Jan 012017
 
 January 1, 2017  Posted by at 11:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Claude Monet The Japanese Bridge 7 1924

Trump Leaves Open Possible Taiwan Meet, Questions Russia Hacking (R.)
Was Claim by DHS and FBI About Russian Hacking Fake News? (Spring)
Is the “Trump Trade” Already Unwinding? (WS)
Senator McCain Says US Stands With Ukraine Against Russia (R.)
Here’s How Much Each EU Nation Puts In And Takes Out Of The EU Budget (BI)
Universal Basic Income Trials Being Considered In Scotland (G.)
China’s Xi Offers Populist Message In New Year’s Eve Address (AP)
Narendra Modi Just Dug Himself a Great Big Hole (Varadarajan)
Turkish Policy Sets Syria On New Path (Sayigh)
Humanity May Self-Destruct, But The Universe Can Cope Perfectly Without Us (G.)

 

 

Trump’s been -partially- briefed: ”I also know things that other people don’t know so we cannot be sure..”. And he’s obviously not convinced, to say the least.

Trump Leaves Open Possible Taiwan Meet, Questions Russia Hacking (R.)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on Saturday left open the possibility of meeting with Taiwan’s president if she visits the United States after he is sworn in on Jan. 20 and also expressed continued skepticism over whether Russia was responsible for computer hacks of Democratic Party officials. In remarks to reporters upon entering a New Year’s Eve celebration at his Mar-a-Lago estate, Trump said, “We’ll see,” when pressed on whether he would meet Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s president if she were to be in the United States at any point after he becomes president. Taiwan’s president will be in transit in Houston on Jan. 7 and again will be in transit in San Francisco on Jan. 13. Beijing bristled when Trump, shortly after his Nov. 8 victory, accepted a congratulatory telephone call from the Taiwan leader and has warned against steps that would upset the “one-China” policy China and the United States have maintained for decades.

Talk of a stop-over in the United States by the Taiwan president has further rattled Washington-Beijing relations. On another foreign policy matter, Trump warned against being quick to pin the blame on Russia for the hacking of U.S. emails. The Washington Post also reported on Friday that Moscow could be behind intrusion into a laptop owned by a Vermont electric utility. U.S. intelligence officials have said that they are confident Russia was behind the hacks, which could have played a role in Trump’s defeat over Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. “I think it’s unfair if we don’t know. It could be somebody else. I also know things that other people don’t know so we cannot be sure,” Trump said. Asked what that information included, the Republican President-elect said, “You will find out on Tuesday or Wednesday.” He did not elaborate.

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Seems to depend on who reports on it.

Was Claim by DHS and FBI About Russian Hacking Fake News? (Spring)

An important research principle is to follow the money. People around the world need to ask themselves who has the money and technical ability to be running hundreds and perhaps thousands of real servers and real IP addresses from fake corporations using fake websites in fake locations in more than 40 nations around the world? What agency has already been proven to be running mass surveillance on billions of people in more than 40 nations all around the world? Whose military cyber budget is more than 10 times larger than the cyber warfare budget of the rest of the world combined? There is certainly an elephant in the room – but it is not a Russian elephant. At a televised press conference in April 2016, former NSA agent Edward Snowden asked the Russian leader Vladimir Putin if the Russian government engaged in mass surveillance of millions of people in a manner similar to the NSA.

Putin replied that Russian law prohibited the Russian government from engaging in mass surveillance. Putin then pointed out that the Russian military budget was less than 10% of the US military budget. So even if they wanted to engage in mass surveillance, they simply did not have the money. People also need to ask themselves why the FBI/DHS chose to place their evidence in a CSV file and XML file rather than a normal document or spreadsheet. If this were real evidence, it would have been placed directly in the PDF report for everyone to read – not hidden away in a file the general public has little ability to read. Finally, for the FBI or the DHS to claim that the XML-CSV file contains evidence or even indicators of Russian hacking is simply a false statement. It is a perfect example of fake news. Any news agency promoting this claim without doing even the most basic of research that would easily confirm it is false should be listed as a fake news agency.

The real question that we should all be asking is why the DHS and FBI would destroy their reputation by posting such a fake report? Several years ago, our CIA claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. We now know that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction – meaning that we went to war and spent over a trillion dollars on a fake report. Is this new fake report a pretext for launching a cyber war against Russia? Is it intended to justify increasing US military spending? It is hard to say what the real purpose of this fake DHS-FBI report is. But the fact that this silly list of IP addresses was the best evidence they could provide should be a strong indication that there really is no evidence of Russian hacking. Instead, it is more likely that Wikileaks is telling the truth in stating that they got the emails from a disgruntled Democratic Party insider.

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There’s so much downside there it’s scary.

