Sep 092017
 
 September 9, 2017  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Irma projections took a slight deflection west

 

Hurricane Irma Becomes Category 5 Storm Again (CNN)
5.6 Million People Told To Evacuate Florida Due To Irma (AP)
Hurricane Irma Thrives On Fateful Mix Of ‘Ideal’ Conditions (R.)
Harvey Won’t Help Flagging Housing Market (DDMB)
Swamp Fever (Jim Kunstler)
Capitalism, the State and the Drowning of America (CP)
The “Real” Vampire Squid (Roberts)
Venezuela’s Maduro Says Will Shun US Dollar In Favor Of Yuan, Others (R>)
What Happens To Nations That Try To Ditch The Dollar (TAM)
Bitcoin Tumbles On Report China To Shutter Digital Currency Exchanges (R.)
Russia Faces Internal Battle Over Bitcoin (Forbes)
Artificial Intelligence Fuels New Global Arms Race (Wired)
Data Swamped US Spy Agencies Put Hopes On Artificial Intelligence (AFP)
EU Brushes Off ‘Democratic Scandal’ Of Greek Bailout (EUO)

 

 

Irma took a light dip south towards Cuba last night. This may save Miami from a direct hit – but not Tampa. Irma’s the first Category 5 hurricane to make landfall in Cuba since 1924. 3 storms making landfall at the same time has never been recorded before.

Hurricane Irma Becomes Category 5 Storm Again (CNN)

Hurricane Irma regained Category 5 status late Friday as the core of the storm made landfall in Cuba with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph, the US National Hurricane Center said. Irma made landfall on the Camaguey archipelago of Cuba, the center said late Friday night. The massive storm edged closer to US landfall in the Florida Keys after leaving a trail of devastation and death in much of the Caribbean as it advanced toward South Florida. Forecasters with the National Hurricane Center say the storm’s wind speeds will increase after Irma passes Cuba then slips into the extremely warm waters near the Keys. “Nowhere in the Florida Keys will be safe,” the National Weather Service tweeted.

There were worries the storm’s most powerful winds, on the northeastern side of the core, could pummel Miami, but it appears the city will avoid a direct hit, while still getting pounded by strong winds, storm surge and heavy rains. At least 24 people were killed this week when Irma pummeled northern Caribbean islands such as Barbuda and the Virgin Islands. In Puerto Rico, hundreds of thousands of people – nearly 70% of the US territory’s utility customers – were left without power, the governor’s office said. Irma slammed the Turks and Caicos, and southeastern Bahamas early before it was off to pound northern Cuba and the central Bahamas.

Irma is expected be near the Florida Keys and South Florida by early Sunday, and many residents there have moved inland or to shelters. Many counties are under evacuation orders. “If you have been ordered to evacuate, leave now. Not tonight, not in an hour, now,” Gov. Rick Scott said Friday night. Staying in homes could subject residents to storm surge as high as 12 feet, the governor added. Forecasters have advised that the storm’s potential path could change and residents should realize that most of Florida will feel its impact.

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How do you evacuate millions? The logistics are staggering.

5.6 Million People Told To Evacuate Florida Due To Irma (AP)

Florida has asked 5.6 million people to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irma, or more than one-quarter of the state’s population, according to state emergency officials. Andrew Sussman, the state’s hurricane program manager, said Friday the total includes people throughout the southern half of the state as well as those living in inland Florida in substandard housing who were also told leave due to the dangerous storm that will slam the state this weekend. Florida is the nation’s third-largest state with nearly 21million people according to the U.S. Census. For days Gov. Rick Scott has been urging residents to evacuate, especially those who live in coastal areas that could be flooded due to the walls of water expected from Irma’s arrival. The National Hurricane Center is warning Floridians that even if the storm seems to moving away from the East Coast in the latest tracks, don’t get complacent.

“This is a storm that will kill you if you don’t get out of the way,” said National Hurricane Center meteorologist and spokesman Dennis Feltgen. Feltgen says the storm has a really wide eye, with hurricane-force winds that cover the entire Florida peninsula and potentially deadly storm surges on both coasts. “Everybody’s going to feel this one,” Feltgen said. As Florida deals with a catastrophic, dangerous hurricane, it may have a financial storm to deal with. The annual budget forecast released this week shows, despite an ongoing economic recovery, Florida is expected to bring in just enough money to meet its spending needs. That forecast shows the state will have a surplus of just $52 million during the fiscal year that starts in July 2018. The new estimate does not take into account the potential effects that will come from Hurricane Irma.

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Ironically, Irma has sucked up so much warm surface water, it is lowering water temperatures and thereby ‘hampering’ the next storm up, José. Who was still noted as ‘close to Category 5’ overnight.

Hurricane Irma Thrives On Fateful Mix Of ‘Ideal’ Conditions (R.)

Hurricane Irma, a deadly, devastating force of nature, rapidly coalesced from a low-pressure blip west of Africa into one of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record, following an unhindered atmospheric path and fed by unusually warm seas. A combination of many factors, experts said on Friday, set the stage for Irma’s formation and helped the storm achieve its full thermodynamic potential, creating the monster tropical cyclone that wreaked havoc on the eastern Caribbean and may inflict widespread damage on Florida. “It got lucky,” said John Knaff, a meteorologist and physical scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “This storm is in the Goldilocks environment for a major hurricane. It’s bad luck for whoever is in its path, but that’s what going on here.”

Brian Kahn, an atmospheric scientist and cloud specialist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, called the ocean conditions that spawned Irma “absolutely ideal.” Balmy water temperatures along Irma’s trajectory ran deep beneath the surface and slightly higher than normal, by as much as a degree Fahrenheit in places, providing ample fuel for the storm’s development, scientists said. Irma also encountered little if any interference in the form of wind shear – sudden changes in vertical wind velocity that can blunt a storm’s intensity – as it advanced at about 10 to 18 miles per hour, an ideal pace for hurricanes. Its fortuitous path of least resistance was essentially ordained by a well-placed atmospheric ridge of high pressure that steered the storm by happenstance through some of the Caribbean’s warmest waters as well as an area mostly devoid of wind shear.

The result was a gargantuan storm that rapidly grew to a Category 5, the top of the Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane strength, with sustained winds of 185 miles per hour, the most forceful ever documented in the open Atlantic. It also ranks as one of just five Atlantic hurricanes known to have achieved such wind speeds during the past 82 years.

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“..of the 1 million or so mortgaged homeowners in the disaster area, more than 300,000 could become delinquent within two months..”

Harvey Won’t Help Flagging Housing Market (DDMB)

Something is up, or more likely down, with the U.S. housing market. And the reconstruction after Hurricane Harvey may not do much to help. Here’s the evidence: The latest take on home-builder sentiment showed that buyer traffic stubbornly remains in negative territory, despite some of the highest readings of the current cycle on builders’ expectations for sales gains in the next six months. In addition, recent mortgage rate declines have not led to an increase in applications to buy a home. Over the past few weeks, purchase activity has slumped to a six-month low, even though rates are at their lowest level since November. This defies a central tenet of the housing market that falling rates naturally lead to an uptick in sales. As for actual sales volumes, both new and existing July home sales missed forecasts by wide margins.

At an annualized rate of 571,000, new home sales dropped to a seven-month low, well off their long-term average pace of 727,000. The number of homes on the ground rose to 276,000 units, the highest since June 2009. At July’s pace, it would take 5.8 months to clear the inventory. The existing home sales report that followed was similarly weak, with closings sliding to the lowest since August 2016. Not only was the 5.44-million annualized pace 110,000 units below forecast, July’s figures reveal the all-important spring selling season was something of a bust, given July’s data captured contracts signed from April through June. Prices have been and remain the main impediment. The median new home sales price of $313,700 marked the highest July price on record and is up more than 6% over last year’s level.

At an annual gain of 6.2%, the best that can be said of the median sales price for previously occupied homes is that it’s off the record pace it set in June. Corroborating the slowdown in sales, both the Federal Housing Finance Agency and S&P Case-Shiller home-price indexes have softened unexpectedly. [..] About 1.2 million homes in and around Houston were at moderate to high risk for flooding but aren’t in a designated flood zone that would have required insurance. Many will qualify for federal disaster relief. Still, the government program comes in the form of low-interest rate loans to help shoulder the burden of repair costs at a time when many households are already buried in debt with precious little in savings; as the third quarter got underway, the saving rate fell to 3.5%, a fresh low for the current cycle.

Although many have drawn comparisons to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Harvey will affect more than twice as many mortgaged properties. According to Black Knight Financial Services, of the 1 million or so mortgaged homeowners in the disaster area, more than 300,000 could become delinquent within two months, and 160,000 are at risk of becoming seriously delinquent inside a four-month period. As per the Mortgage Bankers Association, homes in foreclosure nationwide totaled 502,437 in the second quarter, exemplifying the very real potential for Harvey to leave a huge scar on the housing market.

