Apr 132018
 
 April 13, 2018  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Ezra Stoller Parking garage, New Haven, Connecticut 1963

 

Zombies In Our Midst (Felder)
After 10 Fat Years For Stock Investors A Lean Decade Is Looming (MW)
China Records Rare Trade Deficit In March As Exports Fall 2.7% (R.)
London House Prices Falling At Fastest Rate In Nine Years (G.)
Google Saves Manhattan Office Market. Chinese Buyers Vanish (WS)
The Deep State Closes In On The Donald: Mueller’s War, Part 2 (Stockman)
Bitcoin Surges 15%, Pushing Crypto Market Cap Above $300 Billion (MW)
The US Fading into Irrelevance – A Good Thing for the World (Pieraccini)
Interest Rate Hikes Are On The Way, But When And How Fast? (AFR)
Why Trade Wars Will Unleash Central Banks (Nomi Prins)
Global Warming Is a Central Bank Issue (BBG)
Decline In Bees Puts Supply Of Raw Materials For Global Business At Risk (Ind.)
No Plan To Protect Queensland’s Green-Haired Turtle From Extinction (G.)
Gulf Stream Slowdown ‘About A Century Ahead Of Schedule’ (TP)

 

 

Ponzi’s and zombies. Not Jesse Felder’s original title, but this one by DiMartino Booth is better.

Zombies In Our Midst (Felder)

To begin to understand the current situation in Minsky terms we must first understand the hypothesis: “The first theorem of the financial instability hypothesis is that the economy has financing regimes under which it is stable, and financing regimes in which it is unstable. The second theorem of the financial instability hypothesis is that over periods of prolonged prosperity, the economy transits from financial relations that make for a stable system to financial relations that make for an unstable system. In particular, over a protracted period of good times, capitalist economies tend to move from a financial structure dominated by hedge finance units to a structure in which there is large weight to units engaged in speculative and Ponzi finance.”

Next we need to understand what these financing units are: “Hedge financing units are those which can fulfill all oftheir contractual payment obligations by their cash flows… Speculative finance units are units that can meet their payment commitments on “income account” on their liabilities, even as they cannot repay the principle out of income cash flows… For Ponzi units, the cash flows from operations are not sufficient to fulfill either the repayment of principle or the interest due on outstanding debts by their cash flows from operations.”

And this is what reminded me of Minsky when I read the recent article in Grant’s with the accompanying chart below. It shows the percent of companies in the S&P 500 that would fall into Minsky’s “Ponzi unit” category. Specifically, Bianco Research defines these “zombies” as companies whose interest expense is greater than their 3-year average EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes). Currently, we face the greatest percentage of “Ponzi units” in at least 20 years.

This should be worrisome to investors and even more so to those managing monetary policy because it suggests that financial instability within the economy may be greater than any other time over the past couple of decades. Minsky again: “It can be shown that if hedge financing dominates, then the economy may well be an equilibrium seeking and containing system. In contrast, the greater the weight of speculative and Ponzi finance, the greater the likelihood that the economy is a deviation amplifying system.” Those last three words are critical. “A deviation amplifying system,” simply means an economy built on a virtuous cycle that risks evolving into a vicious one.

So long as interest rates remain low and investor risk appetites remain strong zombies will thrive and the economy will, as well, relatively speaking of course. However, should interest rates rise and risk appetites reverse course the risk of a self-reinforcing downturn grows. Minsky explains: “In particular… if an economy with a sizeable body of speculative financial units is in an inflationary state, and the authorities attempt to exorcise inflation by monetary constraint, then speculative units will become Ponzi units and the net worth of previously Ponzi units will quickly evaporate. Consequently, units with cash flow shortfalls will be forced to try to make position by selling out position. This is likely to lead to a collapse of asset values.”

Read more …

It won’t be like any of those previous decades.

After 10 Fat Years For Stock Investors A Lean Decade Is Looming (MW)

It’s a phrase that comes standard on Wall Street, but which may be taking on ominous undertones in the current market: Past performance is no guarantee of future returns. It should come as no surprise that U.S. equity-market investors have been handsomely rewarded thus far this decade, a period of time that roughly corresponds with the recovery from the financial crisis (the bottom came in March 2009, roughly 10 months before the start of the 2010s). The S&P 500 is up nearly 140% since the start of the decade, and more than 180% on a total-return basis. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up more than 130% over the same period. Those are obviously strong gains, but even the biggest bulls on Wall Street may not appreciate just how strong this period has been relative to other decades.

“The 2010s have so far been one of the highest-returning and lowest-risk decades for U.S. stocks in the last 100 years,” wrote Howard Wang, co-founder of Convoy Investments. According to Convoy’s data, stocks averaged a total annualized return of 13.2% thus far this decade, comfortably above the long-term average of 9.6%. While this was below four other decades — the best decade was the 1950s, when the average was 18.8%, followed by the 18.6% gain in the 1990s — equities fared better in terms of their excess return above interest rates. By the excess-return measure, the 2010s have seen an average annual return of 12.7%, significantly above the 5.8% long-term average (going back to the 1920s).

