Jun 012018
 
 June 1, 2018  Posted by at 1:01 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Nikolay Dubovsky Became Silent 1890

 

“European Stocks Surge Celebrating New Spanish, Italian Governments”, says a Zero Hedge headline. “Markets Breathe Easier As Italy Government Sworn In”, proclaims Reuters. And I’m thinking: these markets are crazy, and none of this will last more than a few days. Or hours. The new Italian government is not the end of a problem, it’s the beginning of many of them.

And Italy is far from the only problem. The new Spanish government will be headed by Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez, who manoeuvred well to oust sitting PM Rajoy, but he also recently saw the worst election result in his party’s history. Not exactly solid ground. Moreover, he needed the support of Catalan factions, and will have to reverse much of Rajoy’s actions on the Catalunya issue, including probably the release from prison of those responsible for the independence referendum.

Nor is Spain exactly economically sound. Still, it’s not in as bad a shape as Turkey and Argentina. A JPMorgan graph published at Zero Hedge says a lot, along with the commentary on it:

The chart below, courtesy of Cembalest, shows each country’s current account (x-axis), the recent change in its external borrowing (y-axis) and the return on a blended portfolio of its equity and fixed income markets (the larger the red bubble, the worse the returns have been). This outcome looks sensible given weaker Argentine and Turkish fundamentals. And while Cembalest admits that the rising dollar and rising US rates will be a challenge for the broader EM space, most will probably not face balance of payments crises similar to what is taking place in Turkey and Argentina, of which the latter is already getting an IMF bailout and the former, well… it’s only a matter of time.

 

And now Erdogan has apparently upped the ante once more yesterday. Last week he called on the Turkish population to change their dollars and euros into lira’s, last night he ‘suggested’ they bring in their money from abroad (to profit from ‘beneficial tax rules’). Such things have, by and large, one effect only: the opposite of what he intends. He just makes his people more nervous than they already were.

It’s June 1, and the Turkish elections are June 24. Will Erdogan be able to keep things quiet enough in the markets? It’s doubtful. He has reportedly already claimed that the US and Israel are waging an economic war on Turkey. And for once he may be right. A few weeks ago Erdogan called on all member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to boycott all Israeli products (and presumably America products too).

On April 30, the IMF warned that the Turkish economy is showing “clear signs of overheating”. On May 1, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the Turkish economy to double-B-minus. Economic war? Feels a bit more like a political war. Erdogan has three weeks left to win that election. Don’t expect things to quieten down before then. But as the graph above shows, Turkey itself is the problem here first and foremost.

Expect Erdogan to say interest rates -usury- are immoral in Muslim countries. Expect much more pressure from the west on him. Erdogan has also been busy establishing Turkish ‘enclaves’ in Syria’s Afrin territory (where he chased out the original population) and in the Turkish-occupied northern part of Cyprus (where he added 100s of 1000s of Turks).

No, the West wouldn’t mourn if the man were defeated in the vote. They can add a lot more pressure in three weeks, and they will. Will it suffice? Hard to tell.

 

Back to Italy. Where the optimism comes from, I can’t fathom. The M5S-Lega coalition has never made a secret of its program and/or intentions. Just because pronounced eurosceptic Paolo Savona was shifted from Finance to EU minister doesn’t a summer make. New Finance minster Tria may be less outspoken than Savona, but he’s no europhile, and together the two men can be a woeful pain in Europe’s behind. This is Italy. This is not Sparta.

The essence of the M5S-Lega program is painfully simple: they reject austerity as the basics of economic policy. And austerity is all that Europe’s policy has been based on for the past decade at least. That spells collision course. And there is zero indication that the new coalition is willing to give an inch on this. Tsipras may have in Greece, but Italy’s sheer size means it has a lot more clout.

To begin with, the program wants to do away with the Eurozone’s 3% deficit rule. It speaks of a 15-20% flat tax, and a €780 basic income. These two measures would cost between €109 billion and €126 billion, or 6 to 7% of Italian GDP. As Italy’s public debt stand at €2.4 trillion, 132% of GDP.

“The government’s actions will target a programme of public debt reduction not through revenue based on taxes and austerity, policies that have not achieved their goal, but rather through increased GDP by the revival of internal demand,” the program says. Yes, that is the opposite of austerity.

The parties want a roll-back of previously announced pension measures to a situation where the sum of a person’s age and years of social security contributions reach 100. If someone has worked, and contributed to social security for 40 years, they will be able to retire at 60, not at 67 as the present plans demand.

In an additional plan that will make them very popular at home amongst the corrupt political class, the parties want to slash the number of parliamentarians to 400 MPs (from 630) and 200 senators (from 318). They would be banned from changing political parties during the legislature.

 

And then there are the mini-Bots, a parallel currency system very reminiscent of what Yanis Varoufakis proposed for Greece. Basically, they would allow the government to pay some of its domestic obligations (suppliers etc.) in the form of IOUs, which could then in turn be used to pay taxes and -other- government services. They would leave what is domestic, domestic.

There’s a lot of talk about this being a first step towards leaving the euro, but why should that be so? The main ‘threat’ lies in the potential independence from Brussels it may provide a country with. But it’s a closed system: you can’t pay with mini-Bots for trade or other international obligations.

Italy, like an increasing number of Eurozone nations, is looking for a way to get its head out of the Brussels/Berlin noose that’s threatening to suffocate it. If the EU doesn’t react to this, and soon, and in a positive manner it will blow itself up. Yes, if Italy started to let its debt balloon, the European Commission could reprimand it and issue fines. But the Commission wouldn’t dare do that. This is Italy. This is not Sparta.

Anyway, risk off, as the markets suggest(ed) this morning? Surely you’re joking. And we haven’t even mentioned Trump’s trade wars yet. Risk is ballooning.

 

 

Apr 242018
 
 April 24, 2018  Posted by at 9:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


John French Sloan A Woman’s Work 1912

 

Japan Can Begin Reducing Stimulus In Five Years – Kuroda (CNBC)
ECB Mulls Shelving Rules Tackling Euro Zone’s Bad Loans Pile (R.)
The Return Of Honest Bond Yields (Stockman)
Stop and Assess (Jim Kunstler)
The Chinese Car Invasion Is Coming (BBG)
Greek Primary Surplus Comes At The Expense Of Growth (K.)
Tensions Grow On Greek Islands (K.)
The UK Has Turned The Right To Education Into A Charitable Cause (G.)
UK Food Bank Use Reaches Highest Rate On Record (Ind.)
Finland To End Basic Income Trial After Two Years (G.)

 

 

Abenomics is a miserable failure. Which is why Abe’s popularity is scraping the gutter. But we keep on pretending. Five years? Why not make it ten, or fifty? Kuroda is stuck….

Japan Can Begin Reducing Stimulus In Five Years – Kuroda (CNBC)

The Bank of Japan will be able to begin winding down its extraordinary monetary stimulus within the next five years, the head of the central bank said. “Sometime within the next five years, we will reach [our] 2% inflation target,” Governor Haruhiko Kuroda told CNBC’s Sara Eisen over the weekend. Once that level is reached, we will start “discussing how to gradually normalize the monetary condition.” Kuroda began his second five-year term this year. He has implemented a massive stimulus policy by cutting the central bank’s benchmark interest rate to negative, keeping the 10-year Japanese government bond yield near 0% in an effort to control the yield curve and stepping up the Bank of Japan’s asset purchases.

However, inflation remains low. Japan reported its consumer price index, excluding fresh food and energy, rose 0.5% in the 12 months through March. “In order to reach [our] 2% inflation target, I think the Bank of Japan must continue very strong accommodative monetary policy for some time,” Kuroda added in his interview with CNBC. Japan’s efforts to boost the sluggish national economy come amid steady growth around the world. The IMF predicts the global economy will increase 3.9% this year and next. Kuroda agreed with the positive outlook. “The world economy will continue to grow at a relatively high pace,” he said. For this year and next, “we don’t see any sign of a turning point.” But protectionism, unexpected rapid tightening of monetary policy in some countries, and geopolitical tensions in North Korea and the Middle East pose potential risks, Kuroda said.

Read more …

… and Draghi is stuck too. My article yesterday was timely. The outgoing Bundesbank director in charge of banking supervision says the ECB’s credibility is at stake. A dangerous thing to say.

ECB Mulls Shelving Rules Tackling Euro Zone’s Bad Loans Pile (R.)

The European Central Bank, after suffering a political backlash, is considering shelving planned rules that would have forced banks to set aside more money against their stock of unpaid loans. The guidelines, which were expected by March, had been presented as a main plank of the ECB’s plan to bring down a 759 billion euro ($930 billion) pile of soured credit weighing on euro zone banks, particularly in Greece, Portugal and Italy. The ECB was now considering whether further policies on legacy non-performing loans (NPLs) were necessary “depending on the progress made by individual banks”, an ECB spokeswoman said.

No decision had been made yet and the next steps were still being evaluated, she said. Central Bank sources told Reuters that if the rules were scrapped, supervisors would look to continue putting pressure on problem banks using existing powers. An alternative would be to hold off until the results of pan-European stress tests are published in November but this would be close to the end of Daniele Nouy’s mandate as the head of the ECB’s Single Supervisory Mechanism at the end of the year. A clean-up of banks’ balance sheets from toxic assets inherited from the financial crisis is a precondition for getting countries like Germany to agree on a common euro zone insurance on bank deposits.

And Andreas Dombret, the outgoing Bundesbank director in charge of banking supervision, said in an interview published on Monday that the ECB’s credibility was at stake. “One cannot say that NPLs are one of the biggest risk for the European banking sector and a top priority and then fail to act,” he told Boersen-Zeitung. “It’s about the credibility of the SSM,” he said, calling for a “timely proposal”.

Read more …

And as the central bankers find themselves trapped, the bond vigilantes roam free.

The Return Of Honest Bond Yields (Stockman)

In the wee hours this AM, the yield on the 10-year treasury note hit 2.993%. That’s close enough for gubermint work to say that the big 3.00% inflection point has now been tripped. And it means, in turn, that the end days of the Bubble Finance era have well and truly commenced. In a word, honest bond yields will knock the stuffings out of the mainstream fairy tale that passes for economic and financial reality. And in a 2-3% inflation world, by honest bond yields we mean 3% + on the front-end and 4-5% on the back-end of the yield curve. Needless to say, that means big trouble for the myth of MAGA. As we demonstrated in part 2, since the Donald’s inauguration there has been no acceleration in the main street economy—just the rigor mortis spasms of a stock market that has been endlessly juiced with cheap debt.

But the Trump boomlet in the stock averages has now hit its sell-by date. That’s because today’s egregiously inflated equity prices are in large part a product of debt-fueled corporate financial engineering—stock buybacks, unearned dividends and massive M&A dealing. Thus, since the pre-crisis peak in Q3 2007 nonfinancial corporate sector value added is up by 34%, but corporate debt securities outstanding have risen by 85%; and the overwhelming share of that massive debt increase was used to fund financial engineering, not productive assets and future earnings growth. In a world of honest interest rates, of course, this explosion of non-productive debt would have chewed into earnings good and hard because the borrowed cash went to Wall Street, not into the wherewithal of earnings growth.

In fact, during the past 10 years, net value added generated by US nonfinancial corporations rose by just $2 trillion (from $6.1 trillion to $8.1 trillion per annum), whereas corporate debt rose by nearly $3 trillion (from $3.3 trillion to $6.1 trillion). So it should have been a losing battle—with interest expense rising far faster than operating profits. But owing to the Fed’s misguided theory that it can make the main street economy bigger and stronger by falsifying interest rates and other financial asset prices, the C-suite financial engineers got a free hall pass. That is, they pleasured Wall Street by pumping massive amounts of borrowed cash back into the casino, but got no black mark on their P&Ls.

Read more …

“That’s what happens when money is just a representation of debt that can’t be paid back.”

Stop and Assess (Jim Kunstler)

Let’s pause today and make an assessment of where things stand in this country as Winter finally coils into Spring. As you might expect, a nation overrun with lawyers has litigated itself into a cul-de-sac of charges, arrests, suits, countersuits, and allegations that will rack up billable hours until the Rockies tumble. The best outcome may be that half the lawyers in this land will put the other half in jail, and then, finally, there will be space for the rest of us to re-connect with reality.

What does that reality consist of? Troublingly, an economy that can’t go on as we would like it to: a machine that spews out ever more stuff for ever more people. We really have reached limits for an industrial economy based on cheap, potent energy supplies. The energy, oil especially, isn’t cheap anymore. The fantasy that we can easily replace it with wind turbines, solar panels, and as-yet-unseen science projects is going to leave a lot of people not just disappointed but bereft, floundering, and probably dead, unless we make some pretty severe readjustments in daily life.

We’ve been papering this problem over by borrowing so much money from the future to cover costs today that eventually it will lose its meaning as money — that is, faith that it is worth anything. That’s what happens when money is just a representation of debt that can’t be paid back. This habit of heedless borrowing has enabled the country to pretend that it is functioning effectively. Lately, this game of pretend has sent the financial corps into a rapture of jubilation. The market speed bumps of February are behind us and the road ahead looks like the highway to Vegas at dawn on a summer’s day.

Tesla is the perfect metaphor for where the US economy is at: a company stuffed with debt plus government subsidies, unable to deliver the wished-for miracle product — affordable electric cars — whirling around the drain into bankruptcy. Tesla has been feeding one of the chief fantasies of the day: that we can banish climate problems caused by excessive CO2, while giving a new lease on life to the (actually) futureless suburban living arrangement that we foolishly invested so much of our earlier capital building. In other words, pounding sand down a rat hole.

Read more …

Yeah, we need more cars…

The Chinese Car Invasion Is Coming (BBG)

On a bright spring day in Amsterdam, car buffs stepped inside a blacked-out warehouse to nibble on lamb skewers and sip rhubarb cocktails courtesy of Lynk & Co., which was showing off its new hybrid SUV. What seemed like just another launch of a new vehicle was actually something more: the coming-out party for China’s globally ambitious auto industry. For the first time, a Chinese-branded car will be made in Western Europe for sale there, with the ultimate goal of landing in U.S. showrooms.

That’s the master plan of billionaire Li Shufu, who has catapulted from founding Geely Group as a refrigerator maker in the 1980s to owning Volvo Cars, British sports carmaker Lotus, London Black Cabs and the largest stake in Daimler —the inventor of the automobile. Li is spearheading China’s aspirations to wedge itself among the big three of the global car industry—the U.S., Germany and Japan—so they become the Big Four. “I want the whole world to hear the cacophony generated by Geely and other made-in-China cars,” Li told Bloomberg News. “Geely’s dream is to become a globalized company. To do that, we must get out of the country.”

[..] Chinese companies have announced at least $31 billion in overseas deals during the past five years, buying stakes in carmakers and parts producers, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The most prolific buyer is Li, who spent almost $13 billion on stakes in Daimler and truckmaker Volvo. Tencent Holdings Ltd., Asia’s biggest internet company, paid about $1.8 billion for 5% of Tesla. As software and electronics become just as critical to a car as the engine, China is ensuring it doesn’t lag behind in that market, either. Baidu, owner of the nation’s biggest search engine, announced a $1.5 billion Apollo Fund to invest in 100 autonomous-driving projects during the next three years.

“We have secured a chance to compete in the U.S. market of self-driving cars through those partnerships,” Li Zhengyu, a vice president overseeing Baidu’s intelligent-driving unit, told Bloomberg News. “Everyone has a good chance to win if it has good development plans.”

Read more …

The Troika demands that Greece kills its society even more. 4.2% of GDP disappears from the economy. Where it’s so badly needed.

Greek Primary Surplus Comes At The Expense Of Growth (K.)

The 2017 budget has officially registered a record primary surplus of 4.2% of GDP, against a target for 1.75%, but this came at a particularly heavy price for the economy, which grew just 1.4% against a budget target for 2.7%. It is obvious that securing primary surpluses of more than twice the target, depriving the economy of precious resources, is directly associated with the stagnation of growth compared to original projections. It is no coincidence that consumption edged up just 0.1% last year, which analysts have attributed to taxpayers’ exhaustion due to overtaxation. The surplus was mainly a result of drastic cuts to the Public Investments Program (by about 800 million euros) and social benefits, due to the delay in the application of the Social Solidarity Income.

The government was quick to express its satisfaction upon the release of the fiscal results by the Hellenic Statistical Authority on Monday, although it was just two years ago that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras accused the previous administration of setting excessive targets for the primary surpluses of 2016, 2017 and 2018 at 4.5% of GDP. Eventually he reached that target with his own government, although the creditors had lowered the bar, to 1.75% for 2017 and 3.5% this year. The Finance Ministry spoke yesterday of proof of “the credibility of the fiscal management,” adding that “those data show that not only is the target of 3.5% feasible for this and the coming years, but there will also be some fiscal space for targeted tax easing and social expenditure in the post-program period.”

That reference concerns the so-called “countermeasures” the government has planned in case it exceeds the 3.5% target in the 2019 and 2020 primary surpluses, but for now they are at the discretion of the IMF, which will decide next month whether they can be introduced. Obviously Athens hopes the 2017 figures will positively affect the Fund’s view. There was also a positive response from Brussels on Monday, with European Commissioner for Economic Affairs Pierre Moscovici and Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas stating that the efforts and sacrifices of the Greek people are now paying dividend.

Read more …

The new head of the Greek Asylum Service flatly ignores the Council of State. Greek justice system overpowered by Brussels and Berlin.

Tensions Grow On Greek Islands (K.)

Concerns have peaked over tensions on the Aegean islands following clashes between residents of Lesvos and migrants in Mytilene port which led to several injuries. Riot police were forced to intervene early Monday morning after dozens of local residents started protesting the presence of migrants in the main square of Mytilene. The migrants, who had been camping in the square since last Tuesday demanding to be allowed to leave the island, were put onto buses and taken back to overcrowded state facilities. According to local reports, the protesters threw flares, firecrackers and stones at the migrants, who formed a circle around women and children to protect them.

Some protesters chanted “Burn them alive,” according to reports which suggested that members of far-right groups were involved. Police detained 122 people – all but two of whom were Afghan migrants – while 28 people were transferred to the hospital for first-aid treatment, 22 of whom were migrants. Political parties issued statements blaming the attack on far-right groups. The mayor of Lesvos, Spyros Galinos, did not rule out the presence of extremists on the island but pointed to broader frustration among locals. “Society is reacting as a whole,” said Galinos, who had appealed to the government last week to reduce overcrowding on the islands.

[..] meanwhile, the new head of the Greek Asylum Service, Markos Karavias, signed an agreement effectively restricting migrants arriving on the Aegean islands from traveling on to the mainland. A Council of State ruling last week overturned previous asylum service restrictions on migrants leaving the islands. The government’s proposed changes to asylum laws – aimed at speeding up the slow pace at which applications are processed – are to be discussed in Parliament on Tuesday.

Read more …

How poor Britain is becoming.

The UK Has Turned The Right To Education Into A Charitable Cause (G.)

My nine-year-old son looks at me anxiously. “Mum, you definitely, definitely have my sponsor money plus an extra pound, which I need for the fundraising games. We have to bring it in today.” I search through my wallet for a quid each for him and his brother. I’ve got no cash on me. “We have to,” he repeats, his voice going wobbly. I stick an IOU in his piggy bank and the day is saved. Yet again. And yet again I feel infuriated and indignant at being put in this position. Then I feel even more cross that I now feel mean. Cake sale, plant sale, ticket for a pamper evening, music quiz, another cake sale, school disco (with associated plastic tat and penny sweets on sale), pay to see Santa, raffle for the chocolate hamper (that you’ve already sent in the goddamn chocolate for), dress up for World Book Day (that’s a quid), go pink for breast cancer research (that’s two quid) and why not run a sponsored mile for Sport Relief while you’re at it.

Then … ping! Oh joy, a text from school – another (another?!) cake sale. How much sugar is going down in that playground? The texts keep flooding in. Ransack your wardrobe for Bag 2 School; send in dosh so your child can buy you a Mother’s Day present; scrabble through your (now denuded) wardrobe for next week’s clothes swap and pretty please, the PTA would appreciate donations of booze for this year’s summer fete. If enough of you don’t stump up by Friday, you’ll be harangued daily until you do. Welcome to summer term, peak time for school fundraising – and what feels like a constant assault. Let’s put aside my irritation at being “chugged” via leaflets in book-bags and my mobile phone, in principle it’s a good thing for kids to think about the needs of people other than themselves, so I’ll swallow official charity fundraisers on that basis, even if those charities might not be my personal choice.

What is outrageous, though, is the assumption in some schools that parents can easily afford to donate on a virtually weekly basis, and the idea that we should expect to be paying on top of our taxes for our children’s state education. Schools, suffering the terrible results of the government’s austerity policies, have cut to the chase and are now pumping parents for regular direct debits to cover essentials. But is asking parents to pay doing pupils’ education any good?

Read more …

No surprise.

UK Food Bank Use Reaches Highest Rate On Record (Ind.)

Food bank use has soared at a higher rate than ever in the past year as welfare benefits fail to cover basic living costs, the UK’s national food bank provider has warned. Figures from the Trussel Trust show that in the year to March 2018, 1,332,952 three-day emergency food supplies were delivered to people in crisis across the UK – a 13% increase on last year. This marks a considerably higher increase than the previous financial year, when it rose by 6%. Low income is the biggest single – and fastest growing – reason for referral to food banks, accounting for 28% of referrals compared to 26% in the previous year. Analysis of trends over time demonstrates it has significantly increased since April 2016.

Being in debt also accounted for an increasing percentage of referrals – at 9% of referrals up from 8% in the past year. The cost of housing and utility bills are increasingly driving food bank referrals for this reason, with the proportion of referrals due to housing debt and utility bill debt increasing significantly since April 2016. The other main primary referral reasons in the past year were benefit delays (24%) and benefit changes (18%). “Reduction in benefit value” have the fastest growth rate of all referrals made due to a benefit change, while those due to “moving to a different benefit” have also grown significantly.

Read more …

It’s dangerous when people trial basic income schemes who don’t understand them. Others will say: it failed in Finland! No it didn’t. It has to be universal, and this is not.

Finland To End Basic Income Trial After Two Years (G.)

Europe’s first national government-backed experiment in giving citizens free cash will end next year after Finland decided not to extend its widely publicised basic income trial and to explore alternative welfare schemes instead. Since January 2017, a random sample of 2,000 unemployed people aged 25 to 58 have been paid a monthly €560 (£475) , with no requirement to seek or accept employment. Any recipients who took a job continued to receive the same amount. The government has turned down a request for extra funding from Kela, the Finnish social security agency, to expand the two-year pilot to a group of employees this year, and said payments to current participants will end next January.

It has also introduced legislation making some benefits for unemployed people contingent on taking training or working at least 18 hours in three months. “The government is making changes taking the system away from basic income,” Kela’s Miska Simanainen told the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. The scheme – aimed primarily at seeing whether a guaranteed income might incentivise people to take up paid work by smoothing out gaps in the welfare system – is strictly speaking not a universal basic income (UBI) trial, because the payments are made to a restricted group and are not enough to live on.

But it was hoped it would shed light on policy issues such as whether an unconditional payment might reduce anxiety among recipients and allow the government to simplify a complex social security system that is struggling to cope with a fast-moving and insecure labour market. Olli Kangas, an expert involved in the trial, told the Finnish public broadcaster YLE: “Two years is too short a period to be able to draw extensive conclusions from such a big experiment. We should have had extra time and more money to achieve reliable results.”

Read more …

Dec 262017
 
 December 26, 2017  Posted by at 11:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edward Hopper Christmas card 1928

 

Shale Gas Fuels 40% Increase In Funding For Plastics Production (G.)
Bitcoin Could Crash Financial Markets Because Of Massive Borrowing (MW)
Was Coinbase’s Bitcoin Cash Rollout A Designed Hit? (Luongo)
Japan PM Abe Urges Firms To Raise Wages By 3% Or More (R.)
Japan’s Household Spending Jumps But BOJ Seen Keeping Stimulus (R.)
Shanghai Sets Population At 25 Million To Avoid ‘Big City Disease’ (G./R.)
Europe Banks Brace For Huge Overhaul That Opens The Doors To Their Data (CNBC)
Scotland United In Curiosity As Councils Trial Universal Basic Income (G.)
UK Asylum Offices ‘In A Constant State Of Crisis’, Say Whistleblowers (G.)
‘Normality’ To Be Restored At Moria By End of January – Greek Minister (K.)
UNHCR Calls For Migrant Transfers, Blames Greece For Grim Conditions (K.)

 

 

It’s up to you to refuse plastics. Nothing else will work.

Shale Gas Fuels 40% Increase In Funding For Plastics Production (G.)

The global plastic binge which is already causing widespread damage to oceans, habitats and food chains, is set to increase dramatically over the next 10 years after multibillion dollar investments in a new generation of plastics plants in the US. Fossil fuel companies are among those who have plooughed more than $180bn since 2010 into new “cracking” facilities that will produce the raw material for everyday plastics from packaging to bottles, trays and cartons. The new facilities – being built by corporations like Exxon Mobile Chemical and Shell Chemical – will help fuel a 40% rise in plastic production in the next decade, according to experts, exacerbating the plastic pollution crisis that scientist warn already risks “near permanent pollution of the earth.”

“We could be locking in decades of expanded plastics production at precisely the time the world is realising we should use far less of it,” said Carroll Muffett, president of the US Center for International Environmental Law, which has analysed the plastic industry. “Around 99% of the feedstock for plastics is fossil fuels, so we are looking at the same companies, like Exxon and Shell, that have helped create the climate crisis. There is a deep and pervasive relationship between oil and gas companies and plastics.” Greenpeace UK’s senior oceans campaigner Louise Edge said any increase in the amount of plastic ending up in the oceans would have a disastrous impact. “We are already producing more disposable plastic than we can deal with, more in the last decade than in the entire twentieth century, and millions of tonnes of it are ending up in our oceans.”

