Jun 112015
 
 June 11, 2015  Posted by at 10:02 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle June 11 2015


Russell Lee Store, La Forge, Missouri 1938

Bond Crash Across The World As Deflation Trade Goes Horribly Wrong (AEP)
Janet Yellen Gives Asia the Jitters (William Pesek)
MSCI Backs Itself Into Corner On China Share Inclusion (Reuters)
China Approves Another 1 Trillion Yuan Local Debt Swap (WSJ)
Greece is Playing an Ultimatum Game (Bloomberg)
Markets Surge On Rumours Of German Compromise On Greece (Guardian)
Germany Against 3rd Greek Bailout Under Any Circumstances: BILD (Reuters)
IMF’s ‘Never Again’ Experience In Greece May Get Worse (Reuters)
Ruling On Pension Cuts Will Cost Greek State €1.5 Billion (Kathimerini)
Growth, What Growth? Thatcherism Fails To Produce The Goods (Guardian)
Iceland’s Economy Recovered After It Jailed Bankers And Let Banks Go Bust (Ind.)
Iceland: The Economy That Came In From The Cold? (Independent)
The New Currency Trade: Short The Kiwi (CNBC)
Trends Show Crowdfunding To Surpass Venture Capital in 2016 (Forbes)
The Microfinance Delusion: Who Really Wins? (Hickel)
US Shifts Stance on Big Pharma in TPP Talks (NY Times)
TTIP Vote Postponed As European Parliament Descends Into Panic (Independent)
Maybe WWIII Won’t Occur, But The Damages Are Already Horrible (Zuesse)
US Draws EU Into Russia Crusade, Against Our Interests – Ex-French PM (RT)
Poll Highlights Divisions Among Public On Tackling Ukraine Crisis (RT)
Why Our Brains Don’t Process The Gravest Threats To Humanity (Brian Merchant)

Long term, the threat of inflation is non-existent. Money supply can be artificially lifted, but spending can not.

Bond Crash Across The World As Deflation Trade Goes Horribly Wrong (AEP)

The global deflation trade is unwinding with a vengeance. Yields on 10-year Bunds blew through 1pc today, spearheading a violent repricing of credit across the world. The scale is starting to match the ‘taper tantrum’ of mid-2013 when the US Federal Reserve issued its first gentle warning that quantitative easing would not last forever, and that the long-feared inflexion point was nearing in the international monetary cycle. Paper losses over the last three months have reached $1.2 trillion. Yields have jumped by 175 basis points in Indonesia, 160 in South Africa, 150 in Turkey, 130 in Mexico, and 80 in Australia. The epicentre is in the eurozone as the “QE” bet goes horribly wrong. Bund yields hit 1.05pc this morning before falling back in wild trading, up 100 basis points since March. French, Italian, and Spanish yields have moved in lockstep.

A parallel drama is unfolding in America where the Pimco Total Return Fund has just revealed that it slashed its holdings of US debt to 8.5pc of total assets in May, from 23.4pc a month earlier. This sort of move in the staid fixed income markets is exceedingly rare. The 10-year US Treasury yield – still the global benchmark price of money – has jumped 48 points to 2.47pc in eight trading sessions. “It is capitulation out there, and a lot of pain,” said Marc Ostwald from ADM. The bond crash has been an accident waiting to happen for months. Money supply aggregates have been surging all this year in Europe and the US, setting a trap for a small army of hedge funds and ‘prop desks’ trying to squeeze a few last drops out of a spent deflation trade. “We we’re too dogmatic,” confessed one bond trader at RBS.

Data collected by Gabriel Stein at Oxford Economics shows that ‘narrow’ M1 money in the eurozone has been growing at a rate of 16.2pc (annualized) over the last six months. You do not have to be monetarist expert to see the glaring anomaly. Broader M3 money has been rising at an 8.4pc rate on the same measure, a pace not seen since 2008. Economic historians will one day ask how it was possible for €2 trillion of eurozone bonds – a third of the government bond market – to have been trading at negative yields in the early spring of 2015 even as the reflation hammer was already coming down with crushing force. “It was the greater fool theory. They always thought there would be some other sucker to buy at an even higher price. Now we are returning to sanity,” said Mr Stein.

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But setting up emerging markers for huge losses is something Wall Street can reap huge profits from.

Janet Yellen Gives Asia the Jitters (William Pesek)

Janet Yellen probably doesn’t think about Bangkok, Jakarta or Manila very often – the Federal Reserve chair has enough to worry about in Washington. But as she continues to ponder hiking interest rates, the frenetic selloffs in stock markets on the other side of the world should give her pause. Stock exchanges in emerging markets are on their longest losing streak since 1990; since a late-April high, the MSCI Southeast Asia Index has lost almost 9%. If Yellen is wondering whether the developing world is ready for a tightening of U.S. monetary policy, the answer from Asia has been a resounding no. Late last year, a tightening of 25 basis-points would probably not have posed any problems.

But, in the interim, China’s slowdown has darkened the global economic outlook (even as its own equity bourses continue to skyrocket). Selloffs in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and elsewhere speak to the growing anxiety about the two biggest actors in the global economy. The most immediate worry is the trade shock emanating from China. Massive share rallies in Shanghai and Shenzhen are papering over a growing number of economic cracks in China, including deflation and weak household spending. Despite government pledges to achieve 7% growth, sliding commodity prices suggests Chinese growth is decelerating.

And MSCI’s decision not to include China in its indices is a reminder that Asia has been hitching its future on an economy that isn’t yet ready for prime time. Asia also worries that China’s problems will be exacerbated by the Fed. Monetary purists will be tempted to dismiss the argument out of hand – the Fed should focus on keeping the U.S. economy stable and healthy, because that’s ultimately in the best interests of everyone from Seoul to Sao Paulo. What this line of thinking misses, though, are the feedback effects created by Fed policy. As the dollar rises, it draws money away from the developing world – often violently so. Consider how a strong dollar helped precipitate Asia’s 1997-1998 crisis and Latin America’s a decade earlier.

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Well, it protects China’s grandmas from even bigger losses.

MSCI Backs Itself Into Corner On China Share Inclusion (Reuters)

MSCI’s decision to defer including Chinese shares in its emerging market benchmark share indexes for a second time may have trapped the index provider into making promises it can’t keep, both to Beijing and to its investor constituents. While both MSCI and Chinese state media spun the decision as a speed bump on the way to inevitable inclusion, which will allow and in some cases require foreign funds to buy into Chinese stocks, the agendas of Chinese bureaucrats and foreign institutional investors are much further apart than they seem. “With this announcement (MSCI has) further hemmed themselves in, as they’ve outlined exactly what China needs to do. And if China satisfies them, they’ll be within their rights to ask why MSCI hasn’t lived up to its side of the bargain,” said one source familiar with MSCI’s strategy.

MSCI’s says the process requires time. “It wouldn’t be a negative, it would simply be the recognition that this process needs to take its own pace,” said Remy Briand, MSCI managing director and global head of research, when asked whether there could be fallout for the company if it finds itself delaying inclusion again next year. The changes foreign fund managers want are not minor tweaks. MSCI’s clients want Beijing to open its capital accounts so they can reliably move their money in and out of China’s markets, but the economy is facing its slowest growth in decades, which has led to capital flowing out of the country.

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Is it QE? It’s swapping shadow bank debt for central bank debt, with a large difference in duration and interest rates.

China Approves Another 1 Trillion Yuan Local Debt Swap (WSJ)

China will let its cities and provinces issue another 1 trillion yuan ($161 billion) of bonds as it continues an effort to rev up the economy and help local governments refinance their hefty debt burdens. The move, which doubles the amount Beijing initially authorized, will help local governments refinance 1.86 trillion yuan in debt due this year, according to Xinhua. It said swapping 1 trillion yuan will save local governments about 50 billion yuan in annual interest payments. Like the previous issue, local governments can effectively swap the debt for loans from China’s central bank. But Chinese officials continued to contend that such swaps aren’t the equivalent of a common central-bank tool known as quantitative easing, in which central banks buy bonds as a way to inject money into the financial system.

The move, which was expected, underscores Beijing’s continued worries about slowing economic growth and mounting debt. China’s 7% first-quarter year-over-year growth rate was the slowest in six years, and recent trade and inflation data continue to point to soft domestic demand. China’s local governments had run up 17.9 trillion yuan of debt as of mid-2013, or $2.89 trillion at current exchange rates, according to the most recent official data. That was up sharply from negligible levels six years earlier. Much of the debt was from a massive stimulus push in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. In recent years, China’s local governments circumvented rules that bar them from borrowing to fund the infrastructure and housing projects that have been essential in maintaining fast economic growth.

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A power game. Not that they want to. They were forced into it.

Greece is Playing an Ultimatum Game (Bloomberg)

Hence, another classic game – the ultimatum game – might provide a better analogy. In the game, a player receives some money — say, $100 — but can keep it only by convincing a second player to accept part of the sum. If both parties are interested solely in maximizing their financial well-being, the first player should be able to offer as little as $1. After all, for the second player, $1 is better than nothing. When real people play the game, though, that’s not how it works out. The second player tends to reject any offer less than $30, seeing it as insulting. As a result, neither player gets any money. The game reaches inside people and stirs up deep emotions, demonstrating that humans are not dispassionate economic calculators.

You can’t understand it without thinking about human perceptions of fairness, justice and honor. This seems to fit the current situation in Europe. The creditors think Greece, in a position of weakness, should be grateful for the relief they’ve offered and get on with economic reforms. After all, it’s better than nothing. Yet Greece, while recognizing the need for reform, sees that the creditors can afford to do more and feels insulted by the suffering it must endure. If necessary, the Greeks are ready to risk blowing up the euro to preserve their independence and dignity. From this perspective, it’s not really an economic confrontation at all.

The technicalities of funding mechanisms and repayment schedules are merely the instruments through which power is being exerted from one side and resisted from the other. So when Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called the creditors’ latest proposal “absurd,” it might have been because, from the broad perspective of human decency, it was absurd. And when Jean-Claude Juncker, the chief executive of the EU, reportedly refused to answer a subsequent phone call from Tsipras, he might have done so because he was completely flummoxed by Greece’s irrationality. The ultimatum game teaches us that the Greek standoff can’t be understood through the lens of economic rationality alone. Those who attempt to do so risk making a costly miscalculation.

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A staggered reform program and loan program may yet be a decisive move.

Markets Surge On Rumours Of German Compromise On Greece (Guardian)

Stock markets surged on Wednesday after reports of a German proposal to allow Greece to receive a drip-feed of loans in return for a staggered reform programme. The softening of the German stance towards Athens cheered investors keen to see a sustainable rescue of the debt-stricken country after more than four months of wrangling. According to the reports, the chancellor Angela Merkel is prepared to accept a much-reduced reform programme, slimmed down to just one or two areas as part of an initial package, to salvage a deal with Greece and prevent it exiting the eurozone. Shares on the FTSE 100 moved ahead 76 points or 1.1%, while the German Dax and French CAC jumped 2.4% and 1.75%, respectively.

The EC, the IMF and the ECB, which have lent Greece €240bn (£175bn) between them, had until recently demanded all-encompassing reforms in return for the last tranche of bailout funds worth €7.6bn. Bloomberg said it spoke to at least two German officials close to the bailout talks who described the compromise deal as a possible way to end the impasse between the radical leftist Greek government and its creditors. The report, later denied by the German government as official policy, followed statements by Merkel and the French president, François Hollande, that they were ready to meet Greece’s embattled prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, at a summit in Brussels. Merkel said a solution was possible as she arrived for a summit of EU and Latin American leaders, just hours after the EC dismissed the latest Athens plan, saying it failed to address the need for deep changes.

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Right wing Germany rears its ugly head once more.

Germany Against 3rd Greek Bailout Under Any Circumstances: BILD (Reuters)

The German government is against a third aid programme for Greece under any circumstances, even if there was an agreement between Athens and its international lenders on a cash-for-reforms deal, the German mass daily Bild reported on Thursday. Instead, the current second aid programme could be extended and be broadened with funds from other programmes such as the €10.9 billion that were originally designed to rescue Greek banks, but were not needed, the report said. However, this could only happen if Athens was willing to implement substantial reforms, it added. “We don’t want to make our people bleed just because the ones in charge in Greece are not doing their job,” the mass daily quoted a member of the government as saying.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing growing opposition among her ruling conservatives to granting Greece any further bailout funds. Athens’ unwillingness to accept further economic reforms is turning a growing minority of Merkel’s own conservatives against the prospect of unlocking a final tranche of Greece’s second bailout or agreeing to a third aid programme. Greece’s EU/IMF lenders have asked Athens to commit to sell off state assets, enforce pension cuts and press on with labour reforms, two sources familiar with the plan told Reuters last week, demands that would cross the Greek government’s “red lines”. If Greece were to accept the plan, lenders would aim to unlock €10.9 billion in unused bank bailout funds that were returned to the European Financial Stability Fund. This would enable Greece to cover its financial needs through July and August, the sources have said.

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“A 2010 IMF staff position note described default on any debt in advanced economies as “unnecessary, undesirable and unlikely”, yet 18 months later the IMF advocated a 70% “haircut”..”

IMF’s ‘Never Again’ Experience In Greece May Get Worse (Reuters)

For the IMF, five years of playing junior partner in European bailouts for Greece has been a “never again” experience, and the worst may be yet to come. The global lender has lent far more to Athens than to any other borrower, contributing nearly one-third of the total €240 billion, with the rest coming from euro zone governments and the bloc’s rescue fund. But it has sat uncomfortably in the side-car of the Greek rescue. Called in by EU paymaster Germany to try to keep the European institutions and the Greeks honest, the Washington-based IMF has never had control of the program. Now Greece may be about to become the first European nation to default on the IMF, putting it in exclusive company with Zimbabwe and Argentina.

Athens postponed a €300 million installment due last week and bundled it with others due this month into a single €1.6 billion payment due to the IMF at the end of June. Greece has said it can only pay if it gets new funds from creditors or is allowed to sell more short-term debt to Greek banks, which in turn hinges on a stalled cash-for-reform deal. Critics say the IMF has damaged its credibility by going along with political fudges to keep Greece in the euro zone rather than insisting on write-offs, first by private creditors and now by European governments, to make its debt sustainable. “One of the most important lessons for the IMF from the Greek program should be that a multilateral institution should not institutionalize special interests of a subset of its membership,” said Ousmene Mandeng, a former IMF official who is now an economics adviser.

“The interest of the IMF is not necessarily aligned with the EU/ECB,” he said. In 2013, the IMF published a critical evaluation of its own role in the first Greek bailout in 2010, arguing that it should have insisted on a “haircut” on Greece’s debt to private creditors from the outset. Instead it went along with European governments frightened of a Lehman-style market meltdown and keen to shield their banks from losses. The report, compiled by Fund staff, said IMF officials had doubts about Greece’s ability to repay its loan at the time but agreed to the plan because of fears of contagion from Greece’s predicament affecting other European states.

A 2010 IMF staff position note described default on any debt in advanced economies as “unnecessary, undesirable and unlikely”, yet 18 months later the IMF advocated a 70% “haircut” on Greek government debt as a condition for continued involvement in lending to Athens. Now IMF chief Christine Lagarde is hinting that European governments need to give Greece debt relief to make the numbers add up, but since this is politically unacceptable in Germany, she has had to talk in code in public. “Clearly, if there were to be slippages from those (fiscal) targets, for the whole program to add up, then financing has to be considered,” Lagarde told a news conference last week.

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Tsipras can take this to the troika.

Ruling On Pension Cuts Will Cost Greek State €1.5 Billion (Kathimerini)

The government will have to find €1 to 1.5 billion to cover the cost of a Council of State decision published on Wednesday, which calls for pensioners in the private sector and at state-owned corporations (DEKOs) to have their retirement pay restored to 2012 levels. In a majority decision (14 vs 11), Greece’s highest administrative court judged the reduction to main and supplementary pensions legislated in late 2012 as being unconstitutional. The ruling affects some 800,000 pensioners who earned more than 1,000 euros a month. It is estimated the decision will lead to pensions between €1,000 and €1,500 rising by 5%, those between 1,500 and 2,000 increasing by 10% and those over 2,000 seeing a rise of 15%.

The court said the government should have carried out a study on the impact these cuts would have had on the pensioners affected. The Council of State, however, decided that pensions should not be restored retroactively apart from some 2,000 individual cases where pensioners appealed the reductions on their own. This means that, apart from the latter cases, the government will have to find a way to increase the pensions in question from this point on rather than find the funds to cover the income the pensioners lost as a results of the cuts over the last 2.5 years.

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And you find this out only now?

