Feb 182018
 
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrFlattr the authorDigg thisShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone


Jerome Liebling Butterfly Boy, Harlem, New York City 1949

 

US Tax Cuts, Repatriated Cash Used For Record Stock Buybacks (ZH)
VIX Products Were Extremely Ill-Designed (Eric Peters)
Until There Are Facts On Election Meddling, It’s All Just Blather – Lavrov (RT)
Apocalypse Now For Britain’s Retailers As Low Wages And The Web Cause Ruin (G.)
UK Will Need ‘Thousands’ More Customs Officers After Brexit (R.)
The Big PFI Heist: How Big Banks Launched The Takeover Of UK Plc (Ind.)
Software Helped Daimler Pass US Emissions Tests (R.)
Global Sea Ice Hits New Record Low For January (Ind.)
Should We Give Up Half Of The Earth To Wildlife? (O.)

 

 

The last few drops squeezed from a stone-dry stone. Buybacks kill economies.

US Tax Cuts, Repatriated Cash Used For Record Stock Buybacks (ZH)

While there is still some fringe debate what companies will do with the hundreds of billions in offshore funds repatriated to the US as part of the recently passed Trump tax reform, the discussion is largely over, especially after last week’s Cisco results. The company, which has $68 billion of overseas cash, third after AAPL and MSFT, announced that it would raise its buyback authorization by $25 billion, and revealed plans to repurchase its entire authorization of $31 billion during the next 6-8 quarters, equal to roughly 15% of its current market cap. Call it a partial LBO, courtesy of Donald Trump.

[..] Here’s what Goldman’s David Kostin said in his latest Weekly Kickstart report: “Since December, S&P 500 firms have announced buybacks totaling $171 bn. YTD announcements of $67 bn represent a 22% increase versus the same period in 2017. The buyback window has re-opened and firms are taking advantage of the recent correction; the GS Buyback Desk reported that last week was the most active week in its history.” The $171 billion in YTD stock buyback announcements is the most ever for this early in the year. In fact, it is more than double the prior 10 year average of $77 billion in YTD buyback announcements.

[..] in addition to what we first pointed out over two years ago, namely that all net debt issuance in the 21st century has been used to pay for stock buybacks… here is what John Hussman commented on this record last hurrah in stock buybacks: “Though buybacks are primarily debt-financed, they are also highest at market peaks, and contract sharply at major market troughs. Corporations are still borrowing to buy the dip at peak valuations, within a few percent of extremes associated with prospective 10-12yr market losses.”

Read more …

There was no need for better design, the Fed has traders’ backs regardless.

VIX Products Were Extremely Ill-Designed (Eric Peters)

There’s no question that, in an economy and in a financial system where there’s the level of debt that we have and the sensitivity to interest rates, rising rates are kind of a pre-condition to equity market disruptions and selloffs. I think that the level of volatility selling and its integration into risk models across virtually every type of investment strategy are contributors. And, having gone through such a long period with very, very little movement, I’d say that many people’s trading books were robust for relatively small moves. But once you’ve passed a certain move – and I think in this case it was probably the S&P down 3-ish% that triggered a whole series of different adjustments that people needed to make to their books and their option books – that then amplified the move in volatility and led to this blowup in the VIX product.

But you have to remember that these VIX products were extremely ill-designed. And they were very vulnerable to this. They’re a rare thing that you see in our industry, which is they had a predefined stop loss. And markets are pretty good at finding stop losses and triggering them. I started my career in the commodity pits, and I witnessed firsthand how the commodity pit is built around finding stop losses on the top side of the bottom side of markets. So I think the market did a great job of finding the stops – and in this case finding the weakest ones, which were in the VIX complex – and hitting them. But I don’t think that that really explains why this move happened. Why did we get the first leg down, and why are markets starting to move with very little news flow? And, again, that’s something that’s difficult to explain for a lot of people that are trying to do it.

[..] The biggest problem in the investment industry today, the portfolio construct that investors have come to rely on, which is a brilliant construct really pioneered by Ray Dalio – he naturally has done incredibly well from this, and it’s been a fantastic strategy – this risk parity strategy. And, while there’s certainly more complexity to it that just being long equities and leveraged funds, let’s just view it as that strategy for a moment. It’s essentially what the dominant portfolio has become at all the major investors, pensions, endowments, etc. in the industry. And the beauty of that portfolio has been that you’ve been able to own risk assets and then you’ve been able to own a hedge, which is a leveraged bond portfolio, and that hedge has actually paid you a positive return.

The problem is when equity valuations become very high and interest rates get very low it’s difficult for that strategy to continue to perform very well. All else being equal. Now, however, if you add modest inflation into the formula, that portfolio actually becomes pretty toxic. That’s the environment I think we’re entering into. And that’s why, ultimately, I see some of these shocks like this most recent market shock as just being trail markers on this path to a much more difficult investment environment.

Read more …

Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein: “There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”

Virginia State Senator Richard Black: “When you become a special counsel, you have an open checkbook for the US Treasury and you are guaranteed to become a mega-millionaire if you simply can drag out the proceedings,”

Until There Are Facts On Election Meddling, It’s All Just Blather – Lavrov (RT)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has again dismissed claims of Russian meddling in the US election, saying that until facts are presented by Washington, they are nothing but “blather.” Speaking at the Munich Security Conference in Germany on Saturday, he said that “Until we see facts, everything else will be just blather.” When asked to comment on the indictment of Russian nationals and companies in the US over alleged meddling in the 2016 US election, the foreign minister answered:“You know, I have no reaction at all because one can publish anything he wants. We see how accusations, statements, statements are multiplying.”

On Friday, a US federal grand jury indicted 13 Russian nationals and three entities accused of interfering in the 2016 election and political processes. According to the indictment, those people were “supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump… and disparaging Hillary Clinton” as they staged political rallies and bought political advertising, while posing as grassroots entities.

[..] Even US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had to admit that there were “no allegations” that this “information warfare” yielded any results and affected the outcome of the presidential election. The underwhelming indictment was also slammed in the US. Virginia State Senator Richard Black accused FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller of deliberately dragging out the Russian meddling probe for his own gain. “To a certain extent, I think, Robert Muller is struggling to keep alive his position of a special counsel. The special counsel has already earned seven million dollars. When you become a special counsel, you have an open checkbook for the US Treasury and you are guaranteed to become a mega-millionaire if you simply can drag out the proceedings,” Black told RT.

Read more …

Maxed out. Forget the web. Think savings, pensions.

Apocalypse Now For Britain’s Retailers As Low Wages And The Web Cause Ruin (G.)

“Who’d be a retailer now?” That was the comment from City economist Jeremy Cook when the latest set of grim retail sales data was released by the Office for National Statistics last Friday. “The average Brit,” he added, “has spent the past few years living by the mantra ‘When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.’” After a grim December, many had been hoping for a bounceback, but the figures showed that consumers were not as hardy as they once were, said Cook, and the retail sector was facing a long-term, continuing slowdown. Shoppers are being hit by declining real wages, record levels of consumer debt and the prospect of higher borrowing costs. But the wider problem is a structural shift in the way consumers spend their money.

This is threatening famous retailers and forcing a rethink about how high streets will look in years to come, and what might be done with retail parks and malls when retailers shut up shop. It is not just about shoppers preferring to buy online – although 20% of fashion sales, where the pressures are perhaps worst, have now moved to the internet. There’s been a seismic shift in the way we spend our time and money. Social media, leisure, travel, eating out, eating in – using takeaways and delivery services – and technology are all taking time and cash that would once have gone straight to shops. In food, increasing numbers of people now prefer to buy local and often. Fewer big weekly shops mean out-of-town superstores are under pressure and the big supermarkets are trying to lure in other retailers to take space they no longer need.

This rapid change in shopping habits is boosting sales at the likes of Amazon, Asos and Boohoo, but forcing radical change on British towns and cities as physical retail space becomes redundant. The past few months have seen a stream of collapses – from fashion store East to shoe chain Shoon and bed specialists Warren Evans and Feather & Black. Toys R Us is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, while House of Fraser, Debenhams and New Look are all struggling, with all three considering large-scale closures of stores or space.

Read more …

Almost funny.

UK Will Need ‘Thousands’ More Customs Officers After Brexit (R.)

The Dutch government plans to hire at least 750 new customs agents in preparation for Britain’s exit from the European Union. The Dutch parliament’s Brexit rapporteur, Pieter Omtzigt, who had recommended the move, said both sides of the English Channel had been slow to wake up to the reality that Britain was on course to leave the EU in 14 months’ time. “If we need hundreds of new customs and agricultural inspectors, the British are going to need thousands,” he said. Omtzigt warned that “for a trading nation like the Netherlands, you just cannot afford for customs not to work, it would be a disaster”.

In a letter to parliament on Friday, the deputy finance minister, Menno Snel, said the cabinet had “decided that the Customs and Food and Wares agencies should immediately begin recruiting and training more workers”. He said the government was working on the basis of two scenarios: that Britain leaves the EU with no deal in place, or that it leaves on similar terms to those of the EU’s recent trade deal with Canada. “The results are that … around 930 or 750 full-time employees are needed,” Snel said. “It speaks for itself that the cabinet is following the negotiations closely in order to be able to react appropriately.”

Read more …

“The real story of how Britain’s economy has been left high and dry by a doomed economic philosophy..”

The Big PFI Heist: How Big Banks Launched The Takeover Of UK Plc (Ind.)

Sir Howard Davies, chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), recently made an astonishing admission on BBC1’s Question Time when he stated that private finance initiatives (PFI) had been a “fraud on the people”. Beyond seemingly populist rhetoric, the real story of PFI reveals that RBS alongside other global banks, notably HSBC, were instrumental in what Sir Howard has effectively labelled a great heist. The past month has seen the demise of construction giant Carillion followed by the collapse of Capita’s market value: both firms having built huge empires by providing outsourced services to public authorities. These initial tremors might be the canary in the coal mine. Profit warnings have been issued for other government contractors, such as Interserve. The domino effect has shades of the 2007-08 financial crisis even though it is clearly not of the same magnitude.

All this has thrown up searching questions, not least around staff redundancies and pensions, bailouts, inflated dividends and executive remuneration. Yet even in the throes of this PFI and outsourcing crisis, public-private Partnerships (PPP) are far from dead and buried. On the contrary, the Naylor Review – a report recommending the disposal of NHS land and assets to generate investment – is rehabilitating PPP. Furthermore, the Government is pushing through Accountable Care Organisations (ACO), a form of PPP based on an American model of healthcare. The Government cites too the model of Alzira in Spain where a consortium of private companies not only financed and built facilities but also delivered health services.

Of course, PFI was not always a toxic brand. In 1997 it appeared to be New Labour’s magical solution to chronic underinvestment in public services in the wake of Thatcherism. As Alan Milburn – the former Labour Health Secretary described by Private Eye as an “almost maniacal convert to PFI” – put it: “It’s PFI or bust.” The argument went that Labour had inherited public services in such a diabolical state of neglect that there was no alternative to the private financing of whole swathes of infrastructure. It was a persuasive argument which seduced many. The Blairite Third Way would somehow square the circle by delivering new schools, hospitals, roads, railways and prisons without the debt or inefficiency of the public sector. It seemed too good to be true yet those who dared to question the orthodoxy du jour were swatted away.

Read more …

“..including one which switched off emissions cleaning after 26 km of driving..”

Software Helped Daimler Pass US Emissions Tests (R.)

U.S. investigators probing Mercedes maker Daimler have found that its cars were equipped with software which may have help them to pass diesel emissions tests, a German newspaper reported on Sunday, citing confidential documents. There has been growing scrutiny of diesel vehicles since Volkswagen admitted in 2015 to installing secret software on 580,000 U.S. vehicles that allowed them to emit up to 40 times legally allowable emissions while meeting standards when tested by regulators. Daimler, which faces ongoing investigations by U.S. and German authorities into excess diesel emissions, has said investigations could lead to significant penalties and recalls.

The Bild am Sonntag newspaper said that the documents showed that U.S. investigators had found several software functions that helped Daimler cars pass emissions tests, including one which switched off emissions cleaning after 26 km of driving. Another function under scrutiny allowed the emissions cleaning system to recognize whether the car was being tested based on speed or acceleration patterns. Bild am Sonntag also cited emails from Daimler engineers questioning whether these software functions were legal.

Read more …

We don’t we just shoot the remaining polar bears right now, and move on?!

Global Sea Ice Hits New Record Low For January (Ind.)

The world’s sea ice shrank to a record January low last month as the annual polar melting period expanded, experts say. The 5.04 million square miles of ice in the Arctic was 525,000 square miles below the 1981-to-2010 ice cover average, making it the lowest January total in satellite records, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Combined with low levels in the Antarctic, global sea ice amounted to a record low for any first month of the year, the organisation concluded. The news comes just days after researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder said the rate at which sea levels are rising was increasing every year, driven mostly by accelerated melting in Greenland and Antarctica.

The NSIDC, a respected authority on the Earth’s frozen regions, which researches and analyses snow, glaciers and ice sheets among other features, said that ice in the Arctic Ocean hit “a new record low” at both the start and end of last month. In an online post, the group said: “January of 2018 began and ended with satellite-era record lows in Arctic sea ice extent, resulting in a new record low for the month. Combined with low ice extent in the Antarctic, global sea ice extent is also at a record low.” It said the Arctic experienced a week of record low daily ice totals at the start of the month, with the January average beating 2017 for a new record low. “Ice grew through the month at near-average rates, and in the middle of the month daily extents were higher than for 2017,” the report went on. “However, by the end of January, extent was again tracking below 2017.”

Read more …

• Yes, we should. Even if 50% ia an arbitrary number.

• No, we won’t.

Should We Give Up Half Of The Earth To Wildlife? (O.)

The orangutan is one of our planet’s most distinctive and intelligent creatures. It has been observed using primitive tools, such as the branch of a tree, to hunt food, and is capable of complex social behaviour. Orangutans also played a special role in humanity’s own intellectual history when, in the 19th century, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, co-developers of the theory of natural selection, used observations of them to hone their ideas about evolution. But humanity has not repaid orangutans with kindness. The numbers of these distinctive, red-maned primates are now plummeting thanks to our destruction of their habitats and illegal hunting of the species. Last week, an international study revealed that its population in Borneo, the animal’s last main stronghold, now stands at between 70,000 and 100,000, less than half of what it was in 1995.

“I expected to see a fairly steep decline, but I did not anticipate it would be this large,” said one of the study’s co-authors, Serge Wich of Liverpool John Moores University. For good measure, conservationists say numbers are likely to fall by at least another 45,000 by 2050, thanks to the expansion of palm oil plantations, which are replacing their forest homes. One of Earth’s most spectacular creatures is heading towards oblivion, along with the vaquita dolphin, the Javan rhinoceros, the western lowland gorilla, the Amur leopard and many other species whose numbers are today declining dramatically. All of these are threatened with the fate that has already befallen the Tasmanian tiger, the dodo, the ivory-billed woodpecker and the baiji dolphin – victims of humanity’s urge to kill, exploit and cultivate.

As a result, scientists warn that humanity could soon be left increasingly isolated on a planet bereft of wildlife and inhabited only by ourselves plus domesticated animals and their parasites. This grim scenario will form the background to a key conference – Safeguarding Space for Nature and Securing Our Future – to be held in London on 27-28 February. The aim of the symposium is straightforward: to highlight ways of establishing sufficient reserves and protected areas to halt or seriously limit the major extinction event that humanity now faces. According to one recent report, the number of wild animals on Earth has halved in the past 40 years, as humans kill for food in unsustainable numbers and pollute or destroy habitats, and worse probably lies ahead.

[..] The current focus on protecting what humans are willing to spare for conservation is unscientific, they say. Instead, conservation targets should be determined by what is necessary to protect nature. This point is stressed by Harvey Locke, whose organisation, Nature Needs Half, takes a far bolder approach and campaigns for the preservation of fully 50% of our planet for wildlife by 2050. “That may seem a lot – if you think the world is a just a place for humans to exploit,” Locke told the Observer. “But if you recognise the world as one that we share with wildlife, letting it have half of the Earth does not seem that much.” The idea is supported by E O Wilson, the distinguished Harvard biologist, in his most recent book, Half Earth. “We thrash about, appallingly led, with no particular goal other than economic growth and unfettered consumption,” he writes. “As a result, we’re extinguishing Earth’s biodiversity as though the species of the natural world are no better than weeds and kitchen vermin.”

The solution, he says, is to fill half the planet with conservation zones – though just how this division is to be decided is not made clear in his book. In any case, Hoffman points out, simply setting aside huge chunks of land or marine areas will not, on its own, save the day. “We could earmark the whole of northern Canada as a wildlife reserve but, given the paucity of animals who live in these frozen regions, that would not have a significant effect on a great many species who live elsewhere,” he said.

Read more …

Feb 172018
 
 February 17, 2018  Posted by at 10:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrFlattr the authorDigg thisShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone


Gilles Mostaert Sodom and Gomorrah 1597

 

Kudlow: Trump Needs A Return To ‘King Dollar’ (CNBC)
The Stock Market’s $3 Trillion Trauma (BBG)
Why Today’s Low Financial Stress Should Stress You Out (Colombo)
US Government Is Nowhere Close To Regulating Bitcoin (CNBC)
Banks Told They’re Lagging On Response To Climate Change Risks (BBG)
Monsanto Loses Bid To Stop Arkansas Ban On Weed Killer Dicamba (R.)
Yet Another Year of Magical Thinking (Jim Kunstler)
The End Of Germany’s Big-Tent Parties (Spiegel)
‘Absurd’ Meddling Claims & Indictment Of Russians Show New US Policy (RT)
Oxfam Told Of Aid Workers Raping Children In Haiti A Decade Ago (Ind.)
Oxfam Boss: ‘Anything We Say Is Being Manipulated. We’ve Been Savaged’ (G.)

 

 

Weak dollars make weak economies. Or is it the other way around?

Kudlow: Trump Needs A Return To ‘King Dollar’ (CNBC)

The Trump Administration and the Republicans in Congress have passed one of the best pro-growth tax bills ever. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act ranks in the all-time hall of fame of legislation, along with Ronald Reagan’s 1981 and 1986 Tax Acts and John F. Kennedy’s posthumous tax cuts of 1964. The announcements by Apple, FedEx, ATT, Fiat Chrysler and over 300 companies with multi-billion dollar investments in the U.S. are early indicators of good things to come from the tax rate cuts. When this is combined with President Donald Trump’s deregulation agenda, we see no reason why the economy cannot grow for a sustained period at 3 to 4% growth — up from 1.6% in Obama’s last year. But there is still a missing pillar of prosperity in the Trump economic agenda, and that is a sound dollar strategy.

The dollar weakened in 2017 and we want it stabilized. There’s little in this world that can bring our economy to its knees faster than a weak dollar in the foreign exchange markets. Just ask people who served in the administrations of Nixon, Ford, Carter, Bush 2 and Barack Obama’s first term. All of them were undone by a weak and depreciating dollar, surging inflation, spiking interest rates, plus financial or commodity bubbles. Meanwhile, under Reagan the U.S. dollar increased by 67% in value on foreign exchange markets through 1985. The price of gold, interest rates, and inflation all fell as well from double-digit inflationary highs, while the American economy reignited and the stock market launched its 18 year bull market.

Or, go back further in time. In May of 1962, President Kennedy’s Revenue Act was passed and he reaffirmed that the U.S. dollar was as good as gold — thus launching the incredible boom called the ‘Go-Go Sixties’. A strong dollar is an essential pillar of economic prosperity with minimal inflation, but we worry that the White House has not adopted this strategy. So we urge the Trump administration to return to the successful “King Dollar” policies that worked in the 60’s, 80’s and 90’s.

Read more …

When $3 trillion is almost nothing.

The Stock Market’s $3 Trillion Trauma (BBG)

Want a neat narrative? There isn’t one. Stocks buckled, $3 trillion was lost, then just as quickly, roughly half of it came back. Nothing quite explains every little twist and turn. Much of it remains a blur. But there are clues to be gleaned from the behavior of buyers and sellers. Several key facts stand out. One: a very large sum of money was plowed into equities amid January’s euphoria. Two: even more was yanked out as shares plunged. Three: corporate buyers showed up in force at the bottom. Combined, the flows are a framework for understanding — not a grand theory of everything, but an account of how money moved during the most tumultuous stretch in two years. They show how fast things change during a late-stage bull market, a rally that got back on track with this week’s 4.3% rebound.

“There was a technical correction but we saw some fear and some panic and some investors getting burned,” said Andrew Adams, a strategist at Raymond James Financial. “By no means did anyone expect that this selloff would be of this swiftness and magnitude.” Whatever the role of computers and automated traders as markets bucked and recovered, the events had a recognizable human ring. Investors – many of them of them newly christened, going by account data at discount brokerages – sent $16.4 billion to U.S. stock mutual funds and ETFs between Jan. 2 and the market peak of Jan. 26, EPFR data show. It was a decision they quickly reconsidered. Spooked by signs of inflation, shocked by the sight of traders unwinding bets against volatility, clients pulled almost $27 billion from the same set of funds in the next nine sessions.

One security, the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust, saw $23.6 billion withdrawn in one week. What made the selloff stop is anyone’s guess. It happened at a chart level, the S&P 500’s average price over the last 200 days, that half the world was watching a week ago Friday. But who the buyers were is less of a mystery. The Goldman Sachs unit that executes share repurchases for clients saw 4.5 times its average daily volume last week, its busiest ever. “Retail investors were fearful immediately after the selloff, but not the companies,” said Aidan Garrib, macro strategist at Pavilion Global Markets. “Companies have buyback policies that get reconsidered every quarter, so if you told shareholders that you’re going to buy back stock, and then a market blow-up that had no impact on your fundamentals made the price fall more than expected, maybe it’s not a bad thing to step in.”

Read more …

Any and all low financial stress should stress you out. Because there should be a balance between greed and fear. Because stability breeds instability.

Why Today’s Low Financial Stress Should Stress You Out (Colombo)

In this piece, I will discuss a little-followed, but valuable market indicator called the “St. Louis Fed Financial Stress Index.” According to the St. Louis Fed, this indicator was created in 2010 after economists sought a better way to track U.S. financial system stress in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. This index uses 18 weekly data series: seven interest rate series, six yield spreads and five other indicators (mostly sentiment-related indicators). When the index is very high (such as in 2008), it means that the U.S. financial system is experiencing a great amount of stress. When the index is low (such as during an economic expansion and bull market), it means that the financial system is experiencing a low amount of stress. According to the chart below, U.S. financial system stress is currently at record lows:

According to the chart below (with my comments added in red), dangerous economic bubbles form during relative troughs in the St. Louis Fed Financial Stress Index. The late-1990s Dot-com bubble formed when the index was at a relative low, as did the mid-2000s U.S. housing and credit bubble, and I believe that the “Everything Bubble” is forming during the current trough. The “Everything Bubble” is a bubble that is inflating in numerous global assets and sectors (including tech startups, U.S. equities, global bonds, some segments of the U.S. property market, property in China, emerging markets, Australia, Canada, and more) as a result of unprecedented central bank stimulus since the global financial crisis.

The U.S. Federal Reserve has manipulated interest rates by keeping them extremely low, which has led to the inflation of bubbles throughout the economy. As the chart below shows, bubbles form during periods of low interest rates. In this case, “low” is all relative because interest rates have been trending lower since the early-1980s, which is why asset and credit bubbles are becoming more extreme than in the past. Most people are unaware of how extreme our current bubble is, but it will certainly be another case of “only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked” (to quote Warren Buffett).

Read more …

Not much need right now.

US Government Is Nowhere Close To Regulating Bitcoin (CNBC)

There’s a long way to go before the U.S. government starts regulating bitcoin, Rob Joyce, special assistant to the president and White House cybersecurity coordinator, told CNBC on Friday. Speaking at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, Joyce emphasized the need to better understand the cryptocurrency’s risks and benefits before embarking on any sort of regulatory regime. “I think we’re still absolutely studying and understanding what the good ideas and bad ideas in that space are,” he said when asked about the potential for government regulation. “So, I don’t think it’s close.” Bitcoin is a decentralized cryptocurrency, meaning that unlike fiat currencies such as the dollar, it’s not backed by a central authority. Critics have said that this gives the currency, which saw huge price gains in 2017, no inherent value.

As transactions are completely anonymous, bitcoin has been accused of making it easier for those engaged in illicit activities to hide their money. “We are worried. There are benefits to the bitcoin concept — digital cash, digital currencies,” Joyce said. “But at the same time, if you look at the way bitcoin works after there is a criminal act that takes place, you can’t rewind the clock and take back that currency.” Joyce described the inherent problem with this lack of a trail, noting that in the case of credit card theft, for instance, individuals or companies can contact their banks and purchases can be undone and the cash retrieved. “With the current instantiation of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, we haven’t figured that out yet. So it’s a problem,” he said.

Read more …

Someone comes up with some arbitrary set of numbers (Paris) and expects banks to comply. We got nothing.

Banks Told They’re Lagging On Response To Climate Change Risks (BBG)

Fewer than half the world’s biggest banks are doing enough to forestall climate change that poses risks to their markets and economies. Most lenders still aren’t producing firm targets for low-carbon financial products that will aid efforts to keep temperatures from rising, according to a survey of 59 banks conducted by Boston Common Asset Management. Even the strongest banks in the survey, including Goldman Sachs, still struggle to define a climate strategy at the heart of their business, according to the report published Thursday and backed by more than 100 institutional investors. Scientists predict higher frequencies of floods, famines and superstorms unless the world keeps temperature rises well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) this century.

Goldman Sachs was cited as a leader in the report after the investment bank set a 2025 target of $150 billion in clean energy financing and investing. It also released a clean energy impact report in 2016 that examined the impact of the $41 billion in green investments. Almost half of the groups have put in place climate risk assessments and 61% haven’t restricted the financing of coal. The global banking sector provided $600 billion in financing for the top 120 coal plant developers between 2014 and September 2017, according to the report. Boston Common called for all banks to disclose climate risk in line with the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures. They should also set clear targets to promote low carbon products and publish strategy reports aligned with the Paris Agreement, according to the recommendations.

“Since 2005, when Goldman Sachs established its Environmental Policy Framework, harnessing market-based solutions to address environmental challenges has become increasingly core to our business,” said Kyung-Ah Park, head of the Environmental Markets Group at Goldman Sachs. “Our $150 billion target of financing and investing in companies that promote clean technology and renewable energy is an example of our commitment to addressing climate change.”

Read more …

Because the state cannot be made a defendant in court.

Monsanto Loses Bid To Stop Arkansas Ban On Weed Killer Dicamba (R.)