Is the “Trump Trade” Already Unwinding? (WS)

The S&P 500, after having ended 2015 down 0.7%, ended 2016 up 9.5%, including a big swoon early in the year. From February 11, when it bottomed out at 1,810, it has surged 23.6%. And bonds went on a wild ride. The 10-year Treasury yield ended 2016 at 2.445% up from 2.273% at end of 2015. It hit 2.57% at peak Trump Trade, up over a full percentage point from the summer. Over the fourth quarter, the yield jumped 84 basis points, the largest quarterly jump since 1994. And prices, which move inverse to yields, clobbered bondholders. But note the decline in yield since December 20:

And stocks partied. Since the election, financials surged, bringing the gain for the year to 29.1%, the best-performing sector in the S&P 500. Goldman Sachs, whose ex-executives are now heavily represented in the Trump administration, shot up 36% since the election and 51% since the beginning of October when Trump’s victory became more than just a possibility. GS was one of the best Trump Trades out there. Alas, it too has started to peter out. GS is now down 2.5% from peak Trump-Trade, and other banks have followed. Insiders at the banks were preparing for it, it seems, because on December 9, just before bank stocks started losing ground, we found…

Mortgage rates have soared from around 3.4% for much of the summer to 4.32%, according to Freddie Mac. This is now reverberating through the housing market in multiple ways, with some people rushing to buy to lock in the rates before they go even higher, and others waiting for rates to come down and not buying, and still others being completely priced out by mortgage rates that are nearly a percentage point higher than they’d been a few months ago, and the first red flags on home sales are now cropping up:

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Oh, go away!

Senator McCain Says US Stands With Ukraine Against Russia (R.)

Republican U.S. Senator John McCain promised on Saturday continued support for Kiev in the face of aggression from Moscow, as he spent New Year’s Eve on the front line in Ukraine’s eastern conflict zone. McCain was one of a bipartisan group of 27 U.S. senators who sent a letter to President-elect Donald Trump in December, urging him to take a tough line against Russia over what they termed its “military land grab” in Ukraine. “I send the message from the American people – we are with you, your fight is our fight and we will win together,” McCain was quoted as saying by Ukrainian President Poroshenko’s press service. “In 2017 we will defeat the invaders and send them back where they came from. To Vladimir Putin – you will never defeat the Ukrainian people and deprive them of their independence and freedom,” McCain said after a visit to a military base in the southeastern town of Shyrokyne.

Trump signaled during his campaign that he might take a softer line in dealings with Moscow, repeatedly praising Russian President Putin’s leadership. Trump’s election caused jitters in Ukraine but officials in Kiev hope that the incoming president’s policies, influenced by Republican hawks and a Republican-voting Ukrainian diaspora, will be friendlier towards Ukraine than his campaign rhetoric might have suggested. Ukraine has relied on Western support and economic aid since street protests in 2014 which toppled a Kremlin-backed president and were followed by a war with pro-Russian separatists and Russia’s annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine.

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The enormous amounts going to France, Spain, Italy, Belgium are something to be very concerned about.

Here’s How Much Each EU Nation Puts In And Takes Out Of The EU Budget (BI)

One of the biggest political stories of 2016 has been Brexit and much of the debate both before and after June’s vote to leave the EU has focused around whether Britain will be financially better or worse off after leaving the EU. The “Vote Leave” campaign famously emblazoned their battle bus with a figure of £350 million, claiming that was what the UK sent to Brussels each week and that sum could be spent on the NHS instead. The figure was subsequently discredited, as it was a gross sum and didn’t take into account the fact that Britain also benefits from EU grants and funding. However, a recent House of Commons briefing paper on the UK’s funding from the EU shows that Britain does, in fact, put more into the EU budget than it takes out.

The UK has averaged around €12 billion in EU funding each year between 2011-15 but over that same period made an average net contribution of €15 billion. Britain is one of nine EU members that are net contributors to the European Union’s budget (meaning they put in more money than they take out.) Here’s the House of Commons chart showing each member states net contributions against their EU funding:EU funding House of Commons Briefing Paper The fact that Britain is a net contributor means that, in theory, the UK could stand to gain money after it leaves the EU. However, this does not account for any potential economic fluctuations as a result of Brexit — if the economy suffers then any gains from not paying into the budget could easily be wiped out by falling tax receipts.

There is also a very real possibility that the UK may have to keep paying into the EU budget if it wants to maintain access to the EU Single Market. The UK will also have to continue paying into the EU budget until it formally leaves the EU and senior European negotiators have signalled they will try and make Britain pay up to €60 billion to leave, to cover previous budget commitments, pension liabilities, and other costs. In other words, while on paper it might look like leaving the EU will give Britain more money for inward investment, Brexit could end up costing the UK just as much as EU membership — or worse, more.

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I’m all for a good basic income trial. But I’m very afraid that none of them will be adequate, and that this will be used to discredit the entire idea. And please don’t use the term universal for small scale experiments, it’s misleading.

Universal Basic Income Trials Being Considered In Scotland (G.)

