Sep 102017
 
 September 10, 2017  Posted by at 9:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Irma gets closer

 

‘The Most Catastrophic Storm Florida Has Ever Seen’ (G.)
Bahamians Freak Out As Hurricane Irma ‘Sucks Away’ Miles Of Ocean (RT)
Houston Residents Confront Officials Over Decision To Flood Neighborhoods (R.)
Stock, Flow or Impulse? (JPMi)
Signs, Signs, Everywhere A Sign (Roberts)
China Targets A $3 Trillion Shadow Banking Industry (R.)
China Studying When To Ban Sales Of Traditional Fuel Cars (R.)
How Democrats Learned To Stop Worrying And Love ‘Medicare For All’ (CNN)
Laughing on the Way to Armageddon (PCR)
Scotland and Wales Deliver Brexit Ultimatum To Theresa May (Ind.)
British Arms Sales To Repressive Regimes Soar To £5 Billion Since Election (G.)
Greek PM Vows Bailout Exit In 2018, Help For Workers, Youth (R.)
Greek Government Aims To Integrate Up To 30,000 Migrants (K.)
Astronomers Find Stars That Appear Older Than The Universe (F.)

 

 

But it looks like things could have been much worse. Still, do spare a prayer.

‘The Most Catastrophic Storm Florida Has Ever Seen’ (G.)

Florida faces the “most catastrophic” storm in its history as Hurricane Irma prepares to unleash devastating force on the state, including 120mph winds, life-threatening sea surges that could submerge buildings and an advance battery of tornadoes. “You need to leave – not tonight, not in an hour, right now,” Governor Rick Scott commanded in a press conference, 12 hours before the cyclone was expected to make landfall on Sunday morning. “This is the most catastrophic storm the state has ever seen.” The US national hurricane centre said in its 8pm Saturday update on Irma that “heavy squalls with embedded tornadoes” were already sweeping across south Florida. The US National Weather Service later said the first hurricane-force wind gust had been recorded in the Florida Keys, a low-lying island chain off the state’s southern coast.

Irma dropped to a category three hurricane but could regain its category four intensity as the bathtub-warm seawater of nearly 32C (90F) will enable the storm to build strength. It was forecast to hit the Keys first, then again near Cape Coral or Fort Myers, and then a third time near Tampa Bay on its path up Florida’s west coast. Weather stations in Marathon, a city in the Keys, reported sustained winds of 51mph (81kmh) with a gust to 71mph (115kmh) on Saturday night. In Florida’s south-west, officials expected sea surges as high as 15ft (4.5 metres), which can rapidly rise and fall. “Fifteen feet is devastating and will cover your house,” Scott said. “Do not think the storm is over when the wind slows down. The storm surge will rush in and it could kill you.” He said at least 76,000 people were without power as the 350 miles (560km) wide storm unleashes winds and rain on the state. Officials said the window for people in evacuation zones was shutting, with gas stations closing and bridges blocked off.

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Eerie.

Bahamians Freak Out As Hurricane Irma ‘Sucks Away’ Miles Of Ocean (RT)

Footage from the Irma-hit Bahamas freaked out social media users on Saturday as it emerged that seawater was missing from a bay as far as the eye could see. The scene turned out to be a rare natural occurrence tied to the outgoing hurricane. “I am in disbelief right now… This is Long Island, Bahamas and the ocean water is missing!!! That’s as far as they see,” @Kaydi_K wrote on Twitter. The eerie scene was shared over 50,000 times in one day and it spooked web users, many of whom suggested it resembled the sucking away of water before a tsunami. However, weather experts analyzing the scene put the blame on Hurricane Irma, which had just left a trail of destruction in the Caribbean and was about to land in Florida. The ominous-looking occurrence was in fact caused by a combination of low tide, low pressure and strong winds in the right direction, which literally pushed the water away from the long narrow bay. The phenomenon has been dubbed “reverse storm surge” by some of those explaining it online.

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“..homes may also be occupied by alligators, rodents and snakes due to the floods.”

Houston Residents Confront Officials Over Decision To Flood Neighborhoods (R.)

Angry Houston residents shouted at city officials on Saturday over decisions to intentionally flood certain neighborhoods during Hurricane Harvey, as they returned to homes that may have been contaminated by overflowing sewers. A town hall grew heated after City Council member Greg Travis, who represents parts of western Houston, told about 250 people that an Army Corps of Engineers official told him that certain gauges measuring water levels at the Buffalo Bayou – the city’s main waterway – failed due to a decision to release water from two municipal reservoirs to avoid an overflow. Travis’ words inflamed tensions at the town hall, held at the Westin Houston hotel, as the region struggled to recover from Hurricane Harvey, which dropped as much as 50 inches (127 cm) of rain in some areas along Texas’ Gulf Coast, triggering historic floods.

More than 450,000 people either still do not have safe drinking water or need to boil their water first. On Aug. 28, the Army Corps and the Harris County Flood Control District opened the Addicks and Barker reservoirs in western Houston to keep them from overflowing. They warned it would flood neighborhoods, some of which remained closed off two weeks later. Travis said the Army Corps official said they kept releasing water without knowing the extent of the flooding. “They didn’t understand that the bathtub effect was occurring,” he said. Residents attempting to return to flooded homes may have to contend with contaminated water and air because the city’s sewer systems overflowed during the floods. Fire chief Samuel Pena said people returning home should wear breathing masks and consider getting tetanus shots.

“We couldn’t survive the Corps – why should we rebuild?” Debora Kumbalek, who lives in Travis’ district in Houston, shouted during the town hall. Scattered heaps of discarded appliances, wallboard and mattresses can be still seen throughout the city of 2.7 million people, the nation’s fourth-largest. There were no representatives from the Army Corps at the town hall. The Corps released water at an intended maximum rate of 13,000 cubic feet (370 cubic meters) per second to keep those reservoirs from overflowing. However, preliminary data from the U.S. Geological Survey suggests that on at least two days, the average release rate exceeded that 13,000 level.

Many residents face lengthy rebuilding processes, and the majority do not have flood insurance. The Federal Emergency Management Administration will contribute a maximum of $33,000 per home in assistance to cover damages, a FEMA official said at the town hall, though for heavily flooded homes, damages will likely exceed that amount. Fire chief Pena said homes may also be occupied by alligators, rodents and snakes due to the floods.

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From JPMorgan. Central banks set prices for everything. But the impulse has turned negative.

Stock, Flow or Impulse? (JPMi)

Notwithstanding all the discussion of balance sheet reduction and tapering, the developed market central banks in aggregate are still very much in expansionary mode, with the G4 balance sheets still growing by more than $1 trillion per year on an annualized pace (see Chart). The strength of asset prices in the face of fundamental challenges serves as an enduring reminder for me of the importance of this positive QE flow. The link between QE flow and asset prices makes intuitive sense. The world’s stock of savings is held in two places: cash and everything else (“financial assets”). QE, by its nature, increases the supply of cash in the world, and simultaneously decreases the supply of non-cash financial assets, by removing government bonds, corporates, and in some cases equities from circulation.

Those securities are replaced in the financial system by cash of equivalent value. So, QE increases the ratio of cash to financial assets worldwide, and that ratio reflects the relative abundance or scarcity of cash available to purchase each unit of assets. QE’s influence on that ratio drives up the price of financial assets, all else equal. This rationale suggests that it is the flow of QE, i.e. the speed with which cash is injected and financial assets are removed, that influences the change in asset prices. Flow is positive, asset prices go up; flow is negative, asset prices go down. However, despite this simplicity (or maybe because of it) the relationship between balance sheets and asset prices is still a matter of intense debate.

Some clever analysis yields a compelling case that the impulse, rather than the flow, of global central bank balance sheets is likely to be the primary driver of asset prices. Whereas the “flow” of QE is the speed of balance sheet increase, the “impulse,” is its acceleration. If the speed of balance sheet growth is slowing down, impulse is negative. A carefully constructed dataset shows a remarkably good fit between QE impulse and change in spreads and stock prices. Unfortunately the fit is so good historically that it almost looks like data mining, and recently, there has been a material breakdown: global central bank QE impulse has already turned negative, most demonstrably back in Q2 of this year, and asset prices have continued to remain buoyant.

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Do low rates kill growth?

Signs, Signs, Everywhere A Sign (Roberts)

You don’t have to look very hard to see a rising number of signs that suggest the “Trump Trade” has come to its inevitable conclusion. Following the election, this past November the financial markets rallied sharply on the hopes of major policy reforms and legislative agenda coming out of Washington. Eleven months later, the markets are still waiting as the Administration has remained primarily embroiled in Washington politics with a divisive, Republican controlled, House and Senate. While there are still “hopes” the Administration will pass through tax reform, the failure to “rally the troops” to repeal the Affordable Care Act leaves permanent tax cuts an unlikely outcome. That hopeful outcome was further exacerbated with the deal cut between President Trump and leading Democrats to lift the debt ceiling and fund the Government through December.

That “deal” has effectively nullified any leverage the Republicans had to strong-arm a deal on taxes later this year. The markets are figuring it out as well. If you want to know where the economy is headed over the next few months, you don’t have to look much further than interest rates. Since interest rates are ultimately driven by the demand for credit, and that demand is driven by economic growth, their historical correlation is no surprise.

But like I said, if you want to know where GDP is going to be in the months ahead, keep a close watch on rates. I suspect, before year-end, we will see rates below 2.0%. As a reminder, this is why we have remained rampant bond bulls since 2013 despite the continuing calls for the end of the “bond bull market.” The 3-D’s (Demographics, Deflation & Debt) ensure that rates will remain low, and go lower, in the years to come. Think Japan.

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China’s too late.

China Targets A $3 Trillion Shadow Banking Industry (R.)

As a flood of unregulated cash swirls through the Chinese economy, Beijing has been taking aim at the trust companies whose unrestrained lending practices are worrying regulators. The trusts, at the heart of a vast shadow banking industry, are being pressured to step up compliance and background checks, and are being pushed towards greater transparency. But the fast-growing 20 trillion yuan ($3 trillion) industry, whose lending operations are cloaked behind opaque structures, will be tough to rein in, according to employees at some trusts. A regulatory sanction against one trust, Shanghai International Trust, and a legal case against another, National Trust, offer rare insights into the industry, and reveals just how hard it will be to police it. Shanghai Trust was fined 200,000 yuan for selling a product that violated leverage rules, according to a regulator’s notice in January.

Under these rules, property developers are only allowed to borrow up to three times their existing net assets. According to two people with direct knowledge of the case, an unknown sum was loaned by China Construction Bank through Shanghai Trust to Cinda Asset Management Company. Cinda then invested the cash. One of the sources said Cinda used the cash to acquire land, a sector rife with speculation that regulators have singled out as a “risky” destination for trust company loans. [..] The case against National Trust, which had revenue of 655 million yuan in 2016, involves wealth management products linked to the steel industry. The trust was sued in June this year by eight investors who allege it misrepresented the risks involved in products it sold them and failed to adequately assess the guarantor’s creditworthiness.

The trust skirted restrictions on loans to the steel industry by using the products to raise money to lend to a subsidiary of Bohai Steel Group, according to Tang Chunlin, a lawyer at Yingke Law Firm, who is representing the investors. The plaintiffs invested different sums in the wealth management products, which National Trust promised would deliver an annual return of over 9 percent. National Trust lent the money collected to a Bohai subsidiary, Tianjin Iron and Steel Group. National Trust has now defaulted on the product, according to Tang and Gongyu Zhou, one of the eight investors, because Tianjin Iron and Steel is unable to pay back its loan.The products were also illegally sold via third-party non-financial institutions, Tang and Zhou said.

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Let me guess. When lithium prices go to the moon?

China Studying When To Ban Sales Of Traditional Fuel Cars (R.)

China has begun studying when to ban the production and sale of cars using traditional fuels, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing comments by the vice industry minister, who predicted “turbulent times” for automakers forced to adapt. Xin Guobin did not give details on when China, the world’s largest auto market, would implement such a ban. The UK and France have said they will ban new petrol and diesel cars from 2040. “Some countries have made a timeline for when to stop the production and sales of traditional fuel cars,” Xin, vice minister of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, was quoted as saying at an auto industry event in the city of Tianjin on Saturday. “The ministry has also started relevant research and will make such a timeline with relevant departments. Those measures will certainly bring profound changes for our car industry’s development,” he said.

To combat air pollution and close a competitive gap between its newer domestic automakers and their global rivals, China has set goals for electric and plug-in hybrid cars to make up at least a fifth of Chinese auto sales by 2025. Xin said the domestic auto industry faced “turbulent times” over the years to 2025 to make the switch towards new energy vehicles, and called on the country’s car makers to adapt to the challenge and adjust their strategies accordingly. Banning the sale of petrol- and diesel-powered cars would have a significant impact on oil demand in China, the world’s second-largest oil consumer. Last month, state oil major China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) said China’s energy demand will peak by 2040, later than the previous forecast of 2035, as transportation fuel consumption rises through the middle of the century.

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As Hillary’s starting a book tour attacking Bernie, he’s gathering Democrats around him.

How Democrats Learned To Stop Worrying And Love ‘Medicare For All’ (CNN)

First, consider this: It’s the summer of 2019 and a dozen Democratic presidential candidates are gathered onstage for a debate somewhere in the Midwest. The network moderator concludes her introductions and tees up the opening question. “Who here tonight supports moving the United States toward a single-payer, or ‘Medicare for all,’ taxpayer-funded health care system?” Pause it there and rewind to January 2016 in Iowa. The caucuses are days away, and Hillary Clinton is fending off an unexpected challenge from Sen. Bernie Sanders. The discussion turns to single-payer, and Clinton balks. “People who have health emergencies can’t wait for us to have a theoretical debate about some better idea that will never, ever come to pass,” she tells voters in Des Moines, explaining her campaign’s focus on preserving and expanding Obamacare, while dismissing the progressive insurgent’s more ambitious pitch.

Go back even further now to the last contested Democratic primary before that, in 2008, and recall the lone and lonely voices in favor of single-payer care. They belonged to Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel. The pair combined for a delegate haul of precisely nil. Back to the present – a decade on – and after a chaotic months-long push by Republicans to dismantle former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, the prospect of Sanders’ “Medicare-for-all” program has emerged as the hot-button centerpiece of the Democratic Party’s roiling public policy debate. After a summer that has seen so many of the party’s most ambitious officials and brightest prospects line up in vocal support of what was so recently a fringe cause, consider again how the single-payer question will be received on a Democratic debate stage. Here’s a hint: Expect to see a lot of hands.

[..] .. in mid-July, Sanders returned to Des Moines, Iowa, for the first time since the 2016 election to water the grassroots. “Our immediate test,” he said, was to defeat the Republican plan. “But as soon as we accomplish that, I will be introducing legislation which has gained more and more support all across this country, legislation for a Medicare for All, single-payer system.” Robert Becker, Sanders’ 2016 Iowa campaign director, was in the hall that day. Between cigarettes, and before his old boss arrived on the scene, Becker sat back and diagnosed the bubbling dynamic. “Every time Paul Ryan, or someone who is trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, steps to the podium and starts talking about insurance rates and premiums getting higher and higher and higher, they’re actually making an argument for a single-payer system,” he said. “You don’t hear people on Medicare and Medicaid complaining about their co-pays.”

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But the feeding frenzy will continue.

Laughing on the Way to Armageddon (PCR)

The United States shows the world such a ridiculous face that the world laughs at us. The latest spin on “Russia stole the election” is that Russia used Facebook to influence the election. The NPR women yesterday were breathless about it. We have been subjected to ten months of propaganda about Trump/Putin election interference and still not a scrap of evidence. It is past time to ask an unasked question: If there were evidence, what is the big deal? All sorts of interest groups try to influence election outcomes including foreign governments. Why is it OK for Israel to influence US elections but not for Russia to do so? Why do you think the armament industry, the energy industry, agribusiness, Wall Street and the banks, pharmaceutical companies, etc., etc., supply the huge sum of money to finance election campaigns if their intent is not to influence the election?

Why do editorial boards write editorials endorsing one candidate and damning another if they are not influencing the election? What is the difference between influencing the election and influencing the government? Washington is full of lobbyists of all descriptions, including lobbyists for foreign governments, working round the clock to influence the US government. It is safe to say that the least represented in the government are the citizens themselves who don’t have any lobbyists working for them. The orchestrated hysteria over “Russian influence” is even more absurd considering the reason Russia allegedly interfered in the election. Russia favored Trump because he was the peace candidate who promised to reduce the high tensions with Russia created by the Obama regime and its neocon nazis—Hillary Clinton, Victoria Nuland, Susan Rice, and Samantha Power.

What’s wrong with Russia preferring a peace candidate over a war candidate? The American people themselves preferred the peace candidate. So Russia agreed with the electorate. Those who don’t agree with the electorate are the warmongers—the military/security complex and the neocon nazis. These are democracy’s enemies who are trying to overturn the choice of the American people. It is not Russia that disrespects the choice of the American people; it is the utterly corrupt Democratic National Committee and its divisive Identity Politics, the military/security complex, and the presstitute media who are undermining democracy. I believe it is time to change the subject. The important question is who is it that is trying so hard to convince Americans that Russian influence prevails over us?

Do the idiots pushing this line realize how impotent this makes an alleged “superpower” look. How can we be the hegemonic power that the Zionist neocons say we are when Russia can decide who is the president of the United States? The US has a massive spy state that even intercepts the private cell phone conversations of the Chancellor of Germany, but his massive spy organization is unable to produce one scrap of evidence that the Russians conspired with Trump to steal the presidential election from Hillary. When will the imbeciles realize that when they make charges for which no evidence can be produced they make the United States look silly, foolish, incompetent, stupid beyond all belief?

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The UK needs a national government. Or else.

Scotland and Wales Deliver Brexit Ultimatum To Theresa May (Ind.)

Wales and Scotland will formally lay down a challenge to Theresa May’s Brexit plans this week, warning she risks a constitutional crisis if changes are not made. Governments in both nations are expected to officially submit documents confirming their intention to withhold consent for the Prime Minister’s approach to EU withdrawal unless it radically alters. Conservative ministers have admitted to The Independent that pushing on without their backing could hold up Brexit, while politicians outside England warn it will strain the UK at the seams. The devolved governments claim Ms May’s key piece of Brexit legislation will see London snatch authority over key policy areas and give Conservative ministers unacceptably-strong powers to meddle with other laws.

It comes as MPs are expected to approve the EU (Withdrawal) Bill at its first Commons hurdle on Monday, but the Prime Minister faces a rebellion later on because even Tories want changes to the same clauses that are angering leaders in Cardiff and Edinburgh. On Tuesday the Scottish and Welsh administrations will officially start their drive to force concessions, by submitting ‘legislative consent’ papers in their assemblies that set out how the bill must change. Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones told The Independent Ms May’s bill will allow Whitehall to “hijack” powers during Brexit that should be passed to Cardiff. He said: “The UK Government is being rigid in its approach. It’s saying there is only one way. It’s acting as if it won a majority at the election in June. It didn’t.

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It needs a national conscience too.

British Arms Sales To Repressive Regimes Soar To £5 Billion Since Election (G.)

UK arms manufacturers have exported almost £5bn worth of weapons to countries that are judged to have repressive regimes in the 22 months since the Conservative party won the last election. The huge rise is largely down to a rise in orders from Saudi Arabia, but many other countries with controversial human rights records – including Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Venezuela and China – have also been major buyers. The revelation comes before the Defence and Security Equipment International arms fair at the Excel centre in east London, one of the largest shows of its kind in the world. Among countries invited to attend by the British government are Egypt, Qatar, Kenya, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Campaigners called on the government to end arms sales to the United Arab Emirates in light of its record on human rights.

They accused the government of negotiating trade deals to sell the Gulf state cyber surveillance technology which the UAE government uses to spy on its citizens, and weaponry which, they allege, has been used to commit war crimes in Yemen. The Saudis have historically been a major buyer of British-made weapons, but the rise in sales to other countries signals a shift in emphasis on the part of the government, which is keen to support the defence industry, which employs more than 55,000 people. Following the referendum on leaving the EU, the Defence & Security Organisation, the government body that promotes arms manufacturers to overseas buyers, was moved from UK Trade & Investment to the Department for International Trade. Shortly afterwards, it was announced that the international trade secretary, Liam Fox, would spearhead the push to promote the country’s military and security industries exports.

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What’s going to happen to Tsipras when Greeks find out he can’t deliver?

Greek PM Vows Bailout Exit In 2018, Help For Workers, Youth (R.)

Greece will exit successfully its bailout program in 2018 helped by strong growth, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Saturday, vowing to support workers, young Greeks and small businesses as the economy recovers. Addressing a Greek public worn out by austerity and skeptical after years of reform efforts have failed to fix the country’s woes, Tsipras said his leftist-led government would do whatever it takes to end lenders’ supervision next year. “The country, after eight whole years, will have exited bailouts and suffocating supervision. That’s our aim,” Tsipras said in his annual policy speech in the northern city of Thessaloniki. “We are determined to do everything we can.” Greece’s current international bailout, worth 86 billion euros, expires next year. Tsipras’ term ends a year later.

Tsipras said Athens would continue to outperform its fiscal targets and fight endemic tax evasion to create fiscal room for tax cuts that would alleviate the burden on businesses and households, long squeezed by the debt crisis. Greece has received about 260 billion euros in bailout aid from its eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund since 2010 in return for draconian austerity which has wiped out a quarter of its output and cut tens of thousands of jobs. Unemployment stood at 21.2 percent in June, the euro zone’s highest, with young Greeks the hardest hit. Greece’s economy is expected to grow by about 2 percent in 2018, a sign that sacrifices are bearing fruit, Tsipras said outlining initiatives to boost employment and fight a brain drain.

A march of thousands of workers was largely peaceful outside the venue where he spoke. Tsipras said the state would give financial incentives to employers to hire more younger workers and spend 156 million euros to subsidize social security contributions of employers who will turn contractors into full-time staff. Unregistered work and contract jobs have increased during the debt crisis, as businesses are desperate to cut costs. The government will also pay 100 million euros to subsidize unpaid workers in struggling sectors and businesses, he said, promising to fight labor law violations.

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In a country that has no jobs for its own people.

Greek Government Aims To Integrate Up To 30,000 Migrants (K.)

Authorities are preparing measures to integrate between 25,000-30,000 asylum seekers who are not entitled to relocation under the existing European Union program, Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas has said. Speaking to Ta Nea newspaper over the weekend, Mouzalas said that a three-pronged scheme is under way to integrate newcomers, involving a new registration process and the issuing of tax identification and social security numbers; school enrolment for children; and access to the local labor market. Asked about Greece’s recent decision to take back a small number of asylum seekers in line with the EU’s so-called Dublin rules, Mouzalas said that Athens had only accepted returns “from countries who helped us by consenting to up to 17,000 relocations and 7,000 [family] reunions.”

The minister said that a new agreement is currently in the works because the Dublin system is “dead.” Meanwhile, more than 350 police officers took part in a pre-dawn operation on Saturday at the Moria camp on the Aegean island of Lesvos to transfer an unspecified number of migrants to the pre-deportation center. These individuals, who have all received a final rejection of their asylum application, will be returned to Turkey. Moria has been rocked by riots twice in recent weeks in protest at the slow pace of registration and asylum processing for certain nationalities, as well as crowded conditions.

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Interesting mystery. No answers so far.

Astronomers Find Stars That Appear Older Than The Universe (F.)

If you understand how stars work, you can observe the physical properties of one of them and extrapolate its age, and know when it had to have been born. Stars undergo a lot of changes as they age: their radius, luminosity, and temperature all evolve as they burn through their fuel. But a star’s lifespan, in general, is dependent on only two properties that it’s born with: its mass and its metallicity, which is the amount of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium present within. The oldest stars we’ve found in the Universe are nearly pristine, where almost 100% of what makes them up is the hydrogen and helium left over from the Big Bang. They come in at over 13 billion years old, with the oldest at 14.5 billion. And this is a big problem, because the Universe itself is only 13.8 billion years old.