Growth, What Growth? Thatcherism Fails To Produce The Goods (Guardian)

Margaret Thatcher’s policies of privatisation, light-touch regulation and low income tax failed to boost growth, according to a new study that casts doubt on the merits of free market economies. In a wide-ranging analysis of Britain’s performance in the decades before and after 1979, economists at the University of Cambridge say the liberal economic policies pioneered by Thatcher have been accompanied by higher unemployment and inequality. At the same time, contrary to widespread belief, GDP and productivity have grown more slowly since 1979 compared with the previous three decades. Liberal market policies such as lower tariffs and income taxes, free movement of labour, limited legal immunity for trade unions, privatisation and light-touch business regulation “did not produce the goods” in terms of higher growth in GDP and productivity, according to Ken Coutts and Graham Gudgin at the Centre for Business Research at Cambridge Judge Business School.

“Those who believe in the free market economy must be able to show that economic performance after 1979 was better than it would have been under the ‘corporatist’ economic policies of earlier decades. The starting point in doing this should be to show that the actual performance was better than had been the case during the decades prior to 1979,” said Coutts and Gudgin. “The report shows that the most important economic indicators, including growth in GDP per head, were in fact no better in the post-1979 decades.” On the analysis, only one aspect of post-1979 policies actually boosted growth, but that came with grave consequences a few decades on in the shape of the financial crisis. “Financial liberalisation was the sole aspect of the liberal market reforms introduced into the UK, initially in 1971-73 and more consistently from 1979, which materially increased the rate of economic growth,” the paper said.

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High time for others to do the same.

Iceland’s Economy Recovered After It Jailed Bankers And Let Banks Go Bust (Ind.)

Iceland’s finance minister has announced a 39% tax on investors looking to take their money overseas. The country has imposed the tax to prevent it hemorrhaging money as it loosens bank laws imposed six years ago, when Iceland made the shocking decision to let its banks go bust. Iceland also allowed bankers to be prosecuted as criminals – in contrast to the US and Europe, where banks were fined, but chief executives escaped punishment. The chief executive, chairman, Luxembourg ceo and second largest shareholder of Kaupthing, an Icelandic bank that collapsed, were sentenced in February to between four and five years in prison for market manipulation. “Why should we have a part of our society that is not being policed or without responsibility?” said special prosecutor Olafur Hauksson at the time. “It is dangerous that someone is too big to investigate – it gives a sense there is a safe haven.”

While the UK government nationalised Lloyds and RBS with tax-payers’ money and the US government bought stakes in its key banks, Iceland adopted a different approach. It said it would shore up domestic bank accounts. Everyone else was left to fight over the remaining cash. It also imposed capital controls restricting what ordinary people could do with their money– a measure some saw as a violation of free market economics. The plan worked. Iceland took a huge financial hit, just like every other country caught in the crisis. This year the IMF declared that Iceland had achieved economic recovery ‘without compromising its welfare model’ of universal healthcare and education. Other measures of progress like the country’s unemployment rate, compare just as well with countries like the US.

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Sensible policies.

Iceland: The Economy That Came In From The Cold? (Independent)

There are dangers in opening up. The country’s central bank says the book value of the assets of the failed banks that are denominated in Icelandic krona is about 500 billion krona (£2.47bn), roughly equal to a quarter of the country’s GDP. “The danger is capital flight and a consequent fall of the value of the krona,” said Thorolfur Matthiasson, economics professor at the University of Iceland. “That would be tantamount to October 2008, bringing back bad memories for ordinary people and possibly making most businesses unsustainable due to balance-sheet problems.” New legislation will impose a one-off 39% financial levy on the total assets of failed banks, raising $5.1bn, in order to help the country weather the blow of withdrawals. As an alternative, the foreign creditors can do a deal with the failed banks’ boards by the end of the year to surrender an equivalent portion of their claims.

Yet it is impossible to be sure whether this will be enough. Iceland’s Prime Minister, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, sounded nervous yesterday as he advised foreign hedge funds that had snapped up distressed Icelandic banking assets after the bust not to sue over the tax. The unspoken fear is that aggressive foreign hedge funds will drag Iceland through the courts, as they did with Argentina, inflicting further economic damage in the process. Yet there are also reasons to believe things could turn out better than this for Iceland. Along with the creditors, the country itself suffered grievously in the crisis. The economy was sent spinning into depression and living standards collapsed. Many Icelanders – who had borrowed from their banks in foreign currencies such as Swiss francs to take advantage of lower interest rates – were forced into bankruptcy.

GDP contracted by 12% and Reykjavik was forced to call in the IMF for assistance. But the Icelandic economy has recovered surprisingly strongly since 2010. The massive devaluation of the krona against the dollar and the euro helped. There has been a big boost from tourism. Fishing has also boomed. An estimated one in 84 fish caught worldwide is now scooped out of the water by Icelandic trawlers. Unemployment, which spiked to 9% at the worst of the crisis, is now back down to 5%. In domestic currency terms the economy has recovered roughly to its pre-crisis peak. GDP is projected by the IMF to grow by a reasonable 3.5% this year. The current account, which was in deficit to the tune of a whopping 25% of GDP in 2009, is now in surplus.

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The glimmer is gone.

The New Currency Trade: Short The Kiwi (CNBC)

Currency analysts are betting on continued declines for the New Zealand dollar as officials fight to boost growth in a country that was heralded 2014’s rockstar economy. The Kiwi sank over 2% to a near five-year low of 70 U.S. cents Thursday after the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) lowered the benchmark cash rate by 25 basis points for the first time in four years. “Today’s announcement is significant for NZD because it marks the beginning of what could turn into a more prolonged easing cycle. Desynchronization of monetary policy should not only drive NZD/USD below 70 cents but take it lower against many other major currencies,” said Kathy Lien at BK Asset Management. Indeed, chances for parity with the Australian dollar, a popular call this year, are now over, noted Evan Lucas at IG.

RBNZ Governor Graeme Wheeler also left the door open to future cuts should economic data weaken further, adding that the currency remains overvalued despite a 17% fall against the greenback over the past year. The move surprised many economists who expected the bank to hold fire following consecutive hikes throughout 2014; the RBNZ was the first central bank in the developed world to increase rates after the global financial crisis. It’s likely to hit 68 U.S. cents over the next one to two months, warned Jonathan Cavenagh, senior FX strategist for Asia at Westpac Institutional Bank. “Given the RBNZ signaled it wasn’t done with one cut, the market will get quite aggressive with its rate outlook, leaving the Kiwi vulnerable to more downside.”

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Big shift. But conventional players will seek to invade.

Trends Show Crowdfunding To Surpass Venture Capital in 2016 (Forbes)

By 2016 the crowdfunding industry is on track to account for more funding than venture capital, according to a recent report by Massolution*. Just 5 years ago there was a relatively small market of early adopters crowdfunding online to the tune of a reported $880M in 2010. Fast forward to today and we saw $16 Billion crowdfunded in 2014, with 2015 estimated to grow to over $34 Billion. In comparison, the VC industry invests an average of $30 Billion each year. Meanwhile, the crowdfunding industry is doubling or more, every year, and is spread across several types of funding models including rewards, donation, equity, and debt/lending.

And now under new laws enacted in 2013, equity crowdfunding has sprung forth as the newest category of crowdfunding and is further accelerating this growth and disruption. If we look at what is driving this growth and change… we see that the collaborative economy has brought new disruptive models to giant existing industries like real estate and transportation, leveraging automation and the internet to create massively scalable businesses. he World Bank estimated that crowdfunding would reach $90 Billion by 2020. If the trend of doubling year over year continues, we’ll see $90 Billion by 2017. To put that in perspective, venture capital averages roughly $30 Billion per year and in 2014 accounted for roughly $45 Billion in investment, whereas angel capital averages roughly $20 Billion per year invested.

Equity crowdfunding, the newest category of crowdfunding, opened up publicly in September of 2013 under Title II of the JOBS Act and, while restricted to accredited investors only, has grown to an estimated $1 Billion invested online. In 2015 the estimate is for over $2.5 Billion to be invested through equity crowdfunding. If equity crowdfunding doubles every year like the rest of crowdfunding has, then it could reach $36 Billion by 2020 and surpass venture capital as the leading source of startup funding.

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“Microfinance has become a socially acceptable mechanism for extracting wealth and resources from poor people.”

The Microfinance Delusion: Who Really Wins? (Hickel)

What’s so fascinating about the microfinance craze is that it persists in the face of one unfortunate fact: microfinance doesn’t work. Of course, there are some lovely anecdotes out there about the transformative power of micro-loans, but as David Roodman from the Center for Global Development put it in his recent book, “The best estimate of the average impact of microcredit on the poverty of clients is zero.” This is not a fringe opinion. A comprehensive DFID-funded review of extant data comes to the same conclusion: the microfinance craze has been built on “foundations of sand” because “no clear evidence yet exists that microfinance programmes have positive impacts.” In fact, it turns out that microfinance usually ends up making poverty worse.

The reasons for this are fairly simple. Most microfinance loans are used to fund consumption – to help people buy the basic necessities they need to survive. In South Africa, for example, consumption accounts for 94% of microfinance use. As a result, borrowers don’t generate any new income that they can use to repay their loans so they end up taking out new loans to repay the old ones, wrapping themselves in layers of debt. When micro-loans are used to fund new businesses, budding entrepreneurs tend to encounter a lack of consumer demand. After all, their potential customers are poor and low on cash, and what little money they do have gets spent on basic goods that tend already to be available. In this context, new businesses end up displacing already-existing ones, yielding no net increase in employment and incomes.

And that’s the best of the likely outcomes. The worst – and much more likely – is that the new businesses fail, which then leads, once again, to vicious cycles of over-indebtedness that drive borrowers even further into poverty. This demand-side problem can be stated quite simply: poor people don’t have enough money. Apparently we need expensive research studies to point this out. The only consistent winners in the microfinance game are the lenders, many of whom charge exorbitant interest rates that sometimes reach up to 200% per annum. In the past we would have called such people loan sharks, but today they’re called microfinance providers, and they crown themselves with the moral halo that this term carries. Microfinance has become a socially acceptable mechanism for extracting wealth and resources from poor people.

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The New York Times works with Wikileaks?!

US Shifts Stance on Big Pharma in TPP Talks (NY Times)

Facing resistance from Pacific trading partners, the Obama administration is no longer demanding protection for pharmaceutical prices under the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, according to a newly leaked section of the proposed trade accord. But American negotiators are still pressing participating governments to open the process that sets reimbursement rates for drugs and medical devices. Public health professionals, generic-drug makers and activists opposed to the trade deal, which is still being negotiated, contend that it will empower big pharmaceutical firms to command higher reimbursement rates in the United States and abroad, at the expense of consumers.

“It was very clear to everyone except the U.S. that the initial proposal wasn’t about transparency. It was about getting market access for the pharmaceutical industry by giving them greater access to and influence over decision-making processes around pricing and reimbursement,” said Deborah Gleeson, a lecturer at the School of Psychology and Public Health at La Trobe University in Australia. And even though the section, known as the transparency annex, has been toned down, she said, “I think it’s a shame that the annex is still being considered at all for the TPP”.

The annex, which covers pharmaceutical and medical devices, is the latest document obtained by The New York Times in collaboration with the watchdog group WikiLeaks, and it was released before the House vote on whether to give President Obama expanded powers to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Senate has already approved legislation giving the president trade promotion authority, or fast-track power that would allow him to complete trade deals without the threat of amendments or a filibuster in Congress. A House vote on final passage of the bill, now expected on Friday, appears extremely close. [..]

Jay Taylor, vice president for international affairs for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said penetrating the opaque process for getting a drug considered for a national health system, then listed as available and properly priced, is central to free trade for drug makers. “It is market access,” he said. That is particularly true for the Pacific accord, he said, because one of the countries, New Zealand, has a powerful system for holding down drug costs — and keeping drug makers in the dark. New Zealand’s health system has been held up as a model for the Pacific region, a prospect the pharmaceutical industry does not relish.

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“..the vote had to be delayed because there were too many proposed amendments.”

TTIP Vote Postponed As European Parliament Descends Into Panic (Independent)

An historic vote on the biggest trade deal ever negotiated between the EU and the US has had to be postponed after the European Parliament descended into chaos. European MPs were due to vote on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership on Wednesday. But the vote had to be delayed because there were too many proposed amendments. “It’s panic in parliament,” Yannick Jadot, a Green MEP from France, told AFP. Ministers have disagreed over a controversial dispute mechanism that some fear would allow big companies to bypass national courts to resolve disputes with investors. Socialist groups in the European Parliament reportedly blocked the dispute mechanism on Tuesday, which resulted in the vote being postponed.

Brussels had suggested a separate investment court to resolve disputes but lawmakers in the US have insisted that this is unnecessary. David Cameron has claimed that signing the deal would add £2 billion to the UK economy every year. But the plan has been violently opposed by campaign groups across Europe that fear it would be at the expense of national services and social and environmental welfare. On Wednesday Ukip MEPs led a protest against TTIP in the European Parliament, but their efforts were ignored because the session had already closed. TTIP negotiations were initiated by Europe to speed economic recovery. Commentators have said the US is growing tired of constant delays to an agreement. “It’s now very much up to EU to decide if they want this agreement. The patience of the US is running out,” Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, director of European Centre for International Political Economy, told The Independent.

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” It would be worse than anything ever known — and it could happen in and to our generation.”

Maybe WWIII Won’t Occur, But The Damages Are Already Horrible (Zuesse)

Why is there not, in Europe, a huge movement to abandon NATO, and to kick out the U.S. military? Whom is the U.S. ‘defending’ Europeans from, after the Warsaw Pact ended in 1991? Why did not Gorbachev demand that NATO disband when the Warsaw Pact did — simultaneous (instead of one-sided) disbanding of the Cold War, so that there would not become the foundation for international fascism to arise to conquer Russia (first, to surround it by an expanding NATO — and ultimately via TPP & TTIP), in the aftermath? Why is there not considerable public debate about these crucial historical, cultural, and economic, matters? Why is there such deceit, which requires these massive questions to be ignored so long by ‘historians’?

How is it even possible for the world to move constructively forward, in this environment, of severe censorship, in the media, in academia, and throughout ‘the free world’? Why is there no outrage that the Saudi and other Arabic royals fund islamic jihad (so long as it’s not in their own countries) but America instead demonizes Russia’s leaders, who consistently oppose jihadists and jihadism? Why are America’s rulers allied with the top financiers of jihad? Why is that being kept so secret? Why are these injustices tolerated by the public? Who will change this, and how? When will that desperately needed change even start? Will it start soon enough? Maybe WW III won’t occur, but the damages are already horrible, and they’re getting worse. This can go on until the end; and, if it does, that end will make horrible look like heaven, by comparison. It would be worse than anything ever known — and it could happen in and to our generation.

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How true.

US Draws EU Into Russia Crusade, Against Our Interests – Ex-French PM (RT)

The US is drawing European states into a “crusade” against Russia, which goes against Europe’s interests, former French Prime Minister Francois Fillon has said. Speaking to French media, he stressed that Europe now is dependent on Washington. “Today, Europe is not independent… The US is drawing us [the EU] into a crusade against Russia, which contradicts the interests of Europe,” Fillon told the BFMTV channel. The ex-French prime minister, who served in Nicolas Sarkozy’s government from 2007 till 2012, lashed out at Washington and its policies. Washington, Fillon said, pursues “extremely dangerous” policies in the Middle East that the EU and European states have to agree with. He accused German intelligence of spying on France “not in the interests of Germany but in the interests of the United States.”

Fillon pointed out that Washington is pressurizing Germany to concede to Greece and find a compromise. He noted the “American justice system” often interferes with the work of “European justice systems.” “Europe is not independent,” the ex-PM said, calling for “a broad debate on how Europe can regain its independence.” This, however, would not be possible if Europe goes ahead and signs the TTIP, a proposed EU-US treaty, which has drawn much criticism for its secretiveness and lack of accountability. “I am definitely against signing this agreement [TTIP] in the form in which it is now,” he added.

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In the next step of its campaign to look ridiculous (after yesterday’s ignorant Francesco Giavazzi rant on Greece), the FT has a poll on something it simply made up.

Poll Highlights Divisions Among Public On Tackling Ukraine Crisis (RT)

Barely half of voters in Nato states would support a military response to an attack on an alliance member, according to a 10-country survey that highlights divisions on how to respond to Russia and the Ukraine crisis. The outbreak of war in Ukraine last year has brought mistrust between Russia and the west to cold-war levels, with the public in Nato countries blaming Moscow for the violence and the Russian public rallying behind Vladimir Putin, their president. Yet the poll, based on more than 11,000 interviews in 10 countries and conducted by the Pew Research Centre, showed the limits of European public tolerance for an escalation in military support for Ukraine, or indeed for standing by the Nato commitment to mutual defence.