Scotland looks set to be the first part of the UK to pilot a basic income for every citizen, as councils in Fife and Glasgow investigate trial schemes in 2017. The councillor Matt Kerr has been championing the idea through the ornate halls of Glasgow City Chambers, and is frank about the challenges it poses. “Like a lot of people, I was interested in the idea but never completely convinced,” he said. But working as Labour’s anti-poverty lead on the council, Kerr says that he “kept coming back to the basic income”. Kerr sees the basic income as a way of simplifying the UK’s byzantine welfare system. “But it is also about solidarity: it says that everyone is valued and the government will support you. It changes the relationship between the individual and the state.”

The concept of a universal basic income revolves around the idea of offering every individual, regardless of existing welfare benefits or earned income, a non-conditional flat-rate payment, with any income earned above that taxed progressively. The intention is to provide a basic economic platform on which people can build their lives, whether they choose to earn, learn, care or set up a business. The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has suggested that it is likely to appear in his party’s next manifesto, while there has been a groundswell of interest among anti-poverty groups who see it as a means of changing not only the relationship between people and the state, but between workers and increasingly insecure employment in the gig economy.

Kerr accepts that, while he is hopeful of cross-party support in Glasgow, there are “months of work ahead”, including first arranging a feasibility study in order to present a strong enough evidence base for a pilot. “But if there is ever a case to be made then you need to test it in a place like Glasgow, with the sheers numbers and levels of health inequality. If you can make it work here then it can work anywhere.”

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Now Xi is designated populist too, because he said: “On this new year, I am most concerned about the difficulties of the masses: how they eat, how they live, whether they can have a good New Year, or a good Spring Festival..” And I thought when incumbents say these things, that’s not populist. I may never understand.

China’s Xi Offers Populist Message In New Year’s Eve Address (AP)

Chinese President Xi Jinping said Saturday that his government would continue to focus on poverty alleviation at home and resolutely defending China’s territorial rights on the foreign front. Xi made the televised remarks in his annual New Year’s Eve address, in which he touted China’s scientific accomplishments, highlighting its large new radio telescope and space missions, and the country’s growing role as a leader in global affairs. Standing before a mural of the Great Wall, Xi said his administration successfully hosted a G-20 summit, pushed forward with China’s “One Belt One Road” pan-Eurasian infrastructure project and established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

China has upheld its peaceful development while resolutely defending its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights, Xi said, making a reference to an international tribunal ruling last summer against China’s claims in the contested South China Sea. “If anyone makes this an issue of question, the Chinese people will never agree!” he said, one of the few points in his 10-minute address when his voice rose noticeably. For most of his address, Xi struck a populist tone, saying he was above all concerned about the living conditions of the people and vowed that improving employment, education, housing and health care would be a responsibility that his ruling Communist Party would never shirk from. China lifted 10 million people out of poverty in 2016, Xi said.

“On this new year, I am most concerned about the difficulties of the masses: how they eat, how they live, whether they can have a good New Year, or a good Spring Festival,” Xi said, as the television broadcast cut to footage of his visits this year to impoverished rural areas. Xi also promised to shore up Communist Party discipline and “unwaveringly” maintain his anticorruption campaign against high- and low-ranking officials alike. He said that “supply-side” economic reforms were making progress and that the party would continue to push reform and rule by law during the 19th National Congress, scheduled for late 2017. “As long as the party forever stands with the people, we will be able to walk the long march of our generation,” he said.

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A Lakh is one hundred thousand. Still confusing as f**k.

Narendra Modi Just Dug Himself a Great Big Hole (Varadarajan)

It was a speech of not just shifting goalposts but vanishing playing fields, and yet Narendra Modi couldn’t resist making a rhetorical point about black money that might well prove costly for him by the time 2019 comes around. “I wish to share some information with you, which will either make you laugh, or make you angry,” he said, with a flourish half-way through his speech. This was the point where everyone expected him to reveal how many old Rs 500 and 1000 notes had become ‘worthless paper’ thanks to demonetisation but he had another number in mind: “According to information with the government, there are only 24 lakh people in India who accept that their annual income is more than 10 lakh rupees. Can we digest this? Look at the big bungalows and big cars around you… If we look at any big city, it would have lakhs of people with annual income of more than 10 lakh.”

Until then, the prime minister had sought to sweep the growing public concerns about the effects of his demonetisation decision under a fraying carpet of nationalism. But by drawing attention to a stark statistic in an attempt to provide some justification for the chaos he has unleashed in the lives of hundreds of millions of poor Indians, Modi has unwittingly laid down a new metric by which the success or failure of his supposed drive against black money must be judged: will he manage to add the “lakhs of people” who have an income of more than Rs 10 lakh to the list of those who pay income tax? If he doesn’t, then what was the point of subjecting the whole country to so much disruption and pain? Finance minister Arun Jaitley initially claimed that a certain proportion of the demonetised notes would remain outside the banking system and get extinguished, thus providing a blow to the black economy and a fiscal boost to the government.

