets, i.e. turn them into financial instruments that can be bought and sold on the global marketplace. Labor’s share of the national income is in freefall as a direct result of the optimization of financialization. Meanwhile, the official policy goal of the Federal Reserve and other central banks is to generate 3% inflation annually. Put another way: the central banks want to lower the purchasing power of their currencies by 33% every decade.

In other words, those with fixed incomes that don’t keep pace with inflation will have lost a third of their income after a decade of central bank-engineered inflation. But in an economy in which wages for 95% of households are stagnant for structural reasons, pushing inflation higher is destabilizing. There is a core structural problem with engineering 3% annual inflation. Those whose income doesn’t keep pace are gradually impoverished, while those who can notch gains above 3% gradually garner the lion’s share of the national income and wealth.

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“Unless Robots pay payroll taxes, the financing for Social Security and Medicare will collapse. And it goes on down from there.”

The US Economy is Failing (Paul Craig Roberts)

Americans carry on by accumulating debt and becoming debt slaves. Many can only make the minimum payment on their credit card and thus accumulate debt. The Federal Reserve’s policy has exploded the prices of financial assets. The result is that the bulk of the population lacks discretionary income, and those with financial assets are wealthy until values adjust to reality. As an economist I cannot identify in history any economy whose affairs have been so badly managed and prospects so severely damaged as the economy of the United States of America. In the short/intermediate run policies that damage the prospects for the American work force benefit what is called the One Percent as jobs offshoring reduces corporate costs and financialization transfers remaining discretionary income in interest and fees to the financial sector.

But as consumer discretionary incomes disappear and debt burdens rise, aggregate demand falters, and there is nothing left to drive the economy. What we are witnessing in the United States is the first country to reverse the development process and to go backward by giving up industry, manufacturing, and tradable professional skill jobs. The labor force is becoming Third World with lowly paid domestic service jobs taking the place of high-productivity, high-value added jobs. The initial response was to put wives and mothers into the work force, but now even many two-earner families experience stagnant or falling material living standards. New university graduates are faced with substantial debts without jobs capable of producing sufficient income to pay off the debts.

Now the US is on a course of travelling backward at a faster rate. Robots are to take over more and more jobs, displacing more people. Robots don’t buy houses, furniture, appliances, cars, clothes, food, entertainment, medical services, etc. Unless Robots pay payroll taxes, the financing for Social Security and Medicare will collapse. And it goes on down from there. Consumer spending simply dries up, so who purcheses the goods and services supplied by robots? To find such important considerations absent in public debate suggests that the United States will continue on the country’s de-industrialization, de-manufacturing trajectory.

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Tricks to keep credit flowing.

Debt-Slave Industry Frets over Impact of Mass Credit Freezes (WS)

“Let’s face it, 143 million frauds won’t be perpetrated right away; it will take some time to filter through,” Steve Bowman, chief credit and risk officer at GM Financial, the auto-lending subsidiary of General Motors, told Reuters. He was talking about the consequences of the Equifax hack during which the most crucial personal data, including Social Security numbers, of 143 million American consumers along with equivalent data of Canadian and British consumers, had been stolen. These consumers have all at once become very vulnerable to all kinds of fraud, including identity theft – where a fraudster borrows money in their name. The day Equifax disclosed the hack, I urged affected consumers to put a credit freeze on their credit data at the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian — to protect themselves against these frauds.

Soon, the largest media outlets and state attorneys general urged consumers to do the same thing. Financial advisors are recommending it. Even Wells Fargo jumped on the credit freeze bandwagon. As a result, consumers have flooded the websites of the three credit bureaus to request credit freezes in such numbers that the sites slowed down, timed out, or went down entirely for periods of time. This credit freeze frenzy is scaring the credit industry – not just the credit bureaus, but also lenders and companies that rely on easy credit to sell their wares, such as automakers and department stores with instant credit cards. With a credit freeze in place, those consumers cannot be approved for new credit until they lift the credit freeze, which can take up to three business days. The time and extra hoops to jump through before applying for a new loan might deter consumers from buying that car at the spur of the moment.

No one knows how this is going to turn out – and how it will impact the debt-based consumer economy. But fears are mounting. If just 10% of 324 million folks in the US put a credit freeze on their data, the credit industry will feel the impact painfully. Hence the efforts to contain the fallout. On Wednesday, an apology by the interim CEO of Equifax, Paulino do Rego Barros Jr. – he succeeded CEO Richard Smith, who’d been sacked – concluded with tidbits of a service Equifax is hoping to roll out by January 31. It would allow “all consumers the option of controlling access to their personal credit data.” It would allow them to “easily lock and unlock access to their Equifax credit files.” This is going to be “simple,” and “free for life.”

This “credit lock” or whatever Equifax wants to call it is not a “credit freeze.” TransUnion is offering a similar service. Credit freezes are covered by state law, and credit bureaus have to conform to state law. With these “credit locks” credit bureaus can do whatever they want to, and consumers will have to read the fine print to figure out what that is and how well a “credit lock” will protect them. But those credit locks offer the credit industry a huge advantage over a credit freeze: They can be designed to be lifted instantly. And this is a sign of how frazzled the credit industry, including the lenders, are becoming, about the credit freezes.

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Interesting methodology.

Hong Kong Economy Most At Risk Of Financial Crisis – Nomura (BBG)

Hong Kong is the economy most at risk of suffering a financial crisis, with China the second most vulnerable, according to the latest update of an early warning system devised by Nomura. The findings don’t mean there will be a crisis. “It’s not a purely scientific approach that is very precise,” Singapore-based analyst Rob Subbaraman said by phone on Friday. “It doesn’t mean that indicators are always accurate or that because they have worked in the past they will work in the future.” Subbaraman developed the system along with fellow analyst Michael Loo using data going back to the early 1990s. The findings show that emerging markets are more prone than developed markets, and that Asia ex-Japan is the region that is most at risk.

The analysts selected five indicators that flash a signal of a financial crisis happening in the next 12 quarters when they breach set thresholds:
* Corporate and household credit to GDP
* The corporate and household debt-service ratio
* The real effective exchange rate
* Real — or adjusted for inflation — property prices
* Real equity prices

The latest update covers the 12 quarters up to and including the first three months of this year. As there are five indicators, each of the countries studied can have a maximum of 60 signals. Hong Kong has the most signals, 52 — higher than during the 1997 Asian financial crisis. China’s total fell to 40 from 41 in the previous update that covered the period up to the fourth quarter of 2016. “Hong Kong looks to be well in the danger zone,” Subbaraman and Loo wrote in the note. They described the decline in China’s total — the first drop since its number of flashing indicators started a steep ascent from zero in the first quarter of 2013 — as encouraging. “Nonetheless, China is still in the danger zone and without further efforts to drain its credit and property excesses, it will be difficult to arrest the trend slowdown in growth.”

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Chinese reality. Shadow banks and local government financing vehicles.

S&P Says China’s Debt Will Grow 77% by 2021 (BBG)

China’s total debt could rise 77% to $46 trillion by 2021, and its push to rein in heavy corporate borrowing has had “only tentative results so far,” S&P Global Ratings said. While the pace of debt expansion is slowing, it still exceeds economic growth, implying that high credit risks could still “incrementally increase,” the rating company said in a report Friday. “Recent intensification of government efforts to rein in corporate leverage could stabilize the trend of financial risks over the next few years,” credit analyst Christopher Lee wrote. “But we still foresee that credit growth will remain at levels that will gradually increase financial stress.” S&P last week cut China’s sovereign credit rating for the first time since 1999, citing the risks from soaring debt, and revised its outlook to stable from negative.

The Finance Ministry responded that the analysis ignores the country’s sound economic fundamentals and that the government is fully capable of maintaining financial stability. In a separate report Friday, S&P said China’s push to rein in corporate borrowing likely hasn’t produced lasting results because it lacks specific targets and time frames for cuts. Corporate debt, including local government financing vehicles, rose 5% last year to $14.5 trillion and is the highest among large economies at 134% of GDP, S&P said. State-owned enterprises are the heaviest borrowers, S&P said, adding that a focus on maintaining stability contributes to cautious policy making and a bias toward a status quo that prioritizes economic growth.

SOEs produce a fifth of economic output while taking out 40% of the bank loans, and they’re less profitable than private counterparts with double the overall debt leverage ratio, S&P said. “Without bold actions, China’s corporate deleveraging aims won’t be met in the next one to two years,” Lee wrote. “China allows moral hazards to persist by providing implicit or even direct support to highly indebted SOEs.

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Caution to the wind!

China Cuts Reserve Requirements To Boost Lending To Small Firms (R.)

China’s central bank on Saturday cut the amount of cash that some banks must hold as reserves for the first time since February 2016 in a bid to encourage more lending to struggling smaller firms and energize its lackluster private sector. The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) said on its website that it would cut the reserve requirement ratio (RRR) for some banks that meet certain requirements for lending to small business and the agricultural sector. The PBOC said the move was made to support the development of “inclusive” financial services. The reserve requirement rate will be cut a further 50 bps to 150 bps from the benchmark RRR rate for banks that meet certain requirements for lending to the targeted sectors, the PBOC said. China’s cabinet had in late September flagged a possible move, saying the government will take a number of measures, including tax exemptions and targeted reserve requirement ratio cuts to encourage banks to support small businesses.

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Slow death.

Fukushima Potentially Leaking Radioactive Water For 5 Months (RT)

The Fukushima nuclear power plant may have been leaking radioactive water since April, its owner has admitted. Tokyo Electric Power Company said on Thursday that a problem with monitoring equipment means it can’t be sure if radiation-contaminated water leaked from the reactor buildings damaged in the 2011 nuclear disaster which was sparked by an earthquake and tsunami, the Japan Times reports. The company said there were errors on the settings of six indicators monitoring groundwater levels of wells around reactor buildings 1-4 at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear power station. The indicators weren’t showing accurate water levels, and the actual levels were about 70 centimeters lower than that which the equipment showed. In May, groundwater at one of the wells sank below the contaminated water inside, NHK reports, which possibly caused the radioactive water to leak into the soil.

The company said it is investigating, and that no abnormal increase of radioactivity has shown up in samples. The problem with the six wells in question was discovered this week when the company was preparing another well nearby. The 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster occurred when three of the plant’s reactors experienced fuel meltdowns and three units were damaged by hydrogen explosions as a result of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami. TEPCO has kept groundwater levels in wells higher than the contaminated water levels inside the plant, usually a meter higher. It also installed water-level indicators, which have now been revealed to be inaccurate. Last week, the company was ordered to pay damages of 376 million yen ($3.36 million) to 42 plaintiffs for the nuclear disaster in the second case a court has which has seen rulings against the company.

The suit, one of about 30 class actions brought against the plant, was brought by residents forced to flee their homes when three reactor cores melted, knocking off the cooling systems and sending radioactive material into the air. The case examined whether the government and TEPCO could have foreseen the tsunami. A government earthquake assessment made public in 2002 predicted a 20% chance of a magnitude 8 earthquake affecting the area within 30 years. The 2011 quake was a magnitude 9. The case argued that the disaster was preventable as emergency generators could have been placed at a location higher than the plant, which stands 10 meters above sea level. The court found the state wasn’t liable, but another case in March found both TEPCO and the government liable.

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Sep 302017
 
 September 30, 2017  Posted by at 8:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »
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Vincent van Gogh Boulevard de Clichy, Paris 1887

 

Trump’s 1,500-word Airball (Stockman)
Puerto Rico Supply Failure Stops Food, Water Reaching Desperate Residents (G.)
Abenomics: Bat-Shit-Crazy (Muir)
Congress Can Give Every American A Pony (Kelton)
Homeowners Face Double Whammy Of Interest Rates And Slumped Market (Ind.)
ECB Wants to Weed Out Smaller Banks to Cut Competition (DQ)
VW’s Dieselgate Bill Hits $30 Billion After Another Charge (R.)
Could Ryanair’s ‘Pilotgate’ Spell The End Of Cheap Flights? (Ind.)
Citizens United No More (Jim Kunstler)
The Slimy Business of Russia-gate (Robert Parry)
Catalan Government Says Millions Will Turn Out For Referendum (G.)
Aid Programs Are Designed To Keep Countries In Poverty (Ren.)

 

 

The White House should consult with Stockman. He’s been there. This is going nowhere good. “..after nine months of work these geniuses have come up with $6 trillion of easy to propose tax rate cuts and virtually no plan whatsoever to pay for them..”

Trump’s 1,500-word Airball (Stockman)

The Donald’s strong point isn’t his grasp of policy detail. The nine page bare-bones outline released yesterday is nothing more than an aspirational air ball that lacks virtually every policy detail needed to assess its impact and to price out its cost. It promises to shrink the code to three rates (12%, 25%, 35%), for example. But it doesn’t say boo about where the brackets begin and end compared to current law. Needless to say, a taxpayer with $50,000 of taxable income who is on the 15% marginal bracket today might wish to know whether he is in the new 12% or the new 25% bracket proposed by the White House. After all, it could change his tax bill by several thousand dollars. Similarly, to help pay for upwards of $6 trillion of tax cuts over the next decade, it proposes to eliminate “most” itemized deductions. These “payfors” would in theory increase revenues by about $3 trillion.

Then again, the plan explicitly excludes the two biggest deductions – the charitable deduction and mortgage deduction – which together account for $1.3 trillion of that total. And it doesn’t name a single item among the hundreds of deductions that account for another $1 trillion of current law revenue loss. They’re just mystery meat to be stealthily extracted during committee meetings after Congressman have run the gauntlet of lobbyists prowling the halls outside. Stated differently, after nine months of work these geniuses have come up with $6 trillion of easy to propose tax rate cuts and virtually no plan whatsoever to pay for them. In fact, this latest nine pages of puffery contains just 1,500 words – including obligatory quotes from the Donald and page titles. I hate to get picky, but the Donald’s team has been on the job for 250 days now. And all they came up with amounts to just three words each per day in office.

