Mar 272020
 

 

 

More People Are Dying Of COVID-19 In The US Than We Know (BF)
We Could Watch Entire Populations Vanish (IC)
Coronavirus Could Kill 81,000 In US, Subside In June – Washington U. (R.)
Hold The Line (M.)
China Promotes Bear Bile As Coronavirus Treatment (NatGeo)
Fed Balance Sheet Tops $5 Trillion For First Time (R.)
Broward Poll Workers Test Positive For COVID-19 (L10)
Moscow Laboratories Will Conduct 13,000 Tests For Coronavirus Every Day (Tass)
New Zealand Coronavirus Deaths During Lockdown Could Be Just 20 – Modelling (G.)
Coronavirus Job Losses Will Raise Mortgage Stress More Than GFC Did (ABC.au)
France, Czechs, & Other US Allies Exit Iraq Over COVID-19 Fears (ZH)
Spike in Unemployment Claims is Even More Horrid Than it Appears (WS)
What Should The EU Do Now: 3-Point Plan For Averting A Depression (Varoufakis)
Dylan Ratigan: “An Abomination Beyond Comprehension” – “Bernie Folded” (Dore)
Muder Most Foul (Bob Dylan)

 

 

A word about testing. There are stories everywhere of people dying without even having beenn tested, and of doctors not getting permission to test. Many countries have a central body that must give permission for a test, and they often don’t until it’s too late in the game (the life). To a larg extent, this is because politicians simply failed to procure test kits. But there’s another thing: political incentives for massive and accurate testing hardly exist at all (in the short term), while incentives for not testing are obvious: you look better.

The UK testing story could change that all, with its potential finger-prick 15 minute test, but only if that test is at least 95% accurate. I know they claim it is, but we’ll have to see. There are stories about Chinese tests that are 30% accurate, and it’s easy to see why that is useless. But I was talking to someone yesterday who said: there are now tests that are fast and 70% accurate! But isn’t that useless too. No, they can do a better test with those who test negative! Yes, but the 70% applies to the positives too… So 70% means you have to retest everyone. And we haven’t even mentioned asymptomatic cases yet…

 

 

Note: we may see the first time that 100,000 new cases come within 24 hours

Cases 542,385 (+ 55,683 from yesterday’s 486,702)

Deaths 24,368 (+ 2,347 from yesterday’s 22,021)

 

 

 

From Worldometer yesterday evening (before their day’s close) US: 17,000 cases in a day

 

 

From Worldometer -NOTE: mortality rate for closed cases is at 16% –

 

 

From SCMP:

 

 

From COVID2019Live.info:

 

 

 

 

Not in the US, everywhere.

More People Are Dying Of COVID-19 In The US Than We Know (BF)

Medical professionals around the US told BuzzFeed News that the official numbers of people who have died of COVID-19 are not consistent with the number of deaths they’re seeing on the front lines. In some cases, it’s a lag in reporting, caused by delays and possible breakdowns in logging positive tests and making them public. In other, more troubling, cases, medical experts told BuzzFeed News they think it’s because people are not being tested before or after they die. In the US, state and county authorities are responsible for collecting data on cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and deaths. The data is then reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In California, one ER doctor who works at multiple hospitals in a hard-hit county told BuzzFeed News, “those medical records aren’t being audited by anyone at the state and local level currently and some people aren’t even testing those people who are dead.” “We just don’t know. The numbers are grossly underreported. I know for a fact that we’ve had three deaths in one county where only one is listed on the website,” the doctor said. A spokesperson for the California Department of Health told BuzzFeed News in an email that “local health jurisdictions are required to report all positive COVID-19 cases to the state. In addition, when a death or impending death from COVID-19 occurs, health care facilities must immediately notify their local health jurisdiction and the state.”

[..] two of the hardest-hit areas in the nation — New York City and Los Angeles County — released guidance earlier this week encouraging doctors not to test patients unless they think the test will significantly change their course of treatment. That means that potentially more people in both places could be admitted to hospitals with severe respiratory symptoms and recover — or die — and not be registered as a coronavirus case.

Read more …

Africa. Pray.

We Could Watch Entire Populations Vanish (IC)

On March 18, Burkina Faso suffered the first confirmed Covid-19 fatality in all of sub-Saharan Africa. The victim was Rose-Marie Compaoré, the first vice president of the Sahelian nation’s parliament. Tiny, impoverished, and conflict-scarred, Burkina Faso is now West Africa’s worst-affected country, with 146 confirmed cases, including four government ministers. The U.S. ambassador to Burkina Faso, Andrew Young, has also tested positive for the disease. Burkina Faso has seen more than its share of hardships: poverty, drought, hunger, coups. But the coronavirus poses a new kind of threat to a country wracked by a war that has displaced around 700,000 Burkinabe in the last year.

Many of those people now find themselves under great physical and emotional strain, lacking proper shelter, food, and the other necessities — all of which makes them more vulnerable to the pandemic. Experts fear that Covid-19 could decimate entire settlements of Burkina Faso’s displaced, and they are bracing for devastating outbreaks in conflict zones, refugee camps, and the poorest countries in the developing world. Globally, millions of refugees and internally displaced persons, or IDPs, living in cramped, squalid conditions find themselves at risk. “When the virus hits overcrowded settlements in places like Iran, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Greece, the consequences will be devastating,” warned Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council [..] He also spoke of “carnage when the virus reaches parts of Syria, Yemen, and Venezuela where hospitals have been demolished and health systems have collapsed.”

[..] I have no reason to believe Moumoumi Sawadogo had Covid-19 when I met him eight weeks ago in Burkina Faso. After living 89 years in an arid, impoverished land on the fringe of the Sahara Desert, surviving a massacre, walking for a week and enduring hunger and homelessness, it was clear that Sawadogo was a survivor. But Covid-19 posed a different kind of danger. “These populations are already very vulnerable to diseases that are otherwise easy to treat. But that’s not the case when they have no access to water or proper sanitation or health care,” Alexandra Lamarche, senior advocate for West and Central Africa at Refugees International, told The Intercept. “We could watch entire populations vanish.”

Read more …

Modelling is only as good as its initial assumptions. Which in this case come out of hot thin air.

Coronavirus Could Kill 81,000 In US, Subside In June – Washington U. (R.)

The coronavirus pandemic could kill more than 81,000 people in the United States in the next four months and may not subside until June, according to a data analysis done by University of Washington School of Medicine. The number of hospitalized patients is expected to peak nationally by the second week of April, though the peak may come later in some states. Some people could continue to die of the virus as late as July, although deaths should be below epidemic levels of 10 per day by June at the latest, according to the analysis. The analysis, using data from governments, hospitals and other sources, predicts that the number of U.S. deaths could vary widely, ranging from as low as around 38,000 to as high as around 162,000.

The variance is due in part to disparate rates of the spread of the virus in different regions, which experts are still struggling to explain, said Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, who led the study. The duration of the virus means there may be a need for social distancing measures for longer than initially expected, although the country may eventually be able relax restrictions if it can more effectively test and quarantine the sick, Murray said. The analysis also highlights the strain that will be placed on hospitals. At the epidemic’s peak, sick patients could exceed the number of available hospital beds by 64,000 and could require the use of around 20,000 ventilators. Ventilators are already running short in hard-hit places like New York City.

The virus is spreading more slowly in California, which could mean that peak cases there will come later in April and social distancing measures will need to be extended in the state for longer, Murray said. Louisiana and Georgia are predicted to see high rates of contagion and could see a particularly high burden on their local healthcare systems, he added.

Read more …

Let the caretakers talk. They need to, and we need to hear them.

Hold The Line (M.)

As an infectious disease epidemiologist (although a lowly one), at this point I feel morally obligated to provide some information on what we are seeing from a transmission dynamic perspective and how they apply to the social distancing measures. Like any good scientist I have noticed two things that are either not articulated or not present in the “literature” of social media. I have also relied on my much smarter infectious disease epidemiologist friends for peer review of this post; any edits are from peer review. Specifically, I want to make two aspects of these measures very clear and unambiguous. First, we are in the very infancy of this epidemic’s trajectory. That means even with these measures we will see cases and deaths continue to rise globally, nationally, and in our own communities in the coming weeks.

This may lead some people to think that the social distancing measures are not working. They are. They may feel futile. They aren’t. You will feel discouraged. You should. This is normal in chaos. But this is normal epidemic trajectory. Stay calm. This enemy that we are facing is very good at what it does; we are not failing. We need everyone to hold the line as the epidemic inevitably gets worse. This is not my opinion; this is the unforgiving math of epidemics for which I and my colleagues have dedicated our lives to understanding with great nuance, and this disease is no exception. I want to help the community brace for this impact. Stay strong and with solidarity knowing with absolute certainty that what you are doing is saving lives, even as people begin getting sick and dying. You may feel like giving in. Don’t.

Second, although social distancing measures have been (at least temporarily) well-received, there is an obvious-but-overlooked phenomenon when considering groups (i.e. families) in transmission dynamics. While social distancing decreases contact with members of society, it of course increases your contacts with group (i.e. family) members. This small and obvious fact has surprisingly profound implications on disease transmission dynamics. Study after study demonstrates that even if there is only a little bit of connection between groups (i.e. social dinners, playdates/playgrounds, etc.), the epidemic isn’t much different than if there was no measure in place. The same underlying fundamentals of disease transmission apply, and the result is that the community is left with all of the social and economic disruption but very little public health benefit. You should perceive your entire family to function as a single individual unit; if one person puts themselves at risk, everyone in the unit is at risk.

Read more …

This is about wildlife, not economic pessimists. Just in case you were confused.

China Promotes Bear Bile As Coronavirus Treatment (NatGeo)

Less than a month after taking steps to permanently ban the trade and consumption of live wild animals for food, the Chinese government has recommended using Tan Re Qing, an injection containing bear bile, to treat severe and critical COVID-19 cases. It is one of a number of recommended coronavirus treatments—both traditional and Western—on a list published March 4 by China’s National Health Commission, the government body responsible for national health policy. This recommendation highlights what wildlife advocates say is a contradictory approach to wildlife: shutting down the live trade in animals for food on the one hand and promoting the trade in animal parts on the other. Secreted by the liver and stored in the gallbladder, bile from various species of bears, including Asiatic black bears and brown bears, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine since at least the eighth century.

It contains high levels of ursodeoxycholic acid, also known as ursodiol, which is clinically proven to help dissolve gallstones and treat liver disease. Ursodeoxycholic acid has been available as a synthetic drug worldwide for decades. [..] Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners typically use Tan Re Qing to treat bronchitis and upper respiratory infections. Clifford Steer, a professor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, has studied the medical benefits of ursodeoxycholic acid. He knows of no evidence that bear bile is an effective treatment for the novel coronavirus. But, he says, ursodeoxycholic acid is distinct from other bile acids in its ability to keep cells alive and may alleviate symptoms of COVID-19 because of its anti-inflammatory properties and ability to calm the immune response.

Although use of bear bile from captive animals is legal in China, bile from wild bears is banned, as is the import of bear bile from other countries. According to Aron White, wildlife campaigner for the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA)—a nonprofit based in London, England, that exposes wildlife crimes—his organization learned first about the Chinese government’s recommendations to treat COVID-19 via social media posts from illegal traders. “We were witnessing how this government recommendation was being coopted by the traffickers to advertise their illegal products as a treatment,” White says. Illegal bile from wild bears is produced in China, he says, and is also imported from wild and captive bears in Laos, Vietnam, and North Korea.

Read more …

If numbers get big enough, they lose meaning.

Fed Balance Sheet Tops $5 Trillion For First Time (R.)

The U.S. Federal Reserve’s balance sheet soared past $5 trillion in assets for the first time this week as it scooped up bonds and extended loans to banks, mutual funds and other central banks in its unprecedented effort to backstop the economy in the face of the global coronavirus pandemic. The Fed’s total balance sheet size exploded by more than half a trillion dollars in a single week, roughly twice the pace of the next-largest weekly expansion in the financial crisis in October 2008. As of Wednesday, the Fed’s stash of assets totaled $5.3 trillion, according to data released on Thursday.

The Fed bought $355 billion of Treasuries and mortgage-backed bonds in the last week in what is now an open-ended commitment to stabilize financial markets rocked by the outbreak and the halt in economic activity that has come in its wake. It also offered more than $200 billion in credit through so-called foreign currency swap lines to other central banks to allow them to pump much-needed greenbacks into their jurisdictions to help foreign borrowers stay current with their dollar-denominated liabilities.

The weekly snapshot of the Fed’s balance sheet, released each Thursday, also showed sizable demand for a pair of brand new liquidity facilities aimed at stabilizing money markets and supporting primary dealers, the banks that transact directly with the central bank. The new Primary Dealer Credit Facility had been tapped for $27.7 billion in loans as of Wednesday, while the Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility had borrowings of $30.6 billion.

Read more …

Which bunch of fools decided to have that vote?

Broward Poll Workers Test Positive For COVID-19 (L10)

Two poll workers have been positively diagnosed with coronavirus, according to a statement from The Broward County Supervisor of Elections. One of the workers was only at Precinct V011 on Tuesday, March 17, Election Day, which is located at the Martin Luther King Community Center in Hollywood. The other worked at V020 at the David Park Community Center (also in Hollywood) as well as a Weston early voting location. The supervisor said that county staff as well as other poll workers at the locations have been notified of the situation. However, voters who were at the polls in person on March 17 at either of those locations or who voted early at the Weston early voting location may “wish to take appropriate steps and seek medical advice.”

Read more …

Because of western testing that may seem like a high number, but it’s not.

Moscow Laboratories Will Conduct 13,000 Tests For Coronavirus Every Day (Tass)

The laboratories in Moscow will carry out up to 13,000 tests for the novel coronavirus per day, Deputy Mayor Anastasiya Rakova said on Thursday. “Last week, only federal laboratories were authorized to conduct tests. We have fully joined this effort, launching nine laboratories. Today we are conducting nearly 4,000 tests for the coronavirus in Moscow laboratories. In the coming week w will boost the capacity to 13,000 [tests] per day,” Rakova told a TV program hosted by Vladimir Solovyov on Rossiya-1 channel. According to Rakova, the authorities were preparing for all scenarios of how the events would unfold. “Increasing the number of people who are to be tested for the coronavirus is a necessary condition and a crucial step for stopping the spread of the virus,” she stressed.


In late December 2019, Chinese authorities notified the World Health Organization (WHO) about the outbreak of a previously unknown pneumonia in the city of Wuhan, central China. Since then, cases of the novel coronavirus – named COVID-19 by the WHO – have been reported in more than 150 countries. [..]Russia has recorded 840 coronavirus cases, with more than half of them in Moscow. Some 38 people have recovered and have been discharged from hospitals, and two people have died.

Read more …

When the desire for optimist political messaging becomes fully irresponsible.

New Zealand Coronavirus Deaths During Lockdown Could Be Just 20 – Modelling (G.)

Jacinda Ardern has implored New Zealanders to “stay local” during a four-week countrywide lockdown as modelling showed that strict measures adopted by the country could limit deaths to 0.0004% of the population – or about 20 people. Research released by Te Punaha Matatini suggested that, left unchecked, the virus could eventually infect 89% of New Zealand’s population and kill up to 80,000 people in a worst-case scenario. According to the research, intensive care beds would reach capacity within two months and the number of patients needing intensive care would exceed 10 times capacity by the time the virus peaked.


However, with the strictest suppression measures, which the country has adopted, the fatalities would drop to just 0.0004%. Hospital capacity would not be exceeded for over a year. These measures included physical distancing, case isolation, household quarantine, and closing schools and universities and would require the restrictions to remain in place until a vaccine or other treatment was developed. However, researchers noted such strategies can “delay but not prevent the epidemic”. “When controls are lifted after 400 days, an outbreak occurs with a similar peak size as for an uncontrolled epidemic,” the researchers wrote. The government has currently mandated a four-week lockdown.

Read more …

Zero recognition of living in a bubble.

Coronavirus Job Losses Will Raise Mortgage Stress More Than GFC Did (ABC.au)

As job losses continue to rise because of shutdowns in place to fight the coronavirus crisis, the number of Australians struggling to repay their mortgages is expected to lift to higher levels than seen during the global financial crisis. Credit rating agency S&P Global has warned the number of Australians falling behind on their mortgage repayments is likely to soar. “We currently expect increases in arrears to be higher than during the 2008 global financial crisis, given the wide-ranging effects on the economy stemming from the sudden disruption to economic activity,” S&P analyst Erin Kitson said. Australia avoided mass defaults during the GFC, with mortgage arrears rising to 1.69 per cent after the 2008 crisis, from a pre-crisis average of about 1.40 per cent.

The latest S&P data said mortgage arrears were 1.36 per cent in January, up from 1.28 per cent last December. Ms Kitson could not put a number on the exact number of Australian households that would be impacted by arrears but noted that many of those facing difficulty would be the self-employed. But the Federal Government’s stimulus packages and hardship relief measures from banks would limit some of the damage, Ms Kitson added. To fight the economic threat, the Government will announce a third stimulus package, expected within days. Many banks have also recently announced COVID-19 support packages that provide affected borrowers with an option to defer their repayments for up to six months.

The Reserve Bank cuts interest rates to a record low and announces a quantitative easing program for the first time in its history to help prevent a coronavirus-driven recession. And regulator, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), has said if a borrower who has been meeting their repayment obligations until recently chooses to take up the repayment holiday, then the bank need not classify that period as “arrears”. Other emergency measures aimed at banks include an emergency interest rate cut and $90 billion in cheap 0.25-per-cent funding for three years for small business loans.

Read more …

One day the Pentagon stops all troop movements, the next day the US declares Maduro a terrorist, and the allies, want nno part of this.

Seeing your soldiers die of corona would be much too close to WWI mass Spanish flu deaths in the trenches.

France, Czechs, & Other US Allies Exit Iraq Over COVID-19 Fears (ZH)

The United States has shown itself willing to both keep up its ‘maximum pressure’ campaign on Iran and its proxies while riding roughshod over Iraqi sovereignty by remaining in the country even as Baghdad leaders and the broader population demand a final exit. But in another sign Europe is ready to divorce itself from US aims in the region, France has abruptly withdrawn its forces from the country after being there for five years. Interestingly the prime reason given was troop safety concerns over the coronavirus outbreak, but we imagine European leaders likely now see an opportunity to make a swift and easy exit without provoking the ire of their US counterparts. International correspondents say this includes French withdrawal from six bases, with a small contingent of about 100 troops remaining in the country.


The Czech Ministry of Defense also announced the exit of its forces Wednesday, which followed a large contingent of British forces leaving last week, also on fears of coronavirus exposure during the mission. “British, French, Australian and Czech troops who were coaching Iraqi counterparts were being temporarily sent home as Baghdad had put a hold on training operations to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” reports the AFP this week. All had been there to support coalition anti-ISIL operations led by Washington. But as the US mission to defeat the Islamic State has lately become less relevant given the demise of the terror group, Washington’s focus became Iranian influence inside Iraq – far beyond the original mission scope. The US itself had been reportedly drawing down from certain bases, but is not expected to ultimately depart given the current high state of tensions with Iran-backed militias in the country.

Read more …

The stimulus bill has opened access to assictance for the entire gig economy.

Spike in Unemployment Claims is Even More Horrid Than it Appears (WS)

This morning, the US Dept. of Labor announced that 3.283 million people had filed initial unemployment claims in the week ended March 21. We were warned yesterday that today’s initial claims would be horrid. In his press conference yesterday concerning the coronavirus, California Governor Gavin Newsom said that California by itself had “just passed the 1 million mark” in unemployment claims since March 13 — and this might include claims to be reflected in the next reporting week. And it’s going to get worse. The five largest counties of the San Francisco Bay Area were the first major region in the US to go into lockdown on March 17. The State of California followed on March 20, toward the end of the unemployment-claims reporting week (through March 21), and many other states followed within days – and many of those claims were filed after this reporting week had ended. This is the mind-blowing effect what started to happen in the week ended March 21:

The report by the Department of Labor this morning listed some sectors that were particularly hard hit by “COVID-19 virus impacts”: • Services industries broadly, particularly accommodation and food services; • health care and social assistance services; • arts, entertainment and recreation; • transportation and warehousing; • manufacturing industries. However, this horrid spike in claims only shows a partial picture. Since the end of that reporting week, lockdowns have spread to many other states, and companies in those states are now struggling with how to cope. Many companies had already laid off people before the lockdowns – and this is reflected in today’s unemployment claims. But much of the fallout from those lockdowns and their secondary effects will be reflected in future reports.


The gig economy, as the US economy has been called due to the growth of business models that shift labor from employees to contract workers, is unprepared for this. Under current rules, gig workers cannot file for unemployment claims – though the stimulus package will change this. And for now, they have not filed for unemployment claims. But their hours of many have been cut, and others lost their gigs entirely. This includes musicians whose gigs were eliminated when bars, restaurants, and clubs shut down. It includers actors and singers and artists. It includes Uber and Lyft drivers whose business has dwindled. It includes self-employed vacation-rental entrepreneurs with some units on Airbnb that no one is booking because the travel industry has shut down. It includes tech workers whose projects have been put on hold. It includes instructors and coaches of all kinds – such as figure skating coaches, language coaches, and corporate coaches. And so on. Many millions of people.

Read more …

The battle between getting closer together and staying further apart. Stuck between social distancing and political distancing.

What Should The EU Do Now: 3-Point Plan For Averting A Depression (Varoufakis)

With Lives, Livelihoods and the Union on the brink, the COVID-19 pandemic is the greatest test of the European project in the history of the Union — and we are failing. Solidarity was meant to be a foundational principle of the EU. But solidarity is missing at the moment it is most needed. COVID-19 has revealed a fundamental truth: Europe is only as healthy as its sickest resident, only as prosperous as its most bankrupted. But the EU’s leadership is paralysed by its beggar-thy-neighbour – and now sicken-thy-neighbour – mindset. The price of this failure will not merely be lives lost and livelihoods destroyed. It will be the disintegration of the Union itself. In line with its Green New Deal for Europe, DiEM25 offers a 3-point plan to protect all European residents, avert an economic depression, and prevent the collapse the Union.

Our plan is premised on four basic facts.
1) Public debt will, and must, rise: The precipitous fall in private sector incomes must be replaced by government expenditure. If not, bankruptcies will destroy much of Europe’s productive capacity and, thus, deplete the tax base even further.

2) The wholesale rise in public debt must not divide us: The last euro crisis wrecked some member-states’ fiscal position while improving the fiscal position of others. The results are wildly different fiscal absorption capacities across the eurozone. If the rise in public debt is not a shared burden, the new euro crisis will destroy the last chance to hold the European Union together once the virus itself has been defeated.

3) A Eurobond is essential, but the devil is in its details: Nine eurozone governments have rightly demanded the issue of a Eurobond so that the burden of rising public debt is shared. But the most important questions remain: Which institution should issue it? And who will back it? DiEM25 believes there is only one answer: an ECB-Eurobond backed solely by the ECB.

4) A Eurobond is essential, but it is not enough: Two more interventions are needed. During the pandemic, Europe must inject directly cash into every citizen’s bank account immediately so as to prevent as many bankruptcies and lost livelihoods as possible. Once the pandemic recedes, Europe must embark upon a sizeable, effective and common green investment program so as to improve Europe’s overall capacity to bounce back.

Read more …

I haven’t had time to listen to the whole thing. But I miss Dylan Ratigan.

Dylan Ratigan: “An Abomination Beyond Comprehension” – “Bernie Folded” (Dore)

Jimmy Dore talks to Dylan Ratigan

Read more …

In the midst of the corona crisis,, Bob Dylan dropped a 17-minute song, on the murder of JFK. It’s his first original song in 8 years, and also of course since getting the Nobel Prize.. And why not. For help with lyrics go here

The day that they killed him, someone said to me, ‘Son
The age of the Antichrist has only begun.’
Air Force One coming in through the gate
Johnson sworn in at 2:38
Let me know when you decide to thrown in the towel
It is what it is, and it’s murder most foul


What’s new, pussycat? What’d I say?
I said the soul of a nation been torn away
And it’s beginning to go into a slow decay
And that it’s 36 hours past Judgment Day

Muder Most Foul (Bob Dylan)

Read more …

Readership is up, but ad revenue is not. I’ve said it before, it must be possible to run a joint like the Automatic Earth on people’s kind donations. These are no longer the times when ads pay for all you read, your donations have become an integral part of it. It has become a two-way street; and isn’t that liberating, when you think about it?

Thanks everyone for your wonderful donations over the past few days.

 

 

 

Support us in virustime. Help the Automatic Earth survive. It’s good for you.

 

Mar 262020
 

 

 

1/4 of $2 Trillion Stimulus Bill Devoted to Useless Accounting Gimmick (Tankus)
At Least 13 Patients Die From Coronavirus In One Day At New York Hospital (CNN)
Worker At NYC Hospital Where Nurses Wear Trash Bags As Protection Dies (NYP)
UK Coronavirus Mass Home Testing To Be Made Available ‘Within Days’ (G.)
NHS Could Soon Exceed Capacity – Chief Medical Officer (Ind.)
How Did Spain Get Its Coronavirus Response So Wrong? (G.)
Bahrain, Belgium Report Hydroxychloroquine Treatment Is Working For Patients (JTN)
Gilead Sciences Backs Off Monopoly Claim For Promising Coronavirus Drug (IC)
How Big Science Skipped Clinical Trials After Past Coronavirus Outbreaks (JTN)
Trump’s Deadly Mistake In Comparing Coronavirus To Flu (IC)
Cairo, The City That Never Sleeps, Shuts For Coronavirus Night-Time Curfew (R.)
Crisis Daddy Cuomo Uses Coronavirus For New York Bail Reform Rollback (IC)
California Sees 1 Million Unemployment Claims In Less Than Two Weeks (CNBC)
Pentagon Orders A Stop-Movement For All Overseas Troops (JTN)
Judge Refuses To Release Julian Assange Over Coronavirus Risk (Ind.)
US High Court Rejects Call To Free 736 Detainees At Risk From Coronavirus
Time’s Up Said It Could Not Fund #MeToo Allegation Against Joe Biden (IC)

 

 

And we just keep goig. The US had about 53,000 cases 24 hours ago, it is now at 68,000. Not enough to get to 100,000 by tomorrow, but still much faster than China ever was, apart from the day when Beijing did a major calculating correction.

The world will reach 500,000 cases today, little more than one day after 400,000 was passed.

Be very careful out there!

