May 132017
 
 May 13, 2017  Posted by at 8:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Fred Stein Subway Steps New York 1943

 

Hackers Hit Dozens of Countries Exploiting Stolen NSA Tool (NYT)
UK Health Service, Targeted in Cyberattack, Ignored Warnings for Months (NYT)
Hurricane Bearing Down on the Casino (Stockman)
$500 Trillion in Derivatives “Remain an Important Asset Class” – NY Fed (WS)
The Great Misconception of a Return to “Normal” (Econimica)
US Nears $100 Billion Arms Deal For Saudi Arabia (R.)
Wells Fargo Bogus Accounts Balloon To 3.5 Million (R.)
EU To Decide Future Of Uber, Airbnb In Europe (NE)
A Populist Storm Stirs in Italy (WSJ)
Macron To Visit Germany To Seek Support For A Beefed Up Eurozone (G.)
Blood Sports (Jim Kunstler)
Greece and the Bond Market. Friends Reunited? (BBG)
China’s Xi Offers Indebted Greece Strong Support (R.)
Varoufakis Accuses Tsipras, Tsakalotos Of Giving In To Creditors (K.)
IMF, Eurozone Say Need More Time To Reach Greek Debt Relief Deal (R.)

 

 

Edward Snowden @Snowden: “In light of today’s attack, Congress needs to be asking @NSAgov if it knows of any other vulnerabilities in software used in our hospitals.”

Hackers Hit Dozens of Countries Exploiting Stolen NSA Tool (NYT)

Hackers exploiting malicious software stolen from the National Security Agency executed damaging cyberattacks on Friday that hit dozens of countries worldwide, forcing Britain’s public health system to send patients away, freezing computers at Russia’s Interior Ministry and wreaking havoc on tens of thousands of computers elsewhere. The attacks amounted to an audacious global blackmail attempt spread by the internet and underscored the vulnerabilities of the digital age. Transmitted via email, the malicious software locked British hospitals out of their computer systems and demanded ransom before users could be let back in – with a threat that data would be destroyed if the demands were not met.

By late Friday the attacks had spread to more than 74 countries, according to security firms tracking the spread. Kaspersky Lab, a Russian cybersecurity firm, said Russia was the worst-hit, followed by Ukraine, India and Taiwan. Reports of attacks also came from Latin America and Africa.[..] The hackers’ weapon of choice on Friday was Wanna Decryptor, a new variant of the WannaCry ransomware, which encrypts victims’ data, locks them out of their systems and demands ransoms. Researchers said the impact and speed of Friday’s attacks had not been seen in nearly a decade, when the Conficker computer worm infected millions of government, business and personal computers in more than 190 countries, threatening to overpower the computer networks that controlled health care, air traffic and banking systems over the course of several weeks.

One reason the ransomware on Friday was able to spread so quickly was that the stolen N.S.A. hacking tool, known as “Eternal Blue,” affected a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows servers. Hours after the Shadow Brokers released the tool last month, Microsoft assured users that it had already included a patch for the underlying vulnerability in a software update in March. But Microsoft, which regularly credits researchers who discover holes in its products, curiously would not say who had tipped the company off to the issue. Many suspected that the United States government itself had told Microsoft, after the N.S.A. realized that its hacking method exploiting the vulnerability had been stolen.

Privacy activists said if that were the case, the government would be to blame for the fact that so many companies were left vulnerable to Friday’s attacks. It takes time for companies to roll out systemwide patches, and by notifying Microsoft of the hole only after the N.S.A.’s hacking tool was stolen, activists say the government would have left many hospitals, businesses and governments susceptible. “It would be deeply troubling if the N.S.A. knew about this vulnerability but failed to disclose it to Microsoft until after it was stolen,” Patrick Toomey, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union, said on Friday. “These attacks underscore the fact that vulnerabilities will be exploited not just by our security agencies, but by hackers and criminals around the world.”

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Don’t just blame the hospitals. Blame the government that squeezes them so dry they have to choose patients over computers.

UK Health Service, Targeted in Cyberattack, Ignored Warnings for Months (NYT)

Britain’s National Health Service ignored numerous warnings over the last year that many of its computer systems were outdated and unprotected from the type of devastating cyberattack it suffered on Friday. The attack caused some hospitals to stop accepting patients, doctor’s offices to shut down, emergency rooms to divert patients, and critical operations to be canceled as a decentralized system struggled to cope. At some hospitals, nurses could not even print out name tags for newborn babies. At the Royal London Hospital, in east London, George Popescu, a 23-year-old hotel cook, showed up with a forehead injury. “My head is pounding and they say they can’t see me,” he said. “They said their computers weren’t working. You don’t expect this in a big city like London.”

In a statement on Friday, the N.H.S. said its inquiry into the attack was in its early phases but that “at this stage we do not have any evidence that patient data has been accessed.” Many of the N.H.S. computers still run Windows XP, an out-of-date software that no longer gets security updates from its maker, Microsoft. A government contract with Microsoft to update the software for the N.H.S. expired two years ago. Microsoft discontinued the security updates for Windows XP in 2014. It made a patch, or fix, available in newer versions of Windows for the flaws that were exploited in Friday’s cyberattacks. But the health service does not seem to have installed either the newer version of Windows or the patch.

“Historically, we’ve known that N.H.S. uses computers running old versions of Windows that Microsoft itself no longer supports and says is a security risk,” said Graham Cluley, a cybersecurity expert in Oxford, England. “And even on the newest computers, they would have needed to apply the patch released in March. Clearly that did not happen, or the malware wouldn’t have spread this fast.” Just this month, a parliamentary research briefing noted that cyberattacks were viewed as one of the top threats facing Britain. The push to make medical records systems more interconnected might also make the system more vulnerable to attack. Britain plans to digitize all patient records by 2020.

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The anti-Trump battle will be fought with financial weapons. And the Donald is walking into that trap.

Hurricane Bearing Down on the Casino (Stockman)

Yesterday I said the Donald was absolutely right in canning the insufferable James Comey, but that he has also has stepped on a terminal political land-mine. And he did. That’s because the entire Russian meddling and collusion narrative is a ridiculous, evidence-free attempt to re-litigate the last election. And now that the powers that be have all the justification they need. And what is already an irrational witch-hunt will be quickly turned into a scorched-earth assault on a sitting president. I have no idea how this will play out, but as a youthful witness to history back in 1973-1974 I observed Tricky Dick’s demise in daily slow motion. But the most memorable part of the saga was how incredibly invincible Nixon seemed in early 1973. Nixon started his second term, in fact, with a massive electoral landslide, strong public opinion polls and a completely functioning government and cabinet.

Even more importantly, he was still basking in the afterglow of his smashing 1972 foreign policy successes in negotiating detente and the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty with Brezhnev and then the historic opening to China on his Beijing trip. So I’ll take the unders from anyone who gives the Donald even the 19 months that Nixon survived. After all, Trump lost the popular vote, is loathed by official Washington, barely has a functioning cabinet and is a whirling dervish of disorder, indiscipline and unpredictability. To be sure, the terms of the Donald’s eventual exit from the Imperial City will ultimately by finalized by the 46th President in waiting, Mike Pence. But I’m pretty sure of one thing: Between now and then, there is not a snow ball’s chance in the hot place that Donald’s severance package will include the ballyhooed Trump Tax Cut and Fiscal Stimulus.

Markets slipped today because of carnage in the retail sector (which I’ve been warning readers about). But these fantasies are apparently still “priced-in” to a market that has now become just plain stupid. What is surely coming down the pike after the Comey firing, however, is just the opposite. That is, Washington will soon become a three-ring circus of investigations of Russia-gate and the “hidden” reasons for Trump’s action. The Imperial City will get embroiled in bitter partisan warfare and the splintering of the GOP between its populist and establishment wings. In that context, what passes for “governance” will be reduced to a moveable Fiscal Bloodbath that cycles between debt ceiling showdowns and short-term continuing resolution extensions.

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The swamp that can’t be drained without causing explosions.

$500 Trillion in Derivatives “Remain an Important Asset Class” – NY Fed (WS)

Economists at the New York Fed included this gem in their report on a two-day conference on “Derivatives and Regulatory Changes” since the Financial Crisis: “Though the notional amount [of derivatives] outstanding has declined in recent years, at more than $500 trillion outstanding, OTC derivatives remain an important asset class.” An important asset class. A hilarious understatement. Let’s see… the “notional amount” of $500 trillion is 25 times the GDP of the US and about 7 times global GDP. Derivatives are not just an “important asset class,” like bonds; they’re the largest “financial weapons of mass destruction,” as Warren Buffett called them in 2003.

Derivatives are used for hedging economic risks. And they’re used as “speculative directional exposures” – very risky one-sided bets. It’s all tied together in an immense and opaque market interwoven with the banks. The New York Fed: The 2007-09 financial crisis highlighted weaknesses in the over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives markets and the increased risk of contagion due to the interconnectedness of market participants in these markets. This chart from the New York Fed shows how derivatives ballooned 150% – or by $360 trillion – in less than four years before the Financial Crisis. They ticked down during the Financial Crisis, then rose again during the Fed’s QE to peak at $700 trillion. After the end of QE, they declined, but recently ticked up again to $500 trillion. I added in red the Warren Buffett moment:

The vast majority of the derivatives are interest rate and credit contracts (dark blue). Banks specialize in that. For example, according to the OCC’s Q4 2016 Report on Derivatives, JPMorgan Chase holds $47.5 trillion of derivatives at notional value and Citibank $43.9 trillion. The top 25 US banks hold $164.7 trillion, or 8.5 times US GDP. So even a minor squiggle could trigger some serious heartburn.

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Try use “normal” and “derivatives” in one sentence and put on a straight face.

The Great Misconception of a Return to “Normal” (Econimica)

Since 2009, there has been ongoing discussion of the size & composition of major central bank balance sheets (I’m focusing on the Federal Reserve Bank, European Central Bank, and the Bank of Japan) but little discussion of why these institutions felt (and continue to feel) compelled to “buy” assets. The chart below highlights the ongoing collective explosion of these bank “assets” since 2009 after a previous period of relative stability. These institutions clearly have the capability and willingness to digitally conjure “money” from nothing and have felt compelled to remove over $10 trillion worth of assets from the markets since 2009. This swap of illiquid assets for liquid cash had (and continues to have) the effect of squeezing the prices of the remaining assets higher (more money chasing fewer assets=price appreciation).

A prime example of that squeeze, the US stock market total valuation (represented by the Wilshire 5000, below) is $10 trillion higher than the “bubble” peak of 2008…and $11 trillion higher than the 2001 “bubble” peak. Likewise, US federal debt since 2008 has increased by…you guessed it, $10 trillion. The narrative seems to be that 2009 was a one off event and that the central banks role was and still is to “stabilize” the situation until things “normalize”. But right there…that idea that 2009 was a “one-off” or “abnormal” couldn’t be more wrong. So what is “normal” growth, at least from a consumption standpoint? Normal is never the same twice…it is ever changing and must be constantly rediscovered.

To determine “normal” growth in consumption, all we need do is figure the change in the quantity of consumers (annual population growth) and the quality of those consumers (their earnings, savings, and utilization of credit). The chart below details the ever changing “normal” that is the annual change in the under 65yr/old global population broken down by wealthy consuming nations (blue line) and the rest of the (generally poor) world (red line). The natural rate of growth in consumption has been declining ever since 1988 (persistently less growth in the population on a year over year basis)…but central banks and central governments have substituted interest rate cuts and un-repayable debt to maintain an unnaturally high consumption growth rate.

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If we don’t put a stop to this, we have no chance. This is where it all begins and ends.

US Nears $100 Billion Arms Deal For Saudi Arabia (R.)

The United States is close to completing a series of arms deals for Saudi Arabia totaling more than $100 billion, a senior White House official said on Friday, a week ahead of President Donald Trump’s planned visit to Riyadh. The official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the arms package could end up surpassing more than $300 billion over a decade to help Saudi Arabia boost its defensive capabilities while still maintaining U.S. ally Israel’s qualitative military edge over its neighbors. “We are in the final stages of a series of deals,” the official said. The package is being developed to coincide with Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia. Trump leaves for the kingdom on May 19, the first stop on his maiden international trip.

Reuters reported last week that Washington was pushing through contracts for tens of billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, some new, others already in the pipeline, ahead of Trump’s visit. The United States has been the main supplier for most Saudi military needs, from F-15 fighter jets to command and control systems worth tens of billions of dollars in recent years. Trump has vowed to stimulate the U.S. economy by boosting manufacturing jobs. The package includes American arms and maintenance, ships, air missile defense and maritime security, the official said. “We’ll see a very substantial commitment … In many ways it is intended to build capabilities for the threats they face.” The official added: “It’s good for the American economy but it will also be good in terms of building a capability that is appropriate for the challenges of the region. Israel would still maintain an edge.”

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How many executives in jail, you said?

Wells Fargo Bogus Accounts Balloon To 3.5 Million (R.)

Wells Fargo may have opened as many as 3.5 million unauthorized customer accounts, far more than previously estimated, according to lawyers seeking approval of a $142 million settlement over the practice. The new estimate was provided in a filing late Thursday night in the federal court in San Francisco, and is 1.4 million accounts higher than previously reported by federal regulators, in what became a national scandal. Keller Rohrback, a law firm for the plaintiff customers, said the higher estimate reflects “public information, negotiations, and confirmatory discovery.” The Seattle-based firm also said the number “may well be over-inclusive, but provides a reasonable basis on which to estimate a maximum recovery.”

Wells Fargo spokesman Ancel Martinez in an email said the new estimate was “based on a hypothetical scenario” and unverified, and did not reflect “actual unauthorized accounts.” Nonetheless, it could complicate Wells Fargo’s ability to win approval for the settlement, which has drawn opposition from some customers and lawyers who consider it too small. “This adds more credence to the fact there is not enough information to assess whether the settlement is fair and adequate,” Lewis Garrison, a partner at Heninger Garrison Davis in Birmingham, Alabama who represents some objecting customers, said in an interview. U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco is scheduled to consider preliminary approval at a May 18 hearing. The accounts scandal mushroomed after Wells Fargo agreed last September to pay $185 million in penalties to settle charges by authorities including the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

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They better be thorough, or individual countries must each formulate their own responses.

EU To Decide Future Of Uber, Airbnb In Europe (NE)

An opinion issued by the European Court of Justice on May 11 could prevent people from using or working for services such as Uber and Airbnb. The opinion from the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice follows a case that has been brought by Spanish taxi drivers against the ride sharing service Uber. It found that Uber should be regulated like a transportation company, not as an “information society service”. If the opinion is upheld, these services could be required to apply for specific licences or be restricted in number as is the case with taxis in various European cities in an attempt to keep prices artificially high.

The court is slated to deliver a final ruling on whether Uber should be classified as a transport company or as a passive internet intermediary, in the coming months. Usually, the judges follow the opinion of the Advocate General. It remains to be seen whether the case will impact other so-called sharing economy services as Airbnb. Speaking after the opinion was issued, Dan Dalton, European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) spokesman on the EU internal market said: “The opinion given today has huge implications for innovative, consumer driven digital services all across Europe… It is right that there are safeguards for consumers, but applying analogue era regulation to the digital world only strangles innovation and entrenches privileged monopolies.”

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Beppe always had one goal first: get rid of corruption. The WSJ can talk all it wants about M5S teething problems, but there are bigger issues here.

A Populist Storm Stirs in Italy (WSJ)

Europe’s establishment breathed a sigh of relief after the pro-European Union centrist Emmanuel Macron was elected French president this week. But another populist storm is brewing in Italy, where the euroskeptic 5 Star Movement has remained strong. Fueled by discontent with slow growth, high unemployment and disillusionment with mainstream politicians, 5-Star has won local elections in Rome, Turin and elsewhere, partly on the strength of its leaders’ call for a referendum on Italy’s use of the European single currency. Pollsters say about 30% of Italian voters support the movement founded by comedian Beppe Grillo, a level of popularity that has stood firm despite a series of high-profile stumbles, especially by its mayor in Rome.

The self-described association of free citizens has replaced the center-left Democratic Party at the top of most polls ahead of national elections to be held by May 2018. Now, the group that has flouted the rules of the game for establishment parties in Italy is experiencing growing pains as it prepares for the possibility of taking power. The prospect of Mr. Grillo and his supporters winning and forming a government has made investors nervous and pushed up yields on Italian bonds in recent months. On Friday, the spread between Italian and German 10-year sovereign bond yields was 1.85 percentage points, nearly five times the corresponding spread between French and German bonds.

Mr. Grillo and 5 Star waged a successful campaign to block constitutional changes sought by former Democratic Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, effectively forcing him from office in December. Since then, a caretaker government has run Italy. The movement has vowed to institute tougher anticorruption laws and deliver a minimum guaranteed income for all working-age and retired Italians if it emerges from upcoming elections as head of a minority government or in a governing coalition with other euroskeptic parties.

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There is no support for a beefed up EU or eurozone. Besides, Macron will be fighting the unions over the summer.

Macron To Visit Germany To Seek Support For A Beefed Up Eurozone (G.)

Emmanuel Macron will take power as French president on Sunday and immediately face the twin challenges of European Union reform and loosening strict labour laws in France. After walking up the red carpet to the Élysée Palace on Sunday morning, being briefed on the nuclear deterrent by the outgoing Socialist leader François Hollande, and making his first speech, Macron will on Monday fly to Berlin to meet the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. It is traditional for French leaders to make Berlin their first European trip. The pro-European centrist Macron wants to boost the French-German motor at the heart of Europe and press for closer cooperation, including creating a parliament and budget for the eurozone. Merkel welcomed Macron’s decisive election victory over the far-right Marine Le Pen, saying he carried “the hopes of millions of French people and also many in Germany and across Europe”.

But if Macron is to push for eurozone reform, he must also prove to Berlin and other European allies that he can deliver the changes he has promised on France’s sluggish economy and deficit problem. The German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, in an interview with the weekly Spiegel, kept up his country’s pressure on France to reduce its budget deficit to the EU ceiling of 3%. “France can make it,” he said. Macron, 39, France’s youngest elected leader, vowed during his campaign that he would immediately loosen France’s rigid labour regulations, giving businesses more power over setting working hours and deciding working conditions. He said that if needed, he would push through these changes by decree soon after taking office. Trade unions and leftwing demonstrators are warning of street protests if changes are not handled carefully.

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Jim waxes nostalgic on Nixon.

Blood Sports (Jim Kunstler)

I remember that sweaty August day that he threw in the towel. (I was a young newspaper reporter when newspapers still mattered.) It was pretty much a national orgasm. “NIXON RESIGNS!” the headlines screamed. A moment later he was on the gangway into the helicopter for the last time. Enter, stage right, the genial Gerald Ford…. Forgive me for getting caught up in the very nostalgia I castigate. And now here we are in the mere early months of Trumptopia about to hit the replay button on a televised inquisition. In my humble opinion, Donald Trump is a far more troubling personality than Tricky Dick ever was, infantile, narcissistic, at times verging on psychotic, but the RussiaGate story looks pretty flimsy. At this point, after about ten months of NSA-FBI investigation, nothing conclusive has turned up about Trump’s people “colluding” with Russia to gain unfair advantage in the election against You-Know-Who.

Former NSA chief James Clapper has publicly stated twice in no uncertain terms that there’s no evidence to support the allegations (so far). And there remains the specter of the actual content of the “collusion” — conveniently ignored by the so-called “Resistance” and its water-carriers at The New York Times — the hacked emails that evince all kinds of actual misbehavior by Secretary of State HRC and the DNC. The General Mike Flynn episode seems especially squishy, since it is the routine duty of incoming foreign affairs officials to check in with the ambassador corps in Washington. Why do you think nations send ambassadors to other countries? The upshot of all this will be a political circus for the rest of the year and the abandonment of any real business in government, at a moment in history when some very weighty black swans circle above the clouds waiting to crash land. Enjoy the histrionics if you dare, and pay no attention to collapsing economy as it all plays out.

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Draghi need to buy Greek bonds, and bring down those rates.

Greece and the Bond Market. Friends Reunited? (BBG)

Greece is considering tapping the capital markets for the first time in three years. Let’s hope its second attempt to regain market access goes more smoothly for investors than its first. A bond sale in July or September is being considered – if a deal on debt relief is reached, and the ECB adds Greek debt to the shopping list of securities it can buy through its quantitative easing program, according to the Wall Street Journal. The news comes as the U.S. presses European officials to ease Greece’s debt burden at informal talks during the Group of Seven gathering currently taking place in Italy.Investors can be forgiven if they feel a sense of déjà vu.In April 2014, Greece sold €3 billion of 4.75% bonds repayable in 2019 in its first issue for almost four years.

The country had sought to raise €2.5 billion; orders from more than 550 investors, though, exceeded €20 billion, and, five months later, the bond was increased by a further €1 billion. The then PM Antonis Samaras called the sale “one more decisive step toward exiting the crisis.”Except … it turned out Greece was about to get worse, not better. The day after the sale, the price of the bonds slipped by a bit more than half a point. By the end of the year, they’d lost almost 20% of their value. And by the middle of 2015, they slumped to as low as 40% of face value as the government was forced to introduce capital controls in an effort to stanch the flood of money leaving the country’s banking system. The bond price recovered as the Greek government dropped its defiance against the terms demanded by its lenders, implemented pension and labor market reforms and accelerated the sale of government assets.

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Does Brussels really want China to buy up Greece?

China’s Xi Offers Indebted Greece Strong Support (R.)

Chinese President Xi Jinping offered the prime minister of deeply indebted Greece strong support on Saturday, saying the two countries should expand cooperation in infrastructure, energy and telecommunications. Xi told Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that Greece was an important part in China’s new Silk Road strategy. “At present, China and Greece’s traditional friendship and cooperation continues to glow with new dynamism,” China’s Foreign Ministry cited Xi as saying. Cooperation in infrastructure, energy and telecommunications should be “deep and solid”, Xi added, without giving details. Tsipras is in Beijing to attend a summit to promote Xi’s vision of expanding links between Asia, Africa and Europe underpinned by billions of dollars in infrastructure investment called the Belt and Road initiative.

Greek infrastructure development group Copelouzos has signed a deal with China’s Shenhua Group to cooperate in green energy projects and the upgrade of power plants in Greece and other countries, the Greek company said on Friday. The deal will involve total investment of €3 billion, Copelouzos said in a statement, without providing further details. China has been investing heavily in Greece in recent years. Its biggest shipping company, COSCO Shipping, bought a majority stake in Piraeus Port Authority last year under a plan to turn Greece into a transhipment hub for rapidly growing trade between Asia and Eastern Europe. Xi said China and Greece should focus their efforts on turning the Piraeus port into an important international transhipment hub and key part of the new Silk Road, the Chinese ministry said.

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Yanis says Greece’s future is Kosovo, Steve Keen said Somalia. They’re both right.

Varoufakis Accuses Tsipras, Tsakalotos Of Giving In To Creditors (K.)

In an interview Friday on Skai TV, former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis hit out at his erstwhile government colleagues, accusing both his successor Euclid Tsakalotos and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of giving in to the country’s international creditors. “There is no new agreement, just a new surrender,” he said of the latest deal with Greece’s lenders. “The first memorandum burned Papandreou, the second Samaras, the third Tsipras. The fourth will require a new prime minister,” he said. As for Greece’s prospects, his prediction was bleak. “We will become Kosovo, a protectorate run by an employee of the European Union.”

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Never seen a more broken record.

IMF, Eurozone Say Need More Time To Reach Greek Debt Relief Deal (R.)

The IMF and eurozone government lenders need more time to reach an agreement on debt relief for Greece because the eurozone is still not sufficiently clear in its intentions, IMF chief Christine Lagarde said on Friday. Top eurozone officials and Lagarde met on Friday morning to discuss debt relief for Athens which eurozone finance ministers, or the Eurogroup, promised in May 2016, but under strict conditions. “We will carry on working on this debt relief package. There is not enough clarity yet. Our European partners need to be more specific in terms of debt relief, which is an imperative,” Lagarde told reporters in the city of Bari in Italy. German Finance Ministers Wolfgang Schaeuble, also at the meeting of the G7 advanced economies in Bari, asked if he would be prepared to ease the conditions for debt relief, said: “We are prepared to stick to what we have agreed in May 2016. That is the basis on which we are working … I am still in favor of getting a solution, at least a political solution, in the Eurogroup on the 22nd of May.”

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Apr 292017
 
 April 29, 2017  Posted by at 10:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso Self portrait 1972

 

US Q1 Growth Weakest In Three Years As Consumer Spending Falters (R.)
Don’t Show President Trump This Chart (ZH)
Just Five Companies Account For 28% Of The S&P’s 2017 Returns (ZH)
Germany Knew Austerity Would Destroy Greece, Says Varoufakis (Tel.)
EU Deletes UK from Official Map – Two Years Before Brexit (BT)
These Americans Will Never Get Social Security Benefits (MW)
Julian Assange Speaks Out: The War On The Truth (Ron Paul)
US Spy Agency Abandons Controversial Surveillance Technique (R.)
Russian Economy Has Grown Immune to Western Sanctions – UN (Sp.)
California Enacts $52 Billion Fuel Tax Hike For Road, Bridge Repairs (R.)
Melenchon Attacks Macron as Le Pen Fights to Win His Supporters (BBG)
US Troops Deploy Along Syria-Turkish Border (AP)
Tensions Escalate Between Kurdish Forces, Turkish Troops in North Syria (ARA)
‘Europe’s Dirty Secret’: Officials On Chios Scramble To Cope With Rising Tensions (G.)

 

 

Consumption growth lowest since 2009.

US Q1 Growth Weakest In Three Years As Consumer Spending Falters (R.)