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“A week or so after Irma has gone away, the ill-feeling that heaps this country like a swamp fever will still be there, driving the new American madness into precincts yet unknown.”

Swamp Fever (Jim Kunstler)

The destruction of Florida (and whatever else stands in the way up the line) will be as real as it gets. You’ve heard the old argument, I’m sure, that a natural disaster turns out to be a boon for the economy because so many people are employed fixing the damage. It’s not true, of course. Replacing things of value that have been destroyed with new things is just another version of the old Polish Blanket Gag: guy wants to make his blanket longer, so he cuts a foot off the top and sews it onto the bottom. The capital expended has to come from something and somewhere, and in this case it probably represents the much talked-about necessary infrastructure spending that is badly needed for bridges, roads, water and sewer systems, et cetera, in all the other parts of the USA that haven’t been hit by storms.

Instead, these places and the things in them will quietly inch closer to criticality without drawing much notice. The second major weather disaster this year may not be enough to induce holdouts to reconsider the issue of climate change, but it ought to provoke some questioning about the development pattern known as suburban sprawl, which even in its pristine form can be described as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. Surely there will be some debate as to whether Florida, or at least parts of it, gets rebuilt at all. The wilderness of strip malls, housing subdivisions, and condo clusters deployed along the seemingly endless six-lane highways that accumulated in the post-war orgy of development was an affront to human nature, if not to a deity, if one exists.

There are much better ways to build towns and we know how to do it. Ask the shnooks who paid a hundred bucks to walk down Disney’s Main Street the week before last. Apart from all that remains the personal tragedy that awaits, the losses of many lifetimes of work invested in things of value, of homes, of meaning, and of life itself. Many people who evacuated will return to… nothing, and perhaps many of them will not want to stay in such a fragile place. But the America they roam into in search of a place to re-settle is going to be a more fragile place, too. A week or so after Irma has gone away, the ill-feeling that heaps this country like a swamp fever will still be there, driving the new American madness into precincts yet unknown.

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Is it really capitalism that’s to blame? Do other systems not build where they should not? It seems a general human propensity to look at a desert or a swamp and declare ‘there’s nothing there’, so let’s build and exploit.

Capitalism, the State and the Drowning of America (CP)

What we need to understand is how capitalism has managed to reproduce itself since the Great Depression, but in a way that has put enormous numbers of people and tremendous amounts of property in harm’s way along the stretch from Texas to New England. The production of risk began during the era of what is sometimes called regulated capitalism between the 1930s and the early 1970s. This form of capitalism with a “human face” involved state intervention to ensure a modicum of economic freedom but it also led the federal government to undertake sweeping efforts to control nature. The motives may well have seemed pure. But the efforts to control the natural world, though they worked in the near term, are beginning to seem inadequate to the new world we currently inhabit.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built reservoirs to control floods in Houston just as it built other water-control structures during the same period in New Orleans and South Florida. These sweeping water-control exploits laid the groundwork for massive real estate development in the post–World War II era. All along the coast from Texas to New York and beyond developers plowed under wetlands to make way for more building and more impervious ground cover. But the development at the expense of marsh and water could never have happened on the scale it did without the help of the American state. Ruinous flooding of Houston in 1929 and 1935 compelled the Corps of Engineers to build the Addicks and Barker Dams. The dams combined with a massive network of channels—extending today to over 2,000 miles—to carry water off the land, and allowed Houston, which has famously eschewed zoning, to boom during the postwar era.

The same story unfolded in South Florida. A 1947 hurricane caused the worst coastal flooding in a generation and precipitated federal intervention in the form of the Central and Southern Florida Project. Again, the Corps of Engineers set to work transforming the land. Eventually a system of canals that if laid end to end would extend all the way from New York City to Las Vegas crisscrossed the southern part of the peninsula. Life for the more than five million people who live in between Orlando and Florida Bay would be unimaginable without this unparalleled exercise in the control of nature. It is not simply that developers bulldozed wetlands with reckless abandon in the postwar period. The American state paved the way for that development by underwriting private accumulation.

Concrete was the capitalist state’s favored medium. But as the floods mounted in the 1960s, it turned to non-structural approaches meant to keep the sea at bay. The most famous program along these lines was the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) established in 1968, a liberal reform that grew out of the Great Society. The idea was that the federal government would oversee a subsidized insurance program for homeowners and in return state and local municipalities would impose regulations to keep people and property out of harm’s way.

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Central bankers lie when they say there is a recovery, but still keep buying assets by the trillions.

The “Real” Vampire Squid (Roberts)

According to the Bank for International Settlements: “Policy tools that involve the active use of central bank balance sheets – both the assets and the liabilities – can help monetary authorities to navigate the policy challenges during times of financial stress and when interest rates are close to zero.“ But wait, this is what Draghi said next: “The economic expansion, which accelerated more than expected in the first half of 2017, continues to be solid and broad-based across countries and sectors.” So, what is it?

If you actually have “solid and broad-based” economic growth across countries and sectors, why are you still flooding the system with “emergency measures,” and keeping interest rates near zero? That’s a rhetorical question. The reality is that Central Banks are keenly aware of the underlying economic weakness that currently exists as evidenced by the inability to generate inflationary pressures. They also understand that if the financial markets falter, the immediate feedback loop into the global economic environment will be swift and immediate. This is why there continue to be direct purchases of equities by the ECB and the BOJ. Which is also the reason why, despite nuclear threats, hurricanes, geopolitical tensions and economic disconnects, the markets remain within a one-day striking distance of all-time highs.

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Maduro trying to stay ahead of the CIA.

Venezuela’s Maduro Says Will Shun US Dollar In Favor Of Yuan, Others (R>)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Thursday his cash-strapped country would seek to “free” itself from the U.S. dollar next week, using the weakest of two official foreign exchange regimes and a basket of currencies. Maduro was refering to Venezuela’s “DICOM” official exchange rate in which the dollar buys 3,345 bolivars, according to the central bank. At the strongest official rate, one dollar buys just 10 bolivars, but on the black market the dollar fetches 20,193 bolivars, a spread versus the official rate that economists say has fostered corruption. A thousand dollars of local currency bought when Maduro came to power in 2013 would now be worth $1.20. “Venezuela is going to implement a new system of international payments and will create a basket of currencies to free us from the dollar,” Maduro said in an hours-long address to a new legislative superbody, without providing details of the new mechanism.

“If they pursue us with the dollar, we’ll use the Russian ruble, the yuan, yen, the Indian rupee, the euro,” Maduro said. The oil-rich nation is undergoing a major economic and social crisis, with millions suffering food and medicine shortages and what is believed to be the world’s highest inflation. Monthly inflation quickened to 34%, according to the opposition-controlled National Assembly. Critics say that instead of overhauling Venezuela’s failing currency controls or enacting reforms to shake the economy out of a fourth straight year of recession, Maduro has dug in and increased controls. On Thursday night, he increased the country’s minimum wage by 40%, taking it to just over $7 per month at the black market exchange rate. He also announced that around 50 “essential” products and services would have their prices frozen at new levels, auguring higher inflation and more shortages.

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Sorry, but this isn’t “a theory advanced in William R. Clark’s book Petrodollar Warfare”. This is general knowledge, has been for many years.

What Happens To Nations That Try To Ditch The Dollar (TAM)

Venezuela sits on the world’s largest oil reserves but has been undergoing a major crisis, with millions of people going hungry inside the country which has been plagued with rampant, increasing inflation. In that context, the recently established economic blockade by the Trump administration only adds to the suffering of ordinary Venezuelans rather than helping their plight. A theory advanced in William R. Clark’s book Petrodollar Warfare essentially asserts that Washington-led interventions in the Middle East and beyond are fueled by the direct effect on the U.S. dollar that can result if oil-exporting countries opt to sell oil in alternative currencies. For example, in 2000, Iraq announced it would no longer use U.S. dollars to sell oil on the global market. It adopted the euro, instead. By February 2003, the Guardian reported that Iraq had netted a “handsome profit” after making this policy change. Despite this, the U.S. invaded not long after and immediately switched the sale of oil back to the U.S. dollar.

In Libya, Muammar Gaddafi was punished for a similar proposal to create a unified African currency backed by gold, which would be used to buy and sell African oil. Though it sounds like a ludicrous reason to overthrow a sovereign government and plunge the country into a humanitarian crisis, Hillary Clinton’s leaked emails confirmed this was the main reason Gaddafi was overthrown. The French were especially concerned by Gaddafi’s proposal and, unsurprisingly, became one of the war’s main contributors. (It was a French Rafaele jet that struck Gaddafi’s motorcade, ultimately leading to his death). Iran has been using alternative currencies like the yuan for some time now and shares a lucrative gas field with Qatar, which may ultimately be days away from doing the same. Both countries have been vilified on the international stage, particularly under the Trump administration.