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“Separately, China’s dollar-denominated trade surplus with the United States rose 19.4% in the first quarter…”

China Records Rare Trade Deficit In March As Exports Fall 2.7% (R.)

China’s March exports unexpected fell 2.7% from a year earlier, the first drop since February last year, while imports grew 14.4%, more than expected, customs data showed on Friday. That left the country with a rare trade deficit of $4.98 billion for the month, also the first since last February. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected March shipments from the world’s largest exporter to have risen 10.0%, slowing sharply from a 44.5% spike in the previous month which was believed to be heavily distorted by seasonal factors. Import growth had been expected to pick up to 10.0%, after slowing sharply to 6.3% in February.

Analysts expected China would record a trade surplus of $27.21 billion for last month, from February’s surplus of $33.75 billion. For the first quarter, exports rose 14.1%, and imports rose 18.9% on-year. China’s trade performance has got off to a strong start this year, following through on a solid rebound in 2017, thanks to sustained demand at home and abroad. But the export outlook is being clouded by an escalating trade dispute with the United States, which could disrupt China’s shipments and its supply chains, while a cooling property market may curb China’s demand for imported raw materials such as iron ore. Separately, China’s dollar-denominated trade surplus with the United States rose 19.4% in the first quarter.

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Ain’t seen nothing yet.

London House Prices Falling At Fastest Rate In Nine Years (G.)

House prices in London are falling at the fastest rate in nine years, according to Halifax, Britain’s biggest mortgage lender. Prices in the capital were down 3.2% between January and March compared with the previous quarter, the sharpest decline since the depths of the financial crisis, according to regional data collated by IHS Markit and published by Halifax, part of Lloyds Banking Group. London also recorded the sharpest fall in annual house prices since the start of 2011. Property values fell 3.8% in the first quarter from a year ago, following a 0.7% annual drop in the fourth quarter. London prices have been falling on a quarterly and annual basis since the third quarter of 2017.

There was a small annual increase of 0.3% in prices in the south-east of England at the start of the year, and a rise of 1.9% in the south-west. Prices grew strongly elsewhere in the country. The east Midlands and East Anglia recorded the fastest rates of annual price inflation, at 7.3% and 7.2% respectively, followed by Scotland at 6.7% and Yorkshire and the Humber at 6.1%. The standardised price of a home in London was £430,749 in the first quarter, the lowest since the end of 2015. Figures are standardised in order to track the price of a “typical house” by giving values to certain attributes of the properties and using them to calculate the price.

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The only game in town.

Google Saves Manhattan Office Market. Chinese Buyers Vanish (WS)

Chinese entities – such as the conglomerates – were once the dominant buyer in US trophy office markets, such as Manhattan. It ended with a big bang in the second quarter of 2017 when Chinese entities accounted for half of the commercial real estate volume in Manhattan, including its sixth largest transaction ever, the $2.2 billion purchase of 245 Park Avenue by the conglomerate HNA Group. It paid $1,282 per square foot, as it was called, “among the highest price per pound for this type of asset.” It was the last big Chinese property purchase in Manhattan.

But Google blew that deal out of the water, with its $2.4 billion acquisition of the iconic eight-story Chelsea Market at 75 Ninth Ave in Q1 this year. This was the second largest deal ever to close in Manhattan. And Google paid a breath-taking $2,181 per square foot. We will never again laugh about the inflated prices Chinese buyers were paying. [..] And here is what that Google deal did to the Manhattan office market: It more than doubled the total volume of sales! Without the Google deal, total transaction volume would have been $2.12 billion. With the Google deal, it jumped to $4.52 billion! [..] the dizzying price of $2,181 per square foot that Google forked over pushed the average price per square foot to a record $1,266, up 70% from Q1 last year:

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David is a great ranter.

The Deep State Closes In On The Donald: Mueller’s War, Part 2 (Stockman)

What is going on in the eastern Mediterranean and over the skies and on the ground in Syria is absolutely nuts; it’s also scary dangerous and utterly unnecessary, too. After all, the imminent Russian/American military clash is over the skeleton of an artificial backwater nation confected in 1916 by two swells in the British and French foreign offices. At length, what was never a nation anyway has finally been reduced to rubble, misery and sectarian fragments. So there is nothing to contest now, and, in fact, there never was. The sovereign government of Syria long ago invited the Russians in and Washington out. Period. Why, then, are commercial aircraft being warned to stay out of Syrian airspace, while the Russian fleet at Tartus scrambles into defensive redeployments?

Likewise, why is the Syrian air force being forced to hide its planes and helicopters in its own country, while Washington steams an armada of warships toward the Mediterranean that is larger and more lethal than the entire Navy of almost every other country in the world? The answer is simple and terrible: Washington has become the War Capital of the planet and now teems with a whole generation of war-obsessed bureaucrats, think-tankers, consultants, lobbyists, militarists, imperialists, neocon belligerents and the legions of military/industrial/spy complex racketeers who feed off a hideously bloated national security budget.