The U.S. economy grew at its weakest pace in three years in the first quarter as consumer spending almost stalled, but a surge in business investment and wage growth suggested activity would regain momentum as the year progresses. The soft patch at the start of the year is bad news for the Trump administration’s ambitions to significantly boost growth. “It marks a rough start to the administration’s high hopes of achieving 3% or better growth; this is not the kind of news it was looking for to cap its first 100 days in office,” said Sal Guatieri, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto. GDP increased at a 0.7% annual rate also as the government further cut defense spending and businesses spent less on inventories, the Commerce Department said on Friday in its advance estimate.

That was the weakest performance since the first quarter of 2014. The pedestrian first-quarter growth pace is, however, not a true picture of the economy’s health. Wage growth in the first quarter was the fastest in 10 years as the labor market nears full employment and business investment on equipment was the strongest since the third quarter of 2015. Also underscoring the economy’s underlying strength, consumer and business confidence are near multi-year highs. First-quarter GDP tends to underperform because of difficulties with the calculation of data that the government has acknowledged and is working to rectify.

[..] Growth in consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, braked to a 0.3% rate, the slowest pace since the fourth quarter of 2009. That followed the fourth quarter’s robust 3.5% growth rate. A mild winter undercut demand for heating and utilities production. Higher inflation, with the personal consumption expenditures price index averaging 2.4% – the highest since the second quarter of 2011 – was also a drag.

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Anti-Trump rally?!

Don’t Show President Trump This Chart (ZH)

It's been (almost) 100 days and stocks are higher, hype is at its peak, hope remains higher-ish… there's just one problem, real economic data is collapsing…

 

As today's Q1 GDP proved, relying on 'hope' and 'soft' data to lift a 'real' economy is simply a false narrative…

 

How will that translate into Making America Great Again?

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Bubble. But their power is real. And scary.

Just Five Companies Account For 28% Of The S&P’s 2017 Returns (ZH)

On the last day of the busiest earnings week in a decade, here is a striking statistic from Goldman Sachs, showing just how dominant a handful of large cap companies have become in terms of both overall profitability and market impact: “Year to date the top 10 contributors have combined to account for 37% of the S&P 500 index return (more than double their market cap representation of 17%). The concentration among the top five is even greater, with those firms – AAPL, FB, AMZN, GOOGL, and MSFT – accounting for 28% of the return and 12% of market cap.” Some further perspective, courtesy of the WSJ, which notes that the combined market capitalization of AMZN, MSFT, INTC and GOOG makes up about 8% of the Index’s total.

Throwing in Apple and Facebook puts about 13% of the S&P 500’s combined market cap into the hands of just six companies. This wasn’t always the case. “Ten years ago, Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Intel made up just 5% of the S&P 500’s market cap, while Facebook was four years away from becoming a public company. The newfound prominence of big tech companies now can be chalked up to a few factors. One is that most big tech companies are profit machines—unlike many of their smaller peers that are still losing money. Alphabet, Microsoft, Intel and Amazon reported a combined $16.8 billion in operating income for the March quarter on Thursday. That is about 7% of the total projected for the S&P 500. ”

“Amazon looks like an outlier with a rather thin operating margin of 2.8% for the quarter, but even that is a notable gain from its average of just 1.5% over the last five years. But the other, even bigger factor is that demand for technology products and services keeps increasing, even as some market segments like PCs have declined. That has allowed several big tech companies to pivot into new segments with the help of strong cash flows generated by their original businesses. Amazon, Microsoft and Google have built large cloud services used by businesses shifting from more traditional computing setups.”

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New book, series in the Telegraph.

Germany Knew Austerity Would Destroy Greece, Says Varoufakis (Tel.)

Greece was forced to sign up to crippling austerity policies even though the German finance minister privately admitted he would not have endorsed the deal. The extraordinary admission by Wolfgang Schauble was made to Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, whose new memoir is serialised in The Telegraph all this weekend. In a frank private exchange, Mr Varoufakis asked Mr Schauble if he personally would sign up to the EU-ordered austerity plan which saw billions cut from Greek budgets and many Greeks lose their jobs. “As a patriot, no. It’s bad for your people,” the German minister replied. The Germans are also accused in the book of blocking a Chinese rescue deal for Greece and of repeatedly going back on promises and pledges made by other senior European figures as the EU battled to hold the eurozone together.

In a 500-page insider’s account of nearly six months of encounters with the leading political figures of Europe, Mr Varoufakis exposes the lengths to which Germany will go to maintain the EU and single currency. The minister secretly recorded many of his conversations with senior global figures and today exposes the gulf between private conversations and public pronouncements. In an interview today, Mr ≠Varoufakis says his experience contains dark warnings for Britain’s coming Brexit negotiations with a German-dominated EU. Angela Merkel warned this week that Britain should have no illusions about the coming talks and the EU yesterday put the ( issue of Irish reunification on the Brexit negotiating table. He warns that Theresa May must prepare an alternative deal as the EU will use dubious negotiating tactics to block reasonable discussion and potential solutions.

My advice to Theresa May is to avoid negotiation at all costs. If she doesn’t do that she will fall into the trap of [Greek prime minister] Alexis Tsipras, and it will end in capitulation, he told The Daily Telegraph. The parallel with Brexit is the tactic of stalling negotiations. They will get you on the sequencing. First there is the price of divorce to sort out before they will talk about free trade in the future, he added. In his book, Mr Varoufakis recounts how Germany used its political and financial muscle to impose austerity on Greece, despite widespread acknowledgement in other EU capitals that the policy was self-defeating and unsustainable. He reveals private encounters -many recorded secretly- with leading figures including Barack Obama, George Osborne and ( Emmanuel Macron, who polls say is almost certain to become the next president of France. In one conversation at the White House Mr Obama readily agrees that ‘austerity sucks’ but can do nothing to deflect the German agenda.

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Almost funny.

EU Deletes UK from Official Map – Two Years Before Brexit (BT)

This could be the first official map produced by the European Union to exclude the UK. But it is also an inaccurate one: the UK is still a member state of the EU. Brexit means Brexit: on 29 March, British Prime Minister Theresa May officially notified EU Council President Donald Tusk of Britain’s intention to leave the European Union. But Britain hasn’t left yet. By invoking Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, May triggered a process that gives both sides two years to reach an agreement. Meaning that Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on 29 March 2019. Until that time, the United Kingdom remains a full member of the European Union.

It is no secret that hardline brexiteers would rather leave today than tomorrow, and ‘crash out’ of the EU, even if that means falling back on the most rudimentary of agreements for trade and cooperation with ‘EU27’ – shorthand for the EU minus the UK. Now it seems that sentiment is reciprocated in the highest circles of the EU bureaucracy in Brussels. The map shows the unemployment rates of the member states – and the stark differences for those rates between member states in the north and south of the Union. But the eye is immediately drawn to the land mass of the United Kingdom: coloured not in the blues or oranges that indicate unemployment rates in the EU, but the grey of the non-member states that dot the map.

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Giving the news to you bite size.

These Americans Will Never Get Social Security Benefits (MW)

Today’s young people fear that they will never see Social Security benefits. The reality is, 3% of elderly Americans already don’t. The three main groups of people who never receive Social Security benefits include infrequent workers (44.3%) who do not have sufficient earnings to qualify for the benefits, immigrants who arrived in the US at 50 or older (37.3%) and therefore haven’t worked long enough to qualify for the benefits, and non-covered workers (11.4%), such as state and local government employees. A little less than 7% of “never beneficiaries” were individuals who were expected to get Social Security benefits, but died before receiving them, according to a 2015 Social Security Administration report.

What’s worse, most Americans may not realize how much they will – or will not – receive in Social Security benefits, said Bill Meyer, chief executive of Social Security Solutions, a software provider that strategizes how to claim Social Security. Social Security benefits are based on earnings history from the past 35 years – “The onus is on the individual retiree that the Social Security Administration has the right information,” Meyer said. Social Security benefits are hotly contested, specifically how — or even whether — those benefits will be distributed in the future. Young Americans say they’re not confident they’ll ever collect Social Security benefits (81% of millennials didn’t think so, at least, according to a recent Investopedia survey) but current near retirees may also be at risk.

In December, the House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee introduced a bill that would “save” Social Security by cutting benefits for above-average earners, eliminating the cost-of-living adjustment for individuals who make more than $85,000 (and $170,000 for couples), and increasing the full retirement age to 69 from 66.

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Vault7 the largest ever publication?

Julian Assange Speaks Out: The War On The Truth (Ron Paul)

Wikileaks Founder and Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange joins the Liberty Report to discuss the latest push by the Trump Administration to bring charges against him and his organization for publishing US Government documents. How will they get around the First Amendment and the Espionage Act? The US government and the mainstream media – some of which gladly publish Wikileaks documents – are pushing to demonize Assange in the court of public opinion.

Tyler Durden: Having blasted the Trump administration for their hyprocritical flip-flop from “loving WikiLeaks” to “arrest Assange,” Ron Paul made his feelings very clear on what this signals: “If we allow this president to declare war on those who tell the truth, we have only ourselves to blame.” Today he sits down with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for a live interview…

“The CIA has been deeply humiliated as a result of our ongoing publications so this is a preemptive move by the CIA to try and discredit our publications and create a new category for Wikileaks and other national security reporters to strip them of First Amendment protections,” Assange said in a preview clip from the interview below…:

 

Full interview below… 

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US intelligence has gone bonkers, and it may well be too late to rein it in.

US Spy Agency Abandons Controversial Surveillance Technique (R.)

The U.S. National Security Agency said on Friday it had stopped a form of surveillance that allowed it to collect without a warrant the digital communications of Americans who mentioned a foreign intelligence target in their messages, marking an unexpected triumph for privacy advocates long critical of the practice. The decision to stop the once-secret activity, which involved messages sent to or received from people believed to be living overseas, came despite the insistence of U.S. officials in recent years that it was both lawful and vital to national security. The halt is among the most substantial changes to U.S. surveillance policy in years and comes as digital privacy remains a contentious issue across the globe following the 2013 disclosures of broad NSA spying activity by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

“NSA will no longer collect certain internet communications that merely mention a foreign intelligence target,” the agency said in a statement. “Instead, NSA will limit such collection to internet communications that are sent directly to or from a foreign target.” NSA also said it would delete the “vast majority” of internet data collected under the surveillance program “to further protect the privacy of U.S. person communications.” The decision is an effort to remedy privacy compliance issues raised in 2011 by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a secret tribunal that rules on the legality of intelligence operations. [..] The NSA is not permitted to conduct surveillance within the United States. The so-called “about” collection went after messages that mentioned a surveillance target, even if the message was neither to nor from that person. That type of collection sometimes resulted in surveillance of emails, texts and other communications that were wholly domestic.

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Unintended consequences.

Russian Economy Has Grown Immune to Western Sanctions – UN (Sp.)

Maintaining the sanctions imposed by Western states will not negatively affect Russia’s economy, which has adapted to these restrictive measures, UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures Idriss Jazairy said Thursday. Jazairy stressed that the economy is adaptive to sanctions and the policies of its main trade partners, and thus the introduction of sanctions mostly harms the effectiveness of international trade, but not the country itself for which the sanctions were aimed against. Jazairy expressed his view on the anti-Russian sanctions during a meeting with the Russian upper house Council of the Federation Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State-Building chairman Andrei Klishas in Moscow.

Since 2014, relations between Russia and the European Union and the United States, deteriorated amid the crisis in Ukraine. Brussels, Washington and their allies introduced several rounds of sanctions against Russia on the pretext of its alleged involvement in the Ukrainian conflict, which Moscow has repeatedly denied. In response to the restrictive measures, Russia has imposed a food embargo on some products originating in countries that have targeted it with sanctions. On April 18, the IMF said in its World Economic Outlook report that Russian economic growth is expected to pick up in 2017 – 2018 and will reach 1.4% for both years.

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There are too many cars. That’s the only real problem. But no-one dares touch it.

California Enacts $52 Billion Fuel Tax Hike For Road, Bridge Repairs (R.)

California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law on Friday a bill to raise gasoline taxes and other transportation-related fees for the first time in decades in an ambitious $52 billion plan to repair the state’s long-neglected roads and bridges. The measure, increasing excise taxes on gasoline by 12 cents per gallon, from the current rate of $0.28 a gallon, and on diesel fuel by 20 cents per gallon over the next 10 years, goes into effect in November. It cleared the state legislature three weeks ago, on the strength of a two-thirds super-majority the Democrats wield in both houses that allows them to pass new taxes with little or no Republican support. Republicans condemned the increases, saying the state’s transportation taxes and fees are already among the highest in the nation. They call the newly enacted measure the largest gasoline tax in California’s history.

The average motorist in California, a state renowned for its car culture, will see transportation costs rise by about $10 a month under the measure, according to Brown, a Democrat who has governed largely as a fiscal moderate. He has refused to back any transportation overall plans that involved borrowing money. Supporters say the measure is needed to address a mounting backlog of crumbling infrastructure projects, including more than 500 bridges statewide requiring major repair, most of them considered structurally deficient. The fuel tax increases, together with higher vehicle licensing fees and a new $100 annual fee on owners of electric-only vehicles, would raise $5.2 billion a year, all earmarked for road, highway and bridge repairs and anti-congestion projects.

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Too many people are too sure Le Pen has no chance.

Melenchon Attacks Macron as Le Pen Fights to Win His Supporters (BBG)

The left-wing populist Jean-Luc Melenchon, who was eliminated from France’s presidential election this week, declined to endorse centrist front-runner Emmanuel Macron as he looked to keep hold of his 7.1 million voters ahead of a parliamentary ballot in June. Melenchon, who came fourth in Sunday’s first-round vote, said he won’t vote for the anti-euro nationalist Marine Le Pen in the runoff on the May 7 in a 32-minute video posted on his official YouTube channel late Friday. But he also aimed criticism at the centrist Macron who has won endorsements from most of his mainstream rivals, as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “We can’t really call this a choice,” Melenchon said. “The nature of the two candidates makes it impossible to come out of this with stability.”

“One because he’s the extreme of finance, the other because she’s the extreme right,” he added, saying his party, France Unbowed, will reach the second round in 450 of the 577 constituencies up for grabs in the lower chamber of parliament in June and Macron sees him as a “threat.” Politicians and observers across the European Union have been transfixed by the French election with Le Pen promising to pull out of the euro and erect barriers to trade with the rest of the bloc while Macron has vowed to revive the Franco-German partnership to begin a new era of continental cooperation. Le Pen is fighting to win over Melenchon’s supporters as she seeks to close a gap of some 20 %age points on her rival.

Despite the personal antipathy between Melenchon and Le Pen, their protectionist, anti-European platforms had lots in common. In a speech in Arras on Wednesday, Macron praised Melenchon’s “panache” and the wave of support he created in the campaign. Le Pen said on France 2 television on Monday that they had “very similar” economic ideas and her team acclaimed his “noble” act to hold back an endorsement. Surveys show that Melenchon voters are increasingly likely to abstain rather than back Macron on May 7. An OpinionWay polled Friday showed that 45% of Melenchon supporters plan to abstain in the second round, up from 23% at the start of the week. Macron’s support among that group fell to 40% from 55%, while Le Pen’s dropped to 15% from 22%.

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Looks like a positive development.

US Troops Deploy Along Syria-Turkish Border (AP)

US armoured vehicles are deploying in areas in northern Syria along the tense border with Turkey, a few days after a Turkish airstrike that killed 20 US-backed Kurdish fighters, a Syrian war monitor and Kurdish activists said Friday. Footage posted by Syrian activists online showed a convoy of US armoured vehicles driving on a rural road in the village of Darbasiyah, a few hundred meters from the Turkish border. Clashes in the area were reported between Turkish and Kurdish forces Wednesday a day after the Turkish airstrike which also destroyed a Kurdish command headquarters. The Turkish airstrikes, which also wounded 18 members of the US-backed People’s Protection Units, or YPG, in Syria were criticized by both the US and Russia.

The YPG is a close US ally in the fight against Daesh, also known as ISIS and ISIL, but is seen by Ankara as a terrorist group because of its ties to Turkey’s Kurdish rebels. Further clashes between Turkish and Kurdish forces in Syria could potentially undermine the US-led war on Daesh. A senior Kurdish official, Ilham Ahmad told AP that American forces began carrying out patrols along the border Thursday along with reconnaissance flights in the area. She said the deployment was in principle temporary, but may become more permanent. A Kurdish activist in the area, Mustafa Bali, said the deployment began Friday afternoon and is ongoing. He said deployment stretches from the Iraqi border to areas past Darbasiyah in the largely Kurdish part of eastern Syria.

“The US role has now become more like a buffer force between us and the Turks on all front lines,” he said. He said US forces will also deploy as a separation force in areas where the Turkish-backed Syrian fighting forces and the Kurdish forces meet. It is a message of reassurance for the Kurds and almost a “warning message” to the Turks, he said. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, did not dispute that U.S. troops are operating with elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) along the Turkish border, but he would not get into specifics. The SDF is a Kurdish-dominated alliance fighting Daesh that includes Arab fighters. “We have U.S. forces that are there throughout the entirety of northern Syria that operate with our Syrian Democratic Force partners,” Davis said. “The border is among the areas where they operate.”

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Here’s why there are US tropps in the region.

Tensions Escalate Between Kurdish Forces, Turkish Troops in North Syria (ARA)

Clashes continued for the third consecutive day between Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Turkey’s military in several areas in northern Syria, military sources reported on Friday. The Turkish Army bombed several villages in the Kurdish Afrin district, including Panerak, Shankila, Midan Akbas and Rajo. “The Turkish artillery bombarded YPG security checkpoints and residential buildings in Afrin countryside, killing and wounding dozens, most of them civilians,” a spokesperson for the YPG told ARA News. The bombardment led to clashes between the Kurdish units and Turkish military forces in the sub-districts of Rajo and Shiya. “Our units responded to the Turkish offensive by hitting the positions of the Turkish troops near Susk hill in Afrin. At least three military vehicles were destroyed by YPG fire,” the Kurdish official said.

The YPG also released a video showing the destruction of a Turkish base in northwestern Aleppo. “At least 17 Turkish soldiers were killed and three others were wounded under heavy bombardment by the YPG,” a member of the YPG media office in Afrin told ARA News. The source added that the clashes between the YPG and Turkey’s military are still ongoing in the Shiya and Rajo sub-districts. Clashes broke out on Wednesday between the Syrian Kurdish forces and Turkish troops after the latter targeted the Kurdish town of Derbassiye in Syria’s northeastern Hasakah province with heavy artillery, shutting down the road between Derbassiye and Serikaniye. This coincided with similar clashes between the YPG and Turkish troops in Afrin. This comes after the Turkish jets killed over 25 Kurdish fighters in Iraq and Syria on Tuesday.

The US-led coalition expressed concerns over the Turkish attacks against the Kurdish fighters who are in war with ISIS in northern Syria. “We call on all forces to remain focused on the fight to defeat ISIS, which is the greatest threat to regional and worldwide peace, security,” said Air Force Col John L. Dorrian, Spokesman for the US-led coalition against ISIS. “Turkish strikes were conducted without proper coordination with the Coalition or the Government of Iraq,” he said. “Our partner forces have been killed by Turkey strike, they have made many sacrifices to defeat ISIS,” the American Colonel said. “We are troubled by Turkey airstrikes on SDF and Kurdish forces,” he added.

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This will not go quiet for much longer.

‘Europe’s Dirty Secret’: Officials On Chios Scramble To Cope With Rising Tensions (G.)

On a clear day the channel dividing Chios from the Turkish coast does not look like a channel at all. The nooks and crevices of Turkey’s western shores, its wind turbines and summer homes could, to the naked eye, be a promontory of the Greek island itself. For the men, women and children who almost daily make the crossing in dinghies and other smuggler craft, it is a God-given proximity, the gateway to Europe that continues to lure. Samuel Aneke crossed the sea almost a year ago on 1 June. Like those before him, and doubtless those who will follow, he saw the five-mile stretch as the last hurdle to freedom. “You could say geography brought me here,” said the Nigerian, a broad smile momentarily dousing his otherwise dour demeanour. “But it was not supposed to keep me prisoner.”

Refugee flows via Greece were meant to stop when the EU and Turkey announced what was seen as a pioneering agreement to stem the influx in March 2016. In Chios, like other Aegean isles, residents initially welcomed the accord. It was short-lived. The influx – one that saw more than 850,000 refugees arrive into the country in 2015 – was soon replaced by a steady flow, with asylum seekers arriving in groups that were sometimes small, sometimes large, but always propelled by the same ambition: to reach Europe by way of its southern shores. On Chios, more than 825 asylum seekers, the vast majority Syrians, arrived from Turkey in March. This month almost 600 have come. With at least 3,000, according to authorities, housed in two overcrowded camps – one makeshift, the other a razor-wire topped detention centre in a former factory known as Vial – it is anger that hangs in the air.

Greece’s Aegean isles have become de facto detention facilities – a dumpling ground for nearly 14,000 stranded souls, unable to move until permits are processed and fearful of what lies ahead. “Anything could happen because everything is hanging by a thread,” says Makis Mylonas, a policy adviser at the town hall. “Chios, Samos, Lesvos, Kos, Leros were sacrificed in the name of Europe’s fixation to keep immigrants out,” he claims, listing the isles that continue to bear the brunt of the flows.

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Feb 122017
 
 February 12, 2017  Posted by at 10:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Model wearing Dior on the banks of the Seine, Paris 1948

 

Does UK’s Lucrative Arms Trade Come At The Cost Of Political Repression? (G.)
UK Journalists Who Obtain Leaked Official Material Could Face Jail (Tel.)
Women And Children ‘Raped, Beaten And Abused’ In Dunkirk’s Refugee Camp (G.)
Bank For International Settlements Warns Of Looming Debt Bubble (F.)
Trump Regime Was Manufactured By A War Inside The Deep State (Nafeez Ahmed)
Banking, Credit & Norway (Steve Keen)
Greece Says Bailout Deal Close, But Will Not Accept ‘Illogical’ Demands (G.)
Greece 2017: Numbers And Facts About 8 Years Of Recession (AthensLive)
Tsipras Warns IMF, Germany To Stop ‘Playing With Fire’ Over Greek Debt (AFP)
Yanis Varoufakis: Grexit ‘Never Went Away’ (AlJ)
Why Falling Home Prices Could Be a Good Thing (NYT)
Army Veterans Return To Standing Rock To Form Human Shield Against Police (G.)
France’s Bumbling Search for a Candidate to Stop Le Pen (Spiegel)
A $500 Billion Plan To Refreeze The Arctic Before The Ice Melts (G.)

 

 

Look, Guardian, this is a good piece. But your editor destroys it by adding a headline with a question mark. Reality is, Britain is nothing but a front for a criminal racket. Its arms sales -both abroad and to its own forces- are responsible for the misery of countless deaths and maimed and refugees each and every year. Which your PM phrases as “..the UK will be at the forefront of a wider western effort to step up our defence and security partnership.” But you as a paper don’t have to play that game. Just tell your readers what is happening, and what has happened for decades. You live by blood and destruction.

Does UK’s Lucrative Arms Trade Come At The Cost Of Political Repression? (G.)

On 24 January 2015 a private jet touched down in Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh. On board were a handful of Foreign Office officials, security personnel and the then prime minister, David Cameron, who was visiting the kingdom to pay his condolences following the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. The decision to charter the jet – at a cost to the taxpayer of £101,792 – raised eyebrows among Whitehall mandarins. But when it comes to Saudi Arabia, normal UK rules don’t seem to apply. For decades the two kingdoms have quietly enjoyed a symbiotic relationship centred on the exchange of oil for weapons. Analysis of HM Revenue and Customs figures by Greenpeace EnergyDesk shows that in 2015 83% of UK arms exports – almost £900m – went to Saudi Arabia. Over the same period, the UK imported £900m of oil from the kingdom.

Now this relationship has come under scrutiny as a result of a judicial review brought by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), which has sent alarm bells ringing in Whitehall. The case follows concerns that a coalition of Saudi-led forces may have been using UK-manufactured weapons in violation of international humanitarian law during their ongoing bombardment of Yemen, targeting Iranian-backed Houthi forces loyal to the country’s former president. The legal challenge comes at a crucial time for the UK’s defence industry, which makes about 20% of arms exported globally. In recent years Ministry of Defence cutbacks have led to the sector looking abroad for new sales, and the government, with one eye on the post-Brexit landscape, is keen on the strategy. Last month Theresa May heralded a £100m deal involving the UK defence giant BAE and the Turkish military, and many defence experts see this as a sign of things to come.

But the policy – as the Saudi case makes clear – is controversial. Many of the UK’s biggest customers have questionable human rights records and there are concerns exported weapons are used for repression or against non-military targets. Thousands have died in the Yemen campaign, with the Saudis accused of targeting civilians. Four-fifths of the population is in need of aid, and famine is gripping the country. But despite this, and protests from human rights groups and the United Nations, the UK has continued to arm the Saudi regime, licensing about £3.3bn of weapons to the kingdom since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015.

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Orwell meets Samuel Beckett.

UK Journalists Who Obtain Leaked Official Material Could Face Jail (Tel.)

Campaigners have expressed outrage at new proposals that could lead to journalists being jailed for up to 14 years for obtaining leaked official documents. The major overhaul of the Official Secrets Act – to be replaced by an updated Espionage Act – would give courts the power to increase jail terms against journalists receiving official material. The new law, should it get approval, would see documents containing “sensitive information” about the economy fall foul of national security laws for the first time. In theory a journalist leaked Brexit documents deemed harmful to the UK economy could be jailed as a consequence. One legal expert said the new changes would see the maximum jail sentence increase from two years to 14 years; make it an offence to “obtain or gather” rather than simply share official secrets; and to extend the scope of the law to cover information that damages “economic well-being”.

John Cooper QC, a leading criminal and human rights barrister who has served on two law commission working parties, added: “These reforms would potentially undermine some of the most important principles of an open democracy.” Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive of Index on Censorship, said: “The proposed changes are frightening and have no place in a democracy, which relies on having mechanisms to hold the powerful to account. “It is unthinkable that whistle blowers and those to whom they reveal their information should face jail for leaking and receiving information that is in the public interest.” Her organisation has accused the Law Commission, the Government’s statutory legal advisers, of failing to consult fully with journalists before making its recommendations in a 326-page consultation published earlier this month. “It is shocking that so few organisations were consulted on these proposed changes given the huge implications for public interest journalism in this country,” said Ms Ginsberg.