Nuclear giants China and Russia have been slowly but surely abandoning the U.S. dollar, as well, and the U.S. establishment has a long history of painting these two countries as hostile adversaries. Now Venezuela may ultimately join the bandwagon, all the while cozying up to Russia, as well (unsurprisingly, Venezuela and Iran were identified in William R. Clark’s book as attracting particular geostrategic tensions with the United States). The CIA’s admission that it intends to interfere inside Venezuela to exact a change of government — combined with Trump’s recent threat of military intervention in Venezuela and Vice President Mike Pence’s warning that the U.S. will not “stand by” and watch Venezuela deteriorate — all start to make a lot more sense when viewed through this geopolitical lens.

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It’s still unclear what exactly Beijing is banning.

Bitcoin Tumbles On Report China To Shutter Digital Currency Exchanges (R.)

Bitcoin fell sharply on Friday after a report from a Chinese news outlet said China was planning to shut down local crypto-currency exchanges, although analysts said this was just a temporary setback. Sources close to a cross regulators committee that oversees online finance activities told Chinese financial publication Caixin that authorities plan to shut key bitcoin exchanges in China. [..] two sources in direct contact with officials at three Chinese bitcoin exchanges – Beijing-based OKCoin, Shanghai-based BTC China, and Beijing-based Huobi – said the platforms told them that they have not heard anything from the Chinese government.

The news follows China’s move earlier this week to ban so-called “initial coin offerings,” or the practice of creating and selling digital currencies or tokens to investors in order to finance start-up projects. Greg Dwyer, business development manager at crypto-currency trading platform BitMEX, said there was confusion over whether China would close bitcoin exchanges following the ICO ban. [..] China’s Bitcoin exchanges said on Saturday they are still awaiting clarification from the authorities on a media report that they will be shut down.

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Nabiullina, the world’s smartest central banker, doesn’t seem to be seeing eye to eye with Putin on this.

Russia Faces Internal Battle Over Bitcoin (Forbes)

A lot can happen in month. Russian institutions went from preparing the Moscow Stock Exchange for the legal trading in crypto-currencies like bitcoin and ether, the two most popular ones used in Russia, to coming a hair away from following in China’s footsteps and banning initial coin offerings (ICO), a crypto-currency funding mechanisms for new tech companies. “The use of crypto-currency as a surrogate for the ruble in trading in goods and services, in our opinion, has a risk of undermining the circulation of money,” central banker Elvira Nabiullina told Russian newswire Tass on Friday. “We will not allow the use of crypto-currency as a surrogate money,” she said without mentioning ICOs in particular. One can only speculate that those crowdfunding platforms are on her radar.

Nabiullina is arguably one of the most powerful women in Russia. She has Vladimir Putin’s ear on all things economic and financial. Putin defers to her on such matters. This summer, Putin met with Ethereum developer and CEO Vitalik Buterin to discuss developments in so-called blockchain technologies, the tech platforms that provide the backbone to digital money. Buterin later told a local newspaper in Tatarstan that he felt Putin was opening to these new technologies as a matter of Russian national tech strategy. “Many people at different levels of the Russian government are open to crypto-currencies. I think my meeting with Putin helped him see things clearer,” Buterin was quoted as saying in Tatarstan’s online daily Realnoe Vremya. This is the second time this week that the Russian Central Bank has come out against crypto-currencies.

“Crypto-currencies are issued by an unlimited circle of anonymous entities. Due to the anonymous nature of the issuance of crypto-currency, citizens and legal entities can be involved in illegal activities, including legalization (laundering) of proceeds from crime and financing of terrorism,” the Russian central bank said in a statement issued on September 4. “Given the high risks of circulation and use of crypto-currency, the Bank of Russia considers it premature to admit crypto-currencies, as well as any financial instruments nominated or associated with crypto-currencies, into circulation and used at organized trades such as clearing and settlement infrastructure within the territory of the Russian Federation.” Nabiullina likened the rapid expansion of crypto-currency to the gold rush. Others have referred to it as a bubble. “For a long time there was very little growth (in this technology), and now we see something like a gold rush,” she warned.

Read more …

Why Google and Facebook won’t be regulated anythime soon. They’re part of the CIA now.

Artificial Intelligence Fuels New Global Arms Race (Wired)

For many Russian students, the academic year started last Friday with tips on planetary domination from President Vladimir Putin. “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia but for all humankind,” he said, via live video beamed to 16,000 selected schools. “Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.” Putin’s advice is the latest sign of an intensifying race among Russia, China, and the US to accumulate military power based on artificial intelligence. All three countries have proclaimed intelligent machines as vital to the future of their national security. Technologies such as software that can sift intelligence material or autonomous drones and ground vehicles are seen as ways to magnify the power of human soldiers.

“The US, Russia, and China are all in agreement that artificial intelligence will be the key technology underpinning national power in the future,” says Gregory C. Allen, a fellow at nonpartisan think tank the Center for a New American Security. He coauthored a recent report commissioned by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that concluded artificial intelligence could shake up armed conflict as significantly as nuclear weapons did. In July, China’s State Council released a detailed strategy designed to make the country “the front-runner and global innovation center in AI” by 2030. It includes pledges to invest in R&D that will “through AI elevate national defense strength and assure and protect national security.” The US, widely recognized as home to the most advanced and vibrant AI development, doesn’t have a prescriptive roadmap like China’s.

But for several years the Pentagon has been developing a strategy known as the “Third Offset,” intended to give the US, through weapons powered by smart software, the same sort of advantage over potential adversaries that it once held in nuclear bombs and precision-guided weapons. In April, the Department of Defense established the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team to improve use of AI technologies such as machine vision across the Pentagon. Russia lags behind China and the US in sophistication and use of automation and AI, but is expanding its own investments through a military modernization program begun in 2008. The government’s Military Industrial Committee has set a target of making 30 percent of military equipment robotic by 2025. “Russia is behind the curve—they are playing catchup,” says Samuel Bendett, a research analyst who studies the country’s military at the Center for Naval Analyses.

Algorithms good at searching holiday photos can be repurposed to scour spy satellite imagery, for example, while the control software needed for an autonomous minivan is much like that required for a driverless tank. Many recent advances in developing and deploying artificial intelligence emerged from research from companies such as Google. China’s AI strategy attempts to directly link commercial and defense developments in AI. For example, a national lab dedicated to making China more competitive in machine learning that opened in February is operated by Baidu, the country’s leading search engine.

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It’s not just about warfare either, it’s about tracking your own people.

Data Swamped US Spy Agencies Put Hopes On Artificial Intelligence (AFP)

Swamped by too much raw intel data to sift through, US spy agencies are pinning their hopes on artificial intelligence to crunch billions of digital bits and understand events around the world. Dawn Meyerriecks, the Central Intelligence Agency’s deputy director for technology development, said this week the CIA currently has 137 different AI projects, many of them with developers in Silicon Valley. These range from trying to predict significant future events, by finding correlations in data shifts and other evidence, to having computers tag objects or individuals in video that can draw the attention of intelligence analysts. Officials of other key spy agencies at the Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington this week, including military intelligence, also said they were seeking AI-based solutions for turning terabytes of digital data coming in daily into trustworthy intelligence that can be used for policy and battlefield action.

AI has widespread functions, from battlefield weapons to the potential to help quickly rebuild computer systems and programs brought down by hacking attacks, as one official described. But a major focus is finding useful patterns in valuable sources like social media. Combing social media for intelligence in itself is not new, said Joseph Gartin, head of the CIA’s Kent School, which teaches intelligence analysis. “What is new is the volume and velocity of collecting social media data,” he said. In that example, artificial intelligence-based computing can pick out key words and names but also find patterns in data and correlations to other events — and continually improve on that pattern finding.

AI can “expand the aperture” of an intelligence operation looking for small bits of information that can prove valuable, according to Chris Hurst, the chief operating officer of Stabilitas, which contracts with the US intelligence community on intel analysis. “Human behavior is data and AI is a data model,” he said at the Intelligence Summit. “Where there are patterns we think AI can do a better job.” The volume of data that can be collected increases exponentially with advances in satellite and signals intelligence collection technology. “If we were to attempt to manually exploit the commercial satellite imagery we expect to have over the next 20 years, we would need eight million imagery analysts,” Robert Cardillo, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, said in a speech in June.

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The EU is full of people who have no say. Ultimately, only Merkel does, or rather, those who keep her in power. The Eurogroup is not accountable to anyone but her, because it doesn’t even officially exist.