When they realised there was unlikely to be significant extinguishing and that most of the high denomination notes in circulation would probably end up getting deposited, Modi and Jaitley claimed the income tax authorities would be able to track down the owners of black money since their funds had entered the banking system. Now that it is apparent the IT department will not find it that easy to undertake such a massive exercise – its inefficiency is the reason the list of those with official incomes of Rs 10 lakh and over is just 24 lakh to begin with and is unlikely to grow – Modi has tried to sell another bizarre idea to the public about why the cashless hardship they are putting up with is in the national interest.

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Putin is tightening his grip on Erdogan. Who held a speech yesterday proclaiming that Turkey is in the first independence war in 93 years, or something like that. But that’s strictly for domestic use.

Turkish Policy Sets Syria On New Path (Sayigh)

Turkish policy has been evolving at a quickening pace. The decision to lean on the opposition to allow thousands of its fighters to abandon the effort to lift the regime siege of eastern Aleppo in order to spearhead a Turkish-backed push against Kurdish-held areas to the north last August ensured the fall of one of the most important opposition strongholds in Syria four months later. Remaining opposition forces in the northwest have significant stockpiles of weapons and ammunition, but are wholly dependent on Turkey for further military resupply and for the flow of trade and international humanitarian assistance. Turkey has not abandoned the opposition completely, but it is clearly working to a new set of policy assumptions and objectives in Syria.

That these include a strategic decision to abandon the effort to force Assad from power is already plain. Talk of setting up a safe zone in northern Syria has never been credible, despite considerable bluster. Moscow insiders claim Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also abandoning his categorical rejection of significant Kurdish autonomy in northern Syria, so long as he can block the same thing in Turkey. With President-Elect Donald Trump about to take office in the US, there is little reason for Turkey to expect to counter-balance Russian policy proposals on Syria. These calculations prompted Turkey to accept the fate of Aleppo – which it had long presented as a “red line” that the Assad regime should not cross – and then to broker a ceasefire with Russia immediately after its fall.

The alacrity with which the main political and military opposition groupings have announced their support for the latest ceasefire is the surest measure of the extent of the shift in Turkey’s policy and of its determination to enforce compliance, whatever the provocations from the government side. The real question, then, is not whether the latest ceasefire will hold, but how far Turkey will go in making the Syrian opposition accept what comes next, should the peace talks jointly sponsored by Russia and Turkey take place within the next month as officially scheduled. Indeed, even if the ceasefire fails or if the talks are unsuccessful – or not held at all – Turkish policy towards Syria is set on a new path.

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Destruction as a religious comfort zone. Oh well, people go for what feels good.

Humanity May Self-Destruct, But The Universe Can Cope Perfectly Without Us (G.)

In a Scandinavian hotel a few years ago, I came across a documentary I didn’t expect to watch for more than a minute or two, but at least it was in English. It was past time to go to bed, but I ended up watching the whole thing. Aftermath: Population Zero imagines that overnight humanity vanishes from the planet. You may have seen it. The immediate effects of human departure are sentimentally saddening: pets die, no longer competent to fend for themselves. Some livestock fares poorly, though other domesticated animals romp happily into the wild. Water cooling fuel rods of nuclear power plants evaporate, and you’d think that would be the end of everything – but it isn’t. Radioactivity subsides. Mankind’s monuments to itself decay, until every last skyscraper has rusted and returned to dirt.

Animals proliferate, flora thrive, forests rise. Bounty, abundance and beauty abound. Antelopes leap from wafting golden grasses. It was all very exhilarating, really. I went to sleep that night with a lightened heart. Ever since, that wafting grasses image has been a comforting touchstone. We speak often of “destroying the planet” when what we mean is destroying its habitability for humans. The humblingly immense else-ness of what is, in which our species is collectively a speck, extant for an eye blink, lets us off the hook. Global warming, Syrian civil war, domestic violence, Donald Trump? This too shall pass.

I’m not a religious person. Chances are that the universe neither treasures nor regrets us. It permits us, with a marvellous neutrality, and later it may permit artificial intelligence, humanity 2.0, or a lot more bugs instead. We can’t comprehend all that phantasmagorical stuff out there, but we also can’t kill it. That gives me hope. Although we’re a remarkably successful biological manifestation – and so is mould – our aptitude for annihilation is largely limited to wiping ourselves out. The gift of self-destruction is a minor, not to mention stupid, power, and apparently humanity’s suicide would be relatively safe, like a controlled explosion. The universe would get on perfectly well without us once we’d gone.

I strongly associate the notion of aftermath with TC Boyle’s short story Chicxulub. While relating the intimate, personal account of learning that his teenage daughter has been hit, perhaps fatally, by a car, the narrator digresses to explain the shockingly high likelihood that our planet will be hit by an asteroid large enough to extinguish our species. For the narrator, his daughter’s death and the end of the world are indistinguishable. The text is shot through with a piercing sorrow, over all our pending losses – of children, of the world we’ve made together as a race. This, too, gives me hope – that I’m not a misanthrope after all. I would miss my brother, my husband; with all our shortcomings, I would also miss the family of man. The capacity for grief, the flipside of love, consoles me as much as the detached long view of aftermath.