 

 

Cases 486,702 (+ 52,134 from yesterday’s 434,568)

Deaths 22,021 (+ 2,959 from yesterday’s 19,062)

 

 

 

From Worldometer yesterday evening (before their day’s close)

 

 

From Worldometer -NOTE: mortality rate for closed cases is at 16% !! Still up 1% per day-

 

 

From SCMP:

 

 

From COVID2019Live.info:

 

 

From COVID2019.app:

 

 

 

 

There can be only one conclusion: the US is no longer capable of passing appropriate legislation even in a crisis. Money for the poor? Only if the rich get 1000x as much.

This is an interesting piece. Way beyond the scope of the MSM.

1/4 of $2 Trillion Stimulus Bill Devoted to Useless Accounting Gimmick (Tankus)

Earlier this week I wrote about the Trillion dollar platinum coin. Using the coin to fund government spending is often dismissed as an “accounting gimmick”. Yet, accounting gimmicks are already at the center of the Stimulus Bill being debated in congress tonight. 454 billion of the reported 2 Trillion dollars is going to “make loans and loan guarantees to, and other investments in, programs or facilities established by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System”. This is an accounting gimmick. Yet Larry Kudlow (director of the National Economic Council) points to it as one of the most important provisions in the bill.

“And finally, I want to mention, the Treasury’s Exchange Stabilization Refund. That will be replenished. It’s important, because that fund opens the door for Federal Reserve firepower to deal a broad-based way throughout the economy for distressed industries, for small businesses, for financial turbulence. You’ve already seen the Fed take action. They intend to take more action. And in order to get this, we have to replenish the Treasury’s Emergency Fund. It’s very, very important; not everybody understands that. That fund, by the way, will be overseen by an oversight board and an inspector general. It will be completely transparent.”

Why does he think it’s important? It’s not exactly clear but it seems that the Trump administration along with the Federal Reserve believe that they do not have the authority to launch the facilities they’ve been launching (partially described in the last post) without special purpose vehicles created by the Treasury. That doesn’t explain why they need money put into a Treasury fund under the discretion of secretary Mnuchin though. Why do they think they need the money? This isn’t clear either but it almost certainly has to do with the Federal Reserve’s net worth. It is a common trope of mainstream economists that it is very important for the central bank to have a positive net worth. If their net worth goes negative, then it should be “recapitalized” by the federal government.

[..] the argument that the net worth of the Federal Reserve matters don’t hold up to very much scrutiny, especially when one is familiar with the legal structure of the Federal Reserve. Yet, this is likely the motivation behind the nearly 500 billion dollars the “stimulus bill” provides the Treasury to support Federal Reserve lending programs. There is no statute, court case or any other binding legal constraint (as far as I can tell at least) that requires the Federal Reserve to have a positive net worth. In fact, it has control over its own accounting rules and as part of its own rules can book its obligation to pay remittances from net income to the Treasury as a “negative liability” (and thus effectively an asset) if its net income falls below zero.

Read more …

First corona case in New York was on March 1. This hasn’t even begun.

At Least 13 Patients Die From Coronavirus In One Day At New York Hospital (CNN)

At least 13 patients have died from Covid-19 at Elmhurst Hospital in New York, a statement from a spokesman said, as one of the hardest hit states sees a surge in cases. The deaths of the patients took place over the last 24 hours, but NYC Health and Hospitals/Elmhurst said in a statement that number is consistent with the number of Intensive Care Unit patients being treated there. “Staff are doing everything in our power to save every person who contracts Covid-19,” the statement said. New York has more than 30,000 of the nation’s more than 65,000 coronavirus cases, and 285 of its residents have died from the virus. The state has called for tens of thousands more ventilators, hospital beds and intensive care beds to meet the needs of their hospitals.

Elmhurst is at the center of the crisis, the statement said, and staff is working to overcome the overwhelming numbers. “The frontline staff are going above and beyond in this crisis, and we continue surging supplies and personnel to this critical facility to keep pace with the crisis,” the statement said. “We are literally increasing the effective capacity of the hospital on a daily basis by sending more doctors, nurses, ventilators and PPE to meet demand.” New York has ordered residents to stay at home to curb the spread of the virus and hopefully ease pressures on healthcare systems. And though Gov. Andrew Cuomo pointed to Westchester County — home to the state’s first severe outbreak in New Rochelle — as a marker for the effectiveness of social distancing, cases continue to climb.

Estimates from Sunday showed coronavirus hospitalizations were doubling every 2 days, he said. But Monday’s estimates showed hospitalizations were doubling every 3.4 days, and Tuesday’s estimates showed hospitalizations were doubling every 4.7 days.

Read more …

Welcome to Bergamo, Lombardy.

Worker At NYC Hospital Where Nurses Wear Trash Bags As Protection Dies (NYP)

The shortage of safety gear at one Manhattan hospital is so dire that desperate nurses have resorted to wearing trash bags — and some blame the situation for the coronavirus death of a beloved colleague. A stunning photo shared on social media shows three nurses at Mount Sinai West posing in a hallway while clad in large, black plastic trash bags fashioned into makeshift protective garb. One of them is even holding the open box of 20 Hefty “Strong” 33-gallon garbage bags they used to cloak themselves. “NO MORE GOWNS IN THE WHOLE HOSPITAL,” the caption reads. “NO MORE MASKS AND REUSING THE DISPOSABLE ONES…NURSES FIGURING IT OUT DURING COVID-19 CRISIS.”

The caption includes such hashtags as #heftytotherescue, #riskingourlivestosaveyours and #pleasedonateppe, with the “ppe” referring to “personal protective equipment.” Meanwhile, staffers at the hospital near Columbus Circle on Wednesday tied the lack of basic supplies there to the death of assistant nursing manager Kious Kelly, who tested positive for coronavirus about two weeks ago. Kelly, 48, was admitted to Mount Sinai’s flagship hospital on the Upper East Side on March 17 and died Tuesday night, the workers said. “Kious didn’t deserve this,” one nurse said. “The hospital should be held responsible. The hospital killed him.”

Another nurse described “issues with supplies for about a year now,” during which it got “to the point where we had to hide our own supplies and go to other units looking for stuff because even the supply room would have nothing most of the time.” “But when we started getting COVID patients it became critical,” the nurse said. The nurse sources said they were using the same PPE between infected and non-infected patients and, because there were no more spare gowns in the hospital, they took to wearing trash bags to stop the spread of infection.


Nurses at Mount Sinai West, where Kelly worked, are being forced to wear trash bags due to the lack of protective gear there.

Read more …

Hot air only?

UK Coronavirus Mass Home Testing To Be Made Available ‘Within Days’ (G.)

Thousands of 15-minute home tests for coronavirus will be delivered by Amazon to people self-isolating with symptoms or will go on sale on the high street within days, according to Public Health England (PHE), in a move that could restore many people’s lives to a semblance of pre-lockdown normality. [..] The UK government has bought 3.5m tests, which the health secretary, Matt Hancock, mentioned on Tuesday with no suggestion that they would be available to the public so quickly, and is ordering millions more. Asked if they would be available in days rather than weeks or months, Peacock said: “Yes, absolutely.” If there was a charge for them, she thought it would be minimal, she said.


Widespread availability of a fingerprick test that produces results in 10 to 15 minutes is a game-changer. NHS doctors and nurses with symptoms will know immediately whether they have – or have recovered from – Covid-19, enabling them to get back to work sooner. The UK is not the only country ordering in the antibody tests. “Tests are being ordered across Europe and elsewhere and purchased in south-east Asia. This is widespread practice. We are not alone in doing this,” said Peacock.

Read more …

Could=will.

NHS Could Soon Exceed Capacity – Chief Medical Officer (Ind.)

It will be a “close run thing” whether the NHS capacity will be exceeded over the coming weeks because of the coronavirus outbreak, chief medical officer Chris Whitty has said. At a press conference in 10 Downing Street, Prof Whitty said that there was not currently “enormous” pressure on critical care beds within the health service, despite a total of more than 8,000 patients testing positive for coronavirus across the UK. But he said that he could not guarantee that bed spaces would not run out within the next three weeks. The NHS has more than 4,000 critical care beds in normal times and efforts are under way to accommodate the expected surge in additional coronavirus patients by using private sector facilities and discharging patients able to go home.

The ExCel exhibition centre in east London is being converted into a field hospital which will eventually be able to take 4,000 patients during the outbreak. Prof Whitty said: “The NHS is increasing supply by a combination of pushing out in time things which can be postponed and increasing the critical care and particularly the ventilated bed capacity over the next weeks.” But he added: “This is going to be a close run thing, we all know that. “And anybody who looks around the world can see this is going to be difficult for every health system.”

Prof Whitty said that the lockdown announced by prime minister Boris Johnson on Monday, requiring people to stay at home as much as they can and avoid social contact, should help relieve pressure on bed spaces by reducing the rate of infection, while the NHS works rapidly to increase capacity. “That is the way that we will narrow this down to the smallest possible gap over the next three weeks,” he said.

Read more …

Time to look at different strains of the virus. Just to be sure. Also, nnext week in the same Guardian: “How Did Britain Get Its Coronavirus Response So Wrong?”.

How Did Spain Get Its Coronavirus Response So Wrong? (G.)

It is one of the darkest and most dramatic moments in recent Spanish history. In the chilling table of daily dead from the coronavirus pandemic, Spain has taken top position from Italy – with 738 dying over 24 hours. Spain is now the hotspot of the global pandemic, a ghoulish title that has been passed from country to country over four months – starting in Wuhan, China, and travelling via Iran and Italy. As it moves west, we do not know who will be next. What went wrong? Spain had seen what happened in China and Iran. It also has Italy nearby, just 400 miles across the Mediterranean and an example of how the virus can spread rapidly and viciously inside Europe.

Yet Spaniards cannot blame that proximity. There are no land borders with Italy, while France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia – all countries that are doing much better – do have them. This may, in fact, be one of the reasons for the country’s late response. Spain thought it was far enough away. “Spain will only have a handful of cases,” said Dr Fernando Simón, the head of medical emergencies in Madrid, on 9 February. Six weeks later he gives out daily figures of hundreds of deaths. The number of dead per capita is already three times that of Iran, and 40 times higher than China. On 19 February, 2,500 Valencia soccer fans mixed with 40,000 Atalanta supporters for a Champions League game in Bergamo which Giorgio Gori, mayor of the Italian city, has described as “the bomb” which exploded the virus in Lombardy.

In Spain, Valencia players, fans and sports journalists were amongst the first to fall ill. The main reason for the quick spread through Spain may be completely mundane. It has been an unusually mild, sunny Spring. In late February and early March, with temperatures above 20C (68F), Madrid’s pavement cafes and bars were heaving with happy folk, doing what Madrileños like best – being sociable. That means hugging, kissing and animated chatter just a few inches from someone else’s face. On 8 March, just a week before the country was closed down, sports events, political party conferences and massive demonstrations to mark International Women’s Day all took place. Three days later, about 3,000 Atlético de Madrid fans flew together for another Champions League match in Liverpool.

[.] The virus has laid bare, too, deep faults in the Spanish care system. Private old people’s homes must turn a profit while charging people prices they can afford – which may be a basic pension of just over 9,000 euros. As a result, these were understaffed, unprepared and quickly overwhelmed, with death rates of up to 20%. The army was sent in, and found some people lying dead in their beds. Spain has a magnificent primary care system, but its hospitals have been hit by a decade of austerity since the financial crisis. It has only a third of the hospital beds per capita that are provided by Austria or Germany. Yet that is still more than the UK, New Zealand or the US.

Read more …

How much of the recent bad rap is coming from Big Pharma, which can’t make a dime on the stuff?

Bahrain, Belgium Report Hydroxychloroquine Treatment Is Working For Patients (JTN)

Bahrain and Belgium report their hospitals are successfully treating coronavirus patients with the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine touted by President Trump as a possible breakthrough in the pandemic. The Kingdom of Bahrain’s Supreme Council of Health chairman said his country was among the first to use the drug and that its impact has been “profound,” according to the Bahrain News Agency. Dr. Shaikh Mohamed, who leads the National Taskforce for Combating COVID-19, was also quoted by the news agency as saying hydroxychloroquine was administered according to the same regimens as those used in China and South Korea. The first COVID-19 case in Bahrain was reported on Feb. 21, and hydroxychloroquine was first administered to patients showing virus symptoms on Feb. 26.


Bahrain has 419 deaths as a result of the virus, behind Croatia with 442 deaths worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center. Hydroxychloroquine is used to prevent and treat malaria and is administered to patients with rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Meanwhile in Europe, another U.S. ally, Brussels, is reporting similar early success with the same drug and is taking steps to ensure its availability for the sickest coronavirus patients. “Using the limited stocks of these medicines for unnecessary or unjustified preventive treatments jeopardizes the availability of these medicines for patients who need them: chronic patients and hospital patients seriously affected by Covid-19,” Belgium’s Federal Agency for Medicines and Health Products said this week.

Read more …

What a bit of bad publicity won’t do…

Gilead Sciences Backs Off Monopoly Claim For Promising Coronavirus Drug (IC)

Gilead Sciences on Wednesday announced that it has submitted a request to the Food and Drug Administration to rescind the exclusive marketing rights it had secured for remdesivir, an antiviral drug that shows promise in treating Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. As The Intercept reported on Monday, the FDA had awarded Gilead seven years of exclusive marketing rights to the drug through the Orphan Drug Act, even though the statute was designed to induce pharmaceutical companies to make treatments for rare diseases that affect fewer than 200,000 people in the United States. Although the new coronavirus will almost certainly infect that many people, Gilead had exploited a loophole that grants orphan drug status if a company files for it before the official number of cases hits 200,000.


As of Wednesday afternoon, there were more than 438,000 confirmed cases worldwide, with more than 59,000 in the United States. After a public outcry, Gilead issued a press release stating: “Gilead has submitted a request to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to rescind the orphan drug designation it was granted for the investigational antiviral remdesivir for the treatment of Covid-19 and is waiving all benefits that accompany the designation. Gilead is confident that it can maintain an expedited timeline in seeking regulatory review of remdesivir, without the orphan drug designation. Recent engagement with regulatory agencies has demonstrated that submissions and review relating to remdesivir for the treatment of Covid-19 are being expedited.”

Read more …

It’s all about money, and only about money. Even at this point.

How Big Science Skipped Clinical Trials After Past Coronavirus Outbreaks (JTN)

Equally alarming was the lack of followup after early drug studies found some promising treatments that worked anecdotally during the SARS outbreak in 2003, two smaller coronavirus outbreaks in 2004-05, and MERS in 2012. The anti-malarial drug known as chloroquine was one of a handful flagged as a potential treatment. One such study in 2005 found “chloroquine has strong antiviral effects on SARS-Cove infection of primate cells. These inhibitory effects are observed when the cells are treated with the drug either before or after exposure to the virus, suggesting both prophylactic and therapeutic advantage.” The 2005 study concluded: “Chloroquine is effective in preventing the spread of SARS CoV in cell culture. Favorable inhibition of virus spread was observed when the cells were either treated with chloroquine prior to or after SARS CoV infection.”

Similarly, in 2009 the University of Leuven in Belgium published “Antiviral Activity of Chloroquine against Human Coronavirus OC43 Infection in Newborn Mice,” which warned of a failure to follow up on possible treatments. “Although coronaviruses have been recognized as human pathogens for about 50 years, no effective treatment strategy has been approved,” the authors wrote. “This shortcoming became evident during the SARS-CoV outbreak and was the start of numerous studies. Nevertheless, 5 years after the outbreak, we are still lacking an effective, commercially available drug. Chloroquine is a clinically approved drug effective in malaria, and it is known to elicit antiviral effects against several viruses.” Such promise and warnings never translated into action, and as a result more detailed clinical trials that could validate or rule out treatments were never carried out.

To understand why, former Health and Human Service Secretary Tom Price said, one must understand the economics and psychology of private and government medical research. One-time treatments that have no long-term commercial market don’t excite pharmaceutical companies in the business of making profits. And federal scientists always like jumping to the next big viral fire instead of finishing work on an earlier outbreak that fizzled like SARS, he explained. “One would think that those studies would have been completed before now,” said Price, a doctor himself and a former congressman. “However, the extent of SARS was relatively small and short-lived. Once the threat passed, there was no economic incentive for pharmaceutical companies to complete human trials, and governmental attention, research and inertia moved in a different, seemingly more urgent, direction.”

Read more …

That’s literally what I said last week: “Comparing Covid-19 and flu numbers is a classic case of apples to oranges, according to public health experts and epidemiologists.”

Still, if this is Trump’s deadly mistake, he shares that feat with about a billion other people.

Trump’s Deadly Mistake In Comparing Coronavirus To Flu (IC)

The President of the United States compared the coronavirus to the flu this week, and the new virus that has already stricken more than 55,000 people and killed more than 800 across the country came out looking relatively innocuous. “We have a lot of people dying from the flu, as you know,” Donald Trump told reporters at the White House, as his attorney general, William Barr, stood far less than 6 feet behind him. “It looks like it could be over 50,000,” he said about the current flu season, later clarifying that he was referring to deaths from the flu, “not cases, 50,000 deaths, which is a lot.” But the number Trump cited does not reflect people dying from verified cases of the flu. According to data from the CDC, 7,428 deaths from the flu were confirmed by a lab test for that virus in 2019.


If you add in the 3,771 test-confirmed deaths already tallied in 2020, the total number of deaths that can be definitively tied to the flu is 11,199. The much higher number Trump used comes from the possible range of deaths attributable to flu this season — 23,00 to 59,000 — a number that the CDC estimates in part by including people who die from pneumonia even if they weren’t tested for the flu virus. Trump contrasted the high flu numbers — along with automobile accidents, which he said were “far greater than any numbers we’re talking about” — to the number of Covid-19 cases in part to emphasize his administration’s success in responding to the deadly virus. “I think we’re doing a very good job of it,” he said, going on to describe the number of cases in the U.S. as “pretty amazing.”

Read more …

Maybe some cities should sleep a bit more?

Cairo, The City That Never Sleeps, Shuts For Coronavirus Night-Time Curfew (R.)

Egypt and its capital Cairo, a mega-city home to some 20 million people, shut down on Wednesday evening as authorities launched a night-time curfew to tackle the spread of the coronavirus. In a city that never sleeps where restaurants and cafes are usually open until the wee hours, shop owners were closing shutters and commuters rushing home before the start of the 7 p.m. curfew that runs until 6 a.m. Policemen were posted on key roads to stop any violators. Many streets were already almost deserted by 6:30 p.m. “This is a disease, not a joke. People must stay at home, and should not leave their houses after curfew hours,” Mohamed El-Gabaly, a Cairo resident, told Reuters, as he stood in a major street with little traffic just before the curfew.


Egypt has stepped up measures aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus – closing airports and gyms, as well as suspending classes at schools and universities until mid-April. Restaurants are restricted to just delivering food. Shops other than supermarkets and pharmacies will be required to close at 5 p.m. on weekdays, two hours earlier than the previous curfew, as well as on weekends. Egypt, a country of 100 million, has reported 456 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 21 deaths.

Read more …

Andrew the Jailer.

Crisis Daddy Cuomo Uses Coronavirus For New York Bail Reform Rollback (IC)

As the coronavirus pandemic grips the United States, prosecutors, sheriffs, and public officials have raced to reduce the populations held in local jails, where it is next to impossible to protect elderly and otherwise vulnerable incarcerated people. In New York, however, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is bucking this trend, pushing for a new law that would roll back newborn bail reforms that went into effect in January and instead expand judges’ power to put defendants in jail. Cuomo has backed this agenda for years, but his evident insistence on including it in the state’s budget negotiations amid a public health crisis is nonetheless remarkable.

“Every other elected official across the country is thinking about how they can reduce their jail and prison population,” Rena Karefa-Johnson, the New York state director for criminal justice reform for the advocacy group FWD.us, said in an interview. “But in New York, we have elected officials still trying to change legislation that would put thousands more people back in jail and slowing up an emergency budget process to do it. It’s wildly out of step with what’s happening across the country, and it’s wildly at odds with this narrative of New York taking Covid-19 seriously and keeping people safe. It’s bonkers.” The governor’s move comes as his power is ascendant. Cuomo has always wanted to be a crisis governor, engaging in well-documented disaster heroics whenever roadways get slippery.

But that instinct, risible in peacetime, is playing differently in the pandemic. People in New York and around the country are terrified, and the erratic federal response under President Donald Trump has been far from reassuring. Cuomo’s sober, authoritative daily briefings have filled the vacuum. In the last weeks, Cuomo has become America’s Governor, its crisis daddy. In recent days the hashtag #PresidentCuomo has been trending on Twitter. With his popularity soaring, and his constituents preoccupied with looming mass fatalities as the coronavirus threatens to overwhelm the state’s health care capabilities, Cuomo is well positioned to drive through his preferred agenda with hardly anyone noticing.

Read more …

This, too, has only just begun.

California Sees 1 Million Unemployment Claims In Less Than Two Weeks (CNBC)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that the state has seen 1 million unemployment claims in less than two weeks as the coronavirus pandemic has led to businesses being shut down across the state. “We just passed the 1 million mark, in terms of the number of claims, just since March 13,” Newsom said. Newsom’s announcement comes one day before a key national data release on new jobless claims for the United States, which some have projected to be in the multimillions. The initial claims data has never before surpassed 1 million, and it was 285,000 last week.

The San Francisco area was the first region in the country to install a “shelter-in-place” order, on March 16. Newsom signed a “stay-at-home” order for the whole state three days later. The governor praised the proposed Senate relief bill to help fight the coronavirus pandemic. California provides up to $450 per week for unemployment insurance, Newsom said, and the proposed Senate bill would add $600 per week for up to four months. “This bill will be very helpful, and it’s very timely,” Newsom said. California and its cities will get $10 billion from a block grant portion of the proposed relief bill in the Senate, not including the benefits to workers and individuals, Newsom said.

Read more …

But don’t be surprised if they invade Iran or Venezuela tomorrow morning. And they call this message a great tactical move.

Pentagon Orders A Stop-Movement For All Overseas Troops (JTN)

The Pentagon on Wednesday issued a stop-movement order for all overseas military personnel and civilians for the next 60 days. The measure, designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, follows a previous order that puts a hold on troop movements within the United States. The newly issued order is meant to protect U.S. personnel, and preserve operational readiness, the Pentagon said. The order will interrupt scheduled exercises, deployments, and other overseas activities. “Approximately 90,000 Service Members slated to deploy or deploy over the next 60 days will likely be impacted by this stop movement order,” the statement read. The order includes exceptions for some personnel, including those who currently are traveling. The order is not expected to interfere with the drawdown of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, according to the statement.

Read more …

When the judge is a murderer.

Judge Refuses To Release Julian Assange Over Coronavirus Risk (Ind.)

A judge has refused to release Julian Assange from prison over the coronavirus outbreak. The Wikileaks founder’s lawyers had applied for him to be freed on bail because he was “vulnerable” to the virus inside HMP Belmarsh. He is being held there while awaiting potential extradition to the US on charges relating to the 2010 Wikileaks publications over the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Mr Assange at Westminster Magistrates’ Court by video-link on Wednesday and was represented by Edward Fitzgerald QC, who wore a surgical mask. The court heard that despite coronavirus being confirmed in other jails, there were not yet an known cases in HMP Belmarsh. But Mr Fitzgerald said that 100 prison officers were off work, adding: “We say there’s a very real problem, a very real risk and the risk could be fatal.”


District judge Vanessa Baraitser refused the bail application, telling the court: “As matters stand today, this global pandemic does not of itself yet provide grounds for Mr Assange’s release.” Supporters of Mr Assange said he had a previously reported lung complaint and was in an “already weakened medical condition”. Kristinn Hrafnsson, editor in chief of Wikileaks, said: “To expose another human being to serious illness, and to the threat of losing their life, is grotesque and quite unnecessary. This is not justice, it is a barbaric decision.” American and British authorities class Mr Assange as a flight risk because he skipped bail over Swedish sexual assault allegations to flee to London’s Ecuadorian embassy in 2012.

Read more …

At least 2 prisoners have already died from the virus in UK jails. 350 have been released.

US High Court Rejects Call To Free 736 Detainees At Risk From Coronavirus

The high court has rejected calls to free hundreds of immigration detainees who, lawyers and human rights activists say, are at risk from Covid-19 while behind bars. The ruling, following a hearing over Skype on Wednesday, was handed down in response to an urgent legal challenge from Detention Action. The legal action asked for the release of hundreds of detainees who are particularly vulnerable to serious illness or death if they contract the virus because of particular health conditions, and also for the release of those from about 50 countries to which the Home Office is currently unable to remove people because of the pandemic. The two judges – Dame Victoria Sharp, president of the Queen’s Bench division, and Mr Justice Swift – came down strongly on the side of the Home Office and highlighted the range of measures already being implemented by the home secretary, Priti Patel.


These included the release of more than 300 detainees last week, ongoing assessments of the vulnerability of individual detainees to the virusand a range of “sensible” and “practical” steps the Home Office is taking to make detention centres safer, such as single occupancy rooms and the provision of face masks for detainees who wish to wear them. “It seems likely that the arrangements already in place by the secretary of state will be sufficient to address the risks arising in the majority of cases,” the judges said, adding that “the present circumstances are exceptional”. The court hearing on Wednesday heard that 736 people are still being detained in the UK, while 350 have been released in recent days. It was also confirmed that detainees in three detention centres have displayed symptoms of Covid-19.

Read more …

#MeToo, but not you.

Time’s Up Said It Could Not Fund #MeToo Allegation Against Joe Biden (IC)

Last April, Tara Reade watched as a familiar conversation around her former boss, Joe Biden, and his relationship with personal space unfolded on the national stage. Nevada politician Lucy Flores alleged that Biden had inappropriately sniffed her hair and kissed the back of her head as she waited to go on stage at a rally in 2014. Biden, in a statement in response, said that “not once” in his career did he believe that he had acted inappropriately. But Flores’s allegation sounded accurate to Reade, she said, because Reade had experienced something very similar as a staffer in Biden’s Senate office years earlier.

After she saw an episode of the ABC show “The View,” in which most of the panelists stood up for Biden and attacked Flores as politically motivated, Reade decided that she had no choice but to come forward and support Flores. She gave an interview to a local reporter, describing several instances in which Biden had behaved similarly toward her, inappropriately touching her during her early-’90s tenure in his Senate office. In that first interview, she decided to tell a piece of the story, she said, that matched what had happened to Flores — plus, she had filed a contemporaneous complaint, and there were witnesses, so she considered the allegation bulletproof. The short article brought a wave of attention on her, along with accusations that she was doing the bidding of Russian President Vladimir Putin. So Reade went quiet.