You can’t very well have a star that’s older than the Universe itself; that would imply that the star existed before the Big Bang ever happened! Yet the Big Bang was the origin of the Universe as-we-know-it, where all the matter, energy, neutrinos, photons, antimatter, dark matter and even dark energy originated. Everything contained in our observable Universe came from that event, and everything we perceive today can be traced back to that origin in time. So the simplest explanation, that there are stars predating the Universe, must be ruled out. It’s also possible that we’ve got the age of the Universe wrong! The way we arrive at that figure is from precision measurements of the Universe on the largest scales.

By looking at a whole slew of features, including: • The density and temperature imperfections in the cosmic microwave background, left over from the Big Bang, • The clustering of stars and galaxies at present and going back billions of light years, • The Hubble expansion rate of the fabric of the Universe, • The history of star formation and galactic evolution, and many other sources, we’ve arrived at a very consistent picture of the Universe. It’s made up of 68% dark energy, 27% dark matter, 4.9% normal matter, about 0.1% neutrinos and 0.01% radiation, and is right around 13.8 billion years old. The uncertainty on the age figure is less than 100 million years, so even though it might be plausible that the Universe is slightly older-or-younger, it’s extraordinarily improbable to get up to 14.5 billion years.

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Sep 042017
 
 September 4, 2017  Posted by at 3:34 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Detail of a fresco from the House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii, 2nd century BC

 

About a month ago, I finished reading former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis’ book “Adults in the Room”, subtitled “My Battle With Europe’s Deep Establishment”, and published by The Bodley Head. I started writing about it right away, but noticed I was writing more about my personal ideas and experiences related to Greece than about the book. So I let it rest a bit.

I read the book in, of all places, Athens, sitting outside various old-style cafés. That got me a lot of reactions from Greeks seeing the cover of the book, most of them negative, somewhat to my surprise. Many Greeks apparently do not like Varoufakis. Of course I asked all the time why that is. “He’s arrogant” was/is a frequent one.

That’s not very helpful, I find, since first of all, it’s a purely subjective judgment, and second, I’m convinced their views come to a large extent from Greek media coverage, not only during Yanis’ term as finance minister from January to July 2015, but also in the years leading up to it. And Greek media are all controlled by ‘oligarchs’ et al, who certainly do not like either Yanis or the Syriza party he represented as minister.

The irony is that Varoufakis received more -individual- votes in the January 2015 election that brought Syriza to power than any other party member. And in the July 5 referendum 61.3% of Greeks voted against -yet- another bailout, very much in line with what Varoufakis had proposed. So there was a time when he was popular.

One guy said: ”he should be in jail”. When I asked why, the response was something like “they should all be in jail”, meaning politicians. Which is a bit curious, because whatever Varoufakis may be, a politician he is not. And the Greeks know that. They are very disappointed, and often depressed, by what has happened to them, of course they are. But why they would think Yanis is responsible for that is much less clear. Other then: “they’re all responsible”.

The best line in my opinion came from someone who said he thought Varoufakis was wrong for getting involved with Greek politics in the first place, a pit -as is the EU- replete with slithering venomous snakes. That I understand. That he should never have become minister since it could only have ended badly because of the corruption and backstabbing at all levels. I’m guessing Yanis himself has thought that too at times.

But at the same time, I remain convinced, as I’m sure he does, that he genuinely did it to help his people -who were already in terrible shape in late 2014 when he decided to run, and are much worse off now. And that’s not all. He would never have done it if he hadn’t had a plan to make things better. He did. If anything, that’s the key to his story.

And if his one-time friend, PM Tsipras, had not been paralyzed with fear at the last moment, that plan might well have worked. Yanis is an economist, and a game theorist at that. And though he has always insisted game theory was not the basis of what he did as minister, and rightly so because it’s not a game, there’s one aspect of what happened that comes straight from that field.

That is, before he agreed to run for finance minister, as he writes in the book, he tells Tsipras and his closest Syriza confidants that because Greece is very weak vs the Troika, they are not in any position to bluff. Meaning, if they are going to follow ‘the plan’, they must follow it to the end, in other words, they must be willing to walk away from the Troika, from the EU.

Not because they want to, but because the rules of the game demand it. When you’re weak, you cannot afford to blink. Yanis based his plan on letting the other side blink first, as he felt they would have to if only Greece did not. That’s what the whole thing was based on. And then, after -or rather, even before- winning the NO referendum, Tsipras blinked.

And yes, you can blame Varoufakis for that: for not making sure that would not happen. For putting trust where none was warranted. But the alternative would have been to stay in Texas and see his country perish. He was asked to join, he had a plan he believed in, what was he supposed to do?

 

“[The book] reads like a train”, says a Dutch review of Adults in the Room. And it does. Yanis proves a talented writer in the ‘genre’, which is not his by trade -so to speak-, of a day-to-day description of a series of events, conversations, confrontations with Greek, European and global political elites -with the occasional economist thrown in here and there-. The fact that he recorded many of the conversations on his iPhone, and undoubtedly made notes of many things as they happened, makes it a very compelling read. It’s obvious he’s not making it up, that he wrote down what actually happened -much of it word for word-. Seen through his eyes, of course.

As much as it reads like a train though, it also reads like a trainwreck. The portraits Yanis paints of many of the individuals he encounters, as well as of the institutions they represent, are often as painful as they are damning. Still, that is not what he sets out to do, as many of those who find their names in the book will undoubtedly claim. They are simply the portraits that emerge as events unfold.

In the world of power politics, this should not be a great surprise. But the picture of the dynamics that ‘control’ the European Union and it representatives, as well as the Troika institutions, the IMF, ECB, Eurogroup and European Commission, becomes, as we read along, more and more that of one familiar to us through the Godfather and the Sopranos. For many of the ‘players’ that appear on the scene, a comparison to ‘made men’ in the mafia is hard to avoid. Only, without a proper code of honor. A conversation Yanis describes in the introduction of the book makes this ‘analogy’ even more striking. He’s talking to Larry Summers, former US Treasury Secretary, who talks about insiders and outsiders.

“I had a choice. I could be an insider or I could be an outsider. Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don’t listen to them. Insiders, however, get lots of access and a chance to push their ideas. People – powerful people – listen to what they have to say. But insiders also understand one unbreakable rule: They don’t criticize other insiders.”

That’s obvious stuff. Except that this quote is from another book, US Senator Elizabeth Warren’s “A Fighting Chance”, and it’s almost verbatim the same as the one in Yanis’ book. It’s just politics. In the same way that Vito Corleone says: “it’s not personal, Sonny, it’s strictly business”. And Larry Summers is a consiglieri who spreads the gospel. Like it was once spread to him.

How do you become an insider, a made man? By committing to ‘the cause’, the family, through performing acts, initiation rituals. In the mob, that act is mostly murder, in the EU it’s something else, like obliterating the Greek economy. Or, in the case of European Council president Donald Tusk or First Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, incessantly badmouthing Vladimir Putin. That gets you in. We know this because neither Tusk nor Timmermans had any other outstanding achievements to their names before they landed their top jobs.

So that gets you in. But into what, exactly? That’s a very opaque issue, and Varoufakis’ book doesn’t shine much light on it. Which is not a criticism, that’s not what he set out to do. Still, when he writes that in many occasions, as he tries to talk to for instance the assembled Eurogroup (all EU finance ministers plus -often- ECB head Mario Draghi and IMF head Christine Lagarde) about actual policies and plans, he “might as well have been singing the Swedish national anthem”, the opaqueness is the only thing that does ‘shine’.

A question that occurred to me, repeatedly, was how many of the people he tries to discuss issues with, actually understand what he’s talking about. For instance, once you delve into the specifics of debt swaps, what the benefits of one sort of bond are over others, you need a specific kind of knowledge, something an experienced investment banker or economist would have.

Schäuble’s a lawyer. Dijsselbloem’s an ‘agricultural economist’, whatever that may be. If you want to prevent any discussion on issues, what better than to put people in place who are -by education, by intelligence- simply not able to discuss them?

 

Not even Yanis, in my view, condemns Merkel and Schäuble and Dijsselbloem and a whole host of other characters in Brussels, Athens and beyond, strongly enough. Because the mob truly resides in Brussels -and Athens is truly corrupt. And Berlin. No matter how many times you may hear, or say, that something is simply politics, or it’s simply business, and nothing personal, it is very much personal and we should never accept it as normal human behavior.

That is the most damning issue Varoufakis brings up, but he doesn’t do that strong enough. When he seals a deal with China’s ambassador to Greece for Beijing to invest in Greece’s ports and railways, Angela Merkel calls the Chinese to tell them to back off; Germany’s not done with Greece yet. When current French President Emmanuel Macron, who was Economy Minister in 2015, sought to help Greece, Merkel called then-President Hollande to order him to get Macron ‘off the case’.

The European Union is undemocratic in myriad ways. What Varoufakis lays bare in his book, and then fails to utterly condemn, is that it is also undemocratic in the ‘ultimate’ way. That is, no country has anything to say except Germany. The EU’s largest member country decides everything. Not that Berlin sweats the small stuff, mind you, others are allowed to keep the illusion of democracy alive there.

But as soon as big decisions are made, finance, defense, there is one voice only that counts. That is the final nail in Europe’s coffin, even if it remains hidden very well. But spell that out loud and clear to the French people, or the Italians, that they have nothing at all to say about their own country and their own laws anymore, that the Germans decide FOR them, and what do you think they will say?

The very concept of a sovereign country, and the Union officially has 27 of them left, has turned into a joke inside the EU. Plus, Merkel and Macron and Brussels are calling for more Europe. Go to a supreme court in any EU country and tell them their own governments have lost all power over money and economics, and what do you think their constitutions will say? Care to define sovereignty?

So tell people that. Tell them that in reality Angela Merkel is their ‘leader’, not the people they have voted for. Ironically and unfortunately, the right wing regimes in eastern Europe may prove to be the ones who point this out first. Which is in line with how Brexit came about, and Trump, but in the end what all this really exposes is that we are all lied to three ways to Sunday, every day of the week.

Perhaps just as ironically, Varoufakis now leads a movement, named DiEM 25, that seeks to democratize the EU. I wish him all the good and then some with that, but I don’t see it. Because you would have to ‘overthrow’ Germany’s dictatorship of Europe, and get Germany to agree to being voluntarily ‘overthrown’. Why would Berlin ever agree to that? That’s even less likely than them agreeing to Varoufakis’ ideas about saving the Greek economy.

I’ve said it many times before, Europe’s nations can work together in many different ways, and the EU is just one of them, and it’s a very bad option. But reforming the EU from within does not look to me to be the way to go. It’s like reforming the US Republican or Democratic parties: they’re rotten to the core; why not start something new that doesn’t come with the whole deep-state-style burden?

 

You will hear and see a lot about how Yanis is naive and/or didn’t know what he was doing and proposing. But the only way in which he may have been naive is that he believed common sense would ultimately rule Europe. He might still have been right, if Tsipras et al had not choked. Which he told them repeatedly before he became Finance Minister would be fatal for Greece. He was right on that too, but he’ll find no pleasure in it.

His fault is that he didn’t – and doesn’t- want to ‘play the game’. That game is the only one in town, and it consists of keeping the established order in charge of everything, and of enhancing that power. It’s about politics, not economics. Or rather, the prevalent economic models suit the power elite just fine, so much so that their very faults help them stay in power, and nobody wants better models.

For trying to swim against that stream, you can blame Yanis, but that is the world turned upside down. Because if you look just a little bit closer, you can see that the present model is not only riddled with nonsensical assumptions, it is, because it is, destroying formerly sovereign nations.

For trying to prevent his country, Greece, from becoming the first nation in the formerly rich world to fall prey to that new-fangled colonialist model, Varoufakis deserves praise, not scorn. Do remember that when you see yet another ‘serious’ reviewer ridicule him for being naive. As in: who’s naive, you or Yanis? Is one naive for not kneeling before dictatorship disguised as democracy?

 

One last issue. It is often mentioned that the reason Brussels acts the way it does towards Greece is to scare off other EU members from ‘trying the same’, i.e. go against the rules set by the EU -which we, thanks to Yanis, know means Germany, and Germany only. But I don’t think that is true. It’s not about going against the EU; it’s doing anything. whatever it is, that would endanger the banks.

What the -scandalous- treatment of EU member and sovereign country Greece reveals is that it’s in the end not even Angela Merkel who calls the shots, but the main German, French, Dutch banks. Why the British would want to remain members of that kind of cabal will never cease to amaze me, but why their banks would does not in the least.

But yeah, so, the banks. That’s where it all started. Europe’s main banks lent Greek banks and corporations, all as corrupt as can be, money ‘up the wazoo’. When that could not be paid back this debt was not restructured, as it would be in any normal bankruptcy case, it was transferred first to the EU and then directly to Greek pensioners and other citizens. That is why Greece is in such a deplorable state.

The banks who made the loans were made whole, through a trick that hadn’t been tried before -and may not have been 100% legal but who cares about law in the EU?- and the entire mess was unloaded upon Greek society. Which is now in an even much bigger mess, with no end in sight, than when Varoufakis became finance minister. He knew that was coming and tried to prevent it.

What Merkel et al have done is to make sure that this ‘salvation’ of Deutsche Bank, Crédit Agricole et al will not be in peril. That’s more important to the system than Portugal or Italy questioning the powers of Berlin or Brussels. It’s not about scaring off other countries, it’s about safe-guarding the banks. It’s not about economics, it’s about raw political power.

In the next economic downfall, watch that dynamic. I’ve often said that the general principle of globalization/centralization, of which the EU is a good example, cannot stand in times of negative growth, because people won’t accept decisions about their lives being taken by far-away ‘leaders’ unless they think they can profit from it.

Wait till the realization dawns that Europe, like the rest of the world, only looks sort of okay because debt levels are rising everywhere. Mario Draghi still buys tens of billions of euros in ‘paper assets’ every month. That’s the European economy, that’s all that keeps it looking good, that’s the pig and that’s the lipstick, right there.

But forst and foremost, read the book. Yanis Varoufakis: “Adults in the Room”, subtitled “My Battle With Europe’s Deep Establishment”, published by The Bodley Head. If you’re at all interested in Greece, politics, economics, Michael Corleone, the EU, the IMF and/or the Sopranos. It reads like a train.

And it tells you a lot about how the world does (not) work. From the inside, and you don’t get to have a lot of views from the inside. “Adults in the Room” is a rare chance. The ruling powers will keep trying to discredit Yanis, but the more they do, the more you should be alerted.

 

 

Jul 242017
 
 July 24, 2017  Posted by at 8:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Jackson Pollock The She Wolf 1943

 

We Are Now In The Frightening Endgame (Egon von Greyerz)
China’s Dollar Debt Specter Haunts Fed’s Policy Meetings (R.)
Federal Reserve Faces Prospect Of Global Monetary Policy Tightening (R.)
Bank of Japan Dot Plot Paints a Pessimistic Picture of Inflation (BBG)
European Banks Struggle To Solve Toxic Shipping Debt Problem (R.)
Saudi Economic Pain Will Test Resolve of Prince’s Reform Push (BBG)
While Hammond Looks For A Magic Money Tree, Labour Has Found One (G.)
Strip Mining the World (Robert Gore)
Alexis Tsipras: ‘The Worst Is Clearly Behind Us’ (G.)
European and African Ministers Discuss Plan To Tackle Flow Of Refugees (G.)
The Strange Similarity of Neuron and Galaxy Networks (Vazza & Feletti)

 

 

Sorry for you lovely summer day, but it’s time to get serious. Excellent read. “The gullibility of people today is exacerbated by the power of the internet and social media.”

We Are Now In The Frightening Endgame (Egon von Greyerz)

“Stock investors are rejoicing about stock markets making new highs in many countries, totally oblivious of the risks or the reasons. It seems that this is an unstoppable rally in a “new normal” market paradigm. No major increase is expected in the inflation rate or the historically low interest rates. The present rally has lasted 8 years since the 2009 low. There is virtually no fear in the stock market so investors see no reason why this favorable climate would not continue for another 8 years at least. Yes, of course it could. All that is needed is that governments worldwide print another $20-50 trillion at least and that global debt goes up by another $200-500 trillion. “The gullibility of people today is exacerbated by the power of the internet and social media. Anything we read is accepted as fact or the truth, while a major part of it is just fake news.

[..] The power of the internet and other media has facilitated spreading news and propaganda to billions of people and very few can distinguish if they hear or read “real” news or “fake” news. Anyone in government is incapable of telling the truth. Automatically when someone assumes an elected position their Pinocchio nose grows extremely long since their entire purpose is then to be all things to all people in order to be re-elected. This is why virtually no elected official has a backbone nor any morals or principles. Because if they had, telling the truth would make them unelectable.

[..] The system we now have is based on Fake News, Fake Money with no morals, no principles and no moral or ethical values. In spite of, or more correctly because of, all the lawyers, government legislation, compliance and regulations, the financial system is today functioning much worse than ever with more fraud, more government intervention and more manipulation of markets. Also, clients today are secondary. Instead, it is all about lining the pockets of the bankers with their multi-billion dollar deals and multi-million dollar bonuses and options. As we experienced in 2006-9, profits are for the bankers and losses for governments and customers. During that time of the Great Financial Crisis, many Investment Bankers received the same bonuses during the crisis years as before, in spite of the fact that most of them would have gone under without the government support they benefitted from to the extent of $25 trillion.

Read more …

Yellen is lost in China. How can they keep the dollar low in the face of this? And how long for? Trump likes it, China needs it. But the numbers say no.

China’s Dollar Debt Specter Haunts Fed’s Policy Meetings (R.)

In September 2015, the U.S. Federal Reserve cited risks from China as a key reason for delaying its first interest rate hike in a decade. A wall of Chinese debt maturing in the next few years could jolt the country back into the U.S. central bank’s policy deliberations. Two years ago, it was a collapse in Chinese stocks, a surprise yuan devaluation and shrinking foreign exchange reserves that roiled financial markets that delayed the Fed, but it did raise rates three months later and has tightened further since. Now, some see risks emerging in China’s dollar-denominated bonds that could give the Fed greater pause for thought as it raises rates, even as other central banks signal a shift from ultra-easy policy. To be sure, Fed officials have not publicly flagged China’s debt as a major risk in their policy discussions.

However, debt analysts point to the possibility of another September 2015 moment in which the Fed takes its cues from concerns about China. “Back then, I said that U.S. monetary policy is not made in Washington, it’s made in Beijing,” said Joachim Fels, global economic advisor at bond giant PIMCO. “China does have a major impact on monetary policies elsewhere … This year has been smooth sailing for global central banks because there were no shockwaves from China but I expect that to change if we think beyond the next few months.” The outstanding amount of dollar bonds issued by Chinese entities has grown almost 20 times since the 2008-09 global financial crisis to just over half a trillion dollars, according to data from the Bank for International Settlements.

Since September 2015, it has grown almost 50%. China’s dollar bonds are now almost a third of the emerging market total dollar issuance, up from a quarter in September 2015 and less than 5% before the Fed first began printing money in December 2008. A fifth of China’s dollar bonds mature within a year, according to BIS data. More than half are due in the next five, Thomson Reuters data show. If U.S. borrowing costs start rising as a result of the Fed’s exit from its unconventional monetary policy, that debt would have to be rolled over at higher costs, chipping away at the real economy in China. Alternatively, Chinese companies might decide to refinance their debt in local currency, creating weakening pressure on the yuan.

Either development would reverberate globally and create a major external challenge for Fed policy. For its part, the Fed doesn’t see any immediate dangers with China’s dollar debt. “You’ll find if you look at China they certainly have dollar-denominated debt but … you’ll see that they are not as reliant on external debt as people might have thought,” Dallas Fed chief Robert Kaplan said in Mexico City on Friday. Also, a significant portion of Chinese dollar borrowing makes economic sense – such as companies funding overseas investment projects. And if those dollars are converted into yuan, they could help ease any weakening pressure on the Chinese currency.

Read more …

They’re stuck. Nobody wants to admit it, but they are. One way out: a huge crisis, so they can put the blame there.

Federal Reserve Faces Prospect Of Global Monetary Policy Tightening (R.)

Prospects for tighter monetary policy in Europe and other countries could pose a fresh problem for the Federal Reserve when it meets next week to ponder its plan to reduce its $4.2 trillion bond portfolio purchased after the 2008 financial crisis. The Fed bought U.S. Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities (MBS) for about six years in a program known as “quantitative easing” which kept interest rates at record lows to spur borrowing and economic recovery. But at its June meeting this year, as well as raising interest rates for the third time in six months, the Fed also announced a plan to begin by letting $6 billion a month in Treasuries mature without reinvestment and to increase that amount at three month intervals up to $30 billion. Similarly, the Fed said it would run down its agency debt and mortgage backed securities by $4 billion a month until it reaches $20 billion.

Now, the ECB also appears likely to decide later this year on when to scale back its monthly bond purchases. When ECB President Mario Draghi first hinted at the prospect last month, world bond yields rose sharply for a while. Moreover, Canada’s central bank raised interest rates for the first time in seven years this month, and the Bank of England is expected to raise rates next year to combat rising inflation. The Fed led the way in tightening monetary policy as the global economy recovered from the 2008 recession but must now determine how plans by other central banks’ plans may affect their own policy. While a stronger European economy has been welcomed by the Fed, lessening risks to the global economy, a move by major central banks to all tighten monetary policy simultaneously has not been seen for a decade.

“The effects of ECB tapering are not limited” to euro zone countries, Cornerstone analyst Roberto Perli wrote recently. Draghi’s comments in June drove up 10-year Treasury yields US10YT=RR by the most since the U.S. election last November, and a move by the ECB to stop printing money could prompt the Fed to slow its plans for fear that financial conditions would tighten too fast. When Fed policymakers meet on July 25-26 they will need to decide a start date for reducing their bond holdings or leave more time to evaluate what Fed Governor Lael Brainard recently cited as a possible “turning point” in global monetary policy that may affect economic growth.

Read more …

The failure of Abenomics is taking on comical forms.

Bank of Japan Dot Plot Paints a Pessimistic Picture of Inflation (BBG)

Even a quick glance at the Bank of Japan’s latest inflation forecasts makes for disappointing reading. The BOJ pushed back its timetable for hitting 2% price gains for a sixth time since Governor Haruhiko Kuroda took over. And it cut its estimates for core CPI for this fiscal year and the next two. A close look at the individual projections of the board’s nine members released after its July 19-20 policy meeting is cause for even more pessimism. Eight of them see risks “tilted to downside” for their price forecast for fiscal 2019 – the year when the BOJ currently hopes to reach its inflation goal. Put another way, the chances of prices dropping below forecast are way higher than beating it. Downward pointing triangles in the dot plot below represent estimates from board members who see downside risks to their projection while circles indicate risks are evenly balanced.

There are no upward pointing triangles giving reason for optimism. When the BOJ released its previous dot plot in April, there were only six downward triangles for 2019. Kuroda said it’s “regrettable” that the BOJ has had to repeatedly push back the timing of when it will reach the inflation goal, while repeating that he still sees momentum to get there eventually. “The BOJ seems to be losing a lot of confidence in its inflation outlook,” Chotaro Morita, chief rates strategist at SMBC Nikko Securities, wrote in a report Friday. So what does this mean for policy? According to former BOJ executive director Hideo Hayakawa, the delay to fiscal 2019 is an acknowledgment that the central bank will continue stimulus even beyond 2020, as it’s very unlikely the BOJ would start cutting stimulus at the same time as the government makes a planned increase to the sales tax.

Read more …

Grossly overbuilt. No easy way out: “an estimated capital shortfall of $30 billion this year.”

European Banks Struggle To Solve Toxic Shipping Debt Problem (R.)