The huge investment in plastic production has been driven by the shale gas boom in the US. This has resulted in one of the raw materials used to produce plastic resin – natural gas liquids – dropping dramatically in price. The American Chemistry Council says that since 2010 this has led to $186bn dollars being invested in 318 new projects. Almost half of them are already under construction or have been completed. The rest are at the planning stage. “I can summarise [the boom in plastics facilities] in two words,” Kevin Swift, chief economist at the ACC, told the Guardian. “Shale gas.”

Read more …

For now, crypto is too small to sink anything at all, but a potential future issue is: If derivatives and leverage play such a big role in crypto, how exactly is it different from all other ‘investments’?

Bitcoin Could Crash Financial Markets Because Of Massive Borrowing (MW)

Bitcoin mania is starting to look like a religion. I say that because both bitcoin and religion involve faith in the unknowable. Some bitcoin investors believe the cryptocurrency, along with the underlying blockchain technology, will be a vital part of a new, decentralized, post-government society. I can’t prove that won’t happen — nor can bitcoin evangelists prove it will. Like life after death, they can only say it’s out there beyond the horizon. If you believe in bitcoin paradise, fine. It’s your business … until your faith puts everyone else at risk. As of this month, bitcoin is doing it. Is bitcoin in a price bubble? I think so. Asset bubbles usually only hurt the buyers who overpay, but that changes when you add leverage to the equation.

Leverage means “buying with borrowed money.” So when you buy something with borrowed money and can’t repay it, the lender loses too. The problem spreads further when lenders themselves are leveraged. For bitcoin mania to infect the entire financial system, like securitized mortgages did in 2008, buyers would have to use leverage. The bad news is that a growing number do just that. In the U.S., we have a Financial Stability Oversight Council to watch for system-wide vulnerabilities. The FSOC issued its 164-page annual report this month. Here’s its plan on bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies: It is desirable for financial regulators to monitor and analyze their effects on financial stability. Sounds like FSOC is on the case — or at least will be on it, someday. Meanwhile, this month commodity regulators allowed two different U.S. exchanges to launch bitcoin futures contracts.

Oddly, instead of griping about slow regulatory approval, futures industry leaders think the government moved too fast. To get why, you need to understand how futures exchanges work. One key difference between a regulated futures exchange and a private bet between two parties is that the exchange absorbs counterparty risk. When you buy, say, gold futures, you don’t have to worry that whoever sold you the contract will disappear and not pay up. If you close your trade at a profit, the exchange clearinghouse guarantees payment. The clearinghouse consists of the exchange’s member brokerage firms. They all pledge their own capital as a backstop to keep the exchange running. So when the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) gave exchanges the green light to launch bitcoin futures, member firms collectively said (I’ll paraphrase here): “WTF?”

Read more …

No matter if crypto surges or collapses in 2018, controversies will be much much bigger than this year. Just getting started.

Was Coinbase’s Bitcoin Cash Rollout A Designed Hit? (Luongo)

[..] if there is a path to harming Bitcoin and the cryptocurrency market available to the money center banks, then they will always opt for it. I’ve been pretty vocal about the need for having a slow, annoying reserve asset in the cryptocurrency space. I’ve talked about it multiple times (here and here). This doesn’t jibe with Bitcoin Cash proponent and Bitcoin.com CEO Roger Ver’s image of Bitcoin. And that is to Roger’s credit, actually. It’s pretty obvious from a cursory glance at Roger’s Twitter feed that he approaches Bitcoin as a radical libertarian/Austrian Economist would — a purely decentralized, trustless money that can wrest control of the world’s monetary system from rentiers in Government and Banking. Music to my ears. On the other hand is the very shady attitude of Blockstream and the Bitcoin Core group who prevailed in the Segwit 2x fight, which, from Roger Ver’s perspective is actually a mop-up operation, not the decisive battle in the war.

“The reason there is so much hostility from Bitcoin Core towards Bitcoin Cash is because Core knows they have stolen the name but are advocating a completely different system than what was originally described by Satoshi. Bitcoin Cash is Bitcoin” — Roger Ver (@rogerkver) December 19, 2017

The real battle for the soul of Bitcoin happened back in August with the fork that created Bitcoin Cash. Complaining about all of these other forks, to Roger, is like closing the barn door after the horses are gone. By keeping Bitcoin slow and expensive they create the need for new solutions to improve it. Why solve a problem when you can artificially create one and then sell everyone the solution? So, I’m ambivalent about this fight for the soul of Bitcoin, because I want a real digital analogue to Gold which only moves the most important transactions. I don’t want all coins to be all things to all people. But, I also know that with this much money at stake there will be pushback from the ‘powers-that-be.’ The Banks and central banks are staring at an existential threat to their future and are doing what they can to stop it from happening. And that, to them, means gaining control over the Bitcoin blockchain. It also means cutting off the means of entry and exit from the cryptocurrency market for average people.

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Unemployment in Japan is almost non-existent, but apparently markets don’t work the way they’re supposed to. Tight labor doesn’t lead to higher wages.

Japan PM Abe Urges Firms To Raise Wages By 3% Or More (R.)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday urged companies to raise wages by 3% or more next year, keeping up pressure on firms to spend their huge cash pile on wages to broaden the benefits of his “Abenomics” stimulus policies.“We must sustain and strengthen Japan’s positive economic cycle next year to achieve our long-standing goal of beating deflation,” Abe said in a speech at a meeting of Japan’s biggest business lobby Keidanren. “For that, I’d like to ask companies to raise wages by 3% or higher next spring,” he said. Wages at big companies have been rising slightly more than 2% each year since 2014, government data shows, and an increase of 3% or more next year would help the Bank of Japan to reach its elusive 2% inflation target.

BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda told the same meeting that companies remain hesitant to raise wages because they had become accustomed to prioritising job security over wage hikes during 15 years of deflation. “With consumers remaining reluctant to accept price rises, many firms are concerned about losing customers if they raise prices,” he said. “It seems so difficult for many firms to take the first step to raise their prices, that they wait and see what other firms are doing.” Sadayuki Sakakibara, chairman of Keidanren, made no reference to wages at his speech at the meeting, focusing instead on the need for Japan to get its fiscal house in order. “We’d like to strongly call on the need to restore fiscal health,” as worries over the sustainability of Japan’s social welfare system could discourage consumers to spend, he said.

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“..due mostly to a boost from rising fuel costs that is seen fading in 2018..”

Japan’s Household Spending Jumps But BOJ Seen Keeping Stimulus (R.)

Japan’s households spent more than expected in November while consumer inflation ticked up and the jobless rate hit a fresh 24-year low, offering the central bank some hope an economic recovery will drive up inflation to its 2% target. But the increase in prices was due mostly to a boost from rising fuel costs that is seen fading in 2018, keeping the Bank of Japan under pressure to maintain its huge monetary support even as other central banks seek an end to crisis-mode policies. Minutes of the BOJ’s October rate review showed that while most central bank policymakers saw no need to ramp up stimulus, they agreed on the need to sustain “powerful” monetary easing for the time being. “There’s a chance inflation may gradually accelerate toward the fiscal year beginning in April,” as a tightening job market pressures companies to raise wages, said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute.

“But inflation remains distant from the BOJ’s 2% target, so the central bank will probably maintain its current policy framework.” Spending was driven by broadbased gains, with households loosening the purse strings for items such as refrigerators, washing machines, and sporting goods and services such as eating-out and travel. Data also showed wage earners’ disposable income rose 1.8% in November from a year earlier, suggesting that higher incomes have encouraged consumers to open their wallets. The nationwide core consumer price index (CPI), which includes oil goods but excludes volatile fresh food prices, rose 0.9% in November from a year earlier, government data showed on Tuesday, marking the 11th straight month of gains. The pace of price growth was just ahead of October’s 0.8% and a median market forecast of the same rate.

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Illusions of control. China’s no. 1 threat.

Shanghai Sets Population At 25 Million To Avoid ‘Big City Disease’ (G./R.)

China’s financial hub of Shanghai will limit its population to 25 million people by 2035 as part of a quest to manage “big city disease”, authorities have said. The State Council said on its website late on Monday the goal to control the size of the city was part of Shanghai’s masterplan for 2017-2035, which the government body had approved. “By 2035, the resident population in Shanghai will be controlled at around 25 million and the total amount of land made available for construction will not exceed 3,200 square kilometres,” it said. State media has defined “big city disease” as arising when a megacity becomes plagued with environmental pollution, traffic congestion and a shortage of public services, including education and medical care.

But some experts doubt the feasibility of the plans, with one researcher at a Chinese government thinktank describing the scheme as “unpractical and against the social development trend”. Migrant workers and the city’s poor would suffer the most, predicted Liang Zhongtang last year in an interview with state media, when Shanghai’s target was being drafted. The government set a similar limit for Beijing in September, declaring the city’s population should not exceed 23 million by 2020. Beijing had a population of 21.5 million in 2014. Officials also want to reduce the population of six core districts by 15% compared with 2014 levels. To help achieve this goal authorities said in April some government agencies, state-owned companies and other “non-core” functions of the Chinese capital would be moved to a newly created city about 100 kilometres south of Beijing.

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Well, actually, your data, that is.

Europe Banks Brace For Huge Overhaul That Opens The Doors To Their Data (CNBC)

From current accounts to credit cards, established lenders have access to vast amounts of information that financial technology (fintech) competitors could only dream of. In Europe, that could all be about to change. On January 8, banks operating in the European Union will be forced to open up their customer data to third party firms — that is, when customers give consent. EU lawmakers hope that the introduction of the revised Payment Services Directive (PSD2) will give non-banking firms the chance to compete with banks in the payments business and give consumers more choice over financial products and services. Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has set out similar plans to let customers share their data with other banks and third parties.

With customer consent, U.K. banks will be required to give authorized third-party firms access to current account data. Those regulations form part of a conceptual transition known as “open banking.” Under an open banking framework, proponents say, non-banking firms — from corporations as big as Amazon and IBM to start-ups — would be able create new financial products by utilizing the data of banks. Banks will be required to build application programming interfaces (APIs) — sets of code that give third parties secure access to their back-end data. Those APIs serve as channels for developers to get to the data and build their own products and services around it.

Such information could serve as a tool to understand things such as customers’ spending habits or credit history, and could lead to the creation of new services. “In a world of open banking, the customer can choose a provider in each part of the value chain. And each bank has to participate in the value chain as an earners’ right to be there,” Anne Boden, co-founder and chief executive of U.K. mobile-only bank Starling, told CNBC in an interview earlier this year. [..] Some European lenders are giving early signals as to what a post-PSD2 world will look like. Spain’s BBVA, Denmark’s Saxo Bank, Nordic lender Nordea and Ireland’s Ulster Bank have already published open developer portals ahead of the EU legislation.

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UBI experiments that are poorly designed are real threats to the principle.

Scotland United In Curiosity As Councils Trial Universal Basic Income (G.)

In Scotland, a country wearily familiar with divisions of a constitutional nature, the concept of a basic income is almost unique in enjoying multi-party favour. Across the four areas currently designing basic income pilots – Glasgow, Edinburgh, Fife and North Ayrshire – the projects have variously been championed by Labour, SNP, Green and, in one case, Conservative councillors. Matt Kerr, who has tirelessly lobbied for the idea through Glasgow city council, said: “Reactions to basic income have not split along the usual left/right party lines. Some people to the left of the Labour party think that it undermines the role of trade unions and others take the opposite view. But there should be room for scepticism; you need that to get the right policy.” Advocates are aware such unity of purpose is precious and worth preserving.

“The danger is that this falls into party blocks,” said Kerr. “If people can unite around having a curiosity about [it] then I’m happy with that. But having the first minister on board has done us no harm at all.” Inevitably, Sturgeon’s declared interest has invited criticism from her opponents. A civil service briefing paper on basic income, which expressed concerns that the “conflicting and confusing” policy could be a disincentive to work and costed its national roll-out at £12.3bn a year, was obtained by the Scottish Conservatives through a freedom of information request in October. The party accused her of “pandering to the extreme left of the [independence] movement”. But advocates argue the figures fail to take into account savings the scheme would bring.

The independent thinktank Reform Scotland, which published a briefing earlier this month setting out a suggested basic income of £5,200 for every adult, has calculated that much of the cost could be met through a combination of making work-related benefits obsolete and changes to the tax system, including scrapping the personal allowance and merging national insurance and income tax. [..] Joe Cullinane, the Labour leader of North Ayrshire council, said: “We have high levels of deprivation and high unemployment, so we take the view that the current system is failing us and we need to look at something new to lift people out of poverty. “Basic income has critics and supporters on the left and right, which tells you there are very different ways of shaping it and we need to state at the outset that this is a progressive change, to remove that fear and allow people to have greater control over their lives, to enter the labour market on their own terms.”

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“Two whistleblowers claim Home Office departments delay asylum applications for profit..

UK Asylum Offices ‘In A Constant State Of Crisis’, Say Whistleblowers (G.)

Staff in the Home Office’s asylum directorate are undertrained, overworked and operating in a “constant state of crisis”, two whistleblowers have claimed, as applicants endure long waits to have their case dealt with due to internal pressures. The Home Office staff have also told the Guardian that asylum case workers are making poor decisions about applications because they are under pressure to focus on more profitable visa applications. Despite a “shocking increase in complaints (from applicants) and MP enquiries questioning delays”, they say caseworkers have been told to brush off all enquires and “just give standard lines” of response when called to account.

A source from the UK Visa and Immigration Unit (UKVI) has alleged that caseworkers have been ordered to kick applications for spousal visas “into the long grass” because they can make more money for the directorate by processing student visas. Spousal visas, also known as settlement visas, cost more than student visas but take much longer to process. The source also claims visa applications are routinely labelled “complex” or ”non-straightforward” by staff – a term which excuses the UKVI from adhering to their standard processing times – it is, the source claimed, “just a euphemism for ‘there’s more profitable stuff we could be doing’”. Paying hundreds of pounds for priority services to try to avoid delays on decisions is a “waste of time”, they warned applicants.

The allegations reflect concerns expressed in a report earlier this year by David Bolt, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, who said the Home Office is not “in effective control” of its asylum process. [..] Some of the more shocking findings from Bolt’s report included pregnant women being made to wait more than two years for decisions on their immigration applications; an increasing numbers of applicants having their immigration applications registered as “not straightforward” and endlessly delayed; and Home Office employees being “pushed to the limit” by individual targets and threatened with disciplinary action as deadlines approach.

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At least one more month of utter despair, with little reason to assume any improvement by then. Mouzalas cannot escape his part of the blame.. That said, he’s not lying when he says “Here in Moria we have a problem with unaccompanied minor refugees. We have asked Europe to take a share of these children. It refuses to do so..”

‘Normality’ To Be Restored At Moria By End of January – Greek Minister (K.)

Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas said Monday authorities were making huge efforts to improve conditions at the Moria camp on the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos, while accusing European officials of “hypocrisy” for failing to shoulder their share of the burden. Speaking after an unannounced visit at the infamous migrant and refugee processing center, Mouzalas said Greek authorities were hoping to restore “normality” at the facility by the end of January. “It all depends on arrivals,” Mouzalas said. “Today it was good weather and a total of 175 arrivals have been recorded on Lesvos as of this morning,” he said.

Responding to criticism over the scenes of misery and squalor documented by foreign media at Moria last week, the leftist minister said: “Europe must put an end to its hypocrisy.” “Here in Moria we have a problem with unaccompanied minor refugees. We have asked Europe to take a share of these children. It refuses to do so,” Mouzalas said. “It’s very easy to act like a prosecutor. Dealing with the situation in a way that helps refugees and migrants is the hard part. And this is what we are expected to do,” he said. “There is no point in wagging your finger. What you need to do is mobilize the procedures and mechanisms in order to improve conditions and solve problems,” he said.

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And the UNHCR is not beyond blame, either. Pointing fingers at others is always easy, but hard to keep up after two whole years.

UNHCR Calls For Migrant Transfers, Blames Greece For Grim Conditions (K.)

As temperatures drop, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) once more urged Greek authorities to swiftly transfer thousands of refugees and migrants living in cramped and unsafe island camps to the mainland where better conditions and services are available. “Tension in the reception centers and on the islands has been mounting since the summer when the number of arrivals began rising,” UNHCR spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly told Voice of America. “In some cases, local authorities have opposed efforts to introduce improvements inside the reception centers,” Pouilly was quoted as saying. More than 15,000 people have been transferred to the mainland over the past year.

Meanwhile, speaking to the New Europe news website, the EU’s special envoy on migration, Maarten Verwey, suggested that Greek authorities were to blame for the grim living conditions inside island migrant camps, as recently documented by American news outlet BuzzFeed and Germany’s Deutsche Welle. “The Commission has made the 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,” Verwey said, according to New Europe.

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Oct 222017
 
 October 22, 2017  Posted by at 2:02 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Alfred Wertheimer Elvis 1956

 

New Zealand’s new prime minister Jacinda Ardern calls capitalism a blatant failure. Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis says capitalism is ‘merely’ coming to an end because it is making itself obsolete. Mathematics professor Bruce Boghosian claims that without redistribution of wealth, our market economy would not be stable, because wealth always tends to concentrate. The people at Artemis Capital Management write that the stock market has begun self-cannibalizing like a snake eating its tail, and the only reason we’re not in a recession already is ‘financial alchemy’.

At the very least we can say that the system is under pressure. But what system is that? It would be nice to have a clearcut definition of capitalism, but alas, there are many, about as many as there are different forms of it. That doesn’t make this any easier. Americans call many European economies ‘socialist’, which seems to mean they are not capitalist. But Scandinavian countries don’t function like the Soviet Union either.

And if you see how much money is involved in transfer payments to citizens in the US, the supposed bastion of free market capitalism, it’s tempting to conclude the system has already failed. But even with transfer payments, inequality is at record levels. That would seem to confirm Boghosian’s statement that “even if a society does redistribute wealth, if it’s too small an amount, “a partial oligarchy will result..” So what then?

 

 

Varoufakis and others want a “universal basic dividend”, or “universal basic income”. Would that be the end of capitalism as we know it? Or is it just a -perhaps more extreme- form of ‘state capitalism’? Varoufakis deems it inevitable because technology will eradicate so many jobs from societies that people won’t be able to make money from work. Personally, I’ve long thought that the pending large-scale demise of pensions systems will lead to some form of UBI.

37-year-young Jacinda Ardern is very clear in her assessment of New Zealand’s form of capitalism. If you’ve got the worst homelessness in the developed world, you have a broken system. If the system fails the people, it’s no good. Other people might argue that capitalism never promised to take care of everyone. Or rather, not through state interference. Labour’s Ardern has her view:

 

New Zealand’s New Prime Minister Brands Capitalism A ‘Blatant Failure’

[Jacinda] Ardern, has pledged her government will increase the minimum wage, write child poverty reduction targets into law, and build thousands of affordable homes. In her first full interview since becoming prime minister-elect, she told current affairs programme The Nation that capitalism had “failed our people”. “If you have hundreds of thousands of children living in homes without enough to survive, that’s a blatant failure,” she said. [..] “When you have a market economy, it all comes down to whether or not you acknowledge where the market has failed and where intervention is required. Has it failed our people in recent times? Yes. How can you claim you’ve been successful when you have growth roughly 3%, but you’ve got the worst homelessness in the developed world?”

So to which extent should a state interfere in markets, and in society at large? There are obviously wide ideological divides when it comes to answering that one. Does that mean there is no answer possible at all? Perhaps not. Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that the system is predestined to fail, as Boghosian’s mathematical models suggest: “Our work refutes the idea that free markets, by virtually leaving people up to their own devices, will be fair..”

That doesn’t necessarily demand a lot of interference, we could ‘simply’ write the rules of the game in such a way that the ‘natural tendency’ towards wealth concentration is blocked. An example is the history of the top US income tax rate. Arguably, the nation was doing a lot better under Eisenhower and Kennedy, with a top rate of 91%, than it is today. If you put a few rules like that in play, perhaps including Varoufakis’ idea of a ‘common welfare fund’, maybe the state doesn’t have to interfere much otherwise.

 

 

One of the main underlying claims of capitalism, and of macroeconomics in general, is that markets -and societies- will sort themselves out if left alone. Bruce Boghosian says this is not true, and that he has the math to prove it. The entire notion of markets tending towards a ‘supply-demand equilibrium’ is nonsense, he says (echoing Minsky, Steve Keen et al). Trickle-down economics is a figment of the imagination, while trickle up-economics flourishes.

This refutes much of what our economic systems are based on, which would appear to indicate that we need an urgent revision of these systems. Unless we would agree that Darwin-on-Steroids is a good idea. We don’t and won’t, because it would mean Stephen Foster’s “frail forms fainting at the door” all over the place. A market ideology that causes widespread misery has no future.

 

The Mathematics of Inequality

Seven years ago, the combined wealth of 388 billionaires equaled that of the poorest half of humanity , according to Oxfam International. This past January the equation was even more unbalanced: it took only eight billionaires, marking an unmistakable march toward increased concentration of wealth. Today that number has been reduced to five billionaires.

Trying to understand such growing inequality is usually the purview of economists, but Bruce Boghosian, a professor of mathematics, thinks he has found another explanation—and a warning. Using a mathematical model devised to mimic a simplified version of the free market, he and colleagues are finding that, without redistribution, wealth becomes increasingly more concentrated, and inequality grows until almost all assets are held by an extremely small percent of people.

“Our work refutes the idea that free markets, by virtually leaving people up to their own devices, will be fair,” he said. “Our model, which is able to explain the form of the actual wealth distribution with remarkable accuracy, also shows that free markets cannot be stable without redistribution mechanisms. The reality is precisely the opposite of what so-called ‘market fundamentalists’ would have us believe.”

While economists use math for their models, they seek to show that an economy governed by supply and demand will result in a steady state or equilibrium, while Boghosian’s efforts “don’t try to engineer a supply-demand equilibrium, and we don’t find one,” he said. [..] The model tracks the data with remarkable accuracy, he said. He and his team will soon publish a paper on how it relates to U.S. wealth data from 1989 to 2013.

“We have also begun to apply it to wealth data from the ECB, and so far it seems to work very well for certain European countries as well,” he said [..] It turns out that when agents do well in early transactions, the odds are so increasingly stacked in their favor that—without redistribution from taxes or other wealth-transfer mechanisms—they will get more money, and keep accruing wealth inevitably.

“Without redistribution of wealth, our market economy would not be stable,” said Boghosian. “One person would run away with all the wealth, and it would keep going until it came to complete oligarchy.” And even if a society does redistribute wealth, if it’s too small an amount, “a partial oligarchy will result,” Boghosian said.

If markets and societies cannot survive under current rules, theories and ideologies, what do we do? The Artemis guys strongly suggest we stop the practice of excessive stock buybacks- even if they’re the only thing propping up the whole market system. Because they’re leading us straight into a recession. Because they’re making that recession a lot worse.

 

Volatility and the Alchemy of Risk

The Ouroboros, a Greek word meaning ‘tail devourer’, is the ancient symbol of a snake consuming its own body in perfect symmetry. The imagery of the Ouroboros evokes the infinite nature of creation from destruction. The sign appears across cultures and is an important icon in the esoteric tradition of Alchemy. Egyptian mystics first derived the symbol from a real phenomenon in nature. In extreme heat a snake, unable to self-regulate its body temperature,will experience an out-of-control spike in its metabolism. In a state of mania, the snake is unable to differentiate its own tail from its prey,and will attack itself, self-cannibalizing until it perishes. In nature and markets, when randomness self-organizes into too perfect symmetry, order becomes the source of chaos.

The Ouroboros is a metaphor for the financial alchemy driving the modern Bear Market in Fear. Volatility across asset classes is at multi-generational lows. A dangerous feedback loop now exists between ultra-low interest rates, debt expansion, asset volatility, and financial engineering that allocates risk based on that volatility. In this self-reflexive loop volatility can reinforce itself both lower and higher. In a market where stocks and bonds are both overvalued, financial alchemy is the only way to feed our global hunger for yield, until it kills the very system it is nourishing.

 

 

[..] At the head of the Great Snake of Risk is unprecedented monetary policy. Since 2009 Global Central Banks have pumped in $15 trillion in stimulus creating an imbalance in the investment demand for and supply of quality assets. Long term government bond yields are now the lowest levels in the history of human civilization dating back to 1285. As of this summer there was $9.5 trillion worth of negative yielding debt globally. Last month Austria issued a 100-year bond with a coupon of only 2.1%(6) that will lose close to half its value if interest rates rise 1% or more. The global demand for yield is now unmatched in human history. None of this makes sense outside a framework of financial repression.

Amid this mania for investment, the stock market has begun self-cannibalizing… literally. Since 2009, US companies have spent a record $3.8 trillion on share buy-backs financed by historic levels of debt issuance. Share buybacks are a form of financial alchemy that uses balance sheet leverage to reduce liquidity generating the illusion of growth. A shocking +40% of the earning-per-share growth and +30% of the stock market gains since 2009 are from share buy-backs. Absent this financial engineering we would already be in an earnings recession.

Any strategy that systematically buys declines in markets is mathematically shorting volatility. To this effect, the trillions of dollars spent on share buybacks are equivalent to a giant short volatility position that enhances mean reversion. Every decline in markets is aggressively bought by the market itself, further lowing volatility. Stock price valuations are now at levels which in the past have preceded depressions including 1928, 1999, and 2007. The role of active investors is to find value, but when all asset classes are overvalued, the only way to survive is by using financial engineering to short volatility in some form.

Yanis Varoufakis doesn’t so much argue that capitalism has already failed, he says it is bound to fail in the near future. Because new technology, including artificial intelligence, will destroy too many jobs for society to continue to function intact. That is already happening, in that we both produce and consume Google’s ‘products’, but we get none of the profits. An example:

 

Google’s Plan To Revolutionise Cities Is A Takeover In All But Name

Alphabet’s weapons are impressive. Cheap, modular buildings to be assembled quickly; sensors monitoring air quality and building conditions; adaptive traffic lights prioritising pedestrians and cyclists; parking systems directing cars to available slots. Not to mention delivery robots, advanced energy grids, automated waste sorting, and, of course, ubiquitous self-driving cars. Alphabet essentially wants to be the default platform for other municipal services. Cities, it says, have always been platforms; now they are simply going digital.