Fewer than half of respondents in the UK, Poland, Spain, France, Italy and Germany would back using force to help defend a Nato ally that was under military threat from Russia. But in most countries more than two-thirds thought the US would use military force in such an event, although in Poland just 49% thought Washington would intervene. The findings highlight political vulnerabilities that Nato officials fear Russia seeks to exploit, aiming to aggravate divisions on European measures against Russia such as sanctions while instilling doubts about the Nato alliance. Some of the starkest differences of opinion within the alliance are between the US and Germany. Almost two-thirds of Americans support Ukrainian membership of Nato compared with about a third of Germans. While 46% of Americans back sending arms to Ukraine, just 19% of Germans do.

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Short term.

Why Our Brains Don’t Process The Gravest Threats To Humanity (Brian Merchant)

Our brains are incredible little mushboxes; they are unfathomably complex, powerful organs that grant us motor skills, logic, and abstract thought. Brains have bequeathed unto we humans just about every cognitive advantage, it seems, except for one little omission: the ability to adequately process the concept of long-term, civilization-threatening phenomena. They’ve proven miracle workers for the short-term survival of individuals, but the human brain sort of malfunctions when it comes to navigating wide-lens, slowly-unfurling crises like climate change. Humans have, historically, proven absolutely awful, even incapable, of comprehending the large, looming—dare I say apocalyptic?—slowburn threats facing their societies.

“Our brain is essentially a get-out-of-the-way machine,” Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard says in his university’s (decidedly less flashy) version of a TED talk. “That’s why we can duck a baseball in milliseconds.” That is, our brain seems to be programmed to react best to hard, certain information—threats that unfold over generations fail to trigger our reactionary instincts. “Many environmentalists say climate change is happening too fast,” Gilbert says. “No, it’s happening too slowly. It’s not happening nearly quickly enough to get our attention.” It’s an unfortunate quirk of human psychology; it’s allowed us to outwit and outplay most other species around the globe—we’re smarter, more resourceful, more conniving—but it might also come to mean we won’t outlast them.

There are currently a host of very real, very pressing, and very long-simmering crises on our plates; climate change, sure, but also biggies like mass extinction and biodiversity loss and ocean acidification, which will take up to many decades before they become full-blown, civilization-threatening calamities. That’s why I’ve always bristled a bit at the post-colon header of Jared Diamond’s great book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. What society, comprised of humans capable of abstract thought, with fully developed brains, would actively choose to fail? “It’s been a good run, but seeing as how I am exhausted from all this rapaciousness and decadence, I hereby opt to Fall” -the Roman Empire. .

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Jun 072015
 
 June 7, 2015  Posted by at 10:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


NPC Hessick & Son Coal Co. Washington 1925

Americans Live With The Austerity Europeans Are So Concerned About (Guardian)
TiSA, TPP and TTIP Will Sideline National Laws, Wikileaks Says (Independent)
Fast-Tracking the TPP-TiSA-TTIP Trinity (Gaius Publius)
Syriza Holds Firm in Polls at 45%, Eight in 10 Still Want Euro (Kathimerini)
Varoufakis Urges Debt Relief After Tsipras Says Greece Deal Near (Bloomberg)
Putin: Speculation On Grexit Is Counterproductive (Kathimerini)
Key Points On Greek Ongoing Negotiations (Bruegel)
The Economics Of Parallel Currencies (Bruegel)
Greece And Ukraine Crises Drown Out G7 Summit Agenda (Reuters)
The Growth Of The State-Owned Trading Houses (Bloomberg)
Yellen Balks At Turning Over Files To Congress (AP)
New Toys For Flash Boys In China’s Fledgling Derivatives Market (Reuters)
All the Happy Workers (Atlantic)
Dodgy Money-Laundering Housing Deals To Come Out In The Wash (NZ Herald)
Canada Confronts Its Dark Of History Of Abuse (Guardian)
Russia ‘Never Viewed Europe As A Mistress’ – Putin (RT)
‘Third World War is Being Fought Piecemeal’: Pope Francis (RT)
Cameron, Merkel At Odds Over Plan To Settle Refugees Across Europe (Guardian)
Over 2,000 Migrants Rescued In Mediterranean Saturday, More On The Way (Reuters)

In der Not ist der Mittelweg der Tod

“If you were to ask Americans about austerity, we most likely would think you meant personal sacrifice..”

Americans Live With The Austerity Europeans Are So Concerned About (Guardian)

In 1931, James Truslow Adams, an investment banker turned Pulitzer-winning historian, wrote a book to name an idea that had been floating around since before the United States was a country. In his book, The Epic of America, Adams coined the “American Dream,” defining it as a notion “of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable.” The European upper class, he wrote, would not understand. The dream says that if you work hard enough, you can make it in the US, and it is a damnable idea if ever there was one. The dream has allowed us to ignore that our social safety net has been shredded into cobwebs, because the dream tells us that if we work hard enough, we won’t ever need a net.

And that entirely obscures reality. Stories about austerity measures in the EU don’t get much attention in the States, mainly because austerity is already our reality. Our safety net is knit together by charities and faith groups which do the work that government could more easily and efficiently accomplish. We ignore the reality that so many of our fellow citizens aren’t making it – and we ignore that the opportunity for social mobility is greater in other countries than it is here. Through the rose-colored glasses of the American Dream, the people who are falling short simply Are Not Trying Hard Enough. They’ve Earned Their Low Rung On the Ladder. Oh, and: They Are Sucking The Rest Of Us Dry.

That’s by no means the attitude of everyone, but a significant portion of our conservatives (Hello, House Speaker John Boehner. See me waving?) would have us believe that your station in life is entirely of your own making, which is nonsense. If you were to ask Americans about austerity, we most likely would think you meant personal sacrifice, and we’re not having any of that, either. Back in 1977, our then-President Jimmy Carter appeared on television in a sweater to deliver what he called an “unpleasant talk” to urge Americans to do the radical thing and turn down their thermostats. His talk was not well-received; he was not re-elected.

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It’s a simple corporate coup d’état.

TiSA, TPP and TTIP Will Sideline National Laws, Wikileaks Says (Independent)

Wikileaks has warned that governments negotiating a far-reaching global service agreement are ‘surrendering a large part of their global sovereignty’ and exacerbating the social inequality of poorer countries in the process. The Trade in Services Agreement exposed in a 17 document dump by Wikileaks on Thursday relates to ongoing negotiations to lock market liberalisations into global law. If a country like China wanted to join, it would have to scrap all discriminatory practices against foreign firms – so discrimination against a foreign firm opening a hospital in China would be banned, for example. Under the agreement, retailers like Zara or Marks & Spencers would have the right to open stores in any of the signing countries and be treated like domestic companies.

A nationalised service, such as the British telecoms industry in the eighties, would have to ensure it was not harming competition under these terms. “Nothing it will do to extend the liberalisation but it locks in those rules in case of a coup d’etat,” Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, director of European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE) and a leading author on trade diplomacy, told The Independent. However he said that fears the trade agreements will lead to the dismantling of the NHS are unfounded. “Do people really think that countries far more progressive than UK (EU countries like France, Germany or Sweden) would ever accept something that threatens their social welfare model? Do people really believe that Obama would put Obamacare up for negotiation?” Lee-Makiyama said.

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“TiSA protects the right of big money players to make a profit from “services..”

Fast-Tracking the TPP-TiSA-TTIP Trinity (Gaius Publius)

Fast Track is not just a path to TPP … it’s evil all on its own. There’s now another leaked “trade” deal, called TISA, and Fast Track will “fast-track” that one too. Want your municipal water service privatized? How about your government postal service? Read on. Most of the coverage of the Fast Track bill (formally called “Trade Promotion Authority” or TPA) moving through Congress is about how it will “grease the skids” for passage of TPP, the “next NAFTA” trade deal with 11 other Pacific rim countries. But as we pointed out here, TPA will grease the skids for anything the President sends to Congress as a “trade” bill — anything. One of the “trade” deals being negotiated now, which only the wonks have heard about, is called TISA, or Trade In Services Agreement. Fast Track legislation, if approved, will grease the TISA skids as well.

Why do you care? Because (a) TISA is also being negotiated in secret, like TPP; (b) TISA chapters have been recently leaked by Wikileaks; and (c) what’s revealed in those chapters should have Congress shutting the door on Fast Track faster and tighter than you’d shut the door on an invading army of rats headed for your apartment. Congress won’t shut that door on its own — the rats in this metaphor have bought most of its members — but it should. So it falls to us to force them. Stop Fast Track and you stop all these “trade” deals. (Joseph Stiglitz will explain below why I keep putting “trade” in quotes.) What’s TISA? It’s worse than TPP. As you read the following, keep the word “services” in mind. TISA protects the right of big money players to make a profit from “services,” any and all of them.

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How many leading European parties even have 45%?

Syriza Holds Firm in Polls at 45%, Eight in 10 Still Want Euro (Kathimerini)

An opinion poll published over the weekend showed Syriza holding a strong lead of 23.6% over New Democracy, while eight in 10 Greeks said they wanted to remain in the eurozone. According to the poll by Metron Analysis, if elections were held now, 45% of Greeks would vote for Syriza and 21.4% for ND. Such a result would allow Syriza, which co-governs with the right-wing Independent Greeks, to rule autonomously. Potami garnered 6.1%, followed by Golden Dawn on 4.4%, the Communist Party with 4.3%, ANEL with 3.2% and PASOK falling below the 3% threshold to enter Parliament with 2.9%. The survey found that 79% of Greeks want to stay in the eurozone. Nearly half (47%) said Greece should accept a proposal by creditors to secure loans, with 35% saying it should rebuff the plan. A total of 59% said they were satisfied with the government’s style of negotiation.

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Europe must get serious. They can’t afford to let the mess get bigger. But they don’t realize that.

Varoufakis Urges Debt Relief After Tsipras Says Greece Deal Near (Bloomberg)

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis rejected the latest proposal from his country’s creditors and urged them to instead consider debt relief. “As finance minister, I’ll refuse to put my signature on a deal” such as the one that’s being proposed, Varoufakis told Proto Thema newspaper. “We will not sign a deal that extends this self-feeding crisis of the last five years.” His comments come a day after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras decried the “clearly unrealistic” demands being made, even as he said the two sides were closer to a deal. A Greek plan, submitted about the same time, is still on the table and awaiting feedback, a Greek government official said by e-mail on Saturday, asking not to be identified in line with policy. [..]

Varoufakis said what was needed was “a debt restructuring that will make Greek debt sustainable, without a cost for the creditors.” He said cutting pensions was “not a reform” and what is instead needed is an investment plan. Frustration is growing. After listening to Tsipras address lawmakers on Friday night, Slovak Finance Minister Peter Kazimir said he wondered “whether this is the same Tsipras who was in Brussels and Berlin this week.” Kazimir, who commented on his social media account, said “debt restructuring is not on the table.” In a sign of how little maneuvering room there is, Greece on Thursday notified the IMF that a €300 million payment due Friday would be deferred and bundled with three more payments at the end of June. [..]

“Tsipras has his back against the wall,” said Miranda Xafa, a former Greek representative to the IMF who runs a consultancy in Athens. “If a deal is not reached next week, in time for parliamentary approval of the deal, we are staring at disorderly default, deposit withdrawals, capital controls, and social unrest. I think a deal is in the making.” Tsipras on Friday said voters are urging the government to not “succumb to the irrational, blackmailing demands of our creditors.” Even with those comments, he said Greece is “closer to a deal than ever before.” “I’m sure that in the coming days our realistic and consistent position will be vindicated,” he said.

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Putin must be stunned at what Brussels is doing.

Putin: Speculation On Grexit Is Counterproductive (Kathimerini)

Greece has the sovereign right to decide which unions and zones it wishes to be a member of, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Italian daily Corriere della Sera. In an interview published on Saturday, Putin highlighted the historically close ties and good partnership between his country and Greece. He added that Russia was developing its relationship with the country “independently of whether Greece is a member of the European Union, NATO or the eurozone.”

On the subject of whether or not Russia would be willing to assist Greece on both a political and a financial level in case of a possible eurozone exit, Putin noted that trying to guess the future would be a mistake as well as “counterproductive for both the European and the Greek economies.” The Russian president’s comments on Greece followed a discussion via telephone with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Friday during which the two leaders talked about cooperation in the energy sector. The two men also agreed to meet in Saint Petersburg during a business conference scheduled to take place in Russian’s second-largest city on June 18 to 20.

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Vast differences still linger. And Syriza has no room to give in.

Key Points On Greek Ongoing Negotiations (Bruegel)

Greek negotiations will continue next week, after Greece asked to bundle all June IMF payments at the end of the month. In the meantime, the finding of a common ground between Greece and its creditors is not yet in sight. The primary surplus issue is where positions seem to have converged the most, with the creditors moving significantly closer to the Greek position. On the VAT, the Greek government appears to have taken a U-turn compared to the proposals rumoured last month and positions on pensions and labour market remain still very far apart, with no immediate solution evident from the documents.

The negotiations over next week will be further complicated by the fact that the Greek proposal includes a section on the restructuring of its debt vis-à-vis the creditors. The details of the plan have been clarified in another leaked paper, which was published by the FT this morning. Many of the restructuring elements had been hinted at or heard before, during these months of negotiations: the plan would include (i) a buyback of the debt owed to the ECB with a ESM loan; (ii) IMF partial buyback with SMP profits; (iii) additional re profiling of the Greek Loan Facility; (iv) splitting EFSF loans in two and substitute half with a perpetuity.

None of these seems to be politically acceptable at the moment: IMF has previously appeared in favor of debt relief, provided it is done on the EU side of Greek debt; the GLF and EFSF terms have already been eased substantially and the perpetuity idea looks hardly digestible in Berlin; the ECB president Mario Draghi said yesterday that the ECB expects timely and full repayment of the SMP; and political support for the ECB/ESM swap idea looks elusive. Given the postponement of IMF payments, the hard deadline becomes the redemption of debt due to the ECB in July. But for the agreement to be signed off nationally and money to be disbursed on time, a deal should be reached sooner. Time is running out, and options would start to look scarce, even to the most resourceful Ulysses.

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Chances of a parallel currency in Greece are rising fast: “..a source of liquidity for the governments that is outside the bond markets, does not involve the banks and lies outside any of the restrictions..”

The Economics Of Parallel Currencies (Bruegel)

What’s at stake: As Greece faces a severe shortage of euros, the idea of introducing a parallel currency used for some domestic transactions – while keeping the euro in place for existing bank deposits and for foreign transactions – has made a comeback. Although historical examples of parallel currencies exist, the analysis of the idea remains in its infancy. It remains unclear whether and how one could find the right mechanics. Biagio Bossone and Marco Cattaneo write that according to several recent media reports, both the Greek government and the ECB are taking into consideration the possibility (for Greece) to issue a parallel domestic currency to pay for government expenditures, including civil servant salaries, pensions, etc. This could happen in the coming weeks as Greece faces a severe shortage of euros. A new domestic currency would help make payments to public employees and pensioners while freeing up the euros needed to pay out creditors.

Ludwig Schuster writes that at the present time, we are talking about around thirty recent proposals calling for a parallel currency in the eurozone, and these have been coming from very different backgrounds. While specific proposals have been mentioned now and again in the media, the response has been barely discernible. Ludwig Schuster writes that the idea of parallel currencies was discussed before the creation of the euro. It was, for example, proposed to first introduce the euro complementary to the national currencies, to soften the transition to complete integration. As we now know, the political decision-makers went down a different path. Similarly, following reunification, the German Federal Government decided to take the Ostmark out of circulation after introducing the Deutschmark instead of keeping it as a secondary currency during a transition phase (the then Minister of Finance, Oskar Lafontaine, was unable to gain support for this idea).

John Cochrane writes that in modern financial markets, a country doesn’t even need the right to print money in order to, well, print money! Bonds are money these days. Greece can print up small-denomination zero-coupon bearer bonds, essentially IOUs. Gavyn Davies writes these IOUs would not formally be given the status of legal tender, since this is explicitly against the terms of the treaties. Yanis Varousfakis writes that the great advantage of such schemes is that it creates a source of liquidity for the governments that is outside the bond markets, does not involve the banks and lies outside any of the restrictions imposed by European institutions. Biagio Bossone and Marco Cattaneo write that the introduction of a Greek parallel currency could take place in at least two ways. The first avenue would be for Greece to issue IOUs, i.e., promises to pay to the bearer euros upon a future time expiration. Basically, these IOUs would be euro denominated debt obligations issued and used to replace euros to pay salaries, pensions, etc.