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Blaming Puerto Rico on Trump as well is cheap and easy. The Jones Act must go, but Congress has left it intact. So have successive presidents.

Puerto Rico Supply Failure Stops Food, Water Reaching Desperate Residents (G.)

Nine days after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, thousands of containers of food, water and medicine are stuck in ports and warehouses on the island, as logistical problems continue to stop desperately needed supplies from reaching millions of Americans. In many parts of the US territory, food, medicine and drinking water are scarce, and amid a growing humanitarian crisis, local researchers have suggested the death toll could be much higher than the 16 deaths reported so far. On Thursday, the White House temporarily waived the Jones Act – the 1920 legislation which had prevented foreign ships from delivering supplies from US ports to Puerto Rico. But the breakdown of the island’s supply chain has left many concerned that the move will not be enough to get goods to the people who need them most.

Yennifer Álvarez, a spokesperson for Puerto Rico’s governor, said about 9,500 shipping containers filled with cargo were at the port of San Juan on Thursday morning as the government struggled to find truckers who could deliver supplies across the island. The delivery issue is aggravated by an intense shortage of gasoline. About half of Puerto Rico’s 1,100 gas stations are out of action; at those that are open, people have been queuing for up to nine hours to buy fuel for vehicles or the generators which have become essential since the island is still without electricity. Rafael Álvarez, vice-president of Méndez & Co, a food distribution company based in San Juan, said he was worried that if fuel was not efficiently distributed soon, people might get desperate. “I really hope things are worse today than they are going to be tomorrow,” he said.

“People are getting very anxious with the heat and the lack of easily accessible drinkable water.” Because of Puerto Rico’s crippling economic crisis, few people had the money to afford more than a week’s worth of emergency supplies, said Alvarez. But if fuel was readily available, Alvarez said, goods could be efficiently delivered around the island and generators would reliably function, resolving many of the territory’s most pressing concerns. Alvarez’s warehouse is at 100% capacity with shelf-stable products including cereals, granola bars and pasta sauce. Yet although the goods are ready to move to local grocery stores, only around 25% of his normal distribution fleet is available, because of the shortage of fuel or damage inflicted by the storm. And few stores are open because they need diesel to power their generators.

“The food industry is really intact except for diesel fuel,” Alvarez said. “We need diesel fuel to operate.” Federal and state officials have said there is enough diesel on the island, but it too has been difficult to distribute. “You know, the gas and fuel issue is not a matter of how much do we have – it’s a matter of how we can distribute it,” Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, told NPR.

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“And just like that, Abeconomics was born. Since then the Bank of Japan balance sheet has swelled from 30% of GDP to 95%!”

Abenomics: Bat-Shit-Crazy (Muir)

Between 1999 and 2012, the Bank of Japan increased their balance sheet threefold, raising it from 10% of GDP to 30%. Many a pundit screamed about Japan’s irresponsible monetary policy, but then the 2008 Great Financial Crisis hit, and suddenly the BoJ’s policies didn’t seem that extreme. The Fed embarked on a massive quantitative easing program, followed by most of the rest of the developed world. Next thing you knew, the Bank of Japan’s bloated balance sheet seemed like just one of many. Post GFC, the rate at which these other Central Banks were expanding their balance sheet put extreme stress on the Japanese economy as the BoJ’s relatively tame quantitative easing policy was overwhelmed by the rest of the world. Global deflation was exported to Japan. And just when things couldn’t get worse, Japan was hit by the tsunami/nuclear disaster.

Paradoxically, this caused a spike in the USDJPY rate down to 75, with the Yen hitting an all-time high value against the US dollar. This proved the final straw for the Japanese people, and Prime Minister Abe was elected on a platform of breaking the back of deflation through innovative extreme policies. And just like that, Abeconomics was born. Since then the Bank of Japan balance sheet has swelled from 30% of GDP to 95%! It’s too easy to take this for granted. The blue tickets just seem to keep coming, and coming, and coming. Pretty soon, it all seems so normal. But it isn’t. Not even close. This is bat-shit-crazy monetary expansion. Forget about arguing whether it is appropriate or needed. It doesn’t matter. The markets don’t give a hoot about your opinion. Nor does the BoJ. Heck, they barely even care what Yellen or Trump thinks.

They are going to do what they think best for their people, and that means inflating the shit out of their currency. What I find amazing is how complacent the markets have become about all of this. Sure when Abeconomics first came to pass there were tons of worrisome hedge fund presentations about the inevitability of disaster. But since then Kyle Bass and all the other Japan skeptics have moved on to China, or to the most recent hedge-fund-herding-theme-of-the-day. Yet at one point a few years back a reporter asked Kyle if he could put on one trade for the next decade and couldn’t touch it, what would it be? Bass answered gold denominated in Yen. I have this sneaking suspicion our favourite Texas hedge fund manager’s call was way more prescient than even he imagines (I just hope Kyle hasn’t taken it all off to bet on the China collapse.)

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At the very least the topic warrants a serious discussion. Just saying Stephanie’s crazy is not that.

Congress Can Give Every American A Pony (Kelton)

In her new book, Hillary Clinton mocks Sen. Bernie Sanders’ populist agenda. BERNIE: I think America should get a pony. HILLARY: How will you pay for the pony? You might find Clinton’s question intuitively reasonable. If you promise to fight for big things, then you should draw a detailed road map to the treasure chest that will fund them all. After all, the money has to come from somewhere. But what if I told you that your intuition was all wrong? What if it turned out that the government really could give everyone a pony — and a chicken and car? That is, so long as we could breed enough ponies and chickens and manufacture enough cars. The cars and the food have to come from somewhere; the money is conjured out of thin air, more or less.

When Clinton asks where the money will come from, she’s ordering the government’s fiscal operations like so:
1. Government collects money from us in the form of taxes (T)
2. Government figures out how much it wants to spend and then borrows any additional money it needs (B)
3. Government spends the money it has collected (S)

Since none of us learned any differently, most of us accept the idea that taxes and borrowing precede spending – TABS. And because the government has to “find the money” before it can spend in this sequence, everyone wants to know who’s picking up the tab. There’s just one catch. The big secret in Washington is that the federal government abandoned TABS back when it dropped the gold standard. Here’s how things really work:
1. Congress approves the spending and the money gets spent (S)
2. Government collects some of that money in the form of taxes (T)
3. If 1 > 2, Treasury allows the difference to be swapped for government bonds (B)

In other words, the government spends money and then collects some money back as people pay their taxes and buy bonds. Spending precedes taxing and borrowing – STAB. It takes votes and vocal interest groups, not tax revenue, to start the ball rolling. If you need proof that STAB is the law of the land, look no further than the Senate’s recent $700-billion defense authorization. Without raising a dime from the rest of us, the Senate quietly approved an $80-billion annual increase, or more than enough money to make 4-year public colleges and universities tuition-free. And just where did the government get the money to do that? It authorized it into existence.

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The future inside all housing bubbles. And there are more of those than anyone acknowledges.

Homeowners Face Double Whammy Of Interest Rates And Slumped Market (Ind.)

Homeowners are facing a twin blow of increased mortgage payments and a slowing housing market, with London prices falling for the first time in eight years. Across the UK the average price of a home increased at its slowest slowest pace in more than four years in September, Nationwide said on Friday. The news came shortly after Bank of England governor Mark Carney gave his clearest signal yet that the central bank’s Monetary Policy Committee would raise its benchmark interest rate from 0.25%. “What we have said, that if the economy continues on the track that it’s been on, and all indications are that it is, in the relatively near term we can expect that interest rates would increase somewhat,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, on Friday. A rate hike would mean more expensive home loans for homeowners who have grown used to ultra-low interest rates.

The MPC meets on 2 November to make its decision and a rate rise would be the first in more than a decade. Any increase is expected to be small but would place additional strain on households already stretched amid higher inflation and weak wage growth. A 0.25% rise would mean a person with a £200,000 mortgage on the average UK variable rate of 4.6% would pay an extra £28.72 per month. An increase of 1% would add an extra £117.10 to payments, though this scenario is not expected to become a reality in the short term. Higher payments could prove painful for homeowners, especially as the housing market begins to stutter. London house prices fell 0.6% in the year to September, Nationwide said – the first annual drop since the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2009. It was the first time since 2005 that London was the worst performing region in the country.

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Centralization is dead.

ECB Wants to Weed Out Smaller Banks to Cut Competition (DQ)

The biggest financial problem in Europe these days is that it is “over-banked,” according to Daniele Nouy, Chair of the ECB’s Supervisory Board, and thus in charge of the Single Supervisory Mechanism, which regulates the largest 130 European banks. In a speech bizarrely titled “Too Much of a Good Thing: The Need for Consolidation in the European Banking Sector,” Nouy blamed fierce competition for squeezing profits for many of Europe’s banks while steadfastly ignoring the much larger role in the profit squeeze played by the ECB’s negative-interest-rate policy. ECB President Mario Draghi agrees. The profits of the largest 10 European banks rose by only 5% in the first half of 2017, compared to 19% for the US banks, which benefited from higher interest rates, stronger capital markets, better capitalization, and larger market shares, according to a new report by Ernst and Young.

In its latest annual health check of European banks, Bain Capital found that 31 institutions, or 28% of the 111 financial institutions they assessed, are in the “high-risk” quadrant. Location seemed to be a far more important factor than size. Banks in Italy, Greece, Portugal and Spain have become “a breed apart in continued distress,” the report said, adding: “Every single bank that has failed in the past decade and for which there are financial statements available…fell into this quadrant before their demise.” Scandinavian, Belgian, and Dutch banks figured prominently among the 38% of the banks that attained the strongest position, outperforming on virtually all financial indicators. By contrast, many German and UK banks fell into the second category, that of “weaker business model.” In fact, virtually all the large German names fit into this category as their profitability and efficiency languish at levels comparable with their Greek counterparts.

They include Deutsche Bank, which in the midst of its third revamp in so many years, just reported its worst revenues in three and a half years. Deutsche Bank is far from alone. The dismal reality is that nine long years after the global financial crisis began, many systemic European banks pose as big a risk to the financial system, if not bigger, as they did back then. The only major difference is that now they’re hooked on Draghi’s myriad monetary welfare schemes (LTRO, TLTRO I and II…), which have managed to keep them afloat even as the ECB’s monetary policy puts a massive squeeze on their lending margins by driving interest rates to unfathomably low levels. But rather than raising interest rates — a scary thought given how major Eurozone economies like Italy and Spain have come to depend on QE to keep servicing their public debt — the ECB plans to reduce competition in the banking sector by weeding out smaller banks.

It’s a process that is already well under way, as Nouy explained in her speech: “Since 2008, the number of banks in the euro area has declined by about 20%, to around 5,000. And the number of bank employees has fallen by about 300,000, to 1.9 million. Total assets of the euro area banking sector peaked in 2012 at about 340% of GDP. Since then, they have fallen back to about 280% of GDP.” But this is not about shrinking the size of the banking sector; it’s about shrinking the number of players within it and in the process creating trans-European banking giants. To achieve that goal, all Europe needs are “brave banks” that are willing to conquer new territory: “Cross-border mergers would do more than just help the banking sector to shrink. They would also deepen integration. And this would take us closer to our goal of a truly European banking sector.”

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Time for Merkel to stop cozying up to carmakers.

VW’s Dieselgate Bill Hits $30 Billion After Another Charge (R.)

Volkswagenis taking another $3 billion charge to fix diesel engines in the United States, lifting the total bill for its emissions test cheating scandal to around $30 billion. Shares in the German carmaker fell as much as 3% on Friday, as traders and analysts expressed dismay the company was still booking charges two years after the scandal broke. “This is yet another unexpected and unwelcome announcement from VW, not only from an earnings and cash flow perspective but also with respect to the credibility of management,” said Evercore ISI analyst Arndt Ellinghorst. Europe’s biggest automaker admitted in September 2015 it had used illegal software to cheat U.S. diesel emissions tests, sparking the biggest business crisis in its 80 year history. Before Friday, it had set aside 22.6 billion euros ($26.7 billion) to cover costs such as fines and vehicle refits.

On Friday, it said hardware fixes were proving tougher than expected, as it booked an additional 2.5 billion euro provision. “We have to do more with the hardware,” a VW spokesman said, adding U.S. customers were having to wait longer for their cars to be repaired. The news relates to the program to buy back or fix up to 475,000 2 liter diesel cars. In Europe, where only a software update is required for the 8.5 million affected cars, besides a minor component integration for about 3 million of those, fixes are running smoothly, the spokesman added. The additional provision will be reflected in third-quarter results due on Oct. 27, VW said. Ellinghorst, who has an “outperform” rating on VW shares, expects the company to report third-quarter group earnings before tax and interest of €4.04 billion. “You have to ask if this is a bottomless pit,” said one Frankfurt-based trader of the U.S. charges.

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Something needs to stop it.

Could Ryanair’s ‘Pilotgate’ Spell The End Of Cheap Flights? (Ind.)

Ryanair has apologised to 800,000 passengers for cancelling their flights because of a pilot shortage, and then misleading them about their rights. But an obligation to meet travellers’ out-of-pocket expenses has raised fears that airlines’ costs – and fares – could soar because of demands for recompense. Airlines who cancel flights appear to have an open-ended liability for out-of-pocket expenses, which could include anything from tickets for an FC Barcelona Champions’ League football match to lost wages. The payments are additional to EU requirements to cover hotel rooms and meals connected with flight disruption. Costs could feed through to more expensive tickets – which, with supply reduced because of mass cancellations by Ryanair, are already rising.