“The world’s great cities are all hubs of growth and innovation because they leveraged platforms put in place by visionary leaders,” states the proposal. “Rome had aqueducts, London the Underground, Manhattan the street grid.” Toronto, led by its own visionary leaders, will have Alphabet. Amid all this platformaphoria, one could easily forget that the street grid is not typically the property of a private entity, capable of excluding some and indulging others. Would we want Trump Inc to own it? Probably not. So why hurry to give its digital equivalent to Alphabet?

Google aims at taking over our entire communities, and claims this will be to our benefit. We let the new technology companies expand far and wide, to a large extent because our ‘leaders’ don’t understand what is happening any better than we do. But that is not a good thing, for many different reasons. It’ll be very hard to whistle them back later, both because of the wealth they’re building, and because of the intensifying links they have to government, including -or especially- the intelligence community.

 

Capitalism Is Ending Because It Has Made Itself Obsolete

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.”

Warning Karl Marx “will have his revenge ”, the 56-year-old said for the first time since capitalism started, new technology “is going to destroy a lot more jobs than it creates”. He added: “Capitalism is going to undermine capitalism , because they are producing all these technologies that will make corporations and the private means of production obsolete. “And then what happens? I have no idea.”

Describing the present economic situation as “unsustainable” and fearing the rise of “toxic nationalism”, Mr Varoufakis said governments needed to prepare for post-capitalism by introducing redistributive wealth policies. He suggested one effective policy would be for 10% of all future issue of shares to be put into a “common welfare fund” owned by the people. Out of this a “universal basic dividend” could be paid to every citizen.

Has capitalism failed already, as Jacinda Ardern claims, or will that happen only in the future, as Varoufakis says? It may be a moot question once the system and the markets start collapsing. That they will, and must, is not a question but a certainty, even a mathematical one. Whatever your ideology, that is not a good thing. And the current ideology has caused this, that much is clear.

If the remaining wealth is not divided better than it is today, those who have gathered most of it will also find themselves in non-functioning societies and communities. Unless perhaps you’re George W. and have property in Paraguay.

But even then. We’re eating our tails.

 

 

Oct 182017
 
 October 18, 2017  Posted by at 9:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Marcel Bovis Lovers, Paris 1934

 

No, China Isn’t Fixing Its Economic Flaws (BBG)
US Senators Reach Bipartisan Deal On Obamacare, Trump Indicates Support (R.)
Fixing Macroeconomics Will Be Really Hard (BBG)
Carney Reveals Europe’s Potential Achilles Heel in Brexit Talks (ZH)
Money Will Divide Europe After Brexit (R.)
Dalio’s Fund Opens $300 Million Bet Against Italian Energy Firm (BBG)
Boeing’s Attack on Bombardier Backfires (BBG)
The Gig Economy Chews Up And Spits Out Millennials (G.)
Greek Growth Data Cast Doubt On Recovery
Debt-Ridden Greece to Spend $2.4bn Upgrading its F-16 Fighter Jet Fleet (GR)
Canada Methane Emissions Far Worse Than Feared (G.)
The Lie That Poverty Is A Moral Failing Is Back (Fintan O’Toole)

 

 

Antidote for the Party Congress.

No, China Isn’t Fixing Its Economic Flaws (BBG)

In our China Beige Book, we quiz over 3,300 firms across China about the performance of their companies as well as the broader economy. Their responses reveal that much of the exuberance about China today is based on dangerous misconceptions. The first and most obvious myth is that China is actually deleveraging, as officials claim. Responses from Chinese bankers support the notion that regulators, at least for the moment, have successfully targeted certain forms of shadow financing such as wealth management products. Companies, however, don’t seem to be feeling much pressure to curb their excesses. In the second quarter, while firms reported facing moderately higher interest rates and borrowing modestly less, that only slowed the pace of leveraging instead of reversing it. And even that progress has since stalled.

Third-quarter loan applications rose, rejections fell and companies borrowed more. Interest rates at both banks and shadow financials slid. What officials are calling deleveraging – rolling back excess credit – still represents more, uneven leveraging. If the restrictions on financials do extend to companies in 2018 and deleveraging actually begins, the process could be much more traumatic for the Chinese economy than most people currently recognize. The second myth is that the Chinese economy has finally begun to rebalance away from manufacturing and investment to services and consumption. In reality, China’s stronger 2017 performance has depended almost entirely on a revival of the old economy; the improvement in both growth and jobs drew heavily upon commodities, property and, most consistently, manufacturing. Call it “de-balancing.”

[..] China hasn’t slashed overcapacity in commodities sectors. Xi has incessantly touted what he calls “supply-side reforms,” which would seem to give Chinese companies very strong incentive to report results showing such cuts. Yet for more than a year, firms have indicated the opposite. While some gross capacity has been taken offline to much fanfare, net capacity has continued to rise. From July through September, hundreds of coal, steel, aluminum and copper companies reported a sixth straight quarter of overall capacity rising, not falling.

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Getting Bernie to support the same as Trump is an achievement.

US Senators Reach Bipartisan Deal On Obamacare, Trump Indicates Support (R.)

Two U.S. senators on Tuesday reached a bipartisan agreement to shore up Obamacare for two years by reviving federal subsidies for health insurers that President Donald Trump planned to scrap, and the president indicated his support for the plan. The deal worked out by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and Democratic Senator Patty Murray would meet some Democratic objectives, including reviving the subsidies for Obamacare and restoring $106 million in funding for a federal program that helps people enroll in insurance plans. In exchange, Republicans would get more flexibility for states to offer a wider variety of health insurance plans while maintaining the requirement that sick and healthy people be charged the same rates for coverage.

The Trump administration said last week it would stop paying billions of dollars to insurers to help lower-income Americans pay medical expenses, part of the Republican president’s effort to dismantle Obamacare, former Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law. The subsidies to private insurers cost the government an estimated $7 billion this year and were forecast at $10 billion for 2018. Trump’s move to scuttle them had raised concerns about chaos in insurance markets. Trump hoped to make good on his campaign promise to dismantle the law when he took office in January, with Republicans, who pledged for seven years to scrap it, controlling Congress. But he has been frustrated with their failure to pass legislation to repeal and replace it.

Obamacare, formally known as the Affordable Care Act, extended health insurance coverage to 20 million Americans. Republicans say it is ineffective and a massive government intrusion in a key sector of the economy. The Alexander-Murray plan could keep Obamacare in place at least until the 2020 presidential campaign starts heating up. “This takes care of the next two years. After that, we can have a full-fledged debate on where we go long-term on healthcare,” Alexander said of the deal.

[..] Senator Bernie Sanders threw his weight behind the effort. In an interview with Reuters, Sanders said Alexander was a “well-respected figure” known for bipartisanship and that the Tennessee senator’s reputation would help propel the legislation through the Senate. Trump, during comments at the White House, suggested he could get behind the Alexander-Murray plan as a short-term solution. In remarks later at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, Trump commended the work by Alexander and Murray, but said: “I continue to believe Congress must find a solution to the Obamacare mess instead of providing bailouts to insurance companies.”

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Nuff said: “Most modern econ theories posit that recessions arrive randomly, instead of as the result of pressures that build up over time.”

Fixing Macroeconomics Will Be Really Hard (BBG)

A presentation by Blanchard and Summers provides a useful summary of how elite thinking has changed. They basically draw three lessons from the crisis: 1) the financial industry matters, 2) government should use a wider array of policies to fight recessions, and 3) recessions can last longer than expected. [..] The real sea change is the third one – the reconsideration of what recessions really are. Most modern econ theories posit that recessions arrive randomly, instead of as the result of pressures that build up over time. And they assume that recessions are short-lived affairs that go away of their own accord. If these assumptions are wrong, then most of the theories written down in macroeconomics journals over the past several decades – and most of those being written as we speak – are of questionable usefulness.

Blanchard and Summers are hardly the first to raise this possibility – economists have known for decades that recessions might not be random, short-lived events, but the idea always remained on the fringes. One big reason was simple mathematical convenience – models where recessions are like rainstorms, arriving and departing on their own, are mathematically a lot easier to work with. A second was data availability – unlike in geology, where we can draw on Earth’s whole history, reliable macroeconomic data goes back less than a century. If economic fluctuations really do have long-lasting effects, it will be very hard to identify those patterns from just a few decades’ worth of history.

If macroeconomists heed Blanchard and Summers’ advice, they will have to do harder math, and they will find better data to test their models. But their challenges won’t end there. If the economy can linger in a good or bad state for a long time, it’s almost certainly a chaotic system. Researchers have known for decades that unstable economies are very hard to work with or predict. In the past, economists have simply ignored this unsettling possibility and chosen to focus on models with only one possible long-term outcome. But if Blanchard and Summers are any indication, the Great Recession might mean that’s no longer an option.

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Derivatives.

Carney Reveals Europe’s Potential Achilles Heel in Brexit Talks (ZH)

This morning, BoE Governor Mark Carney discussed the risks of a hard Brexit during his testimony to the UK Parliamentary Treasury Committee. There was renewed weakness in Sterling during his testimony. Ironically, given the fall in Sterling, Carney explained why Europe’s financial sector is more at risk than the UK from a “hard” or “no-deal” Brexit. We wonder whether Juncker and Barnier appreciate the threat that a “no-deal” Brexit poses for the EU’s already fragile financial system? When asked does the European Council “get it” in terms of potential shocks to financial stability, Carney diplomatically commented that “a learning process is underway.” Having sounded alarm bells about clearing in his last Mansion House speech, he noted “These costs of fragmenting clearing, particularly clearing of interest rate swaps, would be born principally by the European real economy and they are considerable.”

Calling into question the continuity of tens of thousands of derivative contracts, he stated that it was “pretty clear they will no longer be valid”, that this “could only be solved by both sides” and has been “underappreciated” by Europe. Moving on to the possibility that there might not be a transition period, Carney had a snipe at Europe for its lack of preparation “We are prepared as we should be for the possibility of a hard exit without any transition…there has been much less of that done in the European Union.” Maybe it’s Europe, not the UK, that needs the transition period most.

In Carneys view “It’s in the interest of the EU 27 to have a transition agreement. Also, in my judgement given the scale of the issues as they affect the EU 27, that there will ultimately be a transition agreement. There is a very limited amount of time between now and the end of March 2019 to transition large, complex institutions and activities…If one thinks about the implementation of Basel III, we are alone in the current members of the EU in having extensive experience of managing the transition for individual firms of various derivative and risk activities from one jurisdiction back into the UK. That tends to take 2-4 years. Depending on the agreement, we are talking about a substantial amount of activity.”

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Europe borrows from the future.

Money Will Divide Europe After Brexit (R.)

The British government once hoped that the Oct. 19-20 meeting would be the moment when the Brexit negotiations could move on to discuss trade. That aspiration now seems hopeless. European leaders look set to insist on further delay until there is more progress in the first stage of talks, above all in reaching agreement on how much Britain will have to pay to settle its obligations when it leaves.

[..] If economic size and time favor the EU, the British government’s strongest card is money – one that it has played in various guises for centuries with its continental neighbors – and it is naturally reluctant to show its full hand too early. Even so May has already made an important concession. As part of the transition period of around two years that she called for in her emollient Florence speech last month, Britain would continue to pay in to the EU budget to ensure that none of the member states was out of pocket owing to the decision to leave. These net payments of around €10 billion ($11.8 billion) a year would fix the immediate problem facing the EU, the hole that would otherwise open up in its finances during the final two years of its current budgetary framework, which runs from 2014 to 2020.

But that extra money from aligning Britain’s effective date of departure with the end of the EU’s budgeting plan will not be enough, for two reasons. One is the way the EU in effect borrows from the future, by making spending commitments that it pays for later. In principle, the EU cannot borrow to pay for expenditure. But, through its accounting procedures, the EU can and does commit it to spending that will be paid for by future receipts from the member states. What this means is that even after 2020 there will still be payments due on commitments made under the current seven-year spending plan. That pile of unpaid bills, eloquently called the “reste à liquider” (the amount yet to be settled), is forecast to be €254 billion at the end of 2020.

Estimates of what Britain might owe towards this vary, but taking into account what might have been spent on British projects it could be around €20 billion. On top of that – and the second main reason why the EU is holding out for more – the EU has liabilities, notably arising from the unfunded retirement benefits of European staff estimated at €67 billion at the end of 2016, which it is expecting Britain to share. Even taking into account some potential offsets from its share of assets, Britain may face a bill of between €30 billion and €40 billion on top of the €20 billion paid during the transition period.

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Biggest threat of all to Europe may be Italy’s weaknesses.

Dalio’s Fund Opens $300 Million Bet Against Italian Energy Firm (BBG)

Bridgewater Associates is adding to its billion-dollar short against the Italian economy. The world’s largest hedge fund disclosed a $300 million bet against Eni SpA, Italy’s oil and gas giant, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Bloomberg previously reported that Ray Dalio’s firm had wagered more than $1.1 billion against shares of six Italian financial institutions and two other companies. This latest bet is the hedge fund’s second-largest against an Italian company, trailing only the $310 million against Enel SpA, the country’s largest utility. Eni’s majority holder is the Italian government via state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti SpA and the Ministry of Economy. The public involvement also is reflected in the government’s role in appointing the chief executive officer. Current CEO Claudio Descalzi has been at the helm since 2014 and was reconfirmed this year.

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Airbus buys C Series for $1?!

Boeing’s Attack on Bombardier Backfires (BBG)

Boeing’s diminutive Canadian rival just found itself one heck of a wingman. The world’s largest aerospace company tried to block Bombardier’s all-new C Series jet from the U.S. by complaining to the government about unfair competition. Now that move is backfiring as Boeing’s primary foe, Airbus, takes control of the Canadian aircraft – with plans to manufacture in Alabama. The deal leaves Boeing’s 737, the company’s largest source of profit, to face a strengthened opponent in the market for single-aisle jetliners, where Airbus’s A320 family already enjoys a sales lead. The European planemaker is riding to the rescue of a plane at the center of a trade dispute that soured U.S. relations with Canada and the U.K., where the aircraft’s wings are made.

“For Boeing, its decision to wage commercial war on Bombardier has arguably had some unintended negative outcomes,” Robert Stallard, an analyst at Vertical Research Partners, said in a report. “As well as damaging relations with the Canadian and U.K. governments and some major airline customers, it has now driven Bombardier into the arms of its arch competitor.” Boeing on Tuesday held firm to its stance against the C Series, saying the deal with Airbus would have “no impact or effect on the pending proceedings at all” in the trade dispute. Boeing won a preliminary victory against Bombardier last month when President Donald Trump’s administration imposed import duties of 300% on the C Series.

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Self-employment as a means to hide unemployment.

The Gig Economy Chews Up And Spits Out Millennials (G.)

Huws says the golden age for the gig economy was some time around 2013, when companies took a smaller cut and there were fewer drivers/riders/factotums to compete with. “As Deliveroo pass on all risk to the rider, there’s nothing to stop them over-recruiting in an area and flooding the city with riders, which is exactly what we saw last winter,” says Guy McClenahan, another Brighton rider (Deliveroo maintain that the hundreds of riders in the area earn on average well above the national living wage). Over time, Uber has increased the commission it takes from drivers while reducing fares. Drivers are finding themselves working much longer hours in order to make the same pay – or far less. (There are currently no time limits on how many hours Uber drivers can work a week in the UK, but the company is testing changes and says it plans to introduce limits over a 24-hour period.)

TaskRabbit, the online platform for handymen and odd jobs, which was recently bought by Ikea, took away a rate in which contractors would earn more money for repeat commissions – and buried that news in an email about introducing the option for clients to tip. [..] Huws points out that the gig economy has always existed: cash-in-hand or on-call work or people turning up at building sites or dockyards in the hope of a day’s work. But since the 2008 crash, jobs that provide a secure income have become harder to come by. It is true that the unemployment rate among 16- to 24-year-olds in the UK is 12%, while in parts of Europe it is 40%. But that doesn’t mean much if many of those people are in precarious “self-employment” – the McKinsey Global Institute estimates this may be up to 30% of working-age adults across Europe. Huws says the notion of a career is being eroded, with young people often working a patchwork of different occupations.

[..] Huws worries about something else, too: the wellbeing of gig-economy millennial workers. This kind of employment can be “really damaging for self-esteem”, she says. As Hughes and Diggle both say, crowd work can be lonely. “Especially if you’re working a double shift,” says Diggle. “Or sometimes you don’t feel human. You’re just handing a bag over and some people take the bag, don’t look at you and close the door. And then don’t tip. One day I’ll be on stage singing, and the next I’m delivering food on my bicycle and it does feel … deflating.”

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A Greek recovery is mathematically impossible.

“..taxation on products increased 7.8%..”

Greek Growth Data Cast Doubt On Recovery

Greece was in recession last year, as revised data from the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) showed on Tuesday that the economy shrank 0.2% compared to 2015 against a previous estimate for zero growth. Furthermore, the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE) forecast that 2017 will close with growth of just 1.3%, against a government estimate of 1.8%. That the way out of the crisis is proving more arduous and uncertain than many had predicted was underscored by the two sets of data released on Tuesday, with IOBE Director General Nikos Vettas warning that the recovery may turn out to be “short-term and fragile” unless the pending crucial structural reforms are implemented.

ELSTAT’s downward revision for 2016 is mainly based on consumer spending, which declined 0.3% compared to 2015, against a previous estimate in March 2017 for an increase of 0.6%. Even in March, when ELSTAT announced zero growth for 2016, the figures created a headache for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who had previously said the economy had grown in 2016. Yesterday’s revision turned stagnation into recession for another year. It is also impressive that while the economy shrank 0.2%, taxation on products increased 7.8%, against a hike of 1.7% in 2015 and 0.8% in 2014. The revision also revealed that 2014 saw growth of 0.7%, against an estimate of 0.3% in March. That upward course was clearly interrupted by the January 2015 election.

IOBE undercut the government’s growth estimates for this year and next, with its president, Takis Athanasopoulos, saying, “Indeed, our economy is showing signs of improvement, but its rate remains below what is necessary for the country to leave the crisis behind it for good.” Next year IOBE anticipates growth of 2%, against an official forecast of 2.4%, putting the achievement of fiscal targets into question. The weak 1.3% recovery rate seen for this year, compared to the original 2.7% estimate of the budget and the bailout program, is according to IOBE due to the weak momentum of investments.

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Wonder who pays the bill. Which is not as bas as it seems.

Debt-Ridden Greece to Spend $2.4bn Upgrading its F-16 Fighter Jet Fleet (GR)

The United States has approved the possible sale of more than 120 upgrade kits from Lockheed Martin to the Greeks for their F-16 fighter jet fleet. The deal, worth $2.4bn, was announced as U.S. President Donald Trump met with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Washington, D.C. Trump, who has repeatedly criticized NATO countries for not meeting the alliance’s defense budget targets, applauded Greece for meeting the goal of each member spending two percent of their gross domestic product on their military and highlighted the F-16 upgrade plans. “They’re upgrading their fleets of airplanes – the F-16 plane, which is a terrific plane,” Trump said ahead of a bilateral meeting. “They’re doing big upgrades.”

“This agreement to strengthen the Hellenic Air Force is worth up to 2.4 billion U.S. dollars and would generate thousands of American jobs,” Trump said during his joint press conference with Tsipras. Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos sought later to downplay the cost of the deal for Greece. In a message on twitter he said that the cost to Greece will be 1.1 billion euros. “The ceiling in the budget for the upgrading of the F-16 is 1.1 billion euros”, he said. “The rest will come from aid programs and offsets”, he added. According to the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) there are currently no known offsets. However, Greece typically requests offsets. Any offset agreement will be defined in negotiations between Greece and the contractor, Lockheed Martin. .

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“..the type of heavy oil recovery used released 3.6 times more methane than previously believed..”

Canada Methane Emissions Far Worse Than Feared (G.)

Alberta’s oil and gas industry – Canada’s largest producer of fossil fuel resources – could be emitting 25 to 50% more methane than previously believed, new research has suggested. The pioneering peer reviewed study, published in Environmental Science & Technology on Tuesday, used airplane surveys to measure methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure in two regions in Alberta. The results were then compared with industry-reported emissions and estimates of unreported sources of the powerful greenhouse gas, which warm the planet more than 20 times as much as similar volumes of carbon dioxide.

“Our first reaction was ‘Oh my goodness, this is a really big deal,” said Matthew Johnson, a professor at Carleton University in Ottawa and one of the study’s authors. “If we thought it was bad, it’s worse.” Carried out last autumn, the survey measured the airborne emissions of thousands of oil and gas wells in the regions. Researchers also tracked the amount of ethane to ensure that methane emissions from cattle would not end up in their results. In one region dominated by heavy oil wells, researchers found that the type of heavy oil recovery used released 3.6 times more methane than previously believed. The technique is used in several other sites across the province, suggesting emissions from these areas are also underestimated.

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UBI.

The Lie That Poverty Is A Moral Failing Is Back (Fintan O’Toole)

By the time he died, in 1950, Bernard Shaw, as the most widely read socialist writer in the English-speaking world, had done as much as anyone to banish the fallacy that poverty is essentially a moral failing – and conversely that great riches are proof of moral worth. His most passionate concern was with poverty and its causes. He was haunted by the notorious Dublin slums of his childhood. As his spokesman Undershaft puts it in Major Barbara: “Poverty strikes dead the very souls of all who come within sight, sound or smell of it.” The question – why are the poor poor? – has a number of possible answers in the 21st century, just as it had in the late 19th. A Eurobarometer report in 2010 examined attitudes to poverty in the European Union. The most popular explanation among Europeans (47%) for why people live in poverty was injustice in society.

[..] In the preface to Major Barbara, Shaw attacks “the stupid levity with which we tolerate poverty as if it were … a wholesome tonic for lazy people”. His great political impulse was to de-moralise poverty, and his most radical argument about poverty was that it simply doesn’t matter whether those who are poor “deserve” their condition or not – the dire social consequences are the same either way. He assails the absurdity of the notion implicit in so much rightwing thought, that poverty is somehow more tolerable if it is a punishment for moral failings: “If a man is indolent, let him be poor. If he is drunken, let him be poor. If he is not a gentleman, let him be poor. If he is addicted to the fine arts or to pure science instead of to trade and finance, let him be poor … Let nothing be done for ‘the undeserving’: let him be poor. Serve him right! Also – somewhat inconsistently – blessed are the poor!”

In an era when many on the left purported to despise money and romanticised poverty, Shaw argued that poverty is a crime and that money is a wonderful thing. He recognised that there is no relationship between poverty and a supposed lack of a work ethic: Eliza Doolittle is out selling her flowers late at night in the pouring rain but she is still dirt poor. (Conversely, when she is “idle” and being kept by Higgins, she leads a life of relative luxury.) And therefore the cure for poverty can never be found in moral judgments. The cure for poverty is an adequate income. “The crying need of the nation,” he wrote, “is not for better morals, cheaper bread, temperance, liberty, culture, redemption of fallen sisters and erring brothers, nor the grace, love and fellowship of the Trinity, but simply for enough money.

And the evil to be attacked is not sin, suffering, greed, priestcraft, kingcraft, demagogy, monopoly, ignorance, drink, war, pestilence, nor any other of the scapegoats which reformers sacrifice, but simply poverty.” The solution he proposed was what he called a “universal pension for life”, or what we now call a universal basic income.

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Aug 312017
 
 August 31, 2017  Posted by at 8:25 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Prohibition sale June 24 1920

 

Hurricane Harvey the Costliest Natural Disaster in US History (H.)
“No Way To Prevent Imminent Explosion” At Texas Chemical Plant (ZH)
Texans To Be Hit With New Insurance Law (Ind.)
A Decade of G7 Central Bank Collusion – And Counting… (Nomi Prins)
It’s Time For Your Reminder That Most Commodities Are Priced In US Dollars (BI)
A Universal Basic Income Would Grow The Economy (Vox)
The Promise of Fiscal Money (Varoufakis)
America and China’s Codependency Trap (Stephen Roach)
Financial Firms Fear Turmoil Over Fraught US Debt Ceiling Talks (R.)
Weird Things Are Happening With Gold (Rickards)
‘More Europe’ Won’t Solve Europe’s Fiscal Quandary (BBG)
Victory For Assad Increasingly Likely As World Loses Interest In Syria (G.)
‘Our Society Is Broken’: Canada’s First Nations Suicide Epidemic (G.)

 

 

$160 billion and counting.

Hurricane Harvey the Costliest Natural Disaster in US History (H.)

Hurricane Harvey is predicted to be the costliest natural disaster in the history of the U.S., with a damage cost exceeding Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina. AccuWeather predicts that the damage cost will hit $160 billion. AccuWeather, a private weather firm, notes that the storm’s cost represents 0.8% of the national GDP, which is now at $19 trillion. “Business leaders and the Federal Reserve, major banks, insurance companies, etc. should begin to factor in the negative impact this catastrophe will have on business, corporate earnings and employment. The disaster is just beginning in certain areas,” AccuWeather founder Dr. Joel N. Myers said in a statement.

“Parts of Houston, the United States’ fourth largest city will be uninhabitable for weeks and possibly months due to water damage, mold, disease-ridden water and all that will follow this 1,000-year flood.” Before Harvey, the costliest hurricane to hit the U.S. was Hurricane Katrina, which caused $108 billion in damage along the Gulf Coast in 2005. The second-costliest was Hurricane Sandy, which caused $75 billion in damage in 2012. Hurricane Ike, the last storm to make landfall in Texas before Harvey, caused $37.5 billion in damage in 2008. [..] The Associated Press reports that 80% of Harvey’s victims do not have flood insurance. Thousands of families will have to take on more debt or spend much more to fix their homes. Others will sell their property to move out.