Of course, you also have thousands of politicians—both those now in office and those who hang-around afterwards and get prosperous by hanging-out a shingle to ply the business of operating Washington’s global empire. Among them are the brainwashed, the stupid, the larcenous, the sanctimonious, the venal, the flag-wavers, the sunshine patriots and the ideologues of American exceptionalism, responsibility-to-protect (R2P), democracy propagation and plain old imperial hegemony.

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Casino. Not for the faint of heart.

Bitcoin Surges 15%, Pushing Crypto Market Cap Above $300 Billion (MW)

After a period of low volatility, cryptocurrencies have broken out of their recent ranges, surging to multiweek highs on Thursday. The No. 1 digital currency, bitcoin rose to a two-week peak, trading above $8,000 to an intraday high of $8,055.20, adding as much as 16%. A single coin last changed hands at $7,705.21, up 11%. The intraday move is the largest since Feb. 6 when bitcoin traded down to $5,947.40 before closing at $7,700.39, a 29.4% move. The move comes after bitcoin spent the best part of two weeks in the $6,500 to $7,500 range. The tight sideways action created a so-called wedge formation, which can often presage significant swings in either direction once breached, according to market technicians “We have seen consolidation in a very small range,” said Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst with ThinkMarkets. “When the consolidation is in such a tight range the probability is that a move to the upside can be two to three times the size of the consolidation range.”

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Multipolar is the future.

The US Fading into Irrelevance – A Good Thing for the World (Pieraccini)

As demonstrated by the recent meeting between the defense ministers of Russia and China, the multipolar strategy is now wide-ranging, relegating Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh to further digging themselves into the hole they have already dug themselves into (see recent events in Syria with Israel launching 8 missiles and Trump beating the drums of war). As General Wei Fenghe stated, “We came to Moscow to let the Americans know about the close military ties between the armed forces of China and Russia.” When these two military and economic powers unite their efforts, involving regional powers and mediating over various conflicts, it becomes clear that the challenge to Washington’s hegemony is progressively leading away from an international reality consisting of one superpower to one consisting of three to four powers that maintain an international balance via diplomatic, economic and military means.

The phase in which we currently live is turbulent and is essentially caused by a single factor that has two very strong thrusts. The acceleration of the dwindling of the unipolar phase is directly connected with the strategic and tactical errors of the American deep state and its main sponsors, like Israel and Saudi Arabia. At the same time, the opposing push comes from the multipolar environment, which tends to consolidate its sphere of influence via diplomatic and military means. The goal for Moscow and Beijing is to present to the American and European elites a viable alternative that is shared among several actors. For the time being, the Euro-Atlantic establishment continues to consider itself capable of changing the course of events and preventing the drift towards multipolarity.

Whether the Western oligarchy is a victim to its own propaganda or whether it simply wishes to avoid facing reality and is using every means available to postpone an epochal change, is difficult to determine; and this makes the future uncertain, and is therefore highly dangerous.

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“The economy may only be operating on a single cylinder, but each time it’s an impressive one.”

Interest Rate Hikes Are On The Way, But When And How Fast? (AFR)

The Australian economy may not be booming, but it looks to have performed “the miracle pivot”. This is what Ardea Investment Management portfolio manager Tamar Hamlyn calls the economy’s remarkably smooth transition away from a once-in-a-generation mining investment boom without falling into recession. A massive uplift in residential construction activity has carried us through. The “next dance” is infrastructure investment, Hamlyn says. Now we await what feels like another miracle: an RBA rate hike. The economy may only be operating on a single cylinder, but each time it’s an impressive one. We don’t have a solid pick-up in consumption and “we are never going to have that really solid GDP growth until we get that,” Hamlyn says.

But what we are is far from the recessionary fears that were the original rationale for rates at such low levels. It makes sense, then, to think that in the absence of a nasty shock, it seems perfectly reasonable to bet, as RBA governor Philip Lowe flagged again this week, that the next move in rates will be up and not down. But when will that first hike be? And how far will they eventually go? And how quickly will they get there? Accepting that borrowing costs are more likely to get more rather than less expensive is one thing. But anybody trying to assess the potential risks and rewards of taking on a large and long-dated loan obligation, whether it be a mortgage or a business loan, needs to think beyond the next hike. Let’s start with when the RBA will act. Unfortunately, the experts and the market are telling a different story.

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Central banks are still supposed to save us. Sure.

Why Trade Wars Will Unleash Central Banks (Nomi Prins)

You can bet that deep within the halls of the Fed they are developing a game plan to keep the markets from crashing if trade wars escalate. This is another reason to believe that trade wars will be met with cheap money policy. You can look at this as a financial see-saw of sorts. Trade wars, or even media soundbites about them, will spark negative markets reactions. That is why the Fed and other central banks will combat this with cheap words and even cheaper money policies. If the U.S. does jump into a hot trade war it could find itself needing to make up for the costs. The logical place to turn is to the beacon of more money creation from the Fed or to issue more debt.