[..] The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had demanded a statement from Ryanair explaining its obligations under European passengers’ rights rules. The airline complied shortly before the 5pm deadline. The statement explains in unprecedented detail the options open to passengers whose flights are cancelled: a Ryanair flight, if one is available on the same route on the same or next day; a Ryanair flight from a nearby airport; a flight on one of Ryanair’s seven “disruption partner airlines”, including easyJet, Jet2, Aer Lingus and Norwegian; or “comparable alternative transport” by air, rail or road. Europe’s biggest budget airline also promises to “reimburse any reasonable out-of-pocket expenses incurred by customers as a result of these flight cancellations”.

Passengers who have already accepted a refund or alternative Ryanair flight are able to reconsider, while those who have booked on a rival airline can claim the difference in fare paid. The improved offer to passengers could double Ryanair’s previous estimate of €50m in extra costs because of the debacle. This represents less than 5% of its expected full-year profit. But the obligation to refund “any reasonable out-of-pocket expenses” could add significantly more. “This could open the floodgates to claims,” said one senior aviation executive.

[..] The move came two weeks after Ryanair began to cancel hundreds of flights at very short notice, having “messed up” rostering of pilots. It initially cancelled a tranche of 2,100 departures until the end of October, saying that its winter programme would be unaffected. But on 27 September Ryanair said it would ground 25 of its jets this winter – representing one-16th of its fleet – and cut 18,000 flights from the schedules. By giving more than two weeks’ notice of cancellations, the airline avoided the obligation to pay cash compensation. Affected passengers were emailed with two options: a refund, or re-booking on a different Ryanair flight. The option to fly on a rival airline at Ryanair’s expense was not mentioned – an omission that infuriated the CAA’s chief executive, Andrew Haines.

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“..Okefenokee Swamp of identity politics and Russia paranoia..”

Citizens United No More (Jim Kunstler)

I have an idea for the political party out of power, the Democrats, sunk in its special Okefenokee Swamp of identity politics and Russia paranoia: make an effort to legislate the Citizens United calamity out of existence. Who knows, a handful of Republicans may be shamed into going along with it. [..] corporations have not always been what they are deemed to be today. They evolved with the increasingly complex activities of industrial economies. Along the way — in Great Britain first, actually — they were deemed to exist as the equivalent of legal persons, to establish that the liabilities of the company were separate and distinct from those of its owners. In the USA, forming a corporation usually required an act of legislation until the late 19th century.

After that, they merely had to register with the states. Then congress had to sort out the additional problems of giant “trusts” and holding companies (hence, anti-trust laws, now generally ignored). In short, the definition of what a corporation is and what it has a right to do is in a pretty constant state of change as economies evolve. [..] This homework assignment should be given to the Democratic members of congress, since they are otherwise preoccupied only with hunting for Russian gremlins and discovering new sexual abnormalities to protect and defend.

The crux of the argument is that corporations cannot be said to be entirely and altogether the equivalent of persons for all legal purposes. In law, corporations have duties, obligations, and responsibilities to their shareholders first, and only after that to the public interest or the common good, and only then by pretty strict legal prescription. It may be assumed that the interests of corporations and their shareholders are in opposition to, and in conflict with, the public interest. And insofar as elections are fundamentally matters of the public interest, corporations must be prohibited from efforts to influence the outcome of elections.

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“.. we are now in a phase of Russia-gate in which NGO “scholars” produce deeply biased reports and their nonsense is treated as front-page news..”

The Slimy Business of Russia-gate (Robert Parry)

The “Field of Dreams” slogan for America’s NGOs should be: “If you pay for it, we will come.” And right now, tens of millions of dollars are flowing to non-governmental organizations if they will buttress the thesis of Russian “meddling” in the U.S. democratic process no matter how sloppy the “research” or how absurd the “findings.” And, if you think the pillars of the U.S. mainstream media – The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN and others – will apply some quality controls, you haven’t been paying attention for the past year or so. The MSM is just as unethical as the NGOs are. So, we are now in a phase of Russia-gate in which NGO “scholars” produce deeply biased reports and their nonsense is treated as front-page news and items for serious discussion across the MSM.

Yet, there’s even an implicit confession about how pathetic some of this “scholarship” is in the hazy phrasing that gets applied to the “findings,” although the weasel words will slip past most unsuspecting Americans and will be dropped for more definitive language when the narrative is summarized in the next day’s newspaper or in a cable-news “crawl.” For example, a Times front-page story on Thursday reported that “a network of Twitter accounts suspected of links to Russia seized on both sides of the [NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem] issue with hashtags, such as #boycottnfl, #standforouranthem and #takeaknee.” The story, which fits neatly into the current U.S. propaganda meme that the Russian government somehow is undermining American democracy by stirring up dissent inside the U.S., quickly spread to other news outlets and became the latest “proof” of a Russian “war” against America.

However, before we empty the nuclear silos and exterminate life on the planet, we might take a second to look at the Times phrasing: “a network of Twitter accounts suspected of links to Russia.” The vague wording doesn’t even say the Russian government was involved but rather presents an unsupported claim that some Twitter accounts are “suspected” of being part of some “network” and that this “network” may have some ill-defined connection – or “links” – to “Russia,” a country of 144 million people. It’s like the old game of “six degrees of separation” from Kevin Bacon. Yes, perhaps we are all “linked” to Kevin Bacon somehow but that doesn’t prove that we know Kevin Bacon or are part of a Kevin Bacon “network” that is executing a grand conspiracy to sow discontent by taking opposite sides of issues and then tweeting.

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What will Barcelona look like on Monday morning?

Catalan Government Says Millions Will Turn Out For Referendum (G.)

The Catalan government has laid out its plans for the referendum on independence from Spain, claiming that more than 7,200 people will staff 2,315 polling stations across the region to stage a vote that has triggered the country’s worst territorial crisis since its return to democracy four decades ago. On Friday afternoon, the pro-independence regional government unveiled plastic ballot boxes and predicted that 60% of Catalonia’s 5.3 million eligible voters would head to the polls on Sunday in defiance of the Spanish government, the police and the courts. “Catalans will be able to vote,” said the region’s vice-president, Oriol Junqueras. “Even if someone attacks a polling station, Catalans will still be able to vote.” Junqueras gave no further details but called on people to behave responsibly and to ignore the “provocations of those who want to stop the vote”.

His words were echoed by the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, who told Reuters: “I don’t believe there will be anyone who will use violence or who will want to provoke violence that will tarnish the irreproachable image of the Catalan independence movement as pacifist.” On Friday afternoon, a large convoy of tractors driven by Catalan farmers and flying independence flags rolled into Barcelona to show support for the vote and to protest against moves to halt it. Both the Spanish government and the country’s constitutional court have declared the vote illegal. Over the past 10 days, the authorities have stepped up their efforts to stop the referendum, arresting 14 senior Catalan government officials, shutting down referendum websites, and seizing millions of ballot papers. Spain’s interior ministry has deployed thousands of extra police officers to the region and the infrastructure ministry announced on Friday that the airspace over Barcelona would be closed to helicopters and light aircraft until Monday.

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Nothing new.

Aid Programs Are Designed To Keep Countries In Poverty (Ren.)

The income gap between rich countries and poor countries is not diminishing. It has been increasing dramatically, and not only during colonialism. Since the 1960s, the income gap between north and south has tripled. “There’s something fundamentally wrong and it won’t be changed with a bit of aid here in there,” Hickel says. “We need to fundamentally restructure the global economy and make it fair.” Hickel’s central thesis is that there is nothing natural about poverty. His book examines structurally determined behaviour, designed in fact, to deliver the poverty outcomes we witness around the world. “One of the dominant understandings out there that I seek to question in the book is the idea that rich countries are giving aid to poor countries in any meaningful quantity,” he says.

“In fact there is a lot of aid given – it’s about $130 billion per year transferred from rich countries to poor countries. That’s an enormous amount of money.” Some of the money comes in the form of charity. A lot of it in the form of loans, with debt strings – and conditions – attached. “A lot of the aid that’s given comes with conditions attached that the recipients of the aid have to implement certain economic policies, or have to votes with the donor country in UN agreements and so on,” says Hickel. “There’s no free lunch.” “But even if we assume that there was a free lunch, that $130 billion dollars are really being transferred for free from rich countries the poor countries, even that is misleading because in fact vastly more than that amount flows in the opposite direction – from poor countries to rich countries – for all sorts of reasons.

“The biggest one is probably illicit financial flows, most of which are in the form of tax evasion by major multinational companies operating in the global south, headquartered often in rich countries that are effectively stealing wealth, their profits from global south countries and stashing them away in tax havens because of rules written by the WTO that make this practice possible.” The World Trade Organisation basically governs the rules of global trade, for the most part, centrally. It is a very anti-democratic institution, where the vast majority of bargaining power has long been in the hands of a handful of countries which get to determine rules that end up serving their interests. “That’s one of the reasons that we see these financial flows in such magnitude,” says Hickel.

“These financial flows outstrip the aid budget by a factor of 10. So for every dollar of aid that poor countries receive, they lose 10 dollars to multinational tax havens. Another one is debt service. Poor countries pay $200 billion per year in debt service to banks in rich countries. “And that’s just the interest payments on debts, many of which have been paid-off already many times over, some of which are accumulated by legitimate dictators. That’s a direct cash transfusion from from poor to rich. That outstrips the aid budget by a factor or two.”

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Sep 282017
 
 September 28, 2017  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Juan Gris Man in the café 1912

 

The Illusion of Prosperity (Lebowitz)
Trump Tax Plan Economic Outcomes Likely Disappointing (Roberts)
The Top 1% Of Americans Now Control 38% Of The Wealth (CNBC)
This Chart Defines the 21st Century Economy (CHS)
China’s Traders Have an Excuse to Take the Rest of Year Off
China’s Mortgage Debt Bubble Raises Spectre Of 2007 US Crisis (SCMP)
Debt Boom In India And China Threatens New Financial Crisis – WEF (Tel.)
Japan Downgrade Risk Seen Rising as Default Swaps Climb (BBG)
JPMorgan Ordered To Pay Over $4 Billion To Widow And Family (ZH)
The Courage to Normalize Monetary Policy (Stephen Roach)
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble To Be Bundestag Speaker (G.)

 

 

The future wants its future back.

The Illusion of Prosperity (Lebowitz)

For the last 50 years, the consumer, that means you and me, have been the most powerful force driving the U.S. economy. Household spending now accounts for almost 70% of economic growth, about 10% more than it did in 1971. Household spending in the U.S. is also approximately 10-15% higher than most other developed nations. Currently, U.S. economic growth is anemic and still suffering from the after-shocks of the financial crisis. Importantly, much of that weakness is the result of growing stress on consumers. Using the compelling graph below and the data behind it, we can illustrate why the U.S. economy and consumers are struggling.

The blue line on the graph above marks the difference between median disposable income (income less taxes) and the median cost of living. A positive number indicates people at the median made more than their costs of living. In other words, their income exceeds the costs of things like food, housing, and insurance and they have money left over to spend or save. This is often referred to as “having disposable income.” If the number in the above calculation is negative, income is not enough to cover essential expenses. From at least 1959 to 1971, the blue line above was positive and trending higher. The consumer was in great shape. In 1971 the trend reversed in part due to President Nixon’s actions to remove the U.S. dollar from the gold standard.

Unbeknownst to many at the time, that decision allowed the U.S. government to run consistent trade and fiscal deficits while its citizens were able to take on more debt. Other than rampant inflation, there were no immediate consequences. In 1971, following this historic action, the blue line began to trend lower. By 1990, the median U.S. citizen had less disposable income than the median cost of living; i.e., the blue line turned negative. This trend lower has continued ever since. The 2008 financial crisis proved to be a tipping point where the burden of debt was too much for many consumers to handle. Since 2008 the negative trend in the blue line has further steepened. You might be thinking, if incomes were less than our standard of living, why did it feel like our standard of living remained stable? One word – DEBT.

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Lance has a lot of detail in his assessment. Worth a read.

Trump Tax Plan Economic Outcomes Likely Disappointing (Roberts)

Do not misunderstand me. Tax rates CAN make a difference in the short run particularly when coming out of a recession as it frees up capital for productive investment at a time when recovering economic growth and pent-up demand require it. However, in the long run, it is the direction and trend of economic growth that drives employment. The reason I say “direction and trend” is because, as you will see by the vertical blue dashed line, beginning in 1980, both the direction and trend of economic growth in the United States changed for the worse. Furthermore, as I noted previously, Reagan’s tax cuts were timely due to the economic, fiscal, and valuation backdrop which is diametrically opposed to the situation today.

“Importantly, as has been stated, the proposed tax cut by President-elect Trump will be the largest since Ronald Reagan. However, in order to make valid assumptions on the potential impact of the tax cut on the economy, earnings and the markets, we need to review the differences between the Reagan and Trump eras.

[..] Of course, as noted, rising debt levels is the real impediment to longer-term increases in economic growth. When 75% of your current Federal Budget goes to entitlements and debt service, there is little left over for the expansion of the economic growth. The tailwinds enjoyed by Reagan are now headwinds for Trump as the economic “boom” of the 80’s and 90’s was really not much more than a debt-driven illusion that has now come home to roost. Senator Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican who sits on the finance committee, said he was confident that a growing economy would pay for the tax cuts and that the plan was fiscally responsible. “This tax plan will be deficit reducing,”

The belief that tax cuts will eventually become revenue neutral due to expanded economic growth is a fallacy. As the CRFB noted: “Given today’s record-high levels of national debt, the country cannot afford a deficit-financed tax cut. Tax reform that adds to the debt is likely to slow, rather than improve, long-term economic growth.” The problem with the claims that tax cuts reduce the deficit is that there is NO evidence to support the claim. The increases in deficit spending to supplant weaker economic growth has been apparent with larger deficits leading to further weakness in economic growth. In fact, ever since Reagan first lowered taxes in the ’80’s both GDP growth and the deficit have only headed in one direction – lower.

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The economy lost its balance. It will tip over.

