May 182017
 
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Pablo Picasso Bull plates I-XI 1945

 

Nicole Foss has completed a huge tour de force with her update of the Automatic Earth Primer Guide. The first update since 2013 is now more like a Primer Library, with close to 160 articles and videos published over the past -almost- 10 years, and Nicole’s words to guide you through it. Here’s Nicole:

 

 

The Automatic Earth (TAE) has existed for almost ten years now. That is nearly ten years of exploring and describing the biggest possible big picture of our present predicament. The intention of this post is to gather all of our most fundamental articles in one place, so that readers can access our worldview in its most comprehensive form. For new readers, this is the place to start. The articles are roughly organised into topics, although there is often considerable overlap.

We are reaching limits to growth in so many ways at the same time, but it is not enough to understand which are the limiting factors, but also what time frame each particular subset of reality operates over, and therefore which is the key driver at what time. We can think of the next century as a race of hurdles we need to clear. We need to know how to prepare for each as it approaches, as we need to clear each one in order to be able to stay in the race.

TAE is known primarily as a finance site because finance has the shortest time frame of all. So much of finance exists in a virtual world in which changes can unfold very quickly. There are those who assume that changes in a virtual system can happen without major impact, but this assumption is dangerously misguided. Finance is the global operating system – the interface between ourselves, our institutions and our resource base. When the operating system crashes, nothing much will work until the system is rebooted. The next few years will see that crash and reboot. As financial contraction is set to occur first, finance will be the primary driver to the downside for the next several years. After that, we will be dealing with energy crisis, other resource limits, limitations of carrying capacity and increasing geopolitical ramifications.

The global financial system is rapidly approaching a Minsky Moment:

“A Minsky moment is a sudden major collapse of asset values which is part of the credit cycle or business cycle. Such moments occur because long periods of prosperity and increasing value of investments lead to increasing speculation using borrowed money. The spiraling debt incurred in financing speculative investments leads to cash flow problems for investors. The cash generated by their assets is no longer sufficient to pay off the debt they took on to acquire them.

Losses on such speculative assets prompt lenders to call in their loans. This is likely to lead to a collapse of asset values. Meanwhile, the over-indebted investors are forced to sell even their less-speculative positions to make good on their loans. However, at this point no counterparty can be found to bid at the high asking prices previously quoted. This starts a major sell-off, leading to a sudden and precipitous collapse in market-clearing asset prices, a sharp drop in market liquidity, and a severe demand for cash.”

This is the inevitable result of decades of ponzi finance, as our credit bubble expanded relentlessly, leaving us today with a giant pile of intertwined human promises which cannot be kept. Bubbles create, and rely on, building stacks of IOUs ever more removed from any basis in underlying real wealth. When the bubble finally implodes, the value of those promises disappears as it becomes obvious they will not be kept. Bust follows boom, as it has done throughout human history. The ensuing Great Collateral Grab will reveal just how historically under-collateralized our supposed prosperity has become. Very few of the myriad claims to underlying real wealth can actually be met, leaving the excess claims to be exposed as empty promises. These are destined to be rapidly and messily extinguished in a deflationary implosion.

While we cannot tell you exactly when the bust will unfold in specific locations, we can see that it is already well underway in some parts of the world, notably the European periphery. Given that preparation takes time, and that one cannot be late, now is the time to prepare, whether one thinks the Great Collateral Grab will manifest close to home next month or next year. Those who are not prepared risk losing everything, very much including their freedom of action to address subsequent challenges as they arise. It would be a tragedy to fall at the first hurdle, and then be at the mercy of whatever fate has to throw at you thereafter. The Automatic Earth has been covering finance, market psychology and the consequences of excess credit and debt since our inception, providing readers with the tools to navigate a major financial accident.

 

Ponzi Finance

Nicole: From the Top of the Great Pyramid
Nicole: The Infinite Elasticity of Credit
Nicole: Look Back, Look Forward, Look Down. Way Down
Nicole: Ragnarok – Iceland and the Doom of the Gods
Ilargi: Iceland To Take Back The Power To Create Money
Ilargi: The Only Thing That Grows Is Debt
Ilargi: Central Banks Are Crack Dealers and Faith Healers
Nicole: Promises, Promises … Detroit, Pensions, Bondholders And Super-Priority Derivatives
Nicole: Where the Rubber Meets the Road in America
Ilargi: How Our Aversion To Change Leads Us Into Danger
Ilargi: Debt In The Time Of Wall Street
Ilargi: The Contractionary Vortex Of The Lumpen Proletariat
Ilargi: Hornswoggled Absquatulation

 


Fred Stein Evening, Paris 1934

 

The Velocity of Money and Deflation

Nicole: The Resurgence of Risk
Nicole: Inflation Deflated
Nicole: The Unbearable Mightiness of Deflation
Nicole: Debunking Gonzalo Lira and Hyperinflation
Nicole: Dollar-Denominated Debt Deflation
Nicole: Deflation Revisited: The Studio Version
Nicole: Stoneleigh Takes on John Williams: Deflation It Is
Ilargi: US Hyperinflation is a Myth
Ilargi: Everything’s Deflating And Nobody Seems To Notice
Ilargi: The Velocity of the American Consumer
Ilargi: Deflation, Debt and Gravity
Ilargi: Debt, Propaganda And Now Deflation
Ilargi: The Revenge Of A Government On Its People

 

Markets and Psychology

Nicole: Markets and the Lemming Factor
Ilargi: You Are Not an Investor
Nicole: Over the Edge Lies Fear
Nicole: Capital Flight, Capital Controls and Capital Fear
Nicole: The Future Belongs to the Adaptable
Nicole: A Future Discounted
Ashvin Pandurangi: A Glimpse Into the Stubborn Psychology of 'Fish'
Ashvin Pandurangi: A Glimpse Into the Self-Destructive Psychology of 'Sharks'
Ilargi: Institutional Fish
Ilargi: Optimism Bias: What Keeps Us Alive Today Will Kill Us Tomorrow
Nicole: Volatility and Sleep-Walking Markets

 

Real Estate

Ilargi: Our Economies Run On Housing Bubbles
Nicole: Welcome to the Gingerbread Hotel
Nicole: Bubble Case Studies: Ireland and Canada
Ilargi: Don’t Buy A Home: You’ll Get Burned

 


Berenice Abbott Murray Hill Hotel, New York 1937

 

Metals, Currencies, Interest Rates, and the War on Cash

Nicole: Gold – Follow the Yellow Brick Road?
Nicole: A Golden Double-Edged Sword
Ilargi: Square Holes and Currency Pegs
Nicole: The Special Relativity of Currencies
Nicole: Negative Interest Rates and the War on Cash
Ilargi: This Is Why The Euro Is Finished
Ilargi: The Broken Model Of The Eurozone
Ilargi: Central Banks Upside Down
Ilargi: The Only Man In Europe Who Makes Any Sense

 

China’s Epic Bubble

Nicole: China And The New World Disorder
Ilargi: Meet China’s New Leader: Pon Zi
Ilargi: China Relies On Property Bubbles To Prop Up GDP
Ilargi: Deflation Is Blowing In On An Eastern Trade Wind
Ilargi: China: A 5-Year Plan And 50 Million Jobs Lost
Ilargi: The Great Fall Of China Started At Least 4 Years Ago
Ilargi: Time To Get Real About China
Ilargi: Where Is China On The Map Exactly?

 

Commodities, Trade and Geopolitics

Nicole: Et tu, Commodities?
Nicole: Commodities and Deflation: A Response to Chris Martenson
Nicole: Then and Now: Sunshine and Eclipse
Nicole: The Rise and Fall of Trade
Nicole: The Death of Democracy in a Byzantine Labyrinth
Nicole: The Imperial Eurozone (With all That Implies)
Ilargi: The Troika And The Five Families
Ilargi: Globalization Is Dead, But The Idea Is Not
Nicole: Entropy and Empire
Ilargi: There’s Trouble Brewing In Middle Earth

 


Giotto Legend of St Francis, Exorcism of the Demons at Arezzo c.1297-1299

 

The second limiting factor is likely to be energy, although this may vary with location, given that energy sources are not evenly distributed. Changes in supply and demand for energy are grounded in the real world, albeit in a highly financialized way, hence they unfold over a longer time frame than virtual finance. Over-financializing a sector of the real economy leaves it subject to the swings of boom and bust, or bubbles and their aftermath, but the changes in physical systems typically play out over months to years rather than days to weeks. 

Financial crisis can be expected to deprive people of purchasing power, quickly and comprehensively, thereby depressing demand substantially (given that demand is not what one wants, but what one can pay for). Commodity prices fall under such circumstances, and they can be expected to fall more quickly than the cost of production, leaving margins squeezed and both physical and financial risk rising sharply. This would deter investment for a substantial period of time. As a financial reboot begins to deliver economic recovery some years down the line, the economy can expect to hit a hard energy supply ceiling as a result. Financial crisis initially buys us time in the coming world of hard energy limits, but at the expense of worsening the energy crisis in the longer term.

Energy is the master resource – the capacity to do work. Our modern society is the result of the enormous energy subsidy we have enjoyed in the form of fossil fuels, specifically fossil fuels with a very high energy profit ratio (EROEI). Energy surplus drove expansion, intensification, and the development of socioeconomic complexity, but now we stand on the edge of the net energy cliff. The surplus energy, beyond that which has to be reinvested in future energy production, is rapidly diminishing. We would have to greatly increase gross production to make up for reduced energy profit ratio, but production is flat to falling so this is no longer an option. As both gross production and the energy profit ratio fall, the net energy available for all society’s other purposes will fall even more quickly than gross production declines would suggest. Every society rests on a minimum energy profit ratio. The implication of falling below that minimum for industrial society, as we are now poised to do, is that society will be forced to simplify.

A plethora of energy fantasies is making the rounds at the moment. Whether based on unconventional oil and gas or renewables (that are not actually renewable), these are stories we tell ourselves in order to deny that we are facing any kind of future energy scarcity, or that supply could be in any way a concern. They are an attempt to maintain the fiction that our society can continue in its current form, or even increase in complexity. This is a vain attempt to deny the existence of non-negotiable limits to growth. The touted alternatives are not energy sources for our current society, because low EROEI energy sources cannot sustain a society complex enough to produce them.

We are poised to throw away what remains of our conventional energy inheritance chasing an impossible dream of perpetual energy riches, because doing so will be profitable for the few in the short term, and virtually no one is taking a genuine long term view. We will make the transition to a lower energy society much more difficult than it need have been. At The Automatic Earth we have covered these issues extensively, pointing particularly to the importance of net energy, or energy profit ratios, for alternative supplies. We have also addressed the intersections of energy and finance.

 

Energy, EROEI, Finance and ‘Above Ground Factors’

Nicole: Energy, Finance and Hegemonic Power
Ilargi: Cheap Oil A Boon For The Economy? Think Again
Ilargi: We’re Not In Kansas Anymore
Ilargi: Not Nearly Enough Growth To Keep Growing
Ilargi: Why The Global Economy Will Disintegrate Rapidly
Ilargi: The Price Of Oil Exposes The True State Of The Economy
Ilargi: More Than A Quantum Of Fragility
Ilargi: (Re-)Covering Oil and War
Nicole: Oil, Credit and the Velocity of Money Revisited
Nicole: Jeff Rubin and Oil Prices Revisited
Charlie Hall: Peak Wealth and Peak Energy
Ken Latta: When Was America’s Peak Wealth?
Ken Latta: Go Long Chain Makers
Euan Mearns: The Peak Oil Paradox – Revisited
Ilargi: At Last The ‘Experts’ Wake Up To Oil
Ilargi: Oil, Power and Psychopaths
Nicole: A Mackenzie Valley Pipe-Dream?