An Arkansas judge on Friday dismissed a Monsanto lawsuit aiming to stop Arkansas from blocking the use of a controversial farm chemical the company makes, dealing a blow to its attempts to increase sales of genetically engineered seeds. Monsanto, which is being acquired by Bayer, filed the lawsuit last year in a bid to halt the state’s ban on sprayings of the weed killer known as dicamba from the period spanning April 16 to Oct. 31. Growers across the U.S. farm belt said last summer that dicamba drifted away from where it was sprayed, damaging millions of acres of crops that could not tolerate the herbicides. St. Louis-based Monsanto, the biggest U.S. seed company, said it was disappointed with the judge’s decision and would consider additional legal action.

In the ruling, Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Chris Piazza cited a recent Arkansas Supreme Court decision that the state cannot be made a defendant in court, according to the Arkansas Agriculture Department. Dicamba, also sold by BASF and DowDuPont, is meant to be used during the summer growing season on soybeans and cotton that Monsanto engineered to resist the chemical. Monsanto is banking on the herbicide and its dicamba-resistant soybean seeds to dominate soybean production in the United States, the world’s second-largest exporter. The company says dicamba, which it sells under the name XtendiMax with VaporGrip, is safe when used properly.

The Arkansas ban hurts Monsanto’s ability to sell dicamba-tolerant seed in the state and has caused “irreparable harm” to the company, according to Monsanto’s lawsuit. The state also limited use of Monsanto’s dicamba herbicide in 2017 but allowed sales of products by other companies. David Wildy, an Arkansas farmer who served on a state task force that recommended the ban, said he supported Friday’s ruling. He said his soybeans suffered damage from the herbicide last year and that it threatens plants ranging from flowers to vegetables and peanuts when it drifts away from where it is sprayed. “If we can’t keep products on target, then there’s not a place for them in agriculture,” Wildy said in an telephone interview.

Read more …

If all the money and energy spent on Mars attacks were used to ameliorate life on earth, perhaps we’d have a shot.

Yet Another Year of Magical Thinking (Jim Kunstler)

There’s absolutely nothing that might make Mars a “sustainable” habitat for human beings, or probably any other form of Earthly life. The journey alone would destroy human bodies. If you think that living in Honolulu is expensive, with most daily needs of the population shipped or flown in, imagine what it would be like sending a cargo of provisions (Doritos? Pepperoni sticks? Mountain Dew? Fabreeze?) to a million “consumers” up on Mars. Or do you suppose the colonists will “print” their food, water, and other necessities? Elon Musk’s ventures have reportedly vacuumed in around $5 billion in federal subsidies. Mr. Musk is doing a fine job of keeping his benefactors entertained. Americans are still avid for adventures in space, where just about every other movie takes place.

I suppose it’s because they take us away from the awful conundrums of making a go of it here on Earth, a planet that humans were exquisitely evolved for (or designed for, if you will), and which we are in the process of rendering uninhabitable for ourselves and lots of other creatures. This is our home. Can we talk about the necessary adjustments and arrangements we have to make in order to continue the human project here? Just based on our performance on this blue planet, we are not qualified to infect other parts of the solar system.

Read more …

German politics is descending into chaos.

The End Of Germany’s Big-Tent Parties (Spiegel)

The country is slipping into a crisis and Germany, the bastion of stability in Europe, is becoming politically unstable. And every month the country continues to be run by a provisional government is another month that Germany doesn’t have a voice in Europe or the world.This is by no means purely a domestic development. The party system is currently being turn upside down across Western democracies. Owing to Germany’s prosperity and the sedative power of its chancellor, it long appeared that Merkel had been spared by the international development. But the torturous wrangling to create a new government has now dashed that hope.

In France, the two parties that once dominated the country now hold only just over a quarter of the seats in the national parliament. In Italy, the Five Star Movement, which doesn’t seem to stand for much other than the desire for change and its loathing of the status quo and is led by a former TV comedian, appears to have strong chances of winning the election there in March. In Germany, the old establishment parties are also struggling to maintain political stability. Combined support for the SPD and the conservatives has dropped from over 90% at the beginning of the 1970s to just 49% today. Their decline, which had previously been a slow and creeping process, has rapidly accelerated in recent months.

The party system in Germany is splintering, with seven parties now represented in national parliament. When it is no longer possible to form governments with two or three parties, it will necessarily become increasingly difficult to build stable governments. Italy already provides an example of what that can mean. The country is constantly swapping out its prime minister and holding snap elections. Italy has had almost 30 prime ministers and a total of 61 cabinets since 1946. In the same period, Germany has been governed by eight chancellors.

Read more …

Echo chambers just keep getting louder. Not much of substance. So why not RT’s comment? The Russians did it anyway.

‘Absurd’ Meddling Claims & Indictment Of Russians Show New US Policy (RT)

US indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three entities over alleged meddling in American elections in 2016 has been labelled absurd by the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova. “Turns out, there’ve been 13 people, in the opinion of the US Justice Department. 13 people interfered in the US elections? 13 against billions budgets of special agencies? Against intelligence and counterespionage, against the newest technologies? Absurd? – Yes.” Zakharova said in a Facebook post. The indictment, however, is the “modern American political reality,” Zakharova added, jokingly suggesting that the number 13 was picked due to its negative associations.

One of the indicted, Russian businessman Evgeny Prigozhin, said he was not really upset by the accusations. “The Americans are very emotional people, they see what they want to see. I have great respect for them. I am not at all upset that I am on this list. If they want to see the devil, let them,” Prigozhin told RIA Novosti. The entities and individuals were indicted by a US federal grand jury on Friday of “supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump…and disparaging Hillary Clinton.” However, there are “no allegations” that the suspected activities of the Russian nationals somehow affected the polls, according to the US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that supporting Donald Trump has never been an official Russian policy, even if some Russians did express their backing of the new US leader. The Minister has expressed his discontent with the apparently continuing nosedive in the US-Russia relations. “It’s a pity that under Donald Trump, for more than a year of his presidency, our relations have not improved compared to the period of the Democratic administration. Even worsened to a certain extent,” Lavrov told Euronews.

Read more …

Close it down. It can’t be saved. You can’t send Oxfam people anywhere in the world anymore.

Oxfam Told Of Aid Workers Raping Children In Haiti A Decade Ago (Ind.)

Aid agencies including Oxfam were warned that aid workers were sexually abusing children in Haiti a decade ago, The Independent can reveal. Children as young as six were being coerced into sex in exchange for food and necessities, according to a damning report by Save the Children, which called for urgent action including the creation of a global watchdog. Its research exposed abuse linked to 23 humanitarian, peacekeeping and security organisations operating in Haiti, Ivory Coast and what was then Southern Sudan. “Our own fieldwork suggests that the scale of abuse is significant,” the report concluded. “Every agency is at risk from this problem … existing efforts to keep children safe from sexual exploitation and abuse are inadequate.”

It identified “every kind of child sexual abuse and exploitation imaginable”, including rape, prostitution, pornography, sexual slavery, assaults and trafficking. One 15-year-old girl in Haiti told how “humanitarian men” exposed themselves and offered her the equivalent of £2 to perform a sex act. “The men call to me in the streets and they ask me to go with them,” said another Haitian girl. “They do this will all of us young girls.” A six-year-old girl described being sexually assaulted and a homeless girl was given a single US dollar by a “man who works for an NGO” before being raped and severely injured, while boys were also reportedly raped. When asked why the abuse was not reported, children said they feared losing aid, did not trust local authorities, did not know who to go to, felt powerless or feared stigma and retaliation. “The people who are raping us and the people in the office are the same people,” said one girl in Haiti.

Read more …

See? Oxfam is the victim, not te raped children. That this guy still has a job there says more than enough.

Oxfam Boss: ‘Anything We Say Is Being Manipulated. We’ve Been Savaged’ (G.)

Oxfam has been reeling since the Times reported last week that several of the charity’s aid workers – including the country director, Roland van Hauwermeiren, had used prostitutes in Haiti while providing humanitarian work, following the 2011 earthquake. The men involved lost their jobs, but Oxfam is accused of covering up the scandal. Further revelations of sexual abuse in Oxfam shops, some against volunteers as young as 14, have emerged, engulfing the charity in a crisis unprecedented in its 76-year history. Many things have been said about Goldring and Oxfam this week, but the charge that they have failed to grasp the gravity of the situation seems absurd. Yet he came close to cancelling this interview, justifiably fretting that his words would be wilfully twisted to do Oxfam yet more damage. “Anything we say is being manipulated: ‘Oxfam’s still making excuses, still trying to justify itself.’

I went on the Today programme on the first day and tried to explain and it totally failed. All it did was fuel the fire.” Every explanation he’s tried to offer has been branded an excuse “and just failed in the court of public opinion. We’ve been savaged.” Even apologies only make matters worse. “I said on TV: ‘Yes, we could have done some things faster,’ and all of a sudden we’ve got two former ministers calling for my resignation. What I felt really clearly is many people haven’t wanted to listen to explanations.” To try again is a risk Goldring worries he may regret, but no one can doubt the courage it took. He talks to me alone, unchaperoned by press officers, and is unguarded and candid. The impression I form is of someone telling the truth: if Goldring has been guilty of anything, I think it might be naivety about the vulnerability of almost any organisation in the febrile public mood of distrust.

Read more …

Feb 162018
 
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrFlattr the authorDigg thisShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone


Paul Gauguin Yellow haystacks (Golden harvest) 1889

 

US Market Gurus Who Predicted Selloff Say Current Calm An Illusion (R.)
There Will Be No Economic Boom (Roberts)
T-Bills Flood Set to Put Upward Pressure on Short-Term Funding Costs (BBG)
“Financial Stress” Spikes – Just As The Fed Intends (WS)
Hedge Fund King Dalio Bets Big Against Europe (BBG)
Everybody’s Already Invested, So Who’s The Buyer? (ZH)
Donald Trump’s Dangerous Currency Game (Spiegel)
US Dollar Spirals Down, Hits Lowest Point Since 2014 (WS)
Home Ownership Among Britain’s Young Adults Has ‘Collapsed’ (G.)
Warren Buffett, Prime Example Of The Failure Of American Capitalism (Dayen)
Monopolies Game the System (Nation)
Greece Warns Turkey Of Non-Peaceful Response Next Time (K.)
Borneo Has Lost Half Its Orangutans This Century (Ind.)

 

 

Short is hip again.

US Market Gurus Who Predicted Selloff Say Current Calm An Illusion (R.)

You ain’t seen nothing yet. Some veteran investors who were vindicated in calling for a pullback in shares and a spike in volatility could now be cheering. Actually, they’re looking at the risks that still lie ahead in the current relative calm. The last week’s wild market swings confirmed that the market was in correction territory – falling more than 10% from its high. The falls were triggered by higher bond yields and fears of inflation but came against a backdrop of a stretched market that had taken price/earnings levels to as high as 18.9. Adding to downwards pressure was the unwinding of bets that volatility would stay low. The fall had come after a growing number of strategists and investors said a pullback was in the offing – although the consensus opinion was that the market would then start rising again. The big question is: what comes now?

“Do you honestly believe today is the bottom?” said Jeffrey Gundlach, known as Wall Street’s Bond King, last week, who had been warning for more than a year that markets were too calm. Gundlach had been particularly vocal in his warnings about the VIX, Wall Street’s “fear gauge,” which tracks the volatility implied by options on the S&P 500. The sell-off in U.S. stocks derailed some popular short volatility exchange-traded products, which contributed to more downwards pressure on the market. Gundlach in May last year warned that the VIX was “insanely low.” Hedge fund manager Douglas Kass was short SPDR S&P 500 ETF and said he “took a lot of small losses” last year but says he still sees more stress ahead. He said he is now re-shorting that ETF. Investors who bet low volatility would continue will need time to unwind their strategies, Kass said.

[..] Veteran short-seller Bill Fleckenstein, who ran a short fund but closed it in 2009, said that “last week’s action was an early indication that the end of bull market is upon us.” Fleckenstein said there was a lot of money in the market with no conviction behind it, for example, buying index funds and ETFs just “to be part of the party” which was an element of “hot money.” “Last week was just the preview to the bigger event that we’ll see this year probably,” Fleckenstein said. Fleckenstein said he is not short at the moment – although he did make “a couple of bucks” last week shorting Nasdaq futures. He said he is looking for an opportunity to get short again. He said he has “flirted with the idea of restarting a short fund”.

Read more …

The US is betting big. But don’t let that blind you to the fact that so is everyone else.

There Will Be No Economic Boom (Roberts)

Last week, Congress passed a 2-year “continuing resolution, or C.R.,” to keep the Government funded through the 2018 elections. While “fiscal conservatism” was just placed on the sacrificial alter to satisfy the “Re-election” Gods,” the bigger issue is the impact to the economy and, ultimately, the financial markets. The passage of the $400 billion C.R. has an impact that few people understand. When a C.R. is passed it keeps Government spending at the same previous baseline PLUS an 8% increase. The recent C.R. just added $200 billion per year to that baseline. This means over the next decade, the C.R. will add $2 Trillion in spending to the Federal budget. Then add to that any other spending approved such as the proposed $200 billion for an infrastructure spending bill, money for DACA/Immigration reform, or a whole host of other social welfare programs that will require additional funding.

But that is only half the problem. The recent passage of tax reform will trim roughly $2 Trillion from revenues over the next decade as well. This is easy math. Cut $2 trillion in revenue, add $2 trillion in spending, and you create a $4 trillion dollar gap in the budget. Of course, that is $4 Trillion in addition to the current run rate in spending which continues the current acceleration of the “debt problem.”

But it gets worse. As Oxford Economics reported via Zerohedge: “The tax cuts passed late last year, combined with the spending bill Congress passed last week, will push deficits sharply higher. Furthermore, Trump’s own budget anticipates that US debt will hit $30 trillion by 2028: an increase of $10 trillion.” Oxford is right. In order to “pay for” all of the proposed spending, at a time when the government will receive less revenue in the form of tax collections, the difference will be funded through debt issuance.

Simon Black recently penned an interesting note on this: “Less than two weeks ago, the United States Department of Treasury very quietly released its own internal projections for the federal government’s budget deficits over the next several years. And the numbers are pretty gruesome. In order to plug the gaps from its soaring deficits, the Treasury Department expects to borrow nearly $1 trillion this fiscal year. Then nearly $1.1 trillion next fiscal year. And up to $1.3 trillion the year after that. This means that the national debt will exceed $25 trillion by September 30, 2020.”

Of course, “fiscal responsibility” left Washington a long time ago, so, what’s another $10 Trillion at this point? While this issue is not lost on a vast majority of Americans that “choose” to pay attention, it has been quickly dismissed by much of the mainstream media, and Congressman running for re-election, by suggesting tax reform will significantly boost economic growth over the next decade. The general statement has been: “By passing much-needed tax reform, we will finally unleash the economic growth engine which will more than pay for these tax cuts in the future.”

Read more …

Nobody expects the bond vigilantes?!

T-Bills Flood Set to Put Upward Pressure on Short-Term Funding Costs (BBG)

Get ready for the deluge of Treasury bills, and the increase in short-term funding costs that’s likely to accompany it. Investors are bracing for an onslaught of T-bill supply following last week’s U.S. debt ceiling suspension. That’s already prompting them to demand higher rates from borrowers across money markets. And that’s just a result of the government replenishing its cash hoard to normal levels. The ballooning budget deficit means there’s even more to come later, and that deluge of supply could further buoy funding costs down the line, making life more expensive both for the government and companies that borrow in the short-term market. Concerns about the U.S. borrowing cap had forced the Treasury to trim the total amount of bills it had outstanding, but that’s no longer a problem and the government is now busy ramping up issuance.

Financing estimates from January show that the Treasury expects to issue $441 billion in net marketable debt in the current quarter and the bulk of that is likely to be in the short-term market. “Supply will come in waves and we’re in a very heavy wave right now,” said Mark Cabana at Bank of America. “If you take Treasury at their word that they want to issue $300 billion in bills, that’s a lot of net supply that needs to come to market.” Next week’s three- and six-month bill auctions will be the largest on record at $51 billion and $45 billion respectively, Treasury said Thursday. The four-week auction will be boosted to $55 billion next week, having already been lifted to $50 billion for the Feb. 13 sale. Auction volume at the tenor had earlier been shrunk to just $15 billion.

Read more …

Spikes but is still negative. Wait till that changes.

“Financial Stress” Spikes – Just As The Fed Intends (WS)

The weekly St. Louis Fed Financial Stress index, released today, just spiked beautifully. It had been at historic lows back in November, an expression of ultra-loose financial conditions in the US economy, dominated by risk-blind investors chasing any kind of yield with a passion, which resulted in minuscule risk premiums for investors and ultra-low borrowing costs even for even junk-rated borrows. The index ticked since then, but in the latest week, ended February 9, something happened. The index, which is made up of 18 components (seven interest rate measures, six yield spreads, and five other indices) had hit a historic low of -1.6 on November 3, 2017, even as the Fed had been raising its target range for the federal funds rate and had started the QE Unwind. It began ticking up late last year, hit -1.35 a week ago, and now spiked to -1.06.

The chart above shows the spike of the latest week in relationship to the two-year Oil Bust that saw credit freeze up for junk-rated energy companies, with the average yield of CCC-or-below-rated junk bonds soaring to over 20%. Given the size of oil-and-gas sector debt, energy credits had a large impact on the overall average. The chart also compares today’s spike to the “Taper Tantrum” in the bond market in 2014 after the Fed suggested that it might actually taper “QE Infinity,” as it had come to be called, out of existence. This caused yields and risk premiums to spike, as shown by the Financial Stress index. This time, it’s the other way around: The Fed has been raising rates like clockwork, and its QE Unwind is accelerating, but for months markets blithely ignored it. Until suddenly they didn’t.

This reaction is visible in the 10-year Treasury yield, which had been declining for much of last year, despite the Fed’s rate hikes, only to surge late in the year and so far this year. It’s also visible in the stock market, which suddenly experienced a dramatic bout of volatility and a breathless drop from record highs. And it is now visible in other measures, including junk-bond yields that suddenly began surging from historic low levels. The chart of the ICE BofAML US High Yield BB Effective Yield Index, via the St. Louis Fed, shows how the average yield of BB-rated junk bonds surged from around 4.05% last September to 4.98% now, the highest since November 20, 2016:

But a longer-term chart shows just how low the BB-yield still is compared to where it had been in the years after the Financial Crisis, and how much more of a trajectory it might have ahead:

The Financial Stress Index is designed to show a level of zero for “normal” financial conditions. When these conditions are easy and when there is less financial stress than normal, the index is negative. The index turns positive when financial conditions are tighter than normal. But at -1.06, it remains below zero. In other words, financial conditions remain extraordinarily easy. This is clear in a long-term chart of the index that barely shows the recent spike, given the magnitude of prior moves. This is precisely what the Fed wants to accomplish.

Read more …

Feels a bit like Soros vs Britain in 1992.

Hedge Fund King Dalio Bets Big Against Europe (BBG)

Ray Dalio, billionaire philosopher-king of the world’s biggest hedge fund, has a checklist to identify the best time to sell stocks: a strong economy, close to full employment and rising interest rates. That may explain why the firm he created, Bridgewater Associates, has caused a to-do the past two weeks by quickly amassing an $21.65 billion bet against Europe’s biggest companies. The firm’s total asset pool is $150 billion, according to its website. Economic conditions in Europe appear to fit Dalio’s requirements. Last year, the continent’s economy grew at the fastest pace in a decade, and ECB President Mario Draghi has indicated he’s on a slow path toward boosting rates as economic slack narrows. Factories around the world are finding it increasingly hard to keep up with demand, potentially forcing them to raise prices.

But Dalio is leading his firm down a path that few other funds care to tread. Renaissance Technologies, most recently famous for its association with Breitbart donor Robert Mercer, is only $42 million short in Europe. Two Sigma Investments is betting even less than that. Kenneth Griffin’s Citadel has less than $2 billion in European company shorts. So Dalio will rise or fall virtually on his own. “It is not unusual to see strong economies accompanied by falling stock and other asset prices, which is curious to people who wonder why stocks go down when the economy is strong and don’t understand how this dynamic works,” Dalio wrote in a LinkedIn post this week. Bridgewater’s shorting spree started last fall in Italy. With the country’s big banks accumulating billions in bad debt, Bridgewater mounted a $770 million wager against Italian financial stocks.

Saddled with non-performing loans and under constant regulatory scrutiny, they made for a juicy target. Throughout the fall and into winter the bet against Italy represented the majority of Bridgewater’s publicly disclosed short positions. The initial bet was eventually raised to encompass 18 firms and nearly $3 billion. Bridgewater had flipped its portfolio in January to turn bearish on Western Europe stocks and also started shorting Japanese equities, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The hedge fund significantly raised its long U.S. equities exposure last month, the person added.

Read more …

“This market is nuts.”

Everybody’s Already Invested, So Who’s The Buyer? (ZH)

With stocks erasing their early-day losses and the VIX tumbling once again, CNBC – the go-to resource for retirees and other retail investors – was back to reassuring investors that this month’s explosion of volatility was just another dip deserving to be bought. But Embark Capital CIO Peter Toogood offered an important counterpoint during an appearance this morning where he warned his audience against exactly this kind of credulousness by ignoring the fundamental growth global growth story that seemingly every other portfolio manager has been relying on and instead pointing to one simple fact: “Everybody is already invested”.

But even with positioning stretched to such an exaggerated degree, that doesn’t necessarily mean a crash is right around the corner. Instead, Toogood foresees a “step bear market” that will continue until the PPT, newly reconstituted under the leadership of Jerome Powell, realizes that they must once again intervene…because with so much systemic debt and myriad other risks – like the dangerously underfunded pensions that we’ve highlighted again and again – a sustained selloff would be far too risky to countenance. “I noticed Dudley the other day say ‘this is small potatoes’ and warning investors not to worry about it. And I would accept that’s all true, if everybody wasn’t already invested. And I want to know who the marginal buyer of this story is. Everyone is in. Look at consumer sentiment surveys, loo at professional money managers, everyone is in. So who’s the buyer? It’s very 2007-2008.”

He added that hedge fund managers are now “sitting around scratching their heads” because even European high yield bonds – the debt of some of the worst companies on Earth – are yielding a staggeringly low 2%. Toogood also pointed out that stocks are breaking through important technical levels… “You’re breaking some very major levels in most markets outside of the US still, and that is very, very significant. That is the test of where you’d think a bear market is coming; I still do, just on valuation alone. I think this market is nuts,” Toogood said. Which is leaving asset managers in a bind… “It’s one of those extremely unpleasant moments when people need income but income is expensive and that’s the other problem we see … We are forced into high yield (bonds) and we don’t want to be there,” Toogood said.’

Read more …

“..our currency, but your problem..”

Donald Trump’s Dangerous Currency Game (Spiegel)

“There is no longer any doubt that the U.S. government is not only waging a currency war, but is also in the process of winning it,” Joachim Fels, chief economist at Pimco, says. Trump’s policies represent a threat to Europe’s recovery, a situation that has displeased the ECB. But there isn’t much the ECB can do about it. By pursuing economic policies that ignore the needs of America’s trading partners – an approach economists refer to as “beggar-thy-neighbor” – Trump has revisited an old American tradition. In the early 1970s, it was Treasury Secretary John Connally who raised the prospect of a budget deficit of $40 billion – a massive sum at the time – and justified it as “fiscal stimulus.” In response to concerns voiced by his European counterparts, worried as they were about the weak dollar, he responded with his legendary line that the dollar “is our currency, but your problem.”

Lloyd Bentsen, treasury secretary under Bill Clinton, informed the Japanese in 1993 that he urgently desired a stronger yen in order to stem the Asian trading partner’s high export surpluses. With “America First,” Trump has now elevated “beggar thy neighbor” to the status of administration doctrine. The first part of Trump’s economic policy agenda envisions stimulating the economy through tax cuts and public infrastructure investments. That would help American companies, and the rest of the world could also profit initially if the U.S. economy were to grow more rapidly and companies in Europe or Asia were to receive more orders. But it’s the second part of the Trump program that reveals the real strategic thrust.

During the same weak that the treasury secretary could be heard preaching the virtues of a weak dollar, the U.S. government imposed steep import tariffs on washing machines and solar cells. The combination of a weak dollar and protectionist measures are aimed at creating a competitive advantage for American companies versus their competitors from around the world. “The government clearly wants a weak dollar right now because inflation is moderate and a weaker dollar will make it easier for the manufacturing sector to grow,” says Barry Eichengreen, a professor for economics at the University of California at Berkeley.

Read more …

Europe will have to act. Simple as that.

US Dollar Spirals Down, Hits Lowest Point Since 2014 (WS)

The US dollar has dropped 2.0% in the past five days, 2.4% over the past month, 4.1% year-to-date, 5.3% over the past three months, and 9.4 % over the past 12 months, according to the WSJ Dollar Index. At 82.47, the index is at the lowest level since December 25, 2014: The index weighs the US dollar against a basket of 16 other currencies that account for about 80% of the global currency trading volume: Euro, Japanese Yen, Chinese Yuan, British Pound, Canadian Dollar, Mexican Peso, Australian Dollar, New Zealand Dollar, Hong Kong Dollar, South Korean Won, Swiss Franc, Swedish Krona, Singapore Dollar, Indian Rupee, Turkish Lira, and Russian Ruble. The currencies are weighted based on their foreign exchange trading volume.

Whatever the reasons may be for the decline of the dollar against this basket of currencies — everyone has their own theory, ranging from the much prophesied death of the dollar to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s actively dissing the dollar at every opportunity he gets — one thing we know: The decline started in late December 2016, after the index had peaked at 93.50. And it has not abated since. With the index currently at 82.47, it has fallen nearly 12% over those 14 months. The dominant factor in the decline of the dollar index is the strength of the euro, the second largest currency. Over those 14 months, the euro, which had been given up for dead not too long ago, has surged 20% against the dollar. The decline of the dollar is another indication that markets have blown off the Fed, similar to the 10-year Treasury yield falling for much of last year, even as the Fed was raising its target range for the federal funds rate.

The Fed keeps an eye on the dollar. A weak dollar makes imports more expensive and, given the huge trade deficit of the US, adds to inflationary pressures in the US. Over the past few years, the Fed has practically been begging for more inflation. So for the Fed, which is chomping at the bit to raise rates further, the weak dollar is a welcome sight. Conversely, a surging dollar would worry the Fed. At some point it would get nervous and chime in with the chorus emanating from the Treasury Department and the White House trying to talk down the dollar. If the dollar were to surge past certain levels, and jawboning isn’t enough to knock it down, the Fed might alter its monetary policies and might back off its rate-hike strategies or it might slow down the QE Unwind.