EU Brushes Off ‘Democratic Scandal’ Of Greek Bailout (EUO)

The European Commission has defended its role in the Greek bailout despite Pierre Moscovici, the EU finance commissioner, having called the Eurogroup “a democratic scandal.” The Eurogroup is a club of eurozone states’ finance ministers presided over by Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem but dominated in practice by his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schaeuble. It imposed its will on Greece when the country was teetering on the verge of economic collapse and a eurozone exit in 2015, in exchange for access to bailout funds from the European Commission, the ECB, and IMF. A Commission spokesperson on Tuesday (5 September) noted that the EU executive had “invested a lot of time and effort and resources to keep Greece in the eurozone.” But Pierre Moscovici, the EU finance commissioner, took a more critical line.

Over the weekend, he described the Eurogroup as a “democratic scandal”, given that its talks are held behind closed doors and without any public accountability. “Let’s face it, the Eurogroup as we know it is rather a pale imitation of a democratic body,” he said in his blog on Saturday (2 September). Moscovici said the governance behind the EU’s economic and monetary union had also lacked proper democratic oversight. “Sometimes in the past, when we look at Greece, it has been close to a democratic scandal,” he said. Moscovici’s admission is all the more striking given the recent publication of a book by Greece’s former finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis. Varoufakis, who steered Greek talks at the Eurogroup until his resignation in July 2015, provides a detailed account of the Commission’s double-standards during the initial rounds.

He said that Moscovici would agree in private to easing the austerity measures but, in the Eurogroup, the Commission’s representative would then reject everything in favour of harsh measures driven by Dijsselbloem and Schaeuble. In one private meeting in Dijsselbloem’s office, Varoufakis said that Moscovici had even capitulated to Dijsselbloem, despite having previously agreed to concessions that would render the Greek programme more flexible. Dijsselbloem refused to agree to the measures proposed by the Commission. Varoufakis said that Moscovici had responded to Dijsselbloem with “whatever the Eurogroup president says” in a voice that quavered with dejection. “During the Eurogroup meeting, whenever I looked at him [Moscovici] I imagined the horror Jacques Delors or any of the EU’s founding fathers would have felt had they observed the scene in Jeroen’s [Dijsselbloem’s] office,” writes Varoufakis.

[..] Most of the bailout funds have gone towards paying off international loans and proved beneficial to German and French banks that were massively exposed to Greek public debt in the lead up to the financial crisis. According to one study, Germany had also ended up with large profits, yielding interest savings on German bonds of more that €100 billion during the period of 2010 to 2015 from the Greek debt crisis.

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Aug 122017
 
 August 12, 2017  Posted by at 8:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Giorgio de Chirico The Enigma of the Hour 1910

 

The Logic of War (Jim Rickards)
Russia Says Bellicose Rhetoric On North Korea Is ‘Over The Top’ (R.)
US ‘Volatility Index’ Spikes To Highest Level Since Election (G.)
Chinese Foreign Real-Estate Spending Plunges 82% (ZH)
Battle of the Behemoths (Jim Kunstler)
US Poised To Become World’s Largest Public-Private Partnership Market (IBT)
The Fed Has 6,200 Tons of Gold in a Manhattan Basement—Or Does It? (WSJ)
UK Risks International Court Case Over Theresa May’s Brexit Plans (Ind.)
Greenspan’s Legacy Explains Current Conundrums (DDMB)
Social Security Requires Bailout 60x Greater Than 2008 Bank Bailout (Black)
All Is Not As It Seems In Venezuela (Ren.)
Asylum Seekers At Canada Border Tents Unfazed By Delays, Uncertainty (R.)
People Smugglers Pushing Refugees To Their Deaths At Sea Off Yemen (Ind.)

 

 

There are different kinds of logic. I hope for once Rickards is wrong.

The Logic of War (Jim Rickards)

This was the week that the logic of war collided with the illogic of bubbles. So far, the bubble is winning, but that’s about to change. The “logic of war” is an English translation of a French phrase, la logique de la guerre, which refers to the dynamic of how wars begin despite the fact that the war itself will be horrendous, counterproductive, and possibly end in complete defeat. [..] Given these outcomes, “logic” says that war should be prevented. This would not be difficult to do. If North Korea verifiably stopped its weapons testing and engaged in some dialogue, the U.S. would meet the regime more than halfway with sanctions relief and some expanded trade and investment opportunities.

The problem is that the logic of war proceeds differently than the logic of optimization. It relies on imperfect assessments of the intentions and capabilities of an adversary in an existential situation that offers little time to react. North Korea believes that the U.S. is bluffing based in part on the prior failures of the U.S. to back up “red line” declarations in Syria, and based on the horrendous damage that would be inflicted upon America’s key ally, South Korea. North Korea also looks at regimes like Libya and Iraq that gave up nuclear weapons programs and were overthrown. It looks at regimes like Iran that did not give up nuclear weapons programs and were not overthrown.

It concludes that in dealing with the U.S., the best path is not to give up your nuclear weapons programs. That’s not entirely irrational given the history of U.S. foreign policy over the past thirty years. But, the U.S. is not bluffing. Trump is not Obama, he does not use rhetoric for show, he means what he says. Trump’s cabinet officials, generals and admirals also mean what they say. No flag officer wants to lose an American city like Los Angeles on his or her watch. They won’t take even a small chance of letting that happen. The Trump administration will end the North Korean threat now before the stakes are raised to the nuclear level. Despite the logic of diplomacy and negotiation, the war with North Korea is coming. That’s the logic of war.

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It is crucial that Trump communicate with Putin and Lavrov. And Washington does all it can to prevent it. Let’s hope they’ve found a back channel.

Russia Says Bellicose Rhetoric On North Korea Is ‘Over The Top’ (R.)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday the risks of a military conflict over North Korea’s nuclear program are very high, and Moscow is deeply worried by the mutual threats being traded by Washington and Pyongyang. “Unfortunately, the rhetoric in Washington and Pyongyang is now starting to go over the top,” Lavrov said. “We still hope and believe that common sense will prevail.” Asked at a forum for Russian students about the risks of the stand-off escalating into armed conflict, he said: “The risks are very high, especially taking into account the rhetoric.” “Direct threats of using force are heard… The talk (in Washington) is that there must be a preventive strike made on North Korea, while Pyongyang is threatening to carry out a missile strike on the U.S. base in Guam. These (threats) continue non-stop, and they worry us a lot.”

“I won’t get into guessing what happens ‘if’. We will do whatever we can to prevent this ‘if’.” “My personal opinion is that when you get close to the point of a fight breaking out, the side that is stronger and cleverer should take the first step away from the threshold of danger,” said Lavrov, in remarks broadcast on state television. He encouraged Pyongyang and Washington to sign up to a joint Russian-Chinese plan, under which North Korea would freeze its missile tests and the United States and South Korea would impose a moratorium on large-scale military exercises. “If this double freezing finally takes place, then we can sit down and start from the very beginning – to sign a paper which will stress respect for the sovereignty of all those parties involved, including North Korea,” Lavrov said.

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And that’s a good thing. Ultra low VIX means no price discovery.

US ‘Volatility Index’ Spikes To Highest Level Since Election (G.)

A US stock market gauge known as the “fear index” has spiked to its highest level since Donald Trump was elected president in a sign that his brinkmanship with North Korea is starting to unnerve investors. The Vix index has been at record lows in recent weeks but has been rattled by the remarks Trump has been making about North Korea. A breakthrough in Pyongyang’s weapons programme prompted Trump to warn on Tuesday that he would unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen” on North Korea if the regime continued to threaten the US. On Friday the US president tweeted that US military options were “locked and loaded” for use if Pyongyang “acted unwisely”. The Vix index measures expectations of volatility on the S&P 500 index of the US’s largest publicly quoted companies.

Its rise in the early hours of Friday prompted Neil Wilson, a senior market analyst at financial firm ETX Capital, to comment: “Volatility is back.” “The Vix just popped to its highest since the election of Donald Trump as jitters about North Korea roil risk sentiment. It’s about time the market woke up – nothing like the prospect of a nuclear standoff to sharpen mind of investors who had become a tad complacent,” said Wilson. oshua Mahony, a market analyst at IG, said: “For a week that has been largely devoid of major economic releases, Donald Trump’s confrontational stance with North Korea has raised volatility across the board, pushing the Vix from a rock-bottom reading on Tuesday, to the highest level in almost a year. “This has been a week of two halves, with complaints over a lack of volatility giving way to complaints over unpredictable volatility,” he added.

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Does that cover all housing bubbles? Well, not Holland and Scandinavia, probably.