 

Unconventional Oil and Gas

Nicole: Get Ready for the North American Gas Shock
Nicole: Shale Gas Reality Begins to Dawn
Nicole: Unconventional Oil is NOT a Game Changer
Nicole: Peak Oil: A (Short) Dialogue With George Monbiot
Nicole: Fracking Our Future
Nicole: The Second UK Dash for Gas: A Faustian Bargain
Ilargi: Jobs, Shale, Debt and Minsky
Nicole (video): Sucking Beer Out Of The Carpet: Nicole Foss At The Great Debate in Melbourne
Ilargi: Shale Is A Pipedream Sold To Greater Fools
Ilargi: The Darker Shades Of Shale
Ilargi: Debt and Energy, Shale and the Arctic
Ilargi: London Is Fracking, And I Live By The River
Ilargi: And On The Seventh Day God Shorted His People
Ilargi: The Oil Market Actually Works, And That Hurts
Ilargi: Drilling Our Way Into Oblivion
Ilargi: Who’s Ready For $30 Oil?
Ilargi: US Shale And The Slippery Slopes Of The Law

 

Electricity and Renewables

Nicole: Renewable Energy: The Vision and a Dose of Reality
Nicole: India Power Outage: The Shape of Things to Come
Nicole: Smart Metering and Smarter Metering
Nicole: Renewable Power? Not in Your Lifetime
Nicole: A Green Energy Revolution?
Nicole: The Receding Horizons of Renewable Energy
Euan Mearns: Broken Energy Markets and the Downside of Hubbert’s Peak

 


Underwood&Underwood Chicago framed by Gothic stonework high in the Tribune Tower 1952

 

In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, TAE provided coverage of the developing catastrophe, drawing on an earlier academic background in nuclear safety. It will be many years before the true impact of Fukushima is known, both because health impacts take time to be demonstrable and because the radiation releases are not over. The destroyed reactors continue to leak radiation into the environment, and are likely to do so for the foreseeable future. The vulnerability of the site to additional seismic activity is substantial, and the potential for further radiation releases as a result is similarly large. The disaster is therefore far worse than it first appeared to be. The number of people in harms way, for whom no evacuation is realistic despite the risk, is huge, and the health impacts will prove to be tragic, particularly for the young.

 

Fukushima and Nuclear Safety

Nicole: How Black is the Japanese Nuclear Swan?
Nicole: The Fukushima Fallout Files
Nicole: Fukushima: Review of an INES class 7 Accident
Nicole: Fukushima: Fallacies, Fallout, Fundamentals and Fear
Nicole: Welcome to the Atomic Village

 

The Automatic Earth takes a broad view of the context in which finance, energy and resources operate, looking at issues of how society functions at a macro level. Context is vital to understanding the bigger picture, particularly human context as it relates to the critical factor of scale and the emergent properties that flow from it. We have continually emphasised the importance of the trust horizon; in determining what functions at what time, and what kind of social milieu we can expect as matters evolve.

Expansions are built upon the optimistic side of human nature and tend to lead to greater inclusiveness and recognition of common humanity over time. Higher levels of political aggregation, and more complex webs of trading relationships, come into being and achieve popular support thanks to the benefits they confer. In contrast, contractions tend to reveal, and be driven by, the darker and more pessimistic side of human collective psychology. They are social and are political as well as economic. In both directions, collective attitudes can create their own self-fulfilling prophecies at the societal level.

Trust determines effective organisational scale, extending political legitimacy to higher levels of political organisation during expansions and withdrawing it during periods of contraction, leaving political entities beyond the trust horizon. Where popular legitimacy is withdrawn, organisational effectiveness is substantially undermined, and much additional effort may go into maintaining control at that scale through surveillance and coercion.

The effort is destined to fail over the longer term, and smaller scale forms of organisation, still within the trust horizon, may come to hold much greater significance. The key to effective action is to know at what scale to operate at any given time. As we have said before, while one cannot control the large scale waves of expansion and contraction that unfold over decades or centuries, understanding where a given society finds itself within that wave structure can allow people and their communities to surf those waves.

 

Scale and Society

Nicole: Scale Matters
Nicole: Economics and the Nature of Political Crisis
Nicole: Fractal Adaptive Cycles in Natural and Human Systems
Nicole: Entropy and Empire
Nicole: The Storm Surge of Decentralization
Ilargi: When Centralization Scales Beyond Our Control
Ilargi: London Bridge is (Broken) Down
Ilargi: The Great Divide
Ilargi: Quote of the Year. And The Next
Nicole: Corruption, Culpability and Short-Termism
Ilargi: The Value of Wealth
Ilargi: The Most Destructive Generation Ever
Ilargi: Ain’t Nobody Like To Be Alone

 

Trust and the Psychology of Contraction

Nicole: Beyond the Trust Horizon
Nicole: Bubbles and the Titanic Betrayal of Public Trust
Ilargi: Why There Is Trump
Ilargi: Who’s Really The Fascist?
Ilargi: Ungovernability
Ilargi: Comey and the End of Conversation
Ilargi: Eurodystopia: A Future Divided
Nicole: War in the Labour Markets
Nicole: An Unstable Tower of Breaking Promises
Ilargi: Libor was a criminal conspiracy from the start

 

Affluence, Poverty and Debt and Insurance

Nicole: Trickles, Floods and the Escalating Consequences of Debt
Nicole: Crashing the Operating System: Liquidity Crunch in Practice
Ilargi: The Impossible and the Inevitable
Nicole: The View From the Bottom of the Pyramid
Ilargi: The Lord of More
Ilargi: The Last of the Affluent, the Carefree and the Innocent
Ilargi: The Worth of the Earth
Nicole: Risk Management And (The Illusion Of) Insurance

 


Fred Stein Streetcorner, Paris 1930s

 

Finally, TAE has provided some initial guidance as to how to position one’s self, family, friends and community so as to reduce vulnerability to system shocks and increase resilience. The idea is to reduce the range of dependencies on the large scale, centralised life-support systems that characterise modernity, and also to reduce dependency on the solvency of middle men. The centralised systems we take so much for granted are very likely to be much less reliable in the future. For a long time we have uploaded responsibility to larger scale organisational entities, but this has led to a dangerous level of complacency.

It is now time to reclaim responsibility for our own future by seeking to understand our predicament and take local control of efforts to mitigate its effects. While we cannot prevent a bubble from bursting once it has been blown, we can make a substantial difference to how widely and deeply the impact is felt. The goal is to provide a sufficient cushion of basic essentials to allow as many people as possible to preserve the luxury of the longer term view, rather than be pitched into a state of short term crisis management. In doing so we can hope to minimise the scale of the human over-reaction to events beyond our control. In the longer term, we need to position ourselves to reboot the system into something simpler, more functional and less extractive of the natural capital upon which we and subsequent generations depend.

 

Solution Space, Preparation and Food Security

Nicole: The Boundaries and Future of Solution Space
Nicole: Facing the Future – Mitigating a Liquidity Crunch
Nicole: 40 Ways to Lose Your Future
Nicole: How to Build a Lifeboat
Nelson Lebo: Resilience is The New Black
Nelson Lebo: What Resilience Is Not
Nicole: Sandy: Lessons From the Wake of the Storm
Nicole: Crash on Demand? – A Response to David Holmgren
Nicole: Finance and Food Insecurity
Nicole: Physical Limits to Food Security – Water and Climate
Ilargi: Basic Income in The Time of Crisis
Nelson Lebo: (Really) Alternative Banking Systems
Nicole (video): Interview Nicole Foss for ‘A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity’
Happen Films: A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity (full video)

 

 

Jan 102017
 
 January 10, 2017  Posted by at 11:07 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Jack Delano Truck service station on U.S. 1, NY Avenue, Washington, DC 1940

Pity the Sad Legacy of Barack Obama (Cornel West)
State Dep.: Presenting Evidence Of Russian Hacking Would Be Irresponsible (ZH)
Breakaway Senate Republicans Push to Delay Obamacare Repeal (BBG)
If Trump Tries To Lower Drug Prices, God Help Him: Top Medicare Official (MW)
Democrats Seek 9/11-Style Commission To Investigate Russian Hacking (G.)
Jeremy Corbyn: UK Can Be Better Off Out Of The EU (G.)
Britain’s Dangerous Post-Brexit Borrowing Binge (BBG)
Shadow Lending Leaves Chinese Banks Looking Exposed (BBG)
Thousands Of US Troops Arrive In Europe (ZH)
Top Economists Grapple With Public Disdain (WSJ)
The Harsh Reality (Kath.)
European Commission: ‘Untenable’ Situation In Greek Refugee Camps (AP)

 

 

“..a depressing decline in the highest office of the most powerful empire in the history of the world.”

Pity the Sad Legacy of Barack Obama (Cornel West)

Eight years ago the world was on the brink of a grand celebration: the inauguration of a brilliant and charismatic black president of the United States of America. Today we are on the edge of an abyss: the installation of a mendacious and cathartic white president who will replace him. This is a depressing decline in the highest office of the most powerful empire in the history of the world. It could easily produce a pervasive cynicism and poisonous nihilism. Is there really any hope for truth and justice in this decadent time? Does America even have the capacity to be honest about itself and come to terms with its self-destructive addiction to money-worship and cowardly xenophobia?

Ralph Waldo Emerson and Herman Melville – the two great public intellectuals of 19th-century America – wrestled with similar questions and reached the same conclusion as Heraclitus: character is destiny (“sow a character and you reap a destiny”). The age of Barack Obama may have been our last chance to break from our neoliberal soulcraft. We are rooted in market-driven brands that shun integrity and profit-driven policies that trump public goods. Our “post-integrity” and “post-truth” world is suffocated by entertaining brands and money-making activities that have little or nothing to do with truth, integrity or the long-term survival of the planet. We are witnessing the postmodern version of the full-scale gangsterization of the world. The reign of Obama did not produce the nightmare of Donald Trump – but it did contribute to it. And those Obama cheerleaders who refused to make him accountable bear some responsibility.

A few of us begged and pleaded with Obama to break with the Wall Street priorities and bail out Main Street. But he followed the advice of his “smart” neoliberal advisers to bail out Wall Street. In March 2009, Obama met with Wall Street leaders. He proclaimed: I stand between you and the pitchforks. I am on your side and I will protect you, he promised them. And not one Wall Street criminal executive went to jail. We called for the accountability of US torturers of innocent Muslims and the transparency of US drone strikes killing innocent civilians. Obama’s administration told us no civilians had been killed. And then we were told a few had been killed. And then told maybe 65 or so had been killed. Yet when an American civilian, Warren Weinstein, was killed in 2015 there was an immediate press conference with deep apologies and financial compensation. And today we still don’t know how many have had their lives taken away.

Read more …

Because the 9/11 commission was so successful?

Democrats Seek 9/11-Style Commission To Investigate Russian Hacking (G.)

Democratic members of the US Congress called on Monday for the creation of an independent commission to investigate Russia’s attempts to intervene in the 2016 election, similar to the September 11 panel that investigated the 2001 attacks on the United States. Their “Protecting our Democracy Act” would create a 12-member, bipartisan independent panel to interview witnesses, obtain documents, issue subpoenas and receive public testimony to examine attempts by Moscow and any other entities to influence the election. The panel members would not be members of Congress. The legislation is one of many calls by lawmakers to look into Russian involvement in the contest, in which Republican Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in the White House race, confounding opinion polls.

Republicans also kept control of the Senate and House of Representatives by larger-than-expected margins. US intelligence agencies on Friday released a report saying that President Vladimir Putin of Russia ordered an effort to help Trump’s electoral chances by discrediting Clinton. Russia has denied the hacking allegations. A Kremlin spokesman said on Monday they were “reminiscent of a witch-hunt”. “There is no question that Russia attacked us,” Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee, told a news conference. Versions of the bill were introduced in both the Senate and House. In the Senate it has 10 sponsors. In the House it is backed by every member of the Democratic caucus, said Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House oversight committee. However, no Republicans currently back the bill, so its prospects are dim, given Republican control of both houses of Congress.

Read more …

And then after that commission is done investogating, they won’t tell anyone?