The Top 1% Of Americans Now Control 38% Of The Wealth (CNBC)

America’s top 1% now control 38.6% of the nation’s wealth, a historic high, according to a new Federal Reserve Report. The Federal Reserve’s Surveys of Consumer Finance shows that Americans throughout the income and wealth ladder posted gains between 2013 and 2016. But the wealthy gained the most, driven largely by gains in the stock market and asset values. The top 1% saw their share of wealth rise to 38.6% in 2016 from 36.3% in 2013. The next highest nine% of families fell slightly, and the share of wealth held by the bottom 90% of Americans has been falling steadily for 25 years, hitting 22.8% in 2016 from 33.2% in 1989. The top income earners also saw the biggest gains. The top 1% saw their share of income rise to a new high of 23.8% from 20.3% in 2013. The income shares of the bottom 90% fell to 49.7% in 2016.

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I smell danger.

This Chart Defines the 21st Century Economy (CHS)

One chart defines the 21st century economy and thus its socio-political system: the chart of soaring wealth/income inequality. This chart doesn’t show a modest widening in the gap between the super-wealthy (top 1/10th of 1%) and everyone else: there is a veritable Grand Canyon between the super-wealthy and everyone else, a gap that is recent in origin. Notice that the majority of all income growth now accrues to the the very apex of the wealth-power pyramid. This is not mere chance, it is the only possible output of our financial system. This is stunning indictment of our socio-political system, for this sort of fast-increasing concentration of income, wealth and power in the hands of the very few at the top can only occur in a financial-political system which is optimized to concentrate income, wealth and power at the top of the apex.

[..] the elephant in the room few are willing to mention much less discuss is financialization, the siphoning off of most of the economy’s gains by those few with the power to borrow and leverage vast sums of capital to buy income streams–a dynamic that greatly enriches the rentier class which has unique access to central bank and private-sector bank credit and leverage. Apologists seek to explain away this soaring concentration of wealth as the inevitable result of some secular trend that we’re powerless to rein in, as if the process that drives this concentration of wealth and power wasn’t political and financial. There is nothing inevitable about such vast, fast-rising income-wealth inequality; it is the only possible output of our financial and pay-to-play political system.

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China just took two giant steps back from being a functioning economy.

China’s Traders Have an Excuse to Take the Rest of Year Off

Financial markets in the world’s second-largest economy are set to turn listless in the fourth quarter as party officials keep a lid on volatility around a seminal Communist Party gathering. That’s the finding of Bloomberg surveys of market participants. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index is projected to end the year 0.3% higher than Wednesday’s close. The yuan will be at 6.64 per dollar, unchanged from the current level, while the 10-year sovereign bond yield is expected to slip to 3.59% from 3.63%. “I don’t expect any big swings,” said Ken Chen, Shanghai-based analyst with KGI Securities Co. “Regulators would want to ensure the markets are stable for the 19th Party Congress.”

Authorities have stressed the need for stability in the lead-up to what will be China’s most important political event in years. The twice-a-decade party congress, which starts on Oct. 18, is expected to replace about half of China’s top leadership and shape President Xi Jinping’s influence into the next decade. The China Securities Regulatory Commission has ordered local brokerages to mitigate risks and ensure stable markets before and during the event, people familiar with the matter have said. The CSRC has also banned brokerage bosses from taking holidays or leaving the country from Oct. 11 until the congress ends, according to the people.

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Why that forced low volatility is so dangerous. No price discovery.

China’s Mortgage Debt Bubble Raises Spectre Of 2007 US Crisis (SCMP)

Young Chinese like Eli Mai, a sales manager in Guangzhou, and Wendy Wang, an executive in Shenzhen, are borrowing as much money as possible to buy boomtown flats even though they cannot afford the repayments. Behind the dream of property ownership they share with many like-minded friends lies an uninterrupted housing price rally in major Chinese cities that dates back to former premier Zhu Rongji’s privatisation of urban housing in the late 1990s. Rapid urbanisation, combined with unprecedented monetary easing in the past decade, has resulted in runaway property inflation in cities like Shenzhen, where home prices in many projects have doubled or even tripled in the past two years. City residents in their 20s and 30s view property as a one-way bet because they’ve never known prices to drop. At the same time, property inflation has seen the real purchasing power of their money rapidly diminish.

“Almost all my friends born since the 1980s and 1990s are racing to buy homes, while those who already have one are planning to buy a second,” Mai, 33, said. “Very few can be at ease when seeing rents and home prices rise so strongly, and they will continue to rise in a scary way.” The rush of millions young middle-class Chinese like Mai into the property market has created a hysteria that eerily resembles the housing crisis that struck the United States a decade ago. Thanks to the easy credit that has spurred the housing boom, many young Chinese have abandoned the frugal traditions of earlier generations and now lead a lifestyle beyond their financial means. The build-up of household and other debt in China has also sparked widespread concern about the health of the world’s second largest economy.

[..] Mai and Wang have been playing it fast and loose to deal with their debts. Mai has lent 600,000 of the 800,000 yuan he got from a bank after using his first flat as collateral to a money shark promising an annualised return of 20 per cent. Wang gave the bank fake documents showing her monthly income was 18,000 yuan – about 1.6 times her actual salary. It did not ask any questions. Neither see any problem, because the value of their underlying assets, the flats, have risen. The value of Mai’s two flats rose from 3.8 million yuan last year to 6.4 million yuan last month, while the value of Wang’s unit is now 2.93 million yuan, up from 2.6 million yuan. “I think I made a smart and successful decision to leverage debt,” Mai said.

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Watch India.

Debt Boom In India And China Threatens New Financial Crisis – WEF (Tel.)

Banks across the world are more vulnerable to a crisis now than they were in the build up to the credit crunch, the World Economic Forum has warned. Bad loans in India have more than doubled in the past two years, while in China’s financial system “business credit is building up similarly to the United States pre-crisis, and could be a new source of vulnerability.” China’s credit boom has been the subject of several warnings from global finance groups and regulators in recent months. Last week the Bank of International Settlements warned that higher interest rates in the US could have a knock on effect in the world’s second-largest economy, forcing rates higher in China, making the debt mountain more expensive to maintain and hitting the economy hard.

Britain, the US and other developed economies have taken major steps to shore up their banking systems as they were at the heart of the financial crisis, but the global financial system as a whole faces new and growing risks. Other parts of the financial system are taking risks instead, such as fund managers in the so-called shadow banking sector. The eurozone banks have still not fully recovered from the crash either. “In general, there is still too much debt in parts of the private sector, and top global banks are still ‘too big to fail’,” the WEF’s Global Competitiveness Report said. “The largest 30 banks hold almost $43 trillion in assets, compared to less than $30 trillion in 2006, and concentration is continuing to increase in the US, China, and some European countries. “In Europe, banks are still grappling with the consequences of 10 years of low growth and the enduring non-performance of loans in many countries.”

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Abe’s power gamble.

Japan Downgrade Risk Seen Rising as Default Swaps Climb (BBG)

Japan’s credit rating could be in the cross hairs after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe indicated the nation may abandon its goal of covering key expenditures through taxes. The cost of insuring Japan’s government debt against default rose to a 15-month high on Tuesday, with policy uncertainty adding to concerns about tensions with North Korea. On Monday, Abe said he would dissolve parliament later this week and he’d pay for economic measures with funds from a consumption-tax increase originally intended to rein in the nation’s swollen debt. Japanese government bonds extended declines Wednesday after S&P Global Ratings said it expects “material” fiscal deficits to continue through 2020.

S&P’s ratings assume fiscal improvements will be gradual over the next few years, sovereign analyst Craig Michaels said. “The prospect for extra revenue to be spent rather than being used to pay down Japan’s debt is a factor of higher bond yields,” said Shuichi Ohsaki, chief rates strategist for Japan at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “There also appears to be some speculation that such a policy move will lead to a sovereign downgrade.” Yield on Japan’s five-year note added 2.5 basis points to minus 0.090% Wednesday, which would be the steepest increase since March 9. The benchmark 10-year yield climbed 2.5 basis points to 0.055%, a level unseen since early August.

The challenges in meeting the long-standing objective of achieving a primary balance surplus, add to concerns about Japan’s debt load, which is the world’s heaviest. Getting to that goal would allow the government to pay for programs including social security and public works projects from tax revenue, rather than through new debt financing. Abe is betting he can crush a weak opposition in next month’s election, which he has framed in part as a vote on his plans to use revenue from the upcoming consumption-tax hike to fund an $18 billion economic package aimed at tackling the challenges of an aging society.

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It’s the mob. One question. Who’s going to end up paying?

JPMorgan Ordered To Pay Over $4 Billion To Widow And Family (ZH)

A Dallas jury ordered JPMorgan Chase to pay more than $4 billion in damages for mishandling the estate of a former American Airlines executive. Jo Hopper and two stepchildren won a probate court verdict over claims that JPMorgan mismanaged the administration of the estate of Max Hopper, who was described as an airline technology innovator by the family’s law firm. The bank, which was hired by the family in 2010 to independently administer the estate of Hopper, was found in breach of its fiduciary duties and contract. In total, JP Morgan Chase was ordered to pay at least $4 billion in punitive damages, approximately $4.7 million in actual damages, and $5 million in attorney fees.

The six-person jury, which deliberated a little more than four hours starting Monday night and returned its verdict at approximately 12:15 a.m. Tuesday, found that the bank committed fraud, breached its fiduciary duty and broke a fee agreement, according to court papers. “The nation’s largest bank horribly mistreated me and this verdict provides protection to others from being mistreated by banks that think they’re too powerful to be held accountable,” said Hopper in a statement. “The country’s largest bank, people we are supposed to trust with our livelihood, abused my family and me out of sheer ineptitude and greed. I’m blessed that I have the resources to hold JP Morgan accountable so other widows who don’t have the same resources will be better protected in the future.” “Surviving stage 4 lymphoma cancer was easier than dealing with this bank and its estate administration,” Mrs. Hopper added.

Max Hopper, who pioneered the SABRE reservation system for the airline, died in 2010 with assets of more than $19 million but without a will and testament, according to the statement. JPMorgan was hired as an administrator to divvy up the assets among family members. “Instead of independently and impartially collecting and dividing the estate’s assets, the bank took years to release basic interests in art, home furnishings, jewelry, and notably, Mr. Hopper’s collection of 6,700 golf putters and 900 bottles of wine,” the family’s lawyers said in the statement. “Some of the interests in the assets were not released for more than five years.”

The bank’s incompetence caused more than just unacceptably long timelines; bank representatives failed to meet financial deadlines for the assets under their control. In at least one instance, stock options were allowed to expire. In others, Mrs. Hopper’s wishes to sell certain stock were ignored. The resulting losses, the jury found, resulted in actual damages and mental anguish suffered by Mrs. Hopper. With respect to Mr. Hopper’s adult children, the jury found that they lost potential inheritance in excess of $3 million when the Bank chose to pay its lawyers’ legal fees out of the estate account to defend claims against the Bank for violating its fiduciary duty.

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“A world in recovery”, Stephen?

The Courage to Normalize Monetary Policy (Stephen Roach)

Central banks’ unconventional monetary policies – namely, zero interest rates and massive asset purchases – were put in place in the depths of the 2008-2009 financial crisis. It was an emergency operation, to say the least. With their traditional policy tools all but exhausted, the authorities had to be exceptionally creative in confronting the collapse in financial markets and a looming implosion of the real economy. Central banks, it seemed, had no choice but to opt for the massive liquidity injections known as “quantitative easing.” This strategy did arrest the free-fall in markets. But it did little to spur meaningful economic recovery. The G7 economies (the United States, Japan, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Italy) have collectively grown at just a 1.8% average annual rate over the 2010-2017 post-crisis period.

That is far short of the 3.2% average rebound recorded over comparable eight-year intervals during the two recoveries of the 1980s and the 1990s. Unfortunately, central bankers misread the efficacy of their post-2008 policy actions. They acted as if the strategy that helped end the crisis could achieve the same traction in fostering a cyclical rebound in the real economy. In fact, they doubled down on the cocktail of zero policy rates and balance-sheet expansion. And what a bet it was. According to the Bank for International Settlements, central banks’ combined asset holdings in the major advanced economies (the US, the eurozone, and Japan) expanded by $8.3 trillion over the past nine years, from $4.6 trillion in 2008 to $12.9 trillion in early 2017. Yet this massive balance-sheet expansion has had little to show for it.

Over the same nine-year period, nominal GDP in these economies increased by just $2.1 trillion. That implies a $6.2 trillion injection of excess liquidity – the difference between the growth in central bank assets and nominal GDP – that was not absorbed by the real economy and has, instead been sloshing around in global financial markets, distorting asset prices across the risk spectrum. Normalization is all about a long-overdue unwinding of those distortions. Fully ten years after the onset of the Great Financial Crisis, it seems more than appropriate to move the levers of monetary policy off their emergency settings. A world in recovery – no matter how anemic that recovery may be – does not require a crisis-like approach to monetary policy. Monetary authorities have only grudgingly accepted this. Today’s generation of central bankers is almost religious in its commitment to inflation targeting – even in today’s inflationless world. While the pendulum has swung from squeezing out excess inflation to avoiding deflation, price stability remains the sine qua non in central banking circles.

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Chaos looms in Germany. Merkel will be forced to accept a FinMin she doesn’t want. Greece will be squeezed even more. And Italy, Spain etc.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble To Be Bundestag Speaker (G.)

Wolfgang Schäuble, a man revered and reviled in equal measure for his tenacious austerity economics, is to relinquish his powerful role as Germany’s finance minister and instead become the speaker of the parliament, his party has announced. Schäuble, 75, was asked to take on the role by the chancellor, Angela Merkel, who is keen on someone with authority and experience to steer future debate in the Bundestag after the success in Sunday’s election of the rightwing radical Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). The AfD is due to take up 94 seats in the house, having secured 12.6% of the vote, and its leadership has pledged to shake up the debating culture in the Bundestag, making it considerably rowdier than the calm and consensus-based mood that has characterised it in the past.