Robert Hunter, director of insurance at the Consumer Federation of America, estimated that flood damage alone cost at least $35 billion. Hunter explained to the AP that if you don’t have flood insurance, you can apply for federal disaster benefits. However, these are low interest loans that will add more debt. Homeowners insurance covers water damage caused by wind damage, but not if the water comes through the floor or walls, the AP explains. “Homeowners with water damage can get paid through their homeowners insurance but only if wind blows out a window or sends a roof aloft first, allowing the water in,” the AP notes. “If the water rushes through the floorboard or walls, you’re not covered.”

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There have been scores of chemicals released into the air already in the area.

“No Way To Prevent Imminent Explosion” At Texas Chemical Plant (ZH)

[..] in a potentially disastrous outcome from the Harvey flooding, a chemical plant in Crosby, Texas belonging to French industrial giant Arkema, has announced it is evacuating workers due to the risk of an explosion, after primary power was knocked out and flooding swamped its backup generators. The French company said the situation at the plant “has become serious” and said that it is working with the Department of Homeland Security and the State of Texas to set up a command post in a suitable location near our site. The plant, which produces explosive organic peroxides and ammonia, was hit by more than 40 inches of rain and has been heavily flooded, running without electricity since Sunday. The plant was closed since Friday but has had a skeleton staff of about a dozen in place.

Following the flood surge, the plant’s back-up generators also failed. The threat emerged once the company could no longer maintain refrigeration for chemicals located on site, which have to be stored at low temperatures. The plant lost cooling when backup generators were flooded and then workers transferred products from the warehouses into diesel-powered refrigerated containers. On Tuesday afternoon, the company released a statement which admitted that “refrigeration on some of our back-up product storage containers has been compromised due to extremely high water, which is unprecedented in the Crosby area. We are monitoring the temperature of each refrigeration container remotely.” It then warned that “while we do not believe there is any imminent danger, the potential for a chemical reaction leading to a fire and/or explosion within the site confines is real.”

One day later, and with the torrential rains finally over, has the situation at the giant peroxide chemical plant stabilized? Unfortunately, according to Reuters, the answer is no. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday afternoon, Richard Rowe, the chief executive of Arkema’s American operations said that “the company has no way of preventing chemicals from catching fire or exploding at its heavily flooded plant.” Rowe added that the company now expects chemicals on site to catch fire or explode within the next six days. Since the plant remains flooded by about six feet of water, “the company has no way to prevent” this worst-case outcome. Anticipating the worst, the company earlier evacuated all remaining workers, while Harris County ordered the evacuation of residents in a 1.5-mile radius of the plant that makes organic chemicals.

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Insult. Injury.

Texans To Be Hit With New Insurance Law (Ind.)

The embattled populations of southeastern Texas, may soon encounter a new obstacle in their quests to rebuild their lives after Harvey when a new state insurance law that makes it harder for consumers to receive full claims goes into effect Friday. The new law decreases the chances that an insurance company will be forced to pay claim delay penalties and plaintiff attorneys’ fees related to weather-involved claims — a protection that may discourage struggling households from pursuing legal action even if they think the insurance companies are offering less of a payout than they should. Under the new regulations, insurance companies will enjoy greater freedoms to push back on insurance claims, and the first wave of such claimants are likely to be coming from areas impacted by Harvey.

Residents reeling from Harvey now have until just Friday to assess the damages to their homes that may still be under water, and to notify their insurance company of nay damages if they want to avoid navigating that new law. After Friday, new legal restrictions will be in place that make things more difficult for consumers, and interest rates imposed on insurance companies to deter late payments will be cut nearly in half. “Without this law, and as the law currently is until Friday, I think insurance companies would be more responsive to claims,” Kir Pittard, a Dallas attorney, wrote on Facebook of the new law. “After Friday, there won’t be the incentive because the penalty for delays have been reduced.” To put it bluntly, a lot of residents in the impact area of Harvey may face a long battle ahead to replace the roofs torn off their homes from high winds, activists say.

“Insurance companies already had a lot of power, and the bill gives them a lot more power. As we know, too often insurance companies wrongfully withhold payments, they delay payments, they deny claims,” Ware Wendell, the executive director of consumer watchdog group Texas Watch, told The Independent. “So, we’re very concerned that people are going to have blue tarps on their homes instead of roofs.”

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Nomi sees central banks the same way I do.

A Decade of G7 Central Bank Collusion – And Counting… (Nomi Prins)

Since late 2007, the Federal Reserve has embarked on grand-scale collusion with other G-7 central banks to manufacture a massive amount of money. The scope and degree of this collusion are historically unprecedented and by admission of the perpetrators, unconventional in approach, and – depending on the speech – ineffective. Central bank efforts to provide liquidity to the private banking system have been delivered amidst a plethora of grandiose phrases like “unlimited” and “by all means necessary.” Central bankers have played a game with no defined goalposts, no clock rundown, no max scores, and no true end in sight. At the Fed’s instigation, central bankers built policy on the fly. Their science experiment morphed into something even Dr. Frankenstein couldn’t have imagined.

Confidence in the Fed and the U.S. dollar (as well as in other major central banks globally) has dropped considerably, even as this exercise remains in motion, and even though central bankers have tactiltly admitted that their money creation scheme was largely a bust, though not in any one official statement. On July 31, 2017, Stanley Fischer, vice chairman of the Fed, delivered a speech in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There, he addressed the phenomenon of low interest rates worldwide. Fischer admitted that “the effects of quantitative easing in the United States and abroad” are suppressing rates. He also said there was “a heightened demand for safe assets affecting yields on advanced-economy government securities.” (Actually, there’s been heighted demand for junky assets, as well, which has manifested in a bi-polarity of saver vs. speculator preference.)

What Fischer meant was that investors are realizing that low rates since 2008 haven’t fueled real growth, just asset bubbles. Remember, Fischer is the Fed’s No. 2 man. He was also a professor to former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke and current European Central Bank President Mario Draghi. Both have considered him to be a major influence in their economic outlook. The “Big Three” central banks – the Fed, the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan – have collectively held rates at a zero% on average since the global financial crisis began. For nearly a decade, central banks have been batting about tens of trillions of dollars to do so. They have fueled bubbles. They have amassed assets on their books worth nearly $14 trillion. That’s money not serving any productive, real-economy purpose – because it happens to be in lock-down.

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When the reserve currency sinks, strange things can happen.

It’s Time For Your Reminder That Most Commodities Are Priced In US Dollars (BI)

The commodity rally since June has been impressive, and it could be tied to weakness in the US dollar. Those sharp increases — ranging between 15-40% — have had Morgan Stanley strategists slightly puzzled. On one hand, bulk commodities such as iron ore and coal have benefited from steady increases in demand. “Similarly, restocking in zinc and nickel markets have helped lift prices of those trades,” the analysts said. However, they added that fundamentals alone can’t explain the rise in the prices of copper, aluminium and lead. That suggests some of the price action is being driven by an external factor: the recent weakness in the US dollar. The analysts noted that this is the second commodity rally within the last year that’s been directly connected to the US dollar.

But the first one was the other way round — commodities staged a 4-week rally in the wake of the US election last November, when the US dollar was also rising. So why the difference? According to Price and Bates, it’s because the outlook for inflation has now largely reversed. “Post-election, markets positioned for new inflation risk, on the promise of a US infra-build story,” they said. But infrastructure reform is yet to get off the ground amid political gridlock in Washington, and US inflation remains stuck below the Federal Reserve’s target rate of 2-3%. Currency markets have reacted by driving the US dollar lower throughout most of 2017. So it follows that commodities priced in US dollars have benefited from a fall in the greenback while overall commodity-demand remains unchanged.

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Try it in a smaller country first?!

A Universal Basic Income Would Grow The Economy (Vox)

A universal basic income could make the US economy trillions of dollars larger, permanently, according to a new study by the left-leaning Roosevelt Institute. Basic income, a proposal in which every American would be given a basic stipend from the government no strings attached, is often brought up as a potential solution to widespread automation reducing demand for labor in the future. But in the meantime, its critics typically allege that it is far too expensive to be practical, or else that it would spur millions of Americans to drop out of the labor force, wrecking the economy and depriving the government of a tax base for funding the plan. The Roosevelt study, written by Roosevelt research director Marshall Steinbaum, Michalis Nikiforos at Bard College’s Levy Institute, and Gennaro Zezza at the University of Cassino and Southern Lazio in Italy, comes to a dramatically different conclusion.

And it does so using some notably rosy assumptions about the effects of large-scale increases to government spending, taxes, and deficits, assumptions that other analysts would dispute vociferously. Their paper analyzes three different models for a universal basic income: • A full universal basic income, in which every adult gets $1,000 a month ($12,000 a year) • A partial basic income, in which every adult gets $500 a month ($6,000 a year) • A child allowance, in which every child gets $250 a month ($3,000 a year) They find that enacting any of these policies by growing the federal debt — that is, without raising taxes to pay for it — would substantially grow the economy. The effect fades away within eight years, but GDP is left permanently higher. The big, $12,000 per year per adult policy, they find, would permanently grow the economy by 12.56 to 13.10% — or about $2.5 trillion come 2025.

It would also, they find, increase the%age of Americans with jobs by about 2%, and expand the labor force to the tune of 4.5 to 4.7 million people. They also model the impact of the plan if it’s paid for with taxes. That amounts to large-scale income redistribution, which, the authors argue, would stimulate the economy, because lower-income people are likelier to spend their money in the near-term than rich people are. Thus, they find that a full $12,000 a year per adult basic income, paid for with progressive income taxes, would grow the economy by about 2.62% ($515 billion) and expand the labor force by about 1.1 million people.

These are extremely contentious estimates, borne of controversial assumptions about the way the economy works and the effects that a basic income would have on it. Many, if not most, economic modelers would come to very different conclusions: that a basic income discourages work, that raising taxes to pay for it could have profound negative economic impacts, and that not paying for it and exploding the deficit is a recipe for fiscal and economic ruin. But the authors argue that the economic model they’re using, run by the Bard College Levy Economics Institute, uses more realistic assumptions than alternative models, and is particularly well-suited for predicting a UBI’s impact.

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Part of Yanis’ plans for Greece. A parallel system.

The Promise of Fiscal Money (Varoufakis)

any attempt to bring treasuries and central banks back under one roof would expose politicians to accusations of trying to get their grubby hands on the levers of monetary policy. But another response to the new reality is available: Leave central banks alone, but give governments a greater say in domestic money creation – and, indeed, greater independence from the central bank – by establishing a parallel payments system based on fiscal money or, more precisely, money backed by future taxes. How would fiscal money work? For starters, it would “live” on the tax authority’s digital platform, using the existing tax file numbers of individuals and companies. Anyone with a tax file number (TFN) in some country receives a free account linked to their TFN.

Individuals and firms will then be able to add credit to their TFN-linked account by transferring money from their normal bank account, in the same way that they do today to pay their taxes. And they will do so well in advance of tax payments because the state guarantees to extinguish in, say, a year €1,080 of the tax owed for every €1,000 transferred today – an effective annual interest rate of 8% payable to those willing to pay their taxes a year early. In practice, once, say, €1,000 has been transferred to one’s TFN-linked account, a personal identification number (the familiar PIN) is issued, which can be used either to transfer the €1,000 credit to someone else’s TFN-linked account or to pay taxes in the future. These time-stamped future tax euros, or fiscal euros, can be held for a year until maturity or be used to make payments to other taxpayers.

Smartphone apps and even government-issued cards (doubling as, say, social security ID) will make the transactions easy, fast, and virtually indistinguishable from other transactions involving central bank money. In this closed payments system, as fiscal money approaches maturity, taxpayers not in possession of that vintage will fuel rising demand for it. To ensure the system’s viability, the Treasury would control the total supply of fiscal money, using the effective interest rate to guarantee that the nominal value of the total supply never exceeds a%age of national income, or of aggregate taxes, agreed by the legislature. To ensure full transparency, and thus trust, a blockchain algorithm, designed and supervised by an independent national authority, could settle transactions in fiscal money.

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Is it low savings or high debt levels?

America and China’s Codependency Trap (Stephen Roach)

Caught up in the bluster of the US accusations being leveled at China, little attention is being paid to the potential consequences of Chinese retaliation. Three economic consequences stand out. First, imposing tariffs on imports of Chinese goods and services would be the functional equivalent of a tax hike on American consumers. Chinese producers’ unit labor costs are less than one fifth those of America’s other major foreign suppliers. By diverting US demand away from Chinese trade, the costs of imported goods would undoubtedly rise sharply. The possibility of higher import prices and potential spillover effects on underlying inflation would hit middle-class US workers, who have faced more than three decades of real wage stagnation, especially hard.

Second, trade actions against China could lead to higher US interest rates. Foreigners currently own about 30% of all US Treasury securities, with the latest official data putting Chinese ownership at $1.15 trillion in June 2017 – fully 19% of total foreign holdings and slightly higher than Japan’s $1.09 trillion. In the event of new US tariffs, it seems reasonable to expect China to respond by reducing such purchases, reinforcing a strategy of asset diversification away from US dollar-based assets that has been under way for the past three years. In an era of still-large US budget deficits – likely to go even higher in the aftermath of Trump administration tax cuts and spending initiatives – the lack of demand for Treasuries by the largest foreign owner could well put upward pressure on borrowing costs.

Third, with growth in US domestic demand still depressed, American companies need to rely more on external demand. Yet the Trump administration seems all but oblivious to this component of the growth calculus. It is threatening trade sanctions not only against China – America’s third-largest and fastest-growing major export market – but also against NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico (America’s largest and second-largest export markets, respectively). As the reactive pathology of codependency would suggest, none of these countries can be expected to acquiesce to such measures without curtailing US access to their markets – a counter-response that could severely undermine the manufacturing revival that seems so central to the Trump presidency’s promise to “Make America Great Again.”

In the end, China’s economic leverage over America is largely the result of low US domestic saving. In the first quarter of 2017, the so-called net national saving rate – the combined depreciation-adjusted saving of businesses, households, and the government sector – stood at just 1.9% of national income, well below the longer-term average of 6.3% that prevailed over the final three decades of the twentieth century. Lacking in saving and wanting to consume and grow, the US must import surplus saving from abroad to close the gap, forcing it to run massive current-account and trade deficits with countries like China to attract the foreign capital.

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“..the now-notorious 2011 standoff led S&P Global Ratings to downgrade U.S. sovereign debt for the first time. The episode wiped $2.4 trillion off U.S. stocks.”

Financial Firms Fear Turmoil Over Fraught US Debt Ceiling Talks (R.)

Financial firms are sounding alarm bells and dusting off contingency plans over fears an increasingly dysfunctional U.S. Congress may fail to reach a deal to raise the country’s debt limit. Several lobbyists, representing dozens of bankers, investors and credit rating agencies, told Reuters they are worried that dynamics at play in Washington – a bitterly divided Republican party and unpredictable President Donald Trump – could rule out a deal before an October deadline. Policymakers have vowed to provide disaster relief to areas affected by Hurricane Harvey, boosting hopes the debt limit battle could be included in an agreement on a legislative package.

But the acrimonious atmosphere following Trump’s remarks about the Charlottesville protests this month, which cost him key backers in the business community and raised worries about his ability to broker a deal, still lingers. The debt ceiling is a legal cap on how much money the government can borrow to fund its budget deficits and meet debt obligations. Failure to raise it from the current $19.8 trillion could lead to default, sending shockwaves across global markets. “The stakes here are incredibly high. The economic impact associated with debt default is so immense,” said Rob Nichols, president and CEO of the American Bankers Association (ABA), one of the country’s key financial lobby groups. “We’re monitoring this extremely closely and we will mobilize as needed throughout September.”

While leading lawmakers and the administration have pledged it will get done, some corners of financial markets are already on edge. After all, Goldman Sachs estimated that failure to lift the cap would force a government spending cut equal to between 3 and 4% of U.S. gross domestic product, which would have crippling economic consequences. Moreover, previous debt limit negotiations went down to the wire, and the now-notorious 2011 standoff led S&P Global Ratings to downgrade U.S. sovereign debt for the first time. The episode wiped $2.4 trillion off U.S. stocks.

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“U.S. gold is currently officially valued at $42.22 per ounce on the Treasury’s books versus a market price of $1,285 per ounce”

Weird Things Are Happening With Gold (Rickards)

The first strange gold story involves Germany… The Deutsche Bundesbank, the central bank of Germany, announced that it had completed the repatriation of gold to Frankfurt from foreign vaults. The German story is the completion of a process that began in 2013. That’s when the Deutsche Bundesbank first requested a return of some of the German gold from vaults in Paris, in London and at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Those gold transfers have now been completed. This is a topic I first raised in the introduction to Currency Wars in 2011. I suggested that in extremis, the U.S. might freeze or confiscate foreign gold stored on U.S. soil using powers under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, the Trading With the Enemy Act or the USA Patriot Act.

This then became a political issue in Europe with agitation for repatriation in the Netherlands, Germany and Austria. Europeans wanted to get gold out of the U.S. and safely back to their own national vaults. The German transfer was completed ahead of schedule; the original completion date was 2020. But the German central bank does not actually want the gold back because there is no well-developed gold-leasing market in Frankfurt and no experience leasing gold under German law. German gold in New York or London was available for leasing under New York or U.K. law as part of global price-manipulation schemes. Moving gold to Frankfurt reduces the floating supply available for leasing, making it more difficult to keep the manipulation going.

Why did Germany do it? The driving force both in 2013 (date of announcement) and 2017 (date of completion) is that both years are election years in Germany. Angela Merkel’s position as chancellor of Germany is up for a vote on Sept. 24, 2017. She may need a coalition to stay in power, and there’s a small nationalist party in Germany that agitates for gold repatriation. Merkel stage-managed this gold repatriation with the Deutsche Bundesbank both in 2013 and this week to appease that small nationalist party and keep them in the coalition. That’s why the repatriation was completed three years early. She needs the votes now.

The truly weird gold story comes from the United States… Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just paid a visit to Fort Knox to see the U.S. gold supply. Mnuchin is only the third Treasury secretary in history ever to visit Fort Knox and this was the first official visit from Washington since 1974. The U.S. government likes to ignore gold and not draw attention to it. Official visits to Fort Knox give gold some monetary credence that central banks would prefer it does not have. Why an impromptu visit by Mnuchin and McConnell? Why now? The answer may lie in the fact that the Treasury is running out of cash and could be broke by Sept. 29 if Congress does not increase the debt ceiling by then. But the Treasury could get $355 billion in cash from thin air without increasing the debt simply by revaluing U.S. gold to a market price. (U.S. gold is currently officially valued at $42.22 per ounce on the Treasury’s books versus a market price of $1,285 per ounce.)

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Naked power plays.

‘More Europe’ Won’t Solve Europe’s Fiscal Quandary (BBG)

To a certain cast of people, the solution to every problem in Europe is “more Europe” – even, or especially, those problems that have been caused by Europe. The economic crisis that began a decade ago has exposed many flaws in the European economic model. The solution? Some are calling for a euro-zone budget and a euro-zone finance minister. France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron, is dedicated to the idea. Berlin has signaled conditional support. And Brussels is always happy to accrue more power. The idea makes superficial sense: Monetary union, most people now accept, doesn’t really work without fiscal union. The European Central Bank is constantly under pressure to loosen monetary policy to help the weakest euro members, and to keep it tight to help the strongest. But currency is a blunt instrument.

The “more Europe” thinking is that if the EU had a large budget, it could redistribute wealth to more directly help struggling members. (This is what happens in the U.S.) A powerful finance minister would oversee member countries to keep deficits and debts down and prevent debt crises. Except that that doesn’t make much sense: As Martin Sandbu points out, the U.S. federal budget, hovering at around 20% of GDP, isn’t enough to act as much of a macro-economic stabilizer, and nobody contemplates an EU budget of even that scale in the foreseeable future. Regardless, the so-called debt crises in the euro zone were not ultimately caused by deficits and debts as such, but by monetary phenomena. The euro made Mediterranean countries uncompetitive, leading to slow growth and debt and deficits, and the interest on those debts spiked only when the implicit euro-zone-wide guarantee on those debts was called into question by Germany.

What of Germany, which is essential to any EU reform effort? Germany historically, and Angela Merkel especially, has always been keen on more European integration – but also doesn’t want to pay for it. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has favored the idea of an EU budget – with a little-noticed but all-important asterisk. EU countries’ access to a European macroeconomic stabilization fund would be conditioned on “the bailout fund having more say over national debt and budgets,” he told the German Bild newspaper. In other words, Germany would be happy to pay a little something toward a macro-economic stabilization fund in exchange for having practical control over the budgets of all the euro-zone countries.

The commitment to pay into the fund is probably not daunting, because the budgetary orthodoxy rules Germany would come up with would be unattainable, and the money would probably never be spent. In other words, Macron and the “more Europe” camp are willing to hand Germany control over the euro zone’s finances, in exchange for … well, perhaps nothing. It’s an offer that Merkel can’t refuse.

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No, it’s not ideal. But at least all-out chaos like in Libya has been prevented.

Victory For Assad Increasingly Likely As World Loses Interest In Syria (G.)

In recent months, as supplies of aid, money and weapons to Syria’s opposition have dwindled, it had clung to the hope that ongoing international political support would prevent an outright victory for Bashar al-Assad and his backers. Not any more. An announcement earlier this week by Jordan – one of the opposition’s most robust supporters – that “bilateral ties with Damascus are going in the right direction” has, for many, marked a death knell for the opposition cause. Within the ranks of the political opposition, and regional allies, the statement was the opening act of something that all had dreaded: normalisation with a bitter foe. And without anything much to show for it.

Emphasising his words, Jordanian government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani said: “This is a very important message that everyone should hear.” And indeed, the about-face in Amman was quickly noted in Ankara, Doha, and Riyadh, where – after seven and a-half years of war – states that were committed to toppling the Syrian leader are now resigned to him staying. Returning from a summit in the Saudi capital last week, opposition leaders say they were told directly by the foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, that Riyadh was disengaging. “The Saudis don’t care about Syria anymore,” said a senior western diplomat. “It’s all Qatar for them. Syria is lost.”

In Britain too, rhetoric that had demanded Assad leave the Presidential Palace, as a first step towards peace, has been replaced by what Whitehall calls “pragmatic realism”. The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, last week couched Assad’s departure as “not a precondition. But part of a transition.” Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, has openly delegated finding a solution to Syria to Russia. Donald Trump, meanwhile, has pledged to close a CIA-run programme, which had sent weapons from Jordan and Turkey to vetted Syrian rebel groups for much of the past four years. Washington has adopted a secondary role in twin, ailing, peace processes in Geneva and Astana and has focused its energies on fighting Isis, not Assad.

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How long ago is it that Justin vowed to fix this? “.. more than 100 reserves still lack housing, electricity or running water “

‘Our Society Is Broken’: Canada’s First Nations Suicide Epidemic (G.)

The suicide epidemic affecting First Nations communities across Canada has been a national crisis for decades, but it attracted international headlines after three indigenous communities were moved to declare a state of emergency in response to a series of deaths. In the spring of 2016, Attawapiskat First Nation reserve in Ontario declared a state of emergency after 11 young people tried to commit suicide in one night – adding to the estimated 100 attempts made over 10 months among this community of 2,000 people. Not long after, it was revealed that six people, including a 14-year-old girl, had killed themselves over a period of three months in the Pimicikamak Cree Nation community of northern Manitoba. In the aftermath, more than 150 youths in this remote community of 6,000 were put on suicide watch.

Then in June this year, another First Nations reserve in Ontario lost three 12-year-old girls who had reportedly agreed a suicide pact. This string of tragic events has seen media and government turn the spotlight on an issue too often ignored in Canada. Across the country, suicide and self-inflicted injury is the leading cause of death for First Nations people below the age of 44. Studies show young indigenous males are 10 times more likely to kill themselves than their non-indigenous male counterparts, while young indigenous females are 21 times more likely than young non-indigenous females. [..] The government has been criticised for its lack of support and funding for First Nations communities, which total 1.4 million people – just under 4.3% of Canada’s population. “We call that injustice,” says Roderick McCormick, an expert in indigenous health and suicide at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops BC.

He suggests a complex web of severe poverty plus lack of education and basic necessities underpins the rise in suicides among indigenous youths. “In terms of educational opportunities, healthcare and child welfare, the government is doing an injustice by not adequately funding our communities,” McCormick says. “When these remote reserves compare themselves to other communities across Canada, there is a huge gap that has become really evident.” Recent research has found more than 100 reserves still lack housing, electricity or running water – with almost 90 of them being advised to boil their drinking water. Another study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that 60% of children on these reserves are living in poverty. “The communities I represent are living in abject poverty,” Wilson says. “My people are the poorest in this country, and that’s not right.”

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Aug 302017
 
 August 30, 2017  Posted by at 8:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Elliott Erwitt Crowd at Armistice Day Parade, Pittsburgh 1950

 

The Economy Minus Houston (Slate)
Harvey Didn’t Come Out Of The Blue (Naomi Klein)
The US Cities with the Biggest Housing Bubbles (WS)
“Crazy” House Prices Are Firing Up New Zealand’s Voters (BBG)
China’s $2 Trillion of Shadow Lending Throws Focus on Rust Belt (BBG)
Homeowner’s Lawsuit Says Wells Fargo Charged Improper Mortgage Fees (R.)
The Battle for India’s $45 Billion Gold Industry Has Begun (BBG)
US Defense Boost May Unravel Into a $65 Billion Cut (BBG)
England’s Fire Services Suffer 25% Cut To Safety Officers Numbers (G.)
UK’s Leading Companies’ Pension Deficit Rises To 70% Of Their Profits (G.)
We Need To Nationalise Google, Facebook and Amazon (G.)
As Poverty Surges in Italy, Five Star Propose a ‘Citizens’ Income’ (BBG)
Why Every European Country Has A Trump Or Sanders Candidate (Drake)

 

 

A huge number of people will not be able to rebuild, because they lack insurance. And in many cases, rebuilding on the same -flood prone- spot wouldn’t be a good idea to begin with. But where will the people go?

Time to stop talking about the damage to the economy, and focus on the people.