State Dep.: Presenting Evidence Of Russian Hacking Would Be Irresponsible (ZH)

One recurring lament throughout the theatrically dramatic campaign involving reports and emotional appeals by US intelligence agencies such as the CIA (whose primary function is the creation of disinformation) to ordinary Americans, that Russia had “hacked the US presidential election” is that for all the bluster and “conviction”, there has been zero evidence. And, as it turns out, there won’t be any, because according to the US State Department, US intelligence agencies were right to not reveal evidence of their proof that Russia interfered in US elections, and comparisons with intelligence reports that Iraq had WMDs were not relevant in the current year.

Asked by RT’s Gayane Chichakyan if Friday’s public intelligence report should have contained any proof of Russian intervention, State Department spokesman John Kirby said that no one should be surprised that US intelligence agencies were keeping evidence secret in order to protect sources and methods. “Most American people understand that they have the responsibility to protect their sources and methods,” Kirby said, adding it would be “irresponsible” to do otherwise. Actually, with the Iraq WMD fiasco strill fresh in “American people’s” minds, it is irresponsible to think most Americans are still naive idiots who will believe whatever the “intelligence agencies” will tell them.

Alas, none of that has filtered through to the appropriate authorities, and Kirby said that it was “up to the agencies to decide which information they share with the public. We rely on them to make that determination for themselves.” And, in this case, it meant sharing no information at all. The assessment in Friday’s report was made “by all 17 intelligence communities. All of them came to the same basic conclusion: that Russia interfered in the US election,” Kirby said. “All of our intelligence communities came to the same basic conclusion, over and over again.” They just couldn’t prove it, instead hoping that by repeating the same statement over and over would be sufficient.

Read more …

Get an alternative is place first, makes sense.

Breakaway Senate Republicans Push to Delay Obamacare Repeal (BBG)

A breakaway group of five moderate Senate Republicans pushed Monday to delay a bill repealing Obamacare until March — potentially enough pressure to force the party’s leadership to comply. The step is the latest sign of some Republicans’ growing uneasiness about their leadership’s plan to repeal the law with no consensus on a replacement as part of an effort to deliver swiftly on one of President-elect Donald Trump’s top campaign promises. Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee, Rob Portman of Ohio, Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska offered an amendment Monday to the budget resolution that would extend the target date for the committees to write an Obamacare repeal bill to March 3 from Jan. 27.

“As President-elect Trump has stated, repeal and replace should take place simultaneously, and this amendment will give the incoming administration more time to outline its priorities,” Corker said in a statement. “By extending the deadline for budget reconciliation instructions until March, Congress and the incoming administration will each have additional time to get the policy right.” With Democrats opposed to a straight repeal bill, Republicans can lose no more than one backer if they want to fast-track their approach before Trump takes office. Republican leaders in the Senate are hoping to adopt the budget resolution – which would allow an Obamacare repeal bill to pass with 50 votes and escape a Senate filibuster – early Thursday after a marathon session of amendment votes.

Read more …

The power of the US pharmaceutical industry is scary.

If Trump Tries To Lower Drug Prices, God Help Him: Top Medicare Official (MW)

President-elect Donald Trump said on the campaign trail that Medicare should negotiate for lower drug prices. “God help him,” Acting Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Administrator Andy Slavitt said at the JP Morgan Health Care Conference in San Francisco on Monday. “He’s not wrong, but you need a lot of … to coin a phrase that’s been used, a fair amount of stamina if you are going to deal with the pharmaceutical industry on this topic.” Drug-pricing talk has been in the air at the JP Morgan conference, with a new administration about to take office and adding tremendous regulatory uncertainty to this sector. Despite critical comments made during election season, the president-elect has largely been seen by pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies as a positive, deregulatory force for their industry.

But the issue, still very much in the public eye, may not be off the table. Trump vowed to “bring drug prices down” in December comments to Time. The U.S. pays far more than other countries for pharmaceutical drugs, and has for a long time. “If [Trump] has the stamina he will see two things… the American public is being taken advantage of. And secondly, we are funding the R&D for free riders across the world,” Slavitt said. “And I don’t think the president-elect… is going to take too well to that.” While other countries use government negotiations to bring down drug costs, the tactic is often seen as anathema to the American free-market system. But, “this is a topic that will eventually be dealt with,” Slavitt predicted. “It’s easier to deal with this in 2017 than it will be in 2021 or 2022, when it is crippling the finances of health care.”

Read more …

Too many people are already invested in the opposite idea.

Jeremy Corbyn: UK Can Be Better Off Out Of The EU (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn will use his first speech of 2017 to claim that Britain can be better off outside the EU and insist that the Labour party has no principled objection to ending the free movement of European workers in the UK. Setting out his party’s pitch on Brexit in the year that Theresa May will trigger article 50, the Labour leader will also reach for the language of leave campaigners by promising to deliver on a pledge to spend millions of pounds extra on the NHS every week. He will say Labour’s priority in EU negotiations will remain full access to the European single market, but that his party wants “managed migration” and to repatriate powers from Brussels that would allow governments to intervene in struggling industries such as steel.

Sources suggested that the economic demands were about tariff-free access to the single market, rather than membership that they argued did not exist. Corbyn’s speech and planned media appearances represent the first example of a new anti-establishment drive designed by strategists to emphasise and spread his image as a leftwing populist to a new set of voters. They hope the revamp will help overturn poor poll ratings across the country, particularly with a looming byelection in Copeland, Cumbria. Speaking in Peterborough, chosen because it is a marginal Tory seat that voted heavily in favour of Brexit, and which Labour is targeting, Corbyn will lay into May’s failure to reveal any Brexit planning, and say that Labour will not give the government a free pass in the negotiations.

After comparing the prime minister’s refusal to offer MPs a vote on the final Brexit deal to the behaviour of Henry VIII in a Guardian interview, Corbyn will say: “Not since the second world war has Britain’s ruling elite so recklessly put the country in such an exposed position without a plan.”

Read more …

This should scare people.

Britain’s Dangerous Post-Brexit Borrowing Binge (BBG)

For the U.K. economy, the good news is that following the Brexit vote, the sky hasn’t fallen as many predicted; on the contrary, it’s been a period of unexpected fair weather. The bad news is that the benign outlook is encouraging a surge in borrowing, leaving households vulnerable if the Bank of England decides to tighten monetary policy. Andy Haldane, the chief economist at the central bank, said last week that as far as the British consumer is concerned, “it’s almost as though the referendum had not taken place.” That, he says, helps explain why the central bank’s gloomy prognosis of what a vote to leave the European Union would do to the economy has thus far turned out to be wrong. The nation appears to have been in celebratory mood this Christmas.

Credit-card company Visa said on Monday that U.K. spending jumped 2.6% in December from a year earlier, led by a 7.3% jump in hotels, restaurants and bars. In the final three months of 2016, overall spending posted its strongest growth in two years, Visa said. Britons have been loading up on debt. At the start of 2000, households had debts about equivalent to their disposable income. The ratio surged in the following years, peaking at 160% in the first quarter of 2008. As the financial crisis took its toll, people scaled back on borrowing, and the ratio had dropped to about 137% by September 2015. But it then rose for four consecutive quarters, with the most recently available figures showing a jump to 143% in the third quarter of last year:

As the chart shows, Brits are more indebted than their peers in either the U.S. or the euro zone. Perhaps unsurprisingly, while British households are still making their payments on secured loans such as mortgages, defaults on unsecured loans surged as the total debt burden climbed:

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“Of late [..] liquidity in China has been a mere accounting artifact.”

Shadow Lending Leaves Chinese Banks Looking Exposed (BBG)

In their obsession with China’s falling foreign-exchange reserves, investors may be ignoring a more painful Catch-22: a growing shortage of bank deposits. Left unaddressed, the lenders’ liquidity squeeze could leave them dangerously exposed to fickle wholesale financing, while trying to ease the shortage could worsen capital flight. Take Bank of Jinzhou. With just 0.3% of the $22 trillion in assets of the 35 publicly traded Chinese lenders, the bank appears remarkably liquid. Its 57% loan-to-deposit ratio in June was below the median reading of 67%. The Hong Kong-listed institution’s 200 billion yuan ($30 billion) deposit base offered ample support to a loan portfolio only a little higher than half that amount.

Of late, however, liquidity in China has been a mere accounting artifact. Customers’ deposits aren’t sufficient to finance Bank of Jinzhou’s 213 billion yuan in shadow loans, which are debt securities that the lender classifies as receivables. To make up the shortfall, it has borrowed 142 billion yuan from other financial institutions. Of this, as much as 78% is short-term financing. After adjusting for shadow lending, S&P Global Ratings pegged Bank of Jinzhou’s loan-to-deposit ratio at the end of 2015 at 153%. Bank of Jinzhou is hardly the only Chinese bank flirting with illiquidity: Almost all are sitting on a pile of debt masquerading as receivables.

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Nobel Peace Prize.

Thousands Of US Troops Arrive In Europe (ZH)

Just days after we reported that the US had begun deploying some 2,800 tanks, trucks and other military equipment to Germany, from where they would be transported by rail and road to Eastern Europe as part of a buildup of NATO reinforcements against “Russian expansion”, the next US deployment has made its way to Europe over the weekend, when some 4,000 US troops arrived in the German port of Bremerheven, on their way to Wroclaw, Poland under a planned NATO operation to “reassure the alliance’s Eastern European allies” in the face of what NATO has dubbed mounting Russian aggression. The American soldiers landed in Wroclaw, home to a key Nato and Polish air base in south-west Poland.

The troops will be followed by the roughly 2,800 tanks and other pieces of military equipment which are currently en route from Germany. The delivery of US Abrams tanks, Paladin artillery, and Bradley fighting vehicles, as well as supporting troops, marks a new phase of America’s continuous presence in Europe, which will now be based on a nine-month rotation. Why provoke Russia with yet another mass deployment? Because as NATO Major General Timothy McGuire told reporters, last week, when asked if the large deployment was meant to send a message to Russia, “The best way to maintain the peace is through preparation.” And while we are quoting, here is another good line from the movie Spice Like Us: “A weapon unused is a useless weapon.” The US military industrial complex is doing everything in its power to make sure a lot of weapons are used in the future.

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The priesthood is aghast.

Top Economists Grapple With Public Disdain (WSJ)

The nation’s leading economists are suffering an identity crisis as many of the institutions they helped build and causes they advanced have come in for public scorn and rejection at the ballot box. The angst was on display this weekend at the annual conference of the American Economic Association, the profession’s largest gathering. The conference is a showcase for agenda-setting research, a giant job fair for the nation’s most promising young economists and, this year, the site of endless discussion about how to rebuild trust in the discipline. Many academic economists have been champions of free trade and globalization, ideas under assault among rising populist movements in advanced economies around the world.

The rise of President-elect Donald Trump, with his fierce rhetoric against elites, in particular, left many at this conference questioning their place in the world. “The economic elite did many things to undermine their credibility while people’s economic fortunes were taking a turn for the worse,” said Steven Davis, an economist at the University of Chicago. But a road map for regaining trust is elusive. “I used to think facts and analysis will ultimately carry the day but now I’m not quite sure.” [..] Surveys from the Pew Research Center have documented dwindling support for free trade. In 2014, 60% of Democratic voters and 55% of Republican voters supported such trade agreements. In an October survey, however, support among Democrats had fallen to 56% and support among Republicans had nose-dived to 24%.

Over a billion people moved out of poverty in developing countries in the last 25 years, lifted in part by global trade and other economic prescriptions, but those same policies created winners and losers in the West. Another Pew study last year compared views of whether it was good for the U.S. to be so involved in the global economy: 86% of scholars said it was good, and just 2% bad. Among the general public, 49% thought it was bad, and just 44% good.

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A lot of snow in Athens overnight. Very cold too. It’s worse on the islands. And all we get is blame games.

The Harsh Reality (Kath.)

