Jun 032018
 
 June 3, 2018  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Andrew Wyeth Christina’s world 1948

 

Why Italy Had To Say Goodbye To The Dolce Vita (David McWilliams)
An Italian Exit May Be Rome’s Best Option – JPMorgan (ZH)
Angela Merkel Rules Out Debt Relief For Italy (CNBC)
New Italy PM Starts Off In Shadow Of His Powerful Deputies (AFP)
Juncker: EU Won’t ‘Meddle’ In Italy’s Affairs (O.)
Political Bruiser Sánchez Stuns Spain To Become PM (Spain Report)
Europe: Confront Trump or Avoid a Costly Trade War (NYT)
US Wants Structural Changes To China’s Economy: Mnuchin
Uber’s ‘Business Is Finished’ In Turkey, Erdogan Says (R.)
Britain’s Low-Paid Face Decade Of Wage Squeeze (O.)
UK Universal Credit Change To Bar 2.6m Children From Free School Meals (Ind.)
Whale Dies From Eating More Than 80 Plastic Bags (AFP)

 

 

Excellent from David McWilliams on what the euro has done to Italy.

Why Italy Had To Say Goodbye To The Dolce Vita (David McWilliams)

Sometimes it is not appreciated quite how industrial Italy is. It has long been Europe’s second-biggest manufacturing power, beaten only by Germany. Italy is far more industrial than France or the UK. In some areas of design and high-quality manufacturing, Italy is still without peer. However, since it gave up the lira and adopted the euro – in effect Germany’s currency – things have gone pear-shaped. This economic calamity is driving Italian politics, leading many to question the euro and Italy’s membership of it. From 1945 to 1995 there was an understanding that Italy would devalue the lira. This is what Italy did. Traditionally, it devalued the lira every few years. This kept Italian industry competitive.

For example, when Italy joined the European Monetary System, in 1979, the exchange rate was 443 lire per Deutschmark. By 1990, the year of German reunification, the rate was 750 lire to the Deutschmark. By 1995 it was 1,000 lire to the Deutschmark. In the 1992 currency crisis the lira fell to a low of 1,250 against the Deutschmark before recovering a bit. The gradual fall in the value of the lira was a price that the Italians were prepared to pay for industrial success. Contrary to the dogma spouted by Europe’s central bankers, Italian devaluations worked particularly well. From 1979 to 1998, Italian industrial production outpaced that of Germany by more than 10%. Italian equities outperformed German equivalents by 16% – after having taken into account the devaluations.

So not only was Italian industry growing faster than German industry, aided by lira devaluations, but also the return on capital in Italy was higher than in Germany. This is because if the stock market of a country is outperforming another country’s, it implies that the capital that is deployed in the faster-growing country is being deployed more efficiently. Therefore, not only was Italy growing more quickly than Germany, but it was more efficient too. Then came the euro. Since Italy joined the single currency, almost to the day, its industry has gone backwards. Having outperformed German stocks during the period of the lira, Italian stocks have underperformed German stocks by a whopping, bankruptcy-inducing 65%.

During the half-century when Fellini was writing the story of postwar Italian success, the Italian stock market almost always returned more than the German stock market. Once Italy joined the euro that stopped almost overnight. Deep in the economy, the strictures imposed by the euro have destroyed much of Italian industry. For example, having outgrown Germany’s industrial output in the 1980s and 1990s by 10%, Italian factory output since Italy joined the euro has lagged Germany’s by 40%.

Read more …

Hard to summarize this long Zero Hedge piece. Depending on where you look, Italy may not be all that weak.

“If you owe the ECB €10 billion, you have no leverage. If you owe the ECB €426 billion, you have all the leverage.”

An Italian Exit May Be Rome’s Best Option – JPMorgan (ZH)

[..] with €426BN, Italy has the highest Target2 deficit with the Eurosystem (Spain is a close second with €377BN) any discussion about an Italian euro exit raises concerns about costs. [..] due to QE induced cross border flows since 2015, Target2 balances have exploded since the launch of the ECB’s QE (and third Greek bailout in 2015), and surpassed the previous extremes from the depths of the euro debt crisis in the summer of 2012.

[..] a euro exit by a debtor country would represent more of a cost to creditor countries such as Germany rather than to the exiting country itself. And, as shown in the chart above, Germany sure has a lot of implicit accumulated costs, roughly €1 trillion to be precise, as a result of preserving a currency union that allowed German exporters to benefit from a euro dragged lower by the periphery, relative to where the Deutsche Mark would be trading today. But here the analysis gets slightly more complex, as Target2 does not provide the full picture of potential costs (or benefits, assuming a scorched earth approach). As JPMorgan writes, the Target2 liabilities of a debtor country give only a partial picture of the cost to creditor nations from that debtor country exiting.

This is because Target2 balances represent only one component of the Net International Investment Position of a country, i.e. the difference between a country’s total external financial assets vs. liabilities. The broader metric that one must use, is of the Net International Investment Position for euro area countries and is shown in the chart below. It shows that contrary to the Target2 imbalance, Italy leaving the euro would inflict a lot less damage to creditor nations than Spain leaving the euro. This is because Spain’s net international investment liabilities stood at close to €1tr as of the end of last year, almost three times as large as its Target2 liabilities. In contrast Italy’s net international investment liabilities were much smaller and stood at only €115bn at the end of last year, around a quarter of its €426bn Target2 liabilities. This, as JPM explains, is because Italy has accumulated over the years more external assets than Spain and should thus be overall more able to repay its external liabilities.

[..] Ironically, the surprisingly low net international investment liabilities of Italy are the result of the persistent current account surpluses the country has been running since the euro debt crisis of 2012, and smaller current account deficits compared to Spain before the crisis. The flipside is that the current account surplus – in theory – also makes it easier for a country like Italy to exit the euro relative to a current account deficit country. This is because the higher the current account deficit of a debtor country, the higher the cost of an exit for this country as the current account deficit would have to be closed abruptly following an exit. Most importantly, this means that as a result of Italy’s decent current account surplus, from a narrow current account adjustment point of view, its own cost of a euro exit should be relatively small.

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Merkel has weakened a lot. Italy knows it.

Angela Merkel Rules Out Debt Relief For Italy (CNBC)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared on Saturday to rule out debt relief for Italy, saying in a newspaper interview that the principle of solidarity among members of the euro zone should not turn the single currency bloc into a debt-sharing union. “I will approach the new Italian government openly and work with it instead of speculating about it intentions,” Merkel told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung in an interview to be published on Sunday.

On Friday, Italy swore a populist coalition into power, ending months of political uncertainty that hit global markets in the last week. Newly designated Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will lead Western Europe’s first anti-establishment government with the aim of cutting taxes, boosting spending on welfare and overhauling EU rules on budgets and immigration. Italy accounts for 23.4 percent of the euro zone’s public debt and 15.4 percent of the bloc’s GDP, according to Eurostat.

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Conte has a full agenda.

New Italy PM Starts Off In Shadow Of His Powerful Deputies (AFP)

Italy’s new prime minister Giuseppe Conte mostly kept quiet on his full first day in office Saturday, while his two powerful deputies took centre stage in setting the tone of the populist government’s policy. Conte, a political novice, was finally sworn in on Friday as the head of a government of ministers from the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the far-right League, ending months of uncertainty since elections in March. But Conte was a compromise candidate between Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio and the League’s Matteo Salvini – both of whom are now his deputy prime ministers – and he will have to walk a delicate line to push through the anti-austerity and pro-security promises their populist parties campaigned on.

The 53-year-old academic also inherited a daunting list of issues from his predecessor Paolo Gentiloni, including the financial travails of companies such as Ilva and Alitalia, a Group of Seven summit in Canada and a key EU summit at the end of the month, as well as the thorny question of immigration. Immigration is the bugbear of Conte’s interior minister, Salvini, the 45-year-old leader of the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam League. Salvini announced Friday that he would visit Sicily to see the situation for himself at one of the main landing points for refugees fleeing war, persecution and famine across North Africa and the Middle East. “The good times for illegals is over – get ready to pack your bags,” Salvini said at a rally in Italy’s north on Saturday, adding however that he wants to economically assist migrants’ countries of origin.

His comments come after more than 150 migrants, including nine children, disembarked from a rescue ship late Friday in Sicily. Conte attended a military parade alongside President Sergio Mattarella on Saturday, marking Republic Day for the foundation of the Italian Republic in 1946. However the new prime minister has issued few public statements since being appointed. On Saturday he did post on Facebook that he had spoken with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron and would meet the two leaders at the G7 summit, where he will be a “spokesman for the interests of Italian citizens”. Conte has also opted to keep the country’s intelligence services under his personal control.

Deputy premier Di Maio, who is serving as economic development minister, also took to Facebook, calling for “entrepreneurs to be left alone”. “Employers and employees in Italy must not be enemies,” he said, promising “I will not disappoint you”. On Saturday evening Five Star held a rally in the centre of Rome with thousands of supporters and all its ministers to celebrate “the government of change”. Di Maio told the crowd that “from today, the state is us”. Five Star’s founder, former comic Beppe Grillo, rang a bell in front of the crowd, saying the sound “marks the fracture between a world that is going away and a new one that is arriving”.

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Right. Sure.

Juncker: EU Won’t ‘Meddle’ In Italy’s Affairs (O.)

Italy, the third-largest economy in the eurozone, has a public debt second only to Greece’s and there was a negative reaction from the financial markets to the League-M5S coalition, which plans to significantly raise public spending. Juncker offered a more placatory tone, suggesting that Brussels and Berlin had learned the lessons of the Greek crisis. He also denied that the eurozone was set on a course for another economic downturn: “The Italians cannot really complain about austerity measures from Brussels. However, I do not now want to lecture Rome. We must treat Italy with respect. Too many lectures were given to Greece in the past, in particular from German-speaking countries. This dealt a blow to the dignity of the Greek people. The same thing must not be allowed to happen to Italy.”

Juncker said that the financial markets’ reaction was “irrational”: “People should not draw political conclusions from every fluctuation in the stock market. Investors have been wrong on so many occasions.” Neither of the coalition parties in the new Italian government campaigned on leaving the euro or the EU, but both have backed such calls in the past and are scathing about the rules that underpin the eurozone. Mujtaba Rahman, a former European commission and UK Treasury official who now works for consultancy the Eurasia Group, warned that as the cornerstone of the coalition government’s platform was fiscal expansion, it was liable to clash with the commission this autumn.

“Though no official estimates have been produced, independent estimates suggest the proposed measures would cost, combined, upwards of €100bn per annum, around 6% of GDP.“If the government were to propose a very expansionary budget, the commission – which provides its opinions and recommendations on member states’ draft budgetary plans – would have to reject it in September. This would be a first, and would set the stage for a real confrontation with Rome,” he said. “A significant deviation from EU-mandated fiscal targets may prompt the commission to open a new Excessive Deficit Procedure, a process designed to give the EU more power to enforce austerity on Rome. Yet the symbolism of this move would only strengthen the Italian government’s domestic standing.”

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Poker player?!

Political Bruiser Sánchez Stuns Spain To Become PM (Spain Report)

Forget about what the new socialist government’s policies are going to be, because no one really knows yet. Forget about who the new ministers are going to be, because no one really knows yet. And forget about how long this government is going to last. No one has a clue right now. What is worthy of note is how Pedro Sánchez has just crushed all of his political opponents in a week. Last Friday, the PSOE had slowly slumped to less than 20% in the polls and he was being written off by columnists and commentators. This Saturday, he will be driven to Zarzuela Palace to be sworn in as the new socialist Prime Minister of Spain [..]

Mr. Rajoy is likely not the only political leader who needs a stiff drink this weekend. Pedro Sánchez has just left Pablo Iglesias—who nine days ago thought his biggest problem was an absurd internal ballot about his new luxury home—sitting in the dust in the fight for the Spanish left. Two years ago, with the sudden appearance and meteoric rise of Podemos, Mr. Iglesias’s stated strategic goal was not to win the election but to dominate the Spanish left. He just lost that race. Pedro Sánchez has just left Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera rabbiting on incessantly about wanting a new general election instead of the socialists “unfairly” grabbing power, because Mr. Rivera is—or was—doing rather better in the polls than the rest.

But rabbit on is all he can do for now because, just like nine days ago, in the real world Ciudadanos still only has 32 seats in Congress. And Pedro Sánchez has just left the powerful leader of the Socialist Party in Andalusia, Susana Diaz, well, in Andalusia. This might be the sweetest victory of all for the new Prime Minister, because it was she who wielded her considerable internal and establishment influence in October 2016 to oust Mr. Sánchez as leader of the PSOE, allowing Mariano Rajoy to be reappointed Prime Minister after a year of national stalemate unbroken by two general elections.

Again: Pedro Sánchez, written off by some as being too handsome to have any interesting ideas, has, somewhere along the way, learnt to execute political hit jobs that have left all of his major political opponents staggering, and sent what was a confident conservative party that had only just passed a new budget—two days previously—scurrying into opposition, wounded. In a week. Whatever happens next in Spanish politics, do not underestimate Pedro Sánchez.

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More division.

Europe: Confront Trump or Avoid a Costly Trade War (NYT)

Despite its name, the European Union is not generally a model of unity. If Mr. Trump was banking on internal division stymieing the European response, he picked an opportune moment. Britain is consumed with domestic sniping over its pending departure from the European Union, making it a bit player in these proceedings. Italy has been immersed in the operatic political drama at which it excels, only Friday swearing in a new government after inconclusive elections in March. The incoming government presents a coalition of two populist parties that have expressed disdain for the European Union and the shared euro currency, stoking fears that the bloc will be presented with a new challenge to its cohesion.

Spain just swapped governments. Germany is headed by a chastened chancellor Angela Merkel following her own lengthy struggles to form a government after elections last fall. The French president has been frustrated in his attempts to forge greater political unity within the bloc. “Europe is in disarray,” said Nicola Borri, a finance professor at Luiss, a university in Rome. “It’s even difficult to understand who is in power in Europe.” In deliberating how to respond to Mr. Trump’s tariffs, the key schism appears to run between Germany and the rest of the bloc. “I don’t think there is a unified consensus for how to deal with the Americans,” said Meredith Crowley, an expert on international trade at the University of Cambridge in England. “The Germans benefit from open markets globally, so they don’t want to throw up more barriers to free trade.”

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That’s quite the statement. What if Beijing said the same about the US?

US Wants Structural Changes To China’s Economy: Mnuchin

The United States wants trade talks in Beijing this weekend to result in structural changes to China’s economy, in addition to increased Chinese purchases of American goods, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Saturday. U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross arrived in Beijing on Saturday with an interagency team of U.S. officials for talks on long-term purchases of U.S. farm and energy commodities, just days after Washington renewed its threats to impose tariffs on Chinese goods.

The purchases are partly aimed at shrinking the $375 billion U.S. goods trade deficit with China. Mnuchin, speaking at a G7 finance leaders meeting in Canada where he was the target of U.S. allies’ anger over steel and aluminum tariffs, said the China talks would cover other issues, including the Trump administration’s desire to eliminate Chinese joint venture requirements and other policies that effectively force technology transfers.

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It’s election time.

Uber’s ‘Business Is Finished’ In Turkey, Erdogan Says (R.)

Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan has said ride hailing app Uber is finished in Turkey, following pressure from Istanbul taxi drivers who said it was providing an illegal service and called for it to be banned. About 17,400 taxis operate in Istanbul, home to about a fifth of Turkey’s population of 81 million people, and since Uber entered the country in 2014 tensions have risen sharply. Erdogan’s statement came after new regulations were announced in recent weeks tightening transport licensing requirements, making it more difficult for drivers to register with Uber and threatening a two-year ban for violations.

“This thing called Uber emerged. That business is finished. That does not exist anymore,” he said in a speech in Istanbul late on Friday. “We have our taxi system. Where does this (Uber) come from? It is used in Europe, I do not care about that. We will decide by ourselves,” added Erdogan, who is running for re-election in three weeks. [..] Uber said that about 2,000 yellow cab drivers use its app to find customers, while another 5,000 work for UberXL, using large vans to transport groups to parties, or take people with bulky luggage to Istanbul’s airports.

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The Tories can’t wait to return to Dickens.

Britain’s Low-Paid Face Decade Of Wage Squeeze (O.)

The wages of 10 million low-paid workers have stalled for two decades and face pressure for a decade to come, according to a bleak assessment of Britain’s future jobs market. Global economic competition, automation, the shift to the gig economy and a widening regional divide will see further pressure placed on the incomes of those earning between £10,000 and £15,000, it warns. The analysis by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) thinktank, which is on the political right and chaired by the former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, also blamed a chronic national failure to boost skills and education. It will be seen as another warning to Theresa May from Conservative figures to kickstart her domestic agenda.

There have been concerns within the party that the focus on Brexit has led to inaction in other crucial areas that could hold Britain back after its exit from the European Union. The analysis, co-written by Boris Johnson’s former economic adviser and Brexit supporter Gerard Lyons, concludes that wages of those on the lowest salaries stalled long before the 2008 financial crash. It warns that the current evidence shows that most never escape a life on low pay. The centre’s support for action on low pay shows that it is now an issue of concern across the political spectrum, with automation expected to place further pressure on jobs in some low-paid sectors unless new skills and opportunities are developed.

The CSJ report states that 20% of Britain’s 33 million workers earn £15,000 a year or less, and that 50% earn no more than £23,200. Only 10% of employees, or about 3 million people, earn above £53,000 a year. Britain does not compare well with other developed nations when it comes to low pay, it states. Taking data from manufacturing, and giving the US a score of 100, Switzerland topped the table with a pay rate of 155, followed by Norway on 126, Germany on 111 and France on 97. However, the UK was much further behind, on 73.

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These people would be better off moving to Poland.

UK Universal Credit Change To Bar 2.6m Children From Free School Meals (Ind.)

Up to 2.6 million children whose parents are on benefits could be missing out on free school meals by 2022, the shadow education minister will warn. Angela Rayner will tell a GMB union conference on Sunday that the Government’s claims on school meals are “falling apart” after changes to eligibility under Universal Credit (UC). When the system was first introduced in 2013, all children of recipients – who were all unemployed – were eligible for free school meals (FSM), as they would have been under the old system. But in April the criteria was tightened based on income. In England, the net earnings threshold will be £7,400 whereas in Northern Ireland it will be £14,000.

A government technical note published in May said that if the change had not been made, “around half of all (state school) children would become eligible for FSM and the meals would no longer be targeted at those who need them the most”. It said that in 2017 around 1.1 million disadvantaged children were eligible and received a free school meal, some 14 per cent of all state-school pupils. But if the change had not been made the number of additional children who would have been eligible was between 2,300,000 and 2,600,000 by 2022.

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And that’s just one animal that we could see.

Whale Dies From Eating More Than 80 Plastic Bags (AFP)

A whale has died in southern Thailand after swallowing more than 80 plastic bags, with rescuers failing to nurse the mammal back to health. The small male pilot whale was found barely alive in a canal near the border with Malaysia, the country’s department of marine and coastal resources said. A veterinary team tried “to help stabilise its illness but finally the whale died” on Friday afternoon. An autopsy revealed 80 plastic bags weighing up to 8kg (18lb) in the creature’s stomach, the department added. People used buoys to keep the whale afloat after it was first spotted on Monday and an umbrella to shield it from the sun. The whale vomited up five bags during the rescue attempt.

Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a marine biologist and lecturer at Kasetsart University, said the bags had made it impossible for the whale to eat any nutritional food. “If you have 80 plastic bags in your stomach, you die,” he said. Thailand is one of the world’s largest users of plastic bags. Thon said at least 300 marine animals including pilot whales, sea turtles and dolphins, perished each year in Thai waters after ingesting plastic. “It’s a huge problem,” he said. “We use a lot of plastic.” The pilot whale’s plight generated sympathy and anger among Thai netizens. “I feel sorry for the animal that didn’t do anything wrong, but has to bear the brunt of human actions,” wrote one Twitter user.

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Apr 062018
 
 April 6, 2018  Posted by at 9:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edgar Degas Leaving the paddock 1866
Stolen from Gardner Museum March 18 1990, the single largest art theft in the world. Never recovered

 

US Willing To Talk Trade With China, No Session Set Yet (R.)
Trump Considers New $100 Billion Tariffs On Chinese Goods (G.)
Trade Is a Matter of Survival for China (Rickards)
Facebook Explored Data Sharing Agreement With Hospitals (CNBC)
Uber To Suspend Service In Greece After New Legislation (R.)
HSBC Whistleblower Released By Judge After Swiss Extradition Request (Ind.)
German Court Says Carles Puigdemont Can Be Released On Bail (G.)
Young People In Britain Have Never Been Unhappier (G.)
Elderly People Grow As Many New Brain Cells As Young (Ind.)
Surgeon General Urges More Americans To Carry Opioid Antidote (CNN)
Social Media Looks Like the New Opiate of the Masses (BBG)
Lifting Sugarcane Farming Ban ‘Last Straw’ For Amazon Rainforest (Ind.)
Bolivia’s Jaguars Under Threat Of Chinese Fang Craze (AFP)

 

 

Get around a table alright.

US Willing To Talk Trade With China, No Session Set Yet (R.)

The United States is willing to negotiate with China on trade, but only if talks are serious, as previous attempts produced little progress, a senior U.S. official told Reuters late on Thursday as trade tensions between the two nations escalated. No formal negotiating sessions have been set, the official said. “There is ongoing communications with the Chinese on trade,” said the official, who requested anonymity to discuss the Trump administration’s trade strategy. The official said Republican President Donald Trump, who has already sought $50 billion in new tariffs on China, will insist on “verifiable, enforceable and measurable deliverables” from China in any trade negotiations.

The comments came as Trump said late on Thursday he had instructed U.S. trade officials to consider $100 billion in additional tariffs on China “in light of China’s unfair retaliation” against earlier U.S. trade actions. In a statement, Trump said the U.S. Trade Representative had determined that China “has repeatedly engaged in practices to unfairly obtain America’s intellectual property.” The senior official said: “We’ve had a type of negotiation in different forums where China has made lots of different commitments that they haven’t followed through on. “We don’t want to go down that path. But the president has been clear, the administration has been clear, we’re not trying to start a trade war. We’re simply trying to get fair and reciprocal treatments so we’re open to those conversations.”

The official said China had committed seven times to stopping forced technology transfers, a practice in which China allegedly seeks to obtain U.S. intellectual property (IP) through joint venture requirements, something that China denies. “This president is not going to tolerate hollow commitments or refusal to change bad practices. And if the way that we effectuate that is through negotiations, that’s great,” the official said.

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All still just proposals. Waiting for Chinese replies that are not threats.

Trump Considers New $100 Billion Tariffs On Chinese Goods (G.)

Donald Trump has instructed the US trade representative to consider slapping $100bn in additional tariffs on Chinese goods in an escalating standoff over trade. Trump said in a statement on Thursday that the further tariffs were being considered “in light of China’s unfair retaliation” against earlier US trade actions. He added that the US trade representative had determined that China “has repeatedly engaged in practices to unfairly obtain America’s intellectual property”. The White House said Trump had instructed the Office of the United States Trade Representative, the agency responsible for developing and recommending trade policy, to consider whether the additional tariffs would be appropriate under section 301 and, if so, to identify which products they should apply to.

He’s also instructed his secretary of agriculture “to implement a plan to protect our farmers and agricultural interests”. “Rather than remedy its misconduct, China has chosen to harm our farmers and manufacturers”, Trump said. Trump argues China’s trade practices have led to the closure of American factories and the loss of millions of American jobs. On Friday China’s commerce ministry said Beijing would fight the US ‘at any cost’. China’s state-run tabloid Global Times called Trump’s latest threat “ridiculous” in an editorial on Thursday, noting that it “reflects the deep arrogance of some American elites in their attitude towards China.”

Trump’s move comes one day after China issued a $50bn list of US goods including soybeans and small aircraft for possible tariff hikes. That itself was 11 hours after the White House announced a list of 1,333 Chinese imports, also worth about $50bn, for punitive tariffs of 25%.

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Jim Rickards with a good history of US Presidential powers, but also of what China is afraid of: the homefront.

Trade Is a Matter of Survival for China (Rickards)

President Trump may now use IEEPA to block a variety of Chinese deals in the U.S. in retaliation for Chinese theft of U.S. intellectual property. With the U.S. using its nuclear option in financial warfare, investors should hope that the Chinese don’t respond in kind. President Trump may not appreciate the extent to which China will go to protect its interests. Trade negotiations are not the art of the deal, as far as China is concerned. Their goal is national survival. China’s economy is not just about providing jobs, goods and services that people want and need. It is about regime survival for a Chinese Communist Party that faces an existential crisis if it fails to deliver. The overriding imperative of the Chinese leadership is to avoid societal unrest.

[..] given China’s current economic problem, Beijing’s challenge is becoming more difficult every day. Consider what’s happening in China right now… Growth in GDP is conventionally defined as the sum of consumer spending, investment, government spending (excluding transfer payments) and net exports. Most large economies other than oil-producing nations get most of their growth from consumption, followed by investment, with relatively small contributions from government spending and net exports. A typical composition would show a 65% contribution from consumption plus a 15% contribution from investment. China is nearly the opposite, with about 35% from consumption and 45% from investment.