The Economy Minus Houston (Slate)

Houston, America’s fourth-largest city, has a massive, diversified economy. Sure, New Orleans sits near the mouth of the mighty Mississippi River and is an important entrepôt and site for export of raw materials, agricultural commodities chemicals, and petroleum products. But Houston is a larger, busier, and far more important node in the networked economy. Economies derive their power and influence from their connections to other cities, countries, and markets. And Houston is one of the more connected. It is one of the global capitals of the energy and energy services industries. Yes, there’s a degree to which consumption and other economic activity that is forestalled or foregone during a flood is consumption and economic activity deferred. And cleanup efforts tend to be additive to local economies. But in today’s economy, a lot of value can easily be destroyed very quickly.

With only a small portion of the housing stock carrying flood insurance, billions of dollars in property will simply be destroyed and not immediately replaced. People who get paid by the hour, or who work for themselves, won’t be able to make up for the income they’re losing a few weeks from now. Hotel rooms and airplane seats are perishable goods—once canceled, they can’t simply be rescheduled. Refineries won’t be able to make up all the time offline—they can’t run more than 24 hours per day. And given that supply chains rely on a huge number of shipments making their connections with precision, the disruption to the region’s shipping, trucking, and rail infrastructure will have far-reaching effects. If you’re a business in Oklahoma or New Mexico, there’s a pretty good chance the goods you are importing or exporting pass through the Port of Houston.

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Sorry, Naomi, but you can’t take individual events and blame them on cllmate change. The system is far too complex for that. We must stick to science, not lose ourselves in assumptions.

Harvey Didn’t Come Out Of The Blue (Naomi Klein)

Now is exactly the time to talk about climate change, and all the other systemic injustices — from racial profiling to economic austerity — that turn disasters like Harvey into human catastrophes. Turn on the coverage of the Hurricane Harvey and the Houston flooding and you’ll hear lots of talk about how unprecedented this kind of rainfall is. How no one saw it coming, so no one could adequately prepare. What you will hear very little about is why these kind of unprecedented, record-breaking weather events are happening with such regularity that “record-breaking” has become a meteorological cliche. In other words, you won’t hear much, if any, talk about climate change.

This, we are told, is out of a desire not to “politicize” a still unfolding human tragedy, which is an understandable impulse. But here’s the thing: every time we act as if an unprecedented weather event is hitting us out of the blue, as some sort of Act of God that no one foresaw, reporters are making a highly political decision. It’s a decision to spare feelings and avoid controversy at the expense of telling the truth, however difficult. Because the truth is that these events have long been predicted by climate scientists. Warmer oceans throw up more powerful storms. Higher sea levels mean those storms surge into places they never reached before. Hotter weather leads to extremes of precipitation: long dry periods interrupted by massive snow or rain dumps, rather than the steadier predictable patterns most of us grew up with.

The records being broken year after year — whether for drought, storm surges, wildfires, or just heat — are happening because the planet is markedly warmer than it has been since record-keeping began. Covering events like Harvey while ignoring those facts, failing to provide a platform to climate scientists who can make them plain, all while never mentioning President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accords, fails in the most basic duty of journalism: to provide important facts and relevant context. It leaves the public with the false impression that these are disasters without root causes, which also means that nothing could have been done to prevent them (and that nothing can be done now to prevent them from getting much worse in the future).

It’s also worth noting that the Harvey coverage has been highly political since well before the storm made landfall. There has been endless talk about whether Trump was taking the storm seriously enough, endless speculation about whether this hurricane will be his “Katrina moment” and a great deal of (fair) point-scoring about how many Republicans voted against Sandy relief but have their hands out for Texas now. That’s politics being made out of a disaster — it’s just the kind of partisan politics that is fully inside the comfort zone of conventional media, politics that conveniently skirts the reality that placing the interests of fossil fuel companies ahead of the need for decisive pollution control has been a deeply bipartisan affair.

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Wolf Richter with a whole series of US cities, all with record new highs. How people can keep saying there is no bubble in the US, I don’t know.

The US Cities with the Biggest Housing Bubbles (WS)

For the good folks who hope fervently that the Fed doesn’t have reasons to raise rates or unwind QE because there isn’t enough inflation, here is an update on one aspect of inflation – asset price inflation, and particularly house price inflation – where the value of your hard-earned dollars has collapsed over a given number of years to where it takes a whole lot more dollars to pay for the same house. So here are some visuals of amazing house price bubbles, city by city. Bubbles really aren’t hard to recognize, if you want to recognize them. What’s hard to predict accurately is when they will burst. Normally the Fed doesn’t want to acknowledge them. But now it has its eyes focused on them.

The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Home Price Index for June was released today. It jumped 5.8% year-over-year, not seasonally adjusted, once again outpacing growth in household incomes, as it has done for years. At 192.6, the index has surpassed by 5% the peak in May 2006 of crazy Housing Bubble 1, which everyone called “housing bubble” after it imploded (data via FRED, St. Louis Fed). The Case-Shiller Index is based on a rolling-three month average; today’s release was for April, May, and June data. Instead of median prices, it uses “home price sales pairs,” for example, a house sold in 2011 and then again in 2017. Algorithms adjust this price movement and add other factors. The index was set at 100 for January 2000. An index value of 200 means prices have doubled in the past 17 years, which is what most of the metros in this series have accomplished, or are close to accomplishing.

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There is no easy way out for New Zealand.

“Crazy” House Prices Are Firing Up New Zealand’s Voters (BBG)

As ownership falls to the lowest since 1951, housing affordability is firing up voters ahead of New Zealand’s general election on Sept. 23. The government is under attack for failing to respond to price surges that have forced many to ditch their property dreams. New Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has made housing a key issue, helping restore the main opposition party in opinion polls and leaving the election too close to call. “The government’s response has been too slow and inadequate for many because they’ve seen house prices rising very fast,” said Raymond Miller, professor of politics at Auckland University. “Some voters might well have a feeling of being let down by what they see as indifference to their plight. It’s the government’s Achilles’ heel.” Prices across New Zealand have risen 34% the past three years, fanned by record immigration, historically low interest rates and a supply shortage.

That’s seen the portion of owner-occupied properties slump to 63% of the nation’s 1.8 million homes in the second quarter, down from a peak of 74% in the early 1990s. In response, the ruling National Party has made more land available for development and increased deposit grants to first-home buyers. But it’s done little to curb immigration that’s added 201,000 to the population the past three years, while a policy of taxing profits on investment properties sold within two years of purchase has been criticized as too mild. Labour is pledging a more aggressive solution. It’s promising to ban property sales to non-resident foreigners who it says have fanned price pressures, and will extend the period in which investors will be subject to tax to five years. It wants to curb immigration, and plans to build 100,000 homes over 10 years and sell them at affordable prices.

“We’re going to get the government back into the business of building large numbers of affordable homes for first-home buyers like governments used to in this country,” Labour’s housing spokesman Phil Twyford said in a Television New Zealand interview. “The government has had nine years and they’ve just tinkered around the edges.” Many New Zealanders are motivated to save for a home where they can bring up a family just as their parents and grandparents did. National will be wary that disillusioned home-buyers may turn their back on the party, thwarting its efforts to win a rare fourth term. No party has won an outright majority since the South Pacific nation introduced proportional representation in 1996. National had 44% support in a poll published Aug. 17. Labour had 37% but could get across the line with the additional support of ally the Green Party, which had 4%, and New Zealand First, which got 10%.

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I think the estimates are still low.

China’s $2 Trillion of Shadow Lending Throws Focus on Rust Belt (BBG)

Regional banks in China’s rust-belt provinces are driving the rapid expansion of shadow banking in the country, fueling a web of informal lending that poses wider risks to the financial system, according to a study by UBS. Smaller rust-belt banks like Bank of Tangshan Co. and Baoshang Bank have been using products such as trust beneficiary rights and directional asset-management plans to hide the true state of their bad loans and circumvent lending restrictions, the study by analyst Jason Bedford said. Others have been using the shadow loan instruments to diversify away from lending in their struggling home provinces, exposing themselves to a much wider spectrum of Chinese corporate risk in the event of a default, according to the report. By analyzing 237 Chinese banks, many of them small and unlisted regional lenders, Bedford casts a new spotlight on underground financing and the risks it poses to the nation’s $35 trillion banking industry.

Shadow loans grew almost 15% to 14.1 trillion yuan ($2.3 trillion) by December from a year earlier, equal to about 19% of economic output, he estimates. “This is a sleeper issue,” Bedford wrote. “The remarkable level of concentration in regional banks in rust-belt region banks, combined with evidence that these assets are increasingly being used to roll over loans to existing borrowers as well as being swapped between banks without a clear transfer of risk are alarming.” Accounting for this financing, Chinese banks’ nonperforming loans could be three times higher than the official published level, he said. By recording such lending under “investment receivables” rather than “loans” on their financial statements, banks were able to disguise what is in effect lending, to get around regulatory lending curbs or heavy reliance on wholesale funding.

Such financial engineering also enabled some lenders to overstate their capital adequacy ratios, understate nonperforming loans and reduce provision charges. [..] Bank of Tangshan is an unlisted lender in the struggling northeast city of the same name, which produces more steel than any other city around the world. The firm’s shadow loans grew 86% last year to a size equal to 308% of its formal book, the highest of any bank in China, according to Bedford’s report. Still, the bank reported a bad-loan ratio of just 0.05% last year, the lowest of any bank in UBS’ analysis, exemplifying the “distortion” shadow loan books create in assessing asset quality, Bedford said.

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How is this NOT criminal intent? Where are the indictments?

Homeowner’s Lawsuit Says Wells Fargo Charged Improper Mortgage Fees (R.)

A homeowner has filed a lawsuit accusing Wells Fargo of improperly charging thousands of customers nationwide to lock in interest rates when their mortgage applications were delayed. Filed on Monday in San Francisco federal court, the lawsuit said Wells Fargo managers pressured employees to blame homeowners for the delays, sometimes by falsely stating that paperwork was missing, so homeowners could be stuck with extra fees. Wells Fargo Spokesman Tom Goyda said the bank is reviewing past practices on rate lock extensions and will take steps for customers as appropriate. The lawsuit, which will request the court grant class action status, comes as Wells Fargo is trying to recover from a scandal last year when the bank was fined for opening accounts for customers without their authorization in order to boost sales figures.

Last month, a new lawsuit accused it of charging several hundred thousand borrowers for auto insurance they did not request. Monday’s lawsuit accuses the bank of violating state and federal consumer protection laws, including the U.S. Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act and the U.S. Truth in Lending Act. Earlier this month, Wells Fargo disclosed that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was investigating the fees the company charged to lock in interest rates for delayed mortgage loans. In a securities filing, the bank said it was working with regulators to see if customers had been harmed by the fees. Interest rate locks are guarantees by a lender to lock in a set interest rate, usually for several weeks, while a loan is processed. If the rate lock expires before a loan closes, lenders often cover the cost of extending the lock if the delay was their fault.

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Modi taking people’s incomes away. Reforms. Here’s thinking India is nowhere near ready for this.

The Battle for India’s $45 Billion Gold Industry Has Begun (BBG)

India’s past and future are colliding in Anand Ghugre’s family jewelry shop in Mumbai. “We still operate the way my father did for 50 years,” said Ghugre, 52, explaining that transactions were typically in cash and were not always recorded. “For small jewelers and the unorganized sector, most of our sales happen through personal connections. Sometimes they don’t want bills, but the jewelers can’t say no to them.” That way of doing business is under threat as the world’s second-largest gold market faces Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign to bring India’s informal economy to book. About three quarters of the estimated $45 billion of the precious metal that is traded in the country each year makes its way through thousands of family-run jewelry shops that have catered for centuries to the nation’s love of gold.

Modi’s financial reforms, including demonetization and a new goods and services tax, combined with a younger generation that shops online, may usher in a wave of takeovers and mergers by big state-wide and national chains as small shops are swallowed up or close. “The one story that we hear is that the business is becoming problematic for smaller jewelers,” said Chirag Sheth at London-based precious metals consultancy Metals Focus. “The bigger jewelers have deeper pockets, they have larger shops, better designs and better margins. It is very difficult for a smaller guy to compete.” Modi in November banned higher denomination notes to bring unaccounted cash back into the system and introduced tougher proof of identity for purchases, capped the amount of cash used in transactions and topped it off with the uniform goods and services tax last month.

An overhaul of the fragmented industry is also on the cards with the government said to be planning a new policy on gold that will bolster confidence among consumers, where the gifting of gold at weddings and festivals or its purchase as a store of value are deeply held traditions. Fixing quality standards and allowing supply chains to be easily tracked are ways to enhance trust.

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Well, we can’t have that, can we?

US Defense Boost May Unravel Into a $65 Billion Cut (BBG)

U.S. national security funding may be slashed by about $65 billion in January as lawmakers forge ahead with a spending plan that collides with a budget ceiling under a six-year-old law. A $614 billion bill passed by the U.S. House in H.R. 3219 is caught in a political vise: President Donald Trump and most lawmakers want to see increases in Pentagon spending, yet that intention isn’t backed up by an agreement to undo the 2011 Budget Control Act. Without another budget agreement in place, the Defense Department faces automatic across-the-board cuts of 9% to 10% starting in mid-January, according to Chris Sherwood, a Pentagon spokesman. That’s about $65 billion, the Congressional Budget Office estimates.

Enforcement of the act’s caps are returning for the coming fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 after they were adjusted in fiscal 2016 and 2017 for discretionary domestic and national security spending. That was the third time since the act passed that the limits were adjusted, in those cases for both defense and domestic discretionary spending. Trump wants to cut domestic spending while adding to defense, a proposal opposed by Democrats and many Republicans. If the mandatory cuts go ahead, they would be leveled across thousands of Pentagon programs. The White House would have the option of exempting military personnel funds from the automatic cuts, known as sequestration. Such cuts are likely because all of the pending congressional defense bills so far propose busting the cap of $549 billion in national security spending for fiscal year 2018, or $522 billion for the Pentagon alone.

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Cameron and Osborne and May have gutted the entire country.

England’s Fire Services Suffer 25% Cut To Safety Officers Numbers (G.)

Fire services in England have lost more than a quarter of their specialist fire safety staff since 2011, a Guardian investigation has found. Fire safety officers carry out inspections of high-risk buildings to ensure they comply with safety legislation and take action against landlords where buildings are found to be unsafe. Figures released to the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act showed the number of specialist staff in 26 fire services had fallen from 924 to 680, a loss of 244 officers between 2011 and 2017. Between 2011 and 2016, the government reduced its funding for fire services by between 26% and 39%, according to the National Audit Office, which in turn resulted in a 17% average real-terms reduction in spending power.

Warren Spencer, a fire safety lawyer, said the figures showed a “clear culture of complacency” about fire safety. “The government has tended to take the view that fewer people are dying in fires, fires occur less frequently, and therefore there’s no need to invest in fire prevention. So there’s been a total brain drain in fire safety knowledge and many experienced specialist officers have left the force,” he said. “But fire safety officers have been saying to me for years that one day, there would be a big fire in a multiple occupancy building, which would make everyone sit up and take notice of the lack of fire safety provision. Tragically, that’s what happened at Grenfell Tower.”

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As dividends keep being paid out.

UK’s Leading Companies’ Pension Deficit Rises To 70% Of Their Profits (G.)

The combined pension deficit of FTSE 350 companies has risen to £62bn, accounting for 70% of their profits. The deficit as a proportion of profits recorded for 2016 is higher than at any time since the financial crisis, following a £12bn rise since 2015. The 25% increase came in a second year of comparatively low profit for UK publicly listed companies. The deficit is the gap between the expected liabilities of pension commitments and the funds that companies hold to pay for pensions. While many have set aside billions in recent years, a trend towards rising life expectancy, combined with lower expectations for returns on investment, has put more pressure on pension schemes and seen the deficit grow. Actuaries have warned that even a slight fall in bond yields would see the pension deficit of the plcs outstrip their aggregate profits by 2019.

The figures, in a report from the actuarial consultancy Barnett Waddingham, show the deficit has risen sharply as a proportion of profits in the past five years, from 25% of the £214bn pre-tax profits of the FTSE 350 in 2011. Even in the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2009, the deficit was lower at 60%. For 21 plcs, the pensions shortfall is more than 10% of their value, which Barnett Waddingham described as alarming. However, the actuaries said recent data suggesting years of austerity had seen gains in UK life expectancy grind to a halt could provide “welcome respite for companies”. It showed that after a century in which the rate of increase in life expectancy had accelerated, the average age of death was levelling off at 79 for men and 83 for women.

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A discussion that must take place. But the political climate doesn’t lean towards nationalization. Besides, how do you nationalize companies that operate in many dozens of countries?

We Need To Nationalise Google, Facebook and Amazon (G.)

At the heart of platform capitalism is a drive to extract more data in order to survive. One way is to get people to stay on your platform longer. Facebook is a master at using all sorts of behavioural techniques to foster addictions to its service: how many of us scroll absentmindedly through Facebook, barely aware of it? Another way is to expand the apparatus of extraction. This helps to explain why Google, ostensibly a search engine company, is moving into the consumer internet of things (Home/Nest), self-driving cars (Waymo), virtual reality (Daydream/Cardboard), and all sorts of other personal services. Each of these is another rich source of data for the company, and another point of leverage over their competitors.

Others have simply bought up smaller companies: Facebook has swallowed Instagram ($1bn), WhatsApp ($19bn), and Oculus ($2bn), while investing in drone-based internet, e-commerce and payment services. It has even developed a tool that warns when a start-up is becoming popular and a possible threat. Google itself is among the most prolific acquirers of new companies, at some stages purchasing a new venture every week. The picture that emerges is of increasingly sprawling empires designed to vacuum up as much data as possible. But here we get to the real endgame: artificial intelligence (or, less glamorously, machine learning). Some enjoy speculating about wild futures involving a Terminator-style Skynet, but the more realistic challenges of AI are far closer.

In the past few years, every major platform company has turned its focus to investing in this field. As the head of corporate development at Google recently said, “We’re definitely AI first.” All the dynamics of platforms are amplified once AI enters the equation: the insatiable appetite for data, and the winner-takes-all momentum of network effects. And there is a virtuous cycle here: more data means better machine learning, which means better services and more users, which means more data. Currently Google is using AI to improve its targeted advertising, and Amazon is using AI to improve its highly profitable cloud computing business. As one AI company takes a significant lead over competitors, these dynamics are likely to propel it to an increasingly powerful position.

What’s the answer? We’ve only begun to grasp the problem, but in the past, natural monopolies like utilities and railways that enjoy huge economies of scale and serve the common good have been prime candidates for public ownership. The solution to our newfangled monopoly problem lies in this sort of age-old fix, updated for our digital age. It would mean taking back control over the internet and our digital infrastructure, instead of allowing them to be run in the pursuit of profit and power. Tinkering with minor regulations while AI firms amass power won’t do. If we don’t take over today’s platform monopolies, we risk letting them own and control the basic infrastructure of 21st-century society.

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Of course the headline said “populists”… Fixed that.

As Poverty Surges in Italy, Five Star Propose a ‘Citizens’ Income’ (BBG)

“Poverty will be center stage in the campaign,” says Giorgio Freddi, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Bologna. The populist Five Star Movement “has imposed the issue on national politics. The mainstream parties are being forced to play catch-up.” Five Star is a fast-growing group fueled by anger at the old political class. Three years ago the movement rode economic concerns to power in Livorno, ending 70 years of rule by the Communists and other left-leaning parties. The new mayor, a former engineer named Filippo Nogarin, introduced a €500 ($590) monthly subsidy to the disadvantaged. That idea is a key plank in Five Star’s national platform, and the group’s leaders have promised to quickly implement such a program if they take power. Beppe Grillo, the former television comedian who co-founded the party, says fighting poverty should be a top priority.

A basic income can “give people back their dignity,” Grillo’s blog declared in April. “The current government is ignoring millions of families in difficulty.” The Five Star program echoes universal basic income schemes being considered around the world. Finland in January started an experiment in which 2,000 unemployed people receive a stipend of €560 per month. And the Canadian province of Ontario this summer began trials in three cities in which individuals can get almost C$17,000 ($13,600) per year. Five Star’s version would give Italians below the poverty line as much as €780 a month. Recipients must perform several hours of community service each week and actively seek work, and they’d be cut off after rejecting three job offers. Five Star says the plan would cost €17 billion a year, funded in part by spending cuts as well as tax hikes on banks, insurance companies, and gambling.

Opinion polls show Five Star neck and neck with the Democratic Party, led by ex-Premier Matteo Renzi, and a center-right bloc including Forza Italia, the party of former Premier Silvio Berlusconi. To keep Five Star from dominating the debate, Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, a Renzi ally, has approved a less ambitious plan he calls “the first universal tool against poverty.” The scheme, dubbed “inclusion income,” would give 1.7 million people as much as €485 a month as long as they’re actively seeking work, at a cost of about €2 billion a year. With industrial output down by about 25% from 2008 to 2013 in Italy’s worst postwar recession, either plan could be helpful, says Giuseppe Di Taranto, a professor of economic history at Rome’s Luiss University. “We lost lots of jobs, and poverty has risen so much that we’ve got to experiment.”

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More of the same. But the anti-EU, anti-globalization mood is obvious: “77% of the people questioned in a recent poll could see no advantage to them at all from the country’s membership in the European Union.” While Macron and Merkel are planning a lot more EU. And claiming that the EU is doing fine.

Why Every European Country Has A Trump Or Sanders Candidate (Drake)

As a result of the methods used to promote globalization, the consequences for the West have been tragic. Work is becoming increasingly uncertain and insecure, or it is in the process of disappearing altogether. It would take Veblen’s talents for social satire, which are unsurpassed in all of American literature, to depict with the essential exactitude of artistic synthesis how far the United States has fallen away from democratic grace, the country’s dramatically widening gap between the haves and the have-nots being what it is. Clearly, we are on the wrong course. What the robotics revolution, now at an incipient stage, will do to further diminish opportunities for Western peoples to work can be easily imagined, if the economic imperative of corporate capitalism is the rule to go by.

The same desolating trends can be seen in Europe, where people increasingly regard the European Union as a Trojan horse. The economic elites and their political front-men responsible for this image-challenged contraption lose public support with each new poll. The people by and large blame the European Union and the other accessories of globalization for their worsening standard of living. When informed by the establishment media that thanks to globalization Europe has never been more prosperous and peaceful, Europeans in historic numbers are reacting with disbelief. Their deepening sense of betrayal propels the surge of populism that defines the politics of Europe today. Arguments long-settled in favor of deregulation, liberalization, open borders, and other globalization watchwords have been reopened.

The constituency is growing for a politics that puts the well-being of Europeans first. Political measures calling for the protection of European jobs and cultures have gained a following unforeseen prior to 2008. In Italy, for example, 77% of the people questioned in a recent poll could see no advantage to them at all from the country’s membership in the European Union. 64% of them expressed hostility toward it. Eight Italian businesses out of 10 can find nothing positive to say about the European Union. It is seen to be a creature of the banks and the big financial houses. As public relations disasters go, this one has unfolded on an epic scale as the underlying populations, long left out of consideration by the economic elites, have begun to sense the fate their masters have in store for them.

Leaving underlying populations out of consideration was a special feature of the planning that went into globalization. They have been voiceless. In America, Trump gave them a voice, and they responded to him with their political support. It did not matter that he came before them without a plan for their deliverance. That he came to them at all mattered. He understood the depth of the anger and alienation in America against a status quo personified by his opponent, Hillary Clinton, whose repeated and munificently rewarded speeches before the captains of finance on Wall Street effectively branded her as the safe candidate for all who wanted to leave existing economic arrangements fundamentally undisturbed.

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May 042017
 
 May 4, 2017  Posted by at 9:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Fred Stein Americans All 1943

 

“We Have Enough Votes”: House To Vote Thursday To Repeal Obamacare (ZH)
Democrats, Not Trump, Are Driving Policy (BBG)
Corporate Insiders Are Unloading Their Stocks Like There’s No Tomorrow (Lang)
The Coming Collapse In US Auto Sales (F.)
Fed to Markets: June Rate Hike Coming Your Way (CNBC)
Rickards Says Fed Raising Into Weakness, Recession Due By Summer (BBG)
57% Of Australians Couldn’t Handle $100 A Month Rise In Mortgage Payments (G.)
Kyle Bass Warns “All Hell Is About To Break Loose” In China (ZH)
PIMCO Warns “Brace For Lower Growth” From A Less ‘Impulsive’ China (ZH)
Do Tax Cuts Pay For Themselves? (MW)
The Economics of the Future (Michael Hudson)
UK PM May Accuses EU of Brexit Threats and Election Interference (CNBC)
Le Pen Tirade Meets Logic of Macron in Brutal French TV Duel
Universal Basic Income is Not “Free Money” (Santens)
The Brothers Fighting For Indebted Greek Homeowners (AP)

 

 

The whole thing oozes cynicism.

“We Have Enough Votes”: House To Vote Thursday To Repeal Obamacare (ZH)

The Republicans are giving Obamacare repeal another try, and this time they may succeed. Just a few hours after we reported that “Obamacare repeal suddenly looks possible” when two key Republicans – Fred Upton and Billy Long – flipped and decided to support the GOP healthcare bill, leading to immediate speculation the bill has enough support, the WSJ reported that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters Wednesday evening the House will vote on Thursday on the Republican bill to replace most of Obamacare: “we will be voting on the health-care bill tomorrow because we have enough votes.” When asked by a reporter about whether the bill would have to be pulled from the floor again for lack of support, McCarthy replied: “Would you have confidence? We’re going to pass it. We’re going to pass it. Let’s be optimistic about life.”

McCarthy also cited an insurer pulling out of the ObamaCare exchanges in Iowa Wednesday as a reason the law needs to be quickly repealed. “That’s why we have to make sure this passes. To save these people from ObamaCare, which continues to collapse.” And so just like at the end of March, when the GOP was confident it had whipped enough names, only to pull the vote in the last moment, the announcement once again sets up a high-stakes vote that is expected to come down to the wire. The House GOP bill, if passed, would roll back much of the 2010 health-care law, replacing its subsidies with a system of tax credits largely tied to age. Until Wednesday, Republican leaders had struggled to secure the 216 votes they need to pass the bill, which is expected to receive no Democratic support.