The refugees and migrants, thousands of people from Asia and Africa who are wintering in Greece in the hope that their dream will come true and that they will move on to central and northern Europe (imagined as hospitable by need) are harboring no illusions about this country. Greece is a country with real problems: economic, social and now weather-related. These people have to put up with the same problems as we do but the place where they are doing it from is far more difficult: They have no safe accommodation, no money and limited freedom. The additional shows of solidarity that may have come with the holiday season (even if mere publicity stunts designed for the television cameras) were soon to be wiped out by the cold snap, which also affected the islands of the Aegean. There will be no such thing as halcyon days for these people.

Official assurances by government officials that the authorities managed to provide warm and safe shelter for all asylum seekers and migrants offer little comfort, as no amount of political will, or plain desire for that matter, can reverse the situation on the ground. The problems faced by the refugee population are not tackled by prohibiting photographers from documenting the situation inside the Moria camp on Lesvos island. You cannot remedy reality by banning its representation. Is it that we do not want to taint the nation’s image in the eyes of our European partners? But the image of Greece is only part of the bigger European image. What is now happening at Moria, or any other migrant camp in Greece or Italy, is not disconnected from the values and priorities in the rest of Europe, in Poland, Austria, Slovakia or Denmark.

European Union countries, which had pledged to take in 160,000 people from Greece and Italy, have so far absorbed below 5% of that figure. Just 6,212 lucky few have been relocated from Greece and 1,950 from Italy, making a total of 8,162. The inaction, the indifference and the amoralistic policy of Europe (which is also fed by electoral concerns and growing far-right intolerance) should not serve as an alibi for the Greek government. In dealing with the migrant crisis, the SYRIZA-led administration has reacted without a clear plan or good coordination with other governments. And one last thing: The decision of Lesvos’s hoteliers to close their doors to refugees and migrants is barely in line with all the idealized rhetoric about a community’s obligations toward a supplicant – and it seems even more out of line under the existing circumstances.

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The EU hands 10s of millions in taxpayer funds to NGOs. As these fail to do what they receive the money for, it’s back to blaming Greece.

European Commission: ‘Untenable’ Situation In Greek Refugee Camps (AP)

The European Commission says conditions for refugees on Greek islands and in other camps where they are housed in tents despite severe cold weather, is “untenable.” Heavy snowfall has hit large swaths of Greece, including the eastern Aegean islands where thousands of refugees are stranded. Giorgos Kyritsis, spokesman for the government’s crisis committee on migration, told Greece’s Skai television that just under 1,000 people remain housed in tents on the islands. The severe weather had been forecast well in advance, and the government has come under fire for not acting fast enough to ensure all refugees are adequately housed. Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said the commission “is aware that the situation is currently untenable, but we also have to be clear” that conditions in reception centers are the responsibility of Greek authorities.


January 10 : homeless man sleeps on Athens beach Photo: Eurokinisi

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Aug 272016
 
 August 27, 2016  Posted by at 9:22 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »
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Jack Delano Mother of three, wiper at the roundhouse. Chicago & North Western R.R.” 1943

America’s Biggest Economic Problem: Nobody Is Investing For Tomorrow. (MW)
The Stimulus Our Economy Needs (Da Costa)
Grim Employment Prospects For Young People Around The World (Economist)
Fed’s Jackson Hole Circus
Bill Gross Says Yellen’s Economy ‘May Never Walk Normally Again’ (BBG)
Losses Piling Up for S&P 500 as Weekly Drop Is Worst Since June (BBG)
World’s Biggest Pension Fund Loses $52 Billion in Q2 Stock Rout (BBG)
Why No One Trusts China’s Markets (Balding)
Theresa May Will Trigger Brexit Negotiations Without Commons Vote (Tel.)
BleachBit Brags It “Stifled FBI Investigation” Of Hillary Clinton (ZH)
Majority Of Greek Properties Valued Under €50,000 (Kath.)
We Don’t Know What We Are Talking About When We Talk About Religion (Taleb)

 

 

“America’s Investment In Its Own Future Is In A Depression”. As epitomized by share buybacks. Which in turn are simply an expression of ‘the thing that shall not be mentioned’: a lack of confidence in growth, and in the economy as a whole. Why invest when there will be no return?

America’s Biggest Economic Problem: Nobody Is Investing For Tomorrow. (MW)

The U.S. economy, by some measures, has recovered from the Great Recession: The unemployment rate is only half what it was at the worst, real gross domestic product is about 10% larger than the previous peak, and personal wealth has risen by more than $20 trillion as the stock market and the housing market have bounced back. But everyone knows the recovery has been uneven. Total employment may have grown by 6 million since the recession began in 2008, but employment in manufacturing is down nearly 1.5 million. Real disposable incomes may be up by 16%, but because most of the increase has been captured by the richest sliver of society, the median family’s annual inflation-adjusted income is still down more than $3,000.

Most troubling, there’s still very little investment in the buildings, equipment and intellectual property that we ought to be putting into place today as the foundation of our prosperity tomorrow. Who’s preparing the United States for the 21st century? Nobody, really. Not the 22 million private businesses, not the 118 million households, and not the 90,000 state, local or federal government agencies. Since the recession, investments have fallen sharply, and they haven’t gotten back up again. It seems that everyone is still scarred by the Great Recession, and by the collapse of asset bubbles in 2000 and 2006. Gross domestic investment totaled about $3.6 trillion in the second quarter of 2016, about 20% of gross domestic product. That may seem a large sum, but it’s the lowest share of GDP, except during recessions, since 1947.

And, unfortunately, even that weak number grossly exaggerates the actual contribution of this investment in creating new productive capacity for the economy. Why is the figure exaggerated? Because these data are reported on a gross basis, without subtracting the depreciation of capital assets such as equipment, buildings, software and the like. After you subtract the capital that’s used up, net investment totaled only about $750 billion in the second quarter, or 4% of GDP, about half of the average over the post-war period. In fact, net investment has been running at the lowest rates since the Great Depression of the 1930s, suggesting that U.S. investment itself is in a depression.

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Makes some sense, but relies too much on the assumption that policy makers know what they do. They don’t.

The Stimulus Our Economy Needs (Da Costa)

All told, nearly 9 million jobs were lost during the 2007-2009 slump, not counting the new jobs that were needed to keep up with population growth. The unemployment rate more than doubled to a peak of 10.2% in October 2009 and took seven years to get back to around 5%, seen as normal. Even the current 4.9% rate is seen as a poor depiction of the U.S. labor market’s actual ongoing weakness. So what would a constructive pro-jobs policy of employment insurance look like? It could take many forms, and, despite any central bank role in funding the stimulus, the decision on how to spend the money would remain fully accountable to the democratic process — in the hands of elected lawmakers.

One approach might see Congress adopt a mandate similar to the one it assigned the Fed itself — to maintain low and stable prices while striving for maximum sustainable employment. Such a goal would offer clearer guidelines for when a program of budget spending aided by central bank intervention might be needed, like determining what thresholds of economic pain might trigger its launch. Rather than relying on a spotty, limited system of jobless benefits that can leave the unemployed in or close to poverty, wouldn’t it be better to directly create government jobs in areas where the private sector appears to be falling short?

Employer-of-last-resort-type policies, as proposed by the economist Hyman Minsky, where the government generates employment in socially useful sectors that are underserved by the private sector alone — including infrastructure, education, health care, child and elderly care, and the arts — could be optimal. After all, most people would agree instinctively with Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the U.N. in 1948, which states, “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”

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Same difference: no investments in the future.

Grim Employment Prospects For Young People Around The World (Economist)

A new report from the International Labour Organisation has provided a snapshot of job prospects for young people around the world. Things have worsened this year following a period of slight improvement. Unemployment among 15-24-year-olds has risen to 13.1% in 2016 and is close to its historic peak of 2013. The rate is highest in Arab countries, at 30.6%, and lowest in East Asia, at 10.7%. The report also finds that even where jobs are available to young people, they often fail to provide secure incomes.

Youth unemployment is typically lower in poorer countries than in rich ones. This is because workers in less-developed countries have to take work just to make ends meet and, with few choices, end up in low-paid jobs with no security. Even in richer countries, the young often end up in less-secure employment than the older generation. In 2015, 25% of young workers in OECD countries were in temporary jobs and 26% were employed part-time, often on an involuntary basis. Those rates are more than twice as high as for workers aged 25 to 54.

In fact, young people with jobs are now at greater risk of living in poverty than the elderly in some rich countries. This is especially true in places where there has been a sharp economic shock, such as Greece, Romania and Spain. The need to work to supplement household income in the short-term creates a vicious cycle in which the young forgo training in the skills required for better long-term job prospects. Given the bleak future faced by many, it is little surprise that 40% of 15-29-year-olds in Africa, eastern Europe and Latin America would countenance a permanent move abroad.

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“Friday, almost six years to the day, marked the anniversary of former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s address to the Jackson Hole confab, at which he outlined the second phase of quantitative easing [..] Since then, Wilshire Associates estimates the value of U.S. equities has increased by over 100%, some $13.3 trillion..”

Fed’s Jackson Hole Circus

The Fed has fueled the populism that has thrown this year’s U.S. elections into an unprecedented tizzy, the Journal wrote in more considered terms in a page-one feature on Friday. While the central bank dealt forcefully with the 2007-08 financial crisis, it failed to anticipate it and subsequently failed to bring about a recovery worthy of the name. What it has accomplished is a massive inflation, not of consumer prices—as officially measured, at least—but of asset prices. Friday, almost six years to the day, marked the anniversary of former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s address to the Jackson Hole confab, at which he outlined the second phase of quantitative easing (central bank–speak for securities purchases to pump money into the financial system), which was popularly dubbed QE2.

Since then, Wilshire Associates estimates the value of U.S. equities has increased by over 100%, some $13.3 trillion. Since Bernanke outlined QE3 in September 2012, U.S. equities are up about 50%, or $8.6 trillion, by Wilshire’s reckoning. In the process, interest rates have hovered at or near record-low levels, tonic for asset values but poison for savers. The uneven impact of the Fed’s policies among the haves and have-nots has further stoked resentment against the monetary authorities. Low yields and inflated asset prices mean modest future returns for all. But though it is equally illegal for the beggar and the king to sleep under the bridge, low returns are less of a burden for those who have already accumulated wealth than for those who have not.

None of this sociology and politics should influence the Fed, but it is an inescapable backdrop to policy decisions. Based on the data on which the central bank professes to depend, the “case for an increase in the federal-funds rate has strengthened in recent months,” Yellen said in her much-anticipated address to the Jackson Hole gathering.

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“Credit-enhanced cycles come to worse ends than the normal kind.”

Bill Gross Says Yellen’s Economy ‘May Never Walk Normally Again’ (BBG)

Bill Gross, the billionaire Janus Capital Group Inc. money manager, criticized Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s suggestion that she could consider further asset purchases as the equivalent of “providing a walker or a wheelchair for an ailing economy.” Yellen, speaking Friday at a conference of central bankers and economists in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, said while the U.S. economy has strengthened to the point that interest rate hikes are possible, further asset purchases must remain part of the Fed’s toolkit. Gross, who runs the $1.5 billion Janus Global Unconstrained Bond Fund, has long criticized central bankers in the U.S., Europe and Japan for keeping interest rates ultra-low and artificially inflating asset prices without adding sustainable economic growth.

“She is opening the door to creating even greater asset bubbles as have the BOJ and ECB and SNB by purchasing corporate bonds and stocks,” Gross wrote Friday in an e-mail response to questions. “This is not capitalism. This is providing a walker or a wheelchair for an ailing economy. It may never walk normally again if monetary policy continues in this direction.” Gross said Yellen’s comments didn’t take a September rate hike off the table, especially if job growth is healthy. The Labor Department reports August employment data on Sept. 2. The probability of a hike at the Sept. 21 Fed meeting has risen to 38% from 15% two weeks ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“To the extent that next month we see a decent job growth number, then I think for sure or close to for sure, you know, in September we’re going to see a Fed hike of 25 basis points,” Gross said in an interview on CNBC. “The market hadn’t expected that.” Tad Rivelle, chief investment officer of fixed income at TCW Group, warned that central bank intervention to keep rates low and prop up asset prices may worsen the impact of an inevitable end to the current credit cycle. “Every cycle in human history has ultimately come to an end,” Rivelle, who helps oversee $195 billion for TCW, said in a Bloomberg Television interview Friday. “Credit-enhanced cycles come to worse ends than the normal kind.”