The role of speaker has been empty since Norbert Lammert, a veteran CDU MP, recently announced he would retire at the end of the last parliamentary term. In terms of protocol it ranks second only to that of federal president, and ahead of the chancellor, but in reality it is considerably less powerful than his current post. Schäuble, a lawyer by training, is the longest-serving MP in the Bundestag, having been elected in 1972. Once one of Merkel’s staunchest rivals, he has since become one of her closest confidantes as well as the most experienced and high-profile minister in her cabinet. He has been finance minister since 2009 and is held in high regard in Germany, particularly by the conservative base, who revere him for acting in Germany’s interests as the dogged protector of austerity economics in the eurozone.

He is also admired at home for his insistence – some would say obsession – with a balanced budget or the “black zero”. Germany today has a record budget surplus. But elsewhere he is a hugely controversial figure, particularly in Greece and in Ireland, where he has often faced criticism for his handling of the euro crisis that has dominated almost his entire time as finance minister. Schäuble has yet to respond to the reports of his new appointment, but it was confirmed on Wednesday afternoon by Volker Kauder, the chairman of the CDU parliamentary bloc.

Read more …

Sep 262017
 
 September 26, 2017  Posted by at 1:21 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Fan Ho The Evening of Life 1963

 

“Forget Germany, Spain Is The Real Problem”, reads a headline. Eh… no. Germany is definitely the problem in Europe. Spain is a bit player. That doesn’t mean nothing major could happen in Spain in its fight with Catalonia, and soon, but Spain, like all EU nations, is a de facto province of Germany.

What matters in the end is how Brussels and Merkel deal with Spain. And while it’s tempting to say that perhaps Brussels, the EU, is the main European problem, the European Union is run exclusively by and for Germany, so that doesn’t work either.

The only thing that might work if you really want to find a bigger issue than Germany is if you would point at the role the incessant lies about economic conditions for people play. But that’s not a European issue, that’s global.

The talk about how economies are recovering, how there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and how any day now we’ll be back to where we were at some point in time that many can not even remember. But then, at least when it comes to Europe, that happy talk comes from Germany too, to a large degree. Just wait till Draghi starts cutting his QE.

You can try and tell people that they’re doing just great, using the media you control, and it’ll work for a stretch, if only because they want to believe it, badly, but when these same people can’t even feed their children while you make such claims, you will eventually lose their attention and support. The difference between beliefs and experiences.

 

If you’re a politician, you try to feed people what they want to hear, invariably an upbeat message, but there comes a time when you have to back it up. You can say that austerity is necessary, inevitable, and the only choice, and it will be beneficial to them, but austerity is one of those things that have a very limited best before date.

If you can only make employment numbers look good by creating a gig economy that takes away all their benefits, and their entire sense of security, they’re going to turn their backs on you. Because you’re lying.

Rising inequality is a one way street right up to the point where it turns into a dead end alley. Inequality breeds more inequality until it no longer can, until people say ‘I want that cake you are having because my kids are hungry. And I brought a pitchfork’.

That is where we’re at, and that is why Merkel lost some 25% of her votes. That is why there’s Trump and Brexit, and why an impossible candidate like Marine Le Pen in France gathered so much attention and support. It’s why eastern European countries will start fighting Brussels and Berlin much harder than they have to date, and why Berlin will fight back harder than it has. Poor Greece.

In the US, there’s only one party, and it divvies up the spoils of very rich campaign contributions. Bernie Sanders tried to circumvent this; not a chance. Trump succeeded. In Britain, there was no difference between left and right for a long time, and no alternative party either. That led to Brexit. In France, Macron started a whole new party from scratch and somehow got it funded (bankers?!). It wiped the left off the map.

The same happened in Holland, where like in France the right wing alternative was judged too unpalatable by too many. No left left. The leaders of Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland do not have the visibility for that yet. In Italy, Five Star have a good shot at the throne. Greece’s Syriza already overtook both left and right. In eastern Europe, right wing parties often didn’t even have to overthrow an existing order, they could just slide in.

 

The pattern is so obvious only those who stand to lose from acknowledging it end up not seeing it, or telling themselves it’s all just an incident. But it’s not, because the shrinking economies everywhere are not. When left and right, either in public or in practice, rule a country together and their promises don’t hold up, people will look for a way out. If far right is the only way available, they will pick that.

It’s not because they’re all nazis or something like that. But people do lean towards smaller units of organization, decentralization, when they get poorer. And despite all the talk of recovery, that is what most people have seen happen to their lives, while their leaders told them they’re just fine. So you get this kind of headline (and map) for the US (h/t Mish/ZH).

Large Parts Of America Are Being Left Behind

Economic prosperity is concentrated in America’s elite zip codes, but in an interesting report on Distressed Communities, from The Economic Innovation Group, it is increasingly clear that economic stability outside of those communities is rapidly deteriorating. As Axios noted, this isn’t a Republican or Democratic problem. At every level of government, both parties represent distressed areas. But the economic fortunes of the haves and have-nots have only helped to widen the political chasm between them, and it has yet to be addressed by substantial policy proposals on either side of the aisle. Economic Prosperity Quintiles.

 

 

And a very similar headline appears in the Guardian in a report about the German election.

 

‘A Lot of People Feel Left Behind’: Voters on the Far-Right Surge in Germany

Sarah, 37, teacher, Bonn: “A lot of people feel left behind. They are looking for scapegoats. It is the easy way to deal with problems. The AFD makes use of this feeling. With the grand coalition, there was no real debating culture left. The CDU went too much into the middle, leaving the right out. Just like the SPD under Schröder left the left-wing out.”

Perhaps a lot of those who voted for Trump, and Brexit, Le Pen, Wilders, the AfD, are not so much looking for scapegoats, they’ve identified those as their incumbent politicians; they’re instead looking for a way away from them. All these people who feel left behind base that feeling primarily on their deteriorating economic circumstances. And if the only alternative they have rants, against foreigners and immigrants, they’ll go with that.

Angela Merkel pushed over 1 million refugees and immigrants down the German population’s throats. She never asked their opinion. But many Germans are not doing any better than many Americans or French or British. So the consequences of such things are predictable. You have to explain, you have to communicate with your people. Just saying ‘we can do this’ is not enough. No more than ‘change we can believe in’ was. It’s just hollow.

Merkel lost ‘only’ 25% of her votes. Because Germans know what right wing is, and what it can do. Germany is not full of nazis, no more than America is. Both countries just have a lot of people who feel trapped in a web of lies, and their existing and alleged democratic systems offer no way out of that web.

All these countries, the people and their politicians, have the tendency to see their situations as somehow unique, but they’d be much better off looking at what they have in common with others.

The only solution is to tell people the truth, that the incumbent political class has screwed up badly because of limited brain capacity and unlimited greed, and that they should elect people next time who are both smarter and less sociopathic. But that is not something that comes voluntarily, that takes a battle. And it tends to end careers, and lives.

That is what we can expect. In many different shapes and forms, but all for the same underlying reasons. You can’t fool all of the people all of the time, you can’t even fool a majority for long. You can only fool a limited number of them for a limited amount of time.

Well, time’s up.

 

 

Sep 262017
 
 September 26, 2017  Posted by at 8:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Paul Cézanne Curtains 1885

 

Lenders Loosen Mortgage Standards as Demand Falls (WS)
Levered Loan Volumes Soar Past 2007 Levels As “Cov-Lite” Deals Surge (ZH)
China’s Crackdown Brings Developers Crashing Back to Earth (BBG)
The Next Crisis Will Start in Silicon Valley (BBG)
King Cash May Reign For Weeks In Storm-Ravaged Puerto Rico (BBG)
The White House as Donald Trump’s New Casino (Nomi Prins)
Large Parts Of America Are Being Left Behind (ZH)
‘A Lot Of People Feel Left Behind’ – Why Far Right Won In Germany (G.)
Macron Presses Ahead With His Vision for Europe As Merkel Calls For Calm (BBG)
EU Presidency Calls For Massive Internet Filtering (EDRi)
EU Officially Ends Excessive Deficit Procedure Against Greece (R.)
ECB May Frontload 2018 Bank Stress Tests With View To Greece – Draghi (R.)
French Government Declares War On Pesticides (AFP)
Our Food Crops Face Mass Extinction Too (G.)
Sixth Mass Extinction Of Wildlife Also Threatens Global Food Supplies (G.)

 

 

The last step before the fall.

Lenders Loosen Mortgage Standards as Demand Falls (WS)

The toxic combination of “competition from other lenders” and slowing mortgage demand is cited by senior executives of mortgage lenders as the source of all kinds of headaches for the mortgage lending industry. Primarily due to this competition amid declining of demand for mortgages, the profit margin outlook has deteriorated for the fourth quarter in a row, according to Fannie Mae’s Q3 Mortgage Lender Sentiment Survey. And the share of lenders that blamed this competition as the key reason for deteriorating profits “rose to a new survey high.” Demand is down for all three types or mortgages: • Mortgages eligible for guarantees by Government Sponsored Enterprises, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (“GSE Eligible”), indirectly backed by taxpayers. • Mortgages not eligible for GSE guarantees (“Non-GSE Eligible”), not backed by taxpayers. • Mortgages guaranteed by Government agencies, such as Ginnie Mae, directly backed by taxpayers.

And how are lenders combating this lack of demand and the deteriorating profit margins that are being pressured by competition? They’re loosening lending standards. Fannie Mae’s report: Lenders further eased home mortgage credit standards during the third quarter, continuing a trend that started in late 2016. In particular, both the net share of lenders reporting easing on GSE-eligible loans for the prior three months and the share expecting to ease standards on those loans over the next three months increased to survey highs. Lenders’ comments suggest that competitive pressure and more favorable guidelines for GSE loans have helped to bring about more easing of underwriting standards for those loans. This chart shows the net share of lenders reporting loosening their lending standards for each type of loan (= the share of lenders reporting loosening credit standards minus those reporting tightening standards):

In many urban markets home prices have soared far beyond their peaks during the prior crazy housing bubble. That bubble ended with such spectacular results, in part because lending standards had been loosened so that more people could be stuffed into more homes, and more expensive homes that they couldn’t afford, and whose prices then plunged when the scheme fell apart. This time around, home prices, according to the national Case-Shiller Home Price Index, are now about 5% above the prior crazy bubble peak that imploded with such fanfare:

Read more …

Everything’s a casino now.

Levered Loan Volumes Soar Past 2007 Levels As “Cov-Lite” Deals Surge (ZH)

If a surge in covenant-lite levered loans is any indication that debt and equity markets are nearing the final stages of their bubbly ascent, then perhaps now is a good time for investors to take their profits and run. As the Wall Street Journal points out this morning, levered loans volumes in the U.S. are once again surging, eclipsing even 2007 levels, despite the complete implosion of bricks-and-mortar retailers and continued warnings that “the market is getting frothy.” Volume for these leveraged loans is up 53% this year in the U.S., putting it on pace to surpass the 2007 record of $534 billion, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence’s LCD unit. n Europe, recent loans offer fewer investor safeguards than in the past. This year, 70% of the region’s new leveraged loans are known as covenant-lite, according to LCD, more than triple the number four years ago.

Covenants are the terms in a loan’s contract that offer investor protections, such as provisions on borrowers’ ability to take on more debt or invest in projects. “If feels like the market is getting frothy,” said Henrik Johnsson at Deutsche Bank. “We’re overdue a correction.” Meanwhile, volumes are surging even as traditional lender protections have become basically nonexistent. As S&P LCD points out, over 70% of levered loans issued so far in 2017 are considered “covenant-lite” versus only 30% of those issued in 2007. Before the financial crisis, the boom in leveraged loans was one of the signs of markets overheating. As the crisis intensified in 2008, investors in U.S. leveraged loans lost nearly 30%, according to the S&P/LSTA Leveraged Loan Index.

Regulators are taking note. In its last quarterly report, the Bank for International Settlements noted the growth of covenant-lite loans and pointed out that U.S. companies are more leveraged than at any time since the beginning of the millennium. That could harm the economy in the event of a downturn or a rise in interest rates, said the BIS consortium of central banks.

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Not quite yet. But they will.

China’s Crackdown Brings Developers Crashing Back to Earth (BBG)

The world’s most extreme stock rally is getting a reality check. After share price gains at Chinese property developers accelerated at a breathtaking pace in the past month, led by an 87% surge in Sunac, the momentum has started to turn as authorities have taken a harder line on reining in financial risks. Six of the 10 best performers on the MSCI All-Country World Index in the one month through Sept. 21 were Chinese real estate firms. Chinese developers had their biggest slump in six years on Monday, before some rebounded on Tuesday. Record home sales and buoyant earnings helped spur an unprecedented rally this year for Chinese developers, especially large firms positioned to wrest market share through debt-fueled acquisitions.

Top of that list are the nation’s two most indebted developers – China Evergrande Group and Sunac – whose shares swelled 459% and 391% respectively. Some investors were starting to question how long the astonishing share gains could last, even before a raft of housing curbs over the weekend. “The drop of property stocks today brings a reality check,” Andy Wong at Pictet Asset Management said in a briefing Monday. “In the past few months investors have been focusing purely on growth. But it’s never wise to totally ignore the risk of leverage.” Sunac shares have plunged almost 16% from a Sept. 19 high, amid the general pall over the sector and news that a financial firm is scrutinizing its loans to Sunac, China’s most leveraged developer.

Evergrande shares have tumbled more than 12% in the past three trading sessions, matching the decline in a Bloomberg index of 22 mainland developers. Even with the recent selloff, Chinese developers remain among the world’s best-performing stocks this year. Evergrande and Sunac two top stocks in the MSCI All-Country World Index this year. Part of that rally was stoked by a housing market boom that buoyed developers’ earnings in the first half, sending sales soaring and boosting profit margins to the highest levels in three years, according to calculations based on earnings reports.