[..] As the campaign went on, Reade [..] began to reconsider staying silent. She thought about the world she wanted her daughter to live in and decided that she wanted to continue telling her story and push back against what she saw as online defamation. To get legal help, and manage what she knew from her first go-around would be serious backlash, she reached out to the organization Time’s Up, established in the wake of the #MeToo movement to help survivors tell their stories. The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund was the recipient of an outpouring of donations over the past two-plus years, and is set up as a 501(c)3 nonprofit housed within the National Women’s Law Center. It was launched in December 2017 and was the most successful GoFundMe in the site’s history, raising more than $24 million.

[..] By February, she learned from a new conversation with Time’s Up, which also involved Director Sharyn Tejani, that no assistance could be provided because the person she was accusing, Biden, was a candidate for federal office, and assisting a case against him could jeopardize the organization’s nonprofit status.

Read more …

 

 

Readership is up a lot, but ad revenue only keeps dropping. I’ve said it before, it must be possible to run a joint like the Automatic Earth on people’s kind donations. These are no longer the times when ads pay for all you read, your donations have become an integral part of it. It has become a two-way street; and isn’t that liberating, when you think about it?

You heard it here first, like so many other things. And no, though it would be far more lucrative financially, the Automatic Earth will not adopt any paywalls, not here and not on Patreon. But you can still support us there, as well as right here. It’s easy. Thanks everyone for your donations the past few days. Very much obliged.

 

 

 

 

 

Support us in virustime. Help the Automatic Earth survive. It’s good for you.

 

Mar 182020
 


Matson Aircraft refueling at Semakh, British Mandate Palestine 1931

 

Global Powers Unleash Trillions Of Dollars To Stem Coronavirus Crisis (R.)
We’re at a Real Risk of Financial Markets Being Closed – Bianco (NZZ)
The Lesson (Henrich)
Boeing Seeks ‘Tens Of Billions’ In Bailouts (ZH)
Hotel Industry To Ask Trump For $150 Billion In Aid (LAT)
American Indian Casinos Close For Coronavirus, Seek $18 Billion Aid (R.)
Mnuchin Warns Senators Of 20% US Unemployment Without Coronavirus Rescue (R.)
18% Of US Workers Have Lost Jobs Or Hours Since Coronavirus Hit (LAT)
COVID-19 Pandemic Could Continue For 2 YEARS – German Health Expert (RT)
New Coronavirus Can Persist In Air For Hours And On Surfaces For Days (R.)
Australian Scientists Map How Immune System Fights Virus (BBC)
A Coronavirus Outbreak In Jails Or Prisons Could Turn Into A Nightmare (Vox)
Cyprus Bans Flights From 28 Countries From March 21 (R.)
Beijing Tells NYT, WSJ, WaPo Journalists To Hand In Credentials (RT)

 

 

It is truly great to see that over the past 10 days or so, millions of coronavirus experts worldwide have come out of hiding whose existence we knew nothing about beforehand. We at the Automatic Earth have been following the virus for well over 2 months, and not only do we still not understand as much as all these experts, we even contradict ourselves and each other from time to time. With all the new expert knowledge and -especially- opinions, no doubt the crisis will be solved real soon now.

 

When I started working very early this working, one of the first things I saw was this from Reuters. Which shows, while for instance Worldometer still had total deaths at 7,915, a 8,410+ number. Somehow it feels too specific for just a random mistake. Worldometer now says 8,010, so there is an increase, but not nearly as much.

 

 

Do note, however, that both cases and deaths are up by much larger numbers in the past 24 hours than ever before…

 

Cases 202,270 (+ 18,137 from yesterday’s 184,133)

Deaths 8,012 (+ 830 from yesterday’s 7,182)

 

These numbers, too, are rising relentlessly.

From Worldometer yesterday evening (before their day’s close)

 

 

From Worldometer -NOTE: mortality rate is now at 9%!- (Note: some call this rate “misleading”, but that can by definition only be true if you don’t know the parameters. Worldometer is very clear: the death rate is part of Closed Cases, not All Cases. You may argue that Active Cases should be part of the equation, but that would only insert uncertainty into the number. Neither Worldometer nor I imply that 9% will be the ultimate fatality rate, just that at present it’s the rate among Closed Cases.)

 

 

From SCMP: (Note: the SCMP graph was useful when China was the focal point; they are falling behind now)

 

 

From COVID2019.app: (New format lacks new cases and deaths)

 

 

 

 

Somebody found a money tree. Or, rather, one in every country.

Global Powers Unleash Trillions Of Dollars To Stem Coronavirus Crisis (R.)

The world’s richest nations prepared more costly measures on Tuesday to combat the global fallout of the coronavirus that has infected tens of thousands of people, triggered social restrictions unseen since World War Two and sent economies spinning toward recession. With the highly contagious respiratory disease that originated in China racing across the world to infect more than 196,000 people so far, governments on every continent have implemented draconian containment measures from halting travel to stopping sporting events and religious gatherings. While the main aim is to avoid deaths – currently at over 7,800 – global powers were also focusing on how to limit the inevitably devastating economic impact.

In the world’s biggest economy, U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has proposed pumping $1 trillion into the market. Trump wants to send cash to Americans within two weeks as the country’s death toll approached 100 and more testing sent the number of coronavirus cases to over 5,700. Airlines are among the worst-hit sector, with U.S. carriers seeking at least $50 billion in grants and loans to stay afloat as passenger numbers evaporate. Britain, which has told people to avoid pubs, clubs, restaurants, cinemas and theaters, unveiled a 330 billion pounds ($400 billion) rescue package for businesses threatened with collapse. Budget forecasters said the scale of borrowing needed might resemble the vast amount of debt taken on during the 1939-1945 war against Nazi Germany.

“Now is not a time to be squeamish about public sector debt,” Robert Chote, head of the Office for Budget Responsibility, which provides independent analysis of the UK’s public finances, told lawmakers. France is to pump 45 billion euros ($50 billion) of crisis measures into its economy to help companies and workers, with output expected to contract 1% this year. “I have always defended financial rigor in peacetime so that France does not have to skimp on its budget in times of war,” Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin was quoted as saying by financial daily Les Echos. The European Union eased its rules to allow companies to receive state grants up to 500,000 euros ($551,000) or guarantees on bank loans to ensure liquidity.

But even with the promised cash splurges, world stock markets and oil prices were unable to shake off their coronavirus nightmare after Wall Street on Monday saw its worst rout since the Black Monday crash of 1987. The Philippines was the first country to close markets, while Europe – now the epicenter of the pandemic – saw airline and travel stocks plunge another 7%.

Read more …

Central banks have run out of tools. Philippines the first to close markets altogether.

We’re at a Real Risk of Financial Markets Being Closed – Bianco (NZZ)

Mr. Bianco, the Federal Reserve takes massive emergency actions. What does this mean for financial markets? The Central Banks went all in. They fired all of their ammunition and they’ve got only one goal in mind: They have to stop the decline in financial markets. This started late last week with the Fed’s giant repo operation. You can also throw in the announcements of the ECB and the Bank of Japan. Plus, we have the extraordinary actions taken by European governments to stem the effects of the pandemic. The government of Germany for instance is basically guaranteeing everybody’s job.

However, investors don’t seem convinced. What’s going to happen if markets drop further? Central Banks need to stop the stock market from falling through last week’s low. I believe if markets fall through those levels and keep going down, the so-called Fed Put is dead. It doesn’t work anymore, so quit trying to find new ways to exercise it. Just understand Einstein’s definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.

What are the ramifications if the Fed Put doesn’t work anymore? Central Banks will need to move on. So if stocks make new lows we’re at a real risk of financial markets being closed. The Fed and other Central Banks have fired all their ammunition and if markets crash through last week’s lows, there’s nothing left. The Fed can’t buy equities outright without a change of the Federal Reserve Act. It would take weeks for Congress to do that. Even if Congress moves with lightning speed it will take them at least a week, and it will be over before that.

What would be the benefit of closing markets? It took the stock market sixteen trading days to drop by 27% from the all-time highs to Thursday’s lows. We have never seen anything close to that in history. The closest we’ve ever been in history was 1929, when it took 42 days to get from the all-time highs to a 20% correction. The speed in this decline is unprecedented.

Why is it so important to stop this crash? If it continues, you will get margin calls, involuntary liquidation. Markets will lose their ability to price securities, especially things like high yield bonds and emerging markets securities. Funds in those areas will be unavailable for people to redeem because they won’t have any prices. There will be trapped money. Also, you will get broken covenants in the corporate debt area, and that will force changes of control or restructurings. But the biggest damage will be that pensions will become underfunded. Companies will be forced to pony up billions of Dollars to get their pensions back into funding.

[..] You’re been in the investment business for a long time and have seen quite a few crashes. How do you experience this crisis personally? This is unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetime. What’s going on in financial markets today exceeds the financial crisis of 2008, it exceeds 9/11, it exceeds the tech peak, and it exceeds the 1987 crash. Maybe 1929 is still bigger, but few of us were alive then. We’re writing a new chapter for American and world history textbooks. We’re only a few pages into it, and we’re not sure how it will end, but our grandchildren will one day learn school about the great pandemic of 2020 and what it meant for world history.

Read more …

“What I’m opposed to is the hype, hypocrisy and excess that has preceded it. People got greedy, they piled into stocks at ungodly valuations. Companies that didn’t save or prepare for a crisis, instead were focused on short term market gains to juice up their stock prices. Companies such as Boeing that cut corners and blew money on buybacks for financial engineering purposes to enrich upper management and shareholders. I say screw them..”

The Lesson (Henrich)

The lesson of it all? The lesson is that lessons are not being learned. Of course the human species has an ingrained problem: We are all born with a blank sheet and have to learn everything from scratch. It would be helpful though if the elders could pass lessons from past mistakes on to the new generation. But no. So we keep making the same stupid mistakes. And here we are. Just four weeks after all time highs in markets America is again turning into bailout nation. Yes coronavirus is an unforeseen shock. So what? We’re supposed to handle a shock. We’re supposed to be prepared. We’re supposed to have savings and great balance sheets.


After an 11 year recovery and market bull run based on cheap and easy money shouldn’t things be great and shouldn’t we be well prepared for the next downturn? Is that really too much to ask? Apparently. We can’t even go 4 weeks without the Fed going apeshit on cutting rates to zero, launching $700B in QE, making discount windows available and launching $500B, even trillion dollar repos. We can’t even go 4 weeks without the government launching a proposed $850B stimulus package, tax cuts, free money checks of $1,000 to Americans and suggesting bailouts for $BA and $GE. That’s how fragile things are. They must be, otherwise the system would be able to handle a temporary shock. But it can’t. Why? Well for one our supposed great economy ever has the vast majority of Americans live paycheck to paycheck:

That’s a systemic problem. Sure you can blame people for living beyond their means, but in general most people just don’t have the income power to keep abreast with rising medial costs, home prices and all the other fun inflationary items that the Fed simply doesn’t count as inflation. How ignorant they are. PCE deflator. Please. And then of course the same lesson again not learned that keeps repeating ahead of every bust: Greed and more greed. When has it ever been a good idea to chase stocks to 150% market cap to GDP or even higher? The answer is never. Yet they convinced themselves and others that it’s different this time. New flash: It wasn’t. A lesson not learned and yet they did it. The chart was screaming unsutainability. And here we are 4 weeks later, yesterday closing at 109.5% market cap to GDP:

Reversion to the mean. And it could eventually get much worse. I showed this chart in Bull Cliff in February and I stated: “Investors keep piling money into this historically priced market….Central banks can deny all they want that they are not responsible for asset price inflation, but everybody knows better. The denials are not only hollow they are straight out lies. And having created the Pavlovian effect we now see in the investment community they are leading investors to abandon all sense of risk when risks are mounting ever more around us as valuations and earnings multiples keep expanding as a result of monetary policy. And hence it may be said that central bankers may be leading investors off the cliff.”


[..] I’m not opposed to the government stepping in to help in an emergency. That’s why we have government. What I’m opposed to is the hype, hypocrisy and excess that has preceded it. People got greedy, they piled into stocks at ungodly valuations. Companies that didn’t save or prepare for a crisis, instead were focused on short term market gains to juice up their stock prices. Companies such as Boeing that cut corners and blew money on buybacks for financial engineering purposes to enrich upper management and shareholders. I say screw them. If you don’t learn the lessons of the past then live with the consequences. And who pays ultimately for the consequences? We’ve seen this movie before

Read more …

Even Tyler Durden vehemently disagrees. But this is major military supplier Boeing.

Boeing Seeks ‘Tens Of Billions’ In Bailouts (ZH)

In its latest 8K, the plunging planemaker has completely drawn down its $13.8 billion credit line that it entered in October 2018 as it “navigates current business challenges” exposing just how fast this company is burning through cash. [..] This comes just hours after sources told Reuters that Boeing is seeking a bailout of ‘tens of billions’ in US government loan guarantees amid the Covid-19 crisis.[..] As we raged previously, this bailout demand comes after the company blew nearly $100 billion on stock buybacks since 2013 helping push its stock to all-time highs not that long ago, and instead of selling stock to get liquidity, they’re asking the Trump administration for a massive bailout.

So, no, nobody in their right minds should give Boeing even one penny in “short term aid”. Instead, management and the board should be ordered to sell as much stock as they need – you know, the opposite of buying it back – to maintain the business, even it means sending the stock price crashing far lower. Because it’s called capitalism, and because there is no reason why taxpayers should foot the bill for a company which instead of saving cash when times were good, was handing it out to shareholders and a handful of executives, and which should now for some insane reason be eligible for a bailout when times suddenly go bad. No: force Boeing – and others like it that spent billions repurchasing its stock while incurring massive amounts of debt – to sell its stock.

After all that’s what a public company’s stock is – a currency – and just as Boeing could repurchase it when it had cash, and lifted its stock price to all time highs, it should now sell its stock and use the proceeds to fund itself, like any other corporation does when it needs funding. Last time we checked, Boeing’s market cap was $73 billion, and it certainly afford to drop much more as the company now does the buyback in reverse. This is also a warning to Congress and the White House: if chronic stock repurchasers such as Boeing, are bailed out instead of ordered to find their own sources of liquidity, there will be a mutiny in America and rightfully so, because it was Boeing’s shareholders that got rich on the way up, and now it is somehow up to taxpayers to make sure the company, loaded up with record amounts of debt used to fund buybacks, survives one more quarter. That, in a word, is bullshit.

Read more …

We have this opportunity to get the rotten apples out, but are we going to use it?

Hotel Industry To Ask Trump For $150 Billion In Aid (LAT)

Staggered by the coronavirus outbreak, the lodging industry requested $150 billion in aid from the Trump administration Tuesday as Marriott International announced plans to furlough tens of thousands of workers. After a White House meeting with President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, hotel industry leaders said the virus outbreak is on pace to cause a bigger economic hit than the 2001 terrorist strikes and the 2008-09 recession combined. In addition to the $150 billion requested by the hotel industry, other sectors of the travel industry — such as convention centers, theme parks and tour companies — have requested $100 billion in funding to overcome the crisis, said Roger Dow, president of the U.S. Travel Assn., the trade group for the country’s travel industry.


That is on top of the $58 billion in aid requested Monday by the airline industry to overcome a surge in flight cancellations amid new travel restrictions. Without federal aid to the travel and lodging industries, the U.S. could lose as many as 4 million jobs in 2020, pushing the unemployment rate from 3.3% to 6.3% across the country, Dow said. Hotel occupancy rates were around 80% a few weeks ago but are now 10% to 20% in the busiest cities of the country, Chip Rogers, president of the American Hotel & Lodging Assn., said in a conference call with reporters. The federal aid, he said, has been requested in the form of grants to keep workers employed until the crisis subsides. Details about how the money would be disbursed had yet to be decided, Rogers said.

Read more …

Should casinos be bailed out? Or only those owed by Native Americans?

American Indian Casinos Close For Coronavirus, Seek $18 Billion Aid (R.)

The Native American gaming industry on Tuesday requested $18 billion in U.S. federal aid as it shut casinos that are the sole source of commercial revenue for dozens of tribes in a bid to slow the coronavirus epidemic. Tribal governments will be unable to provide health and education services and will default on loans unless they get federal support to make up for lost casino money, the National Indian Gaming Association said in a letter to members of the U.S. House of Representatives. “Providing the means for tribal governments to continue paying all employees’ salaries and benefits will immensely help this country recover,” according to the letter addressed to Representatives Deb Haaland and Tom Cole of the House Native American Caucus.


The United States’ roughly 460 Indian casinos are in the process of closing given the threat of coronavirus to tribal members and many non-Native American employees. Tribes are sovereign nations but are following advice from U.S. states and the federal government to slow the virus’ spread. That means shutting American Indian casinos which employ a combined 700,000-plus people directly and indirectly and generated over $37 billion in 2017, making them the largest segment of the U.S. gaming industry, according to the association.

Read more …

Frances Coppola: “Demand is falling because of virus control measures. Giving people money to spend (above their normal income) while simultaneously making it impossible for them to spend it is absurd.”

Mnuchin Warns Senators Of 20% US Unemployment Without Coronavirus Rescue (R.)

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned Republican senators on Tuesday that the country’s unemployment rate could hit 20% if they failed to act on a proposed coronavirus rescue package and there was lasting economic damage, a person familiar with the closed-door meeting said. Mnuchin met with senators to persuade them to pass a $1 trillion stimulus package that would send cash to Americans within two weeks and backstop airlines and other companies. The Senate is majority-controlled by President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans. A Treasury official said Mnuchin was not providing a forecast but trying to illustrate the potential risks of inaction.


“During the meeting with Senate Republicans today, Secretary Mnuchin used several mathematical examples for illustrative purposes, but he never implied this would be the case,” Treasury spokeswoman Monica Crowley said in an emailed statement. The warning was similar to one issued to U.S. lawmakers at the depths of the 2008 financial crisis, when Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke went to Capitol Hill to urge passage of a $700 billion plan to buy toxic mortgage assets.

Read more …

“56% of Americans considered the coronavirus outbreak a “real threat,” while 38% said it was “blown out of proportion.”

18% Of US Workers Have Lost Jobs Or Hours Since Coronavirus Hit (LAT)

As fallout from the coronavirus pandemic hits the economy, it’s slamming the American workforce: Some 18% of adults reported that they had been laid off or that their work hours had been cut, a new poll found. The proportion affected grew for lower-income households, with 25% of those making less than $50,000 a year reporting that they had been let go or had their hours reduced, according to a survey released Tuesday by NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist of 835 working adults in the contiguous United States. The poll was conducted Friday and Saturday, just after stocks began their steep plunge and normal life started grinding to a halt, with schools and places of worship closing, concerts and conferences being canceled and sports leagues suspending their seasons. The same poll found that about 56% of Americans considered the coronavirus outbreak a “real threat,” while 38% said it was “blown out of proportion.”

Read more …

Couldn’t we all make this prediction? It depends on 1001 variables. Who needs an expert for this?

COVID-19 Pandemic Could Continue For 2 YEARS – German Health Expert (RT)

A senior German disease control expert has warned that the coronavirus pandemic could continue for two years, depending on how long it takes for an effective vaccine to be developed and if people develop immunity after illness. Speaking on Tuesday, the Robert Kock Institut’s (RKI) president, Prof. Lothar Wieler, said pandemics tend to run their course in waves, and factors influencing how it unfolds from this point include how many people become immune to it after contracting the virus – and how quickly a vaccine is made. The RKI, a German federal agency responsible for disease control and prevention, on Tuesday raised the country’s threat level from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic from ‘moderate’ to ‘high’.

It said the revision comes in light of the continuing increase in new infections of the rapidly-spreading virus, which originated in China late last year and whose symptoms range from fever to serious respiratory illness. Germany has recorded over 7,900 cases of Covid-19 to date, with 20 deaths. New research from RKI scientists and the Helios clinic group also says that the novel coronavirus can more seriously afflict adults aged under 60 who have no underlying health conditions than similar patients suffering severe pneumonia in the regular flu season.

Although countries around the globe have largely stepped up measures to counter the spread of the virus, including border closures, shutting schools and limiting mass gatherings, Covid-19 cases outside of China recently surpassed the total figure recorded inside the country that had, until now, suffered the worst of the outbreak. Italy, in particular, is struggling with the pandemic and recorded a larger single-day number of deaths last weekend than China did at the worst of the peak there.

Read more …

I thought we already knew that, but the article is dated the 17th.

New Coronavirus Can Persist In Air For Hours And On Surfaces For Days (R.)

The highly contagious novel coronavirus that has exploded into a global pandemic can remain viable and infectious in droplets in the air for hours and on surfaces up to days, according to a new study that should offer guidance to help people avoid contracting the respiratory illness called COVID-19. Scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, attempted to mimic the virus deposited from an infected person onto everyday surfaces in a household or hospital setting, such as through coughing or touching objects. They used a device to dispense an aerosol that duplicated the microscopic droplets created in a cough or a sneeze.

The scientists then investigated how long SARS-CoV-2 remained infectious on these surfaces, according to the study that appeared online in the New England Journal of Medicine on Tuesday – a day in which U.S. COVID-19 cases surged past 5,200 and deaths approached 100. The tests show that when the virus is carried by the droplets released when someone coughs or sneezes, it remains viable, or able to still infect people, in aerosols for at least three hours. On plastic and stainless steel, viable virus could be detected after three days. On cardboard, the virus was not viable after 24 hours. On copper, it took 4 hours for the virus to become inactivated.= In terms of half-life, the research team found that it takes about 66 minutes for half the virus particles to lose function if they are in an aerosol droplet.

That means that after another hour and six minutes, three quarters of the virus particles will be essentially inactivated but 25% will still be viable. The amount of viable virus at the end of the third hour will be down to 12.5%, according to the research led by Neeltje van Doremalen of the NIAID’s Montana facility at Rocky Mountain Laboratories. On stainless steel, it takes 5 hours 38 minutes for half of the virus particles to become inactive. On plastic, the half-life is 6 hours 49 minutes, researchers found. On cardboard, the half-life was about three and a half hours, but the researchers said there was a lot of variability in those results “so we advise caution” interpreting that number.

Read more …

Encouraging, but looks like a long time option.

Australian Scientists Map How Immune System Fights Virus (BBC)

Scientists in Australia say they have identified how the body’s immune system fights the Covid-19 virus. Their research, published in Nature Medicine journal on Tuesday, shows people are recovering from the new virus like they would from the flu. Determining which immune cells are appearing should also help with vaccine development, experts say. “This [discovery] is important because it is the first time where we are really understanding how our immune system fights novel coronavirus,” said study co-author Prof Katherine Kedzierska. The research by Melbourne’s Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity has been praised by other experts, with one calling it “a breakthrough”.


Many people have recovered from Covid-19, meaning it was already known that the immune system can successfully fight the virus. But for the first time, the research identified four types of immune cells which presented to fight Covid-19. They were observed by tracking a patient who had a mild-to-moderate case of the virus and no previous health issues. The 47-year-old woman from Wuhan, China, had presented to hospital in Australia. She recovered within 14 days. Prof Kedzierska told the BBC her team had examined the “whole breadth of the immune response” in this patient. Three days before the woman began to improve, specific cells were spotted in her bloodstream. In influenza patients, these same cells also appear around this time before recovery, Prof Kedzierska said.


Chest scans showed the patient’s lungs clearing after immune cells appeared

Read more …

Iran has released 54,000 + 85,000 prisoners “temporarily”.

A Coronavirus Outbreak In Jails Or Prisons Could Turn Into A Nightmare (Vox)

The next site of a deadly coronavirus outbreak may not be a cruise ship, conference, or school. It could be one of America’s thousands of jails or prisons. Just about all the concerns about coronavirus’s spread in packed social settings apply as much, if not more, to correctional settings. In a prison, multiple people can be placed in one cell. Hallways and gathering places are often small and tight (often deliberately so, to make it easier to control inmates). There is literally no escape, with little to no space for social distancing or similar recommendations experts make to combat coronavirus. Hand sanitizer can be contraband.

Such an outbreak could not only infect and kill hundreds or thousands of people in prison, but potentially spread to nearby communities as well. Visitors and correctional staff could spread the disease when they go back home, and inmates could spread it when they’re released. Even an outbreak contained within a jail or prison could strain nearby health care systems, as hundreds or thousands of people suddenly need medical care that jails and prisons themselves can’t provide. So if you want to “flatten the curve” to spread out the illness and avoid overwhelming health care systems, experts say, you should worry about coronavirus in prisons and jails.

In the US, the concern is particularly acute because America puts so many people in jail or prison. The US locks up about 2.3 million people on any given day — the highest prison and jail population of any country in the world. With an incarceration rate of 655 per 100,000 people, the US locks up people at nearly twice the rate of Russia, more than five times that of China, more than six times Canada and France, nearly nine times Germany, and almost 17 times Japan. “We can learn what works in terms of mitigation from other countries who have seen spikes in coronavirus already, but none of those countries have the level of incarceration that we have in the United States,” Tyler Winkelman, a doctor and researcher at the University of Minnesota focused on health care and criminal justice, told me.

Read more …

While France and Germany go out of their way to keep EU (Schengen) borders open, EU member Cyprus says no.

Cyprus Bans Flights From 28 Countries From March 21 (R.)

Cyprus on Tuesday announced a two-week ban on flights from 28 countries, including Britain and Greece, to curb the coronavirus outbreak. The measure will come into effect from 0100 GMT on March 21 for a 14-day period, an official statement said. It does not affect cargo flights. The island has already enacted stringent entry requirements, effective from March 16, barring anyone into the island, including Cypriots, without a medical certificate that they are clear of coronavirus. Those who do arrive are placed in compulsory quarantine in a government-supervised facility for two weeks. The east Mediterranean island has reported 49 cases of coronavirus.


Australia’s DFAT travel advisory map has been updated. Every country in the world is labelled “Do Not Travel”, for the first time ever.

Read more …

Best friends.

Beijing Tells NYT, WSJ, WaPo Journalists To Hand In Credentials (RT)

China is pulling the press credentials of US journalists from outlets including the New York Times and the Washington Post whose passes expire in 2020, in the latest move of an ongoing tit-for-tat with America over media access. In a statement about China’s “countermeasures against US suppression of Chinese media organizations in the United States,” Beijing announced that American reporters working for the NYT, Wall Street Journal, Voice of America, Time and the Washington Post whose credentials are due to expire by the end of this year must hand them over within 10 days. These reporters will also not be allowed to work in China – including Hong Kong and Macau – in the future, and other US journalists will face new visa restrictions similar to those Washington recently introduced for Chinese reporters.


