May 122019
 
 May 12, 2019  Posted by at 9:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Robert Campin Portrait of a woman 1430-35

 

Brexit Party May Get More EU Election Votes Than Tories, Labour Combined (G.)
Fight To Replace PM May Complicating Brexit Talks – Labour’s McDonnell (R.)
Labour Would Trial Universal Basic Income If Elected – McDonnell (G.)
QE Party Over, Bank of Japan Stealth-Tapers Further (WS)
The World’s Dictatress (Hornberger)
Is America Ready for John Bolton’s War With Iran? (Ritter)
Iran’s Rouhani Warns Of Greater Hardship Than War Years Of 1980s (R.)
Guaido Seeks Pentagon Cooperation In Attempt To Take Power (AP)
Boeing Altered Key Switches In 737 MAX Cockpit (ST)
Assange’s Prison Conditions (Press Project)
American Mom Today 50% More Likely To Die In Childbirth Than Her Own Mother (AP)

 

 

“Poll surge for Farage sparks panic among Tories and Labour..”

Brexit Party May Get More EU Election Votes Than Tories, Labour Combined (G.)

Nigel Farage’s Brexit party is on course to secure more support at the European elections than the Tories and Labour combined, according to the latest Opinium poll for the Observer. In the most striking sign to date of surging support for Farage, the poll suggests more than a third of voters will back him on 23 May. It puts his party on 34% of the vote, with less than a fortnight before the election takes place. The poll suggests support for the Conservatives has collapsed amid the Brexit uncertainty, with Theresa May’s party on just 11%. Labour is a distant second, on 21%. The Lib Dems perform the best of any of the openly anti-Brexit parties, one point ahead of the Tories on 12% of the vote.

With the Brexit party securing more than three times the level of support for the Tories, the poll confirms the concerns of senior Conservatives that it is haemorrhaging support as Brexit remains unresolved. Just a fortnight ago, the Brexit party was neck-and-neck with Labour on 28%. Now it has a 13-point lead over Jeremy Corbyn’s party. The Conservatives are now only narrowly ahead of the Brexit party when voters are asked who they would vote for at a general election. The Tories are on 22% support, down 4% on a fortnight ago, with the Brexit party on 21% backing. Labour leads on 28%, but is down five points on the last poll.

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“The problem they have is that literally in front of us they will fall out,” he told the Sunday Mirror. “So the exercise here is holding themselves together. And that is proving impossible. The administration is falling apart.”

Fight To Replace PM May Complicating Brexit Talks – Labour’s McDonnell (R.)

The battle among leading Conservatives to replace Theresa May as prime minister threatens to derail talks with the Labour Party and the bid to find a Brexit compromise, Labour’s John McDonnell said. May, who has offered to quit if MPs accept her Brexit deal, opened cross-party talks with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party more than a month ago after parliament rejected her European Union withdrawal deal three times. The talks with Labour are a last resort for May, whose party’s deep divisions over Brexit have so far stopped her getting approval for an exit agreement and left the world’s fifth largest economy in prolonged political limbo.


McDonnell, Labour’s financial spokesman and a member of the party’s negotiating team, said the situation was precarious. “The problem they have is that literally in front of us they will fall out,” he told the Sunday Mirror. “So the exercise here is holding themselves together. And that is proving impossible. The administration is falling apart.” In terms of progress, the second most powerful man in the Labour Party said nothing new had been put on the table, and in some cases the talks had gone backwards. “It’s so precarious. We’re dealing with an institution that might not be there in three weeks.” He said the talks had been made more difficult by May’s offer to resign because a new leader could rip up anything agreed by the current administration.

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Universal in Sheffield?

Labour Would Trial Universal Basic Income If Elected – McDonnell (G.)

Labour would trial universal basic income if it wins power, shadow chancellor John McDonnell has revealed. Pilot schemes would be held in Liverpool, Sheffield and the Midlands, McDonnell told the Mirror. The plan would do away with the need for welfare as every citizen would be given a fixed sum to cover the basics whether they are rich or poor, in work or unemployed. McDonnell said people can spend the money how they like, but it is intended for study, to set up a business or leave work to care for a loved one. “I’d like to see a northern and Midlands town in the pilot so we have a spread,” he said.

“I would like Liverpool – of course I would, I’m a Scouser – but Sheffield have really worked hard. I’ve been involved in their anti-poverty campaign and they’ve done a lot round the real living wage. I think those two cities would be ideal and somewhere in the Midlands.” Trials have been held elsewhere in the world, including Kenya, Finland and the US, as well as potentially being explored in four Scottish cities. The shadow chancellor was this week handed a feasibility report for different universal basic income (UBI) models for low-income areas, including one in which a whole community gets basic incomes.

All the means-tested benefits – apart from housing benefit – would be taken away and every adult would get a fixed amount per week, plus an additional amount for each child they have. “Of course it’s a radical idea,” McDonnell said. “But I can remember, when I was at the trade unions – campaigning for child benefit and that’s almost like UBI – you get a universal amount of money just based on having a child. “UBI shares that concept. It’s about winning the argument and getting the design right.” The concept has been around since at least the 1960s and was raised in the 1972 US presidential election, followed by the introduction of a UBI scheme called the Manitoba Basic Income Experiment in Canada in 1975.

[..] McDonnell is convinced of the benefits. “The reason we’re doing it is because the social security system has collapsed. We need a radical alternative and we’re going to examine that. “We’ll look at options, run the pilots and see if we can roll it out. If you look at the Finland pilot it says it didn’t do much in terms of employment but did in terms of wellbeing – things like health. It was quite remarkable. “The other thing it did was increase trust in politicians, which can’t be a bad thing.”

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But the central banks has become the whole economy..

QE Party Over, Bank of Japan Stealth-Tapers Further (WS)

Total assets on the balance sheet of the Bank of Japan at the end of April ticked up from March but were flat with the record in February: ¥562 trillion ($5.1 trillion). This amounts to a gigantic 102.2% of nominal GDP. But the BOJ has been tapering its asset purchases since peak QE at the end of 2016, and the growth has slowed to a snail’s pace, by Abenomics QE standards. Despite the BOJs repeated promises of adding ¥85 trillion to its balance sheet every year, the BOJ hasn’t done that since peak QE in 2016 when it added ¥93 trillion. The additions have consistently decreased since then. Over the 12 months through April, it has added merely €27 trillion, the lowest 12-month increase since early days of ramping up Abenomics in March 2013. This amounts to a stealth taper:

Meanwhile, the government of Japan has been borrowing and issuing new debt with reckless abandon, and the gross national debt outstanding has ballooned to ¥1.12 quadrillion, or 203% of nominal GDP (measured in yen). But no problem: the BOJ started buying every Japanese government security that wasn’t nailed down, with the government selling new securities to the banks, and the banks selling them to the BOJ for a small profit. In addition the BOJ mopped up what was coming on the market. The BOJ now holds 43% of all outstanding Japanese government securities, up from 25% in January 2015. These massive purchases of Japanese government securities, and to a lesser extent, the purchases of corporate bonds, equity ETFs, and Japan REITS, have created this enormous balance sheet, but note the flattening spot at the top, a result of the stealth taper:

The stealth taper has reached a level to where the assets added to the balance sheet are small enough that every third month, as long-term securities mature and roll off the balance sheet, the balance sheet shrinks. Then the next two months, the balance sheet gains:

To smoothen out this volatility of the balance sheet and delineate the trend of the stealth taper more clearly, I converted that above data of month-to-month change into a rolling three-month average. The addition in assets over the past six months was ¥1.7 trillion a month on average:

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John Quincy Adams. A bit wiser than Mike Pompeo.

The World’s Dictatress (Hornberger)

In his Fourth of July address to Congress in 1821, U.S. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams stated that if America were ever to abandon its founding foreign policy of non-interventionism, she would inevitably become the world’s “dictatress” and begin behaving accordingly. No can can deny that Adams’ prediction has come true. America has truly become the world’s dictatress — an arrogant, ruthless, brutal dictatress that brooks no dissent from anyone in the world. Now, I use the term “America” because that’s the term Adams used. In actuality, however, it’s not America that has become the world’s dictatress. It is the U.S. government that has become the world’s dictatress.

A good example of this phenomenon involves Meng Wanzhou, a Chinese citizen who serves as chief financial officer of the giant Chinese technology firm Huawei. Having been arrested by Canadian authorities and placed under house arrest, Meng is suffering the wrath of the world’s dictatress. What is her purported crime? That she violated U.S. sanctions against Iran. What do U.S. sanctions on Iran have to do with her? Exactly! She’s a Chinese citizen, not an American citizen. So, why is she being prosecuted by the U.S. government? Sanctions have become a standard tool of U.S. foreign policy. With the exception of libertarians, hardly anyone raises an eyebrow over their imposition and enforcement.

Their objective is to target foreign citizens with death, suffering, and economic privation as a way to bend their regime to the will of the U.S. dictratress and her brutal and ruthless agents. After all, what could be more brutal and ruthless than to target innocent people with death and impoverishment as a way to get to their government? Most foreign citizens have as little control over the actions of their government as individual American citizens have over the actions of their government. Where is the morality in targeting innocent people, especially as a way to achieve a political goal? Isn’t that why people condemn terrorism?

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“.. it is John Bolton, not Iran, who poses the greatest threat to American national security today.”

Is America Ready for John Bolton’s War With Iran? (Ritter)

The threat being promulgated by Bolton, CENTCOM, Pompeo, and the media ignores the reality that Iran has been preparing to strike American military forces in the Middle East for years as part of its efforts towards self-defense. Iran’s short-range ballistic missile capability is part of a larger missile threat that could, at a moment’s notice, blanket U.S. bases in the region with high explosives. Dispatching the Abraham Lincoln battle group and a B-52 task force to the Middle East is an act of theatrical bravado that will do nothing to change that. Iran’s missile force is, for the most part, mobile. The American experience in the Gulf War, and Saudi Arabia’s experience in Yemen, should underscore the reality that mobile relocatable targets such as Iran’s missile arsenal are virtually impossible to interdict through airpower.


By purposefully escalating tensions with Iran using manufactured intelligence about an all too real threat, Bolton is setting the country up for a war it is not prepared to fight and most likely cannot win. This point is driven home by the fact that Mike Pompeo has been recalled from his trip to participate in a National Security Council meeting where the Pentagon will lay out in stark detail the realities of a military conflict with Iran, including the high costs. (Hopefully, they’ll emphasize that Iran would win such a war simply by not losing—all they’d have to do is ride out any American attack.) That Israel is behind the scenes supplying the intelligence and motivation makes Bolton’s actions even more questionable. It shows that it is John Bolton, not Iran, who poses the greatest threat to American national security today.

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The US must still be smart enough to understand it can only lose.

Iran’s Rouhani Warns Of Greater Hardship Than War Years Of 1980s (R.)

Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, has called for unity among political factions to overcome conditions that he said may be harder than those during the 1980s war with Iraq, state media reported, as the country faces tightening US sanctions. Donald Trump on Thursday urged Iran’s leaders to talk with him about giving up their nuclear programme and said he could not rule out a military confrontation. The president increased economic and military pressure on Iran, moving to cut off all Iranian oil exports while beefing up the US navy and air force presence in the Gulf. Washington also approved a new deployment of Patriot missiles to the Middle East, a US official said on Friday.