Chinese Foreign Real-Estate Spending Plunges 82% (ZH)

Earlier this month, Morgan Stanley warned that commercial real estate prices in New York City, Sydney and London would likely take a hit over the next two years as Chinese investors pull out of foreign property markets. The pullback, they said, would be driven by China’s latest crackdown on capital outflows and corporate leverage, which they argued would lead to an 84% drop in overseas property investment by Chinese corporations during 2017, and another 18% in 2018. Sure enough, official data released by China’s Ministry of Commerce have proven the first part of Morgan Stanley’s thesis correct. Data showed that outbound investment in real estate was particularly hard hit during the first half of the year, plunging 82%. “According to official data, outbound investment by China’s real estate sector fell 82% year-on-year in the first half, to comprise just 2% of all outbound investment for the period.”

Overall, outbound direct investment to 145 countries declined to $48.19 billion, an annualized drop of 45.8%, according to China Banking News. The decline is a result of a crackdown by Chinese authorities after corporations went on a foreign-acquisition spree that saw them spend nearly $300 billion buying foreign companies and assets, with China’s four most acquisitive firms accounting for $55 billion, or 18%, of the country’s total. The acquisitions aggravated capital outflows, creating a mountain of debt and making regulators uneasy. Late last month, Chinese authorities ordered Anbang Insurance Group to liquidate its overseas holdings. In June, authorities asked local banks to evaluate whether Anbang and three of its peers posed a “systemic risk” to the country’s financial system. As Morgan Stanley noted, these firms were responsible for billions of dollars of commercial real-estate investments in the US, UK, Australia and Hong Kong.

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“..a great deal of American suburbia will have to be abandoned..”

Battle of the Behemoths (Jim Kunstler)

This has been a sensational year for retail failure so far with a record number of brick-and-mortar store closings. But it is hardly due solely to Internet shopping. The nation was vastly over-stored by big chain operations. Their replication was based on a suicidal business model that demanded constant expansion, and was nourished by a regime of ultra-low interest rates promulgated by the Federal Reserve (and its cheerleaders in the academic econ departments). The goal of the business model was to enrich the executives and shareholders as rapidly as possible, not to build sustainable enterprise. As the companies march off the cliff of bankruptcy, these individuals will be left with enormous fortunes — and the American landscape will be left with empty, flat-roofed, throwaway buildings unsuited to adaptive re-use. Eventually, the empty Walmarts will be among them.

Just about everybody yakking in the public arena assumes that commerce will just migrate to the web. Think again. What you’re seeing now is a very short term aberration, the terminal expression of the cheap oil economy that is fumbling to a close. Apart from Amazon’s failure so far to ever show a corporate profit, Internet shopping requires every purchase to make a journey in a truck to the customer. In theory, it might not seem all that different from the Monkey Ward model of a hundred years ago. But things have changed in this land. We made the unfortunate decision to suburbanize the nation, and now we’re stuck with the results: a living arrangement that can’t be serviced or maintained going forward, a living arrangement with no future. This includes the home delivery of every product under sun to every farflung housing subdivision from Rancho Cucamonga to Hackensack.

Of course, the Big Box model, like Walmart, has also recruited every householder in his or her SUV into the company’s distribution network, and that’s going to become a big problem, too, as the beleaguered middle-class finds itself incrementally foreclosed from Happy Motoring and sinking into conditions of overt peonage. The actual destination of retail in America is to be severely downscaled and reorganized locally. Main Street will be the new mall, and it will be a whole lot less glitzy than the failed gallerias of yore, but it will represent a range of activities that will put a lot of people back to work at the community level. It will necessarily entail the rebuilding of local and regional wholesale networks and means of distribution that don’t require trucking.

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But then combine Jim Kunstler’s piece with this:

US Poised To Become World’s Largest Public-Private Partnership Market (IBT)

As the debate over infrastructure policy intensifies, there is no dispute that the Trump administration’s initiative could open up a huge new market for financial firms on Wall Street. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that there are $4.6 trillion worth of needed investments to maintain and upgrade infrastructure throughout the U.S. In light of that, recent reports from Moody’s and AIG project a financial jackpot for private investors, with the latter predicting that America “is poised to become the largest public-private partnership market in the world for infrastructure projects.” That market appears to be a ripe profit opportunity for politically connected firms. On top of Pence’s overtures to investors in Australia, a country that has aggressively embraced privatization, Trump recently secured a pledge from Saudi Arabia’s government to invest billions in American infrastructure.

The Saudi money is slated to flow through the private equity firm Blackstone, which has been eyeing opportunities to profit from American infrastructure privatization since its CEO, Stephen Schwarzman, was named by Trump to run a White House economic advisory panel shaping federal infrastructure policy. At the same time, Cohn’s former employer, Goldman Sachs, has said in its financial filings that it too has plans to expand investment in privatized infrastructure. (Neither Schwarzman or Cohn have recused themselves from working on White House infrastructure policy that could benefit the firms, even though both own stakes in the companies.)

In the United States, the recent enthusiasm for public-private partnerships has stemmed from the visible success of several late-1990s toll road projects such as California’s State Route 91, the first fully-automated toll road with electronic transponders in the U.S., and Virginia’s Dulles Greenway, according to Robert Poole, the director of transportation policy at the libertarian Reason Foundation. More recently, he noted, states like Florida have enacted laws streamlining the legislative approval process for public-private partnership transportation projects. Both the GOP and Democratic Party listed infrastructure spending as objectives in their 2016 platforms. The Republican platform explicitly embraced public-private partnerships and “outside investment.” Prominent Democrats from former President Barack Obama to Bill and Hillary Clinton have also warmed to the idea of public-private partnerships — and the party’s officials have led some of America’s earliest precedent-setting privatization projects.

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Do we send in Dan Brown and Tom Hanks?

The Fed Has 6,200 Tons of Gold in a Manhattan Basement—Or Does It? (WSJ)

Eighty feet below the streets of lower Manhattan, a Federal Reserve vault protected by armed guards contains about 6,200 tons of gold. Or doesn’t. The Fed tells visitors its basement vault holds the world’s biggest official gold stash and values it at $240 billion to $260 billion. But “no one at all can be sure the gold is really there except Fed employees with access,” said Ronan Manly, a precious-metals analyst at gold dealer BullionStar in Singapore. If it is all there, he said, the central bank has “never in its history provided any proof.” Mr. Manly is among gold aficionados who wonder if the bank is hiding something about what it’s hiding. Other theorists suspect the gold beneath the New York Fed’s headquarters at 33 Liberty St. may be gold-plated fakes. Some conspiracy-minded investors think the Fed has been secretly leasing out the gold to manipulate prices.

“There has to have been a central bank spewing their gold into the market,” said John Embry, an investment strategist for Sprott Asset Management in Toronto until 2014 who once managed its gold fund. “The gold price didn’t act right” during the time he was watching it and the likely explanation for the movement was Fed action, said Mr. Embry. Fed officials have heard theories about their gold holdings for many years and don’t think much of them. After this article was published, a Fed spokeswoman said the Fed doesn’t own any of the gold housed at the New York Fed, which “does not use it in any way for any purposes including loaning or leasing it out.” The Fed has been selective in giving details about the contents of the vault and in the past has said it can’t comment on individual customer accounts due to confidentiality agreements.

[..] The Fed gives some information about the vault on a website and offers tours. A guide on one tour gave some details: Inside is enough oxygen for a person to survive 72 hours, should someone get trapped; custodians wear magnesium shoe covers to help prevent injuries, should they drop 27-pound bars; the Fed charges $1.75 a bar to move gold but nothing to store it; most of the gold is owned by foreign governments. [..] Visitors on vault tours see only a display sample and can’t verify bars up close. “All you see is the front row of gold bars,” said James Turk, co-founder of Goldmoney, a gold custodian. “There’s no way of knowing how deep the chamber is or how many rows there are.” Mr. Turk, based in London, believes much of the gold has been “hypothecated,” or lent out to other parties, and then rehypothecated, or lent to multiple parties at once. In doing so, he says, “central banks actually own less gold than people believe.”

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A phenomenal mess lies in your future. Wait till various courts get involved, representing entirely different jurisdictions, different laws.

UK Risks International Court Case Over Theresa May’s Brexit Plans (Ind.)

Britain risks a new Brexit fight in international courts if it tries to quit the EU’s single market without giving other countries official notice, The Independent can reveal. Legal experts, including one who advised the Treasury, agree Theresa May will leave the UK open to legal action in The Hague if she pulls out of the European Economic Area (EEA) without formally telling its other members 12 months in advance, to avoid disrupting their trade. The notice is demanded by an international agreement, but ministers do not intend to follow the process because, insiders believe, they want to avoid a Commons vote on staying in the EEA – and, therefore, the single market – that they might lose. As well as the a court battle, experts warn the stigma from breaking the agreement could also make it harder for Britain to secure the trade deals it desperately needs to secure the economy after Brexit.