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It’s where the excess cash has gone.

The Next Crisis Will Start in Silicon Valley (BBG)

Since 2007, a tremendous wave of innovation has swept across the financial sector, affecting almost every aspect of finance. New robo-adviser startups like Betterment and Wealthfront have begun dispensing financial advice based on algorithmic calculations, with little to no human input. Crowdfunding firms like Kickstarter and Lending Club have created new ways for companies and individuals to raise money from dispersed networks of individuals. New virtual currencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum have radically changed our understanding of how money can and should work. These financial technology (or “fintech”) markets are populated by small startup companies, the exact opposite of the large, concentrated Wall Street banks that have for so long dominated finance.

And they have brought great benefits for investors and consumers. By automating decision-making and reducing the costs of transactions, fintech has greased the wheels of finance, making it faster and more efficient. It has also broadened access to capital to new and underserved groups, making finance more democratic than it has ever been. But revolutions often end in destruction. And the fintech revolution has created an environment ripe for instability and disruption. It does so in three ways. First, fintech companies are more vulnerable to rapid, adverse shocks than typical Wall Street banks. Because they’re small and undiversified, they can easily go under when they hit a blip in the market. Consider the case of Tokyo-based Mt. Gox, which was the world’s biggest bitcoin exchange until an apparent security breach took it down in 2014, precipitating losses that would be worth more than $3.5 billion in today’s prices.

Second, fintech companies are more difficult to monitor than conventional financial firms. Because they rely on complex computer algorithms for many of their essential functions, it’s hard for outsiders to get a clear picture of the risks and rewards. And because many of their technologies are so new and innovative, they may fall outside the reach of old and outdated regulatory structures. The recent proliferation of “initial coin offerings,” for example, has left regulators around the world scrambling to figure out how to respond. Third, fintech has not developed the set of unwritten norms and expectations that guide more traditional financial institutions.

In 2008, when Lehman Brothers was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, the heads of the largest Wall Street investment banks gathered in New York to coordinate their actions and prevent further panic. It’s hard to imagine something like that happening in the fintech world. The industry is so new, and the players so diverse, that companies have little incentive to cooperate for the greater good. Instead, they prioritize aggressive growth and reckless behavior.

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If this is not a wake-up call for you…

King Cash May Reign For Weeks In Storm-Ravaged Puerto Rico (BBG)

In post-hurricane San Juan on Monday, commerce picked up ever so slightly. With a little effort, you could get the basics and sometimes more: diapers, medicine, or even a gourmet hamburger smothered in fried onions and Gorgonzola cheese. But almost impossible to find was a place that accepted credit cards. “Cash only,” said Abraham Lebron, the store manager standing guard at Supermax, a supermarket in San Juan’s Plaza de las Armas. He was in a well-policed area, but admitted feeling like a sitting duck with so many bills on hand. “The system is down, so we can’t process the cards. It’s tough, but one finds a way to make it work.” The cash economy has reigned in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria decimated much of the U.S. commonwealth last week, leveling the power grid and wireless towers and transporting the island to a time before plastic existed.

The state of affairs could carry on for weeks or longer in some remote parts of the commonwealth, and that means it could be impossible to trace revenue and enforce tax rules. The situation further frustrates one of the many challenges already facing a government that has sought a form of bankruptcy protection after its debts swelled past $70 billion: boosting revenue by collecting money that slips through the cracks. In fact, the power blackout only exacerbates a situation that has always been, to a degree, a fact of life in Puerto Rico. Outside the island’s tourist hubs, many small businesses simply never took credit cards, with some openly expressing contempt for tax collectors and others claiming it was just a question of not wanting to deal with the technology.

But those were generally vendors of bootleg DVDs, fruit stands, barbers — not major supermarkets. Now, the better part of the economy is in the same boat. Cash was in short supply. Many Puerto Ricans were still living off what money they thought to withdraw ahead of the storm. Most ATMs on the island still weren’t working because of the power outage or because no one had refilled them. In Fajardo, a hard-hit coastal area, the paper printouts taped to sheet metal storm shutters read: “Cash only, thank you.”

Read more …

Washington has been a casino for decades.

The White House as Donald Trump’s New Casino (Nomi Prins)

During the 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly emphasized that our country was run terribly and needed a businessman at its helm. Upon winning the White House, he insisted that the problem had been solved, adding, “In theory, I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly. There’s never been a case like this.” Sure enough, while Hillary Clinton spent her time excoriating her opponent for not releasing his tax returns, Americans ultimately embraced the candidate who had proudly and openly dodged their exposure. And why not? It’s in the American ethos to disdain “the man” – especially the taxman. In an election turned reality TV show, who could resist watching a larger-than-life conman who had taken money from the government?

Now, give him credit. As president, The Donald has done just what he promised the American people he would do: run the country like he ran his businesses. At one point, he even displayed confusion about distinguishing between them when he said of the United States: “We’re a very powerful company – country.” Of course, as Hillary Clinton rarely bothered to point out, he ran many of them using excess debt, deception, and distraction, while a number of the ones he guided personally (as opposed to just licensing them the use of his name) – including his five Atlantic City casinos, his airline, and a mortgage company – he ran into the ground and then ditched. He escaped relatively unscathed financially, while his investors and countless workers and small businesses to whom he owed money were left holding the bag.

We may never fully know what lurks deep within those tax returns of his, but we already know that they were “creative” in nature. As he likes to put it, not paying taxes “makes me smart.” To complete the analogy Trump made during the election campaign, he’s running the country on the very same instincts he used with those businesses and undoubtedly with just the same sense of self-protectiveness. Take the corporate tax policy he advocates that’s being promoted by his bank-raider turned Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin. It’s focused on lowering the tax rate for multinational corporations from 35% to 15%, further aiding the profitability of companies that already routinely squirrel away profits and hide losses in the crevices of tax havens far removed from public disclosure.

Read more …

People are being left behind everywhere.

Large Parts Of America Are Being Left Behind (ZH)

Economic prosperity is concentrated in America’s elite zip codes, but in an interesting report on Distressed Communities, from The Economic Innovation Group, it is increasingly clear that economic stability outside of those communities is rapidly deteriorating. As Axios noted, this isn’t a Republican or Democratic problem. At every level of government, both parties represent distressed areas. But the economic fortunes of the haves and have-nots have only helped to widen the political chasm between them, and it has yet to be addressed by substantial policy proposals on either side of the aisle.

Economic Prosperity Quintiles

As MishTalk.com’s Mike Shedlock writes below, the study notes: “America’s elite zip codes are home to a spectacular degree of growth and prosperity. However, millions of Americans are stuck in places where what little economic stability exists is quickly eroding beneath their feet.” Distress is based on an evaluation of seven metrics.
• No high school diploma
• Housing vacancy rate
• Adults not working
• Poverty rate
• Median income ratio
• Change in employment
• Change in business establishments

Change in Distress Quintiles

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Merkel acts like an empress.

‘A Lot Of People Feel Left Behind’ – Why Far Right Won In Germany (G.)

Despite gains made by the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), the breaking up of the ‘grand coalition’ could mark a positive step for Germany, according to voters who responded to our online callout. Here voters in Germany tell us why they think the AfD made gains, and what hopes they have for the future of the country’s politics.

‘A lot of people feel left behind’ – Sarah, 37, teacher, Bonn My second vote was a tactical one. I gave it to the Linke. I knew that we’ll need a very strong voice against the AfD. I am pleased though, that the SPD decided to go into opposition to redefine themselves. A lot of people feel left behind. They are looking for scapegoats. It is the easy way to deal with problems. The AFD makes use of this feeling. With the grand coalition, there was no real debating culture left. The CDU went too much into the middle, leaving the right out. Just like the SPD under Schröder left the left-wing out.

The impact of the newly arrived is big. Some people are scared. Some that have been living in Germany for a long time feel disadvantaged. We can live together and be united in our diversity. I see this in school every day. If we treat each other with respect, then we do not need to fear. It is a long and strenuous way. But it is also very rewarding and fun to walk down that lane. At dinner I really had to get hold of myself to not cry in front of my children. I physically felt sick. A Nazi party being the third biggest party in Germany! I am still devastated.

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More Europe is dead.

Macron Presses Ahead With His Vision for Europe As Merkel Calls For Calm (BBG)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel already faces complex coalition negotiations with at least three other parties. Now French President Emmanuel Macron wants in on the act. In a speech at the Sorbonne in Paris on Tuesday, Macron will make proposals for re-shaping Europe that he acknowledges will require Merkel’s support to push through. While he isn’t seeking to interfere in German domestic politics, it makes sense to air the ideas before a coalition is formed rather than after, an official in his office told reporters. Macron needs Germany’s backing for planned overhauls of areas ranging from defense and immigration to the economy. Yet with Merkel weakened in Germany’s vote and her potential Free Democratic coalition partner even more hostile to aspects of euro-area integration than her own party, the prospect of radical change in Europe looks to have diminished.

“There was this expectation that the election would strengthen the German-French alliance, all kinds of reforms would be tackled and then we’re on the road to fiscal union,” Oliver Adler, head of economic research at Credit Suisse in Zurich, said in an interview. “This now seems politically very unlikely.” Macron will press ahead with his vision of remaking European institutions anyway, seeking to set the direction of debate. While a key element of his reform package is intended to reinforce the euro against future shocks, his speech won’t be all about the single currency area. Macron will propose as many as 10 projects in his speech, including a European agency for innovation and a system to improve start-up funding, a larger Erasmus student-exchange project, increased anti-terrorism cooperation, and a “digital plan” that includes a joint effort to push the EU Commission for a plan to tax Internet giants such as Apple and Google.

The goal is to have a roadmap in place by the summer of 2018 that will equip the EU for its next decade, according to the French official. Macron intends to discuss his plans with fellow EU leaders at a summit in the Estonian capital Tallinn at the end of this week. He may struggle to engage Merkel after Martin Schulz, her Social Democratic election challenger, upset her own plans by announcing his intention not to renew their respective parties’ coalition of the past four years.

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Politicians don’t understand technology.

EU Presidency Calls For Massive Internet Filtering (EDRi)

A Council of the European Union document leaked by Statewatch on 30 August reveals that during the summer months, that Estonia (current EU Presidency) has been pushing the other Member States to strengthen indiscriminate internet surveillance, and to follow in the footsteps of China regarding online censorship. Standing firmly behind its belief that filtering the uploads is the way to go, the Presidency has worked hard in order to make the proposal for the new copyright Directive even more harmful than the Commission’s original proposal, and pushing it further into the realms of illegality. According to the leaked document, the text suggests two options for each of the two most controversial proposals: the so-called “link tax” or ancillary copyright and the upload filter. Regarding the upload filter, the text offers two alternatives:

Option A maintains the Commission’s original proposal of having in place an upload filter which will be under the control of platforms and other companies that are hosting online content. Although it removes mentions to “content recognition technologies”, in reality, there is no way to “prevent the availability” (another expression which remains in the text) of certain content without scanning all the content first. Option B is, at best, a more extreme version of Option A. In fact, it seems so extreme that it almost makes the first option look like a reasonable compromise. This may, of course, be the “diplomatic” strategy. In this extreme option, the text attacks again the liability regime of the e-commerce Directive – which, bizarrely, would not be repealed, leaving us with two contradictory pieces of EU law but adds a “clarification” of what constitutes a “communication to the public”.

This clarification establishes that platforms (and its users) would be liable for the copyright infringing content uploaded by its users. The proposals in this leak highlight a very dangerous roadmap for the EU Member States, if they were to follow the Presidency’s lead. The consequences of these flawed proposals can only be prevented if civil society and EU citizens firmly raise their voices against having a censorship machine in the EU. We will be turning on our call tool at savethememe.net before each of the key votes in the European Parliament. Make use of the tool, and call your representatives to stop the #censorshipmachine!

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Oh, get real: “a recognition of the tremendous efforts and sacrifices the Greek people have made to restore stability to their country’s public finances.”

EU Officially Ends Excessive Deficit Procedure Against Greece (R.)

European Union states decided on Monday to close disciplinary procedures against Greece over its excessive deficit after improvements in Greece’s fiscal position, confirming the country’s recovery is on the right track. The move, although largely symbolic, sends a new signal that Greece’s public finances are again under control, facilitating the country’s plans to tap markets after a successful issue of bonds in July which ended a three-year exile. EU fiscal rules oblige member states to keep their budget deficits below 3% of their economic output or face sanctions that could entail hefty fines, although so far no country has received a financial penalty.

Greece had a 0.7% budget surplus in 2016, and is projected to maintain its fiscal position within EU rules’ limits this year. “In the light of this, the Council (of EU states) found that Greece fulfils the conditions for closing the excessive deficit procedure,” the EU said in a note. “After many years of severe difficulties, Greece’s finances are in much better shape. Today’s decision is therefore welcome”, Estonia’s finance minister Toomas Toniste said. The EU states’ decision confirmed a proposal by the EU executive commission in July to end the disciplinary procedure for Greece. The economics commissioner Pierre Moscovici said the decision was “a recognition of the tremendous efforts and sacrifices the Greek people have made to restore stability to their country’s public finances.”

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Good cop bad cop. Rinse and repeat.

ECB May Frontload 2018 Bank Stress Tests With View To Greece – Draghi (R.)

The ECB may ‘frontload’ its bank stress test next year, ECB President Mario Draghi said on Monday, when asked if supervisors plan any early checks on the health of Greek lenders. The IMF has been pushing for a fresh asset quality review at Greek banks, possibly as part of an bailout review that is slated to start soon. The ECB has rejected the call, saying that the next check is the regular 2018 stress test, but Draghi’s words suggest that ECB may be somewhat flexible with its timeline. “The SSM (Single Supervisory Mechanism) will take its decision with full independence,” Draghi told members of the European Parliament. “And what the SSM plans to do next year is to have a stress test, possibly frontloading the stress test, and basically the SSM sent a letter to the IMF concerning exactly this expected line of action,” Draghi said.