That might be fine in a fast-growing emerging-market economy like China if the investment component were carefully designed to produce growth in the future as well as short-term jobs and inputs. But that’s not the case. Up to half of China’s investment is a complete waste. It does produce jobs and utilize inputs like cement, steel, copper and glass. But the finished product, whether a city, train station or sports arena, is often a white elephant that will remain unused.

What’s worse is that these white elephants are being financed with debt that can never be repaid. And no allowance has been made for the maintenance that will be needed to keep these white elephants in usable form if demand does rise in the future, which is doubtful. Chinese growth has been reported in recent years as 6.5–10% but is actually closer to 5% or lower once an adjustment is made for the waste. The Chinese landscape is littered with “ghost cities” that have resulted from China’s wasted investment and flawed development model. This wasted infrastructure spending is the beginning of the debt disaster that is coming soon. China is on the horns of a dilemma with no good way out.

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It gets harder to act innocent. Why do this in secret if it is to benefit people?

Facebook Explored Data Sharing Agreement With Hospitals (CNBC)

Facebook has asked several major U.S. hospitals to share anonymized data about their patients, such as illnesses and prescription info, for a proposed research project. Facebook was intending to match it up with user data it had collected, and help the hospitals figure out which patients might need special care or treatment. The proposal never went past the planning phases and has been put on pause after the Cambridge Analytica data leak scandal raised public concerns over how Facebook and others collect and use detailed information about Facebook users. “This work has not progressed past the planning phase, and we have not received, shared, or analyzed anyone’s data,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNBC.

But as recently as last month, the company was talking to several health organizations, including Stanford Medical School and American College of Cardiology, about signing the data-sharing agreement. While the data shared would obscure personally identifiable information, such as the patient’s name, Facebook proposed using a common computer science technique called “hashing” to match individuals who existed in both sets. Facebook says the data would have been used only for research conducted by the medical community.

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Just make it local. And use the revenues to support your own cities.

Uber To Suspend Service In Greece After New Legislation (R.)

Ride-hailing service Uber said on Thursday it would suspend its licensed service in Greece after the approval of local legislation which imposes stricter regulation on the sector. Uber, which operates a licensed service in the Greek capital, has faced opposition from local taxi drivers who accuse it of taking their business. “New local regulations were voted on recently with provisions that impact ride-sharing services,” Uber said in a blog post. “We have to assess if and how we can operate within this new framework and so will be suspending uberX in Athens from next Tuesday until we can find an appropriate solution.” Uber operates two services in Athens: UberX, which uses professional licensed drivers, and UberTAXI, which uses taxi drivers.

The new regulations require each trip to start and end in the fleet partner’s designated headquarters or parking area, something Uber does not do. A digital registry of all ride-sharing platforms and their passengers will also be created. The company launched in Europe in 2011, angering some local authorities and taxi drivers who said it did not abide by the same rules on insurance, licensing and safety. Following widespread protests, court battles and bans, Uber has taken a more emollient stance under its new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, suspending operations in various cities in order to comply with local regulations. UberX launched in Athens in 2015 and more than 450,000 people have used its smartphone app to book a ride.

News of the new regulation last year angered some Athenians and tens of thousands signed a petition launched by Beat – a local ride-sharing service – in favor of ride-hailing services. UberX drivers have to be employed by fleet partners such as car rental companies or tourist agencies and their cars could not be more than seven years old. The data registry and return-to-garage requirement will only apply to ride-hailing services like Uber and Beat, while taxi drivers will be able to use cars that are up to 22 years old.

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Too much backlash?!

HSBC Whistleblower Released By Judge After Swiss Extradition Request (Ind.)

An HSBC whistleblower who leaked data that led to a tax evasion scandal has been released by a Spanish judge after being arrested on an extradition request from Switzerland. Hervé Falciani, a former IT worker at HSBC’s secretive Swiss bank, faces a five-year prison sentence in Switzerland after being convicted in absentia for industrial sabotage in 2015. Police arrested Mr Falciani in Madrid on Wednesday on his way to speak at a conference on whistleblowing. Swiss authorities had requested that he be remanded in custody but he was released without bail on Thursday and ordered to surrender his passport while Spanish authorities consider whether to extradite him.

In 2008, Mr Falciani fled Switzerland, having stolen data on 130,000 HSBC clients, many of whom he suspected of tax evasion. The information uncovered large-scale wrongdoing at the bank that led to investigations in several countries, including the UK. HSBC chief executive Stuart Gulliver later apologised to MPs for “unacceptable” practices at the bank’s Swiss subsidiary which he said had caused “damage to trust and confidence” in the company. Sven Giegold, an MEP and spokesperson for the German Greens on transparency and integrity said on Thursday that Mr Falciani should be awarded a medal for his actions. “Falciani deserves a European Order instead of imprisonment in Switzerland,” Mr Geigold said.

“He was one of the first whistleblowers to pioneer the fight against global tax fraud, followed by many disclosures in Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and other tax havens,” “We should be grateful to him. Europe’s governments should call on the Spanish government not to extradite Falciani. His extradition would be shamefully ungrateful after having profited from his data financially and politically.”

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Misuse of public funds. Not what Spain wanted. Just let him go. Germany can’t extradite someone on that.

German Court Says Carles Puigdemont Can Be Released On Bail (G.)

A court in northern Germany has ruled that the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont can be released on bail while extradition proceedings continue. The district court in Schleswig set bail for the 55-year-old at €75,000 (£66,000). Puigdemont was arrested on a Spanish-issued warrant upon entering Germany on 25 March as he attempted to drive from Finland to Belgium, where he currently resides. Spain accuses the Catalan separatist of rebellion and corruption after he organised an unsanctioned independence referendum. The Schleswig court said that it considered a charge of misuse of public funds sufficient grounds for an extradition, but that a charge of “rebellion” was not, because the comparable German charge of treason specifies violence.

Proceedings to decide whether to extradite him on corruption charges could continue, it said. “There is a risk of flight,” the court said in its explanation of its decision to grant bail. “But since extradition on rebellion charges is impermissible, the risk of flight is substantially lessened.” Puigdemont has written an open letter from prison, urging Catalonia’s parliament to make another attempt to elect jailed separatist activist Jordi Sànchez as the region’s president. Puigdemont had proposed Sànchez as his number two in the Together for Catalonia party last month, but Spain’s supreme court refused to free him to attend a parliamentary session. Sànchez said in a letter from a Madrid jail published on Thursday that he was ready to try again to be elected.

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In that society, no wonder.

Young People In Britain Have Never Been Unhappier (G.)

Young people’s happiness across every single area of their lives has never been lower, research by the Prince’s Trust has found. The charity, set up by the Prince of Wales, said the results of its annual UK Youth Index, which gauges young people’s happiness and confidence across a range of areas, from working life to mental and physical health, should “ring alarm bells”. The national survey shows young people’s wellbeing has fallen over the last 12 months and is at its lowest level since the study was first commissioned in 2009. The research, based on a survey of 2,194 respondents aged 16 to 25, revealed that three out of five young people regularly feel stressed amid concerns over jobs and money, while one in four felt “hopeless”, and half had experienced a mental health problem.

Almost half said they did not feel they could cope well with setbacks in life, but despite this more than one quarter said they would not ask for help if they were feeling overwhelmed. The index shows that young people are particularly disillusioned with the job market and are concerned about money and future prospects. One in ten said they had lost a job through redundancy or having a contract terminated or not renewed, or being fired, while 54% said they were worried about their finances. The report highlights significant differences between the views held by young men and women, particularly when it comes to how they feel about their future prospects. Young women are more likely to think a lack of self-confidence holds them back and 57% of young women worry about “not being good enough in general”, compared to 41% of men.

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Or do they? Is the secret in the synopses?

Elderly People Grow As Many New Brain Cells As Young (Ind.)

Elderly people grow as many new brain cells as teenagers, according to a new study which counters previous theories that neurons stop developing after adolescence. Healthy men and women continue to produce new neurons throughout life, suggesting older people remain more cognitively and emotionally intact than previously believed, researchers found. For decades it was thought that adult brains were hard-wired and unable to form new cells. But a Columbia University study found older people continued to produce neurons in the hippocampus – a part of the brain important for memory, emotion and cognition – at a similar rate to young people. Researchers examined the brains of 28 previously healthy people who died suddenly between the age of 14 and 79.

“We found that older people have similar ability to make thousands of hippocampal new neurons from progenitor cells as younger people do,” said the study’s lead author Maura Boldrini, associate professor of neurobiology. “We also found equivalent volumes of the hippocampus across ages.” The ability to generate new hippocampal cells, a process known as neurogenesis, declines with age in rodents and primates. Declining production of neurons and shrinkage of parts of the brain which help form of new episodic memories were believed to occur in ageing humans as well, explaining why younger people find it easier to learn skills and languages. But the Columbia University study found similar numbers of newly formed cells in old and young brains.

However, the researchers also noted fewer blood vessels and connections between cells in the older brains, which Ms Boldrini said “may be linked to compromised cognitive-emotional resilience” in the elderly. The findings, published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, are likely to be hotly debated. They come just a month after a University of California study suggested adults do not develop new neurons.

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That’s how bad it’s gotten.

Surgeon General Urges More Americans To Carry Opioid Antidote (CNN)

The US surgeon general issued an advisory Thursday recommending that more Americans carry the opioid overdose-reversing drug, naloxone. The drug, sold under the brand name Narcan (among others), can very quickly restore normal breathing in someone suspected of overdosing on opioids, including heroin and prescription pain medications. Dr. Jerome Adams emphasized that “knowing how to use naloxone and keeping it within reach can save a life.” To make his point, Adams relied on a rarely used tool: the surgeon general’s advisory. The last such advisory was issued more than a decade ago and focused on drinking during pregnancy.

Adams noted that the number of overdose deaths from prescription and illicit opioids doubled in recent years: from 21,089 deaths across the nation in 2010 to 42,249 in 2016. America’s top doctor attributed this “steep increase” to several contributing factors, including “the rapid proliferation of illicitly made fentanyl and other highly potent synthetic opioids” and “an increasing number of individuals receiving higher doses of prescription opioids for long-term management of chronic pain.”

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The right discussion, but launched very weakly. On purpose?

Social Media Looks Like the New Opiate of the Masses (BBG)

[..] many of us who lived through the shift from Internet 1.0 to the new age of social media can’t help but feel a nagging worry. In addition to concerns about privacy, electoral influence and online abuse, social media seems like it has many of the qualities of an addictive drug. Research isn’t conclusive on whether social-media addiction is real. But it certainly has some negative side effects that loosely resemble the downsides of recreational drugs. In 2011, psychologists Daria Kuss and Mark Griffiths wrote a paper that found: “Negative correlates of [social media] usage include the decrease in real life social community participation and academic achievement, as well as relationship problems, each of which may be indicative of potential addiction.”

Meanwhile, a number of more recent studies find similarities between social-media use and addictive behavior. And experiments found that smartphone deprivation induced anxiety among young people, a phenomenon that certainly has parallels to drug withdrawal. That certainly doesn’t mean that everyone who uses social media is a junkie. Evidence shows that moderate usage is not harmful. That fits with my own experience – I find that I derive great enjoyment from Facebook, which I use in moderation, but am often made anxious and irritable by Twitter, which I use much more. It’s the heaviest users who may be in the most danger — a recent survey found that a quarter of Americans are online “almost constantly.” And social-media use is going up relentlessly worldwide:

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“..there is no need for more land to grow sugarcane..”

Lifting Sugarcane Farming Ban ‘Last Straw’ For Amazon Rainforest (Ind.)

Environmentalists in Brazil have urged the government not to proceed with a change in the law described as the “last straw” for the Amazon rainforest. The Brazilian senate is set to vote on a bill that could see the eight-year-old ban on farming sugarcane for biofuel production in the Amazon lifted. In an open letter, 60 NGOs including Greenpeace and WWF have warned of the implications this decision would have, both for the rainforest itself and the reputation of the biofuels industry. They have been joined in their condemnation of the bill by several former Brazilian environment ministers.

The letter states: “If passed, the bill will be a tragedy for forests and for the biofuel industry in Brazil – the image of which will be damaged to the brink of no return, at a time critical to its success”. There is also concern that Brazil’s Paris climate agreement targets will be compromised if its ethanol production is not sustainable. Supporters of the new bill say it will benefit the economy and help contribute to the national supply of biofuels. However, environmentalists, scientists and even representatives from the biofuels industry say there is no need for more land to grow sugarcane, and the expansion of the industry will further drive deforestation of the rainforest.

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Reminds us of that park in India where more poachers than rhinos are killed. Beijing needs to stop this, all of it.

Bolivia’s Jaguars Under Threat Of Chinese Fang Craze (AFP)

Bolivia’s once-thriving jaguar population is loping into the cross-hairs of a growing threat from poachers responding to growing Chinese demand for the animal’s teeth and skull. Researchers believe there are around 7,000 of the speckled big cats in Bolivia, out of a global population of some 64,000, stretching from North America to Argentina. But such is the appetite in China’s huge underground market that “if controls are not put in place, it can lead to a serious problem” for their survival, warned Fabiola Suarez of the Environment Ministry. Considered vulnerable by conservationists, the jaguar’s future in the South American country is in the hands of anti-trafficking police only now coming to grips with the potential scale of the problem.

Local authorities began getting reports in 2014 of trade in the animal in the northeastern area of Beni, according to Rodrigo Herrera, an advisor to Bolivia’s directorate of Biodiversity at the Environment Ministry. He says the increased presence of Chinese nationals in the South American country has stimulated demand. President Evo Morales’ leftist government has awarded seven billion dollars’ worth of public works contracts to Chinese groups, sparking an influx of workers from the Asian giant. Herrera said each of the cat’s teeth, which measure between eight and 10 centimeters, can fetch up to $100 for poachers, but that figure can reach $5,000 on the Chinese market. The feline’s skull is also prized by traffickers, at rates of up to $1,000. Traffickers also sell the skin, and even the testicles, which along with the ground-down teeth, are prized by some Chinese as an aphrodisiac.

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Apr 052018
 
 April 5, 2018  Posted by at 12:11 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Herbert Ponting Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition, Antarctica 1911

 

Something must be terribly wrong with the world. A few days ago Elizabeth Warren agreed with Trump on China, now Bernie Sanders agrees with him about Amazon. What’s happening?

 

Bernie Sanders Agrees With Trump: Amazon Has Too Much Power

Independent Vermont senator and 2016 presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders echoed President Donald Trump in expressing concern about retail giant Amazon. Sanders said that he felt Amazon had gotten too big on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, and added that Amazon’s place in society should be examined.

“And I think this is, look, this is an issue that has got to be looked at. What we are seeing all over this country is the decline in retail. We’re seeing this incredibly large company getting involved in almost every area of commerce. And I think it is important to take a look at the power and influence that Amazon has,” said Sanders.

A backlash against Facebook, a backlash against Amazon. Are these things connected? Actually, yes, they are connected. But not in a way that either Trump or Sanders has clued in to. Someone who has, a for now lone voice, is David Stockman. Here’s what he wrote last week.

 

The Donald’s Blind Squirrel Nails An Acorn

It is said that even a blind squirrel occasionally finds an acorn, and so it goes with the Donald. Banging on his Twitter keyboard in the morning darkness, he drilled Jeff Bezos a new one – or at least that’s what most people would call having their net worth lightened by about $2 billion:

“I have stated my concerns with Amazon long before the Election. Unlike others, they pay little or no taxes to state & local governments, use our Postal System as their Delivery Boy (causing tremendous loss to the U.S.), and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business!” You can’t get more accurate than that. Amazon is a monstrous predator enabled by the state, but Amazon’s outrageous postal subsidy – a $1.46 gift card from the USPS stabled on each box – isn’t the half of it.

The real crime here is that Amazon has been exempted from making a profit, and the culprit is the Federal Reserve’s malignant regime of Bubble Finance. The latter has destroyed financial discipline entirely and turned the stock market into the greatest den of speculation in human history. That’s why Bezos can kill established businesses with impunity.

The casino allows him to run a pernicious business model based on “price to destroy”, rather than price for profit and a return on capital. Needless to say, under a regime of sound money and honest capital markets Amazon would be a far more benign economic creature. That’s because no real investors would value AMZN’s money-loosing e-Commerce business at $540 billion – nor even a small fraction of that after 25-years of profitless growth.

The bubble economy, the everything bubble, that we have been forced into, with QE, ultra-low rates, central banks buying trillions in what at least used to be assets, and massive buybacks that allow companies to raise their ‘value’ into the stratosphere, has enabled a company like Amazon to kill off its competition, which consists of many thousands of retailers, that do have to run a profit.

It’s a money scheme that allows many of the most ‘valuable’ tech companies to elbow their way into our lives, in ways that may seem beneficial to us at first, but in reality will only leave us behind with much less choice, far less competition, and many, many fewer jobs. Once it’s done someone will mention ‘scorched earth’. But for now they are everybody’s darlings; they are, don’t you know, the tech giants, the brainchildren of the best that the best among us have to offer.

They don’t all work the exact same way, which may make it harder to recognize what they have in common. For some it’s easier to see than for others. It’s also difficult to list them all. Here’s a few: Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google (Alphabet), Tesla, Uber, Airbnb, Monsanto. Let’s go through the list.

 

Apple ? Yes, Apple too. But they make real things! Yes, but just as Apple CEO Tim Cook seeks to distance his company from the likes of Facebook on morals and ethics, he can’t deny that Apple sells a zillion phones to a large extent because everybody uses them to look at Facebook and Alphabet apps until their faces are blue. If data ethics are the only problem Cook sees, he’s in trouble.

Silicon Valley infighting shows that the industry does have an idea what is going wrong, in ways that should have already led to many more pronounced worries and investigations.

 

Silicon Valley Rivals Take Shots At Facebook

Mr. Cook, who has long sought to differentiate Apple on privacy matters, contrasted its focus on selling devices with Facebook and Google’s ad-based businesses that are built on user data. Asked what he would do if he were Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Mr. Cook replied: “I wouldn’t be in this situation.”

[..] Days earlier, François Chollet, an artificial intelligence engineer at Google, sought to draw a line between his company and Facebook. He tweeted that Google products like search and Gmail help users “to do more, to know more.” Facebook’s newsfeed, he wrote, “manipulates your worldview and seeks to maximally waste your time.”

[..] In January, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, whose company sells business software services, said that the addictive nature of social media means it should be regulated like a health issue.“I think that you do it exactly the same way that you regulated the cigarette industry,” Mr. Benioff told CNBC when asked how Facebook should be regulated. Some of the most cutting rebukes have come from people who know Facebook well.

In November, Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, said that Facebook executives, including himself, were “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology” by designing a platform built on social validation. Mr. Parker didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Facebook generally hasn’t responded to the criticism, but it did after sharp comments from its former vice president of growth, Chamath Palihapitiya. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works,” Mr. Palihapitiya said at a talk at Stanford University in November.

I would expect to hear a lot more of that sort of thing. Big Tech is changing the world in more ways than one. And spying on people Facebook-style is merely one of a long list of them. So yes, Apple certainly also belongs in that list. Facebook doesn’t build the devices people use to see what their friends had for breakfast, Apple does that. Moreover, Apple profits hugely from stock buybacks, so it fits in Stockman’s bubble finance definition of Amazon, too.

The failure of politics to investigate, and act against, those dopamine-driven feedback loops which exploit a vulnerability in human psychology in order to maximally waste your time and sell you product after product that you never (knew you) wanted is downright bizarre. Politicians only started talking about Facebook when a topic connected to Trump and Russia was linked to it.

 

Amazon: Trump can’t act fast enough on the tax situation and the US Postal deal. Not that that will solve the issue. Amazon, like all the companies on my list, can only be cut down to size if and when the everything bubble is. They are, after all, its children.

The most pernicious aspect of the Amazon ‘business model’, which all these firms share, and all are able to live by thanks to the central banks and the “greatest den of speculation in human history” they have created, is the prospect of world domination in their respective fields. They all hold in front of speculators the promise that they can crush all competition, or nearly all. Scorched earth, flat earth.

 

Facebook: their place in the list is obvious. What is it, 2.5 billion users? And what they don’t have is divvied up between them and Google when they buy up apps like Instagram. Officially competitors, but they have the exact same goals. And, like me, you may think: what’s the problem, just ban them from collecting all that data. Facebook has no reason to know, at least not one that serves us, where you were last Friday, and with whom. And just in case you missed that bit, they do.

But there their connection to the intelligence world comes in. Their platforms are better than anything the NSA has ever been able to develop. So we can say we don’t want Zuckerberg and Alphabet spying on us, but our own spies do want to do just that. That makes any kind of backlash much harder to succeed. And it doesn’t matter if you delete your Facebook account, they’ll find you anyway. Friend of a friend. We all have friends who are on Facebook, rinse and repeat.

The only hope there is, with Facebook as with the other companies, is for investors and speculators to dump their holdings in massive numbers. And that will only happen when the central bank Ponzi collapses. And it will, but by then we have a whole new set of problems.

 

Google: largely the same set of issues that Facebook has. Its tentacles are everywhere. Former CEO Eric Schmidt’s connections to the Pentagon should be really all you need to know. The EU may have issued all sorts of complaints and fines on competition grounds, but that makes no difference.

The one country with an effective response to Google and Facebook is China, that has largely banned both and built its own versions of their products. Which allows Beijing to ban people from boarding planes, buying homes etc., if their ‘social credit’ is deemed too low. If you want to be scared about where Big Tech’s powers can lead, look no further.

 

Tesla: Elon Musk has built a fantasy (and maybe I should put Paypal in this list too) on what everyone thinks must be done to ‘save the planet’ (yeah, build cars…) by grossly overstating the number of cars he can build, and financing his growth on not only speculation, but also on spectacular amounts of government subsidies (politicians want to save the planet, too).

And now he needs additional financing again. He will probably get it, again, but the Amazon backlash might have people take another look. One fine day… Fits David Stockman’s complaint to a t(ee), doesn’t have to make a profit. Musk has perfected that model.

 

Uber and Airbnb: why anyone anywhere would want to send money generated in their community, by renting out cars and apartments in that same community, to a bunch of people in Silicon Valley, is beyond me. Someone should set this up as an international effort that makes it easy for a community, a city etc., to provide this kind of service and make the profits benefit their own cities.

But like Amazon, they are free to run any competition into the ground because no profits are required until they have conquered the world. And then they can go nuts. It may look like a business model, but it isn’t. It’s a soon to be orphaned bubble child..

 

Monsanto: less obvious perhaps as an entry in the Big Tech list, but very much warranting a spot. And of course it stands for the entire chemical-seeds field. From Agent Orange to your children’s dinner plate. Monsanto has more lawyers and lobbyists on its payroll than it has scientists, but then its lofty goals outdo even those of Google or Amazon.

Facebook may focus on your addiction to human contact, but Bayer, DuPont, Syngenta et al have decided to make your food so addicted to their chemicals that they will in the future profit from every bite served on your table. How they will grow that food long term without any insects, bees or birds left is unclear, but they don’t seem to care much. As for profits? Monsanto seeks to rule the world, and for now care as little about profits as they do about insects.

 

Zuckerberg may claim that he only wants to improve Facebook’s service, but when that is done through for instance the 2012 so-called Transmission of Anger experiment in which the company tried to alter their users’ emotional states -and succeeded-, by manipulating their friends’ postings, that claim becomes pure ridicule. Selling off user data to scores of developers doesn’t help either. But do you see Congress tackling him in any serious way next week? Neither do I.

Because there’s one huge catch to the scenario that David Stockman -and I- painted, of the whole tech bubble collapsing when the financial bubble does. It is the links tech companies have built to intelligence. A group of Google employees wrote a letter to their CEO Sundar Pichai to protest the company’s involvement in “weaponized AI”, in the shape of Project Maven, a military surveillance engine to-be.

These people undoubtedly mean well, but they’re far too late. They will have to leave the “don’t be evil” company to actually not be evil. Because it’s not a big step from weaponized AI to killer robots. Microsoft is also part of the project, and Amazon is. If you work there and don’t want to be evil, you know what to do.

Yeah, it’s about our safety, and security, and political and military and economic power. But it’s also about spying on people, in even worse ways than Facebook does. So even as the central bank bubble, and the tech bubble, go poof, some of these companies may be saved by their military ties.

That sound you hear is George Orwell turning in his grave.

 

 

Jan 122018
 
 January 12, 2018  Posted by at 10:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Do these people ever consider this perhaps helps Trump? The Man’s on Fire!

 

Bitcoin Steadies But Set For Worst Weekly Slide Since 2015 (BBG)
Cryptos Surge As South Korea Backs Away From Trading Ban (ZH)
South Korea Is Talking Down The Idea Of A Cryptocurrency Trading Ban (CNBC)
China’s Trade Surplus With The US Hit A Record High In 2017 (CNBC)
China Sets New Records for Gobbling Up the World’s Commodities (BBG)
Household Debt Boom Sows The Seeds For A Bust (CBR)
Markets Still Blow Off the Fed, Dudley Gets Nervous, Fires Warning Shot (WS)
We’re Going To See A Radically Changing World In 2018 – (Nomi Prins)
Why We Have to Talk About a Bubble (BBG)
Uber’s Secret Tool for Keeping the Cops in the Dark (BBG)
Monsanto Seeks To Cash In On The Organic Food Market (CP)
Electric Car Dreams Run Into Metal Crunch (BBG)
Greece Is Now Worse Off Than When It Defaulted For The First Time (ZH)

 

 

It’s a slide! It’s a surge! Depends who you ask, and what time of day. Ask again every half hour, or you may miss the big moves. Translation: bitcoin is far from ready for the big leagues. It’s about stability.