“Today, it cannot be said whether conditions are better or worse than the (1980-88) war period,” Rouhani said, according to the state news agency IRNA. “But during the war we did not have a problem with our banks, oil sales or imports and exports, and there were only sanctions on arms purchases. “The pressures by enemies is a war unprecedented in the history of our Islamic revolution … but I do not despair and have great hope for the future and believe that we can move past these difficult conditions provided that we are united,” Rouhani told activists from various factions.

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“.. he reserves the right to invite foreign military actions in the way independence hero Simon Bolivar hired 5,000 British mercenaries to liberate South America from Spain. “:

Guaido Seeks Pentagon Cooperation In Attempt To Take Power (AP)

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido on Saturday said he has instructed his political envoy in Washington to immediately open relations with the US military, in an attempt to put more pressure on President Nicolás Maduro to resign. Guiado said he had asked Carlos Vecchio, who the US recognizes as ambassador, to open “direct communications” toward possible military “coordination”. The remarks, at the end of a rally, were Guaido’s strongest public plea yet for greater US involvement in the country’s fast-escalating crisis. While Guaido has repeatedly echoed comments from the Trump administration that “all options” for removing Maduro are on the table, few in the US or Venezuelan opposition view military action as likely. Nor has the White House indicated it is seriously considering such a move.


[Guaido] announced on Saturday a forthcoming meeting with US military officials and said new actions will seek to “achieve the necessary pressure” to put an end to the Bolivarian revolution launched 20 years ago by the late socialist president Hugo Chávez. Guaido has said that as Venezuela’s rightful leader he reserves the right to invite foreign military actions in the way independence hero Simon Bolivar hired 5,000 British mercenaries to liberate South America from Spain. He says any such help should be considered “cooperation” instead of intervention, something he has accused Maduro of allowing in the form of military and intelligence support from Cuba and Russia. [..] Noticeably diminished crowds at opposition protests reflect demoralization that has permeated Guaido’s supporters after he led a failed military uprising on 30 April. In previous months, thousands heeded his calls to protest. On Saturday, a modest crowd of several hundred gathered in Caracas.

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Lock ’em up.

Boeing Altered Key Switches In 737 MAX Cockpit (ST)

In the middle of Boeing 737 cockpits, sitting between the pilot seats, are two toggle switches that can immediately shut off power to the systems that control the angle of the plane’s horizontal tail. Those switches are critical in the event a malfunction causes movements that the pilots don’t want. And Boeing sees the toggles as a vital backstop to a new safety system on the 737 MAX – the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) – which is suspected of repeatedly moving the horizontal tails on the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines flights that crashed and killed a total of 346 people. But as Boeing was transitioning from its 737 NG model to the 737 MAX, the company altered the labeling and the purpose of those two switches.

The functionality of the switches became more restrictive on the MAX than on previous models, closing out an option that could conceivably have helped the pilots in the Ethiopian Airlines flight regain control. Boeing declined to detail the specific functionality of the two switches. But after obtaining and reviewing flight manual documents, The Seattle Times found that the left switch on the 737 NG model is capable of deactivating the buttons on the yoke that pilots regularly press with their thumb to control the horizontal stabilizer. The right switch on the 737 NG was labeled “AUTO PILOT” and is capable of deactivating just the automated controls of the stabilizer. On the newer 737 MAX, according to documents reviewed by The Times, those two switches were changed to perform the same function – flipping either one of them would turn off all electric controls of the stabilizer.

That means there is no longer an option to turn off automated functions – such as MCAS – without also turning off the thumb buttons the pilots would normally use to control the stabilizer. Peter Lemme, a former Boeing flight-controls engineer who has been closely scrutinizing the MAX design and first raised questions about the switches on his blog, said he doesn’t understand why Boeing abandoned the old setup. He said if the company had maintained the switch design from the 737 NG, Boeing could have instructed pilots after the Lion Air crash last year to simply flip the “AUTO PILOT” switch to deactivate MCAS and continue flying with the normal trim buttons on the control wheel.

He said that would have saved the Ethiopian Airlines plane and the 157 people on board. “There’s no doubt in my mind that they would have been fine,” Lemme said.

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“..authorities have made clear to his visitors that, if they speak with the media about the conditions of Assange’s imprisonment, those conditions will only worsen.”

Assange’s Prison Conditions (Press Project)

ThePressProject has obtained exclusive information about Julian Assange’s prison conditions. According to that information, Assange appeared in court without having been granted prior counsel from an attorney. He has access to one book, the Bible, and is not permitted access to writing materials. He is being held in solitary confinement 23 hours a day and his visitors have been made aware that conditions will worsen if they are publicized. Assange has been held at Belmarsh Prison, a Category A (i.e. high security) facility since April 11.

Both Assange’s imprisonment at Belmarsh and his 50-week sentence have been condemned in a statement issued by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which denounced the “disproportionate treatment imposed on Mr. Assange” and claimed that his “treatment appears to contravene the principles of necessity and proportionality envisaged by the human rights standards.” Following a visit to Assange in Belmarsh earlier this week, UN Special Rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer also expressed concerns that his rights were being violated. Assange is permitted one hour a day outside of solitary confinement, during which he is allowed to bathe, walk, and use a telephone. At this moment the attention of the international community is upon him, with calls being issued by the United Nations and expressions of support coming from all over the world.

Nevertheless, Assange was permitted to appear in court without prior counsel from an attorney; currently, his meetings with a lawyer are limited to three hours per week. Not only is he cut off from communication with the outside world, he is also not allowed access to books other than the Bible. Because he is not granted access to writing materials, he keeps notes in the margins of that Bible. Again, authorities have made clear to his visitors that, if they speak with the media about the conditions of Assange’s imprisonment, those conditions will only worsen. It is clear that, in this case of such an intense struggle against so unequal an opponent and with extradition to the United States a real possibility, the provision of a fair trial and access to adequate legal defense are a matter of life and death for the imprisoned Assange.

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I see a headline like this, I immediately think: obesity. But there’s more tragedy behind this.

American Mom Today 50% More Likely To Die In Childbirth Than Her Own Mother (AP)

Pregnancy-related deaths are rising in the United States and the main risk factor is being black, according to new reports that highlight racial disparities in care during and after childbirth. Black women, along with Native Americans and Alaska natives, are three times more likely to die before, during or after having a baby, and more than half of these deaths are preventable, Tuesday’s report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concludes. Although these deaths are rare — about 700 a year — they have been rising for decades. “An American mom today is 50% more likely to die in childbirth than her own mother was,” said Dr. Neel Shah, a Harvard Medical School obstetrician.


Separately, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released new guidelines saying being black is the greatest risk factor for these deaths. The guidelines say women should have a comprehensive heart-risk evaluation 12 weeks after delivery, but up to 40% of women don’t return for that visit and payment issues may be one reason. Bleeding and infections used to cause most pregnancy-related deaths, but heart-related problems do now. The CDC report found that about one third of maternal deaths happened during pregnancy, a third were during or within a week of birth, and the rest were up to a year later. Globally, maternal mortality fell about 44% between 1990 and 2015, according to the World Health Organization. But the U.S. is out of step: Moms die in about 17 out of every 100,000 U.S. births each year, up from 12 per 100,000 a quarter century ago.

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Mar 072019
 


Edward Hopper Le Bistro or The Wine Shop 1909

 

US Credit Card Debt Rises to Record $870 Billion (ET)
Fed Scraps ‘Qualitative’ Test For US Banks In 2019 Stress Tests (R.)
Beware The ‘Japanification’ Of Europe – ING Economists (MW)
Huawei Hits Back, Sues America, Claims US Hacked Its Servers (Age)
Nadler’s ‘Obstruction’ Quest (WSJ Ed.)
Michael Cohen Asked His Former Lawyer To Seek Pardon From Trump (WSJ)
Democrats Bar Fox From Hosting Primary Candidate Debates (AFP)
EU Urges UK To Offer ‘Acceptable’ Brexit Plan (BBC)
Brexit Meaningful Vote Will Go Ahead, Says No 10 (G.)
Monthly Income Lasts Just 19 Days For Over Half of Greek Households (K.)
Italy’s Welfare Revolution Kicks Off As ‘Citizens’ Income’ Goes Live (R.)
Red Wolf: The Struggle To Save One Of The Rarest Animals On Earth (G.)
China Prosecutes 11 People In $119 Million Totoaba Fish Bust (AFP)
Microplastics Found ‘Absolutely Everywhere’ (G.)

 

 

Let’s wind it down in an orderly fashion and call it a day. This is hopeless.

US Credit Card Debt Rises to Record $870 Billion (ET)

Americans expanded their credit card debt by $26 billion in the last quarter of 2018, making it reach $870 billion—a record. “The increase in credit card balances is consistent with seasonal patterns but marks the first time credit card balances re-touched the 2008 peak,” the Federal Reserve Bank of New York stated in a quarterly report (pdf) released Feb. 12. The credit card debt rose for the 24th consecutive quarter; and balances sliding into 90 or more days of delinquency have increased since 2017. Total household debt increased by $32 billion in the last quarter and finished the year at more than $13.5 trillion. The largest chunk of that sum is mortgages at $9.1 trillion—virtually unchanged from the quarter before. Student loans stood at nearly $1.5 trillion and auto loans at almost $1.3 trillion.

Americans hold about 480 million credit cards, which is about 100 million more than in 2010, but still a bit fewer than at the precipice of the 2008 recession. Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of growth in the world’s largest economy and is expected to hold strong this year. However, credit inquiries, which are one sign of consumer demand, slipped in the second half of 2018 to the lowest level recorded by the New York Fed. Another signal of weaker demand, the closing of credit cards and other accounts, jumped to its highest level since 2010. [..] The report also showed that Americans have continued to turn away from home equity lines of credit, or HELOC, which can free up funds for other purchases. HELOC balances dropped to $412 billion in the fourth quarter, the lowest level in 14 years.

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And while we’re at it let’s scrap the Fed.

Fed Scraps ‘Qualitative’ Test For US Banks In 2019 Stress Tests (R.)

The U.S. Federal Reserve said on Wednesday it would no longer flunk banks based on operational or risk management lapses during its annual health check of the country’s domestic banks. The “qualitative” portion of the 2019 test, however, will still apply to the U.S. subsidiaries of five foreign banks subject to the annual exam. The move, which is a big win for major banks, such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan, Bank of America and Citigroup, forms part of a broader effort by the Fed to overhaul its annual “stress-testing” process, which the industry has long criticized as too onerous and opaque. Since the 2007-09 global financial crisis, the Fed has put the country’s lenders through strict annual tests to see whether they would have enough capital to withstand a major economic downturn.

For the largest lenders, that test also included a so-called “qualitative objection,” that gives the Fed the discretion to fail banks due to risk management or operational failures, even if they have sufficient capital. Most banks that have failed the tests in the past stumbled on the qualitative objection. Banks that receive an objection from the Fed are required to adjust their capital distribution plans. [..] The Fed will still examine domestic banks for operational and risk management problems, but will address them through enforcement actions rather than a public flunking. The U.S. subsidiaries of five foreign lenders – Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, UBS, Barclays and TD Bank – would also still be subject to the qualitative objection.

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And scrap the ECB and BOJ too. Their only goal is to preserve zombies.

BTW, does anyone seriously think it’s not too late yet for Europe? Asking for a friend.