Dutch shipowner Vroon is finding talks with banks tough going as it tries to navigate a way out of a long slump in the shipping industry. But it is not an easy time for the lenders either. Vroon, a 127-year-old family-owned group which operates about 200 vessels and transports livestock, oil and other commodities, wants to extend its credit lines and adjust repayment schedules. But European banks that lent heavily to the sector when it boomed more than a decade ago have a heavy toxic debt burden following the 2008-09 global financial crisis and a shipping markets crash in 2010. Shipping firms and banks are caught in a vicious circle of debt, causing a credit crunch that is hindering the industry’s recovery. Overcapacity – a glut of available ships for hire – is a big concern, and another is a lack of profitability caused by problems such as slower demand and global economic turmoil.

One of the major companies, South Korean container line Hanjin, has gone under. “We have difficulty in meeting all repayment obligations that we have and that is what we are in discussion with our banks about. Those discussions are constructive but are not easy — not for us, or the banks,” Herman Marks, the chief financial officer at Vroon, told Reuters. “It is the lack of profitability for the industry that is causing the lack of availability of finance.” Shipping finance sources say the shipping industry, which transports 90% of the world’s goods including oil, food and industrial products such as coal and iron ore, has an estimated capital shortfall of $30 billion this year. Some banks are being driven out of shipping and those that remain are now more conservative in their financing, Marks said. “It is an industry that requires consolidation,” he added.

Read more …

One day we will know how poorly Saudi is doing. But not now.

Saudi Economic Pain Will Test Resolve of Prince’s Reform Push (BBG)

Saudi Arabia’s drive to reduce the economy’s reliance on oil has hit a snag: its reliance on oil. More than a year after the kingdom’s dominant leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, unveiled a blueprint for the post-oil era, the drop in crude prices is making economists more skeptical about whether some of the plan’s medium-term targets can be met. The reason: lower oil revenue deprives the government of money needed to balance its books by 2020 while trying to stimulate growth to ease the transition’s burden on the population. IMF data released Friday underscored the challenge. The fund lowered its forecasts for Saudi economic growth this year to “close to zero.” Analysts at Citigroup, EFG-Hermes and Standard Chartered see a bleaker picture, expecting the economy to shrink for the first time since the global financial crisis in 2009.

Deeper economic pain will test the authorities’ resolve to pursue tough reform measures as they seek to go against the run of history, which suggests that successful diversification efforts depended largely on policies put in place before a price shock. “Unless you start seeing some economic growth drivers kicking in, which would really have to come from the government and would require higher oil prices, the pace of fiscal reforms would likely remain slower than in 2016,” when authorities cut spending and lowered costly subsidies, Monica Malik, chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, said in an interview. “We see the possibility of having a very low growth or stagnant economic environment with the deficit still remaining high,” she said. “This is a key risk.”

Brent crude prices have declined 15% this year to $48 a barrel, well below the level that the kingdom needs to balance its budget, as producers grapple with how to eliminate a global supply glut. Under an accord between OPEC and other major producers, Saudi Arabia has cut its output. The IMF revised its forecast for Saudi growth this year to 0.1% from 0.4%. And while it now expects non-oil GDP to grow 1.7% after stalling last year, the new figures compare with an earlier estimate of about 2%.

Read more …

Transaction tax. It will come.

While Hammond Looks For A Magic Money Tree, Labour Has Found One (G.)

If Hammond is to find money for higher public spending without increasing borrowing, he will either have to ditch government plans to reduce personal and corporate taxes or find new sources of revenue. One option would be for the government to embrace the idea of a financial transaction tax, AKA the Robin Hood tax. This idea, fleshed out in detail last week by Prof Avinash Persaud at an event in London, ticks all the right boxes. Persaud’s starting point is that Britain already has a financial transaction tax, and has had one for more than 300 years. It is called stamp duty, which is levied on the purchase of shares issued by British companies, and raises just over £3bn a year, half of it from citizens of other countries. Some trading activities are exempt from stamp duty and Persaud believes these exemptions should be restricted.

He also proposes that the tax should be broadened to cover transactions in corporate bonds and cash flows arising from equity and derivative transactions. He estimates that this would raise £4.7bn a year. One argument against a financial transaction tax is that it would lead to fewer transactions and so would not raise any money. Persaud said he accepted that the tax would change behaviour (indeed, that is part of the reason for having one), but that he had already made allowances for the reduction in activity in his calculations. If there was no change in behaviour, the tax would raise £13bn a year. Nor does he accept that a tougher stamp duty regime would lead to a relocation of business. Liability for the tax would depend on where the financial instruments were issued and who owned them.

A US investor, for example, would pay the tax on shares issued in the UK, but not on securities traded in the UK but not issued there. Likewise, a British investor would pay the tax on securities wherever they were issued and traded. Persaud, himself a former banker, thinks big finance is a bit of a racket. If a company wants to raise money in the City, the charges amount to 2% of the trade – a rate unchanged in more than 100 years. Put another way, all the efficiency gains since the late 19th century have been captured by those who run the industry rather than shared with the customers. It is hard to think of any other sector where this is true.

The Treasury has always been opposed to a financial transaction tax, in large part due to its institutional capture by the City. Official attitudes would change, though, with a Labour government. Why? Because Persaud’s presentation was organised by the Labour party and he was introduced by the shadow chancellor. While Spreadsheet Phil is looking for a magic money tree, John McDonnell has already found one.

Read more …

Can’t beat a good rant.

Strip Mining the World (Robert Gore)

The government is a strip mining operation, plundering the dwindling residual value of a once wealthy America. Forget ostensible justifications, policy is crafted to allow those who control the government to maximize their take and put the costs on their victims, leaving devastation in their wake. Wars are no longer about defending the country or even making the world safe for democracy. They are about appropriations, not to be won, but profitably prolonged. The Middle East and Northern Africa have been a mother lode. You would think their sixteen-year war in backward and impoverished Afghanistan would be a shameful disgrace for the military and the intelligence agencies. It’s not. They’ve milked that conflict for all its worth, and now brazenly talk about a “generational war”: many more years of more of the same.

We can also look forward to generational wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen. The strip miners are agitating for an Iranian foray. That’s got Into The 22nd Century written all over it, a rich, multi-generational vein, perhaps America’s first 100-year war. The only rival for richest mother lode is medicine. Health care is around 28% of the federal budget, defense 21%. Medical spending no longer cures the sick; it’s the take for insurance, pharmaceutical, and hospital rackets. The US spends more per capita on health care than any other nation (36% more than second-place Switzerland) but quality of care ranks well down the list. In education there is the same gap between per capita spending (the US ranks at or near the top) and value received, in this instance as measured by student performance.

What’s paid is out of all proportion to what’s received, especially at a time when computer and communications technology should be driving down the costs of education across the board. Indoctrination factories formerly known as schools, colleges, and universities dispense approved propaganda. For students, higher education is now on the government-sponsored installment plan. There’s a litany of excuses why Johnny, Joan, Juan, Juanita, Jamal and Jasmine can’t read, compute, or think, but lack of funding and student loans don’t wash. Education dollars fund teachers’ unions, their pensions, administrators, and edifice complexes; learning is an afterthought. This vein will play out as the pensions funds, and the governments that have swapped promises to fund them for educators’ votes, go bankrupt. Probably around the same time as the student loan bubble pops.

Read more …

Tsipras is trying to put the blame on Varoufakis. He won’t find that an easy road, even if many Greeks agree. And no, the worst is not behind either him or Greece.

Alexis Tsipras: ‘The Worst Is Clearly Behind Us’ (G.)

Today, Tsipras wants to dwell neither on Varoufakis – blamed widely by Greeks for the bungled “game of chicken” that led to the EU and IMF enforcing the harshest austerity measures yet – nor his nemesis, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble. “Yanis is trying to write history in a different way,” he allows himself to say. “Perhaps the moment will come when certain truths are told … when we got to the point of reading what he presented as his plan B it was so vague, it wasn’t worth the trouble of even talking about. It was simply weak and ineffective.” Far from being a hate figure, Varoufakis held Schäuble in high esteem, Tsipras says. “I think he was his alter ego. He loved him. He respected him a great deal and he still respects him.”

Attempting to set the record straight, Tsipras says that while the Syriza government’s original strategy was one of collision politics – “in line with our mandate” – quitting the single currency, and by extension the EU, was never in question, even in the white heat of crisis when Athens was days away from default. “Leave Europe and go where … to another galaxy?” he quips. “Greece is an integral part of Europe. Without it, what would Europe look like? It would lose an important part of its history and its heritage.” Besides, Grexit would have amounted to acceptance of the “punishment plan” concocted by Schäuble that foresaw Athens taking “time out” of the bloc.

Compromise was the only option, says Tsipras, likening the measures that came with it to a ghastly medicine endured when life is at stake. “You hold your nose, you take it … You know that there is no other way … because you have tried everything else to survive, to stay alive.” Despite the firestorm of criticism he now endures, non-Greek observers say, the once firebrand leader has also shown courage in implementing policies he evidently loathes. Tsipras has managed to persuade many of those opposed to austerity to swallow the bitter pill that has kept Greece in the family of nations it has long identified with. The scenario of a “left parenthesis”, peddled by political enemies at the start of his tenure, has been put to rest.

[..] Ultimately, the great clash between Athens and the lenders keeping Greece afloat will be what is left imprinted on the collective memory, but Tsipras’s legacy, he says, will rest on something else. “It will be that I managed to take the country out of the bog in which it had been led by those who bankrupted it … and move ahead with a programme of deep reform.” That, at least, is the hope. For Greece has become an unpredictable place and, as with history itself, there are no straight lines. “No one,” he says, “can ever be sure that the crisis won’t come back.”

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They found a new term: regularize. As in: regularized refugees. This can only go horribly wrong.

European and African Ministers Discuss Plan To Tackle Flow Of Refugees (G.)

European and African ministers are to meet in Tunis on Monday to discuss a plan to try to regularise the flow of refugees from Africa to Europe to about 20,000, coupled with a much tougher strategy to deport illegal migrants from Italy and break up smuggling rings. The plan to regularise the migrant flow is being pushed by the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, which warns that EU efforts to train the Libyan coastguard along with Italy’s intention to impose a new code of conduct on NGO rescue ships operating in the Mediterranean do not match the scale of the problem, or recognise the extent to which the flow of refugees and migrants is likely to become permanent. The aim is to set up screening systems for EU-bound migrants in countries en route to Libya, such as Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Chad and Sudan.

The EU at a meeting in July set aside enough cash for 40,000 regularised refugees, with as many as half coming from claimants in Syria, and the remainder from Africa. Although the European commission has struggled to persuade all countries to take migrants after a similar scheme set up in following the 2015 migration crisis from Syria, the new scheme would represent a form of solidarity, and provide Italy with some relief. Italy is gripped by deep political and civil divisions on the issue, with more than 90,000 migrants reaching Italy from Libya this year. A reduction to 20,000 from Africa would represent a transformation.

Explaining the thinking, Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR’s new special envoy to the central Mediterranean, said: “We need to regularise the system and stop these dangerous journeys into Libya. Any remedy that focuses on trying to stop the flow of migrants at sea, such as a code of conduct for a NGOs, cannot be the solution. The issue has to be addressed earlier in the countries of origin and transit. “Italy also needs to be able to process claimants so the economic migrants are returned much more quickly, or else there will be no deterrent to travel to Italy. Only a third of the migrants reaching Italy are found to be in need of international protection.” He added that by the time migrants reached Libya it was often too late.

It is thought there are 300,000 Africans from outside Libya trying to get across to Europe or to get some work in Libya. They are living in Libyan detention centres or in warehouses or so-called “connection houses” in the hands of traffickers. The refugees need to be taken out of Libya and these detention centres so they can be processed elsewhere.

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Self-similarity. The ultimate fractals.

The Strange Similarity of Neuron and Galaxy Networks (Vazza & Feletti)

The total number of neurons in the human brain falls in the same ballpark of the number of galaxies in the observable universe.

Christof Koch, a leading researcher on consciousness and the human brain, has famously called the brain “the most complex object in the known universe.” It’s not hard to see why this might be true. With a hundred billion neurons and a hundred trillion connections, the brain is a dizzyingly complex object. But there are plenty of other complicated objects in the universe. For example, galaxies can group into enormous structures (called clusters, superclusters, and filaments) that stretch for hundreds of millions of light-years. The boundary between these structures and neighboring stretches of empty space called cosmic voids can be extremely complex. Gravity accelerates matter at these boundaries to speeds of thousands of kilometers per second, creating shock waves and turbulence in intergalactic gases.

We have predicted that the void-filament boundary is one of the most complex volumes of the universe, as measured by the number of bits of information it takes to describe it. This got us to thinking: Is it more complex than the brain? So we—an astrophysicist and a neuroscientist—joined forces to quantitatively compare the complexity of galaxy networks and neuronal networks. The first results from our comparison are truly surprising: Not only are the complexities of the brain and cosmic web actually similar, but so are their structures. The universe may be self-similar across scales that differ in size by a factor of a billion billion billion.

The task of comparing brains and clusters of galaxies is a difficult one. For one thing it requires dealing with data obtained in drastically different ways: telescopes and numerical simulations on the one hand, electron microscopy, immunohistochemistry, and functional magnetic resonance on the other. It also requires us to consider enormously different scales: The entirety of the cosmic web—the large-scale structure traced out by all of the universe’s galaxies—extends over at least a few tens of billions of light-years. This is 27 orde
rs of magnitude larger than the human brain. Plus, one of these galaxies is home to billions of actual brains. If the cosmic web is at least as complex as any of its constituent parts, we might naively conclude that it must be at least as complex as the brain.

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Dec 182016
 
 December 18, 2016  Posted by at 9:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Dorothea Lange Country store, Person County, NC Jul 1939

Here’s How Americans Spent Their Money In The Last 75 Years (MW)
Global Debt, Equity Markets Lose $1 Trillion In Value This Week (ZH)
January 2017 Earnings Is Going To Be a Bloodbath (EconMatters)
Trump Talked, the Fed Listened: Shrink the Balance Sheet, Bullard Says (WS)
Pentagon Says China to Return Drone; Trump Says They Can Keep It (BBG)
Free Cash in Finland. Must Be Jobless. (NYT)
Monte dei Paschi to Start Taking Orders for Shares on Monday (BBG)
Hillary’s Campaign The Most Incompetent In Modern History (Davis)
Just Who Is Undermining Election? Russians Or CIA? (Albuquerque Journal Ed.)
‘Shocking’ Rise in Number of Homeless Children in UK B&Bs at Christmas (G.)
Tsipras’s Spending Spree May Be Relief To Greeks But It Won’t End Crisis (G.)

 

 

The rise in spending on housing should initiate a national debate. And not just in the US. It makes you wonder about the real dimensions of the ‘housing bubble’. Is it perhaps 75 years old already?

Here’s How Americans Spent Their Money In The Last 75 Years (MW)

Housing expenses have almost always been the largest drain on American budgets, unchanged in over 70 years. Between 1941 and 2014, Americans spent money on most of the same things, with a few changes. Housing has persisted as a large area of spending for Americans, as has the food category. However, spending on food and clothing has fallen when adjusting for inflation while spending on education and health care has risen quickly. That’s according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, adjusted for inflation and representing median spending of all Americans, charted here.


click for larger version

There is one exception to housing’s dominance, in 1941, when spending on food averaged $8,311 annually, topping the $7,537 spent on shelter that year. Interestingly, in 1941 the government included alcohol in the food spending category, which inflates the food spending data for that year. In other years, alcohol was given its own category. Americans spent the most on clothing in 1961, at an average of $4,157. In every year measured since 1961, spending on clothing fell, even when accounting for inflation. At the same time, Americans began spending more on education, transportation and health care. Spending on education has increased far more than any other category, jumping from $242 in 1941 to $1,236 in 2014. Education spending increased at a particularly fast rate between 1984 and 1994 and onward. While spending on health care increased between 1941 and 2014, overall spending dipped between 1973 and 1984, but then began rising rapidly thereafter.

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@Boomfinance: “Bonds are collateral assets. Collateral is needed to expand Credit. This is Debt Deflation writ large. Yes?”

Global Debt, Equity Markets Lose $1 Trillion In Value This Week (ZH)

Thanks to Janet Yellen’s rate-hike-hawkishness (but, but, but, we’re still ultra-easy), global equity and debt markets lost over $1 trillion in value – the biggest weekly loss since early May (weak China data and huge surge in dollar). Global bonds lost over $430 billion in market value this week (Yellen hawkishness and China bond carnage) but stocks lost even more ($525 billion) as China financial turmoil added to the world’s woes (and “three rate hikes next year” and fiscal stimulus efficacy questions did not help).

Having retraced back to pre-Trump levels before The Fed statement this week, the combination of China turmoil and Janet’s un-dovishness sent global stocks and bonds down over $1 trillion on the week – the worst week globally since May 2016 (when the dollar surged amid China weakness and slowing EU growth forecasts)

In fact, while US bank stockholders are ebullient at The Trump presidency-to-be, the rest of the world has lost a combined $1.5 trillion in market value across its bonds and stocks (thanks in major part to Janet’s help this week).

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No holding back here.

January 2017 Earnings Is Going To Be a Bloodbath (EconMatters)

We discuss a preview of January`s Earnings releases and how massive the gap down in most of these stocks will be when they report in a month. There have already been two earning`s guide downs from industrial companies this past week in UTX, and HON. But with the run up in financials and energies for the last month we are going to experience big $5 chunks taken out of these stocks and massive after hours and pre-market gap downs that will cause entire sectors to sell off during earnings in January. It is just going to be brutal, expect 500 point down days in the Dow during this upcoming earnings period. You have seasonal stocks that selloff every year like Apple and Amazon, as the 4th quarter is their best by far for sales and revenues.

And you have energy companies with exorbitant p/e ratios like COP, XOM, CVH that are priced for $115 dollar oil not $55 oil that 4th quarter earnings releases are going to bring some fundamental realities back to investors of how overpriced these stocks are right here. You have “dogshit” stocks like C, BAC that are serial underperformers in the financial sector along with WFC with its legal problems and operating distractions of the past year, and JPM which has moved too far entirely too fast and the amount of Monkey Hammering Selling Smack downs of these financials upon reporting is going to be outright brutal for investors stupid enough not to have taken profits before earnings. Not to mention all the other broken companies that have been lifted up in this 4th quarter rally, and are going to be taken out to the woodshed for a red beating when they report.

Throw in all those idiot investors who don`t take profits for tax reasons who will wish they did as everybody sells in the new year at the same time running for the tax exits together, and this January 2017 Earnings period is going to be outright one of the worst we have seen since last January`s massive stock selloff. It is the difference between being able to use a selling algorithm program that gets a decent price for the closing of the position versus taking what the market gives you during selloff and gap down closing of positions where profits are annihilated in a very short timespan. Investors need to evaluate all of the parameters when making tax deferral decisions, and it isn`t as simple as they always mistakenly calculate when making these boneheaded simpleton calculations.

No wonder they cannot outperform the market, you have to take profits into strength, not weakness when everybody and their brother is selling. Why Investors continue to exhibit the same stupid patterns is beyond me, but the smart ones will be selling in the next two weeks to beat the carnage selling that occurs in January due to tax deferral selling, and reality setting in that no amount of Trump Magic can make these pig stocks earnings for the 4th quarter look good relative to the current stock prices. It is going to get ugly folks!

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Nice piece from Wolf Richter. He recognizes the inherent risks: “Trump, as President, would be more than embarrassed to see financial markets sag under his watch.”

Trump Talked, the Fed Listened: Shrink the Balance Sheet, Bullard Says (WS)

Bullard would start by allowing maturing securities to roll off the balance sheet without replacing them with new asset purchases, he said. That would shrink the balance sheet. And it would make financial conditions more restrictive. Shedding assets accumulated on the Fed’s balance sheet is the ultimate form of tightening. It would pull liquidity out of the markets and force them to stand on their own wobbly feet. And he’s a dove! He sees only one rate hike next year. Until recently, he saw only one rate hike, period – the one we just got – and no additional hikes over the next few next years. But he’s ogling the balance sheet. If shrinking the balance sheet is too radical for now, the Fed could replace longer term securities as they mature with short-dated securities, he said. This would make unwinding the balance sheet easier, once the decision is made.

These short-dated securities could just be allowed to mature without replacement. It could go pretty quickly. “My preference would be to allow some runoff in the balance sheet,” he said. But before markets could spiral into a paroxysm, he added that he didn’t think efforts to shrink the balance sheet were “imminent.” He has been a voting member of the Federal Open Market Committee, which makes the decisions on rates, QE, and balance sheet shrinkage. But next year, he’ll rotate into a non-voting slot. So he’s just setting some trial balloons adrift. A few Fed heads have dared to suggest that they’d want to shrink the balance sheet eventually, possibly after everyone’s life expectancy expires. They’d want to raise rates first, and if the economy hasn’t fallen into a recession or worse by then, it might be time to think about letting the balance sheet contract.

But the economy might never get to where there are some sort of normal rates without a recession. And a recession would start the whole process of rate cutting and perhaps QE all over again, and the balance sheet might never be shrunk in this scenario. Bullard doesn’t want to wait that long. For good reason. QE has caused enough distortions. Shrinking the balance sheet by allowing bonds to roll off, while keeping the fed funds rate relatively low, for example at 1.5% by next year, would cause long term rates to rise sharply while keeping a lid on short-term rates. It would steepen the yield curve. In this scenario, the 10-year yield – at 1.38% in July and now at 2.6% – might go to 4% or beyond.

It would have an epic impact on Trump’s “artificial stock market.” It would cause all kinds of mayhem, because Trump was right: The epic bond market bubble and the stock market rally that has pushed all conventional metrics off the charts have been fueled by the Fed. The effects of removing, to use Trump’s term, the “artificial” elements from the stock market could be interesting. We’d have to avert our eyes from the carnage in the bond market. And Housing Bubble 2, with 30-year fixed-rate mortgages at 6%? That’s historically low and worked just fine ten years ago (it helped create Housing Bubble 1). But with the inflated home prices of today, it would mark a big reset.

Today’s equations won’t work at these interest rates. The fireworks could be astounding. But in the big picture, it would just unravel some of the excesses of the past few years, bring a hue of normalcy to the markets, and refocus attention on the real economy instead of wild financial speculations. Trump, as he was talking during the campaign, should appreciate that. Trump, as mega-investor, might get queasy. And Trump, as President, would be more than embarrassed to see financial markets sag under his watch.

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China knows Trump is a dealmaker. Just like they are. They must have chuckled at his response. But not officially of course.

Pentagon Says China to Return Drone; Trump Says They Can Keep It (BBG)

The Pentagon said China will return a U.S. Navy underwater drone after its military scooped up the submersible in the South China Sea late this week and sparked a row that drew in President-elect Donald Trump, who said on Twitter the Chinese stole it, so they can keep it. “Through direct engagement with Chinese authorities, we have secured an understanding that the Chinese will return the UUV to the United States,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement on Saturday, referring to the unmanned underwater vehicle the U.S. said had been operating in international waters. China’s ministry of defense pledged an “appropriate” return of the drone on its Weibo social media account, while also criticizing the U.S. for hyping the incident into a diplomatic row.

It followed assurances from Beijing that the governments were working to resolve the spat, punctuated by a tweet from Trump denouncing the seizure as “unprecedented.” The drone incident was disclosed by the Pentagon on Friday. China’s ministry said the U.S. “hyped the case in public,” which it said wasn’t helpful in resolving the problem. The U.S. has “frequently” sent its vessels and aircrafts into the region, and China urges such activities to stop, the ministry said in its Weibo message. Trump slammed the Chinese navy’s capture of the vehicle in a message to his 17.4 million Twitter followers. “China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips it out of water and takes it to China in unprecedented act,” Trump wrote Saturday hours after the Chinese government said it had been in touch with the U.S. military about the incident.