Bitcoin Steadies But Set For Worst Weekly Slide Since 2015 (BBG)

Bitcoin steadied Friday after four days of losses for the largest cryptocurrency amid increasing scrutiny from regulators around the world with concerns ranging from investor losses to strains on power systems. Bitcoin was little changed on the day, at $13,467 as of 1:27 p.m. Hong Kong time, reversing an earlier decline. It was down as much as 23% for the week at one point, on track for the deepest decrease since January 2015, according to Bloomberg composite pricing, and is now down about 20%. The token peaked in mid-December soon after the introduction of futures trading on regulated exchanges in Chicago. Among the blows to cryptocurrencies this week was the South Korean justice minister’s reiteration of a proposal to ban local cryptocurrency exchanges, though the comments were later downplayed by a spokesman for the president.

Meanwhile, bitcoin mining is set to become more expensive as China’s government cracks down on the industry, in part out of concerns about power use. In the U.S., scrutiny is set to increase amid concerns about the potential use of cryptocurrencies for fraudulent purposes such as money laundering. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton and Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman J. Christopher Giancarlo are set to testify to the Senate Banking Committee on risks tied to bitcoin and its counterparts, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter. The committee intends to hold a hearing in early February, the person said.

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The reaction scared the sh*t out of Seoul. But they still have to act, because bitcoin’s wide acceptance in the country means it’s a real danger to the whole economy.

Cryptos Surge As South Korea Backs Away From Trading Ban (ZH)

After what has seemed like a non-stop barrage of bad news for crypto bulls from South Korea, we noted some cracks in the foundation of the anti-cryptocurrency push as the ministry of finance refused to support the ministry of justice’s exchange shutdown bill. Tonight we get further clarification that the end of South Korean crypto trading is not nigh as Yonhap reports the various government ministries need more time and more consultations over the mininstry of justice’s plan to ban crypto-exchanges. “The issue of shutting down (cryptocurrency) exchanges, told by the justice minister yesterday, is a proposal by the justice ministry and it needs consultations among ministries,” Kim said.

Ministers reportedly seek a “soft-landing” considering the shock the measures may have on the market is an issue that can result in huge social, economic damage. Additionally Yonhap notes that even if pursued, shutdown of exchanges would take some time as it needs discussion at parliament (it would take months or even years for a bill to become a law). All of which can be roughly translated as – we have no idea of the impact of banning this stuff and just how much damage to the nation’s wealth could occur if we do… The result is a broad-based rally across the major cryptocurrencies… Tens of thousands of people filed an online petition, asking the presidential office to stop the clampdown against cryptocurrency trading. South Korea is home to one of the world’s biggest private bitcoin exchanges, with more than 2 million people estimated to own some of the best-known digital currency.

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Stand up comedian minister: “..a balanced perspective is necessary because blockchain technology has high relevance with many industries such as security and logistics.”

South Korea Is Talking Down The Idea Of A Cryptocurrency Trading Ban (CNBC)

South Korea’s finance minister on Friday said that relevant officials need to hold more consultations over the justice ministry’s plan to ban cryptocurrency exchanges in the country. “All government ministries agree on the need for a government response to an overheating in cryptocurrency speculation and for a degree of regulation,” Minister Kim Dong-yeon told reporters, according to news agency Yonhap. “The issue of banning exchanges that the justice minister talked about yesterday is a proposal by the Justice Ministry and it needs more coordination among ministries,” Kim added. He also said that discussion was under way on how the government could reasonably regulate cryptocurrency trading that’s overheating with irrational and speculative behavior, Yonhap reported.

Kim said “a balanced perspective is necessary because blockchain technology has high relevance with many industries such as security and logistics.” Kim’s comments followed news that the country’s justice ministry appeared to have softened its stance after remarks from its chief on Thursday saw billions wiped off the global cryptocurrency market. The justice ministry explained, according to Yonhap, that the ban was not a done deal in a text message to reporters on Thursday. “The ministry has been preparing a special law to shut down all cryptocurrency exchanges, but we will push for it after careful consideration with related government agencies,” the justice ministry said.

[..] “Justice Minister Park Sang-ki’s remarks regarding the shutdown of cryptocurrency exchanges is one of the measures that have been prepared by the Justice Ministry, but it is not a finalized decision and will be finalized through discussion and a coordination process with each government ministry,” the chief press secretary to President Moon Jae-in said in a statement reported by Yonhap. Even if a bill aiming to ban all cryptocurrency trading is drafted, it will require a majority vote in the country’s National Assembly before it can be enacted into law. That process could take months — or even years.

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This must worry Xi. China sets itself up for a strong reaction. And then? Withdraw back into its own cocoon? Not an option for an export-dependent economy. The shift to domestic consumption has so far failed miserably.

China’s Trade Surplus With The US Hit A Record High In 2017 (CNBC)

China’s 2017 trade surplus with the U.S. was $275.81 billion, the country’s customs data showed Friday, according to Reuters. By that data, last year’s surplus is a record high, the wire service reported. For comparison, the previous record was a surplus of $260.8 billion in 2015. The world’s second-largest economy had a surplus of $25.55 billion in December, data showed, compared to $27.87 billion in November. Trade with China is politically sensitive as the world’s second-largest economy runs surpluses against many of its trading partners. President Donald Trump has repeatedly signaled tougher action on what he calls unfair practices that have lead to a massive trade deficit with China. Overall, China’s trade balance for 2017 was a surplus of $422.5 billion

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Stocking up on oil and gas instead of Treasuries, just in case Trump launches a trade war.

China Sets New Records for Gobbling Up the World’s Commodities (BBG)

China continues to gobble up the world’s commodities, setting new records for consumption of everything from crude oil to soybeans. In a year of flux marked by industrial capacity cuts, environmental curbs and financial deleveraging, demand for raw materials has continued to grow in the world’s biggest consumer, helping drive a second annual gain in global commodity returns. As President Xi Jinping consolidates power behind an economy that may have posted its first full-year acceleration since 2010, there are few signs of the Chinese commodity juggernaut slowing as it rolls into 2018. “China’s economic expansion has been beating expectations since the second half of last year, boosting demand for all kinds of commodities,” Guo Chaohui at China International Capital, said by phone. “We are expecting continued strength in economic growth in 2018 which will keep up the nation’s import appetite.”

Inbound shipments from across the globe – Russia to Saudi Arabia and Venezuela – jumped about 10% to average 8.43 million barrels a day in 2017, data from China’s General Administration of Customs showed on Friday. The unprecedented purchases may be bettered in 2018, if import quotas granted by the government to China’s independent refiners are a signal. The first batch of allocations was 75% higher than for 2017. The world’s second-biggest economy is also realizing that the key to winning its war on smog may lie overseas. Record amounts of less-polluting grades of iron ore – typically not available within China – are being pulled in to feed the nation’s mammoth steel industry, with imports rising 5% to 1.07 billion metric tons in 2017.

Purchases of less-polluting ore is only one tactic in China’s war against pollution. Another is curbing coal use and encouraging the use of cleaner natural gas instead. Imports of the fuel via both sea and pipeline surged almost 27% to 68.57 million tons in 2017.

Read more …

Coherent.

Household Debt Boom Sows The Seeds For A Bust (CBR)

What causes the ebbs and flows of the business cycle? In the first of two videos, Chicago Booth’s Amir Sufi argues that one key factor is the financial sector and its willingness to lend. As credit becomes more and more available, the economy booms—but when household debt becomes unsustainable, it sows the seeds for a bust.

Read more …

Financial stress at a record low. There’s no stronger stress indicator.

Markets Still Blow Off the Fed, Dudley Gets Nervous, Fires Warning Shot (WS)

“So, what am I worried about?” New York Fed President William Dudley, who is considered a dove, asked rhetorically during a speech on Thursday at the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association in New York City. “Two macroeconomic concerns warrant mention,” he continued. And they are: One: “The risk of economic overheating.” He went through some of the mixed data points, including “low” inflation, “an economy that is growing at an above-trend pace,” a labor market that is “already quite tight,” and the “extra boost in 2018 and 2019 from the recently enacted tax legislation.” Two: The markets are blowing off the Fed. He didn’t use those words. He used Fed-speak: “Even though the FOMC has raised its target range for the federal funds rate by 125 basis points over the past two years, financial conditions today are easier than when we started to remove monetary policy accommodation.”

When the Fed raises rates, its explicit intention is to tighten “financial conditions,” meaning that borrowing gets a little harder and more costly at all levels, that investors and banks become more risk-averse and circumspect, and that borrowers become more prudent or at least less reckless – in other words, that the credit bonanza cools off and gets back to some sort of normal. To get there, the Fed wants to see declining bond prices and therefor rising yields, cooling equities, rising risk premiums, widening yield spreads, and the like. These together make up the “financial conditions.” There are various methods to measure whether “financial conditions” are getting “easier” or tighter. Among them is the weekly St. Louis Fed Financial Stress Index, whose latest results were published on Thursday.

The Financial Stress Index had dropped to a historic low of -1.6 on November 3, meaning that financial stress in the markets had never been this low in the data series going back to 1994. Things were really loosey-goosey. On Thursday, the index came in at -1.57, barely above the record low, despite another rate hike and the Fed’s “balance-sheet normalization. And this rock-bottom financial stress in the markets is occurring even as short-term interest rates have rocketed higher in response to the Fed’s rate hikes, with the two-year Treasury yield on Thursday closing at 1.96% for the third day in a row, the highest since September 2008.

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Nomi doesn’t really clarify what is radical about events.

We’re Going To See A Radically Changing World In 2018 – (Nomi Prins)

In last year’s roadmap, I forecast that 2017 would end with gold prices up and the dollar index down, both of which happened. I underestimated the number of Fed hikes by one hike, but globally, average short term rates have remained around zero. That will be a core pattern throughout 2018. Central banks may tweak a few rates here and there, announce some tapering due to “economic growth”, or deflect attention to fiscal policy, but the entire financial and capital markets system rests on the strategies, co-dependencies and cheap money policies of central banks. The bond markets will feel the heat of any tightening shift or fears of one, while the stock market will continue to rush ahead on the reality of cheap money supply until debt problems tug at the equity markets and take them down.

Central bankers are well aware of this. They have no exit plan for their decade of collusion. But a weak hope that it’ll all work out. They have no dedicated agenda to remove themselves from their money supplier role, nor any desire to do so. Truth be told, they couldn’t map out an exit route from cheap money even if they wanted to. The total books of global central banks (that hold the spoils of QE) have ballooned by $2 Trillion in assets (read: debt) over 2017. That brings the amount of global central banks holdings to more than $21.7 trillion in assets. And growing. Teasers about tapering have been released into the atmosphere, but numbers don’t lie.

That’s a hefty cushion for international speculation. Every bond a central bank buys or holds, gets a price-lift. Trillions of dollars of such buys have artificially lifted all bond prices, and stocks because of the secondary-lift effect and rapacious search for self-perpetuating returns. Financial bubbles pervade the world. Central bank leaders may wax hawkish –manifested in strong words but tepid actions. Yet, overall, policies will remain consistent with those of the past decade to combat this looming crisis. US nationalistic trade policies will push other nations to embrace agreements with each other that exclude the US and shun the US dollar.

Read more …

Jean-Michel Paul, founder and Chief Executive of Acheron Capital in London, says: “..one that has received too little attention up to now is the prospect that we are heading toward a growing asset bubble that will result in a pronounced crash.. “. Well, not in my circles, which talk ONLY about that.

Why We Have to Talk About a Bubble (BBG)

Back in November, former Fed chief Janet Yellen described the current low level of inflation as a “mystery.” Despite a small pickup in prices, Europe has the same mystery to solve: Economic confidence in the euro area is at its highest point for a decade, according to the European Commission’s measure, released this week. But there’s no sign of the inflation that you’d normally expect with that kind of economic upsurge. The ECB minutes from December, released Thursday, show some in the ECB are similarly baffled by what they call a “disconnect” between the real economy and prices. With QE having multiplied the amount of fiat money issued by central banks in just a few years, it’s fair to wonder: How come it didn’t trigger much higher levels of inflation than what we now see?

The technical answer is that the money created has ended up full circle – on the books of the central banks. The more fundamental answer is that QE resulted in a wealth increase for the richest, who consume relatively little of their revenue, while the middle class and the neediest largely failed to reap any benefit. Having not gained from QE, their consumption has not risen, leaving prices pretty much flat. There are many problems with this, from growing inequality to pressures on social cohesion. But one that has received too little attention up to now is the prospect that we are heading toward a growing asset bubble that will result in a pronounced crash, as Jeremy Grantham, co-founder of the investment firm GMO, argued in a note last week. He predicts a “melt-up” – where investors pile into assets as prices rise – followed by a significant decline “of some 50%.”

[..] central bankers are still using inflation as a measure to gauge how much more QE they should proceed with. The ECB has repeatedly justified QE expansion because its goal of 2 percent consumer inflation remains unmet. [..] British journalist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, commenting on the Grantham thesis recently in the Daily Telegraph, put the challenge now in the starkest possible terms, as a threat not simply to the recovery but to democracy: “The central banks themselves entered into a Faustian Pact from the mid-Nineties onwards, falsely thinking it safe to drive real interest rates ever lower with each cycle, until they became ensnared in what the Bank for International Settlements calls a policy “debt trap”. This has gone on so long, and pushed debt ratios so high, that the system is now inherently fragile. The incentive to let bubbles run their course has become ever greater.”

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Can’t decide if this is hard to believe, or entirely normal by now.

Uber’s Secret Tool for Keeping the Cops in the Dark (BBG)

In May 2015 about 10 investigators for the Quebec tax authority burst into Uber Technologies Inc.’s office in Montreal. The authorities believed Uber had violated tax laws and had a warrant to collect evidence. Managers on-site knew what to do, say people with knowledge of the event. Like managers at Uber’s hundreds of offices abroad, they’d been trained to page a number that alerted specially trained staff at company headquarters in San Francisco. When the call came in, staffers quickly remotely logged off every computer in the Montreal office, making it practically impossible for the authorities to retrieve the company records they’d obtained a warrant to collect. The investigators left without any evidence.

Most tech companies don’t expect police to regularly raid their offices, but Uber isn’t most companies. The ride-hailing startup’s reputation for flouting local labor laws and taxi rules has made it a favorite target for law enforcement agencies around the world. That’s where this remote system, called Ripley, comes in. From spring 2015 until late 2016, Uber routinely used Ripley to thwart police raids in foreign countries, say three people with knowledge of the system. Allusions to its nature can be found in a smattering of court filings, but its details, scope, and origin haven’t been previously reported. The Uber HQ team overseeing Ripley could remotely change passwords and otherwise lock up data on company-owned smartphones, laptops, and desktops as well as shut down the devices.

This routine was initially called the unexpected visitor protocol. Employees aware of its existence eventually took to calling it Ripley, after Sigourney Weaver’s flamethrower-wielding hero in the Alien movies. The nickname was inspired by a Ripley line in Aliens, after the acid-blooded extraterrestrials easily best a squad of ground troops. “Nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.” [..] Uber deployed Ripley routinely as recently as late 2016, including during government raids in Amsterdam, Brussels, Hong Kong, and Paris, say the people with knowledge of the matter. The tool was developed in coordination with Uber’s security and legal departments, the people say. The heads of both departments, Joe Sullivan and Salle Yoo, left the company last year.

Read more …

Monsanto wants a monopoly on all the world’s food. If you don’t stop them now, it’ll soon be too late.

Monsanto Seeks To Cash In On The Organic Food Market (CP)

At the recent Codex meeting in Berlin, there was an attempt to define genetically engineered (GE) food ingredients as ‘biofortified’ and therefore mislead consumers. This contravened the original Codex mandate for defining biofortification. That definition is based on improving the nutritional quality of food crops through conventional plant breeding (not genetic engineering) with the aim of making the nutrients bioavailable after digestion. The attempt was thwarted thanks to various interventions, not least by the National Health Federation (NHF), a prominent health-freedom international non-governmental organization and the only health-freedom INGO represented at Codex. But the battle is far from over.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission’s Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses (CCNFSDU) convened in Berlin during early December and drafts provisions on nutritional aspects for all foods. It also develops international guidelines and standards for foods for special dietary uses that will be used to facilitate standardized world trade. Based upon previous meetings, the initial intention of the Committee was to craft a definition for biofortification that could then be used uniformly around the World. Biofortification originally referred to increasing certain vitamin and mineral content of basic food crops by way of cross-breeding, not genetic engineering, for example by increasing the vitamin or iron content of sweet potatoes so that malnourished populations would receive better nutrition.

However, according to president of the NHF, Scott Tips, Monsanto wants to redefine the definition to include GE ‘biofortified’ foods and it has seemingly influenced Codex delegates in that direction. Tips says, “I am sure that Monsanto would be thrilled to be able to market its synthetic products under a name that began with the word ‘bio’.” [..] Including GE foods within any definition of biofortification risks consumer confusion as to whether they are purchasing organic products or something else entirely. “Monsanto seeks to cash in on the organic market with the loaded word ‘bio’,” argues Scott Tips. At the Codex meeting in Berlin, Tips addressed the 300 delegates in the room. “Although NHF was an early supporter of biofortification, we have since come to see that the concept is in the process of being hijacked and converted from something good into something bad,” explained Tips.

Read more …

Luckily the CIA is still dividing the people in the Congo. And making money selling all sides weapons.

Electric Car Dreams Run Into Metal Crunch (BBG)

When BMW revealed it was designing electric versions of its X3 SUV and Mini, the going rate for 21 kilograms of cobalt—the amount of the metal needed to power typical car batteries—was under $600. Only 16 months later, the price tag is approaching $1,700 and climbing by the day. For carmakers vying to fill their fleets with electric vehicles, the spike has been a rude awakening as to how much their success is riding on the scarce silvery-blue mineral found predominantly in one of the world’s most corrupt and underdeveloped countries. “It’s gotten more hectic over the past year,” said Markus Duesmann, BMW’s head of procurement, who’s responsible for securing raw materials used in lithium-ion batteries, such as cobalt, manganese and nickel. “We need to keep a close eye, especially on lithium and cobalt, because of the danger of supply scarcity.”

[..] Complicating the process is the fact that the cobalt trail inevitably leads to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where corruption is entrenched in everyday business practices. The U.S. last month slapped sanctions on Glencore’s long-time partner in Congo, Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler, saying he used his close ties to Congolese President Joseph Kabila to secure mining deals. There’s also another ethical obstacle to negotiate. The African nation produces more than 60 percent of the world’s cobalt, a fifth of which is drawn out by artisanal miners who work with their hands — some of whom are children. The country is also planning to double its tax on the metal.

“There just isn’t enough cobalt to go around,” said George Heppel, a consultant at CRU. “The auto companies that’ll be the most successful in maintaining long-term stability in terms of raw materials will be the ones that purchase the cobalt and then supply that to their battery manufacturer.” To adjust to the new reality, some carmakers are recruiting geologists to learn more about the minerals that may someday be as important to transport as oil is now. Tesla Inc. just hired an engineer who supervised a nickel-cobalt refinery in New Caledonia for Vale to help with procurement. But after decades of dictating terms with suppliers of traditional engine parts, the industry is proving ill-prepared to confront what billionaire mining investor Robert Friedland dubbed “the revenge of the miner.”

Read more …

Never use Greece and Recovery in one sentence together. Because you’d be spouting nonsense.

Greece Is Now Worse Off Than When It Defaulted For The First Time (ZH)

According to the market, the situation in Greece has staged a tremendous recovery. So much so, in fact, that Greek 2Y bonds are now trading inside US 2Y Treasurys. Yes, according to the market, Greece is now a safer credit than the US. And yet, a quick peek inside the actual Greek economy, reveals that nothing has been fixed. In fact, one can argue that things are now worse than they were when Greece defaulted (for the first time), According to statistics from IAPR, unpaid taxes in Greece currently make up more than 55% of the country’s GDP due to – well – the inability of people to pay the rising taxes. Overdue debt to the state has reached nearly €100 billion with only €15 billion possible to be returned to the government’s coffers, as most are due to bankrupt businesses and deceased individuals.

The Greek tax authorities seized pensions, salaries, and assets of more than 180,000 taxpayers in 2017, meanwhile bad debt to the state treasury continue to grow. The Independent Authority for Public Revenue confiscated nearly €4 billion in the first 10 months of this year with forced measures to be reportedly taken against 1.7 million defaulters in 2018. Bad debt owed to the state in Greece has been growing at €1 billion a month since 2014, and nearly 4.17 million taxpayers currently owe money to the country, which means that every second Greek is directly indebted. Demonstrating the full extent of the economic mess, a recent report from Kathimerini revealed that Greek lenders are proposing huge haircuts, as high as 90%, for borrowers with debts from consumer loans, credit cards or small business loans without collateral.

In the context of the sale of a 2.5-billion-euro bad-loan portfolio named Venus, Alpha Bank is using the incentive of major haircuts in letters it has sent to some 156,000 debtors. The fact that this concerns some 240,000 bad loans means that some debtors may have two or three overdue loans. Another major local lender, Eurobank, is employing the same strategy for a set of loans adding up to 350 million euros. Most of them range between 5,000 and 7,000 euros each and have been overdue for over a decade. Yes, most Greek are unable to repay a few thousands euros and would rather default. This means that the banks are expecting to collect a small amount of those debts, coming to 250 million euros for Alpha and 35 million for Eurobank – whopping 90% haircuts – accepting that the rest of the debt is uncollectible.

Read more …

Dec 292017
 
 December 29, 2017  Posted by at 10:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Snowy landscape with Arles in the background 1888

 

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Natural Time Cycles: A Dow Forecast For 2018-2020 (Freeze)
Trump Says Russia Inquiry Makes US ‘Look Very Bad’ (NYT)
Russiagate Is Devolving Into an Effort to Stigmatize Dissent (Carden)
US Fiscal Path Will Rattle the Rafters of the Casino – Stockman (SG)
China May Be A Bigger Worry For 2018 (CNBC)
China’s Leaders Fret Over Debts Lurking In Shadow Banking System (R.)
China Temporarily Waives Taxes To Get Foreign Firms To Stay (AFP)
How Far the Scams & Stupidities around “Blockchain Stocks” are Going (WS)
IRS Guidance on Property Taxes Has the US Confused (BBG)
Turns out, Uber Shareholders Are Eager to Sell at 30% Discount (WS)
UK Holds Back Historic Files on EU as It Prepares for Brexit (BBG)
Greek Migration Ministry Responds To Criticism Over Island Camps (K.)

 

 

Gann is all the vogue these days. Why has it taken so long? Lots of graphs here.

Natural Time Cycles: A Dow Forecast For 2018-2020 (Freeze)

The analysis and forecasts presented in this article are based on the analytical framework of W.D. Gann. Gann is an investing legend, labeled as genius by many financial historians. He reportedly accumulated $50 million in profits during his trading career. His superior track record and those of others using his methods argues that, regardless of our opinion of his methodology, we should heed the advice of his work. A more detailed explanation of his analytical framework is included in the last section of this article.

Forecast: 2018-2020

The Dow Jones Industrial Average forecast, in the graph above, is based upon the natural 20-year cycle that Gann identified. The lines in the graph show the projected monthly cumulative percentage returns from the peak level. The yellow line is the average scenario and the aqua line is the pessimistic scenario. The graph provides monthly estimates for 2018. The last data point represents June 2020, which covers the entire 30-month period from December 2017. My average scenario forecasts a -15.29% price return for 2018. The cumulative price return is forecast to bottom in June 2020 at -20.39%, at which time an extended rally should ensue. My pessimistic scenario forecasts a -32.90% price return for 2018. The cumulative price return is forecast to be little-changed in June 2020 at -31.23%, at which time an extended rally in should ensue.

Read more …

The New York Times feels obliged to cede the stage to the one person they’ve sought to discredit for the past 2 years. Must be humiliating.

Trump Says Russia Inquiry Makes US ‘Look Very Bad’ (NYT)

President Trump said Thursday that he believes Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel in the Russia investigation, will treat him fairly, contradicting some members of his party who have waged a weekslong campaign to try to discredit Mr. Mueller and the continuing inquiry. During an impromptu 30-minute interview with The New York Times at his golf club in West Palm Beach, the president did not demand an end to the Russia investigations swirling around his administration, but insisted 16 times that there has been “no collusion” discovered by the inquiry. “It makes the country look very bad, and it puts the country in a very bad position,” Mr. Trump said of the investigation. “So the sooner it’s worked out, the better it is for the country.”