Read more …

“For 25- to 34-year-olds earning between £22,200 and £30,600 per year, home ownership fell to just 27% in 2016 from 65% two decades ago Good luck trying to find buyers.

Home Ownership Among Britain’s Young Adults Has ‘Collapsed’ (G.)

The chances of a young adult on a middle income owning a home have more than halved in the past two decades. New research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows how an explosion in house prices above income growth has increasingly robbed the younger generation of the ability to buy their own home. For 25- to 34-year-olds earning between £22,200 and £30,600 per year, home ownership fell to just 27% in 2016 from 65% two decades ago. Middle income young adults born in the late 1980s are now no more likely than those lower down the pay scale to own their own home. Those born in the 1970s were almost as likely as their peers on higher wages to have bought their own home during young adulthood.

Andrew Hood, a senior research economist at the IFS, said: “Home ownership among young adults has collapsed over the past 20 years, particularly for those on middle incomes.” The IFS said young adults from wealthy backgrounds are now significantly more likely than others to own their own home. Between 2014 and 2017 roughly 30% of 25- to 34-year-olds whose parents were in lower-skilled jobs such as delivery drivers or sales assistants owned their own home, versus 43% for the children of those in higher-skilled jobs such as lawyers and teachers. The study shows the growing disparities between rich and poor, as well as young and old, across the country. It also illustrates the drop in home ownership over the past decade. While those on middle incomes have seen the largest fall in ownership rates, those in the top income bracket have been least affected.

Read more …

Who needs capitalism when you can worship the golden calf?

Long article in a new series at the Nation.

Warren Buffett, Prime Example Of The Failure Of American Capitalism (Dayen)

Warren Buffett should not be celebrated as an avatar of American capitalism; he should be decried as a prime example of its failure, a false prophet leading the nation toward more monopoly and inequality. You probably didn’t realize that the same avuncular billionaire controls such diverse companies and products as See’s Candies, Duracell batteries, Justin Boots, Benjamin Moore Paints, and World Book encyclopedias. But Buffett has transformed Berkshire Hathaway, initially a relatively small textile manufacturer, into the world’s largest non-technology company by market value. Berkshire Hathaway owns over 60 different brands outright. And through Berkshire, Buffett also invests in scores of public corporations. The conglomerate closed 2016 with over $620 billion in assets.

The money mainly comes from Berkshire’s massive insurance business, composed of the auto insurer GEICO, the global underwriter General Reinsurance Corporation, and 10 other subsidiaries. Insurance premiums don’t get immediately paid out in claims; while the cash sits, Buffett can invest it. This is known as “float,” and Berkshire Hathaway’s float has ballooned from $39 million in 1970 to approximately $113 billion as of last September. It’s a huge advantage over rival investors—effectively the world’s largest interest-free loan, helping to finance Buffett’s pursuit of monopoly. “[W]e enjoy the use of free money—and, better yet, get paid for holding it,” Buffett said in his most recent investor letter. Indeed, as a 2017 Fortune article noted, with almost $100 billion in cash at the end of that year’s second fiscal quarter, Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway literally has more money than it knows what to do with.

The dominant narrative around Buffett is that he invests in big, blue-chip companies whose products he enjoys, like Coca-Cola or Heinz ketchup. But Buffett’s taste for junk food cannot match his hunger for monopoly, and he scours the investment landscape to satisfy it.

Read more …

Monopoly contradicts capitalism. Well, in theory, that is.

Monopolies Game the System (Nation)

More than a century ago, Elizabeth Magie developed two sets of rules for a board game that would become known as Monopoly. There’s the one we know today: You play an aspiring real-estate tycoon, buying up properties to extract ever-larger sums from your opponents; you win when everyone else is destitute. But in Magie’s version, players could agree to switch midgame to a second rule book. Instead of paying rent to a landowner, they’d send funds to a common pot. The game would be over when the poorest player doubled their capital. Magie’s goal was to show the cruelty of monopoly power and the moral superiority of progressive taxation. Her board game was a rebuke to the slumlords and corporate giants of the Gilded Age.

Today, a few corporations once again dominate sectors of our economy. In an interview with The Nation’s George Zornick, Senator Elizabeth Warren points out that two companies sell 70% of the beer in the country; four companies produce 85% of American beef; and four airlines account for 80% of domestic seats. With monopolies squeezing out the competition and underpaying workers, profits are funneled to a tiny elite. It’s no coincidence that the three richest Americans—Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, and Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett—are together worth slightly more than the bottom half of the entire US population.

Just as railroad monopolies once controlled the crucial infrastructure of 19th-century commerce, tech companies are trying to own the infrastructure of the 21st. As Stacy Mitchell explains in “The Empire of Everything,” Amazon is not only the leading retail platform, but it has developed a vast distribution network to handle package delivery. Amazon announced in February that it would begin testing its own delivery service, which could soon rival UPS and FedEx. It also runs more than a third of the world’s cloud-computing capacity, handling data for the likes of Netflix, Nordstrom, and The Nation. Unlike past monopolies, however, Amazon doesn’t want to dictate to the market; it seeks to replace the market entirely.

Under these conditions, small businesses and start-ups are struggling to compete. In 2017, there were approximately 7,000 store closings—more than triple the number in the prior year. And the percentage of companies in the United States that are new businesses has dropped by nearly half since 1978. In many industries, starting a new business is like playing Monopoly when all the squares have already been purchased: Everywhere you land, there’s a monopolist making demands, everything from fees to sell items on its website to the release of data with which to undercut you later.

Read more …

EU and US better act. Greece will start shooting soon. They have a formidable army.

Greece Warns Turkey Of Non-Peaceful Response Next Time (K.)

Athens toughened up its stance on Turkish action in the eastern Aegean, with the foreign minister and the government spokesman making it clear to Ankara that Greece’s response to another incident will not be peaceful. Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said in an interview on Alpha TV late on Thursday that the incident on Monday, when a Turkish vessel rammed a Greek one off Imia island, “touched on the red line and in some sense it overstepped it.” He went on to add that there will not be another such peaceful behavior by the Greek side should such an incident recur.

Kotzias also clarified that “Imia is Greek” and warned Ankara “you should not open a gray-zone issue, because if we do, based on international law, not only are you wrong but you will also incur losses.” Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos echoed Kotzias on Friday morning, warning that aggression will be met with an equal response. “If there is another act of Turkish aggression on Greek territory, there will be a response and there is no other way for us,” he told Skai TV. Greece’s verbal toughening comes as the Turkish armed forces conducted an extensive war game near the Greek-Turkish land border by Evros river in Thrace, including the scenario of crossing a river to invade a neighboring country.

Read more …

Words cannot express the sadness. Once we’ve eradicated the man of the woods, man is next.

Borneo Has Lost Half Its Orangutans This Century (Ind.)

Borneo has lost more than 100,000 orangutans in the space of just 16 years as a result of hunting and habitat loss, according to a new report. Logging, mining, oil palm, paper, and linked deforestation have been blamed for the the diminishing numbers. However, researchers also found many orangutans have vanished from more intact, forested regions, suggesting that hunting and other direct conflict between orangutans and humans continues to be a chief threat to the species. The report published in the Current Biology Journal found more than 100,000 of the island’s orangutans vanished in the period of 1999 to 2015. “Orangutans are disappearing at an alarming rate,” said Emma Keller, agricultural commodities manager at the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).

“Their forests homes have been lost and degraded, and hunting threatens the existence of this magnificent great ape. “Immediate action is needed to reform industries that have pushed orangutans to the brink of extinction. UK consumers can make a difference through only supporting brands and retailers that buy sustainable palm oil.” Around half of the orangutans living on the island of Borneo, the largest island in Asia, were lost as a result of changes in land cover. [..] The report comes after an orangutan was shot at least 130 times with an air gun before it died earlier in the month, according to police in Borneo.

Read more …

Feb 152018
 
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrFlattr the authorDigg thisShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone


Grete Stern Sueño No. 1: Artículos eléctricos para el hogar 1949

 

Global Debt Crisis II Cometh (Goldcore)
The % Puzzle Coming Together (Northman)
Trump Surprises Democrats, Supports 25 Cent Federal Gas Tax Hike (ZH)
Household Debt Is China’s Latest Time Bomb (BBG)
China’s Currency Policy May Be Facing a New Chapter (BBG)
Angela Merkel Pays a Steep Price to Stay in Power (BBG)
Meth, the Forgotten Killer, Is Back in America. And It’s Everywhere. (NYT)
German Cities To Trial Free Public Transport To Cut Pollution (G.)
Who Keeps Britain’s Trains Running? Europe (NYT)
Europe’s Poverty Time Bomb (PS)
Erdogan’s Chief Advisor: US Has Plan To Make Greece Attack Turkey (K.)
Greece Looks at USA to Calm Down Turkey (GR)

 

 

There is no escape. No matter what anyone says about recovery etc., the piper will come calling.

Global Debt Crisis II Cometh (Goldcore)

• Global debt ‘area of weakness’ and could ‘induce financial panic’ – King warns
• Global debt to GDP now 40 per cent higher than it was a decade ago – BIS warns
• Global non-financial corporate debt grew by 15% to 96% of GDP in the past six years
• US mortgage rates hit highest level since May 2014
• US student loans near $1.4 trillion, 40% expected to default in next 5 years
• UK consumer debt hit £200b, highest level in 30 years, 25% of households behind on repayments

The ducks are beginning to line up for yet another global debt crisis. US mortgage rates are hinting at another crash, student debt crises loom in both the US and UK, consumer and corporate debt is at record levels and global debt to GDP ratio is higher than it was during the financial crisis. When you look at the figures you realise there is an air of inevitability of what is around the corner. If the last week has taught us anything, it is that markets are unprepared for the fallout that is destined to come after a decade of easy monetary policies. Global debt is more than three times the size of the global economy, the highest it has ever been. This is primarily made up of three groups: non financial corporates, governments and households. Each similarly indebted as one another.

Debt is something that has sadly run the world for a very long time, often without problems. But when that debt becomes excessive it is unmanageable. The terms change and repayments can no longer be met. This sends financial markets into a spiral. The house of cards is collapsing and suddenly it is revealed that life isn’t so hunky-day after all. Rates are set to rise and as they do they will spark more financial shocks, as we have seen this week. Mervyn King, former Governor of the Bank of England, gave warning about global debt levels earlier this week: “The areas of weakness in the current system are really focused on the amount of debt that exists, not just in the U.S. and U.K. but across the world,” he said on Bloomberg Radio last Wednesday. “Debt in the private sector relative to GDP is higher now than it was in 2007, and of course public debt is even higher still.”

Read more …

When you see US debt is out of hand, don’t stop there. All global debt is.

The % Puzzle Coming Together (Northman)

The US is drowning in debt and as long as rates are low it’s all fun and giggles, but there is a point where it cramps on growth and the simple question is when and where. In recent weeks we have had a nasty correction coinciding with technical overbought readings and both bonds and stocks testing 30 year old trend lines. In the meantime we continue to get data that keeps sending the same message: It’s a debt bonanza that keeps expanding and is unsustainable. Janet Yellen a few months ago said the debt to GDP ratio keeps her awake at night. Yesterday the Director of National Intelligence came out and described the national debt on an unsustainable path and a national security threat. This is literally where we are as a nation.

What’s Congress’s and the White House’s response? Spend more and blow up the deficit into the trillion+ range heading toward 2-3 trillion. What is there to say but stand in awe at the utter hubris that is being wrought. Last night the Fed came out with the latest household debt figures and it’s equally as damning, record debt and ever more required to keep consumer spending afloat:

The non-mortgage piece is particularly disturbing:

Higher interest rates will ultimately trigger the next recession as the entire debt construct will be weighted down by the burdens of cost of carry. And today’s inflation and correlated weakening retail sales data suggested that there’s price sensitivity already at these, historically speaking, still very low rates. The Fed may find itself horribly behind the curve and this will have consequences.

Read more …

Makes a lot of sense. Therefore not going to happen.

Trump Surprises Democrats, Supports 25 Cent Federal Gas Tax Hike (ZH)

President Trump surprised a group of lawmakers during a Wednesday meeting at the White House by repeatedly mentioning a 25-cent-per-gallon increase on federal gasoline and diesel tax in order to help pay for upgrading America’s crumbling infrastructure by addressing a serious shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, which will become insolvent by 2021. The tax increase was first pitched by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in January, while the White House had originally been lukewarm towards the idea. The federal gasoline and diesel tax has been at 18.4 and 24.4-cents-per-gallon respectively since 1993, with no adjustments for inflation. It currently generates approximately $35 billion per year, while the federal government spends around $50 billion annually on transportation projects.

Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, seemed pleasantly surprised at Trump’s repeated mention of the tax as a solution to pay for upgrading American roads, bridges and other public works. “While there are a number of issues on which President Trump and I disagree, today, we agreed that things worth having are worth paying for,” Carper said in a statement. “The president even offered to help provide the leadership necessary so that we could do something that has proven difficult in the past.” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) – the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee was also present at the meeting, in which he says President Trump told lawmakers he would be willing to increase federal spending beyond the White House’s $200 billion, 10-year proposal. “The president made a living building things, and he realizes that to build things takes money, takes investment,” DeFazio said.

[..] Republican leaders have already rejected the idea, however, along with various other entities tied to billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. [..] Republican Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) doesn’t think the gas tax has any chance of even coming up for a vote in the Senate. “He’ll never get it by McConnell,” said Grassley, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Read more …

Bloomberg always has graphs for everything. But now that I would like to see how fast personal debt has grown in China, nada. Still, this is a whole new thing: Chinese never used to borrow, and now it’s the new national pastime.

Household Debt Is China’s Latest Time Bomb (BBG)

For years, economists and policymakers have hailed the propensity of Chinese to save. Among other things, they’ve pointed to low household debt as reason not to fear a financial crash in the world’s second-biggest economy. Now, though, one of China’s greatest economic strengths is becoming a crucial weakness. Over the past two weeks, as they’ve held their annual work meetings, China’s various financial regulatory bodies have raised fears that Chinese households may be overleveraged. Banking regulators sound especially concerned, and understandably so: Data released Monday showed that Chinese households borrowed 910 billion renminbi ($143 billion) in January – nearly a third of all RMB-denominated bank loans extended that month.

While too much can be made of the headline number – lending is always disproportionately large in January, and bank loans are rising as regulators crack down on more shadowy forms of financing – the pace of growth for household debt is worrying. Between January and October last year, according to recent data from Southwestern University of Finance and Economics, Chinese household leverage rose more than eight percentage points, from 44.8% to 53.2% of GDP – a record increase. By contrast, between 2009 and 2015, households had added an average of just three percentage points to their debt-to-GDP ratio each year, and that includes a large jump of 5.5 percentage points in 2009 as banks ramped up lending in response to the global financial crisis. Before 2009, household debt levels had hovered around 18% of GDP for five years.

In other words, the debt burden for Chinese consumers has nearly tripled in the past decade. Part of that rapid debt expansion has been deliberate. China’s government has encouraged increased borrowing and spending on items like cars and houses, to boost both consumption and investment. At the G-20 summit in February 2016, China’s sober central bank chief Zhou Xiaochuan remarked that rising household leverage had “a certain logic to it.” Most worryingly, though, skyrocketing home prices seem to be driving much of the increase in household debt. Higher mortgage rates – and, especially, government policy – have compounded the problem. In order to slow rising prices, officials have raised down-payment requirements, pushed banks to slow mortgage lending and placed administrative restraints on purchases. That’s led buyers to borrow from different, often more expensive, channels.

Read more …

Beijing’s dilemma: allowing capital outflows (a no-no) would bring down the yuan (a yes please). Ergo: they can achieve what they want by allowing what they can’t afford to let happen.

China’s Currency Policy May Be Facing a New Chapter (BBG)

In the fraught history of Chinese currency policy, a new chapter could be looming this year as authorities consider the consequences of a yuan that’s testing its strongest levels since mid-2015. After successfully shutting off potentially destabilizing capital outflows and putting a floor under the yuan, policy makers may now have the luxury of looking at relaxing some of the strictures on domestic money. But China watchers warn that any moves are likely to be gradual and calibrated, given the turmoil of 2015 – when a sliding yuan spooked global markets. “Big changes in the capital account are less likely, but some slight easing can be expected,” said Xia Le at Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria in Hong Kong. Policy makers have put a priority on deleveraging, “which is likely to cause instability,” he said – all the more reason to go cautiously on cross-border flows.

The yuan has strengthened 2.6% this year, after posting its first annual gain in four years in 2017. While no officials have clearly signaled an intent to relax controls, recent comments and moves hint at the potential for modification of the one-way capital account opening that China has been pursuing since 2016 – in which it has encouraged inflows but not outflows. The State Administration of Foreign Exchange, which oversees foreign-exchange reserves, said last week it sees more balanced capital flows. Pan Gongsheng, the director of SAFE, said last week that there will be a “neutral” policy in managing cross-border transactions. In a free trade zone in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, officials have revived a program allowing for overseas investment that was suspended in 2015. Authorities in January removed a “counter-cyclical” factor from the daily fixing of the yuan, a move seen to let the market take more of a role.

Any return to the sustained appreciation the yuan saw over the decade to 2015 could hurt Chinese exporters’ profits – just as big companies face challenges from the leadership’s drive to reduce excess credit and cut back polluting industries. Yet the disorderly moves that followed 2015 efforts to promote international use of the yuan serve as a warning against any sudden lifting of barriers to capital outflows. “A degree of undershooting” in the dollar against the yuan “is probably necessary to provide reformists in China’s policy circle a window of opportunity to lobby for more capital account liberalization,” analysts led by David Bloom, global head of currency strategy at HSBC in London, wrote in a recent report.

Read more …

Merkel should have stepped down. This can only end in chaos.

Angela Merkel Pays a Steep Price to Stay in Power (BBG)

Angela Merkel once claimed she had bested Vladimir Putin during their first meeting in the Kremlin, employing what she said was an old KGB technique: staring at the Russian leader in silence for several long minutes. As the sun rose over a frigid Berlin on Feb. 7, the German chancellor’s rivals from the Social Democratic Party used the same tactic. This time, Merkel blinked. Merkel and her team had spent the previous day and night at the headquarters of her Christian Democratic Union locked in tense negotiations with the SPD leadership. The SPD had issued an ultimatum that broke with long-standing protocol of German coalition-building: Off the bat, they demanded three key posts, including the finance and foreign ministries, power centers from which the SPD planned to set the government’s agenda, especially on Europe.

An earlier attempt at an alliance with the Greens and the Free Democrats had failed. A second collapse in talks, more than four months after the September election, threatened to sweep out the governing elite, including the chancellor who has dominated German politics for 12 years. As delegates were summoned back to the CDU building, they could barely believe what Merkel and her party’s Bavarian sister group, the Christian Social Union, had negotiated. With so much at stake, she surrendered the portfolios for finance, foreign affairs, and labor to the Social Democrats (though the deal still needs to be approved by the SPD’s 464,000 members). CDU lawmaker Olav Gutting captured the mood with gallows humor. “Puuuh! At least we kept the Chancellery!” he tweeted Wednesday. On Sunday, Merkel took to the airwaves to explain her position. “It was a painful decision,” she told the ZDF television network. “But what was the alternative?”

Read more …

The New York Times making the case for Trump’s border wall?

Meth, the Forgotten Killer, Is Back in America. And It’s Everywhere. (NYT)

The scourge of crystal meth, with its exploding labs and ruinous effect on teeth and skin, has been all but forgotten amid national concern over the opioid crisis. But 12 years after Congress took aggressive action to curtail it, meth has returned with a vengeance. Here in Oregon, meth-related deaths vastly outnumber those from heroin. At the United States border, agents are seizing 10 to 20 times the amounts they did a decade ago. Methamphetamine, experts say, has never been purer, cheaper or more lethal. Oregon took a hard line against meth in 2006, when it began requiring a doctor’s prescription to buy the nasal decongestant used to make it. “It was like someone turned off a switch,” said J.R. Ujifusa, a senior prosecutor in Multnomah County, which includes Portland. “But where there is a void,” he added, “someone fills it.”

The decades-long effort to fight methamphetamine is a tale with two takeaways. One: The number of domestic meth labs has declined precipitously, and along with it the number of children harmed and police officers sickened by exposure to dangerous chemicals. But also, two: There is more meth on the streets today, more people are using it, and more of them are dying. [..] In the early 2000s, meth made from pseudoephedrine, the decongestant in drugstore products like Sudafed, poured out of domestic labs like those in the early seasons of the hit television show “Breaking Bad.” Narcotics squads became glorified hazmat teams, spending entire shifts on cleanup. In 2004, the Portland police responded to 114 meth houses. “We rolled from meth lab to meth lab,” said Sgt. Jan M. Kubic of the county sheriff’s office. “Patrol would roll up on a domestic violence call, and there’d be a lab in the kitchen. Everything would come to a screeching halt.”

[..] But meth, it turns out, was only on hiatus. When the ingredients became difficult to come by in the United States, Mexican drug cartels stepped in. Now fighting meth often means seizing large quantities of ready-made product in highway stops. The cartels have inundated the market with so much pure, low-cost meth that dealers have more of it than they know what to do with. Under pressure from traffickers to unload large quantities, law enforcement officials say, dealers are even offering meth to customers on credit. In Portland, the drug has made inroads in black neighborhoods, something experienced narcotics investigators say was unheard-of five years ago.

Read more …

Will they sponsor this in Greek cities too?

German Cities To Trial Free Public Transport To Cut Pollution (G.)

“Car nation” Germany has surprised neighbours with a radical proposal to reduce road traffic by making public transport free, as Berlin scrambles to meet EU air pollution targets and avoid big fines. The move comes just over two years after Volkswagen’s devastating “dieselgate” emissions cheating scandal unleashed a wave of anger at the auto industry, a keystone of German prosperity. “We are considering public transport free of charge in order to reduce the number of private cars,” three ministers including the environment minister, Barbara Hendricks, wrote to EU environment commissioner Karmenu Vella in the letter seen by AFP Tuesday. “Effectively fighting air pollution without any further unnecessary delays is of the highest priority for Germany,” the ministers added.

The proposal will be tested by “the end of this year at the latest” in five cities across western Germany, including former capital Bonn and industrial cities Essen and Mannheim. The move is a radical one for the normally staid world of German politics – especially as Chancellor Angela Merkel is presently only governing in a caretaker capacity, as Berlin waits for the centre-left Social Democratic party (SPD) to confirm a hard-fought coalition deal. On top of ticketless travel, other steps proposed Tuesday include further restrictions on emissions from vehicle fleets like buses and taxis, low-emissions zones or support for car-sharing schemes. Action is needed soon, as Germany and eight fellow EU members including Spain, France and Italy sailed past a 30 January deadline to meet EU limits on nitrogen dioxide and fine particles.

Read more …

Never sell your basic needs to foreigners.

Who Keeps Britain’s Trains Running? Europe (NYT)

The privatization of public services “was one of the central means of reversing the corrosive and corrupting effects of socialism,” Margaret Thatcher wrote in her memoirs. “Just as nationalisation was at the heart of the collectivist programme by which Labour governments sought to remodel British society, so privatisation is at the centre of any programme of reclaiming territory for freedom.” Those sentiments fueled a sell-off that put nearly every state-owned service or property in Britain on the auction block in the final decade of the 20th century, eventually including the country’s expansive public transportation infrastructure. Enshrined by parliamentary acts under Mrs. Thatcher and implemented by her two immediate successors, John Major, a Conservative, and Tony Blair of New Labour, the gospel of privatization was embraced by leaders around the world, notably including Mrs. Thatcher’s closest overseas ally, President Ronald Reagan.

In the realm of transportation, that gospel was soon betrayed by its own chief disciples. Put simply, there were few private-sector buyers with the expertise and deep pockets necessary to maintain control of a transit system that serves approximately seven billion passengers per year. With minimal transparency, operational ownership of the network of train and bus lines that crisscross the 607-square-mile sprawl of Greater London, linking it to the far-flung corners of Britain, was peddled in bits and pieces by the British state or acquired in corporate takeovers. But the new bosses were not private, business-savvy British firms. By 2000, the masters of British public transit — thanks to a scheme that was intended to replace state waste and sloth with soundly capitalist business principles — were foreign governments, most of them members of the European Union.

In short, the privatization devolved into a de facto re-nationalization — but under the direction of foreign states — that somehow went largely unnoticed. It now poses a startling and unprecedented dilemma thanks to Brexit, which will soon divorce Britain from the state bureaucracies beyond the English Channel that literally keep its economy in motion. The largest single stakeholder and operator in British transit is the Federal Republic of Germany [..] Germany is followed closely in the ranks of British transit bosses by France, proprietor of the London United bus system, among many other holdings. Its iconic red double-deckers openly announce themselves as the property of the RATP Group (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens), the state-owned Paris transport company, and are emblazoned with its logo of a zigzagging River Seine flowing through an abstract representation of the French capital.

Read more …

As EU growth is at 10-year highs, boomers keep it all to themselves.

Europe’s Poverty Time Bomb (PS)

The poor don’t often decide elections in the advanced world, and yet they are being wooed heavily in Italy’s current electoral campaign. Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the leader of Forza Italia, has proposed a “dignity income,” while Beppe Grillo, the comedian and shadow leader of the Five Star Movement, has likewise called for a “citizenship income.” Both of these proposals – which would entail generous monthly payments to the disadvantaged – are questionable in terms of their design. But they do at least shed light on the rapidly worsening problem of widespread poverty across Europe. Poverty represents an extreme form of income polarization, but it is not the same thing as inequality. Even in a deeply unequal society, those who have less do not necessarily lack the means to live a decent and fulfilling life.

But those who live in poverty do, because they suffer from complete social exclusion, if not outright homelessness. Even in advanced economies, the poor often lack access to the financial system, struggle to pay for food or utilities, and die prematurely. Of course, not all of the poor live so miserably. But many do, and in Italy their electoral weight has become undeniable. Almost five million Italians, or roughly 8% of the population, struggle to afford basic goods and services. And in just a decade, this cohort has almost tripled in size, becoming particularly concentrated in the country’s south. At the same time, another 6% live in relative poverty, meaning they do not have enough disposable income to benefit from the country’s average standard of living.

The situation is equally worrisome at a continental level. In the EU in 2016, 117.5 million people, or roughly one-fourth of the population, were at risk of falling into poverty or a state of social exclusion. Since 2008, Italy, Spain, and Greece have added almost six million people to that total, while in France and Germany the proportion of the population that is poor has remained stable, at around 20%. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, the probability of falling into poverty increased overall, but particularly for the young, owing to cuts in non-pension social benefits and a tendency in European labor markets to preserve insiders’ jobs. From 2007 to 2015, the proportion of Europeans aged 18-29 at risk of falling into poverty increased from 19% to 24%; for those 65 and older, it fell from 19% to 14%.