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Apr 122015
 
 April 12, 2015  Posted by at 9:14 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Byron Street haberdashery, New York 1900

Top 20% of US Earners Pay 84% of Income Tax (WSJ)
Stocks Surge: Nikkei Tops 20,000, Europe Hits 15-Year High (Reuters)
Eurozone Officials Shocked By Greece’s Stance, Says German Newspaper (Reuters)
Yanis Varoufakis and Joseph Stiglitz (INET)
ECB Sees Risks In Greece’s Planned Home Foreclosure Law (Reuters)
Druckenmiller: This Could End ‘Very Badly’ (CNBC)
GE Plan Opens Escape Path From Fed Too-Big-To-Fail Label (Bloomberg)
New Zealand Rock Star Economy Takes Centre Stage As Currency Climbs (Guardian)
Italy Rescues 978 Migrants Attempting to Cross the Mediterranean (Bloomberg)
China-Led Infrastructure Bank to Welcome U.S. ‘Anytime’ (Bloomberg)
Anonymous Declares Cyber War On ISIS Twitter Users (RT)
China Said to Use Powerful New Weapon to Censor Internet (NY Times)
The Universe May Not Be Expanding As Fast As We Thought (NatMon)

And get 99% of income?!

Top 20% of US Earners Pay 84% of Income Tax (WSJ)

Who pays what in income taxes? With April 15 just around the corner, filers may be curious about where they fit into the system as a whole. The individual income tax remains the most important levy in the U.S., providing nearly half of federal revenue. This is unusual: On average, developed nations get only one-third of their revenue from income taxes. Typically they also impose national consumption taxes, such as a value-added tax, that raise as much revenue as their income tax. The pressure on the U.S. income tax has prompted lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to seriously consider a national consumption tax. But liberals worry that such a levy could unduly burden the poor, while conservatives fear it would be too easy to dial up the rate and collect more revenue.

As a result, experts say, there is little chance of tax overhaul this year. The data come from estimates by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, a Washington-based research group, as Internal Revenue Service data for 2014 won’t be available for at least two years. Unlike IRS data, it includes information about nonfilers—both people who didn’t need to file and people who should have filed but didn’t. The total also includes Americans living overseas and others, which is why it is greater than the U.S. Census estimate of 319 million. Another important difference: The income cited in the tables includes untaxed amounts for employer-provided health coverage, tax-exempt interest and retirement-plan contributions and growth, among other things. This can be significant.

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When this bubble bursts, an awful lot of ‘money’ will be lost.

Stocks Surge: Nikkei Tops 20,000, Europe Hits 15-Year High (Reuters)

World equity markets tested record highs on Friday on hopes of more stimulus from top central banks, while the dollar strengthened on favorable government debt yields compared to those of most other developed countries. Wall Street scored solid gains after U.S. conglomerate General Electric said it plans to sell assets and buy back up to $50 billion of its stock. This propelled GE shares to their highest since September 2008, ending up 10.8% at $28.51 in heavy volume. Earlier, Japan’s Nikkei index rose above 20,000 points for the first time in 15 years while top European shares advanced to their highest since 2000. Oil prices rose on lowered expectations of an Iran nuclear deal that would allow more Iranian oil into the market. Gold rose on the day but snapped a three-week winning streak on a stronger dollar.

“We are in a honeymoon period for risk assets, and will be for another quarter,” said Sandra Crowl, an investment committee member at Paris-based asset managers Carmignac Gestion. The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 98.92 points, or 0.55%, to 18,057.65, the S&P 500 ended up 10.88 points, or 0.52%, to 2,102.06 and the Nasdaq Composite finished 21.41 points, or 0.43%, higher at 4,995.98. Tokyo’s Nikkei closed down 0.2% after breaching the 20,000-point mark. Buoyed by gains in Asia and the renewed drop in the euro, the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 share index reached a 15-year high of over 1,640 as its ninth week of rises in the last 10 took it to its highest since 2000. Germany’s DAX also scored a record high. The MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 45 nations, rose 0.4% to 435.72, a shade below its record high.

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“..in particular its reluctance to talk about cutting civil servants’ pensions.” Ergo, Syriza can’t allow for Greece to remain in the eurozone.

Eurozone Officials Shocked By Greece’s Stance, Says German Newspaper (Reuters)

Eurozone officials were shocked at Greece’s failure to outline plans for structural reforms at last week’s talks in Brussels, a German newspaper on Saturday cited participants as saying, adding the Greek representative behaved like a “taxi driver”. A meeting of deputy finance ministers on Thursday gave Athens a six working day deadline to present revised economic reform plans before eurozone finance ministers meet on April 24 to consider unlocking emergency funding to keep Greece afloat. Eurozone sources told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung that they were disappointed and shocked at Athens’ lack of movement in its plans, and in particular its reluctance to talk about cutting civil servants’ pensions.