In a follow-up Twitter message, the president-elect said: “We should tell China that we don’t want the drone they stole back – let them keep it!” The tensions unleashed by the episode underscored the delicate state of relations between the two countries, weeks before Trump’s inauguration. Trump has threatened higher tariffs on Chinese products and questioned the U.S. approach to Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of its territory. Meanwhile, China is growing more assertive over its claims to disputed sections of the South China Sea.

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An ‘experiment’ targeted at 2000 specific people has nothing to do with Universal Basic Income. These ‘experiments’ are only valid when it’s truly universal, or at least nationwide. And when they involve people with AND without jobs. You simply can’t do ‘universal’ on a small scale.

Free Cash in Finland. Must Be Jobless. (NYT)

No one would confuse this frigid corner of northern Finland with Silicon Valley. Notched in low pine forests just 100 miles below the Arctic Circle, Oulu seems more likely to achieve dominance at herding reindeer than at nurturing technology start-ups. But this city has roots as a hub for wireless communications, and keen aspirations in innovation. It also has thousands of skilled engineers in need of work. Many were laid off by Nokia, the Finnish company once synonymous with mobile telephones and more recently at risk of fading into oblivion. While entrepreneurs are eager to put these people to work, the rules of Finland’s generous social safety net effectively discourage this. Jobless people generally cannot earn additional income while collecting unemployment benefits or they risk losing that assistance.

For laid-off workers from Nokia, simply collecting a guaranteed unemployment check often presents a better financial proposition than taking a leap with a start-up in Finland, where a shaky technology industry is trying to find its footing again. Now, the Finnish government is exploring how to change that calculus, initiating an experiment in a form of social welfare: universal basic income. Early next year, the government plans to randomly select roughly 2,000 unemployed people — from white-collar coders to blue-collar construction workers. It will give them benefits automatically, absent bureaucratic hassle and minus penalties for amassing extra income. The government is eager to see what happens next. Will more people pursue jobs or start businesses? How many will stop working and squander their money on vodka?

Will those liberated from the time-sucking entanglements of the unemployment system use their freedom to gain education, setting themselves up for promising new careers? These areas of inquiry extend beyond economic policy, into the realm of human nature. The answers — to be determined over a two-year trial — could shape social welfare policy far beyond Nordic terrain. In communities around the world, officials are exploring basic income as a way to lessen the vulnerabilities of working people exposed to the vagaries of global trade and automation. While basic income is still an emerging idea, one far from being deployed on a large scale, the growing experimentation underscores the deep need to find effective means to alleviate the perils of globalization.

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Covered by taxpayers.

Monte dei Paschi to Start Taking Orders for Shares on Monday (BBG)

Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA will begin taking orders for shares as soon as Monday as it aims to complete raising €5 billion of capital before Christmas, people with the knowledge of the matter said. Monte Paschi will attempt to sell stock through Thursday, said the people, who asked to not be named because the plan isn’t public yet. The price and total number of shares to be sold will be determined based on investor demand and on the outcome of the separate debt-to-equity swap, the people said. CEO Marco Morelli, who took over in September, is racing to find backers for his effort to clean up the bank’s balance sheet.

The failure of the recapitalization would be a blow to Italy’s sputtering efforts to revive a banking industry that’s burdened with about €360 billion in troubled loans, dragging down the economy by limiting lending. The lender earlier this week extended a debt-for-equity swap that is one of the three main interlocking pieces of the bank’s capital-raising plan. The bank also plans a cash infusion from anchor investors and a share sale. The offer, involving the exchange of about 4.5 billion euros of Tier 1 and Tier 2 securities, is set to end at 2 p.m. on Dec. 21. Monte Paschi, facing a Dec. 31 deadline to complete the fundraising, also will promote an exchange on 1 billion euros of hybrid securities issued in 2008 known as FRESH at 23.2% of face value, the lender said in a filing on its website.

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Almost funny.

Hillary’s Campaign The Most Incompetent In Modern History (Davis)

It wasn’t sexism, or racism, or the FBI, or fake news, or the Russians, which cost Hillary Clinton the presidential election. According to a blockbuster campaign dispatch published by Politico on Wednesday, sheer incompetence was the real cause of Clinton’s electoral implosion in November. Clinton’s loss was caused not by one bad decision here or there, the Politico report shows, but by a cascade of mind-bogglingly stupid decisions made throughout the campaign. For example, there was the time campaign surrogates were ordered to stay and campaign in Iowa, which Clinton lost by 10 points, instead of working to get out the vote for Clinton in Michigan:

Everybody could see Hillary Clinton was cooked in Iowa. So when, a week-and-a-half out, the Service Employees International Union started hearing anxiety out of Michigan, union officials decided to reroute their volunteers, giving a desperate team on the ground around Detroit some hope. They started prepping meals and organizing hotel rooms. SEIU — which had wanted to go to Michigan from the beginning, but been ordered not to — dialed Clinton’s top campaign aides to tell them about the new plan. According to several people familiar with the call, Brooklyn was furious. Turn that bus around, the Clinton team ordered SEIU. Those volunteers needed to stay in Iowa to fool Donald Trump into competing there, not drive to Michigan, where the Democrat’s models projected a 5-point win through the morning of Election Day.

Then there was the time the campaign, instead of spending its cash in competitive states the candidate needed to win to clinch an electoral college victory, sent millions to the Democratic National Committee, which used the money to run up vote totals in uncompetitive states so Clinton would win the popular vote:

But there also were millions approved for transfer from Clinton’s campaign for use by the DNC — which, under a plan devised by Brazile to drum up urban turnout out of fear that Trump would win the popular vote while losing the electoral vote, got dumped into Chicago and New Orleans, far from anywhere that would have made a difference in the election.

There was also the time Clinton didn’t even bother to show up at a Michigan event for the United Auto Workers, a key union constituency on which Democrats traditionally rely for get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts throughout the Rust Belt:

Clinton never even stopped by a United Auto Workers union hall in Michigan, though a person involved with the campaign noted bitterly that the UAW flaked on GOTV commitments in the final days, and that AFSCME never even made any, despite months of appeals.

The Clinton campaign also completely ignored cries for last-second, all-hands-on-deck GOTV help in Michigan on election day. According to Politico, Brooklyn-based campaign staff waved off data showing massive shortfalls in urban turnout and insisted the Democrat would win the state by at least five points:

On the morning of Election Day, internal Clinton campaign numbers had her winning Michigan by 5 points. By 1 p.m., an aide on the ground called headquarters; the voter turnout tracking system they’d built themselves in defiance of orders — Brooklyn had told operatives in the state they didn’t care about those numbers, and specifically told them not to use any resources to get them — showed urban precincts down 25%. Maybe they should get worried, the Michigan operatives said. Nope, they were told. She was going to win by 5. All Brooklyn’s data said so.

Clinton would eventually lose the state by 11,000 votes, less than one quarter of one %age point of all votes cast in the state. In the end, though, it appears that hubris may have been Hillary’s ultimate downfall. Hours before polls closed and long before returns began trickling in, Clinton’s top staffers weren’t scrambling for every last vote. Instead, they were busy measuring the Oval Office curtains and searching for champagne bottles to uncork to celebrate their historic victory. “In at least one of the war rooms in New York, they’d already started celebratory drinking by the afternoon, according to a person there,” Politico reported. “Elsewhere, calls quietly went out that day to tell key people to get ready to be asked about joining transition teams.” Oops.

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An editorial that means sense. Maybe America’s papers are not all doomed to oblivion after all.

Just Who Is Undermining Election? Russians Or CIA? (Albuquerque Journal Ed.)

Congress needs to dust off its Magic 8 Ball. At this point, how else are our elected representatives going to get to the bottom of allegations that Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, tried to influence the U.S. general election? After all, the CIA isn’t being very open – at least not with our elected representatives. Instead of briefing the House Intelligence Committee about the alleged Russian role in hacked emails made public during the campaign – which Democrats desperately seek to blame for Hillary Clinton’s loss – the agency is leaking conclusions without facts to the Washington Post, New York Times and television networks. The media, naturally, are quick to report the anonymous bits of “blame Putin” information to the public. So to the extent Putin meddled, our own spies have at least matched his efforts to discredit our electoral system.

To recap: Private emails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign were made public via WikiLeaks, allegedly through hacking, even though the FBI had tried to warn the DNC back in September 2015 of problems with its security system. The agency couldn’t get past the party’s technical help desk – harking back to Hillary’s email security problems on her own private server. The media reported on the leaks daily – and if a reporter had obtained the same information from inside sources, there would be no controversy at all. Today’s uproar is over the source – not the substance. But the CIA’s alleged conclusion – that Russia intervened to help Trump win – does not square with comments made Nov. 17 by James Clapper, director of National Intelligence. He said he lacked “good insight” about whether there was a connection between the WikiLeaks releases and Russia.

Congressional Republican leaders are taking the allegations seriously. “The Russians are not our friends,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. House Speaker Paul Ryan called any Russian intervention “especially problematic because, under President Putin, Russia has been an aggressor that consistently undermines American interests.” But Intelligence Committee member Peter King of New York flatly accused the U.S. intelligence community of waging a disinformation campaign aimed at undermining Trump’s credibility – if not changing the course of the Electoral College. Not surprisingly, President Obama is seizing a newfound political opportunity and is taking a new interest despite earlier claims of knowing all along of Russian shenanigans but choosing not to go public with whatever evidence he had – none of which he has produced.

[..] The source of the campaign leaks remains an interesting question, but one unlikely to be answered credibly unless the CIA coughs up its findings to Congress. Cooperation also might help answer the question of possible Russian motives if it was involved: Was it to cast doubt on the U.S. election system? If so, it was highly successful with the help of our own intelligence community and desperate Democrats who simply can’t accept that Trump won 306 Electoral College votes. Though the CIA based its supposed findings of pro-Trump intervention on the fact that no Republican emails were leaked before the election, the Republican National Committee says it wasn’t hacked. And Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange stands firm in his claim the Russians were not the source of the leaks.

Cyber hacking has become one of the mainstays of life – Yahoo most recently was hacked of more than one billion user accounts. And intervention into foreign elections is something many nations, including the United States, do regularly. Obama recently tried to influence the Brexit vote. And while nobody should feel good about foreign interests intervening in U.S. elections, the reluctance of the U.S. intelligence community to share its information with official sources charged with making decisions about national security, while leaking information via media outlets, is very disturbing, raising the spectre of a political coup by our nation’s intelligence forces.

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Maybe Britain needs a full-size reboot.

‘Shocking’ Rise in Number of Homeless Children in UK B&Bs at Christmas (G.)

The number of children living in temporary accommodation this Christmas, including in bed and breakfasts, has risen by more than 10% since last year to 124,000, according to the latest government figures. The numbers of children forced into temporary housing in the run up to Christmas have described as “shocking” by the country’s leading charity for the homeless. The data, released by the Department for Communities and Local Government, also reveals a rise of more than 300% since 2014 in the number of families in England who are being housed illegally (for more than the statutory maximum period of six weeks) in B&Bs by local authorities, because they cannot find any alternative places. Campbell Robb, Shelter’s chief executive, said: “The latest figures show that councils are increasingly struggling to help homeless families.

“But the number of children placed in B&Bs illegally is truly shocking, and there’s a worrying rise in families moved away from their support network to a new area. We know first-hand the devastating impact this can have on their lives.” He blamed a “perfect storm” of welfare cuts and rising rents, together with a lack of social and affordable housing, that was creating impossible pressure for local authorities. “Councils know that neither option is acceptable but increasingly find themselves with no alternatives,” he said. “Welfare cuts have made private rents unaffordable and that – combined with unpredictable rent rises and a lack of genuinely affordable homes – mean many families are struggling to get by.

“With the loss of private rented homes the single biggest cause of homelessness, it’s no wonder that’s so many families are turning to their council, desperate for help.” [.] The number of households that have become homeless after an eviction over the last year is up 12% compared to a year ago at 18,820 while the total number of households in temporary accommodation has risen to 74,630, up 9% on a year earlier. While 21,400 homeless households have been moved away to a different council area – a 15% rise in the last year.

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Helena Smith is the Guardian’s Athens correspondent. I haven’t met a Greek who knows of her and had positive things to say. But this is insane. I know editors make headlines, not reporters, but calling Tsipras’ move to soften the crisis blow a little for pensioners, and to feed children at school who don’t eat at home, a “spending spree”, that is way beyond the pale. Shameless.

Tsipras’s Spending Spree May Be Relief To Greeks But It Won’t End Crisis (G.)

Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, likes to shake things up and, in recent days, he has reverted to form. After 16 months of faithfully toeing the line, the leader rebelled, cautiously at first and then almost jubilantly, casting off the fiscal straightjacket that has encased his government with thinly veiled glee. First came the announcement that low-income pensioners, forced to survive in tax-heavy post-crisis Greece on €800 or less a month, would receive a one-off, pre-Christmas bonus. Then came the news that Greeks living on Aegean isles which have borne the brunt of refugee flows would not be subject to a sales tax enforced at the behest of creditors keeping the debt-stricken country afloat.

Finally, another announcement both antagonising and pointed: 30,000 children living in poverty-stricken areas of northern Greece will henceforth be entitled to free meals in schools. The reaction wasn’t instant but, when it came, it was delivered with force. The European Stability Mechanism, the eurozone’s financing arm, announced that short-term relief measures, agreed only a week before to ease Greece’s debt pile, would be frozen with immediate effect. It did not take long before the German finance ministry, under the unwavering stewardship of Wolfgang Schäuble, followed suit, requesting that creditor institutions assess whether Tsipras had acted in flagrant violation of Athens’ bailout commitments with his unilateral moves.

The leftist insisted that the aid – €61m in supplementary support for pensions and €11.5m for the school meals – would be taken from the primary surplus his government, unexpectedly, had managed to achieve. The assistance would help “heal the wounds of crisis”. “We want to … alleviate all those who have over these difficult years made huge sacrifices in the name of Europe,” he announced before holding talks with German chancellor Angela Merkel late Friday.

Read more …

Nov 212016
 
 November 21, 2016  Posted by at 9:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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NPC Fordson tractor exposition at Camp Meigs, Washington DC 1922

Japan Exports Drop 13th Month By 10.3%, Imports Down 22nd Month By 16.5% (WSJ)
Negative Rates Are Failing to Halt Savings Obsession in Europe (BBG)
More Than 1 in 3 European Workers Have Difficulty Making Ends Meet (ETUC)
Now it Begins to Unravel (WS)
Former UBS, Credit Suisse CEO: “A Recession Is Sometimes Necessary” (ZH)
Big Shock In France’s Presidential Election As Sarkozy Eliminated (BBG)
The EU’s New Bomb Is Ticking in the Netherlands (WSJ)
APEC Summit Closes With Call for More Globalization, Free Trade (AP)
Obama Says World Leaders Want To Move Forward With TPP (AFP)
The Grey Champion Assumes Command – Part 1 (Quinn)
The Silver Lining In This Disaster: Clinton & Co Are Finally Gone (G.)
Disaffected Rust Belt Voters Embraced Trump. They Had No Other Hope (G.)
Tsipras Ready To Give In On Labor Reform To Ensure Debt Relief (Kath.)

 

 

With trade growth goes globalization.

Japan Exports Drop 13th Month By 10.3%, Imports Down 22nd Month By 16.5% (WSJ)

Japanese exports extended their losses to a 13th straight month in October, indicating that the world’s third-largest economy has yet to regain full fitness despite better-than-expected growth in the third quarter. Exports fell 10.3% from a year earlier in October to 5.870 trillion yen, figures released Monday by the Ministry of Finance showed. The reading came in worse than a 9.4% drop forecast by economists polled by WSJ. Exports decreased 6.9% in September. Despite the grim monthly figures, exports appear to be in better shape than in the spring, when Japan’s manufacturers were being buffeted by worries over a Chinese slowdown and other headwinds from abroad. Government estimates released last week showed that Japan’s economy grew 2.2% from the previous quarter in the July-September period, beating economists’ expectations.

Exports were stronger than in the previous three months. The near-term prospects for exports have also improved after Donald Trump’s victory of U.S. presidential election put the yen’s previous uptrend in reversal. The finance ministry said export volumes for October fell 1.4% from their year-earlier levels. That marked the first fall in three months. But seasonally adjusted month-on-month figures showed exports increased 1.6%. Imports declined 16.5% on year in October to Y5.374 trillion, the 22nd consecutive month of contraction, the ministry said. Japan’s trade balance came to Y496.2 billion in surplus, according to the data. Economists polled by the Nikkei expected a surplus of Y610.0 billion.

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Anything reported as a ‘savings obsession’ can be filed under ‘fake news’. It takes this article a while to get to it, but then it does: “About 44% of all Europeans were unable to pay at least one bill on time during the last 12 months, mainly because of a lack of money..” Combine that with the accounting practice of filing ‘paying off debts’ under ‘saving’, and you know what’s really happening.

Negative Rates Are Failing to Halt Savings Obsession in Europe (BBG)

After years of turbo-driven central bank stimulus, most Europeans still want to leave their spare cash in savings accounts, even if those accounts pay zero interest. That’s the finding of a survey by Europe’s biggest debt collector, Stockholm-based Intrum Justitia AB. “After the financial crisis, people have felt a need – even if they have small means – to create some kind of security,” CEO Mikael Ericson said in an interview in Stockholm on Nov. 16. “It can’t be that people save in a bank account because of the fantastic returns, so it must be about a sense of security, having money in the bank.” Some 69% of Europeans put their savings into bank accounts, according to Intrum Justitia’s European Consumer Payment Report.

The survey is based on feedback gathered in September and covers about 21,000 people in 21 countries. The survey also shows that 26% of Europeans prefer keeping their surplus funds in cash, while 16% hold stocks. Only 14% turn to investment funds, 8% invest in real estate and 8% in bonds. In Denmark and Sweden, where central bank benchmark rates are negative, almost 80% of people put their surplus cash in bank accounts. In France, the U.K. and the Netherlands, the figure is above 80%. [..] The survey also revealed how financially fragile many Europeans continue to be almost half a decade after the region’s debt crisis. About 44% of all Europeans were unable to pay at least one bill on time during the last 12 months, mainly because of a lack of money, the survey found. Greece was worst, with 76% of households failing to pay on time.

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Yeah. Savings Obsession. Sure.

More Than 1 in 3 European Workers Have Difficulty Making Ends Meet (ETUC)

According to the European Working Conditions Survey launched today more than one third of workers report some or great difficulty in making ends meet. This is the reality behind the rosier picture painted by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions which highlights an “increasingly skilled workforce, largely satisfied with work”. However, the study also reveals that • A shocking 1 in 5 workers “has a poor quality job with disadvantageous job quality features and job holders …. reporting an unsatisfactory experience of working life.” • Only 1 in 4 workers have “a smooth running job where most dimensions of job quality are satisfactory”.

Luca Visentini, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation said “European workers are struggling to make ends meet. Work no longer assures a decent life. Is it any wonder that more and more voters are losing their faith in “the European Union and mainstream political parties? ”These results only strengthen the ETUC’s determination to fight for more public investment to create quality jobs, and for a pay rise for European workers to tackle poverty and drive economic recovery for all. Economic policies that result in 1 in 3 workers struggling to make ends meet are fundamentally wrong and must be radically changed.” “These are deeply worrying results that cannot be hidden by claiming that the world of work is increasingly complex. The survey actually shows that work is unsatisfactory or unrewarding for far too many workers.”

“The picture painted by the European Working Conditions Survey of widespread poverty in improving working conditions highlights the need for a comprehensive approach to tackle inequality across Europe. Improvements in labour markets and working conditions are modest and uneven at best; what’s more, these are being wiped out by spiralling costs of housing and austerity policies that drive insecurity for workers and their families.”

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“Debt is good” is just another way of saying “Greed is good”.

Now it Begins to Unravel (WS)

Debt is good. More debt is better. Funding consumer spending with debt is even better – that’s what economists have been preaching – because the consumed goods and services are gone after having been added to GDP, while the debt, which GDP ignores, remains until it is paid off with future earnings, or until it blows up. Corporations too have gone on a borrowing binge. Unlike consumers, they have no intention of paying off their debts. They issue new debt and use the proceeds to pay off maturing debts. Funding share-buybacks and dividends with debt is ideal. It’s called “unlocking value.” Debt must always grow. For that purpose, the Fed has manipulated interest rates to rock bottom. Actually paying off and reducing debt has the dreadful moniker, bandied about during the Financial Crisis, “deleveraging.”

It’s synonymous with “The End of the World.” At the institutional level, “debt” is replaced with more politically correct “leverage.” More leverage is better. Particularly if you can borrow short-term at near zero cost and bet the proceeds on risky illiquid long-term assets, such as real estate, or on securities that become illiquid without notice. Derivatives are part of this institutional equation. The notional value of derivatives in the US banking system is $190 trillion, according to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Four banks hold over 90% of them: JP Morgan ($53 trillion), Citibank ($52 trillion), Goldman ($44 trillion), and Bank of America ($26 trillion). Over 75% of those derivative contracts are interest rate products, such as swaps.

With them, heavily leveraged institutional investors that borrow short-term to invest in illiquid long-term assets hedge against interest rate movements. But Treasury yields and mortgage rates have moved violently in recent weeks, and someone is out some big money. These credit bubbles always unravel to the greatest surprise of those institutions and their economists. When they unravel, the above “End-of-the-World” scenario of orderly deleveraging turns into forced deleveraging, which can get messy. Assets that had previously been taken for granted are either repriced or just evaporate. But they’d been pledged as collateral. Suddenly, the collateral no longer exists….

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“..the Swiss National Bank’s balance sheet now accounts for 100% of GDP. Japan is also 100%, but mainly invested in its own state paper. The ECB and the Fed are 30%.”

Former UBS, Credit Suisse CEO: “A Recession Is Sometimes Necessary” (ZH)

Remember when bashing central banks and predicting financial collapse as a result of monetary manipulation and intervention was considered “fake news” within the “serious” financial community, disseminated by fringe blogs? Good times. In an interview with Swiss Sonntags Blick titled appropriately enough “A Recession Is Sometimes Necessary”, the former CEO of UBS and Credit Suisse, Oswald Grübel, lashed out by criticizing the growing strength of central banks and their ‘supremacy over the markets and other banks’. He claimed that the use of negative interest rates and huge positive balance sheets represent ‘weapons of mass destruction’. He calls for an end to the use of negative interest rates. Sounding more like a “tinfoil” blog than the former CEO of the two largest Swiss banks, Grübel warned that central banks have “crossed the point of no return” which will ultimately “end in a crash.”

Joining Deutsche Bank in slamming NIRP, Grubel said that banks are losing hundreds of millions of francs each year to negative interest rates paid to central banks. Worse, he warned that central banks will eventually lose their credibility in the markets but that this could take 10 years or more, at which point it will “all end in a crash.” What happens then? The former CEO believes that the final outcome will be wholesale financial nationalization: “after that all banks could belong to the state” Grubel also the doubted the wisdom of the Swiss National Bank’s balance sheet: “the Swiss National Bank’s balance sheet now accounts for 100% of GDP. Japan is also 100%, but mainly invested in its own state paper. The ECB and the Fed are 30%. Switzerland is far, far, far ahead. Is that wise?”

Grübel also touched on a point we have made ever since 2010 when we said that in a world of unprecedented political polarity, politicians now control the world almost exclusively through monetary policy, to wit: “After the financial crisis, politics has taken power in the banking sector: It has bound the banks into a regulatory corset and now they can no longer move. Politicians have told central banks: now you determine what is going on with the economy.” What are the implications of this power shift? “Previously, the risk was distributed to thousands of banks. They had to pay for their mistakes. The risk lay with the shareholders. Today, more and more the state carries the risk.” Which, of course, is another word for taxpayers. In other words, the next crash will be one where central – not commercial – banks are failing, and the one left with the bill will once again be the ordinary person in the street.