Pro-EU MPs hope the legal opinion will help persuade the Commons to force and win the vote on staying in the EEA planned for the autumn. The Government has insisted EEA membership will end automatically with EU withdrawal but former Treasury legal adviser Charles Marquand, said: “A failure by the UK to give notice of its intention to leave would, I think, be a breach of the EEA Agreement, which is an international treaty.” The barrister said it was difficult to predict how another EEA states might seek to take action, if it believed its single market rights had been removed wrongly. But he added: “I believe there is a potential for international proceedings. One possibility is the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.”

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Are we going to lock him up?

Greenspan’s Legacy Explains Current Conundrums (DDMB)

On Aug. 11, 1987, the U.S. Senate confirmed Alan Greenspan as chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Thirty years later, the fallout from that occasion is still being felt around the world as the central bank’s focus shifted under Greenspan from economics and the banking system to the financial industry. Greenspan’s first speech as Fed chairman took place less than a month into his tenure when he dedicated the Jacksonville, Florida, branch of the Atlanta Fed. Some 73 miles north of where he stood was Jekyll Island, Georgia, where the foundations of the Fed were first laid in November 1910. Rather than look back at the Fed’s roots, however, Greenspan peered into its future: “We have entered the age of the truly global marketplace. Today the monetary policy decisions of our nation reverberate around the globe.”

Those words resonate today as policy makers worldwide struggle to extricate themselves from extraordinary levels of market intervention. How did we get to the point where central bankers endeavor to resolve structural issues with the power of the printing press? Greenspan’s legacy provides the answers. It is notable that in the days before the Senate vote, President Ronald Reagan cited the “banking system” as one of the Fed’s primary responsibilities. While Greenspan included banking system stability as one of the “instrumentalities” of the government’s designs of the Fed, he emphasized that the Fed was “NOT just another federal agency.” The Fed was also a leader “within the financial industry.” It wouldn’t take long for the financial system to stress test Greenspan’s resolve. On Oct. 19, 1987, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 22.6% in what remains the steepest one-day loss on record. From his first day in office to that October closing low, the Dow was down by 35%.

Few recall that Greenspan was in the air on his way to Dallas during the worst of Black Monday’s selloff, where he was scheduled to address the American Bankers Association convention the next morning. It wasn’t until he landed that he learned of the day’s events. Against his wishes, Greenspan never made it to the podium; he thought the better way to communicate calm was by maintaining his scheduled appearance. Compelled back to Washington due to the gravity of the situation, Greenspan issued the following statement in his name at 8:41 a.m. that Tuesday, less than an hour before stocks opened for trading: “The Federal Reserve, consistent with its responsibilities as the Nation’s central bank, affirmed today its readiness to serve as a source of liquidity to support the economic and financial system.”

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Best reason ever for a Universal Basic Income.

Social Security Requires Bailout 60x Greater Than 2008 Bank Bailout (Black)

A few weeks ago the Board of Trustees of Social Security sent a formal letter to the United States Senate and House of Representatives to issue a dire warning: Social Security is running out of money. Given that tens of millions of Americans depend on this public pension program as their sole source of retirement income, you’d think this would have been front page news… and that every newspaper in the country would have reprinted this ominous projection out of a basic journalistic duty to keep the public informed about an issue that will affect nearly everyone. But that didn’t happen. The story was hardly picked up. It’s astonishing how little attention this issue receives considering it will end up being one of the biggest financial crises in US history. That’s not hyperbole either– the numbers are very clear.

The US government itself calculates that the long-term Social Security shortfall exceeds $46 TRILLION. In other words, in order to be able to pay the benefits they’ve promised, Social Security needs a $46 trillion bailout. Fat chance. That amount is over TWICE the national debt, and nearly THREE times the size of the entire US economy. Moreover, it’s nearly SIXTY times the size of the bailout that the banking system received back in 2008. So this is a pretty big deal. More importantly, even though the Social Security Trustees acknowledge that the fund is running out of money, their projections are still wildly optimistic. In order to build their long-term financial models, Social Security’s administrators have to make certain assumptions about the future. What will interest rates be in the future? What will the population growth rate be? How high (or low) will inflation be?

These variables can dramatically impact the outcome for Social Security. For example, Social Security assumes that productivity growth in the US economy will average between 1.7% and 2% per year. This is an important assumption: the higher US productivity growth, the faster the economy will grow. And this ultimately means more tax revenue (and more income) for the program. But -actual- US productivity growth is WAY below their assumption. Over the past ten years productivity growth has been about 25% below their expectations. And in 2016 US productivity growth was actually NEGATIVE.

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Venezuela is dead simple. It has the largest oil reserves on the planet. Chavez kept Exxon and CIA out. Now they’re moving back in.

All Is Not As It Seems In Venezuela (Ren.)

An opposition backed by Exxon Mobil, a failed military coup that killed 40 people, staged photo-propaganda designed to create the perception of a failed state: Foreign powers have conspired to create the perfect conditions for yet another western ‘humanitarian’ intervention, this time in Venezuela. Former US Army solider turned documentary-maker, Mike Prysner, says the reality of Venezuela is very different from what we are being fed by the western press. [..] When I heard that Jeremy Corbyn had condemned violence on both sides in Venezuela, I was angry at first – because 80% or more of the violence is being committed by anti-government protesters. Their violence has far surpassed anything committed against them – and what has been done to them has been deliberately provoked. But then I began to recognise the skill in his statement – forcing everyone to confront the reality of what’s happening on the ground there. The reality bears little resemblance to what’s being presented to people.

The BBC is responsible for some of the most disingenuous portrayals. They’re showing violent protesters as if they’re some kind of defenders of peaceful protesters against a repressive police force, but in reality peaceful protests have been untouched by police. What happens is that the Guarimbas (violent, armed opposition groups) follow the peaceful protests and when they come near police, they insert themselves in between the two. They then push and push and push until there’s a reaction – and they have cameras and journalists on hand to record the reaction, so it looks like the police are being aggressive. We were once filming a protest and a group of Guarimbas challenged us. If we’d said we were with teleSur, at the very least they’d have beaten us and taken our equipment. But we told them we were American freelance journalists – they need Americans to film them and publicise them, so we were accepted.

The battles with police are actually quite small, but they’re planned, co-ordinated to disrupt different area each day to maximise their impact – but in most places life is pretty normal. It’s all about the portrayal. The US media mobilise everything for Guarimbas – there will be maybe 150 people but it’s made to look bigger and tactics are 100% violent – trying to provoke a response. And the level of police restraint is remarkable – the government knows the world is watching. One evening protesters were burning buildings for around two hours, with no intervention by the police. They only react when the protesters start throwing petrol bombs at the police or military, or their bases – but as soon as they do react, the Guarimbas film as if they’re victims of an unprovoked attack.

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Over 200 a day into Québec alone.

Asylum Seekers At Canada Border Tents Unfazed By Delays, Uncertainty (R.)

Asylum seekers, mainly from Haiti, clambering over a gully from upstate New York into Canada on Friday were undeterred by the prospect of days in border tents, months of uncertainty and signs of a right-wing backlash in Quebec. More than 200 people a day are illegally walking across the U.S. border into Quebec to seek asylum, government officials said. Army tents have been erected near the border to house up to 500 people as they undergo security screenings. Over 4,000 asylum seekers have walked into Canada in the first half of this year, with some citing U.S. President Donald Trump’s tougher stance on immigration. The cars carrying the latest asylum seekers begin arriving at dawn in Champlain, New York, across from the Canadian border.

On Friday, the first groups included two young Haitian men, a family of five from Yemen and a Haitian family with young twins. “We have no house. We have no family. If we return we have nowhere to sleep, no money to eat,” said a Haitian mother of a 2-year-old boy, who declined to give her name. Each family pauses a moment when a Royal Canadian Mounted police officer warns them they will be arrested if they cross the border illegally, before walking a well-trodden path across the narrow gully into Canada. Asylum seekers are crossing the border illegally because a loophole in a U.S. pact allows anyone who manages to enter Canada to file an asylum claim and stay in Canada while they await their application outcome.

Because the pact requires refugees to claim asylum in whatever country they first arrive, they would be turned back to the United States at legal border crossings. They Haitian family is arrested immediately and bussed to the makeshift camp. Border agents led a line of about two dozen asylum seekers on Friday into a government building at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle to be processed. The Red Cross is providing food, hygiene items and telephone access, spokesman Carl Boisvert said. He estimated the fenced-off camp, which has been separated into sections for families and single migrants, is about half full. Border staff and settlement agencies are straining to accommodate the influx, which has been partly spurred by false rumors of guaranteed residency permits.

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The values of our own lives are set by how we value other people’s lives.

People Smugglers Pushing Refugees To Their Deaths At Sea Off Yemen (Ind.)