“In view of the US’ discriminatory restrictions on visas, administrative review, and interviews of Chinese journalists, China will take reciprocal measures against US journalists,” it added. The back-and-forth expulsions of journalists started in February, when Chinese authorities gave three Wall Street Journalists five days to leave the country after Beijing objected to an opinion piece in the outlet calling China the “real sick man of Asia.” The paper refused to apologize for the piece. Shortly afterwards, the US dramatically reduced the number of journalists it would permit to work for four Chinese state-owned media companies inside the US, cutting the number allowed from 160 to 100. They also reduced the length of time those permitted entry could remain in the US. Beijing condemned the move as reflecting a “Cold War mindset” and warned of retaliation.

Read more …

 

Clean water in Venice for the first time in forever. The flipside of this: Free parking in Athens to limit use of public transportation.

 

https://twitter.com/ikaveri/status/1239660248207589383

 

 

 

 

 

If you read us, please support us. Help the Automatic Earth survive.

 

Aug 052018
 


Claude Monet Hollowed Cliff near Étretat 1883

 

The Real Threat To The Fed’s Independence Is Wall Street, Not Trump (WM)
The Trillion-Dollar Question: Can The Tech Giants Keep Growing? (G.)
Light It Up (Kunstler)
IMF Option Looms Larger For Turkey Amid Row With US (AL M.)
Beware the Slippery Slope of Facebook Censorship (Matt Taibbi)
Why Theresa May Must Stop The Brexit Clock (O.)
UK Trade Minister Fox Says EU Is Pushing Britain To No-Deal Brexit (R.)
Separating Children From Their Parents Puts UK Government To Shame, Too (O.)
Britain’s Economics Students Are Dangerously Poorly Educated (G.)
How Reality Is Being Redefined (Slog)
Greece’s Unemployment Highest in Developed World (GR)
Greece: An Economy That Has Shrunk So Much It Looks War-Torn (WaPo)

 

 

But we’ve given them all the power…

The Real Threat To The Fed’s Independence Is Wall Street, Not Trump (WM)

[..] the real threat to the Fed’s independence isn’t coming from Trump—it’s coming from Wall Street. The Fed’s structural flaws have led to regulatory capture, which compromises its ability to set monetary and regulatory policy in a manner that isn’t tilted to favor those at the very top of the economic ladder. Trump may have broken a norm by commenting on monetary policy, but the Fed’s status quo is unaccountable, opaque decision-making shaped by deep conflicts of interest with the very financial institutions the Fed is ostensibly supposed to supervise. Consider, for instance, the abrupt resignation in March of David Cote from the New York Fed’s board of directors—a move that came as a shock to many Fed watchers.

Cote was one of just a couple people responsible for choosing the next president of the New York Fed, the most powerful economic policymaking position in the country that Trump doesn’t control. Yet before the search for New York Fed President Bill Dudley’s successor had formally concluded, Cote left the board to pursue “new business opportunities that could affect his eligibility to serve”—later revealed to be helping Goldman Sachs undertake an ambitious corporate acquisition strategy. The New York Fed claims that Cote and his fellow board members had already decided on former San Francisco Fed President John Williams to succeed Dudley by the time that Cote announced his resignation, but that means that Cote was simultaneously negotiating a new gig at Goldman Sachs while selecting one of Goldman’s top regulators.

The entire ordeal served as an unsettling reminder of the cozy relationship between the Federal Reserve and the biggest behemoth on Wall Street. Prior to being selected as New York Fed president in 2009, Dudley was Goldman Sachs’s chief economist. In 2008, Goldman Sachs Director Stephen Friedman chaired the New York Fed’s board of the directors at the same moment that it was reviewing Goldman’s application to become a bank holding company. In 2014, leaked tapes exposed New York Fed regulators pressuring one of their examiners to back off of a finding that would have imperiled Goldman Sachs’s ability to engage in a deal with Banco Santander. And in 2015, the Fed chose three consecutive men with strong ties to Goldman Sachs to be new Federal Reserve Bank presidents.

Read more …

Only if we let them.

The Trillion-Dollar Question: Can The Tech Giants Keep Growing? (G.)

It has been a tumultuous couple of weeks for America’s high-flying technology stocks, even by their own unique standards. Their shares have been soaring since the start of the year, despite being buffeted by trade war fears as President Trump talked of limiting Chinese investments in the US and restricting American technology imports to China. But now there are signs that cracks may be starting to appear in some of the biggest firms in the sector. Facebook suffered the biggest ever one-day drop in a company’s market value – losing more than £90bn – after its growth slowed in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Twitter lost 20%, or $5bn, as it reported a surprise fall in active monthly users, while streaming service Netflix missed its targets for subscriber numbers.

On the other hand, electric car specialist Tesla managed to head in the right direction despite making a $717m second-quarter loss, as its controversial chief executive, Elon Musk, regained investor confidence after apologising for previous outbursts. That was in marked contrast to a conference call for the company’s previous set of figures, when he accused a Wall Street analyst of “boring bonehead questions” and ignored queries from investors. But the pick of the bunch remains Apple, which beat Amazon and Google to reach the landmark $1 trillion valuation on Thursday.

Despite the recent rollercoaster ride, the five key tech stocks, known as the “Faangs” – Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Alphabet-owned Google – have reached breathtaking heights. The total value of the five companies amounts to a staggering 19% of total US GDP. But their surge in value has prompted fears of a re-run of the dotcom boom of the late 1990s, when technology businesses dominated the stock market before coming crashing to earth. Russ Mould at investment group AJ Bell says: “That [19%] compares to the 15.5% of US GDP reached by the five biggest companies by value at the US stock market’s peak in the fourth quarter of 1999, just before the technology, media and telecoms bubble burst and that particular mania came to grief.”

Read more …

“That’s my theory about what Russia is up to. If you have a better one, let’s hear it?”

Light It Up (Kunstler)

The Guardians of the Galaxy at National Public Radio were beside themselves Wednesday night reporting that “the lights are blinking red for a 2018 election attack by Russia.” Well, isn’t that an interesting set-up? In effect, NPR is preparing its listeners in advance to reject and dispute the coming midterm election if they’re not happy with the results. Thus continues America’s institutional self-sabotage, with the help of a news media that’s become the errand boy of the Deep State.

What do I mean by the Deep State? The vested permanent bureaucracy of Washington DC, and especially its vastly overgrown and redundant “Intel Community,” which has achieved critical mass to take on a life of its own within the larger government, makes up its own rules of conduct, not necessarily within the rule of law, and devotes too much of its budget and influence defending its own prerogatives rather than the interests of the nation.

Personally, I doubt that President Putin of Russia is dumb enough to allow, let alone direct, his intel services to lift a finger “meddling” in the coming US midterm election, with this American intel behemoth vacuuming every digital electron on earth into the NSA’s bottomless maw of intercepted secrets. Mr. Putin must have also observed by now that the US Intel Community is capable of generating mass public hallucinations, to the beat of war-drums, and determined not to give it anything to work with. That’s my theory about what Russia is up to. If you have a better one, let’s hear it?

Read more …

Turkey double-crossed the US in a prisoner swap deal. Bad idea of course. Erdogan wants Gulen, but this is not the way.

IMF Option Looms Larger For Turkey Amid Row With US (AL M.)

While the climate of uncertainty is discouraging investments, inflation is eroding real incomes and curbing domestic consumption. As a result, the shrinking demand is bearing on economic growth, which has relied largely on the domestic market. The Turkish economy, which grew 7.4% in 2017, is expected to slow in the third quarter before beginning to contract.

The growing uncertainties are discouraging also the inflow of hot money from abroad, which Turkey desperately needs. Moreover, existing foreign investors have been fleeing the Turkish stock market, albeit slowly — a trend that contributes to sustaining the high prices of foreign exchange, especially the dollar. Accordingly, Turkey’s risk premium — reflected in credit default swaps (CDS) — is on the rise. Turkey’s CDS, which had stood at 166 basis points Feb. 1 and 199 basis points May 1, hit a record high of 334 basis points on the evening of Aug. 1 — up from 321 points in the morning. The increasing risk premium means that Turkey will now face higher interest rates when it tries to borrow from foreign creditors.

The country’s external financing needs for the next 12 months amount to $230 billion, including $180 billion to roll over external debts and $50 billion to cover its gaping current account deficit. Hence, the question of how the required funds will be secured and at what cost is crucial. The tensions with Washington came amid this already serious crunch, exacerbating the woes of Erdogan’s regime. The row over Brunson had flared last week, as both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence threatened sanctions unless Ankara took “immediate action” to release the pastor, who is being held on what Washington sees as bogus charges of espionage and collaboration with terrorist groups.

The warnings had an immediate economic effect, pushing up Turkey’s risk premium, as pundits sought to predict the scope of the upcoming sanctions. Some suggested that Washington’s hardening stance would bear on the flow of foreign capital to Turkey and the support it might seek from the IMF, while others saw trouble looming over Halkbank, the Turkish public lender embroiled in a scheme to evade US sanctions against Iran. Ultimately, Washington announced sanctions on Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul under the 2016 Magnitsky Act, which targets individuals and entities involved in human rights abuses. According to Bloomberg, this “could be just the start of what would look like a US assault on Turkey’s vulnerable economy,” including a potentially hefty fine on Halkbank.

Read more …

There’s Mark Warner again, the guy who with Comey screwed up the Assange deal with the DOJ.

Beware the Slippery Slope of Facebook Censorship (Matt Taibbi)

You may have seen a story this week detailing how Facebook shut down a series of accounts. As noted by Politico, Facebook claimed these accounts “sought to inflame social and political tensions in the United States, and said their activity was similar — and in some cases connected — to that of Russian accounts during the 2016 election.” Similar? What does “similar” mean? The death-pit for civil liberties is usually found in a combination of fringe/unpopular people or ideas and a national security emergency. This is where we are with this unsettling new confab of Facebook, Congress and the Trump administration.

Read this jarring quote from Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) about the shutting down of the “inauthentic” accounts: “Today’s disclosure is further evidence that the Kremlin continues to exploit platforms like Facebook to sow division and spread disinformation… I also expect Facebook, along with other platform companies, will continue to identify Russian troll activity and to work with Congress…” This was in a story in which Facebook stated that it did not know the source of all the pages. They might be Russian, or they might just be Warner’s idea of “sowing division.” Are we comfortable with that range of possibilities?

[..] Facebook was “helped” in its efforts to wipe out these dangerous memes by the Atlantic Council, on whose board you’ll find confidence-inspiring names like Henry Kissinger, former CIA chief Michael Hayden, former acting CIA head Michael Morell and former Bush-era Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff. (The latter is the guy who used to bring you the insane color-coded terror threat level system.) These people now have their hands on what is essentially a direct lever over nationwide news distribution. It’s hard to understate the potential mischief that lurks behind this union of Internet platforms and would-be government censors. As noted in Rolling Stone earlier this year, 70 percent of Americans get their news from just two sources, Facebook and Google. As that number rises, the power of just a few people to decide what information does and does not reach the public will amplify significantly.

Read more …

Makes sense. But too much of the whole thing doesn’t.

Why Theresa May Must Stop The Brexit Clock (O.)

May’s cabinet colleagues, fanning out across the continent like Patton’s Third Army to advance her Chequers compromise, do not appear to have fared any better. Especially embarrassing are the efforts of Jeremy Hunt, the new foreign secretary. He gravely warned puzzled Europeans last week that Britain was heading for “no-deal by accident” by pushing itself off a cliff. The UK would not “blink first”, he added. Perhaps Hunt thinks he is Clint Eastwood. It matters not. On Brexit, this government has its eyes tight shut. It is blind to the consequences – and the waiting chasm. Blinking does not come into it. What part of the EU’s unchanging position on the principles governing Britain’s future relationship with Europe does May’s government not understand?

For two years or more, Barnier, the chief negotiator, firmly backed by 27 governments, has been telling London there can be no compromise and no fudge that weakens the integrity of the single market, pan-European customs and legal regulations and Europe’s borders. Yet May’s Chequers plan, seeking exceptional (and unworkable) arrangements, blithely ignores all that. In case the European public did not appreciate what was at stake, or was taken in by chauvinistic Tory claims of EU vindictiveness and dogmatism, Barnier published an op-ed in 20 European newspapers last week. Amid Brexit’s baffling complexities, his concision and clarity were refreshing. He explained the EU’s justified fears about the impact of Brexit on Europe and why it cannot reasonably be expected to bow to May’s demands for special treatment:

“The UK knows well the benefits of the single market. It has contributed to shaping our rules over the last 45 years. And yet some UK proposals would undermine our single market, which is one of the EU’s biggest achievements. The UK wants to keep free movement of goods between us, but not of people and services. And it proposes to apply EU customs rules without being part of the EU’s legal order. The UK wants to take back sovereignty and control of its own laws, which we respect, but it cannot ask the EU to lose control of its borders and laws,” Barnier wrote.

Read more …

Oh, yeah, they’re going to blame it on the EU.

UK Trade Minister Fox Says EU Is Pushing Britain To No-Deal Brexit (R.)

British trade minister Liam Fox said “intransigence” from the European Union was pushing Britain toward a no-deal Brexit, in an interview published on Saturday by the Sunday Times. With less than eight months until Britain quits the EU, the government has yet to agree a divorce deal with Brussels and has stepped up planning for the possibility of leaving the bloc without any formal agreement. Fox, a prominent Brexit supporter in Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet, put the odds of Britain leaving the European Union without agreeing a deal over their future relationship at 60-40. “I think the intransigence of the commission is pushing us toward no deal,” Fox told the Sunday Times after a trade mission in Japan.

“We have set out the basis in which a deal can happen but if the EU decides that the theological obsession of the unelected is to take priority over the economic wellbeing of the people of Europe then it’s a bureaucrats’ Brexit — not a people’s Brexit — (and) then there is only going to be one outcome.” It was up to the EU whether it wanted to put “ideological purity” ahead of the real economy, Fox said. If Britain fails to agree the terms of its divorce with the EU and leaves without even a transition agreement to smooth its exit, it would revert to trading under World Trade Organization rules in March 2019.

Read more …

All sociopaths do it. They are defined by their lack of empathy.

Separating Children From Their Parents Puts UK Government To Shame, Too (O.)

Donald Trump’s policy of forcibly separating immigrant parents and children at the US border has been greeted with shock and abhorrence. Around the world, people have listened to audio of young children sobbing for their parents while federal agents crack jokes and heard the stories of children locked up in cages in the richest country in the world. Even the prime minister broke with her usual timidity about Trump’s transgressions to call his family separation policy “deeply disturbing”. What hypocrisy. Less noticed – although no less inhumane – is the British government’s policy of separating parents from their young children as part of immigration detention, all conducted on Theresa May’s watch, first as home secretary, then as prime minister.

Charities such as Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) have for years been raising the cases of children, many of whom are British citizens, taken into care because their parents have been detained, or even deported, without them. In recent months, a long list of cruelties meted out in the name of the government’s “hostile environment” policy has come to the public’s attention: people who’ve lived in Britain legally for decades, paying their taxes, suddenly denied life-saving NHS care; young people who’ve grown up in Britain facing many thousands of pounds in fees and a multi-year slog to get permanent residency; children raised in care facing the risk of deportation as an adult to a country they don’t know. Any sense of basic justice or human compassion seems to have eluded the Home Office.

But separating tiny children from their parents is cruelty of a whole different order. Today, we report on the case of Kishi, a young mother who dropped her two-year-old off at nursery in order to attend an appointment at an immigration reporting centre. There, she was restrained by immigration security officials and taken to an immigration removals centre. No arrangements were made for her toddler, who was put into emergency foster care when no one came to pick her up, and Kishi was not told where her daughter was for two days. It was another month before she saw her. Kishi and her child are not alone. BID says more than 300 children were removed from their parents in the last 12 months, an increase of 16% on the previous year. Many of those will have been taken into care as a result. The Home Office does not keep records on this; perhaps because it contravenes its own guidance, which says children must not be separated from their parents for immigration purposes if it means they will be taken into care.

Read more …

Sometimes I think in Britain it’s not only the economists.

Britain’s Economics Students Are Dangerously Poorly Educated (G.)

This month, the pressure group Rethinking Economics said Britain’s universities were failing to equip economics students with the skills that businesses and the government say they need. Following extensive interviews with employers, including organisations such as the Bank of England, it found that universities were producing “a cohort of economic practitioners who struggle to provide innovative ideas to overcome economic challenges or use economic tools on real-world problems”. Moreover, the group said, “when political decisions are backed by economics reasoning, as they so often are, economists are unable to communicate ideas to the public, resulting in a large democratic deficit.”

You could easily level that criticism at the economists forecasting the impact of AI. What are people supposed to think when those who study the field come up with such wildly varying predictions? More importantly, what will politicians think they should do? Nothing, probably, given the confusion. The Rethinking group is concerned that university departments only train, rather than educate, huge numbers of graduates for econometrics jobs across the banking, insurance and consulting sectors. In our increasingly student-led system, these young people don’t want to mess around with history or modules on inequality. They are on a mission to make money for themselves in the private sector.

If they were diverted into discussions of economic history, they might find out we are about to repeat the mistakes of the past and trigger another financial crisis. Even more inhibiting, their course might show that higher inequality dampens workers’ incentives to increase productivity, and might prompt them to ask why young economists in the City are paid colossal amounts of money to analyse bond yields or forecast oil prices. Pay them less, share the money around, and productivity might improve. Failing that, let a robot do their job.

Read more …

John put something like dictatorship in the title. Bit much.

How Reality Is Being Redefined (Slog)

The last burgeoning growth sector on the Planet is the pursuit of redefinition. The idea is first to confuse, then create a climate of acceptance, and finally do away with every form of liberty that stands in the way of power. Both Capital and Labour are actively following the same road. It will be the end of the road for citizen freedom unless they’re both stopped. John Williams at Shadowstats.com reckons that the real unemployment rate in the US is 21.4%. Unimpressed by the US State’s insane assumption that all those no longer able to claim unemployment welfare “have found a job”, Mr Williams provides further fuel for my longstanding thesis that no real recovery can occur – if more and more mass-market consumers work fewer and fewer hours for less and less money or have no job at all – because their personal disposable income is disappearing out of sight. The term ‘in employment’ has been redefined.

When he arrived at the UK Treasury as Chancellor, George Osborne immediately gave notice that he’d be switching from the higher RPI measure of inflation (then at 5.2%) to the lower CPI at 4.5%. That doesn’t sound like much, but one has to remember two things: first, that is a 14% difference in levels that makes inflation look much lower; and second, over time the different impression given is huge: from 1996 to 2011, under the RPI system prices rose 53.6%….but using the CPI method, it only came to 35.6%. Significantly, the CPI system excludes financial services costs and government charges to the consumer. Just fancy that. So the term ‘inflation’ has been redefined.

Within two years of taking office, the Conservative-led coalition’s leader David Cameron started claiming that “the Government’s long-term economic plan is working to create more jobs”. Government Party Political Broadcasts showed the statistics, and yes, it certainly looked that way. But “a job” to most people over the last half century meant 38-40 hours a week with a month’s notice. When analysed, these new jobs were averaging 20 hours a week, often at unsocial hours and frequently on no contracts at all. They typically demand, for example, that the “employee” be ready to come into the workplace without notice. When using the weasel term ‘job’, Cameron was comparing meat and two veg with bread and dripping. So the term ‘job’ has been redefined.

Read more …

One thing: people earning a low income ‘rate’ is much higher than 10.6%, and up by much more than 2% in 10 years. Lost in translation?

Greece’s Unemployment Highest in Developed World (GR)

Greece tops all countries in the developed world in unemployment according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Employment Outlook 2018. Greece has suffered a dramatic spike in unemployment, with the 2017 total climbing to 21.7% of the working population, more than double the 2006 figure.

Large increases in unemployment and an underutilized workforce were accompanied by falling output, very high debt, a serious GDP deficit and deflation, the report says. Along with its impact on employment levels, the financial crisis caused a reduction in wage growth in a lot of countries, leading to a drop in living standards for many.

The proportion of working-age people earning the “low-income” rate jumped to 10.6%, up from 9.56% a decade earlier. Although Korea, Mexico, and Chile have seen a decrease in the number of low-income households, most of the countries hit hardest by the euro crisis, such as Greece, Italy, Spain and Slovenia, have suffered a 2% rise.

Read more …

Thank you Brussels and Berlin.

Greece: An Economy That Has Shrunk So Much It Looks War-Torn (WaPo)

The point is that this kind of economic collapse is usually the symptom of a broader state collapse. Which is why it almost never happens in rich countries. That’s clear enough if you look at the late Angus Maddison’s historical GDP per capita numbers. Going back to 1900, there have been only three general times when European economies have shrunk over a 10-year period as much as Greece’s has since 2008: after World War I, after World War II and after the fall of communism. Most of the exceptions to this involve other wars – in particular, the Balkan wars of the 1910s, the Spanish Civil War, the Greek Civil War and the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s — but there is one that largely took place during peacetime. That was Weimar Germany’s hyperinflation.

It’s worth pointing out what isn’t here: the Great Depression. That wasn’t quite as bad in Europe as it was in the United States — at its nadir in 1933, the U.S. 10-year decline was actually comparable to Greece’s today — partly due to the fact that most European countries were quicker to leave the gold standard when things did start to get more dire. That allowed them to inject enough monetary stimulus into their economies to jump-start almost immediate recoveries. The problem, of course, is that it’s a lot harder for Greece to do the equivalent of that right now. The gold standard and the euro are similar in that they are both fixed-exchange rate systems that can get countries into trouble if they are hit by a big enough shock that their economy “needs” a cheaper currency than it has under the system.

But they’re different in that it’s a lot simpler to say your currency won’t be worth as much gold as it used to than to replace all of your currency with a new one. So instead of stimulus, Greece has gotten austerity — and a lot of it. Under the terms of its just-about-to-be-completed bailout agreement, Greece is actually supposed to keep running primary budget surpluses of at least 2.2 percent of GDP until 2060. That’s right: four more decades of austerity. It’s no wonder, then, that Greece’s economy might not get back to where it was in 2008 until 2030. This is what Europe calls a success: an economy that has shrunk so much it looks war-torn.

Read more …

Jun 022018
 


Edward S. Curtis Crow Scout in Winter 1908

 

The US Economy Suddenly Looks Like It’s Unstoppable (CNBC)
Record 95.9 Million Americans Are No Longer In The Labor Force (ZH)
The Pause That Refreshes (Roberts)
EU Joins Global Battle Against Trump Tariff Onslaught (AFP)
Eurozone Not Facing New Debt Crisis – Juncker (R.)
Three Critical Lessons From Europe’s Recent Mini-Meltdown (Black)
EU Lawmakers From Italy’s Coalition Parties Seek Funds To Quit Euro (R.)
Canada Auditor General To Public Service: Stop Ignoring My Reports (CBC)
Greece’s Busiest Port Reveals the Perils of Privatization (Nation)
EU Scraps Plans To Tackle Antibiotics Abuse (G.)

 

 

And I have a bridge in Brooklyn.

The US Economy Suddenly Looks Like It’s Unstoppable (CNBC)

In the face of persistent fears that the world could be facing a trade war and a synchronized slowdown, the U.S. economy enters June with a good deal of momentum. Friday’s data provided convincing evidence that domestic growth remains intact even if other developed economies are slowing. A better-than-expected nonfarm payrolls report coupled with a convincing uptick in manufacturing and construction activity showed that the second half approaches with a tail wind blowing. “The fundamentals all look very solid right now,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC. “You’ve got job growth and wage gains that are supporting consumer spending, and tax cuts as well. There’s a little bit of a drag from higher energy prices, but the positives far outweigh that. Business incentives are in good shape.”

The day started off with the payrolls report showing a gain of 223,000 in May, well above market expectations of 188,000, and the unemployment rate hitting an 18-year low of 3.8%. Then, the ISM manufacturing index registered a 58.7 reading — representing the%age of businesses that report expanding conditions — that also topped Wall Street estimates. Finally, the construction spending report showed a monthly gain of 1.8%, a full point higher than expectations. Put together, the data helped fuel expectations that first-quarter growth of 2.2% will be the low-water point of 2018. “May’s rebound in jobs together with yesterday’s report of solid income growth and the rise in consumer confidence points to the economy functioning very well,” the National Retail Federation’s chief economist, Jack Kleinhenz, said in a statement.

“Solid fundamentals in the job market are encouraging for retail spending, as employment gains generate additional income for consumers and consequently increase spending.” The most recent slate of widely followed barometers could see economists ratchet up growth expectations. Already, the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow tracker sees the second quarter rising by 4.8%. While the measure also was strongly optimistic on the first quarter as well, at one point estimating 5.4% growth, other gauges are positive as well. CNBC’s Rapid Update, for instance, puts the April-to-June period at 3.6%.

Read more …

The unemployment rate is meaningless. Is that why it keeps being reported?

Record 95.9 Million Americans Are No Longer In The Labor Force (ZH)

In what was otherwise a solid jobs report – one which Donald Trump may or may not have leaked in advance – in which the establishment survey reported that a higher than expected 223K jobs were added at a time when numbers below 200K are expected for an economy that is allegedly without slack, the biggest surprise was not in the Establishment survey, but the household, where the unemployment rate tumbled once more, sliding to a new 18 year low of 3.8%, even as the participation rate declined once again, as a result of a stagnant labor force, which was virtually unchanged (161.527MM in April to 161.539MM in May, even as the total civilian non-inst population rose by 182K to 257.454LMM).

What was perhaps more interesting, however, is that for all the talk that the slack in the labor force is set to decline, precisely the opposite is taking place, because in May, the number of people not in the labor force increased by another 170K, rising to 95.915 million, a new all time high. Adding to this the 6.1 million currently unemployed Americans, there are 102 million Americans who are either unemployed or out of the labor force (and it is also worth noting that of those employed 26.9 million are part-time workers). In other words, contrary to prevailing economist groupthink, there is a lot of slack in the economy, and if as the latest Beige Book revealed, employers are now hiring drug addicts and felons to make up for the shortage of qualified candidates, a long time will pass before wages see significant gains.

Read more …

Deutsche is dangerous.