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“Not since the presidential administration of Lyndon B. Johnson have stocks done so little for so long.”

Losses Piling Up for S&P 500 as Weekly Drop Is Worst Since June (BBG)

What had been just a sleepy August is turning into an increasingly painful one for U.S. equity market bulls. Notwithstanding an hour-long burst of optimism that followed Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s policy speech Friday, the buoyancy that lifted stocks for the first half of the summer has now been missing for the better part of a month. The S&P 500 Index fell 0.7% to 2,169.04 this week, the biggest drop since June, to erase its August gains. Not since the presidential administration of Lyndon B. Johnson have stocks done so little for so long. Unable to break out of a 1.5% band for more than 30 days, the market is locked in its tightest trading range since the end of 1965 amid confusion about Federal Reserve policy and the outlook for earnings.

While losses remain tiny day to day, they’re starting to pile up, with the S&P 500 declining in five of the last six sessions. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 157.17 points in the week to 18,395.4, while the Nasdaq Composite Index retreated 0.4% to 5,218.92. At about 5.8 billion shares, daily volume in U.S. exchanges was lower this week than in any non-holiday period since June 2015. “Once we dug into the report from Yellen, it was kind of a non-event, and we’re ending in the same range we started the week,” Chris Gaffney, president of world markets at St. Louis-based EverBank, said by phone. “The data we got this week was mixed. There’s no clear direction and that’s why we’re sitting in these ranges.”

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Guess the Japanese simply don’t understand what Abe does to their pensions.

World’s Biggest Pension Fund Loses $52 Billion in Q2 Stock Rout (BBG)

The world’s biggest pension fund posted a $52 billion loss last quarter as stocks tumbled and the yen surged, wiping out all investment gains since it overhauled its strategy by boosting shares and cutting bonds. Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund lost 3.9%, or 5.2 trillion yen ($52 billion), in the three months ended June 30, reducing assets to 129.7 trillion yen, it said in Tokyo on Friday. That erases a 4.1 trillion yen investing return for the previous six quarters starting October 2014, the month it decided to put half its assets into equities. The quarterly decline follows a 5.3 trillion yen loss in the fiscal year through March, the worst annual performance since the global financial crisis.

After benefiting from a surge in Japanese equities and a weaker yen earlier in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s term, GPIF has posted losses as domestic stocks tumble and gains in the currency reduce the value of overseas assets. Still, for Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank Ltd., that’s no reason to veer from the current approach. “Since its investments are tied to market moves, it’s natural that this would happen and there’s no point looking at it with a short-term view,” said Ayako Sera, a Tokyo-based market strategist at the bank. “GPIF is so big that its losses look huge even though the fluctuations in its investments just mirror the market.”

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“Regulators assess a company’s balance sheet and history, mandate an offering price, and then let the market figure out who might be lying or hiding things.”

Why No One Trusts China’s Markets (Balding)

When China’s top securities regulator said recently that it plans to delist Dandong Xintai Electric for falsifying initial public offering documents, it didn’t grab many headlines. But it suggested some far-reaching changes may be afoot. Xintai is the first company to be expelled from Shenzhen’s ChiNext board for such an offense, and one of only a handful that have ever been delisted in China. Its expulsion suggests that regulators are facing up to some unfortunate truths about China’s capital markets. Those markets are, in important ways, only superficially market-like. In the stock market, the government has intervened on a huge scale to prop up prices. Investment in the bond market is overwhelmingly directed to state-owned enterprises. There’s no derivatives market to speak of.

Financial disclosures are often implausible, suspicions of insider trading are rife and doubts about corporate governance are widespread. All these are symptoms of a common ailment: a regulatory system focused not on disclosure and market mechanics but on setting asset prices and allocating returns. In most countries, when companies are considering an IPO, regulators require them to accurately disclose information, then let markets dictate prices. In China, the reverse holds true: Regulators assess a company’s balance sheet and history, mandate an offering price, and then let the market figure out who might be lying or hiding things. The result is that investors, both domestic and foreign, have lost confidence in China’s markets.

Foreign portfolio investment into China is down 60%, year over year, through July. MSCI has repeatedly declined to include China’s domestic equities in its benchmark indexes. Even the much-celebrated Chinese retail investor is staying on the sidelines: Individual investment accounts holding less than 500,000 yuan declined to 46.8 million last month, from 47.4 million in July 2015. This credibility deficit affects all areas of the markets. Major Chinese commercial banks have been trading at a price-to-equity ratio of about five – compared to an average of about 12 for commercial banks elsewhere – because investors think their loan portfolios are much worse off than they’re letting on.

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Somone will try to stop her.

Theresa May Will Trigger Brexit Negotiations Without Commons Vote (Tel.)

Theresa May will not hold a parliamentary vote on Brexit before opening negotiations to formally trigger Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, The Telegraph has learned. Opponents of Brexit claim that because the EU referendum result is advisory it must be approved by a vote in the Commons before Article 50 – the formal mechanism to leave the EU – is triggered. However, in a move which will cheer Eurosceptics, The Telegraph has learned that Mrs May will invoke Article 50 without a vote in Parliament It had been suggested – by Tony Blair, the former Labour Prime Minister, and Owen Smith, the Labour leadership candidate, among others – that Remain-supporting MPs could use a Parliamentary vote to stop Brexit.

But sources say that because Mrs May believes that “Brexit means Brexit” she will not offer opponents the opportunity to stall Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. A Downing Street source said: “The Prime Minister has been absolutely clear that the British public have voted and now she will get on with delivering Brexit.” Mrs May has consulted Government lawyers who have told the Prime Minister she has the executive power to invoke Article 50 and begin the formal process of exiting the European Union without a vote in Parliament. Her decision will come as a blow to Remain campaigners, who had been hoping to use Parliament to delay or halt Brexit entirely.

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And it will yet get crazier.

BleachBit Brags It “Stifled FBI Investigation” Of Hillary Clinton (ZH)

Yesterday we noted that South Carolina Representative Trey Gowdy revealed that Hillary had used a software called “BleachBit” to wipe her servers clean. Gowdy, appearing on Fox News, suggested that using a software like “BleachBit” undermines her claims that she only deleted innocuous “personal” emails from her private server. Specifically, Gowdy told Fox News:

“If she considered them to be personal, then she and her lawyers had those emails deleted. They didn’t just push the delete button, they had them deleted where even God can’t read them. “They were using something called BleachBit. You don’t use BleachBit for yoga emails.” “When you’re using BleachBit, it is something you really do not want the world to see.”

Now, the BleachBit team is using the whole controversy as a marketing tool with a note on their website entitled “BleachBit stifles investigation of Hillary Clinton.” The site even incorporates the now-famous Clinton gaffe where she asked reporters if they wanted to know whether she had wiped her servers clean “like with a cloth or something” pointing out that “it turns out now that BleachBit was that cloth.”

Last year when Clinton was asked about wiping her email server, she joked, “Like with a cloth or something?” It turns out now that BleachBit was that cloth.

The BleachBit team also points out that they have not been served with any warrants or subpoenas at this time even though it doesn’t really matter because the “cleaning process is not reversible.”

As of the time of writing BleachBit has not been served a warrant or subpoena in relation to the investigation. BleachBit is free of charge to use in any environment whether it is personal, commercial, educational, or governmental, and the cleaning process is not reversible.

Finally, BleachBit points out they’re receiving overwhelming interest from folks looking to permanently erase yoga and bridesmaid emails and/or other similar incriminating information.

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Compare that to other EU nations.

Majority Of Greek Properties Valued Under €50,000 (Kath.)

74% of real estate owners in Greece have property whose taxable value does not exceed 100,000 euros, according to data published on Friday by the Finance Ministry. More precisely, one in two own property that is valued by tax authorities at 50,000 euros or less, while just 8% of real estate owners have property worth between 100,000 and 200,000 euros. The total taxable value of the properties owned by the two groups has been calculated by the ministry, respectively, at 63.6 billion euros and 132 billion euros.

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Taleb targets Salafism.

We Don’t Know What We Are Talking About When We Talk About Religion (Taleb)

People rarely mean the same thing when they say “religion”, nor do they realize that they don’t mean the same thing. For early Jews and Muslims, religion was law. Din means law in Hebrew and religion in Arabic. For early Jews, religion was also tribal; for early Muslims, it was universal[i]. For the Romans, religion was social events, rituals, and festivals –the word religio was a counter to superstitio, and while present in the Roman zeitgeist had no equivalent concept in the Greek-Byzantine East[ii]. Law was procedurally and mechanically its own thing, and early Christianity, thanks to Saint Augustine, stayed relatively away from the law, and, later, remembering its foundations, had an uneasy relation with it. For instance, even during the Inquisition, a lay court handled the sentencing.

The difference is marked in that Christian Aramaic uses a different word: din for religion and nomous (from the Greek) for law. Jesus, with his imperative “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar”, separated the holy and the profane: Christianity was for another domain, “the kingdom to come”, only merged with this one in the eschaton. Neither Islam nor Judaism have a marked separation between holy and profane. And of course Christianity moved away from the solely-spiritual domain to embrace the ceremonial and ritualistic, integrating much of the pagan rites of the Levant and Asia Minor.

For Jews today, religion became ethnocultural, without the law – and for many, a nation. Same for Syriacs, Chaldeans, Armenians, Copts, and Maronites. For Orthodox and Catholic Christians religion is aesthetics, pomp and rituals, plus or minus some beliefs, often decorative. For most Protestants, religion is belief with neither aesthetics, pomp nor law.

Further East, for Buddhists, Shintoists and Hindus, religion is practical and spiritual philosophy, with a code of ethics (and for some, cosmogony). So when Hindu talk about the Hindu “religion” they don’t mean the same thing to a Pakistani as it would to a Hindu, and certainly something different for a Persian. When the nation-state idea came about, things got much, much more complicated. When an Arab now says “Jew” he largely means something about a creed; to Arabs, a converted Jew is no longer a Jew. But for a Jew, a Jew is someone whose mother is a Jew. (This has not always been the case: Jews were quite proselytic during the early Roman empire). But Judaism, thanks to modernism, somewhat merged into nation-state, and now can also mean a nation.

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May 152016
 
 May 15, 2016  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »
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Jack Delano Brakeman H.B. Van Santford on the AT&SF line from Summit to San Bernardino 1943

Steve Keen Talks Debt, Trump and Gold (RT)
Economists Disagree With Voters Who See US Worse Off Today Than in 1960s (WSJ)
China: “It Appears That All The Engines Suddenly Lost Momentum” (R.)
Chinese Banks’ New Loans Plunge By More Than Half In April (R.)
Shell Eyes $40 Billion Non-Core Asset Spin-Off To Cut Its Huge Debt Pile (Tel.)
Moody’s Downgrades Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman (AP)
German Professors And Entrepreneurs File Complaint Against ECB Policy (R.)
The Vultures’ Vultures: New Hedge-Fund Strategy Corrupts Washington (HuffPo)
Farmland Values Fall Sharply in Parts of the Midwest (WSJ)
Cameron’s Anti-Brexit ‘Remain’ Campaign Has A Major Trust Issue (Ind.)
German Government Plans To Spend €93.6 Billion On Refugees By End 2020 (R.)

Very interesting. I’ve said it a thousand times: everyone should let sink in what Steve has to say. It’s curious to see that people like Max agree with everything Steve says -as far as they can understand him-, but disagree with him on gold.

Steve Keen on Debt, Trump and Gold (RT)

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No, really, this is a serious WSJ article. Economists claim they know better then you about your own situation, and the paper gives them the space to utter their blubber. “You’re not really hungry, you’re just imagining that, and your hospital bill is not REALLY higher than it was 40 years ago, and in student debt was this high in 1970 too, don’t you remember?!”