The Fed would be directly involved in order to keep the cost of debt from rising, again — which is why my analysis forecasts a return to Fed policies that keep rates low. Similarly, other major economies would also unleash their central bank money when needed. This type of tit-for-tat response is already playing out. Beijing has used its new wealth to attract friends, deter enemies, modernize its military, and aggressively assert its central bank into nearly any sector it believes requires assistance. This type of brinksmanship shows that it is only a matter of time before a trade war with China morphs into massive military build-up and competition.

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Oh yeah, sure, central bankers will save the planet.

Global Warming Is a Central Bank Issue (BBG)

Central bankers have been dubbed “masters of the universe” for the tools and powers they have acquired since the financial crisis. Some of them now want to play a more active role in the fight against climate change. Monetary authorities are right to be mindful of the way in which climate risk affects their mandate to ensure price stability and guard financial stability. But that is different from seeking to promote the shift to a “greener” economy, which is the role of government. Last week, central bank governors from the U.K., France and the Netherlands met in Amsterdam to discuss how to adapt regulation to the risks posed by climate change.

Together with five other institutions (from China, Germany, Mexico, Singapore and Sweden), these central banks have formed the “Network for Greening the Financial System” (NGFS). This group has two objectives: sharing and identifying best practices in the supervision of climate-related risks, and enhancing the role of the financial sector in mobilizing “green” financing. The first is entirely reasonable and consistent with the central banks’ traditional role. As Francois Villeroy de Galhau, governor of the Bank of France, said in a speech at the conference, “Climate stability is one of the determinants of financial stability.” It is only right that financial supervisors take an interest in what is going on.

The clearest example concerns the regulation of insurers: Climate change has made extreme weather events such as hurricanes more frequent. Regulators must ensure that the industry updates its models and sets aside enough capital to deal with these growing climate-related risks. To do so, central bankers may need to extend the supervisory horizon beyond their usual time span. Climate change may only pose a threat for the balance sheet some years down the road, but these risks should be assessed now. Villeroy de Galhau argued in his speech that the financial sector should move towards “a compulsory transparency requirement,” so that companies are forced to provide a snapshot of their climate-related risks. It’s an idea supervisors around the world should embrace.

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As long as we keep putting species extinction in terms of trade and profit, we are doomed.

Decline In Bees Puts Supply Of Raw Materials For Global Business At Risk (Ind.)

Businesses face a shortage of raw materials and a drop in the quality of crop as the number of bees decline worldwide, a new report warns. Approximately three quarters of crops around the world depend on pollination, all of which could soon be threatened as more than a third of wild bee and butterfly species face extinction, according to a joint study by the UN, the University of East Anglia and Cambridge University. Major businesses, including Asda, the Body Shop, Mars and Pepsico, say they are unable to take action largely because of uncertainty around which crops and regions are vulnerable to the decline in pollinators such as bees.

“The role pollinators play – be it tiny midges for cocoa or squirrels for coconut – is not well understood and can be taken for granted,” says Jos van Oostrum, director of sustainable solutions at chocolate and confectionary maker Mars. Cocoa, a vital ingredient in the production of chocolate, is at particular risk from a declining number of bees and other species that help spread pollen. The risks of a shortfall in raw materials not only prove a challenge for food production, but also the sourcing of ingredients for beauty products. “The importance of pollination for natural raw materials is increasingly a priority for us,” said the Body Shop’s sustainable sourcing manager Francesca Brkic.

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Everytime I make a new friend I find out they’re about to die. It’s making me terribly sad.

No Plan To Protect Queensland’s Green-Haired Turtle From Extinction (G.)

The Australian government does not have a plan to save an endangered Australian turtle species that received global attention on Thursday for its green mohawk and its ability to breathe through its genitals. The Mary river turtle, found only in that one river in Queensland, attracted worldwide headlines as one of the standout species on a new list of the most vulnerable reptile species compiled by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). But despite this listing it does not have a national recovery plan to protect it from extinction and it is unclear whether any federal government funds have been specifically allocated for its protection. The turtle is 29th on ZSL’s Evolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered (Edge) list for reptiles, which highlights the conservation needs of some of the world’s unique reptiles.

The turtle is not the only reptile species found in Australia to appear on the list, with eight species making the top 100, and seven of those appearing in the top 40. Among them are the critically endangered western swamp tortoise, which is number seven on the Edge list, the pig-nosed turtle, number 19 on the list, and the Gulbaru Gecko, a critically endangered Queensland species that was only discovered in 2001 and appears at 40 on the list. Conservationists say the list highlights the lack of conservation attention many Australian reptiles receive compared to more charismatic and iconic mammal and bird species. The federal government’s threatened species strategy specifically targets 20 mammals, 20 birds and 30 plants, but no reptiles.

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The climate on both sides of the Atlantic would change too much to imagine.

Gulf Stream Slowdown ‘About A Century Ahead Of Schedule’ (TP)

New research provides strong evidence that one of the long-predicted worst-case impacts of climate change — a severe slow-down of the Gulf Stream system — has already started. The system, also known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), brings warmer water northward while pumping cooler water southward. “I think we’re close to a tipping point,” climatologist Michael Mann told ThinkProgress in an email. The AMOC slow down “is without precedent” in more than a millennium he said, adding, “It’s happening about a century ahead of schedule relative to what the models predict.”