They pulled the bill from the floor in late March, when conservatives and centrists defected and it became clear the legislation didn’t have the support to pass. Last week, GOP leaders also opted not to vote on the bill ahead of Trump’s first 100 days in office. [..] in pulling yet another page from the Democrats’ playbook, the House will pass the vote first before finding out what’s in it: the vote will take place without waiting for a new Congressional Budget Office analysis of Upton’s changes or the amendment from Rep. Tom MacArthur that won over the House Freedom Caucus. That analysis will eventually provide the details of the bill’s effects on coverage and its cost. For now however, Republicans are just scrambling to take advantage of this rare moment of agreement and get something finally done.

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What’s so cynical: trying to break Democrats’ power by pushing through a half-baked bill.

Democrats, Not Trump, Are Driving Policy (BBG)

Enough about Donald Trump’s first 100 days. On the 101st day, Congress came to a rare bipartisan agreement funding the federal government through September. This showed who really holds power in the Trump era: Democrats. After last November’s election, when Republicans had consolidated power and held both chambers of Congress as well as the White House, the question was who would be driving policy. Would it be the Trump administration, perhaps led by populist mastermind Steve Bannon? Would it be House Speaker Paul Ryan, a man with a reputation as a policy wonk with a vision for government? Would it be the ideological House Freedom Caucus, demanding that the new Republican-led government live up to the promises the party made to its base during the Obama years? All have tried to lead at some point this year, but the recently agreed-upon budget deal shows that instead, it’s Democrats who appear to be in charge.

Democrats have the leverage in Washington now because Republicans haven’t figured out how to govern on their own. The first Republican attempt at legislation was Paul Ryan’s American Health Care Act. That failed in part because it didn’t repeal Obamacare as the House Freedom Caucus insisted. The Trump administration tried to influence the legislative agenda by putting forth its budget blueprint in mid-March, which included draconian cuts to various departments. Yet the only parts of that budget that made it into the final agreement were modest spending increases for defense spending and border security, without any of the corresponding cuts. This happened because Republicans couldn’t come to an agreement on the budget on their own, meaning Democratic votes were needed for passage, and Democrats wouldn’t sign on to anything with big spending cuts.

[..]The emerging view may be that Trump just wants to sign legislation that he can take credit for, regardless of the substance of the bills. After all, he’s on the verge of signing a government funding bill that’s more in line with Democratic priorities than his own. Since he hasn’t been willing to stand up for any of his or his party’s policy priorities so far, should Democrats retake the House in 2018, there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t sign legislation passed by Democrats in the House if it makes it to his desk. On policy, the author of “The Art of the Deal” doesn’t seem to have any policy deal-breakers. A president without any fixed policy vision or breaking points is no authoritarian. He makes the legislature more powerful than it’s been in decades. If Republicans can’t come to internal agreement on major legislation, and Democrats are the ones with leverage, then complete inaction might become a best-case scenario for the GOP.

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“The people who would stand to lose the most if the markets crashed [..] are all jumping ship and selling their stocks.”

Corporate Insiders Are Unloading Their Stocks Like There’s No Tomorrow (Lang)

There aren’t any surefire ways to tell if the stock market, and perhaps the rest of the economy, is about to take a nosedive. That’s because millions of people with millions of ideas are involved, so it’s an inherently unpredictable system. However, there are certain players in our economy that have a lot more influence and insider knowledge than the rest of us. So when they make a move in unison, you know there’s a good chance that something is about to go down. And that’s exactly what’s going on with the stock market right now. The people who would stand to lose the most if the markets crashed; the corporate executives and insiders, are all jumping ship and selling their stocks.

“As the investing public has continued to devour stocks, sending all three major indexes to record highs in the last few months, corporate insiders have been offloading shares to an extent not seen in seven years.”Selling totaled $10 billion in March, according to data compiled by Trim Tabs. It’s a troubling trend facing an equity market that’s already grappling with its loftiest valuations since the 2000 tech bubble. If the people with the deepest knowledge of a company are cashing out, why should investors keep buying at current prices? The groundswell of insider selling has the attention of Brad Lamensdorf, portfolio manager at Ranger Alternative Management, and he doesn’t like what he sees. “This is definitely a negative sign,” Lamensdorf wrote in his April newsletter. “They do not see value in their own companies!”

And this isn’t a recent trend. While ordinary investors were optimistically diving into the stock market after Trump was elected, these people were dumping their stocks as far back as February. “Chief executives and other corporate insiders are selling stock hand over fist now that the quarterly earnings season is over, a report from Vickers Weekly Insider shows. Transactions by insiders are restricted around a company’s report. “Insider selling has jumped again, and this time to levels rarely seen,” analyst David Coleman wrote in Monday’s note.”

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A useful term: “Pent Down Demand”

The Coming Collapse In US Auto Sales (F.)

Automobiles are not moving off the parking lot. That’s according to an industry report that showed a sharp decline in auto sales across all auto makers—see table. Meanwhile industry inventories have been climbing up from an average of 55 days back in April of 2015 to 70 days last month. Coming after months of sluggish sales and generous incentives, the big drop in April sales could be a sign of an impending collapse which could parallel that of 2008-9. There’s a compelling reason for that: pent down demand, which for years has been “stealing” sales from the future. Now the future has arrived and pent down demand is bad for auto makers, their investors and the economy as a whole.

To get an idea how “pent down demand” (my own term) works, a good place to begin with is the more familiar concept of pent up demand, the lack of current demand for discretionary items like automobiles, home appliances, etc., which depresses sales of these items in the short run. Pent up demand usually appears before a period of consumer euphoria, when consumers choose to push spending on discretionary items to a future date, due to lower price expectations, depressed consumer confidence, or a credit crunch. And it disappears together with these conditions when that future day comes, and consumers rush to buy the items they put off in the past.

In contrast, pent down demand appears after a period of consumer euphoria when consumers choose to move spending on discretionary items from a future date into the present day, due to low cost of financing — which blurs the distinction between present and future. Why wait to buy a new car or a new home appliance next year when you can have it this year, paying a small penalty for this privilege? Simply put, ultra-low interest rates help “steal” sales from the future, creating market saturation, and eventually depress spending on “high ticket” items when the future becomes present. That’s what happened in the six years that preceded the 2008-9 collapse in US auto sales. Consumers rushed to take advantage of “zero percent” financing to purchase cars they would normally buy years later.

That’s how automobile sales grew from an average of 15 million in the 1980s and the 1990s to 17 million in the first six years of 2000s, before they tumbled during the Great Recession. Nonetheless, the Federal Reserve and other central bankers around the world didn’t take notice of the impact of pent down demand on future growth. They upped their ultra-low interest rate policies, refueling pent down demand again (automobile sales are above the pre-Great Recession levels). Compounding the problem, pent down demand is exacerbated by debt – a lot of debt – amassed on top of the old debt, which fueled the bubble that preceded the Great Recession. This was documented by a McKinsey report—US auto loans have crossed $1 trillion lately.

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Locked in to their own fantasies.

Fed to Markets: June Rate Hike Coming Your Way (CNBC)

As expected, the Fed gave a nod to a temporary weakness in the economy and signaled it is still moving ahead with policy tightening. “They’re looking past the first-quarter weakness. They are laying the groundwork for a June rate hike, in my opinion,” said Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at Lindsey Group. Fed funds futures indicated just about a 75% chance of a June interest-rate hike, up about 5 percentage points after the announcement, according to Michael Schumacher, head of rates strategy at Wells Fargo Securities. “It seems pretty optimistic. … There’s no big difference between this statement and the last one. The comment that they are ignoring weak first-quarter growth is the big thing. There’s nothing really changed in their path,” Schumacher said.

First-quarter growth grew at a weak 0.7%, but economists expect a bounce back and some see growth over 3%. The Fed acknowledged the softness in its statement. “The Committee views the slowing in growth during the first quarter as likely to be transitory and continues to expect that, with gradual adjustments in the stance of monetary policy, economic activity will expand at a moderate pace, labor market conditions will strengthen somewhat further, and inflation will stabilize around 2% over the medium term,” they wrote. [..] The statement did not mention changes to the Fed’s balance sheet, which officials were expected to have discussed at length during the two-day meeting. That discussion should be revealed in the minutes of the meeting, expected to be released May 24.

Instead, the Fed noted in its statement that it was maintaining its strategy of balance sheet reinvestment, meaning it replaces securities as they roll down. The Fed has forecast two more rate hikes this year, and many strategists expect it to tackle its balance sheet after those moves. The Fed has said it would like to begin shrinking its balance sheet as early as this year. Many market pros expect some action on the balance sheet around the December meeting or in early 2018, after it raises interest rates in June and September.

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Rickards’ been saying for a while that the Fed wouldn’t be able to help itself.

Rickards Says Fed Raising Into Weakness, Recession Due By Summer (BBG)

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A quarter are in mortgage stress already.

57% Of Australians Couldn’t Handle $100 A Month Rise In Mortgage Payments (G.)

The burden of housing costs is biting even in Australia’s wealthiest suburbs as an unprecedented one in four households nationally face mortgage stress, according to the latest in a 15-year series of analyses. Households in Toorak and Bondi, prestigious pockets of affluence in Australia’s biggest cities, have made the list of those struggling to meet repayments amid rising costs and stagnating wages, research firm Digital Finance Analytics has found. The firm’s principal, Martin North, said it was surprising new evidence showed that financial distress from property price surges reached beyond “the battlers and the mortgage belt” and was a “much broader and much more significant problem”. The survey, which analyses real cash flows against mortgage repayments, finds more than 767,000 households or 23.4% are now in mortgage stress, which means they have little or no spare cash after covering costs.

This includes 32,000 that are in severe stress, meaning they cannot cover repayments from current income. The firm predicts that almost 52,000 households will probably default on mortgages over the next year. Risk hotspots include Meadow Springs and Canning Vale in Western Australia, Derrimut and Cranbourne in Victoria, and Mackay and Pacific Pines in Queensland. Overall, New South Wales and Victoria, whose capital cities have seen a recent surge in home prices, accounted for more than half the probable defaults (270,000) and households in mortgage distress (420,000). North said the numbers were “an early indicator of risk in the system”. The underlying drivers were “flat or falling wage growth”, much faster rising living costs and the likelihood mortgage interest payments would only go up.

Widespread mortgage burdens were limiting spending elsewhere and “sucking the life out of the economy”, and the problem should be addressed to head off a housing crash and its repercussions, North said. North is not alone in highlighting household vulnerability. The Reserve Bank of Australia’s financial stability review last month observed one-third of Australian borrowers had little or no mortgage “buffer”, which North said was “the first time they’ve ever admitted it”. Finder.com last week found 57% of mortgagees could not handle a rise of $100 or more in monthly repayments. “The surprising thing is that people in Bondi in NSW, for example, or even young affluents who have bought down in Toorak in Victoria are actually on the list [of mortgage stressed],” North said.

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“As soon as liabilities have problems – meaning the depositors decide to not roll their holdings – all hell breaks loose..”

Kyle Bass Warns “All Hell Is About To Break Loose” In China (ZH)

China's credit system expanded "too recklessly and too quickly," and "it's beginning to unravel," warns Hayman Capital's Kyle Bass. Crucially, Bass notes that ballooning assets in Chinese wealth management products are another sign of a looming credit crisis in the nation.

"Some of the longer-term assets aren't doing very well," Bass said on Bloomberg TV from the annual Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California. "As soon as liabilities have problems – meaning the depositors decide to not roll their holdings – all hell breaks loose."

The wealth management products, or WMPs, have swelled to $4 trillion in assets in the last few years, he said., on a $34 trillion banking system…

"think about this – in the US, our asset-liability mismatch at the peak of our subprime greatness was around 2%! … China's mismatch is more than 10% of the system."

Must Watch simplification of the next stage of the credit cycle in China…

Timing the drop is hard, Bass notes, reminding Bloomberg's Erik Schatzker that "in the US, the first bumps in the road hit in early 2007, and we didn't start to really accelerate until mid 2008… even a large unraveling takes a while."Bass has been sounding the alarm for some time that debt-burdened Chinese banks need to be restructured…

"What you see when the liquidity dries up is people start going down… and this is the beginning of the Chinese credit crisis."

And judging by the collapse in both Chinese stocks and bonds, the deleveraging is accelerating…

 

And liquidity is getting desperate again…

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China=Debt.

PIMCO Warns “Brace For Lower Growth” From A Less ‘Impulsive’ China (ZH)

In the company’s blog, PIMCO’s Gene Fried echoes everything we have said and write that following the defeat of the new U.S. healthcare bill, investors have begun to rethink the likely time frame and extent of the Trump administration’s other top priorities, such as fiscal stimulus. Equity markets stalled and bonds rallied as investors toned down their expectations for global reflation recently. None of this is horribly surprising, but by focusing so intensely on U.S. political developments, investors risk missing a silent shift in what has arguably been the strongest driver of global reflation in the last five years: Chinese credit. This driver is now moving sharply in reverse. China’s “credit impulse,” the change in the growth rate of aggregate credit to GDP, bears close watching: It has tended to lead the Chinese manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) by a year (see Figure 1) and the U.S. Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM) manufacturing index by 14 months.

The relevance of the Chinese credit impulse to global reflation cannot be overstated (see Figure 2). China’s massive credit stimulus starting in 2014 initially put a floor under commodity prices and emerging market (EM) growth. Then, the unexpected acceleration in Chinese real estate investment drove both commodity prices and volume demand higher. EM growth subsequently bounced, and with it, global trade volumes. The key driver of realized global reflation, then, has been China – not the promise of fiscal stimulus and deregulation that has helped boost confidence and other soft data in the U.S.

When will China’s credit drop affect growth? The sharp downturn in the Chinese credit impulse starting in 2016 portends a material drag on Chinese growth in the year ahead. Looking back on the past three years, the Chinese credit impulse turned positive sometime between late 2014 and mid-2015. Given China’s exchange rate volatility in August 2015, it took longer than normal for credit to gain traction. The Chinese credit impulse peaked in March 2016 and slowed sharply after the second quarter. It is only now that the impact of that reduced stimulus should be felt. PIMCO has already factored credit-related drag into its Chinese growth outlook, but the decline in the credit impulse has been sharper and more extreme than many expected.

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Unanswerable question.

Do Tax Cuts Pay For Themselves? (MW)

Forty-three years after economist Arthur Laffer sketched a pictorial representation of individuals’ response to changes in income tax rates, economists still can’t agree if tax cuts pay for themselves: entirely, in part, or not at all. In a capitalist system, a tax rate of 0% or a tax rate of 100% will yield no revenue for the government: in the first instance, because there is no tax levied on labor income; in the second, because there is no labor income to tax because most of us would refuse to work without compensation. The Laffer Curve is an attempt to describe the optimal tax rate, or the rate that maximizes revenue. As with most economic theories nowadays, the idea that tax cuts pay for themselves has been politicized. Many conservatives take an oath of fealty to supply-side economics, an offshoot of the Laffer Curve: the idea that lower tax rates act as an incentive to work and produce, lifting economic growth and tax revenue.

Supply-siders don’t differentiate between the potential effect of large reductions in the top marginal tax rate — from 91% (1950s) to 70% (1960s) to 28% (1980s) — and that of President Donald Trump’s proposed modest cut from 39.6% to 35% for top earners. Liberals, on the other hand, love to quote George H.W. Bush’s assessment of supply-side theory — at least until he became Ronald Reagan’s running mate — as “voodoo economics.” “Tax cuts for the rich” is another favorite derogatory moniker, which is an accurate description but one that is taboo for believers. The basic premise underlying supply-side economics is sound: Tax something less, and you will get more of it. Tax something more, and you will get less of it. Think hefty cigarette taxes, designed to deter cancer-causing tobacco use. It’s the application that goes astray.

The income tax is a tax on labor. According to supply-siders, if you raise marginal tax rates, individuals will work less. And if you cut rates, they will work more. Who except the rich is in a position to forgo take-home pay, even if it is taxed at a higher rate? Households with both parents working, struggling to make ends meet, can’t sacrifice one salary. That’s the dirty little secret of supply-side economics that its advocates never mention. It’s the rich who are able respond to changes in marginal tax rates. And yes, they are the ones likely to start a new business and create jobs. Theory aside, why don’t we know what the effect of tax cuts is on economic output and federal revenue? Economists of both political persuasions are eager to tout their findings, both in support of and as a challenge to supply-side economics.

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Hopefully I should be getting Steve’s book today. Everyone should read it.

The Economics of the Future (Michael Hudson)

At first glance Steve Keen’s new book Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis? seems too small-sized at 147 pages. But like a well-made atom-bomb, it is compactly designed for maximum reverberation to blow up its intended target. Explaining why today’s debt residue has turned the United States, Britain and southern Europe into zombie economies, Steve Keen shows how ignoring debt is the blind spot of neoliberal economics – basically the old neoclassical just-pretend view of the world. Its glib mathiness is a gloss for its unscientific “don’t worry about debt” message. Blame for today’s U.S., British and southern European inability to achieve economic recovery thus rests on the economic mainstream and its refusal to recognize that debt matters.

Mainstream models are unable to forecast or explain a depression. That is because depressions are essentially financial in character. The business cycle itself is a financial cycle – that is, a cycle of the buildup and collapse of debt. Keen’s “Minsky” model traces this to what he has called “endogenous money creation,” that is, bank credit mainly to buyers of real estate, companies and other assets. He recently suggested a more catchy moniker: “Bank Originated Money and Debt” (BOMD). That seems easier to remember. The concept is more accessible than the dry academic terminology usually coined. It is simple enough to show that the mathematics of compound interest lead the volume of debt to exceed the rate of GDP growth, thereby diverting more and more income to the financial sector as debt service.

Keen traces this view back to Irving Fisher’s famous 1933 article on debt deflation – the residue from unpaid debt. Such payments to creditors leave less available to spend on goods and services. In explaining the mathematical dynamics underlying his “Minsky” model, Keen links financial dynamics to employment. If private debt grows faster than GDP, the debt/GDP ratio will rise. This stifles markets, and hence employment. Wages fall as a share of GDP. This is precisely what is happening. But mainstream models ignore the overgrowth of debt, as if the economy operates on a barter basis. Keen calls this “the barter illusion,” and reviews his wonderful exchange with Paul Krugman (who plays the role of an intellectual Bambi to Keen’s Godzilla), who insists that banks do not create credit but merely recycle savings – as if they are savings banks, not commercial banks. It is the old logic that debt doesn’t matter because “we” owe the debt to “ourselves.”

[..] By being so compact, this book is able to concentrate attention on the easy-to-understand mathematical principles that underlie the “junk economics” mainstream. Keen explains why, mathematically, the Great Moderation leading up to the 2008 crash was not an anomaly, but is inherent in a basic principle: Economies can prolong the debt-financed boom and delay a crash simply by providing more and more credit, Australia-style. The effect is to make the ensuing crash worse, more long-lasting and more difficult to extricate. For this, he blames mainly Margaret Thatcher and Alan Greenspan as, in effect, bank lobbyists. But behind them is the whole edifice of neoliberal economic brainwashing.

Keen attacks this “neoclassical” methodology by pointing at the logical fallacy of trying to explain society by looking only at “the individual.” That approach and its related “series of plausible but false propositions” blinds economics graduates from seeing the obvious. Their discipline is the product of ideological desire not to blame banks or creditors, wrapped in a libertarian antagonism toward government’s role as economic regulator, money creator, and financer of basic infrastructure.

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The EU really cares.

UK PM May Accuses EU of Brexit Threats and Election Interference (CNBC)

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has accused the EU of not wanting Brexit negotiations to be a success, as tensions between both sides escalate ahead of official talks. “The events of the last few days have shown that – whatever our wishes, and however reasonable the positions of Europe’s other leaders – there are some in Brussels who do not want these talks to succeed,” May said Wednesday afternoon outside Downing Street. Her comments follow media reports that the EU’s Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker left London “10 times more skeptical” than he was before after a dinner with Prime Minister May last week. Their meeting has been described in the press as a disaster with both leaders clashing over key negotiating issues.

Earlier on Wednesday, Juncker described May as a “tough woman”. May has said that she will be a “bloody difficult woman” during Brexit talks. Speaking outside Downing Street, the head of the Conservative party went further and accused the European Union of wanting to interfere in the upcoming general election. “Britain’s negotiating position in Europe has been misrepresented in the continental press. The European Commission’s negotiating stance has hardened.Threats against Britain have been issued by European politicians and officials. All of these acts have been deliberately timed to affect the result of the general election that will take place on 8 June,” the prime minister said.

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I watched parts of the debate, nothing brutal about it, just politics. Le Pen’s logic seems pretty solid: “France will be run by a woman whatever happens,” Le Pen said. “Either by me or by Mrs. Merkel.”

Le Pen Tirade Meets Logic of Macron in Brutal French TV Duel

Marine Le Pen unleashed a barrage of attacks on her presidential rival Emmanuel Macron as she tried to close a gap of some 20 percentage points in the only head-to-head debate of the French election campaign. Le Pen, 48, said her centrist opponent was the candidate of the capitalist elite, and a friend to terrorists, who planned to shut down factories, schools and hospitals. Macron said Le Pen’s broadsides against state bodies meant she was unfit to lead the country as she struggled to defend her plans to leave the euro. “You have threatened public employees,” Macron, 39, said as his opponent chuckled on the other side of the table during the almost three-hour debate Wednesday night. “Your words show that you are not worthy to be the defender of our institutions.”

A snap survey of 1,314 likely voters by polling firm Elabe showed that 63 percent of respondents rated Macron as the winner and 34 percent picked Le Pen. With just three days to go before French voters settle the most turbulent election in the country’s modern history, Le Pen argued for new border restrictions to protect the French people from foreign competition and terrorism, and an exit from euro, reversing 60 years of European integration. The clash was brutal from the get-go, and the general consensus from commentators was that it wasn’t a particularly dignified debate. “It was like a schoolyard brawl,” said Emmanuel Riviere, managing director of pollster Kantar Public France. “The candidates went straight for the jugular. Le Pen started it. But Macron also played his part.”

Both candidates justified the nasty tone on Thursday. “It was severe, but that’s because for the first time ever the French have a real choice,” Le Pen said on RMC Radio. “Before, the candidates agreed on everything. I want to wake up the French people.” [..] She told him he’d traveled to Berlin to get the blessing of German Chancellor Angela Merkel for his policy plans, playing on French concerns that their country plays second fiddle within the European Union. “France will be run by a woman whatever happens,” Le Pen said. “Either by me or by Mrs. Merkel.”

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“..your just and due compensation as part of this interdependent system we call society. We are all stakeholders in it.”

Universal Basic Income is Not “Free Money” (Santens)

Let’s say the cost to produce a widget is $1. What’s the cost to produce 1 million widgets? This may sound like an extremely simple word problem that even some preschoolers could solve. However, if you think the answer is $1 million, you would be entirely wrong. The cost to produce 1 million widgets is far below $1 million thanks to the savings inherent in mass production. It’s a lot cheaper per something to make a lot of something, than it is to create one of it, or even a few. A couple secondary understandings extend themselves as a result of this primary understanding. First, it’s wrong to assume that providing people with more money will necessitate rising prices. Increased demand can lead to greatly increased production, which then leads to lower prices. Just how much production can be ramped up in response to increased demand is a key factor in price determination.

Where supply cannot be increased, and therefore more money is chasing the same amount of goods, price increases can be expected. Where supply can be greatly or even infinitely increased, lower prices can be expected, especially where true competition exists. Second, and I find this point extremely compelling and the real point of this post, is a recognition of our interdependence, and the collective debt we owe each other. Take whatever device you’re reading these words on as a prime example. Whatever its cost to you, it only cost that because millions of others like you expressed their demand for the same device. Without everyone else, that device would have cost you ten times, a hundred times, or even a thousand times more than it would have to create just one, just for you. In other words, we all subsidize each other.

[..] In Alaska, Alaskans are paid on average about $1000 per year for being an Alaskan. Why? Because the oil companies didn’t make the oil in Alaska. They’re merely bringing it up out of the ground and processing it. The oil is considered owned by all Alaskans, and so they should as owners see some of the revenue generated by its sale. Now apply this logic to the rest of what was not created by humankind. Apply it to what is not created by any one human individually, but everyone together, like for example land value. Take a million dollar mansion and swap it with an empty lot in the middle of the desert. The mansion becomes worth only the sum total of what its parts can sell for. The empty lot shoots up in value. Why? Because the unimproved value of land is socially created. That value exists because YOU exist.

Do you see now that basic income is not “free money” or “money for nothing?” You are owed it. It is your just and due compensation as part of this interdependent system we call society. We are all stakeholders in it. We are all owed a dividend as investors. No investor in Apple would ever be okay with being told that in return for their investment in Apple, they merely get the privilege of purchasing Apple products. Their reward is a return on their investment in the form of cash dividends. That’s fair and just. What is true for corporate stockholders should also be true for you. Don’t accept anything less than a cash dividend for your investments in this grand organization called human civilization. Claim what you are owed and demand unconditional basic income.

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Key: “There is an effort by a coalition of interests: banks, financial funds, pro-bailout governments, and the international creditors. They want to grab people’s property by using the public debt as a lever..”

The Brothers Fighting For Indebted Greek Homeowners (AP)

Leonidas Papadopoulos is a doctor, his brother Ilias an economist, and once a week they take a break from ordinary life to fight the government. They go to court every Wednesday, the day homeowners in default on mortgages lose their properties at auctions – the final step of foreclosure in a country where the government and its citizens are overwhelmed by debt. Auctions are supervised by a notary public, who faces a weekly hour of crowd harassment. At a lower court in Athens one Wednesday, the Papadopoulos brothers and about 30 protesters gather menacingly around the notary’s desk, shouting insults and chanting “Vultures out!” When the atmosphere gets heated, protesters clamber onto the empty judges’ benches. In the court halls outside the chamber, demonstrators unfurl large banners and set up loudspeakers to blast music normally associated with protest movements from the 1970s.