Asked whether he would order the Justice Department to reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, Mr. Trump appeared to remain focused on the Russia investigation. “I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department,” he said, echoing claims by his supporters that as president he has the power to open or end an investigation. “But for purposes of hopefully thinking I’m going to be treated fairly, I’ve stayed uninvolved with this particular matter.” Hours after he accused the Chinese of secretly shipping oil to North Korea, Mr. Trump explicitly said for the first time that he has “been soft” on China on trade in the hopes that its leaders will pressure North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program. He hinted that his patience may soon end, however, signaling his frustration with the reported oil shipments.

[..] Mr. Mueller’s investigation appears to be moving ahead despite predictions by Mr. Trump’s lawyers this year that it would be over by Thanksgiving. Mr. Trump said that he was not bothered by the fact that he does not know when it will be completed because he has nothing to hide. Mr. Trump repeated his assertion that Democrats invented the Russia allegations “as a hoax, as a ruse, as an excuse for losing an election.” He said that “everybody knows” his associates did not collude with the Russians, even as he insisted that the “real stories” are about Democrats who worked with Russians during the 2016 campaign. “There’s been no collusion. But I think he’s going to be fair,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Mueller.

[..] Mr. Trump said he believes members of the news media will eventually cover him more favorably because they are profiting from the interest in his presidency and thus will want him re-elected. “Another reason that I’m going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes,” Mr. Trump said, then invoked one of his preferred insults. “Without me, The New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times, but the failed New York Times.” He added: “So they basically have to let me win. And eventually, probably six months before the election, they’ll be loving me because they’re saying, ‘Please, please, don’t lose Donald Trump.’ O.K.”

Read more …

Russiagate has turned into a huge embarrassment.

Russiagate Is Devolving Into an Effort to Stigmatize Dissent (Carden)

Of all the various twists and turns of the year-and-a-half-long national drama known as #Russiagate, the effort to marginalize and stigmatize dissent from the consensus Russia-Trump narrative, particularly by former intelligence and national-security officials and operatives, is among the more alarming. An invasion-of-privacy lawsuit, filed in July 2017 by a former DNC official and two Democratic donors, alleges that they suffered “significant distress and anxiety and will require lifelong vigilance and expense” because their personal information was exposed as a result of the e-mail hack of the DNC, which, the suit claims, was part of a conspiracy between Roger Stone and the Trump campaign.

According to a report in The New York Times published at the time of the suit’s filing, “Mr. Trump and his political advisers, including Mr. Stone, have repeatedly denied colluding with Russia, and the 44-page complaint, filed on Wednesday in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, does not contain any hard evidence that his campaign did.” (Emphasis added.) In a new development, in early December, 14 former high-ranking US intelligence and national-security officials, including former deputy secretary of state William Burns; former CIA director John Brennan; former director of national intelligence James Clapper; and former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul (a longtime proponent of democracy promotion, which presumably includes free speech), filed an amicus brief as part of the lawsuit.

The amicus brief purports to explain to the court how Russia deploys “active measures” that seek “to undermine confidence in democratic leaders and institutions; sow discord between the United States and its allies; discredit candidates for office perceived as hostile to the Kremlin; influence public opinion against U.S. military, economic and political programs; and create distrust or confusion over sources of information.” The former officials portray the amicus brief as an offering of neutral (“Amici submit this brief on behalf of neither party”) expertise (“to offer the Court their broad perspective, informed by careers spent working inside the U.S. government”).

The brief claims that Putin’s Russia has not only “actively spread disinformation online in order to exploit racial, cultural and political divisions across the country” but also “conducted cyber espionage operations…to undermine faith in the U.S. democratic process and, in the general election, influence the results against Secretary Hillary Clinton.”

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“The Fed will sell more bonds in the next 3-4 years than had been accumulated by all of the central banks of the world in all of recorded history as of 1995!”

US Fiscal Path Will Rattle the Rafters of the Casino – Stockman (SG)

[..] the US government is spending money like a drunken sailor. But nobody really seems to care. Since Nov. 8, the US national debt has risen $1 trillion. Meanwhile, the Russell 2000 (a small-cap stock market index) has risen by 30%. Former Reagan budget director David Stockman said this makes no sense in a rational world, and he thinks the FY 2019 is going to sink the casino. In a rational world operating with honest financial markets those two results would not be found in even remotely the same zip code; and especially not in month #102 of a tired economic expansion and at the inception of an epochal pivot by the Fed to QT (quantitative tightening) on a scale never before imagined.” Stockman is referring to economic tightening recently launched by the Federal Reserve. It’s not only the increasing interest rates.

By next April the Fed will be shrinking its balance sheet at an annual rate of $360 billion and by $600 billion per year as of next October. By the end of 2020, the Fed will have dumped $2 trillion of bonds from its books. Stockman puts this into perspective. So the net of it is this: The Fed will sell more bonds in the next 3-4 years than had been accumulated by all of the central banks of the world in all of recorded history as of 1995!” Now pause for just a moment and think about this. The GOP just passed a tax plan that will add another $1.5 trillion to the deficit. And word is Trump’s next big push will be to pass an infrastructure bill – even more spending and debt. Meanwhile, during a time of rising debt, the Fed will be flooding the market with bonds. And what do governments have to do to finance debt? That’s right. They sell bonds.

There is literally a fiscal red ink eruption heading straight at the Fed’s balance sheet shrinkage campaign that will rattle the rafters in the casino … Uncle Sam’s borrowing requirements are likely to hit $1.25 trillion or more than 6% of GDP in FY 2019 owing to the fact that the tax bill is so heavily front-loaded and the GOP’s wild spending spree for defense, disasters and much else.”

Read more …

It’s starting to feel like Xi is seriously stuck. Let zombies default, and accept the lost jobs and mom and pop investments, or keep propping them up.

China May Be A Bigger Worry For 2018 (CNBC)

For a market dependent on synchronized global growth, investors may be betting too much that China will not rock the boat next year. Part of the S&P 500’s rally to record highs this year comes on the back of better economic growth around the world. A major contributor to that growth was stability in China as leaders prepared for a key 19th Communist Party Congress this fall. Now that the congress is over and Beijing looks set to take action on its growing debt problems, worries about a sharper-than-expected slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy could hurt U.S. stocks. “With the 19th Party Congress now behind us, the risk is that the peak growth in China is also behind us,” David Woo, head of global rates, FX and EM FI strategy & econ research at Bank of America, said in an outlook report.

“Curiously, the market has been ignoring the string of negative Chinese data surprises in recent weeks. It is possible that the market views them as temporary.” “We are concerned that China could be vulnerable to US tax reform getting done,” Woo said, noting that a resulting increase in U.S. rates and the U.S. dollar would likely cause capital flight from China to accelerate and weaken the Chinese yuan. If that happens, China’s central bank would be likely “to tighten liquidity, which in turn would raise further concerns about the growth outlook,” he said. Fears of negative spillover from a rapid slowdown in China’s economy hit global markets in August 2015 after a surprise yuan devaluation. Further weakness in the currency in the first few weeks of 2016 contributed to the worst start to a year on record for both the Dow and S&P 500.

Since then, Chinese authorities have proven they are still able to control their economy. But stability has come at the cost of ever-increasing debt levels. The IMF warned in October that China’s banking sector assets have risen steadily to 310% of GDP from 240% of GDP at the end of 2012. S&P Global Ratings downgraded China’s long-term sovereign credit rating in September, following a similar downgrade by Moody’s in May. “If clusters of credit defaults start to form, concerns about contagion into the wider economy could take hold if fears of default in wealth management products arise,” UBS Wealth Management’s chief investment office said in its 2018 outlook. “Should this happen, the Chinese government, in our view, would likely have sufficient resources to prevent widespread contagion.”

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Xi made the conscious choice to rise on the shadow’s coat tails. Now he has to keep riding or else.

China’s Leaders Fret Over Debts Lurking In Shadow Banking System (R.)

Before the 2008 financial crisis, there was very little shadow banking in China. In the aftermath of that shock, Chinese authorities launched a massive effort to stimulate the economy, mostly through a huge increase in lending. This led to a boom in property and infrastructure spending that continues today. Demand for credit increased sharply, especially from local and municipal government-owned companies. To meet this demand, banks began selling wealth management products offering higher interest rates than normal deposits. Many investors believed these products were implicitly guaranteed by the issuer, even if it was not expressly stated in the contract. Banks also borrowed cash from other banks and companies. For banks, these funds can then be lent to borrowers prepared to pay higher rates.

But the banks want to sidestep rules designed to restrict lending to overheated sectors including property, mining and other resources. So, people in the shadow banking industry say, these loans are often disguised by directing them through a complex chain of intermediaries, including trusts, securities companies, other banks and asset managers. To earn interest on these loans, a bank will buy a financial product from one of the intermediaries, which directs earnings back to the bank. That allows the bank to describe what is really a loan as an investment on its books. This type of lending can be more profitable because banks can set aside much less capital than they are required to hold for regular loans as a safeguard against defaults. By the end of 2015, shadow lending was growing faster than traditional bank lending, and was equivalent to 57% of total bank loans, according to a 2016 report from investment bank CLSA.

This dramatically accelerated the speed at which overall debt expanded in China’s financial system. Moody’s said in a November report that China’s shadow banking assets grew more than 20% in 2016 to 64 trillion yuan ($9.8 trillion), equivalent to 86.5% of GDP. [..] At the center of shadow banking are the 12 nationally licensed joint stock banks and many of the more than 100 city commercial lenders which hold about a third of China’s commercial banking assets. From 2010, these mid-tier banks and regional lenders set about competing with the country’s so-called Big Five lenders, the state-controlled behemoths that dominate the economy. The key to the upstarts’ growth is selling wealth management products and borrowing from other banks, allowing them to create loans wrapped in financial instruments to give the appearance of investments.

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Translation: foreign reserves are fleeing. Blame the Trump tax plan.

China Temporarily Waives Taxes To Get Foreign Firms To Stay (AFP)

China will temporarily waive income taxes for foreign companies on profits they reinvest in the country as Beijing battles to retain foreign firms and investment. The finance ministry announced Thursday the new tax policy, which will apply retroactively from January so businesses will be able to take advantage of the exemption for this year’s taxes. The new incentives for foreign business to keep their earnings in China follow the passing last week of a corporate tax overhaul in the United States. The US reform will lower the tax rate for most corporations to 21%. Businesses in China pay 25%. The temporary exemption “will create a better investment environment for foreign investors and encourage foreign investors to sustain their investments in China,” a spokesman for the ministry of commerce said.

The policy announcement also comes as China has struggled with capital flight and tightened capital controls this year to stem the outflow of money. But foreign companies have long complained of the onerous bureaucracy they must navigate, barriers to market access, and policies that favour local firms. The new tax incentives aim to make China more attractive but come with a slew of restrictions. To be eligible, the profits must be invested in industries and activities where the Chinese government encourages foreign investment: manufacturing, services, research and development. Locations in the west of the country are also prioritised for development. Companies have three years to apply for the exemptions after paying tax.

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“This can happen only during the very late stage of a bubble.”

How Far the Scams & Stupidities around “Blockchain Stocks” are Going (WS)

It just doesn’t let up. UBI Blockchain Internet, a Hong Kong outfit whose shares trade in the US [UBIA], filed with the SEC to sell an additional 72.3 million shares owned by its executives. In other words, it isn’t selling the shares to raise money for corporate purposes, but to allow its executives, including CEO Tony Liu, to bail out. This is happening after the company – which sports zero revenues and a disconnected phone number in its SEC filings – managed to get its shares to spike briefly by over 1,100%, pushing its market capitalization to $8 billion. UBI Blockchain didn’t do an IPO. Instead, in October 2016, it acquired a publicly traded shell company registered in Las Vegas, called “JA Energy.” It then changed the name and ticker symbol to what they’re now.

Over the six trading days starting on December 11, 2017, its shares soared over 1,100%, from $7.20 to $87 on December 18, as the word “blockchain” in its name and sufficient hype and speculator-idiocy took hold. By December 21, shares had plunged 67% to $29. They closed on Wednesday at $38.50. At this price, it still has a ludicrous market cap of $3.64 billion. In its prospectus for the share sale, filed with the SEC on December 26, UBI explains the overcooked spaghetti of its dreamed-up activities: UBI Blockchain Internet Ltd. business encompasses the research and application of blockchain technology with a focus on the Internet of things covering areas of food, drugs and healthcare. Management plans to focus its business in the integrated wellness industry, by providing procedures for safety and effectiveness in food and drugs, but also preventing counterfeit or fake food and drugs.

With the advancement of the blockchain technology, the Company plans to trace a food or drug product from its original source within the context of the Internet of Things to the final consumer. It explains that “management is uncertain that the Company can generate sufficient revenues in the next 12-months to sustain our operations. We shall need to seek additional funding to continue our operations and implement our plan of operations.” It added that “due to the uncertainty of our ability to meet our financial obligations and to pay our liabilities as they become due,” the auditors in the financial statement for the year ended August 31, 2017, questioned “our ability to continue as a going concern.” For the year, UBI had an operating loss of $1.83 million on zero revenues. It had $15,406 in cash, and: “In order to keep the company operational and fully reporting, management anticipates a burn rate of approximately $220,000 per month, pre and post-offering.”

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Overtime for accountants.

IRS Guidance on Property Taxes Has the US Confused (BBG)

New guidance from the Internal Revenue Service that limits taxpayers’ ability to deduct prepaid property levies on their 2017 tax returns is causing confusion nationwide as people rush to pay in advance without knowing whether they’re wasting their time and money. The IRS said Wednesday that taxpayers can deduct prepaid state and local property taxes for 2018 on 2017 returns only if the taxes were assessed before 2018. The brief guidance – which doesn’t define the term “assessed” – had local tax officials scratching their heads. Some see the issue as an early signal of far wider confusion that’s coming soon – the predictable result of passing a bill that rewrites the tax code just two weeks before many of the changes take hold.

“This is the tip of the iceberg as state and local governments try to figure this out – and by the way, they’re trying to figure it out with one week before the changes take effect,” said Richard Auxier, a researcher with the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, a Washington public policy group. “And that week happens to be the week between Christmas and New Year’s.” The IRS guidance comes after many state and local officials – including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie – have taken pains to clear the way for their residents to accelerate property-tax payments. The nationwide flurry came ahead of the new tax law that will cap property tax deductions – along with those for state and local income taxes or sales taxes – at an overall total of $10,000.

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Uber just lost a third of its valuation.

Turns out, Uber Shareholders Are Eager to Sell at 30% Discount (WS)

Softbank, an acquisitive junk-rated Japanese holding company that also owns about 80% of Sprint, has been preparing for months to buy a large stake in Uber. At the end of November, it launched a tender offer to buy enough shares from investors and employees to give it a 14% stake. It dangled out a price of $33 a share, which valued Uber at $48 billion – a 30% discount from Uber’s “valuation” of $69 billion, which had been established behind closed doors during the last fund-raising round. The offer at a $48-billion valuation is even lower than Uber’s valuation back in June 2015 of $51 billion. When the tender offer was started, there was uncertainty if enough sellers would be willing to dump their shares at this discount. The other option for them would be to hold out until the IPO, in the hopes for a better deal. The tender offer expired today at noon Pacific Time.

Turns out, there are plenty of eager sellers – despite any dreams of a blistering IPO: The tendered shares amount to about 20% of the company’s equity, “people familiar with the matter” told the Wall Street Journal. But SoftBank will likely acquire only a 15% stake, “the people said.” Other members of the consortium SoftBank is leading – including Dragoneer Investment Group and Tencent Holdings – are likely to buy some but not all of the remaining tendered shares. This deal will not raise money for Uber itself but will allow employees and early investors to cash out some of their holdings – at a steep discount. But to maintain the illusion of the previous “valuation” of $69 billion – which is critical for a properly hyped future IPO – SoftBank will also make a $1-billion direct investment into Uber at the $69-billion “valuation,” as part of the deal.

Since startup “valuations” are based on the price paid during fund-raising, this $1-billion deal forms Uber’s new “valuation,” the same as the prior one. So the “valuation” illusion remains intact. [..] SoftBank already owns major stakes in other rideshare startups, including Didi Chuxing, the largest rideshare company in China; Grab, a major rideshare company in Southeast Asia; Ola, the largest rideshare company in India, slightly ahead of Uber; and 99, the largest rideshare company in Brazil. So SoftBank is serious about getting into this business on a global scale. But all rideshare companies are competing with each other, with taxis, rental cars, mass transit, and other modes of transportation on service and low fares, and they’re competing with each other to rope in drivers by offering them incentives.

The plan is to dominate the markets. And all of them are losing money hand over fist. The chart below shows what quarterly “adjusted” losses look like for Uber. Actual losses under GAAP would be much larger since the costs of employee stock compensation, interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization have been stripped out of the figures that Uber shows the media:

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It’s hard to keep track of all the Monty Python moves at Downing Street 10.

UK Holds Back Historic Files on EU as It Prepares for Brexit (BBG)

As Prime Minister Theresa May prepares for the next round of Brexit negotiations, her government has held back publication of secret files relating to the creation of the European Union. The documents from 1992 were due to be released Friday at the National Archives under British rules that allow government papers to enter the public domain. Out of 495 files from the prime minister’s office that year, a total of 114 were held back. Of those, 12 related to European policy. The main opposition party was quick to pounce. Jon Trickett, a high-ranking Labour politician described it as “profoundly shocking, particularly given the current state of the national debate.”

May’s government has had a series of problems with information around Brexit. Last week, after months of ministers trying to keep them secret, the government published an assessments of how different segments of the economy will cope with leaving the EU. Lawmakers commented that the documents contained little that couldn’t be found on Wikipedia. The Cabinet Office, which supports May in running the government, said in an email that “there is no question that any files are deliberately ‘withheld’ from the media.” A further 26 files covering the EU were sent to the archives too late for journalists to read them before publication.

It explained that “we have to ensure all files are properly reviewed and prepared before they are transferred, so that they do not harm national security or our relations with other countries or disclose the sensitive personal data of living individuals.” The files that were released reveal the extent to which Britain’s 1992 expulsion from the Exchange Rate Mechanism turned Conservatives against Europe. That year, Sept. 16 was christened “Black Wednesday” after the government’s failed attempt to keep the pound within the system by pushing interest rates up to 15%.

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Everybody accuses everybody else, because assigning the blame is more important than helping the refugees.

Greek Migration Ministry Responds To Criticism Over Island Camps (K.)

The Migration Ministry has blamed local authorities for the grim conditions inside island migrant camps in the wake of criticism from a senior European Union official. In an interview with news website New Europe on Sunday, the EU’s special envoy on migration, Maarten Verwey, said the European Commission had made funding available to ensure appropriate accommodation for all. “However, the Commission cannot order the creation or expansion of reception capacity against the opposition of the competent authorities,” he added. Speaking to Kathimerini on Thursday, sources inside the ministry did not deny the existence of EU funds, adding however that Verwey had omitted any mention of the difficulties “although he has personal experience.”

Authorities on Lesvos and Chios have opposed government plans to expand screening centers for refugees. Meanwhile, only a small amount of the available funds have been absorbed. Of the 540 million euros earmarked until 2020, Greece has received just 97 million euros, according to the Economy Ministry. The same sources referred to recent remarks by Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas, who accused EU governments of “hypocrisy” for failing to shoulder their fair share of the refugee burden.

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Dec 212017
 
 December 21, 2017  Posted by at 8:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Claude Monet Houses of Parliament (Sun Breaking through the Fog) 1904

 

Trump Plans Tax Bill Signing on January 3 Due to Technical Issue (BBG)
Why Wall Street Is Furious At The Trump Tax Plan (ZH)
Peak Valuations and Market Corrections (Rosso)
Silicon Valley Homes Going For Nearly $2 Million Over Asking Price (ZH)
Bitcoin Is Biggest Bubble Of Them All, And It’s The Fed’s Fault – Ron Paul (CNBC)
Uber Loses EU Court Fight as Judges Take Aim at Gig Economy (BBG)
Gloomy Brexit Forecasts For UK Are Coming True, Says IMF (G.)
Bank of England To Allow EU Banks To Operate Unchanged After Brexit (G.)
UK PM May Heads to Poland to Seek Brexit Ally After Firing Her Deputy (BBG)
Poland Protests EU ‘Nuclear Option’ Over Judicial Independence (G.)
Catalonia Poised For Hung Parliament In Bitterly Contested Election (G.)
How The US Swindled Russia in The Early 1990s (Zuesse)
Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Now Has A $1 Billion Price Tag (G.)
Russians, Chinese Seek Out Greek Properties for Bargains, Visas (BBG)
Lesvos Mayor Files Suit Over Conditions At Moria Migrant Camp (K.)

 

 

Don’t have the impression it’s a great piece of work. But the entire MSM has only one goal: bash anything Trump. A neutral assessment might be appropriate, but where does one get one?

Trump Plans Tax Bill Signing on January 3 Due to Technical Issue (BBG)

President Donald Trump plans to sign the tax bill on Jan. 3 to ensure automatic spending cuts to Medicare and other programs don’t take effect, according to a House Republican aide familiar with the plans. The White House informed House GOP members of the timetable, following the likely decision by House Republicans to leave the so-called PAYGO provision out of a year-end spending deal to avoid a government shut down before Friday, the person said who asked not to be named because the plan hasn’t been publicly announced. Trump and GOP leaders have repeatedly said the president would sign the legislation before Christmas. White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn signaled Wednesday morning that the signing date could be pushed back because of the potential for triggering the cuts.

Under the PAYGO law, automatic cuts to Medicare and other spending categories would be triggered by the tax bill in January because the bill is scored as increasing the deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. Waiting until January means that those cuts would be delayed until 2019, according to budget expert Ed Lorenzen of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. White House officials insisted that no firm timetable had been set. Trump could sign the tax legislation earlier if Congress passed a waiver to the PAYGO rules, but that is unlikely to happen before lawmakers leave Washington for a holiday recess. “I think we’re just working out some of the logistics on that,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday on Fox News. “He’ll sign it as quickly as he can.”

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But wait, wasn’t Trump making Wall Street that much richer?

Why Wall Street Is Furious At The Trump Tax Plan (ZH)

Back in October 2016, the “millionaire, billionaire, private jet owners” of America’s elitist, liberal mega-cities (A.K.A. New York and San Francisco) celebrated the tax hikes that a Hillary Clinton presidency would have undoubtedly jammed down their throats proclaiming them to be a ‘patriotic duty’. Unfortunately, now that Trump has given them exactly what they apparently wanted…an amazing opportunity to ‘spread their wealth around”…they’re suddenly feeling a lot less patriotic. Of course, as we’ve noted numerous times, while most people across the country and across the income spectrum will benefit from the Republican tax reform package, the folks who stand to lose are those living in high-tax states with expensive real estate as their SALT, mortgage interest and property tax deductions will suddenly be capped. And, as Bloomberg points out today, that has a lot of Wall Street Traders in New York drowning their sorrows in expensive vodka and considering a move to Florida.

“One trader, sipping a Bloody Mary on a morning flight to somewhere more tropical, said he’s going to stop registering as a Republican. En route, he sent more than a dozen text messages ripping the tax bill. A pair of hedge fund managers said the tax bill is too tilted toward corporations, rather than individuals who should get more relief. “My clients are hard-working young professionals on Wall Street. I don’t have a lot of good news for them,” said Douglas Boneparth, a financial adviser in lower Manhattan who counsels people throughout the industry. Most are coming to terms with it. “I don’t think anyone is going to be surprised by the economic reality.” “This provides a clear incentive for financial advisers to go independent,” said Louis Diamond of Diamond Consultants. “We’re hearing from a lot of clients on this; it’s just another reason why it makes a ton of sense, economically, to become self-employed.”

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All bubbles have limited lifespans.

Peak Valuations and Market Corrections (Rosso)

[..] global diversification has enhanced portfolio returns this year. Spreading wealth among different markets and sectors has allowed investors to capture strong equity performance. You see, on the trend higher, investors may seek to employ a series of risk horses to fully participate in the race. Fixed income or bonds, and cash equivalents do a good job of helping investors manage risk through bear markets as they are negatively correlated to stocks. On the way down, stocks across markets connect and head south in sync; some fall faster than others. Unfortunately, when stock diversification is needed the most, it fails. With current valuations and stock prices extended well beyond their long-term trends, investors must be aware of reversions that have the probability of wiping out a decade or longer in gains.

Stock diversification will not protect you if or when this occurs (let me know if you’ve heard this from your broker’s research hub as of late; I bet you haven’t). Strategists for big-box financial retailers are consistently wishy-washy when it comes to the current unsustainable altitude of stock prices. It’s not in their best interest to take a stand. It would be a death knell for their careers. Recently, one of the paunchiest of the brethren shared on CNBC: Stocks are “slightly overvalued;” followed by – “that doesn’t mean you should do anything here.” Perfect. Well done. That’s how seven-figure compensation packages are earned, folks. When it comes to retail investors, time is as or more precious a commodity as money; we at RIA consistently write and research the math of investment losses to make sure you remain emotionally grounded and don’t allow greed to blind your judgment. We are not afraid to outline the risks inherent in extended markets.