The impacts of such a slowdown include much faster sea level rise — and much warmer sea surface temperatures — for much of the U.S. East Coast. Both of those effects are already being observed and together they make devastating storm surges of the kind we saw with Superstorm Sandy far more likely. The findings come in two new studies published this week. One study published in the journal Nature, titled “Observed fingerprint of a weakening Atlantic Ocean overturning circulation,” was led by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. It finds that the AMOC has weakened “around 15 per cent” since the mid-twentieth century, bringing it to “a new record low.”

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Aug 022017
 
 August 2, 2017  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Stanley Kubrick Men’s fashion show, New York 1948

 

New Rule Makes It Easier To Get A Mortgage With Student Loan Debt (F.)
US Auto Market Slump Persists (BBG)
US Plans Trade Measures Against China (WSJ)
US Begins Russia Drawdown After Kremlin Retaliates For Sanctions (R.)
Former Obama Aide Rhodes A Person Of Interest In Unmasking Investigation (C.)
For Sale: Two Half-Finished Nuclear Reactors -Never Used- (BBG)
Nissan Runs One Of ‘Nastiest Anti-Union Campaigns’ In Modern US History (G.)
Monsanto’s Sway Over Research Is Seen in Disclosed Emails (NYT)
Pesticide ‘Drifting’ Wreaks Havoc Across US Crops (BBG)
Bees Are Bouncing Back From Colony Collapse Disorder – A Little (BBG)
8 Migrants Dead Off Libya, 500 Rescued As Italy Prepares Naval Mission (AFP)
EasyJet Passengers Left High And Dry In Greece Due to Mating Turtles (G.)

 

 

Desperately mining for a new generation of greater fools. Courtesy of government-owned Fannie Mae. What a world.

New Rule Makes It Easier To Get A Mortgage With Student Loan Debt (F.)

For millions of Americans drowning in student loan debt, the prospect of getting a mortgage might seem out of reach. Last week, Fannie Mae changed underwriting rules that could make it much easier for people with student loan debt to qualify for a mortgage. The new rule impacts people with federal student loan debt who are currently on an income-driven repayment program. An income-driven repayment plan sets your monthly student loan payment at an amount that is intended to be affordable based upon your income and family size. Depending upon the plan, your monthly payment could be capped as low as 10% of your discretionary income. And if your discretionary income is low enough, your monthly payment could be as low as $0.

In order to qualify for a mortgage, a borrower needs to meet certain debt-to-income (DTI) requirements. That seems simple enough. However, there was confusion regarding federal student loan debt on an income-driven repayment program. When calculating a debt burden, should the underwriter include the standard student loan payment, the reduced payment, or something in between? The new statement from Fannie Mae makes it clear: the reduced payment can be used, even when the payment is $0. According to Fannie Mae, “if the lender obtains documentation to evidence the actual monthly payment is $0, the lender may qualify the borrower with the $0 payment as long as the $0 payment is associated with an income-driven repayment plan.”

This is important, because the payment calculation for a student loan (10% of the discretionary income) is different from the DTI requirement of a mortgage. Many Americans could find it easier to qualify for a mortgage while in student loan debt. Michigan-based mortgage broker Cassandra Evers told MagnifyMoney that the changes “allow a lot more borrowers to qualify for a home.” Previously, there was a lot of confusion among borrowers, lenders, and brokers, Evers said. “[The rules have] changed at least five or six times in the last five years.”

Read more …

“You can’t jawbone the economy..”

US Auto Market Slump Persists (BBG)

Here’s a bad sign for the U.S. economy: Auto sales just fell the most since August 2010, a year after the federal government’s “Cash for Clunkers” program to stimulate demand came to an end. Sales at General Motors plunged 15% in its home market in July, the biggest drop in more than a year. Its Detroit rivals didn’t fare much better: Ford reported its biggest sales decline since October and Fiat Chrysler had its second worst tumble this year. The disappointing showing underscores how Detroit has been struggling to live up to President Donald Trump’s prediction that it would become “the car capital of the world again.” The hometown automakers are instead laying off U.S. workers, particularly those who build passenger cars that have fallen out of favor with American consumers.

A demand slump has rendered spending on vehicles and parts a drag on U.S. economic growth, after years of contributing to expansion. “You can’t jawbone the economy,” said Diane Swonk, CEO and founder of DS Economics. “The auto industry was stronger than the rest of the economy for a while because they were giving credit to people who couldn’t pay loans. Sales crested sooner and now they are paying the price.” The traditional U.S. automakers each missed projections for declines that analysts gave in a Bloomberg News survey. While Nissan and Honda both beat projections, only Toyota posted a gain. Industrywide deliveries fell 7%, the steepest drop since the anniversary of “Cash for Clunkers,” a program that inflated U.S. sales in August 2009 as buyers traded in for more fuel-efficient wheels. The annualized pace of light-vehicle sales, adjusted for seasonal trends, slowed to 16.7 million in July, according to Autodata Corp., from 17.8 million a year earlier.

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China is not liking this.