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And this, too, is Britain, in 2017. And way before that too.

Women And Children ‘Raped, Beaten And Abused’ In Dunkirk’s Refugee Camp (G.)

Children and women are being raped by traffickers inside a refugee camp in northern France, according to detailed testimony gathered ahead of fresh legal action against the UK government’s approach to the welfare of unaccompanied minors. Corroborating accounts from volunteers, medics, refugees and security officials reveal that sexual abuse is common within the large camp at Dunkirk and that children and women are forced to have sex by traffickers in return for blankets or food or the offer of passage to the UK. Legal proceedings will be issued by London-based Bindmans against the Home Office, which is accused of acting unfairly and irrationally by electing to settle only minors from the vast Calais camp that closed last October, ignoring the child refugees gathered in Dunkirk, 40 miles away along the coast.

The legal action, brought on behalf of the Dunkirk Legal Support Team and funded by a crowd justice scheme, says the Home Office’s approach was arbitrary and mean-spirited. On Wednesday the government’s approach to child refugees provoked widespread indignation when the home secretary, Amber Rudd, announced the decision to end the “Dubs scheme”, having allowed just 350 children to enter the UK, 10% of the number most MPs and aid organisations had been led to believe could enter. [..] On Friday the archbishop of Canterbury said the government’s decision meant that child refugees would be at risk of being trafficked and even killed. Justin Welby’s warnings of what could happen if child refugees were denied the opportunity of safe passage are graphically articulated in the testimonies gathered over several months by the Observer.

Accounts from those at the camp, which currently holds up to 2,000 refugees, of whom an estimated 100 are unaccompanied minors, portray a squalid site with inadequate security and atrocious living conditions. The Dunkirk Legal Support Team says the failure of the authorities to guard the site has allowed the smugglers to take control. One volunteer coordinator, who has worked at the camp’s women’s centre since October 2016, said: “Sexual assault, violence and rape are all far too common. Minors are assaulted and women are raped and forced to pay for smuggling with their bodies.” Testifying on condition of anonymity, she added: “Although the showers are meant to be locked at night, particularly dangerous individuals in the camp have keys and are able to take the women to the showers in the night to force themselves on them. This has happened to women I know very well.”

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Looming, right?

Bank For International Settlements Warns Of Looming Debt Bubble (F.)

So you thought the world was deleveraging after the housing and derivatives bubble of 2008, hey? Well…fooled you! Global debt-to-GDP is now at a comfortable record high and the Bank for International Settlements, aka the central bank of central banks, noted on Friday that over the last 16 years, debts of governments, households and corporations has gone up…everywhere. In the U.S., debt is up 63%. The Eurozone, Japan, U.K., Canada and Australia average around 52%. And emerging markets, led by China, leverage is up 85%. In some important emerging economies like Brazil major cities are on the verge of bankruptcy. Rio is CCC credit thanks to mismanagement of a deep sea oil bonanza and over spending on the FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

“The next financial crisis is likely to revolve around how this debt burden is managed,” warns Neil MacKinnon, an economist with VTB Capital in London. “In the U.K., most crises are related to boom and busts in the housing market, where there is an approximate 18-year cycle suggesting that the next bust will be in 2025.” That’s quite a ways away. And for London real estate, they always have the Saudis, the Russians and the Chinese to save them. But further south, in countries like France and Italy, credit downgrades are expected. And guess which southern European country is back to give us all headaches again? Greece! Greece is making headlines once more for its inability to work out a debt deal with its lenders. There is now a rift between the EU and the IMF over Greek debt sustainability.

Most of the debt is with the European Commission itself, so German policy makers are basically the lenders and so far are not willing to take a haircut on bond prices. The IMF predicts that the Greek debt-GDP ratio, now at 180%, will soar to 275% all the while primary fiscal surplus is currently at zero. That means Greece’s debt to GDP is like Japan, only without the power of the Japanese economy to back it up. Greece is broke. “Greece is caught in a debt-trap which has shrunk the Greek economy by 25%,” notes MacKinnon. They owe Europe around €7 billion in July. Good luck with that. Jaime Caruana, General Manager for the Bank for International Settlements hinted in a speech in Brussels on Monday that the core central banks might not know what they’re in for.

“We need to escape the popular models that prevent us from recognizing the build-up of vulnerabilities,” Caruana said. “Getting all the right dots in front of you does not really help if you do not connect the dots. Right now, I worry that even though we have data on aggregate debt, we are not properly connecting the dots and we are underestimating the risks, particularly when the high levels of debt are aggravated by weak productivity growth in many countries. The standard of evidence for precautionary action has to be the preponderance of evidence, not evidence beyond a shadow of doubt. Waiting for fully compelling evidence is to act too late.”

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Long and deep from Nafeez.

Trump Regime Was Manufactured By A War Inside The Deep State (Nafeez Ahmed)

President Donald Trump is not fighting a war on the establishment: he’s fighting a war to protect the establishment from itself, and the rest of us. At first glance, this isn’t obvious. Among his first actions upon taking office, Trump vetoed the Trans Pacific Partnership, the controversial free trade agreement which critics rightly said would lead to US job losses while giving transnational corporations massive power over national state policies on health, education and other issues. Trump further plans to ditch the TTIP between the EU and US, which would have diluted key state regulations on the activities of transnational corporates on issues like food safety, the environment and banking; and to renegotiate NAFTA, potentially heightening tensions with Canada. Trump appears to be in conflict with the bulk of the US intelligence community, and is actively seeking to restructure the government to minimize checks and balances, and thus consolidate his executive power.

His chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has completely restructured the National Security Council under unilateral presidential authority. While Bannon and his Chief of Staff Richard ‘Reince’ Priebus now have permanent seats on the NSC’s Principals’ Committee, the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are barred from meetings except when requested for their expertise. The Secretary of Energy and US ambassador to the UN have been expelled entirely. Trump’s White House has purged almost the entire senior staff of the State Department, and tested the loyalty of the Department of Homeland Security with its new ‘Muslim ban’ order. So what is going on? One approach to framing the Trump movement comes from Jordan Greenhall, who sees it as a conservative (“Red Religion”) Insurgency against the liberal (“Blue Church”) Globalist establishment (the “Deep State”).

Greenhall suggests, essentially, that Trump is leading a nationalist coup against corporate neoliberal globalization using new tactics of “collective intelligence” by which to outsmart and outspeed his liberal establishment opponents. But at best this is an extremely partial picture. In reality, Trump has ushered in something far more dangerous: The Trump regime is not operating outside the Deep State, but mobilizing elements within it to dominate and strengthen it for a new mission. The Trump regime is not acting to overturn the establishment, but to consolidate it against a perceived crisis of a wider transnational Deep System. The Trump regime is not a conservative insurgency against the liberal establishment, but an act of ideologically constructing the current crisis as a conservative-liberal battleground, led by a particularly radicalized white nationalist faction of a global elite.

The act is a direct product of a global systemic crisis, but is a short-sighted and ill-conceived reaction, pre-occupied with surface symptoms of that crisis. Unfortunately, those hoping to resist the Trump reaction also fail to understand the system dynamics of the crisis.

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If you want to know what ails us, it doesn’t get much clearer than this.

Banking, Credit & Norway (Steve Keen)

This was an invited talk during Oslo University’s “Week of Current Affairs”, so though my talk covered the global issues of credit and economic cycles, I paid particular attention to Norway, which is one of the 9 countries I have identified as very likely to experience a credit crunch in the next few years.

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But illogical demans are all there is.

Greece Says Bailout Deal Close, But Will Not Accept ‘Illogical’ Demands (G.)

Greek PM Alexis Tsipras said on Saturday he believed the country’s drawn-out bailout review would be completed positively but repeated that Athens would not accept “illogical” demands by its lenders. He warned all sides to “be more careful towards a country that has been pillaged and people who have made, and are continuing to make, so many sacrifices in the name of Europe”. Greece and its international lenders made clear progress on Friday toward bridging differences over its fiscal path in coming years, moving closer to a deal that would secure new loan disbursements and save the country from default. “(The review) will be completed, and it will be completed positively, without concessions in matters of principle,” Tsipras told a meeting of his leftist Syriza party. Reaching agreement would release another tranche of funds from it latest €86 billion bailout, and facilitate Greece making a major €7.2 billion debt repayment this summer.

European and IMF lenders want Greece to make €1.8 billion – or 1% of GDP – worth of new reforms by 2018 and another €1.8 billion after then and the measures would be focused on broadening the tax base and on pension cutbacks. But further cutbacks, particularly to pensions which have already gone through 11 cuts since the start of the crisis in 2010, are hard to sell to a public worn down after years of austerity. Representatives of Greece’s lenders are expected to return to Athens this week to report on whether Greece has complied with a second batch of reforms agreed under the current bailout, its third. “We are ready to discuss anything within the framework of the (bailout) agreement and within reason, but not things beyond the framework of the agreement and beyond reason,” Tsipras said. “We will not discuss demands which are not backed up by logic and by numbers,” he said.

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One minute of devastating numbers.

Greece 2017: Numbers And Facts About 8 Years Of Recession (AthensLive)

While Greece is back in the headlines, we got together some numbers and facts about eight years of economic recession.

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Well, they won’t stop.

Tsipras Warns IMF, Germany To Stop ‘Playing With Fire’ Over Greek Debt (AFP)

Greek PM Alexis Tsipras on Saturday warned the IMF and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble to “stop playing with fire” in the handling of his country’s debt. Opening a meeting of his Syriza party, Tsipras said he was confident a solution would be found, a day after talks between Greece and its creditors ended in Brussels with no breakthrough. He urged a change of course from the IMF. “We expect as soon as possible that the IMF revise its forecast.. so that discussions can continue at the technical level.” Referring to Schaeuble, Tsipras also called for German Chancellor Angela Merkel to “encourage her finance minister to end his permanent aggressiveness” towards Greece. Months of feuding with the IMF has raised fears of a new debt crisis.

Greece is embroiled in a row with its eurozone paymasters and the IMF over debt relief and budget targets that has rattled markets and revived talk of its place in the euro. Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem said progress had been made in the Brussels talks with Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos and other EU and IMF officials. But he provided few details. The Athens government faces debt repayments of €7.0 billion this summer that it cannot afford without defusing the feud that is holding up new loans from Greece’s €86 billion bailout. Breaking the stalemate in the coming weeks is seen as paramount with elections in the Netherlands on March 15 and France in April through June threatening to make a resolution even more difficult.

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Mostly rehashing Yanis’ time as FinMin. That’s a shame, because his views on today are much more interesting.

Yanis Varoufakis: Grexit ‘Never Went Away’ (AlJ)

With the UK on the cusp of leaving the European Union and Greece increasingly facing the same fate, is it over for the beleaguered body? An “epidemic” washing over other European countries may see the end of the EU, warns Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s former finance minister. “The right question is: Is there going to be a eurozone and the European Union in one or two years’ time?” asks Varoufakis, who served as finance minister for five months under the Syriza government. Italy is already on the way out, Varoufakis tells UpFront. “When you allow an epidemic to start spreading from a place like Greece to Spain … to Ireland, then eventually it gets to a place like Italy,” says Varoufakis. “As we speak, only one political party in Italy wants to keep Italy in the eurozone.”

When asked about his failure to pull Greece out of its debt crisis during his tenure as finance minister, Varoufakis blamed the so-called troika – the IMF, the EU Commission and the European Central Bank – by intentionally sabotaging any debt-repayment agreement. “They were only interested in crushing our government, making sure that there would be no such mutually advantageous agreement,” says Varoufakis, who claims Greece was being used as a “morality tale” to scare voters in other European countries away from defying the troika. “The only reason why we keep talking about Greece … is because it is symptomatic of the architectural design faults and crisis of the eurozone.”

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To pop the bubble? To allow people to live where their families do?

Why Falling Home Prices Could Be a Good Thing (NYT)

Suppose there were a way to pump up the economy, reduce inequality and put an end to destructive housing bubbles like the one that contributed to the Great Recession. The idea would be simple, but not easy, requiring a wholesale reframing of the United States economy and housing market. The solution: Americans, together and all at once, would have to stop thinking about their homes as an investment. The virtues of homeownership are so ingrained in the American psyche that we often forget that housing is also a source of economic stress. Rising milk prices are regarded as a household tragedy for some, and spiking gas prices stoke national outrage. But whenever home prices go up, it’s “a recovery,” even though that recovery also means millions of people can no longer afford to buy.

Homes are the largest asset for all but the richest households, but shelter is also a basic necessity, like food. We have a variety of state and federal programs devised to make housing cheaper and more accessible, and a maze of local land-use laws that make housing scarcer and more expensive by doing things like prohibiting in-law units, regulating how small lots can be, and capping the number of unrelated people who can live together. Another big problem: High rent and home prices prevent Americans from moving to cities where jobs and wages are booming. That hampers economic growth, makes income inequality worse and keeps people from pursuing their dreams. So instead of looking at homes as investments, what if we regarded them like a TV or a car or any other consumer good? People might expect home prices to go down instead of up.

Homebuilders would probably spend more time talking about technology and design than financing options. Politicians might start talking about their plans to lower home prices further, as they often do with fuel prices. In this thought experiment, housing prices would probably adjust. They would be somewhat cheaper in most places, where population is growing slowly. But they would be profoundly cheaper in places like super-expensive San Francisco. That was the conclusion of a recent paper by the economists Ed Glaeser of Harvard and Joe Gyourko at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The paper uses construction industry data to determine how much a house should cost to build if land-use regulation were drastically cut back. Since the cost of erecting a home varies little from state to state — land is the main variable in housing costs — their measure is the closest thing we have to a national home price.

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Hope they get their media organized so news can get out. If it does it could be the worst PR disaster ever.

Army Veterans Return To Standing Rock To Form Human Shield Against Police (G.)

US veterans are returning to Standing Rock and pledging to shield indigenous activists from attacks by a militarized police force, another sign that the fight against the Dakota Access pipeline is far from over. Army veterans from across the country have arrived in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, or are currently en route after the news that Donald Trump’s administration has allowed the oil corporation to finish drilling across the Missouri river. The growing group of military veterans could make it harder for police and government officials to try to remove hundreds of activists who remain camped near the construction site and, some hope, could limit use of excessive force by law enforcement during demonstrations. “We are prepared to put our bodies between Native elders and a privatized military force,” said Elizabeth Williams, a 34-year-old Air Force veteran, who arrived at Standing Rock with a group of vets late Friday.

“We’ve stood in the face of fire before. We feel a responsibility to use the skills we have.” It is unclear how many vets may arrive to Standing Rock; some organizers estimate a few dozen are on their way, while other activists are pledging that hundreds could show up in the coming weeks. An estimated 1,000 veterans traveled to Standing Rock in December just as the Obama administration announced it was denying a key permit for the oil company, a huge victory for the tribe. The massive turnout – including a ceremony in which veterans apologized to indigenous people for the long history of US violence against Native Americans – served as a powerful symbol against the $3.7bn pipeline. Since last fall, police have made roughly 700 arrests, at times deploying water cannons, Mace, rubber bullets, teargas, pepper spray and other less-than-lethal weapons.

Private guards for the pipeline have also been accused of violent tactics. “We have the experience of standing in the face of adverse conditions – militarization, hostility, intimidation,” said Julius Page, a 61-year-old veteran staying at the vets camp. Dan Luker, a 66-year-old veteran who visited Standing Rock in December and returned this month, said that for many who fought in Vietnam or the Middle East it was “healing” to help water protectors.“This is the right war, right side,” said Luker, a Vietnam vet from Boston. “Finally, it’s the US military coming on to Sioux land to help, for the first time in history, instead of coming on to Sioux land to kill natives.” Luker said he was prepared to be hit by police ammunition if necessary: “I don’t want to see a 20-something, 30-something untrained person killed by the United States government.”

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Good overview of what is only 2 months away and could change Europe dramatically. Opinionated, but then that’s Der Spiegel.

France’s Bumbling Search for a Candidate to Stop Le Pen (Spiegel)

[..] even if Fillon survives as a candidate, he will be so damaged that he has virtually no chance of winning. Last week, in fact, his own party began discussing a “Plan B” so openly that it was almost disrespectful. Juppé is one possible replacement candidate being discussed, but the names of some young conservatives have also been circulating. Regardless, none of these alternatives would be as capable of taking voters away from Marine Le Pen and her project “Marine 2017” as the pre-scandal Fillon would have been. This, of course, is welcome news for Marine Le Pen, who transformed the fascist clique surrounding her father into a modern party, the right-wing populist Front National, with her at the center. Over the weekend, she introduced “140 proposals for France” as she launched the main segment of her campaign.

Yet even as she hits the stump, she is comfortably secure in the knowledge that she has the support of at least one-quarter of the country’s voters no matter what she says and no matter what others might say about her. She has been accused of having systematically misappropriated EU funds for party purposes in the European Parliament. She is no longer able to hide the fact that she is sparring over the direction of the party with her own niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen. But it doesn’t matter: Her polling numbers have remained constant at 25%, indicating that it is very likely she will attract enough voters to make it into the second round of voting in the presidential election. The only question is who will be her challenger? Who will become the “lesser of two evils” of this campaign?

Will it be Socialist candidate Hamon, with his foolhardy plan of introducing an unconditional basic income for all French, starting at €600 and later rising to €750? The plan would likely lead to €380 billion in additional annual spending for the French government. Or will it be Emmanuel Macron? There is no doubt that he has the charisma of a leader, but he also has some weaknesses that make him prone to attack, including two that could become particularly dangerous. The first is a resume that is hardly consistent with the image of a young hero shaking up an ossified political system. Macron studied at France’s elite École nationale d’administration (ENA), he’s a wealthy former banker who worked at Rothschild before becoming an adviser to François Hollande. He has long been part of the elite on which he has declared war.

Then there’s Macron’s second problem: With the exception of a relatively refreshing and clear commitment to the EU, at least for a Frenchman, he doesn’t have much of a platform. He has said he will announce his plans in late February, once his movement’s hundreds of thousands of volunteers, organized in working groups across the country, assemble policy proposals on diverse issues. If this operation is successful and Macron does indeed produce a coherent political platform, it will represent yet another grassroots miracle for France. But is such a thing even possible? Can a new political course -neither left nor right, but simply correct and good- really be formulated by the masses? There is plenty of hope surrounding Macron, but mockery is never far away. A French comedian could be heard last week on the radio, still an important opinion-shaping media in France, saying that washing machines have more programs than Macron.

Recent polls showed him pulling in 23% of the vote. Leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a man who thinks quite highly of himself and his ideas, stands at around 10%. Mélenchon is promising to allow people to retire at the age of 60 and draw full pension benefits and is calling for a monthly minimum wage of 1,300 euros. He wants France and the European Union to recognize Palestine as a state, he is calling for France to withdraw from NATO and is demanding the renegotiation of the EU treaties. Next.

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Someday some fool will actually execute some of these schemes. Why stop the causes if you can play God?

A $500 Billion Plan To Refreeze The Arctic Before The Ice Melts (G.)

Physicist Steven Desch has come up with a novel solution to the problems that now beset the Arctic. He and a team of colleagues from Arizona State University want to replenish the region’s shrinking sea ice – by building 10 million wind-powered pumps over the Arctic ice cap. In winter, these would be used to pump water to the surface of the ice where it would freeze, thickening the cap. The pumps could add an extra metre of sea ice to the Arctic’s current layer, Desch argues. The current cap rarely exceeds 2-3 metres in thickness and is being eroded constantly as the planet succumbs to climate change. “Thicker ice would mean longer-lasting ice. In turn, that would mean the danger of all sea ice disappearing from the Arctic in summer would be reduced significantly,” Desch told the Observer.

Desch and his team have put forward the scheme in a paper that has just been published in Earth’s Future, the journal of the American Geophysical Union, and have worked out a price tag for the project: $500bn. It is an astonishing sum. However, it is the kind of outlay that may become necessary if we want to halt the calamity that faces the Arctic, says Desch, who, like many other scientists, has become alarmed at temperature change in the region. They say that it is now warming twice as fast as their climate models predicted only a few years ago and argue that the 2015 Paris agreement to limit global warming will be insufficient to prevent the region’s sea ice disappearing completely in summer, possibly by 2030. “Our only strategy at present seems to be to tell people to stop burning fossil fuels,” says Desch. “It’s a good idea but it is going to need a lot more than that to stop the Arctic’s sea ice from disappearing.”

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Feb 112017
 
 February 11, 2017  Posted by at 4:28 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Outrageous Malevolence
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Henri Cartier Bresson Salamanca 1963

 

Earlier this week I was talking in Athens to a guy from Holland, who incidentally with a group of friends runs a great project on Lesbos taking care of some 1000 refugees in one of the camps there. But that’s another topic for another day. I was wondering in our conversation how it is possible that, as we both painfully acknowledged, people in Holland and Germany don’t know what has really happened in the Greek debt crisis. Or, rather, don’t know how it started.

That certainly is a big ugly stain on their media. And it threatens to lead to things even uglier than what we’ve seen so far. People there in Northern Europe really think the Greeks are taking them for a ride, that the hard-working and saving Dutch and Germans pay through the teeth for Greek extravaganza. It’s all one big lie, but one that suits the local politicians just fine.

By accident(?!), I saw two different references to what really happened, both yesterday in the UK press. So let’s reiterate this one more time, and hope that perhaps this time someone in Berlin or Amsterdam picks it up and does something with it. There must be a few actual journalists left?! Or just ‘ordinary’ people curious enough, and with some intact active neurons, to go check if their politicians are not perhaps lying to them as much as their peers are all over the planet.

What I’m talking about in this instance is the first Greek bailout in 2010. While there are still discussions about the question whether the Greek deficit was artificially inflated by the country’s own statisticians, in order to force the bailout down the throats of the then government led by George Papandreou, there are far fewer doubts that the EU set up Greece for a major league fall just because it could, and because Dutch, French, German politicians could use that fall for their own benefit.

The reason to do all this would have been -should we say ostensibly or allegedly?-, to get Greece in a situation where the Germans and the French could abuse the emergency they themselves thus created, to transfer the Greece-related bad debts of their banks to the EU public at large, and subsequently to the Greek public, instead of forcing the banks to write these debts down. That is still the core of the Greek problem to this day. It’s also the core problem with the IMF’s involvement: the fund’s statutes prescribe it should have insisted on writedowns long ago, from the very first moment it got involved.

The bailout, as Yanis Varoufakis repeats below, was not -and never- meant to help Greece. Instead, it was meant to do the exact opposite, to enable Europe’s richer countries -and their banks- to escape the only just punishment for reckless lending practices, by unloading their debt onto the Greek people.

Varoufakis Accuses Creditors Of Going After Greece’s ‘Little People’

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis [..] said that the country has been put on a fiscal path which makes everyday life “unsustainable” in Greece. “The German finance minister agrees that no Greek government, however reformist it might be, can sustain the current debt obligations of Greece,” he said. Earlier in the day, Wolfgang Schäuble told German broadcaster ARD that Greece must reform or quit the euro. “A country in desperate need of reform has been made unreformable by unsustainable macroeconomic policies,” Mr Varoufakis said.

He said that “instead of attacking the worst cases of corruption, for six years now the creditors have been after the little people, the small pharmacists, the very poor pensioners instead of going for the oligarchies”. Greece in 2010 was given a huge loan that Mr Varoufakis said was not designed to save the bankrupt country but to “cynically transfer huge banking losses from the books of the Franco German banks onto the shoulders of the weakest taxpayers in Europe”.

The Financial Times, in a rare moment of lucidity, and with an unintentionally hilarious headline, puts its fingers on that same issue, as well as a few additional sore spots, and with admirable vengeance and clarity:

Conflict Over Athens’ Surplus Needles The IMF

This week the enduring problem of Greece took a new and disturbing turn. It was revealed that the executive board of the IMF is split on the question of what fiscal surplus Greece should be required to hit — which in itself will affect whether it needs official debt relief to reach sustainable growth.

[..] the fact that the fund admitted a division between its member countries is significant. European nations are over-represented on the board relative to their size in the global economy. Wielding that power to dissuade the fund from demanding debt relief from eurozone governments is a clear conflict of interest and poses a threat to the fund’s credibility and independence.

[..] The fund, which over the years has come to take a more realistic view of Greece’s debt sustainability, has dug its heels in and said it will not continue to participate without further reductions in the burden. This leaves eurozone countries, particularly Germany, in a quandary. Berlin insists it will not continue with the rescue without the involvement of the IMF but it fiercely opposes the debt writedown that the fund is demanding.

The point at issue is the fiscal surplus Greece is required to hit. The IMF says that reaching and maintaining a primary surplus of 1.5% of gross domestic product is sufficient; the eurozone wants an improbable 3.5%. [..] The European directors on the board, who want the IMF to agree to the higher fiscal surplus number, are undoubtedly conflicted by having an eye on the effect on their own governments having to write down debt.

Forthcoming elections in the eurozone, including Germany and France, mean that the political as well as economic cost of being seen to give in to Greece is considerable.

Greece’s own government has also been shaken by the conflict, and through its intransigence, the eurozone may force yet another change of administration, with the Syriza government being replaced by the centre-right opposition. At the margin, that may result in Greece being offered a slightly better deal than under the current administration. But short-term political manoeuvring is a terrible way to try to set Greece on a path to long-term debt sustainability and economic stability.

Right from the beginning of the Greek crisis in 2010, the political need to shield first their banks and investors, and then their taxpayers, has warped the response of eurozone governments. They have consistently signed up to hugely over-optimistic growth and surplus targets rather than accepting the need for more external finance and, if required, debt writedowns.