Personally, I’m not willing to give up a decade or two to break even. Are you? Don’t worry about your friendly neighborhood talking heads. They’ll continue to collect big paychecks and hefty year-end bonuses as long as they play senior managements’ game. A broker’s research department superstar spokesperson is paid handsomely to point out when markets reach new highs but rarely expound on how long it takes to achieve or in most cases, reclaim them. A big-box financial retail investment strategist’s primary role is to forge and fortify a firm’s presence or brand and help front-line brokers keep investors fully invested through rough market cycles, nothing more.

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It’s different this time, though….

Silicon Valley Homes Going For Nearly $2 Million Over Asking Price (ZH)

If you’re still holding out hope that the following chart is anything but another massive housing bubble in the making then you should probably ignore the disturbing evidence to the contrary that we’re about to present below… Back in 2005/2006, one of the key signs that housing markets across the country were overheating was the number of houses that, thanks to soaring demand from speculators, were suddenly selling at prices well in excess of their asking price. That said, as a local CBS affiliate in San Francisco points out, the premiums of 2005/2006 pale in comparison to homes in Silicon Valley today that are selling for as much as $1-$2 million over their original asking prices.

But if you thought they area housing market couldn’t get any more outrageous, consider a home on Colorado Avenue in Palo Alto. It listed for $2.9 million, but sold for $3.9 million, $1 million over asking price. Another home on Anacapa Drive in the Los Altos hills listed for $2.8 million, but sold for $4.5 million. That is $1.67 million over asking. Finally, there is this home on University Avenue in Los Altos that listed at $7.9 million, but sold for $1.8 million over asking. In 2017, 10 homes in the mid-Peninsula area sold for $1 million over asking. Six of those listings belonged to Deleon Realty.

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Where does the money come from that’s used to buy bitcoin?

Bitcoin Is Biggest Bubble Of Them All, And It’s The Fed’s Fault – Ron Paul (CNBC)

He’s taken on President Donald Trump and the Federal Reserve. Now, libertarian former congressman Ron Paul is taking on bitcoin. According to Paul, cryptocurrencies have become an asset that rivals the bubble he sees in stocks. “I think it’s going to continue to do exactly what it’s doing. It’s going higher and it’s going lower,” he said Tuesday on CNBC’s “Futures Now.” “We can look at what’s happening now, which to me is a climactic end of QEs.” Paul, who has done commercials touting currency competition for a company that benefits from bitcoin’s rise, views the crypto craze as a side effect of central banks doing several rounds of quantitative easing to cope with the last financial crisis. “I look at the problems we face. I think they’re gigantic and people are desperate and looking everywhere. Why would they buy bonds that pay negative interest rates? Why would they buy stocks, and say well this time it’s different? ” asked Paul.

“Cryptocurrency is a reflection of the disaster of the monetary dollar system.” Paul, who’s also a medical doctor and former Republican presidential candidate, argues that cryptocurrencies are in an “exponential bubble” where trying to calculate its real value is extremely difficult. Bitcoin, the largest of the cryptocurrencies, has been trading above $17,000. He hasn’t been able to pinpoint when a plunge could happen in cryptocurrencies or the stock market. But Paul says the danger is real. “They’re both big bubbles in the sense that it occurred because there was excessive credit. But if you look at the curves, I think that the cryptocurrency curve looks more threatening,” Paul said.

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Looks like ‘we are tech’ was always a losing argument.

Uber Loses EU Court Fight as Judges Take Aim at Gig Economy (BBG)

Uber Technologies Inc. will be regulated in European Union countries as a transport company after the bloc’s top court rejected its claim to be a digital service provider, a decision that could increase legal risks for other gig-economy companies including Airbnb. While the EU Court of Justice’s ruling covered UberPop – which used drivers without taxi licenses and has already been shuttered in many countries due to the legal issues – it’s a real blow as the first definitive finding that Uber must be regulated by transport authorities. The decision clarifies for the first time that connecting people via an app to non-professional drivers forms an integral part of a transport service. It rejects Uber’s view that such services are purely digital and could fuel further scrutiny of other gig-economy firms.

Paris regulators are already clamping down on Airbnb, treating the home-rental service more like a hotel, and British food-delivery start-up Deliveroo is in the spotlight for its treatment of workers. In the EU judges’ view, “the most important part of Uber’s business is the supply of transport – connecting passengers to drivers by their smartphones is secondary,” said Rachel Farr at law firm Taylor Wessing. “Without transport services, the business wouldn’t exist.” Uber has argued that it’s a technology platform connecting passengers with independent drivers, not a transportation company subject to the same rules as taxi services. The case has been closely watched by the technology industry because of its precedent for regulating the gig economy, where freelancers make money by plying everything from spare rooms to fast-food deliveries via apps on smartphones and PCs.

“After today’s judgment innovators will increasingly be subject to divergent national and sectoral rules,” said Jakob Kucharczyk, of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which speaks for companies like Uber, Amazon.com, Google and Facebook. “This is a blow to the EU’s ambition of building an integrated digital single market.” While the ruling is valid EU-wide, it remains limited to Uber’s services and won’t directly affect other disputes Uber is facing over how its drivers are treated. One such case is pending at the U.K. court of appeal.

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You don’t really need to be a genius to see this.

Gloomy Brexit Forecasts For UK Are Coming True, Says IMF (G.)

The IMF has strongly defended its gloomy forecasts for the UK after Brexit, saying pre-referendum warnings of slower growth were coming true. Christine Lagarde, the fund’s managing director, said the vote to leave the EU in June 2016 was already having an impact and Britain’s weaker growth this year was in contrast to accelerating activity in the rest of the world. Speaking at the Treasury as the IMF announced the results of its annual health check of the UK economy, Lagarde hit back at those who lambasted the fund when predictions of an immediate post-referendum recession failed to come to pass. “We feared that if Britain decided to leave, it would most likely entail a depreciation of sterling, higher inflation leading to a squeeze on disposable income and a reduction in investment,” she said.

“People said ‘Oh those experts’, but we are seeing the narrative we identified as a potential risk being rolled out as we speak. This is not the experts speaking, it’s what the economy is demonstrating.” The IMF trimmed its forecast for UK growth this year from 1.7% in October to 1.6%, and said it expected the economy to grow by 1.5% in 2018. It was one of several economic forecasters to say the UK would suffer a downturn should voters back leaving the EU. Last year, the fund had said growth for 2017 would be 1.1%, before raising the forecast to 2%. Since the turn of the year, Lagarde said activity had slowed notably and the UK’s recent performance was a disappointment in the light of the best showing by the global economy since the financial crash.

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A deliberate mess?

Bank of England To Allow EU Banks To Operate Unchanged After Brexit (G.)

The Bank of England plans to allow European banks to maintain their UK operations under current rules following Brexit, in a direct challenge to European Union regulators to adopt the same policy towards UK-based banks. The Bank said it wanted to press ahead with assessing the risks posed by the 177 banks and insurance companies based in the European Economic Area that have branches in London, following the agreement between Theresa May and EU officials to move to the second stage of Brexit talks. In a move that pre-empts trade talks between the UK and EU, the Bank said it would assess each foreign bank’s branch operation to decide whether it needed to be converted into a subsidiary, which effectively separates it from its overseas parent with its own capital.

Banks domiciled in the EEA will be keen to maintain UK branches, which are cheaper to run and come under more direct head office control. They also maintain their chief regulator in their home country. Most branches are expected to retain their current status despite needing to satisfy stringent rules. The BoE said it would carry out a broad assessment of the risks posed by branches, though it would rely heavily on cooperation with regulators across the EU. Branches that are considered to pose a systemic risk to London’s financial centre could be forced to convert to being subsidiaries. The Treasury is expected to give the Bank additional powers to supervise foreign bank branches in the UK, a job largely done by regulators based inside the EU.

Some pro-Brexit campaigners are expected to view the move as throwing away a major bargaining chip in trade talks. The UK might have threatened to block EU access to facilities in the City as the price of concessions in other areas, such as manufacturing and fishing rights. However, Mark Carney, the Bank’s governor, told MPs on the Treasury select committee on Wednesday that the decision to allow EU banks to continue operating under existing UK rules had been taken on the assumption that a “high degree of supervisory cooperation with the EU” would continue after Brexit.

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Desperate?!

UK PM May Heads to Poland to Seek Brexit Ally After Firing Her Deputy (BBG)

Fresh from sacking her trusted deputy, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May heads to Poland on Thursday to attempt to get close – but not too close – to its new government. May was forced to tell First Secretary of State Damian Green to resign Wednesday afternoon after an inquiry into his behavior found he’d made misleading statements over pornography found on his parliamentary computer by police nearly a decade ago. Green is the third Cabinet minister to quit in two months. A couple of recent Brexit-related successes mean the prime minister is better equipped to handle Green’s departure than she might have been a month ago: The European Union has agreed to move negotiations on to the next phase, and late Wednesday, May’s flagship Brexit Bill completed the detailed scrutiny stage of its journey through the House of Commons.

Still, his departure leaves her without her closest ally in Cabinet. The flight to Warsaw will give May a chance to consider how she manages without him. She’ll be accompanied by her most senior ministers for a summit where she’ll promise cooperation on defense and security as part of a charm offensive to win friends in Europe before negotiations on post-Brexit trade start in March. But Poland’s rift with the EU over judicial reforms – and its government’s fears of a shortfall in EU funding after Britain leaves the bloc – threaten to overshadow the meeting with new Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. “The prime minister will raise her concerns with the prime minister when they meet,” May’s spokesman James Slack told reporters in London.

“We place importance on respect for the rule of law and we expect all our partners to abide by international norms and standards.” Britain’s rush to forge links with Morawiecki’s populist administration reflects a desire both to win friends for the talks ahead and to reassure former eastern European countries that it will continue to support them against Russian expansionism after Brexit. British troops are already stationed in Poland, and May will announce increased cooperation on cyber security.

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You are not sovereign. All your base are belong to us.

Poland Protests EU ‘Nuclear Option’ Over Judicial Independence (G.)

The Polish government has accused the European commission of a politically motivated attack after the EU’s executive body triggered a process that could see the country stripped of voting rights in Brussels, over legal changes that the bloc claims threaten the independence of the judiciary. In a highly symbolic moment, Poland’s fellow 27 EU member states were advised by the commission on Wednesday that the legislative programme of Poland’s government was putting at risk fundamental values expected of a democratic state by allowing political interference in its courts. The row represents the greatest crisis in the EU since Britain’s decision to leave the EU last year, with the Polish government showing little inclination to back down.

Frans Timmermans, the vice-president of the commission, told reporters in Brussels that in two years 13 laws had been adopted that put at serious risk the independence of Poland’s judiciary and the separation of powers. “Judicial reforms in Poland mean that the country’s judiciary is now under the political control of the ruling majority. In the absence of judicial independence, serious questions are raised about the effective application of EU law,” Timmermans, a former Dutch diplomat, said. “We are doing this for Poland, for Polish citizens.” Poland’s new prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, responded on Twitter: “Poland is as devoted to the rule of law as the rest of the EU.” The Polish foreign ministry said in a statement: “Poland deplores the European commission’s launch of the procedure […] which is essentially political, not legal.”

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‘Election’ today. Can’t even really call this an election. The goal seems to be to divide the independence vote among multiple parties.

Catalonia Poised For Hung Parliament In Bitterly Contested Election (G.)

Catalans head to the polls on Thursday to vote in an extraordinary and bitterly contested election that will pit secessionists against unionists and determine the next phase of the long-running campaign for independence from Spain. The election was called by the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, at the end of October when the central government took control of Catalonia and sacked the regional government after it staged an illegal independence referendum and made a unilateral declaration of independence. Polls suggest Catalonia is set for a hung parliament, with the pro-independence Catalan Republican Left party (ERC) vying for first place with the unionist, centre-right Citizens party.

With no clear winner in sight, Thursday’s result is likely to lead to coalition negotiations to form a government that will either maintain the drive for independence in some form or defend the constitutional status quo. Tensions remain high in the region following the referendum and the Spanish police’s heavy-handed efforts to stop it. Secessionists believe that Madrid’s imposition of direct rule and the jailing of senior independence leaders could increase support for their cause. Unionists, however, argue that Catalans are sick of the social unrest and economic uncertainty generated by the unilateral actions of the government of deposed regional president Carles Puigdemont.

The exceptional circumstances surrounding the election are compounded by the fact that Puigdemont has been campaigning from Belgium. He fled to Brussels hours before Spain’s attorney general asked for charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds to be brought against his cabinet almost two months ago. Puigdemont’s former number two, Oriol Junqueras, has been fighting the election from prison, where he and two prominent independence leaders are being held as part of a judicial investigation into October’s events. “This is not a normal election,” Puigdemont told supporters via video link on Tuesday evening as the campaign drew to a close.

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A long list of documents. NATO expansion.

How The US Swindled Russia in The Early 1990s (Zuesse)

Due to a historic data-dump on December 10th, the biggest swindle that occurred in the 20th Century (or perhaps ever) is now proven as a historical fact; and this swindle was done by the US Government, against the Government and people of Russia, and it continues today and keeps getting worse under every US President. It was secretly started by US President George Herbert Walker Bush on the night of 24 February 1990; and, unless it becomes publicly recognized and repudiated so that it can stop, a nuclear war between the US and all of NATO on one side, versus Russia on the other, is inevitable unless Russia capitulates before then, which would be vastly less likely than such a world-ending nuclear war now is.

This swindle has finally been displayed beyond question, by this, the first-ever complete release of the evidence. It demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt (as you’ll verify yourself from the evidence here), that US President G.H.W. Bush (and his team) lied through their teeth to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev (and his team) to end the Cold War on Russia’s side, when the US team were secretly determined never to end it on the US-and-NATO side until Russia itself is conquered. And this swindle continues today, and keeps getting worse and worse for Russians.

Until now, apologists for the US-Government side have been able to get away with various lies about these lies, such as that there weren’t any, and that Gorbachev didn’t really think that the NATO issue was terribly important for Russia’s future national security anyway, and that the only limitation upon NATO’s future expansion that was discussed during the negotiations to end the Cold War concerned NATO not expanding itself eastward (i.e., closer to Russia) within Germany, not going beyond the then-existing dividing-line between West and East Germany — that no restriction against other east-bloc (Soviet-allied) nations ever being admitted into NATO was discussed, at all. The now-standard US excuse that the deal concerned only Germany and not all of Europe is now conclusively disproven by the biggest single data-dump ever released about those negotiations.

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When everything is measured in monetary value, nothing will be left in the end.

Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Now Has A $1 Billion Price Tag (G.)

Years ago, camping in Alaska’s Arctic national wildlife refuge, I watched a herd of caribou – 100,000 bulls, cows and their three-week-old calves – braid over the tundra, moving to a rhythm as old as the wind. “Not many places like this left today,” said my friend Jeff, sitting next to me above an ice-fringed river. And so Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski believes this refuge – 80 miles east of Prudhoe Bay – could generate $1bn over 10 years once it’s opened to oil leasing. She and her Republican colleagues slipped this drilling provision into the Senate Republican tax bill. Murkowski repeatedly says this development would cover just 2,000 acres, “about one ten-thousandth of ANWR”.

The acronym ANWR conveniently deletes the words “wildlife” and “refuge”, with no regard for the polar bears, Arctic fox, musk oxen and migratory ground-nesting birds that come there every summer, some species from as far away as Patagonia. Alaska’s lieutenant governor, Byron Mallott, has said that drilling in ANWR is necessary to deal with climate change. His caddywhompus logic: we need to drill for more oil to raise money to address a problem that’s caused by humanity’s addiction to oil. Why not just say the truth? We want the money. Murkowski adds: “We have waited nearly 40 years for the right technology to come along for a footprint small enough for the environment to be respected.” They have not. Alaskans have been trying to drill here for decades, using one crazy rationale after another.

At one hearing the state’s lone congressman, Don Young, put a blue pen mark on his nose to show how small the industry footprint would be. Clever man. The development would in fact be a spider web of roads, pipelines, well pads and landing strips smack in the middle of the biological heart of the refuge. It would look less like a refuge and more like Prudhoe Bay, where thousands of spills have been reported. Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington says the whole idea is “ludicrous”, noting that the Republican tax plan would add roughly $1.5tn to the national deficit in five years [with the richest 1% of Americans reaping half of the tax cuts]. “I am disturbed,” she says. She should be. Christopher Lewis, a retired BP manager of exploration, has said: “I do not believe that there are any adequate, commercially viable reservoirs in the Arctic refuge.” The reality is “there are other less sensitive and less costly places to explore”.

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Brutal.

Russians, Chinese Seek Out Greek Properties for Bargains, Visas (BBG)

George Kachmazov, a Russian realtor, is buying up property in Athens. The Moscow-based chief executive officer of real-estate platform Tranio.com has bought a building in the Greek capital and is in the process of acquiring five others with a view to selling apartments to international investors. For Kachmazov, the sales pitch is clear: buying property in Greece can give an investor a so-called golden visa to the country – and with it an entree into much of Europe. What’s more, the country’s real estate market may be poised for a rebound, helping buyers make some money on their purchase. “Greece’s real estate market is one of the remaining few in Europe that hasn’t recovered since the 2008 economic crisis,” Kachmazov said in an interview in Athens.

Prices in Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Poland and Hungary are heading toward pre-crisis levels because of high liquidity in Europe, he said. Kachmazov is among agents making a beeline for Greece to help property hunters from Russia, China, Turkey and elsewhere bet on a market that may be on the cusp of a revival as the country exits its bailout program in August 2018. Property prices in Greece have fallen more than the 25% contraction in the economy since Europe’s sovereign debt crisis began in 2008. Prices of apartments in Athens more than five years old shrank by 45% between 2008 and June 2017, according to Bank of Greece data.

“The belief is that the worst is over and that this is a good time to take advantage of the low prices and to benefit from future capital gains as the market recovers,” said Carrie Law, CEO of Juwai.com, a Chinese international property website. Juwai this year signed an agreement with Warren Buffett’s real estate brokerage firm to advertise homes in the U.S. The average price per square meter in Greece is 2,846 euros ($3,369), according to Germany-based statistics company Statista. That’s almost 1,000 euros cheaper than Portugal, which has a similar golden visa program for property buyers, one and a half times cheaper than in Spain and Germany, and almost three times cheaper than in Italy and Austria. Greece is more expensive than Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Estonia.

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There are reportedly highly superior facilities lying idle on the mainland. But the EU doesn’t want the refugees there.

Lesbos Mayor Files Suit Over Conditions At Moria Migrant Camp (K.)

The mayor of the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos has filed suit against all responsible parties over the conditions at the Moria refugee and migrant processing center. Spyros Galinos filed his suit in Lesvos’s Court of Misdemeanors, claiming that the law is being broken at the government-run facility, which is supervised by the military. His action comes two days after foreign media published videos shot covertly inside the camp and showing the squalor and cramped conditions to which thousands of refugees and migrants are being subjected. The mayor stressed that the facility, a former military base, should not be accommodating more than 1,800 people at a time if decent living standards are to be ensured.

“Unfortunately, though, for the past two years and this year especially there is an extremely large number of third-country citizens and vulnerable groups (men, women – among which pregnant women – and children) indiscriminately trapped and cramped together, coming to more than 6,000 individuals,” Galinos said in his lawsuit. He also stressed poor safety and sanitation standards, saying that an inadequate water and sewerage network is putting the lives of the camp’s residents and workers at risk. People living at the camp “every day experience serious psychological problems and have been led to suicide attempts and self-harm, while others are compelled to serious acts of lawlessness in order to survive,” Galinos said.

His suit came just hours after about a dozen people were injured in a brawl that went on for hours between rival groups at the camp and resulted in extensive destruction. The mayor further stressed the impact of conditions at Moria on the lives of the island’s residents, saying that authorities are failing in their duty to control and monitor such a large number of refugees and migrants. Galinos added that overcrowding at the camp has forced hundreds of migrants to move into the main town of Mytilene in search of some kind of shelter, “taking over public spaces, the city’s parks, sidewalks and courtyards of public and municipal buildings.” In the suit, Galinos asks that “all responsible parties” are taken to task over the situation, as “their actions and omissions are malicious and deliberate, and put at risk the desperate and poor people trapped in [Moria’s] illegal facilities.”

“The disruption of social cohesion and the risk of criminal offenses in defense of life and property by a part of the island’s native population is evident and very likely,” Galinos warned. Since the onset of the refugee crisis at the start of 2015, the residents of Lesvos and its mayor have been distinguished for the support they have given to tens of thousands of migrants that have landed on the island’s shores.

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Dec 192017
 
 December 19, 2017  Posted by at 9:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edwin Rosskam Store in alley-dwelling section of Washington, DC 1941

 

China’s Growth Story… Don’t Look For A Happy Ending! (Hamilton)
One Of The Co-Founders Of Bitcoin.com Has Sold All Of His Bitcoin (BI)
Germany Backs French-Led Push for Global Bitcoin Regulation (BBG)
The EU’s Top Court Will Decide Whether Or Not Uber Is A Taxi Company (BBG)
UK Cannot Have A Special Brexit Deal For The City – EU (G.)
Bad Moon: (Trouble) Rising (Crooke)
The RussiaGate Witch-Hunt -The Deep State’s “Insurance Policy” (Stockman)
The Darkest Hours (Jim Kunstler)
As Catalan Vote Looms, Jailed Leader Offers Olive Branch To Spain (R.)
Germany’s Entire Submarine Fleet Is Paralyzed (ZH)
We’re Buying More Stuff We Don’t Need (BBG)
ECB Sued Over Decision To Freeze Help To Greek Banks (R.)
Let It Go: The Arctic Will Never Be Frozen Again (Grist)

 

 

No domestic consumers, no foreign clients. But a truckload of debt going forward.

China’s Growth Story… Don’t Look For A Happy Ending! (Hamilton)

Many economists suggest China is on the cusp of significant growth in domestic consumer demand. That this rising domestic demand coupled with continued growth as the global exporter will push the global economy further. However, I’ll briefly show why neither of these outcomes is remotely likely.

Problem #1- China as Consumer: According to the UN data, China’s 15-40yr/old childbearing population peaked in 2005 and has been rapidly shrinking since. Since ’05, China’s population capable of producing more Chinese has fallen by 83 million persons or a 14.3% decline. By 2030, China’s childbearing population will have declined by 157 million or a 27% reduction of those capable of childbirth (no estimate here…this is simply moving the existing population forward in adulthood). Couple a massive decline in the childbearing population and the ongoing negative birthrate and serious depopulation (particularly among the rural regions) is not only possible but growing more likely. Minor increases in wages will be no match for the massive declines in the consumer base. The chart below shows China’s total 15 to 40 year old population (in blue) and the annual change (in red).

Problem #2- China as Exporter:
Who will China continue to export to? The primary importers of China’s goods are N. America (US/Canada), Europe (including Russia and Eastern Europe), Australia/New Zealand. These nations represent roughly one seventh of the world’s population but consume over half of all the worlds oil production. But here again I have the same problem; combined childbearing population peaked in 1988 and has been declining since. The population capable of childbirth has fallen over 40 million or nearly 10% since the ’88 peak. By 2030, despite many of these nations allowing, promoting, and/or enduring large immigrations of precisely this age of migrants, the population is anticipated to be 60 million fewer than during the peak, or a 15% fall from peak. The basis of present and future demand growth simply is non-existent.

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Illiquidity.

One Of The Co-Founders Of Bitcoin.com Has Sold All Of His Bitcoin (BI)

Bitcoin.com is one of the world’s largest bitcoin sites, having grown its profile thanks to the insane price surge of the cryptocurrency this year. But its co-founder and CTO, Emil Oldenburg, a Swedish native, is extremely skeptical of bitcoin’s future. “I would say an investment in bitcoin is right now the riskiest investment you can make. There’s an extremely high risk,” he says in an interview with Swedish tech site Breakit. “I have in fact sold all my bitcoins recently and switched to bitcoin cash,” says Oldenburg, referring to the problems with bitcoin’s high transaction costs and lead times. Indeed, by some counts, bitcoin transaction fees are doubling every three months, and it now takes on average 4.5 hours to confirm a bitcoin transaction. Ars Technica reported that fees reached $US26 ($34) per trade recently. Bitcoin.com operates in everything that has to do with bitcoins.

Today, the site – based out of Tokyo but registered on St Kitts – has tens of millions of unique monthly visitors, according to Similarweb, a web analytics site. The company’s biggest single revenue stream is its so called bitcoin “mining pool”, where it forges new units of the cryptocurrency that are released on the market. Oldenburg doesn’t want to disclose any revenue numbers, more than revealing “it’s an awfully lot of money”, he says to Breakit. Even on a personal level. “All my salary in the past three years has come in bitcoin,” just as those of his 60 colleagues in Tokyo, Oldenburg says. But according to the Swedish bitcoin expert, it’s time to change to bitcoin cash. There’s a big reason for that switch, and it’s all about the market liquidity — or lack thereof — of bitcoin.