US Plans Trade Measures Against China (WSJ)

The Trump administration is planning trade measures to force Beijing to crack down on intellectual-property theft and ease requirements that American companies share advanced technologies to gain entry to the Chinese market. The administration is considering invoking a little-used provision of U.S. trade law to investigate whether China’s intellectual-property policies constitute “unfair trade practices,” according to people familiar with the matter. That would pave the way for the U.S. to impose sanctions on Chinese exporters or to further restrict the transfer of advanced technology to Chinese firms or to U.S.-China joint ventures. American business frustration with Chinese trade and market-access practices has mounted in recent years, with U.S. business groups urging the government to take a tougher trade line with China.

Many organizations have complained that the Trump administration hasn’t pushed hard enough in areas like intellectual property, as it has focused more on Chinese manufacturing and China’s $347 billion trade surplus with the U.S. last year. That discontent has intensified as China’s economy continued to expand and its computer and software sectors became bigger competitors internationally. Western firms fear China will use the regulations to bar foreign investments in areas that Beijing targets for investment, including semiconductors, advanced-machine tools and artificial intelligence. One big question hanging over the White House review is whether the administration pursues any complaint through the World Trade Organization, or whether it chooses to impose penalties on its own without first seeking permission from the international body, which some Trump advisers have argued is incapable of dealing with China’s trade practices.

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Has Trump even signed the new sanctions yet?

US Begins Russia Drawdown After Kremlin Retaliates For Sanctions (R.)

The United States began removing furniture and equipment from a diplomatic property in Moscow on Tuesday in the first sign of compliance with a Kremlin order to slash its presence in Russia as retaliation for new U.S. sanctions. President Vladimir Putin has ordered the United States to cut around 60% of its diplomatic staff in Russia by Sept. 1, and said Moscow will seize two U.S. diplomatic properties in response to sanctions approved by Congress last week. The White House has said U.S. President Donald Trump will sign the sanctions bill, meant as a response to alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and to further punish Moscow for its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

On Tuesday, removal men began dismantling play equipment and barbecues at a U.S.-owned dacha (country villa) on the outskirts of Moscow, after being refused access the day before, according to a Reuters journalist at the scene. The dacha, which is being confiscated along with a U.S. warehouse in the south of the Russian capital, was used by U.S. diplomatic staff at the weekends and to host parties for students, journalists and other diplomats. [..] The ultimatum issued by the Russian leader is a display to voters at home that he is prepared to stand up to Washington – but is also carefully calibrated to avoid directly affecting the U.S. investment he needs, or burning his bridges with Trump. One person at the embassy, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to the media, said staff there were feeling depressed and despondent as they came to terms with the Kremlin’s order. “The mood in the office is very pessimistic,” the person said. “Everyone is just loitering, or sitting on job websites looking for a new job.”

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Strange things were taking place.

Former Obama Aide Rhodes A Person Of Interest In Unmasking Investigation (C.)

Former Obama White House National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes is now an emerging as a person of interest in the House Intelligence Committee’s unmasking investigation, according to a letter sent Tuesday by the committee to the National Security Agency (NSA). This adds Rhodes to the growing list of top Obama government officials who may have improperly unmasked Americans in communications intercepted overseas by the NSA, Circa has confirmed. The House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-CA, sent the letter to the National Security Agency requesting the number of unmaskings made by Rhodes from Jan. 1, 2016 to Jan. 20, 2017, according to congressional sources who spoke with Circa.

Rhodes, who worked closely with former National Security Adviser Susan Rice and was a former deputy national security adviser for strategic communications for President Obama, became a focus of the committee during its review of classified information to assess whether laws were broken regarding NSA intercepted communications of President Trump, members of his administration and other Americans before and after the election, according to congressional officials. The committee is requesting that the NSA deliver the information on Rhodes by August, 21. Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, Rice and former CIA Director John Brennan have all been named in the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the unmasking of Americans.

A letter sent last week from Nunes to Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence, suggested that top Obama aides made hundreds of unmasking requests during the 2016 presidential elections. The story, which was first reported by The Hill last week, stated that the requests were made without specific justifications as to why the unmasking was necessary. Rice and Brennan have confirmed they sought the unredacted names of Americans in NSA-sourced intelligence reports but insisted their requests were routine parts of their work and had no nefarious intentions. Power also has legal authority to unmask officials, though the practice has not reportedly been common for someone in her position. Rhodes also had legal authority to unmask Americans in NSA-source intelligence reports. But intelligence and congressional sources question the extent of the unmasking.

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Testament to insanity and waste.

For Sale: Two Half-Finished Nuclear Reactors -Never Used- (BBG)

Looking to buy two half-finished nuclear reactors? It may be your lucky day. U.S. utility owner Scana Corp. dropped a plan to build two reactors at the V.C. Summer power plant in South Carolina on Monday after the projected total costs exceeded $20 billion. The cancelation of the project is another blow to the much-hyped (and thus far non-existent) nuclear renaissance in the U.S. As cheap natural gas squeezes the margins of nuclear generators, there’s only one company currently building reactors in the country — Southern Co., at its Vogtle plant in Georgia. So what’s a utility to do with two unfinished nukes laying around in South Carolina? Scana CEO Kevin Marsh said in a call with analysts that he wants to keep the equipment in operating condition in case someone in China, India or the U.K. wants to buy it.