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Maybe Macron can do some good too.

French Government Declares War On Pesticides (AFP)

France is planning to cut back on use of all pesticides, the government said Monday, though it rowed back on an announcement of an outright ban on controversial chemical glyphosate. Government spokesman Christophe Castaner had said earlier Monday that France – Europe’s biggest food producer a- intended to phase out glyphosate completely by 2022 over fears that it may cause cancer. But he later reversed his comments, saying that by the end of President Emmanuel Macron’s five-year term “the government is committed to seeing significant progress on all pesticides”. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in one of the world’s most widely used weedkillers, Roundup, produced by the US agro-chemicals giant Monsanto. The European Commission has proposed extending the licence for the use of the chemical for 10 years, which France has said it will vote against and try to block.

France’s biggest farming union, the FNSEA, said Monday that it was “out of the question” for the country to go it alone, worrying that a French ban could put them at a disadvantage against European competitors. “A sudden ban, no — a path for reducing it and finding solutions, if the solutions are good economically and technically, we can see it happening,” said FNSEA chief Christiane Lambert. Europe limited use of glyphosate last year pending further research. The EU’s chemical agency said glyphosate should be not be classified as cancer-causing. But this is challenged by scientists and environmentalists who point to a finding by the International Agency for Research on Cancer that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic”. Some 1.3 million people have signed an online petition calling for a ban on the chemical.

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Can mankind rid the earth of its presence? Stay tuned.

Our Food Crops Face Mass Extinction Too (G.)

A “sixth mass extinction” is already under way, scientists are now warning us. Species such as the Bengal tiger and blue whale are vanishing at an alarming rate, and mournful eulogies are being written on how those born in 20 years’ time may never see an African elephant. But who is writing the eulogy for our food? Huge proportions of the plant and animal species that form the foundation of our food supply -known as agrobiodiversity- are just as endangered and are getting almost no attention. Take some consumer favourites: chips, chocolate and coffee. Up to 22% of wild potato species are predicted to become extinct by 2055 due to climate change. In Ghana and Ivory Coast, where the raw ingredient for 70% of our chocolate is grown, cacao trees will not be able to survive as temperatures rise by two degrees over the next 40 years. Coffee yields in Tanzania have dropped 50% since 1960.

These crops are the tip of the iceberg. Across the world, 940 cultivated species are threatened. Agrobiodiversity is a precious resource that we are losing, and yet it can also help solve or mitigate many challenges the world is facing. It has a critical yet overlooked role in helping us improve global nutrition, reduce our impact on the environment and adapt to climate change. According to the World Health Organisation, poor diet is the biggest cause of early death and disability. Globally, 2 billion people are undernourished, while 2 billion are obese and at risk of contracting diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Focusing on large-scale intensive production of starchy crops for calories rather than nutritious diets has led to serious levels of obesity around the world, from the US to Kenya. Our agrobiodiversity base can be a source of affordable, nutritious food – provided we don’t let it disappear.

[..] About 33% of the world’s farmland is estimated to be degraded, lacking the nutrients essential for growing crops. Agrobiodiversity once again has a solution. Planting cold-tolerant legumes and forages throughout winter has helped farmers in France naturally reduce weed infestation as well as increasing soil’s nutrient content and capacity to hold water. Natural remedies such as this can enhance the sustainability of farms worldwide, reducing the sector’s impact on the environment.

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“Three-quarters of the world’s food today comes from just 12 crops and five animal species”. In India, there used to be 100,000 varieties of rice. Today, there’s a big struggle going on to preserve a few dozen. There are many different banana species, but we all eat just one, the Cavendish. Which is under severe threat from a global fungus and could be gone in 5-10 years.

Sixth Mass Extinction Of Wildlife Also Threatens Global Food Supplies (G.)

The sixth mass extinction of global wildlife already under way is seriously threatening the world’s food supplies, according to experts. “Huge proportions of the plant and animal species that form the foundation of our food supply are just as endangered [as wildlife] and are getting almost no attention,” said Ann Tutwiler, director general of Bioversity International, a research group that published a new report on Tuesday. “If there is one thing we cannot allow to become extinct, it is the species that provide the food that sustains each and every one of the seven billion people on our planet,” she said in an article for the Guardian. “This ‘agrobiodiversity’ is a precious resource that we are losing, and yet it can also help solve or mitigate many challenges the world is facing. It has a critical yet overlooked role in helping us improve global nutrition, reduce our impact on the environment and adapt to climate change.”

Three-quarters of the world’s food today comes from just 12 crops and five animal species and this leaves supplies very vulnerable to disease and pests that can sweep through large areas of monocultures, as happened in the Irish potato famine when a million people starved to death. Reliance on only a few strains also means the world’s fast changing climate will cut yields just as the demand from a growing global population is rising. There are tens of thousands of wild or rarely cultivated species that could provide a richly varied range of nutritious foods, resistant to disease and tolerant of the changing environment. But the destruction of wild areas, pollution and overhunting has started a mass extinction of species on Earth.

The focus to date has been on wild animals – half of which have been lost in the last 40 years – but the new report reveals that the same pressures are endangering humanity’s food supply, with at least 1,000 cultivated species already endangered. Tutwiler said saving the world’s agrobiodiversity is also vital in tackling the number one cause of human death and disability in the world – poor diet, which includes both too much and too little food. “We are not winning the battle against obesity and undernutrition,” she said. “Poor diets are in large part because we have very unified diets based on a narrow set of commodities and we are not consuming enough diversity.”

Read more …

Sep 252017
 
 September 25, 2017  Posted by at 9:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso Portrait of the artist’s mother 1896

 

Colin Kaepernick Has Won: He Wanted A Conversation And Trump Started It (G.)
The World Can’t Stop Borrowing Dollars (BBG)
What’s Around The Corner For The Hottest Emerging Markets (BBG)
China Plans Closer Oversight of $304 Billion in State Company Funds (BBG)
China’s Yuan Is Anything But Stable as Party Congress Approaches (BBG)
US Households Are Loaded Up With Stocks (Lyons)
Merkel Lands Fourth Term, But at What Cost? (Spiegel)
Angela’s Ashes: 5 Takeaways From The German Election (Pol.)
German Vote Could Doom Merkel-Macron Deal On Europe (R.)
German FinMin Wolfgang Schaeuble May Soon Be Losing His Job (CNBC)
Luxury Properties On Greek Islands Attract Ever More Foreign Buyers (K.)
There Never Was a Real Tulip Fever (Smithsonian)

 

 

Apparently, players never stood for the anthem until 2009. Then the Defense Department started paying teams to get them out of the dressing room and onto the field when the anthem was played. A recruiting tool.

But Kaepernick is a brave man no matter what. Trump should invite him to the White House and talk.

Colin Kaepernick Has Won: He Wanted A Conversation And Trump Started It (G.)

All Colin Kaepernick ever asked was for his country to have a conversation about race. This, he warned, would not be easy. Such talks are awkward and often end in a flurry of spittle, pointed fingers and bruised feelings. But from the moment the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback first spoke about his decision to kneel or sit during the national anthem, he said was willing to give up his career to make the nation talk. In one speech on Friday night, Donald Trump gave Kaepernick exactly what he wanted. With a fiery blast at protesting NFL players that seemingly came from nowhere, the president bonded black and white football players with wealthy white owners in a way nobody could have imagined. By saying any player who didn’t stand for the anthem was a “son of a bitch” and should be fired by his team’s owner, Trump crossed a line from which no one could look away.

Come Sunday afternoon, players who wanted nothing of a racial dialogue stood before giant flags, linking arms in protest. Owners who once wished their kneeling players would just stop offending fans fired off statements in their support. Networks who have avoided showing the raised fists of dissent had no choice but show the rows of players standing strong against Trump’s rage. Whether anyone wanted it or not, Trump has forced the US to have the conversation Kaepernick has been requesting. [..] “I think this is something that can unify this country,” Kaepernick said in the summer of 2016, at his first press conference about his protest. “If we can have the real conversations that are uncomfortable for a lot of people – if we can have this conversation there’s a better understanding where both sides are coming from. (And) if we can reach common ground and can understand what everyone’s going through, we can really affect change.”

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Why the dollar’s demise is greatly exaggerated.

The World Can’t Stop Borrowing Dollars (BBG)

Companies and governments around the world can’t seem to stop borrowing U.S. dollars. This could be a problem, both for them and for the Federal Reserve. Not long ago, it seemed as though a global boom in dollar borrowing had to be reaching its limit. Encouraged by near-zero interest rates, non-U.S. borrowers had binged on trillions in new dollar-denominated debt. With the central bank aiming to increase rates and the U.S. currency rising, strains were beginning to show, as companies struggled to pay back the dollars with devalued local-currency earnings. Yet the party keeps going, perhaps thanks to the Fed’s extremely gradual pace of rate increases and a related decline in the dollar’s exchange rate. According to the Bank for International Settlements, total dollar borrowing outside the U.S. reached $10.7 trillion in the first quarter of 2017, up about 6% from a year earlier and up 83% from 2009. Here’s how that looks as a%age of non-U.S. GDP:

About a third of the debt is owed by companies and governments in emerging markets, where the relatively high volatility of earnings and exchange rates can make dollar borrowing particularly risky. Here’s the dollar-denominated debt of the countries that the BIS tracks, as a%age of their GDP:

To be sure, some of the debt might not be too burdensome if borrowers have a lot of dollar revenue from, say, oil exports (think Russia and Saudi Arabia). But to the extent that the obligations aren’t hedged, they will make the world more sensitive to the Fed’s interest-rate moves. And if future rate increases trigger belt-tightening and defaults abroad, the malaise could easily spread back to the U.S., complicating the Fed’s efforts to keep growth on track. So the world is becoming increasingly exposed to the Fed, which leaves the Fed increasingly exposed to the world.

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What’s around the corner is more debt. Dollar-denominated debt.

What’s Around The Corner For The Hottest Emerging Markets (BBG)

Nothing has been able to silence the roar of emerging markets this year, be it Kim Jong-Un’s missiles, President Donald Trump’s protectionist rhetoric or a host of domestic political ructions from Brazil to South Africa and Turkey. Instead, investors have focused on economies supported by slowing inflation, a recent recovery in commodity prices and the comfort of watching central banks conducting policy by more conventional methods than their developed-nation counterparts. The MSCI EM Currency Index and the Bloomberg Barclays index of emerging-market local-currency government bonds both reached three-year highs this month, while a gauge of developing-nation equities is close to its highest since 2011. And now that the Federal Reserve has laid out a tapering game plan likely to drive down longer-maturity U.S. Treasuries, the bulls are taking new heart, betting the rally’s just getting started.

For others, it’s getting perilously near to closing time. “We all enjoyed the party, but this may be its last leg and there maybe more volatility in the year-end,” said Peter Schottmueller, the head of asset allocation at Deka Investment GmbH in Frankfurt, who helps manage the equivalent of $7.8 billion. “The market is very myopic and very short-term focused.’’ Corporate borrowing has outstripped economic growth over the five years through 2016, according to the Bank for International Settlements. That’s raised questions about how long it can continue as central banks in developed nations prepare to pare back quantitative easing, according to Toru Nishihama, at Tokyo-based Dai-ichi Life Research.

Emerging economies expanded 4.4% in 2016, almost half of the rate of a decade ago, when the Fed was in its last year of a cycle of interest-rate increases. “There remains a gap between the growth rate of emerging economies and developed countries as well as returns from investment, and investors will continue to pour funds into emerging markets,” Dai-ichi’s Nishihama said. “However, from here, not all emerging-market investments are rosy, and investors may become more selective in which country or countries to invest.”

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“China will create a centralized financing company..” Yes, but to oversee assets, or to oversee debt, liabilities?

China Plans Closer Oversight of $304 Billion in State Company Funds (BBG)

China will create a centralized financing company to oversee some $304 billion of funds held by the country’s state-owned enterprises’ finance units, people familiar with the matter said, allowing the government closer supervision of SOEs’ borrowing and investments. The plan, approved by the State Council or Cabinet, will increase the government’s ability to supervise the non-financial central SOE finance companies’ investments, giving the entity a fuller picture of how these companies are using funds, according to the people, who asked not to be named because the plans have not been made public. Non-financial, central SOEs have their own finance units that currently offer various products and services such as deposits and loans, and the new entity could facilitate those efforts.

The plan would assist regulators by directing some 2 trillion yuan of funds held by the non-financial SOEs through the new company, meaning they could monitor the flow through only one financing company rather than dozens. Many details about the new entity were not immediately clear, such as who would control it, how much regulatory and oversight authority it would have, and how it might conduct external financing on behalf of the SOEs. The aim is to boost efficiency in the $20 trillion state sector in line with a government campaign to reduce the companies’ debt, according to the people. While the centralized finance company would have a regulatory oversight role, the SOEs would retain control over the funds, the people said.

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Not the plan.

China’s Yuan Is Anything But Stable as Party Congress Approaches (BBG)

China’s currency has swung from hot to cold in a matter of weeks, thwarting expectations that policy makers would keep the yuan stable before a crucial Communist Party Congress next month. The yuan fell 0.3% to 6.6075 per greenback at 2:29 p.m. in Shanghai, taking its decline from a Sept. 8 peak to 2.6%. That’s a sharp reversal from earlier this month, when the currency surged 1.5% in just six days. The stunning shift has propelled a gauge of 50-day price swings on the yuan to a six-month high. With China’s financial markets closed for the whole of next week due to National Day holidays, there are effectively just over two weeks of trading to go before the congress begins Oct. 18.