The reason why people haven’t understood the risks inherent in owning bitcoins, according to Oldenburg, is simply because most have so far only bought the cryptocurrency — but never sold or traded with them. “As soon as people realise that this is how it works, they will start to sell,” he tells Breakit. “The old bitcoin network is as good as unusable.” While buying, selling or trading in bitcoins is not an issue today, according to Oldenburg, the problems surface when bitcoin transactions are recorded on the blockchain, the digital ledger that records each transaction. The problem centres on the limited amount of transactions per second you can make in the bitcoin network, which in turn depends on the formation of the memory “block size” that store the transactions. This, according to Oldenburg, makes for a very illiquid and unusable cryptocurrency.

[..] In what may be considered somewhat ironic, Oldenburg says bitcoin.com is distancing itself from bitcoin and has even stopped developing services for it — to mostly focus on bitcoin cash, the currency that split from bitcoin back in August, and recently overtook Ethereum as the world’s second-largest cryptocurrency. “It only costs $0.012 (10 Swedish “öre”, the centesimal subdivision of krona) to send a [Bitcoin Cash transaction] and there are no lead times. The only drawback is that you need larger hard drives, but that’s not a problem for most people,” Oldenburg says to Breakit.

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One tiny problem: how can you regulate something you don’t understand: “I don’t like it,” Le Maire said of bitcoin. [..] we need to look at it, study it,” he said.

Germany Backs French-Led Push for Global Bitcoin Regulation (BBG)

Germany joined European governments pushing for global bitcoin regulation amid mounting alarm that the world’s most popular digital currency is being used by money-launderers, drug traffickers and terrorists. Germany’s Finance Ministry said it welcomed a proposal by French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire to ask his counterparts in the Group of 20 to consider joint regulation of bitcoin. The concerns are shared by the Italian government, which is also open to discussing regulation, while the European Union is bringing in rules backed by the U.K. that would apply to bitcoin. “It makes sense to discuss the speculative risks of virtual currencies and their impact on the financial system at international level,” the Finance Ministry in Berlin said in an email. The next meeting of G-20 finance ministers and central bank governors would be “a good opportunity to do so.”

Signs of growing European concern came as bitcoin took another step toward acceptability with the launch of futures trading Sunday night at CME’s venue. That’s a week after Chicago rival Cboe Global Markets introduced similar derivatives on the volatile cryptocurrency that was created in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis as an alternative to banks and government-issued currencies. Bitcoin was closing in on a fresh record of $20,000 on Monday. The Finance Ministry in Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, “monitors developments in the financial market very closely,” it said. “This also applies to the current development of bitcoin.” While Europe’s concerns have been voiced before in select forums about a currency which is stepping further into the mainstream financial world, Le Maire made those worries public in a weekend interview. “I don’t like it,” Le Maire said of bitcoin. “It can hide activities such as drug trafficking and terrorism,” and he has concerns for savers. “There is an obvious speculative risk, we need to look at it, study it,” he said.

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You can’t forever hide behind the word ‘tech’. Or every company can do it.

The EU’s Top Court Will Decide Whether Or Not Uber Is A Taxi Company (BBG)

Uber Technologies is set to reach the end of the road in a legal battle over a question that’s reached the European Union’s top court – is the world’s most valuable startup a taxi company or not? Uber has argued that it’s a technology platform connecting passengers with independent drivers, not a transportation company subject to the same rules as taxi services. The decision is being closely watched by the technology industry because it could set a precedent for how other companies in the burgeoning gig economy are regulated across the 28-nation bloc. “The judgment will either promote the digital single market or lead to more market fragmentation for online innovators,” said Jakob Kucharczyk, of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which speaks for companies like Uber, Amazon.com, Google and Facebook. “The court should make a clear distinction between the online intermediation and the underlying service it facilitates.”

The case centers around UberPop, an inexpensive ride-hailing service Uber launched in several European cities that allowed drivers without a taxi license to use their own cars to pick up passengers. Legal challenges have forced Uber to shutter its UberPop services in most major European companies in favor of UberX, which requires drivers to get a license. A loss for Uber would mean countries in the EU will have to classify Uber as a transportation service. While Uber adheres to many taxi laws in countries where it operates, the case could lead to new regulations and fees. “Any ruling will not change things in most EU countries where we already operate under transportation law,” Uber said in a statement. “However, millions of Europeans are still prevented from using apps like ours. As our new CEO has said, it is appropriate to regulate services such as Uber. We want to partner with cities to ensure everyone can get a reliable ride at the tap of a button.”

The question of whether Uber is a transport service has long vexed regulators and lawmakers across Europe. Uber has faced roadblocks, real and regulatory, across Europe, amid complaints brought by taxi drivers who say the company tries to unfairly avoid regulations that bind established competitors. Without the pressure from regulators, companies in the gig economy will force other businesses to employ similarly aggressive business practices, said Andrew Taylor, who earlier this year was commissioned by U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May to come up with recommendations to regulate the gig economy. “There’s a danger of a race to the bottom,” said Taylor. “Major American companies are treating national norms, culture, regulators and tax systems in a cavalier way.”

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What’s going to be left of Britain without the City?

UK Cannot Have A Special Brexit Deal For The City – EU (G.)

Britain cannot have a special deal for the City of London, the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator has told the Guardian, dealing a blow to Theresa May’s hopes of securing a bespoke trade agreement with the bloc. Michel Barnier said it was unavoidable that British banks and financial firms would lose the passports that allow them to trade freely in the EU, as a result of any decision to quit the single market. “There is no place [for financial services]. There is not a single trade agreement that is open to financial services. It doesn’t exist.” He said the outcome was a consequence of “the red lines that the British have chosen themselves. In leaving the single market, they lose the financial services passport.”

The stark declaration quashes the hopes of the Brexit secretary, David Davis, for a unique trade deal that would include financial services. The Brexit secretary has called for a “Canada plus plus plus” deal with the EU, a reference to the free trade agreement struck between Ottawa and Brussels in 2016, but with the crucial addition of financial services. In an exclusive interview with European newspapers, including the Guardian, Barnier gave examples of his own three pluses – judicial cooperation, defence and security and aviation.

The negotiator also said: • A trade deal could be agreed within a two-year transition period, but would have to be ratified by more than 35 national and regional parliaments. • The UK could not stop Brexit unilaterally, arguing that overturning the decision to leave would require the consent of 27 EU member states – a view at odds with one of the authors of article 50, Lord Kerr. • The UK must follow all rules and regulations of the EU during the transition period, including new laws passed after the UK has left. • The UK could negotiate trade agreements with the rest of the world during the transition, but they could not come into force. • He would not confirm British estimates that the final Brexit bill – the UK’s outstanding obligations to the EU – would be no more than €45bn (£39bn).

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Boy, what a failure Russiagate has been. How do you recover from that?

Bad Moon: (Trouble) Rising (Crooke)

President Obama lay very much in the globalist ‘struggle for a democratic-liberal world’ mould, (though he did try to make the ‘ruling interests’ understand that there were limits: that there had to be boundaries to US commitments). In other words, Obama accepted the globalist premise, though he tried to mitigate some of its military impulses. Notably however, he acquiesced to re-heating the Russia ‘threat’ (after Medvedev gave place to Mr Putin (thus ending Obama’s hope to seduce Russia into the embrace of the global economic order). But then Donald Trump, elected President by his deplorables’ base, made clear that he wished for détente with Russia, and even disdained the claims made on ordinary Americans by the maintenance of America’s unipolar global ‘order’.

For this heresy, he has been punished by the manufactured ‘Russiagate’ non-scandal. “Can a president, concerned that he might be removed from office by a special prosecutor or possibly assassinated, resist the march toward war?” – asks Paul Craig Roberts, who asserts that the President has been effectively caged, by a trifecta of Establishment generals, on the one hand; and by a Goldman Sachs posse, on the other. That the ‘ruling interests’ have managed substantially to contain President Trump is undeniable, but what is new, and perhaps – or perhaps, not – alters the calculus, is that these ‘ruling interests’ have had to come out from the shadows into the open.

The former Acting Director of the CIA, Mike Morrell, an early voice peddling the Russian collusion meme now publicly admits in a surprisingly frank interview with Politico, his leading role in the intelligence community waging political war against President Trump, describing his actions as something he didn’t “fully think through”, adding that maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to leak against, and bash a new president: “There was a significant downside”, Morrell acknowledges. Just to recall: Not only had Morell in an early NY Times op-ed piece asserted that he was committed to doing “everything I can to ensure that she [Hillary Clinton] is elected as our 45th president”, but he went so far as to call then candidate Trump “a threat to our national security”, while making the extraordinary claim that “in the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.”

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A list of people who never worked an honest job.

The RussiaGate Witch-Hunt -The Deep State’s “Insurance Policy” (Stockman)

There was a sinister plot to meddle in the 2016 election, after all. But it was not orchestrated from the Kremlin; it was an entirely homegrown affair conducted from the inner sanctums – the White House, DOJ, the Hoover Building and Langley – of the Imperial City. Likewise, the perpetrators didn’t speak Russian or write in the Cyrillic script. In fact, they were lifetime beltway insiders occupying the highest positions of power in the US government. Here are the names and rank of the principal conspirators: John Brennan, CIA director; Susan Rice, National Security Advisor; Samantha Power, UN Ambassador; James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence; James Comey, FBI director; Andrew McCabe, Deputy FBI director; Sally Yates, deputy Attorney General, Bruce Ohr, associate deputy AG; Peter Strzok, deputy assistant director of FBI counterintelligence; Lisa Page, FBI lawyer; and countless other lessor and greater poobahs of Washington power, including President Obama himself.

To a person, the participants in this illicit cabal shared the core trait that made Obama such a blight on the nation’s well-being. To wit, he never held an honest job outside the halls of government in his entire adult life; and as a careerist agent of the state and practitioner of its purported goods works, he exuded a sanctimonious disdain for everyday citizens who make their living along the capitalist highways and by-ways of America. The above cast of election-meddlers, of course, comes from the same mold. If Wikipedia is roughly correct, just these 10 named perpetrators have punched in about 300 years of post-graduate employment – and 260 of those years (87%) were on government payrolls or government contractor jobs.

As to whether they shared Obama’s political class arrogance, Peter Strzok left nothing to the imagination in his now celebrated texts to his gal-pal, Lisa Page: “Just went to a southern Virginia Walmart. I could SMELL the Trump support……I LOATHE congress….And F Trump.” You really didn’t need the ALL CAPS to get the gist. In a word, the anti-Trump cabal is comprised of creatures of the state.

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“..even hogs busy fattening up don’t have a clue about their imminent slaughter.”

The Darkest Hours (Jim Kunstler)

The Tax “Reform” bill working its way painfully out the digestive system of congress like a sigmoid fistula, ought be re-named the US Asset-stripping Assistance Act of 2017, because that’s what is about to splatter the faces of the waiting public, most of whom won’t have a personal lobbyist / tax lawyer by their sides holding a protective tarpulin during the climactic colonic burst of legislation. Sssshhhh…. The media has not groked this, but the economy is actually collapsing, and the nova-like expansion of the stock markets is exactly the sort of action you might expect in a system getting ready to blow. Meanwhile, the more visible rise of the laughable scam known as crypto-currency, is like the plume of smoke coming out of Vesuvius around 79 AD — an amusing curiosity to the citizens of Pompeii below, going about their normal activities, eating pizza, buying slaves, making love — before hellfire rained down on them.

Whatever the corporate tax rate might be, it won’t be enough to rescue the Ponzi scheme that governing has become, with its implacable costs of empire. So the real aim here is to keep up appearances at all costs just a little while longer while the table scraps of a four-hundred-year-long New World banquet get tossed to the hogs of Wall Street and their accomplices. The catch is that even hogs busy fattening up don’t have a clue about their imminent slaughter. The centerpiece of the swindle, as usual, is control fraud on the grand scale. Control fraud is the mis-use of authority in applying Three-Card-Monte principles to financial accounting practice, so that a credulous, trustful public will be too bamboozled to see the money drain from their bank accounts and the ground shift under their feet until the moment of freefall.

Control fraud is at work in the corporate C-suites, of course, because that is its natural habitat — remember that silver-haired CEO swine from Wells Fargo who got off scot-free with a life-time supply of acorns after scamming his account-holders — but their errand boys and girls in congress have been superbly groomed, pampered, fed, and trained to break trail and cover for them. The country has gotten used to thinking that the game of pretend is exactly the same as what is actually going on in the world. The now-seminal phrase coined by Karl Rove, “we make our own reality,” is as comforting these days to Republicans from Idaho as it is to hairy, “intersectional” professors of post-structural gender studies in the bluest ivory towers of the Ivy League. Nobody in this Republic really wants to get his-hers-zhe’s-they’s reality on.

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How can you have a fair election with so many people either in jail or in exile?

As Catalan Vote Looms, Jailed Leader Offers Olive Branch To Spain (R.)

The jailed leader of Catalonia’s main pro-independence party has backed away from demands for unilateral secession from Spain, days before a regional election that polls suggest will produce a hung parliament. The independence drive has tipped Spain into its worst political crisis since the return of democracy in the 1970s, dividing opinion in the region, denting an economic rebound and prompting a business exodus to other parts of the country. In reply to written questions from Reuters passed to him in prison where he is being held on allegations of rebellion and sedition, Oriol Junqueras struck a conciliatory tone. He wrote that he would continue to pursue independence if he became Catalonia’s next president, but also “build bridges and shake hands” with representatives of the Spanish state.

“I can assure you that we are democrats before we are separatists and that the aim (of gaining independence) does not always justify the means,” he said in comments that appeared to drop his party’s earlier demand for unilateral secession. Junqueras’ Esquerra Republicana (Republican Left) party is tipped to become the largest separatist force in parliament in Thursday’s ballot, but surveys suggest neither the pro-independence nor the pro-unity camp will win a majority. He was deputy leader of the Catalan government that was sacked in October after the regional assembly unilaterally declared independence following a referendum that central authorities had deemed illegal. Madrid also dissolved the assembly and called fresh elections.

The Spanish justice system’s actions against the region’s leaders has since then hamstrung the pro-independence camp and further muddied the electoral waters before Thursday’s vote. Catalonia’s ex-president Carles Puigdemont is campaigning from self-imposed exile in Brussels and Junqueras doing so from jail along with several other politicians. It is unclear if many of those likely to be elected will be able to attend parliament.

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The Russians did it.

Germany’s Entire Submarine Fleet Is Paralyzed (ZH)

Throughout 2017, America’s control of NATO policymaking has become more evident than ever, with the sole objective of war-making against Russia. NATO and Russia continue to build up arms, equipment, and troops along the eastern region of Europe, but there is a new development that has NATO worried. Germany’s operational readiness of its entire submarine fleet is dead in the water. Yes, you heard that correctly, Germany’s prized submarines are currently on maintenance calls or in desperate need of repairs. On October 15, Germany lost the last of its submarines when the Type 212a vessel was performing a diving maneuver off the Norweigan coast when it suffered a catastrophic blow to one of its four fins after the submarine struck a boulder. The submarine was quickly rendered not operational and had to be towed back to the German port of Kiel for maintenance work.

In the latest operational summary provided by RT, there are six submarines in the German fleet and all are out of service. Two Type 212a vessels are undergoing scheduled maintenance, and will be redeployed in the second half of 2018, while another two are in a critical state for repairs, with no estimated time of completion. The fifth submarine, as we mentioned above, crashed in October. The sixth submarine was commissioned in October and is currently undergoing rigorous sea trials before it will become operational in May 2018. Germany’s submarine fleet will be paralyzed for the next 4-5 months, which presents an enormous national security risk for the country. The submarines’ most fundamental feature is stealth, coupled with defense capabilities and surveillance, but as mentioned above, there is currently a major gap in Germany’s military defense at the moment, which we hope is not exploited by an adversary.

The German parliament’s Defense Commissioner Hans-Peter Bartels told ARD, “this a real disaster for the navy and it’s the first time in history that none [of the U-boats] would be operational for months.” Bartels blamed the lack of spare parts for the broken submarines with the lack of government funding. Ever since the Cold War, German authorities have decided against stockpiling spare parts due to its high costs.

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Without waste our economies collapse.

We’re Buying More Stuff We Don’t Need (BBG)

Here’s a Grinchian question for the holidays: How much do Americans spend on stuff they don’t really need? A very rough analysis suggests they’re blowing more money on nonessential items than they have in more than 17 years. Back in the 1950s, the economist John Kenneth Galbraith made a bleak argument about modern capitalism: Advertising can create artificial wants – say, for the latest gadget or skin cream – that spur ever-greater consumption without actually making people better off. As a result, economies can grow without improving the lot of humanity. Whether or not he’s right – it remains a matter of debate – the idea raises an interesting empirical question: How much of what we consume is related to wants rather than needs?

This isn’t easy to answer using even the most detailed data on consumer spending, because many categories could go either way. A car, for example, could be pure transportation or a Ferrari. That said, a number of categories – such as gambling, hairdressers and recreational vehicles – are pretty clearly nonessential. Following them consistently over time can give at least a sense of trend. So how are we doing? In the third quarter of this year, nonessential items (of my own subjective selection 1) accounted for almost 18.5 percent of total U.S. consumer spending. That’s the highest share since June 2000. Here’s a chart:

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This is about liquidity, not about the refusal to include in the ECB bond purchases. But it’s equally unjustifiable politically as well as economically. The ECB should not be able to do these things under cover of darkness.

ECB Sued Over Decision To Freeze Help To Greek Banks (R.)

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis and a German parliamentarian are suing the ECB to gain access to a document underpinning the ECB’s decision to freeze vital funding to Greek banks in 2015. That move left Alexis Tsipras’ government with little choice but to shut down banks and impose capital controls, weakening his negotiating position with the country’s international lenders during bailout negotiations. Eventually, hard-liner Varoufakis resigned and Tsipras made a deal that gave Greece cash in return for austerity measures and reforms. Varoufakis and a German leftist parliamentarian, Fabio De Masi, are asking the EU’s top court to force the ECB to disclose a legal opinion that informed that decision, which they say might be unlawful.

“By restricting liquidity to the Greek banking sector to force cuts in pensions, tax increases and fire-sale privatizations, the ECB overstepped its mandate,” De Masi said. After their request was rejected by the ECB, Varoufakis and De Masi are turning to the General Court of the European Union to obtain the document. An ECB spokesman said the legal opinion preceded the decision to withhold funding by at least two months. The ECB decided not to disclose it to protect its legal advisers and its internal deliberations, he said. The ECB’s Agreement on Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA), published earlier this year, prohibits national central banks from providing ELA if it “interferes with the objectives and tasks” of the Eurosystem, such as maintaining price stability and safeguarding payments.

“There is an overriding public interest in knowing how far the ECB … weighed different goals against each other and how they themselves and their legal experts have interpreted the legal framework in this respect,” the complainants’ lawyer, Andreas Fischer-Lescano, said in the appeal.

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No more Santa. Or reindeer, polar bears.

Let It Go: The Arctic Will Never Be Frozen Again (Grist)

Last week, at a New Orleans conference center that once doubled as a storm shelter for thousands during Hurricane Katrina, a group of polar scientists made a startling declaration: The Arctic as we once knew it is no more. The region is now definitively trending toward an ice-free state, the scientists said, with wide-ranging ramifications for ecosystems, national security, and the stability of the global climate system. It was a fitting venue for an eye-opening reminder that, on its current path, civilization is engaged in an existential gamble with the planet’s life-support system. In an accompanying annual report on the Arctic’s health — titled “Arctic shows no sign of returning to reliably frozen region of recent past decades” — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees all official U.S. research in the region, coined a term: “New Arctic.”

Until roughly a decade or so ago, the region was holding up relatively well, despite warming at roughly twice the rate of the planet as a whole. But in recent years, it’s undergone an abrupt change, which now defines it. The Arctic is our glimpse of an Earth in flux, transforming into something that’s radically different from today. At a press conference announcing the new assessment, acting NOAA Administrator Timothy Gallaudet emphasizes the “huge impact” these changes were having on everything from tourism to fisheries to worldwide weather patterns. “What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic — it affects the rest of the planet,” Gallaudet said.

[..] Take, for instance, the hypothesis of University of Alaska-Fairbanks permafrost scientist Vladimir Romanovsky: So far, 2017 has seen the highest permafrost temperatures in Alaska on record. If that warming continues at the current rate, widespread thawing could begin in as few as 10 years. The impact of such defrosting “will be very very severe,” Romanovsky says, and could include destruction of local infrastructure — like roads and buildings — throughout the Northern Hemisphere and the release of additional greenhouse gases that have been locked for generations in the ice.

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Dec 162017
 
 December 16, 2017  Posted by at 10:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Ann Rosener Salvage. Chicago automobile graveyard. 1942

 

A Journey Through A Land Of Extreme Poverty: Welcome To America (G.)
The Chart That Jeffrey Gundlach Calls “Must Watch” For 2018 (ZH)
Ignorance Is No Excuse (Roberts)
Uber Stole Trade Secrets, Bribed Foreign Officials And Spied On Rivals (G._
While Truth Puts On Its Shoes (W.Standard)
Taking Liberty (Jim Kunstler)
France, Germany To Unveil Eurozone Reforms In March (AFP)
EU To Force Firms To Reveal True Owners In Wake Of Panama Papers (G.)
EU Gives Itself June Deadline On Refugees (K.)
First Vulnerable Child Refugee Arrives In UK From Greece (G.)
Ovid’s Exile To The Remotest Margins Of The Roman Empire Revoked (G.)

 

 

“That way lies 50 blocks of concentrated human humiliation.”

A Journey Through A Land Of Extreme Poverty: Welcome To America (G.)

Los Angeles, California, 5 December “You got a choice to make, man. You could go straight on to heaven. Or you could turn right, into that.” We are in Los Angeles, in the heart of one of America’s wealthiest cities, and General Dogon, dressed in black, is our tour guide. Alongside him strolls another tall man, grey-haired and sprucely decked out in jeans and suit jacket. Professor Philip Alston is an Australian academic with a formal title: UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. General Dogon, himself a veteran of these Skid Row streets, strides along, stepping over a dead rat without comment and skirting round a body wrapped in a worn orange blanket lying on the sidewalk. The two men carry on for block after block after block of tatty tents and improvised tarpaulin shelters. Men and women are gathered outside the structures, squatting or sleeping, some in groups, most alone like extras in a low-budget dystopian movie.

We come to an intersection, which is when General Dogon stops and presents his guest with the choice. He points straight ahead to the end of the street, where the glistening skyscrapers of downtown LA rise up in a promise of divine riches. Heaven. Then he turns to the right, revealing the “black power” tattoo on his neck, and leads our gaze back into Skid Row bang in the center of LA’s downtown. That way lies 50 blocks of concentrated human humiliation. A nightmare in plain view, in the city of dreams. Alston turns right. So begins a two-week journey into the dark side of the American Dream. The spotlight of the UN monitor, an independent arbiter of human rights standards across the globe, has fallen on this occasion on the US, culminating on Friday with the release of his initial report in Washington. His fact-finding mission into the richest nation the world has ever known has led him to investigate the tragedy at its core: the 41 million people who officially live in poverty. Of those, nine million have zero cash income – they do not receive a cent in sustenance.

Read more …

History is a poet.

The Chart That Jeffrey Gundlach Calls “Must Watch” For 2018 (ZH)

Having shown us his favorite trade of the year for 2018, DoubleLine CEO Jeffrey Gundlach tweeted last night his “must watch” chart for 2018. “Since Jan SPX up big & way above MA’s all year…” “…yet JNK unchanged and below 50, 100 & 200 MA’s with a death cross even… As Gundlach concludes: This is “unusual… Must Watch”

So, what happens next?

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“80% of Americans continue to live paycheck-to-paycheck” That’s an economy that doesn’t have much of a foundation left. It’s wobbly at best, prone to collapse.

Ignorance Is No Excuse (Roberts)

On Thursday, the retail sales report for November clicked up 0.8%. Good news, right? Not so fast. First, sales of gasoline, which directly impacts consumers ability to spend money on other stuff, rose sharply due to higher oil prices and comprised 1/3rd of the increase. Secondly, building products also rose sharply from the ongoing impact of rebuilding from recent hurricanes and fires. Again, this isn’t healthy longer-term either as replacing lost possessions drags forward future consumptive capacity. But what the headlines miss is the growth in the population. The chart below shows retails sales divided by those actually counted as part of the labor force. (You’ve got to have a job to buy stuff, right?)

As you can see, retail sales per labor force participant was on a 5% annualized growth trend beginning in 1992. However, after the financial crisis, the gap below that long-term trend has yet to be filled as there is a 22.7% deficit from the long-term trend. (If we included the entirety of the population, given the number of people outside of the labor force that are still consuming, the trajectory would be worse.) But wait, retail sales were really strong in November? Again, not so fast. The chart below shows the annual % change of retail sales per labor force participant. The trend has been weakening since the beginning of 2017 and shows little sign of increasing currently.

While tax cuts may provide a temporary boost to after-tax incomes, that income will simply be absorbed by higher energy, gasoline, health care and borrowing costs. This is why, 80% of Americans continue to live paycheck-to-paycheck and have little saved in the bank. It is also why, as wages have continued to stagnate, that the cost of living now exceeds what incomes and debt increases can sustain. Yes, corporations will do well under the “tax reform” plan, and while the average American may well see an increase in take-home pay, it will unlikely change their financial situation much. As a result, economic growth will likely remain weak as the deficit expands to $1 Trillion over the next couple of years and Federal debt marches toward $32 trillion.