Beware The ‘Japanification’ Of Europe – ING Economists (MW)

The eurozone is beginning to resemble Japan with its low-growth and low-inflation environment, coupled with still very loose monetary policy, according to economists at ING. This raises questions about the European Central Bank’s tool kit and firing power. Interest rates haven’t gone up in either the eurozone or Japan since the aftermath of the global financial crisis. Conversely, the Federal Reserve has raised rates nine times since the crisis years, presumably giving it room to cut them again should the economy need a boost. The Bank of Japan is considered the most hesitant of its peers to normalize monetary policy. And already since the mid-1990s, Japan has been struggling with a high public debt ratio and stubbornly low inflation and growth rates.

None of that bodes well for a hawkish central bank approach. The eurozone looks like it entered a similar trend of late, said ING economists Carsten Brzeski and Inga Fechner, one day ahead of the European Central Bank’s next policy update. “An end to current unconventional monetary policy, i.e. the negative deposit rate and ample liquidity, is not insight and the ECB is expected to do everything it can to avoid an unwarranted tightening of its monetary stance.” “Last year, Japan’s debt-to-GDP ratio stood at 238%, and since 1994, headline inflation has been negative for almost half of the time. This trend has also emerged in the eurozone in recent years,” said Brzeski and Fechner, pointing at Greece, as well as Spain and Italy, in the aftermath of the European sovereign debt crisis. Though deflationary risks have disappeared in the eurozone, consumer prices haven’t exactly been soaring.

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The power of US intelligence.

Huawei Hits Back, Sues America, Claims US Hacked Its Servers (Age)

Huawei has accused the US of hacking its computers in a defiant press conference where the Chinese telecommunications giant announced it had taken legal action in a Texas court to overturn a US ban. Huawei’s rotating chairman Guo Ping said in China that the US Congress had failed to produce any evidence to justify its ban which prevents US agencies, private companies that deal with US agencies and recipients of US loans or grants from using Huawei’s gear. The Trump Administration has accused Huawei of being a national security risk because it was a tool of the Chinese government. But Guo fired back, saying the US “has hacked our servers and stolen our emails and source code”.

“Despite this, the US has never produced any evidence supporting their allegations that Huawei poses a cyber security threat.” He added: “The US is trying to block us from 5G markets in other countries.” Guo said that a section of the US National Defense Authorisation Act that names Huawei not only damages the company’s reputation but stops Huawei from servicing customers outside the US. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has publicly urged other countries, particularly in Europe, to ban Huawei from 5G if they want to continue to deal with the US. Germany and Britain are due to make decisions this month.

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They’ll simply shift from collusion to -now- obstruction to yet another term. Just as long as it takes.

Nadler’s ‘Obstruction’ Quest (WSJ Ed.)

Well, we’re off on the march to impeachment, as we predicted last year even as Democrats said it wasn’t on their minds. With Chairman Jerry Nadler’s subpoena swarm from House Judiciary this week, and his assertions that President Trump obstructed justice, the articles of impeachment are apparently awaiting only the collection of the readily available details to fill in the blanks. “Do you think the President obstructed justice?” asked ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. “Yes, I do,” replied Mr. Nadler. “It’s very clear that the President obstructed justice. It’s very clear—1,100 times he referred to the Mueller investigation as a witch hunt, he tried to—he fired—he tried to protect [Michael] Flynn from being investigated by the FBI. He fired [FBI director Jim] Comey in order to stop the Russian thing, as he told NBC News.”

Credit Mr. Nadler for candor that Democrats didn’t display when they campaigned last year. Then they talked only about holding the President “accountable.” Now they claim they already have enough to impeach Mr. Trump, though as Mr. Nadler admitted Sunday, “you have to persuade enough of the opposition party voters, Trump voters . . . that you’re not just trying to steal the last—to reverse the results of the last election.” That may be harder than he imagines, and not only because of Mr. Nadler’s Freudian slip there of “steal.” Based on the public evidence so far, Mr. Trump hasn’t obstructed justice in any of the examples Mr. Nadler cited. Mr. Nadler wants to turn the President’s exercise of his normal constitutional powers into impeachable offenses.

The case against Mr. Nadler’s obstruction theory has been made in these pages by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and appellate lawyer and our contributor David Rivkin. Attorney General William Barr also made the case in his 2018 memo to the Justice Department when he was still in private life. A President can obstruct justice while in office but only if he is committing a per se illegal offense. That is, if he suborns perjury or destroys evidence, or commits “any act deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence,” as Mr. Barr put it. Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton committed such acts in Mr. Barr’s view, but Mr. Trump has not as far as we can see.

On the other hand, a President cannot obstruct justice when he takes actions that are consistent with his Article II powers under the Constitution. That includes in particular firing inferior executive-branch officers such as Mr. Comey. Such acts may be politically stupid, but they aren’t obstruction.

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Less than 100% truthful.

Michael Cohen Asked His Former Lawyer To Seek Pardon From Trump (WSJ)

Michael Cohen, a former lawyer for President Donald Trump, directed his attorney last spring to inquire about the possibility of a presidential pardon, weeks after federal agents raided his properties, Cohen’s lawyer said Wednesday. The Wall Street Journal previously reported that Stephen Ryan, Cohen’s attorney at the time, discussed the possibility of a pardon with lawyers for Trump in the weeks after the Federal Bureau of Investigation in April raided Cohen’s home, office and hotel room. The president’s lawyers, including Jay Sekulow, Rudy Giuliani and Joanna Hendon, dismissed the idea of a pardon at the time, people familiar with the discussions said.

But at least one of them, Giuliani, left open the possibility that the president could grant Cohen one in the future, they said. In testimony before the House Oversight Committee last week, Cohen said: “I have never asked for, nor would I accept, a pardon from Mr. Trump.” Lanny Davis, a lawyer for Cohen, said Wednesday that in the months after the FBI raid, Cohen was open to a pardon from the president. “During that time period, he directed his attorney to explore possibilities of a pardon at one point with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani as well as other lawyers advising President Trump,” Davis said. He referred to the discussions with the president’s lawyers as the “ongoing ‘dangling’ of a possible pardon.”

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It’s all about money, nothing else.

Democrats Bar Fox From Hosting Primary Candidate Debates (AFP)

The Democratic Party said Wednesday it will not allow Fox News to host any of its primary candidate debates, after published revelations suggested the network is a “propaganda” vehicle for President Donald Trump. National Committee (DNC) chairman Tom Perez said a story in this week’s New Yorker magazine on the White House’s apparently close relationship with the channel prompted the decision. “Just to be clear, Fox News will not serve as a media partner for the 2020 Democratic primary debates,” Perez said on Twitter. “Recent reporting in the New Yorker on the inappropriate relationship between President Trump, his administration and Fox News has led me to conclude that the network is not in a position to host a fair and neutral debate for our candidates,” he added in a statement to The Washington Post.

News of the move enraged Trump, who suggested on Twitter he would “do the same thing with the Fake News Networks and the Radical Left Democrats” — despite having no authority over Republican debate broadcasting rights. Trump often refers to CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post and MSNBC as “fake news.” US presidential debate and primary debate broadcast rights are coveted prizes for American media outlets. The events traditionally draw broad viewership, and the series of debates beginning this year – aimed at winnowing the Democratic field of over a dozen candidates – will likely have large television audiences.

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I’m thinking if they haven’t so far, what are the odds?

EU Urges UK To Offer ‘Acceptable’ Brexit Plan (BBC)

The UK has been urged to table fresh proposals within the next 48 hours to break the Brexit impasse. EU officials said they would work non-stop over the weekend if “acceptable” ideas were received by Friday to break the deadlock over the Irish backstop. The UK has said “reasonable” proposals to satisfy MPs’ concerns about being tied to EU rules had already been made. It comes as Jeremy Corbyn has met with Tory MPs to discuss possible alternatives to the PM’s deal. The Labour leader held talks with ex-Tory minister Nick Boles and Sir Oliver Letwin, who favour a closer, Norway-style relationship with the EU.

He said he had discussed the so-called “Common Market 2.0 option” – which would see the UK remain in the EU’s single market by staying part of the European Economic Area – but would not commit to backing it at this stage. There have been few visible signs of progress ahead of Parliament’s second vote on the Brexit deal next Tuesday. MPs emphatically rejected the terms of withdrawal negotiated by Theresa May in January. If they do so again, they will get to choose between leaving without a deal or deferring the UK’s exit date from the EU beyond the scheduled 29 March. The PM is seeking legally-enforceable changes to the backstop – an insurance policy designed to prevent physical checks on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

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Telegraph today: “Brexit deal ‘will be defeated by 100 votes’, ministers believe, after talks in Brussels collapse..”

Brexit Meaningful Vote Will Go Ahead, Says No 10 (G.)

Downing Street has insisted the meaningful vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal will go ahead as promised on Tuesday, despite negotiations in Brussels stumbling. The prime minister’s spokesman repeated the line on Wednesday that the government is determined to secure “legally binding changes” to the Irish backstop, despite the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, returning empty-handed from the talks. Shortly before leaving Brussels, he conceded “strong views” had been expressed during three hours of “robust” discussions. Downing Street said the talks had been “difficult”, but stressed the vote would take place on Tuesday, as committed by May.

If it is lost, MPs will vote on successive days on whether to block a no-deal Brexit and whether to extend the departure date. With it increasingly being assumed No 10 will not secure significant EU concessions on the backstop, May is expected to try to sell her plan to MPs and the public later in the week, potentially with a speech. There are no plans as yet for the prime minister or Cox to return to Brussels, but it is understood this could happen if required. Sunday night is the final deadline for any changes, as the government needs to publish and print copies of deal documents on Monday, and publish the motion MPs will then vote on.

[..] Cabinet ministers are pessimistic about the prospects of wooing enough waverers in parliament to win the second meaningful vote. May will then come under intense pressure to offer MPs a free vote on a no-deal Brexit, with her cabinet deeply divided. The opportunity to vote on this was only secured after scores of frontbenchers made it clear they were willing to resign, and the cabinet ministers Amber Rudd, Greg Clark and David Gauke wrote to the Daily Mail rejecting the idea of a no-deal departure.Senior EU diplomats said the bloc’s deputy chief negotiator, Sabine Weyand, offered a “gloomy” analysis of the talks. According to a diplomatic note, Weyand told the ambassadors: “Cox’s asks are going well beyond where Barnier can go.”

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“..49.1 percent of households have a main pension as their primary source of income..”

Monthly Income Lasts Just 19 Days For Over Half of Greek Households (K.)

The Greek economy’s scars from the decade-long financial crisis and the internal devaluation are more than obvious. Despite the slight improvement in certain income-related indexes, three in 10 households get by on an annual income of less than 10,000 euros, while pensions comprise the main source of income for almost half of all households, according to a survey published on Wednesday by the Institute of Small Enterprises of the Hellenic Confederation of Professionals, Craftsmen & Merchants (GSEVEE). In this first survey after the completion of the bailout programs, GSEVEE found that 43.9 percent of households reported a decline in their incomes last year compared to 2017.

Almost half of the households surveyed (48.9 percent) reported income stability, up from one in three (35.6 percent) in 2017, while 7.1 percent said they had seen an increase, up from just 2 percent in 2017. At the same time, the share of households on an annual income of less than 10,000 euros remained quite high, at 31.7 percent, against 34.2 percent in 2017. The biggest income bracket is that of households with earnings of between 10,000 and 18,000 euros per year, accounting for 39.8 percent in 2018 against 37.5 percent in 2017. This illustrates the shift of a number of households that were in the bottom bracket to a higher one; however, it also points to declines in the incomes of some households that in 2017 had been in the over-18,000 euros per annum bracket.