The rest of the IMF’s membership should be prepared to overrule the recalcitrant Europeans. The complaints of a self-interested cabal cannot be allowed to get in the way of Greece’s best interests. Eurozone governments have behaved poorly on this issue. They deserve to be defeated.

First of all, to put Greece and ‘sustainable growth’ together in one sentence is as preposterous as it is to do the same with Greece and ‘surplus’. But more importantly, the FT is right in just about every word here. Europe de facto decides what the IMF does. So despite all the recent conflicts between the Troika members (though they reportedly just announced they agreed on what to dictate to Greece over the weekend), it’s really all EU (i.e. Germany, France) all the time. Greece never stood a chance, and neither did justice.

The point about upcoming elections in Holland, France and Germany gets more important by the day. Since former EU parliament chief Martin Schulz left that post to head the ‘socialist’ SPD in Germany’s elections, he’s seen his poll numbers soar so much that Merkel and Schaeuble are getting seriously nervous about their chances of re-election. Like in all countries these days, certainly also in Europe, their knee-jerk reaction is to pull further to the right. Which is the opposite of setting the record straight with regards to.

As for Dijsselbloem, Schaeuble’s counterpart as finance minister for Holland, his Labor Party (PVDA) -yes, that twit claims to be a leftie- is down so much in the polls that you have to wonder where he gets the guts -let alone the authority- to even open his mouth. PVDA has 38 seats in the Dutch parliament right now and are predicted to lose 27 of them and have just 11 left after the March 15 vote, taking them from 2nd largest party to 7th largest. And out of power.

And he still heads the eurogroup, including in the negotiations with Greece and the IMF?! It’s a strange world. Dijsselbloem proudly proclaimed this week that without the IMF being involved in the next bailout, Holland wouldn’t ‘give’ Greece another penny anymore. Think Dijsselbloem and Schaeuble don’t know what happened in 2010? Of course they do. They know better than anyone.

It’s simply better for their careers -or so they think- to further impoverish the entire Greek nation and the poorest of its citizens than it is to come clean, to tell their people the whole story has been based on dirty tricks from the start. And since their media refuse to tell the truth, too, the story will last until at least after their respective elections. Thing is, Dijsselbloem will be out of a political job by March 16, so what’s he doing, setting himself up for a juicy job at one of the banks whose debts were transferred to Greek pensioners in 2010? No conscience?

 

Perhaps Greece’s best hope is, of all people, Donald Trump. Yeah, a long shot if ever you saw one. But Trump can overrule the IMF board simply because the US is the biggest party involved in the fund. He can tell that divided board to get its act together and stop harassing a valuable NATO member. At least he has the business sense to understand that a country with 23% unemployment -and that’s just the official number- and 50-60% youth unemployment cannot recover no matter what happens, and that sustainable growth, any kind of growth, is an impossibility once you take people’s spending power away.

Meanwhile, elite and incumbent Europe seems to think that publicly agitating against Trump is the way to go (they may come to regret that stance, and a stance it all it is). Trump’s apparent choice for EU ambassador, economist Ted Malloch, was accused by European Parliament hotshots Weber and Verhofstadt -in a letter, no less- of “outrageous malevolence” towards “the values that define this European Union”, for saying the Union needs ‘a little taming’. For some reason, they don’t seem to like that kind of thing. “Outrageous malevolence”, we’re talking Nobel literature material here.

Malloch also said EU president Juncker was a “very adequate mayor, I think, of some city in Luxembourg.” And that he “should go back and do that again.” And Malloch said on Greek TV this week that Greece should have left the eurozone four years ago. “Why is Greece again on the brink? It seems like a deja vu. Will it ever end? I think this time I would have to say that the odds are higher that Greece itself will break out of the euro.”

Why would he say that? How about because of the numbers in this by now infamous graph, straight out of the IMF itself, which shows EU countries have conspired to plunge one of their fellow “Union” member states into a situation far worse than the US was in during the Great Depression? Would that do it?

 

 

And we haven’t even touched on the role that Goldman Sachs plays in the entire kerfuffle, with its fake loans and derivatives, yet another sordid tale in this Cruella De Vil web of power plays spun by incompetent petty men. And Americans think they got it bad… Guess that Goldman role makes it less likely for Trump to interfere in Greece’s favor. Which would seem a bad idea, for everyone involved, not least of all because of rising tensions with Turkey over islands and islets and rocks (I kid you not) in the Aegean Sea.

It would be much better and safer for Trump, and for all of Europe, to make sure Greece is a strong nation, not a depressed and demoralized penal colony for homeless and refugees. That is asking for even more trouble. But nary a soul seems to be tuned in to that, it’s all narrow windows, short term concerns and upcoming elections. No vision.

Or perhaps Merkel will do something unexpected. Word has it that Greek finance minister Tsakalotos is meeting with Angela this weekend, a move that would seem to bypass Schaeuble, who once again said yesterday that Greece can only get a debt writedown if it leaves the eurozone. And that’s something Merkel is not exactly keen on. If only because it means unpredictability, volatility, not a great thing if your popularity as leader is already on shaky ground.

But to summarize, the Greek people didn’t do this. Of course plenty of Greek citizens borrowed more money than they should have in the first decade of the millenium, stories about credit cards in people’s mailboxes with a ‘free’ €5000 credit on them are well known in Athens. But they were by no means the ones who profited most. And the country has a long history of corruption and tax evasion. Which is what the French and German banks ‘cleverly’ played into as their politicians acted like they had no idea. Still, none of that comes even close to a reason or an excuse for completely eviscerating a fellow member of both the EU and NATO.

And it makes little sense. Do these people really want to risk peace in the eastern Mediterranean, or inside Greece itself (which will inevitably explode if this continues), just in order to keep Commerzbank or BNP Paribas out of the trouble they rightfully deserve to be in?

No, it’s not Tim Malloch’s ‘statements that reveal’ “outrageous malevolence” towards “the values that define this European Union”. It’s the actions of the European Union itself that do.

Feb 052017
 
 February 5, 2017  Posted by at 8:59 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Hugo Simberg The Wounded Angel 1903

 

US Appeals Court Denies Request To Restore Trump’s Immigration Ban (R.)
DHS Suspends Actions On Travel Ban; ‘Standard Policy’ Now In Effect (R.)
Trump Tells O’Reilly He ‘Respects’ Putin in Super Bowl Interview (Fox)
As Trump Weighs Thaw With Putin, EU Set to Renew Its Blacklist (BBG)
Goldman Throws Cold Water On Trump Agenda (CNBC)
Economists Say Action On Carbon Is Vital, Or Say Nothing At All (Age)
Japan – It’s Finally Happening (Muir)
Le Pen Kicks Off Campaign With Promise Of French ‘Freedom’ (R.)
Theresa May Abandons ‘Home Owning Democracy’ of Thatcher and Tories (G.)
Attention Trade Warriors: Germany’s Surplus is on the Wane (BBG)
Dennis Kucinich Rages Against The Military-Industrial-Complex (FB)
NATO, Not Russia, Has Deployed Tanks To Poland & Baltic States – Galloway (RT)
Varoufakis Calls on PM Tspiras to Ditch Bailout Restructuring (GR)
Varoufakis Urges Tsipras To Ditch Negotiations, Adopt “Parallel System” (KTG)
UK: Refugees Heading To Europe To Be Sent To Asia And Latin America (Ind.)

 

 

It was always going to the Supreme Court. More interesting right now is how strongly this is dividing the White House team. Kelly refused to enact some of Bannon’s demands. Tillerson and Mattis are not sitting comfortable either. And the legal team has gained in standing, a lot. Trump cannot afford too many of these snags, even if they love the attention and controversy coming from it. All in all, a good thing that the legal system gets tested, never a thing to fall asleep on.

US Appeals Court Denies Request To Restore Trump’s Immigration Ban (R.)

A U.S. appeal court late on Saturday denied an emergency appeal from the U.S. Department of Justice to restore an immigration order from President Donald Trump barring citizens from seven mainly Muslim countries and temporarily banning refugees. “Appellants’ request for an immediate administrative stay pending full consideration of the emergency motion for a stay pending appeal is denied,” the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said. It said a reply from the Department in support of the emergency appeal was due on Monday. The Department filed the appeal a day after a federal judge in Seattle ordered Trump’s travel ban to be lifted. The president’s Jan. 27 order had barred admission of citizens from the seven nations for 90 days.

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Law.

DHS Suspends Actions On Travel Ban; ‘Standard Policy’ Now In Effect (R.)

A Seattle federal judge on Friday put a nationwide block on U.S. President Donald Trump’s week-old executive order that had temporarily barred refugees and nationals from seven countries from entering the United States. The judge’s temporary restraining order represents a major setback for Trump’s action, though the White House said late Friday that it believed the ban to be “lawful and appropriate” and that the U.S. Department of Justice would file an emergency appeal. As a result of the ruling, the Department of Homeland Security suspended its enforcement of the ban, announcing on Saturday that “standard policy and procedures” were now in effect. “In accordance with the judge’s ruling, DHS has suspended any and all actions implementing the affected sections of the Executive Order entitled, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” DHS said in a statement.

“DHS personnel will resume inspection of travelers in accordance with standard policy and procedure,” it stated, adding that the Justice Department would file an emergency stay to “defend the president’s executive order, which is lawful and appropriate.” The move came on the heels of the State Department announcing it was reversing the revocation of visas that left countless travelers stranded at airports last weekend. The move all but ensures a protracted public and legal battle over one of Trump’s most controversial policies, barely two weeks after he was inaugurated. Early Saturday morning, Trump criticised the ruling as “ridiculous” and warned of big trouble if a country could not control its borders.

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Quite right. Putin bashing is a losing strategy.

Trump Tells O’Reilly He ‘Respects’ Putin in Super Bowl Interview (Fox)

On Sunday, Bill O’Reilly will hold a special Super Bowl pre-game interview with President Trump at 4 p.m. ET on your local FOX broadcast station. In a special preview, Trump revealed his plans for dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin. O’Reilly asked Trump whether he “respects” the former KGB agent: “I do respect him, but I respect a lot of people,” Trump said, “That doesn’t mean I’m going to get along with him.” Trump said he would appreciate any assistance from Russia in the fight against ISIS terrorists, adding that he would rather get along with the former Cold War-era foe than otherwise. “But, [Putin] is a killer,” O’Reilly said. “There are a lot of killers,” Trump responded, “We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country’s so innocent?”

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For the EU, like NATO, Putin bashing is the only thing left that provides a reason to be. That’s just dangerous.

As Trump Weighs Thaw With Putin, EU Set to Renew Its Blacklist (BBG)

The European Union plans to renew asset freezes and travel bans against key allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin who are accused of destabilizing Ukraine, at a time when Donald Trump is weighing warmer ties with Moscow. Four EU officials said member governments intend by mid-March to prolong the sanctions for another six months on more than 100 Ukrainians and Russians. Among them: Arkady Rotenberg, co-owner of SMP Bank and InvestCapitalBank, and Yury Kovalchuk, the biggest shareholder in Bank Rossiya, the Brussels-based officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the deliberations are confidential. Trump, who had a phone call with Putin on Jan. 28, has left open the possibility of easing the U.S.’s sanctions against Russia.

Former President Barack Obama drew up the American penalties in coordination with the 28-nation EU after Putin annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea in 2014 and lent support to separatist rebels. “The Europeans are waiting to see what hand grenade Trump throws into the Russia-Ukraine pond,” Michael Emerson, a foreign-policy expert at the CEPS think tank in Brussels, said by phone. With the asset freezes and travel bans due to expire on March 15, “European politicians and diplomats will be cautious and stick to the status quo,” he said. The planned renewal of the blacklist highlights the EU’s political commitment to a policy that Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande guided in step with Obama. The European sanctions against Russia resemble the U.S. penalties and include a separate set of curbs – prolonged for another six months just before Trump took office on Jan. 20 – on Russia’s financial, energy and defense industries.

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Volatility.

Goldman Throws Cold Water On Trump Agenda (CNBC)

The policy halo effect that provided ballast to the stock market and fueled investor optimism is already being dimmed by political realities, according to Goldman Sachs, which may have negative implications for economic growth. In a note to clients on Friday, the investment bank noted President Donald Trump’s agenda was already running into bipartisan political resistance, with doubts growing about potential tax reform and a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, among other marquee Trump administration initiatives. Just two weeks into his tenure, “risks are less positively tilted than they appeared shortly after the election ,” Goldman wrote. Growing resistance to Trump’s executive orders on immigration and financial reform has galvanized opposition while dividing members of the president’s own Republican Party.

It has also curbed the enthusiasm of investors, who sent stocks on a roller-coaster ride this week as they struggled to reconcile the new restrictions on immigration with Trump’s professed pro-business bent. “While bipartisan cooperation looked possible on some issues following the election, the political environment appears to be as polarized as ever, suggesting that issues that require bipartisan support may be difficult to address,” the bank added. The balance of risks “are less positively tilted than they appeared shortly after the election,” Goldman said, which may blunt the force of future growth. Amid reports that top GOP members are reportedly becoming nervous about the impact of a full-fleged repeal of health care, that political pushback “does not bode well for reaching a quick agreement on tax reform or infrastructure funding, and reinforces our view that a fiscal boost, if it happens, is mostly a 2018 story.”

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Steve on Twitter: “Coulnd’t resist it: sanctimonious carbon price pap, & belief market can solve an ecological problem just baug me. So my satirical gene fired.”

Economists Say Action On Carbon Is Vital, Or Say Nothing At All (Age)

There is no consensus. Economists either believe it is vital that Australia becomes a low-carbon intensity economy, or that the issue is so unimportant – or perhaps that it is so politically divisive – that they choose not to volunteer an opinion. Asked about the importance of reducing the country’s carbon footprint and how best to do it, more than half of 27 economists from industry, consultancy, academia and finance questioned for the annual BusinessDay Scope survey agreed it was a must. Another 10 left the question blank. Whether this indicates a lack of interest or the contentious nature of climate change policy is unclear. But none of those who did answer made the case that cleaning up the economy did not matter. They overwhelmingly said action should be swift and include a market-based carbon pricing scheme.

[..] Steve Keen, of London’s Kingston University, made what – we think – was a similar point about the importance of climate action, albeit less conventionally. “Nah mate! Wassa matta, dontcha own a pair of budgie smugglers?” he wrote. “It’s all a conspiracy by Marxists anyway to undermine the Ostralyan way of life – you know, burning stuff and damn well enjoying it rather than whingeing. “A bit a coal never hurt anyone, matter of fact it tastes even better than a raw onion!”

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“I am shorting JGBs with both fists.”

Japan – It’s Finally Happening (Muir)

I still shake my head at the stupidity. One of the most overindebted countries in the history of modern finance trading with a 0% thirty year bond. Professor Malkiel – stick that in your pipe and smoke it. But into that panic a crazy thing happened. Worried its bonds would trade at negative yields and pressure the financial system, the Bank of Japan pegged its 10 year yield at 0%. In doing so, the Bank of Japan moved from a set rate of balance sheet expansion to one that varies based on whether that peg is either too high, or too low. If the equilibrium level of 10 year rates was in fact below 0%, the Bank of Japan would be forced to sell bonds to keep rates stuck at 0%. If there was demand for credit and 10 year rates moved higher, then the BoJ would be forced to buy bonds to keep them from declining.

The BoJ program was a little more nuanced, and there were some caveats, but at its heart, the BoJ was giving up control of its balance sheet so it could peg a specific part of the yield curve. Of course Central Banks do this all the time. The difference is they usually operate at the front part of the curve, and when there is too much demand or supply, they change the rate. When the Bank of Japan took this unprecedented step, I walked away from my short JGB position. I figured there were better fixed income markets to short. Yet I highlighted that by pegging the 10 year rate, the Bank of Japan had not eliminated volatility, but merely postponed it. Eventually the Bank of Japan’s massive balance sheet expansion would kick in. At that point, inflation would pick up, credit would be demanded and the Bank of Japan would be forced to defend the 0% peg.

Yet this defending would be expansionary as they would be forced to buy bonds and expand the amount of base money, which if not offset with a decline in the velocity of money, would create more inflation, etc… All of this would be occurring with an already highly supercharged Japanese Central Bank balance sheet. I have been sitting and waiting for this expansionary feedback loop to kickstart. Until recently, the Bank of Japan had not been forced to buy any bonds to keep the rate pegged at 0%. When 10 year rates drifted far enough above 0%, the Bank of Japan made a bid to buy an unlimited number of bonds at a level below the market, which scared the market back to the pegged level. But this week the market decided to test the BoJ’s resolve.

The JGB 10 Year bond spiked through the previous high yield on news the Bank of Japan would not be expanding their balance sheet quite as aggressively as expected in their regular QE program. As yields popped through the previous 0.10% yield ceiling, the Bank of Japan came charging into the market. The BoJ bid 3-4 basis points through the market with unlimited size to push yields back down to the 0.10% level. What does this mean? The market is finally saying the demand for credit is enough to force the Bank of Japan to buy bonds to keep rates down. And that was the signal I was waiting for. I am shorting JGBs with both fists. It probably won’t happen tomorrow, nor the next day. Heck it probably won’t even happen next month, but we have reached the point where I need to be short JGBs.

The pressure will continue to build and when it finally bursts, the torrent will be overwhelming and quick. Although many traders think they will be able to climb on board, it will most likely be extremely difficult – like jumping on a raft bouncing down a raging river, it always seems way easier than it is. I hate German bunds, but I now have a fixed income instrument I hate even more. I expect bund yields to double or even triple in the coming quarters, but JGBs will eventually trade significantly though bunds. It would be just like the Market Gods to finally usher in the JGBs collapse once all the hedge fund guys had given up on it…

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Count her out at your own peril.

Le Pen Kicks Off Campaign With Promise Of French ‘Freedom’ (R.)

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen kicked off her presidential campaign on Saturday with a promise to shield voters from globalization and make their country “free”, hoping to profit from political turmoil to score a Donald Trump-style upset. Opinion polls see the 48-year old daughter of National Front (FN) founder Jean-Marie Le Pen topping the first round on April 23 but then losing the May 7 run-off to a mainstream candidate. But in the most unpredictable election race France has known in decades, the FN hopes the scandal hitting conservative candidate Francois Fillon and the rise of populism across the West will help convince voters to back Le Pen. “We were told Donald Trump would never win in the United States against the media, against the establishment, but he won… We were told Marine Le Pen would not win the presidential election, but on May 7 she will win!” Jean-Lin Lacapelle, a top FN official, told several hundred party officials and members.

In 144 “commitments” published at the start of a two-day rally in Lyon, Le Pen proposes leaving the euro zone, holding a referendum on EU membership, slapping taxes on imports and on the job contracts of foreigners, lowering the retirement age and increasing several welfare benefits while lowering income tax. The manifesto also foresees reserving certain rights now available to all residents, including free education, to French citizens only, hiring 15,000 police, curbing migration and leaving NATO’s integrated command. “The aim of this program is first of all to give France its freedom back and give the people a voice,” Le Pen said in the introduction to the manifesto.

[..] “This presidential election puts two opposite proposals,” Le Pen said in her manifesto. “The ‘globalist’ choice backed by all my opponents … and the ‘patriotic’ choice which I personify.” If elected, Le Pen says she would immediately seek an overhaul of the European Union that would reduce it to a very loose cooperative of nations with no single currency and no border-free area. If, as is likely, France’s EU partners refuse to agree to this, she would call a referendum to leave the bloc.

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Horse barn.

Theresa May Abandons ‘Home Owning Democracy’ of Thatcher and Tories (G.)

A major shift in Tory housing policy in favour of people who rent will be announced by ministers this week as Theresa May’s government admits that home ownership is now out of reach for millions of families. In a departure from her predecessor David Cameron, who focused on advancing Margaret Thatcher’s ambition for a “home-owning democracy”, a white paper will aim to deliver more affordable and secure rental deals, and threaten tougher action against rogue landlords, for the millions of families unable to buy because of sky-high property prices. Ministers will say they want to change planning and other rules to ensure developers provide a proportion of new homes for “affordable rent” instead of just insisting that they provide a quota of “affordable homes for sale”.

They will also announce incentives to encourage landlords to offer “family-friendly” guaranteed three-year tenancies, new action to ban unscrupulous landlords who offer sub-standard properties, and a further consultation on banning many of the fees that are charged by letting agents. A senior Whitehall source said: “We want to help renters get more choice, a better deal and more secure tenancies.” They added that the government did not want to scare people off from renting out homes, but offer incentives to encourage best practice and isolate the worst landlords. By emphasising the rights of renters, as well as trying to boost house building, the white paper will mark a turning point for a party that since the 1980s, and the first council house sales, has promoted home ownership as a badge of success, while neglecting the interests of renters.

The Tory manifesto for the 2015 general election spelt out plans for 200,000 new “starter homes” that could be bought by first-time buyers at 20% discounts, but said little about promoting the interests and improving the lot of so-called “generation rent”. Cameron also pushed the idea of getting people on the housing ladder through shared ownership schemes, an idea that is no longer such a priority. The white paper will be seen as part of May’s deliberate break with Cameron, and her drive to create a country “that works for everyone, not just the privileged few”.

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Makes no difference anymore to Greece and Italy.

Attention Trade Warriors: Germany’s Surplus is on the Wane (BBG)

The Trump administration appears intent on escalating the long-standing U.S. practice of attacking Germany’s current-account surplus. Good news for those on the receiving end: It has probably peaked. As officials like National Trade Council director Peter Navarro rail against the trade imbalance that dominates the balance of payments between the two countries, pensioners, home-buyers and immigrants are quietly working to bring that $297 billion current-account surplus down. According to research by Deutsche Bank, demographics and a housing boom are two factors that will drive the current account balance – the difference between what a country earns from abroad and what it spends – to its lowest level in seven years by 2020.

That may offer little consolation to the German delegation when it hosts a Group of 20 meeting of finance ministers in March, as they’ll likely face intensified criticism for allowing such an imbalance to continue. Germany has long faced flak, both within the euro area and outside it, for failing to encourage greater domestic spending and imports to balance out its external excess. Still, while the weaker euro will continue to make German exports attractive in the U.S. – think expensive sedans, high-tech machinery – there are countervailing factors at play on the other side of the equation. “In the medium term we expect the demographic development and the solid domestic economy, driven by a sustained positive development on the property market, to push the surplus down to 7 percent of GDP,” Deutsche Bank economist Heiko Peters said by phone.

A rising share of pensioners in the German population, who normally have less money to save than people in jobs, will crimp household savings rates, while an increasing number of immigrants such as refugees will contribute to boosting German imports, Peters wrote in a study first published last year. And with housing valuations outpacing income and rent growth since 2009, home owners feel richer, save less toward retirement and borrow against their property. That leads to rising imports of building materials to fuel the property boom and increased demand for foreign consumer goods on the back of the wealth effect. 7% of GDP is still a mighty big number for an economy as large as Germany’s. “That’s still a relatively high level until 2020,” Peters says. “But an even greater demographic effect is then expected for 2020-2025, and the surplus should then decline clearly further.”

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Another ‘curious’ WaPo feat.

Dennis Kucinich Rages Against The Military-Industrial-Complex (FB)

I have dedicated my life to peace. As a member of Congress I led efforts to avert conflict and end wars in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Syria and Iran. And yet those of us who work for peace are put under false scrutiny to protect Washington’s war machine. Those who undermine our national security by promoting military attacks and destroying other nations are held up as national leaders to admire. Recently Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and I took a Congressional Ethics-approved fact finding trip to Lebanon and Syria, where we visited Aleppo and refugee camps, and met with religious leaders, governmental leaders and people from all sides of the conflict, including political opposition to the Syrian government.

Since that time we have been under constant attack on false grounds. The media and the war establishment are desperate to keep hold of their false narrative for world-wide war, interventionism and regime change, which is a profitable business for Washington insiders and which impoverishes our own country. Today, Rep. Gabbard came under attack yet again by the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin who has been on a tear trying to ruin the reputations of the people and the organization who sponsored our humanitarian, fact-finding mission of peace to the Middle East. Rogin just claimed in a tweet that as community organization I have been associated with for twenty years does not exist. The organization is in my neighborhood. Here’s photos I took yesterday of AACCESS-Ohio’s marquee.

It clearly exists, despite the base, condescending assertions of Mr. Rogin. Enough of this dangerous pettiness. Let’s dig in to what is really going on, inside Syria, in the State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon. In the words of President Eisenhower, let’s beware (and scrutinize) the military-industrial-complex. It is time to be vigilant for our democracy.


These leaders of the Christian faith in Aleppo begged for the US to stop funding terrorists in #Syria. They expressed that before international interventions (covert and overt) Syrians lived in peace without concern as to whether they were Christian, Muslim or Jew.

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Line of the day: “Why are we spending £160bn on renewing Trident when we now know its missiles are more likely to hit Australia if they were aimed at Russia?..”

NATO, Not Russia, Has Deployed Tanks To Poland & Baltic States – Galloway (RT)

British Defense Secretary speech on “Russian threat” is a desperate attempt to “save jobs and budgets” for the Cold War crowd, which is worried the new US leader will not consider Russia an enemy, broadcaster and former British MP George Galloway told RT. Addressing a group of university students, the UK’s defense secretary Michael Fallon warned of a resurgent Russia and said that it is becoming aggressive. RT: What did you make of Michael Fallon’s speech? George Galloway: Well, Michael Fallon puts the ‘squeak’ in the word ‘pipsqueak.’ He is of course the defense minister of a small and semi-detached European power with not much military prowess and which wants to feel big about itself.

And these people, and he’s not alone – the military industrial complex in the United States is up to the same game – they are desperately thrashing around to save their jobs, to save their budgets, to save their roles as muscle-men in the world. And Fallon got used to, as did other European powers, going around the world, threatening people with America’s army. Now America’s army is not quite so reliable, because America has a President who might not want to use the army in the way that these people want him to, at least one hopes not. And so they desperately seek to continually exacerbate the existing tensions with Russia to defend their own relevance. The people are asking, “What’s NATO for?”