At least 19 migrants are presumed to have drowned after 160 people were forced from a boat into rough seas off the coast of Yemen by smugglers in what may be a worrying new trend, the UN migration agency has said. The report from the International Organisation for Migration came less than a day after it said up to 50 migrants from Ethiopia and Somalia were “deliberately drowned” by smugglers who pushed them from a separate boat off the coast of Shabwa province in southern Yemen. “We’re wondering if this is a new trend,” Olivia Headon, an IOM spokesperson, told The Independent. “The smugglers are well aware of what’s happening in Yemen, so it may just be they’re trying to protect their own neck while putting other people’s lives at risk.” Six bodies were found on the beach, while 13 remain missing, presumed dead, Ms Headon said.

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Feb 062015
 
 February 6, 2015  Posted by at 11:44 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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DPC Chamber of Commerce, Boston MA 1904

Deflation Risk in U.S. Seen Rivaling Euro Area (Bloomberg)
Stocks Will Be ‘Ripped To Smithereens’: Albert Edwards (CNBC)
Oil Heading For $30, Currency War Coming (CNBC)
Is China Preparing for Currency War? (Pesek)
China’s Monumental Debt Trap – Why It Will Rock The Global Economy (Stockman)
Conquering China’s Mountain of Debt (Bloomberg)
The Debt Write-off Behind Germany’s ‘Economic Miracle’ (France24)
Why Deutsche Bank Thinks Europe Will Fold (Zero Hedge)
Time for #GreekLivesMatter (Naked Capitalism)
Greek Leaders Return Home for Rethink After Rebuff From Germany (Bloomberg)
ECB Said to Allow Greek Banks €59.5 Billion Emergency Cash (Bloomberg)
Greek Debt Drama Is ‘Theater,’ But Stakes Are High (CNBC)
Greece and Varoufakis Need Supporters Not Sympathisers (Guardian)
The Lazard Banker Shaping Greece’s and Ukraine’s Financial Fate (WSJ)
Banker to the Broke: Lazard Advises Greece, Ukraine (Bloomberg)
Abenomics Leaves Japan’s Poor and Elderly Behind (Bloomberg)
Is Denmark Facing A Speculative Attack? (CNBC)
Australia Central Bank Acting Like It ‘Just Woke Up’ (CNBC)
Oz PM Abbott Fights for Political Life as Colleagues Seek Ouster (Bloomberg)
Venezuela Oil Deal Hits Caribbean Hard (CNBC)
John Kerry Rated Worst Secretary Of State In 50 Years (MarketWatch)

“The scales will soon lift from the market’s eyes.”

Deflation Risk in U.S. Seen Rivaling Euro Area (Bloomberg)

Deflation would be as much of an issue for the U.S. as it is for the euro region if consumer prices were tracked the same way, according to Albert Edwards, a global strategist at Societe Generale SA. The Chart Of The Day helps illustrate how Edwards drew his conclusion, presented in a report yesterday. He tracked changes in the core U.S. consumer-price index, which excludes food and energy, and the CPI for shelter. Core inflation in December was 1.6%, according to the Labor Department. That’s 0.9 percentage point more than the euro region’s comparable figure, as compiled by Eurostat. This gap disappears after bringing the U.S. figure into line with Eurostat’s definition of housing, Edwards wrote.

“The deflationary fault line on which the U.S. sits is every bit as precarious as that of the euro zone, but is being disguised,” the London-based strategist wrote. “The scales will soon lift from the market’s eyes.” Ten-year Treasury notes are headed for yields of less than 1% as the deflation threat grows, according to Edwards. The yield stood at 1.81% yesterday after ending last month at 1.64%. The adjusted U.S. data exclude owners’ equivalent rent, or the estimated cost borne by homeowners who live in their houses as opposed to renting them out. The euro region doesn’t have a similar category.

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“U.S. numbers differ because they are measured with “shelter inflation” which is derived from housing costs based on rent, not the price of homes.”

Stocks Will Be ‘Ripped To Smithereens’: Albert Edwards (CNBC)

Societe Generale’s notoriously bearish strategist, Albert Edwards, has warned that the deflation threat currently dogging the euro zone is greater in the U.S. and that equity markets will soon be “ripped to smithereens.” “The deflationary fault line on which the U.S. sits is every bit as precarious as that of the euro zone, but is being disguised,” he said in a new research note on Thursday. “The scales will soon lift from the market’s eyes.” Despite years of central bank easing, consumer price growth across the world has begun to stagnate with the euro zone recently falling into deflationary territory – when consumer price growth turns negative. An official flash figure for the 19-country region last week showed prices fell by 0.6% year-on-year in January.

Across the Atlantic, consumer prices increased 0.8% in the 12 months through December, the weakest reading since October 2009. The U.S. might be posting better figures than the euro zone, but Edwards argues that it’s not a like-for-like comparison. “My former esteemed colleagues Marchel Alexandrovich and David Owen pointed out to me that if U.S. core CPI (consumer price index) is measured in a similar way to the euro zone, then U.S. core CPI inflation is already ‘pari passu’ (on an equal footing) with the euro zone despite the former having enjoyed a much stronger economy,” he said. He adds that U.S. numbers differ because they are measured with “shelter inflation” which is derived from housing costs based on rent, not the price of homes.

This has been preventing U.S. core CPI from falling away sharply, to the extent that it has in the euro zone, according to Edwards. With this warning, Edwards now believes that there is “ample room” for global yields to fall further over the next two years. He believes that market participants will see sub-1% yields on the U.S. 10-year sovereign, down from its current level of 1.8015%. Edwards regularly touts the idea of an economic “Ice Age” in which equities will collapse because of global deflationary pressures. On Thursday he maintained his view that equities are likely to fall below 2009 lows. “I remain confident that the global equity markets will be ripped to smithereens in the next economic downturn which will, once again, show that the central banks have inflated another massive unstable financial bubble,” he said. “The market is far too convinced that the U.S. is in the spring of its economic recovery, whereas I believe we could well be in the autumn.”

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“Kilduff said that the industry had merely gotten rid of “the runts of the litter..”

Oil Heading For $30, Currency War Coming (CNBC)

So much for the rally. Oil will likely still head as low as $30, analyst John Kilduff told CNBC on Thursday. “I still believe we’re going to go to that $30 to $33 area, which is the low point from the financial crisis in 2008, 2009. What you saw over the past several days was technical in nature, a short squeeze. This volatility is a little crazy and I think that $30 target is a downside target is for technicians that are in this market,” the founding partner of Again Capital said in a “Squawk Box” interview. U.S. crude tumbled 9% on Wednesday to settle at $48.45, erasing nearly all of its gains in the previous two sessions. The benchmark commodity – West Texas Intermediate – had soared 22% from a nearly six-year low of $43.58 last Thursday, ending the day at $53.05 on Tuesday.

The rally’s sharp reversal spilled over into the stock market, with energy stocks leading the day’s decline in the S&P 500. Data on Friday that showed exploration and production companies had shut down 90 rigs in the prior week boosted the rally. Kilduff said that the industry had merely gotten rid of “the runts of the litter,” noting that U.S. production had not fallen and still stands at 9.1 million barrels a day. He said speculation that Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, would agree to production cuts in order to reach a deal with Russia on the Syrian conflict also sent oil higher.

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It has no choice.

Is China Preparing for Currency War? (Pesek)

China has entered the global monetary-easing fray, along with more than a dozen other economies, after its central bank surprised investors by cutting reserve requirements 50 basis points to spur lending and combat deflation. But Beijing may be raring for an even bigger and more perilous fight – in the currency markets. Reducing the amount of cash that banks are required to set aside (to 19.5%), as China has just done, is largely symbolic – a don’t-panic-we’re-on-top-of-things reassurance to international markets and local property developers. Still, the move is also an inflection point. China is in all likelihood about to loosen monetary policy considerably to support economic growth. If global conditions worsen, China’s one-year lending rate, now at 5.6%, could head toward zero.

At the same time, something else is afoot in Beijing could have even greater global impact. The central bank is cooking up measures to widen the band in which its currency trades. People’s Bank of China officials say it’s about limiting volatility as capital zooms in and out of the economy. Let’s call it what it really is: the first step toward yuan depreciation and currency war. As China grapples with its slowest growth in 24 years, President Xi Jinping is under pressure to stimulate the economy. Yet that would run afoul of his pledges to curb runaway debt and credit (the latter jumped about $20 trillion from 2009 to 2014). What better way to gin up growth without adding to China’s bubbles than by sharply weakening the exchange rate?