The bulk of Greek households find themselves in the bottom two income tiers. More than one in eight (12.7 percent) households say their incomes do not suffice to cover their basic needs, and more than half (52.5 percent) say their monthly income is not enough to carry them through all 30 days, sufficing instead for an average of just 19 days per month. All this is explained by the fact that 49.1 percent of households have a main pension as their primary source of income, even if that has been significantly reduced in recent years.

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Neoliberalism is killing the EU as a project, maybe not in Germany, but certainly in Italy and Greece. Still, labeling a basic income project ‘welfare’ is leading, Reuters.

Italy’s Welfare Revolution Kicks Off As ‘Citizens’ Income’ Goes Live (R.)

Italy’s flagship welfare reform kicked off in busy but orderly fashion on Wednesday as thousands of poor and unemployed people applied in post offices and tax assistance centers for the “citizens’ income” scheme. The populist 5-Star Movement, which governs with the right-wing League and has long promoted the measure, hopes it will lift its flagging fortunes ahead of European Parliament elections in May. Despite a steady flow of applicants, warnings of chaos and long queues proved misplaced, as many people appeared to heed advice not to sign up on the scheme’s first day.

“This is so helpful, it will give me some breathing space to get to the end of each month,” said 36-year-old Svetlana Guerra as she left a small tax assistance center (CAF) in a densely populated quarter of south-eastern Rome. Guerra, a Ukrainian-born widow who has lived in Italy for 19 years and survives thanks to odd jobs paid under the counter, said she expected the citizens’ income to give her about 280 euros ($315) per month to help her pay her rent. Guerra is one of millions struggling to make ends meet in a country in its third recession in 10 years and where the economy has barely grown since the start of the century.

Italians in absolute poverty, defined as not having enough money to buy a basket of basic goods and services, rose to 5.1 million in 2017, according to statistics office ISTAT. That is a more than threefold increase in a decade. Italy has traditionally had a generous pension system and offered limited-term state benefits for those laid off from work, but until last year it was virtually unique among rich countries in having no means-tested welfare scheme.

The previous center-left government aimed to fill that gap, but the “inclusion income” program it launched ahead of elections a year ago set aside just 2 billion euros and was widely deemed inadequate. The citizens’ income, a rallying call for 5-Star since its foundation in 2009, will cost 7 billion euros this year and is expected to go initially to 2.7 million people, according to ISTAT. Critics say Italy’s strained public finances cannot afford it. The 5-Star Movement was easily the biggest party at the March 2018 national election but has seen its support slide since then and been overtaken in opinion polls by the League.

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Make America Great Again must start with its wildlife. That’s much greater than millions working bullshit jobs where they drive an hour a day from the burbs. Nothing great about that.

First, define greatness.

Red Wolf: The Struggle To Save One Of The Rarest Animals On Earth (G.)

Attempting to locate one of the rarest animals on the planet, US government scientist Joe Madison pointed an antiquated VHF tracking antenna at a tangle of thick vegetation and twiddled some dials on the receiver. A red wolf, judging by the beeps, was in the vicinity but well-hidden. “Did you hear that beep? That’s a six-year-old male we just heard,” said Madison, a Tennessean with a sandy-coloured beard who is manager of the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) red wolf program. “I mean, obviously I don’t see anything.” Sightings of red wolves are uncommon not only due to their elusive nature but also their plummeting population. Only around 30 of the creatures remain in the wild, in a corner of North Carolina, with 18 of them fitted with radio collars that Madison attempts to pick up with his antenna.


Photograph: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post/Getty Images

An FWS assessment in 2016 warned this vestige could completely vanish within eight years. The scenario now is even grimmer. “We’re already way ahead of where that projection was,” Madison said. “If we stay on the current trajectory it won’t be that long before we lose the population. In fact, we are down to one known breeding pair.” Faced with hardening opposition to the wolves’ presence from some nearby landowners, the FWS has gradually pulled back. Wild releases of captive pups have stopped, as has the sterilization of encroaching coyotes to avoid hybridization. In June, the Trump administration unveiled a plan, several years in the making, that would scale the red wolves’ protected area back to its federally owned core and allow people to shoot the species without repercussions on private land.

Conservation groups argue this plan will swiftly snuff out the red wolf and have taken the fight to the courts. “The impression we’ve gotten is that Fish and Wildlife have got tired of trying to save controversial species like wolves,” said Dr Ron Sutherland, an ecologist and red wolf expert at the Wildlands Network. “They don’t have the budget or the backing of Congress. It’s easier to let the wolves decline to the point where they can just pull the plug and we’re very nearly at that point. This wasn’t a thing started by Trump but Trump could certainly finish it off.”


Photograph: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post/Getty Images

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I’m sure this is a priority for Beijing. Stop trading with these countries or they won’t stop.

China Prosecutes 11 People In $119 Million Totoaba Fish Bust (AFP)

Chinese authorities have prosecuted 11 people for smuggling $119 million worth of Mexican totoaba fish swim bladders, one of the country’s biggest busts related to the trafficking of an endangered species used in traditional medicine. Mexico has urged China for years to crack down on totoaba smuggling over fears that illegal fishing operations in the Gulf of California are also killing off the world’s smallest porpoise, the near-extinct vaquita marina. The Jiangmen city procuratorate in southern Guangdong province said the 11 people are suspected of smuggling nearly 20,000 swim bladders worth more than 800 million yuan ($119 million) from Mexico. The group of smugglers, led by an individual named Liang Weihua, transported the fish parts in “large quantities” and sold them to consumers in China.

“This crime lasted for more than three years,” said the Guangdong-based procuratorate, a legal supervision agency, on its website. The smuggling route involved a number of neighbouring countries, including Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, it said, adding that the case is currently under further investigation. The critically endangered totoaba fish has been in steep decline since the 1940s, largely because of its reputed healing powers in Chinese medicine. The fish’s swim bladder can fetch up to $20,000 on the black market in China, where it is believed to have beautifying properties and cure a host of ailments, from arthritis pain to discomfort during pregnancy. In fact, they are so prized that some Chinese simply display them in fancy cases in their homes.

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“..more than 400 types of bacteria on 275 pieces of microplastic collected from local beaches. They included bugs that cause gastroenteritis and wound infections in humans..”

Microplastics Found ‘Absolutely Everywhere’ (G.)

Microplastic pollution spans the world, according to new studies showing contamination in the UK’s lake and rivers, in groundwater in the US and along the Yangtze river in China and the coast of Spain. Humans are known to consume the tiny plastic particles via food and water, but the possible health effects on people and ecosystems have yet to be determined. One study, in Singapore, has found that microplastics can harbour harmful microbes. The new analysis in the UK found microplastic pollution in all 10 lakes, rivers and reservoirs sampled. More than 1,000 small pieces of plastic per litre were found in the River Tame, near Manchester, which was revealed last year as the most contaminated place yet tested worldwide. Even in relatively remote places such as the Falls of Dochart and Loch Lomond in Scotland, two or three pieces per litre were found.

“It was startling. I wasn’t expecting to find as much as we did,” said Christian Dunn at Bangor University, Wales, who led the work. “It is quite depressing they were there in some of our country’s most iconic locations. I’m sure Wordsworth would not be happy to discover his beloved Ullswater in the Lake District was polluted with plastic. “Microplastics are being found absolutely everywhere [but] we do not know the dangers they could be posing. It’s no use looking back in 20 years time and saying: ‘If only we’d realised just how bad it was.’ We need to be monitoring our waters now and we need to think, as a country and a world, how we can be reducing our reliance on plastic.”

[..] “Microplastic has been found in our rivers, our highest mountains and our deepest oceans,” said Julian Kirby, a plastics campaigner at Friends of the Earth who helped collect water samples for the new UK study. He urged MPs to back legislation “to drastically reduce the flow of plastic pollution that’s blighting our environment”. Research by the National University of Singapore found more than 400 types of bacteria on 275 pieces of microplastic collected from local beaches. They included bugs that cause gastroenteritis and wound infections in humans, as well as those linked to the bleaching of coral reefs.

Read more …

Dec 292018
 
 December 29, 2018  Posted by at 11:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Sandro Botticelli Portrait of a Young Woman 1480 – 1485

 

Can an Inverted Yield Curve CAUSE a Recession? (St. Louis Fed)
The Malaysia Scandal Is Starting to Look Dire for Goldman Sachs (Taibbi)
How Crazy This Week Was For The Stock Market, In One Big Chart (MW)
Record-Bad Year-End For $1.3-Trillion “Leveraged Loan” Market (WS)
US Debt Soars $1.4 Trillion From Last Christmas, $44,000 Per Second (RT)
US Home Sales Decline To Steepen, No Respite In Sight. (WS)
Which Side Are You On? (Jim Kunstler)
Universal Basic Income Is Easier Than It Looks (Ellen Brown)
Guilty By Innuendo: The Guardian Campaign Against Julian Assange (Canary)

 

 

The St. Louis Fed says yes.

Can an Inverted Yield Curve CAUSE a Recession? (St. Louis Fed)

An inverted yield curve—or a situation in which market yields on shorter-term U.S. Treasury securities exceed those on longer-term securities—has been a remarkably consistent predictor of economic recessions. However, simply because inversions forecast recessions does not necessarily mean that inversions cause recessions. Why might a yield curve inversion cause economic activity to slow?

Recently, the Federal Reserve asked banks how their lending policies might change in response to a hypothetical moderate inversion of the yield curve.1 Many of those surveyed indicated that they would tighten lending standards or price terms on every major loan category. When asked why they would do so, several potential reasons were given: • An inversion could cause loans to be less profitable relative to the bank’s cost of funds. • An inversion would cause their banks to be less risk tolerant. • An inversion may signal a less favorable or more uncertain economic outlook. The figure below illustrates the tendency of banks to tighten lending terms when the yield curve inverts. It plots the yield on 10-year Treasury securities minus the yield on two-year securities.

Normally, the yield on 10-year securities exceeds the yield on two-year securities, reflecting the fact that the yield curve is usually upward sloping. The yield curve is downward sloping (or inverted) when the yields on shorter-term securities are higher than those on longer-term securities, as in 2000 and 2006. Both of those inversions were followed by the start of a recession within a few months. The Fed has surveyed banks on their lending terms continuously since 1990. The chart shows that the net percentage of banks tightening their lending standards on commercial and industrial loans began to rise around the time that the yield curve inverted in 2000 and 2006.

Why is this important? Researchers have found that the economy tends to slow after banks tighten their lending standards, suggesting that an inversion of the yield curve could cause economic activity to slow by leading banks to reduce the supply of loans. Thus, an inverted yield curve might do more than predict a recession: It might actually cause one.

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“..like a massage price that suggests you’re probably getting more than a massage.”

The Malaysia Scandal Is Starting to Look Dire for Goldman Sachs (Taibbi)

Goldman Sachs, which has survived and thrived despite countless scandals over the years, may have finally stepped in a pile of trouble too deep to escape. There’s even a Donald Trump angle to this latest great financial mess, but the outlines of that subplot – in a case that has countless – remains vague. The bank itself is in the most immediate danger. The company’s stock rallied Thursday to close at 165, stopping a five-day slide in which the firm lost almost 12 percent of its market value. The company is down 35 percent for the year, most of that coming in the past three months as Goldman has been battered by headlines about the infamous 1MDB scandal.