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17.000 police to protect 7 ‘leaders’…

Greece And Ukraine Crises Drown Out G7 Summit Agenda (Reuters)

Leaders from the Group of Seven (G7) industrial nations meet on Sunday in the Bavarian Alps for a summit overshadowed by Greece’s debt crisis and ongoing violence in Ukraine. Host Angela Merkel is hoping to secure commitments from her G7 guests to tackle global warming to build momentum in the run-up to a major United Nations climate summit in Paris in December. The German agenda also foresees discussions on global health issues, from Ebola to antibiotics and tropical diseases. But on the evening before the German chancellor welcomes the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Japan and the United States, she and French President Francois Hollande were forced into their fourth emergency phone call in 10 days with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to try to break a deadlock between Athens and its international creditors.

The two sides have been wrangling for months over the terms of a cash-for-reform deal for Greece. Without aid from euro zone partners and the IMF, Greece could default on its loans within weeks, possibly forcing it out of the currency bloc. An upsurge of violence in eastern Ukraine will also play a prominent role at the meeting at Schloss Elmau, a luxury hotel perched in the picturesque mountains of southern Germany near the Austrian border. European monitors have blamed the bloodshed on Russian-backed separatists and the leaders could decide at the summit to send a strong message to President Vladimir Putin, who was frozen out of what used to be the G8 after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea last year.

Ahead of the gathering, thousands of anti-G7 protesters marched in the nearby town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen on Saturday. There were sporadic clashes with police and several marchers were taken to hospital with injuries, but the violence was minor compared to some previous summits. The Germans have deployed 17,000 police around the former winter Olympic games venue at the foot of Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze. Another 2,000 are on stand-by across the border in Austria.

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Arguably, the TTP et al treaties will end this too.

The Growth Of The State-Owned Trading Houses (Bloomberg)

When Azerbaijan’s Socar took over the storied commodity trader Phibro this year, it put a stamp on a new trend: the emergence of giant state enterprises to buy and sell natural resources. Azerbaijan is not alone: Saudi Arabia, China, Oman, Thailand and Russia are also building or expanding government-owned firms to procure and market commodities directly, bypassing the traditional oil and grain traders such as Glencore, Cargill, Vitol Group and Trafigura. “Countries want to secure the offtake of their production or they want to secure supplies,” Socar Trading Chief Executive Officer Arzu Azimov said in an interview. “There is a trend of national companies building trading arms. The new cadre of state trading houses has deep pockets and lofty ambitions.

They have built their capabilities through acquisitions and rapid organic growth, often poaching executives from U.S. and European competitors to do it. And over time, they could damage the business model of the current dominant groups. “The growth of the state-owned traders is making it harder for the established houses,” said Andrew Montague-Fuller, director of energy consultants Molten Group. Socar purchased the remnants of Phibro in March. The U.S. firm, which once owned investment bank Salomon Brothers and dominated commodity markets for most of the past century, had been scaling back for a decade.

Commodity houses serve as the middlemen of global trade, controlling the flow of fuels, grains and metals between groups such as Exxon Mobil and FedEx or coffee farmers in Africa and Nestle. Executives from non-state traders have given a guarded welcome to the new entities. “State-owned trading houses are a new source of competition and will undoubtedly change the market dynamics, but will also create opportunities and will be clients for trading firms,” said Pierre Lorinet, chief financial officer of Trafigura. That’s because the new houses don’t yet have the capacity to handle all aspects of trading. Yet the threat from large new rivals is obvious, with the state firms eating into the commodity flows of the traditional traders and enjoying privileged access to the natural resources of the countries that own them.

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Who governs the nation, you said?

Yellen Balks At Turning Over Files To Congress (AP)

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is balking at turning over some of the documents ordered by a key House lawmaker in his investigation of a possible leak of market-sensitive information. Yellen has told Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, who heads the House Financial Services Committee, that she can’t provide some documents sought by his subpoena because doing so could jeopardize a criminal investigation by the Justice Department and the Fed’s watchdog inspector general. Yellen said the inspector general has told the Fed that the documents in question – which include records related to an earlier internal review by the Fed’s general counsel – should not be provided.

“The Federal Reserve is mindful that we must not impede that open criminal investigation,” Yellen wrote in a letter to Hensarling Thursday. The move escalated a months-long battle between the Fed chair and the lawmaker over an alleged leak in 2012 of interest-rate information to a financial newsletter. Hensarling, a vocal critic of the Fed, issued a subpoena to the central bank last month, saying it had repeatedly failed to adequately respond to the panel’s questions and requests for documents. He has said that his committee is trying to determine whether or not the Fed’s probe was dropped at the request of several members of its policymaking body.

The Fed told the committee in March that its own investigation found no evidence that sensitive information was deliberately leaked from the September 2012 interest-rate policy meeting. Any disclosure of information on Fed policymakers’ views appeared to have been “unintentional or careless” and did not contain details of policy proposals, the Fed concluded. An aide to Hensarling said the central bank has “not provided a valid legal justification for its failure to provide complete and adequate responses to the committee.” “The Fed once again is acting in a manner that can only be characterized as resistant to accountability, transparency and oversight,” Jeff Emerson, an aide to Hensarling, said in a statement.

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Creating bigger losses.

New Toys For Flash Boys In China’s Fledgling Derivatives Market (Reuters)

The rapid liberalization of Chinese derivatives markets has attracted a new breed of creative traders employing complex trading strategies that can generate quick profits – and an extra dollop of risk – in China’s runaway stock boom.
Brokerages and fund managers are investing in mathematics whizzes and hardware, and moving servers onto trading floors to gain precious microseconds dealing in new options and futures contracts, helping China’s CSI300 index become the world’s most traded equity futures contract in May. The introduction of new derivative products is intended to help investors hedge risk, but it also gives rise to the kind of sophisticated trading strategies that have made quick-trading “flash boys” notorious in the United States and Europe.

For the most part the strategies and the traders employing them are untested in China, where the derivatives market barely existed five years ago, and slick automated trading strategies can produce horrific crashes when they go wrong. “Currently, there are many hedging tools in the market, but liquidity and stability is still a problem the hedge fund industry needs to address,” Hong Lei, deputy head of China’s Asset Management Association, told an industry forum last month. “China’s market is highly inefficient, which means it’s relatively easy to produce absolute returns,” said Ken Zhu, Chairman and CEO of hedge fund firm Scientific Investment.

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“..around 20% of employees in North America and Europe are “actively disengaged.”

All the Happy Workers (Atlantic)

The end of capitalism has often been imagined as a crisis of epic proportions. Perhaps a financial crisis will occur that is so vast not even government finances can rescue the system. Maybe the rising anger of exploited individuals will gradually congeal into a political movement, leading to revolution. Might some single ecological disaster bring the system to a halt? Most optimistically, capitalism might be so innovative that it will eventually produce its own superior successor, through technological invention. But in the years that have followed the demise of state socialism in the early 1990s, a more lackluster possibility has arisen. What if the greatest threat to capitalism, at least in the liberal West, is simply lack of enthusiasm and activity? What if, rather than inciting violence or explicit refusal, contemporary capitalism is just met with a yawn?

From a political point of view, this would be somewhat disappointing. Yet it is no less of an obstacle for the longer-term viability of capitalism. Without a certain level of commitment on the part of employees, businesses run into some very tangible problems, which soon show up in their profits. This fear has gripped the imaginations of managers and policymakers in recent years, and not without reason. Various studies of employee engagement have highlighted the economic costs of allowing workers to become mentally withdrawn from their jobs. Gallup conducts frequent and wide-ranging studies in this area and has found that only 13% of the global workforce is properly “engaged,” while around 20% of employees in North America and Europe are “actively disengaged.” They estimate that active disengagement costs the U.S. economy as much as $550 billion a year.

Disengagement is believed to manifest itself in absenteeism, sickness and—sometimes more problematic—presenteeism, in which employees come into the office purely to be physically present. A Canadian study suggests over a quarter of workplace absence is due to general burnout, rather than sickness. Few private-sector managers are required to negotiate with unions any longer, but nearly all of them confront a much trickier challenge, of dealing with employees who are regularly absent, unmotivated, or suffering from persistent, low-level mental-health problems. Resistance to work no longer manifests itself in organized voice or outright refusal, but in diffuse forms of apathy and chronic health problems. The border separating general ennui from clinical mental-health problems is especially challenging to managers in 21st century workplaces, seeing as it requires them to ask personal questions on matters that they are largely unqualified to deal with.

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And only now are people starting to look at where the money comes from that blows the bubbles.

Dodgy Money-Laundering Housing Deals To Come Out In The Wash (NZ Herald)

The Government’s pre-Budget announcement of its two-year “bright line” tax on capital gains surprised a few people and captured headlines. But the accompanying news that non-residents buying property would first have to open a bank account here, get an IRD number and declare their own passport and home tax details may have a bigger impact. The Government is pointing to this measure as having the most potential to reduce foreign demand for Auckland properties and Prime Minister John Key has indicated information on non-resident buying would be gathered and published. He said New Zealand tax authorities would also share these details with foreign tax authorities.

The elephant in the room of Auckland’s property debate is whether some of the money pouring into Auckland, from China in particular, is money laundering of ill-gotten funds. Without any data, the debate is fuelled by anecdote and rumour, but the issue is capturing global attention. In November, China’s President Xi Jinping asked for Key’s help to track down a number of Chinese nationals who had fled to New Zealand with allegedly corruptly obtained funds. This was part of Xi’s campaign to crack down on the “tigers and flies” officials and their cronies. Chinese authorities say New Zealand is the third most popular destination for such fugitives. The issue of money laundering from China is heating up in Australia, too, where data on how much property is bought by non-residents is collected.

More than 25% of all new and existing homes sold last year in Sydney and Melbourne were sold to non-residents, leaving many across the Tasman asking where the money came from. The investments have sparked calls for tougher laws governing money laundering. This is where the money laundering issue becomes more topical and direct for New Zealanders, and in particular the real estate agents, solicitors and accountants who handle money flowing out of China and into New Zealand. New Zealand introduced anti-money laundering rules for banks, insurers, finance companies, share brokers, fund managers and even loan sharks in 2013 that requires them to ask tougher questions about who they open accounts for and where the money comes from.

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What a dark tale.

Canada Confronts Its Dark Of History Of Abuse (Guardian)

Sue Caribou contracts pneumonia once a year, like clockwork. The recurring illness stems from her childhood years at one of Canada’s horrific residential schools. “I was thrown into a cold shower every night, sometimes after being raped”, the frail 50-year-old indigenous mother of six said, matter-of-factly. Caribou was snatched from her parents’ house in 1972 by the state-funded, church-run Indian Residential School system that brutally attempted to assimilate native children for over a century. She was only seven years old. “We had to stand like soldiers while singing the national anthem, otherwise, we would be beaten up”, she recalled. Caribou said Catholic missionaries physically and sexually abused her until 1979 at the Guy Hill institution, in the east of the province of Manitoba.

She said she was called a “dog”, was forced to eat rotten vegetables and was forbidden to speak her native language of Cree. “I vowed to myself that if I ever get out alive of that horrible place, I would speak up and fight for our rights”, she said. Her voice and that of 150,000 other residential school pupils was finally heard across the nation this week as Canada faced one of the darkest chapters in its history. The head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), set up to examine the school system’s legacy, did not mince his words when he unveiled his landmark report. “Canada clearly participated in a period of cultural genocide”, declared Justice Murray Sinclair to cries and applause of survivors in Ottawa.

Although prime minister Stephen Harper apologised for the school system in 2008 (as did the Roman Catholic Church in 2009), his government has always denied that it was a form of genocide. Many survivors who gathered in Ottawa felt empowered for the first time in their life after hearing findings of the six-year-long commission. It feels like our story is validated at last and is out there for the world to see”, said a tearful 58 year-old Cindy Tom-Lindley, who is executive director of the Indian Residential School Survivor Society in British Columbia. “We were too scared as children to speak out. So to give our testimonies to the commission was liberating and emotional.”

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The west has only one, entirely fictional, narrative left.

Russia ‘Never Viewed Europe As A Mistress’ – Putin (RT)

Russia has never sought a no-obligation kind of relationship with Europe, and has always called for a serious partnership, President Vladimir Putin said in an interview that touched on EU sanctions, energy disputes and severed business ties with Ukraine. “We have never viewed Europe as a mistress,” Putin told Il Corriere della Sera on the eve of his visit to Italy. “I am quite serious now. We have always proposed a serious relationship. But now I have the impression that Europe has actually been trying to establish material-based relations with us, and solely for its own gain.” Putin said the “deterioration in relations” between Moscow and the EU states was not Russia’s fault. “This was not our choice,” Putin said.

“It was dictated to us by our partners. It was not we who introduced restrictions on trade and economic activities. Rather, we were the target and we had to respond with retaliatory, protective measures.” The Russian president recalled the “notorious” Third Energy Package and Brussels’ denial of access for Russian nuclear energy products to the European market – despite all the existing agreements. The EU is also reluctant to acknowledge the legitimacy of Russia’s integration attempts on the territory of the former USSR, initially the Customs Union, which was later succeeded by the Eurasian Economic Union. “It is all right when integration takes place in Europe, but if we do the same in the territory of the former Soviet Union, they try to explain it by Russia’s desire to restore an empire,” Putin said. “I don’t understand the reasons for such an approach.”

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“..in the context of global communications, we sense an atmosphere of war..”

‘Third World War is Being Fought Piecemeal’: Pope Francis (RT)

Pope Francis has attacked what he called “the atmosphere of war,” which he believes is hampering the world. He also attacked those profiteering from war and those engaging in arms sales, as he led a mass in Bosnia on Saturday. Francis received a joyous welcome from around 100,000 people who lined the streets of Sarajevo, Bosnia’s capital, as his motorcade made its way to the national stadium, where the pontiff celebrated mass for a mainly Catholic audience of around 65,000, speaking in Italian. Many conflicts across the planet amount to “a kind of Third World War being fought piecemeal and, in the context of global communications, we sense an atmosphere of war,” the pontiff said, according to AFP.

“Some wish to incite and foment this atmosphere deliberately,” he added, attacking those who want to foster division for political ends or profit from war through arms dealing. “But war means children, women and the elderly in refugee camps; it means forced displacement, destroyed houses, streets and factories: above all countless shattered lives.” “You know this well having experienced it here,” he added, alluding to the wars that preceded the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. Security was tight, with thousands of police officers lining the route taken by the pope. Shops and cafes were closed, while local residents were told not to open their windows or stand on their balconies. Just prior to the visit, Islamists claiming to be members of the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) called for Muslims to take-up jihad in the Balkans.

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Fiddling as they drown.

Cameron, Merkel At Odds Over Plan To Settle Refugees Across Europe (Guardian)

David Cameron is set to clash with Angela Merkel at the G7 summit over her plans for a pan-EU distribution of the migrants coming across the Mediterranean from north Africa, with the British prime minister insistent that such measures will only encourage the traffickers. The German chancellor has said that finding a way forward on the migration crisis will be a priority during the two-day talks starting in Bavaria on Sunday. She has previously said there should be a new EU system that distributes asylum seekers to member states based on their population and economic strength. Merkel is expected to make further such calls in the days to come.

Downing Street, however, insists that it will not go along with any such plans. Government officials claim they would deal only with the symptoms and not the cause of the humanitarian disaster. One government official said: “The more the traffickers see that people are being resettled, the greater the incentive there is for them.” As part of his freshly announced agenda of tackling corruption, officials said Cameron would instead argue that attempts to dismantle the human trafficking networks should remain the focus, although the idea of an EU military force destroying boats in the Mediterranean has been rejected by the Libyan authorities. The prime minister of the government in Tripoli said recently that he was ready to repel any such action, likening it to the “colonial mentality” of the Italian occupiers of Libya last century.

A Downing Street source said talks with the authorities in Tripoli were ongoing, but would not be drawn on suggestions that the EU would go ahead without Libya’s approval. “We are not there yet,” the source said. However, Hilary Benn, the shadow foreign secretary, suggested that the government could not rely on Labour’s support if it sought to go ahead with such military plans. Benn told the Observer: “The movement of migrants across the Mediterranean has now reached crisis point. As we know, thousands of innocent people have died and hundreds of thousands of others have been put at risk.” But although he was clear traffickers were to blame, he said, it was essential that “any action taken to deal with that trade is backed by the UN security council, has clear rules of engagement and has the consent of the relevant Libyan authorities”.

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500,000 people are reported to wait in Lybia to make the crossing.