The people are asking, “Why are we spending £160bn on renewing Trident when we now know its missiles are more likely to hit Australia if they were aimed at Russia? And in any case Russia has thousands of nuclear weapons, and we only a handful.” So it’s all pretty pitiful, actually. Right down to the audience of university students, hoping that none of them would challenge him. I’d like him to debate these matters with me, he knows me well, he comes from the same town in Scotland as me. I’d really love to get my metaphorical hands on him to have some of these matters out. The truth is that the European Union is having to come to terms with the fact that the US now has a President that doesn’t want war with Russia and they – who have built their entire 50-60 years of history on the possibility of war with Russia – are all at sea, except we don’t have that many battleships left either.

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Greece turning into an impoverished prison camp is a feature not a bug.

Varoufakis Calls on PM Tspiras to Ditch Bailout Restructuring (GR)

Yanis Varoufakis wrote in an op-ed in Efimerida ton Syntakton on Saturday. The former finance minister called on Prime Minister Alexis Tspiras to adopt a plan originally proposed by Varoufakis while he was still in office. The plan would unilaterally restructure the loans the ECB holds. In addition according to BitCoin Magazine and reiterated in the former FM’s op-ed a payment system that could operate in euros but which could be changed into drachmas “overnight” if necessary would be implemented along with a parallel payment system. “This two-pronged preparation is the only way to prevent another excruciating retreat by the prime minister in the short-term and [German Finance Minister Wolfgang] Schaeuble’s plan in the long-term,” Varoufakis wrote. Varoufakis has been a vocal protester to Greek bailout plans and restructuring as it stands now, hence his resignation. He firmly believes that the current plan could lead to Greece leaving the Eurozone of their own accord.

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More on that. “In reality there was never a basis for hope that the toxic 3rd bailout would be gradually rationalized, in terms that the European Commission would support Athens so that the austerity and anti-social IMF measures would relax..”

Varoufakis Urges Tsipras To Ditch Negotiations, Adopt “Parallel System” (KTG)

Former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis strikes back and urges Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to turn his back on Greece’s lenders, adopt a parallel payment system and to unilaterally restructure the loans held by the ECB. In an op-ed in Efimerida ton Syntakton, Varoufakis, Varoufakis calls on Tispras to prepare for rupture with creditors in order to avoid rupture. “This two-pronged preparation is the only way to prevent another excruciating retreat by the prime minister in the short term and [German Finance Minister Wolfgang] Schaeuble’s plan in the long term,” Varoufakis wrote. In his article, Varoufakis suggested that Schaeuble’s strategy is to lead Greeks to the point of exhaustion so they ask to leave the euro themselves.

Noting that the “parallel payment system was already designed in 2014”, Varoufakis stresses that Tsipras had “two delusions” that led the government to the current impasse: A) that on the night of the referendum, the dilemma was between Schaeuble’s Grexit Plan and the 3rd bailout, and B) that the obedience to the 3rd bailout could be politically manageable through a parallel, society-friendly program. Both of these “working assumptions” were based only on autosuggestion, the ex finance minister stresses adding that he tried to explained this to the Prime Minister on the night of the referendum

“In reality there was never a basis for hope that the toxic 3rd bailout would be gradually rationalized, in terms that the European Commission would support Athens so that the austerity and anti-social IMF measures would relax, the IMF would force Berlin to accept debt restructuring and lower primary surpluses, the ECB would include Greece in the bond purchase program (QE),” Varoufakis wrote. He accused leading European negotiators of lying. “That Moscovici [EU Monetary Affairs Commissioner], Coerer [ECB] and Sapen [French finance minister] might have given such promises was not an excuse. Since May 2015 we were fully aware that these gentlemen know how to lie and fail to deliver on their promises when they do not lie.”

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Completely devoid of any comprehension or compassion. Moral Bankruptcy. Throw money at it, that should work… And then keep bombing, British involvement in that makes a lot of profit.

UK: Refugees Heading To Europe To Be Sent To Asia And Latin America (Ind.)

Refugees heading to Europe will be urged to settle in Asia and Latin America instead, under a new £30m British aid package. Theresa May announced the scheme at an EU summit in Malta, arguing it showed the Government is “stepping up its support for the most vulnerable refugees”. The package will see Britain provide lifesaving supplies for people facing freezing conditions across Eastern Europe and Greece, including warm clothing, shelter and medical care. However, it will also pay for better infrastructure in far-flung countries willing to take refugees who had hoped to settle in Europe. The move builds on an existing scheme run by The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), but it is the first time Britain’s aid budget has been used to bolster it. It risks adding to criticism that the Prime Minister is unwilling for the UK to accept a reasonable share of the refugees and migrants fleeing Syria and other war zones.

Only a few thousand Syrian refugees have been resettled in Britain – and the Government has refused to take part in an EU-wide programme to co-ordinate the continent’s response to the crisis. Government sources stressed that people would only be diverted to countries in Asia and Latin America if they were willing to be resettled there. The Department for International Development is expected to release a list of interested countries later. In Malta the Prime Minister insisted the focus of the £30m programme was “helping migrants return home rather than risk their lives continuing perilous journeys to Europe”. It would provide assistance to refugees and migrants across Greece, the Balkans, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Sudan. Priti Patel, the International Development Secretary, said: “Conflict, drought and political upheaval have fuelled protracted crises and driven mass migration. We cannot ignore these challenges.

The package will be delivered by UNHCR, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and NGO collective Start Network. Its aim is to:

* provide 22,400 life-saving relief items including tents, blankets, winter clothes such as hats and gloves and hygiene kits including mother and baby products

* help more than 60,000 people with emergency medical care, legal support and frontline workers to identify those at risk of violence and trafficking

* allow up to 22,000 people to reunite with family members they have become separated from

* help countries in Asia and Latin America that “might be able to resettle refugees put the infrastructure and systems in place to do so”

* provide more than 1,500 refugees in Egypt, including those fleeing Syria and other conflicts, with urgent health assistance and educational grants for students to go back to school

* provide a migrant centre in Sudan to enable “voluntary returns home when safe”, replicating a successful scheme in Niger.

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Oct 152016
 
 October 15, 2016  Posted by at 10:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle October 15 2016
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Harris&Ewing Motorcycle postman, Washington, DC 1912

US Deficit Up for First Time Since 2009 on Spending Surge (BBG)
Why the Economy Doesn’t Roar Anymore (WSJ)
Jim Rogers: Sterling Is In Serious Decline, Could Go Below Dollar (Ind.)
What The United States Needs (Varoufakis)
German Government Has Ruled Out Taking Stake in Deutsche Bank (WSJ)
Varoufakis, Others Deny Hollande’s Russian Drachma-Printing Claim (Kath.)
A Child Born Today Comes Into the World With More Debt Than You (BBG)
The Press Buries Hillary Clinton’s Sins (WSJ)
Donald Trump Uncensored: This Is America’s “Moment Of Reckoning” (ZH)
The Fury and Failure of Donald Trump (Matt Taibbi)
Hypernormalisation: Adam Curtis’ Path From Syria To Trump, Via Jane Fonda (G.)
Greece, The Hot Corner (Stavridis)

 

 

You don’t say!: “The slowdown in tax collections suggests some cooling in labor market activity..”

US Deficit Up for First Time Since 2009 on Spending Surge (BBG)

The U.S. budget deficit as a share of the economy widened for the first time in seven years, marking a turning point in the nation’s fiscal outlook as an aging population boosts government spending and debt. Spending exceeded revenue by $587.4 billion in the 12 months to Sept. 30, compared with a $439.1 billion deficit in fiscal 2015, the Treasury Department said in a report released Friday. That was in line with a Congressional Budget Office estimate on Oct. 7 for a shortfall of $588 billion. As a share of gross domestic product, the shortfall rose to 3.2% from 2.5% a year earlier, the first such increase since 2009, government figures show. “The slowdown in tax collections suggests some cooling in labor market activity,” said Gennadiy Goldberg at TD Securities in New York. He sees the higher budget deficits implying more borrowing needs by Treasury.

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Accepting that today’s reality is normal, and boom times are not, is at least a first step.

Why the Economy Doesn’t Roar Anymore (WSJ)

The U.S. presidential candidates have made the usual pile of promises, none more predictable than their pledge to make the U.S. economy grow faster. With the economy struggling to expand at 2% a year, they would have us believe that 3%, 4% or even 5% growth is within reach. But of all the promises uttered by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton over the course of this disheartening campaign, none will be tougher to keep. Whoever sits in the Oval Office next year will swiftly find that faster productivity growth—the key to faster economic growth—isn’t something a president can decree. It might be wiser to accept the truth: The U.S. economy isn’t behaving badly. It is just being ordinary. Historically, boom times are the exception, not the norm.

[..] It is tempting to think that we know how to do better, that there is some secret sauce that governments can ladle out to make economies grow faster than the norm. But despite glib talk about “pro-growth” economic policies, productivity growth is something over which governments have very little control. Rapid productivity growth has occurred in countries with low tax rates but also in nations where tax rates were sky-high. Slashing government regulations has unleashed productivity growth at some times and places but undermined it at others. The claim that freer markets and smaller governments are always better for productivity than a larger, more powerful state is not one that can be verified by the data.

Here is the lesson: What some economists now call “secular stagnation” might better be termed “ordinary performance.” Most of the time, in most economies, incomes increase slowly, and living standards rise bit by bit. The extraordinary experience of the Golden Age left us with the unfortunate legacy of unrealistic expectations about our governments’ ability to deliver jobs, pay raises and steady growth. Ever since the Golden Age vanished amid the gasoline lines of 1973, political leaders in every wealthy country have insisted that the right policies will bring back those heady days. Voters who have been trained to expect that their leaders can deliver something more than ordinary are likely to find reality disappointing.

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Q: “How low could it get?”
A: “If I told you Mark, you’d hang up”.

Jim Rogers: Sterling Is In Serious Decline, Could Go Below Dollar (Ind.)

International investor Jim Rogers has warned that the value of the pound could go under one dollar within three to four years if Scotland was to leave the UK. His comments came on the day that Nicola Sturgeon said declaring independence could help Scotland escape the uncertainty triggered by UK’s vote to leave the EU. Rogers, who co-founded the Quantum Fund with George Soros, said the UK is facing serious problems. Speaking to the BBC, Rogers said: “If Scotland leaves they are going to take their oil with them and the pound could go down a great deal. It would certainly go down under one US dollar.”

“You’ve got a lot of debt, you’ve got a serious balance of trade problem which shows no signs of being corrected. I don’t see anything to make sterling go up.“ Rogers warned that the City of London is now going to be under serious pressure as Europe is hoping to attract as much business leaving London as possible. His warning came as the pound fell below $1.22 against the dollar in early trading on Friday, pushed down by comments from the President of the European Council Donald Tusk and the French finance minister Michel Sapin. Sterling was still below the $1.22 mark at market closing time.

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Not bad as an analysis in itself, but the conclusion that America needs “progressive internationalism” is a goal-seeked illusion, and useless. As is wishing for “massive private sector growth”.

What The United States Needs (Varoufakis)

When the world faced Armageddon in the 1940s, in the form of Hitler’s atom bomb program, Washington responded with the Manhattan Project. In effect, they gathered the best scientists, gave them as much money as they needed in fully-appointed facilities, and said to them: “You have two years to deliver the bomb.” Today, we face similar threats to the planet: climate change, rising seas, water shortages, etc. Our cities are less sustainable than ever. Commuters waste more and more of their lives in stationary cars. America needs a new Manhattan Project, one located on hundreds of campuses around the United States, that helps put to work the idle trillions of dollars, our scientists, and the next generation of youngsters (who must be educated with government subsidies to end the student debt scandal).

The joint effort would produce technologies that could lead to a cost-effective green transition. Who will pay for it? Just as the government-funded Internet spurred massive private sector growth – and taxes – so would the technologies that could spring out of a new Manhattan Project. But first the initial investment must come from government. To do this, the United States needs to collect more taxes. It is scandalous, for instance, that the IRS does not exercise its right to tax the earnings of corporations like Apple, Google and Gilead for intellectual property rights developed on American soil, letting them park billions upon billions of dollars in tax havens, including Ireland.

Overall, US federal taxes must rise from the present ultra-low 17% of GDP to at least 25%, with all of the increase coming from the top 1%. This is what logic and justice demands. What stops America from doing this service to itself? It is the 30-year-old bipartisan class war waged against America’s working class and shrinking middle class. Republicans automatically gravitated to tax cuts for the rich. Democrats served Wall Street and exhausted their talents at finding ways to curtail welfare. Both burdened the young with unbearable student debt. The US has reached a point where sensible policies, that the nation needs, are off the table.

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What’s German for bail-in?

German Government Has Ruled Out Taking Stake in Deutsche Bank (WSJ)

Aides to Angela Merkel have told lawmakers the state wouldn’t take a stake in Deutsche Bank if it were to issue new stock to shore up its thin capital cushion, one person who attended the briefing said. The fact that Berlin appears to have ruled out any aid for the embattled lender as both unnecessary and politically unfeasible could put Deutsche Bank under renewed pressure as it works to stabilize its share price and stay out of the news while negotiating an acceptable settlement in a U.S. misconduct investigation. In a closed-door briefing with a small group of lawmakers last week, Chancellery aides and senior Finance Ministry officials said it was “inconceivable for the state to take a stake in Deutsche Bank,” said one person.

“We have a different bank resolution system than in 2009 and this must apply to us in Germany too,” the government officials said according to this person. This referred to recent legal changes that now force European governments to bail-in creditors—and in some cases depositors—before they shore up a struggling bank with taxpayer money. Deutsche Bank is currently negotiating with the U.S. Justice Department to bring down a settlement in several investigations over the mis-selling of mortgage-backed securities. Last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. authorities had floated a $14 billion amount as an opening bid, sparking a rout in the bank’s share price. The bank has said it would not pay anywhere near this amount, which would wipe out nearly all of its existing capital.

It is still unclear whether Deutsche Bank will need to increase capital and, if it does, whether it would need the government to pitch in. But the fact that Ms. Merkel’s government has ruled out any aid for the bank will come as a negative surprise to investors, given widespread expectations in the market that the state would offer some form of last-resort assistance given the scale of Deutsche Bank and the shock its failure could inflict on Europe’s financial system.

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That Greece would have made some official request, that they would have asked Putin himself, and that he would have called up Hollande to tell him that, it’s all not very credible.

Varoufakis, Others Deny Hollande’s Russian Drachma-Printing Claim (Kath.)

Former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis on Friday hastened to dismiss claims made by French President Francois Hollande in a new book that Russian President Vladimir Putin had told him he had been approached by Greek officials a day after a referendum on the country’s third bailout agreement on July 5, 2015, and asked whether Athens could print drachmas in Russia. “I can confirm that during my tenure at the Finance Ministry there were no thoughts of printing a new currency, let alone overtures to third parties at home or abroad,” Varoufakis said in a statement on Friday. Parliament Speaker Nikos Voutsis also denied the existence of such a plan on Friday, dismissing the discussion as being irrelevant, while Alternate Defense Minister Dimitris Vitsas brushed off the claims as “nonsense.”

Speaking on Skai TV on the same day, however, ruling SYRIZA MP Sakis Papadopoulos admitted that the leftist-led government had discussed a possible Greek exit from the eurozone in the days building up to the referendum and just after it. “This information did not come out of the blue,” he said. In “A President Shouldn’t Say That,” based on a series of interviews with Hollande by two journalists from daily Le Monde, the French president is quoted as saying he received a call from Putin, who allegedly told him that “Greece asked us to print drachmas in Russia because they no longer have a printing machine to do so.”

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How about forgiving each new born the $66,000 (s)he owes, as a first step toward debt restructuring?!

A Child Born Today Comes Into the World With More Debt Than You (BBG)

Each newborn’s share of the national debt today is more than double what it was in the 1990s. In the past 35 years, the national debt on a per capita basis has increased with each U.S. president. Under President Bill Clinton, the debt grew at the slowest pace — with a net increase of 1.4% over his two terms. After reducing the slope of public debt in his first term, he shrunk it in his second. Under current law, U.S. inflation-adjusted debt per person is expected to reach the $66,000 milestone by April 2026, based on Bloomberg calculations of Congressional Budget Office and Census Bureau data. So what would the debt path look like under either a Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump presidency? It would be pretty bleak in either case, according to a report released by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

And while the committee is non-partisan, they do have a policy bent on fixing the national debt and improving the way the budget is developed. The committee projects debt held by the public to grow by $9 trillion over the next decade under current law. Economic proposals put forth by both presidential candidates would add to the national debt, and Trump’s would add even more than Clinton’s. The report estimates that Clinton’s policies would increase the national debt by $200 billion over the next decade, while Trump’s proposals would add $5.3 trillion.

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Again, the WSJ diverging from the rest of the mainstream press. “.. the “vast majority” of [FBI] career agents and prosecutors working the case “felt she should be prosecuted” and that giving her a pass was “a top-down decision.”

The Press Buries Hillary Clinton’s Sins (WSJ)

If average voters turned on the TV for five minutes this week, chances are they know that Donald Trump made lewd remarks a decade ago and now stands accused of groping women. But even if average voters had the TV on 24/7, they still probably haven’t heard the news about Hillary Clinton: That the nation now has proof of pretty much everything she has been accused of. It comes from hacked emails dumped by WikiLeaks, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, and accounts from FBI insiders. The media has almost uniformly ignored the flurry of bombshells, preferring to devote its front pages to the Trump story. So let’s review what amounts to a devastating case against a Clinton presidency.

Start with a June 2015 email to Clinton staffers from Erika Rottenberg, the former general counsel of LinkedIn. Ms. Rottenberg wrote that none of the attorneys in her circle of friends “can understand how it was viewed as ok/secure/appropriate to use a private server for secure documents AND why further Hillary took it upon herself to review them and delete documents.” She added: “It smacks of acting above the law and it smacks of the type of thing I’ve either gotten discovery sanctions for, fired people for, etc.” A few months later, in a September 2015 email, a Clinton confidante fretted that Mrs. Clinton was too bullheaded to acknowledge she’d done wrong. “Everyone wants her to apologize,” wrote Neera Tanden, president of the liberal Center for American Progress.

“And she should. Apologies are like her Achilles’ heel.” Clinton staffers debated how to evade a congressional subpoena of Mrs. Clinton’s emails—three weeks before a technician deleted them. The campaign later employed a focus group to see if it could fool Americans into thinking the email scandal was part of the Benghazi investigation (they are separate) and lay it all off as a Republican plot. A senior FBI official involved with the Clinton investigation told Fox News this week that the “vast majority” of career agents and prosecutors working the case “felt she should be prosecuted” and that giving her a pass was “a top-down decision.”

[..] Voters might not know any of this, because while both presidential candidates have plenty to answer for, the press has focused solely on taking out Mr. Trump. And the press is doing a diligent job of it.

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Not a bad analysis. At all.

Donald Trump Uncensored: This Is America’s “Moment Of Reckoning” (ZH)

Sometimes, you just have to listen…

“There is nothing that the political establishment wil not do; no lie they will not tell, to hold their prestige and power at your expense… and that’s what’s been happening. The Wasshington establishment – and the financial and media corporations that fund it – exists for one thing only… to protect and enrich itself.”

“For those who control the levers of power in Washington and for the global special interests – they partner with these people that don’t have your good in mind – our campaign represents a true existential threat… like they haven’t seen before. This is not simply another four-year election; this is a crossroads in the history of our civilization that will determine whether or not we, the people, reclaim control over our government.”

Turn off MSNBC, CNBC, CNN, and NBC and listen – away from the spectacle – to some uncomfortable deep state realities…

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It’s more the failure of the Republican party than of Trump, if you read Matt well.

The Fury and Failure of Donald Trump (Matt Taibbi)

Trump’s early rampage through the Republican field made literary sense. It was classic farce. He was the lewd, unwelcome guest who horrified priggish, decent society, a theme that has mesmerized audiences for centuries, from Vanity Fair to The Government Inspector to (closer to home) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. When you let a hands-y, drunken slob loose at an aristocrats’ ball, the satirical power of the story comes from the aristocrats deserving what comes next. And nothing has ever deserved a comeuppance quite like the American presidential electoral process, which had become as exclusive and cut off from the people as a tsarist shooting party The first symptom of a degraded aristocracy is a lack of capable candidates for the throne.

After years of indulgence, ruling families become frail, inbred and isolated, with no one but mystics, impotents and children to put forward as kings. Think of Nikolai Romanov reading fortunes as his troops starved at the front. Weak princes lead to popular uprisings. Which brings us to this year’s Republican field. There wasn’t one capable or inspiring person in the infamous “Clown Car” lineup. All 16 of the non-Trump entrants were dunces, religious zealots, wimps or tyrants, all equally out of touch with voters. Scott Walker was a lipless sadist who in centuries past would have worn a leather jerkin and thrown dogs off the castle walls for recreation. Marco Rubio was the young rake with debts. Jeb Bush was the last offering in a fast-diminishing hereditary line. Ted Cruz was the Zodiac Killer. And so on.

The party spent 50 years preaching rich people bromides like “trickle-down economics” and “picking yourself up by your bootstraps” as solutions to the growing alienation and financial privation of the ordinary voter. In place of jobs, exported overseas by the millions by their financial backers, Republicans glibly offered the flag, Jesus and Willie Horton. In recent years it all went stale. They started to run out of lines to sell the public. Things got so desperate that during the Tea Party phase, some GOP candidates began dabbling in the truth. They told voters that all Washington politicians, including their own leaders, had abandoned them and become whores for special interests. It was a slapstick routine: Throw us bums out!

[..] How Giuliani isn’t Trump’s running mate, no one will ever understand. Theirs is the most passionate television love story since Beavis and Butthead. Every time Trump says something nuts, Giuliani either co-signs it or outdoes him. They will probably spend the years after the election doing prostate-medicine commercials together.

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Adam Curtis has no peers. Available from Sunday at BBCiPlayer (only in Britain?!) Great video excerpt on -some of- Trump’s Atlantic City losses.

Hypernormalisation: Adam Curtis’ Path From Syria To Trump, Via Jane Fonda (G.)

I struggle to think a more perfect union of medium and message than HyperNormalisation, Adam Curtis’s new film for the BBC iPlayer. Though he’s spent the best part of four decades making television, Curtis’s signature blend of hypnotic archive footage, authoritative voiceover and a seemingly inexhaustible appetite for bizarre historical tangents is better suited to the web, a place just as resistant to the narrative handholding of broadcast TV as he is. Safe in the knowledge that his audience now has the ability to pause and rewind at will, Curtis crafts a mammoth labyrinth of political storytelling in the film, his follow-up to last year’s “war on terror” epic Bitter Lake.

Launching on Sunday, his 165-minute opus makes a feature of its sheer unwieldiness, as Curtis veers from social history to conspiracy theory via the odd rambling bar-room anecdote, like a man who’s two-dozen browser tabs into a major Wikipedia binge. He argues that an army of technocrats, complacent radicals and Faustian internet entrepreneurs have conspired to create an unreal world; one whose familiar and often comforting details blind us to its total inauthenticity. Not wishing to undersell the concept, Curtis begins the film with a shot of a torch shining limply into a thicket, so that viewers find themselves literally unable to see the wood for the trees.

From there, HyperNormalisation tracks a course to the present day, allowing Curtis to weigh in on Trump, Putin and Syria. But those expecting a snappy crash course in our chaotic world (“You won’t believe how this veteran BBC film-maker explains the Islamic State! What happens at 156:34 will shock you!”) clearly aren’t familiar with his methods. The film may address some of today’s most critical global issues, but it also allocates space to Jane Fonda, the fall of the Soviet Union and a supercut of pre-9/11 disaster movies. And unlike Curtis’s earlier work for TV, HyperNormalisation refuses to drop the kind of storytelling breadcrumbs that might anchor a viewer in its overarching narrative.

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Not bad from US general with Greek roots. Who’s also a typical 13 in a dozen Putin basher, unfortunately.

Greece, The Hot Corner (Stavridis)

First and foremost, Greece – perhaps more than any other country – represents the confluence of values in the trans-Atlantic community. These values are fundamental to our societies and cultures: democracy, liberty, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of education and assembly. They came to us from ancient Greece, passed through the Age of Enlightenment in Western Europe, and washed up on our shores as the principles of the American Revolution. To walk away from a nation that represents the core of those values would be an abiding mistake.

Second, geography continues to matter, and Greece’s position – on the figurative hot corner of Europe – means that without stability there, there will be an open gateway for migrant and refugee populations fleeing the violence in the Levant, the larger Arab world, and northern Africa. As a geographic location, Greece offers the best bases in the NATO Alliance from which to operate in the trouble spots of the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Our military-to-military relations with Greece are exceptionally good and provide us true strategic advantage both unilaterally for the USA and via the NATO Alliance.

A third crucial element that argues for supporting Greece is the excellence and professionalism of the Greek military. It is a relatively large and very technologically advanced force, with fine capabilities at sea, in the air, and via its land army. Greek soldiers, sailors, and airmen have participated in every NATO operation over the past decade: Afghanistan, the Balkans, Libya, and piracy, to name a few. Ensuring Greece’s economic viability will ensure those troops and capabilities are available for future operations as well.

Fourth, Greece has a unique and positive position in the Balkans and elsewhere via its influence in the Orthodox world. Greeks are well established regionally, and have useful connections in most of the Balkan countries (despite some disputes, including, for example over the name of Macedonia). The Greeks also have a relatively good set of relationships with fellow orthodox nation Russia, and are leaders in the broader global Orthodox community, providing a bridge to a variety of nations and communities around the world.

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Aug 192016
 
 August 19, 2016  Posted by at 2:25 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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Opening of Golden Gate Bridge May 27 1937

This is an absolute must see, and a joy to watch. Longtime friend of the Automatic Earth Steve Keen was on BBC’s Hardtalk over the weekend. I already really liked the 2.30min clip the BBC released earlier this week. Now Steve himself has posted the entire interview, while the BBC only has an audio podcast (for anyone outside the UK).