Economists Disagree With Voters Who See US Worse Off Today Than in 1960s (WSJ)

When was America at its best? Put the question to voters and many will point as far back as the 1960s. Put the question to economists and they identify a much more recent peak in U.S. living standards. Forecasters in The Wall Street Journal’s monthly survey of business, academic and financial economists were asked to rate whether U.S. living standards were higher today or at various points in the past. Around 80% say those standards are higher today than during the 1990s or earlier. The 2016 presidential campaign has exposed worries among many voters about a U.S. in decline. The sentiment played a particular role in boosting the candidacy of businessman Donald Trump, with a campaign slogan pledging to “Make America Great Again.”

While many economists view the U.S. as not fully recovered from the recession that began in 2007 or the previous recession in 2001, that still leaves a 40-year disconnect compared to voters who see the U.S. in a half-century of decline. The Pew Research Center recently polled voters on the question “Compared with 50 years ago, life for people like you in America is better or worse?” A plurality of 46% said things were worse now. Only 34% said life today is better than in the 1960s. A Morning Consult poll asked voters whether the 1960s or 1980s were better than today. In that survey, 31% said the ‘60s were better and 37% said the 1980s were better. By contrast, 88% of economists said the U.S. is better today than in 1960 and 87% see today as better than 1980.

“Between technology and health advances, today is much better than in 1960,” said Amy Crews Cutts, chief economist at Equifax. By many of the measures economists are inclined to look at, it is not a close call. In 1960, the life expectancy of the average American was a full decade shorter than it is today, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The median personal income, after adjusting for inflation, is 55% higher today than in 1960, according to the Census Bureau. These measures of overall well-being continued to rise throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Why do so many voters put such little stock in the past 50 years? Economists point to a few culprits.

First, wages or available jobs have deteriorated for some demographic groups, particularly men without a high-school diploma and men who worked in manufacturing (two groups with some overlap). Second, we have just lived through the “first decade where the average worker lost ground,” said Joel Naroff, chief economist of Naroff Economic Advisers. Overall incomes declined during the two most recent recessions, but not enough to set people back to a 1960s standard of living. About 53% of respondents in the Journal’s survey said the U.S. today is “about the same” or “worse” than it was in 2000. About 63% said the same about 2007. The survey of 70 economists was conducted from May 6 to May 10, though not every economist answered every question.

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And these are ‘official’ numbers, which for a reason that escapes me we‘re still clinging on to. So I ‘adapted’ the title.

China: “It Appears That All The Engines Suddenly Lost Momentum” (R.)

China’s investment, factory output and retail sales all grew more slowly than expected in April, adding to doubts about whether the world’s second-largest economy is stabilizing. Growth in factory output cooled to 6% in April, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said on Saturday, disappointing analysts who expected it to rise 6.5% on an annual basis after an increase of 6.8% the prior month. China’s fixed-asset investment growth eased to 10.5% year-on-year in the January-April period, missing market expectations of 10.9%, and down from the first quarter’s 10.7%.

Fixed investment by private firms continued to slow, indicating private businesses remain skeptical of economic prospects. Investment by private firms rose 5.2% year-on-year in January-April, down from 5.7% growth in the first quarter. “It appears that all the engines suddenly lost momentum, and growth outlook has turned soft as well,” Zhou Hao, economist at Commerzbank in Singapore, said in a research note. “At the end of the day, we have acknowledge that China is still struggling.”

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The PBoC’s bizarro explanation:“..the figures don’t include new local government bond issuance to refinance debt previously issued by local government financing vehicles.” As if to say: don’t worry, we’re still borrowing like crazy, only now half of it is to refi what we couldn’t pay back.

Chinese Banks’ New Loans Plunge By More Than Half In April (R.)

China’s central bank said it has not changed its “prudent” monetary policy stance despite a disappointing release of April data showing banks had cut back sharply on new loans. Banks made 555.6 billion yuan ($85.21 billion) in net new yuan loans in April, much lower than expected and less than half the 1.37 trillion yuan seen in March, data showed on Friday. The People’s Bank of China (PBOC), in a question and answer posted on its website on Saturday, attributed the slide to seasonal and technical factors, including the fact that the figures don’t include new local government bond issuance to refinance debt previously issued by local government financing vehicles.

“If this is factored in, new loans in April were more than 900 billion yuan,” the PBOC said, in answer to a question as to whether the figures indicated a decline in the real economy. That number would match analysts previous forecasts for April. However, the bank also pointed to a decline in corporate bond financing, which came in over 500 billion less than March – while still up slightly from the same period last year, and noted that banks remain cautious given increased focus on asset quality control. “On the whole, current financial support to the real economy is still strong,” it said. “Prudent monetary policy has not changed.”

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Curious attempt to make deeply troubling problems look like great opportunities instead. Nobody wants to buy these assets and everyone knows they MUST sell, which is why Shell try to sell as much as $40 billion of it now, and in the way they do (IPO?!). And that would “..let Shell benefit from a sustained oil price recovery?!”

Shell Eyes $40 Billion Non-Core Asset Spin-Off To Cut Its Huge Debt Pile (Tel.)

Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell is eyeing a possible $40bn spin-off of non-core assets around the globe as it grapples with a $70bn debt pile following a takeover of BG Group earlier this year. Chief financial officer Simon Henry told analysts last week that a float of Shell’s non-core assets is “very much on the agenda”. The comments were made after the Anglo-Dutch multinational announced its intention to sell off assets totalling $30bn over the next three years in an attempt to protect its dividend, after the merger with BG left it with a stretched balance sheet. Analysts at Exane BNP Paribas are now concerned that despite its attempts to offload assets, “a dry market for asset sales leaves Shell exposed”.

Reducing Shell’s debt burden is “critical for shares to perform”, said Aneek Haq, of Exane BNP Paribas, but failure to do so may force management to “bite the bullet” and make a radical move, such as an initial public offering of the parts of Shell’s empire it wants to offload. Henry said: “There are no prima facie reasons why we would not look at such a monetisation route, if that was the best way to create value.” However, given the foundering oil price, he said it was “not obvious in today’s market” where such value would be. Unlike a divestment, an IPO of the company’s mature assets, which has been dubbed “Baby Shell” would let Shell benefit from a sustained oil price recovery. Mr Haq also believes such a move would refocus management on core assets and reduce net debt by more than $50bn over four years.

The non-core upstream assets, from markets such as the UK, Norway, New Zealand, Italy and Nigeria, are cash-generative, averaging at $4bn a year free cash flow, and adding additional assets from Kazakstan could “prove attractive for shareholders”, said Haq. Although a $40bn listing would be cumbersome, it is not unfamiliar territory. In 2014, Shell raised $920m by spinning off a pipeline of US assets, Shell Midstream Partners. Given its previous form, Henry said: “It should be clear that not only are we open to innovation, [but also] we are able to deliver such complicated deals and execute over a period of time.”

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These downgrades are expensive.

Moody’s Downgrades Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman (AP)

Saudi Arabia’s credit rating has been downgraded by Moody’s because of the long and deep slump in oil prices. Moody’s Investors Service said it also downgraded Gulf oil producers Bahrain and Oman. It left ratings unchanged for other Gulf states including Kuwait and Qatar. Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest oil exporter. Moody’s cut the country’s long-term issuer rating one notch to A1 from Aa3 after a review that began in March. Crude prices fell from more than $100 in mid-2014 to under $30 a barrel in February, although they have recovered into the mid-$40s. Benchmark international crude settled on Friday at $47.83 a barrel.

“A combination of lower growth, higher debt levels and smaller domestic and external buffers leave the Kingdom less well positioned to weather future shocks,” Moody’s said in a note. Moody’s lowered Oman to Baa1 from A3 and Bahrain to Ba2 from Ba1. The ratings agency did not downgrade Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates or Abu Dhabi, but it assigned a negative outlook to each. Oil prices slumped because of production that grew faster than demand. Surging production from shale operators in the US contributed to the glut. So did OPEC, which decided in November 2014, several months after prices began falling, to continue pumping rather than give up market share.

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Germany’s Constitutional Court has been asked for opinions on the ECB a dozen times now, but not much has come of it.

German Professors And Entrepreneurs File Complaint Against ECB Policy (R.)

A group of professors and entrepreneurs in Germany filed a complaint against the ECB’s monetary policy this week at the country’s top court, the Welt am Sonntag newspaper said. A complaint would open a new chapter in a long-running legal battle between the ECB and groups within the euro zone’s biggest economy who want to curb the bank’s power. A challenge to an emergency plan the ECB made at the height of the euro zone crisis is also back at Germany’s Constitutional Court after being rejected by Europe’s top court in June. The German court will make a final ruling this year. There has been widespread criticism in Germany of the ECB’s monetary policy in recent weeks, with politicians complaining that low interest rates are hitting the retirement provisions of ordinary Germans and could boost the right wing.

Welt am Sonntag said the issue in the latest complaint filed at the Constitutional Court was whether the ECB had overstepped its mandate by extensively buying government bonds and with its plan to start buying corporate bonds. The newspaper said the professors and entrepreneurs thought the ECB was starting programs that contained incalculable risks for the German central bank’s balance sheet, and hence for German taxpayers – under the pretence of reaching its inflation target of just under 2% in the medium term. “The ECB’s current policy is neither necessary nor appropriate to directly revive the economy in the euro zone by increasing the inflation rate to around 2% in terms of consumer prices,” Markus Kerber, a lawyer and professor of public finance who initiated the complaint, was quoted as saying.

Kerber said the ECB was losing sight of the principle of the “proportionality” of its measures, according to Welt am Sonntag. In March, the ECB unveiled a large stimulus package that included cutting its deposit rate deeper into negative territory, expanding it asset buying program and offering free loans to the corporate sector to stimulate growth. German central bank governor Jens Weidmann, who sits on the ECB’s Governing Council, said on Wednesday the ECB’s expansionary monetary policy stance was “justified for now” while Bundesbank board member Andreas Dombret also said the ECB’s policy was justified by a subdued growth outlook in the euro zone.

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“They may have finally gone too far. A backlash is brewing, threatening not just their current bets, but their various tax benefits too. One senior House Republican aide who’s worked closely with the hedge funds says that members of Congress have seen enough. “I think on the Fannie stuff, they’ve hurt themselves,” he said. “We’re like, fuck em. If they’re not your friends, they’re your enemies.”

The Vultures’ Vultures: New Hedge-Fund Strategy Corrupts Washington (HuffPo)

Take Robert Shapiro. A Harvard-trained political economist, Shapiro is the head of a consulting firm called Sonecon. That business card doesn’t do it for you? He’s got a few more in his wallet: Senior fellow at the Georgetown University School of Business. Adviser to the International Monetary Fund. Director of the Globalization Initiative at NDN, a progressive think tank. Shapiro, a Democrat, has advised presidents and presidential candidates, and has held powerful government posts. It stands to reason, then, that when he has thoughts on public policy, he can find an outlet ready to publish them. Recently, he’s had ideas on how the government can address the debt crisis in Puerto Rico and how it can end the conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac by moving them into the private market.

Before that, he had a take on how to deal with Argentina’s debt crisis. For all three, he produced academic-looking papers, complete with footnotes and charts. All three situations have one thing in common: If they were resolved the way Shapiro suggested, a variety of bets placed by a select group of the most politically powerful hedge funds would pay off in a huge way. In the case of Argentina, they mostly have. Fights over how to resolve the other two issues are still raging in Washington. For this article, we called Shapiro to ask on whose behalf he has been waging these intellectual battles. His answer was surprising in its honesty: He’s working with DCI Group, a political dark arts master known to be advocating on behalf of a group of powerful hedge funds that are changing how Washington works.

Shapiro, it turns out, is but one foot soldier in the hedge fund infantry. A review of public documents, tax filings and interviews with people involved finds that in each of the three campaigns, hedge funds have enlisted the same set of lobbyists, political operatives, dark money groups and think-tank experts spanning the political spectrum. No single document or set of disclosures ties all of these groups together. They don’t put out joint press releases, parade themselves around Washington as part of a coalition, or chat together on conference calls. Finding the players in this game, instead, is more a process of deduction. For a group of firms and experts to be working for vulture funds on the issue of Argentine debt is normal Washington practice. (Vulture’s meaning here isn’t pejorative: it refers to an investment strategy that feeds off of assets the market has left for dead.)