Over 2,000 Migrants Rescued In Mediterranean Saturday, More On The Way (Reuters)

More than 2,000 migrants were rescued from five wooden boats in the Mediterranean on Saturday and as many as seven other vessels have been reported at sea, the privately funded Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) and Italy’s coastguard said. “MOAS coordinated the rescue of over 2,000 people together with Italian, Irish and Germany ships,” the group tweeted. The migrants were packed onto wooden fishing boats in the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast. Italy’s coastguard, which coordinates sea rescue efforts in from Rome, could not confirm the number of migrants who had been saved so far, but said about a dozen different migrant boats had been reported and rescue operations were ongoing. “We have several assets at work,” a coastguard spokesman said.

During the first five months of the year, there were 46,500 sea arrivals in Italy, a 12% increase on the same period of last year, the UN refugee agency said. Italy’s government projects 200,000 will come this year, up from 170,000 in 2014. The summer months are usually the busiest period for departures because the calm seas make the crossing easier. This year growing anarchy in Libya – the last point on one of the main transit routes to Europe – is giving free hand to people smugglers who make an average of €80,000 from each boatload, according to an ongoing investigation by an Italian court. MOAS, which is operating a privately funded rescue operation with Doctors without Borders, said its Phoenix ship plucked 372 mostly Eritreans from one boat. The Italian navy said one of its ships was still trying to remove about 560 from a wooden boat, while another navy ship has finished rescuing 316 from yet another.

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May 062015
 


Jack Delano Foggy night in New Bedford, Massachusetts 1941

Death Of The American Dream As A Big Bubble Readies To Pop (MarketWatch)
US Trade Deficit Soars To Worst Since 2008; Q1 GDP To Be Negative (Zero Hedge)
3 Out Of 4 US Retirees Receive Reduced Social Security Benefits (MarketWatch)
One In Five US Adults Have No Credit Score, Can’t Borrow Money (MarketWatch)
California’s Drought Could Upend America’s Entire Food System (ThinkProgress)
Steve Keen Explains Why Austerity Policies Are Naïve (EIUk)
Germany’s Record Trade Surplus Is A Bigger Threat To Euro Than Greece (AEP)
It’s Not Greek ATMs Running Out of Cash. It’s Germany’s (Bloomberg)
Greek Government Takes Aim At Creditors Over Stalled Bailout Talks (Guardian)
Greece Says Compromise Not Possible Under Current Conditions (Bloomberg)
Debt Talks On Hold Until Greece Agrees Reforms, Warns Moscovici (FT)
Varoufakis’ First 100 Days: All Style, No Substance? (CNBC)
Greece To Finalise Airports Deal ‘Immediately’ (Reuters)
Why Elizabeth Warren Makes Bankers So Uneasy, and So Quiet
China Mulls New Monetary Tool That ‘The World Has Never Seen’ (Caixin)
CFR Says China Must Be Defeated And TPP Is Essential To That (Zuesse)
Forget Tanks. Russia’s Ruble Is Conquering Eastern Ukraine (Bloomberg)
Moscow’s Last Stand: How Soviet Troops Defeated Nazis For First Time In WW2 (RT)

“..given the palpable sense of investor uneasiness lately, weakness on the social landscape bears watching.”

Death Of The American Dream As A Big Bubble Readies To Pop (MarketWatch)

Retail appetite for risk may be drying up, if last week’s unsettling action in the sexy social-media corner of the market is any indication. Sure, Friday ended with a strong push for the major indexes, but that didn’t erase the sting of a stretch that saw 20% post-result drops for Twitter, LinkedIn and Yelp. Broad market bellwethers they ain’t, of course. That doesn’t, however, mean this double-digit blip should be shrugged off like a wayward Pacquiao punch. When the frothy names get rocked, market mood tends to change. It’s too early to draw any ghastly conclusions, but given the palpable sense of investor uneasiness lately, weakness on the social landscape bears watching.

The flip side is that dip-buyers over the past few years have generally pounced when their faves wobble. This is also something to keep an eye on as the week pushes forward. A rebound, and it’s business as usual. Further weakness, and it’s beware the unravel. At this point, there’s no bounce in the making for that social-media trio ahead of the bell. And the rest of the market is poised to open in the red, with the must-watch jobs report due at the end of the week. Big-picture, those fretting about the potential for a tech bubble might want to gird against what’s about to happen to the American Dream. Again. The “smart money” is signaling trouble ahead in housing.

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Recession looming. Remind me, in what quarter was the growth 5%?

US Trade Deficit Soars To Worst Since 2008; Q1 GDP To Be Negative (Zero Hedge)

After shrinking notably in Feb, March’s US Trade deficit exploded. Against expectations of a $41.7bn deficit, the US generated a $51.4bn deficit – the worst since Oct 2008 and the biggest miss on record. Exports rose just $1.6bn while imports soared $17.1bn with the goods deficit with China soaring from $27.3bn to $37.8bn in March. Ironically, just as the “harsh winter” was found to lead to a GDP boost due to a surge in utility spending, so the West Coast port strike which was blamed for the GDP drop, was actually benefiting the US economy as it lead to a plunge in imports. In March, however, the pipeline was cleared, and US imports from China soared by over $10 billion to $38 billion. End result: prepare for upcoming Q1 GDP downgrades into negative territory, which with a Q2 GDP of 0.8% (per the Atlanta Fed) means the US is this close to a technical recession.

The increase in imports of goods mainly reflected increases in consumer goods ($9.0 billion), in capital goods ($4.0 billion), and in automotive vehicles, parts, and engines ($2.7 billion). A decrease occurred in petroleum and products ($1.1 billion). The goods deficit with China increased from $27.3 billion in February to $37.8 billion in March. From the report: The U.S. monthly international trade deficit increased in March 2015 according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and the U.S. Census Bureau. The deficit increased from $35.9 billion in February (revised) to $51.4 billion in March, as imports increased more than exports. The previously published February deficit was $35.4 billion. The goods deficit increased $14.9 billion from February to $70.6 billion in March. The services surplus decreased $0.6 billion from February to $19.2 billion in March.

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And that’s just the beginning.

3 Out Of 4 US Retirees Receive Reduced Social Security Benefits (MarketWatch)

Growing numbers of workers expect to rely heavily on Social Security as a major source of income in retirement, but almost three-quarters of current retirees are receiving reduced benefits, according to two new reports. According to a recent Gallup survey, 36% of adults who are not yet retired expect Social Security to be a “major source” of retirement income. That figure is roughly 10 percentage points higher than a decade ago and higher than any response in the past 15 years. Of course, the best way to maximize Social Security is to delay claiming benefits until “full retirement age,” which is climbing gradually to 67, or beyond. A person due to receive a benefit of $1,000 at a full retirement age of 66 would receive only $750 at age 62 (the earliest age at which most people can claim benefits) – and $1,320 at age 70.

But that math isn’t stopping many workers from claiming benefits early. Among the 37.9 million Americans receiving Social Security retirement benefits as of December 2013, fully 73% were receiving reduced benefits “because of entitlement prior to full retirement age,” according to a new report from the Social Security Administration. Relatively more women (75.4%) than men (70.3%) received reduced benefits. The findings come at a time when the Social Security program itself is straining to meet demands and when many workers are anxious about the size of their nest eggs. Currently, the Social Security Administration is tapping the interest on the program’s trust funds to pay beneficiaries and, soon, will begin drawing down the assets themselves.

At the moment, the trust fund is scheduled to run out in 2033, after which Social Security recipients would receive about 75% of their benefits. Against that backdrop, a recent Wells Fargo/Gallup survey found that only 28% of non-retired investors are very confident they will have enough savings at the time they decide to retire. An additional 48% are somewhat confident. The latest Gallup survey concludes: “To the degree [workers’] savings are not sufficient to fund their retirement, [they] will have to make up the shortfall somehow. The guaranteed Social Security benefit is an obvious way to do that, if not by also seeking part-time work or scaling back their standard of living considerably.”

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“..disproportionately Black or Hispanic..”

One In Five US Adults Have No Credit Score, Can’t Borrow Money (MarketWatch)

One in 10 U.S. adults is invisible to much of the American economy because they have no credit report or score, a new report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has found. Those 26 million adults — disproportionately Black or Hispanic — have virtually no chance to borrow money or use credit cards. And another 19 million adults have credit reports so “thin” that they are unscoreable by traditional methods, and also left behind by the credit system. Together, that means 45 million Americans — one in five adults — have no traditional credit score. “Today’s report sheds light on the millions of Americans who are credit invisible,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray.

“A limited credit history can create real barriers for consumers looking to access the credit that is often so essential to meaningful opportunity — to get an education, start a business, or buy a house. Further, some of the most economically vulnerable consumers are more likely to be credit invisible.” The CFPB found that 188.6 million American adults have credit records that can be scored using traditional models, or 80% of the population. Most of the Americans left behind by traditional scoring methods are young. Over 10 million of the estimated 26 million credit invisibles are younger than 25, the CFPB found.

The findings are consistent with other recent studies about the “credit invisibles.” FICO, which created the most widely-used formula for credit scoring, told The Wall Street Journal last month that 25 million Americans have no credit events on file and an additional 28 million have thin files. VantageScore, which offers an alternative to FICO scores, said last year that 30-35 million Americans don’t have a traditional credit score. Among those with thin files, the CFPB said the group was evenly split between those who have an insufficient credit history and those who lack a recent credit history.

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Much has to shift to other states.

California’s Drought Could Upend America’s Entire Food System (ThinkProgress)

On April 1, California Governor Jerry Brown stood in a field in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, beige grass stretching out across an area that should have been covered with five feet of snow. The Sierra’s snowpack — the frozen well that feeds California’s reservoirs and supplies a third of its water — was just 8% of its yearly average. That’s a historic low for a state that has become accustomed to breaking drought records. In the middle of the snowless field, Brown took an unprecedented step, mandating that urban agencies curtail their water use by 25%, a move that would save some 500 billion gallons of water by February of 2016 — a seemingly huge amount, until you consider that California’s almond industry, for example, uses more than twice that much water annually. Yet Brown’s mandatory cuts did not touch the state’s agriculture industry.

Agriculture requires water, and large-scale agriculture, like that in California, requires large amounts of water. So when Governor Brown came under fire for exempting farmers from the mandatory cuts — farmers use 80% of the state’s available water — he was unmoved. “They’re not watering their lawn or taking long showers,” he told ABC’s “The Week”. “They’re providing most of the fruits and vegetables of America to a significant part of the world.” Almonds get a lot of the attention when it comes to California’s agriculture and water, but the state is responsible for a dizzying diversity of produce. Eaten a salad recently? Odds are the lettuce, carrots, and celery came from California. Have a soft spot for stone fruit? California produces 84% of the country’s fresh peaches and 94% of the country’s fresh plums. It produces 99% of the artichokes grown in the United States, and 94% of the broccoli.

As spring begins to creep in, almost half of asparagus will come from California. “California is running through its water supply because, for complicated historical and climatological reasons, it has taken on the burden of feeding the rest of the country,” Steven Johnson wrote in Medium, pointing out that California’s water problems are actually a national problem — for better or for worse, the trillions of gallons of water California agriculture uses annually is the price we all pay for supermarket produce aisles stocked with fruits and vegetables. Up to this point, feats of engineering and underground aquifers have made the drought somewhat bearable for California’s farmers. But if dry conditions become the new normal, how much longer can — and should — California’s fields feed the country? And if they can no longer do so, what should the rest of the country do?

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MUST SEE! Brilliant exposé.

Steve Keen Explains Why Austerity Policies Are Naïve (EIUk)

In an exclusive interview with Every Investor, Professor Steve Keen from Kingston University has warned that politicians who promote austerity economics are naïve. The economist, who was one of the few who predicted the Great Recession, warned last year that the US and UK economies wouldn’t make a sustainable recovery due to the problem of high levels of private debt – public debt being more a symptom than a cause of this economic malaise. In this interview he gives a detailed explanation as to why the austerity-heavy economic policy of the Conservatives (and the Liberal Democrats), and the austerity-lite version from Lab is naïve and will lead not to economic growth but to economic stagnation.

Indeed, while not endorsing any political party, he does acknowledge that the economic policies of the SNP and Greens make more sense. This is a video that needs to be watched. It will give you insights that most professional economists appear to lack. (Hence, their evident surprise at news that the UK and US are slowing down). It should also encourage investors to be in ‘risk-off’ mode, which seems very sensible given likely market volatility that will follow the election and the grave economic news that we can expect this year.

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Germany violates a lot of EU agreements. It could face huge fines.

Germany’s Record Trade Surplus Is A Bigger Threat To Euro Than Greece (AEP)

Germany’s current account surplus is out of control. The European Commission’s Spring forecasts show that it will smash all previous records this year, reaching a modern-era high of 7.9pc of GDP. It will still be 7.7pc in 2016. Vague assurances that the surplus would fall over time have once again come to nothing. The country is now the biggest single violator of the eurozone stability rules. It would face punitive sanctions if EU treaty law was enforced. Brussels told Germany to do its “homework” a year ago, but recoiled from taking any action. We will see if Jean-Claude Juncker’s commission does any better this time. If not, cynics might justifiably conclude that big countries play by their own rules in Europe, and that Germany can defy all rules. The EMU punishment machinery is highly political, in any case.

The story of the EMU debt crisis is that the authorities persistently enforce a creditor agenda rather than macro-economic welfare (an entirely different matter). This is the fifth consecutive year that Germany’s surplus has been above 6pc of GDP. The EU’s Macroeconomic Imbalance Procedure states that the Commission should launch infringement proceedings if this occurs for three years in a row, unless there is a clear reason not to. There are few extenuating circumstances in this case. Germany’s surplus is not caused by a one-off shock. The surplus remains huge even if adjusted for lower energy import costs. It is a chronic structural abuse, rendering monetary union unworkable over time, and is surely more dangerous for eurozone unity than anything going on in Greece. “The European Commission should stop pulling its punches: Germany should be fined,” said Simon Tilford, from the Centre for European Reform.

“Their surplus should be treated in the same way as the southern deficits were treated earlier, as a comparable threat to eurozone stability. What is so worrying is that the surplus would normally be falling rapidly at this stage of the economic cycle,” he said. Germany’s jobless rate is at a post-Reunification low of 4.7pc. It should therefore be enjoying a surge of consumption. This it is not happening because the rebalancing mechanism is jammed. What this shows is the EMU remains fundamentally out of kilter, and doomed to lurch from crisis to crisis even if there is a recovery. Any rebound in southern Europe will lead to the same build-up in intra-EMU trade imbalances, and therefore in the same offsetting capital flows, vendor-debt financing, and asset bubbles that led to the EMU crisis in the first place.

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Major strikes for more pay.

It’s Not Greek ATMs Running Out of Cash. It’s Germany’s (Bloomberg)

European travelers have contended for weeks with the possibility that Greece’s dwindling finances might lead to empty ATMs. They should have concerned themselves instead with Germany. While cash machines in Athens are still operating without any trouble, striking couriers in Berlin this week stopped filling ATMs, leading to a crunch for those trying to make withdrawals. And the open-ended labor dispute with a local security company means there’s no end in sight. “That all depends on how the company reacts,” said Andreas Splanemann, a spokesman for the Ver.di union representing the security personnel. “There are now a lot of cash machines that are empty.” Berlin’s strike is the latest in a series of walkouts that have riled a nation more accustomed to mocking the labor strife which has so often beset neighboring France.

A strike by train drivers that began Tuesday is paralyzing travel and clogging highways throughout Germany. That action follows a March walkout by pilots at Deutsche Lufthansa AG that led to flight cancellations for 220,000 people. “It’s really annoying, especially if you’re pressed for time,” Batgerel Militz, a Berlin student, said as she unsuccessfully tried to withdraw cash at two banks. She finally got lucky at the third – just in time to catch her delayed train. “Probably because of the train strike,” she said with a laugh. Joking aside, Germany is seeking to curb the influence of smaller unions by drafting a law that would limit companies’ labor representation to one union per group of employees. The measure is currently winding its way through the Bundestag, the country’s lower house of parliament.

In the case of the passenger train strike, which is set to run through May 10, the walkout was called by the GDL union, which represents 19,000 train drivers, switch-yard engineers and conductors. The GDL is far smaller than the larger EVG, which has about 213,000 members staffing Germany’s rail network. The Lufthansa strike crippled travel because it was called by pilots. “They can strike more readily if they do so with solely their own goals in mind,” said Stefan Heinz, an academic specializing in labor politics at Berlin’s Free University. “They can get more out of it for their group.” While Germans still strike less than the French, those who’ve walked out recently in Germany often hold posts that have a wider ripple effect across society.

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“The responsibility lies exclusively with the institutions [EU and IMF] and failure to agree between them..”