You can see that Steve came prepared for some ‘hard’ questioning, and the format fits him very well. Kudo’s! Also, kudo’s to the BBC for having him on, perhaps alternative views on economics have become more palatable in Britain post-Brexit? Interviewer Stephen Sackur sound quite typical of what I see in British media almost 2 months after Brexit: fear and uncertainty and the overall notion that leaving the EU is a very bad thing. Time to move on, perhaps?

I’m not sure Steve would join me in professing the term Beautiful Brexit, but our views on the EU are remarkably alike: it’s a dangerous club (and it will end up imploding no matter what). And that is in turn remarkable unlike the view of our friend Yanis Varoufakis, who is seeking to reform the union.

I went to see Yanis’ presentation of his DiEM25 initiative on the island of Aegina, off Athens, last week, and I found far too much idealism there. There were DiEM25 members from France, Italy and Spain, and they all seemed to agree on one thing: “we need” a pan-European organization -of sorts-. But do we? And why? In my view, they ignore those questions far too easily.

Moreover, even if we choose that path, why the EU? For me, as I said to the people I was with last week, reforming the EU is like reforming the mafia: you don’t want to go there, you want to dissolve it and shut it down. What the EU is today is the result of 60+ years of building an anti-democratic structure that involves and feeds tens of thousands of people, and you’re not going to break that down in any kind of short term.

Though it’s politically ‘not done’, I do think Boris Johnson was on to something when he said during the Brexit campaign: “Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically. The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods [..] But fundamentally, what is lacking is the eternal problem, which is that there is no underlying loyalty to the idea of Europe. There is no single authority that anybody respects or understands. That is causing this massive democratic void.”

When he said it in May, it was used as campaign fodder by the Remain side, though ironically they never mentioned Napoleon, only Hitler. “How dare you make that comparison!” But Johnson could have mentioned Charlemagne or Charles V, or Julius Ceasar just as well. They all tried to unify Europe, and all with pretty bloody results.

And just like all the idealism I see today in DiEM25, there were plenty idealists at the foundation of the EU, too. But again it’s going awfully wrong. Diversity is what makes Europe beautiful, and trying to rule over it from a centralized place threatens that diversity. European nations have a zillion ways to work together, but a central government and a central bank, plus a one-currency system, that is not going to work.

Still, before I get people proclaiming for instance that Steve Keen is a fan of Boris Johnson, which I’m sure he’s not and neither am I, we’re both fans of Yanis Varoufakis, just not on this issue, but before I make people make that link, I’ll shut up and hand you over to Steve.

But not before reiterating once more that in my view none of this EU talk really matters, because centralization can exist only in times of -economic- growth (or dictatorship), and we’re smack in the middle of a non-growth era kept hidden from us by a veil of gigantesque debt issuance. The future is going to be localization, protectionism, name it what you want; feel free to call it common sense. It will happen regardless of what you call it.

 

 

 

 

Aug 012016
 
 August 1, 2016  Posted by at 5:38 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Dorothea Lange Migratory agricultural worker family fixing tire along California highway US 99 1937

The IMF’s Independent Evaluation Office (IEO) issued a report a few days ago entitled ‘The IMF and the Crises in Greece, Ireland, and Portugal’. It is so damning for managing director Christine Lagarde and her closest associates, that it’s hard to see, certainly at first blush, how they could all keep their jobs. But don’t be surprised if that is exactly what will happen.

Because organizations like the IMF don’t care much, if at all, about accountability. Their leaders think they are close to untouchable, at least as long as they have the ‘blessing’ of those whose interests they serve. Which in case of the IMF means the world’s major banks and the governments of the richest nations (who also serve the same banks’ interests). And if these don’t like the course set out, a scandal with a chambermaid is easily staged.

But the IEO doesn’t answer to Lagarde, it answers to the IMF’s board of executive directors. Still, despite multiple reports over the past few years out of the ‘inner layers’ of the Fund that were critical of, and showed far more comprehension of events than, Lagarde et al, the board never criticizes the former France finance minister in public. And maybe that should change; if the IMF is to hold on to the last shreds of its credibility, that is. But that brings us back to “Organizations like the IMF don’t care much, if at all, about accountability.”

What the IEO report makes very clear is that the IMF should never have agreed, as part of the Troika, to assist the EU in forcing austerity upon Greece without insisting on significant debt relief, in the shape of a haircut, or (a) debt writedown(s). The IMF’s long established policy is that both MUST happen together. But its Troika companion, the EU, is bound by the Lisbon Treaty, which stipulates: “The Union shall not be liable for or assume the commitments of central governments”. Also, the ECB can not “finance member states”.

If Lagarde and her minions had stayed true to their own ‘principles’, they should have refused to impose austerity on Greece if and when the EU refused debt relief (note: this has been playing out since at least 2010). They did not, however.

 

 

The IMF caved in (how willingly is hard to gauge), and the entire Troika agreed to waterboard Greece. The official excuse for bending the IMF’s own rules was the risk of ‘contagion’. But in a surefire sign that Lagarde et al were not acting with, let’s say, a “clear conscience”, they hid this decision from their own executive board.

Moreover, the IEO now says it was unable to obtain key records or assess the activities of secretive “ad-hoc task forces”. “Many documents were prepared outside the regular established channels; written documentation on some sensitive matters could not be located; [the IEO] has not been able to determine who made certain decisions or what information was available, nor has it been able to assess the relative roles of management and staff..”

One must wonder why the IMF has an executive board at all. Is it only to provide a facade of credibility and international coherence? When it becomes so clear, and -no less- through a report issued by one of its own offices, that its ‘boots on the ground’ care neither for its established policies nor for its board, isn’t it time for the board to interfere lest the Fund loses even more credibility?

The IMF’s main problem, which many insiders may ironically see as its main asset, is the lack of transparency, combined with the overwhelming power exerted by the US and Europe. And Europe’s grip on the IMF is exactly what the report is about, in that it accuses Lagarde et al of bowing to EU pressure, to the extent that it abandons its own guiding ‘laws’. It acted like it was the European Monetary Fund, not the international one.

So there’s no transparency, no accountability, and in the end that will lead to no credibility and no relevance. Well, that’s exactly how the EU lost Britain. And that shows where accountability and credibility are important even for non-democratic supra-national institutions, something these institutions are prone to neglect.

No, there will not be a vote put to the people, no referendum on the IMF. Though that would sure be interesting. What can happen, though, is that countries, even large ones like China and Russia, threaten to leave, perhaps start their own alternative fund. These things have already been widely discussed.

What is sure is that the US/Europe-centered character of the Fund will have to change. If Washington and Brussels try to appoint another European as managing director (an unwritten law thus far) they will face a rebellion.

 

 

That next appointment may come sooner than we think. Because Christine Lagarde is in trouble. It’s even a bit strange, and that’s putting it gently, that she’s still in her job. What’s hanging over her head is a 2008 case, in which she approved a payment of €403 million to businessman Bernard Tapie, for ‘losses’ he was to have suffered in 1993 when French bank Crédit Lyonnais supposedly undervalued his stake in Adidas.

Lagarde is accused of negligence in the case, in particular because she ignored advice from her own ministry (yeah, that does smack like the IMF thing) and let the Tapie case go to a special arbitration committee instead of the courts. That Tapie was a supporter of the Sarkozy government Lagarde served as finance minister at the time makes it juicier.

So does this: In 1993 Crédit Lyonnais was a private bank. But in 2008, it had been wound up and was run by a state-operated consortium. Therefore, the €403 million ‘awarded’ to Tapie out-of-court was all taxpayers money. Even juicier: in December 2015, a French appeal court overruled the compensation and ordered Tapie to repay the money, with interest.

What’s peculiar about Lagarde staying on at the IMF is that she is not merely under investigation or even ‘only’ accused of committing a crime. Instead, she has been ordered to stand trial, something she’s spent 8 years trying to avoid. Still, apparently nobody sees any problem in her continuing to act as Managing Director of the IMF.

That is quite something. And it directly affects the Fund’s credibility. If a president or prime minister of a country, any country, had been ordered to stand trial, the likely procedure would be to temporarily stand down and let someone else take care of government business pending the trial.

As it stands, however, Lagarde is allowed to sit pretty. And then? Borrowing from the Guardian: “A charge of negligence in the use of public money carries a one-year jail sentence and a €15,000 fine. The CJR is made up of six members of the French Assemblée Nationale, six members of the upper house, the Senate and three magistrates. No date has been set for the hearing.”

Ironically, negligence turns out to be a very light charge. Someone in Lagarde’s position could have given away or squandered trillions of euros and then be fined €15,000. But then, class justice is alive and well in France. What are the odds that she will be convicted? She’d have to be found with a chambermaid in Manhattan for that to happen…

 

 

That’s perhaps what the IMF board are thinking too. Whether that’s wise remains to be seen. Hubris rules all these institutions, sheltered as they are from the real world. But the real world is changing.

Ironically, many people think these changes will reinforce the IMF. Since the Fund can issue a sort of ‘super money’ in the shape/guise of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), and especially China would seem to like SDRs becoming the world’s reserve currency instead of the US dollar, the IMF in some people’s eyes holds a trump card.

There may well be an effort to hide private and public debt throughout the planet even more than it is hidden now, through SDRs. We’ll likely see governments and perhaps large corporations issue bonds denominated in SDRs. China seems to think that this could potentially halt much of its capital flight.

My trouble with this is that it’s either too unclear or too clear who would profit most from such schemes. Even if the next managing director of the IMF is not European, but Asian or African, the puppet masters of the Fund will still be the same western financial ‘cabal’. And I don’t see China or Russia signing up to that kind of control, and willingly expand it by making SDRs far more important.

Then again, there’s a sh*tload of debt that needs to be hidden, and the whole world is running out of carpet to sweep it under. Then again, Russia is not that indebted. It’ll be hard to get a consensus.

 

 

But all that won’t help Greece. Let’s get back to that. We left off where Lagarde conspired with the EU, under the guise of preventing contagion, to abandon the IMF’s own rules in order to waterboard the country. Of course, we know, though nobody writing on the IEO report mentions it, that the contagion they were trying to prevent was not so much between nations but between banks.

The bailout-related policies and actions that Lagarde hid from her own board (!) were designed to make French and German banks ‘whole’ at the cost of the Greek people. It became austerity, so severe as to make no sense whatsoever -certainly inside an alleged ‘Union’-, even if the IMF -not the world most charitable institution- has always banned this without being accompanied by strong debt relief.

Schäuble and Dijsselbloem saved Germany and Holland at the expense of Greece. This will end up being the undoing of the EU, even if nobody’s willing to acknowledge it despite the glaring evidence of the Brexit.

It will probably be the undoing of the IMF as well. And there I get back to what I’ve said 1000 times: centralization can only work in times of growth. There is no conceivable reason, other than dictatorship, why people would want to be part of a centralizing movement unless they get richer from it.

In today’s shrinking global economy, we have passed a point of no return in this regard. Everyone will want out of these institutions, and get back to making their own decisions about their own lives, instead of having these decisions being taken by some far away board with no accountability.

Let’s end with a few quotes about the IEO report. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard was in fine form:

IMF Admits Disastrous Love Affair With The Euro and Apologises For The Immolation Of Greece

The International Monetary Fund’s top staff misled their own board, made a series of calamitous misjudgments in Greece, became euphoric cheerleaders for the euro project, ignored warning signs of impending crisis, and collectively failed to grasp an elemental concept of currency theory.

[..] In Greece, the IMF violated its own cardinal rule by signing off on a bailout in 2010 even though it could offer no assurance that the package would bring the country’s debts under control or clear the way for recovery, and many suspected from the start that it was doomed. The organisation got around this by slipping through a radical change in IMF rescue policy, allowing an exemption (since abolished) if there was a risk of systemic contagion. “The board was not consulted or informed,” it said. The directors discovered the bombshell “tucked into the text” of the Greek package, but by then it was a fait accompli.

[..] The injustice is that the cost of the bailouts was switched to ordinary Greek citizens – the least able to support the burden – and it was never acknowledged that the true motive of EU-IMF Troika policy was to protect monetary union. Indeed, the Greeks were repeatedly blamed for failures that stemmed from the policy itself. This unfairness – the root of so much bitterness in Greece – is finally recognised in the report. “If preventing international contagion was an essential concern, the cost of its prevention should have been borne – at least in part – by the international community as the prime beneficiary,” it said.

 

 

That would seem to leave the IMF just one option: to apologize profoundly to Greece, to demand from the EU that all unjust measures be reversed and annulled, and to set up a very large fund (how about €1 trillion) specifically to support the Greek people, including retribution of lost funds, repair of the health care system, reinstatement of a pension system that can actually keep people alive and so on and so forth.

And to top it off of course: debt writedowns as far as the eye can see. You f**k up, you pay the price. This makes me think of a remark by Angela Merkel a few weeks ago, she said ‘we have found the right mix when it comes to Greece’. Well, Angela, that is so completely bonkers it’s insulting, and the IMF’s own evaluation office says so.

I like this one from Bill Black as well:

It was only after forcing the Greek people into a pointless purgatory of a decade of disaster that the troika would consider providing debt relief…The only ‘debt relief’ they offer to discuss is a ‘long rescheduling of debt payments at low interest rates.’ This, under their own dogmas, will lock Greece into a long-term debt trap that will materially lower Greece’s growth rate for decades and leave it constantly vulnerable to recurrent financial crises. That is a recipe for disaster for Greece, Italy, and Spain (collectively, 100 million citizens) and for the EU. It is financial madness – and that ignores the political instability it will cause to force an EU member nation to twist slowly in the wind for 50 years.”

Got that one off of Yanis Varoufakis’ site, and he must be feeling very vindicated, even if not nearly enough people express it, by the IMF report. Because he’s said all along what they themselves are now admitting. But it ain’t much good if nothing changes, is it? Or, as Varoufakis put it:

[..] to complete this week’s drubbing of the troika, the report by the IMF’s Independent Evaluation Office (IEO) saw the light of day. It is a brutal assessment, leaving no room for doubt about the vulgar economics and the gunboat diplomacy employed by the troika. It puts the IMF, the ECB and the Commission in a tight spot: Either restore a modicum of legitimacy by owning up and firing the officials most responsible or do nothing, thus turbocharging the discontent that European citizens feel toward the EU, accelerating the EU’s deconstruction.

[..] The question now is: What next? What good is it to receive a mea culpa if the policies imposed on the Greek government are the same ones that the mea culpa was issued for? What good is it to have a mea culpa if those officials who imposed such disastrous, inhuman policies remain on board and are, in fact, promoted for their gross incompetence?

In sum, an urgent apology is due to the Greek people, not just by the IMF but also by the ECB and the Commission whose officials were egging the IMF on with the fiscal waterboarding of Greece. But an apology and a collective mea culpa from the troika is woefully inadequate. It needs to be followed up by the immediate dismissal of at least three functionaries.

First on the list is Mr Poul Thomsen – the original IMF Greek Mission Chief whose great failure (according to the IMF’s own reports never before had a mission chief presided over a greater macroeconomic disaster) led to his promotion to the IMF’s European Chief status. A close second spot in this list is Mr Thomas Wieser, the chair of the EuroWorkingGroup who has been part of every policy and every coup that resulted in Greece’s immolation and Europe’s ignominy, hopefully to be joined into retirement by Mr Declan Costello, whose fingerprints are all over the instruments of fiscal waterboarding. And, lastly, a gentleman that my Irish friends know only too well, Mr Klaus Masuch of the ECB.

You probably guessed by now that I would certainly and urgently add Christine Lagarde to that list of people to be fired. And not appoint another French citizen as managing director. Too risky. They do crazy things. The IMF must be reorganized, and thoroughly, or it no longer has a ‘raison d’être’.

I see no reason to doubt that those who call the shots are too blinded by hubris to execute such measures, so I’ll list these things one more time: transparency, accountability, credibility and if you don’t have those you will lose your relevance.

But it’s probably a bad idea to begin with to let an economy, if not a world, in decline, be governed by the same people who owe their positions to its rise. It would seem to take another kind of mindframe.

Mar 032016
 
 March 3, 2016  Posted by at 9:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Fenno Jacobs Schoolchildren staging a patriotic demonstration, Southington, CT 1942

Fresh Recession Will Cause Eurozone Collapse, Warns Credit Suisse (Telegraph)
“If Schengen Disappears, It Will Never Come Back” (BBG)
Earnings Downgrades Turning Into Deluge as First Quarter Craters (BBG)
Negotiating Debt Relief for Greece in the Shadow of the Brexirendum (Howse)
German Demand To Cap Banks’ Sovereign Debt Throws Italy Under The Bus (BBG)
Germany Is The New PiiG (BI)
Europe Without the Union (Startfor)
Death and Despair in China’s Rustbelt (BBG)
China’s Other Growth Figure Is Flashing a Warning (BBG)
George Osborne Has ‘Foot In Mouth’ Disease: Varoufakis (CNBC)
Donald Trump Embodies How Great Republics Meet Their End (Wolf)
Global Trade: Structural Shifts (FT)
In ‘Half Earth,’ E.O. Wilson Calls for a Grand Retreat (NY Times)
Syria Drought ‘Likely Worst In 900 Years’ (Guardian)
Albania’s Crucial Role In The Refugee Crisis (Venetis)
Greece Risks Being ‘Concentration Camp’ For Refugees: Varoufakis (CNBC)
Austerity-Hit Greeks Help Refugees With Food, Toys, Time (Reuters)
Greece Prepares To Help Up To 150,000 Stranded Refugees (AP)

What recovery? “The viability of the euro is contingent on the current recovery..”

Fresh Recession Will Cause Eurozone Collapse, Warns Credit Suisse (Telegraph)

A recession in Europe could lead to the collapse of the eurozone, as the single currency would buckle under the political turmoil unleashed by a fresh downturn, a leading investment bank has warned. In a research note titled “Close to the edge”, economists at Swiss bank Credit Suisse warned the fate of monetary union hangs in the balance if Europe’s policymakers are unable to ward off another global slump and quell anti-euro populism. “The viability of the euro is contingent on the current recovery,” said Peter Foley at Credit Suisse. “If the euro area were to relapse back into recession, it is not clear it would endure.” Although the bloc’s nascent recovery was likely to persist in the coming months, Credit Suisse said there were worrying signs of deterioration emanating from Europe’s economies. These include heightened credit stress in the banking sector and market volatility.

“The near-term outlook for economic activity, as well as the risks around it, has shifted materially downwards,” said the seven-page report. The eurozone’s 19 member states only managed to grow by 0.3pc in the last three months of 2015, despite asset purchases from the European Central Bank and the collapsing price of oil. Unlike the US and UK, the eurozone’s GDP still lags below its pre-financial crisis peak. Italy, the euro’s third largest economy, was stagnant at the end of last year, while Greece has slipped back into recession. Growth in Europe’s dominant economic power Germany has steadied to just 0.3pc. Insipid growth has been coupled with a fresh fall into deflation in February, raising fears the continent is stuck in a low growth trap where it is unable to tackle mounting debts.

This has put pressure on the ECB to devise more stimulatory measures to revive economic fortunes and escalated calls for governments to deploy their fiscal policy tools to support growth. But a failure to fight off recessionary forces would cause “irrevocable damage” to the eurozone six years after the onset of the financial crisis, said Mr Foley. Rising unemployment, falling asset prices, and mounting costs of debt would embolden anti-euro populist forces across the continent, “radicalising” electorates, said the report. Europe’s fragile banks – which have been in the eye of a market storm since the start of the year – could also find themselves at the heart of a new financial crisis as their profitability is squeezed and lending to the economy grounds to a halt. “The capacity for a renewed downturn to push the euro area into a destructive negative economic, political and financial feedback loop is considerable,” added Mr Foley.

The Swiss bank’s warning comes ahead of a crucial meeting of ECB policymakers next week, when they are widely expected to unleash a new round of quantitative easing and interest rate cuts. Benoit Cœuré , executive board member at the ECB, said the central bank’s policy stance could not “become a source of uncertainty” for expectant markets. “In the still fragile environment we face today, what is essential is that policy works to reduce uncertainty,” Mr Cœuré said on Wednesday. He admitted that the ECB’s move into negative interest rates could have adverse effects on the continent’s lenders, hinting policymakers would mitigate the impact of its -0.3pc deposit rate on bank profitability. “We are well aware of this issue. We are monitoring it on a regular basis and we are studying carefully the schemes used in other jurisdictions to mitigate possible adverse consequences for the bank lending channel,” said Mr Cœuré .

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Schengen exists in name only anymore.

“If Schengen Disappears, It Will Never Come Back” (BBG)

The EU has no plan to even temporarily cut Greece out of its passport-free Schengen zone and any suspension of open travel means “it will never come back,” Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said. With Europe likely to face increased migration from Syria and other conflict zones throughout the next decade, the 28-member bloc must immediately start giving more money, equipment and authority to its Frontex border forces, Asselborn said Wednesday during a visit to Prague. Sealing Greece’s northern borders with Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and unilaterally reinstating border checks within the Schengen area is “not a solution,” he said. Tensions over the handling of the refugee crisis have escalated, with Austria and some eastern EU members pushing for sealing the Greek-FYROM border.

Austria began admitting only a limited number of migrants, triggering a chain reaction of closures in countries to the south that’s stoking fears that Schengen may cease functioning. Political divisions are widening ahead of an extraordinary summit of the EU leaders on March 7 called to take stock of efforts to secure the bloc’s external frontiers. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is defending her open-border policy in three regional elections in March, is pushing for EU states to share the burden of redistributing migrants in the face of opposition from countries who have rejected the plan. Some EU members including Slovakia, Hungary and Poland have called for a “Plan B” that would cut Greece out of the Schengen area, pointing to Greece’s inability to secure its Mediterranean shores. “There is no plan B,” Asselborn said. “If Schengen disappears, it will never come back.”

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Without earnings, it ain’t much.

Earnings Downgrades Turning Into Deluge as First Quarter Craters (BBG)

The pace at which earnings estimates are being cut is getting worse, not better. While bulls cling to predictions that profit growth will resume for S&P’s 500 Index companies in 2016, analysts just reduced income estimates for the first quarter at a rate that more than doubled the average pace of deterioration in the last five years. Forecasts plunged by 9.6 percentage points in the last three months, with profits now seen dropping the most since the global financial crisis, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Growing skepticism among analysts is another example of an economic truth, that once corporate income starts to fall across industries, it’s rarely temporary. Most of the downward revisions in projections came in January and February – a clue as to why equities staged their worst selloff to start a year since 2009 and almost $3 trillion was wiped from share prices at the worst point.

“S&P 500 is not immune from the malaise of the global economy and we’re seeing that translated into earnings figures,” said Ethan Anderson, a senior portfolio manager who helps oversee $1.5 billion at Rehmann Financial in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “With the strong dollar, it obviously makes that made-in-U.S.A. look less attractive. Couple that with the weakness that we’re seeing in the global economy, most notably China, some of these estimates had looked fairly rosy.” Once a key support that helped stocks navigate through financial and geopolitical turmoil, earnings have increasingly become a contributor to market volatility along with concerns ranging from the price of oil to the path of interest rates. The decline in corporate profits has worsened every quarter since mid 2015, coinciding with a period where the S&P 500 suffered two corrections after reaching an all-time high in May.

Forecasters see the stretch of profit contractions now lasting 15 months. In the seven times earnings have fallen at least that long since 1970, stocks slipped into a bear market in all but one instance, data compiled by Bloomberg and S&P Dow Jones Indices show. Skepticism is rising over the durability of a bull market approaching its seventh anniversary with valuations based on legendary investor Peter Lynch’s favored measure that now surpass levels seen in the previous two runs. Investors hoping for a quick bounce in earnings to ease the multiple pressure may find little comfort in analysts’ estimates.

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“..Greece is quite capable of throwing the EU into crisis, conflict and even chaos, precisely at a time when the utmost solidarity is needed to help out the campaign against Brexit.”

Negotiating Debt Relief for Greece in the Shadow of the Brexirendum (Howse)

I’ve been saying for some time now that Greek PM Alexis Tsipras is, contrary to conventional wisdom, a shrewd negotiator and tactician. These traits were clearly on display this last week, when Europe’s leaders met to broker a deal on which British Prime Minister David Cameron could base his case for staying in the EU when Brexit gets put to a vote in the UK this June. Tsipras threatened to veto the deal if Greece were not given assurance that it could remain in Schengen for the time being, despite concerns about the control of its border with Turkey during the ongoing refugee crisis. Not surprisingly, given the stakes,Tsipras won. Now let’s turn to Greece’s other crisis. The European institutions are stalling on approving further disbursements to Greece, stretching out the current review of Greece’s implementation of last summer’s bailout memorandum.

Debt relief, a key element in the deal, has also been postponed. In particular, with the complicity of the IMF, Greece has been pushed to make deep across the board cuts in public pensions. Some pensions in Greece are anomalously high, and the responsible minister, George Katrougalos, freely admits that restructuring the pension system and creating a modern, effective social welfare state in Greece is a necessity for economic recovery and good governance. But with sky-high unemployment and falling wages, for many, pensions have become a de facto safety net; whole families are living from the income of a single pensioner. In these circumstances, the kind of indiscriminate slashing that the institutions want would inflict extreme and unjustifiable human hardship. It is difficult to know what is behind the unreasonableness in dealing with Greece on this issue.

Is it just the usual Germanic pious cruelty, or is it a strategy to try to bring down the Tsipras government in the hope of being able to deal with a more pliable, conservative new regime? Recently, the IMF’s point man on Greece, Poul Thomsen, publicly defended the hard line on pensions, on the basis that this is the only way that Greece can meet its budgetary targets that are necessary for restoring debt sustainability. But Thomsen made a key admission, perhaps unwittingly: debt relief, he suggested, could have the same effect on sustainability as would slashing pensions. He thus essentially told the Greeks to their face that further hardship was being forced on them, not because of any deep economic logic, but just because the needed amount of debt relief was not forthcoming.