Just before Christmas, Malaysian authorities filed criminal charges against Goldman, seeking a stunning $7.5 billion in reparations for the bank’s role in the scandal. Singapore authorities also announced they were expanding their own 1MDB probe to include Goldman. In the 1MDB scheme, actors tied to former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak allegedly siphoned mountains of cash out of a state investment fund. The misrouted money went to lavish parties with celebrity guests like Alicia Keys, a $35 million jet, works by Monet and Van Gogh, property in New York, Los Angeles and London, and (ironically) the funding of the movie The Wolf of Wall Street.

The cash for this mother of all bacchanals originally came from bonds issued by Goldman, which earned a whopping $600 million from the Malaysians. The bank charged prices for its bond issuance that analysts believe were suspiciously high – like a massage price that suggests you’re probably getting more than a massage.

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Not crazy, but the new normal. Because no market.

How Crazy This Week Was For The Stock Market, In One Big Chart (MW)

This Christmas week really was one for the history books. Whiplash, anyone? On Monday, the Dow Jones Industrial, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq all booked their ugliest-ever plunges in the shortened Christmas Eve trading session. All three indexes rebounded Wednesday, only to sink early Thursday and then turn around in dramatic fashion to finish the session higher. The week finished Friday with an indecisive whimper, as stocks flipped back and forth between gains and losses all day long. The week’s sharp moves were attributed mostly to light holiday trading volume and computer-driven trading. But the ups and downs during a usually calm period are no doubt stoking investor anxiety about what’s to come.

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“..loan funds [must] hold considerable amounts of cash so that they can meet redemptions.”

Leveraged loans and considerable amounts of cash. That don’t rhyme.

Record-Bad Year-End For $1.3-Trillion “Leveraged Loan” Market (WS)

Part of the $1.3 trillion in “leveraged loans” — loans issued by junk-rated overleveraged companies — end up in loan mutual funds and loan ETFs. These funds saw another record outflow in the week ended December 26: $3.53 billion, according to Lipper. It was the sixth outflow in a row, another record. Over the past nine weeks, $14.8 billion had been yanked out, another record. These outflows are, as LCD, a unit of S&P Global Market Intelligence, put it, “punctuating a staggering turnaround for the asset class” that until October was red-hot. Despite $10 billion of net inflows during 2018 through early October, the record outflows at the end of the year caused a net outflow for the entire year of $3.1 billion. What a sudden turnaround!

It can take a long time to sell a leveraged loan. Each is a unique contract, and finding a buyer and agreeing on a price and completing the sale takes time. So loan funds hold considerable amounts of cash so that they can meet redemptions. But now, loan funds faced with this onslaught of redemptions have to dump loans in order to stay ahead of the redemptions and maintain a cash cushion. This forced selling by loan funds has caused prices to drop – which is further motivating investors to yank even more out of those loan funds. Since October 22, the S&P/LSTA US Leveraged Loan 100 Index, which tracks the prices of the largest leveraged loans, has dropped 4.8%. This price decline put the index back where it had been on October 5, 2017. But note, while there have been some defaults recently, the big wave of defaults that many expect in an environment where credit is tightening for risky corporate borrowers, hasn’t even started yet. These are still the good times:

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“..Christmas-to-Christmas growth in the federal debt equals approximately $4,178.10 per average US citizen..”

US Debt Soars $1.4 Trillion From Last Christmas, $44,000 Per Second (RT)

The year-on-year surge in US sovereign debt has totaled $1.37 trillion, the latest data released by the US Treasury Department shows. The national debt reportedly rose to $21,863,635,176,724.12 as of December 20 of the current year compared to $20,492,874,492,282.58 on December 25, 2017. The current US population stands at 328,082,386 according to the December statistics produced by the Census Bureau, a unit of the US Department of Commerce. Rough calculations show that Christmas-to-Christmas growth in the federal debt equals approximately $4,178.10 per average US citizen.

According to Census Bureau estimates, there were 127,586,000 households in the country in 2018, which means that an average American family owes some $10,743.82. Moreover, since the end of the last fiscal year through December 20, the federal government added some $340 billion to the country’s sovereign debt. That means the debt had been skyrocketing at around $3.8 billion per day, or nearly $44,000 per second. US debt is expected to hit $22 trillion in the near future and the ongoing government spending will drive the debt to $33 trillion within a decade.

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Remeber: this is what the economy runs on. This is how money enters that economy.

US Home Sales Decline To Steepen, No Respite In Sight. (WS)

Pending home sales is a forward-looking measure. It counts how many contracts were signed, rather than how many sales actually closed that month. There can be a lag of about a month or two between signing the contract and closing the sale. This morning, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) released its Pending Home Sales Index for November, an indication of the direction of actual sales to be reported for December and January. This index for November fell to the lowest level since May 2014:

“There is no reason to be concerned,” the report said, reassuringly. And it predicted “solid growth potential for the long-term.” And the index plunged 7.7% compared to November last year, the biggest year-over-year percentage drop since June 2014. The drops in October and November are indicated in red:

All four regions got whacked by year-over-year declines: • Northeast : -3.5% • Midwest: -7.0% • South: -7.4% • West: -12.2%. The plunge in pending home sales in the West, a vast and diverse region, will prolong the plunge in closed sales for the region. Particularly on the West Coast, the largest and very expensive markets — Seattle metro, Portland metro, Bay Area, and Los Angeles area — have been experiencing sharp sales declines, a surge in inventory for sale, and starting this summer, declining prices. Today’s pending home sales data confirms that these trends are intact and will likely continue.

The NAR report blames the sales decline in the expensive markets in the West on “affordability challenges” – because prices “have risen too much, too fast,” it said. And this is a true and huge problem: Home prices have shot up for years, even while wages ticked up at much slower rates. At some point, the market is going to run out of people with median incomes who are willing to stretch to the limit to buy a starter shack; and the market is going to run out of people with high incomes who are willing to stretch to the limit to buy a median house.

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“..economies don’t de-grow, at least not in an orderly way.”

Which Side Are You On? (Jim Kunstler)

The true rebalancing of pension funds, and everything else in American life, will come with the recognition that we are tapped out and bumping up against actual limits. Alas, economies don’t de-grow, at least not in an orderly way. They reach a certain complete efflorescence and then they wilt, or collapse. Survival becomes a matter of how human beings adapt to new conditions. Attempts at mitigation — propping up the status quo — add up to a mug’s game, whether it’s stock markets, agri-biz, political parties, weather systems, or influence over people in distant lands.

The argument will come down to the Mitigationists versus the Adapters. The problem for the Mitigators is that most of what they can do is based on pretending: e.g. that some energy miracle is at hand… that we’ll soon be mining asteroids… that we’ll build dikes around Miami Beach… that Modern Monetary Theory (the “science” of getting something for nothing) can negate the physical laws of the universe. The Mitigationists will be disappointed as they “consume” their last images of iPhone porn, waiting for Elon Musk to save the world.

The Adapters will be out there working with the changes that reality serves up, probably with hand tools. There may be a lot fewer of them, living in a more austere everyday economy, but they will remain onstage when the Mitigationists depart this earth in tears for a mysterious realm that turns out not to be a golf course subdivision on Mars with a Tesla in every driveway. Something’s coming and the wild algo instability in the markets is yet another sign that anybody can read. Even if it quiets down for a few weeks in early 2019, as I think it may, the fireworks are only beginning. Which side are you on?

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Maybe not in practice, though.

Universal Basic Income Is Easier Than It Looks (Ellen Brown)

Calls for a Universal Basic Income have been increasing, most recently as part of the Green New Deal introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and supported in the last month by at least 40 members of Congress. A Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a monthly payment to all adults with no strings attached, similar to Social Security. Critics say the Green New Deal asks too much of the rich and upper-middle-class taxpayers who will have to pay for it, but taxing the rich is not what the resolution proposes. It says funding would primarily come from the federal government, “using a combination of the Federal Reserve, a new public bank or system of regional and specialized public banks,” and other vehicles.

The Federal Reserve alone could do the job. It could buy “Green” federal bonds with money created on its balance sheet, just as the Fed funded the purchase of $3.7 trillion in bonds in its “quantitative easing” program to save the banks. The Treasury could also do it. The Treasury has the constitutional power to issue coins in any denomination, even trillion dollar coins. What prevents legislators from pursuing those options is the fear of hyperinflation from excess “demand” (spendable income) driving prices up. But in fact the consumer economy is chronically short of spendable income, due to the way money enters the consumer economy. We actually need regular injections of money to avoid a “balance sheet recession” and allow for growth, and a UBI is one way to do it.

The pros and cons of a UBI are hotly debated and have been discussed elsewhere. The point here is to show that it could actually be funded year after year without driving up taxes or prices. New money is continually being added to the money supply, but it is added as debt created privately by banks. (How banks rather than the government create most of the money supply today is explained on the Bank of England website) A UBI would replace money-created-as-debt with debt-free money – a “debt jubilee” for consumers – while leaving the money supply for the most part unchanged; and to the extent that new money was added, it could help create the demand needed to fill the gap between actual and potential productivity.

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This is a nice effort from Tom Coburg for the Canary, and very much in line with some of the things I’ve said. But he misses an enormous elephant, and it’s hard to see how. See, he cites a May 18 2018 article by Luke Harding, Dan Collyns and Stephanie Kirchgaessner as the instant when the Guardian campaign against Assange started. But just three days prior to that, on May 15, the same authors posted 3 articles about Assange and his relations with Ecuador that are pure smear and very much part of the campaign against Assange. I linked to these things in my May 16 article, “I Am Julian Assange”

Guilty By Innuendo: The Guardian Campaign Against Julian Assange (Canary)

An analysis of articles published by the Guardian over several months reveals what appears to be a campaign to link WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with Russia and the Kremlin. But the paper has provided little or no evidence to back up the assertions. And amid recent revelations that Guardian journalists have associated with the psychological operations experts at the Integrity Initiative, we should perhaps be more sceptical than ever before. This particular campaign by the Guardian appears to have begun with an article on 18 May 2018 from Luke Harding, Dan Collyns and Stephanie Kirchgaessner.

It stated that “Assange has a longstanding relationship with RT”, the Russian TV broadcaster; and the headline was Assange’s guest list: the RT reporters, hackers and film-makers who visited embassy. Assange has had hundreds of people visit him at the embassy, but the article was keen to focus on the “senior staff members from RT, the Moscow TV network described by US intelligence agencies as the Kremlin’s ‘principal international propaganda outlet’”. On the same day, the Guardian published another article, claiming that Assange had visits from “individuals linked to the Kremlin”, but which offered no evidence for this.

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Oct 032018
 
 October 3, 2018  Posted by at 9:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Gauguin The ford 1901

 

Fed’s Powell Says US Outlook ‘Remarkably Positive’ (R.)
Another Market Volatility Surge Is Likely Ahead (Colombo)
White House Responds To “Misleading” NYTimes’ Trump Tax Fraud Story (ZH)
Italy Folds To Europe On Budget Deficit; Euro Surges (ZH)
Merkel’s End Could Spark EU Breakdown (Luongo)
Vancouver Home Sales Crash 44% As “For Sale” Inventory Soars (ZH)
Australia Banking Royal Commission Could Trigger House Price Collapse (ABC.au)
DMZ Demining Operations Lay Groundwork For Korean Peninsula Peace (YH)
Russia May Veto Greece-FYROM Name Deal at the UN (GR)
The Case For Paying Every American A Dividend On The Nation’s Wealth (MW)
Restaurants In Austin Banned From Throwing Away Food (Hill)
‘We Have Found Hell’: Trauma Runs Deep For Children At Dire Lesbos Camp (G.)