The Pause That Refreshes (Roberts)

As long as interest rates remain low and negative in some cases, debt can continue to be accumulated even with weaker rates of economic growth. More importantly, as long as rates remain low, the banking system can continue to play the “hide-the-debt game” through derivatives, swaps and a variety of other means. But rates are rising, and sharply, on the shorter-end of the curve. Historically, sharply rising rates have been a catalyst for a debt related crisis. As long as everything remains within the expected ranges, the complicated “math” behind trillions of dollars worth of financial instruments function properly. It is when those boundaries are broken that things “go wrong” and quickly so.

People have forgotten that in 2008 a major U.S. financial firm crashed as its derivative based exposure “blew up.” No, I am not talking about Lehman Brothers, the poster-child of the financial crisis, I am talking about Bear Stearns. In just 365-days, Bear Stearns stock went from $159 to $2, with about half of the loss occurring within a few weeks. Bear Stearns was the warning shot for the financial markets in early 2008 that no one heeded. Within a couple of months, the markets dismissed Bear Stearns as a “non-event” and rallied to a higher level than prior to the event, and almost back to highs for the year. Remember, there was “nothing to worry about” at the time, even though the Fed was increasing interest rates, as the “Goldilocks economy” could handle tighter monetary policy.

Sure, housing had been slowing down, mortgage delinquencies were rising, along with credit card defaults, but there wasn’t much concern. Today, we are seeing similar signs.Interest rates are rising, along with delinquencies, defaults, and a slowing housing market. But no one is concerned as the “Goldilocks economy” can clearly offset these mild risks. And no one is paying attention to, what I believe to be, one of the biggest risks to the global financial markets – Deutsche Bank.

Read more …

Globalization in reverse.

EU Joins Global Battle Against Trump Tariff Onslaught (AFP)

The EU on Friday launched its first counteroffensive against Washington’s punishing steel and aluminum tariffs while the US began meetings in Canada with outraged finance ministers from its top trading partners. Meanwhile in Washington, US President Donald Trump floated the possibility of scrapping the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement in favor of separate bilateral deals with Canada and Mexico. And in another leg of Trump’s multi-front trade offensive, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross arrived in Beijing to continue fraught talks with Chinese officials. Trump has vowed to press ahead with tariffs on as much as $50 billion in imports from China.

Brussels and Ottawa on Friday filed legal challenges at the World Trade Organization against Washington’s decision. The EU, Canada and Mexico also threatened stiff retaliatory tariffs as they pushed back against Trump’s moves. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday he was dumbfounded by Washington’s national security basis for the tariffs, given that US and Canadian troops had fought together in World War II, Afghanistan and elsewhere. “This is insulting to them,” he told NBC News. British Prime Minister Theresa May said she was “deeply disappointed” and reiterated a call for Britain and the EU to be “permanently exempted” from the “unjustified” metals tariffs.

At the Group of Seven ministerial meeting in Canada, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin faced stern reactions from his counterparts, who accused Trump of jeopardizing the world economy with steps that would prove job killers for all concerned. “The French, British and Germans held firm,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told reporters. “Everyone expressed their complete incomprehension of the American decisions and everyone said it was up to the Americans to take the next step since they were the ones who imposed the tariffs.”

Read more …

This is like the owner of a sports team publicly declaring the coach has their full support. Bad sign.

Eurozone Not Facing New Debt Crisis – Juncker (R.)

There is no threat of a new sovereign debt crisis in the euro zone despite an anti-establishment coalition government taking power in Italy, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in remarks published on Saturday. Asked by the RND network of German newspapers if the single currency bloc faced a new crisis, Juncker said: “No. The reactions of the financial markets are irrational. People should not draw political conclusions from every fluctuation in the stock market. Investors have been wrong on so many occasions before.” A governing coalition comprising two parties hostile to the euro was installed in Italy on Friday, calming markets spooked by the possibility of a new election that might have become a referendum on quitting the single currency. “I am certain the Italians have a keen sense of what is good for their country,” Juncker said. “They will sort it out.”

Read more …

It will just take one little spark.

Three Critical Lessons From Europe’s Recent Mini-Meltdown (Black)

1) On the day that the finance minster was rejected, financial markets worldwide tanked. Italy’s stock market plunged 5%, which is considered a major drop. But curiously, the stock market in the US fell as well, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average shedding 400 points. Even markets in China and Japan had significant drops as a result of the Italy turmoil. Now, it’s easy to see why Italy’s markets fell. And even the rest of Europe. But the entire world? Granted, a lot of people made a really big deal out of this event, concluding that it signals the end of the euro.. or Europe itself… or some other such drama. Sure, maybe. But it’s almost impossible to foretell a trend as significant as ‘the end of the euro’ based on a single event.

At face value, the rejection of a cabinet minister in Italy should have almost -zero- relevance on economies as large and diversified as the US, China, and Japan. To me, this is another sign that we’re near the peak of the bubble… and possibly already past it. Markets are so stretched, and investors are on such pins and needles, that even a minor, insignificant event induces panic. And it makes me wonder: if financial markets are so tightly wound that something so irrelevant can cause such an enormous impact, how big will the plunge be when something serious happens?

2) It wasn’t just stocks either. Bond markets were also keenly impacted. Bear in mind that stocks are volatile by nature; prices move much more wildly than other asset classes. But bonds, on the other hand, are supposed to be safe, stable, boring assets. Especially government bonds in highly developed nations. In Italy the carnage was obviously the worst. Investors dumped the 2-year Italian government bond, and yields (which move opposite to prices) surged from 0.9% to 2.4% in a matter of hours. Simply put, that’s not supposed to happen. And it hadn’t happened in at least three decades. Again, though, even in the United States, yields on the US 10-year note dropped 16 basis points overnight, from 2.93% to 2.77% (which means US bond prices increased).

That’s considered MAJOR volatility for US government bonds. To put it in context, the only day over the past few YEARS that saw 10-year yields move more than that was the day after Donald Trump won the US Presidential Election in 2016. So it was a pretty big deal. Again, this leads me to wonder: if safe, stable assets like government bonds can react so violently from such an insignificant event, how volatile will riskier assets be when there’s an actual crisis? Just imagine what’s going to happen to all the garbage assets out there (like unprofitable, heavily indebted businesses) when a real downturn kicks in.

Read more …

No, they supported setting up a fund for countries in trouble.

EU Lawmakers From Italy’s Coalition Parties Seek Funds To Quit Euro (R.)

European Union lawmakers from the two parties forming Italy’s new government coalition backed this week a rejected proposal to set up EU funds to help countries quit the euro, a sign of the Italian leadership’s ambivalent position on the common currency. Their vote came as the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and far-right League were finalising a deal to form an executive in Rome, under pledges that leaving the euro was not in their government programme. The government was sworn in on Friday. An earlier attempt to form a government foundered after the parties proposed as economy minister an economist who had devised a plan for Italy’s departure from the euro zone, prompting his rejection by the head of state.

Despite the declared intentions to stay in the euro, all six EU lawmakers from the League and all but one of the 14 5-Star Members of the European Parliament voted on Wednesday for a document that called for the establishment of programmes of financial support “for member states that plan to negotiate their exit from the euro.” The document voted on by their EU lawmakers called for compensation for “the social and economic damages caused by the euro zone membership.” The document was an amendment to a European Parliament resolution on the EU budget for the 2021-2027 period. The proposal, advanced by three leftist MEPs, was backed by 90 lawmakers but was rejected by a majority of the 750 MEPs.

Read more …

Sure this is very recognizable across the globe.

Canada Auditor General To Public Service: Stop Ignoring My Reports (CBC)

Canada’s auditor general says he’s getting tired of filing annual reports recommending reforms to the way the government does business — only to see those recommendations disappear down the memory hole afterward. Michael Ferguson released his spring audits on Tuesday. They included scathing criticisms of the government’s performance on the Phoenix pay system, Indigenous services and military justice. Many of these problems have been highlighted in Ferguson’s reports in the past. And that, he told CBC News, is the problem. “We always get the department agreeing to our recommendation but then somehow we come back five years later, 10 years later and we find the same problems,” he told host Chris Hall on CBC Radio’s The House on Wednesday.

“It almost is like the departments are trying to make our recommendations and our reports go away by saying they agree with our recommendations.” His work has made one thing clear, he said: the federal government has a culture problem that makes meaningful change difficult. “They need to do things to make the results better.” Part of the problem stems from political pressure on the public service, said Ferguson. Politicians tend to think from election to election, he said, which can undermine public servants’ efforts to bring in a longer-term plan. “It seems like the political side of things ends up having more weight in the conversation.” In Parliament, he said — and particularly with respect to Indigenous Services — progress tends to be measured on the basis of how much money the government spends on a particular policy file, and not on measurable outcomes.

Read more …

“.. it is clear there were strong interests to see Greece’s public wealth turned over into other peoples’ hands..”

Greece’s Busiest Port Reveals the Perils of Privatization (Nation)

In 2015, as a condition of the $100 billion European Union bailout that followed the 2008 financial crisis, the Greek government agreed to privatize a number of state-held assets including the Piraeus Port Authority, which manages the port’s container and passenger terminals. The Greek state sold a majority stake for $330 million to COSCO. For the Chinese company, the purchase had a clear financial logic. About 80 percent of China’s imports and exports to and from Europe are transported by sea, and by avoiding the need to sail to busy Northern European ports like Rotterdam or Hamburg, COSCO could offload containers in Piraeus, reducing the time it takes cargo to get to Europe by nearly a week. Plus, by owning the port authority, COSCO could help determine how much its own ships would have to pay itself in port fees.

As part of the deal, COSCO pledged to participate in financing $410 million worth of investment in the port, including a repair of port equipment and the dredging of Piraeus’s central port. Supporters of privatization argue these improvements signal a coming maritime renaissance at Piraeus—already the busiest port in the eastern Mediterranean. Nektarios Demenopolous, the deputy manager for investor relations at Piraeus Port Authority, told me, “There are 300 million euros [$350 million] of investment to come in the next five years, followed by another 50 million. Privatization has made the port much more dynamic and will reboot activities at the port like ship repair that have been in recession. It will be remembered as a success story.”

But a “success story” for whom? The dockworkers of Piraeus say they and their families have seen little of the alleged gains brought by COSCO. As Piraeus Port Authority boasts of widening profit margins and increasing maritime traffic, wages for dockworkers haven’t budged since they were slashed from 1500 euros ($1,750) per month to 600 euros after the financial crisis. Beyond that, COSCO now hires few dockworkers as full-time employees, and tends to enlist unskilled laborers for complex container unloading. COSCO also primarily remunerates people on an ad hoc basis as subcontractors, leaving dockworkers and their families entirely dependent on the ebb and flow of traffic into Piraeus. It also means their traditional retirement benefits have disappeared.

The long list of Greek public assets in the privatization pipeline includes Athens International Airport, the oil refiner Hellenic Petroleum, and the electric-grid operator. To date, some roughly $5 billion in Greek state assets, including the Port of Piraeus and Greece’s regional airport network, have been sold, and it is expected that the Greek government will sell nearly $55 billion worth of state assets within the next decade. There is no conclusive evidence that privatized state assets are more efficiently managed than their state-owned predecessors, but privatization is undoubtedly an effective means for a cash-strapped government to raise funds when its creditors are getting impatient. “Piraeus was always a profitable port. However, it is clear there were strong interests to see Greece’s public wealth turned over into other peoples’ hands,” said Giorgos Gogos, head of the Piraeus dockworkers’ union.

Read more …

How corrupt is Juncker?

EU Scraps Plans To Tackle Antibiotics Abuse (G.)

The EU has scrapped plans for a clampdown on pharmaceutical pollution that contributes to the spread of deadly superbugs. Plans to monitor farm and pharmaceutical companies, to add environmental standards to EU medical product rules and to oblige environmental risk assessments for drugs used by humans have all been discarded, leaked documents seen by the Guardian reveal. An estimated 700,000 people die every year from antimicrobial resistance, partly due to drug-resistant bacteria created by the overuse, misuse and dumping of antibiotics. The UK’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, has warned that failing to act could lead to a post-antibiotic apocalypse, spelling “the end of modern medicine” as routine infections defy effective treatment.

Some studies predict that antimicrobial resistance could cost $100tn (£75tn) between now and 2050, with the annual death toll reaching 10 million over that period. An EU strategy for pharmaceuticals in the environment was supposed to propose ways to avert the threat, but leaked material shows that a raft of ideas contained in an early draft have since been diluted or deleted. Proposals that have fallen by the wayside include an EU push to have environmental criteria for antibiotic use included in international agreements as “good manufacturing practice requirements”. This would have allowed EU inspectors to visit factories in Asia or Africa, sanctioning them were evidence of pharmaceutical pollution found.

[..] The pharmaceutical industry spent nearly €40m on lobbying EU institutions in 2015, according to voluntary declarations, and enjoys infamously easy access to officials. Public records show that the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations had more than 50 meetings with the Juncker commission in its first four and a half months of office. In the same period, GlaxoSmithKline had 15 meetings with the commission, Novartis had eight engagements, Sanofi and Johnson & Johnson had six sessions apiece, while Pfizer and Eli Lilly both met with EU officials five times each.

Read more …

May 232018
 


Brassaï Couple on a bench, Paris 1932

 

The End Is Nigh For The Biggest Tech Bubble Ever (CNBC)
ECB’s Negative Interest Rate Policy The Funniest Monetary Joke Ever (WS)
The Italian Crisis Is Far From Over (ZH)
Turkish Lira Hits Record Low, Down 20% Against Dollar This Year (R.)
American Women’s $1 Trillion Burden (MW)
22% Of Americans Can’t Pay Bills; 41% Have Less Than $400 In Cash (ZH)
French Unemployment Rises To 9.2% In First Quarter (MW)
EU Rejects May’s Plan For Northern Ireland Border (Ind.)
Nationwide’s UK Mortgage Lending Slumps By A Third (G.)
House Votes To Ease Bank Rules And Send Bill To Trump’s Desk (CNBC)
How Russia and China Gained a Strategic Advantage in Hypersonic Technology
Former Trump Adviser Makes Claim About A Second Informant (DC)
Illegal Online Sales Of Endangered Wildlife Rife In Europe (G.)
Landmark Lawsuit Claims Monsanto Hid Roundup Cancer Danger For Decades (G.)

 

 

Unicorns as defined by venture capitalist Aileen Lee back in 2013: Privately-held startups valued at $1 billion or more.

The End Is Nigh For The Biggest Tech Bubble Ever (CNBC)

In case you missed it, the peak in the tech unicorn bubble already has been reached. And it’s going to be all downhill from here. Massive losses are coming in venture capital-funded start-ups that are, in some cases, as much as 50% overvalued. The age of the unicorn likely peaked a few years ago. In 2014 there were 42 new unicorns in the United States; in 2015 there were 43. The unicorn market hasn’t reached that number again. In 2017, 33 new U.S. companies achieved unicorn status from a total of 53 globally. This year there have been 11 new unicorns, according to PitchBook data as of May 15, but these numbers tend to move around, and I believe the 279 unicorns recorded globally in late February by TechCrunch was the peak, where the start-up bubble was stretched to its limit.

A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research concludes that, on average, unicorns are roughly 50% overvalued. The research, conducted by Will Gornall at the University of British Columbia and Ilya Strebulaev of Stanford, examined 135 unicorns. Of those 135, the researchers estimate that nearly half, or 65, should be more fairly valued at less than $1 billion. In 1999 the average life of a tech company before it went public was four years. Today it is 11 years. The new dynamic is the increased amount of private capital available to unicorns. Investors new to the VC game, including hedge funds and mutual funds, came in when the Jobs Act started to get rid of investor protections in 2012, because there were fewer IPOs occurring.

Read more …

The US Treasury two-year yield is 2.57% over 10 times higher than the Italian. Go Draghi!

ECB’s Negative Interest Rate Policy The Funniest Monetary Joke Ever (WS)

The distortions in the European bond markets are actually quite hilarious, when you think about them, and it’s hard to keep a straight face. “Italian assets were pummeled again on mounting concern over the populist coalition’s fiscal plans, with the moves rippling across European debt markets,” Bloomberg wrote this morning, also trying hard to keep a straight face. As Italian bonds took a hit, “bond yields climbed to the highest levels in almost three years, while the premium to cover a default in the nation’s debt was the stiffest since October,” it said. “Investors fret the anti-establishment parties’ proposal to issue short-term credit notes – so-called ‘mini-BOTs’ – will lead to increased borrowing in what is already one of Europe’s most indebted economies.”

This comes on top of a proposal by the new coalition last week that the ECB should forgive and forget €250 billion in Italian bonds that it had foolishly bought. The proposals by a government for a debt write-off, and the issuance of short-term credit notes as a sort of alternate currency are hallmarks of a looming default and should cause Italian yields to spike into the stratosphere, or at least into the double digits. And so Italian government bonds fell, and the yield spiked today, adding to the prior four days of spiking. But wait…Five trading days ago, the Italian two-year yield was still negative -0.12%. In other words, investors were still paying the Italian government – whose new players are contemplating a form of default – for the privilege of lending it money.

And now, the two-year yield has spiked to a positive but still minuscule 0.247% at the moment. By comparison, the US Treasury two-year yield is 2.57% over 10 times higher! [..] This is an over-indebted government that doesn’t control its own currency and cannot print itself out of trouble and whose new leadership – made up of the coalition of the Five Star Movement on the left and the League on the right – is proposing a haircut for its creditors to make the debt burden easier, and is also proposing the issuance of an alternate currency to give it more money to spend, even as it also promises to crank up government deficit spending and cut taxes too.

Read more …

“As parallel currencies and debt-cancellation become serious discussion points for an Italian government, so European break-up risk is resurging.”

The Italian Crisis Is Far From Over (ZH)

The Italian crisis is far from over and the concept of their ‘mini-BoT’ parallel currency is throwing up some very red flags about the future of the European Union… You just have to know where to look. As Bloomberg’s Tasos Vossos notes, a gauge of euro re-denomination risk (based on the so-called ‘ISDA Basis’ in Italy’s credit default swaps) blew out. What’s more, redenomination risks are spreading as the measure widened in Portugal, Spain, and in France to a lesser extent, according to CMAN data. As parallel currencies and debt-cancellation become serious discussion points for an Italian government, so European break-up risk is resurging.

Simply put, the higher this chart goes, the lower the market ‘values’ an Italian Euro relative to say a German Euro… and thus it is measuring the risk that the European Union – so long defended by Draghi et al. as indestructible – will break up. As Marcello Minenna, head of Quantitative Analysis and Financial Innovation at Consob – the Italian securities regulator, previously noted, “markets do not lie… Italy must avoid remaining with short end of the stick. I wonder if our leadership will rise to the challenge.”

Read more …

Erdogan wants lower rates, but if this goes on, he’ll end up with the opposite.

Turkish Lira Hits Record Low, Down 20% Against Dollar This Year (R.)

The Turkish lira weakened sharply against the dollar on Wednesday, bringing its losses to some 20% this year, as investors pushed it to fresh record lows on growing concern about President Tayyip Erdogan’s influence on monetary policy. At 0724 GMT, the lira stood at 4.7642 against the U.S. currency, paring its losses after touching an all-time low of 4.8450 in Asian trade overnight. It has lost as much as 21% of its value since the start of the year. The lira also fell sharply against the Japanese yen, amid talk of Japanese retail investors selling the lira as stop-loss levels were hit.

“The lira fall is now on the agenda of world markets and some are saying there is an increased risk of contagion in other emerging markets from the Turkey risk,” said GCM Securities analyst Enver Erkan. “The necessity of the Turkish central bank taking a significant step is increasing,” he said. A self-described “enemy of interest rates”, Erdogan wants borrowing costs lowered to spur credit growth and construction and said last week he would seek greater control over monetary policy after elections set for June 24.

Read more …

Almost twice as much as men. And then they get paid less at the jobs they find.

American Women’s $1 Trillion Burden (MW)

Student debt is on its way to becoming a universally American problem, but there’s more evidence to indicate that it’s a particularly acute challenge for women. The gap between the amount of debt shouldered by male and female graduates has nearly doubled in the past four years, according to a report released Monday by the American Association for University Women. On average, female bachelor’s degree recipients graduated with $2,700 more in debt in 2016 than their male counterparts. That’s up from about a $1,400 gap in 2012. If trends continue on their current trajectory, Kevin Miller, a senior researcher at AAUW and the author of the report, estimates that the outstanding student debt held by women alone could reach $1 trillion over the next year.

If the ratio of debt owed by women versus men stays the same, then men hold about $550 billion at that time. “We’ll be keeping a watch on it,” he said. The data adds to the growing body of evidence — much of which has been published by AAUW — that student debt is a women’s issue. Although they make up just 56% of American college students, women hold nearly two-thirds of America’s outstanding student debt, or about $890 billion, and take longer to pay it off. There are a variety of reasons why this is the case, according to Miller.

For one, women typically have to rely more on loans to finance college because they earn less from their work before they enter college (if they have a job before they start) and while they’re in school. And once women graduate college, the gender pay gap continues to play a role. Women working full-time with college degrees earn 26% less than their male colleagues, according to AAUW, delaying their efforts to repay their loans.

Read more …

Small part of a large survey.

22% Of Americans Can’t Pay Bills; 41% Have Less Than $400 In Cash (ZH)

Almost nine years into an economic recovery, 41% of adults in 2017 are unable to afford an unexpected $400 expense without borrowing money or selling something, down from 44% last year. When faced with a hypothetical expense of only $400, 59% of adults in 2017 say they could easily cover it, using entirely cash, savings, or a credit card paid off at the next statement (referred to, altogether, as “cash or its equivalent”). Even without an unexpected expense, the report reveals, 22% of adults expected to forgo payment on some of their bills in the month of the survey. “One-third of those who are not able to pay all their bills say that their rent, mortgage, or utility bills will be left at least partially unpaid.” Altogether, one-third of adults are either unable to pay their bills or are one modest financial setback away from financial hardship, slightly less than in 2016 (35%).

Read more …

Protests against Macron are becoming massive.

French Unemployment Rises To 9.2% In First Quarter (MW)

French unemployment rose in the first quarter of the year, the latest indication that the surging eurozone recovery of 2017 is losing momentum in 2018. The unemployment rate in France–the eurozone’s second-largest economy–rose to 9.2% in the first quarter from 9% at the end of 2017, national statistics agency Insee said Wednesday. The deterioration in French unemployment comes as economic growth slowed abruptly in the first quarter of the year after a sharp acceleration at the end of 2017.

The soft economic data and lower business confidence are adding to uncertainty over whether the eurozone is on the cusp of a broad slowdown or just catching its breath before resuming stronger growth. The French government has said unemployment remains in a downward trend despite fluctuations from one quarter to another. In the first quarter of 2017, unemployment stood at 9.6%. France’s statistics agency said Wednesday that increases in unemployment were particularly strong at the start of 2018 and youth unemployment remained above 20%. Long-term unemployment was unchanged in the first quarter from the end of 2017.

Read more …

Everybody knew this would happen. But May has nothing else.

EU Rejects May’s Plan For Northern Ireland Border (Ind.)

Brussels has rejected Theresa May’s new customs proposal less than 24 hours after the prime minister set it out in a bid to placate Brexiteers in her cabinet. European Commission officials told The Independent Ms May’s plan would be unacceptable and would go back on previous commitments made by British negotiators. A day earlier the prime minister had said the “backstop” plan to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland – which keeps Britain in alignment with the single market and customs union if no other agreement is reached – would be time limited. The move was an attempt to assuage Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson, who fear that it would become a backdoor way to keep Britain tied indefinitely to the EU through the customs union and single market.

The controversial fallback arrangements look increasingly likely to come into play, with no other plan for the Northern Ireland border in sight and Ms May’s cabinet deadlocked on what Britain’s future customs relationship with the EU should be. European Commission officials close to the talks told The Independent that British negotiators had already made written commitments for the backstop to apply “unless and until” another solution was found in Northern Ireland, and that there was no way it could be time limited. Facing a backlash over the plan from her pro-Brexit ministers, the prime minister sought to calm their fears, telling reporters on Monday: “If it is necessary, it will be in a very limited set of circumstances for a limited time.”

Read more …

They blame it on competition.

Nationwide’s UK Mortgage Lending Slumps By A Third (G.)

Nationwide has reported declining profits for the second year in a row, as net mortgage lending slumped by a third amid intense competition. The UK’s largest building society reported a 7.3% drop in statutory profits to £977m for the year to 4 April, down from £1.05bn the previous year. Profits include the £116m cost of buying back debt. Net mortgage lending fell from £8.8bn to £5.8bn, and Nationwide’s share of the market nearly halved, from 25.4% to 13.0%. Even so, it said it remained the UK’s second-biggest mortgage lender, behind Halifax. The Swindon-based mutual blamed fierce competition that forced it to lower mortgage rates, hurting profit margins, and said there was no sign of a let-up.

Mark Rennison, the Nationwide chief financial officer, said: “Our view is price competition will continue, which is good news for customers.” Nationwide has been hit by the end of the Bank of England’s term funding scheme, which was launched after the Brexit vote to provide cheap finance to enable banks to lend at lower interest rates. Rennison said competition had increased because the big five banks had returned to the market after ringfencing their high street banking operations from the riskier parts of their businesses.

Read more …

Two words: Glass-Steagall.

House Votes To Ease Bank Rules And Send Bill To Trump’s Desk (CNBC)

The House voted Tuesday to pass the biggest rollback of financial regulations since the global financial crisis. The margin was 258-159, with 33 Democrats supporting the legislation. The bill will now go to President Donald Trump’s desk. He is expected to sign it into law. The Senate already passed the legislation with bipartisan support. The bill makes good on Republican promises to cut red tape they say hurts businesses, but does not go nearly as far as some GOP lawmakers had hoped. It also appeases some Democrats who argue financial rules passed following the financial meltdown unnecessarily hamstrung small and mid-sized lenders.

The measure eases restrictions on all but the largest banks. It raises the threshold to $250 billion from $50 billion under which banks are deemed too important to the financial system to fail. Those institutions also would not have to undergo stress tests or submit so-called living wills, both safety valves designed to plan for financial disaster. It eases mortgage loan data reporting requirements for the overwhelming majority of banks. It would add some safeguards for student loan borrowers and also require credit reporting companies to provide free credit monitoring services.

Republicans have argued the post-crisis regulations held down lending and economic growth. On Tuesday ahead of the vote, House Speaker Paul Ryan promoted the bill as a boon for community banks — though it boosts medium-sized and regional institutions, as well. “This is a bill for the small banks that are the financial anchors of our communities. … It addresses some of Dodd Frank’s biggest burdens to ease the regulatory costs on these small banks — costs which are ultimately transferred on to consumers,” the Wisconsin Republican said.