Read more …

“..Greece is no match for Turkey’s might. It would be like a “fly picking a fight with a giant..” What will the world do when the fighting starts? It could at any moment now.

Erdogan’s Chief Advisor: US Has Plan To Make Greece Attack Turkey (K.)

The chief advisor to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told Turkey’s TRT channel that he is “in no doubt” that the US has a plan to make Greece attack Turkey while its military is engaged in Syria. Turkey’s response, Yigit Bulut said, will be tough, adding that Greece is no match for Turkey’s might. It would be like a “fly picking a fight with a giant,” he said and warned that terrible consequences would follow for Greece. Bulut made similar comments earlier in the month referring to Imia over which Greece and Turkey came close to war in 1996. “We will break the arms and legs of any officers, of the prime minister or of any minister who dares to step onto Imia in the Aegean,” Bulut said.

Read more …

It may take Putin to halt Erdogan. But he will expect a reward for that.

Greece Looks at USA to Calm Down Turkey (GR)

Greece is expecting the US administration to intervene and de-escalate the crisis with Turkey over the Imia islets, according to diplomatic sources in Athens. The Greek government is hoping that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is currently in Ankara for an official visit, will persuade the Turkish leadership to tone down its actions in the Aegean. The US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey R. Pyatt will also be in Ankara and will brief Tillerson about recent developments. On Monday night, a Turkish patrol boat rammed into a Greek coast guard vessel near Imia, in the most serious incident between the two NATO allies in recent years. The two countries went almost to war in 1996 over sovereignty of Imia islets (Kardak in Turkish).

A confrontation was avoided then largely due to the intervention of Washington. The Department of State issued a statement on Tuesday stressing that Greece and Turkey should take measures to reduce the tension in the region. On Wednesday, Greek defense minister Panos Kammenos briefed Greece’s NATO allies on the incident at Imia and presented audiovisual material that prove Turkey’s provocation. “The Imia islets are Greek, the Greek Coast Guard and Navy are there and we will not back down on issues of national sovereignty for any reason. We ask our allies in the EU and NATO to adopt a clear stance,” he told AMNA. He also said that it was inconceivable that Turkey, a NATO ally, behaved like this toward another ally, in this case Greece.

Read more …

Feb 042018
 
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrFlattr the authorDigg thisShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone


John William Waterhouse Hylas and the Nymphs 1896

 

A Tale Of Two Americas (Axios)
Today’s Market Is Biding Its Time Until It Becomes Normal Again (Bonner)
The Market System Is Tight In All Directions (Fas.)
Bond Market’s Debt-Ceiling Alarm Bell Is Ringing Loud and Clear (BBG)
Yellen: “I Don’t Want To Label What We’re Seeing As A Bubble” (ZH)
The Fed’s Dilemma Isn’t Going Away Under Powell (Shilling)
Theresa May Says Brexit Transition Deal Will Be Agreed In Seven Weeks (R.)
Tory Former Attorney General Says “Time is Now” To Reverse Brexit (Ind.)
Anger Over Glut Of ‘Posh Ghost Towers’ Planned For London (G.)
‘We Made The Finest Steel In The World – Now We Make Lattes’ (G.)
Illicit Foreign Casino Cash Often Goes Straight Into Vancouver Housing (VSun)
Greece On Edge For ‘Macedonia’ Protest In Athens (K.)

 

 

As I said yesterday: the divisions it causes are much bigger than the memo itself. It’s what happens in echo chambers.

A Tale Of Two Americas (Axios)

On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow was literally laughing. Over on Fox News, Sean Hannity put up his dukes. At 9 last night, Axios points out that you could just flip between the two and see an encapsulation of our two Americas – total dismissal of the memo’s import, versus the assertion that it’s “only about 15 percent of what’s coming.”

So, Rachel, how was your day? “This thing?! This was two weeks of: This memo is going to end everything. This memo, have you heard about the memo? Hashtag: Release the memo! This memo will make Donald Trump innocent. This memo will put Robert Mueller in jail. It will abolish the FBI. The Justice Department will have to rename itself the Donald J. Trump & Family Private Security Task Force.” “I mean, I can’t believe this is it.” “I don’t really believe in the whole Cable News Wars idea. I know people who work across the street at the Fox News Channel. I’ve got friends that work there. I think we’re all doing our own thing in our own way best we can.”

“But, oh my God, right? … [T]his … hyping and huffing and puffing and working their audience up into a frenzy for two solid weeks.” “And apparently, despite all of that, … they either didn’t know or they didn’t notice that this thing they have been clamoring for and hyping for two solid weeks, … it actually disproves their whole point.” “They release this memo to prove that the dossier started everything. The memo says the dossier didn’t actually start anything.”

What’s up, Sean? “[W]hen you put all this information together, here’s what it all means. The FBI misled and purposely deceived a federal court while using an unverified, completely phony opposition research bought and paid for by Hillary Clinton.” “We have never, ever in history seen anything like this, and it was spearheaded not by rank-and-file members of the FBI intelligence community and Department of Justice. No. High-ranking officials: James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Rod Rosenstein, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, likely Loretta Lynch.”

“But here’s the bottom line: Crimes have been committed. There is no way that they did not know that the FBI was lying to a FISA court in order to spy on an opposition campaign during an election year. They have aided and abetted what is a massive constitutional violation.” “Comey, McCabe, Rosenstein and others all need to be investigated and, in many cases, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” “Now, of course, Comey is running scared. He’s out of his mind right now, now that he is exposed with this memo.” “[T]he special counsel must be disbanded immediately.” “And, by the way — nobody else will say this — all charges against Paul Manafort and General Michael Flynn need to be dropped. It’s that simple.” “This scandal is only in Phase 1. … Stay tuned! Tick tock! “

Read more …

“..when something is not normal… it is just biding its time until it becomes normal again.”

Today’s Market Is Biding Its Time Until It Becomes Normal Again (Bonner)

On Planet Earth, we can find our direction by reference to the Magnetic North. For investing, we use the most reliable force in finance – the relentless return to “normal” – to get our bearings. And searching for normal, we may have stumbled upon what could be the Trade of the Century. More on that later… As economists describe it, reversion to the mean is merely a recognition of the tendency for things to stay in a range that we recognize as “normal.” Trees do not grow 1,000 feet high. People don’t run 100 mph. You don’t get something for nothing. Normal exists because things tend to follow certain familiar patterns, shapes, and routines. When people go out in the morning, they know, generally, whether to wear a winter coat or a pair of shorts.

The temperature is not 100 degrees one day and zero the next. Occasionally, of course, odd things happen. And sometimes, things change in a fundamental way. But usually, when people say “this time is different”… it’s time to bet on normal. This phenomenon – reversion to the mean – has been thoroughly tested and studied in the investment world. It seems to apply to just about everything – stocks, bonds, strategies, markets, sectors… you name it. But let’s push on. What is unusual in the chart below? What is so abnormal that the mean is likely to revert against it? You will note that global debt was only $30 trillion in 1994. Now it is $230 trillion. That $200 trillion in extra credit is probably the whirlwind that sent equities spinning up to the top right.

Those gusts blew stock and other asset prices up to heights never seen before. The Dow reached over 26,000. Houses went on the market for more than $100 million. Gold rose above $1,900. But while stocks and bonds may have the wind at their backs, it seems to blow in the economy’s face… making forward progress almost impossible. The real economy – as depicted by GDP at the bottom of the chart – has grown in a rather normal way, but at a slower and slower rate. Its steady, plodding increase gives no hint of the chaos going on above it. The real economy and the financial world are as different as the eye of a hurricane and the swirling clouds and storms around it. Another thing you notice is that until the mid-’90s… and again between 2008 and 2012… the average investor got essentially no benefit in exchange for the added risk of putting his money into equities (the chart above includes dividends). He might just as well have left his money in U.S. Treasury bonds.

[..] there is a time to be in stocks… and a time to be out of them. Without knowing the future, you can still know when something is not normal. And when something is not normal… it is just biding its time until it becomes normal again.

Read more …

Who or what can restore flexibility when everything’s maxed out to the point of bursting?

The Market System Is Tight In All Directions (Fas.)

The Four Pillars Holding Markets Up Are Strained, All At The Same Time. Viewed as a combination of intertwined components, each component is showing growing signs of pressure and seem to be running out of road for further advancing. The synchronicity of them, more than any single component taken independently, is what should draw attention, as it compounds systemic risk. Here are the four components, characterizing the basin of chaotic attraction for markets nowadays:

What happens when the system is tight in its key possible directions of expansion? That it expands no more. Stochastically, on one of the components a tipping point is reached, which jumpstarts the autolytic effect, spreading back through the vectors of the complex system, and snapping the unstable equilibrium into an alternative stable state. That is our thesis. In [a] recent interview, we discuss the impending tipping points for markets due to a synchronicity of excess valuations, excess indebtedness, excessively low cash balances and a drawback in excessive public flows. Let’s give a cursory look across the four components. Again, the list is by no means exhaustive, but rather a work-in-progress (seemingly endless) collecting of data points, following on to our previous work of ‘a long list of anomalies’

Read more …

In a country so divided it doesn’t take much to let things get out of hand.

Bond Market’s Debt-Ceiling Alarm Bell Is Ringing Loud and Clear (BBG)

In the $2 trillion Treasury-bill market, where the U.S. government turns for short-term funding, investors are showing they’re plenty nervous about the approaching deadline to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. With Treasury expected to exhaust its borrowing authority as early as the first half of March, a four-week bill sale on Tuesday will serve as the latest gauge of investor anxiety. There’s growing concern that the impasse over the debt limit will become entangled with efforts to keep the government open. Current federal funding expires Feb. 8, and the Republican-led Congress has been working on a stopgap measure to extend that into late March.

Treasury has deployed extraordinary measures to stay under the debt cap since it was reinstated in early December, but investors are wary. The new securities mature March 8, around when the Congressional Budget Office expects Treasury to run out of room. Traders are asking for higher yields to own previously issued bills maturing March 8. What’s more, an auction last week of bills due March 1 drew the weakest demand since May. “People are kind of getting skeptical of March 8 bills,” said Joseph Abate at Barclays Capital in New York. “You might argue that the March 1 bill isn’t necessarily vulnerable to payment delay because the Treasury probably has sufficient resources to meet outflows and thus might be able to last until” March 5.

Treasury has placed the drop-dead date around the end of February. But investors are leaning toward the projection from the nonpartisan CBO, which said last week that the U.S. may run the risk of default without a debt-ceiling increase in the first half of March. After the Jan. 30 auction of bills maturing March 1, the rate on those securities was higher than debt due a week later. Since then, the rate on debt expiring March 8 has climbed to 1.40%, exceeding that on bills due a week later.

Read more …

In a country where 70% of people live paycheck to paycheck, the best the central bank president can muster is “they should diversify their investments..” And people are praising her for doing such a good job.

Yellen: “I Don’t Want To Label What We’re Seeing As A Bubble” (ZH)

While her term ended – for all practical purposes – with the conclusion of this week’s January FOMC meeting, former Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen’s last official day at the helm of the world’s most important central bank was marked by an explosion of volatility in the Dow, with the blue chips recording their worst single-day selloff since the collapse of Lehman brothers. And even though it’s tempting to suspect Friday’s selloff might foreshadow what’s to come during the Powell era, Yellen admitted during an interview with PBS Newshour that she was disappointed to not be reappointed for a second term by President Trump – and that, if she had her druthers, she would’ve opted to stay. “I would have liked to serve an additional term and I did make that clear, so I will say I was disappointed not to be reappointed,” Yellen said Friday. “I think things are looking very strong.”

Despite the volatility of the past week and the first nascent signs of wage growth in years – which should worry a central bank whose primary responsibility is to put a floor under plunging markets – Yellen says she expects interest rate hikes to proceed as planned. “The Federal Reserve has been on a path of gradual rate increases and if conditions continue as they have been, that process is likely to continue,” she said. “And as it happens we would expect long rates to move up.” Unlike fellow former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan – who this week declared that both stocks and bond valuations are in bubble territory – Yellen was careful not to use such strident language. “I don’t want to label what we’re seeing as a bubble.”

“But I would say that asset valuations are generally elevated…for the stock market, the ratio of price to earnings…is near the high end of its historical range. If we look at for example commercial real estate and other assets, we’re seeing high valuations.” But should Americans be worried about the markets? “They should be careful and I would say diversified in their investments. What we look at is the likely resilience of the economy and the financial system… In that regard, we have a banking system that is much stronger and better capitalized and better able to withstand a shock than prior to the financial crisis.” Stlll, Yellen is refusing to rule out another selloff. “Asset valuations could change I’m not predicting that that would happen and I wouldn’t rule that out,” she said.

Read more …

Powelll will be cleaning up Bernanke and Yellen’s shit.

The Fed’s Dilemma Isn’t Going Away Under Powell (Shilling)

[..] the Fed is confronted with a serious dilemma: Inflation and wage increases continue to undershoot its expectations at the same time the central bank confronts forces pressuring it toward credit tightening. The new chairman, Jerome Powell, who isn’t a trained economist, may change the central bank’s tone, but his soon-to-be predecessor Janet Yellen and the other academic economists who have dominated monetary policy, believe fervently in the theoretical Phillips Curve. It posits that a declining unemployment rate should spur inflation, despite evidence to the contrary. Rather than increase as the unemployment rate declined since the recession, the rate of inflation has largely stayed the same.

Nevertheless, the Fed wants to tighten credit slowly due to chronic low inflation and memories of the May 2013 “taper tantrum,” when a mere mention by then-Chairman Ben Bernanke of reducing the Fed’s rate of asset purchases sent financial markets into tailspins as interest rates leaped. Another reason for the Fed to tighten is to keep commercial banks from lending out the more than $2 trillion in excess reserves the Fed has given them through quantitative easing. These are simply an asset of the banks and a liability on the Fed balance sheet with little financial or economic consequences. But as economic growth picks up as a result of the tax cuts followed by likely massive fiscal stimulus, creditworthy borrowers will want to borrow, banks will be happy to lend, and these excess reserves could turn into tons of money that would threaten major inflation.

Read more …

Fat chance.

Theresa May Says Brexit Transition Deal Will Be Agreed In Seven Weeks (R.)

British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Friday that a Brexit transition period will be agreed with the European Union in seven weeks as she tries to ease concerns that a deal may take longer to reach. The EU has offered Britain a status quo transition until the end of 2020 after Brexit. Both sides are aiming to reach a transition agreement by the end of March that will form part of the final withdrawal treaty to be agreed later this year. But there is disagreement inside May’s Conservative Party over some details such as the status of EU citizens during the transition and the scope of European Court of Justice jurisdiction. Many businesses and banks are concerned a battle over the terms of a transition could delay or even sink an agreement just months before Britain exits the EU on March 29, 2019.

“In seven weeks time, we will have an agreement with the European Union, that is the timetable they have said on an implementation period,” May told the BBC in an interview in China. “What the British people voted for is for us to take back control of our money, our borders and our laws and that’s exactly what we are going to do,” May said of Brexit. The EU and Britain hope to hammer out a deal on Britain’s exit and the outline of a trade package by October 2018. But some EU officials have begun to voice concern that a plan to have the leaders endorse negotiating guidelines for a new phase of talks to begin in April on a future trade agreement may be in danger of slipping if May does not spell out what Britain’s demands are for that trade pact.

Read more …

Britain is as divided as the US is.

Tory Former Attorney General Says “Time is Now” To Reverse Brexit (Ind.)

Dominic Grieve has warned the public it is running out of time to change its mind on Brexit, saying the next few months are “decision time”.The former Attorney General told The Independent it would soon be too late to reverse the decision to leave the EU, and urged people to make their minds up in the next six months.“The six months we have between now and the autumn are so important,” he said. “It is going to be decision time. And decision time in the sense of what happens in the next six months being a final decision.“If people do want to change their mind, and they could if they wanted to, the time is now. It cannot be after 29 March 2019, and frankly it cannot be after the end of the autumn of this year.”

While he did not endorse calls for a second EU referendum, Mr Grieve said it was important to give people the chance to change their minds on Brexit. “I’m not calling for a second referendum,” he said. “But we should not exclude the possibility that people’s opinion may change. And to start from an opinion on an issue that was expressed 18 months ago, where people are bound to have had their opinion influenced since, we must be very careful to listen about what it is they want.”He continued: “It the most extraordinary conundrum. We have an instruction from the electorate, by a small but significant majority, to do something that many of us [in Parliament] think is going to be very hard to achieve without serious damage to the wellbeing of every citizen in this country. It is an ethical conundrum and it is a practical conundrum.”

Read more …

And here is why the country is so divided.

Anger Over Glut Of ‘Posh Ghost Towers’ Planned For London (G.)

London councils have granted property developers planning permission to build more than 26,000 luxury flats priced at more than £1m each, despite fears that there are already too many half-empty “posh ghost towers” in the capital. Builders are currently constructing towers containing 7,749 homes priced between £1m and £10m, and have planning rights to build another 18,712 high-end apartments and townhouses, the Observer can reveal. Politicians and housing campaigners said the figures show councils are prioritising the needs of the super-rich over those of hardworking young Londoners. The boom in developments of luxury flats, which often include private cinemas, gyms, swimming pools and concierge facilities, comes as the capital faces a growing crisis in the availability of affordable housing, with nurses, police officers and other essential workers struggling to get on to the housing ladder.

Research shows that a fifth of aspiring first-time buyers have moved in with their parents to save money, and a quarter of them will need to stay there for at least five years to amass enough for a deposit. The proportion of English first-time buyers who rely on help from families and friends for their deposit has increased from 22% in 1996 to 29% in 2016, according to the government’s English Housing Survey. Anne Baxendale of Shelter said: “The UK is in the grip of a housing crisis and nowhere is this more apparent than in the capital – and these luxury developments are certainly not the types of homes most Londoners need. The government must close loopholes which make it easy for developers to build high-priced homes that are way out of reach of ordinary families, rather than the affordable ones most people actually need and can afford.”

David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, said the figures “reveal a travesty being played against the working class and young Londoners”. “The public keep being told we are building more affordable housing, and people can see cranes up all over London,” he said. “But this shows that councils are prioritising the fancies of overseas millionaires and billionaires before the needs of hardworking young Londoners.” Just 6,423 affordable homes were built in London during the 2016-2017 financial year (the latest figures available), a 5% decline on the previous year and a big drop from the 19,622 built in 2014-15.

Read more …

Plus, of course, Britain suffers from what brought Trump to power. Where globalization goes to die.

‘We Made The Finest Steel In The World – Now We Make Lattes’ (G.)

Wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “Fighting for the community” underneath an image of Redcar’s mothballed steelworks, Frankie Wales is preparing to take a training session at the town’s boxing club. Young men are sparring in the rings; others are hitting punchbags. “Nothing gets you fit like boxing,” says one, exhausted from the ring. Wales, who set up the club 20 years ago and funds it on a shoestring with various small grants, is proud to be doing his bit for Redcar’s young people. He is a livewire in a community struggling to get off the floor after a series of near knockout blows. The local steelworks ceased production in 2015 with the loss of 3,000 jobs. Someone, he insists, has to help them. “It is incredibly sad,” he says. “Not long ago they would go and work in the steelworks after school.

Men round here made the finest steel in the world. Now they are making lattes and sandwiches on zero-hours contracts. We have lots of entrepreneurial kids, but the only entrepreneurial activity going on around here is selling fags and drugs.” Few young people care what those who are supposed to run their country – politicians and civic and business leaders – say any more because they feel so let down. “We have lost the steel industry, lost the local shipbuilding, lost the coal. What’s the point? There is nothing left,” says Wales. “We just have to make the best of what we have got and get on with it ourselves.” Like many communities in England’s north-east, the people of this North Yorkshire town, which bears the scars of industrial decline, and has a youth unemployment rate more than double the national average, made their unhappiness known in June 2016.

They fought back. In Redcar, there was a hefty 66% vote for Brexit, similar to that in areas further north up the coast, from Teesside to Tyneside. “We have to get our country back to where it needs to be,” says Geoff Holding, a caretaker at a government office in the town who voted Leave and whose brother lost his job at the steelworks. He wants an end to cheap imports of foreign goods, like the Chinese steel that did for the local plant. There is a still a thriving chemicals sector in Redcar, but not enough manufacturing. “We need to bring things back in-house, get industry back on its own feet, make things ourselves.”

Read more …

“Staggering volumes of dirty cash, including hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of $20-dollar bills stuffed in hockey bags..”

Illicit Foreign Casino Cash Often Goes Straight Into Vancouver Housing (VSun)

It’s almost hard to believe the dismaying stories that Postmedia investigative reporter Sam Cooper has been producing about the laundering of hundreds of millions of dollars of East Asian cash through Metro Vancouver casinos and the funnelling of much of it into the city’s pricey real estate. Yet Cooper continues to clearly map out, using impeccable high-level sources, the trans-national connections between Chinese drug traffickers, B.C. casinos and the city’s housing market. He has been so effective that NDP Attorney General David Eby ended years of B.C. Liberal inaction on casino fraud to launch an investigation by money-laundering specialist Peter German. Global intelligence agents have come to call the Asian-Pacific network of corruption, drugs, tax avoidance and real estate that Cooper is exposing “The Vancouver Model.”

Metro’s casinos have become infamous for the way B.C.’s former Liberal government allowed them to be exploited to help make possibly billions of dollars in “dirty” money appear “clean” – particularly by injecting it into residential housing and condo development. Cooper says his sources “took a lot of risks” to unveil how high-stakes Chinese gamblers, called “whales,” have been funnelling illicit cash into gambling chips, especially at Richmond’s River Rock Casino. Using freedom-of-information law, Cooper obtained reports in which an official with the B.C. Lottery Commission noted that 97 of its 100 top rollers were East Asian. Cooper also dug up reports suggesting one out of four of China’s major 100 alleged financial fugitives were living in Canada, with many of them believed to be in B.C.

One Metro Vancouver gambler was accused Lai Changxing, alleged mastermind of a billion-dollar drug-smuggling operation in China, who owned property in Richmond. An audit of 800 “VIP” gamblers at River Rock Casino found their most common profession was “real estate.” Almost half their $53 million worth of transactions in one year were flagged as “suspicious.” The second and third most common professions among the biggest gamblers were “business owner” and “construction.” Many high-stakes gamblers at River Rock also declared themselves as “housewife” or “student” – with one youth forking over $819,000 in cash to buy casino chips. Investigators believe housewives and offspring are often used as fake “nominees” to hide the true source of wealth in money-laundering and real-estate schemes. Staggering volumes of dirty cash, including hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of $20-dollar bills stuffed in hockey bags, have been flowing through Metro casinos and then been shifted into real-estate.

Read more …

A major and undoubtedly heated protest today. Topic: A former Yugoslav province wants to call itself Macedonia. But there already is a Greek province called macedonia. So Greece has refused to accept that name for a foreign country, and has for years halted access for that country to international organizations. The legacy of Alexander the Great plays a big role too. There are negotiations ongoing, but 70% of Greeks want no referral to Macedonia in the country’s eventual name. So no New Macedonia etc. Just call it the Republic of Skopje.

Greece On Edge For ‘Macedonia’ Protest In Athens (K.)

With United Nations-mediated negotiations aimed at resolving a dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) over the latter’s name at a sensitive juncture, the government is bracing for Sunday’s Athens rally protesting the use of the term “Macedonia” in a solution amid signs that the turnout will be significant. Around 1,500 buses have been chartered to bring demonstrators from the provinces to the capital where the rally is to begin at Syntagma Square at 2 p.m. Most conservative New Democracy MPs are expected to attend. ND leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the party respects both those who do choose to attend and those who do not.

“We respect all choices,” he said. Former conservative premier Antonis Samaras endorsed the demo, saying Sunday will be “a great day for the country.” The main speaker will be veteran Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, who is to address the crowd in person rather than sending a video message as originally planned. Speeches will also be delivered by three clerics representing the Church of Greece, which has backed the rally following initial reservations by Archbishop Ieronymos. The Greek Police plans to erect barriers to keep demonstrators at Syntagma apart from anarchists who are to stage their own counter-rally, starting at noon outside Athens University.

Read more …

Feb 032018
 
 February 3, 2018  Posted by at 11:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrFlattr the authorDigg thisShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone


Frank Larson Times Square, New York 1954

 

FISA Memo Released: Here’s What It Says (ZH)
Dow Plummets 666 Points, Capping Worst Week In 2 Years (CNBC)
Did The Market Just Get “Woke?” (Roberts)
Over $100 Billion Wiped Off Global Cryptocurrency Market In 24 Hours (CNBC)
Bitcoin Ban Expands Across Credit Cards as Big US Banks Recoil (BBG)
Sotu Klaatu Barada Nikto (Jim Kunstler)
UK Interest Rates Will Rise At The End Of February (G.)
Green Brexit Is Impossible To Guarantee, EU Is Warned (G.)
German Carmakers Have Lost All Moral Standing (Spiegel)
How YouTube’s Algorithm Distorts Truth (G.)
Blockchain To Track Congo’s Cobalt From Mine To Mobile (R.)
Congo Gripped By Fear As Thousands Flee ‘Bone-Chilling’ Violence (G.)
WikiLeaks Has Published Leaks On Trump Admin And Russia, Seeking More (CJ)
‘Ultra-Processed’ Products Now Half Of All UK Family Food Purchases (G.)

 

 

The differences in interpretation across the aisle are far more stunning than the memo itself is.

FISA Memo Released: Here’s What It Says (ZH)

Update: The just released FISA memo accuses senior officials at the DOJ of inappropriately using biased opposition research into then-candidate Trump to obtain surveillance warrants on transition team members as part of the federal investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia. According to the document, information from the the so-called Steele dossier was “essential” to the acquisition of surveillance warrants on Trump campaign aide Carter Page. It claims that then-deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe told the committee in December that without the information from the Steele dossier, no surveillance warrant for Page would have been sought. The memo alleges that the political origins of the dossier — paid for by Hillary Clinton and the DNC — were not disclosed to the clandestine court that signed off on the warrant request.

The document claims that although the FBI had “clear evidence” that the author of the dossier, former British spy Christopher Steele, was biased against Trump, it did not convey that to the surveillance court when making its warrant applications. Steele told then-associate deputy attorney general Bruce Ohr that he was “desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president,” the memo says. House conservatives have touted the memo’s revelations as “worse than Watergate” and hinted that it could prove the undoing of the federal investigation into Trump’s campaign. Meanwhile, Democrats on the panel say that it is a cherry-picked set of inaccurate accusations designed to kneecap special counsel Robert Mueller. They have drafted their own counter-memo to rebut the Republican-drafted document, but the majority voted against immediately making that document public earlier this week.