The mood between Greece’s leftist government and its eurozone partners, especially Germany, has deteriorated in the last few weeks, with personal recriminations flying between ministers and calls from Athens for Berlin to pay war reparations. The paper said at last week’s meeting the Greek representative just asked where the money was “like a taxi driver”, according to sources, and insisted his country would soon be bankrupt. The eurozone sources told the paper that Greece’s creditors do not believe this is the case and that it would be a domestic political issue if Athens is unable to fully pay salaries and pensions. The paper also said that German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who has taken a tough line towards Greece in bailout talks, would have to get the Bundestag lower house of parliament to vote on any fundamental changes to the reform programme.

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Very impressive.

Yanis Varoufakis and Joseph Stiglitz (INET)

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“About 28.1% of home loans extended by Greek banks, which were worth a combined €69 billion, were non-performing or unpaid for more than 90 days, as of September 2014..”

ECB Sees Risks In Greece’s Planned Home Foreclosure Law (Reuters)

Greece’s draft law to protect primary residences from foreclosures goes beyond protecting low-income debtors and could encourage strategic defaults, the ECB said in a legal opinion on Saturday in a potential setback to the plan. Greece’s Economy Ministry had asked for the ECB’s views on the draft legislation, which seeks to protect indebted citizens from losing their primary homes – and fulfills a pledge by the governing SYRIZA party to deal with a humanitarian crisis brought on by the country’s debt crisis. The draft law offers protection to primary homes valued up to €300,000 and requires that borrowers do not have an annual income of more than €50,000 to be eligible. It also sets an upper limit of €500,000 for borrowers’ total wealth, of which bank deposits and other liquid assets cannot exceed €30,000.

The conditions are more generous than under Greece’s previous foreclosure law, which expired last year. It provided protection for homes valued at 200,000 euros or less and required that borrowers had an annual income of 35,000 euros maximum and total wealth of 270,000 euros or less. “The very broad scope of eligible debtors, which goes beyond the protection of vulnerable and low-income debtors, may create moral hazard and could lead to strategic defaults, undermining the payment culture and future credit growth,” the ECB said. “The draft law sets out significantly broader eligibility criteria in terms of the value of the protected property, the annual household income, the value of immovable and movable assets and the amount of deposits,” the ECB said, comparing it to the previous law.

It said that broad-based prohibitions on primary home auctions was not a sustainable solution to tackle the high level of non-performing loans at Greek banks. “It is likely that the prohibitions in the draft law will incentivize debtors who are not in real need of protection to stop meeting their obligations or reduce them significantly, even if they have the means to meet them in full.” The ECB supervises Greek and other eurozone banks. Greek banks’ bad loans rose to 34.2% of their loan portfolios by the end of the third quarter of last year, from 31.9% in December 2013, according to Greek central bank data.

About 28.1% of home loans extended by Greek banks, which were worth a combined €69 billion, were non-performing or unpaid for more than 90 days, as of September 2014, according to latest Bank of Greece data. That was up from 26.1% in 2013. Home loans accounted for a third of banks’ total loans as of last September.

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“..we’ve had money building up four to six years in terms of a risk pattern, I think it could end very badly.”

Druckenmiller: This Could End ‘Very Badly’ (CNBC)

Billionaire investor Stanley Druckenmiller has once again warned that the easy money policies of recent years could end poorly. “I know it’s so tempting to go ahead and make investments and it looks good for today,” the retired founder of Duquense Capital Management said, “but when this thing ends, because we’ve had speculation, we’ve had money building up four to six years in terms of a risk pattern, I think it could end very badly.” The investor’s comments were made at an event in Palm Beach, Florida on Jan. 18, but the transcript was just circulated on Friday. Druckenmiller cited warning signs like the high number of initial public offerings of companies that are unprofitable, and high levels of debt issued to companies, often with poor credit ratings and without many lending restrictions—so called covenants.

Druckenmiller also said that comparing modern day economic policy to that of the Great Depression-era was totally inaccurate. He implied that the U.S. Federal Reserve would not cause to another recession by tightening the flow of money into the system. Druckenmiller showed slides at the event displaying how net worth per household hadn’t returned to pre-1929 levels in 1937, before rates began rising. He compared that to how wealth has risen today far beyond pre-crash levels in 2007. “We’re not even close to the kind of numbers we had in 1937,” he said.

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Fooling the system.

GE Plan Opens Escape Path From Fed Too-Big-To-Fail Label (Bloomberg)

General Electric’s plan to exit most lending operations could make its finance arm the first entity to escape the grip of the Federal Reserve’s too-big-to-fail oversight, a move that would free the company from strict capital requirements and reduce government monitoring. As part of a broad restructuring announced Friday, GE General Counsel Brackett Denniston said the finance unit will apply to lose its systemically important label sometime next year. GE has already discussed its overhaul, which includes the sale of $26 billion of real estate, with U.S. regulators who will decide whether the company can go free. “We think we’ve come a long way and you can argue we’re not systemic right now,” Denniston said an in interview.