Read more …

It makes wars useless.

How Russia and China Gained a Strategic Advantage in Hypersonic Technology

The development of hypersonic weapons has been part of the military doctrine that China and Russia have been developing for quite some time, driven by various motivations. For one thing, it is a means of achieving strategic parity with the United States without having to match Washington’s unparallelled spending power. The amount of military hardware possessed by the United States cannot be matched by any other armed force, an obvious result of decades of military expenditure estimated to be in the range of five to 15 times that of its nearest competitors. For these reasons, the US Navy is able to deploy ten carrier groups, hundreds of aircraft, and engage in thousands of weapon-development programs.

Over a number of decades, the US war machine has seen its direct adversaries literally vanish, firstly following the Second World War, and then following the collapse of the Soviet Union. This led in the 1990s to shift in focus from one opposing peer competitors to one dealing with smaller and less sophisticated opponents (Yugoslavia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, international terrorism). Accordingly, less funds were devoted to research in cutting-edge technology for new weapons systems in light of these changed circumstances. This strategic decision obliged the US military-industrial complex to slow down advanced research and to concentrate more on large-scale sales of new versions of aircraft, tanks, submarines and ships.

With exorbitant costs and projects lasting up to two decades, this led to systems that were already outdated by the time they rolled off the production lines. All these problems had little visibility until 2014, when the concept of great-power competition returned with a vengeance, and with it the need for the US to compare its level of firepower with that of its peer competitors. Forced by circumstances to pursue a different path, China and Russia begun a rationalization of their armed forces from the end of the 1990s, focusing on those areas that would best allow them the ability to defend against the United States’ overwhelming military power.

[..] After sealing the skies and achieving a robust nuclear-strategic parity with the United States, Moscow and Beijing begun to focus their attention on the US anti-ballistic-missile (ABM) systems placed along their borders, which also consist of the AEGIS system operated by US naval ships. As Putin warned, this posed an existential threat that compromised Russia and China’s second-strike capability in response to any American nuclear first strike, thereby disrupting the strategic balance inherent in the doctrine of mutually assured destruction (MAD).

Read more …

This story will be getting bigger fast.

Former Trump Adviser Makes Claim About A Second Informant (DC)

Former Trump campaign adviser Michael Caputo had much to tell on Monday night when he claimed on Fox News he was approached by a second government informant during his stint on President Donald Trump’s team. “Let me tell you something that I know for a fact,” Caputo said on “The Ingraham Angle” with host Laura Ingraham. “This informant, this person [who] they tried to plant into the campaign … he’s not the only person who came at the campaign. And the FBI is not the only Obama agency who came at the campaign.” “I know because they came at me. And I’m looking for clearance from my attorney to reveal this to the public. This is just the beginning.”

Stefan Halper, a Cambridge professor, has been identified as one FBI informant who approached campaign advisers Carter Page, George Papadopoulos and Sam Clovis. Halper, a veteran of three Republican administrations, approached Page in July 2016 and maintained a relationship through September 2017. Halper approached Papadopoulos on Sept. 2, 2016, with an offer to fly him to London and pay $3,000 for a policy paper on energy issues. Papadopoulos accepted the offer and met Halper several times in London. Halper asked Papadopoulos whether he knew about Russian hacks of Democrats’ emails.

Caputo did not say why he believes he was contacted by a second government informant; he declined to offer additional details, saying he needed clearance from his attorney. He did say the encounter occurred prior to Halper’s outreach to Page. “When we finally find out the truth about this, Director Clapper and the rest of them will be wearing some orange suits,” Caputo said on, referring to former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

Read more …

The horror. The horror.

Illegal Online Sales Of Endangered Wildlife Rife In Europe (G.)

The online sale of endangered and threatened wildlife is rife across Europe, a new investigation has revealed, ranging from live cheetahs, orangutans and bears to ivory, polar bear skins and many live reptiles and birds. Researchers from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) spent six weeks tracking adverts on 100 online marketplaces in four countries, the UK, Germany, France and Russia. They found more than 5,000 adverts offering to sell almost 12,000 items, worth $4m (£3m) in total. All the specimens were species in which trade is restricted or banned by the global Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species.

Wildlife groups have worked with online marketplaces including eBay, Gumtree and Preloved to cut the trade and the results of the survey are an improvement compared to a previous Ifaw report in 2014. In March, 21 technology giants including Google, eBay, Etsy, Facebook and Instagram became part of the Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online, and committed to bring the online illegal trade in threatened species down by 80% by 2020. “It is great to see we are making really significant inroads into disrupting and dismantling the trade,” said Tania McCrea-Steele at Ifaw. “But the scale of the trade is still enormous.”

Almost 20% of the adverts were for ivory and while the number had dropped significantly in the UK and France, a surge was seen in Germany, where traders developed new code words to mask their sales. “It is a war of attrition and we can never let our guard down,” said McCrea-Steele. The UK is implementing a stricter ban on ivory sales and the EU is under pressure from African nations to follow suit.

Read more …

Internal Monsanto communications indicate they knew all along.

Landmark Lawsuit Claims Monsanto Hid Roundup Cancer Danger For Decades (G.)

At the age of 46, DeWayne Johnson is not ready to die. But with cancer spread through most of his body, doctors say he probably has just months to live. Now Johnson, a husband and father of three in California, hopes to survive long enough to make Monsanto take the blame for his fate. On 18 June, Johnson will become the first person to take the globa; seed and chemical company to trial on allegations that it has spent decades hiding the cancer-causing dangers of its popular Roundup herbicide products – and his case has just received a major boost.

Last week Judge Curtis Karnow issued an order clearing the way for jurors to consider not just scientific evidence related to what caused Johnson’s cancer, but allegations that Monsanto suppressed evidence of the risks of its weed killing products. Karnow ruled that the trial will proceed and a jury would be allowed to consider possible punitive damages. “The internal correspondence noted by Johnson could support a jury finding that Monsanto has long been aware of the risk that its glyphosate-based herbicides are carcinogenic … but has continuously sought to influence the scientific literature to prevent its internal concerns from reaching the public sphere and to bolster its defenses in products liability actions,” Karnow wrote.

“Thus there are triable issues of material fact.” Johnson’s case, filed in San Francisco county superior court in California, is at the forefront of a legal fight against Monsanto. Some 4,000 plaintiffs have sued Monsanto alleging exposure to Roundup caused them, or their loved ones, to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Another case is scheduled for trial in October, in Monsanto’s home town of St Louis, Missouri.

Read more …

May 162018
 


Alfred Wertheimer Elvis 1956

 

What If Wall Street Is Waiting For The Wrong Disaster? (BI)
US Mortgage Rates Surge To Highest Level In 7 Years (CNBC)
Economic Numbers Are Less Than Meet the Eye (Rickards)
Argentina Went From Selling 100-Year Bonds To An IMF Rescue In 9 Months (Q.)
Turkey’s Economy Enters A ‘Slow Burning Crisis’ (CNBC)
Investors In Turkey Stunned By Erdogan’s Fight With Markets (R.)
Ecuador Spent Millions On Spy Operation For Julian Assange (G.)
New York City Poised To Join Airbnb Crackdown (Pol.)
US State Lawsuits Against Purdue Pharma Over Opioid Epidemic Mount (R.)
Debt Relief Woes Threaten Greece’s Bailout Exit (K.)
Greece Changes Asylum Rules To Fight Camp Overcrowding (AP)
UK Government Wants To Put A Price On Nature – But That Will Destroy It (G.)
Chimpanzees Have Much Cleaner Beds Than Humans Do (Ind.)

 

 

Deflation.

What If Wall Street Is Waiting For The Wrong Disaster? (BI)

What if the entire world of money is preparing for the wrong disaster — which would be a disaster in and of itself? Since the financial crisis, Wall Street, central-bank heads, economists, and policymakers have been waiting for the return of inflation. At the beginning of this year, they thought they had found it. It came, so they thought, in the form of a weak dollar, wage growth, economic stability in China, and steadily rising interest rates. So here in the US, the Fed started talking about the importance of preparing to fight runaway inflation. In fact, it’s obsessed with the idea. According to Deutsche Bank analyst Torsten Slok, the Fed is talking more about inflation now (in its minutes and in its reports) than it did in 2006 when the economy was actually overheating, right before the crash.

This, even though personal-consumption expenditures haven’t grown by the Federal Reserve’s 2% target since the financial crisis. There’s a lot of noise, from data revisions and Trump tweets, trade-war threats and hopes of growth from tax policy, a wobbling stock market, and rising interest rates. But when it comes down to it, the things that everyone is saying will be sources of inflation may not be sources at all. Meanwhile, the weak dollar, wage growth, and a stable China elixir that got markets high in January have since faded. That should be a warning. If we play our cards wrong and pay attention to all the wrong signs, we may still be in a world tilting dangerously closer to our old enemy, deflation.

[..] As Slok said, aging can’t fully explain why wage growth has been suppressed, but he has other ideas too. “One important reason why the expansion since 2009 has been so weak is that wealth gains have been unevenly distributed (see chart below). A decline in the homeownership rate and the number of households holding stocks has dampened consumer spending growth for the bottom 90% of households,” he wrote in a note to clients back in March.

The deflationary impacts of economic inequality and an aging population are not going away with the flick of a wrist or the push of a button. They are long-term challenges that require imaginative, difficult policy solutions. It’s hard to see that coming from the Trump administration or an increasingly polarized, uncooperative world. So we need to ask ourselves: Are we waiting for the wrong disaster?

Read more …

That’s the end?!

US Mortgage Rates Surge To Highest Level In 7 Years (CNBC)

A sharp sell-off in the bond market is sending mortgage rates to the highest level in seven years. The average contract rate on the 30-year fixed will likely end the day as high as 4.875% for the highest creditworthy borrowers and 5% for the average borrower, according to Mortgage News Daily. Mortgage rates, which loosely follow the yield on the 10-year Treasury, started the year right around 4% but began rising almost immediately. They then leveled off in March and early April, only to begin rising yet again. Tuesday’s move follows positive economic data in retail sales, suggesting that newly imposed tariffs would not hit sales as hard as expected.

Rates have been widely expected to rise, as the Federal Reserve increases its lending rate and pulls back its investments in mortgage-backed bonds. But mortgage rates have reacted only in fits and starts. “The bottom line is that the writing on the wall has been telling rates to go higher since at least last September,” said Matthew Graham, chief operating officer of Mortgage News Daily. “Rates keep looking back to see if the writing has changed, and although there have been opportunities for hope (trade wars, stock selling-sprees, spotty data at times), it hasn’t. Today is just the latest reiteration of that writing.”

Read more …

10% unemployment.

Economic Numbers Are Less Than Meet the Eye (Rickards)

Let’s start with the employment report. The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics report dated May 4, 2018, showed the official U.S. unemployment rate for April 2018 at 3.9%, with a separate unemployment rate for adult men of 4.1% and adult women of 3.7%. The 3.9% unemployment rate is based on a total workforce of 160 million people, of whom 153 million are employed and 6.3 million are unemployed. The 3.9% figure is the lowest unemployment rate since 2001, and before that, the early 1970s. The average rate of unemployment in the U.S. from 1948 to 2018 is 5.78%. By these superficial measures, unemployment is indeed low and the economy is arguably at full employment.

Still, these statistics don’t tell the whole story. Of the 153 million with jobs, 5 million are working part time involuntarily; they would prefer full-time jobs but can’t find them or have had their hours cut by current employers. Another 1.4 million workers wanted jobs and had searched for a job in the prior year but are not included in the labor force because they had not searched in the prior four weeks. If their numbers were counted as unemployed, the unemployment rate would be 5%. Yet the real unemployment rate is far worse than that. The unemployment rate is calculated using a narrow definition of the workforce. But there are millions of able-bodied men and women between the ages of 25–54 capable of work who are not included in the workforce.

These are not retirees or teenagers but adults in their prime working years. They are, in effect, “missing workers.” The number of these missing workers not included in the official unemployment rolls is measured by the Labor Force Participation Rate, LFPR. The LFPR measures the total number of workers divided by the total number of potential workers regardless of whether those potential workers are seeking work or not. The LFPR plunged from 67.3% in January 2000 to 62.8% in April 2018, a drop of 4.4percentage points. If those potential workers reflected in the difference between the 2018 and 2000 LFPRs were added back to the unemployment calculation, the unemployment rate would be close to 10%.

[..] Another serious problem is illustrated in Chart 1 below. This shows the U.S. budget deficit as apercentage of GDP (the white line measured on the right scale) compared with the official unemployment rate (the blue line measured on the left scale). From the late 1980s through 2009, these two time series exhibited a fairly strong correlation. As unemployment went up, the deficit went up also because of increased costs for food stamps, unemployment benefits, stimulus spending and other so-called “automatic stabilizers” designed to bring the economy out of recession. That makes sense. But as the chart reveals, the correlation has broken down since 2009 and the two time series are diverging rapidly. Unemployment is going down, but budget deficits are still going up.

Read more …

Too late to get a new government?

Argentina Went From Selling 100-Year Bonds To An IMF Rescue In 9 Months (Q.)

In financial markets, memories can be short. Last year, Argentina sold 100-year bonds, joining a select club of countries with the confidence to borrow for such an extended period. Yes, the same Argentina that has defaulted on its debt eight times in the past 200 years, including the largest sovereign default in history in 2001. Not long before investors decided it was a good idea to lend to the South American nation for 100 years, it was largely shut out of international capital markets. In June 2017, Argentina sold $2.75 billion of US dollar-denominated 100-year bonds at an effective yield of 8%. The history of defaults seemed to be forgotten—nearly $10 billion in bids were placed for the bonds.

The sale came at a time when investors were hungry for high-yielding debt, but it also showed confidence in president Mauricio Macri and his program of pro-market reforms. Less than a year later, Macri has asked the IMF for a $30 billion loan to help it combat a currency crisis and limit further damage to the Argentinian economy from a dangerous outbreak of market turmoil. What went wrong?

Read more …

Not sure it’ll be all that slow. Turekey has borrowed in dollars up the wazoo.

Turkey’s Economy Enters A ‘Slow Burning Crisis’ (CNBC)

Turkey’s economy is overheating and if the government doesn’t act then the country is in trouble, according to several analysts. “The government has no intention of tackling imbalances or overheating,” Marcus Chevenix, global political research analyst at TS Lombard, said in a research note this week. “It is this unwillingness to act that leads us to believe that we can now say that Turkey is entering a slow burning crisis.” The Turkish lira is at a record low against the dollar, and is ranked among the worst-performing currencies this year. After comments this week by Turkish President Recep Erdogan promising to lower interest rates after the country’s June election, the currency tanked to its lowest point yet against the greenback, hitting 4.4527 on Tuesday mid-afternoon.

The dollar has appreciated by around 18% against the lira so far this year. The reason? Erdogan has been sitting on interest rates, opting for a monetary policy that prioritizes growth over controlling its double-digit inflation. Turkey’s growth rate reached an impressive 7.4% for 2017 and leads the G-20, but at the expense of inflation, which has shot up to 10.9%. Market sentiment has driven much of the lira’s sell-off, as investors worry about government intervention in monetary policy and central bank independence. Investors have been hoping for a rate rise by the bank, but that now appears unlikely.

Erdogan plays an unusually heavy-handed role in deciding his country’s monetary policy, and many observers say he keeps the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey’s (TCMB) hands tied. The bank finally raised its rates for the first time in several sessions in late April, moving its late liquidity window rate (which it uses to set policy) up by 75 basis points to 13.5%. The lira temporarily jumped on the news. But Erdogan aims to bring the rate back down, saying it must be done to ease pressure on Turkish households and drive the growth needed to create jobs for Turkey’s youth. “I’m seriously concerned about the Turkish lira,” Piotr Matys at Rabobank told CNBC via email. “Is Turkey the domino the market expects to fall next? It’s got all those problems — high current account deficit, government borrowing in other currencies.”

Read more …

He went to the City for this?!

Investors In Turkey Stunned By Erdogan’s Fight With Markets (R.)

“Shock and disbelief” – that’s how global money managers reacted to an attempt by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to re-assure foreign investors about his economic management as the lira went into tailspin. Fund managers who met Erdogan and his delegation in London on Monday, part of a three-day visit to Britain, were baffled about how he plans to tame rising inflation and a currency in freefall – while simultaneously seeking lower interest rates. Some said that while Erdogan has crushed his domestic enemies, he would find taking on international financial markets with policies that defy economic orthodoxy much tougher.

A resurgent dollar, rising oil prices and a jump in borrowing costs have caused havoc across emerging markets in recent weeks. However, Turkey has been among the worst affected due to its a gaping current account deficit and growing puzzlement over who exactly holds the reins of monetary policy. Erdogan’s comments that he planned to take greater control of the economy after snap presidential and parliamentary elections next month deepened investors’ worries about the central bank’s ability to fight inflation, helping to send the lira to a record low on Tuesday.

Rampant inflation dogged Turkey for decades before 2000 and has been back in double digits since the start of 2017. But Erdogan has styled himself as an enemy of high interest rates, defying orthodox monetary policy that prescribes tighter credit to keep a lid on prices. Speaking on condition of anonymity due to the political sensitivity of the meetings, investors told Reuters they were flabbergasted by his stance and willingness to go into battle with world markets at such a fragile time.

Read more …

A suggestive and tendentious piece by the Guardian, which seems to prepare us for a justification of Ecuador throwing Julian out. Other articles in today’s paper have titles like “How Julian Assange became an unwelcome guest in Ecuador’s embassy” and “Why does Ecuador want Assange out of its London embassy?”

Ecuador Spent Millions On Spy Operation For Julian Assange (G.)

Ecuador bankrolled a multimillion-dollar spy operation to protect and support Julian Assange in its central London embassy, employing an international security company and undercover agents to monitor his visitors, embassy staff and even the British police, according to documents seen by the Guardian. Over more than five years, Ecuador put at least $5m (£3.7m) into a secret intelligence budget that protected the WikiLeaks founder while he had visits from Nigel Farage, members of European nationalist groups and individuals linked to the Kremlin. Other guests included hackers, activists, lawyers and journalists.

[..] Documents show the intelligence programme, called “Operation Guest”, which later became known as “Operation Hotel” – coupled with parallel covert actions – ran up an average cost of at least $66,000 a month for security, intelligence gathering and counter-intelligence to “protect” one of the world’s most high-profile fugitives. An investigation by the Guardian and Focus Ecuador reveals the operation had the approval of the then Ecuadorian president, Rafael Correa, and the then foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, according to sources. [..] Worried that British authorities could use force to enter the embassy and seize Assange, Ecuadorian officials came up with plans to help him escape.

They included smuggling Assange out in a diplomatic vehicle or appointing him as Ecuador’s United Nations representative so he could have diplomatic immunity in order to attend UN meetings, according to documents seen by the Guardian dated August 2012. In addition to giving Assange asylum, Correa’s government was apparently prepared to spend money on improving his image. A lawyer was asked to devise a “media strategy” to mark the “second anniversary of his diplomatic asylum”, in a leaked 2014 email exchange seen by the Guardian.

Read more …

Force them to open the books.

New York City Poised To Join Airbnb Crackdown (Pol.)

New York’s City Council is plotting a crackdown on Airbnb, the largest home-sharing platform in the world, as the hotel industry and its unionized workers push lawmakers in some of the nation’s biggest cities to blunt the $30 billion company’s growth. New York City’s push resembles a legislative effort underway in Los Angeles, and comes months after San Francisco passed a measure mandating that hosts of short-term rental platforms register their homes with the city, leading to a decline in listings. The coastal cities are among Airbnb’s largest markets in the United States.

The Council is crafting a bill that would require online home-sharing companies to provide the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement with the addresses of their listings — a potential blow to Airbnb if its users are revealed to be turning rent-regulated apartments into business enterprises in a city starved for more housing. The move is coming two years after New York’s state Legislature first took aim at Airbnb with a bill that banned the advertising of illegal short-term rentals — but ultimately did little to hurt the company. The New York push comes amid a well-funded advertising and lobbying campaign by the hotel industry, which has run ads supporting a recent report from City Comptroller Scott Stringer that was critical of Airbnb, and is accusing the company of reducing the amount of affordable housing in cities.

Read more …

What’s taking so long?

US State Lawsuits Against Purdue Pharma Over Opioid Epidemic Mount (R.)

Litigation against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma is intensifying as six more U.S. states on Tuesday announced lawsuits, accusing the company of fueling a national opioid epidemic by deceptively marketing its prescription painkillers to generate billions of dollars in sales. U.S. state attorneys general of Nevada, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, North Dakota and Tennessee also said Purdue Pharma violated state consumer protection laws by falsely denying or downplaying the addiction risk while overstating the benefits of opioids. “It’s time the defendants pay for the pain and the destruction they’ve caused,” Florida State Attorney General Pam Bondi told a press conference.

Florida also sued drugmakers Endo Pharmaceuticals, Allergan, units of Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, and Mallinckrodt, as well as drug distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson. [..] Lawsuits have already been filed by 16 other U.S. states and Puerto Rico against Purdue. The privately-held company in February said it stopped promoting opioids to physicians after widespread criticism of the ways drugmakers market highly addictive painkillers. Bondi said state attorneys general from New York, California and Massachusetts were preparing similar lawsuits.

Read more …

And on and on and on…

Debt Relief Woes Threaten Greece’s Bailout Exit (K.)

The tug of war between the IMF and Berlin over the Greek debt issue is threatening Greece’s successful bailout program exit in August. Germany insists on granting Greece gradual debt relief under the condition that it will be approved every year by the Bundestag. For its part, the IMF disagrees with Berlin’s insistence on reviewing the measures every year and is threatening to leave the Greek program. If the IMF were to leave the program because it thinks that debt relief measures are inadequate to secure the sustainability of Greece’s debt, the country’s access to international market funding will be cast in doubt. This means that, inevitably, the government will have to resort to precautionary credit to shield itself from complications.

The chasm between Berlin and the IMF was clear during Monday’s session of the so-called Washington Group – representatives of Greece’s creditors as well as the governments of Germany, France, Spain and Italy, the biggest eurozone economies. Poul Thomsen, the head of the IMF’s European Department, who attended Monday’s meeting, countered that Berlin’s conditions were not acceptable. Thomsen said Tuesday that the Fund wants to activate the program for Greece but warned that time is running out and asked for final decisions on the matter by the next Eurogroup on May 24.

Read more …

Speed up deportations and appeals, restrict freedom of movement. Lovely

Greece Changes Asylum Rules To Fight Camp Overcrowding (AP)

Greece’s parliament approved legislation Tuesday that is designed to speed up the asylum process for migrants, ease the overcrowding at Greek island refugee camps and to deport more people back to Turkey. Under the new law, staff will be added at the office that handles asylum requests, the appeals process for rejected applications will be shortened and travel restrictions can be imposed on asylum-seekers who are moved from the Greek islands to the mainland. Currently, restrictions on asylum-seekers are mostly limited to five islands near the coast of Turkey, where strained refugee camps are trying to cope with up to three times more residents than planned.

More than 16,000 people are stuck there. A group of 13 Greek human rights organizations, however, has accused the government of ignoring refugee rights. The number of newly arriving migrants and refugees has risen sharply this year at the islands and Greece’s land border with Turkey, prompting the change in policy. Police cleared out two abandoned factory buildings used by migrants in the city of Patras in western Greece early Tuesday. More than 600 people will be moved from there to refugee camps on the mainland, police said.

Read more …

Have we lost the ability to frame everything in anything else than monetary terms?

UK Government Wants To Put A Price On Nature – But That Will Destroy It (G.)

Never mind that the new environmental watchdog will have no teeth. Never mind that the government plans to remove protection from local wildlife sites. Never mind that its 25-year environment plan is all talk and no action. We don’t need rules any more. We have a pouch of magic powder we can sprinkle on any problem to make it disappear. This powder is the monetary valuation of the natural world. Through the market, we can avoid conflict and hard choices, laws and policies, by replacing political decisions with economic calculations. Almost all official documents on environmental issues are now peppered with references to “natural capital” and to the Natural Capital Committee, the Laputian body the government has created to price the living world and develop a set of “national natural capital accounts”.

The government admits that “at present we cannot robustly value everything we wish to in economic terms; wildlife being a particular challenge”. Hopefully, such gaps can soon be filled, so we’ll know exactly how much a primrose is worth. The government argues that without a price, the living world is accorded no value, so irrational decisions are made. By costing nature, you ensure that it commands the investment and protection that other forms of capital attract. This thinking is based on a series of extraordinary misconceptions. Even the name reveals a confusion: natural capital is a contradiction in terms. Capital is properly understood as the human-made segment of wealth that is deployed in production to create further financial returns.

Concepts such as natural capital, human capital or social capital can be used as metaphors or analogies, though even these are misleading. But the 25-year plan defines natural capital as “the air, water, soil and ecosystems that support all forms of life”. In other words, nature is capital. In reality, natural wealth and human-made capital are neither comparable nor interchangeable. If the soil is washed off the land, we cannot grow crops on a bed of derivatives. A similar fallacy applies to price. Unless something is redeemable for money, a pound or dollar sign placed in front of it is senseless: price represents an expectation of payment, in accordance with market rates. In pricing a river, a landscape or an ecosystem, either you are lining it up for sale, in which case the exercise is sinister, or you are not, in which case it is meaningless.

Still more deluded is the expectation that we can defend the living world through the mindset that’s destroying it. The notions that nature exists to serve us; that its value consists of the instrumental benefits we can extract; that this value can be measured in cash terms; and that what can’t be measured does not matter, have proved lethal to the rest of life on Earth. The way we name things and think about them – in other words the mental frames we use – helps determine the way we treat them.

Read more …

Make a fresh bed every day.

Chimpanzees Have Much Cleaner Beds Than Humans Do (Ind.)

Chimpanzees have much cleaner beds – with fewer bodily bacteria – than humans do, scientists have found. A study comparing swabs taken from chimp nests with those from human beds found that people’s sheets and mattresses harboured far more bacteria from their bodies than the animals’ beds did from theirs. The researchers say their findings suggest that our attempts to create clean environments for ourselves may actually make our surroundings “less ideal”. More than a third – 35 per cent – of the bacteria in human beds comes from our own saliva, skin and faecal particles. By contrast, chimps – humans’ closest evolutionary relatives – appear to sleep with few such bacteria.