The memo is based on a slate of highly-classified materials provided to the committee by the Justice Department itself, in a closed-door deal brokered by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Naturally, the DOJ has claimed that the release of the memo is an abrogation of the terms of that deal, an assertion spokesmen for both Ryan and Nunes have rejected. Meanwhile, the underlying evidence remains classified, a state of affairs that Democrats and some national security analysts say makes it impossible to independently verify the memo’s conclusions. As The Hill reported earlier, ahead of the document’s release, Paul Ryan privately urged House Republicans not to overplay the document — and not to tie it to the Mueller investigation.

Read more …

10 years ago, a drop of 777 was the biggest news on the planet. Today, 666 gets poo-poohed into nothingness.

Dow Plummets 666 Points, Capping Worst Week In 2 Years (CNBC)

U.S. stocks fell sharply on Friday after a stronger-than-expected jobs report sent interest rates higher. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 665.75 points to close at 25,520.96, capping off the index’s sixth-largest points decline ever. The 30-stock index also fell below 26,000. Friday also marked the first time since June 2016 that the Dow fell at least 500 points. The S&P 500 fell 2.1% and finished at 2,762.13, with energy as the worst-performing sector. The Nasdaq composite plunged 1.96% to 7,240.95 as a decline in Apple and Alphabet offset a strong gain in Amazon shares. The Dow posted its worst day since June 2016. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq had their biggest one-day fall since September 2016 and August 2017, respectively.

“The key for the market today is rising interest rates,” said Mike Baele, managing director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “The old adage is: ‘Bull markets don’t die of old age, they are killed by higher interest rates.’ That looms large.” The U.S. economy added 200,000 jobs in January, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Economists polled by Reuters expected growth of 180,000. Wages, meanwhile, rose 2.9% on an annualized basis. The report sent interest rates higher. The benchmark 10-year yield rose to 2.85% on the back of the report, hitting a four-year high. Investors have been jittery about the recent rise in interest rates, worrying they may be rising too fast. On Friday, the 30-year yield rose its highest level since March.

Bank stocks fell as the yield curve widened. The SPDR S&P Bank exchange-traded fund, which tracks bank stocks, dropped 1.2%. Banks typically benefit from higher interest rates. This has been a volatile week for U.S. stocks. The Cboe Volatility index, widely considered the best fear gauge in the market, rose from 11.08 this week to 17.31.

Read more …

That graph is stunning.

Did The Market Just Get “Woke?” (Roberts)

Since the beginning of this year, we have been warning of the potential for a correction. Of course, such warnings seemed pointless as the nearly “parabolic” rise in the markets seemed unstoppable. But all of a sudden, something seems to have changed as the market stumbled this past week and has been unable to regain its footing.

So, what “woke” the markets? Was it the sudden realization that Central Banks globally are reducing Q.E. programs? Or, that economic growth may be weaker than expected given recent numbers? Or, something else? Whatever, the excuse turns out to be, the real culprit is seen in the chart below.

Read more …

By now, there are some really big losers out there.

Over $100 Billion Wiped Off Global Cryptocurrency Market In 24 Hours (CNBC)

Over $100 billion was wiped off the global cryptocurrency market in 24 hours on Friday amid concerns over tighter regulation and worries that the bitcoin price was manipulated on a major exchange. The total market capitalization or value of all cryptocurrencies in circulation stood at $405 billion Friday morning New York time, according to data from CoinMarketCap.com, which takes into account the prices of digital coins across a number of key exchanges. This was a fall of $112.6 billion in value from a day before. Cryptocurrencies have seen a major sell-off this week. Bitcoin fell below $9,000 on Thursday and briefly dropped below $8,000 Friday morning, according to CoinDesk’s bitcoin price index, which tracks prices from four major cryptocurrency exchanges.

Other major coins including ethereum and ripple were down 12% and 13%, respectively, compared to a day ago as of 9:58 a.m., ET, Friday. The cryptocurrency world has been plagued by a spate of negative news. India’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the country wants to “eliminate” the use of digital currencies in criminal activities, signaling tighter regulation in the country. The New York Times reported Wednesday that an increasing number of digital currency investors are worried the price of bitcoin and other digital currencies have been inflated by cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex, which is included in CoinDesk’s price index. Bloomberg reported Tuesday that in December, the U.S. Commodity Futures and Trading Commission subpoenaed Bitfinex and a cryptocurrency company called Tether, which is run by many of the same executives.

Read more …

What, they figured there was no more profit in there?

Bitcoin Ban Expands Across Credit Cards as Big US Banks Recoil (BBG)

A growing number of big U.S. credit-card issuers are deciding they don’t want to finance a falling knife. JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup said they’re halting purchases of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies on their credit cards. JPMorgan, enacting the ban Saturday, doesn’t want the credit risk associated with the transactions, company spokeswoman Mary Jane Rogers said. Bank of America started declining credit card transactions with known crypto exchanges on Friday. The policy applies to all personal and business credit cards, according to a memo. It doesn’t affect debit cards, said company spokeswoman Betty Riess.

And late Friday, Citigroup said it too will halt purchases of cryptocurrencies on its credit cards. “We will continue to review our policy as this market evolves,” company spokeswoman Jennifer Bombardier said. Allowing purchases of cryptocurrencies can create big headaches for lenders, which can be left on the hook if a borrower bets wrong and can’t repay. There’s also the risk that thieves will abuse cards that were purloined or based on stolen identities, turning them into crypto hoards. Banks also are required by regulators to monitor customer transactions for signs of money laundering – which isn’t as easy once dollars are converted into digital coins.

Read more …

From before the memo release. As I said, it’s the interpretation more than the memo itself.

Sotu Klaatu Barada Nikto (Jim Kunstler)

The situation certainly puts the nation in a quandary. An uncouth and ridiculous President called forth to battle a vicious, dishonest, bureaucracy and in particular its gigantic, out-of-control “security” apparatus, which appears to have been hijacked by politically interested parties — namely, the minions of Hillary Clinton. You have been reminded here before that history is the supreme prankster. In Fourth Turning terms, the poor old disintegrating USA pined for a “gray champion” and all it got was this booby prize: a Manhattan real estate schmikler with a mean streak. Well, that’s how things roll in a long emergency. And this might only be the beginning of it. In any case, it appears that the FBI, in the hallowed words of Ricky Ricardo, has got some ‘splainin’ to do.

Recall, it was not so long ago that the FBI was run by a cross-dressing maniac addicted to blackmail, so let’s not act as if the agency was something that the Lord Yahweh brought into being on the fifth day of creation, after the lobsters and the cockateels. Granted, J. Edgar Hoover was a hard act to follow, but we are now, evidently, living in an age of even lower men (and women, to be fair). CNN reminded viewers relentlessly last night that The Memo was sure to be a disappointment, a “nothingburger,” for a nation that expects a righteous half-pound beef patty with lettuce, tomato, pickle, and special sauce on a sesame bun. Personally, I expect something more like a three-day-old dead carp in a plain brown wrapper. Maybe “the Resistance” will try to make gefilte fish out of it, which is a burger of sorts: chopped meat, anyway.

Meanwhile, we await the report of DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who has been rooting around in the same burger den as the House and Senate committees, questioning the same cast of characters. The DOJ report is liable to be more damaging than The Memo. The whole nasty gumball of suspicion and innuendo seems destined to climax in a constitutional crisis. Ludicrous as it seems — like some rogue army out of the stupid Star Wars epic — the “Resistance” bethinks itself the nation’s savior. In the best American tradition, they’ll burn the joint down in order to save it.

Read more …

Another little Brexit surprise.

UK Interest Rates Will Rise At The End Of February (G.)

There’s going to be an interest rate rise on 28 February. In just a few weeks you are going to see about 0.25% added to mortgage and savings rates. But you won’t see a press release from the Bank of England that the base rate has gone up. Instead, for the first time in years, banks are going to be scrambling to offer savers better rates – and the losers will be anyone taking out a new mortgage. So what’s happening? On 28 February an extraordinary financial measure, put in place in the days after the Brexit vote, will end. It was called the Term Funding Scheme and was designed to make sure that the 0.25% rate cut in the wake of the shock referendum result in 2016, did actually feed through the financial system (while keeping them profitable). Under the scheme, banks and building societies were able to borrow money from the Bank of England almost for free.

They did so with gusto. They have so far taken £106bn under the scheme, equal to around £3,500 for every working person in the country. Lloyds took £18bn, RBS £14bn, Barclays £10bn, Nationwide £9.5bn and Santander £8bn. Nearly everyone rushed to grab their share: from the tiny Holmesdale building society – which took £4m – through to the Nottingham building society (£395m) and Virgin Money (£4.2bn). Specialist lender Aldermore, which does a lot of buy-to-let mortgages, has drawn £1.4bn from the scheme over a period during which its total net lending has been £1.5bn. It underlines just how important the cash has been. With all this money gushing out of the Bank of England, it has meant that no one has really had to bother chasing savers for their money. So savings rates, already massively depressed by the 2012 Funding for Lending Scheme, were hit further.

But the corner will be turned on 28 February. On that date, the banks and building societies will have to start repaying that £106bn. They’ll have a few years to do it, so maybe I’m being a little dramatic suggesting rates will rise overnight. But let’s say I wouldn’t, right now, lock myself into Lloyds’ one-year bond paying 0.4% or NatWest’s two-year bond paying 0.85%. The banks are going to have to offer much better rates than that to bring the money in. Some of the big banks may pooh-pooh this. Yes, £18bn sounds like a lot for Lloyds, but then it has an £800bn balance sheet, so it’s hardly fatal. But when rivals start offering as much as 3% to get you to move money, banks won’t have a choice but to raise rates. According to Paul Richards, chairman of Insignis Cash Solutions: “It’s likely we will see a 0.25%-0.5% increase in longer-term savings rates over the next 12 months and potentially up to 1% over the next 24-36 months, which could leave a one-year term account getting close to the 3% level.”

Read more …

Why should the EU feel ‘warned’ about what may happen when the UK is no longer part of the EU?

Green Brexit Is Impossible To Guarantee, EU Is Warned (G.)

The European Conservative and Reformist group which represents Conservative MEPs has has said Brexit will make it “impossible” to guarantee that current environmental standards can be maintained in Britain or the EU. A leaked document seen by the Guardian also calls for “the closest possible working relationship” between the EU and UK after Brexit, and for a “no regression clause” in future British trade deals. This would “limit any negative effects from deregulation,” says the paper, which was submitted to the European parliament’s Brexit environment steering group. Some Conservative MEPs claimed not to have seen the report that was submitted. The parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, told the Guardian: “Suggestions that the UK might seek to lower environmental standards after Brexit are alarming and contradict the commitments made by prime minister May in her Florence speech.”

They also showed why a future deal “must contain precise and detailed safeguards, with robust sanctions, to ensure the maintenance of high standards and a level playing field,” he said. The EU’s environmental laws are among its most popular, with polls showing that over 80% of Britons support the same levels of protection – or higher – after Brexit. During the referendum campaign, key government ministers said EU laws such as the birds and habitats directive were “spirit-crushing” and would be scrapped. But Theresa May has sought to defuse fears of conservation backsliding by trying to make the environment a selling point of leaving the bloc. “Let me be very clear,” May said in a speech last month. “Brexit will not mean a lowering of environmental standards.” “We will use the opportunity Brexit provides to strengthen and enhance our environmental protections – not to weaken them.”

Read more …

Still haven’t seen one word about prosecuting the people behind all this. Incredible.

German Carmakers Have Lost All Moral Standing (Spiegel)

Starting in 2007, BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen and Bosch maintained a joint lobby organization that was disguised as a research institute. The European Research Association for the Environment and Health in the Transportation Sector (EUGT) purported to dedicate itself to the “environmental-medical effects of road traffic.” But the staff in leadership posts alone shows that the institute was in no way interested in independent research. EUGT head Michael Spallek, for example, had previously spent years employed as a leading company doctor at VW. He retained his VW email address, even after his move to EUGT. The results of the institute’s research were accordingly one-sided. The efficacy of low emission zones in cities that place restrictions on driving cars with high emissions?

There’s no proof, according to one essay the lobby group managed to place in a trade publication for respiratory medicine. Nighttime noise pollution from cars? It’s no problem, as long as it’s continuous. Do diesel emissions cause cancer? Can’t be proven. A short time later, former VW manager and EUGT head Spallek approved the tests with the monkeys. “We have finished our discussions with the company lawyers,” Spallek wrote in an email dating June 14, 2013. The lawyers had given the green light for the study to be carried out, but with one restriction: Non-human primates were to be used instead of human volunteers. Several VW executives at the time were copied in the message, including Stuart Johnson, the head of the company’s Engineering and Environmental Office in the United States.

But it doesn’t appear as though any critical questions were asked. The aim of the experiment with the monkeys had been to deliver definitive proof of how clean “German diesel” really is. The case files compiled by attorney Melkersen illustrate the zeal with which VW’s people organized the test. Nothing was left to chance when engineer James Liang began his journey with a bright-red VW Beetle from California to New Mexico at the beginning of October 2014. The engineer from company headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, was already under pressure, even at that point. The U.S. environmental authorities had expressed their doubts about the emissions values of the allegedly squeaky-clean car. VW Chairman Martin Winterkorn had been breathing down his staff’s necks, too. The new diesel models needed to provide the company with a breakthrough in the important U.S. market. As such, anything that might possibly preserve diesel’s environmentally friendly façade had priority.

Which is where the monkeys came in. As of Oct. 2, all final preparations had been made for the test. The VW man moved assiduously around the red Beetle, which had been placed on a chassis dynamometer. The experiment would be led by Jacob McDonald, an athletic young biologist who had quickly risen in his career at the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute (LRRI). McDonald found it strange that an engineer from Volkswagen would be present for the test. “It’s the first time that I’ve experienced that,” he would later say. And what he really couldn’t grasp was why the VW people wanted to transmit the entire test data in real-time to their research center in California. Engineer Liang had even brought along a transmission device especially for the task.

Read more …

YouTube has the lowest common denominator down to a T. So let kids see videos of kids beating up kids. They’re sure to keep watching.

How YouTube’s Algorithm Distorts Truth (G.)

There are 1.5 billion YouTube users in the world, which is more than the number of households that own televisions. What they watch is shaped by this algorithm, which skims and ranks billions of videos to identify 20 “up next” clips that are both relevant to a previous video and most likely, statistically speaking, to keep a person hooked on their screen. Company insiders tell me the algorithm is the single most important engine of YouTube’s growth. In one of the few public explanations of how the formula works – an academic paper that sketches the algorithm’s deep neural networks, crunching a vast pool of data about videos and the people who watch them – YouTube engineers describe it as one of the “largest scale and most sophisticated industrial recommendation systems in existence”.

Lately, it has also become one of the most controversial. The algorithm has been found to be promoting conspiracy theories about the Las Vegas mass shooting and incentivising, through recommendations, a thriving subculture that targets children with disturbing content such as cartoons in which the British children’s character Peppa Pig eats her father or drinks bleach. Lewd and violent videos have been algorithmically served up to toddlers watching YouTube Kids, a dedicated app for children. One YouTube creator who was banned from making advertising revenues from his strange videos – which featured his children receiving flu shots, removing earwax, and crying over dead pets – told a reporter he had only been responding to the demands of Google’s algorithm. “That’s what got us out there and popular,” he said. “We learned to fuel it and do whatever it took to please the algorithm.”

Read more …

How to make rape, murder and pillage more efficiently. And what does Amnesty say? ‘We’re not against it’.

Blockchain To Track Congo’s Cobalt From Mine To Mobile (R.)

Blockchain is to be used for the first time to try to track cobalt’s journey from artisanal mines in Democratic Republic of Congo through to products used in smartphones and electric cars. Sources close to a pilot scheme expected to be launched this year say the aim is eventually to give manufacturers a way of ensuring the cobalt in lithium-ion batteries for products such as iPhones and Teslas has not been mined by children. Tracking cobalt presents many challenges as scores of informal mine sites would have to be monitored, all players in the supply chain would need to buy into the scheme, and accurate, electronic data would need to be transmitted from remote areas – all in a vast country plagued by lawlessness.

But companies are under growing pressure from consumers and investors to show the cobalt they use has come through supply chains free of rights abuses, just as they have for minerals used in electronics such as tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold. Businesses in China, the main destination for Congolese cobalt from artisanal mines, have set up a Responsible Cobalt Initiative, which has been joined by tech giants such as Apple and Samsung, to address child labor. The problem they face is that there are few sure-fire ways of tracing cobalt from the informal mines that produce up to a fifth of the cobalt from Congo, the world’s biggest producer. “The demand to make cobalt more sustainable is going to continue growing, meaning there is a will to find a solution and blockchain will be part of that,” said a source with the project.

[..] Sheila Warren, head of blockchain policy at the World Economic Forum, said it was an open question how well it could work in Congo given the prevalence of conflict, lawlessness and an opaque legal system. “We are prototyping, iterating, testing, scaling,” said Warren, who is working with experts to see how blockchain can improve mineral supply chains. “The technology is not the hard part.” Amnesty International, which detailed the extent of child labor in cobalt mining in Congo in a 2016 report, said it was looking at blockchain, especially with a view to tracing payments to middlemen. “You have to be wary of technological solutions to problems that are also political and economic, but blockchain may help. We’re not against it,” said Amnesty researcher Mark Dummett.

Read more …

It is our governments who are behind this. And our media who don’t tell us about that. How anyone can protest when the Congo is labeled a shithole is beyond me. That takes a very large object up one’s behind.

Congo Gripped By Fear As Thousands Flee ‘Bone-Chilling’ Violence (G.)

The UN refugee agency has become the latest aid organisation to voice its alarm over rising violence in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo that has forced thousands of people to flee their homes. Amid a worsening humanitarian crisis, almost 7,000 people have crossed to neighbouring Burundi and 1,200 into Tanzania in the past week, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “Refugees we have spoken to say they fled forced recruitment, direct violence and other abuses by armed groups. Others say they fled in anticipation of military operations and out of fear,” said spokesperson Babar Baloch. Earlier this week, the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organisation described “alarming food insecurity” in the country, sparked by an extension of conflict into areas previously considered stable, such as the provinces of Kasai and Tanganyika.

Last month, Jean-Philippe Chauzy, DRC’s chief of mission for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), said the humanitarian crisis in DRC was at “breaking point” amid a massive escalation of inter-ethnic conflict and widespread insecurity. The number of people coping with extreme hunger has risen by 2 million over the past six months, reaching 7.7 million – about 10% of the population. More than 4 million children under the age of five are at risk of acute malnutrition, said the agencies. “The humanitarian situation in the DRC is at breaking point, as is our capacity to respond to extremely limited funding,” said Chauzy. “The stories that Congolese who have been forced from their homes are telling are bone-chilling. They have been through so much already – torture, rape and murder of their loved ones. We cannot stand idly by as they suffer in silence.”

Read more …

Without WikiLeaks, we’d be stumbling even more in the dark. We don’t do nearly enough to protect them. We let whoever claim that Assange is some Russian agent, and we owe him a lot more respect than that.

WikiLeaks Has Published Leaks On Trump Admin And Russia, Seeking More (CJ)

Democrats believe that Assange is a Trump-supporting Kremlin asset while Trump supporters believe Assange is a based MAGA hat-wearing ally to their cause, the former because they were told to believe that by CNN and the Washington Post and the latter because they’ve seen him championed by Fox’s Sean Hannity and the elaborate 4chan hoax “QAnon”. Neither could be further from the truth. Today Assange responded to a call for transparency on Trump “tax returns, corporate records, campaign emails, and other documents relevant to Donald Trump’s Russia/WikiLeaks connections” from toxic neocon David Frum with the words “Go for it” and a link to WikiLeaks’ leak submission service. This is not the first time WikiLeaks has solicited documents on the Trump administration, and it won’t be the last.

Since long before the election and continuing through to the present, WikiLeaks has been harshly criticizing the president’s refusal to release his tax returns and publicly asking for leakers to submit them. They are on record trying to persuade Donald Trump Jr to do the same in a conversation that has been spuriously criticized but which when examined impartially is plainly just a leak publishing outlet soliciting a potential source. More importantly, WikiLeaks has already published Trump administration leaks. Its Vault 7 and Vault 8 leak drops exposing the CIA’s scary surveillance and hacking tools are comparable to NSA leaks from Edward Snowden against the Obama administration, and much like the Obama administration’s vindictive backlash against Snowden we are seeing similar retaliation from the Trump administration for the CIA leaks.

Trump’s CIA Director has pledged to shut down WikiLeaks as “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,” and his Attorney General has statedthat Assange’s arrest is a priority, which Trump himself has said he would permit. Mike Pompeo’s increasingly vitriolic and threatening rhetoric about WikiLeaks is reminiscent of Joe Biden’s labeling Assange a “hi-tech terrorist” eight years ago. WikiLeaks in reality is not a friend of Republicans anymore than it’s a friend of Democrats, because WikiLeaks is and always will be first and foremost an enemy of corrupt power. The liberals who used to love Assange when he was dropping leaks about the Bush administration now hate him, and the conservatives who used to attack him as an enemy now celebrate him as a hero. This dynamic will necessarily switch again when more leaks drop and conservatives see clearly that Assange’s principles are not for sale.

Read more …

An epic tale for future historians. When we found how to feed ourselves, all of us, with good food, we decided not to do that. There’s some deeper meaning there, we don’t have the ability to do this right. We may be smart, but only superficially. And moreover, if we did get it right, we’d end up with 30-40 billion people here. So we poison ourselves.

‘Ultra-Processed’ Products Now Half Of All UK Family Food Purchases (G.)

Half of all the food bought by families in the UK is now “ultra-processed”, made in a factory with industrial ingredients and additives invented by food technologists and bearing little resemblance to the fruit, vegetables, meat or fish used to cook a fresh meal at home. Research by global nutrition experts reveals the scale of our food evolution, from farm-fresh to factory-manufactured. “Real food” has been replaced by salty snacks and sugary cereals, industrially-made bread and desserts, ready-meals and reconstituted meats alongside sweetened soft drinks. The study of 19 European countries is published this month in a special issue of the journal Public Health Nutrition. It shows that UK families buy more ultra-processed food than any others in Europe, amounting to 50.7% of the diet.

Germany comes second, on 46.2% and then Ireland on 45.9%. While the figures are not directly comparable, extracted from national surveys carried out differently and from different years, the trend is clear. The UK data they analysed came from the Living Costs and Food Survey 2008, the latest available. They categorised foods into four groups. More than a quarter of food (28.6%) was unprocessed or minimally so, 10.4% was processed cooking ingredients such as vegetable oil and 10.2% was ordinarily processed, such as cheese or cured meat. Ultra-processed food amounts to more than all the other groups combined.

Professor Carlos Monteiro from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, who led the research team, told the Guardian of his deep concern about the links between ultra-processed food with obesity and poor health. Ultra-processed foods may look attractive and are designed with sweet or salty tastes that make us want more. But there is nothing nutritious about them, Monteiro said. “Take breakfast cereals. If you take Froot Loops, for instance, more than 50% is sugar,” he told the Guardian. “[But] there is no fruit … “Ultra-processed foods are essentially new creations of the food industry with very low cost ingredients in a very attractive product.”

Read more …

 

 

Feb 022018
 
 February 2, 2018  Posted by at 11:01 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrFlattr the authorDigg thisShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone


Vincent van Gogh Pink peach trees (Souvenir de mauve) 1888

 

Trump to Release Memo Friday Morning Without Redactions (DisM)
Bank of Japan Offers ‘Unlimited’ Bond Buying To Curb Rising Yields (CNBC)
Bitcoin’s Brutal Week Is Even Worse in South Korea (BBG)
Chinese Stocks Tumble As Hong Kong ATM Withdrawals Surge (ZH)
Surprise Rise In UK House Prices As Lack Of Homes For Sale Fuels Lift (G.)
Buying Home In UK Cities At Least Affordable Level Since 2007 (Ind.)
UK Labour Party Plans To Make Landowners Sell To State For Fraction Of Value (G.)
Big Banks Accused of Stifling Competition in Stock Lending (Morgenson)
Here Comes the Next Financial Crisis (Nomi Prins)
Texas Shale Challenges North Sea Crude As World Oil Benchmark (R.)
Greek Taxpayers’ Debts To The State Soar To Record Highs (K.)
Erdogan’s Top Adviser Threatens To “Break The Legs” Of Greek PM (KTG)
Polar Bears Could Become Extinct Faster Than Was Feared (G.)
Warming Could Breach 1.5ºC Within Five Years (CCN)

 

 

Finally we get to see how ugly it can get.

Trump to Release Memo Friday Morning Without Redactions (DisM)

According to a recent report by the Washington Examiner, President Trump will declassify the controversial four-page memo that reportedly details surveillance abuses by the Department of Justice and FBI, and send it back to House Intelligence for a Friday morning release. The news comes just days after President Trump’s State of the Union address, where he was overheard stating that he would “100%” release the memo. The Examiner further reports that FBI Director Wray continues to oppose the release of the memo to the American public, citing: “grave concerns about the memo’s accuracy.” However, as the Wall Street Journal reports, it is important to remember that the FBI knows and has known what is in the memo for a long time, as the Bureau had, “refused to provide access to those documents until director Christopher Wray and the Justice Department faced a contempt of Congress vote.”

The Journal further relates that: “The FBI’s public statement appears to be an act of insubordination after Mr. Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein tried and failed to get the White House to block the memo’s release. Their public protest appears intended to tarnish in advance whatever information the memo contains. The public is getting to see amid this brawl how the FBI plays politics, and it isn’t a good look.” Members of the Democratic Party have also expressed their opposition to the release of the memo. For example, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), has also come out against the release of the memo to the public.

Last week, Schiff and Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), wrote a letter to Facebook and Twitter, in which they expressed their fears that the top trending hashtag “#ReleaseTheMemo” was being pushed by Russian bots as part of a propaganda effort seeking to “attack our democracy”. However, much to their dismay, it was revealed that the top trending hashtag was not the work of Russian bots, but originated organically by fellow Americans. This news did not deter a California duo from penning a second letter to Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday, in order to raise awareness about potential abuse of their platforms by “agents of foreign influence”.

Read more …

Artificial ‘market’. How can anyone see it as a good thing?

Bank of Japan Offers ‘Unlimited’ Bond Buying To Curb Rising Yields (CNBC)

Japanese government bond prices recovered from earlier losses after the Bank of Japan acted decisively on Friday to curb a rise in bond yields, offering “unlimited” buying in long-term Japanese government bonds. Heavy buying of JGBs raises the price of bonds to force down their yield, an essential element of the BOJ’s ultra-loose yield curve control (YCC) policy. It was the first time in more than six months that the BOJ has conducted special operations to buy bonds to achieve the yields it wants to see, rather than the auctions used in regular operations – a powerful show of force to direct the market. On top of that, the BOJ increased the amount of its planned buying in five- to 10-year JGBs to 450 billion yen from the 410 billion amount it has favored since late August.