 

 

First, here’s Ted Koppel agreeing with me that Trump Sells Better Than Sex, and Stelter really doesn’t understand:

 

 

And then he closed the spigots…

Fed’s Powell Says US Outlook ‘Remarkably Positive’ (R.)

U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Tuesday hailed a “remarkably positive outlook” for the U.S. economy that he feels is on the verge of a “historically rare” era of ultra-low unemployment and tame prices for the foreseeable future. It is a view, he said, based on how a changed economy is operating today, with businesses and households immunized by strong central bank policy from the inflationary psychology that caused unemployment, inflation and interest rates to swing wildly in the 1960s and 1970s. It is an outlook that includes an economic performance “unique in modern U.S. data,” with unemployment of below 4 percent expected for at least two more years and inflation remaining modest even as wages rise.

And it is an outlook he feels will even survive the Trump administration’s efforts to rewrite the global trading system, a policy shift Powell said may lead to one-time price hikes, but not to persistent changes in the annual rate of inflation going forward. “This forecast is not too good to be true,” Powell told the National Associate for Business Economics, but instead “is testament to the fact that we remain in extraordinary times.” “These developments amount to a better world for households and businesses which no longer experience or even fear the scourge of high and volatile inflation.”

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There can be no doubt.

Another Market Volatility Surge Is Likely Ahead (Colombo)

The U.S. stock market is climbing to record highs once again and volatility has calmed down dramatically from its panic-induced levels reached earlier this year. Traders have become complacent as they passively ride the stock market higher and bet on lower volatility again. While it may seem like all is well, several reliable indicators are warning that another powerful volatility surge is likely ahead.

The first indicator is the 10-year/2-year Treasury spread that is calculated by subtracting the 2-year Treasury note yield from the 10-year Treasury note yield. The 10-year/2-year Treasury spread is helpful for estimating when the next recession is likely to occur, as I explained in a recent Forbes piece. The chart below (which I recreated from a chart made by BofA’s Savita Subramanian) shows that the inverted 10-year/2-year Treasury spread leads the CBOE Volatility Index or VIX by approximately three years. If this historic relationship holds true, we are about to experience a whole lot more volatility over the next few years.

The next chart shows the positioning of the “smart money” and “dumb money” in the Volatility Index or VIX futures. The “smart money”, or commercial futures hedgers (who tend to be right at major market turning points), are building up another bullish position in VIX futures, just like they did one year ago ahead of the stock market correction and volatility spike. In addition, the “dumb money”, or large traders (who tend to be wrong at major turning points), have built up a large short position, like they did before the early-2018 volatility spike. The positioning of these groups of traders indicates that another volatility spike is likely ahead in the not-too-distant future.

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Decades old, started when Trump was a toddler, good luck. Of course they pay as little as they can, but once the IRS signs off on it…

White House Responds To “Misleading” NYTimes’ Trump Tax Fraud Story (ZH)

Update 2: The White House has finally responded to the NYTimes story…(via Sarah Sanders) “Fred Trump has been gone for nearly twenty years and it’s sad to witness this misleading attack against the Trump family by the failing New York Times. Many decades ago the IRS reviewed and signed off on these transactions. The New York Times’ and other media outlets’ credibility with the American people is at an all time low because they are consumed with attacking the president and his family 24/7 instead of reporting the news.

The truth is the market is at an all-time high, unemployment is at a fifty year low, taxes for families and businesses have been cut, wages are up, farmers and workers are empowered from better trade deals, and America’s military is stronger than ever, yet the New York Times can rarely find anything positive about the President and has tremendous record of success to report. Perhaps another apology from the New York Times, like the one they had to issue after they got the 2016 election so embarrassingly wrong, is in order.”

The NYT reported that Trump and his siblings set up a “sham” corporation to help disguise otherwise taxable income that came from gifts from their parents. The president also allegedly helped his father take improper tax deductions that amounted to millions of dollars and helped formulate strategy to undervalue his parents’ real estate holdings, with the Internal Revenue Service reportedly providing little pushback against the Trumps’ reported tactics. According to the leaked confidential filings, Trump’s parents left more than $1 billion to their children, which would have resulted in a roughly $550 million tax bill at the time.

However, the Trumps paid a total of $52.2 million on that source of income, according to the NYT report. To achieve this, the newspaper cited records that showed Trump helped undervalue his father’s real estate holdings, which led to a lower tax bill when he and his siblings inherited the properties. In total, Trump received the equivalent today of at least $413 million from his father’s real estate empire, based on questionable tax dealings starting when he was a toddler and continuing to this day. And, in what will attract the most attention, the newspaper wrote that Trump’s behavior amounted to fraud in some cases.

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I don’t think this one’s over yet.

Italy Folds To Europe On Budget Deficit; Euro Surges (ZH)

After two days of brutal punishment by the markets which sent Italian bond yields to 4 years highs and slammed the euro, the Italian government appears to have folded to pressure from Brussels (and the one place in the world where the bond vigilantes still operate, just ask Sylvio Berlusconi), and according to Corriere della Sera, Italy’s draft budget plan will pledge to cut the deficit to 2% in 2021, after Rome reversed a proposal to maintain a 2.4% shortfall in the face of pressure from the EU. As a result, while the 2019 deficit will still rise to 2.4% of GDP in 2019, it will decline by 0.2% to 2.2% in 2020, and another 0.2% the year after. In kneejerk reaction, futures lept to fresh session highs, Treasury yields jumped by 2bps to 3.07% and the EURUSD spiked 50 pips higher to 1.1590.

Italy is not out of the woods yet though: according to Mizuho, the sustainability of the euro’s rebound will depend on whether the EU sees Italy’s latest budget plan as appropriate. It could be that Italy has already made compromise with the EU, but hard to predict whether the euro’s rebound has more legs until we see a reaction from the EU: “It all boils down to the EU’s response”, and if the ongoing war of words is any indication, merely promising to trim the deficit in the next three years will hardly be smiled upon. Others were even more skeptical. According to bond fund manager Daintree Capital, “The euro’s definitely reacting to the headlines on Italian budget plans, and it will continue to do so for future headlines.” However, “anyone who believes a populist government is all of a sudden going to be particularly responsible in a fiscal sense, has a misguided view.”

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Merkel’s losing it.

Merkel’s End Could Spark EU Breakdown (Luongo)

I saw a recent poll from Die Welt which has Alternative for Germany (AfD) creep past Merkel’s Grand Coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), and challenge the CDU itself. Because when you back out the Christian Social Union’s (CSU) total which runs between 8% and 9% AfD is now in a position to become the party with the highest backing in Germany. And this is happening on the eve of Bavarian State elections this month. [..] I’ve talked about AfD’s chances to achieve this result in the past in terms of them crossing the 16% Chasm. And it appears, that slowly, they are doing so. German politics, from what I understand, is not used to this kind of upheaval and certainly not these kinds of leadership challenges. Earlier this year Merkel barely survived a challenge by former CSU Leader Horst Seehofer over immigration.

So, where to things go from here? As Mercouris points out, Merkel has very skillfully gutted the landscape of the CDU to keep potential leaders from emerging within the party. The SPD is falling off a cliff having lost more than half of its support since the 2014 elections. And the CSU is primarily a Bavarian party so they don’t have the support of the entirety of Germany. This landscape is why we’ve seen the Greens rise to 15% as well as AfD’s rise. And that cannot be ignored. The hard left of German politics is now split and ineffectual. But, no party has emerged in this chaos to take the reins of power.

This is reminding me of Italy’s situation at the end of 2017 with no less than five parties polling in double digits. It’s a messy situation and it makes more sense in Germany that big shifts in voter preference would occur at a slower rate given the stability of German coalition governments since the modern state was founded after World War II. In other words Germans are loathe to make these kinds of changes. So, you know the situation must be bad if these numbers are changing this quickly. So, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise really to see this type of breakdown and the slow rise of AfD past the 16% chasm. It may be the riots in Chemnitz that finally begin pushing their poll numbers into the 20’s nationally.

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Glass half full: “”There’s more selection for home buyers to choose from today.”

Vancouver Home Sales Crash 44% As “For Sale” Inventory Soars (ZH)

What happens when prices rise so high that a chasm forms between bids and asks? The market grinds to a halt. That’s what happened in Vancouver housing in September, when according to the Real Estate Board of Vancouver (REBGV), residential property sales tumbled by 17.3% from August 2018, and a whopping 43.5% from one year ago. In fact, a total of only 1,595 transactions took place as both buyers and sellers continue to sit on their hands amid confusion whether the recent torrid price gains will continue or whether the housing bubble has burst. Sales of detached properties in July was just 508, a decrease of 40.4% from the 852 recorded in September 2017, and the 812 apartments sold was a 44% drop compared to the 1,451 sales in September 2017.

And no, it’s not seasonal: last month’s sales were a whopping 36.1% below the 10-year September sales average. The reason for the collapse in transactions: the formerly all too willing buyers, mostly Chinese oligarchs who would use Vancouver real estate as their offshore Swiss bank account, have disappeared. Meanwhile sellers are dumping properties in the market in hopes of a quick flip. “Fewer home sales are allowing listings to accumulate and prices to ease across the Metro Vancouver housing market,” Ashley Smith, REBGV president-elect said. “There’s more selection for home buyers to choose from today. Since spring, home listing totals have risen to levels we haven’t seen in our market in four years.”

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What would we do without our housing bubble?

Australia Banking Royal Commission Could Trigger House Price Collapse (ABC.au)

There is a lot riding on the policy recommendations from the banking royal commission, not least of which is the stability of the Australian property market, according to some respected analysts. Independent economist Saul Eslake said there was potential for the royal commission’s recommendations to have what economists refer to as “unintended consequences”. The unintended consequences Mr Eslake is referring to include a steep fall in house prices spurred on by a royal commission-inspired clampdown on bank lending. Capital Economics chief economist Paul Dales said while house price falls to date have been small, Australia could be in for a record housing decline, at least in its recent history.

“At the moment the trajectory is a bit worrying cause the house prices seem to be declining at a faster rate and, in our view at Capital Economics, this will eventually prove to be the largest downturn in Australia’s modern history,” he said. Mr Dales is forecasting a protracted slowdown in the housing market as a result of a crackdown in bank lending standards, the banking royal commission itself and rising interest rates. “There’s significant time delays with these things,” he said. “I would have thought over the next six to 12 months is where we would, if there was going to be a big pullback in lending, that’s when we would see it and then, thereafter as and when the royal commission makes any recommendations and the Government implements them, the next six to 12 months after that.

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Korea’s move on.

DMZ Demining Operations Lay Groundwork For Korean Peninsula Peace (YH)

After a 15-minute bumpy ride along a dusty, hilly path inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), dozens of South Korean troops in full gear disembarked near a grisly site of intense battles during the 1950-53 Korean War. Accompanying them in the buffer zone separating the two Koreas was a phalanx of security guards, medical specialists and other personnel specializing in disposing of unidentified explosives and excavating war remains. They are part of the 120-member team tasked with removing landmines in the Arrowhead Ridge, or Hill 281 in Cheorwon, some 90 kilometers northeast of Seoul — a site that the two Koreas have designated for a joint project to retrieve war remains from April to October next year.

There were three key battles against communist forces on the notorious ridge from 1952-53. The remains of more than 200 South Korean soldiers and dozens of U.N. Command (UNC) forces, such as U.S. and French troops, are thought to be buried in it. “We have made preparations (for the landmine removal) for a long period and are well prepared now,” the commander in charge of the frontline areas told reporters on condition of anonymity on Tuesday, the second day of the demining work set to continue until Nov. 30. “We will not rush and will carry out our mission with the first and foremost priority placed on the safety of our troops,” he added.