A sale like that is easier said than done. “The Chinese are developing a competitive product, the Brits are in trouble with their nuclear projects and the Indians want to develop their own supply chain,” said Chris Gadomski, a nuclear industry analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance. It’s more likely the South Carolina project is “mothballed,” he said. Reactors have found new buyers and new life in the past. In 2016, the Tennessee Valley Authority turned on its Watts Bar 2 reactor after work had been suspended in 1985. Franklin L. Haney bought an unfinished, decades-old nuclear plant in northern Alabama at an auction last November for $111 million. The Bellefonte plant came with two partially built nuclear reactors, one that’s about 55% complete and another about 35% finished.

Haney still has to get the mothballed station into working order, find customers for its power and qualify for a federal nuclear production tax credit. Perhaps a similar fate awaits the V.C. Summer plant. “It makes more sense to let them sit in place, maintain them, and see if they can be revisited,” Gadomski said.

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What, there are still unions?

Nissan Runs One Of ‘Nastiest Anti-Union Campaigns’ In Modern US History (G.)

Days before a potentially historic union vote at the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi, the car company has been accused of running one of the “nastiest anti-union campaigns in the modern history of the American labour movement”. The vote, a fiercely contested effort by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union to represent a foreign automaker’s US plant, is planned for Thursday and Friday this week. It comes as US unions are hopeful they can overturn a series of defeats as they seek to build membership in southern states, where manufacturers have moved to take advantage of lower wages and non-union workforces. In the closing days of the campaign, which has attracted support from the former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, UAW officials and their allies have become increasingly confident of victory even as managers have pressured workers to vote no.

“People are rallying,” says Frank Figgers, co-chair of the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan. The UAW is undertaking an extensive door-to-door campaign to visit workers in their homes to discuss the union. The UAW has shipped in staff from all over the country to help in the effort. Other unions from around the south have shipped in organizers from across the country to assist in the outreach to the plant’s nearly 4,000 workers. Nissan has responded with fierce opposition. The company has blitzed local TV with anti-union ads and stands accused of both threatening and bribing workers to vote no. It requires workers to regularly attend anti-union roundtable group meetings as well as one-on-one meetings with their direct supervisors, some of whom have worn “vote no” T-shirts to work. The Republican governor, Phil Bryant, has also come out hard for Nissan. “If you want to take away your job, if you want to end manufacturing as we know it in Mississippi, just start expanding unions,” Bryant said last week.

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Evil incorporated.

Monsanto’s Sway Over Research Is Seen in Disclosed Emails (NYT)

Documents released Tuesday in a lawsuit against Monsanto raised new questions about the company’s efforts to influence the news media and scientific research and revealed internal debate over the safety of its highest-profile product, the weed killer Roundup. The active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, is the most common weed killer in the world and is used by farmers on row crops and by home gardeners. While Roundup’s relative safety has been upheld by most regulators, a case in federal court in San Francisco continues to raise questions about the company’s practices and the product itself. The documents underscore the lengths to which the agrochemical company goes to protect its image. Documents show that Henry I. Miller, an academic and a vocal proponent of genetically modified crops, asked Monsanto to draft an article for him that largely mirrored one that appeared under his name on Forbes’s website in 2015.

A similar issue appeared in academic research. An academic involved in writing research funded by Monsanto, John Acquavella, a former Monsanto employee, appeared to express discomfort with the process, writing in a 2015 email to a Monsanto executive, “I can’t be part of deceptive authorship on a presentation or publication.” He also said of the way the company was trying to present the authorship: “We call that ghost writing and it is unethical.” A Monsanto official said the comments were the result of “a complete misunderstanding” that had been “worked out,” while Mr. Acquavella said in an email on Tuesday that “there was no ghostwriting” and that his comments had been related to an early draft and a question over authorship that was resolved. The documents also show internal talk about Roundup’s safety.

“If somebody came to me and said they wanted to test Roundup I know how I would react — with serious concern,” one Monsanto scientist wrote in an internal email in 2001. Monsanto said it was outraged by the documents’ release by a law firm involved in the litigation. “There is a standing confidentiality order that they violated,” said Scott Partridge, vice president of global strategy for Monsanto. He said that while “you can’t unring a bell,” Monsanto would seek penalties on the firm. “What you’re seeing are some cherry-picked things that can be made to look bad,” Mr. Partridge said. “But the substance and the science are not affected by this.”

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How does a farmer protect himself from Monsanto, DuPont and BASF?

Pesticide ‘Drifting’ Wreaks Havoc Across US Crops (BBG)

Larry Martin in Illinois says he’s never seen anything like it in his 35 years of farming. Arkansas soybean grower Joe McLemore says he faces the loss of his life savings. They’re among farmers across the U.S. suffering from a pesticide “drifting” across from neighboring fields onto their crops, leaving behind a trail of damage. Although not a new problem, it’s re-emerged with a vengeance this year. At least 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) have been damaged in this growing season through mid-July, according to estimates from Kevin Bradley, a professor of plant sciences at the University of Missouri. Dicamba, the offending herbicide, is produced by seed and crop-chemical giants Monsanto, DuPont and BASF.