The current line in the mainstream financial press is that Tsipras has no real cards he can play to resist the demands of the institutions on pensions. I think that’s wrong. If the institutions won’t be reasonable and moderate their demands, he can always blow up the third programme and default on Greece’s official debt to Europe; one way to do that would be to draw up a final offer on pensions and related reforms, and put it to the people in a new referendum that if Europe doesn’t accept that offer, Greece should default. Now, you say, isn’t that exactly the “nuclear” option that Tsipras backed off from last summer, for fear of utter economic and social catastrophe in Greece, despite then winning a mandate for it by referendum? True enough, but certain things have changed since. Back then, it became painfully clear very quickly that Greece’s banking system would have collapsed had it been cut off from further support from Europe in the wake of default.

Now the banks have been recapitalized; and the problem of marginal,failing banks addressed by restructuring and consolidation. Secondly, Greece has, shrewdly, built a new friendship with Israel; Netanyahu, ever the savvy politician, sees the value of having a country in the Mediterranean amenable to Israel’s interests and point of view (and there are the mutual gains of cooperation on offshore gas as well). Israel may well have made some kind of promise to Greece to function as a lender of last resort if things get bad. But, most importantly, there is the looming referendum on Brexit (I call it Brexirendum for convenience). By defaulting but keeping the Euro, and perhaps also threatening non-cooperation on refugees, Greece is quite capable of throwing the EU into crisis, conflict and even chaos, precisely at a time when the utmost solidarity is needed to help out the campaign against Brexit.

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“The German proposals are “pure folly,” and would amount to Italy “hitting itself over the head with a hammer..”

German Demand To Cap Banks’ Sovereign Debt Throws Italy Under The Bus (BBG)

A drive to tighten rules over how much sovereign debt banks are allowed to own has raised the alarm in the home of the euro region’s largest bond market. Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, vowed last month to veto any attempt to cap holdings, putting him at odds with Germany. Italian government securities account for 10.4% of the country’s bank assets, the most among major European economies and compared with 3.2% in Germany, the latest ECB figures show. A limit would mean “altering the balance of the Italian banking system,” said Francesco Boccia, a lawmaker from Renzi’s Democratic Party who heads the budget committee in Italy’s lower house of parliament. “Banks are already struggling to lend money to small- and medium-sized companies,” he said. “This would be the final blow.”

In essence, the euro region’s biggest debtor is on a collision course with its biggest paymaster over how to fix the failures of the past. Having financial institutions willing to finance the government is vital to most countries, but especially in Italy. The country has outstanding debt of €2.17 trillion ($2.36 trillion), more than anywhere else in Europe. It amounts to 133% of its economic output, the largest ratio except for Greece. The problem in Berlin is that it highlights Europe’s “doom loop,” the too-tight connection between sovereigns and their lenders that fueled the debt crisis and landed Germany with the biggest bill. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has been leading the campaign to tackle the practice of banks treating the debt as risk-free.

Germany has resisted moving toward closer financial ties, including initiatives such as a common euro-area deposit insurance system, until progress is made on reducing risk. Among Germany’s proposals was an an automatic maturity extension for bonds of nations that apply for aid from the European Stability Mechanism crisis fund. Another possibility is a 25% limit on the sovereign bonds some banks can hold risk-free as a share of eligible capital, according to two people with knowledge of the deliberations. The German proposals are “pure folly,” and would amount to Italy “hitting itself over the head with a hammer,” said Mario Baldassarri, chairman of the Economia Reale think-tank and a former head of the Italian Senate’s finance committee.

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“And when Germany falls, and it will, that’s when the panic begins to set in.”

Germany Is The New PiiG (BI)

This is as good as it gets for Germany and Europe. Previously, it was the debt of the eurozone’s peripheral countries that was of concern to the markets. But in an interview with Business Insider, Geopolitical Futures founder George Friedman proclaimed that Europe now has a much bigger problem: Germany. And at the heart of the looming issue for Germany and Europe is the Italian banking system. “[Problems in Italian banks are] going to spill over into the Netherlands, it’s going to spill over into Germany,” Friedman said. “Germany is the new PIIG. Germany depends on exports and its markets are drying up.” The PIIGS economies — Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain — were the main concerns during the European debt crisis of 2011 and 2012.

And with those crises seemingly having passed and Europe moving back towards a path to economic stability, Germany has been a big winner with its economy as strong as its been since re-unification and an unemployment rate down to 4.5%. Germany has, however, been running a structural trade surplus underpinned by a weak euro with its trade surplus hitting a record $23.9 billion in June. And Friedman thinks Germany’s export well is about to run dry. Friedman believes that the problems in the Italian banking system are going to take Germany — the strongest economy in the eurozone — down with it. Data released in late-2015 showed non-performing loans at Italian banks totaled €300 billion, 17.3% of outstanding loans.

That is a massive number considering the average for the euro zone is 6.8%, and Germany’s NPL’s are at just 2.3%. According to Friedman, this is a big deal because Italy is the 4th largest economy in Europe and the 8th largest economy in the world. Italy’s home to the largest banking system in Eastern Europe and there’s a lot of inter-connectivity in play. For example, Germany’s largest bank, Deutsche Bank, has an enormous amount of exposure to Italy, and so does the rest of Europe. Ultimately Friedman thinks it will be Germany that has to save Italy. And that will cost a lot of money. “It’s not the PIIGS one should worry about,” Friedman said. “Germany hasn’t even begun falling yet. And when Germany falls, and it will, that’s when the panic begins to set in.”

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Not a big fan of Stratfor, but some things to think about here: “Perhaps the most likely scenario at this point would be for the EU to survive as a ghost of its former self, with its laws ignored..”

Europe Without the Union (Startfor)

The European project was always bound to fail. Europe is a continent riven by geographic barriers. It has spent two millennia not only indulging in massive and constant internal wars, but also keeping written records of them, informing each generation of all the times their forebears were wronged. Over the centuries, great empires have risen and fallen, leaving behind distinct groups of people with different histories, languages and cultures. Any project attempting to fuse these disparate cultures into one monolithic state over the course of just 70 years was by its very nature doomed. It would inevitably encounter insurmountable levels of nationalistic resistance, and eventually the project would stall. That is the point at which we now find ourselves.

Crises abound, and though they all have different facades, each stems from the same underlying issue: Citizens ultimately prize their national and regional identities over the supranational dream. The sovereign debt crisis and repeating Grexit scares, born of the introduction of the euro in 1999, have exposed Northern Europe’s unwillingness to subsidize the south. The Brexit referendum, scheduled for June, can trace its roots to the 2004 enlargement of the EU, and the ensuing wave of Polish migration to the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, amid the ongoing immigration crisis, national leaders are appeasing their populations by bypassing European rules and re-erecting border controls to stem the flow of refugees across their territory. In all of these situations, the same factors are at work: The driving forces within Europe are national in nature, and countries will ultimately put their own interests first.

Today’s problems were both predictable and predicted. The next step, however, is harder to foresee. Having identified a system’s inherent flaw, one can very well state that it is unsustainable, but unfortunately the flaw provides no guide as to the exact circumstances of the system’s end. There are still many different ways that the demise of the European Union’s current form could come about. For example, the project could unravel via market forces, as it nearly did in 2012 when investors tested the commitment of the core to save the periphery and found it to be (barely) willing to do so. Or a disaffected populace could elect a nationalist party such as France’s National Front, which could either lead the country out of the EU or make the bloc so unmanageable that it ceases to function. Perhaps the most likely scenario at this point would be for the EU to survive as a ghost of its former self, with its laws ignored and stripped back to the extent that it holds only a loose grip on its members.

The exact circumstances of the European project’s end are not yet clear, but there are certain fixed, underlying truths that are sure to outlast the EU’s current form. With them, a forecast can still be made of the shape of things to come. These fundamental realities stem from deeper, unchanging forces that will bring countries together according to their most basic goals; they are the same forces that limited the European project’s lifespan in the first place. By looking at these underlying factors, one can predict which countries will emerge from a weakened or collapsed EU with close ties, and which are likely to drift apart in pursuit of their own interests once they are freed from the binding force of the EU and its integrationist ideals.

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“..leaving a valley of brutal murder, protests, anger, suicide and regret.”

Death and Despair in China’s Rustbelt (BBG)

In a snow-covered valley in northeast China, an hour from the North Korean border, a street with brightly-painted apartment blocks hides a story of fear and anger as dangerous to the country as its rollercoaster stock market or sliding currency. The frozen alluvial river plain that was once at the forefront of the Communist Party’s first attempt to build a modern economy, has now fallen behind, leaving a valley of brutal murder, protests, anger, suicide and regret. This is the city of Tonghua in China’s rustbelt, where a desperate handful of steelworkers has gathered each week outside the management office of their mill in freezing temperatures to demand months of wages they say they’re owed. The answer, according to interviews with workers and residents, is always the same: there is no money.

This is the last vestige of protests that once drew thousands, and which, one fateful day nearly seven years ago, ended with a manager being beaten to death. Since then, the city’s once-vaunted state-run steel mills have slipped inexorably into decline, weighed down by slumping global markets, a changing economy, and the burden of costs and responsibilities to the people of the town they fostered. Tonghua’s story is repeated across the country, where state-owned enterprises that were the bedrock of China’s industrial development have become its biggest burdens. Typically overstaffed, inefficient and heavily indebted, they offer President Xi Jinping a stark warning of what the country could face if the millions of workers who depend on these lumbering corporations should get thrown out of work with nothing to fall back on. Uprisings have started from less in China.

The country’s leaders have vowed to reduce excess industrial capacity and labor in state enterprises even as they battle the slowest economic growth in a quarter of a century. China will eliminate up to 150 million metric tons of steel-making capacity in the next five years, the State Council said after a Jan. 22 meeting. The council, China’s cabinet, said it will achieve the target through mergers and acquisitions, relocation or converting some plants to other industries. It pledged to set up special funds to subsidize companies and laid-off workers during the change, and to help lenders write down bad debts. “The market has forced our hands,” said the official Xinhua News Agency in a Jan. 24 commentary. “Local governments and companies will bear the main responsibility, while the central government will help.”

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The real numbers: “..GDP in dollars, unadjusted for price changes, rose just 4.25% in the fourth quarter of 2015..”

China’s Other Growth Figure Is Flashing a Warning (BBG)

Obscured by the focus on the accuracy of China’s growth figures is a tumble in estimates for the economy without adjusting for inflation – a slide that gives a clearer picture of why the country’s slowdown has stoked rising concern about its debt burden. GDP in dollars, unadjusted for price changes, rose just 4.25% in the fourth quarter of 2015 compared with the same period of 2014 – a gain of $439 billion. Just two years before, China added $1.1 trillion to the global economy, expanding 13% from a year earlier. “Looked at in this way, financial markets reaction to deteriorating Chinese data is more understandable,” said Arthur Kroeber at research firm Gavekal Dragonomics in Hong Kong. Weakening nominal growth makes debt servicing harder, forming the backdrop for moves this week by Moody’s Investors Service to lower its outlook on China’s credit rating and HSBC to cut its recommendations on the country’s big banks.

With Premier Li Keqiang’s cabinet having eased a deleveraging drive last year, investors will get fresh insights into the Communist leadership’s priorities at a gathering of the national legislature starting Saturday. Along with economic targets for 2016, officials will discuss the party’s new five-year plan. While in yuan terms the slowdown is more gradual, the decline in nominal GDP gains is still dramatic – to a 6.4% pace at the end of 2015 compared with 10.1% back in 2013 and in excess of 18% in 2010 and 2011. The slide highlights the need to follow through on slashing excess industrial capacity, eliminating unprofitable enterprises and revving up new drivers of expansion.

“The biggest problem with plunging nominal GDP growth is that the cash-flow growth to the corporate sector has declined at a time when growth in its debt servicing has accelerated,” said Victor Shih, a professor at the University of California at San Diego who studies China’s politics and finance. “Because debt is so much larger than the economy, debt servicing each year will still be two to three times the incremental growth of nominal GDP.” China’s debt-to-GDP ratio surged to 247% last year from 166% in 2007, propelled by a lending binge in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. Days before the National People’s Congress, the central bank this week lowered the ratio of deposits major banks must hold in reserve, letting them deploy more in lending.

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To be honest, Osborne was funny too: “Varoufakis was recruited because Chairman Mao was dead and Mickey Mouse was busy.”

George Osborne Has ‘Foot In Mouth’ Disease: Varoufakis (CNBC)

Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, has said that the U.K. finance minister has got a bad case of “foot in mouth disease” and is doing himself no favors by mocking him in parliament. On Wednesday, the U.K.’s Chancellor George Osborne ridiculed a report saying that Varoufakis was advising the opposition Labour party, telling the House of Commons that “Varoufakis was recruited because Chairman Mao was dead and Mickey Mouse was busy.” Responding to the slur, Yanis Varoufakis told CNBC that he was intrigued that George Osborne had “this foot in mouth disease.” “So when George Osborne comes out and pokes fun at me, obviously trying to luxuriate in the fact that I’m a defeated finance minister, yes, I am a defeated finance minister but in the hands of whom? Of an iron-clad European Union that decided to asphyxiate us using bank closures in order to impose upon us another extend and pretend bailout. The British people know that.”

“Does George Osborne really seriously believe that by mocking me he is doing himself any favors in his intellectual class?…I don’t think he is doing himself any intellectual favors.” “He seems unable to prevent own goals being scored all the time,” he added. Varoufakis said he was supporting the campaign for Britain to stay in the European Union (EU) but that he had been impressed with the “leave” arguments put forward by conservative politicians Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. They had, he said, “sounder intellectual ideas” than Osborne.

Earlier in the week it emerged that the Greek Marxist economist was going to advise the U.K.’s Labour party “in some capacity,” according to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Varoufakis told CNBC that there was no formal contract and that he was “talking to everybody” including Caroline Lucas from the Green party and former Conservative Chancellor Normal Lamont. Talking to each other, he said, would help find common ground and a “common program to stop this slide into the abyss” in Europe. Asked whether he was receiving any money from the Labour party, he said: “Of course not. I have no such contract with anyone, let alone Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party.”

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“..pluto-populism”: the marriage of plutocracy with rightwing populism..”

Donald Trump Embodies How Great Republics Meet Their End (Wolf)

What is one to make of the rise of Donald Trump? It is natural to think of comparisons with populist demagogues past and present. It is natural, too, to ask why the Republican party might choose a narcissistic bully as its candidate for president. But this is not just about a party, but about a great country. The US is the greatest republic since Rome, the bastion of democracy, the guarantor of the liberal global order. It would be a global disaster if Mr Trump were to become president. Even if he fails, he has rendered the unthinkable sayable. Mr Trump is a promoter of paranoid fantasies, a xenophobe and an ignoramus. His business consists of the erection of ugly monuments to his own vanity. He has no experience of political office. Some compare him to Latin American populists.

He might also be considered an American Silvio Berlusconi, albeit without the charm or business acumen. But Mr Berlusconi, unlike Mr Trump, never threatened to round up and expel millions of people. Mr Trump is grossly unqualified for the world’s most important political office. Yet, as Robert Kagan, a neoconservative intellectual, argues in The Washington Post, Mr Trump is also “the GOP’s Frankenstein monster”. He is, says Mr Kagan, the monstrous result of the party’s “wild obstructionism”, its demonisation of political institutions, its flirtation with bigotry and its “racially tinged derangement syndrome” over President Barack Obama. He continues: “We are supposed to believe that Trump’s legion of ‘angry’ people are angry about wage stagnation. No, they are angry about all the things Republicans have told them to be angry about these past seven-and-a-half years”.

Mr Kagan is right, but does not go far enough. This is not about the last seven-and-a-half years. These attitudes were to be seen in the 1990s, with the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Indeed, they go back all the way to the party’s opportunistic response to the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Alas, they have become worse, not better, with time. Why has this happened? The answer is that this is how a wealthy donor class, dedicated to the aims of slashing taxes and shrinking the state, obtained the footsoldiers and voters it required. This, then, is “pluto-populism”: the marriage of plutocracy with rightwing populism. Mr Trump embodies this union. But he has done so by partially dumping the free-market, low tax, shrunken government aims of the party establishment, to which his financially dependent rivals remain wedded. That gives him an apparently insuperable advantage. Mr Trump is no conservative, elite conservatives complain. Precisely. That is also true of the party’s base.

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A curious attempt to deny there’s a crisis in the first place. No, we’re ‘transitioning to a digital economy’, or something..

Global Trade: Structural Shifts (FT)

The Port of Charleston spent most of the early 2000s enjoying double-digit growth as an accelerating wave of globalisation — fuelled by a rising China and a US consumer boom — brought robust volumes of cargo into the seaport. But those days are long gone. Jim Newsome, chief executive of the South Carolina Ports Authority, says he would be happy with 3% growth in Charleston this year, a goal he concedes may be too ambitious. In January, container traffic at the port fell 5.1% versus the same month of 2015, and the strong dollar is causing problems for US exporters. “Most of the exporters that I talk to are just not doing the same business that they were a year ago,” he says. The story is repeated and amplified far beyond Charleston.

Last year saw the biggest collapse in the value of goods traded around the world since 2009 – when the impact of the global financial crisis was at its worst. Major ports such as Hamburg and Singapore have also reported slowing growth and even declining volumes. Barring a spectacular turnround in the global economy, the subpar performance is likely to be repeated in 2016, making it the fifth straight year of lacklustre growth in global trade, a pattern not seen since the doldrums of the 1970s. “It has been a very long time since trade .. has grown this weakly”, says Robert Koopman, chief economist at the WTO. Much of this recent feeble performance is down to the economic slowdown in China and the knock-on effect that its declining appetite for commodities has had on other emerging markets.

An anaemic recovery in Europe adds to the headwinds hitting global commerce. While these factors explain part of the weakness in global trade, some say there are even bigger factors at work. A growing number of economists argue that the slowdown is not merely cyclical, but a sign that the forces that have driven globalisation for decades are beginning to shift. The first big transition is China’s attempt to rebalance from a manufacturing and export-led economy towards one focused on domestic consumption. And some economists note that the plateau in worldwide trade in goods and capital has coincided with a surge in data flows — an indicator, they say, that the digital economy of the 21st century is starting to overturn the old order.

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One of my favorite people on the planet.

In ‘Half Earth,’ E.O. Wilson Calls for a Grand Retreat (NY Times)

Why publish this book now? Because a lifetime of research has magnified my perception that we are in a crisis with reference to the living part of the environment.We now have enough measurements of extinction rates and the likely rate in the future to know that it is approaching a thousand times the baseline of what existed before humanity came along.

Reading your book, one senses you felt a great urgency to write it? The urgency was twofold. First, it’s only been within the last decade that a full picture of the crisis in biodiversity has emerged. The second factor was my age. I’m 86. I had a mild stroke a couple of years ago. I thought, “Say this now or never.” And what I say is that to save biodiversity, we need to set aside about half the earth’s surface as a natural reserve. I’m not suggesting we have one hemisphere for humans and the other for the rest of life. I’m talking about allocating up to one half of the surface of the land and the sea as a preserve for remaining flora and fauna.

In a rapidly developing world, where would such a reserve be? Large parts of nature are still intact — the Amazon region, the Congo Basin, New Guinea. There are also patches of the industrialized world where nature could be restored and strung together to create corridors for wildlife. In the oceans, we need to stop fishing in the open sea and let life there recover. The open sea is fished down to 2% of what it once was. If we halted those fisheries, marine life would increase rapidly. The oceans are part of that 50%. Now, this proposal does not mean moving anybody out. It means creating something equivalent to the U.N.’s World Heritage sites that could be regarded as the priceless assets of humanity. That’s why I’ve made so bold a step as to offer this maxim: Do no further harm to the rest of life. If we can agree on that, everything else will follow. It’s actually going to be a lot easier than people think.

Why? Because many problems of human occupancy that we once thought of as insoluble are taking care of themselves. Demographers tell us that the human population could stabilize at about 10 or 11 billion by the end of the century. High tech is producing new products and ways of living that are congenial to setting side more space for the rest of life. Instrumentation is getting smaller, using less material and energy. Moreover, the international discourse is changing. I’m very encouraged by the Paris Climate Accords. I was excited to see at the time of the Paris meeting that a consortium of influential business leaders concluded that the world should go for net zero carbon emissions. Towards that end, they recommended we protect the forests we have and restore the damaged ones. That’s consistent with the “Half Earth” idea.

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It’s not just the war.

Syria Drought ‘Likely Worst In 900 Years’ (Guardian)

The relentless flow of refugees from the Middle East into Europe continues to raise tensions across the region. This weekend, fires ignited at a refugee camp in Calais, France, and countries are beginning to tighten their borders as more than 1 million people have streamed into Europe in the past year. The 1 million refugees represent just a portion of the 4.2 million that have fled Syria in all directions. And that’s on top of the 7.6 million people internally displaced in Syria who are trapped in limbo in their home country. War has been the direct driver of the refugee flux and behind that is a complex mix of social and political factors both inside and outside the region. One fiercely studied and debated driver has been a recent dip into a series of severe droughts starting in the late 1990s.

Previous work has prescribed some of the drought — and its impact on the socioeconomic fabric in the Middle East — to climate change. New findings published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres put it in even starker context, showing that the drought is likely the worst to affect the region in 900 years. The Mediterranean as a whole has been subject to widespread drought at various points in the past 20 years. Climate models project that the region is likely to get drier in the future, which Ben Cook, a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said drove the new line of inquiry. “These recent drought events have motivated a lot of concern that this could be an indication of climate change, with the eastern Mediterranean and Syrian droughts being the most obvious,” Cook said.

Using tree ring data that covered 900 years of drought history, Cook led a team of researchers to look at drought across different regions in the Mediterranean. Dry spells in parts of the western Mediterranean have been severe but still within the range of natural variability over that 900-year span. What stands out is the drought in the eastern Mediterranean, which includes war-torn Syria. Drought has had a firm grip on the region since 1998 and Cook’s findings show that the recent bone-dry spell is likely the driest period on record in 900 years and almost certainly the worst drought in 500 years. In either case, it’s well outside the norm of natural variability indicating that a climate change signal is likely emerging in the region.

“This is a really important study that increases our understanding of low frequency (decadal to multidecadal) natural variability over the past 900 years and provides strong evidence that the severity of the recent drying in the eastern Mediterranean/Levant is human induced,” Colin Kelley, a drought expert who authored previous research on the region, said.

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Interesting angle. Officially, Albania’s borders are shut. But they’re not.

Albania’s Crucial Role In The Refugee Crisis (Venetis)

With the border between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) closed, Greece appears to be isolated from the neighborhood and the European mainland. While the problems are growing, the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras trying to improvise a solution and Brussels still looking, Greece seems again favored by geography. Among Greece’s long Greek borders with its Balkan neighbors, only the Greek-Albanian one cannot be controlled because it is mountainous and with a large number of accessible paths. Therefore, the government of Edi Rama may verbally express its opposition to the possibility of migration flows going through Albania but it is impossible to implement such a decision. The reasons are obvious. Nobody can stop the peaceful determination of populations to move.

Given Skopje’s policy of closed borders and the willingness of immigrants to move northwards, as well the failure of each transit country to provide them with the basics for a temporary stay, it should be viewed as certain that in the coming days and weeks, with the arrival of spring, the migrants now trapped in Greece will head towards the border with Albania. What will happen then? Albania will try to stop this flow through the Greek border stations of Krystalopigi, Mertziani and Kakavia – but in vain. No wall can be erected on uneven terrain. Parallel paths are not patrolled because they are numerous, anomalous and extensive. Therefore, the Albanian authorities will not be able to stop the flows peacefully. Albanians know this and although the prime minister has expressed his opposition, he has already ordered the construction of two reception centers for a total of 10,000 immigrants in Korce and Gjirokaster.

Such a development would essentially mean the cancellation of the Austrian refugee policy in the Balkans because immigrants will be able to access the FYROM territories and Kosovo from Albania and therefore to move northwards to Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia. Additionally, the problem will be internationalized once more and put more pressure on Brussels to find an effective solution. Austria is expected to attempt to erect a new wall to the north, but to no avail, because the problem will be shared not only by Greece but the whole of the Balkans. The Albanian corridor can give Greece a chance to gain some time in dealing with the influx from Turkey, to relieve the Greek-FYROM border and to provide the EU with a final opportunity to prove that it is a union of friends and not enemies.

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That’s been my point all along, and it’s too late already: “..you cannot buy back the lost dignity of the European Union..”

Greece Risks Being ‘Concentration Camp’ For Refugees: Varoufakis (CNBC)

The refugee crisis is a “manifestation of the disintegration of the European Union,” Greece’s controversial former finance minister told CNBC on Thursday, as he warned against Turkey and Greece becoming a “large concentration camp for hapless refugees.” Yanis Varoufakis, who served as finance minister in 2015 under the ruling left-wing Syriza party, said Europe was “rich enough” to cope with the influx of refugees who have flooded to Europe in the wake of the turmoil in Syria. “The EU should be a proper union with borders, which we control in a humane way. When somebody knocks on your door and they’ve been shot at, they have kids that are dying or thirsty or hungry, you just open your door to them,” he told CNBC at the Global Financial Markets Forum in Abu Dhabi.

According to the UN, 131,724 refugees and migrants made the risky journey across the Mediterranean Sea during January and February. The large majority of these people, 122,637, landed in Greece. The EU, of which Greece is a member, has struggled to agree to a strategy to deal with the waves of people, particularly in the wake of terrorist attacks from the group that calls itself the “Islamic State.” However, on Wednesday, the EU launched a €700 million fund to help Greece cope with the crisis. “The fact that we are now spending some money on refugees is a good thing, but you cannot buy back the lost dignity of the European Union,” Varoufakis told CNBC.