“When the plan is further advanced, when we think the argument is even stronger and more compelling, that’s the right way to do it.” GE Capital is one of four non-banks hit with the tighter scrutiny, which applies to firms that regulators believe could threaten the U.S. economy if they failed. Companies have sought to avoid the capital, liquidity and leverage constraints that can come with being selected, with insurer Metlife Inc. suing the U.S. government to try to escape. Instead of fighting, Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE is slimming down. The company’s shares rose $2.48 to $28.21, or 9.6%, at 2:41 p.m. in New York trading. It was the biggest daily increase since March 2009, according to Bloomberg data.

Decisions on which companies are systemically important are made by the Financial Stability Oversight Council, a group of regulators set up under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act that Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew leads. A designation subjects a company to supervision by the Fed, allowing the central bank to scrutinize it the same way it does large banks like Citigroup and JPMorgan. To get out, GE Capital will have to convince the FSOC that its collapse wouldn’t hurt the broader financial system. Once the restructuring is complete, GE’s ending net investment in GE Capital – a balance-sheet gauge that excludes non-interest bearing liabilities and cash – will fall to $90 billion from $363 billion, the company said. Just $40 billion of that will be in the U.S., making it “inconceivable” that the company could be considered systemic, Denniston said.

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NZ exports fell 27% in 2014. What more does anyone need to know?

New Zealand Rock Star Economy Takes Centre Stage As Currency Climbs (Guardian)

Australians are going to have to get used to New Zealanders going on about how much better their economy is. Paul Bloxham, the HSBC economist who first called New Zealand a rock star economy, says the New Zealand dollar is going to be strong for some time because the NZ economy is strong. The New Zealand dollar was at 98.27 Australian cents on Friday, up from 98.18 cents on Thursday and it is expected to reach parity. The last time the New Zealand dollar passed the Aussie dollar was on 18 October 1973 and it only managed it for a few hours, Bloxham said on TVNZ’s Q+A program on Sunday. The New Zealand economy is outperforming every other Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) economy. “That’s why we’ve been describing New Zealand as a rock star,” Bloxham said.

It was the fastest growing of the 34 OECD economies in the past year. “And, we think that situation’s going to continue this year as well,” Bloxham said. The Australian economy, in contrast, is at the end of a mining boom. Mining investment is falling and the rest of the economy is “so-so”. “So it makes sense that the New Zealand dollar is strong relative to the Aussie dollar, and we expect the situation to persist for some time,” Bloxham said. In New Zealand, there was an upturn in construction from the Canterbury rebuild and the housing market was booming in Auckland. Bloxham acknowledged dairy prices had fallen sharply but said dairy production was still rising and the domestic economy was doing very well.

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So what does Brussels say? Nothing.

Italy Rescues 978 Migrants Attempting to Cross the Mediterranean (Bloomberg)

The Italian navy and coast guard engaged in three different rescue operations Friday in order to bring to safety 978 migrants attempting to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea, according to a coast guard Twitter post. The migrants were rescued off the Libyan coast following distress calls made from the boats via satellite phone, daily Corriere della Sera reported in its online edition. The government is continuing its “taxi service” to help the criminals that ferry these people over the sea, leader of the opposition Northern League party Matteo Salvini posted on social media following the rescues.

Migration to Europe across the Mediterranean Sea has increased as people flee wars and conflict in countries like Libya, Syria and Somalia. Last year, 218,000 irregular migrants tried to reach Europe, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The same year, Italy saved 100,250 people through its rescue operation Mare Nostrum at a cost of 114 million euros ($120 million), according to the Italian Interior Ministry. That operation was discontinued in November due to its high cost and criticism from politicians like Salvini that it was helping criminals exploit migrants. Operation Triton, a more limited effort coordinated by European Union border police agency Frontex, has replaced it.

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Ha! Let’s see what Hillary thinks.

China-Led Infrastructure Bank to Welcome U.S. ‘Anytime’ (Bloomberg)

China is keeping the door open for the U.S. to join its new development bank “anytime,” the lender’s chief said, after the Obama administration failed to persuade most allies to snub the lender. The U.S. is “welcome to the kitchen to work with us,’ Jin Liqun, secretary general of the secretariat for establishing the bank, told reporters in Singapore on Saturday. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank’s founding membership will probably be ‘‘short of 60,” he said. “China itself has benefited enormously from contributions by the World Bank” and Asian Development Bank, Jin said at a forum in Singapore. “Now it’s time for China to contribute more to this region, and hopefully China’s contributions will spill over to other regions.”

The U.S. suffered a diplomatic setback as allies including Australia, the U.K, and Germany opted to become founding members of the China-led bank. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said this week he doesn’t view the development lender as heralding an end to the global economic order forged by the U.S. The AIIB will be owned by all members, not solely China, and will have a mandate to promote broad-based socio-economic development, Jin said. As it will focus exclusively on infrastructure funding, while the World Bank and Asian Development Bank address poverty reduction, there is more complementary territory than “head-on competition,” he said.

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Enemies and friends?!