Greek Government Takes Aim At Creditors Over Stalled Bailout Talks (Guardian)

Greece’s government has blasted its creditors for holding back progress on bailout talks, laying the blame squarely on differences between the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Racheting up the pressure on the two bodies, the anti-austerity Syriza government said conflicting strategies and opposing views were not only impeding negotiations but injecting “a high level of danger” into the talks at a time when the country’s finances had hit rock bottom. “Serious disagreements and contradictions between the IMF and European Union are creating obstacles in the negotiations and a high level of danger,” said a senior government source. The official added that both lenders were digging in their heels on divergent issues, effectively enforcing “red lines everywhere”.

While the IMF was refusing to compromise on labour deregulation and pension reform but was relaxed on fiscal demands, the EU was insistent that primary surplus targets be met while being much more conciliatory about structural changes. The official insisted: “In such circumstances, it is impossible to have a compromise. The responsibility lies exclusively with the institutions [EU and IMF] and failure to agree between them”. Speaking exclusively to the Guardian, the Greek health minister, Panagiotis Kouroumblis, said creditors were constantly moving the goalposts. “They are not only implacable, the feeling that they give us is that they are impossible to satisfy,” he said. “They ask for 10 things to be done and then come back the next day and ask for another 10 more. As much as we would like, that’s not going to lead to compromise.”

The warnings came as the European commission slashed its forecast for Greece’s growth rate this year, predicting the economy would expand by a mere 0.5%, compared with the 2.5% it had projected barely three months ago. The downgrade was the clearest sign yet that the stalled negotiations have thrown the country, last year believed to be emerging from its worst recession on record, back into reverse. Talks aimed at unlocking desperately needed rescue funds – €7.2bn (£5.3bn) from the last bailout has been held up as both sides haggle over reforms – have been beset by problems since the far-left Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras assumed power in January. The EC said Greece’s economic recovery had been hit by the political tumult that had plagued the country in the four months since the previous government was forced to call snap polls. “In the light of the persistent uncertainty, a downward revision has been unavoidable,” said the EU’s monetary affairs commissioner, Pierre Moscovici.

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“The IMF won’t compromise on labor deregulation and pension reforms, while the European Commission is insisting on fiscal targets being met..”

Greece Says Compromise Not Possible Under Current Conditions (Bloomberg)

Greece blamed international creditors for the failure to achieve a breakthrough in bailout talks, saying a deal won’t be possible until they agree on a common set of demands. A Greek official said that the European Commission and the IMF are confronting the country with too many red lines and need to better coordinate their message. Greek bonds and stocks tumbled on Tuesday as optimism that an interim deal was close gave way to angst that the country isn’t moving fast enough to guarantee the continued flow of bank liquidity and bailout funds. Euro region finance ministers are next scheduled to meet on May 11, with Germany’s Wolfgang Schaeuble saying earlier he’s “skeptical” that an agreement can be reached by then.

Greece’s new line of argument focuses on what it says are divisions among the international creditors. The IMF won’t compromise on labor deregulation and pension reforms, while the European Commission is insisting on fiscal targets being met, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are confidential. The commission is also refusing to consider a debt write down, he said. Greece is sending mixed signals about just how much money it has left. While officials say they’re confident of making payments to the IMF this week and next, one policy maker signaled last month that the country may struggle to keep its finances afloat beyond the end of this month.

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What’s the use of threatening Greece even further?

Debt Talks On Hold Until Greece Agrees Reforms, Warns Moscovici (FT)

Greece’s eurozone creditors will not discuss how to get the country’s sovereign debt back on a sustainable path until Athens agrees to a new economic reform programme that would release €7.2bn in desperately needed bailout funds, the EU’s economic chief said on Tuesday. The talks over the reform programme, which have intensified in recent days, are at the centre of a three-month stalemate between eurozone creditors and the new radical leftist Greek government. The Syriza administration in Athens has resisted many of the reforms in the existing bailout programme but needs the funding to fill its rapidly dwindling coffers.

Pierre Moscovici, the European commissioner for economic affairs, said debt issues “can only be discussed after we have agreed a reform programme”. His statement reflects resistance in eurozone capitals to any form of “haircut” on Greek sovereign debt, which is now mostly held by EU governments and institutions. Mr Moscovici’s comments come as the IMF has suggested eurozone creditors may need to write down some of their Greek bailout loans to ensure the country’s debt levels begin to decline more sharply. Officials involved in the talks said the IMF was not seeking large-scale debt relief immediately.

Instead, it was warning that any concessions to Athens that allowed the government to post lower budget surpluses — the likely trajectory of the current talks — would require debt relief to make up the difference. “Six months ago, we all concluded there was no need for debt relief,” said one senior official. “But if there’s a significant relaxation of the programme [targets], the IMF will want to see some debt relief.” Without a return to sustainable debt levels — or a larger bailout from the eurozone to ensure Athens can continue to pay its bills — the IMF may be forced under its rules to withhold its share of the current bailout tranche, which amounts to about half of the €7.2bn being negotiated.

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“..if Varoufakis was to leave public office and his life in the public eye, Greece would be the poorer for it, perhaps in more ways than one.”

Varoufakis’ First 100 Days: All Style, No Substance? (CNBC)

Negotiations with lenders over the future of Greece’s €240 billion bailout have been ongoing since Greece’s leftwing government came to power. And although Greece was given a four-month extension to its bailout in February, little has been achieved in terms of reforms. As talks dragged on into April, euro zone officials began to moan openly about Greece’s stance – and Varoufakis himself as he was in charge of negotiations — and the fact it was, as the Eurogroup’s President Jeroen Djisselbloem put it “wasting time.”The lack of progress raised concerns that Greece’s might not be able to find the money for upcoming loan repayments and whether it could avoid default and a potentially very messy exit from the euro zone.

Talk also turned to whether Varoufakis could lose his job as a way for show Greece to show its European partners that it was serious about reforms – serious enough to sack its own champion finmin. Instead, he was sidelined last Tuesday, keeping his job as finance minister but taken away from the frontline during negotiations – a move that one euro zone official said had helped negotiations to progress.Getting no love from either his euro zone counterparts or his own government, Varoufakis was verbally attacked and threatened with violence by anarchists in the Exarchia area of Athens, a neighborhood popular with anti-government protesters.

Varoufakis came out uscathed from the scuffle, but whether he can survive the blows and bruises of life in Greece’s tumultuous political landscape is yet to be seen. Just this weekend , the Greek finance ministry was denying reports that Varoufakis had offered to resign. Whether the reports are true or not, if Varoufakis was to leave public office and his life in the public eye, Greece would be the poorer for it, perhaps in more ways than one.

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Risky for Syriza, it threatens to go against its election promises.

Greece To Finalise Airports Deal ‘Immediately’ (Reuters)

Greece will finalise “immediately” a €1.2 billion deal with Fraport to run regional airports and reopen bidding for a majority stake in Piraeus port, a senior privatisations official said on Tuesday. The asset sales had been in doubt after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ leftist-led government took power in January but may be the latest concessions offered by his government to try to secure more bailout cash from international creditors. The Greek finance, shipping and economy ministries involved in the sales declined to comment. “The issue of regional airports will be concluded immediately,” the official at Greece’s privatisations agency HRADF told Reuters on condition of anonymity, noting that an announcement could be expected by May 15.

Tsipras’ government is trying to renegotiate a 240-billion-euro bailout and has said it would review the sales, though various Greek officials have offered contradictory statements on the fate of both the airports and the Piraeus deals. Fraport and Greek energy firm Copelouzos had agreed with the privatisation agency in 2014 that it would run the airports in tourist destinations including Corfu, striking one of Greece’s biggest privatisation deals since the start of the debt crisis. Under the terms of the deal, the German-Greek group was expected to spend about €330 million in the first four years to upgrade the airports, that will be leased for 40 years.

On Tuesday, the privatisations official said Athens would invite shortlisted investors to submit by July binding offers for a 51% stake in Greece’s biggest port with the option to raise their stake to 67% over five years. “We will reopen the process in the coming days,” the official said. China’s Cosco Group, which already manages two of Piraeus port’s cargo piers, is among five preferred bidders. Greek port workers are due to stage a 24-hour strike on Thursday to protest against the privatisations of Piraeus and Thessaloniki ports, saying the government has rolled back on its pre-election pledges.

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“I agree with you, Dodd-Frank isn’t perfect.” She paused, then spoke very slowly and emphatically: “It should have broken you into pieces.”

Why Elizabeth Warren Makes Bankers So Uneasy, and So Quiet

The rollback of financial regulation is stalled. Income inequality is a campaign issue. Americans are still angry about the financial crisis. Things aren’t shaping up the way the big banks expected, and an important reason is one laser-focused senator from Massachusetts.

Let’s assume that when he woke up on the morning of Dec. 12, Michael Corbat, CEO of Citigroup, was feeling pretty good. The day before, the House of Representatives had passed a bill that would save his bank and others lots of money and headaches. The trouble was, Elizabeth Warren, the senior senator from Massachusetts, was getting ready to speak on the Senate floor. She had his bank on her mind. What Warren wanted to talk about was an item tucked into page 615 of a 1,603-page spending package: the repeal of section 716 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. Known as the swaps push-out rule, section 716 required banks to set up separate subsidiaries, not backed by the government, to trade certain derivatives.

If the rule stood, it would generate huge administrative costs for the big banks. Citi had fought hard on this. The bank’s lobbyists had worked on lawmakers and helped draft language for the repeal. Getting it into a big spending package Congress was sure to pass was a coup. In the ongoing wars between Wall Street and the forces of government regulation, this repeal was a big win for the banks. “Today I am coming to the floor not to talk about Democrats or Republicans,” Warren began her speech, “but to talk about a third group that also wields tremendous power in Washington—Citigroup.” With that, Warren turned Citi into exactly the kind of villain so many people suspect lurks in the backrooms of the Capitol.

In one particularly striking moment, she connected nine top government officials—including Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew—directly to the megabank. She invoked Teddy Roosevelt, her favorite trust-busting president, who took on the big corporations of his day. “There is a lot of talk coming from Citigroup about how Dodd-Frank isn’t perfect,” Warren continued. “So let me say this to anyone who is listening at Citi. I agree with you, Dodd-Frank isn’t perfect.” She paused, then spoke very slowly and emphatically: “It should have broken you into pieces.”

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Will Beijing take on all debt to the shadow system?

China Mulls New Monetary Tool That ‘The World Has Never Seen’ (Caixin)

China’s central bank is considering lending to policy banks through a new tool so they can buy bonds issued by local governments, a person close to the regulator says. The loans would have a maturity of at least 10 years, the source said. Other details of how this would work remain unclear, but the tool will be unlike anything the bank has used before, he said. “It will be a new monetary tool the world has never seen,” the person said. “The format does not matter, and all possible means could be taken.” He said the regulator will use the new instrument to provide China Development Bank (CDB) and perhaps other policy banks with capital so they can buy bonds that local governments have issued.

The Ministry of Finance has said local governments can issue 1 trillion yuan ($160 billion) worth of bonds this year to repay their old debts — in other words allowing them to swap existing debts, which are mostly bank loans, for bonds that have longer maturities and cost less. The problem is that commercial banks are not interested in the bonds. Banks are “not at all interested” in buying such bonds because “their yields are too low and there is no liquidity,” a source from a joint-stock bank said. He said the bank he works for bought some local-government bonds only because its branches want to maintain a good relationship with local governments.

Xu Hanfei at Guotai Junan Securities said the interest rates of bank loans to local-government financing platforms — commercial vehicles that local governments used to circumvent a previous restriction that barred them from borrowing directly — are usually around 8%, and so are the yields of these platforms’ bonds. With local-government bonds, he said, the yields are usually halved. “Commercial banks do not want to buy local-government bonds … because the yields can hardly cover their capital cost,” a source from a bank’s financial-market division said. “There are many more assets that promise much better returns than local-government bonds. Why bother exchanging them for the bonds?”

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The war crazies.

CFR Says China Must Be Defeated And TPP Is Essential To That (Zuesse)

Wall Street’s Council on Foreign Relations has issued a major report, alleging that China must be defeated because it threatens to become a bigger power in the world than the U.S. This report, which is titled “Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China,” is introduced by Richard Haass, the CFR’s President, who affirms the report’s view that, “no relationship will matter more when it comes to defining the twenty-first century than the one between the United States and China.” Haass gives this report his personal imprimatur by saying that it “deserves to become an important part of the debate about U.S. foreign policy and the pivotal U.S.-China relationship.” He acknowledges that some people won’t agree with the views it expresses.

The report itself then opens by saying: “Since its founding, the United States has consistently pursued a grand strategy focused on acquiring and maintaining preeminent power over various rivals, first on the North American continent, then in the Western hemisphere, and finally globally.” It praises “the American victory in the Cold War.” It then lavishes praise on America’s imperialistic dominance: “The Department of Defense during the George H.W. Bush administration presciently contended that its ‘strategy must now refocus on precluding the emergence of any potential future global competitor’—thereby consciously pursuing the strategy of primacy that the United States successfully employed to outlast the Soviet Union.”

The rest of the report is likewise concerned with the international dominance of America’s aristocracy or the people who control this country’s international corporations, rather than with the welfare of the public or as the U.S. Constitution described the objective of the American Government: “the general welfare.” The Preamble, or sovereignty clause, in the Constitution, presented that goal in this broader context: “in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” The Council on Foreign Relations, as a representative of Wall Street, is concerned only with the dominance of America’s aristocracy.

Their new report, about “Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China,” is like a declaration of war by America’s aristocracy, against China’s aristocracy. This report has no relationship to the U.S. Constitution, though it advises that the U.S. Government pursue this “Grand Strategy Toward China” irrespective of whether doing that would even be consistent with the U.S. Constitution’s Preamble. The report repeats in many different contexts the basic theme, that China threatens “hegemonic” dominance in Asia. For example: “China’s sustained economic success over the past thirty-odd years has enabled it to aggregate formidable power, making it the nation most capable of dominating the Asian continent and thus undermining the traditional U.S. geopolitical objective of ensuring that this arena remains free of hegemonic control.”

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Kiev left Eastern Ukraine alone, no cash in ATMs, no pensions payments, no benefit payments. There’s only one alternative.

Forget Tanks. Russia’s Ruble Is Conquering Eastern Ukraine (Bloomberg)

As a wobbly cease-fire keeps eastern Ukraine’s warring factions apart, Russia’s ruble is conquering new territory across the breakaway republics. In Donetsk, the conflict zone’s biggest city, supermarkets have opened ruble-only checkout counters to serve the fighters in camouflage lining up along pensioners. Bus and tram tickets come with a conversion from Ukraine’s hryvnia to the Russian currency. Gas-station workers are paid in rubles because that’s what their rebel customers use to fuel their armored jeeps. “There are no problems in shops, they all accept rubles,” said Natalya, 36, a hairdresser buying groceries for her parents, who declined to give her surname for fear of reprisals. “They don’t always have small change, but they can give you chewing gum or a cigarette lighter instead.”

The ruble’s creeping advance shows how the troubled regions are slipping further from the government’s grasp, even as a peace accord brokered by Germany, France and Russia calls for the nation of more than 40 million to remain whole. Separatist officials haven’t yet made their currency plans clear. The precedent in ex-Soviet countries from Georgia to Moldova shows that similar shifts can help entrench pro-Russian insurgents. “The increasing use of the ruble is yet another sign Russia’s going to keep de facto sovereignty over the territory it and the separatists control,” said Cliff Kupchan, Eurasia Group chairman in New York. “If the sides implement the latest truce, which is unlikely, perhaps both the hryvnia and the ruble will be used. If not, it will be all ruble.”

Ukraine is the one place in the world where the ruble’s 46% plunge against the dollar in 2014 didn’t make it any less attractive, considering a 48% drop in the hryvnia, the world’s worst performer for the last two years. The Russian currency has staged a partial recovery in 2015, with April its best month on record. It advanced 0.4% on Tuesday. And the ruble has been welcomed in Donetsk, where most shops and businesses now accept it. Hryvnias are no longer available from cash machines in rebel-held territory, forcing locals to go to other parts of Ukraine to withdraw money.

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There’s not nearly enough appreciation in the west for what Russia suffered, and achieved, in WWII. Russia mourned more dead than all other countries combined.

Moscow’s Last Stand: How Soviet Troops Defeated Nazis For First Time In WW2 (RT)

In October 1941 Hitler launched an offensive on the Russian capital codenamed Operation Typhoon. It was supposed to crush Moscow in a so-called double pincer – two simultaneous attacks from the north and south. The Soviet troops vigorously fought back, disrupting Hitler’s plans for a quick operation. The Battle of Moscow eventually lasted through January 1942 and ended in the first battlefield defeat of the Nazi army. The battle was one of the bloodiest and lethal struggles in world history and was later considered to be a decisive turning point in the fight against Nazi troops. Memories of that battle are still fresh for WW2 veteran Gennady Drozdov, 98, who was assigned to the 4th Guards Mortar Regiment at that time.