The turning point for the currency came when the PBOC eased a forwards trading rule that made betting against the currency more expensive – a clear signal that the surge had gone far enough. A mild recovery in the greenback thanks to a more hawkish Federal Reserve – the Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index is up 1.2% since Sept. 8. – has hastened the yuan’s decline. “Investors were too optimistic earlier, and they are now pushing the yuan lower because they figured the policy makers believed the currency was too strong,” said Eddie Cheung at Standard Chartered in Hong Kong. “There’s still room for the dollar to rise in the short term if the market becomes more confident on U.S. rate hikes. That said, the yuan could weaken further this year, though the PBOC wouldn’t allow any sharp declines.”

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Hmm, really? With so many people living paycheck to paycheck?

US Households Are Loaded Up With Stocks (Lyons)

From the Federal Reserve’s latest Z.1 Release (formerly, Flow Of Funds), we learn that in the 2nd quarter, household and nonprofit’s stock holdings amounted to 35.7% of their total financial assets. This is the highest%age since 2000. In fact, the blow-off phase from 1998 to 2000 leading up to the dotcom bubble burst was the only time in the history of the data (since 1945) that saw higher stock investment than now. You might say that everyone is in the pool. We’ve talked about this data series many times. It is certainly not a timing tool. Rather, it is what we call a “background” indicator, representative of the longer-term backdrop — and potential — of the stock market.

It also serves as an instructional lens into investor psychology. For these reasons, it is one of our favorite metrics pertaining to the stock market, as we wrote in a September 2014 post: “This is one of our favorite data series because it reveals a lot about not only investment levels but investor psychology as well. When investors have had positive recent experiences in the stock market, i.e., a bull market, they have been happy to pour money into stocks. It is consistent with all of the evidence of performance-chasing pointed out by many. Note how stock investment peaked with major tops in 1966, 1968, 1972, 2000 and 2007. Of course, investment will rise merely with the appreciation of the market; however, we also observe disproportionate jumps in investment levels near tops as well.

Note the spikes at the 1968 and 1972 tops and, most egregiously, at the 2000 top. On the flip side, when investors have bad recent experiences with stocks, it negatively effects investment flows, and in a more profound way than the positive effect. This is consistent with the scientifically proven notion we’ve discussed before that feelings of fear or loss are much stronger than those of greed or gain. Stock investment during he 1966-82 secular bear market provides a good example of this. After stock investment peaked at 31% in 1968 (by the way, after many of the indexes had topped in 1966 – investors were still buying the dip), it embarked on steady decline over the next 14 years. This, despite the fact the stock market drifted sideways during that time. By the beginning of the secular bull market in 1982, the S&P 500 was right where it was in 1968. However, household stock investment was at an all-time low of 10.9%.

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She won but lost. What happens here is the future of Europe is decided by German voters alone. That is the core of the European problem.

Merkel Lands Fourth Term, But at What Cost? (Spiegel)

Angela Merkel’s election result four years ago was, to be sure, extraordinary. It was clear from the surveys that her conservatives wouldn’t be able to repeat it. But a fall like this? Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party Christian Social Union (CSU) saw their joint result fall by more than eight%age points – their worst showing since 1949. During her first appearance after the election at her party’s headquarters, the chancellor said she had, in fact, hoped for a somewhat better result. Those gathered at the headquarters dutifully chanted, “Angie, Angie.” Then things grew quiet again. Nobody waved the German flag. It was a far cry from 2013, when CDU politicians broke out into a spontaneous karaoke session after the results were announced. This time, the prominent members of Merkel’s party who had gathered behind her on the stage seemed sobered by the tepid showing.

Merkel can keep her job as chancellor, the “strategic goal” has been achieved, as Merkel refers to it. But it comes at a high price. Voters have severely punished the parties of the current governing coalition, with Merkel’s conservatives losing dozens of seats in parliament. The right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) will now enter parliament with a strong, double-digit result. And it will be extremely difficult for Merkel to build a government coalition that will be stable for the next four years. There won’t just be a sprinkling of renegades representing the AfD in parliament. The right-wing populists will be the third-largest party in the Bundestag and they have announced their intention to “chase down” the chancellor as one of the party’s two leading candidates expressed it on Sunday.

The election campaign already gave a taste of what might be coming, with AfD supporters loudly venting their hatred and anger at events held by Merkel’s CDU. Merkel, who isn’t known for being the world’s best public speaker, will now be confronted by them on a daily basis. And the conservatives will also have to ask themselves what share of the responsibility they carry for the AfD’s success. What can they do to win back disappointed voters? More than a million voters are believed to have flocked from the CDU and the CSU to the AfD. And most of them say that it was the chancellor’s refugee policies that led them to vote for the right-wing competition. It’s little wonder, then, that Merkel has identified the enduring regulation of refugee flows and domestic security as the key topics for the coming years.

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I went for the headline. But good insights too.

Angela’s Ashes: 5 Takeaways From The German Election (Pol.)

1. Merkel’s twilight has begun SPD leader Martin Schulz told Merkel on live television she was the election’s “biggest loser.” A bit harsh perhaps (especially coming from a candidate who just recorded his party’s worst-ever result), but there’s some truth to it. Instead of addressing tough questions such as migration head-on, Merkel ran a vague, feel-good campaign, promising a “Germany in which we live well and happily,” while offering few specifics about how she wanted to get there.

2. Germany’s consensus-driven political model is shattered The next parliament will include seven parties (eight, if you count the CSU, the Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s CDU), representing a much more diverse cross-section of the country’s body politic than its predecessor. Sparks will fly. The inclusion of the far right in parliament will make German politics louder and nastier. AfD leader Jörg Meuthen made it clear Sunday that confrontation and “provocation” were central to the party’s strategy. If other European countries where populists have a strong foothold are any indication, that no-holds-barred spirit will infect the political mainstream, creating a decidedly more raucous political climate.

3. Forget about meaningful eurozone reforms Merkel’s conservatives were skeptical of French President Emmanuel Macron’s reform proposals even before Sunday. A grand coalition represented the French president’s best chance for realizing his vision. With that option now off the table, a weakened Merkel is unlikely to be able win over the Free Democrats and skeptics in her own party, even if she wanted to. France and Germany may agree to establish some form of budget and an oversight position for the eurozone with the title of finance minister, but neither will have the scope the French, not to mention many economists, had been hoping for.

4. Berlin will play hardball with Europe on refugees German patience over Europe’s lack of solidarity on the refugee front was already wearing thin. After Sunday’s result, look for outright confrontation with countries like Poland and Hungary. In the view of many Christian Democrats, the AfD would have never gotten this far if other European countries had taken in their fair share of refugees instead of letting Germany bear the burden. It’s payback time.

5. This isn’t Weimar For all the breathless historical comparisons, it’s worth taking a deep breath and remembering Germany is a stable democracy. The vast majority of Germans didn’t vote for the AfD and most of those who did, did so in protest. The coming years won’t be pretty, but Germany’s democratic foundations are robust enough to withstand the populist onslaught.

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Not could, will. Already has.

German Vote Could Doom Merkel-Macron Deal On Europe (R.)

Weakened by the worst result for her party since 1949 and facing a more fractious political landscape at home, Germany’s Angela Merkel could be forced to rein in plans to re-shape Europe together with France’s Emmanuel Macron. Merkel’s conservatives garnered more support than any other party in the German election on Sunday, projections showed, ensuring that she will return for a fourth term as chancellor. But her party appeared on track for its poorest performance since the first German election after World War Two and its only path to power may be through an unwieldy, untested three-way coalition with the ecologist Greens and liberal Free Democrats (FDP), fierce critics of Macron’s ideas for Europe.

Over the next four years, Merkel will also have to cope with a more confrontational opposition force in the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a eurosceptic, anti-immigration party that rode a wave of public anger after her decision to open Germany’s borders to hundreds of thousands of migrants in 2015.[..] This will be a new world for Merkel, who has grown accustomed to cozy coalitions and toothless Bundestag opposition during her 12 years in power. “In my mind, reform of the euro zone is the single most important foreign policy issue that the new government has in front of it,” said Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, who runs the Berlin office of the German Marshall Fund. But he predicted a so-called “Jamaica” coalition between Merkel’s conservatives, the FDP and the Greens – whose combined party colors of black, yellow and green are like those the Jamaican national flag – would struggle to deliver.

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Party in the streets of Athens.

German FinMin Wolfgang Schaeuble May Soon Be Losing His Job (CNBC)

In the aftermath of the German election, there could be one important casualty for markets. Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German Finance minister, could soon lose his influence on Germany and the euro zone if coalition talks remove him from his key ministry. Schaeuble became the face of austerity and had a determinant role in bailout programs across the euro zone, namely Greece, and is often described as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s co-chancellor, given his importance to the German government. However, given the tough political horse-trading that lies ahead, Merkel might not manage to keep her close ally. “Coalition building will be extremely difficult,” Carsten Brzeski, chief economist at ING, told CNBC Monday via email.

“If Schauble would really no longer be Finance minister it would be a watershed for the entire euro zone. An exit of one of the main characters of the entire euro zone crisis clearly marks the end of a historical chapter,” he said. Merkel’s center-right CDU and its Bavarian sister-party the CSU won 33% of the vote, provisional votes showed, down from 41.5% in the previous election. The pro-business FDP party, which placed fourth with 10.7% of the votes, has said it is open for coalition talks with Merkel’s CDU. The Greens are set to join coalition talks too, which could ultimately form Germany’s first four-party government in decades. In German politics, it’s usually the case that the largest party chooses the chancellor, and the second largest group picks the next post.

As such, the FDP could opt for the Finance Ministry and put an end to Schaeuble’s eight-year reign. The future for Schaeuble is “the question” from a market perspective, Carsten Nickel, managing director at Teneo Intelligence, told CNBC Monday. “In the end, I think there is probably very little alternative to Schaeuble, right now, at least in terms of individual politicians. There’s nobody who really comes to mind as the key person who would challenge him for that role. I wouldn’t be surprised if he stays on in the end,” he said. f Germany were to lose Schaeuble as Finance minister, the current momentum for further euro zone integration could also be damaged.

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The firesale continues unabated. Prices were cut in half over the last decade, even in the high end. Greeks won’t own anything in their own country anymore.

Luxury Properties On Greek Islands Attract Ever More Foreign Buyers (K.)

The rise of tourism and the popularity of certain destinations such as Myconos and Santorini have sent demand for and purchases of luxury holidays homes soaring. The first half of the year saw a 63.5% annual increase in the inflow of capital for property buys in Greece, following a 45.3% rise in the entire 2016 year-on-year to reach 270 million euros. Another factor boosting investments in holiday homes grow is the considerable decline in prices – averaging at 50% – compared to the period before the financial crisis, around 2008. The drop mainly took place from 2009 to 2013, as this section of the property market has become stable since then with some growth signs mainly regarding properties that have unique features and are regarded as emblematic.

Several foreigner buyers are scrambling to complete their acquisitions within the year, sensing that the window of opportunity may shut in the coming months, as there already are cases of owners who are raising their asking prices in view of the spike in demand. Franceska Kalamara, the head of the Franceska Properties estate agency that is active in the Myconos market, tells Kathimerini that “the buyers from abroad are interested in sizable and luxurious properties, from 400 square meters upward, and at very favorable locations, as close to the sea as possible. These are mostly individuals from Egypt, Lebanon and Israel, but also from the US, while there has recently been particular activity by Cypriot buyers.”

Among the recent well-known buyers of luxurious homes on Greek islands are Israeli entrepreneur Teddy Sagi (owner of Camden Market in London) who bought a series of properties on Myconos, according to estate agency sources, and Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris, buyer of two villas on the same island costing a total of some 11 million euros. It should be noted that the actual volume of the funds invested in the Greek holiday home market is far greater than reported by the Bank of Greece, as the majority of sellers ask buyers to deposit the money in bank accounts abroad. This trend has grown considerably since the imposition of capital controls two years ago.

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But we like the story! Don’t take our modern mythology away.

There Never Was a Real Tulip Fever (Smithsonian)

According to popular legend, the tulip craze took hold of all levels of Dutch society in the 1630s. “The rage among the Dutch to possess them was so great that the ordinary industry of the country was neglected, and the population, even to its lowest dregs, embarked in the tulip trade,” wrote Scottish journalist Charles Mackay in his popular 1841 work Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. According to this narrative, everyone from the wealthiest merchants to the poorest chimney sweeps jumped into the tulip fray, buying bulbs at high prices and selling them for even more. Companies formed just to deal with the tulip trade, which reached a fever pitch in late 1636. But by February 1637, the bottom fell out of the market.

More and more people defaulted on their agreement to buy the tulips at the prices they’d promised, and the traders who had already made their payments were left in debt or bankrupted. At least that’s what has always been claimed. In fact, “There weren’t that many people involved and the economic repercussions were pretty minor,” Goldgar says. “I couldn’t find anybody that went bankrupt. If there had been really a wholesale destruction of the economy as the myth suggests, that would’ve been a much harder thing to face.” That’s not to say that everything about the story is wrong; merchants really did engage in a frantic tulip trade, and they paid incredibly high prices for some bulbs. And when a number of buyers announced they couldn’t pay the high price previously agreed upon, the market did fall apart and cause a small crisis—but only because it undermined social expectations.

“In this case it was very difficult to deal with the fact that almost all of your relationships are based on trust, and people said, ‘I don’t care that I said I’m going to buy this thing, I don’t want it anymore and I’m not going to pay for it.’ There was really no mechanism to make people pay because the courts were unwilling to get involved,” Goldgar says. But the trade didn’t affect all levels of society, and it didn’t cause the collapse of industry in Amsterdam and elsewhere. As Garber, the economist, writes, “While the lack of data precludes a solid conclusion, the results of the study indicate that the bulb speculation was not obvious madness.” [..] All the outlandish stories of economic ruin, of an innocent sailor thrown in prison for eating a tulip bulb, of chimney sweeps wading into the market in hopes of striking it rich—those come from propaganda pamphlets published by Dutch Calvinists worried that the tulip-propelled consumerism boom would lead to societal decay.

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