Following the BOJ’s operations, the price of the 10-year JGB futures rose to as high as 150.31 from the day’s low of 150.09. It was up 0.11 on the day. The benchmark 10-year cash JGB yield edged down to 0.090%, the same level as its previous close, from 0.095% touched earlier. JGB yields have risen in recent weeks, in line with global peers, on rising expectations that the world’s central banks are increasingly leaning towards winding back stimulus as the global economy gains momentum. Investors have started to speculate that the BOJ could also be moving towards an exit from ultra-easy policy, although BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has denied that he was considering such a major policy adjustment in the near future.

Read more …

Significant shift: “The country’s waning frenzy has been reflected in declining activity on domestic exchanges. Data compiled by CryptoCompare.com show that volumes have dropped by about 85% from December highs.”

Bitcoin’s Brutal Week Is Even Worse in South Korea (BBG)

Bitcoin’s brutal start to the year is proving especially painful in South Korea. While prices for the cryptocurrency are falling on major exchanges around the world, nowhere have the declines been faster than in Asia’s fourth-largest economy. The losses have erased a 51% premium for Bitcoin on Korean venues, sending prices back in line with those on international markets for the first time in seven weeks on Friday. The so-called kimchi premium had been so persistent – and so unusual for a large country – that traders named it after Korea’s staple side dish. While its disappearance is partly explained by selling pressure from arbitragers, it also reflects a dramatic reversal of investor sentiment in one of the world’s most frenzied markets for cryptocurrencies.

Bitcoin has tumbled more than 60% from its high in Korea after the nation’s regulators took several steps over the past two months to restrict trading and said they may ban cryptocurrency exchanges outright. Policy makers around the world have been moving to rein in the mania surrounding digital assets amid concerns over excessive speculation, money laundering, tax evasion and fraud. “The bubble in crytpocurrencies has burst” in Korea, said Yeol-mae Kim at Eugene Investment & Securities in Seoul. The kimchi premium began shrinking in mid-January as fears of a regulatory clampdown escalated. Selling by arbitragers – who have been buying Bitcoin on international venues to offload at a higher price in Korea – also played a role, although the country’s capital controls and anti-money-laundering rules made it difficult to execute such transactions in bulk.

Bitcoin traded at about 9.1 million won ($8,449) in Korea on Friday morning, according to a CryptoCompare index tracking the country’s major exchanges. That compared with the $8,601 composite price on Bloomberg, which is derived from venues including Bitstamp and Coinbase’s GDAX exchange. When the kimchi premium reached its peak in January, Bitcoin’s price was about $7,500 higher in Korea. The country’s waning frenzy has been reflected in declining activity on domestic exchanges. Data compiled by CryptoCompare.com show that volumes have dropped by about 85% from December highs.

Read more …

Liquidity.

Chinese Stocks Tumble As Hong Kong ATM Withdrawals Surge (ZH)

Chinese stocks are down for the fifth day in a row (something that hasn’t happened since May 2017) with the tech-heavy Shenzhen Composite is now down 5% YTD and the Shanghai Composite is tumbling back towards unchanged. The decline is happening at the same time as Bitcoin is in freefall… And chatter about bankers using WeChat to ask for Deposits. In other words – a liquidity crisis. And that anxiety is only increased by the latest report from Reuters that cash withdrawals at Hong Kong ATMs have surged, prompting scrutiny from monetary authorities, the banking industry, and police amid media reports that mainland Chinese are withdrawing hundreds of thousands of dollars using up to 50 cards at a time. China has battled to curb capital outflows for years. A move that took effect on Jan. 1 caps overseas withdrawals using domestic Chinese bank cards.

The gambling hub of Macau last year introduced facial recognition technology at ATMs to target illicit outflows from mainland China, a move that Hong Kong’s central bank told Reuters could increase cash withdrawals in the financial center. “The HKMA is aware of media reports about people using multiple mainland cards to withdraw cash at ATMs in Hong Kong,” the central bank said in a statement, adding that it was “monitoring the situation and is in discussion with the banking industry and the police about this issue”. A local banker said some commercial banks have stepped up monitoring of cash withdrawals. Hong Kong police said they were working closely with the HKMA and banking industry to respond to any changes in financial crime trends. While this is as much to do with money-laundering and capital flight, the liquidation of stocks, cryptocurrencies, and now mass ATM withdrawals suggests more is going on that the usual pre-new-year liquidity hording.

Read more …

There is no lck of homes. There’s a huge surplus in ultra low interest rate loans.

Surprise Rise In UK House Prices As Lack Of Homes For Sale Fuels Lift (G.)

UK house prices rose at the fastest annual pace in 10 months in January, bolstered by a lack of new homes coming on to the market, according to Nationwide. The average price of a home reached £211,756 last month, according to the building society’s monthly survey. Property values were up 0.6% from the month before, the same monthly gain as in December, but the annual growth rate picked up to 3.2% from 2.6%, the highest since March 2017, when it was 3.5%. Robert Gardner, Nationwide’s chief economist, said: “The acceleration in annual house price growth is a little surprising, given signs of softening in the household sector in recent months. Retail sales were relatively soft over the Christmas period, as were key measures of consumer confidence, as the squeeze on household incomes continued to take its toll.”

But he added: “The flow of properties coming on to estate agents’ books has been more of a trickle than a torrent for some time now and the lack of supply is likely to be the key factor providing support to house prices.” Many forecasters predicted the housing market would continue to slow to about 1% this year. This would mean property values falling in real terms. Nationwide is still forecasting price growth of 1-1.5% this year.

Chris Scicluna, an economist at Daiwa, said: “With real wage growth remaining below zero and consumer confidence still subdued, house price growth appears unlikely to extend this upward trend over coming months and quarters. However, a similar pace could well be maintained on the back of very attractive mortgage rates, limited supply, record high employment, and the strong likelihood that consumer price inflation is likely to moderate.” Home ownership in England remained at a 30-year low last year. The government’s latest English housing survey showed that of an estimated 22.8m households, 14.4m – or 62.6% – were owner-occupiers in 2016-17, compared with 62.9% in 2016. This was similar to the rate seen in the mid-1980s and down from a peak of 71% in 2003. Of young adults aged 25 to 34, only 37% owned their home.

Read more …

Greater Fool hour.

Buying Home In UK Cities At Least Affordable Level Since 2007 (Ind.)

The typical cost of buying a home in a UK city has reached its least affordable levels in a decade, a report has found. The average house price across cities equated to seven times typical annual earnings in 2017, the Lloyds Bank Affordable Cities Review found. This is the highest house price-to-income multiple since the average city home cost seven and-a-half times earnings in 2007. In 2012, the average city home cost around 5.6 times wages. But over the past five years, the average house price across UK cities has surged by over a third (36%), reaching £232,945 in 2017.

Over the same period, average city earnings have risen by 9% to £33,420. Oxford was found to be the least affordable city in the study, with average property prices there equating to 11-and-a-half times average annual earnings. Stirling in Scotland was identified as the UK’s most affordable city for the fifth consecutive year, with average property prices at around four times annual earnings. Six cities in the study have house prices commanding at least 10 times the average earnings of residents.

Read more …

Only, so-called value is highly inflated, profiting from government actions.

UK Labour Party Plans To Make Landowners Sell To State For Fraction Of Value (G.)

Labour is considering forcing landowners to give up sites for a fraction of their current price in an effort to slash the cost of council house building. The proposal has been drawn up by John Healey, the shadow housing secretary, and would see a Jeremy Corbyn-led government change the law so landowners would have to sell sites to the state at knockdown prices. Landowners currently sell at a price that factors in the dramatic increase in value when planning consent is granted. It means a hectare of agricultural land worth around £20,000 can sell for closer to £2m if it is zoned for housing. Labour believes this is slowing down housebuilding by dramatically increasing costs. It is planning a new English Sovereign Land Trust with powers to buy sites at closer to the lower price.

This would be enabled by a change in the 1961 Land Compensation Act so the state could compulsorily purchase land at a price that excluded the potential for future planning consent. Healey’s analysis suggests that it would cut the cost of building 100,000 council houses a year by almost £10bn to around £16bn. With the “hope value” removed from the price of land, the cost of building a two-bed flat in Wandsworth, south-west London, would be cut from £380,000 to £250,000, in Chelmsford it would fall from £210,000 to £130,000 and in Tamworth in the West Midlands, where land values are lower, it would drop from £150,000 to £130,000. “Rather than letting private landowners benefit from this windfall gain – and making everyone else pay for it – enabling public acquisition of land at nearer pre-planning-permission value would mean cheaper land which could help fund cheaper housing,” said Healey.

Read more …

Stock lending links to shorting.

Big Banks Accused of Stifling Competition in Stock Lending (Morgenson)

A newly filed lawsuit against six major investment banks contends they worked together to prevent a startup company from competing in the vast and lucrative stock-lending market. The complaint, filed Tuesday in a New York federal court, follows a suit brought last summer against the same institutions by three pension funds who accused the banks of conspiring to keep their stranglehold on the roughly $1 trillion market. The litigation brings increased scrutiny on the stock-loan business, an opaque, over-the-counter market that is a crucial but behind-the-scenes cog in Wall Street’s trading machinery. At issue are stock-lending transactions, in which pension funds, insurance companies and other investors lend their shares to brokerage firms whose customers, such as hedge funds, borrow stock to offset other positions or make bets against companies in trades known as short sales.

Asset managers receive a fee for the stock they lend depending on borrower interest in it. The suit was filed by QS Holdings, the parent of Quadriserv, which was formed in 2001 and built an electronic trading platform. Called AQS, the platform gave stock-loan participants access to real-time prices on trades that reflected actual bids and offers. Transactions on AQS were executed anonymously and centrally settled; the system was registered with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and the Securities and Exchange Commission. But it never gained traction and was sold in a distressed sale in 2016. On Jan. 26, the six firms — Bank of America, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and UBS— filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed last summer by the pension funds.

In that filing, the firms said the allegations were meritless, noting that “none of the plaintiffs’ allegations identified ‘direct evidence’ of conspiracy.” In the stock-loan business, investors borrowing shares from brokerage firms also pay, sometimes steeply, for the service. When many traders want to borrow a company’s shares, its stock is known as “hard-to-borrow” and fees associated with the transaction are far higher. The middlemen in these trades often are Goldman, J.P. Morgan and Morgan Stanley. They make trades in an over-the-counter market where prices are typically given privately to customers. It thus is difficult for them to determine whether they are getting appropriate prices.

The middlemen typically keep most of the fees collected on the most lucrative trades, and critics say that amount would be far lower if borrowers and lenders met in a centralized market where pricing was transparent, like the AQS.

Read more …

Squid squared.

Here Comes the Next Financial Crisis (Nomi Prins)

Thanks to the Senate confirmation of his selection for chairman of the board, Donald Trump now owns the Fed, too. The former number two man under Janet Yellen, Jerome Powell will be running the Fed, come Monday morning, February 5th. Established in 1913 during President Woodrow Wilson’s administration, the Fed’s official mission is to “promote a safe, sound, competitive, and accessible banking system.” In reality, it’s acted more like that system’s main drug dealer in recent years. In the wake of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, in addition to buying trillions of dollars in bonds (a strategy called “quantitative easing,” or QE), the Fed supplied four of the biggest Wall Street banks with an injection of $7.8 trillion in secret loans. The move was meant to stimulate the economy, but really, it coddled the banks.

Powell’s monetary policy undoubtedly won’t represent a startling change from that of previous head Janet Yellen, or her predecessor, Ben Bernanke. History shows that Powell has repeatedly voted for pumping financial markets with Federal Reserve funds and, despite displaying reservations about the practice of quantitative easing, he always voted in favor of it, too. What makes his nomination out of the ordinary, though, is that he’s a trained lawyer, not an economist. Powell is assuming the helm at a time when deregulation is central to the White House’s economic and financial strategy. Keep in mind that he will also have a role in choosing and guiding future Fed appointments. (At present, the Fed has the smallest number of sitting governors in its history.)

The first such appointee, private equity investor Randal Quarles, already approved as the Fed’s vice chairman for supervision, is another major deregulator. Powell will be able to steer banking system decisions in other ways. In recent Senate testimony, he confirmed his deregulatory predisposition. In that vein, the Fed has already announced that it seeks to loosen the capital requirements big banks need to put behind their riskier assets and activities. This will, it claims, allow them to more freely make loans to Main Street, in case a decade of cheap money wasn’t enough of an incentive.

Read more …

Crude still rules.

Texas Shale Challenges North Sea Crude As World Oil Benchmark (R.)

As the United States approaches a record 10.04 million barrels of daily production, trading volumes of so-called “WTI” futures exceeded volumes of Brent crude in 2017 by the largest margin in at least seven years. A decade ago, falling domestic production and a U.S. ban on exports meant that WTI served mostly as a proxy for U.S. inventory levels. “There was a time when the U.S. was disconnected from the global market,” said Greg Sharenow, portfolio manager at PIMCO, who co-manages more than $15 billion in commodity assets. Two changes drove the resurgence of the U.S. benchmark. One was the boom in shale production, which spawned a multitude of small producers that sought to hedge profits by trading futures contracts.

Then two years ago, the United States ended its 40-year ban on crude exports, making WTI more useful to global traders and shippers. U.S. exports averaged 1.1 million barrels a day through November 2017, rising to an average 1.6 million bpd in the final three months. That compares to just 590,000 bpd in 2016. As U.S. production and exports grow, global firms that increasingly buy U.S. oil are offsetting their exposure by trading in U.S. financial markets. That also gives U.S. shale producers more opportunity to lock in profits on their own production.

Read more …

Why Greece needs debt relief across the board “It is estimated that just 20% of expired debts are collectible.”

Greek Taxpayers’ Debts To The State Soar To Record Highs (K.)

Taxpayers’ total overdue debts to the state soared to a record 101.8 billion euros at the end of December, in a clear indication that society’s taxpaying capacity is at breaking point due to overtaxation. In December alone, when 2018 road tax and an installment of the Single Property Tax (ENFIA) came due, new expired debts amounted to 1.3 billion euros. According to data released on Thursday by the Independent Authority for Public Revenue, the new expired debts added last year came to 12.9 billion euros, concerning all tax obligations that went unpaid, from income tax and ENFIA to tax penalties and value-added tax. The phenomenon has major consequences for taxpayers. The figures also showed that confiscations and debt settlements brought 5.07 billion euros into the state coffers in 2017, of which 2.69 billion concerned old debts (dating before 2017). More than 1 million taxpayers have already had assets confiscated over debts to the tax authorities. Their number grew by 14,871 in December to reach 1,050,077 at the end of 2017.

The authority’s data reveal that 4,068,857 taxpayers – or more than half – have expired debts to the state, and that this figure would have been 138,260 higher had those people not settled their dues in December due to fears of repossessions. At the moment taxpayers can enter a tax payment program involving 12 to 24 monthly installments, even for dues that are not classified as expired. The online platform also allows them to add new debts to the fixed plan each month. Taxpayers who want to enter such a payment plan can visit the authority’s website and choose which of their debts that are not overdue they want to add to the 12-installment scheme. The picture regarding expired debts is set to change drastically once the bailout obligation for arrears clearance is completed, separating collectible dues from those that cannot be collected. It is estimated that just 20% of expired debts are collectible.

Read more …

Fulminating against the 1923 Lausanne Treaty is easy populist fodder for Erdogan. His gamble is that Turkey’s bust-up with the US in Syria, and the threat to NATO because of it, will allow him to take Greek territory.

Erdogan’s Top Adviser Threatens To “Break The Legs” Of Greek PM (KTG)

Chief advisor of Turkish President Erdogan, Yigit Bulut, has threatened Greece over the disputed islet of Imia in the Eastern Aegean Sea. “Athens will face the wrath of Turkey worse than that in Afrin,” Bulut said in a Television show of a private network. “We will break the arms and legs of officials, of the Prime Minister and any Minister, who dares to step on the Kardak/Imia islet in the Aegean,” he claimed. Bultu’s threats come just a couple of days after Defense Minister Panos Kammenos sailed to Imia and threw a wreath into the sea to honor the three fallen soldiers during the Imia conflict in 1996. Ankara does not miss a chance to challenge Greece’s sovereignty in the islets and islands of the Aegean Sea, escalate tension around Imia and risk an ugly incident that could bring the two neighboring countries at the verge of an armed conflict like two decades ago.

Read more …

Much higher metabolism than anyone had ever noticed.

Polar Bears Could Become Extinct Faster Than Was Feared (G.)

Polar bears could be sliding towards extinction faster than previously feared, with the animals facing an increasing struggle to find enough food to survive as climate change steadily transforms their environment. New research has unearthed fresh insights into polar bear habits, revealing that the Arctic predators have far higher metabolisms than previously thought. This means they need more prey, primarily seals, to meet their energy demands at a time when receding sea ice is making hunting increasingly difficult for the animals. A study of nine polar bears over a three-year period by the US Geological Survey and UC Santa Cruz found that the animals require at least one adult, or three juvenile, ringed seals every 10 days to sustain them.

Five of the nine bears were unable to achieve this during the research, resulting in plummeting body weight – as much as 20kg during a 10-day study period. “We found a feast and famine lifestyle – if they missed out on seals it had a pretty dramatic effect on them,” said Anthony Pagano, a USGS biologist who led the research, published in Science. “We were surprised to see such big changes in body masses, at a time when they should be putting on bulk to sustain them during the year. This and other studies suggest that polar bears aren’t able to meet their bodily demands like they once were.” Pagano’s team studied the bears in a period during April over the course of three years, from 2014 to 2016, in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska.

They fitted the bears with GPS collars with video cameras to measure activity levels. Blood chemistry was also taken from the bears. Previously, polar bears were thought to expend relatively little energy during days where they often wait for hours beside holes in the ice, which seals emerge from in order to breathe. But the researchers found that they actually have an average metabolism 50% higher than prior estimates. With previous studies showing recent drops in polar bear numbers, survival rates and body condition, scientists said the new research suggests the species is facing an even worse predicament than was feared.

A recent widely-shared video of an emaciated polar bear is a “horrible scene that we will see more of in the future and more quickly than we thought,” according to Dr Steven Amstrup, who led polar bear research for 30 years in Alaska. “This is an excellent paper that fills in a lot of missing information about polar bears,” said Amstrup, who was not involved in the USGS research. “Every piece of evidence shows that polar bears are dependent on sea ice and if we don’t change the trajectory of sea ice decline, polar bears will ultimately disappear. “They face the choice of coming on to land or floating off with the ice as it recedes, out to the deep ocean where there is little food. We will see more bears starving and more of them on land, where they will get into trouble by interacting with humans.”

Read more …

The takeaway from this is not in the numbers. It’s in the certainty that we will not stop the process. All we have is a Paris agreement spearheaded by politicians who see their polls and businessmen who see a profit.

Warming Could Breach 1.5ºC Within Five Years (CCN)

The UK’s meteorological agency has forecast the global temperature might flicker above 1.5C within the next five years. That would be within a decade of the Paris climate deal setting 1.5C as an aspirational limit on global warming. The Met Office’s decadal forecast said the global average temperature was “likely” to exceed 1C between 2018-2022 and could reach 1.5C. “There is also a small (around 10%) chance that at least one year in the period could exceed 1.5C above pre-industrial levels,” the office said in a statement on Wednesday. “It is the first time that such high values have been highlighted within these forecasts.” Met Office scientists were quick to point out that this would not actually breach the Paris Agreement, as that limit refers to a long term average, rather than a yearly reading.

The office’s chief scientist, professor Stephen Belcher, said: “Given we’ve seen global average temperatures around 1C above pre-industrial levels over the last three years, it is now possible that continued warming from greenhouse gases along with natural variability could combine so we temporarily exceed 1.5C in the next five years.” The Paris climate deal, agreed by 197 UN member states in 2015, set a global goal for keeping temperatures “well below 2C”, aiming for 1.5C. The lower goal is considered by many of the most vulnerable countries, especially low-lying island nations, to be the upper limit for their homelands to survive. Coral scientists also predict that more than 1.5C of warming would wipe out most coral reefs.

Read more …

Feb 012018
 
 February 1, 2018  Posted by at 11:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrFlattr the authorDigg thisShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone


Frederic Edwin Church The Parthenon 1871

 

FBI Opposes Memo Release Due To “Inaccurate Information” (ZH)
Alan Greenspan Sees Bubbles in Stocks and Bonds (BBG)
Janet Yellen’s Fed Era Ends With Unanimous Vote of No Rate Hike (BBG)
Two Out Of Three UK Pension Schemes Are In The Red (Yahoo)
Secret Price Fixing Among German Carmakers (Spiegel)
Germany Reaches Limit of Support for Macron’s Europe Plans (BBG)
Hungary Rejects Macron’s ‘Arrogance’ as EU Reform-Fight Looms (BBG)
More Than One Million Greeks Trapped In Tax Payment Scheme Nightmare (K.)
Planting Wildflowers Across Farm Fields Could Cut Pesticide Spraying (G.)
Earth’s Magnetic Field Is Shifting, Poles May Flip (ZH)
‘Super Blue Blood Moon’ Rises Over The Acropolis (K.)
Latest Rhino Poaching Figures Show A Decade Of Bloodshed (Ind.)

 

 

Bad theater. But not releasing the memo is no longer an option.

FBI Opposes Memo Release Due To “Inaccurate Information” (ZH)

Update 1240ET: In what CNN described as a “rate public warning,” the FBI released a statement Wednesday saying it has “grave concerns” over the accuracy of the House Intel Committee’s memo describing purportedly egregious FISA abuses. “With regard to the House Intelligence Committee’s memorandum, the FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it. As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy,” the FBI said in a statement.
* * *
Update 1130ET: Bloomberg reports that FBI Director Christopher Wray told the White House he opposes release of a classified Republican memo alleging bias at the FBI and Justice Department because it contains inaccurate information and paints a false narrative, according to a person familiar with the matter. Of course, given the allegedly terrible picture the memo paints of The FBI, it is perhaps not entirely surprising that Wary would oppose its release, however, if this sourced reporting proves correct, it plays very badly for Republicans as it would seem to confirm Rep. Schiff’s accusations.
* * *
As we detailed earlier, just before President Trump headed to the Capitol for last night’s “State of the Union”, the Washington Post reported that top Justice Department officials made a last-ditch plea on Monday to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly about the dangers of publicly releasing the memo. Shortly before the House Intelligence Committee voted to make the document public, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein warned Kelly that the four-page memo prepared by House Republicans could jeopardize classified information and implored the president to reconsider his support for making it public. But those pleas from Rosenstein – who isn’t exactly the West Wing’s favorite lawman, and whose name apparently appears in the memo – have apparently fallen on deaf ears.

Last night, President Trump promised a lawmaker that the memo would “100%” be released now that the House Intel Committee has voted to approve its release. And during a Fox News Radio interview with Brian Kilmeade, Chief of Staff John Kelly added that the memo would be publicly released “pretty quick.” “I’ll let all the experts decide that when it’s released. This president wants everything out so the American people can make up their own minds,” he said.

Read more …

He should know, he created them both.

Alan Greenspan Sees Bubbles in Stocks and Bonds (BBG)

The man who made the term “irrational exuberance” famous says investors are at it again. “There are two bubbles: We have a stock market bubble, and we have a bond market bubble,” Alan Greenspan, 91, said Wednesday on Bloomberg Television with Tom Keene and Scarlet Fu. Greenspan, who led the Federal Reserve from 1987 until 2006, memorably used the phrase to describe asset values during the 1990’s dot-com bubble. Greenspan’s comments come as stock indexes remain near record highs, despite selling off in recent days, and as the yields on government notes and bonds hover not far from historic lows. Interest rates are expected to move up in coming years as the Fed continues with a campaign to gradually tighten monetary policy.

“At the end of the day, the bond market bubble will eventually be the critical issue, but for the short term it’s not too bad,” Greenspan said. “But we’re working, obviously, toward a major increase in long-term interest rates, and that has a very important impact, as you know, on the whole structure of the economy.” The Fed on Wednesday opted to leave rates unchanged and markets are pricing in an increase at the central bank’s March meeting. Greenspan sounded an alarm on forecasts that the U.S. government deficit will continue to climb as a share of GDP. He said he was “surprised” that President Donald Trump didn’t specify how he would fund new government initiatives in Tuesday’s State of the Union speech. The president last month signed into law about $1.5 trillion in tax cuts that critics say will further balloon the budget gap.

Read more …

The nonsense is deafening. Great solid economy, but no rate hikes.

Janet Yellen’s Fed Era Ends With Unanimous Vote of No Rate Hike (BBG)

Federal Reserve officials, meeting for the last time under Chair Janet Yellen, left borrowing costs unchanged while adding emphasis to their plan for more hikes, setting the stage for an increase in March under her successor Jerome Powell. “The committee expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant further gradual increases in the federal funds rate,” the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee said in a statement Wednesday in Washington, adding the word “further” twice to previous language. The changes to the statement, collectively acknowledging stronger growth and more confidence that inflation will rise to their 2% target, may spur speculation that the Fed will pick up the pace of interest-rate increases.

Officials also said inflation “is expected to move up this year and to stabilize” around the goal, in phrasing that marked an upgrade from their statement in December. At the same time, the Fed repeated language saying that “near-term risks to the economic outlook appear roughly balanced.” “It opens the door to four hikes for them, but I don’t think they have walked through it,” said Michael Gapen at Barclays in New York. “It closes the door to two hikes.” Fed officials penciled in three rate moves this year in quarterly forecasts they updated last month, according to their median projection.

With her term ending later this week after President Donald Trump chose to replace her, Yellen is handing the reins to Powell, who has backed her gradual approach and is widely expected to raise interest rates at the FOMC’s next meeting for the sixth time since late 2015. Fed officials are hoping to keep a tight labor market from overheating without raising borrowing costs so fast that it would stifle the economy. “Gains in employment, household spending and business fixed investment have been solid, and the unemployment rate has stayed low,” the Fed said, removing previous references to disruptions from hurricanes. “Market-based measures of inflation compensation have increased in recent months but remain low.”

Read more …

People won’t understand their pensions are Ponzis until there are no payments.

Two Out Of Three UK Pension Schemes Are In The Red (Yahoo)

Two out of three pension funds are in the red – to the tune of a combined £210 billion, it has been revealed. Some 3,710 schemes are in deficit according to the Pension Protection Fund watchdog, putting a serious question mark over the retirement plans of millions of workers. The PFF has been called into action on two high profile occasions of late – working with Toys R Us to secure a near £10m injection into its ailing fund to protect the company’s short-term future and also sorting through the debris of the Carillion collapse. The giant contractor folded earlier this month with debts of above £1.3bn, including an estimated £800m hole in its pension fund. The PFF monitors the health of 5,588 pension pots, with some of the biggest names on the FTSE 100 running schemes with major shortfalls.