In a tangent, Grübel gave his thoughts on what makes a man rich: “rich is a man when he goes to bed in a carefree manner and wakes up without care.” He is then asked if, by that definition, a billionaire is rich to which he replied: “No. Money has little to do with wealth. The real rich are carefree. Those who are healthy, are not dependent. The greatest wealth is independence.”

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“..the winner will be favorite to become president in May..”. Really? Then why am I thinking Le Pen is the favorite?

Big Shock In France’s Presidential Election As Sarkozy Eliminated (BBG)

Former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, the new front-runner in France’s 2017 presidential election, is offering voters an economic-policy revolution inspired by Margaret Thatcher. Fillon, 62, vaulted from third position in most polls to win the first round of the Republican primary by 16 percentage points from the veteran Alain Juppe on Sunday with the most free-market platform among the seven candidates. They’ll face each other again in next Sunday’s runoff and the winner will be favorite to become president in May 2017. The lifelong politician is pledging to lengthen the work week to 39 hours from 35, to increase the retirement age to 65 and add immigration quotas. He’s vowed to eliminate half a million public-sector jobs and cut spending by €100 billion over his five years in office.

And he proposes a €40 billion tax-cut for companies and a constitutional ban on planned budget deficits. “Who is Fillon? The classic conservative, right-wing candidate,” Bruno Cautres, a political scientist at the Sciences Po Institute in Paris, said in an interview. “He wants a deep reform of the French model: shrinking the role of the state and cutting the welfare system.” Compared with the brash style of former boss, Nicolas Sarkozy, Fillon has a more low-key approach but he makes a virtue of telling it straight. When he took office as premier in 2007, he shocked even Sarkozy by announcing that France was a bankrupt state. Today he’s promising to reverse that, just like his role model when she became U.K. prime minister in 1979.

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Europe and the scourge of direct democracy.

The EU’s New Bomb Is Ticking in the Netherlands (WSJ)

If the European dream is to die, it may be the Netherlands that delivers the fatal blow. The Dutch general election in March is shaping up to be a defining moment for the European project. The risk to the EU doesn’t come from Geert Wilders, the leader of anti-EU, anti-immigration Party for Freedom. He is well ahead in the polls and looks destined to benefit from many of the social and economic factors that paved the way for the Brexit and Trump revolts. But the vagaries of the Dutch political system make it highly unlikely that Mr. Wilders will find his way into government. As things stand, he is predicted to win just 29 out of the 150 seats in the new parliament, and mainstream parties seem certain to shun him as a coalition partner. In an increasingly fragmented Dutch political landscape, most observers agree that the likely outcome of the election is a coalition of four or five center-right and center-left parties.

Instead, the risk to the EU comes instead from a new generation of Dutch euroskeptics who are less divisive and concerned about immigration but more focused on questions of sovereignty—and utterly committed to the destruction of the EU. Its leading figures are Thierry Baudet and Jan Roos, who have close links to British euroskeptics. They have already scored one significant success: In 2015, they persuaded the Dutch parliament to adopt a law that requires the government to hold a referendum on any law if 300,000 citizens request it. They then took advantage of this law at the first opportunity to secure a vote that rejected the EU’s proposed trade and economic pact with Ukraine, which Brussels saw as a vital step in supporting a strategically important neighbor. This referendum law is a potential bomb under the EU, as both Dutch politicians and Brussels officials are well aware.

Mr. Baudet believes he now has the means to block any steps the EU might seek to take to deepen European integration or stabilize the eurozone if they require Dutch legislation. This could potentially include aid to troubled Southern European countries such as Greece and Italy, rendering the eurozone unworkable. Indeed, the Dutch government gave a further boost to Mr. Baudet and his allies when it agreed to accept the outcome of the Ukraine referendum if turnout was above 30%, even though it was under no legal obligation to do so. This was a major concession to the euroskeptics, as became clear when strong turnout among their highly motivated supporters lifted overall turnout to 31%. With Mr. Wilders’s party, currently polling above 25%, and both Mr. Baudet and Mr. Roos having launched their own parties, Dutch euroskeptics are confident they will be able to reach the 30% threshold in future referendums.

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Do they mean things would have been even worse without free trade? (if they do, let them say so): “..the benefits of trade and open markets need to be communicated to the wider public more effectively, emphasizing how trade promotes innovation, employment and higher living standards.”

APEC Summit Closes With Call for More Globalization, Free Trade (AP)

Leaders of 21 Asia-Pacific nations ended their annual summit Sunday with a call to resist protectionism amid signs of increased free-trade skepticism, highlighted by the victory of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election. The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum also closed with a joint pledge to work toward a sweeping new free trade agreement that would include all 21 members as a path to “sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth,” despite the political climate. “We reaffirm our commitment to keep our markets open and to fight against all forms of protectionism,” the leaders of the APEC nations said in a joint statement. APEC noted the “rising skepticism over trade” amid an uneven recovery since the financial crisis and said that “the benefits of trade and open markets need to be communicated to the wider public more effectively, emphasizing how trade promotes innovation, employment and higher living standards.”

Speaking to journalists at the conclusion of the summit, Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski said the main obstacle to free trade agreements in Asia and around the world is the frustration felt by those left behind by globalization. “Protectionism in reality is a reflection of tough economic conditions,” said Kuczynski, the meeting’s host. Referring to Brexit and Trump’s election win in the U.S., he said those results highlighted the backlash against globalization in former industrial regions in the U.S. and Britain that contrasts with support for trade in more-prosperous urban areas and developing countries. “This is an important point in recent economic history because of the outcome of various elections in very important countries that have reflected an anti-trade, anti-openness feeling,” he said.

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Fuhget about it.

Obama Says World Leaders Want To Move Forward With TPP (AFP)

US President Barack Obama said Sunday that leaders from across the Asia-Pacific have decided to move ahead with a trade deal opposed by his successor Donald Trump. “Our partners made clear they want to move forward with TPP,” Obama said at a press conference after meeting leaders in Peru. “They would like to move forward with the United States.” It is unclear whether there is any future for the TPP, a vast, arduously negotiated agreement between 12 countries that are currently at different stages of ratifying it. It does not include China. Trump campaigned against the proposal as a “terrible deal” that would “rape” the United States by sending American jobs to countries with cheaper labor.

The agreement must by ratified in the US Congress – which will remain in the hands of Trump’s Republican allies when the billionaire mogul takes office on January 20. Without the United States, it cannot be implemented in its current form. However, some have suggested Trump could negotiate a number of changes and then claim credit for turning the deal around. Obama defended the increasing integration of the global economy at the close of his final foreign visit as president – a trade summit held against the backdrop of rising protectionist sentiment in the United States and Europe, seen in both Trump’s win and Britain’s “Brexit” vote. He said that “historic gains in prosperity” thanks to globalization had been muddied by a growing gap “between the rich and everyone else.” “That can reverberate through our politics,” he said.

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Jim Quinn’s longtime series on the Fourth Turning continues. A problem might be that you can’t really know who’s who until afterwards. Maybe Mike Pence will turn out to be the real grey champion, or someone as yet unknown.

The Grey Champion Assumes Command – Part 1 (Quinn)

In September 2015 I wrote a five part article called Fourth Turning: Crisis of Trust. In Part 2 of that article I pondered who might emerge as the Grey Champion, leading the country during the second half of this Fourth Turning Crisis. I had the above pictures of Franklin, Lincoln, and FDR, along with a flaming question mark. The question has been answered. Donald J. Trump is the Grey Champion. When I wrote that article, only one GOP debate had taken place. There were eleven more to go. Trump was viewed by the establishment as a joke, ridiculed by the propaganda media, and disdained by the GOP and Democrats. I was still skeptical of his seriousness and desire to go the distance, but I attempted to view his candidacy through the lens of the Fourth Turning. I was convinced the mood of the country turning against the establishment could lead to his elevation to the presidency. I was definitely in the minority at the time:

“Until three months ago the 2016 presidential election was in control of the establishment. The Party was putting forth their chosen crony capitalist figureheads – Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. They are hand-picked known controllable entities who will not upset the existing corrupt system. They are equally acceptable to Goldman Sachs, the Federal Reserve, the military industrial complex, the sickcare industry, mega-corporate America, the moneyed interests, and the never changing government apparatchiks. The one party system is designed to give the appearance of choice, while in reality there is no difference between the policies of the two heads of one party and their candidate products. But now Donald Trump has stormed onto the scene from the reality TV world to tell the establishment – You’re Fired!!!”

Strauss and Howe wrote their prophetic tome two decades ago. [..] They did not know which events or which people would catalyze this Fourth Turning. But they knew the mood change in the country would be driven by the predictable generational alignment which occurs every eighty years. “Soon after the catalyst, a national election will produce a sweeping political realignment, as one faction or coalition capitalizes on a new public demand for decisive action. Republicans, Democrats, or perhaps a new party will decisively win the long partisan tug of war. This new regime will enthrone itself for the duration of the Crisis. Regardless of its ideology, that new leadership will assert public authority and demand private sacrifice. Where leaders had once been inclined to alleviate societal pressures, they will now aggravate them to command the nation’s attention. The regeneracy will be solidly under way.” – Strauss & Howe – The Fourth Turning

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“This is a revolutionary moment. We must not allow them to shift the blame on to voters. This is their failure, decades in the making.”

The Silver Lining In This Disaster: Clinton & Co Are Finally Gone (G.)

Hillary Clinton has given us back our freedom. Only such a crushing defeat could break the chains that bound us to the New Democrat elites. The defeat was the result of decades of moving the Democratic party – the party of FDR – away from what it once was and should have remained: a party that represents workers. All workers. For three decades they have kept us in line with threats of a Republican monster-president should we stay home on election day. Election day has come and passed, and many did stay home. And instead of bowing out gracefully and accepting responsibility for their defeat, they have already started blaming it largely on racist hordes of rural Americans. That explanation conveniently shifts blame away from themselves, and avoids any tough questions about where the party has failed.

In a capitalist democracy, the party of the left has one essential reason for existing: to speak for the working class. Capitalist democracies have tended towards two major parties. One, which acts in the interest of the capitalist class – the business owners, the entrepreneurs, the professionals – ensuring their efforts and the risks they took were fairly rewarded. The other party represented workers, unions and later on other groups that made up the working class, including women and oppressed minorities. This delicate balance ended in the 1990s. Many blame Reagan and Thatcher for destroying unions and unfettering corporations. I don’t. In the 1990s, a New Left arose in the English-speaking world: Bill Clinton’s New Democrats and Tony Blair’s New Labour. Instead of a balancing act, Clinton and Blair presided over an equally aggressive “new centrist” dismantling of the laws that protected workers and the poor.

[..] .. let us be as clear about this electoral defeat as possible, because the New Democratic elite will try to pin their failure, and keep their jobs, by blaming this largely on racism, sexism – and FBI director Comey. This is an extremely dangerous conclusion to draw from this election. So here is our silver lining. This is a revolutionary moment. We must not allow them to shift the blame on to voters. This is their failure, decades in the making. And their failure is our chance to regroup. To clean house in the Democratic party, to retire the old elite and to empower a new generation of FDR Democrats, who look out for the working class – the whole working class.

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What happens when you think the economy means the rich.

Disaffected Rust Belt Voters Embraced Trump. They Had No Other Hope (G.)

The industrial midwest is the vast sweep, from western Pennsylvania through eastern Iowa, that drove the American economy for nearly a century. The great industrial cities, such as Chicago and Detroit, led the way, but it spread into hundreds of small towns and cities – from the steel mills of Ohio to the auto parts factories of Michigan and Wisconsin and the appliance makers of Iowa and Illinois. This was Hillary Clinton’s blue wall, the states she had to win to become president. Of the 11 swing states that decided the election, five – Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa – lie in this battered old industrial heartland. If, as expected, Trump’s lead in Michigan holds, she lost them all. How did it happen? There are many reasons. The Clinton team barely campaigned there and in Wisconsin until it was too late.

Misogyny played a role. So did Clinton’s personal unpopularity and the relatively low turnout. But the real reason is that the industrial era created this region and gave a good middle-class way of life to the people who worked there. That economy began to vanish 40 years ago, moving first to the sun belt and then Mexico, before finally China. The good jobs that were left increasingly went to robots. Factories closed. So did the stores and bars and schools around them. The brightest kids fled to universities and then to the cities – to New York or Chicago or the state capital. Those left behind worked two or three non-union jobs just to stay afloat. Families broke up. Drug use increased. Life spans shortened. And nobody seemed to care – until Trump. But does he really? Who knows? He said he did.

His tirades – against trade, against elites, against Obamacare, against immigrants, against the Clintons – sounded like unhinged rants in cities and on campuses, which never took him seriously. In the old industrial zones and withering farm towns, he echoed their own resentments. Mitt Romney couldn’t do this; neither could John McCain. But Trump did, and so they embraced him. Why was this such a surprise? It’s impossible to overstate the alienation between the two Americas, between the global citizens and the global left-behinds, between the great cities that run the nation’s economy and media, and the hinterland that feels not only cheated but, worse, disrespected.

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Tsipras goes from one blunder to the next. Still, as long as he’s there, the streets are quiet, amazingly quiet for a society that’s under such economic fire. But he is soon going to be voted out in favor of someone, anyone, who will then see things get much worse in the streets. A smouldering powder keg.

Tsipras Ready To Give In On Labor Reform To Ensure Debt Relief (Kath.)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is prepared to make further concessions to Greece’s creditors in tough negotiations that are currently under way to ensure that there is no delay in launching crucial talks on relief for the country’s debt burden, Kathimerini understands. According to sources, Tsipras and his key ministers are ready to give in to calls by foreign auditors for more flexibility in the crucial area of labor laws. The government has already agreed to put off its demands for the restoration of collective wage bargaining, a key pledge of leftist SYRIZA before it came to power last year. It is unclear to what degree the Greek side is willing to concede on other issues – such as calls by foreign officials for facilitating mass layoffs for struggling employers and making it harder for unions to call strikes.

A source at the Labor Ministry said over the weekend that the Greek side has submitted its proposals for changes to labor laws and is awaiting the reaction of foreign officials. Tsipras is said to be set on a strategy of withdrawal despite the risks. The key danger is that cohesion in the ranks of leftist SYRIZA, which has already been tested by a series of concessions to foreign creditors, is further compromised, weakening the beleaguered coalition. The other risk is that the further concessions may boost the lead of conservative New Democracy over SYRIZA in opinion polls, which is already significant, thereby enhancing the sense that SYRIZA’s coalition with the right-wing Independent Greeks is on its way out.

Read more …

Sep 112016
 
 September 11, 2016  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing No caption, Washington DC 1915

Fed Dove Frets About Asset Bubbles, Wall Street Freaks Out (WS)
Hostage to a Bull Market (Jim Grant)
Leverage Soars to New Heights as Corporate Bond Deluge Rolls On (BBG)
On Nov. 8 Americans Decide To Either Rescue The Banks Or The Consumer (RI)
Wells Fargo Opened a Couple Million Fake Accounts (BBG)
It’s Business As Usual At Wells Fargo After Record Fine (MW)
New Zealand Prepares for the Party to End (Hickey)
Italy’s Renzi: At Last Hollande Is With Us, We Can Cause A Stir (Kath.)
Yanis Varoufakis’s Fantasy Politics (Jacobin)
Greek PM Tsipras Pledges Growth Amid Protests, Austerity Plans (AP)
EU Adds €115 Million In Aid For Migrants In Greece (DW)
Rescuers Bring 2,300 Migrants To Safety From Mediterranean on Saturday (R.)

 

 

There’s only one solution: take away from central banks their current powers to manipulate markets and economies.

Fed Dove Frets About Asset Bubbles, Wall Street Freaks Out (WS)

When Boston Fed governor Eric Rosengren, a voting member of the Federal Open Markets Committee, where monetary policy is decided, shared some aspects of his worries on Friday morning, markets tanked instantly. This came just after the ECB’s refusal to please the markets with promises of additional bond purchases. Instead, it stuck to the promises it had made previously. What a disappointment for markets running on nothing but central-bank mouth-wagging and money-printing! [..] In his speech, Rosengren discussed how the US economy has been “fairly resilient” and is near “reaching the Federal Reserve’s dual mandate from Congress (stable prices and maximum sustainable employment),” despite all the global headwinds, some of which he enumerated.

And so, he said, “a reasonable case can be made for continuing to pursue a gradual normalization of monetary policy.” Hence, rate increases, even though there were some “conflicting signals” in the economic data – “Clearly, the first two quarters did not live up to the forecasts,” he said. But “waiting too long to tighten” would expose the economy to two risks: First, the economy overheats – the belated tightening might “require more rapid increases in interest rates later in the cycle,” which will likely “result” in a recession, as it did “frequently” in the past. And second, asset bubbles – “that some asset markets become too ebullient.” He pointed at commercial real estate prices that “have risen quite rapidly over the past five years, particularly for multifamily properties.”

He added: Because commercial real estate is widely held in the portfolios of leveraged institutions, commercial real estate cycles can amplify the impact of economic downturns as financial institutions need to write down the value of loans and cut back on lending to maintain their capital ratios. And what a bubble it is. Over the past 12 months, prices have jumped only 6%, according to the Green Street Commercial Property Price Index, compared to the double-digit gains in prior years. “Equilibrium,” the report called it. The index has soared 107% from May 2009, and 26.5% from the peak of the totally crazy prior bubble that ended with such spectacular fireworks:

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Excellent from Grant, fully in line with Nicole’s series the past week.

Hostage to a Bull Market (Jim Grant)

If there is a curse between the covers of this thin, self-satisfied volume, it doesn’t have to do with cash, the title to the contrary notwithstanding. Freedom is rather the subject of the author’s malediction. He’s not against it in principle, only in practice. Ken Rogoff is a chaired Harvard economics professor, a one-time chief economist at the International Monetary Fund and (to boot) a chess grandmaster. He laid out his case against cash in a Saturday essay in this newspaper two weeks ago. By abolishing large-denomination bills, he said there, the government could strike a blow against sin and perfect the Federal Reserve’s control of interest rates. “The Curse of Cash,” the Rogoffian case in full, comes in two parts.

The first is a helping of monetary small bites: a little history (in which the gold standard gets the back of the author’s hand), a little central-banking practice, a little underground economy. It’s all in the service of showing where money came from and where it should be going. Terrorists traffic in cash, Mr. Rogoff observes. So do drug dealers and tax cheats. Good, compliant citizens rarely touch the $100 bills that constitute a sizable portion of the suspiciously immense volume of greenbacks outstanding—$4,200 per capita. Get rid of them is the author’s message. Then, again, one could legalize certain narcotics to discommode the drug dealers and adopt Steve Forbes’s flat tax to fill up the Treasury. Mr. Rogoff considers neither policy option. Government control is not only his preferred position.

It is the only position that seems to cross his mind. Which brings us to the business end of this production. Come the next recession, the book’s second part contends, the Fed should have the latitude to drive interest rates below zero. Mr. Rogoff lays the blame for America’s lamentable post-financial-crisis economic record not on the Obama administration’s suffocating tax and regulatory policies. The problem is rather the Fed’s inability to put its main interest rate, the federal funds rate, where it has never been before. In a deep recession, Mr. Rogoff proposes, the Fed ought not to stop cutting rates when it comes to zero. It should plunge right ahead, to minus 1%, minus 2%, minus 3% and so forth.

At one negative rate or another, the theory goes, despoiled bank depositors will stop saving and start spending. According to the worldview of the people who constitute what Mr. Rogoff fraternally calls the “policy community” (who elected them?), the spending will buttress “aggregate demand,” thus restore prosperity. You may doubt this. Mr. Rogoff himself sees difficulties. For him, the problem is cash. The ungrateful objects of the policy community’s statecraft will stockpile it. What would you do if your bank docked you, say, 3% a year for the privilege of holding your money? Why, you might convert your deposit into $100 bills, rent a safe deposit box and count yourself a shrewd investor. Hence the shooting war against currency.

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Historians will see us as too deluded to be true.

Leverage Soars to New Heights as Corporate Bond Deluge Rolls On (BBG)

Here’s a gut check for bond investors: corporate America is now more leveraged than ever. As this year’s corporate bond sales raced past $1 trillion on Wednesday – marking the fifth consecutive year of trillion-plus issuance – Morgan Stanley published a report Friday highlighting the growing strains on company balance sheets. The report, which estimated US companies’ collective debt at a record 2.4 times their collective earnings as of June, comes at a time of growing angst in global bond markets “The investment-grade ‘safe’ part of the market is becoming the most dangerous,” said Ashish Shah, CIO at AllianceBernstein. “There are so little returns out there. People are crowding into whatever they can.”

The debt metric, which doesn’t include banks and other financial companies, has climbed for five straight quarters as corporate profits decline at the same time companies load up on the increasingly cheap borrowings, Morgan Stanley analysts led by Adam Richmond wrote in a note to clients. In 2010, when the U.S. economy started recovering from the longest recession since the Great Depression, the ratio fell to 1.7 times. But what has the analysts uneasy isn’t just the speed at which leverage is climbing, but that it’s happening while the economy continues to grow. “Leverage tends to rise most in a recession – so the fact that it is this high in a ‘healthy economy’ is even more concerning,” the analysts wrote. In other words, they said, “mistakes are both more likely and more costly.”

The analysts’ assessment wasn’t totally worrisome. Years of near-zero interest rates have made it a lot easier to service those debt loads. The typical company’s annual earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, known as Ebitda, is still almost 10 times its interest payments, Morgan Stanley’s data shows. Even that number has been declining, though, as earnings slump.

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“Today, consumption can only increase if someone hands out money. This money cannot be earned by companies, because consumers are unable to buy additional products.”

On Nov. 8 Americans Decide To Either Rescue The Banks Or The Consumer (RI)

Recently, the Fed decided not to change interest rates. Various reasons were given, but as we know, there are two “parties” in the US, one which favors monetary easing, and the other, tightening, and each has arguments for their case. Economists are divided on how to proceed. They disagree on precisely this: which economic policies can facilitate growth in our times? A brief look at the last 50 years provides some context. In the 70s, household incomes fell, most of all from 1972-73, and with them, spending. Starting in 1981, (Reaganomics!), spending began to rise, but income, hardly at all. Economic growth was due to increased consumption driven by a rise in household debt, and from 2008 on, in government debt. If we look at real disposable household income, it is the same today as it was in the early 60s.

Today, average household debt is 120% of annual income, whereas up until 1981 it never exceeded 65%. Note too, that in 1981, the discount rate was 19%, whereas today it is practically zero. Today, consumption can only increase if someone hands out money. This money cannot be earned by companies, because consumers are unable to buy additional products. So the only way is to increase debt. But lowering interest rates is impossible because they are already at zero. So there are two options: 1) print money and hand it out to people through the banks, with the understanding that this money will not be returned, or 2) restructure the existing debt, both personal and corporate, in the hopes that then people will start to consume.

In order to do this, interest rates would have to be raised to at least 3-4%, with the banks taking a major hit, because their customers cannot service their loans at those rates… Voila the collision of interests between the people and the banks. Unsurprisingly, the two US candidates disagree on this issue. Clinton is for option 1, i.e. more monetary easing (helping the banks), and Trump is for tightening (helping the people). The choice, of course, lies with the American voter.

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And nobody in management noticed a thing?

Wells Fargo Opened a Couple Million Fake Accounts (BBG)

[..] Wells Fargo was fined $185 million by various regulators for opening customer accounts without the customers’ permission, and that is bad, but there is also something almost heroic about it. There’s a standard story in most bank scandals, in which small groups of highly paid traders gleefully and ungrammatically conspire to rip-off customers and make a lot of money for themselves and their bank. This isn’t that. This looks more like a vast uprising of low-paid and ill-treated Wells Fargo employees against their bosses. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which fined Wells Fargo $100 million, reports that about 5,300 employees have been fired for signing customers up for fake accounts since 2011. You’d have a tough time organizing 5,300 people into a conspiracy, which makes me think that this was less a conspiracy and more a spontaneous revolt.