For the exact same people and groups to be working on the next big issue that these funds care about — the Puerto Rican debt crisis — could be a coincidence. But now, the hedge funds are focused on a third issue — government-sponsored enterprise reform, which refers to the effort to establish new housing finance policy in the wake of the federal takeover of lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And it’s the same political firms and the same independent experts that are once again weighing in — coincidentally, all on the side of the hedge funds. Maybe it’s all coincidence, but let’s run the traps either way.

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Make basic human needs part of speculative financial markets and mayhem is inevitable. Some things do not belong in a casino. When will we learn? When we run out of water and food?

Farmland Values Fall Sharply in Parts of the Midwest (WSJ)

Real farmland values in parts of the Midwest fell at their fastest clip in almost 30 years during the first quarter, according to a regional Federal Reserve report on Thursday. Falling crop prices have weighed on land values from Kansas to Indiana over the past two years as farm income declined and investors who had piled into the asset at the start of the decade retrenched. Three regional Federal Reserve banks all reported year-over-year declines in farmland values in their districts and said the drops would continue, though their forecasts were based on surveys taken before the recent rally in corn and soybean prices.

The St. Louis Fed region that includes parts of the U.S. agricultural heartland in Illinois, Indiana and Missouri reported the steepest decline, with the average price of “quality” farmland falling 6.4% in the quarter, the biggest decline since its survey began in 2012. The Chicago Fed said prices for similar land in its district fell 4% from a year ago, the seventh successive quarterly decline. Adjusted for inflation, prices in an area that includes parts of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin fell 5%, the biggest quarterly drop since 1987. Declines in the Kansas City Fed’s district, which includes Kansas and Nebraska, were less pronounced, but the bank said prices for nonirrigated cropland fell 4% in the quarter.

Though some agricultural markets have rallied in recent weeks, prices for corn and wheat are still more than 50% lower than their 2012 peak, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has projected that net U.S. farm income will fall this year to the lowest level in more than a decade. Commodity prices have declined as farmers in the U.S. and elsewhere harvested bumper crops, adding to already generous stockpiles. U.S. farmers have also been hit by the strength of the dollar, which has stymied demand to export their crops. The drop in land values has been accompanied by deteriorating credit conditions, with more loans taken out to cover farm operations even as repayment rates fell on existing debt.

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Wow: “Boris Johnson is trusted to tell the truth about Europe by twice as many voters as trust David Cameron..” I can’t imagine anyone trusting Boris, so what does that say about trust in Cameron?

Cameron’s Anti-Brexit ‘Remain’ Campaign Has A Major Trust Issue (Ind.)

Boris Johnson is trusted to tell the truth about Europe by twice as many voters as trust David Cameron, according to a ComRes poll for The Independent. By a two-to-one margin, 45% to 21%, voters say that Mr Johnson is “more likely to tell the truth about the EU” than Mr Cameron. By a smaller margin, 39% to 24%, campaigners for Leave generally are considered “more likely to tell the truth” than campaigners for Remain.

The Referendum Campaigns
• Following key speeches this week, Britons are more than twice as likely to say Boris Johnson would tell the truth about the EU than David Cameron (45% v 21%).
• Conservative voters also say Boris Johnson is more likely to tell the truth about the EU than the Prime Minister (42% v 27%).
• Similarly, Britons tend to say the campaigners for leaving the EU are more likely to tell the truth than the remain campaigners (39% v 24%), although a significant minority say they don’t know (38%).

The EU Referendum
• The British public remain divided over whether they would be personally better off if Britain left the EU or remained part of it (29% v 33%). Around two in five (38%) say they don’t know how the referendum outcome would personally affect them.
• There has been a rise in the proportion of Britons saying national security would be better if Britain left the EU – 42% say it would be stronger if Britain left, compared to 38% who say it would be stronger if Britain remained. This represents an increase of 7 points from March in favour of leaving (35% in March 2016).
• However, attitudes towards immigration are clear; British adults are more than twice as likely to say the government could control Britain’s borders better if it left the EU (57% v 27% if Britain remains).

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Presenting it this way makes it look like the money is lost. Presenting it as an investment would be a lot fairer.

German Government Plans To Spend €93.6 Billion On Refugees By End 2020 (R.)

Germany’s government expects to spend around €93.6 billion by the end of 2020 on costs related to the refugee crisis, a magazine said on Saturday, citing a draft from the federal finance ministry for negotiations with the country’s 16 states. The figure is likely to stoke concerns, particularly among growing anti-immigration movements, on the impact of new arrivals on Europe’s largest economy which took in more than a million people last year, many from Syria and other war zones. The numbers arriving have fallen this year, helped by a deal between the EU and Turkey that was designed to give Turks visa-free travel to Europe in return for stemming the flow of migrants.

German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel said the finance ministry’s calculations included the costs for accommodating and integrating refugees as well as tackling the root causes for people fleeing from crisis-stricken regions. Officials based their estimates on 600,000 migrants arriving this year, 400,000 next year and 300,000 in each of the following years, the report said, adding that they expected 55% of recognized refugees to have a job after five years. A spokesman for the finance ministry declined to comment on the figures but pointed to ongoing talks between the government and states, saying they would meet again on May 31 to discuss how to divide up the costs between them.

The report said that €25.7 billion would be needed for jobless payments, rent subsidies and other benefits for recognized asylum applicants by the end of 2020. Another €5.7 billion would be needed for language courses and €4.6 billion would be required for measures to help migrants get jobs, it added. The annual cost of dealing with the refugee crisis would hit €20.4 billion in 2020, up from around €16.1 billion this year, the report said.

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Jun 192015
 
 June 19, 2015  Posted by at 7:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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G.G. Bain Three-ton electric sign blown into Broadway, New York. 1912

The troika of Greek creditors has gone into full-frontal morals-be-damned attack mode, handpicking arms from a weapons arsenal we haven’t seen used before, and that we never should have seen in an environment that insists – and prides – on presenting itself as a union, both in name and in spirit. Now that they are being used, there no longer is such a union other than in name, in empty words.

This has turned into the kind of economic warfare one would expect to see between sworn and lethal enemies, that the US would gladly use against Russia for instance, but not between partners in a union founded on principles based entirely and exclusively on being mutually beneficial to everyone involved.

Those principles, and everything that has been based on them, the common currency, the surrender of ever more sovereignty on the part of the nations involved, the relinquishing of national powers to the various supra-national bodies in Brussels, has for everyone involved been based on trust. Nobody would ever have signed up to any of it without that trust. But just look where we are now.

When spokespeople at the troika side of the table stated on Thursday that they don’t know if Greek banks will be open on Monday, they crossed a line that should never even have been contemplated. This is so far beyond the pale, it should by all accounts, if everyone involved manages to keep a somewhat clear head, blow up the union once and for all. If a party to a negotiation that can’t get its way stoops to these kinds of tactics, there is very little room left for talk.

And all EU nations should understand by now that this is not about Greece anymore, it’s about all of them. Any member nations that does not fall into -goose- step with Brussels must from here on in be prepared to deal with attempts to crush it economically and politically.

Whatever trust there once was is now gone. And trust, once blown, is painfully difficult to regain. The negotiations on the Greek debt crisis have become just another dirty business deal, and have nothing to do anymore with conversations between equal partners in a union. Even though that is still what they’re supposed to be. Officially.

Translation: there are no equal partners in Europe. There only ever were in name. When people thought they signed up for a tide to lift all boats. The Greek crisis has destroyed that lift-all-boats notion once and for all. All that’s left of the union is power politics, of those (s)elected to represent all member nations, working to crush one of them with all weapons at their disposal.

One of those weapons is utilizing the media to incite a bank-run in Greece, aimed at paralyzing the Greek government into full submission. The run-up to the bank-run has been building up steam ever since Syriza took over 5 months ago, but apparently not fast enough for the troika.

The threat has always been simmering below the surface; what changed is that the moral constraint which kept the creditors from speaking out loud in public about it, was dropped yesterday. And that changes everything.

The European Union cannot deliberately aim at a bank-run in an individual eurozone member nation without quashing the very trust that holds the union together. The only remaining question after this is: who’s next in line?

This is from the Guardian:

Greece Faces Banking Crisis After Eurozone Meeting Breaks Down

Greece is facing a full-blown banking crisis after a meeting of eurozone finance ministers broke down in acrimony and recrimination on Thursday evening, bringing the prospect of Greek exit from the eurozone a step nearer. Some €2bn of deposits have been withdrawn from Greek banks so far this week – including a record €1bn yesterday – triggering fears that a breakdown in talks would spark a further flight of funds.

[..] leaders of the eurozone and the IMF aimed bitter criticism at the leftwing Greek government, accusing it of lying to its own people, misrepresenting and misleading other EU leaders, refusing to negotiate seriously, and taking Greece to the brink of catastrophe.

‘Not negotiating seriously’ translates as ‘not doing what we tell you to do’. It’s absurd to claim that Syriza, which has tabled an entire range of proposals, one even more detailed than the other, does not attempt to negotiate seriously. It’s a claim the Greek side can make just as well. The underlying tendency is that the troika does not see the talks as taking place between equal partners. And that is lethal for the whole idea behind the European Union. It’s its instant death even if people will be slow to realize it.

Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF, said there was an urgent need for dialogue “with adults in the room”. She added: “We can only arrive at a resolution if there is a dialogue. Right now we’re short of a dialogue.”

This is something only a juvenile mind would come up with. Lagarde is obviously not worried about her reputation, she feels -nigh- omnipotent, but she really should be. She’s causing enormous damage to the IMF, and its future standing in the world. There are many IMF member nations who now know they can and must expect to be treated in the same way should there ever be a conflict involving their nation and the Fund.

Lagarde has taken a tough line on debt talks with Athens over the past four months, since the radical leftist Syriza government took control and insisted creditors drop proposals for further austerity as the price of releasing the last tranche of bailout funds. At the talks in Luxembourg she reportedly introduced herself to Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis as “the criminal in chief”, in reference to Tsipras’s claim earlier this week that the IMF bore “criminal responsibility” for the situation in Greece.

Pierre Moscovici, the European commissioner for economic affairs, who has been more sympathetic to the Greek case, said: “There’s not much time to avoid the worst.” He appealed to the Tsipras government to return to the negotiating table, making it plain that Athens has been treating its creditors and EU partners with contempt.

Who’s been treating whom with contempt? Have the Syriza team ever been treated as equal partners in the conversation? This is perhaps best expressed by Bob Dylan’s “It’s a restless hungry feeling that don’t mean no-one no good; when everything I’m-a-sayin’, you can say it just as good”.

Dijsselbloem demanded that the Greek government act quickly to restore trust and stem the haemorrhaging of deposits. “It’s a sign of great concern for the future,” he said. “It can be dealt with, but it requires quick action.”

It’s Greece that caused the deposit flight? The only sense in which that could be true is that is has refused to bend over and let the troika have its way with its democratically elected government.

Top officials from the ECB told the meeting that Greece might need to impose capital controls within days. They said the banks would be open on Friday. “On Monday, I don’t know,” Benoit Coeure from the ECB board was said to have told the ministers.

There is no longer even any semblance of equality among partners either in the eurozone or at the negotiating table. It’s important to see this not just in the light of the current talks, but in that of future of the European Union as a whole, and in that of future talks about debts that EU member nations have incurred with any of the troika parties.

What the antagonism is about is really quite simple. Though the fact that the troika is split doesn’t make it any simpler. The IMF won’t budge on imposing additional austerity measures, but wants Europe to execute debt relief. Europe is more flexible on austerity but refuses debt relief.