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Anyone surprised?

Uber Stole Trade Secrets, Bribed Foreign Officials And Spied On Rivals (G._

Uber allegedly engaged in a range of “unethical and unlawful intelligence collections”, including the theft of competitive trade secrets, bribery of foreign officials and spying on competitors and politicians, according to an explosive legal document published on Friday. It’s the latest chapter in the discovery process for the company’s messy legal squabble with Waymo, Google’s driverless car spin-off, which has accused Uber of stealing trade secrets. The details were outlined in a 37-page demand letter filed by the ex-Uber security manager Richard Jacobs, who left the company earlier this year. The document paints a picture of a team of employees dedicated to spying on rivals and “impeding” legal investigations into the company.

Jacobs alleges that when he raised concerns over the techniques being used, he was given a poor performance review and demoted as “pure retaliation” for refusing to buy into the culture of “achieving business goals through illegal conduct even though equally aggressive legal means were available”. He had sent the letter to Uber’s in-house counsel with his allegations about possible criminal activity carried out by the special group in May this year, threatening to sue the company. Uber did not provide the letter to Waymo as part of legal discovery before the trial started. An Uber spokeswoman said in a statement: “While we haven’t substantiated all the claims in this letter – and, importantly, any related to Waymo – our new leadership has made clear that going forward we will compete honestly and fairly, on the strength of our ideas and technology.”

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MSM destroying its credibility more every day.

While Truth Puts On Its Shoes (W.Standard)

Covering the Trump presidency has not always been the media’s finest hour, but even grading on that curve, the month of December has brought astonishing screwups. Professor and venerable political observer Walter Russell Mead tweeted on December 8, “I remember Watergate pretty well, and I don’t remember anything like this level of journalistic carelessness back then. The constant stream of ‘bombshells’ that turn into duds is doing much more to damage the media than anything Trump could manage.” [..] Since October of last year, when Franklin Foer at Slate filed an erroneous report on a computer server in Trump Tower communicating with a Russian bank, there have been an unprecedented number of media faceplants, most of them directly related to the Russia-collusion theory. The errors always run in the same direction—they report or imply that the Trump campaign was in league with Moscow.

For a politicized and overwhelmingly liberal press corps, the wish that this story be true is obviously the father to the errors. Just as obviously, there are precedents for such high-profile embarrassments in the past. Editors at top news organizations once treated anonymous sourcing as a necessary evil, a tool to be used sparingly. Now anonymous sources dominate Trump coverage. It’s not just a problem for readers, who should rightly be skeptical of information someone isn’t willing to vouch for by name. It’s a problem for reporters, too, because anonymous sources are less likely to be cautious and diligent in providing information. According to CNN, the sources behind the busted report on Trump Jr.’s contact with WikiLeaks didn’t intend to deceive and had been reliable in the past. Maybe so, but given the network’s repeated errors it’s difficult to just take CNN’s word for it.

But it’s one thing to use anonymous sources; it’s quite another to be entirely trusting of them. CNN decided to report the contents of an email to Donald Trump Jr. based only on the say-so of two anonymous sources and without seeing the emails. [..] For their part, the media don’t seem to be coming to grips with the damage they’re doing to their own credibility. CNN, which calls itself “the most trusted name in news,” didn’t retract their WikiLeaks report but rewrote it in such a way as to render the story meaningless. They also came to the defense of Raju and Herb, saying the reporters acted in accordance with the network’s editorial policies. And of course they didn’t out their sources—the ultimate punishment news organizations can mete out to anonymous tipsters who steer them wrong.

It understandably infuriates the media that President Trump remains unwilling to own up to his own glaring errors and untruths, while news organizations run correction after correction. And it also understandably upsets the media to watch the president actively attack and seek to undermine their work, which remains vital to ensuring accountability in American governance. What they haven’t grasped is how perversely helpful to him they are being: On a very basic level, President Trump’s repeated salvos against “fake news” have resonance because, well, there does indeed appear to be a lot of fake news.

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“The desperation to get rid of Trump by the Democratic Party and its handmaidens in the media has an odor of reckless dishonesty..”

Taking Liberty (Jim Kunstler)

I’m not a Trump admirer, didn’t vote for the guy (nor Hillary, either), am not invested emotionally in his political survival, but I do have a pretty firm idea of what he represents: primitive maleness in all its lumbering vulgarity. I can see why he has a certain symbolic appeal in a society that increasingly shouts “men need not apply here.” He also represents the widespread disappointment with the poor job that the remaining men in charge of things have done in recent decades caretaking this polity. They’ve managed to dodge the repair of every broken institution and duck engagement with any of the really scary problems facing citizens of this republic, from the gross disparities of wealth, to pervasive racketeering in health care and education, to our rotting infrastructure, to the quandaries of race, immigration, climate change — you name it and they have done squat.

Men mostly in charge of the FBI are currently busy demonstrating that they can completely botch the wished-for Trump-ending investigation of Russian “meddling and collusion” — whatever that is as a legal matter — under special prosecutor Robert Mueller. The agency begins to look like the brotherhood depicted on The Sopranos TV show some years back. The congressional committees (mostly men) with oversight on the FBI (and its umbrella agency, the Department of Justice) can’t even get a few deputy Attorneys General to answer a subpoena. If ever there was a display of feckless impotence, this is it. The desperation to get rid of Trump by the Democratic Party and its handmaidens in the media has an odor of reckless dishonesty from a faction that succumbs more and more each day to the dangerous idea that the ends justify the means.

Despite the momentary jubilation over the defeat of Roy Moore in the Alabama special election for senator, the party is close to committing suicide via the collective fantasy that all romantic gambits by men are always and everywhere a prelude to rape. But then, the Republican Party ought to be on suicide watch, too, as it debates a stupendously mendacious tax reform bill that will only shove the country closer to financial meltdown.

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2018 is set to become a very divisive year for the EU.

France, Germany To Unveil Eurozone Reforms In March (AFP)

Germany and France will offer their joint vision for reforming the eurozone by March, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday, in an effort to bridge divisions over the future of the single currency. Meeting without departure-bound Britain, the bloc’s 27 leaders were tasked by EU President Donald Tusk to speak freely about their often clashing visions for the single currency’s future at a summit widely expected to be dominated by Brexit. Overhauling the eurozone and making it more resilient to economic shocks has been a top priority of French President Emmanuel Macron, as well as for European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker.

But these ambitions have been stymied by political uncertainty in Germany, where Macron ally Merkel is still trying to form a government after the pro-business FDP party abandoned talks amid doubts about eurozone reform. “We will find a common position because it is necessary for Europe,” Merkel said at a news briefing, speaking alongside Macron after a summit focused mostly on Brexit. Merkel’s overture to France will rankle her conservative CDU party which toes an austerity-minded line on economic matters, but appeals to Social Democrats, with whom she must now build a coalition. Reform of the eurozone is often blocked by political divisions, with rich countries – such as Germany and the Netherlands – reticent to adopt policies that share risks with their heavily-indebted eurozone partners, such as France, Spain, Italy or Greece.

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EU needs to open up about Luxembourg, Netherlands et al as tax havens.

EU To Force Firms To Reveal True Owners In Wake Of Panama Papers (G.)

Companies across the EU will be forced to disclose their true owners under new legislation prompted by the release of the Panama Papers. Anti-corruption campaigners applauded the agreement as a major step in the fight against tax evasion and money laundering, but expressed disappointment that trusts will mostly escape scrutiny. The revised terms of the EU’s fourth anti-money laundering directive include: • A requirement for companies to disclose their beneficial, or true, owners in a publicly available register. • Data on the beneficial owners of trusts to be available to tax and law enforcement authorities, as well as sectors with an obligation to follow anti-money laundering rules, such as lawyers. • A requirement for member states to verify beneficial ownership information submitted to their registers. • Extending anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism regulations to apply to virtual currencies, provision of tax services and those dealing in works of art.

EU member states will have 18 months to transpose the new directive into domestic legislation. As a current member of the EU, the UK will implement the legislation. “This is a big breakthrough and confirms that full transparency of corporate ownership is now the global standard against which other countries will be judged,” said Laure Brillaud, the anti-money laundering policy officer at Transparency International EU. “The EU deserves credit for taking this bold leap to end the secrecy that facilitates corruption, tax evasion and other crimes.” Global Witness applauded the move “in the face of opposition from countries like the UK, Luxembourg, Ireland, Malta and Cyprus,” but criticised the failure to introduce the same requirements for trusts.

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All the time in the world. Who cares about the misery?

EU Gives Itself June Deadline On Refugees (K.)

EU leaders appealed for unity in a last-ditch effort to break their deadlock on sharing out refugees by June, telling reluctant eastern states they could otherwise be outvoted on a dispute that has shaken the bloc’s foundations. Coming out from a fraught discussion among 28 EU leaders that went into the small hours on Friday morning in Brussels, rivals in the two-year-old dispute all stuck to their guns, hemmed in by expectations they have raised with their own voters. The Mediterranean frontline states Italy and Greece, and the rich destination countries including Germany, Sweden, Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands are demanding that all countries host some refugees as a way to demonstrate solidarity.

Their four ex-communist peers Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic refuse to accept people from the mostly-Muslim Middle East and North Africa, saying that would threaten their security after a raft of Islamic attacks in Europe. “There are areas where there is no solidarity and this is something I find unacceptable,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters. At one point during the two days of talks in Brussels, cameras caught Merkel, the bloc’s paramount national leader, as she appeared to become agitated when talking with the leaders’ chairman, Donald Tusk, making her displeasure with him clear. That came after Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland, came out strongly against “ineffective” and “highly divisive” obligatory refugee quotas, ruffling the feathers of those states that back them as well as the executive European Commission.

“The manner in which the principle of solidarity was being questioned does not only undermine the discussion on the refugee issue, but the future of Europe,” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told reporters after what he called “intense” talks. Tusk said the ineffectiveness of relocation schemes was demonstrated by the fact that only 35,000 asylum seekers had been transferred from Greece and Italy under a 2015 plan meant to move 160,000 people. “Mandatory quotas remain a contentious issue,” Tusk told a joint news conference with the Commission’s head Jean-Claude Juncker, the disagreement between the two playing out visibly despite their usually friendly rapport. “Relocation is not a solution to the issue of illegal migration.”

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Oh well, that only took a year and a half. Were they hoping his suicide attempts would be successful?

First Vulnerable Child Refugee Arrives In UK From Greece (G.)

The first vulnerable child refugee stranded in Greece who qualifies for sanctuary under the Dubs amendment has arrived in the UK, more than a year after the government pledged to bring over hundreds of children. The Home Office had accepted that the boy was vulnerable and eligible for transfer 16 months ago. The Dubs amendment, part of the 2016 Immigration Act, was passed after a campaign to transfer 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees stuck in camps to Britain. There are more than 3,300 unaccompanied children in Greece, 11,186 in France and 13,867 in Italy. The Home Office agreed to resettle 480 under the Dubs scheme. Conditions for lone children in Greece have been condemned by Human Rights Watch, which found filthy cells infested with bugs and vermin, sometimes without mattresses or access to showers.

Hammersmith and Fulham council in west London has stepped in to offer the boy a home and one of its social workers travelled to Greece to assess the child, who has lost contact with his family in Syria. The boy, who is said to be deeply traumatised, was detained until last month in a police cell with no access to medical professionals, and forced to sleep on an inch-thick mattress on the ground. Police said the boy had repeatedly self-harmed, tried to kill himself and was at “imminent risk” of doing this. According to Antonia Moustaka, a lawyer for the humanitarian agency Praksis, he spent more than 380 days in psychiatric clinics, 124 days in shelters for unaccompanied minors and six weeks in police detention.

[..] George Gabriel, the project lead at the charity Safe Passage, said: “There are more than 3,300 unaccompanied children in Greece and only 1,130 spaces in shelters. The winter is bitterly cold and conditions are getting worse. “Over a year and a half ago, the Dubs amendment brought hope that hundreds of these kids would be brought to safety. It has been appalling to watch these minors wait, month after month, on bureaucratic delays.”

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Only took 2,000 years. What were all other mayors of Rome during that time thinking?

Ovid’s Exile To The Remotest Margins Of The Roman Empire Revoked (G.)

More than 2,000 years after Augustus banished him to deepest Romania, the poet Ovid has been rehabilitated. Rome city council on Thursday unanimously approved a motion tabled by the populist M5S party to “repair the serious wrong” suffered by Ovid, thought of as one of the three canonical poets of Latin literature along with Virgil and Horace. Best known for his 15-book epic narrative poem Metamorphoses and the elegy Ars Amatoria, or the Art of Love, Publius Ovidius Naso was exiled in 8 AD to Tomis, the ancient but remote Black Sea settlement now known as the Romanian port city of Constanta. He remained there until his death a decade later. Although ordered directly by the emperor, scholars have long speculated over the motive for Ovid’s exile; the poet himself attributed it to “carmen et error”, a poem and a mistake.

Experts believe the cause was probably a combination of three factors: that Ovid’s erotic poetry was considered offensive, his attitude to Augustus was too disrespectful, and that he may have been involved in an unspecified plot or scandal. La Republicca reported that M5S, which holds a majority of the seats on the council, demanded that “necessary measures” be adopted to revoke the order in what the capital’s deputy mayor, Luca Bergamo, described as an important symbol. “It is about the fundamental right of artists to express themselves freely in societies in which, around the world, the freedom of artistic expression is increasingly constrained,” Bergamo told councillors.

Ovid was indisputably “one of the greatest poets in the history of humanity,” the deputy mayor said, and moreover the real reasons for his mysterious banishment by the emperor “were never placed on the historical record”. Sulmona, the Abruzzo town where the poet was born (then Sulmo), formally acquitted him of any wrongdoing. Dante, the great Renaissance poet, was similarly pardoned in 2008 by Florence – from where he was exiled on pain of death in 1302.

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Nov 222017
 
 November 22, 2017  Posted by at 9:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Arthur Rothstein Quarter Circle U Ranch, Big Horn County, MT 1939

 

UK Water Firms Admit Using Divining Rods To Find Leaks And Pipes (G.)
UK MPs Vote ‘That Animals Cannot Feel Pain Or Emotions’ (Ind.)
UK Environment Department Using 1,400 Disposable Coffee Cups A Day (G.)
Biggest Bubble Ever? (ZH)
China Is On Course To Become One Of The World’s Most Indebted Nations (BBG)
China’s Growth Miracle Has Run Out Of Steam (Pettis)
Tesla’s Burning Through Nearly Half a Million Dollars Every Hour (BBG)
US Credit Card Delinquencies Spike (BI)
Too-Big-To-Fail Banks Keep Getting Bigger (CNN)
US Doctors Cut Off Opioids, Leaving Millions in Pain and Withdrawal (BBG)
Uber Concealed Cyberattack Exposing Data Of 57 Million Users, Drivers (BBG)
Airbnb Locks Horns With Athens (K.)
Greek Budget For 2018 Sees High Growth, Surplus And More Taxes (K.)

 

 

Today’s the day UK Chancellor Hammond will present his budget, which will go a long way towards the country’s Brexit plans. So let’s have a few articles that make you wonder why you would want to belong to a club that includes these people.

This first one makes me think: if this is the best piece I read all day, I’m good.

UK Water Firms Admit Using Divining Rods To Find Leaks And Pipes (G.)

Ten of the 12 water companies in the UK have admitted they are still using the practice of water dowsing despite the lack of scientific evidence for its effectiveness. The disclosure has prompted calls for the regulator to stop companies passing the cost of a discredited medieval practice on to their customers. Ofwat said any firm failing to meet its commitments to customers faced a financial penalty. Dowsers, or water witchers, claim that their divining rods cross over when the presence of water is detected below ground. It is regarded as a pseudoscience, after numerous studies showed it was no better than chance at finding water. Some water companies, however, insisted the practice could be as effective as modern methods.

The discovery that firms were still using water diviners was made by the science blogger Sally Le Page, after her parents reported seeing an engineer from Severn Trent “walking around holding two bent tent pegs to locate a pipe” near their home in Stratford-upon-Avon. Le Page asked Severn Trent why it was still using divining rods to find pipes when there was no evidence that it worked. Replying on Twitter, the company said: “We’ve found that some of the older methods are just as effective than the new ones, but we do use drones as well, and now satellites.” Le Page then asked the other 11 water companies whether they were using water dowsing. Only one, Wessex Water, said it did not use divining rods, and one, Northern Ireland Water had yet to reply. The other nine confirmed the practice was still used in some form in their areas.

Read more …

The second one defies all belief. What else is appropriate but utter silence?

UK MPs Vote ‘That Animals Cannot Feel Pain Or Emotions’ (Ind.)

MPs have voted to reject the inclusion of animal sentience – the admission that animals feel emotion and pain – into the EU Withdrawal Bill. The move has been criticised by animal rights activists, who say the vote undermines environment secretary Michael Gove’s pledge to prioritise animal rights during Brexit. The majority of animal welfare legislation comes from the EU. The UK Government is tasked with adopting EU laws directly after March 2019 but has dismissed animal sentience. The Government said during the debate before the vote that this clause is covered by the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The RSPCA disputed the Government’s claim. “It’s shocking that MPs have given the thumbs down to incorporating animal sentience into post-Brexit UK law,” RSPCA head of public affairs David Bowles told Farming UK.

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“In addition, 500 reusable or so-called “keep cups” were purchased in 2013, but only four of these have been sold in the last three years.”

UK Environment Department Using 1,400 Disposable Coffee Cups A Day (G.)

More than 2.5m disposable cups have been purchased by the UK’s environment department for use in its restaurants and cafes over the past five years – equivalent to nearly 1,400 a day. The Liberal Democrats’ environment spokesman, Tim Farron, said the revelation, obtained through a freedom of information request, showed Michael Gove “needs to get his own house in order” in light of his public pledges to tackle the growing scourge of plastic pollution. The Lib Dems revealed that 516,000 disposable cups had been purchased by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) catering contractors in the last year alone, under two separate outsourced contracts for use in catering outlets across its sites.

The figure was 589,700 in 2016 and 785,100 the previous year. The catering contractors did not previously provide any reusable cups, but purchased 200 reusable cups on 31 October 2017. Separate figures uncovered by the Lib Dems have revealed the House of Commons itself is also failing to get to grips with disposable cup waste, using almost 4m disposable cups in the past five years. They reveal that 657,000 disposable cups have been purchased by the Commons’ catering service in the last year alone – equivalent to 1,000 per MP – but down from 918,700 in 2013. In addition, 500 reusable or so-called “keep cups” were purchased in 2013, but only four of these have been sold in the last three years.

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Everything bubble. Where’s Tesla, Uber, Airbnb?

Biggest Bubble Ever? (ZH)

Yesterday we presented readers with one of the most pessimistic, if not outright apocalyptic, 2018 year previews, courtesy of BofA’s chief investment, Michael Hartnett who warned that in addition to the bursting of the bond bubble in the first half of the year, the stock market could see a 1987-like flash crash, potentially followed by a sharp spike in (violent) social conflict. However, in addition to his forecast, Hartnett also had one of the more informative, and descriptive, reviews of the year that was, or as he put it: 2017 was the perfect encapsulation of an 8-year QE-led bull market.

Here are his 15 bullet points that show why in 2017 we may have seen the biggest bubble ever (and why we can’t wait to see what 2018 reveals).
• Da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” sold for staggering record $450mn
• Bitcoin soared 677% from $952 to $7890
• BoJ and ECB were bull catalysts, buying $2.0tn of financial assets
• Number of global interest rate cuts since Lehman hit: 702
• Global debt rose to a record $226tn, record 324% of global GDP
• US corporates issued record $1.75tn of bonds
• Yield of European HY bonds fell below yield of US Treasuries
• Argentina (8 debt defaults in past 200 years) issued 100-year bond
• Global stock market cap jumped1 $15.5tn to $85.6tn, record 113% of GDP
• S&P500 volatility sank to 50-year low; US Treasury volatility to 30-year low
• Market cap of FAANG+BAT grew $1.5tn, more than entire German market cap
• 7855 ETFs accounted for 70% of global daily equity volume
• The first AI/robot-managed ETF was launched (it’s underperforming)
• Big performance winners: ACWI, EM equities, China, Tech, European HY, euro
• Big performance losers: US$, Russia, Telecoms, UST 2-year, Turkish lira

As Hartnett summarizes, “2017 was a perfect encapsulation of an 8-year QE-led bull market”

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Xi needs to start letting zombies die, or he’ll lose control.

China Is On Course To Become One Of The World’s Most Indebted Nations (BBG)

China’s debt is poised to soar over the next five years, severely reducing the chances the nation can avoid a financial crisis. Bloomberg Economics economists Fielding Chen and Tom Orlik estimate China’s total debt will reach 327% of GDP by 2022, double the level in 2008. That will put China among the most indebted countries in the world. “The rapid growth and high level of China’s debt have already placed them in the danger zone for a financial crisis,” said the economists in a note published Tuesday. “Adding debt equivalent to almost 70% of GDP in the next five years wouldn’t mean a crisis is inevitable, but it would severely reduce the chances of avoiding one.”

Central bank Governor Zhou Xiaochuan, who has hinted he’ll soon retire, recently warned of the risks in company and household debt, saying that corporate borrowing was “very high” and that the nation needs to be on guard against excessive optimism that could spark a sudden drop in asset prices. The Bloomberg estimates of future debt levels are based on a new model that assumes a moderate slowdown in growth, continued rebalancing of the structure of the economy toward services, a stabilization in the credit intensity of growth, and continued large-scale write-offs of bad loans. Economic expansion is expected to slow to 5.8% in 2022 from 6.7% in 2016, the economists said. Nominal growth, more relevant for calculating the debt-to-GDP ratio, is expected to edge down to 7.9% in 2022 from 8% in 2016, they said.

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Bridges to nowhere and ghost cities account for a large part of China GDP growth.

China’s Growth Miracle Has Run Out Of Steam (Pettis)

China’s 19th Communist party congress ended last month with an indication that Xi Jinping’s new administration plans to rein in debt by abandoning the country’s long-term economic targets and allowing gross domestic product growth to fall. Typically, analysts assume that changes in reported GDP reflect movements in living standards and productive capacity. In China, however, this is not the case. Local governments are expected to boost spending by whatever amount is needed to meet the country’s targets, whether or not it is productive. GDP growth is not the same as economic growth. Consider two factories that cost the same to build and operate. If the first factory produces useful goods, and the second produces unwanted ones that pile up as inventory, only the first boosts the underlying economy.

Both factories, however, will increase GDP in exactly the same way. Most economies, however, have two mechanisms that force GDP data to conform to underlying economic performance. First, hard budget constraints, which set spending limits, drive companies that systematically waste investment out of business before they can substantially distort the economy. Second, there is a market-pricing factor in GDP accounting that when bad debts caused by wasted investment are written down, the value-added component of GDP and the overall level of reported growth are reduced. In China, however, neither mechanism works. Bad debt is not written down and the government is not subject to hard budget constraints.

It is the government sector that is mainly responsible for the investment misallocation that characterises so much recent Chinese growth. The implications are obvious, even if most economists have been surprisingly reluctant to acknowledge them. Anyone who believes there has been a significant amount of wasted investment in China must accept that reported GDP growth overstates the real increase in wealth by the failure to recognise the associated bad debt. Were it correctly written down, by some estimates GDP growth would fall below 3%.

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Anyone buying into Tesla will get what they deserve.

Tesla’s Burning Through Nearly Half a Million Dollars Every Hour (BBG)

Elon Musk said last week that Tesla is designing a new sports car that could go from zero to 60 mph in 1.9 seconds. Not bad, but here’s a speed number that investors might want to focus on instead: Over the past 12 months, the electric-car maker has been burning money at a clip of about $8,000 a minute (or $480,000 an hour), Bloomberg data show. At this pace, the company is on track to exhaust its current cash pile on Monday, Aug. 6. (At 2:17 a.m. New York time, if you really want to be precise.) To be fair, few Tesla watchers expect the cash burn to continue at quite such a breakneck pace, and the company itself says it’s ramping up output of its all-important Model 3, which will bring money in the door. But still, its need for fresh cash came into high relief last week when Musk unveiled his latest plan to raise funds. He’s asking customers to pay him upfront to order vehicles that may not be delivered for years.

The Founders Series Roadster will cost buyers a $250,000 down payment even though it’s not coming for more than two years. Orders of those cars are capped at 1,000, meaning they alone could generate $250 million. Tesla is charging a total of $50,000 for reservations of the regular Roadster. Companies can also pre-order electric Semi trucks for $5,000, though they don’t go into production until 2019. But all this is a pittance compared with Tesla’s financial needs. It’s blowing through more than $1 billion a quarter thanks to massive investment in making the Model 3, a $35,000 car that’s looking less likely to generate a return anytime soon. “Whether they can last another 10 months or a year, he needs money, and quickly,” said Kevin Tynan, senior analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence, who estimates Tesla will be required to raise at least $2 billion in fresh capital by mid-2018.

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Oh, puhlease… “The rise in new delinquencies is difficult to square with the continued strength of the labor market.”