Police look on without intervening, and another auction is cancelled. The crowd celebrates with chants of “No Homes in Bankers’ Hands!” – and goes home. “We create a list of all the auctions that are due to take place and decide which cases require our intervention. When the notary enters the chamber, we eject them with our presence, and by shouting,” the 35-year-old Leonidas Papadopoulos says. Each postponement typically delays an auction by about two months. The bearded brothers have created a nationwide protest network of several hundred volunteers to disrupt the auctions across Greece and to help illegally reconnect homes of unemployed people who have had their electricity cut off. In its fourth year, the campaign is intensifying as the country faces pressure from its international bailout creditors to deal with a mountain of bad bank loans.

Greece owes a staggering 325 billion euros ($354 billion), most of it to bailout lenders, while annual economic output – hammered by austerity, political upheaval and years of recession – has withered to below 180 billion euros ($196 billion). The country’s key assets are locked up for 99 years under the control of a fund created by the creditors. The picture for the country’s 10 million citizens is equally grim: Some 4 million are in arrears on tax payments, while 2 million households and businesses are behind on their electricity bills. Nearly half of loans given by banks for businesses and property purchases are now officially listed as soured. Ilias Papadopoulos, 33, sees the problem differently, arguing that people’s property are being seized at fire-sale prices after tax collection has been exhausted, in a desperate effort to maintain bailout debt commitments.

“There is an effort by a coalition of interests: banks, financial funds, pro-bailout governments, and the international creditors. They want to grab people’s property by using the public debt as a lever,” he said. “That includes homes, small businesses, farm land, and industry. It’s wealth that was acquired with such great effort by the Greek people. It cannot be surrendered without a fight.” Ilias says he’s never been arrested or detained by police due to his activism, and predicts the fight against foreclosures will intensify after Greece and it’s bailout creditors reached a new austerity deal this week. “This will only make things worse for poor people. So we’ll have to step things up.”

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Apr 252017
 
 April 25, 2017  Posted by at 7:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Self portrait 1972

 

Trump Slaps 20% Duty on Canada Lumber, Intensifying Trade Fight (BBG)
Trump Summons Entire Senate To White House Briefing On North Korea (G.)
Trump Advisers To Lay Out Tax Plan For Top Republicans Tuesday (BBG)
The Oil Market Has One Big Problem: People Aren’t Buying Enough Gas (CNBC)
Canadians’ Confidence In Housing Hits Record High (HPoC)
Housing’s Echo Bubble Now Exceeds the 2006-07 Bubble Peak (CHSmith)
Bubble, Bubble, Toil And Trouble: Ultra-Low Mortgage Rates Are Dangerous (G.)
Rising Defaults In China Reveal Hidden Debt (BBG)
China Markets Reel as $1.7 Trillion in Shadow Funds Unwinds (BBG)
Naked Selfies Used As Collateral For Chinese Loans (AFP)
Italy Is the Euro-Area’s Swaps Loser Facing $9 Billion Bill (BBG)
Ontario To Pay Guaranteed Incomes To The Poor (AFP)
Kim Dotcom Wants FBI Director Comey Questioned By New Zealand Police (IBT)
At Least 16 Refugees Drown as Boat Sinks off Greece’s Lesbos (R.)

 

 

They’ve been doing this forever: “..the fight is the “longest-running battle since the Trojan War.”

Trump Slaps 20% Duty on Canada Lumber, Intensifying Trade Fight (BBG)

U.S. President Donald Trump intensified a trade dispute with Canada, slapping tariffs of up to 24% on imported softwood lumber in a move that drew swift criticism from the Canadian government, which vowed to sue if needed. Trump announced the new tariff at a White House gathering of conservative journalists, shortly before the Commerce Department said it would impose countervailing duties ranging from 3% to 24.1% on Canadian lumber producers including West Fraser Timber. “We’re going to be putting a 20% tax on softwood lumber coming in – tariff on softwood coming into the United States from Canada,” Trump said Monday, according to a tweet by Charlie Spiering at Breitbart News. A White House official confirmed the comment.

The step escalates an economic battle among neighboring countries that normally have one of the friendliest international relationships in the world. U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross amplified Trump’s remarks in a statement afterward that also referenced a fight over a new Canadian milk policy that U.S. producers say violates Nafta. “It has been a bad week for U.S.-Canada trade relations,” Ross said, adding “it became apparent that Canada intends to effectively cut off the last dairy products being exported from the United States.” He said the Commerce Department “determined a need” because of unfair Canadian subsidies to the lumber industry to impose “countervailing duties of roughly one billion dollars.” In a dig at NAFTA, which Trump has said he wants to renegotiate, Ross added, “This is not our idea of a properly functioning Free Trade Agreement.”

[..] The so-called countervailing duties, which counter what the U.S. considers Canadian subsidies, came in below some analyst expectations. CIBC analyst Hamir Patel forecast the initial combined countervailing and anti-dumping duties could reach 45 to 55%, he said in an April 23 note. The U.S. may also apply anti-dumping duties if it determines Canadian firms are selling for below costs. That decision is expected in June. “It definitely could’ve been a heck of a lot worse,” Kevin Mason at ERA Forest Products Research said by phone. “I think a lot of people were bracing for a higher duty.”

[..] Most of the softwood in Canada is owned by provincial governments, which set prices to cut trees on their land, while in the U.S. it’s generally harvested from private property. The fees charged by Canadian governments are below market rates, creating an unfair advantage, U.S. producers say. Canada disputes that. Robert Lighthizer, Trump’s nominee to be the next U.S. Trade Representative, said at his confirmation hearing last month that he views the lumber dispute as the top trade issue between the U.S. and Canada. Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden told Lighthizer the fight is the “longest-running battle since the Trojan War.”

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Huffin’-and-a-puffin’.

Trump Summons Entire Senate To White House Briefing On North Korea (G.)

The entire US Senate will go to the White House on Wednesday to be briefed by senior administration officials about the brewing confrontation with North Korea. The unusual briefing underlines the urgency with which the Trump administration is treating the threat posed by Pyongyang’s continuing development of nuclear weapons and missile technology. It follows a lunch meeting Trump held with ambassadors from UN member states on the security council on Monday where he emphasised US resolve to stop North Korea’s progress. “The status quo in North Korea is unacceptable and the council must be prepared to impose additional and stronger sanctions on North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” Trump said at the meeting. “North Korea is a big world problem, and it’s a problem we have to finally solve.”

On Friday the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is due to chair a security council foreign ministers’ meeting on the issue in New York, at which the state department said he would call once more for the full implementation of existing UN sanctions or new measures in the event of further nuclear or missile tests. “This meeting will give the security council the opportunity to discuss ways to maximise the impact of existing security council measures and to show their resolve to response further provocations with appropriate new measures,” said Mark Toner, state department spokesman. Senators are to be briefed by the defence secretary, James Mattis, and Tillerson on Wednesday. Such briefings for the entire senate are not unprecedented but it is very rare for them to take place in the White House, which does not have large secure facilities for such classified sessions as Congress.

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Not going to be easy. Trump’s too desperate to get a deal done.

Trump Advisers To Lay Out Tax Plan For Top Republicans Tuesday (BBG)

President Donald Trump will call for cutting taxes for individuals and lowering the corporate rate to 15% to fulfill a promise he made during his campaign, according to a White House official. The president on Wednesday plans to make public the broad outlines of what he wants to change in the tax code, though the details likely will be left until later negotiations among congressional leaders and officials from Treasury. Trump’s top economic adviser Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will brief House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the leaders of congressional tax-writing committees – House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch.

While Trump and Ryan broadly agree on sharply cutting individual income and corporate taxes, there are areas of disagreement between the two. On the campaign, Trump called for a corporate tax rate of 15%; Ryan wants 20%, and he has warned that cutting it an additional 5 percentage points could prevent the ultimate tax plan from being revenue neutral. Without Democratic support, a plan would have to be revenue neutral to meet the criteria set by lawmakers to make tax changes permanent. “I’m not sure he’s going to be able to get away with that,” Hatch told reporters Monday. “You can’t very well balance the budget that way.”

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Demand goes down because people have less money to spend. All the rest is humbug.

The Oil Market Has One Big Problem: People Aren’t Buying Enough Gas (CNBC)

Lackluster gasoline demand is once again raising concerns that the oil market won’t be able to escape the doldrums. Demand for U.S. gasoline has recovered since January, but remained below 2016 levels throughout much of this year. Now, analysts are worried weak consumption will cause gasoline stockpiles to keep building and eventually result in weaker crude oil demand and pricing. U.S. gasoline futures were down more than 1% on Monday, reflecting demand concerns as refiners emerge from the winter maintenance season and prepare to turn out more fuel. Meanwhile, U.S. crude settled 39 cents lower at $49.23, extending last week’s deep losses. “As gas prices drop, that creates an undertow for the entire crude oil market,” said Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis at Oil Price Information Service.

Part of the problem is a tough comparison with extraordinarily low gasoline prices last year. The national average gasoline price on Monday was nearly 28 cents above last year’s level, according to GasBuddy.com. “I’m in the camp that says last year was a little bit of the anomaly,” Kloza said. “Gas was so cheap that we drove a little bit more almost capriciously. This year, I just don’t think it’s going to happen.” In a troubling sign, the nation’s gasoline station operators have reported at industry conferences that their sales are down 1.5 to 2% this year, according to Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates. “When you hear retailers telling you that their demand is down you’ve got to be a believer,” he told CNBC. Lipow said he fears that trend will carry through for the balance of 2017. Demand is certain to rise as the summer driving season ramps up, but Lipow sees stockpiles remaining relatively high.

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Stark raving madness. A housing market that is rising at ‘only’ 9.5% per year is labeled ‘rational’.

Canadians’ Confidence In Housing Hits Record High (HPoC)

The experts are getting louder in their warnings that a housing bubble has formed in some parts of Canada, but Canadians don’t seem worried. In fact, confidence in the housing market hit a record high in the latest weekly Bloomberg-Nanos index — even as respondents turned negative on their own personal finances. The survey found 48.5% of Canadians expect house prices to rise in the next six months, the highest level recorded in the survey since 2008. Fewer than 11% expect to see house prices decrease. “Bullish sentiment on real estate in Canada continues to drive consumer confidence,” pollster Nik Nanos said in a statement. “Household expectations have improved by roughly 10% since the start of the year as the effects of the oil price shock have stabilized and the focus has moved toward rising property values,” Bloomberg economist Robert Lawrie said.

“In recent weeks, however, consumer sentiment regarding personal finances began drifting lower, with extended household balance sheets perhaps the next focus of concern for policymakers.” High debt levels are precisely why many market observers are growing concerned about Canada’s priciest housing markets, namely the Toronto and Vancouver regions. House prices in Toronto jumped 33% in March from a year earlier, to an average of $916,567. While Vancouver’s house prices have moderated over the past six months, they remain elevated, with the benchmark price at $919,300 in March.

National Bank of Canada, which co-publishes the Teranet house price index, warned recently that “irrational exuberance” may be setting into some Canadian housing markets, noting that more than half of Canada’s regional markets are seeing price growth above 10% annually. With mortgages ballooning, Canadian household debt has repeatedly hit record highs in recent years, and now stands at $1.67 of debt for every dollar of disposable income. Those elevated debt levels are the main reason one why the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), a Geneva-based “central bank of central banks,” warned recently that Canada has the second-highest risk of a financial crisis, behind only China.

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Essential and repeated here a 1000 times: “Bubbles have a habit of overshooting on the downside when they finally burst.”

Housing’s Echo Bubble Now Exceeds the 2006-07 Bubble Peak (CHSmith)

A funny thing often occurs after a mania-fueled asset bubble pops: an echo-bubble inflates a few years later, as monetary authorities and all the institutions that depend on rising asset valuations go all-in to reflate the crushed asset class. Take a quick look at the Case-Shiller Home Price Index charts for San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, OR. Each now exceeds its previous Housing Bubble #1 peak:

It seems housing bubbles take about 5 to 6 years to reach their bubble peaks, and about half that time to retrace much or all of the gains. Bubbles have a habit of overshooting on the downside when they finally burst. The Federal Reserve acted quickly in 2009-10 to re-inflate the housing bubble by lowering interest rates to near-zero and buying over $1 trillion of mortgage-backed securities. When bubbles are followed by echo-bubbles, the bursting of the second bubble tends to signal the end of the speculative cycle in that asset class. There is no fundamental reason why housing could not round-trip to levels below the 2011 post-bubble #1 trough.

Consider the fundamentals of China’s remarkable housing bubble. The consensus view is: sure, China’s housing prices could fall modestly, but since Chinese households buy homes with cash or large down payments, this decline won’t trigger a banking crisis like America’s housing bubble did in 2008. The problem isn’t a banking crisis; it’s a loss of household wealth, the reversal of the wealth effect and the decimation of local government budgets and the construction sector. China is uniquely dependent on housing and real estate development. This makes it uniquely vulnerable to any slowdown in construction and sales of new housing. About 15% of China’s GDP is housing-related. This is extraordinarily high. In the 2003-08 housing bubble, housing’s share of U.S. GDP barely cracked 5%. Of even greater concern, local governments in China depend on land development sales for roughly 2/3 of their revenues.

If you need some evidence that the echo-bubble in housing is global, take a look at this chart of Sweden’s housing bubble. Oops, did I say bubble? I meant “normal market in action.”

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“..we may be in the latter stages of a bubble. As prices rise further and further out of reach, lenders need to find more and more ingenious tricks to keep rich people pumping their cash into an overheated market. The punch bowl has to keep going round, or the party stops.”

Bubble, Bubble, Toil And Trouble: Ultra-Low Mortgage Rates Are Dangerous (G.)

Between autumn 1977 and Christmas 1979, interest rates rose from 5% to 17%. If you were a young boomer whose biggest cost was a variable rate mortgage, that would have hurt. In 2009, by contrast, interest rates were cut to a record low of 0.5%, and stayed there for the better part of a decade. When eventually they did move again, it was down. You don’t know you’re born. Except, of course, you do – because, if you’re reading this and you’re under 40, there’s a pretty good chance you’re still stuck paying rent. Yes, interest rates are low; no, this is not particularly helpful. Even if you do have a mortgage, it’s probably a fixed rate one because, let’s be honest, those rates are going up again one day. But not, it seems, today. The Yorkshire Building Society has just launched a new mortgage that charges an interest rate of just 0.89%. “We are very pleased to offer borrowers the lowest mortgage rate ever available,” said a spokesman.

“The cost of funding has fallen in recent weeks and, as a financially strong building society with no external shareholders to satisfy, we have the ability to pass this on to borrowers.” (“We used to dream of mortgages at under 1%,” say the boomers.) So does that means that owning a home is now cheaper than it’s ever been? Well, no, of course not. For one thing, this isn’t a fixed rate deal. It’s actually a (bear with me on this) two-year-long discount of 3.85% to the standard variable rate (SVR) of 4.74%. That means it’s very, very unfixed indeed: a normal tracker mortgage moves in response to Bank of England rates; an SVR one moves in response to the lender’s whims. Accepting this mortgage means placing a bet that the Yorkshire Building Society will be nice to you. It also comes with an unusually high arrangement fee of £1,495, but this shouldn’t bother you, because you probably can’t get that rate anyway. To even be considered, you need a deposit worth 35% of the value of your home.

[..] But there’s another, more sinister, reading of the recent rash of ultra-low mortgage rates: it suggests we may be in the latter stages of a bubble. As prices rise further and further out of reach, lenders need to find more and more ingenious tricks to keep rich people pumping their cash into an overheated market. The punch bowl has to keep going round, or the party stops. But bubbles tend to burst. Prices can’t rise forever: one day, interest rates must surely rise. When the inevitable happens, there is a danger that those who took advantage of this deal may find their equity wiped out – and the rate they’re paying will shoot through the roof.

That would obviously be very sad for those who are affected; for those shut out of home ownership, though, it may be no bad thing. That’s because nine years of record-low interest rates have probably contributed to the fact that house prices have soared out of reach; and higher prices have meant increasingly unattainable deposits. A rise in interest rates could, paradoxically, make housing more affordable.

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Companies guaranteeing each other’s crappy debt. What could go wrong? Problem is, Beijing had let them do it for years.

Rising Defaults In China Reveal Hidden Debt (BBG)

Rising defaults in China are unearthing hidden debt at companies across the country. Small firms that can’t get loans by themselves have been winning banks over by getting other companies to guarantee their borrowings. The companies making those pledges exclude them from their balance sheets, leaving creditors in the dark. Borrowers often extend the guarantees for each other, raising the risk that failures could ricochet, at a time when increasing borrowing costs have already added to strains. China’s banking regulator has ordered checks of such cross-guaranteed loans, Caixin reported Friday. Scrutiny is mounting after a corn oil producer in the eastern province of Shandong said last month it had guaranteed debt of a neighboring aluminum product manufacturer which is now stuck in a cash crunch.

Just days before that, a local government financing vehicle in China’s southwest had to repay an auto parts maker’s loans it had guaranteed after the latter defaulted. “Disclosure of such guarantees isn’t timely,” said Qiu Xinhong at Shenzhen-based First State Cinda. “Sometimes, it’s like a buried mine and you don’t know when the risks will explode.” This debt minefield could be big. The amount of loan guarantees at privately held firms in China is equivalent to 11% of their equity, and at LGFVs is 18%, according to Citic Securities. The load is even heavier at weaker borrowers. About 44% of issuers rated lower than AA- have a ratio of more than 30%, according to Everbright Securities. The phenomenon is less common in the U.S. because banks don’t require such guarantees to offer loans, according to Fitch Ratings.

“If companies in the same region offer a huge amount of guarantees for each other’s debt, it would form a guarantee web and deepen interconnections among the companies,” said Gang Meng, director of rating at Golden Credit Rating International Co. in Beijing. “If one company has to repay debt for its guaranteed company, risks would quickly ripple to other companies in the web, which will result in a butterfly effect.” [..] Guarantors don’t mark the pledges on their balance sheets and often disclose them only on an annual basis. Such shadow debts pose rising risks after central bank tightening pushed up onshore corporate bond yields to two-year highs and defaults on local notes surged to a record.

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The distinction between state banks and shadows has become very murky.

China Markets Reel as $1.7 Trillion in Shadow Funds Unwinds (BBG)

A $1.7 trillion source of inflows into Chinese markets has suddenly switched into reverse, roiling the nation’s money management industry and sending local bonds and stocks to their biggest losses of the year. The turbulence has centered on so-called entrusted investments – funds that Chinese banks farm out to external asset managers. After years of funneling money into such investments, banks are now pulling back in response to a series of regulatory guidelines over the past three weeks that put a spotlight on the risks. Critics have blamed entrusted managers for adding leverage to China’s financial system and reducing transparency.

The banks’ withdrawals helped erase $315 billion of stock market value over the past six days and sent bond yields to the highest level in nearly two years, highlighting the challenge for Chinese authorities as they try to rein in shadow banking activity without destabilizing financial markets. While the government has plenty of firepower to prop up asset prices if it wants to, forecasters at Australia & New Zealand Banking predict the selloff will deepen this year. “We are seeing an exodus of funds,” said He Qian at HFT Investment Management, which oversaw about 189 billion yuan ($27.5 billion) as of last year. He was one of about half-a-dozen asset managers and analysts who said banks have started scaling back their entrusted investments.

The arrangements have become an important part of China’s shadow finance system. When banks sell wealth-management products – the ubiquitous savings vehicles that offer higher yields than deposits – the firms sometimes farm out client money to entrusted managers such as hedge funds and mutual funds. The managers invest the cash in bonds, stocks and other securities, hoping to generate enough income to cover the banks’ promised returns to WMP clients – plus some extra for themselves.

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You better look good than feel good.

Naked Selfies Used As Collateral For Chinese Loans (AFP)

Hundreds of photos and videos of naked women used as collateral for loans on a Chinese online lending service have leaked onto the web, highlighting regulatory problems in the fast-growing peer-to-peer marketplace. A 10-gigabyte file posted on the internet exposed the personal details of more than 160 young women who were asked to provide the explicit material to secure money through online lending platform Jiedaibao. Launched by JD Capital in 2015, Jiedaibao allows lenders to operate anonymously but requires borrowers to reveal their real names when making transactions. Loan amounts and interest rates can be customised to meet the needs of users – often people who have a hard time accessing loans through more traditional financial institutions, like banks.

Interest on the “nude loans” reached an astonishing 30% a week, according to the Global Times newspaper. Lenders told female borrowers that if they failed to repay the loans, their nude photos would be sent to their families and friends, whose information was also required for some transactions, the article said. Material in the file put on the web last Wednesday showed some borrowers also promised to repay loans with sexual favours, according to screen captures posted on social media websites. In a statement on its official Twitter-like Weibo account, Jiedaibao said it had tracked down the accounts of several borrowers through photos and ID information circulated online and had frozen the suspected lenders’ accounts. “The ‘nude loans’ deals were mainly initiated and completed offline, and Jiedaibao only played the role of a money transfer platform in the deals,” the statement said.

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Derivatives used this way are instruments of massive wealth destruction. Why use different rates for each side of the deal? “..the Italian Treasury “usually pays a flow anchored to a fixed rate, while receiving one indexed to the 6-month Euribor rate..”

Italy Is the Euro-Area’s Swaps Loser Facing $9 Billion Bill (BBG)

Derivatives burdened Italy’s public debt again last year for a record amount of €8.3 billion ($9 billion), making the country the biggest swaps loser in the euro region. Losses related to swaps held by the nation added €4.25 billion to the country’s debt while net liabilities’ burden totaled €4.07 billion, based on data released Monday by EU statistics office Eurostat. In the 2012-2016 period, the burden totaled €29.6 billion, also a euro-area record. Italy’s derivative-related losses and net liabilities were higher than those for the whole euro region combined both in 2016 and in the five-year period as some countries actually saw the swaps helping to alleviate their debts. Governments across the euro region have used derivatives to manage their debt-financing costs and to hedge against sudden changes in rates and excessive exchange-rate volatility.

Those deals have sometimes backfired with the effect of pushing nations’ debts even higher. In the existing interest-rate swaps the Italian Treasury “usually pays a flow anchored to a fixed rate, while receiving one indexed to the 6-month Euribor rate,” the government said earlier this month in an annex to its annual Economic and Financial Document. Since starting from November 2015, the Euribor stayed negative and the impact on the flow indexed to that rate was that the Treasury had to pay money to its counterparts, instead of being paid by them, the document also said. Italy’s public debt rose last year to €2.2 trillion, or 132.6% of the country’s GDP, Eurostat said in a separate report on Monday.

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it’s important to get it right.

Ontario To Pay Guaranteed Incomes To The Poor (AFP)

Ontario has launched a pilot program to provide a guaranteed basic income to a few thousand people to test its effects on recipients and public finances, the Canadian province announced on Monday. Provincial premier Kathleen Wynne said the program would provide a “basic income” for three years to 4,000 people living under the poverty line. “We want to find out whether a basic income makes a positive impact in people’s lives,” Ms Wynne said, adding that “everyone should benefit from Ontario’s economic growth.” Income support payments will be as high as Can$16,989 (£9,800) a year for an individual, or Can$24,027 for a couple, plus an additional Can$6,000 for the disabled.

The figures will be reduced for those holding part-time jobs – they will receive 50 cents less for each dollar earned. As a concrete example, a single person with a yearly salary of Can$10,000 will receive an additional payment of Can$11,989. The 4,000 participants, aged 18 to 65, have been chosen at random in three cities: Hamilton and Lindsay in the Toronto suburbs and Thunder Bay in the province’s west. The province estimates the cost of the program at Can$50 million a year. Ontario is the most heavily populated Canadian province, with 38% of the country’s 36.5 million inhabitants. 13% of Ontario residents live below the poverty line, according to Statistics Canada.

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What the FBI did has already been declared illegal in New Zealand courts.

Kim Dotcom Wants FBI Director Comey Questioned By New Zealand Police (IBT)

FBI Director James Comey is currently in New Zealand and if Kim Dotcom has his way, Comey could find himself being questioned by the New Zealand police. The internet entrepreneur, who is wanted by the United States on multiple charges including fraud and copyright infringement, filed a complaint with the police Tuesday against the FBI director for what Dotcom called theft of his data by the agency. The alleged theft happened when the police raided Dotcom’s home Jan. 20, 2012, as part of investigations instigated by the U.S. The charges against him are based on the now-defunct website Megaupload that he operated, where users could share content with each other.

Some of that content was illegal to share, but according to New Zealand laws, internet service providers are not held responsible for the actions of their users. In his complaint Tuesday, Dotcom’s lawyer urged the police to urgently question Comey, who is in New Zealand for a conference. The grounds for the complaint are that the FBI received copies of data that was taken from Dotcom’s home during the 2012 raid, an act which courts in the country have held to be illegal, according to the complaint.

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The value you put on someone else’s life inevitably becomes the value of your own life.

At Least 16 Refugees Drown as Boat Sinks off Greece’s Lesbos (R.)

At least 16 people, including two children, drowned after an inflatable boat carrying refugees and migrants sank off Greece’s Lesbos island, authorities said on Monday. They are believed to be the first confirmed deaths in Greek waters this year of migrants or refugees making the short but dangerous crossing from Turkey on overcrowded rubber dinghies. Nine bodies were recovered in Greek territory and another seven in Turkish waters, Greek and Turkish coastguard officials said. Two survivors have been rescued. The two women, one of whom is pregnant, told the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR that 20 to 25 people were on board when the dinghy capsized around 1900 GMT on Sunday. The women are from Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Though fewer than 10 nautical miles separate Lesbos from Turkish shores, hundreds of people have drowned trying to make the crossing since Europe’s refugee crisis began in 2015. In that year, Lesbos was the main gateway into the European Union for nearly a million Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans. But a deal in March 2016 between the EU and Ankara has largely closed that route. Just over 4,800 people have crossed to Greece from Turkey this year, according to UNHCR data. An average of 20 arrive on Greek islands each day. “The number of people crossing the Aegean to Greece has dropped drastically over the past year, but this tragic incident shows that the dangers and the risk of losing one’s life remains very real,” said Philippe Leclerc, UNHCR Greece representative.