“We found almost none of those microbes in the chimpanzee nests, which was a little surprising,” said Megan Thoemmes, lead author of the paper. The researchers collected samples from 41 chimpanzee beds – or nests – in Tanzania and tested them for microbial biodiversity. At 15 primates’ nests, researchers also used vacuums to find out whether there were arthropods, such as insects, spiders, mites and ticks. “We also expected to see a significant number of arthropod parasites, but we didn’t,” said Ms Thoemmes. In addition, the team were shocked to find very few fleas, lice and bed bugs – ectoparasites – in the chimp nests.

“There were only four ectoparasites found, across all the nests we looked at. And that’s four individual specimens, not four different species,” said Ms Thoemmes, a PhD student at North Carolina State University. She believes chimps’ beds are cleaner because they make them freshly in treetops each day.

Read more …

May 052018
 


Edgar Degas Landscape with Path Leading to a Copse of Trees 1890-92

 

40% Unemployment Ain’t Awesome (Stockman)
The Next Recession Is Closer Than You Think (Cook)
US Lays Down A List Of Trade Demands To China (CNBC)
Theresa May Under Pressure To Ditch New Immigration Clampdown (Ind.)
150,000 UK ‘Mortgage Prisoners’ Need Help To Escape Expensive Deals (Ind.)
Argentina Hikes Interest Rates To 40% Amid Inflation Crisis (Ind.)
Judge In Manafort Case Rebukes Mueller For Exceeding Authority (G.)
The Horsefly Cometh (Jim Kunstler)
Chemical Weapons Watchdog Backtracks On ‘100g Of Novichok’ Claim (Ind. )
Greek Unpaid Taxes Build Up Again As Taxpayers Are Unable To Pay (K.)
Monsanto Appeals To India Supreme Court Over GMO Cotton Patents (R.)
Congo To Drill For Oil In Parks Home To Endangered Mountain Gorilla (Ind.)

 

 

“..at some point it gets pretty hard to hide 16.6 million missing workers..”

40% Unemployment Ain’t Awesome (Stockman)

[..] the Awesome Economy narrative gets more threadbare by the month. As Jeff Snider astutely observed in his commentary on today’s report—at some point it gets pretty hard to hide 16.6 million missing workers. What he means is that if the labor force participation rate had not plunged from more than 67.0% to the 62.8% level reported again for April, there would be 16.6 million more persons employed in the US economy today at the ostensible 3.9% unemployment rate.

“Here in the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) sends us another farce. These payroll Friday’s were always a little overwrought, but in the past four years they have become ridiculous spectacles. It’s not the fault of the BLS (apart from questions about their estimates for 2014), mainly it is the same issue as in Japan. What should be obvious is misinterpreted sometimes intentionally. According to the latest figures, the unemployment rate in the US is now down to 3.9%. The reason it crossed the 4% line in April was perfect. Not in the manner of what a 3.9% unemployment should indicate, rather it was all the wrong things that expose the unemployment rate for what it is – meaningless. The primary reason for its drop was another monthly subtraction from the labor force. Down for a second month in a row, in April by 236k, the HH Survey managed to increase by all of 3k. The result: a perfectly representative decline to 3.9%.”

The Keynesian gummers reject Snider’s point entirely, of course, on the vague theory that retirements and the aging demographics of the US explain away much of the change in the participation rate. As a matter of fact, they don’t. And, besides, the whole BLS employment/unemployment reporting framework and model is essentially a pile of garbage that might have been relevant during the days of your grandfather’s economy, if even then. That is, it is built on the flawed notion that labor inputs can be accurately measured by a unit called a “job” and that an economic trend in motion tends to stay in motion.

To the contrary, in today’s world labor is procured by the hour and by the gig—meaning that the “job” units counted in both the establishment and household surveys are a case of apples, oranges and cumquats. The household survey, for example, would count as equally “employed” a person holding: • a 10-hour per week gig with no benefits; • a worker holding three part-time jobs adding to less than 36 hours per week with some benefits; and • a 50-hour per week manufacturing job (with overtime) providing a cadillac style benefit package.

Read more …

How about Kondratieff?

The Next Recession Is Closer Than You Think (Cook)

Business cycles run for periods of years, not days, weeks, or months. So business cycle analysis is different from the common definition of market-timing because it is concerned with a much longer time horizon. It is difficult for anyone other than politicians to deny the existence of a business cycle, which includes both an expansion and a recession phase because they are a fact of economic life. A recent Goldman Sachs research piece not only acknowledges the existence of cycles but divides them into four phases and produces recommended asset allocations for each phase, as shown below.

Goldman’s investment recommendation for 2018 is based on the belief that 2018 lies within Phase 3, in which the economy is operating above capacity and growing. More broadly, Goldman’s chart and table show that identifying the Phases is a crucial determinant of investment success. For example, if 2018 truly lies within Phase 4, cash and bonds would outperform commodities and equities. \The Fed appears to agree with Goldman’s analysis of Phase 3, based on its simultaneous campaigns to lift the Fed Funds rate and to reduce the size of its bond holdings that were acquired during its QE experiment. In another admission that business cycles exist, Bank of America/Merrill Lynch (BAML) produces a monthly Fund Manager Survey, in which it asks the largest institutional investment managers a simple question; where are we in the business cycle?

[..] The BAML survey extends further back than 2008, so we can get a better idea of investors’ beliefs leading to the recession of 2008-09, as shown below. During these years, investors were given two other choices to describe the economy; early-cycle or recession. A majority of investors believed the economy was late-cycle beginning in 2005, with a peak in that belief occurring in late 2007 (thin black line), which coincided with a continuous decline in the percentage believing the economy was mid-cycle. During the period 2005-2007, almost no investors believed that the economy was in either in its early-cycle or recession.

Read more …

China is negotiating.

US Lays Down A List Of Trade Demands To China (CNBC)

The U.S. stands ready to impose further trade tariffs on Chinese products if Beijing walks away from agreed-upon commitments, according to a reporter at the Wall Street Journal. Trade representatives from the U.S. and China entered a second day of trade discussions on Friday, as the world’s two largest economies sought to find a way to stave off global concerns of a full-blown trade war. The discussions, led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, are expected to cover a wide range of U.S. complaints about alleged unfair trade practices in Beijing. A major breakthrough deal to fundamentally change China’s economic stance was widely viewed as highly unlikely.

In a tweet posted Friday, Lingling Wei, a China economics correspondent at the Wall Street Journal, said the U.S asked China to reduce its trade surplus by at least $200 billion by year-end 2020, citing a document issued to the Chinese before the talks. President Donald Trump has often called on China to reduce its bilateral trade deficit by $100 billion a year. The U.S. trade envoy also wanted China not to target U.S. farmers and agricultural products and sought assurances from the Asian giant that it would not retaliate over restrictions on investments from Beijing, Wei said.

Read more …

The entire British press seems set on ignoring Labour’s win. Which, true enough, isn’t big enough.

Theresa May Under Pressure To Ditch New Immigration Clampdown (Ind.)

Theresa May is under mounting pressure to ditch a fresh immigration clampdown dubbed “the next Windrush”, ahead of a crucial Commons vote next week. Thirty-four organisations have joined forces to urge the prime minister not to repeat the blunders that sparked the scandal by preventing other immigrants from proving their right to be in the UK. Under planned new data laws, people will be denied access to the personal information the government holds about them if releasing it would “undermine immigration control”. Leading lawyers have warned that withholding potentially vital proof would lead to people being wrongly deported, detained or denied health treatment – in a mirror image of the treatment of the Windrush generation.

On Wednesday, Labour and the Liberal Democrats will join forces to try to throw out the exemption, arguing it is the “first test” of Ms May’s promise to learn the lessons of the Windrush debacle. Now, the joint letter – seen by The Independent – brings together human rights campaigners, trade unions, migrant support groups and law firms to warn it will “foster fear within minority communities”. Unless halted, the plan will make it “near-impossible” to prevent the “disposing of information that could help people prove their right to reside in the UK – as it did with the Windrush landing cards”, they say. People would also avoid using essential public services “for fear that their medical or school records will be secretly passed to the Home Office”.

Read more …

The lenders don’t own the loans anymore, they’ve been packaged and sold.

150,000 UK ‘Mortgage Prisoners’ Need Help To Escape Expensive Deals (Ind.)

Tens of thousands of people are “mortgage prisoners”, trapped on expensive deals and not allowed to switch, the financial regulator has said. The Financial Conduct Authority urged for more innovation to help around 150,000 people who signed up for deals before interest rates plummeted after the financial crisis. They have since been switched to more expensive “reversion rates” once their previous deal expired and are unable to switch because they do not meet stricter affordability rules which have been brought in. Christopher Woolard, director of strategy and competition at the FCA, said: “For many, the market is working well, with high levels of consumer engagement. “However, we believe that things could work better with more innovative tools to help consumers.

“There are also a number of long-standing borrowers that have kept up-to-date with their mortgage repayments but are unable to get a new mortgage deal; we want to explore ways that we, and the industry, can help them.” The FCA said it will consider seeking an industry-wide agreement to approve applications from those who are affected and are up-to-date with payments. However, this will only help 30,000 people who are with authorised mortgage lenders. The remaining 120,000 are with firms who are not authorised to lend, often because the lender has sold on a batch of mortgages. These firms are outside the FCA’s remit, which is set by parliament, meaning new legislation would be required to enable the regulator take action.

Read more …

“..large twin budget and current account deficits, a heavy dollar debt burden, entrenched high inflation and an overvalued currency..”

Argentina Hikes Interest Rates To 40% Amid Inflation Crisis (Ind.)

Argentina has jacked up its interest rates to 40 per cent in a drastic attempt to keep a lid on domestic inflation and stabilise its currency. The Latin American country’s central bank announced the hike on Friday, the third in seven days, saying it would keep using the tools at its disposal to get inflation back down to it 15 per cent target. Inflation in the country is currently running at 25.4 per cent, despite the investor-friendly economic reforms of President Mauricio Macri. Argentina is one of several emerging market economies that have suffered from currency pressure in recent weeks as the US dollar has strengthened and foreign capital has been withdrawn.

“Investors are moving out of [emerging markets], frontier [economies], and other risky assets and so countries like Argentina remain at heightened risk,” said Win Thin of Brown Brothers Harriman. The value of the Argentinian peso has declined from 18.6 against the greenback in January to 23 this week. President Macri succeeded the Peronist Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in 2015 and has been seeking to reverse her policies of protectionism and high government spending. “This crisis looks set to continue unless the government steps in to reassure investors that it will take more aggressive steps to fix Argentina’s economic vulnerabilities,” said Edward Glossop of Capital Economics.

“Risks to the peso have been brewing for a while – large twin budget and current account deficits, a heavy dollar debt burden, entrenched high inflation and an overvalued currency. The real surprise is how quickly and suddenly things seem to be escalating.”

Read more …

“It’s unlikely you’re going to persuade me the special prosecutor has power to do anything he or she wants. ..”

Judge In Manafort Case Rebukes Mueller For Exceeding Authority (G.)

A federal judge has rebuked the special counsel investigating alleged collusion between Trump aides and Russia, for overstepping his bounds in a criminal case against the president’s former campaign manager. Robert Mueller last year brought tax and bank fraud charges against Paul Manafort, the first indictment in the Russia investigation. Manafort maintains his innocence. On Friday TS Ellis, a judge in the eastern district of Virginia, suggested that Mueller’s real motivation for pursuing Manafort was to compel him to “sing” against Trump. “You don’t really care about Mr Manafort’s bank fraud,” the judge, reportedly losing his temper, challenged lawyers from the office of special counsel.

“You really care about getting information Mr Manafort can give you that would reflect on Mr Trump and lead to his prosecution or impeachment.” The comments, at a tense court hearing in Alexandria, were a boost for Manafort’s lawyers who contend that the charges against him are outside Mueller’s mandate to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election. Ellis added: “I don’t see what relationship this indictment has with anything the special counsel is authorised to investigate. “We don’t want anyone in this country with unfettered power. It’s unlikely you’re going to persuade me the special prosecutor has power to do anything he or she wants. The American people feel pretty strongly that no one has unfettered power.”

[..] Ellis withheld ruling on dismissal of the indictment. He asked the special counsel’s office to share privately with him a copy of deputy attorney general Rod Rosentein’s August 2017 memo elaborating on the scope of Mueller’s Russia investigation. The current version has been heavily redacted, he said. Leaving the White House on his way to Texas on Friday, Trump claimed he would welcome an interview with Mueller. “So I would love to speak,” he told reporters. “I would love to go. Nothing I want to do more, because we did nothing wrong. We ran a great campaign. We won easily.” But he added: “I have to find that we’re going to be treated fairly, because everybody sees it now, and it is a pure witch-hunt. Right now, it’s a pure witch-hunt.”

Read more …

The FBI is far from squeaky clean.

The Horsefly Cometh (Jim Kunstler)

You can see where this Mueller thing is going: to the moment when the Golden Golem of Greatness finally swats down the political horsefly that has orbited his glittering brainpan for a whole year, and says, “There! It’s done.”

It suggests that Civil War Two will end up looking a whole lot more like the French Revolution than Civil War One. The latter unfurled as a solemn tragedy; the former as a Coen Brothers style opéra bouffe bloodbath. Having executed the presidential swat to said orbiting horsefly, Trump will try to turn his attention to the affairs of the nation, only to find that it is insolvent and teetering on the most destructive workout of bad debt the world has ever seen. And then his enemies will really go to work. In the process, they’ll probably wreck the institutional infrastructure needed to run a republic in constitutional democracy mode.

They got a good start in politicizing the upper ranks of the FBI, a fatal miscalculation based on the certainty of a Hillary win, which would have enabled the various schemers in the J. Edgar Hoover building to just fade back into the procedural woodwork of the agency and get on with life. Instead, their shenanigans were exposed and so far one key player, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, was hung out to dry by a committee of his fellow agency execs for lying about his official conduct. Long about now, you kind of wonder: is that where it ends for him? Seems like everybody else (and his uncle) is getting indicted for lying to the FBI. How about Mr. McCabe, since that is exactly why his colleagues at the FBI fired him?

Perhaps further resolution of this murky situation awaits Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s forthcoming report, which the media seems to have forgotten about lately. An awful lot of the mischief at the FBI and its parent agency, the Department of Justice, is already on the public record, for instance the conflicting statements of Andrew McCabe and his former boss James Comey concerning who illegally leaked what to the press. On the face of it, it looks pretty bad when at least one of these Big Fish at the top of a supposedly incorruptible agency is lying. There are at least a dozen other Big Fish in there who still have some serious ‘splainin’ to do, and why not in the grand jury setting?

Read more …

There goes the OPCWs credibility.

Chemical Weapons Watchdog Backtracks On ‘100g Of Novichok’ Claim (Ind. )

The international chemical weapons watchdog has backtracked on a suggestion that as much as 100 grams of nerve agent may have been used in the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. Ahmet Uzumcu, director general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), had said the relatively large quantities of novichok used suggested it had been created as a weapon rather than for research purposes. But a new OPCW statement said the organisation was not able to “estimate or determine the amount of the nerve agent that was used” in the incident. Mr Uzumcu had said samples collected suggested the nerve agent used to poison the Skripals was of “high purity”.

He said: “For research activities or protection you would need, for instance, five to 10 grams or so, but even in Salisbury it looks like they may have used more than that. “Without knowing the exact quantity, I am told it may be 50, 100 grams or so, which goes beyond research activities for protection. “It’s not affected by weather conditions. That explains, actually, that they were able to identify it after a considerable time lapse.” It came as Czech President Milos Zeman said his country had produced small quantities of novichok. Britain has argued the use of Novichok – which was developed by the former Soviet Union in the 1980s – meant there was no “plausible alternative” explanation other than the Russian state was behind the attack.

However Mr Zeman’s comments were seized on by President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who said they were a “clear illustration of the groundless stance the British authorities have taken”.

Read more …

And they want you to believe the economy is growing.

Greek Unpaid Taxes Build Up Again As Taxpayers Are Unable To Pay (K.)

Concerns are growing in the Finance Ministry as expired debts to the tax authorities grew at an unexpectedly high rate in March – a month with no major obligations. Unpaid taxes came to 776 million euros in March, taking total new arrears to the state in the first quarter of the year to 3.55 billion euros. According to figures released on Friday by the tax administration, the sum of old and new debts to the state amounted to 101.6 billion euros at end-March. Out of the 3.55 billion created in Q1, 3.3 billion euros was in the form of unpaid taxes. Ministry officials argue that the increase in tax debts is due to the fact that many taxpayers missed the deadlines for them to pay installments as part of debt settlement programs concerning the revelation of previously undeclared incomes.

Other reasons cited are that taxpayers have failed to pay fines, as well as many individuals and enterprises having exhausted all means for paying taxes. If this situation continues in the following months, the hole in budget revenues will grow considerably, given that the submission process for income tax statements has just begun and the first tranche is payable by end-July. The state’s response to this phenomenon is confiscations, which in March alone numbered 21,275. This takes the sum of taxpayers who have suffered confiscations to 1,109,971, while the total number of Greeks owing to the state has risen to 3,907,847.

Read more …

“..agricultural products, including seeds, cannot be patented in India..”

Monsanto Appeals To India Supreme Court Over GMO Cotton Patents (R.)

Monsanto has appealed to the Supreme Court against a ruling by the Delhi High Court which decreed last month that the world’s biggest seed maker cannot claim patents on its genetically modified or GM cotton seeds, a company spokesman said on Friday. The Delhi High Court on April concurred with Indian seed company Nuziveedu Seeds Ltd (NSL), which argued that the Patent Act does not allow Monsanto any patent cover for its genetically modified cotton seeds. Monsanto has appealed to the Supreme Court, said a Monsanto India spokesman. “In the Supreme Court, we’ll maintain our stand that agricultural products, including seeds, cannot be patented in India,” said Narne Murali Krishna, a company secretary for NSL.

“The judgement of the Delhi High Court has already vindicated our stand.” New Delhi approved Monsanto’s GM cotton seed trait, the only lab-altered crop allowed in India, in 2003 and an upgraded variety in 2006, helping transform the country into the world’s top producer and second-largest exporter of the fibre. Monsanto’s GM cotton seed technology went on to dominate 90 percent of India’s cotton acreage. But for the past few years Monsanto has been at loggerheads with NSL, drawing in the Indian and US governments, Reuters revealed last year.

Read more …

Gorilla’s, bonobos, dwarf chimpanzees, Congo peacocks and forest elephants…

Congo To Drill For Oil In Parks Home To Endangered Mountain Gorilla (Ind.)

The Democratic Republic of Congo is planning to reclassify two protected national parks to allow oil exploration. Documents seen by The Independent show the government wants to redraw the boundaries of the Salonga and Virunga national parks, which are home to critically endangered species such as mountain gorillas, to remove protected status from certain areas. Both parks are UNESCO World Heritage sites, a status which in theory should protect them from oil exploration and other extractive activities. In a letter, Congo’s oil minister Aime Ngoi Muken invited the environment minister and the minister for scientific research to a special commission meeting to discuss the plans on 27 April.

Minutes and notes of the meeting give more details about the areas in which the Congolese government wants to allow exploration. In another series of letters seen by NGO Global Witness, Congo’s oil minister Ngoi Muken argued for the need to open up the protected sites for oil exploration and set out the legal procedures to do so. Global Witness said the plans would be a violation of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention to which the Democratic Republic of Congo is a signatory. The Virunga park is one of the most biologically diverse areas on the planet and is home to about a quarter of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas. According to UNESCO, the Salonga park is Africa’s largest tropical rainforest, home to many endangered species such as bonobos, dwarf chimpanzees, Congo peacocks and forest elephants.

Read more …

Jun 122016
 
 June 12, 2016  Posted by at 10:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Jack Delano Worker inspecting locomotive, Proviso Yard 1942

European Central Bank Preparing for Brexit (IS)
We’re Rich! We’re Rich! Are Inflated Asset Prices Like Real Wealth? (SA)
The Pension Bubble: How The Defaults Will Occur (PD)
Bulging Pension Funds Lure US Asset Managers to Australia (WSJ)
‘Condition Red Alert’ – Albert Edwards (BI)
ECB Corporate Bond-Buying Program Makes Up Almost 1 In 5 Trades (CNBC)
Real Unemployment Rate More Than Double The Official Number: CLSA (ZH)
Where Do Matters Stand? (Paul Craig Roberts)

“..Brexit might potentially be a worse hit to mainland Europe than to the UK itself..”

European Central Bank Preparing for Brexit (IS)

The European Central Bank said they are gearing up for the UK leaving the EU by activating swap lines to financial institutions should the Brexit trigger capital outflows in the short-term. Meanwhile, major European Banks are already facing declines in stock valuation, with dynamics in yield curves suggesting the market is weighing a greater possibility of the ‘Out’ vote in the UK. As volatility increases ahead of the June 23 referendum, additional euro-denominated liquidity might come in handy for the European banking system, particularly so given that the ultra-accommodative monetary conditions are failing to boost either growth or inflation in the near-to-mid-term.

The ECB announced they are ready to pour extra euro liquidity to financial institutions through the existing mechanisms of swap lines should the UK decide to leave the EU. In such a scenario, additional euros would help calm the markets and boost the already-battered banking sector capitalization, staving off the risks of massive financial turmoil amidst the uncertainty of the potential effects of Britain’s separation from the bloc. “Life won’t change much after the referendum — these agreements and contracts will still be in force,” Ilmars Rimsevics of the ECB Governing Council, and also the head of Latvia’s central bank said. “If they’ll be needed and there is some sort of shock, then of course these lines will work.”

Meanwhile, the European banks are tumbling and crumbling, as the prospect of Brexit becomes increasingly likely. During the past two weeks, the European financial institutions suffered the worst blow to their capitalization in two years, hinting at possible massive capital outflows in case of Brexit. Deutsche Bank dropped to its record lowest, according to European stock market data. Considering these developments, Brexit might potentially be a worse hit to mainland Europe than to the UK itself. Either way, the upside of this is that the overheated European stock markets would cool to be more in line with the sluggish overall growth in the region.

Read more …

“..the U.S. economy is by far the best it has ever been and total household wealth is clearly vastly superior to prior periods.”

We’re Rich! We’re Rich! Are Inflated Asset Prices Like Real Wealth? (SA)

The Federal Reserve recently released the latest “Financial Accounts of the United States” and I am pleased to inform readers that the U.S. economy is by far the best it has ever been and total household wealth is clearly vastly superior to prior periods. In a nutshell, we’ve done it. We beat back the last recession and generated enormous amounts of new wealth by having asset prices for existing wealth move higher. Who says you need growth in GDP or that real wealth has to be measured in having the goods and services that improve human lives? The financial accounts clearly show that the total household wealth in the United States has grown dramatically and vastly outpaced inflation so long as inflation is measured in other terms.

[..] Say you live in a city where the hospital has only one ambulance. If you have a heart attack, you may be out of luck. If the hospital can acquire a second ambulance, the community has gained a form of real wealth. That ambulance can provide a service that can save lives. In such a situation, you might feel that your odds of surviving a heart attack had improved. On the other hand, if the price of ambulances doubled it would do nothing to improve your odds of surviving. Unfortunately, either of these situations would double asset value recorded for ambulances. Since inflation rates are low over the last several years there is a general theory that the impact of inflation is not material to these measurements.

Read more …

Slowly?!

The Pension Bubble: How The Defaults Will Occur (PD)

Experts worry about stock, bond and real estate market excesses. But a bubble is forming that dwarfs them all: in pension plans. Millions of Americans and Canadians who are counting on pension benefits to fund their retirements risk being severely disappointed. The hard money community has, of course, been aware of this for some time. However in recent years, even the elites have been taking notice. One such group, the International Forum of the Americas, will be holding its fourth annual pension conference in Montreal next Monday. There politicians, financiers and monetary policy officials will discuss the declining rates of return in public and private sector pension plans. The picture they will paint is increasingly grim.

Pension funds, which have been issuing over-optimistic revenue forecasts for years, aren’t going to earn nearly enough money to pay the benefits recipients expect. Much of this relates to secular stagnation in the economy. Bonds, which form a major part of most plans’ holdings, earn next to nothing in interest. Stocks, which are trading at record levels, despite falling corporate earnings, look to have more downside risk than upside potential. Worse, if bond returns average 2%, balanced portfolios projecting 7% to 8% annual returns, have to earn 12% to 14% on equities investments to make up the difference. That’s unlikely to happen. At least private sector plans have some money in them – public sector plans are in even in worse shape. Governments have almost nothing put aside to fund future retirees – and they don’t even fully list their debts.

That process of “cooking the books” ramped up in a major way during Bill Clinton’s administration, whom Hillary Clinton, the current Democratic Presidential nominee, has promised to “put in charge of the economy.” The upshot is that most Americans and Canadians have no clue how far in debt their countries are. Researchers such as Laurence Kotlikoff , a professor at Boston University and a write-in candidate for President in 2016, suggest that unfunded pension and other liabilities run into the tens of trillions of dollars in the United States. The Fraser Institute has shown that Canada isn’t much better.

Read more …

Hedge funds will help pension funds default.

Bulging Pension Funds Lure US Asset Managers to Australia (WSJ)

U.S. asset managers are going for the hard sell in Australia in a bid to woo some of the world’s most cashed-up pension funds as clients. The push is being led by hedge funds and other firms offering so-called alternative investments in anything from almond plantations to oil futures. Several large U.S. asset managers recently opened offices in Sydney. Others have forged alliances with local fund managers and some already-established players are adding more sales staff.

Los Angeles-based Oaktree Capital Management, which invests in commercial mortgages and debt of financially troubled companies, opened a local branch here in March. U.S. giant TIAA Global Asset Management, which for years has been buying up Australian farmland, timber plantations and shopping malls, last year cemented its presence with a Sydney office. A major draw for foreign managers is the country’s two trillion Australian dollars (about US$1.5 trillion) in retirement savings, one of the largest and fastest-growing pools of pension money in the world. “Everyone wants to get their hands on that pie,” said Jesse Huang at Boston-based quantitative hedge fund PanAgora Asset Management. “People think there’s a lot of money to be made in Australia.”

Read more …

“It is not a pleasant place. It is cold, dark, and damp..”

‘Condition Red Alert’ – Albert Edwards (BI)

“The key to the Ice Age thesis is to sound CONDITION RED ALERT as each recession approaches, because the equity outcome then always proves much worse than anyone expects due to the additional phase of secular de-rating..” In the aftermath of the latest, weaker than expected, nonfarm payroll data, economists are certainly more worried. The excellent folks at Advisor Perspectives highlight the Fedis Labour Market Conditions Index as suggesting a recession is imminent (the cumulative peak is an average of 9 months ahead of the start of recession and we are now four months beyond a peak. For investors who think copper still has some predictive power, its recent move is disturbing.