“During the Battle of Moscow, in December 1941, there was a raid on the hinterlands of the Nazi German troops. We came so close we could see the position of their troops, their machine gun, in particular, and its operators,” Drozdov told RT. “On our command the division fired a salvo, missiles flew over our heads – we completed our task and returned to the base.” The weather seemed to be on the side of the Soviet army, as autumn brought heavy rains, and then winter caught the Nazis unawares with exceptionally freezing temperatures. While the epic battle raged on, Moscow residents had to “survive all the horrors of war: hunger, cold, devastation, loss of family and the loved ones,” according to Rimma Grachyova, who was seven years old when the war broke out. “Most frightening of all was the bombing – daily bombings that continued incessantly,” the woman recalls.

“At first we would shelter in the “Park Kultury” underground station that was not far from our house. Then our family decided that if it was our fate to die we would die together and we wouldn’t run from it. There were five kids in our family.” “We helped the front as much as we could. We’d collect scrap metal from courtyards. I’d knit socks and mittens together with grown-ups, as I knew how. We wrote letters too. We also sang for the wounded in hospitals,” the 80-year-old witness said, sharing her childhood experience. Almost one million Soviet soldiers died during the defense and counter-offensive operations, which included the construction of three defensive belts in the Moscow region, as well as deployment of reserve armies. The outcome of the Battle of Moscow saw German troops pushed back nearly 200 km from the capital, becoming the first-ever blow to the Wehrmacht’s reputation as an invincible army.

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May 022015
 
 May 2, 2015  Posted by at 10:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


NPC National Service Co. front, 1610 14th Street N.W., Washington DC 1920

Grantham Says Fed “Bound And Determined” To Engineer “Full-Fledged Bubble” (ZH)
Our Banking System is a Giant House of Cards (Lynn Parramore)
For China To Start All Over, The Dinosaurs Will Have To Change (Satyajit Das)
Your No. 1 End-Of-The-World Investing Strategy (Paul B. Farrell)
How Ben Bernanke Let Down America (MarketWatch)
Quick Breakthrough At Brussels Group Looks Unlikely (Kathimerini)
The Coming Defaults Of Greece (Vox.eu)
FastTrack TPP: The Death of Sovereignty, Separation of Powers and Democracy (JF)
Iceland Pirate Party Popularity Rivals Government Coalition (RT)
Angela Merkel’s NSA Nightmare Just Got A Lot Worse (Don Quijones)
Rioters In Milan Smash Shopfronts, Throw Smoke Bombs As Expo Opens (CNBC)
Russia Preparing Offensive In Ukraine, NATO General Imagines (Zero Hedge)
Kiev Is Making No ‘Tangible Steps’ To Investigate Year-Old Odessa Massacre (RT)
Kim Dotcom Awarded Millions For Legal Bills And Living Expenses (TF)

I think people should stop calling this a ‘market’.

Grantham Says Fed “Bound And Determined” To Engineer “Full-Fledged Bubble” (ZH)

Back in November, we highlighted the accuracy of Jeremy Grantham’s predictions about the trajectory of the central bank liquidity-fueled equity rally. In terms of how far the market can run before reality and gravity finally reassert themselves, bursting the centrally planned bubble and prompting a 2008-style “correction”, Grantham defined a “full-fledged” bubble as S&P 2250 and warned that a retracement of some 50% was possible depending on how assertive the Fed’s response to its real favorite economic indicator (stocks) turns out to be.

In GMO’s latest quarterly letter, Grantham is out reiterating his view that although US stocks may not have reached their peak in what he accurately calls a “strange, manipulated world” (we prefer “new paranormal”), he’s sticking with the idea that “bubble territory” is likely just around the corner as the Yellen Fed is “bound and determined” to facilitate an inexorable rise in asset prices. He also notes that the Yellen seems no more inclined than her predecessor to take Jeremy Stein’s advice on being careful not to adopt an “implicit policy of inaction” when it comes to bubbles. Here’s more:

The key point here is that in our strange, manipulated world, as long as the Fed is on the side of a strong market there is considerable hope for the bulls. In the Greenspan/Bernanke/Yellen Era, the Fed historically did not stop its asset price pushing until fully- fledged bubbles had occurred, as they did in U.S. growth stocks in 2000 and in U.S. housing in 2006. Both of these were in fact stunning three-sigma events, by far the biggest equity bubble and housing bubble in U.S. history.

Yellen, like both of her predecessors, has bragged about the Fed’s role in pushing up asset prices in order to get a wealth effect. Thus far, she seems to also share their view on feeling no responsibility to interfere with any asset bubble that may form. For me, recognizing the power of the Fed to move assets (although desperately limited power to boost the economy), it seems logical to assume that absent a major international economic accident, the current Fed is bound and determined to continue stimulating asset prices until we once again have a fully-fledged bubble. And we are not there yet.

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“We are failing to take simple steps and at the same time undertaking extremely costly steps with doubtful benefits.”

Our Banking System is a Giant House of Cards (Lynn Parramore)

Anat Admati teaches finance and economics at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and is co-author of The Bankers’ New Clothes, a classic account of the problem of Too Big to Fail banks. Admati warns that we are not doing nearly enough to confront a bloated, inefficient, and dangerous financial system. The system can’t fix itself. Here’s what you need to know.

Lynn Parramore: How would you describe the problem of Too Big to Fail banks. Whey does it matter to an ordinary person?

Anat Admati: Too Big to Fail is a license for recklessness. These institutions defy notions of fairness, accountability, and responsibility. They are the largest, most complex, and most indebted corporations in the entire economy. We all have to be really alarmed by the fact that not only do we still have such institutions, but many of them are ever-larger and more complex and at least as dangerous, if not more so, than they were before the financial crisis. They are too big to manage and control. They take enormous risks that endanger everybody. They benefit from the upside and expose the rest of us to the downside of their decisions. These banks are too powerful politically as well. As they seek profits, they can make wasteful and inefficient loans that harm ordinary people, and at the same time they might refuse to make certain business loans that can help the economy.

They can even break the laws and regulations without the people responsible being held accountable. Effectively we’re hostages because their failure would be so harmful. They’re likely to be bailed out if their risks don’t turn out well. Ordinary people continue to suffer from a recession that was greatly exacerbated or even caused by recklessness in the financial system and failed regulation. But the largest institutions, especially their leaders — even in the failed ones — have suffered the least. They’re thriving again and arguably benefitting the most from efforts to stimulate the economy. So there’s something wrong with this picture. And there’s also increasing recognition that bloated banks and a bloated financial system – these huge institutions—are a drag on the economy.

LP: Have we made any progress in dealing with the problem?

AA: The progress has been totally unfocused and insufficient. Dodd-Frank claims to have solved the problem and it gives plenty of tools to regulators to do what needs to be done (many of these tools they actually already had before). But this law is really complex and the implementation of it is very messy. The lobbying by the financial industry is a large part of the reason that the law has been implemented so poorly and inefficiently with so much difficulty. We are failing to take simple steps and at the same time undertaking extremely costly steps with doubtful benefits. So we’ve had far from enough progress. We are told things are better but they are nowhere near what we should expect and demand. Much more can be done right now.

LP: Banks, compared to other businesses, finance an enormous portion of their assets with borrowed money, or debt – as much as 95%. Yet bankers often claim that this is perfectly fine, and if we make them depend less on debt they will be forced to lend less. What is your view? Would asking banks to rely more on unborrowed money, or equity, somehow hurt the economy?

AA: Sometimes when I don’t have time to unpack everything I use a quote from a book called Payoff: Why Wall Street Always Wins by Jeff Connaughton. He relates something Paul Volcker once said to Senator Ted Kaufman: “You know, just about whatever anyone proposes, no matter what it is, the banks will come out and claim that it will restrict credit and harm the economy…It’s all bullshit.” Here’s one obvious reason such claims are, in Volcker’s vocabulary, bullshit: Lending suffered most when banks didn’t have enough equity to absorb their losses in the crisis — and then we had to bail them out. The loss they suffered on the subprime fiasco was relatively small by comparison to losses to investors when the Internet bubble burst, but there was so much debt throughout the system, and indeed in the housing markets, and so much interconnection that the entire financial system almost collapsed. That’s when lending suffered. So lending and growth suffers when the banks have too little equity, not too much.

Now, banks naturally have some debt, like deposits. But they don’t feel indebted even when they rely on 95% debt to finance their assets. No other healthy company lives like that, and nobody, even banks, needs to live like that — that’s the key. Normally, the market would not allow this to go on; those who are as heavily indebted feel the burden in many ways. The terms of the debt become too burdensome for corporations, and reflect the inefficient investment decisions made by heavily indebted companies. But banks have much nicer creditors, like depositors, and with many explicit and implicit guarantees, banks don’t face trouble or harsh terms. They only have to convince the regulators to let them get away with it. And they do. So the abnormality of this incredible indebtedness is that they get away with it. There’s nothing good about it for society. If they had more equity then they could do everything that they do better —more consistently, more reliably, in a less distorted fashion.

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This will not happen, because the leaders themselves are the biggest dinosaurs. And they’re not about to give up their grip on power.

For China To Start All Over, The Dinosaurs Will Have To Change (Satyajit Das)

Central to China’s agenda of driving growth through economic reform is a shift from debt-driven investment to consumption. Since the 1980s, investment has risen from 35% of GDP to 45 to 50%. China’s annual infrastructure spend is far greater than that of the US and Europe but also of other emerging markets. It is double that of India and around four times that of Latin America. The country’s investment levels are also running at 10 to 15% of GDP – higher than in comparable countries such as Japan and South Korea at the equivalent stages of their development. In recent years, Beijing has sought to rebalance the share of GDP contributed by consumption and investment, but the task is difficult.

First, as the analyst Michael Pettis has repeatedly stated, the level of consumption growth needed to rebalance China is formidable. That rate has not been static, running at around 8% a year over the past decade. But growth in consumer spending has been slower than that in the overall economy and the increase in gross fixed investment – an average annual growth of more than 13%, which resulted in the share of private consumption in GDP falling to 35% from 45 to 50%. If China grows at 8% a year, consumption needs to expand by around 11% (3% above growth) to increase the share of consumption from 35% to 36% of GDP in a year. Assuming a growth rate of 8% and consumption increases of 11%, it would take about five years to increase consumption to 40% of GDP. If growth slows, the difficulty of the task increases.

Second, legacy issues of rapid expansion and excessive investment will need to be managed. Many projects have dubious economics and will not generate sufficient revenues to repay the borrowings used to finance them, resulting in potential losses to lenders.

Third, boosting consumption will reduce savings, affecting the deposit base and cost of funding at Chinese banks, which will reduce their flexibility in managing rising losses on bad loans. It will also require a significant boost in household income, and this will affect the profitability of Chinese companies, which already operate on thin margins.

Fourth, the rebalancing will result in slower growth, at least during the period of transition. A move away from investment-driven growth also requires reform of China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs). China has around 150,000 SOEs, which control around 50% of industrial assets and employ around 20% of the workforce.

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Farrell misses out on the no. 1: people and communities.

Your No. 1 End-Of-The-World Investing Strategy (Paul B. Farrell)

Quarterly reports are hot news today. Listen: “While the end-of-the-world scenario will be rife with unimaginable horrors,” predicts the CEO of a major Wall Street bank at a shareholders meeting, “we believe that the pre-end period will be filled with unprecedented opportunities for profit.” That message comes from one of Robert Mankoff’s popular New Yorker cartoons, and it accurately captures the winning strategy used by most successful Wall Street bankers. But the real successful strategists have both, balancing the two: short-term opportunities for profit plus a vision of the future, the long-term megatrends that impact returns today as well as tomorrow. Here’s an example of this strategy, hedging long risks while playing a winning short game.

Here’s one strategy based on the 12 megatrends in Jared Diamond’s book “Collapse: How Societies Chose to Fail Or Succeed.” So you’d be building a portfolio that balances short-term opportunities within Diamond’s megatrends structure, picking stocks that fit near-term the best investment parameters for success in a society that’s risking a collapse:

1. Water
Diamond warns: “Most of the world’s freshwater in rivers and lakes is already being used for irrigation, domestic and industrial water,” transportation, dams, fisheries and recreation. Water problems destroyed many earlier civilizations: “Today over a billion people lack access to reliable safe drinking water.” By 2015 two-thirds of the world will live in water-stressed countries. Water will trade like oil futures today. More and more wars will be fought over water and other basic resources concluded a 2003 Pentagon report predicting that “warfare will define human life by 2020.

2. Food
The United Nations says the global food crisis is a “silent tsunami.” Two billion people, mostly poor, depend on fish and other wild foods for protein. Their supplies have “collapsed or are in steep decline,” forcing use of costly animal proteins. The rise in food prices is making it worse for billions living below poverty levels. In “The End of Plenty,” National Geographic warns “synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation, supercharged by genetically engineered seeds” is failing. A joint World Bank/UN study “concluded that the immense production increases brought about by science and technology the past 30 years have failed to improve food access for many of the world’s poor.” Time warns that our “addiction to meat” has led to farming that’s “destructive of the soil, the environment and us.”

3. Farmland
Crop soils are “being carried away by water and wind erosion at rates between 10 to 40 times the rates of soil formation.” With forests, the soil-erosion rate is “between 500 and 10,000 times” the replacement rate, a trend accelerated by today’s new age of the 100,000-acre megafires. Ceres and Chess are hedge funds that own many small farms.

4. Forests
We are destroying natural habitats and rain forests at an accelerating rate. Half the world’s original forests have been converted to urban developments. A quarter of what remains will be converted in the next 50 years.

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How America lets down Americans.

How Ben Bernanke Let Down America (MarketWatch)

Don’t say Ben Bernanke didn’t do anything for unemployment. After all, the former Federal Reserve chairman now has three jobs. On Wednesday, Pacific Investment Management Co., or Pimco, announced — via Twitter, of course — that Bernanke had signed on as a senior adviser to the fund company known for its bond investing. Pimco joins the hedge fund Citadel and the Brookings Institution as Bernanke’s post-Fed effort to put food on the table. While Bernanke has sought to underplay or, more accurately, not disclose how much he’s being paid by these firms, it’s highly unlikely he will have to ask for public assistance. Speaking of which, just how good is that unemployment office near the Fed and Treasury Department?

We’re just teasing, of course. Bernanke, like any other public servant, has a right to work after he leaves government. And since the Fed is a quasi-governmental institution and has been accused of serving Wall Street’s interests, is this as much of a radical transition as it may appear at first glance? On the other hand, isn’t this endless pattern, known as the “revolving door” where senior regulators leave to join the firms they regulated only a few months or weeks ago, getting a little tired? Timothy Geithner, a regulator cozy with Wall Street, goes to head the Treasury Department where he’s criticized for bailing out Wall Street and almost no one else, and then leaves public service for a private equity firm, Warburg Pincus, with deep ties to banks.

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Get out, you Greeks!

Quick Breakthrough At Brussels Group Looks Unlikely (Kathimerini)

Greece’s hopes of an emergency Eurogroup being called as early as Monday to confirm the progress in Brussels Group talks, and thereby possibly prompting the European Central Bank to allow Athens to issue more treasury bills to relieve its liquidity problem, appear to be misplaced. Several European Union officials have told Kathimerini that it is unlikely eurozone finance ministers will be in a position to discuss the state of negotiations at the beginning of the week. Greece’s lenders insist that there must be a staff-level agreement on the range of measures being demanded in return for €7.2 billion in bailout funding before the matter can be referred to the Eurogroup.

Athens, though, hopes that there can be an initial agreement on a bare minimum of reforms that would prompt the ECB to increase its €15 billion ceiling on the level of Greek T-bills that can be issued and allow local banks to increase their exposure to this form of debt. The first two days of the Brussels Group deliberations, which began on Thursday, confirmed that there is a substantial distance separating Greece and its lenders. For instance, they differ on macroeconomic projections. Athens still believes growth this year can reach 1.2 to 1.4% and that this would lead to a primary surplus of 1.2%. Creditors see these projections as extremely optimistic.

Also, Athens is willing to go ahead with some but not all of the privatizations planned for this year, bringing in projected revenues of €1.5 billion, which the institutions also see as being overestimated. The target for revenues from sell-offs this year had been €2.2 billion The government looks set to keep the single property tax (ENFIA) this year despite its election pledge to scrap the highly unpopular levy, but there is still a disagreement over the value-added tax increase being demanded by creditors. The institutions believe that between €2 and €3 billion of new fiscal measures will be needed this year for Greece to hit its targets.