The biggest include £9.1billion at BT, as well as deficits of £6.9billion at Royal Dutch Shell, £6.7billion at BP and £6.6billion at both Tesco and BAE Systems. Sir Steve Webb, a former pensions minister under the recent coalition government, said Carillion would not be the last big company to fold leaving its pension scheme in jeopardy. “The question isn’t if there will be another Carillion – it’s when,” said Webb, who is now director of policy at pensions group Royal London. “With two-thirds of schemes in deficit it is inevitable there will be more insolvencies and more schemes ending up in the PPF.”

Read more …

They had more than 60 active working groups.. And thought it’d remain secret? Anyone going to jail?

Secret Price Fixing Among German Carmakers (Spiegel)

The Federal Cartel Office suspects that major carmakers and a few of their suppliers have been fixing prices for years, and possibly even decades. It’s not the prices at which the companies sell their cars or car parts that is at issue, but rather a significant component of the prices they pay for steel. “The aim of the suspected collusion,” the court ruling that granted the search warrants read, was to “unify the purchasing price for steel in the automobile industry and, by doing so, create a commonality of costs.” The Federal Cartel Office believes that the alleged collusion existed back in the 1990s and that “it existed again from March 2007 until February 2013.” Investigators have also found indications there may have been collusion in 2016.

Collusion of that nature is the antithesis of competition. It means that VW, Daimler and BMW were no longer competing to buy steel cheaper than their rivals and passing their savings down to customers – as is normally the case in a functioning market economy. And steel is one of the most important supplies purchased by carmakers. The nationwide searches didn’t remain secret, with the media quickly reporting on them. But until now, the background and details of the raids have remained largely unknown, the case having been overshadowed by a European Commission investigation into another case that also involves the automobile industry – a case that DER SPIEGEL exposed last summer.

That case was triggered when Daimler and Volkswagen essentially admitted wrongdoing, and since then the Brussels authority has been looking into suspicions that the companies engaged in collusion for several years with BMW, Porsche and Audi, in the form of more than 60 working groups covering areas such as technological development, suppliers and how to deal with environmental protection authorities. The companies had created working groups for almost every part of a vehicle. They existed for “gasoline engines,” “diesel engines,” “car body,” “chassis,” “total vehicle” and many more areas. With five brands involved – Daimler, BMW, Audi, Porsche and VW – the groups were referred to internally as “groups of five.” All together, they met more than 1,000 times in past years.

Read more …

Say no more: “Desired ambiguities..”

Germany Reaches Limit of Support for Macron’s Europe Plans (BBG)

French President Emmanuel Macron will be disappointed if he expects Germany’s next government to drum up more goodwill for his European reform plans in this week’s talks, according to four people familiar with the current coalition negotiations. Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union-led bloc and its prospective Social Democratic Party partner are not planning any fundamental changes to their proposals on Europe’s future as set out in a preliminary agreement reached Jan. 12, according to the people, who represent all three parties involved in the talks. All asked not to be named as the negotiations are private and ongoing. Representatives of Merkel’s CDU, its Christian Social Union sister party and Martin Schulz’s Social Democrats met in the Chancellery in Berlin on Wednesday to discuss Europe policy.

While Schulz hailed the outcome as a “fresh start” for Europe, details were in short supply. The negotiators didn’t go much beyond those measures already agreed, one of the people attending the meeting said. These include higher German contributions to the EU budget; expanding the European Stability Fund (ESM) into a European Monetary Fund; and a European framework for minimum wages. The SPD proposed giving the EU its own means to raise revenue, whether by taxes or tolls, prompting Merkel’s bloc to warn against a debate over tax increases. On a visit to Macron in Paris on Jan. 19, Merkel said the coalition’s common Europe plans contained “desired ambiguities,” since any attempt to agree on the final details now would reduce the room to negotiate.

In reality, her CDU/CSU and the SPD, as the Social Democrats are known in German, have different interpretations of the proposals, and these divergent positions are likely to bubble up in the coming months in the debate over euro-area reform.

Read more …

Hungary won’t be easy to strong-arm. But Brussels will try. The only people who want more Europe are politicians.

Hungary Rejects Macron’s ‘Arrogance’ as EU Reform-Fight Looms (BBG)

French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to bring to heel renegade European Union nations as part of a drive to reform the bloc smacks of arrogance and will fail, a senior Hungarian ruling party official said. Unanimity is required both to change the EU constitution and approve a multi-year, post-2020 EU budget. That means proposed sanctions on countries like Hungary and Poland for alleged rule-of-law violations won’t gain traction, according to Gergely Gulyas, parliamentary leader of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party. Governments are drawing battle lines as the EU mulls plans to re-invent itself, with some members saying the euro crisis, Brexit, the biggest refugee influx since World War II and ex-communist members ditching the bloc’s liberal values have necessitated a revamp.

Macron has presented the most ambitious proposals, with a plan to deepen integration in everything from defense to the economy. He has also called for sanctions against member states seen as backsliding on democracy. “If we’re going to play the game that western European countries want to launch rule-of-law procedures against eastern European countries because of differences over values, then that’s not going to work,” said Gulyas, 36. “That would destroy the Union.” Hungary received 3.6 billion euros ($4.5 billion) in net EU funding in 2016. That made it the fourth-biggest beneficiary in the 28-member bloc after Poland, Romania and Greece and underscores the risk to its economy if Macron can make good on his pledge. Gulyas dismissed proposals aimed at punishing Hungary and Poland, arguing that France has for years failed to meet EU spending limits yet has escaped penalties for fiscal offenders.

Read more …

Under an alleged left-wing government.

More Than One Million Greeks Trapped In Tax Payment Scheme Nightmare (K.)

More than 1 million Greeks are now trapped in programs to pay off their tax and social security dues in installments, a situation likely to continue for years to come. On Wednesday the Finance Ministry announced taxpayers can apply for a 12- or 24-installment payment scheme, which under certain circumstances can include non-expired dues, on the website of the Independent Authority for Public Revenue. Citizens are resorting to various payment programs offered by the ministries of Finance and Labor because they would otherwise be unable to meet their obligations. In many cases taxpayers are forced to pay additional installments in order not to default on their plans.

The million-plus taxpayers and businesses that are trapped in the various schemes they have entered to pay off the tax authorities and the social security funds have no other choice but to keep paying, otherwise they will have their assets confiscated. The payment schemes are the outcome of the growth in taxation and of social security contributions in recent years. Worse, as of this year, if anyone delays the payment of an installment by more than 24 hours, the debt will be classified as overdue and the process of the monitoring mechanism will be triggered for the state to safeguard its interests. Particularly in the case of the 100-payment program for dues to the tax authorities, missing a deadline means the entire amount due is classified as expired and becomes immediately payable along with fines and penalties.

Read more …

You mean, monoculture is not the greatest thing ever?!

Planting Wildflowers Across Farm Fields To Cut Pesticide Spraying (G.)

Long strips of bright wildflowers are being planted through crop fields to boost the natural predators of pests and potentially cut pesticide spraying. The strips were planted on 15 large arable farms in central and eastern England last autumn and will be monitored for five years, as part of a trial run by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH). Concern over the environmental damage caused by pesticides has grown rapidly in recent years. Using wildflower margins to support insects including hoverflies, parasitic wasps and ground beetles has been shown to slash pest numbers in crops and even increase yields. But until now wildflower strips were only planted around fields, meaning the natural predators are unable to reach the centre of large crop fields.

“If you imagine the size of a [ground beetle], it’s a bloody long walk to the middle of a field,” said Prof Richard Pywell, at CEH. GPS-guided harvesters can now precisely reap crops, meaning strips of wildflowers planted through crop fields can be avoided and left as refuges all year round. Pywell’s initial tests show that planting strips 100m apart means the predators are able to attack aphids and other pests throughout the field. The flowers planted include oxeye daisy, red clover, common knapweed and wild carrot. In the new field trials, the strips are six metres wide and take up just 2% of the total field area. They will be monitored through a full rotation cycle from winter wheat to oil seed rape to spring barley.

“It’s a real acid test – we scientists are having to come up with real practical solutions,” said Pywell, who led a landmark study published in 2017 showing that neonicotinoids insecticides damage bee populations, not just individual insects. In the new trials, the researchers will be looking out for any sign that drawing the wild insects into the centre of fields, and therefore closer to where pesticides are sprayed, does more harm than good.

Read more …

Old threat. But a real one.

Earth’s Magnetic Field Is Shifting, Poles May Flip (ZH)

[..] scientists from the University of Colorado in Boulder are sounding the alarm that the Earth’s magnetic poles are showing signs of reversing. Although the pole reversal, in and of itself, isn’t unprecedented, the solar winds that would take out the power grid and make parts of the globe uninhabitable could cause widespread disasters. The Earth has a fierce molten core that generates a magnetic field capable of defending our planet against devastating solar winds. This magnetic field is vital to life on Earth and has weakened by 15 percent over the last 200 years. This protective field acts as a shield against harmful solar radiation and extends thousands of miles into space and its magnetism affects everything from global communication to power grids.

Historically, Earth’s North and South magnetic poles have flipped every 200,000 or 300,000 years. However, the last flip was about 780,000 years ago, meaning our planet is well overdue. The latest satellite data, from the European Space Agency’s Swarm trio which monitors the Earth’s magnetic field, suggest a pole flip may be imminent. The satellites allow researchers to study changes building at the Earth’s core, where the magnetic field is generated. Their observations suggest molten iron and nickel are draining the energy out of the Earth’s core near where the magnetic field is generated. While scientists aren’t sure why exactly this happens, they describe it as a “restless activity” that suggests the magnetic field is preparing to flip.

Read more …

A lot more timeless than most other pics of this.

‘Super Blue Blood Moon’ Rises Over The Acropolis (K.)

A ‘super blue blood moon’ rises behind the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple on the Acropolis hill in Athens on Wednesday evening, when thousands of city residents took to the streets and balconies to witness the rare spectacle. People in many parts of the world caught a glimpse of the moon as a giant reddish globe thanks to a rare lunar phenomenon that combines a total eclipse with a blue moon and super moon. The spectacle – the first in 152 years – has been coined a ‘super blue blood moon’ by NASA. [Petros Giannakouris/AP]

Read more …

Just refuse to do any trade with any country that imports the horns. For starters.

Latest Rhino Poaching Figures Show A Decade Of Bloodshed (Ind.)

Dr Ian Player, the veteran South African game ranger and doyen of global rhino conservation, would be turning in his grave today were he to discover that another 1,000 rhinos had been slaughtered in the last calendar year. The African-wildlife warrior died just over three years ago aged 87, at a point when poaching had just exploded to record levels in South Africa – with nearly three rhinos gunned down daily. Annual government statistics announced last week complete the picture of 7,130 rhino carcasses piled up in South Africa over the last decade. Shortly before his death, I visited Player at his home in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands to ask him about his thoughts on the poaching crisis and the future of one of the “big five” (lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and Cape buffalo) species he devoted most of his life to protecting.

Frail and dispirited, he had reached a point in life where he should have been taking things easy, after more than six decades of service to nature conservation. Instead, his cellphone rang incessantly as colleagues from all corners of the country reported the discovery of yet another rhino butchered for its horns. Having worked so hard to save rhinos from extinction once before, there was no way Player could hang up his conservation boots amidst this new crisis. He also told me about a dream that haunted him. “My dream was about a young white rhino which came to lie down next to me and then gently placed its head on my shoulder. That does not need too much interpretation – the rhinos still need our help more than ever before,” he explained.

Player first came across a rhino in Imfolozi Game Reserve in the early 1950s when he joined the Natal Parks Board as a learner game ranger. A disciple of Carl Jung and Sir Laurens van der Post, Player went on to spearhead a global operation to safeguard the world’s second-largest land animal from extinction. Less than a decade ago, poaching deaths were limited to roughly 20 rhinos per year in South Africa, the country that provides sanctuary to 93% of Africa’s white rhinos and nearly 40% of the continent’s black rhinos. In 2007, only 13 rhinos were poached in South Africa. But in 2008 that tally rose steeply to 80 deaths; to 333 in 2010 and then to a record level of 1,205 during 2014. Last year the death toll topped the 1,000 mark for the fifth year in a row.

Read more …

Jan 312018
 
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrFlattr the authorDigg thisShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone


Paul Gauguin Farm in Brittany 1894

 

Market Euphoria May Turn to Despair If 10-Year Yield Jumps to 3% (BBG)
Forget Stocks, Look At EU Bonds – They Are The Real Problem (Luongo)
The Ticking Time Bomb in the Municipal-Bond Market (Barron’s)
UK Interest-Only Mortgagees Are at Risk of Losing Their Homes
US National Debt Will Jump by $617 Billion in 5 Months (WS)
Trump Urges Congress To Pass $1.5 Trillion In Infrastructure Spending (R.)
Trump Joins Bezos, Dimon, Buffett In Pledge To Stop Soaring Drug Prices (MW)
Trump Says ‘100%’ After He’s Asked to Release GOP Memo (BBG)
Saving Rate Drops to 12-Year Low As 50% of Americans Don’t Have Savings (WS)
U.S. Regulators Subpoena Crypto Exchange Bitfinex, Tether (BBG)
Customer Lawsuits Pummel Spanish Banks (DQ)
Britons Ever More Deeply Divided Over Brexit (R.)
The GDP of Bridges to Nowhere (Michael Pettis)

 

 

If central banks and governments have really lost control over bonds, find shelter.

Market Euphoria May Turn to Despair If 10-Year Yield Jumps to 3% (BBG)

It’s getting harder and harder to quarantine the selloff in Treasuries from equities and corporate bonds. The benchmark 10-year U.S. yield cracked 2.7% on Monday, rising to a point many forecasters weren’t expecting until the final months of 2018. For over a year, range-bound Treasuries helped keep financial markets in a Goldilocks state, with interest rates slowly rising due to favorable forces like stronger global growth and the Federal Reserve spearheading a gradual move away from crisis-era monetary policy. Yet the start of 2018 caught many investors off guard, with the 10-year yield on pace for its steepest monthly increase since November 2016. It’s risen 30 basis points this year and reached as high as 2.73% in Asian trading Tuesday.

Suddenly, they’re confronted with thinking about what yield level could end the good times seen since the presidential election. For many, 3% is the breaking point at which corporate financing costs would get too expensive, the equity market would lose its luster and growth momentum would fade. “We are at a turning point in the psyche of markets,” said Marty Mitchell, a former head government bond trader at Stifel Nicolaus & Co. and now an independent strategist. “A lot of people point to 3% on the 10-year as the critical level for stocks,” he said, noting that higher rates signal traders are realizing that quantitative easing policies really are on the way out.

U.S. stocks have set record after record, buoyed by strong corporate earnings, President Donald Trump’s tax cuts and easy U.S. financial conditions. The S&P 500 Index has returned around 6.8% this year, once reinvested dividends are taken into account, and the U.S. equity benchmark is already higher than the level at which a Wall Street strategists’ survey last month predicted it would end 2018. What often goes unsaid in explaining the equity-market exuberance is that Treasury yields refused to break higher last year. Instead, they remained in the tightest range in a half-century, allowing companies to borrow cheaply and forcing investors to seek out riskier assets to meet return objectives.

Read more …

It’s all bonds, not even just sovereign bonds. Investors will move from equities into bonds all over the place.

Forget Stocks, Look At EU Bonds – They Are The Real Problem (Luongo)

While all the headlines are agog with stories about the Dow Jones dropping a couple hundreds points off an all-time high, German bunds are getting killed right before our eyes. The Dow is simply a market overdue for a meaningful correction in a primary bull market. And it’s a primary bull market brought on by a slow-moving sovereign debt crisis that will engulf Europe. It’s not the end of the story. Hell, the Dow isn’t even a major character in the story. In fact, similar stories are being written in French 10 year debt, Dutch 10 year debt, and Swiss 10 year debt. These are the safe-havens in the European sovereign debt markets. Meanwhile, Italian 10 year debt? Still range-bound. Portuguese 10 year debt? Near all-time high prices. The same this is there with Spain’s debt. All volatility stamped out. Why? Simple. The ECB.

The ECB’s quantitative easing program and negative interest rate policy (NIRP) drove bond yields across the board profoundly negative for more than a year. [..] the ECB is trapped and cannot allow rates to rise in the vulnerable sovereign debt markets — Italy, Portugal, Spain — lest they face bank failures and a real crisis. The problem with that is, the market is scared and so they are selling the stuff the ECB isn’t buying – German, French, Dutch, Swiss debt. In simple terms, we are seeing the flight into the euro intensify here as investors are raising cash. The euro and gold are up. The USDX continues to be weak even though capital is pouring into the U.S. thanks to fundamental changes to tax and regulatory policy under President Trump. In the short term Dow Jones and S&P500 prices are overbought. Fine. Whatever. But, the real problem is not that. The real problem is the growing realization in the market that governments and central banks do not have an answer to the debt problem.

[..] The U.S. economy is about to be unleashed by Trump’s tax cut law. It will be able to absorb higher interest rates for a while. Yield-starved pension funds, as Armstrong rightly points out, will be bailed out slightly forestalling their day of reckoning. And in doing so, higher rates in the U.S. are driving core-rates higher in Europe. An overly-strong euro is crushing any hope of further economic recovery in the periphery, like Italy. The debt load on Italy et.al. has increased relative to their national output by around 20% since the end of 2016. This will put the ECB at risk of a massive loss of confidence when Italian banks start failing, Italy’s budget deficit starts expanding again and hard-line euroskeptics win the election in March. As capital is drained out of Europe into U.S. equities, the dollar, gold and cryptocurrencies, things should begin to spiral upwards rapidly.

Read more …

See? More bonds. Meredith Whitney was 10 years early.

The Ticking Time Bomb in the Municipal-Bond Market (Barron’s)

There’s a looming disaster in the market for municipal debt. Every market participant knows about it, and there isn’t much any of them can do about it. Many state and local governments, even more than corporations, have promised generous pensions they can’t afford. The promises may have looked plausible in the past, especially during the dot-com boom, when money that pension funds put in the markets was doubling. When the market crashed, so did their returns—and, a few years later, the global financial crisis took out another substantial chunk. And with interest rates at historic lows, bonds have failed to deliver the income the funds relied on. While governments delay dealing with the problem as long as they can, analysts and researchers are wondering if we have reached the point of no return. For investors in municipal bonds, it could mean future defaults and losses.

“We are increasingly wary of high pension exposure, especially among state and local credits,” the Barclays muni-research team wrote this month, citing “inflated return targets, low funded ratios, growing obligations, perhaps heavy allocations to equities and compressed tax revenues make for especially adverse conditions.” What’s more, “short-term investment gains won’t be sufficient to plug liability gaps.” Yet many pensions still assume they will be able to generate the returns they saw in the past. New Jersey’s pension and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System have lowered their assumed rate of return to 7%. But with the 30-year Treasury yielding less than 3% and stocks already at record highs, it’s unclear how public markets can generate 7%—which is why many pensions have turned to higher-risk, lower-liquidity strategies, such as private equity.

Muni investors, for their part, are increasingly sensitive to pensions’ widening gap. After the financial crisis and the ensuing recession, they suddenly became interested in pension finances. A report late last year by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College found that, as pension liabilities grew, spreads between state and local municipal bonds and Treasuries also increased. When such issuers came to issue new debt, they discovered the market was charging them more to borrow. “Pensions have become increasingly relevant to the municipal bond markets and can have a meaningful impact on the borrowing costs of a municipality,” the report says.

Read more …

Rising bond yields mean higher mortgage rates. Australia is overflowing with interest only loans. Plenty other countries have loads of it too.

UK Interest-Only Mortgagees Are at Risk of Losing Their Homes

Some borrowers with interest-only mortgages may lose their homes as a result of shortfalls in repayment plans, the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority warned. The FCA has identified three peaks in interest-only mortgage repayments, the first of which is currently underway. Defaults are less likely in the present wave of maturities because the homeowners are approaching retirement and have higher incomes. The next two peaks, from 2027 through 2028 and in 2032, are more at risk of shortfalls, the regulator said. Customers are reluctant to discuss with their lenders how they’ll pay off the loans, limiting their options, the FCA found. Almost 18% of outstanding mortgages in the U.K. are interest-only or involve only partial payment of the capital, according to the statement.

“Since 2013, good progress has been made in reducing the number of people with interest-only mortgages,” Jonathan Davidson, executive director of supervision retail and authorization at the regulator, said in a statement. “However, we are very concerned that a significant number of interest-only customers may not be able to repay the capital at the end of the mortgage and be at risk of losing their homes.” The FCA reviewed 10 lenders representing about 60% of the interest-only mortgage market for the study. The supervisor also urged lenders to review and improve their own strategies regarding repayment of the loans.

Read more …

Now add some infrastructure.

US National Debt Will Jump by $617 Billion in 5 Months (WS)

While everyone is trying to figure out how to twist the new tax cut to their advantage and save some money, the US Treasury Department just announced how much net new debt it will have to sell to the public through the second quarter to keep the government afloat: $617 billion. That’s what the Treasury Department estimates will be the total amount added to publicly traded Treasury securities — or “net privately-held marketable borrowing” — through the end of the second quarter. This will be the net increase in the US debt through the end of Q2. By quarter: During Q1, the Treasury expects to increase US public debt by $441 billion. It includes estimates for “lower net cash flows.” During Q2 – peak tax seasons when revenues pour into the Treasury – it expects to increase US public debt by $176 billion.

It also “assumes” that with these increases in the debt, it will have a cash balance at the end of June of $360 billion. So over the next five months, if all goes according to plan, the US gross national debt of $24.5 trillion currently – which includes $14.8 trillion in publicly traded Treasury securities and $5.7 trillion in internally held debt – will surge to about $25.1 trillion. That’s a 4% jump in just five months. Note the technical jargon-laced description for this (marked in green on the chart). The flat lines in 2013, 2015, and 2017 are a result of the prior three debt-ceiling fights. Each was followed by an enormous spike when the debt ceiling was lifted or suspended, and when the “extraordinary measures” with which the Treasury keeps the government afloat were reversed. And note the current debt ceiling, the flat line that started in mid-December.

In November, Fitch Ratings said optimistically that, “under a realistic scenario of tax cuts and macro conditions,” the US gross national debt would balloon to 120% of GDP by 2027. The way things are going right now, we won’t have to wait that long. Back in 2012, gross national debt amounted to 95% of GDP. Before the Financial Crisis, it was at 63% of GDP. At the end of 2017, gross national debt was 106% of GDP! Over the next six month, the debt will grow by about 4%. Unless a miracle happens very quickly, the debt will likely grow faster over the next five years due to the tax cuts than over the past five years. But over the past five years, the gross national debt already surged nearly 25%, or by $4.1 trillion. So that’s a lot of borrowing, for an economy that is growing at a decent clip.

Read more …

Coverage of SOTU proves my point: Moses split the nation.

As for infrastructure, they will go for what provides most short term gain. That is, make people pay. For roads, not public transport, for instance.

Trump Urges Congress To Pass $1.5 Trillion In Infrastructure Spending (R.)

President Donald Trump called on the U.S. Congress on Tuesday to pass legislation to stimulate at least $1.5 trillion in new infrastructure spending. In his State of the Union speech to Congress, Trump offered no other details of the spending plan, such as how much federal money would go into it, but said it was time to address America’s “crumbling infrastructure.” Rather than increase federal spending massively, Trump said: “Every federal dollar should be leveraged by partnering with state and local governments and, where appropriate, tapping into private-sector investment.” The administration has already released an outline of a plan that would make it easier for states to build tollways and to privatize rest stops along interstate highways.

McKinsey & Company researchers say that $150 billion a year will be required between now and 2030, or about $1.8 trillion in total, to fix all the country’s infrastructure needs. The American Society of Civil Engineers, a lobbying group with an interest in infrastructure spending, puts it at $2 trillion over 10 years. Trump said any infrastructure bill needed to cut the regulation and approval process that he said delayed the building of bridges, highways and other infrastructure. He wants the approval process reduced to two years, “and perhaps even one.” Cutting regulation is a top priority of business lobbying groups with a stake in building projects and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Read more …

Just the kind of folk you want in charge of your health. With your medical needs standing in the way of their profits.

Trump Joins Bezos, Dimon, Buffett In Pledge To Stop Soaring Drug Prices (MW)

President Trump pledged to bring down drug prices. “One of my greatest priorities is to reduce the price of prescription drugs,” Trump said during his State of the Union address on Tuesday evening. “In many other countries, these drugs cost far less than what we pay in the United States and it’s over, very unfair. That is why I have directed my administration to make fixing the injustice of high drug prices one of our top priorities for the year.” Mark Hamrick, Washington, D.C. bureau chief at Bankrate.com, said the president has made that promise before. “Will his choice of a former drug industry executive, Alex Azar, now the head of Health and Human Services, deliver results on that front?” he said. “I’d prefer to place my bet on the partnership just announced by Berkshire Hathaway, J.P. Morgan Chase and Amazon.”

Earlier Tuesday, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase, three of the biggest companies in the U.S., surprised the health-care industry on Tuesday with a plan to form a company to address rising health costs for their U.S. employees. They said it will be “free from profit-making incentives and constraints.” Health-care costs have skyrocketed over the last 60 years, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, private foundation based in Washington, D.C. In 1960, hospital costs cost $9 billion. In 2016, they cost $1.1 trillion. In 1960, physicians and clinics costs were $2.7 billion, but ballooned to $665 billion. Prescription drug prices soared from $2.7 billion in 1960 to $329 billion. U.S. health-care spending reached $3.3 trillion, or $10,348 per person in 2016.

The Trump administration has pledged to roll back the 2010 Affordable Care Act, perhaps Barack Obama’s signature achievement as U.S. president. Roughly 1 million people will lose their insurance under Trump’s plans, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Berkshire Hathaway chairman and CEO Warren Buffett didn’t hold back in excoriating the health-care industry. “The ballooning costs of health care act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy,” Buffett said. Amazon founder CEO Jeff Bezos and J.P. Morgan Chase chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon were more measured in their remarks. “Amazon, Chase and Berkshire Hathaway think they can do it better than the insurance companies,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. “There’s a lot of frustration with the high cost of health insurance, yet government’s offering almost no systemic solutions. It’s as big a change as I have seen in the market in years.”

Read more …

Just do it?! Perhaps it makes sense not to release it before SOTU, it would have been the only talking point.