US Credit Card Delinquencies Spike (BI)

Americans are having increasing trouble paying their credit card bills, a potentially ominous sign for an economy reliant on consumer spending for some two-thirds overall activity. US credit card debt recently surged to new record highs, surpassing peaks seen before the 2008 financial crisis. Several large US banks and credit card companies reported a rise in credit card delinquency rates for August, the second consecutive monthly rise. Michael Pearce, economist at Capital Economics, does not see the spike as a major threat to the growth outlook for now. But given the prospect of higher interest rates from the Federal Reserve next year, it could become a growing problem. “The increase in new delinquencies may be an early sign of stress in household finances,” he wrote in a note sent out to clients on Friday.

“After all, credit card lending is one of the most expensive forms of borrowing, and missing a credit card payment doesn’t carry the same risk of repossession as falling behind on mortgage or car payments might,” Pearce added. “The rise in new delinquencies is difficult to square with the continued strength of the labor market.”

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Feature not flaw.

Too-Big-To-Fail Banks Keep Getting Bigger (CNN)

Many too-big-to-fail banks have grown even larger during the decade since the financial crisis. The 2008 meltdown showed how big banks that get into trouble can hold the entire global economy hostage. Hoping to avoid another round of unpopular bailouts, financial watchdogs have forced too-big-to-fail banks to make themselves less dangerous by adding lots of capital that safeguards against losses. But regulators continue to monitor these financial institutions, creating a list of 30 “systemically important” banks that deserve extra scrutiny. JPMorgan Chase sits atop that list of banks that could threaten global stability, according to new rankings published on Tuesday by international regulators. While JPMorgan has been required to take significant steps to make itself less risky, America’s leading bank has nonetheless gotten much bigger over the past decade.

JPMorgan has amassed an incredible $2.56 trillion in assets. That’s nearly twice as much as at the end of 2006 when the subprime mortgage bubble was beginning to burst. A chunk of JPMorgan’s growth is due to its government-backed rescues of failing Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual. Bank of America and Deutsche Bank are ranked one level below JPMorgan on the “systemically important” list published by the Financial Stability Board. BofA’s asset footprint has soared by 56% since the end of 2006 to $2.28 trillion. Deutsche Bank’s asset size has increased by 21% over that span, according to FactSet. Wells Fargo, which acquired failing Wachovia during the financial crisis, is sitting on $1.93 trillion. That’s up nearly 300% since the end of 2006.

Big banks in China are also growing at a rapid pace. China’s four systemically important banks have more than tripled their asset sizes over the last 10 years, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China is the world’s largest bank, with $3.76 trillion in assets. That’s up from $1.11 trillion at the end of 2006. “If and when another crisis hits, the biggest players will be far larger than they were in the last crash,” S&P Global Market Intelligence wrote in a report.

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“Roughly 8 million Americans are on long-term opioid therapy for chronic pain, and as many as a million are taking dangerously high doses..”

US Doctors Cut Off Opioids, Leaving Millions in Pain and Withdrawal (BBG)

Six months after surgery to repair a damaged urinary tract in 1998, computer technician Doug Hale woke one morning with excruciating, burning pain. Hale’s suffering persisted for years, despite all sorts of treatments. Finally, in 2006, he was prescribed strong doses of opioids. Fast-forward 10 years. Still on his pain killers, Hale was popping so many of the highly addictive pills that he regularly ran out of his prescription early. His doctor cut off his supply and urged Hale to enter a detox program. That didn’t work. Hale, still in agonizing pain and now suffering from intense withdrawal symptoms, returned to his doctor and pleaded to get back on his opioid regime. The doctor refused. The next day, Hale put the barrel of a small-gauge gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

It would be tempting to view Hale’s death, at 53, as one more sad entry in the never-ending national tragedy of opioid deaths. In fact, it’s much more than that. Hale’s story is a window into the country’s silent majority of opioid sufferers. These are the millions of painkiller-dependent users inhabiting a vast gray zone somewhere between medical patient and drug addict, who are finding themselves suddenly abandoned in droves by the medical system. Under threat of lawsuits and government and insurance industry crackdowns, doctors have been cutting off the supply of painkillers, forcing many of their patients to quit cold turkey after years or even decades of dependence, sometimes with catastrophic consequences. Worst of all, those left suddenly without their meds often have nowhere to turn for help.

[..] Roughly 8 million Americans are on long-term opioid therapy for chronic pain, and as many as a million are taking dangerously high doses, said Michael Von Korff, a senior researcher at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute. In the Medicare program alone, 500,000 patients were on high opioid doses in 2016, according to a 2017 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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Close it down. Or lawsuits will.

Uber Concealed Cyberattack Exposing Data Of 57 Million Users, Drivers (BBG)

Hackers stole the personal data of 57 million customers and drivers from Uber Technologies Inc., a massive breach that the company concealed for more than a year. This week, the ride-hailing firm ousted its chief security officer and one of his deputies for their roles in keeping the hack under wraps, which included a $100,000 payment to the attackers. Compromised data from the October 2016 attack included names, email addresses and phone numbers of 50 million Uber riders around the world, the company told Bloomberg on Tuesday. The personal information of about 7 million drivers was accessed as well, including some 600,000 U.S. driver’s license numbers. No Social Security numbers, credit card information, trip location details or other data were taken, Uber said.

At the time of the incident, Uber was negotiating with U.S. regulators investigating separate claims of privacy violations. Uber now says it had a legal obligation to report the hack to regulators and to drivers whose license numbers were taken. Instead, the company paid hackers to delete the data and keep the breach quiet. Uber said it believes the information was never used but declined to disclose the identities of the attackers. “None of this should have happened, and I will not make excuses for it,” Dara Khosrowshahi, who took over as CEo in September, said in an emailed statement. “We are changing the way we do business.” After Uber’s disclosure Tuesday, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched an investigation into the hack, his spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick said. The company was also sued for negligence over the breach by a customer seeking class-action status.

[..] In January 2016, the New York attorney general fined Uber $20,000 for failing to promptly disclose an earlier data breach in 2014. After last year’s cyberattack, the company was negotiating with the FTC on a privacy settlement even as it haggled with the hackers on containing the breach, Uber said. The company finally agreed to the FTC settlement three months ago, without admitting wrongdoing and before telling the agency about last year’s attack.

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Airbnb gambles that it’s above and beyond the law. Let’s see.

Airbnb Locks Horns With Athens (K.)

In its first public statement on Greek tax affairs, Airbnb took a tough stance against the Greek government and refused to share the tax details of the property owners with whom it cooperates with the Greek state. The short-term property lease website announced a few days ago that “hosts on Airbnb want to pay their share of tax and we want to help but in respect of their privacy. Personal data are subject to strict rules to protect privacy and we want to work together on a better way forward. Airbnb routinely shares information with Greece on the impacts of home sharing. Personal data is shared only through a valid legal request pursuant to national and European data privacy laws.”

The US-headquartered home-sharing firm therefore refuses to supply the tax registration numbers of its property owners, even though it knows that multiple property entries by the same owner aimed at tax-free investment utilization concerns at least 40% of its customers in Greece. According to Greek law, owners are not allowed to lease out more than two properties per tax registration number unless they set up a company for that purpose and are taxed accordingly. This is why it is crucial to distinguish owners who just top up their income from those who let properties for short periods as a professional/investment activity.

According to Airbnb, the average annual takings of Greek owners last year came to €2,375, while the average occupancy stood at just three days per month. However, this is far from representative as it also includes thousands of properties listed without having a single visitor and therefore no revenues, as they have been incorrectly registered or are simply located in unpopular areas. The vast majority of Greek owners on Airbnb appear to “forget” to declare their revenues from this activity to the tax authorities, knowing that the monitoring mechanism is unable to cross-check and inspect their revenues because their guests are typically foreign citizens who would not declare their expenditure to the Greek authorities.

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Guess which one of the three will actually pan out.

Greek Budget For 2018 Sees High Growth, Surplus And More Taxes (K.)

The government on Wednesday submitted the 2018 budget in Parliament, predicting a higher-than-expected primary surplus, of 3.8% of GDP, and a growth rate of 2.5%, as well as additional austerity with some 1 billion euros in new taxes. The strong growth rate of 2.5% is projected to follow a 1.6% expansion this year – a figure that has been downwardly revised twice following an original forecast of 2.7%. In a report accompanying the budget, the Finance Ministry looked forward to an “exit from a long period of programs of macroeconomic adjustment,” referring to Greece’s anticipated exit from its third foreign bailout in the summer of next year. The budget – which is to be voted on in Parliament on December 22 – foresees a primary surplus of 2.4% of GDP for this year, significantly above a target of 1.75%, and 3.8% for 2018.

“The significant overshooting of the targets… has contributed to restoring international trust in Greek public finances and created the preconditions for the country’s return to international capital markets in a sustainable way,” the ministry noted in its report. The budget also provides details about a “social dividend,” heralded by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras last week, for 1.4 million households. The handout is worth an average of 483 euros, the ministry said, adding that a projected increase in growth rates in the coming years should allow the government to broaden its initiatives for social protection. The budget also includes a list of 12 measures that were passed in Parliament earlier this year but have yet to be implemented.

They include increases in social security contributions, cuts to heating and oil subsidies, higher tax rates for medium-sized and large properties, the elimination of value-added tax breaks for dozens of Aegean islands that had enjoyed a reduced rate of VAT, and a new hotel stayover levy. There are fears that the latter could have an impact on tourism, which remains one of Greece’s few dynamic economic sectors. The government hopes that the 12 measures will raise around 1 billion euros in revenue.

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Nov 112017
 
 November 11, 2017  Posted by at 9:15 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Jean-Léon Gérôme Truth Coming Out of Her Well to Shame Mankind 1896

 

An entire library of articles about Big Tech is coming out these days, and I find that much of it is written so well, and the ideas in them so well expressed, that I have little to add. Except, I think I may have the solution to the problems many people see. But I also have a concern that I don’t see addressed, and that may well prevent that solution from being adopted. If so, we’re very far away from any solution at all. And that’s seriously bad news.

Let’s start with a general -even ‘light’- critique of social media by Claire Wardle and Hossein Derakhshan for the Guardian:

 

How Did The News Go ‘Fake’? When The Media Went Social

Social media force us to live our lives in public, positioned centre-stage in our very own daily performances. Erving Goffman, the American sociologist, articulated the idea of “life as theatre” in his 1956 book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, and while the book was published more than half a century ago, the concept is even more relevant today. It is increasingly difficult to live a private life, in terms not just of keeping our personal data away from governments or corporations, but also of keeping our movements, interests and, most worryingly, information consumption habits from the wider world.

The social networks are engineered so that we are constantly assessing others – and being assessed ourselves. In fact our “selves” are scattered across different platforms, and our decisions, which are public or semi-public performances, are driven by our desire to make a good impression on our audiences, imagined and actual. We grudgingly accept these public performances when it comes to our travels, shopping, dating, and dining. We know the deal. The online tools that we use are free in return for us giving up our data, and we understand that they need us to publicly share our lifestyle decisions to encourage people in our network to join, connect and purchase.

But, critically, the same forces have impacted the way we consume news and information. Before our media became “social”, only our closest family or friends knew what we read or watched, and if we wanted to keep our guilty pleasures secret, we could. Now, for those of us who consume news via the social networks, what we “like” and what we follow is visible to many [..] Consumption of the news has become a performance that can’t be solely about seeking information or even entertainment. What we choose to “like” or follow is part of our identity, an indication of our social class and status, and most frequently our political persuasion.

That sets the scene. People sell their lives, their souls, to join a network that then sells these lives -and souls- to the highest bidder, for a profit the people themselves get nothing of. This is not some far-fetched idea. As noted further down, in terms of scale, Facebook is a present day Christianity. And these concerns are not only coming from ‘concerned citizens’, some of the early participants are speaking out as well. Like Facebook co-founder Sean Parker:

 

Facebook: God Only Knows What It’s Doing To Our Children’s Brains

Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, gave me a candid insider’s look at how social networks purposely hook and potentially hurt our brains. Be smart: Parker’s I-was-there account provides priceless perspective in the rising debate about the power and effects of the social networks, which now have scale and reach unknown in human history. [..]

“When Facebook was getting going, I had these people who would come up to me and they would say, ‘I’m not on social media.’ And I would say, ‘OK. You know, you will be.’ And then they would say, ‘No, no, no. I value my real-life interactions. I value the moment. I value presence. I value intimacy.’ And I would say, … ‘We’ll get you eventually.'”

“I don’t know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because [of] the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people and … it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other … It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

“The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, … was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?'” “And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you … more likes and comments.”

“It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.” “The inventors, creators — it’s me, it’s Mark [Zuckerberg], it’s Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it’s all of these people — understood this consciously. And we did it anyway.”

Early stage investor in Facebook, Roger McNamee, also has some words to add along the same lines as Parker. They make it sound like they’re Frankenstein and Facebook is their monster.

 

How Facebook and Google Threaten Public Health – and Democracy

The term “addiction” is no exaggeration. The average consumer checks his or her smartphone 150 times a day, making more than 2,000 swipes and touches. The applications they use most frequently are owned by Facebook and Alphabet, and the usage of those products is still increasing. In terms of scale, Facebook and YouTube are similar to Christianity and Islam respectively. More than 2 billion people use Facebook every month, 1.3 billion check in every day. More than 1.5 billion people use YouTube. Other services owned by these companies also have user populations of 1 billion or more.

Facebook and Alphabet are huge because users are willing to trade privacy and openness for “convenient and free.” Content creators resisted at first, but user demand forced them to surrender control and profits to Facebook and Alphabet. The sad truth is that Facebook and Alphabet have behaved irresponsibly in the pursuit of massive profits. They have consciously combined persuasive techniques developed by propagandists and the gambling industry with technology in ways that threaten public health and democracy.

The issue, however, is not social networking or search. It is advertising business models. Let me explain. From the earliest days of tabloid newspapers, publishers realized the power of exploiting human emotions. To win a battle for attention, publishers must give users “what they want,” content that appeals to emotions, rather than intellect. Substance cannot compete with sensation, which must be amplified constantly, lest consumers get distracted and move on. “If it bleeds, it leads” has guided editorial choices for more than 150 years, but has only become a threat to society in the past decade, since the introduction of smartphones.

Media delivery platforms like newspapers, television, books, and even computers are persuasive, but people only engage with them for a few hours each day and every person receives the same content. Today’s battle for attention is not a fair fight. Every competitor exploits the same techniques, but Facebook and Alphabet have prohibitive advantages: personalization and smartphones. Unlike older media, Facebook and Alphabet know essentially everything about their users, tracking them everywhere they go on the web and often beyond.

By making every experience free and easy, Facebook and Alphabet became gatekeepers on the internet, giving them levels of control and profitability previously unknown in media. They exploit data to customize each user’s experience and siphon profits from content creators. Thanks to smartphones, the battle for attention now takes place on a single platform that is available every waking moment. Competitors to Facebook and Alphabet do not have a prayer.

Facebook and Alphabet monetize content through advertising that is targeted more precisely than has ever been possible before. The platforms create “filter bubbles” around each user, confirming pre-existing beliefs and often creating the illusion that everyone shares the same views. Platforms do this because it is profitable. The downside of filter bubbles is that beliefs become more rigid and extreme. Users are less open to new ideas and even to facts.

Of the millions of pieces of content that Facebook can show each user at a given time, they choose the handful most likely to maximize profits. If it were not for the advertising business model, Facebook might choose content that informs, inspires, or enriches users. Instead, the user experience on Facebook is dominated by appeals to fear and anger. This would be bad enough, but reality is worse.

And in a Daily Mail article, McNamee’s ideas are taken a mile or so further. Goebbels, Bernays, fear, anger, personalization, civility.

 

Early Facebook Investor Compares The Social Network To Nazi Propaganda

Facebook officials have been compared to the Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels by a former investor. Roger McNamee also likened the company’s methods to those of Edward Bernays, the ‘father of public’ relations who promoted smoking for women. Mr McNamee, who made a fortune backing the social network in its infancy, has spoken out about his concern about the techniques the tech giants use to engage users and advertisers. [..] the former investor said everyone was now ‘in one degree or another addicted’ to the site while he feared the platform was causing people to swap real relationships for phoney ones.

And he likened the techniques of the company to Mr Bernays and Hitler’s public relations minister. ‘In order to maintain your attention they have taken all the techniques of Edward Bernays and Joseph Goebbels, and all of the other people from the world of persuasion, and all the big ad agencies, and they’ve mapped it onto an all day product with highly personalised information in order to addict you,’ Mr McNamee told The Telegraph. Mr McNamee said Facebook was creating a culture of ‘fear and anger’. ‘We have lowered the civil discourse, people have become less civil to each other..’

He said the tech giant had ‘weaponised’ the First Amendment to ‘essentially absolve themselves of responsibility’. He added: ‘I say this as somebody who was there at the beginning.’ Mr McNamee’s comments come as a further blow to Facebook as just last month former employee Justin Rosenstein spoke out about his concerns. Mr Rosenstein, the Facebook engineer who built a prototype of the network’s ‘like’ button, called the creation the ‘bright dings of pseudo-pleasure’. He said he was forced to limit his own use of the social network because he was worried about the impact it had on him.

As for the economic, not the societal or personal, effects of social media, Yanis Varoufakis had this to say a few weeks ago:

 

Capitalism Is Ending Because It Has Made Itself Obsolete – Varoufakis

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has claimed capitalism is coming to an end because it is making itself obsolete. The former economics professor told an audience at University College London that the rise of giant technology corporations and artificial intelligence will cause the current economic system to undermine itself. Mr Varoufakis said companies such as Google and Facebook, for the first time ever, are having their capital bought and produced by consumers.

“Firstly the technologies were funded by some government grant; secondly every time you search for something on Google, you contribute to Google’s capital,” he said. “And who gets the returns from capital? Google, not you. “So now there is no doubt capital is being socially produced, and the returns are being privatised. This with artificial intelligence is going to be the end of capitalism.”

Ergo, as people sell their lives and their souls to Facebook and Alphabet, they sell their economies along with them. That’s what that means. And you were just checking what your friends were doing. Or, that’s what you thought you were doing.

The solution to all these pains is, likely unintentionally, provided by Umair Haque’s critique of economics. It’s interesting to see how the topics ‘blend’, ‘intertwine’.

 

How Economics Failed the Economy

When, in the 1930s, the great economist Simon Kuznets created GDP, he deliberately left two industries out of this then novel, revolutionary idea of a national income : finance and advertising. [..] Kuznets logic was simple, and it was not mere opinion, but analytical fact: finance and advertising don’t create new value, they only allocate, or distribute existing value in the same way that a loan to buy a television isn’t the television, or an ad for healthcare isn’t healthcare. They are only means to goods, not goods themselves. Now we come to two tragedies of history.

What happened next is that Congress laughed, as Congresses do, ignored Kuznets, and included advertising and finance anyways for political reasons -after all, bigger, to the politicians mind, has always been better, and therefore, a bigger national income must have been better. Right? Let’s think about it. Today, something very curious has taken place.

If we do what Kuznets originally suggested, and subtract finance and advertising from GDP, what does that picture -a picture of the economy as it actually is reveal? Well, since the lion’s share of growth, more than 50% every year, comes from finance and advertising -whether via Facebook or Google or Wall St and hedge funds and so on- we would immediately see that the economic growth that the US has chased so desperately, so furiously, never actually existed at all.

Growth itself has only been an illusion, a trick of numbers, generated by including what should have been left out in the first place. If we subtracted allocative industries from GDP, we’d see that economic growth is in fact below population growth, and has been for a very long time now, probably since the 1980s and in that way, the US economy has been stagnant, which is (surprise) what everyday life feels like. Feels like.

Economic indicators do not anymore tell us a realistic, worthwhile, and accurate story about the truth of the economy, and they never did -only, for a while, the trick convinced us that reality wasn’t. Today, that trick is over, and economies grow , but people’s lives, their well-being, incomes, and wealth, do not, and that, of course, is why extremism is sweeping the globe. Perhaps now you begin to see why the two have grown divorced from one another: economics failed the economy.

Now let us go one step, then two steps, further. Finance and advertising are no longer merely allocative industries today. They are now extractive industries. That is, they internalize value from society, and shift costs onto society, all the while creating no value themselves.

The story is easiest to understand via Facebook’s example: it makes its users sadder, lonelier, and unhappier, and also corrodes democracy in spectacular and catastrophic ways. There is not a single upside of any kind that is discernible -and yet, all the above is counted as a benefit, not a cost, in national income, so the economy can thus grow, even while a society of miserable people are being manipulated by foreign actors into destroying their own democracy. Pretty neat, huh?

It was BECAUSE finance and advertising were counted as creative, productive, when they were only allocative, distributive that they soon became extractive. After all, if we had said from the beginning that these industries do not count, perhaps they would not have needed to maximize profits (or for VCs to pour money into them, and so on) endlessly to count more. But we didn’t.

And so soon, they had no choice but to become extractive: chasing more and more profits, to juice up the illusion of growth, and soon enough, these industries began to eat the economy whole, because of course, as Kuznets observed, they allocate everything else in the economy, and therefore, they control it.

Thus, the truly creative, productive, life-giving parts of the economy shrank in relative, and even in absolute terms, as they were taken apart, strip-mined, and consumed in order to feed the predatory parts of the economy, which do not expand human potential. The economy did eat itself, just as Marx had supposed – only the reason was not something inherent in it, but a choice, a mistake, a tragedy.

[..] Life is not flourishing, growing, or developing in a single way that I or even you can readily identify or name. And yet, the economy appears to be growing, because purely allocative and distributive enterprises like Uber, Facebook, credit rating agencies, endless nameless hedge funds, shady personal info brokers, and so on, which fail to contribute positively to human life in any discernible way whatsoever, are all counted as beneficial. Do you see the absurdity of it?

[..] It’s not a coincidence that the good has failed to grow, nor is it an act of the gods. It was a choice. A simple cause-effect relationship, of a society tricking itself into desperately pretending it was growing, versus truly growing. Remember not subtracting finance and advertising from GDP, to create the illusion of growth? Had America not done that, then perhaps it might have had to work hard to find ways to genuinely, authentically, meaningfully grow, instead of taken the easy way out, only to end up stagnating today, and unable to really even figure out why yet.

Industries that are not productive, but instead only extract money from society, need to be taxed so heavily they have trouble surviving. If that doesn’t happen, your economy will never thrive, or even survive. The whole service economy fata morgana must be thrown as far away as we can throw it. Economies must produce real, tangible things, or they die.

For the finance industry this means: tax the sh*t out of any transactions they engage in. Want to make money on complex derivatives? We’ll take 75+%. Upfront. And no, you can’t take your company overseas. Don’t even try.

For Uber and Airbnb it means pay taxes up the wazoo, either as a company or as individual home slash car owners. Uber and Airbnb take huge amounts of money out of local economies, societies, communities, which is nonsense, unnecessary and detrimental. Every city can set up its own local car- or home rental schemes. Their profits should stay within the community, and be invested in it.

For Google and Facebook as the world’s new major -only?!- ad agencies: Tax the heebies out of them or forbid them from running any ads at all. Why? Because they extract enormous amounts of productive capital from society. Capital they, as Varoufakis says, do not even themselves create.

YOU are creating the capital, and YOU then must pay for access to the capital created. Yeah, it feels like you can just hook up and look at what your friends are doing, but the price extracted from you, your friends, and your community is so high you would never volunteer to pay for it if you had any idea.

 

The one thing that I don’t see anyone address, and that might prevent these pretty straightforward ”tax-them-til they-bleed!” answers to the threat of New Big Tech, is that Facebook, Alphabet et al have built a very strong relationship with various intelligence communities. And then you have Goebbels and Bernays in the service of the CIA.

As Google, Facebook and the CIA are ever more entwined, these companies become so important to what ‘the spooks’ consider the interests of the nation that they will become mutually protective. And once CIA headquarters in Langley, VA, aka the aptly named “George Bush Center for Intelligence”, openly as well as secretly protects you, you’re pretty much set for life. A long life.

Next up: they’ll be taking over entire economies, societies. This is happening as we speak. I know, you were thinking it was ‘the Russians’ with a few as yet unproven bucks in Facebook ads that were threatening US and European democracies. Well, you’re really going to have to think again.

The world has never seen such technologies. It has never seen such intensity, depth of, or such dependence on, information. We are simply not prepared for any of this. But we need to learn fast, or become patsies and slaves in a full blown 1984 style piece of absurd theater. Our politicians are AWOL and MIA for all of it, they have no idea what to say or think, they don’t understand what Google or bitcoin or Uber really mean.

In the meantime, we know one thing we can do, and we can justify doing it through the concept of non-productive and extractive industries. That is, tax them till they bleed. That we would hit the finance industry with that as well is a welcome bonus. Long overdue. We need productive economies or we’re done. And Facebook and Alphabet -and Goldman Sachs- don’t produce d*ck all.

When you think about it, the only growth that’s left in the US economy is that of companies spying on American citizens. Well, that and Europeans. China has banned Facebook and Google. Why do you think they have? Because Google and Facebook ARE 1984, that’s why. And if there’s going to be a Big Brother in the Middle Kingdom, it’s not going to be Silicon Valley.