This, of course, is just another recession in Edwards’ Ice Age thesis, which posits that during long-term equity downturns, it takes at least four recessions to work through. So far, according to Edwards, we have only had two since the top of the bubble in 2000, so we still have a way to go until the pain is over. “The secular bear market only ends when cyclically adjusted valuation measures reach rock bottom (such as the Shiller PE on the bottom line),” said Edwards. “Each successive recession (red part of real S&P top line) sees huge downturns, usually to new lower lows of both prices and valuations. That is why we reiterated our view early this year that in the coming recession the S&P will bottom at 550, a 75% decline from current levels.”

Edwards maintains that he is bearish for a reason, despite it being a difficult spot. “We remain at the bearish extreme of the market,” he wrote. “It is not a pleasant place. It is cold, dark, and damp. People either don’it speak to you or send you abusive emails. Members of your own family pretend not to know you. Actually, I made that last bit up.”

Read more …

They’re shooting for more.

ECB Corporate Bond-Buying Program Makes Up Almost 1 In 5 Trades (CNBC)

Nearly 19% of all corporate bond activity in the past two days is down to the European Central Bank’s corporate bond-buying program, according to insights from market data provider Trax. The ECB formally kicked off its corporate bond buying program on June 8th, a move heralded by President Mario Draghi in March. As part of its plan, the ECB will buy euro-denominated investment grade bonds issued by companies in the euro area. Data from Trax released Friday showed that in the whole of 2015, corporate bond buying accounted for 12% of all corporate bond activity processed by Trax. This number went up to 14% in just the first half of 2016, the firm reported. The company processes approximately 65% of all fixed income transactions in Europe through its post-trade services.

Read more …

What everyone knows.

Real Unemployment Rate More Than Double The Official Number: CLSA (ZH)

While everyone loves to focus on the headline unemployment rate as a reason to say the economy is doing well, especially those at the Fed trying to justify hiking rates into a recession, or those in the current administration trying to establish a legacy of being a market whisperer, the facts get in the way of that narrative. We continuously remind those who are interested in the truth that the number of Americans who are no longer in the labor force has hit an all time high of 94.7 million. If one were to factor in the low labor force participation rate, the actual unemployment rate would be significantly higher than the 4.7% headline.

According to CLSA economists, who have updated an analysis we first did in the summer of 2010, if the participation rate stayed at the levels before the financial crisis, the unemployment rate would be 9.6%, more than double what it is today.

Read more …

“..the West is incapable of producing leadership capable of preserving life on earth.”

Where Do Matters Stand? (Paul Craig Roberts)

On the eve of World War II the United States was still mired in the Great Depression and found itself facing war on two fronts with Japan and Germany. However bleak the outlook, it was nothing compared to the outlook today. Has anyone in Washington, the presstitute Western media, the EU, or NATO ever considered the consequences of constant military and propaganda provocations against Russia? Is there anyone in any responsible position anywhere in the Western world who has enough sense to ask: “What if the Russians believe us? What if we convince Russia that we are going to attack her?” The same can be asked about China.

The recklessness of the White House Fool and the media whores has gone far beyond mere danger. What do the Russians think when they see that the Democratic Party intends to elect Hillary Clinton president of the US? Hillary is a person so crazed that she declared the president of Russia to be “the new Hitler” and organized through her underling, neocon monster Victoria Nuland, the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Ukraine. Nuland installed Washington’s puppet government in a former Russian province that until about 20 years ago was part of Russia for centuries. I would bet that this tells even the naive pro-western part of the Russian government and population that the United States intends war with Russia.

[..] The Russians know that the propaganda about “Russian aggression” is a lie. What is the purpose of the lie other than to prepare the Western peoples for war with Russia? There is no other explanation. Even morons such as Obama, Merkel, Hollande, and Cameron should be capable of understanding that it is extremely dangerous to convince a major military power that you are going to attack. To simultaneously also convince China doubles the danger. Clearly, the West is incapable of producing leadership capable of preserving life on earth.

Read more …

Jun 062016
 
 June 6, 2016  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  12 Responses »

Goldman Finds That China’s Debt Is Far Greater Than Anyone Thought (ZH)
World’s Most Battered Market Is the Worst Place to Find Bargains (BBG)
China’s Hidden Unemployment Rate (BBG)
China’s Factory to the World Is in a Race to Survive (BBG)
BOJ Board Member Warns Of “2003 Shock” Historic Bond Market Collapse (ZH)
As Iran’s Oil Exports Surge, International Tankers Help Ship Its Fuel (R.)
Saudi Arabia Races Through Financial Toolkit to Raise Funds (BBG)
If Wind/Solar Is So Cheap, Why Require Government Subsidy? (SL)
Pound Tumbles, Volatility Jumps After Polls Show Brexit Momentum (BBG)
Constitutional Crisis: Pro-Remain MPs Consider Pre-Empting Brexit Vote (BBC)
Brexit May Seem Like The West’s Biggest Problem. But Look At The US Economy (G.)
‘Brexit Voters Succumbing To Impulse Irritation And Anger’ (AEP)
Erdogan: Childless Women Deficient, Incomplete: Have At Least 3 (AFP)
Turkey Shelves Refugee ‘Readmission’ Deal With EU (DS)

Well, I’ve pointed a zillion times to the size and power of China’s shadow banks. And here you go…

Goldman Finds That China’s Debt Is Far Greater Than Anyone Thought (ZH)

In an analysis conducted by Goldman’s MK Tang, the strategist notes that a frequent inquiry from investors in recent months is how much credit has actually been extended to Chinese households and corporates. He explains that this arises from debates about the accuracy of the commonly used credit data (i.e., total social financing (TSF)) in light of an apparent rise in financial institutions’ (FI) shadow lending activity (as well as due to the ongoing municipal bond swap program). Tang adds that while it is clear that banks’ investment assets and claims on other FIs have surged, it is unclear how much of that reflects opaque loans, and also how much such loans and off-balance sheet credit are not included in TSF. By the very nature of shadow lending, it is almost impossible to reach a conclusion on these issues based on FIs’ asset information.

Goldman circumvents these data complications by instead focusing on the “money” concept, a mirror image to credit on FIs’ funding side. The idea is that money is created largely only when credit is extended—hence an effective gauge of “money” can give a good sense of the size of credit. We construct our own money flow measure, specifically following and quantifying the money flow from households/corporates. Goldman finds something stunning: true credit creation in China was vastly greater than even the comprehensive Total Social Financing series. To wit: “a substantial amount of money was created last year, evidencing a very large supply of credit, to the tune of RMB 25tn (36% of 2015 GDP). This is about RMB 6tn (or 9pp of GDP) higher than implied by TSF data (even after adjusting for municipal bond swaps). Divergence from TSF has been particularly notable since Q2 last year after a major dovish shift in policy stance.”

Read more …

China stocks are already down 40% in 12 months, but look down below.

World’s Most Battered Market Is the Worst Place to Find Bargains (BBG)

It’s going to take more than the world’s deepest stock-market selloff to turn China into a destination for international bargain hunters. Even after a 40% tumble in the Shanghai Composite Index over the past 12 months, valuations for China’s domestic A shares are three times as expensive as every other major market worldwide. The median price-to-earnings ratio on the nation’s exchanges is 59, higher than that of U.S. technology shares at the height of the dot-com boom in 2000. One year after China’s equity bubble peaked, valuations have yet to fall back to earth as government intervention keeps stock prices elevated at a time of shrinking corporate profits.

For money managers at Silvercrest Asset Management and Blackfriars Asset Management who predicted last year’s selloff, China’s weak economic growth and fragile investor sentiment mean it’s too early to jump back into the $6 trillion market. “We do not own any A shares,” said Tony Hann, the London-based head of equities at Blackfriars, which oversees about $270 million. The firm’s Oriental Focus Fund has outperformed 83% of peers this year. “The bull case seems to be that I can buy at this P/E because someone else will buy it from me at a higher P/E. The biggest risk is that investor psychology on the mainland changes.”

There’s plenty for investors to be worried about. After expanding at the weakest pace since 1990 last year, China’s economy shows few signs of recovery. Earnings at Shanghai Composite companies have declined by 13% since last June, while corporate defaults are spreading and the yuan is trading near a five-year low.

Read more …

Debt is hidden, losses are hidden, unemployment is hidden.

China’s Hidden Unemployment Rate (BBG)

China’s authorities may face a bigger worry than slowing economic growth. The jobless rate may be three times the official estimate, according to a new report by Fathom Consulting, whose China’s Underemployment Indicator has tripled to 12.9% since 2012 even while the official jobless rate has hovered near 4% for five years. The weakening labor market may explain China’s decision to uncork the credit spigots and revive old growth drivers in an effort to stabilize the world’s no. 2 economy. Leaders have stressed that keeping employment stable is a top priority. Fathom’s data shows that while mass layoffs haven’t materialized, the number of people not working at full capacity or hours has increased. “The degree of slack has surged in recent years,” analysts at the London-based firm wrote.

“China has a substantial hidden unemployment problem, in our view, and that explains why the authorities have come under so much pressure to re-start the old growth engines.” Leaders of the world’s most populous nation have promised to slash excess capacity in coal mines and steel mills while at the same time ensuring that the economy grows by at least 6.5% this year. Across the nation, state-backed ‘zombie’ factories are being kept alive by local governments to keep a lid on any social unrest. To keep the plants ticking over, employees in some cases have been asked to work half the time for half the pay. The official registered unemployment gauge is notorious for not changing during economic cycles. It’s compiled from the number of people who register at local governments for unemployment benefits, which excludes most of the nation’s more than 270 million migrant workers.

Read more …

China as a robotics guinea pig. What could go wrong?

China’s Factory to the World Is in a Race to Survive (BBG)

China’s shift to consumption and services lies at the heart of Xi’s quest for new growth drivers to escape the middle-income trap, when productivity and profit margins fail to keep up with wage growth. That’s spurred provincial leaders to encourage cities to attract new businesses and upgrade factories, headlined by the aphorisms that China’s administrators are fond of. “Empty the cages to welcome better birds,” demanded former Guangdong Communist Party Chief Wang Yang, meaning let the old industries leave and replace them with new, higher-value ones.

“Replace humans with robots,” added his successor, Hu Chunhua, 53, one of the youngest members of the Politburo, in a 950 billion yuan ($144 billion) plan to upgrade 2,000 companies in three years, the official Guangzhou Daily reported in March 2015, adding that the move is not expected to cause heavy layoffs. Dongguan replaced 43,684 workers with robots in 2015, cutting costs at those factories by nearly 10%, according to the local government. Lu Miao, a vice general manager of Lyric Robot in Guangdong’s Huizhou city, said the government pays as much as 50,000 yuan to Lyric’s customers for each robot they use to replace workers. “The government at all levels in Guangdong has been encouraging companies to replace human workers as rapidly as possible,” said Lu. “I can see our business increasing more than 50% this year.”

The ultimate result is so-called “dark factories” that don’t need lighting because only robots work on the production line. TCL has such a plant making LCD displays, Li said in an interview at the company’s headquarters in Huizhou, about an hour’s drive from Dongguan. “For society at large, some workers will be laid off,” said Huizhou Mayor Mai Jiaomeng. “But it’s good for companies to improve their competitiveness.” Local officials say the layoffs are under control, but are reluctant to provide details on how many plants have shut or moved away. A municipal report from Shenzhen in January said that the city has “washed out” or “transformed” more than 17,000 low-end factories over the past five years.

Read more …

Looks inevitable, just a question of where on the globe it will begin.

BOJ Board Member Warns Of “2003 Shock” Historic Bond Market Collapse (ZH)

In a somewhat shocking break from the age-old tradition of lying and obfuscation, Bank of Japan policy board member Takehiro Sato raised significant concerns about global financial stability in a speech last week. In addition to raising concerns about Japanese economic fragility, Sato warned that due to the impact of negative interest rates, he “detected a vulnerability similar to that seen before the so-called VaR (Value at Risk) shock in 2003.”

Financial institutions are facing the risk of a negative spread for marginal assets due to the extreme flattening of the yield curve and the drop in the yield on government bonds in short- to long-term zones into negative territory. When there is a negative spread, shrinking the balance sheet, rather than expanding it, would be a reasonable business decision. In the future, this may prompt an increasing number of financial institutions to take such actions as restraining loans to borrowers with potentially high credit costs and raising interest rates on loans to firms with poor access to finance.

…a weakening of the financial intermediary functioning could affect the financial system’s resilience against shocks in times of stress. In addition, an excessive drop in bond yields in the super-long-term zone could also make the financial system vulnerable by increasing the risk of a buildup of financial imbalances in the system.

There is also the risk that financial institutions that have problems in terms of profitability or fiscal soundness will make loans and investment without adequate risk valuation. From financial institutions’ recent move to purchase super-long-term bonds in pursuit of tiny positive yield, I detect a vulnerability similar to that seen before the so-called VaR (Value at Risk) shock in 2003.

Simply put, as Bloomberg notes, Sato is concerned the government bond market is heading for an historic collapse after 10-year yields plunged below zero, forcing banks to pile into super-long-term bonds in pursuit of tiny positive yields. This is creating huge concentrated positions with increasing duration risk (as we detailed previously), causing a vulnerability “similar to that seen before the so-called VaR (Value at Risk) shock in 2003,” when an initial jump in yields triggered a spectacular sell-off by breaching banks’ models for estimating potential losses.

Read more …

Reuniting OPEC.

As Iran’s Oil Exports Surge, International Tankers Help Ship Its Fuel (R.)

More than 25 European and Asian-owned supertankers are shipping Iranian oil, data seen by Reuters shows, allowing Tehran to ramp up exports much faster than analysts had expected following the lifting of sanctions in January. Iran was struggling as recently as April to find partners to ship its oil, but after an agreement on a temporary insurance fix more than a third of Iran’s crude shipments are now being handled by foreign vessels. “Charterers are buying cargo from Iran and the rest of the world is OK with that,” said Odysseus Valatsas, chartering manager at Dynacom Tankers Management. Greek owner Dynacom has fixed three of its supertankers to carry Iranian crude.

Some international shipowners remain reluctant to handle Iranian oil, however, due mainly to some U.S. restrictions on Tehran that remain and prohibit any trade in dollars or the involvement of U.S. firms, including banks and reinsurers. Iran is seeking to make up for lost trade following the lifting of sanctions imposed in 2011 and 2012 over its nuclear program. Port loading data seen by Reuters, as well as live shipping data, shows at least 26 foreign tankers with capacity to carry more than 25 million barrels of light and heavy crude oil, as well as fuel oil, have either loaded crude or fuel oil in the last two weeks or are about load at Iran’s Kharg Island and Bandar Mahshahr terminals.

Read more …

One more major price drop and we have panic.

Saudi Arabia Races Through Financial Toolkit to Raise Funds (BBG)

Saudi Arabia’s plans to bolster its finances are taking on a new sense of urgency as lower oil prices put the economy under more strain than at any other time in the past decade. In recent weeks, the kingdom raised a $10 billion loan, clamped down on currency speculators and informed banks of plans to raise as much as $15 billion in its first international bond sale, people with knowledge of the matter said. It’s also said to be contemplating IOUs to pay contractor bills and hired HSBC Holdings Plc banker Fahad Al Saif to set up a new debt office. The speed of the measures underscores Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s urgency to shore up the country’s finances as an era of oil-fueled abundance falters.

Though currency reserves remain strong – among the world’s largest – net foreign assets are at a four-year low after declining for 15 months in a row and the kingdom may post a budget deficit of about 13.5% of economic output this year. “The pace of the decline in Saudi Arabia’s foreign assets is faster than in previous oil downturns and the period over which they’ve been falling is longer,” Raza Agha, VTB Capital’s chief economist for the Middle East and Africa, said by e-mail. “This generates a real sense of urgency to get the ball rolling in raising external funding.”

Five years ago, oil surged to more than $100 a barrel, adding billions of dollars to the country’s reserves. The windfall allowed the kingdom to slash its debt and post an average budget surplus of 8.2% between 2000 and 2012, according to International Monetary Fund data. Now, with crude having tumbled about 50%, the country is moving to sell assets and find other ways to raise funds.

Read more …

Just a cute graph.

If Wind/Solar Is So Cheap, Why Require Government Subsidy? (SL)

I don’t have an inherent dislike of solar and wind energy, but I am suspicious of the way they are being pushed. Here’s an example: Renewable energy advocates such as Tony Seba are talking about how solar and battery technology will enable exponential uptake in renewable technology, and that people won’t want to invest in a thermal power plant anymore. But on the other hand: Renewable advocates want government legislation to support their chosen renewable energy targets. e.g. “50% renewable energy would put Australia in line with leading nations” at the Conversation. Or another example might be where energy companies are talking about how the government has to ‘support the transition’ in this AFR article: AGL says government must support power industry exit from coal.

But wait a minute, if wind and solar are truly so amazing and so cheap – why does the government need to get involved? Why wouldn’t these renewable energy companies and advocates find a way to profitably do it and not make any fuss about wanting governmental regulation/subsidies? Borrowing from Mark Perry’s excellent Venn diagram idea over at AEI Carpe Diem blog: (Could it be that renewable advocates are using the government to push renewable energy cost and risk onto taxpayers?)

Read more …

17 days still to go. Brace for increased madness. it’s going to be so much fun.

Pound Tumbles, Volatility Jumps After Polls Show Brexit Momentum (BBG)

The pound slumped to a three-week low after polls showed more Britons favor exiting the European Union, reviving concern a June 23 referendum will throw global markets into turmoil and undermine confidence in the 28-nation trading bloc. Sterling weakened against all 10 developed-market peers after two surveys showed more voters were willing to vote to leave the EU than those wishing to stay. A gauge of the currency’s expected swings against the dollar during the next month surged to a seven-year high. The Bank of England has said uncertainty surrounding the referendum vote is damping U.K. growth, while global institutions including the IMF and OECD are warning of dire fallout if Britain votes to quit the EU.

Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago President Charles Evans said the referendum is undermining confidence in the outlook at a time when the international economy is already losing momentum. “A ‘Leave’ vote would expose a host of uncertainties,” said Sue Trinh at Royal Bank of Canada in Hong Kong. “It would be more negative for the euro and the EU since the issue will drag on for other members.” A YouGov poll for television network ITV found 45% would choose ‘Leave,’ compared with 41% picking ‘Remain.’ A separate survey by global market research company TNS showed 43% for ‘Leave’ and 41% for ‘Remain.’

Read more …

Well, that seems modeled after the EU’s attitude towards democracy alright. They fit right in.

Constitutional Crisis: Pro-Remain MPs Consider Pre-Empting Brexit Vote (BBC)

Pro-Remain MPs are considering using their Commons majority to keep Britain inside the EU single market if there is a vote for Brexit, the BBC has learned. The MPs fear a post-Brexit government might negotiate a limited free trade deal with the EU, which they say would damage the UK’s economy. There is a pro-Remain majority in the House of Commons of 454 MPs to 147. A Vote Leave campaign spokesman said MPs will not be able to “defy the will of the electorate” on key issues. The single market guarantees the free movement of goods, people, services and capital. The BBC has learned pro-Remain MPs would use their voting power in the House of Commons to protect what they see as the economic benefits of a single market, which gives the UK access to 500 million consumers.

Staying inside the single market would mean Britain would have to keep its borders open to EU workers and continue paying into EU coffers. Ministers have told the BBC they expect pro-EU MPs to conduct what one called a “reverse Maastricht” process – a reference to the long parliamentary campaign fought by Tory eurosceptic MPs in the 1990s against legislation deepening EU integration. Like then as now, the Conservative government has a small working majority of just 17. They say it would be legitimate for MPs to push for the UK to stay in the single market because the Leave campaign has refused to spell out what trading relationship it wants the UK to have with the EU in the future. As such, a post-Brexit government could not claim it had a popular mandate for a particular model.

Read more …

Equal partners.

Brexit May Seem Like The West’s Biggest Problem. But Look At The US Economy (G.)

Britain is trapped in its own little Brexit bubble. For the next two and a half weeks, the country will be obsessed with the result of the referendum on 23 June. Nothing that is going on in the rest of the world will get much of a look-in. But beyond these shores, things are happening. The authorities in China are desperately trying to shore up growth. Eurozone finance ministers have all but guaranteed that, sooner or later, the Greek crisis will flare up again. Most pressingly, the US economy looks to be heading for serious trouble. Make no mistake, the jobs report issued in Washington on Friday was a shocker. Wall Street had been expecting the non-farm payroll – the benchmark for the strength of the US labour market – to increase by 164,000. The actual figure was 38,000, the smallest monthly increase since September 2010.

True, the total was slightly distorted because 35,000 striking workers at Verizon were counted as jobless because they were not being paid. But that still would have meant an NFP increase of just 73,000. The weak jobs report comes at a particularly sensitive time because America’s central bank, the Federal Reserve, has been softening the markets up for an increase in interest rates, either this month or next. Any such move is now out of the question. US borrowing costs will not be going up again until the autumn at the earliest. This is all rather chastening for the Fed. When it raised interest rates in December for the first time since the Great Recession, the central bank signalled that there would be four more increases during the course of 2016.

Financial markets subsequently went into freefall during the early weeks of the year, forcing the Fed into a crash rethink. In March, it indicated that the number of 2016 rate increases had been halved from four to two – but the guidance was promptly ignored by traders, who based their decisions on the assumption that there would be no further tightening of policy by the Fed until 2017. With its reputation at stake, the Fed has gone out of its way since March to convince the markets that it was serious about two rate rises in 2016. Really, really it was. Janet Yellen, the Fed’s chair, told Wall Street that it might be “confused” about the way the central bank was going about its business.

Yet if anyone is confused it is Yellen, not the markets, which have rightly calculated that the Fed is all talk and should be judged by what it does and not by what it says. Here’s the position. The US economy grew at an annualised rate of 0.8% in the first quarter of 2016, which was not just weaker than the UK but substantially worse than the eurozone. Friday’s May payrolls were not a one-off, since the totals for March and April were revised downwards by a combined 59,000.

Read more …

Not quite sure what Ambrose intends here, but yeah, Britons’ dislike of Cameron, Major and any and all EU mouthpieces may well decide the issue.

‘Brexit Voters Succumbing To Impulse Irritation And Anger’ (AEP)

British voters are succumbing to impulsive gut feelings and irrational reflexes in the Brexit campaign with little regard for the enormous consequences down the road, the world’s most influential psychologist has warned. Daniel Kahneman, the Israeli Nobel laureate and father of behavioural economics, said the referendum debate is being driven by a destructive psychological process, one that could lead to a grave misjudgment and a downward spiral for British society. “The major impression one gets observing the debate is that the reasons for exit are clearly emotional,” he said. “The arguments look odd: they look short-term and based on irritation and anger. These seem to be powerful enough that they may lead to Brexit,” he said, speaking to The Telegraph at the Amundi world investment forum in Paris.

The counter-critique is that the Remain campaign is equally degrading the debate, playing on visceral reactions and ephemeral issues of the day. In a sense the two sides are egging each other on. That is the sociological fascination of it. Professor Kahneman, who survived the Nazi occupation of France as a Jewish child in the Second World War, said the risk is that the British people will be swept along by emotion and lash out later at scapegoats if EU withdrawal proves to be a disastrous strategic error. “They won’t regret it because regret is rare. They’ll find a way to explain what happened and blame somebody. That is the general pattern when things go wrong and people are afraid,” he said. The refusal to face up to the implications of what is really at stake in the referendum comes as no surprise to a man imbued with deep sense of anthropological pessimism.

His life’s work is anchored in studies showing that people are irrational. They are prone to cognitive biases and “systematic errors in thinking”, made worse by chronic over-confidence in their own judgment – and the less intelligent they are, the more militantly certain they tend to be. People do not always act in their own economic self-interest. Nor do they strive to maximize “utility’ and minimize risk, contrary to the assumptions of efficient market theory and the core premises of the economics profession. “People are myopic. Our brain circuits respond to immediate consequences,” he said.

Read more …

Added for entertainment value. BTW, what century is this?

Erdogan: Childless Women Deficient, Incomplete: Have At Least 3 (AFP)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday urged Turkish women to have at least three children, saying a woman’s life was “incomplete” if she failed to have offspring. Erdogan’s comments were the latest in a series of controversial remarks aimed at encouraging women to help boost Turkey’s population, which had already risen exponentially in the last years. The president emphasised he was a strong supporter of women having careers but emphasised that this should not be an “obstacle” to having children. “Rejecting motherhood means giving up on humanity,” Erdogan said in a speech marking the opening of the new building of Turkey’s Women’s and Democracy Association (KADEM). “I would recommend having at least three children,” added the president.

“The fact that a woman is attatched to her professional life should not prevent her from being a mother,” he added, saying that Turkey had taken “important steps” to support working mothers. Erdogan had on Monday said that family planning and contraception were not for Muslim families, prompting fury among women’s activists. In his speech Sunday he went on to add: “A woman who says ‘because I am working I will not be a mother’ is actually denying her feminity.” “A women who rejects motherhood, who refrains from being around the house, however successful her working life is, is deficient, is incomplete,” he added.

Read more …

And there we go.

Turkey Shelves Refugee ‘Readmission’ Deal With EU (DS)

The agreement between Turkey and the EU that will facilitate visa liberalization for Turkish nationals and allow readmission of Syrian refugees who enter Europe illegally is practically shelved due to ongoing disagreements, according to sources from the Foreign Ministry. The Turkey-EU agreement that will pave the way for visa liberalization was initially signed on Dec. 16, 2013 and was later included in the comprehensive refugee deal by both parties. Although Brussels says the deal will succeed, it also requires Turkey to meet the EU’s 72 benchmarks, which include narrowing its counterterrorism laws.

Turkey’s Aksam daily reported over the weekend that a senior official from the Foreign Ministry said Turkey has used its administrative measures correctly to temporarily suspend the Readmission Agreement, which will return undocumented, illegal refugees who enter Europe via Turkey in exchange for registered migrants. Sources from the Foreign Ministry who spoke to Daily Sabah yesterday said: “In order for the Readmission Agreement to be successfully fulfilled, a Cabinet decision approving the bill published in the Official Gazette must be announced.” Such an approval is not expected anytime soon. Although the European Commission had announced early last week that the Readmission Agreement would come into full force as of June 1, Ankara asserted that “the EU has failed to fulfill its duties resulting from the agreement,” stressing that it suspended the Readmission Agreement as part of administrative measures.

Read more …