Trump Says ‘100%’ After He’s Asked to Release GOP Memo (BBG)

President Donald Trump was overheard Tuesday night telling a Republican lawmaker that he was “100%” planning to release a controversial, classified GOP memo alleging bias at the FBI and Justice Department. As he departed the House floor after delivering his State of the Union address, C-SPAN cameras captured Representative Jeff Duncan, a South Carolina Republican, asking Trump to “release the memo.” Republican lawmakers say the four-page document raises questions about the validity of the investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia, now led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. “Oh yeah, don’t worry, 100%,” Trump replied, waving dismissively. “Can you imagine that? You’d be too angry.”

Republicans in the House moved to release the memo, authored by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, in a party-line vote on Monday. The move has been opposed by Democrats, who argue the memo gives an inaccurate portrayal of appropriate actions undertaken by law enforcement, and by the Justice Department, which has said it should remain classified. Releasing the memo has become a cause for conservative congressional Republicans, who say the FBI and the Justice Department pursued the investigation of possible Russian ties to the Trump presidential campaign under false pretenses. Trump has as many as five days to review the document for national security concerns, and White House officials insisted earlier Tuesday he hadn’t yet seen the document.

Read more …

Talk about your American Dream: “..households are living paycheck-to-paycheck even if those paychecks are reasonably large and even if life is comfortable at the moment.”

Saving Rate Drops to 12-Year Low As 50% of Americans Don’t Have Savings (WS)

In terms of dollars, personal saving dropped to a Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate of $351.6 billion, meaning that at this rate in December, personal savings for the whole year would amount to $351.6 billion. This is down from the range between $600 billion and $860 billion since the end of the Financial Crisis. But who is – or was – piling up these savings? Numerous surveys provide an answer, with variations only around the margins. For example, the Federal Reserve found in its study of US households: Only 48% of adults have enough savings to cover three months of expenses if they lost their income. An additional 22% could get through the three-month period by using a broader set of resources, including borrowing from friends and selling assets. But 30% would not be able to manage a three-month financial disruption. 44% of adults don’t have enough savings to cover a $400 emergency and would have to borrow or sell something to make ends meet.

Folks who had experienced hardship were more likely to resort to “an alternative financial service” such as a tax refund anticipation loan, pawn shop loan, payday loan, auto title loan, or paycheck advance, which are all very expensive. Similarly, Bankrate found that only 39% of Americans said they’d have enough savings to be able to cover a $1,000 emergency expense. They rest would have to borrow, sell, cut back on spending, or not deal with the emergency expense. All these surveys say the same thing: about half of Americans have little or no savings though many have access to some form of credit, including credit cards, pawn shops, payday lenders, or relatives. So what does it mean when the “saving rate” declines?

Many households spend more than they make. For them, the personal saving rate is a negative number. This negative personal saving rate translates into borrowing, which explains the 5.7% year-over-year surge in credit card debt, and the 5.5% surge in overall consumer credit. It boils down to this: most of the positive saving rate, with savings actually increasing, takes place at the top echelon of the economy – at the top 40%, if you will – where households are flush with cash and assets and where the saving rate is very large. But the growth in borrowing for consumption items (the negative saving rate) takes place mostly at the bottom 60%, where households are living paycheck-to-paycheck even if those paychecks are reasonably large and even if life is comfortable at the moment.

Read more …

Peculiar: $2.3 billion ‘worth’ of a dollar-pegged ‘currency’, backed by nothing much in proof.

U.S. Regulators Subpoena Crypto Exchange Bitfinex, Tether (BBG)

U.S. regulators are scrutinizing one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges as questions mount over a digital token linked to its backers. The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission sent subpoenas on Dec. 6 to virtual-currency venue Bitfinex and Tether, a company that issues a widely traded coin and claims it’s pegged to the dollar, according to a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified discussing private information. The firms share the same chief executive officer. Tether’s coins have become a popular substitute for dollars on cryptocurrency exchanges worldwide, with about $2.3 billion of the tokens outstanding as of Tuesday.

While Tether has said all of its coins are backed by U.S. dollars held in reserve, the company has yet to provide conclusive evidence of its holdings to the public or have its accounts audited. Skeptics have questioned whether the money is really there. “We routinely receive legal process from law enforcement agents and regulators conducting investigations,” Bitfinex and Tether said Tuesday in an emailed statement. “It is our policy not to comment on any such requests.” Bitcoin, the biggest cryptocurrency by market value, tumbled 10% on Tuesday. It fell another 3.2% to $9,766.41 as of 9:19 a.m. in Hong Kong, according to composite pricing on Bloomberg. The virtual currency hasn’t closed below $10,000 since November.

Read more …

Who’s aiding Spain in keeping its problems hidden? 30,000 complaints in 9 months, and the ECB is silent?!

Customer Lawsuits Pummel Spanish Banks (DQ)

Following a succession of consumer-friendly rulings, bank customers in Spain are increasingly taking their banks to court. And many of them are winning. Last year an unprecedented wave of litigation against banks forced the Ministry of Justice to set up dozens of courts specialized in mortgage matters to prevent the collapse of the rest of the national judicial system. The Bank of Spain, according to its own figures, received 29,957 complaints from financial consumers between January and September 2017 — already double that of the previous year and by far the highest number of complaints registered since 2013, a record year when investors and customers were desperately trying to claw back the money they’d lost in the preferred shares that issuing banks had pushed on their own customers as savings products.

In 2017, eight out of 10 complaints related to one key product: mortgages, and in particular the so-called “floor clauses” contained within them. These floor clauses set a minimum interest rate — typically of between 3% and 4.5% — for variable-rate mortgages, even if the Euribor dropped far below that figure. This, in and of itself, was not illegal. The problem is that most banks failed to properly inform their customers that the mortgage contract included such a clause. Those that did, often told their customers that the clause was an extreme precautionary measure and would almost certainly never be activated. After all, they argued, what are the chances of the Euribor ever dropping below 3.5% for any length of time? At the time (early 2009), Europe’s benchmark rate was hovering around the 5% mark.

Within a year it had crashed below 1% and has been languishing at or below zero ever since. As a result, most Spanish banks were able to enjoy all the benefits of virtually free money while avoiding one of the biggest drawbacks: having to offer customers dirt-cheap interest rates on their variable-rate mortgages. But all that came to a crashing halt in May 2013 when Spain’s Supreme Court ruled that the floor clauses were abusive and that the banks must reimburse all the funds they’d overcharged their mortgage customers — but only from the date of the ruling! Then, on December 21, 2016, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) delivered a further hammer blow when it acknowledged the right of homeowners affected by “floor clauses” to be reimbursed money dating back to when the mortgage contract was first signed. Since the ECJ ruling, law firms are now so confident of winning floor-clause cases that they’re even offering no win, no-fee deals.

Read more …

US and UK suffer from the exact same problem.

Britons Ever More Deeply Divided Over Brexit (R.)

The social divide revealed by Britain’s 2016 vote to leave the European Union is not only here to stay but deepening, according to academic research published on Wednesday. Think tank The UK in a Changing Europe said Britons were unlikely to change their minds about leaving the EU, despite the political and economic uncertainty it has brought, because attitudes are becoming more entrenched. “The (Brexit) referendum highlighted fundamental divisions in British society and superimposed a leave-remain distinction over them. This has the potential to profoundly disrupt our politics in the years to come,” said Anand Menon, the think tank’s director.

Britain is negotiating a deal with the EU which will shape future trade relations, breaking with the bloc after four decades, but the process is complicated by the divisions within parties, society and the government itself. Menon said the research, based on a series of polls over the 18-month period since Britain voted to leave the European Union, showed 35% of people self-identify as “Leavers” and 40% as “Remainers”. Research also found that both sides had a tendency to interpret and recall information in a way that confirmed their pre-existing beliefs which also added to the deepening of the impact of the vote. The differences showed fragmentation was more determined by age groups and location than by economic class.

Polls have shown increasing support for a second vote on whether or not to leave the European Union once the terms of departure are known, but such a vote would not necessarily provide a different result, a poll by ICM for the Guardian newspaper indicated last week. The report also showed that age was a better pointer to how Britons voted than employment. Around 73% of 18 to 24-year-olds voted to stay in the EU, but turnout among that group was lower than among older voters. “British Election Study surveys have suggested that, in order to have overturned the result, a startling 97% of under-45s would have had to make it to the ballot box, as opposed to the 65% who actually voted,” the report said.

Read more …

How China hides debt through swaps. As US and EU have done for ages now.

The GDP of Bridges to Nowhere (Michael Pettis)

In most economies, GDP growth is a measure of economic output generated by the performance of the underlying economy. In China, however, Beijing sets annual GDP growth targets it expects to meet. Turning GDP growth into an economic input, rather than an output, radically changes its meaning and interpretation. On January 18, 2018, China’s National Bureau of Statistics announced that the country’s GDP grew by 6.9% in 2017. A day earlier, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) announced that total social financing (TSF) in 2017 had increased to 19.44 trillion renminbi.

[..] I was recently part of a discussion on a listserv that brings together Chinese and foreign experts to exchange views on China-related topics. What set off this discussion was a claim that the Chinese economy began to take deleveraging seriously in 2017. Everyone agreed that debt in China is still growing far too quickly relative to the country’s debt-servicing capacity, but the pace of credit growth seems to have declined in 2017, even as real GDP growth held steady and, more importantly, nominal GDP growth increased. I was far more skeptical than some others about how to interpret this data. It is not just the quality of data collection that worries me, but, more importantly, the prevalence in China of systemic biases in the way the data is collected. Not all debt is included in TSF figures. The table above, for example, indicates a fall in TSF in 2015, but this did not occur because China’s outstanding credit declined.

[..] in 2015 there was a series of debt transactions (mainly provincial bond swaps aimed at reducing debt-servicing costs and extending maturities) that extinguished debt that had been included in the TSF category and replaced it with debt not included in TSF. The numbers are large. According to the China Daily, there were 3.2 trillion renminbi worth of bond swaps in 2015, plus an additional 600 billion renminbi of new bonds issued. If we adjust TSF by adding these back, rather than indicate a decline of 6.4%, we would have recorded an increase of 15.7%. [..] The point is that the deceleration in credit growth implied by TSF data might indeed reflect the beginning of Chinese deleveraging, but it could also reflect the surge in regulatory concern. In the latter case, this would mean that China has experienced not the beginnings of deleveraging, but rather a continuation of the trans-leveraging observers have seen before.

Read more …

Jan 302018
 
 January 30, 2018  Posted by at 11:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrFlattr the authorDigg thisShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone


Horacio Coppola Obelisco, Buenos Aires 1936

 

House Intel Votes To Make “Shocking” FISA Memo Public (ZH)
Trump Administration Holds Off On New Russia Sanctions (R.)
Measure What Is Measurable (John Hussman)
Global Bond Yields Spike as Inflation Fears Rise (Street)
US Mortgage Rates Jump To The Highest Point In 4 Years (CNBC)
Stormy Weather (Jim Kunstler)
Leaked Brexit Report Shows Damage To UK Growth (G.)
Janet Yellen Sets Interest Rates One Last Time. How Will History Rate Her? (G.)
On The Death of Robert Parry (CJ)
Refugee Relocations From Italy And Greece Drawing To A Close (DW)

 

 

I like the suggestion that Trump can read the memo out loiud tonoght in SOTU. Though it’s been discussed so much already, it can only disappoint probably.

House Intel Votes To Make “Shocking” FISA Memo Public (ZH)

In a highly anticipated decision, on Monday evening the House Intelligence Committee voted to make public the memo alleging what some Republicans say are “shocking” surveillance abuses at the Department of Justice regarding the Trump presidential campaign. In immediate response to the vote, the Committee’s top democrat Adam Schiff said that “we’ve crossed a deeply regrettable line”, adding that the “committee voted to put the president’s interest above the interest of the country.” The decision [ends] weeks of speculation over whether the memo, which was drafted by staff for committee chairman Devin Nunes (R- Calif) would be made public. At the same time, it intensifies the dispute over what Democrats say is an all-out assault by Republicans to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Now the fate of the 4-page FISA memo is in the hands of Donald Trump: as we discussed earlier, the document will not be immediately released as under the House rule Republicans used to override the classification of the four-page memo, President Trump now has five days to review and reject its publication. But, as per Bloomberg’s reporting earlier, the White House has signaled support for the document’s release and is widely expected to defy the DOJ in allowing the publication to go forward. The DOJ has opposed the release of the document, reportedly infuriating President Trump. While Nunes has described the memo as “facts,” Democrats have slammed it as a collection of misleading talking points they are unable to correct without exposing the highly classified information underpinning the document.

As Bloomberg disclosed earlier on Monday, releasing the memo without allowing them to review it on those grounds, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote to Nunes, would be “extraordinarily reckless.” Of course, the reason for the DOJ – and the Democrats’ fury – is well-known: Republicans who have read the memo have hinted heavily that it contains information that could unravel the entire Mueller investigation, long described by the president as a “witch hunt.” In an amusing twist, now that transparency appears to be the watchword, the Republican controlled House Intel Committee also plans to release the transcript of the business meeting dealing with releasing the FISA memo.

Read more …

Russia has pledged to read the list ‘without letting emotion get in the way’.

Trump Administration Holds Off On New Russia Sanctions (R.)

The Trump administration said on Monday it would not immediately impose additional sanctions on Russia, despite a new law designed to punish Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, insisting the measure was already hitting Russian companies. “Today, we have informed Congress that this legislation and its implementation are deterring Russian defense sales,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. “Since the enactment of the … legislation, we estimate that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions.” Seeking to press President Donald Trump to clamp down on Russia, the U.S. Congress voted nearly unanimously last year to pass a law setting sweeping new sanctions on Moscow.

Trump, who wanted warmer ties with Moscow and had opposed the legislation as it worked its way through Congress, signed it reluctantly in August, just six months into his presidency. Under the measure, the administration faced a deadline on Monday to impose sanctions on anyone determined to conduct significant business with Russian defense and intelligence sectors, already sanctioned for their alleged role in the election. But citing long time frames associated with major defense deals, Nauert said it was better to wait to impose those sanctions. “From that perspective, if the law is working, sanctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed because the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent,” she said in a statement.

Read more …

Next recession: Dow plunge by 2/3.

Measure What Is Measurable (John Hussman)

[..] it’s true that when we examine pre-crash extremes, like 2000 and 2007, we’ll typically find that actual returns over the preceding 12-year period were higher than the returns that one would have expected on the basis of valuations 12 years earlier. No surprise there. The only way to get to breathtaking valuations is to experience a period of surprisingly strong returns. Those breathtaking valuations are then followed by dismal consequences. Likewise, when we examine secular lows like 1974 and 1982, we’ll find that actual returns over the preceding 12-year period fell short of the returns one would have expected on the basis of valuations 12 years earlier.

The chart below offers a reminder of what this looks like, in data since the 1920’s. Look at the “errors” in 1988, 1995, and 2006. Count forward 12 years, and you’ll find the major valuation peaks of 2000, 2007 and today that were responsible for the overshoot of actual returns. The 2000 and 2007 instances were both followed by losses of 50% or more in the S&P 500. Look at the “errors” in 1937, 1962, 1966, and 1970. Count forward 12 years, and you’ll find the market lows of 1949, 1974, 1978 and 1982 that were responsible for the undershoot of actual returns. Those market lows turned out to be the best buying opportunities of the post-war era. When market cycles move to extreme overvaluation or undervaluation, they become an exercise in borrowing or lending returns to the future, and then surrendering or receiving them back over the remaining half of the cycle.

Put simply, in my view, stock prices are rising not because Wall Street has thoughtfully quantified the effect of taxes, interest rates, corporate profits, or anything else. Instead, Wall Street is mesmerized by the self-reinforcing outcomes of its own speculation, relying on verbal arguments, optimistic projections lacking grounds in observable data, and enthusiastic assertions about cause-effect relationships that are accepted without the need for any evidence at all (much less decades of it).

Back to Galileo. Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so. When we do this, come to understand the current speculative extreme as the tension between two observations that are not actually contradictory – just uncomfortable. One is that stock prices are indeed three times the level at which they are likely to end the current market cycle. The other is that there is no pressure for valuations to normalize over shorter segments of the cycle, as long as risk-seeking speculative psychology remains intact.

Read more …

It’s starting to feel as if we passed an inflection point.

Global Bond Yields Spike as Inflation Fears Rise (Street)

Global government bond markets continued to sell-off Monday, taking U.S. Treasury yields to the highest level in four years amid renewed bets on faster inflation in the world’s biggest economy and hawkish comments on growth and inflation from central bank officials in Europe. The bond market moves have clipped early gains for stocks and raised the spectre of a correction in inflation assumptions as the global economy roars to life and oil and commodity prices continue to climb amid a surge in manufacturing activity. The selling was also accelerated, in part, by a Goldman Sachs research note which suggested that Wednesday’s meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve, the last under the leadership of outgoing chairwoman Janet Yellen, could plant the early seeds for a March hike in benchmark borrowing costs.

“We expect the FOMC to issue a generally upbeat post-meeting statement that includes an upgrade to the balance of risks and a slightly hawkish rewording of the inflation assessment,” the note read, adding that public remarks since the December meeting “bolster the case for an upgrade, and by our count, at least half of the Committee has recently referenced upside risks to growth.” Benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury yields were marked at 2.72% in early Monday trading, the highest since early 2014, while 2-year note yields were seen at 2.15%, the highest since 2008. Those gains followed Friday closing levels that showed the widest yield gap between so-called TIPS, or Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, and benchmark 10-year notes since Sept. 2014.

In Europe, five-year German bunds yields traded in positive territory for the first time since 2015 amid a solid assessment of the region’s growth prospects last week from ECB President Mario Draghi and comments over the weekend from Dutch central bank governor Klaas Knot that he saw “no reason whatsoever” to continue the Bank’s €2.55 trillion ($3.16 trillion) quantitative easing program beyond its September deadline. Both U.S. and European investors are bracing for faster inflation in the months ahead as global commodity prices – particularly crude oil – continue to rise. Brent crude futures for March delivery, the benchmark for prices around the world, were marked at $69.87 Monday, down from their Friday close of $70.52 but still some 28% higher from the same period last year, suggesting a big upside import into headline inflation readings over the first half of this year.

Read more …

Yields go up, then so do mortgage rates.

US Mortgage Rates Jump To The Highest Point In 4 Years (CNBC)

A huge sell-off in the bond market is about to make buying a home more expensive. Mortgage rates, which loosely follow the yield on the 10-year Treasury, have been rising for the past few weeks, but are seeing their biggest move higher Monday. “Bottom line, rate sheets are going to be ugly this morning,” wrote Matthew Graham, chief operating officer of Mortgage News Daily. “Some lenders will be at 4.5% on their best-case-scenario 30-year fixed quotes.” That is the highest rate since 2014. The average rate on the popular 30-year fixed started the year right around 4% but then began to climb on positive news in the U.S. economy, solid company earnings reports and a shift in foreign central bank policies which appear to now be following the Federal Reserve’s tightening of monetary policy.

The rate was at 4.28% by the end of last week. “Apart from central banks, there’s a ton of bond market supply coming down the pike due to infrastructure and tax bill spending,” Graham said. That new supply will send yields and, consequently, mortgage rates higher. While mortgage rates are still historically low, they were even lower in the years following the financial crisis. That not only helped juice the sharp increase in home prices, but it has also given borrowers a new sense of normal. Both will hurt affordability this spring on several fronts. “Today is one more reason for Realtors and buyers to move up their spring schedule,” said Chris Kopec, a mortgage loan consultant at Chicago-based Lakeside Bank.

Read more …

Why investigate Trump, but not Hillary et al?

Stormy Weather (Jim Kunstler)

It’s hard not to be impressed by the evidence in the public record that the FBI misbehaved pretty badly around the various election year events of 2016. And who, besides Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper, and Dean Baquet of The New York Times, can pretend to be impressed by the so far complete lack of evidence of Russian “meddling” to defeat Hillary Clinton? I must repeat: so far. This story has been playing for a year and a half now, and as the days go by, it seems more and more unlikely that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is sitting on any conclusive evidence. During this time, everything and anything has already leaked out of the FBI and its parent agency the Department of Justice, including embarrassing hard evidence of the FBI’s own procedural debauchery, and it’s hard to believe that Mr. Mueller’s office is anymore air-tight than the rest of the joint.

If an attorney from Mars came to Earth and followed the evidence already made public, he would probably suspect that the FBI and DOJ colluded with the Clinton Campaign and the Democratic Party to derail the Trump campaign train, and then engineer an “insurance policy” train wreck of his position in office. Also, in the process, to nullify any potential legal action against Clinton, including the matter of her email server, her actions with the DNC to subvert the Sanders primary campaign, the Steele dossier being used to activate a FISA warrant for surveillance of the Trump campaign, the arrant, long-running grift machine of the Clinton Foundation (in particular, the $150 million from Russian sources following the 2013 Uranium One deal, when she was Secretary of State), and the shady activities of Barack Obama’s inner circle around the post-election transition. There is obviously more there there than in the Resistance’s Russia folder.

Read more …

What Britain can quarrel about this week.

Leaked Brexit Report Shows Damage To UK Growth (G.)

Brexit would leave the UK worse off under three possible scenarios: a comprehensive free trade deal, single market access and no deal at all, according to a leaked government analysis of the economic impact of leaving the EU. The document was meant to be shown confidentially to cabinet ministers this week but was leaked in an embarrassing development for Theresa May and David Davis, the Brexit secretary. It said national income would be 8% lower under a no deal scenario, around 5% lower with a free trade agreement with the EU and about 2% lower with a soft Brexit option of single market membership over a 15-year period. The government would not comment on leaked documents but sources stressed the analysis did not cover May’s preferred option of a bespoke deal amounting to a “deep and special partnership” with the EU.

The document suggested that chemicals, clothing, manufacturing, food and drink, and cars and retail would be the hardest hit and every UK region would also be affected negatively in all the modelled scenarios, with the north-east, the West Midlands and Northern Ireland facing the biggest falls in economic performance. It comes after Davis refused to release impact assessments covering 58 sectors of the economy when requested to by parliament, claiming they did not in fact exist. Remain supporters said the report, seen by BuzzFeed News, was concerning but in line with what they had feared.

[..] Eloise Todd, the chief executive of anti-Brexit organisation Best for Britain, added: “According to the government’s secret analysis, even the softest Brexit scenario will mean a 2% hit to growth. “Almost every community, region and sector of the economy included in the analysis would be negatively impacted. The case for or against Brexit should be about more than balance sheets, but it’s painfully clear that the numbers are a gloomy part of the story. And behind these numbers are thousands of jobs, businesses and homes that are at risk. “The government are calling this document embarrassing but it’s more than that. It is a colossal act of economic self harm, written down clearly, in black and white. We are reading about an economy facing the abyss.”

Read more …

After Janet, the flood.

Janet Yellen Sets Interest Rates One Last Time. How Will History Rate Her? (G.)

Janet Yellen, the Federal Reserve chair, begins her final rate-setting meeting at the helm of the US central bank on Tuesday, before she is replaced by Donald Trump’s chosen successor, Jerome Powell. The first woman to lead the Fed arrived in February 2014 at a time when the money-printing machine of quantitative easing was whirring at full-tilt under her predecessor, Ben Bernanke. QE, which involved the Fed buying bonds from financial institutions, pumped billions of dollars into the US economy to keep it afloat after the financial crisis. Yellen leaves next month with a legacy as the Fed chair who began the long process of turning off the QE machine, and for raising interest rates for the first time in seven years in 2015.

Powell will have a tough act to follow, with the stock market currently sitting at a record high and as economic growth continues to strengthen and unemployment stands at the lowest level since 2000. No increase in interest rates is expected this month, although further hikes are forecast for later this year. James Knightley, senior economist at ING Bank, said: “She has followed up [Bernanke] with strong leadership and solid decision making that led to the robust economic performance we see today. Given all these successes, Jay Powell has been set a very tough bar to match.”

Read more …

Emotional by Caitlin Johnstone. We should have a piece that lists his topics through the years. And someone should pick up his legacy.

On The Death of Robert Parry (CJ)

The legendary journalistic titan Robert Parry has died, and I still haven’t quite figured out how to live with that. I did not know Parry and never had any kind of interaction with him, but I can’t stop crying. This is an immense loss and it feels deeply personal, just as one of the countless individuals his work has profoundly impacted. I’ve often recommended Parry’s outlet Consortiumnews as the overall best source of anti-war, anti-establishment information in the English-speaking world, and I cite its content constantly in my own work. This just sucks, and I’m a mess, and this might just be me getting sloppy and emotional for a few paragraphs, but this is all I can really be right now.

In a beautiful tribute to his father, Nat Parry describes a man who was driven not by self-interest, nor even ultimately by any ideology or conceptual values system, but by a deeply held commitment to humanity born out of concern for the future of our species. Parry’s journalistic integrity and ferocious dedication to the truth at all costs appear to have been a byproduct of that fundamental desire for humanity to survive and thrive, and an inability to be comfortable with our horrifying flirtation with extinction. “But besides this deeply held commitment to independent journalism, it should also be recalled that, ultimately, Bob was motivated by a concern over the future of life on Earth,” writes the younger Parry. “As someone who grew up at the height of the Cold War, he understood the dangers of allowing tensions and hysteria to spiral out of control, especially in a world such as ours with enough nuclear weapons to wipe out all life on the planet many times over.”

Read more …

Brussels, Paris and Berlin only care when it suits their careers.

Refugee Relocations From Italy And Greece Drawing To A Close (DW)

Germany’s Interior Ministry said on Monday that it will only resettle a small number of migrants from Italy and Greece in the coming weeks, as the EU’s migrant relocation program draws to a close. An Interior Ministry spokesperson told DW that far fewer people had fulfilled the necessary criteria for relocation than first expected. “There are now virtually no more asylum seekers in Greece who could be considered for resettlement,” according to the Ministry. To qualify, applicants had to be from a country where the chances of asylum are at least 75%. Last month, some 500 migrants were still waiting to be relocated from Italy to Germany, while in Greece the number less than 40. “The relocation scheme ended in September 2017, meaning all applicants arriving after that date will no longer be eligible for resettlement,” Annegret Korff, a speaker for the Interior Ministry, said.

“Germany largely completed all outstanding relocations by the end of 2017. In the coming weeks, Germany will only carry out the odd resettlement case that was left outstanding from last year.” The program to relocate migrants landing in Greece and Italy was launched by the European Union in the wake of the 2015 migrant crisis. Initially, EU member states agree to relocate some 160,000 refugees between them from the bloc’s two main points of entry by September 2017. The number was revised to just under 100,000 after officials found that fewer people were eligible under the scheme that first expected. Although the temporary progam has since passed its deadline, the final few migrants that qualify for resettlement are still awaiting asylum.

Read more …