Or, actually, it says debt relief can be discussed, but only after Greece has signed on for a list of demanded ‘reforms’. For the Greeks, that’s the wrong way around. Not in the least because the EU floated debt relief back in 2012 but has never delivered.

Politicians and media in countries like Germany and Holland have engaged in so much rhetoric about Greeks living lavishly off other nations’ taxpayers’ money that they fear for their political careers if they were to offer an overt restructuring and tell the truth about wat actually happened in the bailouts.

The IMF’s Olivier Blanchard this week held out some vague idea of even longer maturities and even lower interest rates as the definition of debt relied for Greece, but what is needed is a much more comprehensive restructuring. Along the lines of a 50% or so reduction of the debt.

The problem is that Germany, France and Holland used the money that Greece now supposedly owes, to bail out their own banks. And never presented it domestically this way. But that is not Greece’s fault, or its responsibility.

The second main issue, austerity measures, comes in the shape of ‘reforms’ to the Greek pension system. Which badly needs a revamp, and Syriza is the first to acknowledge that. What it doesn’t want, though, is for the system to be cut first, and changed only later. Because that would mean that many Greeks who are already in dire need would from one day to the next be made even poorer.

And since any comprehensive change to the pension system would be laborious and time consuming even under advantageous circumstances, and there is little faith that Europe wouldn’t stretch it out even further, cutting now and talking about it later is not acceptable for Varoufakis and his people.

To add to the vicious irony of the situation, as Paul De Grauwe noted, Greece is illiquid -it has no access to capital markets-, but it’s not insolvent.

Greece Is Solvent But Illiquid. What Should The ECB Do?

[Greece’s] headline debt burden of 175% of GDP in 2015 vastly overstates the effective debt burden. The latter can be defined as the net present value of the expected future interest disbursements and debt repayments by the Greek government [..] Various estimates suggest that this effective debt burden of the Greek government is less than half of the headline debt burden of 175%.

[..] the effective debt burden of the Greek government is lower than the debt burden faced by not only the other periphery countries of the Eurozone but also by countries like Belgium and France. This leads to the conclusion that the Greek government debt is most probably sustainable provided Greece can start growing again[..]. Put differently, provided Greece can grow, its government is solvent. [..]

Today Greece has no access to the capital markets except if it is willing to pay prohibitive interest rates that would call into question its solvency. As a result, it cannot rollover its debt despite the fact that the debt is sustainable. There is something circular here. If Greece is unable to find the liquidity to roll over its debt it will be forced to default. [..] The expectation that the Greek government will be faced with a liquidity problem is self-fulfilling.

If the ECB would simply include Greece in its €60 billion a month QE bond-buying scheme, and buy Greek bonds as well as allow Athens to access international capital markets through one of Mario Draghi‘s whatever-it-takes statements, the crisis would be lifted in very substantial ways, in a heartbeat.

Instead, the troika part of the ‘negotiations’ does not involve trying to find such a solution, what they want is for Greece to give in, give up, bend over, and take it up the …

The powers that be are so full of hubris and of themselves that they ignore the fact that their actions today sow the seeds for the demise of all three of their constituencies, IMF, ECB and EU.

None of these institutions has any raison d’être or any claim to fame unless there is explicit trust in what they represent. That trust is now gone, and it’s hard to see how it can ever be recovered.

Whatever happens to Greece going forward, that is perhaps the biggest gain its dramatic crisis will gift to the rest of Europe, and indeed the world. Which therefore owe it a debt of gratitude, and of solidarity.

Nov 052014
 
 November 5, 2014  Posted by at 11:50 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Arnold Genthe 17th century Iglesia el Carmen, Antigua, Guatemala 1915

I know I’ve written a lot about Japan lately, and that for some it’s been enough for a while, but still, what happens today under the no longer rising sun is going to have such repercussions worldwide that it would be foolish not to pay attention. Moreover, there’s something about what Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said this morning that both perfectly and painfully illustrates to what depths, economically as well as morally, the country has sunk.

BOJ’s Kuroda Vows To Hit Price Goal, Stands Ready To Do More

Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, who last week stunned global financial markets by expanding a massive monetary stimulus program, said the central bank is ready to do more to hit its 2% price goal and recharge a tottering economy. Kuroda stressed the BOJ is determined to do whatever it takes to hit the inflation target in two years and vanquish nearly two decades of grinding deflation.

“There’s no change to our policy of trying to achieve 2% inflation at the earliest date possible, with a roughly two-year time horizon in mind,” the central bank chief said in a speech at a seminar on Wednesday. “There are no limits to our policy tools, including purchases of Japanese government bonds .. “The BOJ shocked global financial markets last week by expanding its massive stimulus spending in a stark admission that economic growth and inflation have not picked up as much as expected after a sales tax hike in April.

Kuroda said while inflation expectations have been rising as a trend, the BOJ decided to ease to pre-empt risks that slumping oil prices will slow consumer inflation and delay progress in shaking off the public’s deflationary mind-set.

“In order to completely overcome the chronic disease of deflation, you need to take all your medicine. Half-baked medical treatment will only worsen the symptoms ..” While he stressed that Japan’s economy continued to recover moderately, Kuroda said falling commodity prices could be risks to the outlook if they reflected weakness in global growth.

The Japanese economy was hit hard in Q2, suffering its biggest slump since the global financial crisis after an April sales tax hike dented consumption, and is expected to rebound only moderately in the third quarter as the effects of the higher tax take time to wear off.

Kuroda stuck to his view that the pain from the tax hike will gradually subside, but warned that the BOJ must be mindful of how the higher levy could affect companies’ pricing power, particularly if household spending stagnates. On the yen’s plunge against the dollar after last week’s monetary expansion, Kuroda reiterated his view that overall, a weak yen was positive for Japan’s economy.

You would expect falling oil prices to provide the Japanese, like Americans, with some very welcome, even necessary, financial breathing room. But PM Abe and BoJ’s Kuroda will have none of it. And no matter how you look at it, there’s something at best curious about a central bank that decides to throw ‘free money’ at an economy BECAUSE it sees falling resource prices, which would supposedly make money available already.

What Kuroda in effect says is that he won’t allow the Japanese to profit from, or even feel the relief of, lower oil prices, because they can’t be trusted to spend it. The Japanese government and central bank have no confidence at all – anymore? – that people will spend the money which they save on gas, on something else. They expect for people to, exclusively, sit on those savings. And they’re probably right, which says plenty about how the Japanese people feel about their economy: there is no confidence left whatsoever, not in Abe, not in Kuroda.

Moreover, of course, many, the poorest, the indebted, simply won’t have any extra spending cash even if they do save a few yen on gas. For them, Kuroda’s policies are very damaging. Which further undermines their confidence, and makes more people sit on more money. This goes way beyond a central bank pushing on a string. This is the picture of the trust between a government and its people having been irrevocably broken. And Abenomics doesn’t repair that trust, it only damages it further.

The people don’t trust the government, and the government doesn’t trust the people. Neither thinks the other will deliver what it desires. And since it’s ultimately the government which hold the reins of power, it’s using those reins to throw the people under the bus.

Abe and Kuroda’s ‘logic’ is ‘if the people don’t do what I want them to do, why should I take them into account, or care about them’? The line of thinking is borderline psychopath.

Adding insult to injury, a beggar thy neighbor fall in the yen is supposed to be good for exports, even though that hardly pans out at all so far. It also, and more importantly, makes imported goods more expensive. In Abe and Kuroda’s twisted logic that should drive up prices, but in reality it means people buy even less than before, which accentuates deflation instead of ‘solving’ it. Who do you think Abe blames for this?

And the psychopaths are not done with their people. They not only control the monetary base through what is by now QE9 (not of which, just like in the US, reaches main street), they have also seized control of Japan’s pensions. The rationale is: we’re going to take their pensions and spend them in the casino disguised as the global stock markets, because that MIGHT give a better return that sovereign bonds, especially Japanese ones.

If there’s one thing that’s kept Japan more or less standing upright over the past 25 years, it’s that the vast majority of its wealth was invested domestically. No more. And you might argue this is Japan exporting its deflation across the globe, but at the very least that’s not what pension beneficiaries will experience. They will simply, when markets tumble, see their pensions vanish into thin air.

US Will Benefit Most From Japan’s Pension Fund Reform

U.S. assets will be the biggest benefactor of the Japanese Government Investment Pension Fund’s (GPIF) decision to more than double its target allocation of foreign stocks to 25%, analysts say. The changes to the $1.1 trillion pension fund coincided with the Bank of Japan’s shocking decision to ramp up stimulus on Friday, which sent global equity markets soaring.

“The shift for international equities going to 25% of pension fund holdings is fairly big news,” said Tobias Levkovich, chief equities strategist at Citigroup. “It establishes a new incremental buyer of shares and the U.S. should be a significant beneficiary,” he said. The overall contribution to non-Japanese stocks could approach $60 billion of new purchases, half of which could go to the U.S. by the end of 2015, said Levkovich, noting that stocks on Wall Street should start to feel the benefit this year.

“Foreign investors typically buy large cap stocks which have greater index impact,” he said. “Thus, one cannot ignore the possibility that stock prices jump above our year-end 2014 S&P 500 target on this news.” Other analysts agree. “It’s pretty realistic [that the U.S. will receive most of the benefit] if you look at where the Japanese feel comfortable investing their money,” Uwe Parpart, managing director and head of research at Reorient Financial Markets told CNBC.

“This is a pension fund making the investment they are not going to punt into small caps or anything of that sort, they need large, liquid stocks that over decades have had a reliable return,” he said. But Parpart is not convinced the inflows would make a huge difference to stock market performance. “$30 billion sounds like a lot of money, but stretched over a period of time it’s not going to move markets,” he said. “But obviously it’s a nice shot in the arm.”

Furthermore, an increase in the pension fund’s international bond allocation to 15% from 11% should boost demand for Treasurys, driving further inflows into the U.S., analysts at HSBC said in a note published Tuesday. Meanwhile, the GPIF will reduce its domestic bond allocation to 35% from 60%. “The BoJ’s increase in asset purchases should be more than enough to cover the aggressive reduction in Japanese Government Bond (JGB) holdings planned by the GPIF, allowing JGB yields to stay pinned down,” said Andre de Silva at HSBC.

“Ultra-low JGB yields imply that the relative valuations for other core rates ie. U.S. Treasuries and other bond substitutes have been further enhanced,” he said. “Demand for yield-grabbing would intensify amongst Japanese investors, boosting overseas investments.”

De Silva estimates that over $100 billion could be reallocated into foreign bonds as part of this trend and highlighted U.S. Treasurys as the most attractive for Japanese investors. France, Australia, India and Indonesia government bond markets are attractive alternatives, he said. Japan’s pension fund is under pressure from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to shift funds to riskier, higher yielding investments to help boost returns, at a time when his Abenomics agenda appears to be running out of steam.

So tell me, what do you think, is this still an attempt to fight – domestic – deflation, or has it become a revenge on the Japanese people for not doing what Abe ‘ordered’ them to do? Note that early this year, he said Abenomics would work if only the people believed it would.

In his view, they let him down. In their view, he’s an abject failure. He is. Unless the Japanese people get rid of Abe and Kuroda real fast, they’re going to cause a lot more destruction. We need to see this in the context of a society in which obedience is considered much more important than in the west.

In Abe and Kuroda’s eyes, the people fail, because they fail to obey their edict of increased spending. The people, too, have a hard time not obeying, but after 20 years of deflation, they find it too risky to go out and spend. That’s not just a deflationary ‘mindset’, as the powers that be would have you believe, it’s something much more real than that.

If the global markets start leaning on Japan, something that may happen any moment now because of its behemoth debt levels, the entire country could start going up in smoke. Abe has given signs of seeking to take the blame for his failures out on China, and the nationalist streak in the population may follow him to an extent, but it doesn’t look like there’s enough trust left.

In that regard, it’s undoubtedly for the better (though we don’t know who will succeed Abe). But it’s still a highly volatile situation that Japan finds itself in, with huge potential downside effects for the whole world because it’s such a large economy that’s failing here.