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“I don’t have an income but I have a child,” she said before handing out another balloon, while her sister distributed milk.”

Austerity-Hit Greeks Help Refugees With Food, Toys, Time (Reuters)

Three Syrian children holding balloons follow Constantina Tsouklidou who is handing out toys and food to refugees sheltering by the hundreds in a ferry passenger terminal at the Greek port of Piraeus. “I don’t have an income but I have a child,” she said before handing out another balloon, while her sister distributed milk. Tsouklidou, 50, is one of thousands of Greeks volunteering their time to assist refugees and migrants stranded in Greece. She is also one of the legions of Greece’s unemployed. Greece, whose economy was struggling even before Europe’s migrant crisis and which has received more than 240 billion euros since its first international bailout in 2010, is in its eighth year of recession. More than a million people are unemployed, according to statistics agency ELSTAT, which put the latest jobless rate at 24.6%.

“Half of the Greek population has to a smaller or bigger extent assisted refugees. We are not like central Europe,” Tsouklidou told Reuters, referring to border closures through the Balkans. At least 25,000 people were stranded in Greece on Tuesday, their journey to wealthier central and northern European nations blocked by the failure of European nations to agree a common policy to deal with one of the worst humanitarian crises in decades. Austria and countries along the Balkans migration route have imposed restrictions on their borders, limiting the numbers able to cross. Many of the migrants hope to reach Germany. Macedonian police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of migrants who stormed the border from Greece on Monday. “I am worried about what will happen if people keep coming in and the borders remain closed,” said Kyriakos Sarantidis, 65, who donates time cooking for refugees from a minivan parked at Pireaus port.

Greece’s migration minister said on Sunday the number of migrants trapped in Greece could reach up to 70,000 in coming weeks if the borders remain sealed, as refugees fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and North Africa continue to arrive in Greece, mainly on small boats from Turkey. At Victoria Square, a downtrodden area of central Athens where many homeless refugees have converged, Greeks turned up in droves with bags of food, fruit and medicine after seeing images on television of families sleeping in the open, on cardboard boxes, on chilly winter nights. Eleftheria Baltatzi, a 73-year-old pensioner, was one of the many people who saw images of sick children on television and turned up at the square with medicine and food. “I made toasted cheese sandwiches,” she said. “We also have people who are hungry and need help, but these people have a bigger need.”

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No longer a transit nation.

Greece Prepares To Help Up To 150,000 Stranded Refugees (AP)

Greece conceded Wednesday it is making long-term preparations to help as many as 150,000 stranded migrants as international pressure on Balkan countries saw Macedonia open its border briefly for just a few hundred refugees. “In my opinion, we have to consider the border closed,” Greek Migration Minister Ioannis Mouzalas said. “And for as long as the border crossing is closed, and until the European relocation and resettlement system is up and running, these people will stay in our country for some time.” At the moment, some 30,000 refugees and other migrants are stranded in Greece, with 10,000 at the Idomeni border crossing to Macedonia. On Wednesday, hundreds of more people, including many families with small children, continued to arrive at two official camps by the border that are so full that thousands have set up tents in surrounding fields.

Greek police helped one man who fainted after being turned back by Macedonian authorities. Others waited stoically for rain covers, or food and other essentials in chilling temperatures [..] Mouzalas, the migration minister, met for several hours with mayors from across Greece, examining ways to ramp up shelter capacity. The ministers of health and education also held emergency talks to provide health care and basic schooling for children, who make up about a third of arrivals in Greece. Nikos Kotzias, the foreign minister, said the country could handle a capacity of up to 150,000. “No one in Europe predicted this problem would reach such a giant scale,” Kotzias told private Skai television. “But this is not a cause for panic. The problems must be addressed soberly.”

Macedonia intermittently opened the border Wednesday, letting hundreds of people in, as European Council President Donald Tusk arrived in the country as part of a tour of the region for talks on the migration crisis. Tusk, who is due to travel onto Greece and Turkey Thursday, is hoping to ease tension among European Union leaders — notably neighbors Austria and Germany — before they hold a summit on migration on Monday with Turkey. “We must urgently mobilize the EU and all member states to help address the humanitarian situation of migrants in Greece and along the western Balkan route,” he said. Greece has asked for €480 million in emergency aid from the EUto deal with the crisis. EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides said he wants to swiftly push through a proposal to earmark €700 million in aid for the refugee crisis, with €300 million paid out this year.

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Jan 242016
 
 January 24, 2016  Posted by at 7:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing “Street scene with snow, F STreet Washington, DC” 1918

Iraq Sells Oil For $22 A Barrel, Calls For IMF Help (BBG)
American Oil Companies Are Starting To Scream “Mayday” (CNN)
US Shale’s Big Squeeze (FT)
Squeezed Primary Dealers Quit European Government Bond Markets (Reuters)
US Banks Cut Off Mexican Clients as Regulatory Pressure Increases (WSJ)
Ideological Divisions Undermine Economics (Economist)
A Greek Conspiracy: How The ECB Crushed Varoufakis’ Plans (Häring)
Britain ‘Poised To Open Door To Thousands Of Migrant Children’ (Guardian)
Germany Scolds Austria For Greek Schengen Threats (AFP)
EU Leaders Consider Two-Year Suspension Of Schengen Rules (Telegraph)

The battle gets ugly.

Iraq Sells Oil For $22 A Barrel, Calls For IMF Help (BBG)

Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said the plunge in oil prices means Iraq needs IMF support to continue its fight against Islamic State, a battle he says his country is winning despite little support from its neighbors. “We’ve been anticipating there would be some drop of prices but this has taken us by surprise,” Abadi said of the oil collapse in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “We can defeat Daesh but with this fiscal problem, we need the support” of the IMF, he said. “We have to sustain the economy, we have to sustain our fight.” The conflict with Islamic State, which swept through swaths of northern Iraq in the summer of 2014, has destroyed economic infrastructure, disrupted trade and discouraged investment.

Iraq is now facing the “double shock” of war as well as the crude-oil price drop, and has “urgent” balance-of-payment and budget needs, the IMF said in January as it approved a staff-monitored program to pave the way for a possible loan. Under the program, Iraq will seek to reduce its non-oil primary deficit. “We have cut a lot of our expenditures, government expenditures,” Abadi said in the interview. But the war brings its own costs. “We are paying salaries for the uniformed armies, for our fighters” and their weapons, Abadi said in Davos. Speaking later in a panel session in the Swiss resort, Abadi said Iraqi oil sold on Thursday for $22 a barrel, and after paying costs the country is left with $13 per barrel.

He called for neighbors to do more to help. The only country to have provided financial assistance is Kuwait, he said, which gave Iraq $200 million. “Daesh is on the retreat and it is collapsing but somebody is sending a life line to them,” Abadi said, citing victories for his forces in the key western city of Ramadi and using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State. “Neighbors are fighting for supremacy, using sectarianism.” Shiite Iran supports several of the biggest militias aiding Iraqi forces in the fight against Islamic State. Its rivalry with the Middle East’s biggest Sunni power, Saudi Arabia, has flared in recent weeks, complicating efforts to end conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Iraq has managed to stop the advance of Islamic State in Iraq but if neighbors continue to inflame sectarianism, successes can be reversed, he said. “We are supposed to be in the same boat,” Abadi said. “In reality, we aren’t.”

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“..42nd driller to file for bankruptcy in this commodity crunch..”

American Oil Companies Are Starting To Scream “Mayday” (CNN)

Last year, 42 North American drillers filed for bankruptcy, according to law firm Haynes and Boone. It’s only likely to get worse this year. Experts say there are a lot of parallels between today’s crisis and the last oil crash in 1986. Back then, 27% of exploration and production companies went bust. Defaults are skyrocketing again. In December, exploration and production company defaults topped 11%, up from just 0.5% the previous year, according to Fitch Ratings. That’s a 2,000%-plus jump. It’s just the beginning, says John La Forge, head of real assets strategy at Wells Fargo. If history repeats, people should prepare for the default rate to double in the next year or so. No wonder America’s biggest banks are setting aside a lot of money in anticipation that more energy companies will go belly up.

Energy companies borrowed a lot of money when oil was worth over $100 a barrel. The returns seemed almost guaranteed if they could get the oil out of the ground. But now oil is barely trading just above $30 a barrel and a growing number of companies can’t pay back their debts. “The fact that a price below $100 seemed inconceivable to so many is kind of astonishing,” says Mike Lynch, president of Strategic Energy and Economic Research. “A lot of people just threw money away thinking the price would never go down.” On the last day of 2015, Swift Energy, an “independent oil and gas company” headquartered in Houston, became the 42nd driller to file for bankruptcy in this commodity crunch. The company is trying to sort out over $1 billion in debt at a time when the firm’s earnings have declined over 70% in the past year.

Trimming costs and laying off workers can’t close that kind of gap. “In the 1980s, there was a bumper sticker that people in Texas had that said, ‘God give me one more boom and I promise not to screw it up,'” says Lynch. “People should have those bumper stickers ready again.” The last really big oil bust was in the late 1980s. The Saudis really controlled the price then, says La Forge. Now the Saudis (and other members of OPEC) are in a battle with the United States, which has become a major player again in energy production. No one wants to cut back on production and risk losing market share. “It will be the U.S. companies that go out of business,” predicts La Forge. OPEC countries don’t have a lot of smaller players like the United States does. It’s usually the government that controls oil drilling and production in OPEC nations.

La Forge predicts the governments can hold their position longer. As the smaller players run out of cash, they will get swallowed up by bigger ones. “The big boys and girls will snap up a lot of cheap assets,” predicts Lynch. There’s a lot of debate about whether oil prices have bottomed out. Crude oil hit its lowest price since 2003 this week. But even if prices have stabilized, the worst isn’t over for oil companies. “Some companies went under in 1986-’87 even when prices rebounded,” says La Forge. This week, Blackstone (BGB) CEO Stephen Schwarzman said his firm is finally taking a close look at bargains in the energy sector. One of the largest bankruptcies so far is Samson Resources of Oklahoma. In 2011, private equity firm KKR (KKR) bought it for over $7 billion. Now it’s struggling to deal with over $1 billion in debt that’s due this year alone.

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Can’t read on shale without mention of default anymore.

US Shale’s Big Squeeze (FT)

The boom years left the US oil industry deep in debt. The 60 leading US independent oil and gas companies have total net debt of $206bn, from about $100bn at the end of 2006. As of September, about a dozen had debts that were more than 20 times their earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation. Worries about the health of these companies have been rising. A Bank of America Merrill Lynch index of high-yield energy bonds, which includes many indebted oil companies, has an average yield of more than 19%. Almost a third of the 155 US oil and gas companies covered by Standard & Poor’s are rated B-minus or below, meaning they are at high risk of default.

The agency this month revised down its expectations of future oil prices, meaning that many of those companies’ ratings are likely to be cut even further. Credit ratings for the more financially secure investment grade companies are also likely to be lowered this time. Some companies under financial strain will be able to survive by selling assets. Private capital funds raised $57bn last year to invest in energy, according to Preqin, an alternative assets research service, and most of that money is still looking for a home. Companies with low-quality assets or excessive debts will not make it. Tom Watters of S&P expects “a lot more defaults this year”. Bankruptcies, a cash squeeze and poor returns on investment mean companies will continue to cut their capital spending.

The number of rigs drilling oil wells in the US has dropped 68% from the peak in October 2014 to 510 this week, and it is likely to fall further. So far, the impact on US oil production has been minimal. Output in October was down 4% from April, as hard-pressed companies squeeze as much revenue as possible out of their assets. Saudi Arabia’s strategy of allowing oil prices to fall to curb competing sources of production appears to be succeeding But Harold Hamm, chief executive of Continental Resources, one of the pioneers of the shale boom, says the downturn in activity is likely to intensify. “We’re seeing capex being slashed to almost nothing,” he says. “At low prices, people aren’t going to keep producing.” He expects US oil production to fall sharply this year, and says people may be surprised by how fast it goes.

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Poor banks.

Squeezed Primary Dealers Quit European Government Bond Markets (Reuters)

A rise in the number of banks giving up primary dealer roles in European government bond markets threatens to further reduce liquidity and eventually make it more expensive for some countries to borrow money. Increased regulation and lower margins have seen five banks exit various countries in the last three months. Others look set to follow, further eroding the infrastructure through which governments raise debt. While these problems are for now masked by the European Central Bank buying €60 billion of debt every month to try to stimulate the euro zone economy, countries may feel the effects more sharply when the ECB scheme ends in March 2017. Since 2012, most euro zone governments have lost one or two banks as primary dealers, while Belgium – one of the bloc’s most indebted states – is down five.

Primary dealers are integral to government bond markets, buying new issues at auctions to service demand from investors and to maintain secondary trading activity. Without their support, countries would find it harder to sell debt, forcing them to offer investors higher interest rates. Over the last quarter alone, Credit Suisse pulled out of most European countries, ING quit Ireland, Commerzbank left Italy, and Belgium did not re-appoint Deutsche Bank as a primary dealer and dropped Nordea as a recognised dealer. In that time, only Danske Bank has added to its primary dealer roles in the bloc’s main markets. But even Danske is worried. “I’ve never seen it so bad,” said Soeren Moerch, head of fixed income trading at Danske Markets.

“When further banks reduce their willingness to be a primary dealer then liquidity will go even lower…we could have more failed auctions and we could see a big washout in the market.” Acting as a dealer has become increasingly expensive for banks under new regulations because of the amount of capital it requires, while trading profits that once made up for the initial spend have diminished in an era of ultra-low rates. “Shareholders would be shocked if they knew the scale of the costs that some businesses are taking,” said one banker who has worked at several major investment houses with primary dealer functions. The decline in dealers comes as many of the world’s largest financial firms, such as Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank, launch strategic reviews that are likely to impact their fixed income operations.

The risk that the euro zone could slide back into recession, having barely recovered from its long-running debt crisis, could exacerbate the withdrawal by prompting banks to retreat into their home markets. “It is a negative trend. The opposite that we saw in the first 10 years of the euro,” said Sergio Capaldi at Intesa SanPaolo. “For smaller countries…the fact that there are less players is something that could have a negative affect on market liquidity and borrowing costs.”

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Squeezed them for all they’re worth.

US Banks Cut Off Mexican Clients as Regulatory Pressure Increases (WSJ)

U.S. banks are cutting off a growing number of customers in Mexico, deciding that business south of the border might not be worth the risks in the wake of mounting regulatory warnings. At issue are correspondent-banking relationships that allow Mexican banks to facilitate cross-border transactions and meet their clients’ needs for dealing in dollars—in effect, giving them access to the U.S. financial system. The global firms that provide those services are increasingly wary of dealing with Mexican banks as well as their customers, according to U.S. bankers and people familiar with the matter.

The moves are consistent with a broader shift across the industry, in which banks around the world are retreating from emerging markets as regulators ramp up their scrutiny and punishment of possible money laundering. For many banks, the money they can earn in such countries isn’t worth the cost of compliance or the penalties if they step across the line. U.S. financial regulators have long warned about the risks in Mexico of money laundering tied to the drug trade. The urgency spiked more than a year ago, when the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a unit of the Treasury Department, sent notices warning banks of the risk that drug cartels were laundering money through correspondent accounts, people familiar with the advisories said. Earlier, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency sent a cautionary note to some big U.S. banks about their Mexico banking activities.

But the pain Mexican firms are experiencing is relatively new. The fallout is affecting Mexican banks of various sizes such as Grupo Elektra’s Banco Azteca, Grupo Financiero Banorte and Monex Grupo Financiero, and their customers, the people said. Regulators have consistently said they don’t direct banks to cut ties with specific countries or a large swath of customers. But the advisories, which had nonpublic components that haven’t been previously reported, were interpreted by several big banks as a fresh signal that they do business in Mexico at their own peril, according to people familiar with the matter. “All they know is that sanctions are big and revenues are small,” said Luis Niño de Rivera, vice chairman of Banco Azteca, based in Mexico City. “It’s simple arithmetic: ‘I make a million dollars and they’re going to fine me a billion? I won’t do that.’”

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A field of pretense.

Ideological Divisions Undermine Economics (Economist)

Dismal may not be the most desirable of modifiers, but economists love it when people call their discipline a science. They consider themselves the most rigorous of social scientists. Yet whereas their peers in the natural sciences can edit genes and spot new planets, economists cannot reliably predict, let alone prevent, recessions or other economic events. Indeed, some claim that economics is based not so much on empirical observation and rational analysis as on ideology. In October Russell Roberts, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, tweeted that if told an economist’s view on one issue, he could confidently predict his or her position on any number of other questions. Prominent bloggers on economics have since furiously defended the profession, citing cases when economists changed their minds in response to new facts, rather than hewing stubbornly to dogma.

Adam Ozimek, an economist at Moody’s Analytics, pointed to Narayana Kocherlakota, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis from 2009 to 2015, who flipped from hawkishness to dovishness when reality failed to affirm his warnings of a looming surge in inflation. Tyler Cowen, an economist at George Mason, published a list of issues on which his opinion has shifted (he is no longer sure that income from capital is best left untaxed). Paul Krugman chimed in. He changed his view on the minimum wage after research found that increases up to a certain point reduced employment only marginally (this newspaper had a similar change of heart). Economists, to be fair, are constrained in ways that many scientists are not. They cannot brew up endless recessions in test tubes to work out what causes what, for instance.

Yet the same restriction applies to many hard sciences, too: geologists did not need to recreate the Earth in the lab to get a handle on plate tectonics. The essence of science is agreeing on a shared approach for generating widely accepted knowledge. Science, wrote Paul Romer, an economist, in a paper* published last year, leads to broad consensus. Politics does not. Nor, it seems, does economics. In a paper on macroeconomics published in 2006, Gregory Mankiw of Harvard University declared: “A new consensus has emerged about the best way to understand economic fluctuations.” But after the financial crisis prompted a wrenching recession, disagreement about the causes and cures raged. “Schlock economics” was how Robert Lucas, a Nobel-prize-winning economist, described Barack Obama’s plan for a big stimulus to revive the American economy. Mr Krugman, another Nobel-winner, reckoned Mr Lucas and his sort were responsible for a “dark age of macroeconomics”.

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Nice details.

A Greek Conspiracy: How The ECB Crushed Varoufakis’ Plans (Häring)

A central bank governor in Athens conspires with the President of the Republic to sabotage the negotiation strategy of his government to weaken it in its negotiations with the European Central Bank. After the government has capitulated, this governor, who is a close friend of the new finance minister and boss of the finance ministers wife, and the President of the Republic travel together to the ECB to collect their praise and rewards. This is not an invention, this is now documented. On 19 January the German Central Bank in Frankfurt informed the media that the Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos visited the ECB and met with ECB-President Mario Draghi, and that he was accompanied by the President of the Greek central Bank, Yanis Stournaras.

Remember. When the Syriza-led government in Athens was in tense negotiations with the European institutions, the ECB excerted pressure by cutting Greek banks off the regular financing operations with the ECB. They could get euros only via Emergency Liquidty Assistance from the Greek central bank and the ECB placed a strict limit on these. Finance minister Yanis Varoufakis worked on emergency plans to keep the payment system going in case the ECB would cut off the euro supply completely. It has already been reported and discussed that a close aide of Stournaras sabotaged the government during this time by sending a memo to a financial journalist, which was very critical with the governments negotiation tactics and blamed it for the troubles of the banks, which the ECB had intensified, if not provoked.

A few days ago, Stournaras himself exposed a conspiracy. He bragged that he had convened former prime ministers and talked to the President of the Republic to raise a wall blocking Varoufakis emergency plan. In retrospect it looks as if Alexis Tsipras might have signed his capitulation to Stournaras and the ECB already in April 2015, when he replaced Varoufakis as chief negotiator by Euklid Tsakalotos, who would later become finance minister after Varoufakis resigned. In this case the nightly negotiating marathon in July, after which Tsipras publicly signed his capitulation, might just have been a show to demonstrate that he fought bravely to the end. Why would I suspect that? Because I learned in a Handelsblatt-Interview with Tsakalotos published on 15 January 2016 that he is a close friend of Stournaras. Looking around a bit more, I learned that Tsakalotos wife is ‘Director Advisor’ to the Bank of Greece.

This is the Wikipedia entry: “Heather Denise Gibson is a Scottish economist currently serving as Director-Advisor to the Bank of Greece (since 2011). She is the spouse of Euclid Tsakalotos, current Greek Minister of Finance.” At the time she entered, Stournaras was serving as Director General of a think tank of the Bank of Greece. The friendship of the trio goes back decades to their time together at a British university. They even wrote a book together in 1992. Thus: The former chief negotiator of the Greek government is and was a close friend of the central bank governor and the central bank governor was the boss of his wife. The governor of the Bank of Greece, which is part of the Eurosystem of central banks, gets his orders from the ECB, i.e. the opposing side in the negotiations. He actively sabotaged the negotiation strategy of his government. If this does not look like an inappropriate association for a chief negotiator, I don’t know what would.

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Someone grabbed Cameron by the nuts?

Britain ‘Poised To Open Door To Thousands Of Migrant Children’ (Guardian)

David Cameron is considering plans to admit thousands of unaccompanied migrant children into the UK within weeks, as pressure grows on ministers to provide a haven for large numbers of young people who have fled their war-torn homelands without their parents. Amid growing expectation that an announcement is imminent, Downing Street said ministers were looking seriously at calls from charities, led by Save the Children, for the UK to admit at least 3,000 unaccompanied young people who have arrived in Europe from countries including Syria and Afghanistan, and who are judged to be at serious risk of falling prey to people traffickers. Government sources said such a humanitarian gesture would be in addition to the 20,000 refugees the UK has already agreed to accept, mainly from camps on the borders of Syria, by 2020.

Following a visit to refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk on Saturday, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called on Cameron to offer children not just a refuge in the UK but proper homes and education, equivalent to the welcome received by those rescued from the Nazis and brought to the UK in 1939. “We must reach out the hand of humanity to the victims of war and brutal repression,” he said. “Along with other EU states, Britain needs to accept its share of refugees from the conflicts on Europe’s borders, including the horrific civil war in Syria. “We have to do more. As a matter of urgency, David Cameron should act to give refuge to unaccompanied refugee children now in Europe – as we did with Jewish Kindertransport children escaping from Nazi tyranny in the 1930s.

And the government must provide the resources needed for those areas accepting refugees – including in housing and education – rather than dumping them in some of Britain’s poorest communities.” Signs that the prime minister may act came after a week in which concern has risen in European capitals, and among aid agencies and charities, about the high number of migrants still pouring into the EU just as cold weather bites along the routes many are taking through the Balkans and central and eastern Europe. With one week of January to go, about 37,000 migrants and refugees have already arrived in the EU by land or sea, roughly 10 times the equivalent total for the month last year. The number of Mediterranean deaths stands at 158 this year.

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It’s a free for all now.

Germany Scolds Austria For Greek Schengen Threats (AFP)

This week Greece slammed a Financial Times report saying several European ministers and senior EU officials believed threatening suspension from Schengen could persuade Greece to protect its borders more effectively. Junior interior minister for migration Yiannis Mouzalas said the report contained ”falsehoods and distortions” but Mikl-Leitner said temporary exclusion was a real possibility. “If the Athens government does not finally do more to secure the (EU’s) external borders then one must openly discuss Greece’s temporary exclusion from the Schengen zone,” Mikl-Leitner said in an interview with German daily Die Welt. “It is a myth that the Greco-Turkish border cannot be controlled,” Mikl-Leitner said.

“When a Schengen signatory does not permanently fulfil its obligations and only hesitatingly accepts aid then we should not rule out that possibility,” she added. “The patience of many Europeans has reached its limit ... We have talked a lot, now we must act. It is about protecting stability, order and security in Europe.” Germany’s Steinmeier criticised Vienna’s warning however. “There won’t be any solution to the refugee crisis if solidarity disappears,” he said. “On the contrary, we must work together and concentrate all our efforts to fight against the causes that are pushing the refugees into flight, to reinforce the EU’s outer borders and to achieve a fair redistribution (of asylum seekers) within Europe.”

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Chance of Schengen survival below zero.

EU Leaders Consider Two-Year Suspension Of Schengen Rules (Telegraph)

The Schengen system of free movement could be suspended for two years under emergency measures to be discussed by European ministers on Monday, as the French Prime Minister warned the crisis could bring down the entire European Union. Manuel Valls said that the “very idea of Europe” will be torn apart until the flows of migrants expected to surge in spring are turned away. On Monday, interior ministers from the EU will meet in Amsterdam to discuss emergency measures to allow states to reintroduce national border controls for two years. The powers are allowed under the Schengen rules, but would amount to an unprecedented abandonment of the 30-year old agreement that allows passport-free travel across 26 states. The measure could be brought in from May, when a six-month period of passport checks introduced by Germany expires.

The European Commission would have to agree that there are “persistent serious deficiencies” in the Schengen zone’s external border to activate it. “This possibility exists, it is there and the Commission is prepared to use it if need be,” said Natasha Bertaud, a spokesman for Jean-Claude Juncker. Greece has been blamed by states for failing to identify and register hundreds of thousands of people flowing over its borders. Other states that have introduced emergency controls are Sweden, Austria, France, Denmark and Norway, which is not in the EU but is in Schengen. “We’re not currently in that situation,” Ms Bertaud added. “But interior ministers will on Monday in Amsterdam have the opportunity to discuss and it’s on the agenda what steps should be taken or will need to be taken once we near the end of the maximum period in May.”

In a further blow, Mr Valls said that France would keep its state of emergency, which has included border checks, until the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant network is destroyed. “It is a total and global war that we are facing with terrorism,” he said. He warned that without proper border controls to turn away refugees, the 60-year old European project could disintegrate. “It’s Europe that could die, not the Schengen area. If Europe can’t protect its own borders, it’s the very idea of Europe that could be thrown into doubt. It could disappear, of course – the European project, not Europe itself, not our values, but the concept we have of Europe, that the founding fathers had of Europe.

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