It’s been around for decades, but in recent years it gained a new lease of life after the companies developed new dicamba-resistant soybean and cotton seeds, allowing farmers to spray crops later in the growing process. Dicamba is fine if you’re growing those genetically modified varieties, but not if you’re cultivating others and the chemical wafts over from another farm. The situation is so bad that states including Missouri, Arkansas, and Tennessee have placed restrictions on dicamba use at various times during the summer. Martin, a third-generation farmer, says an 80-acre soybean field of his has been damaged by dicamba. McLemore, who started out on his own eight years ago, after two decades working on someone else’s farm, says 800 of his 1,026 acres of soybeans have suffered damage.

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3%? That’s hardly ‘bouncing back’.

Bees Are Bouncing Back From Colony Collapse Disorder – A Little (BBG)

The number of U.S. honeybees, a critical component in the agriculture industry, rose in 2017 from a year earlier, and deaths of the insects attributed to a mysterious malady that’s affected hives in North America and Europe declined, according a U.S. Department of Agriculture honeybee health survey released Tuesday. The number of commercial U.S. honeybee colonies rose 3% to 2.89 million as of April 1, 2017 compared with a year earlier, the Agriculture Department reported. The number of hives lost to Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon of disappearing bees that has raised concerns among farmers and scientists for a decade, was 84,430 in this year’s first quarter, down 27% from a year earlier. Year-over-year losses declined by the same%age in April through June, the most recent data in the survey.

Still, more than two-fifths of beekeepers said mites were harming their hives, and with pesticides and other factors still stressing bees, the overall increase is largely the result of constant replenishment of losses, the study showed. “You create new hives by breaking up your stronger hives, which just makes them weaker,” said Tim May, a beekeeper in Harvard, Illinois and the vice-president of the American Beekeeping Federation based in Atlanta. “We check for mites, we keep our bees well-fed, we communicate with farmers so they don’t spray pesticides when our hives are vulnerable. I don’t know what else we can do.” Environmental groups have expressed alarm over the 90% decline during the past two decades in the population of pollinators, from wild bees to Monarch butterflies. Some point to a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids as a possible cause, a link rejected by Bayer AG and other manufacturers.

In the USDA study, beekeepers who owned at least five colonies, or hives, reported the most losses from the varroa mite, a parasite that lives only in beehives and survives by sucking insect blood. The scourge, present in the U.S. since 1987, was reported in 42% of commercial hives between April and June this year, according to the USDA. That’s down from 53% in the same period one year earlier. Among other factors, beekeepers said 13% of colonies in the second quarter of this year were stressed by pesticides, 12% by mites and pests other than varroa and 4.3 by diseases. Bad weather, starvation, insufficient forage and other reasons were listed as problems with 6.6% of hives.

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What does it mean to be human?

8 Migrants Dead Off Libya, 500 Rescued As Italy Prepares Naval Mission (AFP)

The bodies of eight migrants have been found at sea off the coast of Libya by rescuers coming to the aid of four rubber dinghies, the Italian coast guard said Tuesday. Some 500 survivors were pulled to safety, the coast guard told AFP, illustrating the huge challenge that continues to bedevil authorities as people try to reach Europe. The latest deaths came as the Italian government presented plans for a naval mission in Libyan territorial waters that aims to reduce the flow of migrants from the coast. Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, which was taking part in the rescues, said the corpses were recovered by the Santa Lucia merchant ship.

“We are here to stop more people drowning, today eight dead and four drifting boats” in distress, Proactiva’s founder, Oscar Champs, said on Twitter. The charity said there were 79 women and 39 minors — including four young children — among those rescued. Nearly 95,000 people have been brought to safety in Italy this year, a rise of 1% on the same period last year, according to the interior ministry. The government intends to send a logistics ship that could support Libyan units and will also offer a patrol boat, Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti told lawmakers on Tuesday. However, Italy has no intention to create a naval blockade, which would be a “hostile act,” she said, insisting that support for the Libyan mission was the aim and cooperation was necessary.

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If you read between the whining, what a lovely story. Night curfew because turtles are important. Perhaps that’s what it means to be human.

EasyJet Passengers Left High And Dry In Greece Due to Mating Turtles (G.)

Scores of easyJet passengers were stranded on the Greek island of Zakynthos (also known as Zante) after their plane developed technical difficulties and a replacement aircraft was prevented from flying in because of mating turtles. [..] The airline said the night curfew – apparently in place because of vulnerable loggerhead turtles breeding nearby – had prevented an alternative aircraft being sent out. The sea turtle breeding season is well under way in Zakynthos. According to Archelon, a group dedicated in protecting sea turtles in Greece, late June to early July see the highest levels of spawning. The group has recorded 500 nests on the island so far, but that is fewer than in previous years.

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