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“Wells Fargo’s punishment comes to only 0.9% of the $22.9 billion that the bank earned last year..”

It’s Business As Usual At Wells Fargo After Record Fine (MW)

“The fine is a rounding error, and I don’t see any unintended consequences.” So said FBR analyst Paul Miller, describing the $185 million in fines and penalties, plus another $5 million for “customer remediation,” that Wells Fargo agreed to pay. Wells Fargo’s punishment comes to only 0.9% of the $22.9 billion that the bank earned last year. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) found “widespread unlawful practices” at the third-largest U.S. bank by assets, including the opening of “hundreds of thousands” of accounts by employees without customers’ knowledge so employees could hit lofty sales targets. The fine was the largest levied since the CFPB’s founding in 2011.

Shares of San Francisco-based Wells Fargo fell 2.4% at the close of regular trading Friday, in line with the benchmark S&P 500 suggesting a low level of worry among investors. But there could be longer-term consequences for the bank’s reputation, as Federal Reserve Gov. Daniel Tarullo said during a CNBC interview that criminal charges against bank officers should be pursued. In Wells Fargo’s more than 6,000 retail branches, there has long been a culture of cross-selling as many products to customers as possible, which has been a big part of the bank’s success for decades, according to Marty Mosby, director of bank and equity strategies at Memphis, Tenn.-based broker-dealer Vining Sparks.

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I’m afraid the walls will have to come crumbling down before Kiwis accept their reality.

New Zealand Prepares for the Party to End (Hickey)

Should we all celebrate? Or sink into a great depression, or run for the nearest bunker? It’s hard to know how to react to the news Auckland’s average house value rose over $1 million in August. Auckland’s homeowners should in theory be celebrating their good fortune and voting for more of the same. Anyone who invested just over $53,000 of their money in 2011 to buy an average Auckland house with a 90% mortgage would now be sitting on tax-free capital gains of $486,000. Indeed, some are celebrating. New car sales are at record highs and spending in Auckland’s cafes, bars and restaurants is growing at double-digit rates. But it’s not the sort of go-for-broke debt-fuelled spending binge like the one we saw from 2002-07 when mortgage lending grew at an annual rate of 15%.

Mortgage debt grew 9% in the last year and most people think it has peaked, given the Reserve Bank’s latest restrictions on low deposit lending and a limit on debt to income multiples expected next year. Most Aucklanders don’t believe the manna from the great housing gods in the heavens is real enough to go withdrawing from their household ATMs, which is why the lending growth is relatively subdued. They can also feel in their bones that house prices at 10 times incomes are hyper≠ventilated, if not downright over-valued. New Zealand’s house-price-to-income multiple is the second-most-expensive relative to long run averages in the OECD (behind Belgium), and is the most expensive relative to rents in the OECD. That overvaluation has grown more than any other country in the OECD over the past six years.

This is not the sort of world champion tag we want. The $1m milestone is clearly a moment of despair for those young Aucklanders aspiring to own a home and start a family, particularly those whose parents were also renters. The combination of the price rises and the new LVR rules mean they face decades of saving for a deposit, let along being able to borrow the hundreds and hundreds of thousands to buy a home. All they can hope for is to win Lotto or to marry into a rich family. Another response is to hunker down and prepare for an implosion, which means saving madly to repay debt ahead of the housing market end-times and to diversify into other types of assets. This isn’t so much a celebration as a preparing for the party to be shut down.

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Really?

Italy’s Renzi: At Last Hollande Is With Us, We Can Cause A Stir (Kath.)

After the EU-Mediterranean summit in Athens on Friday, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi expressed his satisfaction that French President Francois Hollande joined Alexis Tsipras’s initiative to form a front against austerity, Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper reported on Saturday. “At last, Hollande is with us, he got over his indecisiveness,” the paper quoted Renzi as saying. “Now we can take action.” On the flight back to Rome from Athens, Renzi appeared more than satisfied with the outcome of the summit, the paper reported. Renzi is said to have expressed relief, in comments to journalists, that Hollande signed a declaration embracing the policies that Italy and other southern European countries are promoting. “Now we are many, we can cause a stir,” Renzi is reported to have said, adding that he expected that “in the future the balance of power will change.”

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Much as I appreciate Yanis, I’m afraid I have to agree with much of this article. Reforming the EU is akin to reforming the mob. Why not put your energy into an organization that exists ‘parallel’ to the EU?

Yanis Varoufakis’s Fantasy Politics (Jacobin)

To his credit, Varoufakis at least recognizes that progressives “have no alternative” but a “head-on clash with the EU establishment,” since the European Union simply cannot be reformed to make it more democratic. But, he nonetheless insists, leftists must not support referenda to leave the EU. He offers two confused reasons for this. First, since exit referenda are “movements that have been devised and led primarily by the Right,” it is “unlikely” that joining them “will help the Left block their opponents’ political ascendancy.” This left defeatism is simply a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the Left refuses to lead exit referenda campaigns, of course the running will be left to the Right. And since the Left cannot convincingly defend the European Union, that leaves the Right to benefit.

Secondly, Varoufakis suggests that restoring national democracy will mean the end of the free movement of “workers.” “Given that the EU has established free movement, Lexit involves acquiescence to – if not actual support for – the reestablishment of national border controls, complete with barbed wire and armed guards.” Leaving aside the fact that left-wing leadership could theoretically persuade an electorate to accept open borders, this defence of the EU is simply bizarre. The European Union is very far from “borderless” (his word). It has created free movement not for “workers,” but for EU citizens, albeit limited for the citizens from accession countries.

But for non-EU workers, the European Union has established Fortress Europe: “barbed wire and armed guards” surround the continent, resulting in thousands of dead Africans and Asians in the Mediterranean Sea, and hundreds of thousands more languishing in squalid conditions in southeast Europe (including Varoufakis’s own home country, Greece) and Turkey. Moreover, the migration crisis has led to the restoration of “barbed wire and armed guards” across the continent. The idea that the European Union safeguards some sort of workers’ paradise of open borders against right-wing revanchism is ludicrous.

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Growth is a pipedream wih half your young people long term unemployed (which kills economic activity), wages as low as €100 a week, and pensions at €380 a month (both of which kill consumption).

Greek PM Tsipras Pledges Growth Amid Protests, Austerity Plans (AP)

Greece’s prime minister promised Saturday to deliver economic growth to a country hammered by years of economic hardship, as thousands gathered in protest at more planned austerity measures. About 15,000 protesters – beating drums, waving black flags and holding helium balloons bearing anti-government slogans – took part in demonstrations, marching through the center of Greece’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki, where Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras spoke on the state of the nation’s economy. “In five disastrous years … a quarter of our national wealth was destroyed, disposable income fell by 40%, unemployment soared to 28% and the level of poverty rose to 38%,” Tsipras told an audience of politicians and business leaders, referring to governments before he took office in early 2015.

“Now, all the indications are that this chapter is closing…Finally, we are going from a negative direction to a positive one.” As expected Tsipras said that €246 million, the proceeds of a recent auction of TV licenses, would go toward the “needs of the welfare state.” He promised 10,000 new jobs at state hospitals, thousands more free meals at schools, more kindergarten places and a program aimed at bringing back young Greeks who left the country due to the crisis. “Every last euro of the €246 million will go the people,” he said. He also heralded a 5-year action plan – “a realistic road map for the recovery of the economy and reduction of burdens” – that would bring about a “new Greece” by 2021 and promised to freeze the social security contributions of self-employed Greeks as well as reducing taxes in two years time.

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I had to read 5-6 versions of this, in order to find where the money would be going. Turns out, as I feared, that it goes not to the Greeks but to -mostly- international NGOs, who’ve done a far from stellar job. Give a fraction of the €115 million to Konstantinos and his O Allos Anthropos ‘movement’ that we support, and many more people get help. That this is still needed despite the 100s of millions of euros doled out to those NGOs says more than enough. International NGOs are way too expensive and inefficient. So please click that link and help The Automatic Earth help where it counts.

EU Adds €115 Million In Aid For Migrants In Greece (DW)

The European Union will provide humanitarian organizations in Greece an additional €115 million on top of €83 million from earlier this year, the European Commission said on Saturday. “The European Commission continues to put solidarity into action to better manage the refugee crisis, in close cooperation with the Greek Government,” Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides said. “The new funding has the key aim to improve conditions for refugees in Greece, and make a difference ahead of the upcoming winter.”

About 60,000 refugees and migrants are stranded in Greece due to border closures implemented earlier this year in the Balkans. Rights organizations have documented poor conditions in overcrowded camps. The new funding will help improve existing shelters and build new ones, pay for a voucher system for migrants, and provide education and other support to unaccompanied minors. It will be channelled via humanitarian organizations. The EU’s emergency support aid is in addition to financial assistance given under other funding programmes.

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A routine day.

Rescuers Bring 2,300 Migrants To Safety From Mediterranean on Saturday (R.)

Rescuers pulled 2,300 migrants to safety on Saturday in 18 separate rescue operations in the Mediterranean coordinated by the Italian coast guard. A Spanish boat belonging to an EU naval force, an Irish navy vessel and boats of four non-governmental organizations were involved in the rescue operations, the coast guard said in a statement. It did not say where the migrants, who were traveling in 17 rubber vessel and one small boat, originally came from. Since moves to stop people crossing from Turkey to Greece, Europe’s worst migrant crisis since World War Two is now focused on Italy, where some 115,000 people had arrived by the end of August, according to the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR.

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Aug 172016
 
 August 17, 2016  Posted by at 9:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Harris&Ewing Buying Army surplus food sold at fish market 1919

Global Central Banks Dump US Debt At Record Pace (CNN)
The $6 Trillion US Public Pension Sinkhole (MW)
UK Dividends at Risk as Pension Holes Deepen (BBG)
Japan Official Threatens Action If Yen Rises Too Sharply (WSJ)
Bank Of Japan Buying Sends Nikkei 225 To Highest In 18 Years (ZH)
The “Housing Crisis” in San Francisco Strangles Demand (WS)
Chinese Investors Are Largest International Buyers Of US Real Estate (Forbes)
Australia Central Bank Governor In Complete Bubble Denial (BI)
“Racketeering Is Ruining Us” (Kunstler)
Iceland Prepares To End Currency Controls (Tel.)
‘I Want You Back,’ Cries East Europe as Emigrant Tide Erodes GDP (BBG)
Tsipras Revives Greek Bid To Seek Wartime Reparations From Berlin (Kath.)
Turkey To Free 38,000 From Prisons To Make Space For Alleged Coup Plotters (AP)
German Officials Say Erdogan Supports Militants (DW)

 

 

Concerted effort to relieve the USD?

Global Central Banks Dump US Debt At Record Pace (CNN)

Global central banks are unloading America’s debt. In the first six months of this year, foreign central banks sold a net $192 billion of U.S. Treasury bonds, more than double the pace in the same period last year, when they sold $83 billion. China, Japan, France, Brazil and Colombia led the pack of countries dumping U.S. debt. It’s the largest selloff of U.S. debt since at least 1978, according to Treasury Department data. “Net selling of U.S. notes and bonds year to date thru June is historic,” says Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at the Lindsey Group, an investing firm in Virginia. U.S. Treasurys are considered one of the safest assets in the world. A lot of countries keep their cash holdings in U.S. government bonds.

Many countries have been selling their holdings of U.S. Treasuries so they can get cash to help prop up their currencies if they’re losing value. The selloff is a sign of pockets of weakness in the global economy. Low oil prices, China’s economic slowdown and currencies losing value are all weighing down global growth, which the IMF described as “fragile” earlier in the year. Despite all the selling by these countries, private demand for the bonds has sky rocketed. Demand is so high that the U.S. can afford to pay historically low interest rates. The 10-year U.S. Treasury hit a record low of 1.34% earlier this year, before bouncing back to about 1.58%, currently.

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Nice try, but I’m not so sure a different way of accounting would make the hole itself any smaller.

The $6 Trillion US Public Pension Sinkhole (MW)

U.S. state and local employee pension plans are in trouble — and much of it is because of flaws in the actuarial science used to manage their finances. Making it worse, standard actuarial practice masks the true extent of the problem by ignoring the best financial science — which shows the plans are even more underfunded than taxpayers and plan beneficiaries have been told. The bad news is we are facing a gap of $6 trillion in benefits already earned and not yet paid for, several times more than the official tally. Pension actuaries estimate the cost, accumulating liabilities and required funding for pension plans based on longevity and numerous other factors that will affect benefit payments owed decades into the future.

But today’s actuarial model for calculating what a pension plan owes its current and future pensioners is ignoring the long-term market risk of investments (such as stocks, junk bonds, hedge funds and private equity). Rather, it counts “expected” (hoped for) returns on risky assets before they are earned and before their risk has been borne. Since market risk has a price — one that investors must pay to avoid and are paid to accept — failure to include it means official public pension liabilities and costs are understated. The current approach calculates liabilities by discounting pension funds cash flows using expected returns on risky plan assets. But Finance 101 says that liability discounting should be based on the riskiness of the liabilities, not on the riskiness of the assets.

With pension promises intended to be paid in full, the science calls for discounting at default-free rates, such as those offered by Treasurys. Here’s the problem: 10-year and 30-year Treasurys now yield 1.5% and 2.25%, respectively. Pension funds on average assume a 7.5% return on their investments – and that’s not just for stocks. To do that, they have to take on a lot more risk – and risk falling short. Much debate focuses on whether 7.5% is too optimistic and should be replaced by a lower estimate of returns on risky assets, such as 6%. This amounts to arguing about how accurate is the measuring stick. But financial economists widely agree that the riskiness of most public pension plans liabilities requires a different measuring stick, and that is default-free rates.

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“It’s happening to pension schemes but will feel like it’s happening to the whole company.”

If these companies cut dividends, investors will sell their shares. But they also will if and when true pensions deficits become public. Can’t win.

UK Dividends at Risk as Pension Holes Deepen (BBG)

Workers have long fretted about funding gaps in U.K. companies’ retirement plans. Now investors are starting to join them. Since the U.K.’s June 23 vote to leave the European Union, pension deficits have swelled as record-low U.K. government bond yields have reduced returns on fund investments. That has added to pressure on companies facing gaps in their retirement funding, including telecommunications provider BT, grocer Tesco and military contractor BAE. With little prospect of higher returns after the Bank of England cut interest rates this month, companies may have to reduce dividend payments to raise pension contributions and close funding gaps. That means investors, who have been insulated from the U.K.’s pension crisis, could feel the effects.

“There is no doubt that shareholders of companies with major pension deficits will be concerned,” said Raj Mody, who heads PricewaterhouseCoopers’ pension consulting group. “It’s happening to pension schemes but will feel like it’s happening to the whole company.” Companies in the FTSE 100 paid around five times as much in dividends as they provided in contributions to defined-benefit pension plans last year, a report published Tuesday by consultant Lane Clark & Peacock showed. Through July 31 the FTSE 100 companies’ combined pension deficits – the amount by which liabilities outstrip assets – increased to £46 billion ($59.7 billion) from £25 billion a year earlier, Lane Clark said. Total pension liabilities of the 350 largest U.K. companies as a percentage of market capitalization rose to 40% in June, the highest level in the last 10 years except during the global financial crisis, according to Citigroup.

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Like what? QE?

Japan Official Threatens Action If Yen Rises Too Sharply (WSJ)

Japan’s top currency bureaucrat issued a fresh warning Wednesday over the soaring yen, saying the government would have to act should it rise too sharply. “If there are excessively sharp movements, we will have to take action,” Vice Finance Minister for International Affairs Masatsugu Asakawa told reporters at the ministry’s headquarters. The comment was likely a veiled threat of direct intervention in the currency market to force lower the yen — a step increasingly seen as undesirable manipulation among wealthy economies. The remark followed the yen’s surge Tuesday beyond the 100 mark against the dollar. A higher yen reduces Japanese manufacturers’ repatriated profits and undermines a positive growth cycle sought by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The dollar rose against the yen following Asakawa’s remark. Japan last intervened to undercut the yen in 2011.

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Abe and Kuroda are a success story.

Bank Of Japan Buying Sends Nikkei 225 To Highest In 18 Years (ZH)

Having noted the farcical share ownership of The Bank of Japan (biggest shareholder in 55 companies) as Kuroda's ETF-buying goes to '11', we thought it interesting that the distortion caused by these "pick a winner" purchases has sent Japan's Nikkei 225 to its richest relative to Japan's Topix index in 17 years. As Bloomberg notes, Japan’s two major equity benchmarks have moved mostly together over the years. That changed this month following the latest meeting by the Bank of Japan, which boosted its purchases of exchange-traded funds as part of its easing program.

The BOJ’s heavier allocation to ETFs tracking the Nikkei 225 has helped push the gauge to its highest level versus the Topix index in 18 years.

 

Which – as we noted previously – leaves one big question… just how will the BOJ ever unwind its unprecedented holdings of not only bonds, which are now roughly 100% of Japan's GDP, but also of stocks, without crashing both the bond and the stock market. And then we remember, that the BOJ will simply never unwind any of its "emergency" opertions just because nobody actually thought that far, plus the whole point of the exercise is hyperinflation or bust, as the sheer lunacy of Japan's authorities is exposed for the entire world to see, leading to the terminal collapse of faith in the local currency. With every passing day, we get that much closer to said terminal moment.

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Time for a hole new approach to housing. It should be a basic right, not some financial bet.

The “Housing Crisis” in San Francisco Strangles Demand (WS)

Here’s the other side of central-bank engineered asset price inflation, or “healing the housing market,” as it’s called in a more politically correct manner: San Francisco Unified school district, which employs about 3,300 teachers, has been hobbled by a teacher shortage. Despite intense efforts this year – including a signing bonus – to bring in 619 new teachers to fill the gaps left behind by those who’d retired or resigned, the district is short 38 teachers as of Monday, when the school year started. Others school districts in the Bay Area have similar problems. For teachers, the math doesn’t work out. Average teacher pay for the 2014-15 school year was $65,000. And less after taxes. But the median annual rent was $42,000 for something close to a one-bedroom apartment.

After taxes and utilities, there’s hardly any money left for anything else. A teacher who has lived in the same rent-controlled apartment for umpteen years may still be OK. But teachers who need to find a place, such as new teachers or those who’ve been subject of a no-fault eviction, are having trouble finding anything they can afford in the city. So they pack up and leave in the middle of the school year, leaving classes without teachers. It has gotten so bad that the Board of Supervisors decided in April to ban no-fault evictions of teachers during the school year. Yet renting, as expensive as it is in San Francisco, is the cheaper option. Teachers trying to buy a home in San Francisco are in even more trouble at current prices. And it’s not just teachers!

This aspect of Ben Bernanke’s and now Janet Yellen’s asset price inflation – and consumer price inflation for those who have to pay for housing – is what everyone here calls “The Housing Crisis.” As if to drive home the point, so to speak, the California Association of Realtors just released its Housing Affordability Index (HAI) for the second quarter. It is based on the median house price (only houses, not condos), prevailing mortgage interest rate, household income, and a 20% down payment. In San Francisco, the median house price – half sell for more, half sell for less – is $1.37 million. According to Paragon Real Estate, if condos were included, the median price would drop to $1.2 million.

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Wonder what Trump thinks about this.

Chinese Investors Are Largest International Buyers Of US Real Estate (Forbes)

Over the past five years, Chinese buyers spent about $17 billion on U.S. commercial real estate while spending roughly $93 billion on homes in the U.S. over the same period. Last year they paid about $832,000 per U.S. home in high profile cities like New York, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Francisco. The Society indicated that Chinese purchase of residential property is primarily motivated by a desire for second homes; primary residences for those moving to the U.S. on EB-5 investor visas or as rental or resale investments. Concerns about the stability of the renminbi exchange rate have accelerated the pace of Chinese commercial investment abroad since the middle of 2015.

Motivations aside, China’s interest in investing in the U.S. has legs that carry implications for our enterprises and communities alike. When coupled with the 100 million mainland Chinese travelers expected to visit the U.S. annually by 2020 it’s clear the U.S. travel and hospitality industry and business community at large need to prepare for a changing landscape. For the travel and hospitality industry, it won’t be long before we see mainland Chinese hoteliers exporting their national lodging brands to the U.S. and other countries to complement the high-profile global brands in which they’ve invested. As their countrymen increasingly travel the world, just like generations of Americans and Europeans before them, they will want to stay in hotels with which they’re familiar back home.

Soon, it will be commonplace to find hotel brands developed by hoteliers like Jinling Hotels & Resorts or Jin Jiang International Holdings sitting side by side U.S. brands like Hilton, Sheraton, Hyatt or Marriott in cities throughout the U.S. Across the country, already more than 100,000 Americans get their weekly paychecks from a company based in China. That number will grow exponentially in coming years. As mainland Chinese investors continue to buy U.S. companies and brands and establish their own enterprises here, they will be eager to become members and leaders of the local chamber of commerce, to join the neighborhood PTA, represent their companies on area social and charitable boards and so on—just as our nationals who work and live abroad do in the countries in which they reside.

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And so is the author of this piece. Stunning. The heading is mine.

Australia Central Bank Governor In Complete Bubble Denial (BI)

The surge in property prices, especially in Sydney and Melbourne has made home owners extremely wealthy but cruelled the prospect of home ownership for many who aren’t already in the market. That’s especially true for younger Australians. That is causing some intergenerational issues in housing, which is a bigger question than “is there a housing bubble or not” according to RBA governor Glenn Stevens in the full transcript of his interview with the Australian and Wall Street Journal. Stevens acknowledged “it’s always been hard to be that cohort that’s trying to enter the market. There’s always been a hurdle. It may be getting worse, though part of this is – I mean, there’s a lot of things happening here”.

One of things that’s happening, Stevens believes, is that a chunk of the wealth home owners think they are sitting on in their house will prove ephemeral. That’s because if they want their children to own a home then they are going to have to give them some of that cash to do so. Here’s Stevens: “I think that a lot of people of my generation are actually going to find themselves, if they haven’t already, helping their children into the housing market because that may be almost the only way that their children can enter the Sydney market, anyway, and be not too far from mum and dad. And I suspect that will happen a lot, and that, of course, means that for people of my age, that the wealth we think we have in our house, actually, we don’t have quite as much as we thought because we’re going to have to give some of it to the next generation.”

He acknowledged that for renters locked out of the property market this could mean the issue perpetuates into the next generation. But his point about the shared wealth of families is also an important one for the future. It suggests for many children of those with property, who feel locked out of the market, the problem of home ownership can be self-curing. That’s because, as Stevens notes, older Australians can share their wealth now. [..] With the nuclear family shrinking, and the number of children and grandchildren on average reduced from a generation or two ago, there is likely to be a large number of younger Australians coming into some serious wealth when their parents or grandparents pass on. It could take a decade or two, but ultimately younger Australians could end up the longest living and richest generation in the nation’s history.

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“..oil priced at over $75 a barrel in today’s dollars tends to crush economies, and oil priced under $75 a barrel in today’s dollars tends to crush oil companies.”

“Racketeering Is Ruining Us” (Kunstler)

The disorders in politics that we’re seeing now are really expressions of the larger disorders in our economic life and our financial life. That just happens to be the avenue that the expression is coming out of. Another point I’d like to make is that the reason that people are against Hillary or dumping on Hillary or don’t like her, is because she’s a poster child for racketeering. I encourage people who are talking about our circumstances and people who are interested in the news and election, to use the word racketeering to describe what’s going on in this country. You really need the right vocabulary to understand exactly what’s going on.