Anonymous Declares Cyber War On ISIS Twitter Users (RT)

Hacktivists from the Anonymous group have attacked hundreds of pro-Islamic State websites and thousands of social networks’ accounts used by the terrorist group. ISIS has hit back though, threatening another 9/11 terror act against the US. A faction of the Anonymous group, called GhostSec, is carrying out a cyber campaign called #OpISIS against the Islamic State (IS). They are looking to target members and supporters of the terrorist organization, who want to spread propaganda over the internet. Anonymous are monitoring social media accounts as well as websites operated by the group formerly known as ISIS/ISIL to disrupt their online operations as they try to “cure the ISIS virus.”

The GhostSec division of Anonymous has been keeping itself busy. They have been compiling a list (f websites “frequently used by the Islamic State through Twitter and other social media platforms for transmission of propaganda, religion, recruitment, communications and intelligence gathering purposes,” the group said in a statement. On Wednesday, the Anonymous group reported of “casualties” among the enemy ranks, which included 233 websites, which had been attacked, 85 websites that had been “destroyed” and 25,000 “terminated” Twitter accounts. Not everyone is happy with the actions undertaken by Anonymous. Security services have criticised the group for taking matters into their own hands. These intelligence bodies say the elimination of jihadist websites and social media accounts prevents them from gathering valuable information concerning their activities.

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“..a “man in the middle attack.”

China Said to Use Powerful New Weapon to Censor Internet (NY Times)

Late last month, China began flooding American websites with a barrage of Internet traffic in an apparent effort to take out services that allow China’s Internet users to view websites otherwise blocked in the country. Initial security reports suggested that China had crippled the services by exploiting its own Internet filter — known as the Great Firewall — to redirect overwhelming amounts of traffic to its targets. Now, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Toronto say China did not use the Great Firewall after all, but rather a powerful new weapon that they are calling the Great Cannon. The Great Cannon, the researchers said in a report published on Friday, allows China to intercept foreign web traffic as it flows to Chinese websites, inject malicious code and repurpose the traffic as Beijing sees fit.

The system was used, they said, to intercept web and advertising traffic intended for Baidu — China’s biggest search engine company — and fire it at GitHub, a popular site for programmers, and GreatFire.org, a nonprofit that runs mirror images of sites that are blocked inside China. The attacks against the services continued on Thursday, the researchers said, even though both sites appeared to be operating normally. But the researchers suggested that the system could have more powerful capabilities. With a few tweaks, the Great Cannon could be used to spy on anyone who happens to fetch content hosted on a Chinese computer, even by visiting a non-Chinese website that contains Chinese advertising content.

“The operational deployment of the Great Cannon represents a significant escalation in state-level information control,” the researchers said in their report. It is, they said, “the normalization of widespread and public use of an attack tool to enforce censorship.” The researchers, who have previously done extensive research into government surveillance tools, found that while the infrastructure and code for the attacks bear similarities to the Great Firewall, the attacks came from a separate device. The device has the ability not only to snoop on Internet traffic but also to alter the traffic and direct it — on a giant scale — to any website, in what is called a “man in the middle attack.”

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Guesstimating dark matter.

The Universe May Not Be Expanding As Fast As We Thought (NatMon)

Two papers recently published in the Astrophysical Journal suggest that the universe may not be expanding at the rate that textbooks claim that it is. That conclusion would also imply that the amount of dark energy in the universe is less than current estimates claim it is. The team reached this conclusion by studying Ia supernovae, which are thought to be uniform enough to be used as beacons to measure distances in the cosmos. The team found that the supernovae were not, in fact, uniform but fell into different populations. “ The findings are analogous to sampling a selection of 100-watt light bulbs at the hardware store and discovering that they vary in brightness,” according to a statement. If their findings are correct, it means that a great deal of the math which astronomers use to measure the universe needs to be re-done.

Among other things it would mean that many of the measured distances to objects, the rate at which the universe is expanding and the amount of dark energy involved are currently wrong. “We found that the differences are not random, but lead to separating Ia supernovae into two groups, where the group that is in the minority near us are in the majority at large distances — and thus when the universe was younger. There are different populations out there, and they have not been recognized. The big assumption has been that as you go from near to far, type Ia supernovae are the same. That doesn’t appear to be the case,” said Milne, an associate astronomer with the UA’s Department of Astronomy and Steward Observatory.

The current view of the universe is that it is continuing to expand at an ever increasing rate, pulled apart by dark energy. This view resulted in the Nobel Prize for Physics for Brian Schmidt, Saul Perlmutter and Adam Riess in 2011. The three researchers independently arrived at the conclusion that many supernovae appeared to be fainter than predicted because they had moved farther away than they should have given the accepted rate of universal expansion. “The idea behind this reasoning. is that type Ia supernovae happen to be the same brightness – they all end up pretty similar when they explode. Once people knew why, they started using them as mileposts for the far side of the universe. The faraway supernovae should be like the ones nearby because they look like them, but because they’re fainter than expected, it led people to conclude they’re farther away than expected, and this in turn has led to the conclusion that the universe is expanding faster than it did in the past,” explained Milne.

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