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“In the longer run, however, a much-depreciated drachma could lift the Greek economy and, of course, the country might appreciate monetary independence..”

The Coming Defaults Of Greece (Vox.eu)

When thinking about Greece’s dilemma, two facts from Reinhart and Rogoff (2009) research are highly relevant:
• Defaults on public debts are pretty mundane events; and
• Greece is historically the world’s leading serious defaulter.

What makes the coming event interesting is that it will be the first time that a default occurs within a monetary union. The crucial observation is that there is no automatic link between a default and monetary-union membership. As we know from previous experiments of government default within the dollar monetary union – the defaults of Orange County in California and Detroit in Michigan – a sub-central government can default and keep the currency. The unique characteristics of such events are that: 1) an exchange-rate depreciation cannot help shift expenditure to the defaulting region’s production; and 2) there is no local central bank to provide liquidity to both the government and commercial banks during the hard phase of the default. The Greek government might be tempted to recover its own currency but the short-run costs are likely to far exceed the short-run benefits.

An idea of what would await Greece is provided by Levy Yeyati (2011) in his description of how Argentina gave up its currency board link to the US dollar, an easier case given that the national currency was already in place. The Argentinian example should warn the Greek authorities of the political turmoil that could follow a default. In the longer run, however, a much-depreciated drachma could lift the Greek economy and, of course, the country might appreciate monetary independence following its wrenching experience inside the Eurozone. Basically, the trade-off is a major shock and one more year of misery versus the removal of Eurozone membership shackles forever. The balance of benefits is difficult to evaluate since it depends very much on institutional issues that are not clear now.

The key questions are:
• Will Greece be able to finally establish on its own fiscal discipline and will its central bank deliver high-quality monetary policy?
• Will the Eurozone draw all the lessons from a Grexit and amend its policies and governance?

In the short run, after a first default, even a partial one, the Greek government will have to balance its books because no one will lend anything any more. ‘Balancing the books’ can mean different things, however.

• One option is to run an overall balanced budget, thus continuing to service the debt after the initial wave of defaults.

The latest European Commission forecasts for 2015 are for a surplus of 1.1% of GDP, after a deficit of 2.5% last year. This might be optimistic as tax receipts seem to have slowed down. Another option is to balance the primary budget, which means no servicing of the debt.

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“..the death of National Sovereignty, State Sovereignty, Separation of Powers, and Democracy..”

FastTrack TPP: The Death of Sovereignty, Separation of Powers and Democracy (JF)

Ellen Brown has called the TPP “the death of the Republic.” It certainly is that. But, I think I’ve shown that it is the death of National Sovereignty, State Sovereignty, Separation of Powers, and Democracy, as well. These impacts on governance and politics are even more important, I believe, than its economic ones, since it from these that our benefits, both economic and non-economic flow. The elevation of the principle of “expectation of profits” above all other principles including the principles of “public purpose,” “consent of the governed,” “the general welfare,” and “separation of powers,” is tantamount to the overthrow of democracy, preserving its form in national level elections, but emptying its elections of meaningful content in mandating change and in conferring legitimacy on national authorities.

I’ve said previously that the rule of the TPP, even if passed over the mushrooming opposition from all segments of American society except the uncritical globalists, will never be viewed as legitimate in the United States and will also always be viewed as tyranny for as long as we live under it. This problem will become increasingly severe the larger, more frequent, and more outrageous ISDS awards defending the “expectations of profits” of multinational become. That makes those who want to pass the TPP guilty of conspiracy to create tyrannical rule of the international few over the people of the United States and other TPP member nations. Eventually, I believe that a vote for the TPP will be viewed as vote to betray the Constitution and a violation of the oath of office of any who vote that way.

How can there be any other outcome when an action taken in office destroys National Sovereignty, State Sovereignty, Separation of Powers, and Democracy with a single vote.

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A sudden surge.

Iceland Pirate Party Popularity Rivals Government Coalition (RT)

The Pirate Party of Iceland, which has the smallest faction in the national parliament after the 2013 election, is now almost as popular as the two ruling coalition parties combined, the latest opinion poll showed. The party would score 30.1% of votes in Iceland if a general election was held now, the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service (RUV) reports citing a Gallup poll. Iceland’s two ruling parties – the Independent Party and the Progressive Party – have 22.9% and 10.1% support respectively, scoring less than 3% points ahead of the Pirates. The Pirate Party experienced an astounding surge of popularity in Iceland. In 2013, polls indicated it would barely score 5% of votes needed to win parliamentary seats. The party’s approval rating in January was roughly the same.

An early March Gallup poll showed its popularity had grown to over 15%, beating the Bright Future party. In less than two months the Pirate Party doubled its rating. “People are starting to realize that the whole system is corrupt, not just a few politicians,” Helgi Hrafn Gunnarsson, Pirate Party’s chair and one of its three MPs told Vísir news website in March. “They don‘t trust it at all. I think they appreciate it when someone points this out.” Responding to the latest poll, Gunnarsson said he was glad to see such a result but expected it to rebound somewhat in the weeks to come. He added there is still some time to go to the next election in Iceland, which is scheduled for 2017. The same opinion poll showed a 32% approval of the government by Icelanders, compared to 37% in March. Among the latest big decisions of the government is the March withdrawal of its bid to join the European Union.

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“The phrase “shameless hypocrisy” comes to mind.”

Angela Merkel’s NSA Nightmare Just Got A Lot Worse (Don Quijones)


Angela Merkel, Germany’s most successful and popular politician, could be in serious trouble, after revelations that Germany’s national intelligence agency, the BND, has been spying on key European assets on behalf of US intelligence. Those “assets” include top French officials, the EU’s headquarters, the European defense corporation EADS, the helicopter manufacturer Eurocopter and even German companies. To wit, from Der Spiegel:

In 2008, at the latest, it became apparent that NSA selectors were not only limited to terrorist and weapons smugglers… But it was only after the revelations made by whistleblower Edward Snowden that the BND decided to investigate the issue. In October 2013, an investigation came to the conclusion that at least 2,000 of these selectors were aimed at Western European or even German interests.

Today, the German foreign intelligence agency is accused of processing over 40,000 spy requests from the NSA, many of which represent a clear violation of the Memorandum of Agreement that the US and Germany signed in 2002. Washington and Berlin agreed at the time that neither Germans nor Americans — neither people nor companies or organizations — would be among the surveillance targets. The scandal could be particularly damaging for the Minister of Interior Thomas de Maiziere, whose ministry is accused of misleading parliament after claiming, as recently as April 14, to have no knowledge of alleged US economic spying in Europe, and of Germany’s alleged involvement.

For Merkel, it is a dizzying reversal of roles and fortunes. In 2013 she was arguably the most high-profile victim of NSA surveillance when it was revealed that the NSA had targeted her cellphone. When confronted with Edward Snowden’s allegations of US National Security Agency mass surveillance of European citizens, Merkel famously said that “spying on friends is just not on.” According to official accounts, she even placed a “strongly worded phone call” to US President Barack Obama. At the time the scandal was a political boon for Merkel, with 62% of Germans approving of her “harsh reaction”, according to a survey by polling institute YouGov. Now the tables have turned. If Merkel’s government is found to have had prior knowledge of the BND’s spying on the French government, citizens, and companies, its behavior in the wake of the phone-tapping revelations will be cast in a starkly different light. The phrase “shameless hypocrisy” comes to mind.

While the BNS is taking most of the flak, with some pundits even questioning whose interests it serves, questions are being raised about just how much Merkel’s government knew about the surveillance program. “At least since the Snowden revelations in 2013, all those involved at all levels, including the Chancellery, should have been suspicious of the cooperation with the NSA,” Konstantin von Notz, the senior Green Party member on the NSA investigative committee, told Der Spiegel.

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Italy hates the Milan Expo. For good reason.

Rioters In Milan Smash Shopfronts, Throw Smoke Bombs As Expo Opens (CNBC)

Milan has been waiting since 2008 for this day and now it has finally come—but takeoff for the World Expo 2015 looks to be overshadowed by violent protests. The turnstiles and doors officially opened on Friday in Italy’s commercial and fashion capital. But opening day excitement for the six-month-long commercial event wasn’t necessarily present among the crowds on Friday. The wet weather may have dampened the number of visitors to the event on its first day—with noticeably empty entrances and security checkpoints. Meanwhile, thousands of protesters marched through the streets of Milan behind a banner reading “No Expo, Eat the Rich,” according to Reuters. The No-Expo movement has been critical of the amount of money the government has poured into the event, when there are fears of austerity and cuts to public services.

A large anti-expo march through the center of Milan was overtaken by anarchists groups that smashed shopfronts and clashed with police. There were several banks with smashed-in doors and windows and the streets were strewed with detritus. Teargas was used by riot police to try and disperse parts of the crowd. Although most of the march was peaceful, around 200 demonstrators threw rocks, in addition to setting off flare and smoke bombs. A large six-story building was torched, as well as the ground floor of a two-story building. At least six cars were burnt and fire crews were deployed at multiple spots across the city. AP television footage appeared to show police using water cannons on protesters.

Friday is Labor Day, also known as May Day, and is a traditional occasion for anti-capitalist protests. The Expo is bringing together 145 countries from around the world with the theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” The organizers are expecting up to 20 million visitors during the length of the Expo and as many as 250,000 on a particularly busy day. However, estimates for attendee numbers on Friday were only in the tens of thousands. Italy is hoping for a big economic boost because of the Expo, which is held every five years in different world location and is designed to showcase innovation. Some say the Milan Expo could generate up to $10 billion. But the event has come under criticism, particularly for skyrocketing costs and a number of corruption scandals.

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“Note that Breedlove has managed to pull off what we thought was a linguistic impossibility: his statement is contradictory, vague, and definitive all at once.”

Russia Preparing Offensive In Ukraine, NATO General Imagines (Zero Hedge)

Just a day after the US Navy said it was prepared to escort US-flagged cargo ships through the Strait of Hormuz as a precautionary measure after Iran supposedly fired on and subsequently seized a ship flying the Marshall Islands flag, we get still more sabre rattling in what has become a global staring match between the US on one side and Russia, Iran, and China on the other, with points of contention ranging from territorial sovereignty in Eastern Europe, to man-made islands in the South China Sea, to nuclear energy, to cyber warfare. This time it’s U.S. Air Force General and NATO supreme allied commander Philip Breedlove ratcheting up the rhetoric (and perhaps suggesting that the Kremlin is correct in its assessment of US foreign policy) by suggesting to the Senate that Russia is planning to shatter what remains of the fragile ceasefire in Ukraine by launching an imminent offensive. Via Reuters:

Russia’s military may be taking advantage of a recent lull in fighting in eastern Ukraine to lay the groundwork for a new military offensive, NATO’s top commander told the U.S. Congress on Thursday. U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, the NATO supreme allied commander, said Russian forces had been seeking to “reset and reposition” while protecting battlefield gains, despite a fragile ceasefire agreed in February.

And while the general had trouble explaining exactly how he came to this conclusion based on the evidence he had observed, he did come prepared with plenty of vague soundbites which, although largely devoid of any real meaning, sounded scary enough to get the attention of the media and will probably play well with the 348 members of the House who not long ago voted to provide lethal aid to Kiev. Here are some excerpts from the DoD press release:

“Many [Russian] actions are consistent with preparations for another offensive,” he added. Russia is aggressive in all elements of national power – diplomatic, informational, economic, and its military, the general said. “It would not make sense to unnecessarily take any of our own tools off the table,” he said about the U.S. possibility of supplying defensive weapons to Ukraine. Russia’s aggression also is destabilizing neighboring states and the region, and its illegal actions are pushing instability closer to NATO’s boundaries, Breedlove told the senators. “We cannot be fully certain what Russia will do next, and we cannot fully grasp [Putin‘s] intent,” Breedlove he said. “What we can do is learn from his actions, and what we see suggests growing Russian capabilities, significant military modernization and an ambitious strategic intent.”

Got it. So summarizing, we cannot be certain about Putin’s intent, but based on his actions, we can be certain that his intent is both ambitious and strategic. Note that Breedlove has managed to pull off what we thought was a linguistic impossibility: his statement is contradictory, vague, and definitive all at once.

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Kiev and the west are determined that no-one ever finds out what happened in Odessa, on Maidan Square, with MH-17 etc etc.

Kiev Is Making No ‘Tangible Steps’ To Investigate Year-Old Odessa Massacre (RT)

Moscow has called on the international community to put pressure on Ukrainian authorities, which are not making any ‘tangible steps’ towards an independent and impartial investigation of last year’s Odessa massacre, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said. “With a deep concern we have to state that one year [since the tragedy], the Ukrainian justice system did not take any tangible steps toward an objective, independent and impartial investigation of this horrific crime in order to bring the perpetrators to justice,” the statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry said, as cited by Sputnik news agency. On May 2 last year, the Ukrainian radicals set fire to the Trade Union House in Odessa, killing 48 and injuring over 200 anti-Kiev activists inside.

“As a result of these barbaric acts of intimidation, several dozen people, whose only fault was that they openly expressed their civic stance against the anti-constitutional coup in February 2014 and outburst of radical ultranationalists, were killed,” the Foreign Ministry’s statement reads. Moscow urged the international community, including human rights NGOs, to “decisively and honestly” demand Kiev stage a fair investigation into the Odessa massacre and correct the “glaring flaws” in Ukrainian judicial system. The ministry stressed that Kiev’s “carelessness” and passiveness in investigating the May 2 events is backed by the stance of its Western backers and some major global media outlets.

The little attention given to the Odessa massacre in European and American news is “yet another manifestation of information warfare and manipulation of the media,” the statement said. Meanwhile, the US also addressed Kiev with an appeal not to delay the investigation of deadly fire. “We reiterate the need for a thorough and transparent investigation so those responsible can ultimately be held accountable. We continue to urge the Ukrainian government to investigate and bring charges against those culpable for the events in Odessa and to do so as quickly as possible,” Marie Harf, US State Department spokeswoman, said on Thursday.

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Little bit crazy perhaps? My guess is if this comes out, he’s going to lose a lot of sympathy. Kiwi’s are sort of done with him anyway.

Kim Dotcom Awarded Millions For Legal Bills And Living Expenses (TF)

Kim Dotcom has succeeded in getting more of his seized funds released by the courts in New Zealand. In addition to millions for legal expenses, the entrepreneur will receive $128K per month including $60K to pay mansion rent, $25,600 to cover staff and security, plus $11,300 for grocery and other expenses.

How much does it cost to enjoy a reasonable standard of living in the modern world? A couple of thousand dollars a month? Three thousand? Four? For Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom, none of these amounts scratch the surface, a problematic situation considering all of his assets were previously seized by the U.S. and New Zealand governments. In February a “broke” and “destitute” Dotcom appeared before Justice Patricia Courtney, asking for living expenses and a massive cash injection to pay historical and current legal fees. Dotcom was previously granted around US$15,000 per month to live on but high costs had left him “penniless”. Following the hearing Justice Courtney’s ruling is largely good news for Dotcom, with the Judge taking into consideration claims by authorities that the entrepreneur has funds in a trust that could help pay his expenses.

“The trust’s major asset is its shareholding in Mega Ltd, said to be worth more than $30m (US$22.6m). In evidence Mr Dotcom said that there were difficulties in selling Mega shares because they were blocked from being sold until the planned listing of Mega, which is now scheduled for late May 2015 (though it is possible that this date will be pushed back). There was no evidence to the contrary,” the Judge’s ruling reads. “I have concluded that Mr Dotcom does not have the ability to meet his legal and reasonable living expenses from trust assets because, on the evidence, those assets are not sufficiently liquid.” Noting that he still owes former lawyers around US$1.5m, the Judge said that Dotcom’s estimate for financing his legal battle against extradition is between US$1.5m and US$3m.

This amount will be released from currently restrained government bonds. Next up was the Dotcom family’s accommodation costs. Rent on the now-famous mansion amounts to US$754,000 per annum under a lease Dotcom signed in February 2013 and which expires in the same month 2016. The Judge decided that terminating that lease would result in additional costs. “If [Dotcom] were to terminate the lease in order to find a more modest home, he would immediately be exposed to a significant contractual liability for the existing rental in addition to the costs of any new accommodation,” the Judge writes.

“Little would be saved by requiring Mr Dotcom to move into more modest accommodation pending the expiry of the lease; it is more likely that the total amount required to house Mr Dotcom and his children and meet his lease commitment would actually prove greater than simply remaining where he is. “I therefore accept that, in the particular circumstances of this case, a figure of $80,000 (US$60,300) per month is reasonable for accommodation.”

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