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Apr 202017
 
 April 20, 2017  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Fra Filippo Lippi 1406-1469 The Virgin Mary

 

The IMF Says Austerity Is Over (Tel.)
Reflation Trades of 2016 Deflate With Remarkable Speed (R.)
IMF Warns High US Corporate Leverage Could Threaten Financial Stability (WSJ)
Securities-Based Loans Are Scaring Fiscal Experts (NYP)
Telling the Truth: (P + G) – M = I (MarkGB)
You’re Hired! A Guaranteed Job For Anyone Who Wants One (DJ)
Japan’s Middle-Aged ‘Parasite Singles’ Face Uncertain Future (R.)
The EU’s Collapse Is Now “Imminent” (Doug Casey)
Greece Needs To Start Having Babies Again or Face Financial Oblivion (Ind.)
40% of Spanish Children Live in Poverty (EurA)
Ontario Set to Unveil Its Plan to Cool Toronto Housing (BBG)
Feds Knew of 700 Wells Fargo Whistleblower Cases in 2010 (CNN)
So It Goes (Oliver Stone)
A Melting Arctic Changes Everything (BBG)

 

 

Yeah, sure, just come look in Greece. Where the IMF itself demands ever more austerity. While claiming austerity is over.

The IMF Says Austerity Is Over (Tel.)

Austerity is over as governments across the rich world increased spending last year and plan to keep their wallets open for the foreseeable future. After five years of belt tightening, the IMF says the era of spending cuts that followed the financial crisis is now at an end. “Advanced economies eased their fiscal stance by one-fifth of 1pc of GDP in 2016, breaking a five-year trend of gradual fiscal consolidation,” said the IMF in its fiscal monitor. “Their aggregate fiscal stance is expected to remain broadly neutral in 2017 as well as in the following years.” The British Government is still trying to reduce the deficit but at a slower pace, as Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, wanted to ease spending cuts following the vote for Brexit last year.

Although extra spending may be welcomed by those who want funds for specific projects or public services, the IMF is worried that governments are still heavily indebted and need to be careful with their budgets. The US government, for instance, should use the current economic growth spurt as a chance to get its finances under control. “In the United States, where the economy is close to full employment, fiscal consolidation could start next year to put debt firmly on a downward path,” the IMF said. That contrasts heavily with President Donald Trump’s plans to spend more on infrastructure and defence while cutting taxes, a combination that risks ramping up the budget deficit. “These policies are expected to generate rising deficits over the medium term.

As a result, the US debt ratio is projected to increase continuously over the five-year forecast horizon,” the IMF warned. Overall the IMF believes government debts “should stabilise in the medium term, averaging more than 100pc of GDP, rather than decline as previously expected.” With debts that high, governments have to walk a fine line to use fiscal policy to support sustainable economic growth, but avoid dangerous over-indebtedness. “Fiscal policy is generally seen as a powerful tool for promoting inclusive growth and can contribute to stabilising the economy, particularly during deep recessions and when monetary policy has become less effective,” said the IMF.

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How can anyone get this right if they can’t even properly define inflation?

Reflation Trades of 2016 Deflate With Remarkable Speed (R.)

Stocks, bond yields and the dollar are all falling, yield curves are flattening and sterling is marching higher. The “reflation” trades of 2016 that were supposed to mark a turning point in global markets are fading. Fast. The question for investors is whether this is the play book for the rest of the year, or whether the trends of 2016 will resume in the second half of the year. What is clear is that much of the conviction with which investors went into 2017 has been lost. This week, Goldman Sachs ditched its long-standing bullish call on the U.S. dollar, and Deutsche Bank did likewise with their gloomy sterling outlook. Following the developed world’s two most seismic events last year – the U.S. presidential election and Brexit – investors around the world had positioned for a broad-based reflation trade.

Trump’s surprise election victory was supposed to unleash a wave of tax cuts, banking deregulation and fiscal largesse that would lift U.S. – and global – growth. Meanwhile, sterling’s 20% plunge after the Brexit vote was supposed to pave the way for a surge in UK equities and inflation. This, indeed, is how it played out as 2017 got underway. The Federal Reserve raised interest rates twice, the dollar reached a 14-year peak, Wall Street hit record highs, and government bond yield curves around the world steepened to the benefit of banks and financial stocks. But it is now unraveling, in large part due to a clear slowdown in U.S. growth and signs that global inflation is leveling off. Flatter yield curves where short- and long-term bond yields are close to each other suggest economic uncertainty.

[..] Citi’s economic surprises indexes for most of the world’s major economies have been heading south for the past month. The U.S. index has suddenly tumbled to lows not seen since November, and is below all its peers apart from Japan’s. And inflation expectations are showing signs of peaking too. The dollar is now down 2.5% year-to-date (but still up 2% since the U.S. election; U.S. bank stocks are down 10% from their February peak (but still up 20% from the election); and sterling is down 13% against the dollar since the Brexit vote last June (but it has been down as much as 20%). Estimates of first quarter U.S. growth have been slashed in recent weeks, with the Atlanta Fed’s closely-watched GDPNow model pointing to just 0.5% compared with around 2.5% less than two months ago.

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All it takes is a few rate hikes.

IMF Warns High US Corporate Leverage Could Threaten Financial Stability (WSJ)

U.S. corporate debt has ballooned on cheap credit to levels exceeding those prevailing just before the 2008 financial crisis, a potential threat to financial stability, the IMF warned in its latest review of the top threats to markets and banks. High corporate leverage could become problematic as the Federal Reserve raises short-term interest rates, the IMF warned, since higher borrowing costs could hinder the ability of firms to service debts. While borrowing costs remain low, debt servicing as a proportion of income has risen to its highest level since 2010, raising questions over firms’ ability to service their debts, according to the IMF’s study of nearly 4,000 U.S. firms accounting for about half of the economywide corporate sector balance sheet.

Companies have added $7.8 trillion of debt and other liabilities since 2010, while issuing $3 trillion of equity, net of buybacks, according to the IMF. The IMF’s message stands in contrast to the one being sent by the corporate bond market, which has been rallying for more than a year now. In early March, the average spread between junk-rated corporate bond yields and U.S. Treasury yields reached 3.44 percentage points, its lowest point since July 2014, according to Bloomberg Barclays data. It was most recently at 3.92 percentage points, still a very low level by historical standards, indicating that investors don’t see the debt as very risky.

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So you buy mortgage backed securities, and then use them as collateral for a loan that lets you buy more securities. The serpent and the tail.

Securities-Based Loans Are Scaring Fiscal Experts (NYP)

Forget subprime mortgages – one of Wall Street’s biggest risks doesn’t even show up on most banks’ balance sheets. Financial insiders are getting increasingly worried over the popularity of securities-based loans, or SBLs – a risky form of debt marketed to wealthy investors who typically use it to buy big assets like houses. The loans, which are taken against pools of stocks and bonds, offer borrowers cheap money fast without having to sell their underlying securities – an attractive option when the Dow is rising. But if markets crash, brokers can unload their clients’ holdings at fire-sale prices – and go after the house to cover the the vig. Fears of such ugly scenarios are growing as the Fed hikes interest rates, stocks are hitting all-time highs, and high-net-worth individuals are using this form of “shadow margin” to borrow more against stocks and bonds in their portfolios than ever before.

It’s not clear how much debt has been taken out in the form of SBLs, and a lack of regulatory oversight is partly to blame. Finra, the brokerage regulator, doesn’t track it, nor does the Securities and Exchange Commission — even though both have warned investors about the risks. However, several advisers surveyed by The Post estimated there is between $100 billion and $250 billion in outstanding SBLs among all brokerages. At least one concerned financial executive is in talks with lawyers to file a whistleblower case over the issue against a major bank with the Securities and Exchange Commission, The Post has learned. “When the market does turn, and it will at some point, it will be a major disaster,” said the exec, who requested confidentiality in exchange for speaking on the issue with The Post.

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Here’s what I think will lead to UBI: poor old people. I skipped all the examples and links provided here. Do read them. “Where ‘P’ is pensions, ‘G’ is ‘government intervention’, ‘M’ is media oversight, and ‘I’ is insolvency.”

Telling the truth: (P + G) – M = I (MarkGB)

Telling the truth has never been popular with politicians. They believe that it would prevent them from getting elected. Making new promises that will never be kept, and covering up the unaffordability of old promises…is how politicians get elected. The pattern is well worn and predictable: they use promises to ‘bribe’ people to vote for them, then they fail to deliver, then they blame someone else, then they change the subject…rinse and repeat…meanwhile the really important stuff get’s brushed under the carpet or kicked down the road…choose your own metaphor. There are few greater examples of this than the approaching crisis in pensions: A tale that has been decades in the telling, the climax will be a calamity that the corporate media doesn’t want to look at, and politicians never mention or acknowledge. Short of being strapped to a metal chair and entertained with an electrical massage they never will…which is a nice thought but regrettably still illegal, at least on the mainland.

[..] Despite the dark pleasure it would give me to label our political and economic elites: ‘as thick as two short planks’…the truth is that many of them are not. It’s far worse than that I’m afraid. They are ‘liars’. The politicians, central bankers, economists and journalists who understand the situation we face, but do nothing to address it, are discrediting the positions of responsibility that they hold…by lying through omission, by obfuscation, through denial, by issuing false and/or misleading information, and via the good old fashioned ‘art’ of bull$hitting straight to camera. Finally, and on a slightly lighter note, for anyone reading this who has been brainwashed with the idea that any theory or observation that can’t be reduced to an equation, is not real ‘economics’…here is an equation for you (but don’t expect your professor to like it):

(P + G) – M = I

Where ‘P’ is pensions, ‘G’ is ‘government intervention’, ‘M’ is media oversight, and ‘I’ is insolvency. Throughout recorded history, this equation has never failed to balance eventually…ask any legionnaire.

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Another -more palatable?!- way of phrasing UBI.

You’re Hired! A Guaranteed Job For Anyone Who Wants One (DJ)

Democrats have begun the presidency of Donald Trump exiled to the political wilderness. They’ve lost the White House, both houses of Congress, a shocking number of state governments, while the “blue state” vote has turned out to be really just the “blue city” vote. The party has cast about for solutions, battling it out over identity politics, the proper opposition strategy, and more. But Democrats might consider taking a cue from Trump himself. Namely, his relentless promises to bring back good-paying American jobs. “It’s the first and most consistent thing he discusses,” observed Mike Konczal, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, after reviewing Trump’s speeches. The President understands, as The New York Times’s Josh Barro noted, that most Americans think the purpose of private business is to provide good jobs, not merely turn a profit.

Even Trump’s xenophobia and white nationalism are not totally separate from this: Kicking out all the immigrants and rolling foreign competitors are critical components of how he would restore jobs. Democrats tend to treat jobs as the happy by-product of other goals like infrastructure revitalization or green energy projects. Or they treat deindustrialization and job dislocation as regrettable inevitabilities, offering training, unemployment insurance, health care, and so on to ameliorate their effects. All these policies are worthy. But a job is not merely a delivery mechanism for income that can be replaced by an alternative source. It’s a fundamental way that people assert their dignity, stake their claim in society, and understand their mutual obligations to one another. There’s pretty clear evidence that losing this social identity matters as much as the loss of financial security.

The damage done by long-term joblessness to mental and physical health is rivaled only by the death of a spouse. It wreaks havoc on marriages, families, mortality rates, alcoholism rates, and more. The 2008 crisis drove long-term unemployment into the stratosphere, and today it remains near a historic high. Trump went right at this problem, telling Michigan in October of 2016: “I am going to bring back your jobs.” Period. Democrats should consider making the same moon shot promise. But unlike Trump, they should back it up with a policy plan. And there’s an idea that could do the trick. It emerges naturally from progressive values. It’s big, bold, and could fit on a bumper sticker. It’s generally called the “job guarantee” or the “employer of last resort.” In a nutshell: Have the federal government guarantee employment, with benefits and a living wage, to every American willing and able to work.

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More pension troubles. Today Japan, tomorrow your neck of the woods.

Japan’s Middle-Aged ‘Parasite Singles’ Face Uncertain Future (R.)

Their youth long gone, members of Japan’s generation of “parasite singles” face a precarious future, wondering how to survive once the parents many depended on for years pass away. Some 4.5 million Japanese aged between 35 and 54 were living with their parents in 2016, according to a researcher at the Statistical Research and Training Institute on a demographic phenomena that emerged two decades ago, when youthful singles made headlines for mooching off parents to lead carefree lives. Now, without pensions or savings of their own, these middle-aged stay-at-homes threaten to place an extra burden on a social welfare system that is already creaking under pressure from Japan’s aging population and shrinking workforce.

Hiromi Tanaka once sang backup for pop groups, and epitomized the optimism of youth. “I got used to living in an unstable situation and figured somehow it would work out,” Tanaka told Reuters as she sat at the piano in a small parlor of an old house connected to her elderly mother’s next door. Now aged 54, Tanaka relies on income from giving private singing lessons to a dwindling number of students, and her mother’s pension to make ends meet. She has no pension plan of her own, and has used up most of her savings. “My father died last year so pension income was halved,” she said. “If things go on like this, my mother and I will fall together.” Tanaka is one of the growing ranks of “life-time singles,” whose numbers hit a record in 2015, according to data released this month that showed that among 50-year-olds, 1 in 4 men and 1 in 7 women were unmarried.

“During the ‘bubble economy’ until the mid-1990s, the 20-somethings were happily amusing themselves. They thought by the time they were in their 30s, they’d be married,” said Masahiro Yamada, a Chuo University sociologist who coined the term “parasite singles” in 1997. “But one-third never married and are now around age 50,” Yamada said. The trend is not only a factor behind Japan’s low birthrate and shrinking population. It also puts an extra damper on consumption since new household formation is a key driver of private spending. And since about 20% of the middle-aged stay-at-home singles rely on parents for support, they also threaten to weigh on social safety nets. “Once they use up inherited assets and savings, when nothing is left, they will go on the dole,” Yamada said.

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Casey gets lots of things spectacularly wrong. The EU did need trade pacts etc., to enhance, guarantee quality control. The EU did a lot of good things. But it got taken over by the shit that floats to the top: “The European Union in Brussels is composed of a class of bureaucrats that are extremely well paid, have tremendous benefits, and have their own self-referencing little culture. They’re exactly the same kind of people that live within the Washington, D.C. beltway.”

The EU’s Collapse Is Now “Imminent” (Doug Casey)

A free trade pact between different governments is unnecessary for free trade. An individual country interested in prosperity and freedom only needs to eliminate all import and export duties, and all import and export quotas. When a country has duties or quotas, it’s essentially putting itself under embargo, shooting its economy in the foot. Businesses should trade with whomever they want for their own advantage. But that wasn’t the way the Europeans did it. The Eurocrats, instead, created a treaty the size of a New York telephone book, regulating everything. This is the problem with the EU. They say it is about free trade, but really it’s about somebody’s arbitrary idea of “fair trade,” which amounts to regulating everything. In addition to its disastrous economic consequences, it creates misunderstandings and confusion in the mind of the average person.

Brussels has become another layer of bureaucracy on top of all the national layers and local layers for the average European to deal with. The European Union in Brussels is composed of a class of bureaucrats that are extremely well paid, have tremendous benefits, and have their own self-referencing little culture. They’re exactly the same kind of people that live within the Washington, D.C. beltway. The EU was built upon a foundation of sand, doomed to failure from the very start. The idea was ill-fated because the Swedes and the Sicilians are as different from each other as the Poles and the Irish. There are linguistic, religious, and cultural differences, and big differences in the standard of living. Artificial political constructs never last. The EU is great for the “elites” in Brussels; not so much for the average citizen.

Meanwhile, there’s a centrifugal force even within these European countries. In Spain, the Basques and the Catalans want to split off, and in the UK, the Scots want to make the United Kingdom quite a bit less united. You’ve got to remember that before Garibaldi, Italy was scores of little dukedoms and principalities that all spoke their own variations of the Italian language. And the same was true in what’s now Germany before Bismarck in 1871. In Italy 89% of the Venetians voted to separate a couple of years ago. The Italian South Tyrol region, where 70% of the people speak German, has a strong independence movement. There are movements in Corsica and a half dozen other departments in France. Even in Belgium, the home of the EU, the chances are excellent that Flanders will separate at some point.

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Another feature brought to you by the Troika.

Greece Needs To Start Having Babies Again or Face Financial Oblivion (Ind.)

People in Greece can’t afford to have more than one child, and many are opting to have none at all. Fertility doctor Minas Mastrominas tells the New York Times that some women have decided not to conceive, and single-child parents have been asking him to destroy their remaining embryos. He said: “After eight years of economic stagnation, they’re giving up on their dreams.” It isn’t just Greece suffering low birth rates. In fact the trend spreads to most of Europe, with Spain, Portugal and Italy also reporting dangerously low rates. Unemployment continues to be a serious issue in Greece. Rates are slightly lower than in 2016 when they were 23.9%, but are still very high at 23.5%. The slump has affected women more, with unemployment rates at 27% compared to 20% of men.

Child tax breaks and subsidies for large families have decreased, and the country stands at having to lowest budget in the EU for family and child benefits. During the height of the crisis, women postponed childbirth in favour of working. As the years dragged on, the rate of fertility decreased, making it biologically more difficult to conceive. Additionally, gender equality came to a standstill, and many women of ‘childbearing age’ were denied employment, or had their contract changed to part time involuntarily, as soon as they got pregnant. One of the most prominent areas that will be detrimentally affected is pensions and the welfare system. Additionally, according to Eurostat, such low birth rates – under 2.1 – could create a demographic disaster. This will have a knock-on effect on pensions, with fewer young people working.

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And the children we do have, we treat like this. No wonder there are fewer of them.

40% of Spanish Children Live in Poverty (EurA)

Spain has the EU’s third highest rate of child poverty, after Romania and Greece. EURACTIV Spain reports. After the economic crisis and years of austerity, child poverty is on the rise in wealthy countries, according to Unicef. In Spain, the proportion of children living below the poverty line increased by 9 percentage points between 2008 and 2014, to reach almost 40%. While child poverty in general rose significantly, the sharpest increase (56%) was among households of four people (two adults and two children) living on less than €700 per month, or €8,400 per year. Spain has the third widest gap in the EU, behind Latvia and Cyprus, between the levels of social protection offered to children and people over 65. During the crisis, Spain’s oldest citizens were much better protected than its youngest.

According to the Spanish Statistical Office, cited by Unicef, investment in the social protection of families fell by €11.5 billion between 2009 and 2015. Unicef also highlighted that families with children, large families, single-parent families and teenagers suffered the most from the effects of poverty. As for Madrid’s response to the crisis, the UN’s agency for children criticised its failure to contain child poverty. “Social protection policies are very fragmented and very unequal, with little focus on children,” Unicef said. For the organisation, this is due, among other causes, to the strong link between social security and workers’ contributions, and the fact that many of the state’s family aid programmes take the form of tax credits, which have little impact on low earners.

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They’ll get it awfully wrong. It’s too late in the game.

Ontario Set to Unveil Its Plan to Cool Toronto Housing (BBG)

Ontario is expected to impose a tax on “non-resident speculators” when it announces new measures Thursday to cool the red-hot housing market in Toronto, according to people familiar with the plans. The measures are intended to improve housing affordability, and address both supply and demand, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the plans are not yet public. The measures are also said to include a new tax aimed at curbing purchases from non-resident speculators. [..] Home prices in the Toronto area climbed 6.2% last month, the biggest one-month gain on record, according to a benchmark price index by the Canadian Real Estate Association, and are up almost 30% in the past 12 months. Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz said last week the price gains are “divorced” from the typical measures of demand, such as income growth and demographics, and said they are unsustainable.

“The focus has to be on runaway prices, more so than affordability per se,” Robert Hogue, a senior economist at Royal Bank of Canada, said in a phone interview. “The risk now is about expectations in the market, or market psychology, as you have both sellers and buyers expecting much higher prices.” The Toronto Star reported earlier, without saying where it got the information, that Sousa will announce some 10 measures ranging from rent controls to a new tax on speculators. The move comes a week before the province tables its budget on April 27, and two days after Sousa said the government recognizes that “now” is the time to address runaway home prices. Sousa on Tuesday met Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Toronto Mayor John Tory, who said that possible steps include taxing homes left empty for speculative purposes. Rent increases on newer buildings may be limited to about 1.5% above the inflation rate, which was at 2% in February, the Star reported.

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Daddy, please tell the story again of why we have regulators!

Feds Knew of 700 Wells Fargo Whistleblower Cases in 2010 (CNN)

America’s chief federal banking regulator admits it failed to act on numerous “red flags” at Wells Fargo that could have stopped the fake account scandal years earlier. One particularly alarming red flag that went unheeded: In January 2010, the regulator was aware of “700 cases of whistleblower complaints” about Wells Fargo’s sales tactics. An internal review published on Wednesday by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency found that the regulator didn’t live up to its responsibilities. The report found that oversight of Wells Fargo was “untimely and ineffective” and federal examiners overseeing the bank “missed” several opportunities to uncover the problems that led to the creation of millions of fake accounts. The review painted a damning picture of the OCC’s ability to spot what in retrospect should have been obvious problems at one of the nation’s biggest banks.

The OCC did confront Carrie Tolstedt, then head of Wells Fargo’s community bank, about the stunning number of whistleblower claims. However, there are no records that show that federal inspectors “investigated the root cause,” or force Wells Fargo to probe it. It’s now clear that root cause of Wells Fargo’s problems – both the creation of fake accounts and the related 5,300 firings – was the notoriously aggressive sales goals targets set by senior management. At one point, rank and file bankers were asked to open as many as eight accounts per customer. That’s why the bank has eliminated them. From top management to Wells Fargo’s board of directors, everyone turned a blind eye to these issues. There’s evidence now that some of this was flagged as early as 2004 to management.

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Stone states the obvious.

So It Goes (Oliver Stone)

I confess I really had hopes for some conscience from Trump about America’s wars, but I was wrong – fooled again! – as I had been by the early Reagan, and less so by Bush 43. Reagan found his mantra with the “evil empire” rhetoric against Russia, which almost kicked off a nuclear war in 1983 – and Bush found his ‘us against the world’ crusade at 9/11, in which of course we’re still mired. It seems that Trump really has no ‘there’ there, far less a conscience, as he’s taken off the handcuffs on our war machine and turned it over to his glorified Generals – and he’s being praised for it by our ‘liberal’ media who continue to play at war so recklessly. What a tortured bind we’re in. There are intelligent people in Washington/New York, but they’ve lost their minds as they’ve been stampeded into a Syrian-Russian groupthink, a consensus without asking – ‘Who benefits from this latest gas attack?’

Certainly neither Assad nor Putin. The only benefits go to the terrorists who initiated the action to stave off their military defeat. It was a desperate gamble, but it worked because the Western media immediately got behind it with crude propagandizing about murdered babies, etc. No real investigation or time for a UN chemical unit to establish what happened, much less find a motive. Why would Assad do something so stupid when he’s clearly winning the civil war? No, I believe America has decided somewhere, in the crises of the Trump administration, that we will get into this war at any cost, under any circumstances – to, once again, change the secular regime in Syria, which has been, from the Bush era on, one of the top goals – next to Iran – of the neoconservatives. At the very least, we will cut out a chunk of northeastern Syria and call it a State.

Abetted by the Clintonites, they’ve done a wonderful job throwing America into chaos with probes into Russia’s alleged hacking of our election and Trump being their proxy candidate (now clearly disproved by his bombing attack) – and sadly, worst of all in some ways, admitting no memory of the same false flag incident in 2013, for which again Assad was blamed (see Seymour Hersh’s fascinating deconstruction of this US propaganda, ‘London Review of Books’ December 19, 2013, “Whose sarin?”). No memory, no history, no rules – or rather ‘American rules.’ No, this isn’t an accident or a one-off affair. This is the State deliberately misinforming the public through its corporate media and leads us to believe, as Mike Whitney points out in his brilliant analyses, “Will Washington Risk WW3” and “Syria: Where the Rubber Meets the Road,” that something far more sinister waits in the background.

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BBG can’t even run a story on climate anymore without adding “..the emerging risk of an emboldened and growing Russian empire..”, and more of such useful hints.

A Melting Arctic Changes Everything (BBG)

The story of the Arctic begins with temperature but it’s so much more—this is a tale about oil and economics, about humanity and science, about politics and borders and the emerging risk of an emboldened and growing Russian empire. The world as a whole has warmed about 0.9 degrees Celsius (1.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1880. Arctic temperatures have risen twice that amount during the same time period. The most recent year analyzed, October 2015 to September 2016, was 3.5C warmer than the early 1900s, according to the 2016 Arctic Report Card. Northern Canada, Svalbard, Norway and Russia’s Kara Sea reached an astounding 14C (25F) higher than normal last fall. Scientists refer to these dramatic physical changes as “Arctic amplification,” or positive feedback loops. It’s a little bit like compound interest.

A small change snowballs, and Arctic conditions become much less Arctic, much more quickly. “After studying the Arctic and its climate for three-and-a-half decades,” Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data center, wrote recently. “I have concluded that what has happened over the last year goes beyond even the extreme.” The heat is making quick work of its natural prey: ice. Scientists track the number of “freezing-degree days,” a running seasonal tally of the amount of time it’s been cold enough for water to freeze. The 2016-2017 winter season has seen a dramatic shortfall in coldness—more than 20% below the average, a record. Sea ice has diminished much faster than scientists and climate models anticipated. Last month set a new low for March, out-melting 2015 by 23,000 square miles.

Compared with the 1981-2010 baseline, the average September sea-ice minimum has been dropping by more than 13% per decade. A recent study in Nature Climate Change estimated that from 30-50% of sea ice loss is due to climate variability, while the rest occurs because of human activity. Receding ice decreases the Earth’s overall reflectivity, making the Arctic darker and therefore absorbing even more heat. The ice is not all the same age or thickness, although it has become somewhat more uniform. In 1985, about 45% of Arctic sea ice was made up of older and thicker multi-year ice. By 2016, that number shrank to 22%.

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