Racketeering is just pervasive in all of our activities. Not just in politics but in things even like medicine and education. Obviously the college loan scheme is an example of racketeering. Anybody who has to go to an emergency room with a child whose broken their finger or something, is going to end up with a bill for $20,000. You know why? Because of medical racketeering. And so, these are really efforts to money-grub by any means necessary, often in ways that are unethical and probably illegal. Let’s use that word racketeering to describe our national situation. And let’s remember by the way, the activities of the central banks is just another form of racketeering. Using debt issuance and attempting to control interest rates in order to conceal our inability to generate the kind of real wealth that we need to continue as a techno-industrial society.

Societies have a really hard time understanding what they’re doing, articulating the problems that they face and coming up with a coherent consensus about what’s happening, and coming up with a coherent consensus about what to do about it. Combine that with another quandary, the relationships between energy and the dead racket for concealing real capital formation. I like to reduce it to one particular formula that is pretty easy for people to understand. It’s a classic quandary: that oil priced at over $75 a barrel in today’s dollars tends to crush economies, and oil priced under $75 a barrel in today’s dollars tends to crush oil companies. There is no real sweet spot between those two places. We’re ratcheting between them and each one of them entails a lot of destruction. That’s a terrible quandary that we’re in and it’s being expressed in banking and finance…and the people in charge of those things don’t really know what else to do except continue the deformation of institutions and instruments.

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Strong.

Iceland Prepares To End Currency Controls (Tel.)

Iceland plans to significantly ease capital controls for individuals and companies, marking the end of a regime that was described as the crutch for the Icelandic economy following the 2008 crisis. The Finance Ministry plans to put forward legislation on Wednesday to pave the way for the removal of capital controls for Icelanders who have been living with the restriction for eight years. The recommendations will mean that outward foreign direct investment will be unrestricted, but still subject to confirmation by the central bank.

Investment in foreign currency financial instruments will also be allowed and individuals will be authorised to buy one piece of property abroad each calendar year, irrespective of purchase price. Requirements, under penalty of law, to repatriate any foreign currency obtained abroad will also be eased and individual households will be given authorisation to buy foreign currency for travel. Iceland’s finance ministry said that next January the current ceiling on foreign investments will be raised. It is estimated that the changes in the bill will lead to a reduction of about 50-65pc in the number of requests for exemptions from the Foreign Exchange Act, which will speed up the processing time.

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The flipside of Soros.

‘I Want You Back,’ Cries East Europe as Emigrant Tide Erodes GDP (BBG)

Eastern Europe is borrowing a line from the Jackson 5 as it bids to turn a tide of emigration that’s eroding its economic prospects and compounding an already-gloomy demographic outlook. “I want you back” is the slogan Latvia has chosen to lure home citizens who’ve upped sticks to Europe’s west in search of more job opportunities and higher salaries. Poland’s Return program offers tips on jobs, housing and health care, while Romania is teaming up with private business, offering scholarships and hosting employment fairs to tempt back talented citizens. The campaigns have gained fresh impetus after the Brexit vote threw into doubt the future status of foreign workers in the U.K.

“The diaspora living abroad represent a huge untapped potential for their countries of origin,” said Rokas Grajauskas, an economist at Danske Bank who’s based in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. Stints abroad can be beneficial, instilling new skills and ways of thinking, he said. The hunt for greener pastures isn’t new. The Soviet collapse prompted an unprecedented outflow of eastern Europeans to the wealthier west, with EU membership and the 2008 financial crisis triggering further waves. The Baltic region suffered most over the past decade, the latest Eurostat data show. Making matters worse, much of the continent is grappling with low birth rates and aging populations.

Losing workers to other countries has already cost 21 central and eastern Europe nations an average of about 7 percentage points of GDP, according to the IMF, which predicts a hit of as much as 9 percentage points over the next 14 years should current trends continue. It recommends the EU maintain funding to ease migration pressures, and that countries improve labor-market conditions and engage with their diaspora abroad. As governments belatedly heed that last piece of advice, they may well recall other lines from the Jackson 5’s 1969 hit song. “I was blind to let you go,” the group sang. “I need one more chance.”

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Report due in 3 weeks.

Tsipras Revives Greek Bid To Seek Wartime Reparations From Berlin (Kath.)

Greece’s leftwing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Tuesday revived the country’s bid to seek war reparations over Nazi atrocities in Greece. “We will go all the way, first diplomatically and then legally, if necessary,” Tsipras said during events marking the World War II massacre in the village of Kommeno, in Arta, northwestern Greece. More than 300 people were executed on August 16, 1943 at the village which was then torched by German forces. The findings of an intra-party committee which was set up to look into Greek claims for German war reparations are expected to be submitted to Parliament in early September. The committee wrapped up its probe on July 27.

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I bet you there are coup plotters among those 38,000.

Turkey To Free 38,000 From Prisons To Make Space For Alleged Coup Plotters (AP)

Turkey has issued a decree paving the way for the conditional release of 38,000 prisoners in an apparent move to make jail space for thousands of people who have been arrested after last month’s failed coup. The decree allows the release of inmates who have two years or less to serve of their prison terms and makes convicts who have served half of their term eligible for parole. Some prisoners are excluded: people convicted of murder, domestic violence, sexual abuse or terrorism and other crimes against the state. The measures would not apply for crimes committed after 1 July.

The justice minister, Bekir Bozdag, said the move would lead to the release of 38,000 people, adding it was not a pardon or an amnesty but a conditional release of prisoners. The government says the coup attempt on 15 July, which led to at least 270 deaths, was carried out by followers of the movement led by the US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen who have infiltrated the military and other state institutions. Gülen has denied any prior knowledge or involvement in the coup but Turkey is demanding that the US extradite him.

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Greece lives in fear. Because Merkel can’t give Turkey visa-free travel amid reports like this.

German Officials Say Erdogan Supports Militants (DW)

Citing a classified document from the Interior Ministry to representatives of the Left party on Tuesday the German public broadcaster ARD reported, that members of the government consider Turkey’s regime a supporter of militant groups in the Middle East. German officials appear to have publicly acknowledged, if in a classified document, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s weapons support for militants fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, which Turkish journalists have reported in the past. “Especially since the year 2011 as a result of its incrementally Islamized internal and foreign policy, Turkey has become a central platform for action for Islamist groups in the Middle East,” the German officials said, according to ARD.

German security officials also said Erdogan had an “ideological affinity” with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, ARD reported. Suppressed under Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship, the movement went on to produce Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi. Despite the “affinity,” Erdogan has been publicly at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood in the past though he has since also criticized current Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who overthrew Morsi in a 2013 coup. Neither the United States nor the EU considers the Muslim Brotherhood a terror organization. The German officials also said Erdogan supported Hamas, the democratically elected governing party in the Gaza Strip.

Turkey’s president has said as much in the past, having told the US news host Charlie Rose, that “I don’t see Hamas as a terror organization.” Though the United States and EU do list Hamas as a prohibited group, nations such as Norway, Switzerland and Brazil do not. “It is a resistance movement trying to protect its country under occupation,” Erdogan added in the 2011 interview, referring to the Israeli state, with which Turkey also enjoys diplomatic ties.

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Aug 112016
 
 August 11, 2016  Posted by at 9:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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G. G. Bain The new Queensboro (59th Street) Bridge over the East River, NYC 1909

‘Deutsche Bank Must Be Nationalized’ (Express)
Deutsche Bank Capital Gap Larger Than Its Entire Market Cap (ZH)
Beware The EU Dog That Doesn’t Bark (IE)
It’s Not Going To Be Pretty: German GDP Set To Stall (CNBC)
The Worst Place In The World To Bank (Simon Black)
BLS Just “Revised” Away Obama’s “Fastest” Wage Growth Since The Crisis (ZH)
Erdogan Warns Bank Resistance to Interest Cuts Could Be Treason (BBG)
Gravity Always Wins -ZZZZZZ- (Jim Kunstler)
Greek PM Calls on Europe to Ease Greek Debt as it Did for Germany in 1953 (GR)
Greek Public Health Services On Brink Of Collapse (Kath.)
Julian Assange To Be Questioned Inside Ecuador Embassy (G.)

 

 

Merkel must find a way to do what she forbids others to do.

‘Deutsche Bank Must Be Nationalized’ (Express)

A top economist has warned that Germany’s biggest bank is teetering on the edge of crisis and they only way to protect it against future shocks is to nationalise it. Martin Hellwig said stress tests carried out by the European Central Bank revealed the Deutsche Bank would be left in a precarious position in the event of another financial crisis. While it would probably not go bust in a fresh downturn – he predicted the bank which is crucial to the German economy would face serious equity problems. He said: “Putting it short: for a long and serious crisis there simply wouldn’t be enough money.” The Berlin government has previously only bailed out the banks under extreme circumstances but Mr Hellwig, director of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods, backed the idea of using taxpayers’ money to fund public sector investment.

He said: “Turning banks into community property through public funds is not only possible but also necessary. “If a bank is no longer able to help itself, the federal government should take on shares and exercise the related control functions.” He continued: “In Sweden the state stepped in in 1992, filleted out unprofitable divisions and left stable companies. “It was a successful, temporary nationalisation. The goal had always been to enable a clean-up and to then get out again.” He said nationalisation may not have been part of Germany’s plan since the last financial crisis but unusual scenarios sometimes require desperate measures and would be appropriate for banks as such a large part of the economy is entirely dependent on them.

Mr Hellwig said: “I assume that this tool will be used when it comes to an institution where there are fear that a settlement procedure would bring significant system damage.” Banks that are “too big to fail” could be saved with tax-euros and the investment might even pay a return for the state. Another possible effect of state intervention would be the inevitable modernisation that would improve the bank which has seen its retail divisions become barely profitable. Mr Helwigg said: “From the outside, one gets the impression that in the last 20 years the investment bankers controlled the bank and sucked it dry. Nationalisation in an emergency could be a step towards more rationality in the banking world.”

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Creative accounting saves the day.

Deutsche Bank Capital Gap Larger Than Its Entire Market Cap (ZH)

After the ECB concluded its latest annual stress test, which as expected found no problems with Europe’s largest banks instead scapegoating Italy’s well-known troubled banks in results that were widely discredited by the market, yesterday in an unexpected outcome, German economic research institute ZEW found that Germany’s largest bank, Deutsche Bank, had the highest potential capital shortfall, as much as €19 billion in a study of 51 European banks using U.S. Federal Reserve stress test methods. The capital gap is greater than DB’s entire market cap. Using the Fed’s approach, and thus a far more credible approach than that proposed by the ECB, the 51 European banks showed a total capital shortfall of €123 billion, with the largest gaps at Deutsche Bank, Societe Generale (€13 billion) and BNP Paribas (€10 billion).

“European banks lack sufficient capital to offset the losses expected in the case of another financial crisis,” the ZEW said in a statement on Tuesday, cited by Reuters. ZEW Finance Professor Sascha Steffen worked with New York University Stern School of Business and the University of Lausanne researchers to run stress tests used by the Fed in 2016 and the European Banking Authority (EBA) in 2014 to compare capital needs and leverage. While Societe Generale and BNP have market capitalisations of 26 billion euros and 55 billion euros, respectively, well above the study’s theoretical capital gap, Deutsche Bank would find itself in trouble if the ZEW calculation is correct as it has a market capitalisation of less than €17 billion.

Which is why it promptly disagreed with ZEW’s calculation. “There is an official EBA stress test that checked the capital backing against very tough and adverse conditions and this showed there was no acute capital need at Deutsche Bank,” the bank said in a statement in response to the study. [..]

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Guess why Schäuble didn’t want Spain, Portugal fined.

Beware The EU Dog That Doesn’t Bark (IE)

Sometimes the most important thing that happens is what doesn’t happen — or, to paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, it’s the dog that doesn’t bark in the night. The lack of response to the European Commission’s non-enforcement in Spain and Portugal of the terms of the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) is one of those times. According to SGP rules, the Commission should have proposed a fine to be levied on Spain and Portugal for overshooting their fiscal deficit targets by a wide margin. The fine would have been largely symbolic, but the Commission seems to have decided that the symbolism wasn’t worth it. And it was not only the Commission that chose not to bark; the rest of Europe remained silent as well. Not even Germany, the European Union’s leading austerity watchdog, perked up.

In fact, there have been reports that German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble lobbied several commissioners not to impose fines on Spain or Portugal. The German financial press, which often criticises the European Commission for being too lax, barely registered the decision. What explains the silence? There is precedent for fiscal leniency in the EU. In 2003, all three large eurozone countries (France, Germany, and Italy) were running deficits in excess of 3% of GDP, the upper limit established by the SGP. Toward the end of that year, it was clear that France and Germany (then with record-high unemployment) were not fulfilling their deficit-reduction commitments. But, unlike today, the Commission did bark (even if it could not really bite). It proposed ratcheting up the SGP’s so-called excessive deficit procedure.

The proposal did not entail any fines; rather, it focused on the stage before fines would be considered. Nonetheless, EU finance ministers strenuously opposed it, largely for political reasons. The clash occupied the front pages of newspapers all over Europe, especially in Germany, where the press, like the political opposition, was eager to chastise Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s government for its failure to uphold fiscal rectitude. There were heated debates on the fiscal rules, and the Commission’s role in enforcing them. In short, everyone was howling.

Despite the resistance, the Commission decided to plough ahead and censure Germany and France. With that decision, it sent a clear message that it took seriously its responsibility to administer the EU treaties — so seriously, in fact, that it would enforce rules with which it did not necessarily agree. Indeed, the Commission’s then-president, Romano Prodi, had already harshly criticised the SGP’s rigidity. Ultimately, however, political interests won the day, and the EU finance ministers voted down the proposal.

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There goes the eurozone.

It’s Not Going To Be Pretty: German GDP Set To Stall (CNBC)

Europe’s powerhouse could be stalling. German economic growth looks set to show a dip in the second quarter, raising questions about the health of the euro zone’s largest economy in the wake of the Brexit vote. Economists polled by Reuters expect Germany’s GDP figures, due Friday morning, to increase by a mere 0.2 percent in the months from April to June, compared with 0.7 percent growth in the previous three months. Experts said the export-driven economy is struggling to sustain momentum in an uncertain global environment that encompasses the unsteady emerging economies and the uncertainty surrounding Brexit. This has sparked fears among Europe-watchers as the country is by far the 28-country European Union’s biggest economy and when Germany catches a cold, it affects the rest of the region.

“No matter how you look at it, the economy is slowing,” said Carl Weinberg, chief economist at High Frequency Economics. “The economic trend is clear. It is not pretty.” Weinberg pointed to retail sales, industrial production, and export data stalling Germany’s growth engine. The country’s economic expansion, fueled by robust consumption and international trade, has been a bright spot in the euro zone in recent years. But global developments, including a slowdown in emerging economies from lower commodity prices as well as the U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union, could weigh on the outlook. “All of the risks are to the downside,” Weinberg said.

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Europe.

The Worst Place In The World To Bank (Simon Black)

Here’s the reality: Europe’s banking system is toast. Wholesale interest rates on the continent are already negative. Negative interest rates essentially penalize any bank that tries to be responsible and hold extra reserves. What an unbelievably stupid policy. Rather than encourage banks to be conservative with their customers’ deposits, the ECB is practically forcing them to make as many loans as possible. So it’s not exactly much of a shocker to find out that, in their haste to loan out almost 100% of their customers’ money, many of the loans went belly-up. EU data showed that by the end of September 2015, 17% of Italian loans were non-performing. The non-performing loan rate is a shocking 43.5% in Greece, and 50% in Cyprus. (That data is nearly a year old, so the numbers are worse now.)

This is a huge problem. Banks have lost a big chunk of their depositors’ savings. There’s a lot of talk now about government bail-outs. And some of that has already taken place. In Italy, the government already had to step in with a €150 billion guarantee just to forestall a potential bank run. But the Italian government is one of the most bankrupt in the world, with a debt level that exceeds 130% of GDP; they’re in no position to bail anyone out. That’s why, as of January 2016, European “bail in” legislation has taken effect. The rules are already in place whereby depositors can be held liable for the idiotic financial decisions of their banks. If the bank goes under, they can take your money down with it.

It’s already happened. In 2013, the government of Cyprus froze EVERY bank account in the country, locking every single depositor out of his/her savings. These risks are very real. Banks are illiquid and overleveraged. They’ve made far too many bad loans with their customer’s savings. The governments are in no financial position to bail them out. And the bail-in legislation already exists to steal from depositors. What’s the point of holding money in this kind of system, especially when the biggest benefit you could hope for is about a 0.1% yield on your savings account? When you step back think about the big picture, the conclusion is pretty obvious: don’t hold money in such a precarious banking system. And yet, it’s very seldom that anyone really thinks about his/her bank.

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More creative accounting.

BLS Just “Revised” Away Obama’s “Fastest” Wage Growth Since The Crisis (ZH)

Back in February 2016, Obama took to the stage at a press conference to boast about job growth and “most importantly” how the stronger job market was “finally starting to translate into bigger paychecks.” He also took the opportunity to jab at Republicans saying the strong jobs data was “inconvenient for Republican stump speeches” as they continued their “doom and despair tour.” Obama’s specific comments were: “Most importantly, this progress is finally starting to translate into bigger paychecks. Over the past six months, wages have grown at their fastest rate since the crisis. And the policies that I’ll push this year are designed to give workers even more leverage to earn raises and promotions. So, as I said at my State of the Union address, the United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world. I know that’s still inconvenient for Republican stump speeches as their doom and despair tour plays in New Hampshire. I guess you cannot please everybody.”

Turns out that revisions to historical real wage growth figures issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics yesterday are actually fairly “inconvenient” for Obama. Time to get the band back together for a reunion of that “doom and despair” tour. In yet another stunning tribute to the “accuracy” and “consistency” of economic propagandadata being reported by our government agencies, the Bureau of Labor Statistics yesterday reported a massive downward revision of the 1Q 2016 YoY real wage growth from +4.2% to -0.4% (a 4.6% swing).

But we wouldn’t worry much about it because the revisions resulted in only “small” changes in the underlying data according to the BLS: “Indexes of all hours-related measures in the business, nonfarm business, and nonfinancial corporate sectors show historical revisions because hours in the base year of 2009 were revised; resulting revisions to percent changes are small.” We guess “small” would be one way to describe a 4.6% swing in YoY real wage growth…we would probably choose something more like “abysmal” or “disastrous” but we’re not ones to split hairs.

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He feels invincible.

Erdogan Warns Bank Resistance to Interest Cuts Could Be Treason (BBG)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ratcheted up pressure on the nation’s banks, saying he would consider resistance to his calls to cut mortgage rates as an act of treason. Banks will be held “accountable” should they “act negatively in the matter of loans and interest rates,” Erdogan told members of Turkey’s Exporters Association at his palace in Ankara on Wednesday. “I would consider it as treason if the banks don’t open the way for investors.” Erdogan has demanded that lenders cut mortgage rates to an annual rate of about 9% from the market average of around 13.7% as he seeks to shore up the economy following the failed coup last month.

Lenders TC Ziraat Bankasi, Sekerbank, BNP Paribas unit Turk Ekonomi Bankasi as well as Denizbank, owned by Russia’s Sberbank, have all recently lowered interest charges to levels closer to what the president is demanding. Erdogan said he would “push the banking sector” to cut rates amid “disagreement between me and bankers.” He will convene with executives of Turkey’s banks soon in a meeting to be attended by Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, he said. The reduced rates also follow a decision by the central bank to cut the amount of cash commercial banks must keep locked up with the regulator – the so-called lira reserve requirement ratio – by half a %age point on Tuesday. It also allowed lenders to use a small amount of foreign currency and gold as reserves for lira liabilities. “You won’t lose money” if you cut rates, Erdogan told business groups in Ankara on Aug. 4. “Now is the time to do this and you can earn from the masses.”

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“..that’s what happens when debts can’t be repaid: money vanishes.”

Gravity Always Wins -ZZZZZZ- (Jim Kunstler)

What we face is discontinuity, the end of old spent dynamics and the beginning of new dynamics. Monetary deflation has been underway for years because that’s what happens when debts can’t be repaid: money vanishes. Now we will encounter the other dimensions of deflation: the contraction of manufacturing, trade, wages, and all the familiar markers of expansion in the waning techno-industrial era.

The many dodges and stratagems tried by the supreme central bankers to work around contraction only produce ever greater distortions in markets, currencies, and the distribution of dwindling capital, leading to a grand battle over the table-scraps of history, i.e. the rise of radical politics world-wide, including Islamic Jihadism, and the western response in Trump, LePen, and the nascent Germanic right-wing. These current manifestations may be mild versions of what’s coming. Nobody in power can come to grips with the reality of our situation. We have to salvage what we can and get smaller, becoming a more modest presence here, or the planet itself is going to hit the delete button on us.

It rubs against the current religion of progress, which has replaced the other old cultic practices. The choice now is between time-out or game over, and the debate over these things is absent from the arena. The aforesaid distortions in markets, currencies, and capital are spinning out in an ever broader, centrifugal gyre, coinciding, as chance would have it, with the most peculiar election in modern times. The incoherence and deceit on both sides is far beyond even the extravagant American norms of dauntless political bullshit. We literally have no idea what we’re doing in this country, or what we’re actually wishing for. The financial structures of everyday life look more fragile than ever. Gravity always wins.

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Broken record.

Greek PM Calls on Europe to Ease Greek Debt as it Did for Germany in 1953 (GR)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has called on Europe to offer debt relief to Greece, on the 63rd anniversary of the generous debt write-off to Germany (August 8, 1953). In a message he posted on Facebook, the Greek prime minister reminds Europe that the 1953 London Debt Agreement secured the write-off of 50% of Germany’s External Debts. Tsipras argues that Europe should do the same and grant Athens substantial debt relief, in order for the country to come out of the economic crisis. The 1953 agreement in favor of Germany covered money owed before and after WWII and reduced West German debt by 50% and stretched the repayment period to 30 years. This helped Germany recover after the defeat and later become a world economic power.

“On this day, on August 8, 1953, a nearly six-month negotiation between Germany and its creditors was concluded, with the signing of the London Debt Agreement. The debt-ridden and war-torn Germany enjoys the ultimate move of solidarity in modern European history by having 60% of its foreign debt cancelled, its internal debts restructured and a trade surplus clause,” Tsipras wrote, stressing that Greece was one of the countries that signed the deal. The Greek PM also wrote that Greece’s debt relief has been a goal of SYRIZA from the start, even when in opposition. He also wrote that after the May 24 agreement between Greece’s and euro zone finance ministers, debt easing will be discussed again in 2018, after the successful completion of the country’s bailout program.

“Europe must rise to the occasion and turn its gaze to the future by signing a new social contract that will guarantee the prosperity of its people,” Tsipras added.

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Everything falls apart. This is why I ask for your help

Greek Public Health Services On Brink Of Collapse (Kath.)

The National Health Service (ESY) is on the brink of collapse after six years of underfunding and a freeze on hirings as a result of Greece’s protracted financial crisis, according to a damning report issued on Tuesday by the Panhellenic Federation of Employees at Public Hospitals (POEDIN) which blames the Health Ministry and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. “Hospitals, medical centers, EKAV [ambulance services] are in a state of dissolution,” POEDIN said in a statement, adding that the premier and Health Ministry officials will “soon have to answer for the destruction of ESY.” Painting a dire picture, the report notes a fundamental lack of medical equipment (even ambulance stretchers), the shutdown of intensive care units and operating theaters, as well as shortages in doctors and staff at medical units across the country.

The situation at the Geniko Kratiko Athinon Gennimatas Hospital is particularly acute as 40% of positions across all its medical departments are vacant, while different departments have been merged to allow overworked staff to take a five-day summer vacation. According to POEDIN, one of the two CT scanners at the hospital is often out of order for long periods of time, while its two x-ray machines don’t work, forcing patients and doctors to pay to use others at private clinics and hospitals. The report also warns that the Erythros Stavros Hospital in Athens will be forced to shut down if orthopedic doctors are not hired soon, as most are now about to retire, while 70% of administrative positions are vacant.