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EU and NATO want to keep pushing, but how about democracy?

Russia May Veto Greece-FYROM Name Deal at the UN (GR)

Russia is implicitly threatening that it may block the Prespa agreement at the UN Security Council. In a statement on Monday, following the referendum in FYROM, the Russian foreign ministry says that the low turnout “means that the referendum cannot be recognised as valid.” It clearly indicates that the voters “chose to boycott the solutions imposed on Skopje and Athens.” The statement also blasts leading politicians from NATO and EU member states who participated in “large-scale propaganda campaign directly, freely interfering in the internal affairs of this Balkan state.” Despite the low turnout, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev vowed to push ahead with the name change on Monday.

The Russian foreign ministry condemned the move: “There is a clear drive to ensure Skopje’s entanglement in NATO despite the will of the Macedonian people.” Russia is traditionally wary of NATO’s enlargement in eastern Europe. The alliance’s 1999 bombings of its ally Serbia caused a major rift in Russia’s relations with the West at the time. Moscow says that a long-term solution can only be agreed upon by the two parties on their own, without any external interference, and only within the framework of the law and with broad public support.

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Inequality in Europe rises fast, too. Where are the breaking points?

The Case For Paying Every American A Dividend On The Nation’s Wealth (MW)

The newest research shows that unconditional cash transfers boost work productivity and quality of life, including better mental and physical health, and reduce crime. A study by the Roosevelt Institute in New York, a left-leaning think tank, concludes that giving $500 a month to every adult American could meaningfully grow the U.S. economy and address its widening wealth gap. (The top 1% of Americans now receive 20% of the national income, while those in the bottom 50% receive 13%; in 1980, the numbers were essentially reversed, at 11% and 20%, respectively, according to the 2018 World Inequality Report.)

Yet basic income in the U.S., characterized as a utopian solution by its true believers but as welfare, socialism or worse by its detractors, has gone nowhere. Basic income did enjoy a bit of a heyday in the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s and was even embraced in conservative circles; free-market economist Milton Friedman went so far in 1962 as to propose a negative federal income tax that would guarantee a basic income to the poorest Americans while also incentivizing work. Other ideals of the era — the four-day workweek, the 30-hour workweek, the all but limitless vacation allotment — have fallen by the wayside, even as U.S. labor conditions have worsened.

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In France, this is a nation-wide law.

Restaurants In Austin Banned From Throwing Away Food (Hill)

Restaurants in Austin, Texas, will no longer be allowed to throw out food waste, the city announced this week. Under a new policy that began Monday, all food-permitted businesses in the city are required to keep organic material, such as food scraps and soiled paper products, from landfills. Businesses can dispose of their food waste by donating extra food, giving scraps to local farms for animals, or composting, the city government said in a press release announcing the policy.

The city’s Universal Recycling Ordinance also requires businesses to provide employees with training on organic waste diversion, and to post information about the plan. Official city data shows that 37 percent of material sent to landfills is organic and could have otherwise been donated or composted, the city said. Austin’s ordinance is the latest move by a major city to introduce eco-friendly policies. Dozens of cities and businesses nationwide have banned plastic straws and other single-use plastic items in an effort to cut down on waste.

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Welcome to Europe.

‘We Have Found Hell’: Trauma Runs Deep For Children At Dire Lesbos Camp (G.)

The drawings tell of trauma. Stormy seas dotted with terrified faces. Lifeless bodies of children floating among the waves. And planes dropping bombs, down on to homes and on to people. Eyes that weep blood. The pencil scrawls were made by children who are part of a growing phenomenon in the Moria refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece. All have attempted suicide or serious self-harm since they came to this place. Approximately 3,000 minors live in the Moria camp, which Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) calls a giant open-air “mental asylum” owing to the overcrowding and dire sanitary conditions. Last Tuesday an adolescent attempted to hang himself from a pole. In August, a 10-year-old boy only just failed to take his own life.

The camp, among hills dotted with olive trees a few kilometres from the island’s capital town of Mytilene, is home to 9,000 asylum seekers living in a centre designed to hold one third of that number. Migrants live in groups of up to 30 people, crammed into tents or metal containers situated just centimetres apart. Rubbish, scattered everywhere, makes the air almost unbreathable. Most come from war-torn countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. They arrive in dinghies from the Turkish towns of Ayvalik or Canakkale. According to aid agencies, the controversial deal brokered between Brussels and Ankara aimed at stopping the flow of migrants to Europe via Turkey, combined with the refusal on the part of European countries to take in asylum seekers arriving in Greece, have transformed Lesbos into an Alcatraz, leaving people imprisoned on the island with no way out.

“Although the vast majority of migrants who arrive in Moria are traumatised, after having fled from violent conflicts in their home countries, conditions in the camp have exacerbated their trauma,” says Luca Fontana, field coordinator of MSF on the island. “After two years, some are still awaiting transferral, even if they know they could be deported to Turkey at a moment’s notice. I’ve worked in camps infested with Ebola in Sierra Leone and Guinea, but I guarantee you that this is the worst situation I’ve ever seen.”

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Sep 282018
 
 September 28, 2018  Posted by at 9:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Carnival Bistro [Study] 1908

 

Well, I Think We Found Our Supreme Court Justice Today… (F.)
BIS’s Claudio Borio Says the World Economy Is About to Get Very Sick (Auerback)
Italy Agrees High Public Spending Reforms In Potential Clash With EU (G.)
Irish Banks’ Loan Losses Hit €140 Billion In 10 Years After Crash (IT)
Janet Yellen Says It’s Time For “Alarm” As Loan Bubble Runs Amok (ZH)
Why Do Debt Crises Come in Cycles? (Dalio)
Elon Musk Tore Up Last Minute SEC Settlement, Decided To Fight Instead (ZH)
Corbyn Talks With EU Officials Spark Fresh No-Deal Brexit Fears (G.)
Britain, Ecuador Seeking An End To The Assange Standoff (AP)
Seattle Judges Throw Out 15 Years Of Marijuana Convictions (BBC)
Austrian Fruit Grower Sentenced To Prison Over Bee Deaths (AFP)
Orca ‘Apocalypse’: Half Of Killer Whales Doomed To Die From Pollution (G.)

 

 

No, not what I would write. But might as well take an odd approach. One thing that hearing made clear: “..we as a nation are losing our way”.

Well, I Think We Found Our Supreme Court Justice Today… (F.)

Well, I think we found our Supreme Court Justice today. This should be very good news for Republicans, who seem to be in an awful hurry to get this done quickly. It doesn’t look like we have to wait any longer. Let’s all take a deep breath and step back for a moment. All crazy partisan politics aside, let’s consider the qualities a good justice should have. A good justice should be objective and fair-minded, not guided by strong preconceived opinions. A good justice should be empathetic, not focused on oneself. A good justice should be calm, not angry. A good justice should show grace under pressure, not be easily rattled. A good justice should be even-tempered, not short-tempered. A good justice should be thoughtful, not strident. A good justice should in the face of adversity show courage, not petulance.

There are classic lines from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice about mercy and justice: The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. At the end of the day good leadership is about temperament. Having the kind of calm demeanor and even temperament that enables one to make sound thoughtful decisions under pressure. Not decisions that are reflexive, impulsive, angry or politically driven. When one thinks of the sea of strident bitter recriminations that have engulfed this whole Supreme Court nomination process, and the partisan political football the Supreme Court has become, it feels like we’ve completely lost sight of what a Supreme Court ought to be. It feels, sadly, like we as a nation are losing our way.

Well, cheer up, the good news at least is I think we found someone today with the right temperament to make a fine Supreme Court Justice. Her name is Christine Blasey Ford.

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And it’s the exact same disease.

BIS’s Claudio Borio Says the World Economy Is About to Get Very Sick (Auerback)

When Claudio Borio speaks, the big bankers and investors, the economics profession, and senior policymakers listen quite carefully—even if his sentiments don’t reach the shores of the popular media. Borio, the chief economist for the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the central bankers’ central bank, recently remarked on the fragility of the global economy, and suggested that we were on the verge of a significant relapsesimilar to the global crash experienced 10 years ago. Among the parallels he perceives: the proliferation of “collateralized loan obligations (CLOs), which are ‘close cousins’ of the infamous instruments known as collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs, and securities backed by residential mortgages,” the prevalence of which helped to crater the credit system in 2008.

Mindful as central bankers have been about the ready availability of liquidity, they have (as I have written before) omitted to “proactively… [charging] private market participants variable risk premiums commensurate with the risk of the underlying activity they are undertaking when providing credit.” Furthermore, Borio implies that the monetary and fiscal authorities expended excessive efforts toward restoring the status quo ante, instead of directing policy toward broader job creation and income generation, which would place the economy on sounder footing when the next downturn inevitably comes. Finally, the BIS’s chief economist also publicly mooted whether additional “medicine” of the kind that we used last time will be in sufficient supply to respond adequately when the next crisis emerges.

So is Dr. Borio correct in both his diagnosis and concomitant concern about the lack of readily available cures for the prevailing illness? And are there any key omissions in his analysis that could help to mitigate the inevitable relapse that he forecasts?

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UBI vs austerity.

Italy Agrees High Public Spending Reforms In Potential Clash With EU (G.)

The Italian government agreed to a 2019 budget deficit target at 2.4% of GDP on Thursday night in a move that was celebrated by leaders but could bring the heavily indebted country into conflict with the European Union. The economy minister Giovanni Tria succumbed to pressure from the government’s two deputy prime ministers – Luigi Di Maio, the leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), and Matteo Salvini, who heads up the far-right League – to increase the target in order to pay for election campaign promises such as a universal basic income, flat tax and pension reforms. Tria, an academic who is not affiliated to either party, had been seeking a more conservative 1.9% in order to avoid adding to Italy’s debt pile, which currently stands at around 131% of GDP, the second highest in the eurozone after Greece.

Speculation that Tria would resign has been denied. “There is an accord within the whole government for 2.4%, we are satisfied, this is a budget for change,” Di Maio and Salvini said in a joint statement. Di Maio wrote on Facebook that the agreement marked a historic day and was a victory for Italian citizens, not the government. The means-tested basic income, which will cost €10bn, was a key feature of his party’s election campaign. “For the first time in the history of this country we will erase poverty thanks to the basic income,” he said. “We will finally give a future to the 6.5 million people, who until now have lived in poverty and been completely ignored.”

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“..three-quarters of the size of the Irish economy in 2008.”

Irish Banks’ Loan Losses Hit €140 Billion In 10 Years After Crash (IT)

The State’s main 11 banks and building societies racked up a total of €140 billion in loan losses in the decade since western Europe’s worst property crash, according to data compiled by The Irish Times. That equates to about three-quarters of the size of the Irish economy in 2008. The figures include bad-loan charges that lenders took between 2008 and 2017, as well as losses on the sale of batches of loans to overseas investment firms and the National Asset Management Agency (Nama). As Saturday marks the 10th anniversary of the snap guarantee of the Republic’s banking system, property developer Sean Mulryan and former Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan have warned in interviews with The Irish Times of risks facing the recovering housing market and State finances.