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Let’s see it happen first. Sweden delayed it for 4 years.

Julian Assange To Be Questioned Inside Ecuador Embassy (G.)

Julian Assange will be questioned by Swedish prosecutors inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London, in a possible breakthrough to the impasse over his case. The Ecuadorian attorney general delivered a document agreeing to a request by the Swedish prosecutor to question the founder of WikiLeaks. He is wanted for questioning over a rape allegation, which he denies. If he goes to Sweden he believes he will be taken to the US because of the activities of WikiLeaks. Assange has been living inside the embassy for more than four years and has been granted political asylum by Ecuador. He has offered to be questioned inside the embassy but Swedish prosecutors have only recently agreed.

A statement issued in Ecuador said: “In the coming weeks a date will be established for the proceedings to be held at the embassy of Ecuador in the United Kingdom. “For more than four years, the government of Ecuador has offered to cooperate in facilitating the questioning of Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, as well as proposing other political and legal measures, in order to reach a satisfactory solution for all parties involved in the legal case against Julian Assange, to end the unnecessary delays in the process and to ensure full and effective legal protection. “In line with this position, Ecuador proposed to Sweden the negotiation of an agreement on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, which was signed last December and which provides the legal framework for the questioning.”

The statement said the proceedings did not affect the recent opinion of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions of the United Nations, which found that Assange was being arbitrarily detained. The working group called for Assange to be released and given compensation for violation of his rights. The Ecuador statement added: “Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry reiterates its commitment to the asylum granted to Julian Assange in August 2012, and reaffirms that the protection afforded by the Ecuadorian state shall continue while the circumstances persist that led to the granting of asylum, namely fears of political persecution.”

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Aug 052016
 
 August 5, 2016  Posted by at 9:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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G.G. Bain Three-ton electric sign blown into Broadway, New York. 1912

New Tool for Central Banks: Buying Corporate Bonds (WSJ)
UK Interest Rate Cut Is A ‘Hammer Blow’ For Workplace Pensions (G.)
UK Labor Market Enters “Freefall” After Brexit Vote (R.)
China Regulator Tells Banks to Evergreen Loans of Troubled Companies (ET)
For Europe’s Elite the Party Lives On After Brexit (BBG)
Tsipras Eyes Southern EU Alliance To Back Debt Deal (Kath.)
The 60-Year Decay of American Politics (Bacevich)
US Unlikely To Extradite Imam Turkey Blames For Coup (CNBC)
How Europe Is Getting Rich by Fueling Its Own Terror Epidemic (TAM)
War Or Peace: The Essential Question For American Voters On November 8th (RI)

 

 

Maybe we need to remind ourselves from time to time that we do NOT have functioning markets. Central banks buying up corporate bonds is of course about as distorting for markets as it comes.

We will yet take debt to its inevitable conclusion.

New Tool for Central Banks: Buying Corporate Bonds (WSJ)

Central banks have a new favorite tool for boosting lackluster growth: corporate-debt purchases. Two months after the ECB started buying corporate bonds, the Bank of England said Thursday that it would adopt a similar strategy. It will buy as much as £10 billion ($13.33 billion) of U.K. corporate debt starting in September as part of a larger package of stimulus measures, including £60 billion of additional government-bond purchases. The move, investors and analysts say, is likely to drive down borrowing costs even further around the globe for large companies already benefiting from ultralow interest rates.

But the decision again raises concerns about possible side effects of unconventional monetary policies, including excessive risk taking by investors, and faces substantial skepticism from investors who doubt such programs meaningfully address the global economy’s core deficiencies, centering on soft demand for goods and services. Already this year, negative-interest-rate policies and aggressive bond buying by central banks in Japan and Europe have helped create trillions of dollars of negative-yielding government bonds. That in turn has driven down corporate-bond yields, leading to robust debt issuance among companies in the U.S., if not all developed countries.

In the U.S., the average yield of investment-grade corporate bonds was 2.85% Wednesday, compared with 3.67% at the end of 2015, according to Barclays data. The average spread to Treasury yields also has shrunk, to 1.48 percentage points from 1.72. Companies have issued $519.2 billion of investment-grade corporate bonds this year, just below their pace at this time last year when issuance ultimately reached a record $794.6 billion, according to Dealogic.

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Wait till the stock market crashes, that’s when pensions will be hit.

UK Interest Rate Cut Is A ‘Hammer Blow’ For Workplace Pensions (G.)

Pension savers could be big losers from the Bank of England rate cut, as critics warned of a “hammer blow” to workplace schemes and forecast that pension payouts would fall to record lows. Within minutes of the Bank’s decision to cut the base rate to 0.25%, yields on government bonds, otherwise known as gilts, dived to all-time lows. Companies that still offer final salary pension schemes will as a result see the cost of maintaining them soar. Hymans Robertson, a pensions consultancy, said the rate cut meant a £70bn increase in the amount company schemes needed to meet their commitments to scheme members, to a total of £2.4trn. “To put this in context, UK GDP currently stands at £1.8trn. This has pushed the aggregate UK [company scheme] deficit up to £945bn – the worst it has ever been,” it said.

Companies will have to find the money to fill the gap in their pension schemes, or like most already have, close them to new members. In extreme cases, some may attempt to redraw pension contracts to cap their future liabilities. Patrick Bloomfield of Hymans Robertson said: “Pension schemes are being hit hard by recent events, but we need to remember that the impact will not be felt equally by all … There are schemes with robust funding plans that don’t take more risk than they need to, which will be able to weather this. The gap between pension schemes that hedged their risks and those that haven’t is starker than ever before.”

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A forced reset is not necessarily a bad thing.

UK Labor Market Enters “Freefall” After Brexit Vote (R.)

Britain’s labour market entered “freefall” after the vote to leave the European Union, with the number of permanent jobs placed by recruitment firms last month falling at the fastest pace since May 2009, a survey showed on Friday. The monthly report from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) showed starting salaries for permanent jobs rose in July at the slowest pace in more than three years. Overall, the survey added to evidence that business confidence and activity slowed sharply after the June 23 vote to leave the European. “The UK jobs market suffered a dramatic freefall in July, with permanent hiring dropping to levels not seen since the recession of 2009,” said REC chief executive Kevin Green. “Economic turbulence following the vote to leave the EU is undoubtedly the root cause.”

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Different countries have different ways of hiding their debt.

China Regulator Tells Banks to Evergreen Loans of Troubled Companies (ET)

On the surface, China is talking the reform talk. But is it also walking the walk? There are many examples to demonstrate it isn’t. The most recent one is a directive from the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) to not cut off lending to troubled companies and evergreening bad loans. This first reported by The Chinese National Business Daily on Aug. 4. “A Notice About How the Creditor Committees at Banks and Financial Institutes Should Do Their Jobs” tells banks to “act together and not ‘randomly stop giving or pulling loans.’ These institutes should either provide new loans after taking back the old ones or provide a loan extension, to ‘fully help companies to solve their problems,’” the National Business Daily writes.

“It’s big news. A couple of weeks ago they were threatening Liaoning Province to cut off all lending to them if they didn’t tighten loan standards,” said Christopher Balding, a professor of economics at Peking University in Shenzen. “This is a pretty significant turn-around for them to do and it indicates how significant the problem is.” The official reform narrative is espoused in this Xinhua piece which claims China has to reform because there is no Plan B. “Supply-side structural reform is also advancing as the country moves to address issues like industrial overcapacity, a large inventory of unsold homes and unprofitable ‘zombie companies.’” Clearly resolving the bad debt of zombie companies is not high on the priority list.

Goldman Sachs complained in a recent note to clients that companies can default on payments and often nothing happens. The investment bank notes that companies like Sichuan Coal default on payments of interest and principal for weeks or months and then maybe pay creditors later. The company in question defaulted on 1 billion yuan ($150 million) worth of commercial paper in June but made full payments later during the summer, a somewhat arbitrary process. Another case is Dongbei Special Steel, which missed at least five payments on $6 billion of debt since the beginning of the year, but has done nothing to resolve the problem. This is why creditors wrote an angry letter to the local government to help resolve the issue.

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Why the EU can’t be reformed.

For Europe’s Elite the Party Lives On After Brexit (BBG)

Europe’s political elite may have missed the Brexit memo. Six weeks since U.K. voters rebuked the ruling class by choosing to leave the European Union, the region’s establishment has reacted by carrying on as before. The revolving door of former policy makers joining the finance industry has spun again, with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso signing up with Goldman Sachs and former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King joining Citigroup. Meanwhile departed Prime Minister David Cameron is facing criticism for nominating numerous aides for honors, including his wife’s stylist.

The perception of elite coziness risks further disenfranchising those backing Brexit, and peers across the continent who share the feeling of being left behind by the powerful and wealthy in the era of globalization and financial crises. A potential upshot is more support for populist parties that tap into alienation such as the U.K. Independence Party or France’s National Front. “Anything that doesn’t show government or public institutions in a good light merely confirms some of the attitudes that probably contributed to the Brexit vote,” said Chris Roebuck, a visiting professor at London’s Cass Business School. For some voters, “there is a group of people out there who aren’t normal people like you or me, who have benefited since the financial crisis – because they’re an elite.”

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Tsipras already lost the ‘fight’. Beppe Grillo may lead such an alliance, not Tsipras.

Tsipras Eyes Southern EU Alliance To Back Debt Deal (Kath.)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is planning to forge an alliance with the leaders of other countries in Southeastern Europe in a bid to bolster Greece’s bid for a debt restructuring and lower the primary surplus targets set by creditors. Tsipras is expected to explore the prospects for such an alliance at a meeting of European socialist heads of state scheduled to take place in Paris on August 25, particularly with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and French President Francois Hollande. The meeting had originally been planned for May 20 in Rome but was postponed after an Egyptian passenger plane crashed in the Mediterranean. The Greek premier’s aim, according to sources, is to arrange a subsequent meeting in Athens, probably on September 9, and in any case before a scheduled European Union leaders’ summit on September 16, to further explore the prospect of forming a Southeastern European alliance.

Tsipras and Renzi had agreed at their last meeting on the sidelines of an EU summit on June 28 on the need for southern states to create their own growth-focused agenda, compared to the austerity prescribed by Northern European countries. At the time, Hollande and Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa had appeared open to the prospect of such an alliance. In Athens, sources close to Tsipras believe the time is right to pursue the creation of a strong southern “axis” to counter the stance of countries in Northern Europe. The idea of a united front of Southern European countries was first mooted by leftist SYRIZA before the general elections of January 2015 that brought it to power.

At the time, Tsipras thought Athens would attract the solidarity of Southern European countries in SYRIZA’s rhetoric against austerity and that those countries would stand by Greece in its negotiations with international creditors. That solidarity did not transpire then. However, sources close to Tsipras believe the current situation is potentially more beneficial for Athens as the protracted imposition of austerity on Greece and elsewhere has increased the pressure on countries in Southern Europe. Athens is also hopeful about forming a common front on another crucial issue that has divided Southern and Northern European countries: the ongoing refugee crisis. Indications by Turkey that it might not honor a migrant deal with the EU have fueled concerns in Greece that a slowed migrant influx could pick up again.

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Nostalgia. “And don’t kid yourself that things really can’t get much worse. Unless Americans rouse themselves to act, count on it, they will.”

The 60-Year Decay of American Politics (Bacevich)

Presidential campaigns today are themselves, to use Boorstin’s famous term, “pseudo-events” that stretch from months into years. By now, most Americans know better than to take at face value anything candidates say or promise along the way. We’re in on the joke — or at least we think we are. Reinforcing that perception on a daily basis are media outlets that have abandoned mere reporting in favor of enhancing the spectacle of the moment. This is especially true of the cable news networks, where talking heads serve up a snide and cynical complement to the smarmy fakery that is the office-seeker’s stock in trade. And we lap it up. It matters little that we know it’s all staged and contrived, as long as — a preening Megyn Kelly getting under Trump’s skin, Trump himself denouncing “lyin’ Ted” Cruz, etc., etc. — it’s entertaining.

This emphasis on spectacle has drained national politics of whatever substance it still had back when Ike and Adlai commanded the scene. It hardly need be said that Donald Trump has demonstrated an extraordinary knack — a sort of post-modern genius — for turning this phenomenon to his advantage. Yet in her own way Clinton plays the same game. How else to explain a national convention organized around the idea of “reintroducing to the American people” someone who served eight years as First Lady, was elected to the Senate, failed in a previous high-profile run for the presidency, and completed a term as secretary of state? The just-ended conclave in Philadelphia was, like the Republican one that preceded it, a pseudo-event par excellence, the object of the exercise being to fashion a new “image” for the Democratic candidate.

The thicket of unreality that is American politics has now become all-enveloping. The problem is not Trump and Clinton, per se. It’s an identifiable set of arrangements — laws, habits, cultural predispositions — that have evolved over time and promoted the rot that now pervades American politics. As a direct consequence, the very concept of self-government is increasingly a fantasy, even if surprisingly few Americans seem to mind.

At an earlier juncture back in 1956, out of a population of 168 million, we got Ike and Adlai. Today, with almost double the population, we get — well, we get what we’ve got. This does not represent progress. And don’t kid yourself that things really can’t get much worse. Unless Americans rouse themselves to act, count on it, they will.

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Can’t see US handing Gulen over on a platter, but Turkey is not done demanding his head. And many others.

US Unlikely To Extradite Imam Turkey Blames For Coup (CNBC)

U.S. officials weren’t likely to extradite Fethullah Gulen, an imam Turkey blames for plotting the recent failed coup, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, citing people familiar with the discussion. Those people said the evidence presented so far by Turkey wasn’t convincing and U.S. officials were also concerned about Turkish officials’ threatening public statements, which made the fairness of his potential treatment questionable, the report said. Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, has denied wrongdoing, the report said.

Separately, Reuters reported that Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan pledged on Thursday to cut off revenues from businesses tied to the 75-year-old Gulen, which include schools, firms and charities. Even before the failed coup, authorities in Turkey had seized Islamic lender Bank Asya, closed media businesses and arrested businessmen on accusations of funding the imam’s movement, Reuters reported. The failed coup, which took place on July 15, left more than 230 dead. Since then, more than 60,000 people across various branches of government have been detained, suspended or put under investigation, Reuters reported. That’s spurred concerns Erdogan was cracking down on all dissent.

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“68 flights that took place within 13 months transported weapons and ammunition to the Middle East, including to NATO member Turkey, which in turn “funnelled arms into brutal civil wars in Syria and Yemen.”

How Europe Is Getting Rich by Fueling Its Own Terror Epidemic (TAM)

Though Europe does not have the rates of gun violence the United States continues to grapple with, European governments have made over a billion euros by fueling gun violence in the Middle East and North Africa. A report conducted by a team of reporters from the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) found a group of European nations has been funneling arms into the Middle East region since 2012, making at least 1.2 billion euros in the process. According to the report, 68 flights that took place within 13 months transported weapons and ammunition to the Middle East, including to NATO member Turkey, which in turn “funnelled arms into brutal civil wars in Syria and Yemen.”

The report also notes that these flights make up only a small portion of the 1.2 billion euros in arms deals between Europe and the Middle East since 2012. The report’s conclusions are horrifying, to say the least. The report states: “Arms export licenses, which are supposed to guarantee the final destination of the goods, have been granted despite ample evidence that weapons are being diverted to Syrian and other armed groups accused of widespread human rights abuses and atrocities.” Considering Europe is battling a continually rising terrorist threat, they seem to be going about tackling this issue the wrong way. Surely the best way to counter terrorism is to cease funding it in the first place.

One astounding aspect of the report is that the lucrative war-profiteering business involves nations the world would not usually regard as overly-interested in war. The countries contributing to the rising terror threat, as identified by the report, are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, and Romania, among others. This report adds to the already glaring problem of European countries making billions of dollars off the death and destruction of Middle Eastern civilian life. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) found the United Kingdom was second only to the United States in arms sales, making up 10.4% of the total $401 billion worth of arms sold around the world for the 2014 period.

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Trump for Peace. We have 3 months left to get used to that.

War Or Peace: The Essential Question For American Voters On November 8th (RI)

In matters of substance as opposed to character assassination that both parties’ candidates have engaged in freely, what separates the candidates and makes it worthwhile to register and vote on November 8th is the domain of international relations. This, as a general rule, is the only area where a president has free hands anyway, whatever position his party holds in the Congress. Here the choice facing voters is stark, I would say existential: do we want War or Peace? Do we want to pursue our path of global hegemony, which is bringing us into growing confrontation with Russia, meaning a high probability of war, (the policy of Hillary Clinton), or do we want a harmonious international order in which the U.S. plays its role at the board of governors, just like other major world powers (the policy of Donald Trump).

Let me go one step further and explain what “war” means, since it is not something that gets much attention in our media, whereas it is at the top of the news each day in Russia. “War” does not mean Cold War-II, a kind of scab you can pick to indulge a pleasure in pain that is not life threatening. War means what our military like to call “kinetics” to mask the horror of it all. It means live ammunition, ranging from conventional to thermonuclear devices that can devastate large swathes of the United States if we play our hand badly, as would likely be the case for reasons I explain below should Hillary and her flock of Neocon armchair strategists take the reins of power in January 2017.

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Dec 052015
 
 December 5, 2015  Posted by at 7:15 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Yannis Bahrakis Witnessing the refugee crisis 2015

Perhaps the best way to show what a mess Europe is in is the €3 billion deal they made with Turkey head Erdogan, only to see him being unmasked by EU archenemy Vlad Putin as a major supporter, financial and who knows how else, of the very group everyone’s so eager to bomb the heebees out after Paris. It could hardly have been more fitting. That’s not egg on your face, that’s face on your egg.

But Brussels thinks it’s found a whipping boy for all its failures. Greece. It’s fast increasing its accusations against Athens’ handling of the 100s of 1000s of refugees flooding the country. Everything that goes wrong is the fault of Greece, not Brussels. The EU has so far given Greece €30 million in ‘assistance’ for the refugee crisis, while the country has spent over €1.5 billion in money it desperately needs for its own people. But somehow it’s still not done enough.

The justification given for this insane shortfall is that Greece doesn’t blindly follow all orders emanating from Europe’s ‘leaders’. Orders such as setting up a joint patrol of the Aegean seas with … yes, Erdogan’s Turkey. Where Greece gets next to nothing as the children keep drowning, Turkey gets €3 billion and a half-baked promise to join the Union sometime in the future.

Which was never going to happen, the EU would blow up before Turkey joins and certainly if it does, and most certainly now that Russia’s busy detailing the link between the Erdogan cabal and Europe’s supposed new archenemies -move over Putin?!, which, incidentally, are reason for France to ponder a kind of permanent state of emergency; ostensibly, this is Hollande’s way of exuding confidence. ‘We must protect our way of life’.

Given Schengen -while it lasts-, which effectively erases all frontiers, this de facto means permanent emergency across the entire EU. And that, to a degree, though the two may seem unrelated, plays into the EU’s insistence to station foreign border guards (military police) at Greek borders. A, we can’t put it in different words, completely insane demand to which Alexis Tsipras’ government has apparently even acceded.

Insane because once you have foreigners deciding who can enter or leave your country, you’re effectively a country under occupation. It really is that simple. This latest attempt at power grabbing on the part of Brussels could have some ‘unexpected side effects’, though. And that may be a good thing.

We are not specialists in the Greek constitution -terribly hard to read-, but we very much question whether an elected government can decide to give up its nation’s sovereignty this way. Two -related- issues here are: 1) does the EU have the legal capacity to force this (EU border guards agency Frontex) on a member state, and 2) does Tsipras have the legal capacity to sign over the sovereignty of his country to foreigners?

Brussels may claim that Athens voluntarily ‘invited’ in German and Polish ‘officers’, but that’s far short of even half the story. EU countries have been complaining about the way Greece has dealt with the refugee crisis, stating that it is not capable of protecting its borders, which it ‘should’ under Schengen.

Nonsense of course. Athens is very capable of protecting its borders, but it has stated -quite correctly, it would seem- that it protects its borders from enemies, and the refugees are not enemies. The reason the refugees keep arriving -and/or drowning-, mind you, has a lot more to do with Angela Merkel’s ‘invitation’ for them to come, and with Turkey’s eagerness to let them leave, than it does with anything Greece has done. Or not done.

But that’s not what Brussels talks about. Far from it. The EU claims it has the power to take over, even if Greece would resist. Reuters quotes a EU official as saying: “One option could be not to seek the member-state’s approval for deploying Frontex but activating it by a majority vote among all 28 members..”

In other words, if 15 countries vote to occupy Greece, it’s a done deal. Once more, we’re quite shaky on Greek constitution at the moment, but we’re thinking someone somewhere (preferably but not necessarily Greece) should take this to a constitutional court. Again, preferably in Athens, but that’s not where the buck stops.

Because if the EU can do this to Greece, it can ostensibly do it to any member state. All 28 countries in the EU could be subject to their borders being taken over. And no matter how shaky we are on any of the 28 constitutions, we are darn sure that at the very least some of them will not allow for this kind of tomfoolery. A nation is either sovereign or it’s not.

Can anyone imagine Frontex taking control of British borders, or German or French? The very notion is too silly to even bring up in serious conversation. But that is exactly what Tsipras has just accepted. It would seem wise to let that sink in.

And we, in all the innocence and ignorance we have, and we have plenty, fail to see how Alexis Tsipras can retain his position as prime minister in the face of this. No prime minister gets elected to sign over his country’s sovereignty to some group of bureaucrats the country happens to be aligned with on one way or the other.

There must be terms written into the Greek constitution, too, that prevent this from happening. Or else the nation was handed over to the dogs long ago, just waiting to be conquered once again. We don’t think Greeks are stupid, and most certainly not that stupid.

The refugee crisis is not Greece’s fault. In much the same way that the EU/ECB decision to bail out French/Dutch/German banks from their losses on Greek casino loans was not Greece’s fault. The EU is turning rapidly into a theater where the largest and most powerful countries get to play the weaker for whatever they desire. And that won’t last. Not with sovereign nations and their constitutions.

The internal problem in Greece, and we have to hand it to Tsipras that he understands this, is that when he leaves, the old guard will take over again. And that will be even worse for Greeks. Whose economy is being systematically dismantled by Brussels as we speak. Greece has zero chance of recovering from its crisis under the terms the EU has forced upon it.

But that doesn’t mean that an elected prime minister has the legal power to sign over the entire nation to a bunch of international bankers and power-thirsty politicians. There are still laws in this world. Written into constitutions.

Europe’s own Real Donald (there’s one on each side of the Atlantic), the one called Tusk, who owes his job exclusively to badmouthing Putin, on top of all sorts of suggestions to halt Schengen for 2 years or so, talked about detaining all refugees for 18 months, pending background checks and the like.

And we’re thinking, in our innocence, pray tell where, Don? In Poland, where you guys have such great experience with detention camps? But we’re drifting, straying… We’ve written too many times to count over the past while that the EU is bound to collapse because its structure selects for sociopaths. Who dream of power, night and day.

Look, Greece should leave while it can. Britain’s going to sign some convoluted deal to keep up appearances, though the ECB is not at all pleased with the idea of a multi-currency union, but deep down David Cameron is a second-hand car salesman who can’t even spell principles or morals, so it’ll get done.

The Danes voted down more EU in their country this week, in an outcome eerily familiar when it comes to actual votes on the Union. It seems every time such a vote takes place, Brussels loses.

But neither Britain nor Denmark not any other EU nation would vote to give up their sovereignty, their borders, their control over who enters and who leaves. And very rightly so. Greece shouldn’t either, it’s gone way too far already trying to please the bully.

Alexis Tsipras has made exactly that decision, however. And that makes his position untenable, even though neither he nor -allegedly- anyone else realizes it yet. He’ll be lucky not to face trial for treason. We’re not kidding.