The guarantee of six Dublin-based lenders would cost taxpayers €64 billion in bailouts and tip the State into an international bailout. Foreign-owned Bank of Scotland (Ireland), Ulster Bank and KBC Bank Ireland also required multibillion-euro capital injections from their parents during the financial crisis. The 11 banks’ net loan losses over the past decade amount to €134.2 billion – or 25 per cent of their total 2008 loans – according to the data, compiled from banks’ annual reports and regulatory filings. [..] Only five of the original lenders remain as standalone companies, as the State continues to grapple with the legacy of the crash. Housebuilding is running at half of estimated annual demand for 35,000 homes and banks are still dealing with high levels of distressed loans.

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These people only warn when they’ve left the job. While in the job, they do exactly what they later warn against.

“Powell said that “overall vulnerabilities” were “moderate”. He also stated that banks today “take much less risk than they used to”.”

Janet Yellen Says It’s Time For “Alarm” As Loan Bubble Runs Amok (ZH)

As rates move higher like they are now, the loans – whose interest rates reference such floating instruments as LIBOR or Prime – pay out more. As a result, as the Fed tightens the money supply, defaults tend to increase as the interest expenses rise and as the overall cost of capital increases. And because an increasing amount of the financing for these loans is done outside of the traditional banking sector, regulators and agencies like the Federal Reserve aren’t able to do much to rein it in. The market for leveraged loans and junk bonds is now over $2 trillion. Escalating the risk of the unbridled loan explosion, none other than Janet Yellen – who is directly responsible for the current loan bubble – recently told Bloomberg that “regulators should sound the alarm. They should make it clear to the public and the Congress there are things they are concerned about and they don’t have the tools to fix it.”

As we noted recently, the risks of such loans defaulting are obvious, including loss of jobs and risk to companies on both the borrowing and the lending side. Tobias Adrian, a former senior vice president at the New York Fed who’s now the IMF’s financial markets chief, told Bloomberg: “…supporting growth is important, but future downside risks also need to be considered.” He also stated that regulators had “limited tools to rein in nonbank credit”. But you’d never know this by listening to the Federal Reserve. According to Fed chairman Jerome Powell, during his press conference Wednesday, the Fed doesn’t see any risks right now. Powell said that “overall vulnerabilities” were “moderate”. He also stated that banks today “take much less risk than they used to”.

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h/t Tyler. Monopoly on steroids.

Why Do Debt Crises Come in Cycles? (Dalio)

If you understand the game of Monopoly®, you can pretty well understand how credit cycles work on the level of a whole economy. Early in the game, people have a lot of cash and only a few properties, so it pays to convert your cash into property. As the game progresses and players acquire more and more houses and hotels, more and more cash is needed to pay the rents that are charged when you land on a property that has a lot of them. Some players are forced to sell their property at discounted prices to raise that cash. So early in the game, “property is king” and later in the game, “cash is king.” Those who play the game best understand how to hold the right mix of property and cash as the game progresses.

Now, let’s imagine how this Monopoly® game would work if we allowed the bank to make loans and take deposits. Players would be able to borrow money to buy property, and, rather than holding their cash idly, they would deposit it at the bank to earn interest, which in turn would provide the bank with more money to lend. Let’s also imagine that players in this game could buy and sell properties from each other on credit (i.e., by promising to pay back the money with interest at a later date). If Monopoly® were played this way, it would provide an almost perfect model for the way our economy operates. The amount of debt-financed spending on hotels would quickly grow to multiples of the amount of money in existence.

Down the road, the debtors who hold those hotels will become short on the cash they need to pay their rents and service their debt. The bank will also get into trouble as their depositors’ rising need for cash will cause them to withdraw it, even as more and more debtors are falling behind on their payments. If nothing is done to intervene, both banks and debtors will go broke and the economy will contract. Over time, as these cycles of expansion and contraction occur repeatedly, the conditions are created for a big, long-term debt crisis.

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The board is behing Musk. But is that enough? It’s not just the SEC, the DOJ is on the case too.

Elon Musk Tore Up Last Minute SEC Settlement, Decided To Fight Instead (ZH)

To many it was clear from the beginning: “It’s an easy case,” said Charles Elson, director of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware. “He said in the tweet he had financing, and apparently he didn’t. … It’s about as straightforward as you can get.” And on Thursday afternoon, the SEC confirmed that indeed just those two words blasted to the entire world and contained in Elon Musk’s infamous “funding secured” tweet – it would emerge just days later that funding was not, in fact, secured- would serve as the basis for a securities fraud litigation against Elon Musk; and while Tesla wasn’t named in the suit as a defendant, the SEC is seeking to bar Musk, Tesla’s largest shareholder and its top executive, from serving as an officer or director of any U.S. public company.

It almost didn’t happen that way: according to the WSJ, the SEC complaint only came after a last-minute decision by Musk and his lawyers to fight the case rather than settle the charges. The SEC had crafted a settlement with Mr. Musk—approved by the agency’s commissioners—that it was preparing to file Thursday morning when Mr. Musk’s lawyers called to tell the SEC lawyers in San Francisco that they were no longer interested in proceeding with the agreement, according to people familiar with the matter. After the phone call, the SEC rushed to pull together the complaint that it subsequently filed, the people said. Considering that this is an open and shut case, one wonders if Musk was once again on drugs when he decided that instead of settling, he would fight the charges. Or he simply saw the “playbook” and decided to roll the dice…

In any case, a fighting Elon is just what the SEC – its reputation in tatters after years of not pursuing “big name” stock manipulators – needs to restore its image. The case ranks as one of the highest-profile civil securities-fraud cases in years. Its filing less than two months after the Aug. 7 tweets by Mr. Musk also marks an unusually rapid turnaround by an agency that has been under fire for its perceived failure to promptly bring significant cases in the financial crisis and other episodes. “It means there was not that much investigation they needed to do to get comfortable that it was a case they should bring, but also a case they can win,” said Michael Liftik, a former SEC enforcement lawyer now at Quinn, Emanuel, Urquhart & Sullivan LLP.

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“.. he will vote down anything that fails to deliver the same benefits as membership of the single market and customs union.”

Corbyn Talks With EU Officials Spark Fresh No-Deal Brexit Fears (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn has sparked fresh fears in Brussels of a no-deal Brexit after saying during talks with senior EU Brexit officials that he will vote down anything that fails to deliver the same benefits as membership of the single market and customs union. The Labour leader spent two hours with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, and Martin Selmayr, the most senior official in charge of planning for a cliff-edge Brexit. Emerging from the European commission headquarters, Corbyn said Barnier “was interested to know what our views are in the six tests”, referring to the criteria Labour has said must be met to ensure its MPs back a deal. The EU is increasingly concerned that the UK parliament will vote down any deal put forward by Theresa May.

One of Labour’s tests is that an agreement must offer the “exact same benefits” as membership of the single market and customs union. The Labour leader had initially planned a low-key visit to Brussels to attend the naming of a square in the Belgian capital in honour of the murdered Labour MP Jo Cox. It is understood, however, that the EU’s most senior officials were anxious to hear directly from Corbyn about his party’s plans, and invited him for a session of talks. After meeting Barnier and Selmayr, who is the secretary general of the European commission and in charge of no-deal planning, Corbyn insisted he was “not negotiating” but that there was an informal agreement that both sides would continue to talk.

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AP makes an ‘error’ and corrects: “The Associated Press reported erroneously that Assange over the past two years had continued to hack the accounts of politicians around the world. It should’ve said Assange had published material from hacked politicians’ accounts.”

Britain, Ecuador Seeking An End To The Assange Standoff (AP)

Ecuador’s president said Wednesday that his country and Britain are working on a legal solution for Julian Assange to allow the Wikileaks founder to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in “the medium term.” President Lenin Moreno told The Associated Press that Assange’s lawyers were aware of the negotiations. He declined to provide more details because of the sensitivity of the case. [..] Moreno said his country will work for Assange’s safety and the preservation of his human rights as it seeks a way for him to leave the embassy. “Being five or six years in an embassy already violates his human rights,” Moreno said on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. “But his presence in the embassy is also a problem.”

Read more …

Now the rest of the nation. How about New York State?

Seattle Judges Throw Out 15 Years Of Marijuana Convictions (BBC)

Judges in Seattle have decided to quash convictions for marijuana possession for anyone prosecuted in the city between 1996 and 2010. City Attorney Pete Homes asked the court to take the step “to right the injustices of a drug war that has primarily targeted people of colour.” Possession of marijuana became legal in the state of Washington in 2012. Officials estimate that more than 542 people could have their convictions dismissed by mid-November. Mr Holmes said the city should “take a moment to recognise the significance” of the court’s ruling. “We’ve come a long way, and I hope this action inspires other jurisdictions to follow suit,” he said. Mayor Jenny Durkan also welcomed the ruling, which she said would offer residents a “clean slate.” “For too many who call Seattle home, a misdemeanour marijuana conviction or charge has created barriers to opportunity – good jobs, housing, loans and education,” she said.

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Here’s what it will take.

Austrian Fruit Grower Sentenced To Prison Over Bee Deaths (AFP)

An Austrian fruit grower was handed a rare prison sentence Wednesday for having illegally spread an insecticide which led to the deaths of dozens of neighbouring bee colonies. The 47-year-old man had spread a powerful insecticide called chlorpyrifos over his trees in the Lavanttal area of Carinthia province, at a time when their blossoms were still attracting bees. More than 50 colonies belonging to two neighbouring apiarists perished. The court in the city of Klagenfurt found the fruit grower guilty of “deliberately damaging the environment”, pointing to his experience and role in training others in his field as evidence that he knew the consequences of his actions.

He was sentenced to a year in prison, of which four months will be without probation. Ordered to pay more than 20,000 euros ($23,500) in compensation, he said he will appeal. The court said it hoped the sentence would serve as a deterrent and to remind others that the “use of pesticides needs to strike a balance between the environment and economics”. The widespread use of pesticides has been blamed for a steep rise in deaths among bees and other pollinating insects. In April the EU voted to outlaw the use of certain pesticides from the neonicotinoid family blamed for killing off bee populations.

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And we’re still allowing glyphosate? We must insists on precautionary principle.

Orca ‘Apocalypse’: Half Of Killer Whales Doomed To Die From Pollution (G.)

At least half of the world’s killer whale populations are doomed to extinction due to toxic and persistent pollution of the oceans, according to a major new study. Although the poisonous chemicals, PCBs, have been banned for decades, they are still leaking into the seas. They become concentrated up the food chain; as a result, killer whales, the top predators, are the most contaminated animals on the planet. Worse, their fat-rich milk passes on very high doses to their newborn calves. PCB concentrations found in killer whales can be 100 times safe levels and severely damage reproductive organs, cause cancer and damage the immune system. The new research analysed the prospects for killer whale populations over the next century and found those offshore from industrialised nations could vanish as soon as 30-50 years.

Among those most at risk are the UK’s last pod, where a recent death revealed one of the highest PCB levels ever recorded. Others off Gibraltar, Japan and Brazil and in the north-east Pacific are also in great danger. Killer whales are one of the most widespread mammals on earth but have already been lost in the North Sea, around Spain and many other places. “It is like a killer whale apocalypse,” said Paul Jepson at the Zoological Society of London, part of the international research team behind the new study. “Even in a pristine condition they are very slow to reproduce.” Healthy killer whales take 20 years to reach peak sexual maturity and 18 months to gestate a calf.

PCBs were used around the world since the 1930s in electrical components, plastics and paints but their toxicity has been known for 50 years. They were banned by nations in the 1970s and 1980s but 80% of the 1m tonnes produced have yet to be destroyed and are still leaking into the seas from landfills and other sources.


Photograph: Audun Rikardsen/Science

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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”.

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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.

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“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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.”

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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?”

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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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