A cheaper yuan would boost exports and buy Xi more time to recalibrate growth engines away from excessive investment and debt. “The real economy desperately needs a weaker yuan,” says economist Diana Choyleva of Lombard Street Research. The question is, does the rest of the world? Any significant drop in the yuan would prompt Japan to unleash another quantitative-easing blitz. The same goes for South Korea, whose exports are already hurting. Singapore might feel compelled to expand upon last week’s move to weaken its dollar. Before long, officials in Bangkok, Hanoi, Jakarta, Manila, Taipei and even Latin America might act to protect their economies’ competitiveness.

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David Stockman sent me a mail last night pointing out we had written on the same topic yesterday: “Perhaps there truly is such a thing as “great minds thinking”………..etc.” My inevitable reply: “That IS funny, yeah. You’ll never see me thinking of myself as a great mind, though (you, different story altogether), I’m just an outsider describing the crash to all the other outsiders.” See also: Debt In The Time Of Wall Street.

China’s Monumental Debt Trap – Why It Will Rock The Global Economy (Stockman)

Bloomberg News finally did something useful this morning by publishing some startling graphs from McKinsey’s latest update on the worldwide debt tsunami. If you don’t mind a tad of rounding, the planetary debt total now stands at $200 trillion compared to world GDP of just $70 trillion. The implied 2.9X global leverage ratio is daunting in itself. But now would be an excellent time to recall the lessons of Greece because the true implications are far more ominous. Today’s raging crisis in Greece was hidden from view for many years in the run-up to its first EU bailout in 2010 because the denominator of its reported leverage ratio – national income or GDP – was artificially inflated by the debt fueled boom underway in its economy.

In other words, it was caught in a feedback loop. The more it borrowed to finance government deficit spending and business investment, whether profitable or not, the more its Keynesian macro metrics – that is, GDP accounts based on spending, not real wealth—-registered a falsely rising level of prosperity and capacity to carry its ballooning debt. Five years later, of course, the picture is much different. Greece’s GDP has now shrunk by more than 25%. The abysmal picture depicted in the graph below explains what really happened. Namely, that the bloated denominator of GDP came crashing back to earth, exposing that Greece’s true leverage was dramatically higher than the 100% ratio reported in the years before the crisis.

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“They receive only about half of China’s total tax revenue, while they must pay for 80% of all government expenses..”

Conquering China’s Mountain of Debt (Bloomberg)

Close the back door, open the front door. That s the official slogan used to describe China s most ambitious reform of government finances in two decades, to be introduced later in 2015. The aim is to wean badly indebted local governments tens of thousands of cities, counties, and townships off their dangerous reliance on off-balance-sheet financing and backdoor borrowing, from both banks and the unregulated shadow finance sector. Funds to support China s rapid urbanization to build infrastructure, keep pension programs solvent, and more will come from a vastly expanded, newly legalized local bond market.

The development of a local bond market is a real milestone, says Debra Roane, senior credit officer at Moody’s Investors Service. Once local governments start issuing debt in their own name, it will be clear that they are responsible for it, and that will ultimately lead to more prudent decision- making. They will stay away from riskier projects. Ever since China’s last major fiscal reform in the mid-1990s, when then-Vice Premier Zhu Rongji restored control of public finances to the national government, local governments have faced a dilemma. They receive only about half of China’s total tax revenue, while they must pay for 80% of all government expenses, including schools, roads, and health care. The local governments are banned from borrowing directly from banks and from issuing bonds.

As a result, a vast, unregulated industry has sprung up in what many call local government finance vehicles. Some 10,000 of these for-profit finance companies raise funds for local needs. They also have enabled local authorities to commit acts of apparent folly. The finance companies, with the implicit backing of local governments, bankrolled entire new city districts that now sit largely empty. This has led to a very opaque and risky situation, with unclear accountability, Roane says. It s not clear who is responsible for all this debt. China’s officially stated deficit is about 2% of its gross domestic product. That’s a fiction, says Chen Long, China economist at researcher GavekalDragonomics in Beijing, because it doesn’t include any of this indirect local borrowing. Add it in and the deficit rises to about 5% of GDP, Chen estimates. The National Audit Office found that as of 18 months ago, local debt including indirect borrowing totaled 17.9 trillion yuan ($2.86 trillion), up 63% since the end of 2010, much more than the 40% expansion of the economy.

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As Tsipras said (paraphrased) : “And we didn’t even kill anyone”.

The Debt Write-off Behind Germany’s ‘Economic Miracle’ (France24)

When discussing Greece’s whopping $310 billion debt, the country’s new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras likes to recall a time when Europe’s great debt offender was not Greece, but Germany, today’s paragon of fiscal responsibility. The leader of the radical-left Syriza party refers in particular to an international conference held in London in 1953, during which West Germany secured a write-off of more than 50% of debt, accumulated after two world wars. Back then, with memories of Nazi atrocities still fresh, many countries were reluctant to offer such generous debt relief. But the US persuaded its European allies, including Greece, to relinquish debt repayments and reparations in order to build a stable and prosperous Western Europe that could contain the threat from Soviet Russia.

“Tsipras is right to remind Germans how well they were treated, with both debt relief and money from the Marshall Plan,” says Professor Stephany Griffith-Jones, an economist at Columbia University, referring to the US programme to help rebuild European economies after World War II. She believes Greece is justified in demanding a more generous approach from its creditors, despite obvious differences between its current plight and that of war-ravaged Germany. “In fact, Greece’s situation is perhaps more urgent because the pressure from markets and the financial sector is so much stronger than in the 1950s,” she says.

West Germany’s debt at the time was well below the levels seen in Greece today. But German negotiators successfully argued that it would hinder efforts to rebuild the country’s economy – much as Greek governments have in recent years, in vain. Under a crucial term of the London Agreement, repayments of the remaining debt were made conditional on West Germany running a trade surplus. In other words, the German government would only pay back its creditors when it could afford to – and not by borrowing even more money. Reimbursements were also limited to 3% of export earnings. This gave Germany’s creditors an incentive to import German goods so they would later get their money back, thereby laying the foundations of the country’s powerful export sector and fostering its so-called “economic miracle”.

“Germany’s resurgence has only been possible through waiving extensive debt payments and stopping reparations to its World War II victims,” economic historian Albrecht Ritschl told Der Spiegel in 2011, describing Germany as “the biggest debt transgressor” of the past century. “During the 20th century, Germany was responsible for what were the biggest national bankruptcies in recent history,” Ritschl said, pointing to the collapse of the German economy in the early 1930s, which sent shockwaves through global markets. “It is only thanks to the United States, which sacrificed vast amounts of money after both World War I and World War II, that Germany is financially stable today and holds the status of Europe’s headmaster. That fact, unfortunately, often seems to be forgotten.”

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“If DB is right, and if Europe folds, the question then is what concessions will the ECB and the Eurozone be prepared to give to Italy, Spain and all the other nations where anti-European sentiment has been on a tear..”

Why Deutsche Bank Thinks Europe Will Fold (Zero Hedge)

The Greek situation summaries Greece by Deutsche Bank’s George Saravelos have consistently been among the best in the entire sellside. His latest Greek update, which is a must read for anyone who hasn’t been following the fluid developments out of southeast Europe, which fluctuate not on an hourly but on a minute basis, does not disappoint. But while his summary of events is great, what is of far greater significance is his conclusion, namely that ultimately Europe will fold: “we consider the most likely outcome to be a Eurogroup offer of a new Third program” and “given that the current program expires this February the offer to negotiate a new Third program may provide political room for the government to sit on the negotiating table.

At the same time such an offer is very likely to be attached to strict conditions, with the willingness to accommodate t-bill issuance an open question. Developments overnight suggest that this has become less likely, imposing maximum pressure on the government to reach agreement within a matter of weeks.” If DB is right, and if Europe folds, the question then is what concessions will the ECB and the Eurozone be prepared to give to Italy, Spain and all the other nations where anti-European sentiment has been on a tear in recent months, and especially in the aftermath of Syriza’s stunning victory.

From Deutsche Bank: Greek Update

Over the last couple of weeks we have framed developments in Greece around three questions:
• First, under what conditions would the Troika be willing to continue negotiating with Greece?
• Second, does the Greek government accept these conditions?
• Third, how does the ECB link Greek bank financing to program negotiation?

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“The ECB’s kneecapping of Greece demonstrates how central banks act as powerful enforcers on behalf of lenders and investors. The ECB operates with no concern that it will be reined in by democratic governments..”

Time for #GreekLivesMatter (Naked Capitalism)

If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. The Troika’s willingness to turn Greece into a failed state first, as a side effect of its “rescue the French and German banks” operation, and now, as part of its German hegemony protection racket, is killing people and in the longer term will only accelerate the rise of extreme right wing elements in the Eurozone. As Ilargi wrote last week:

In what universe is it a good thing to have over half of the young people in entire countries without work, without prospects, without a future? And then when they stand up and complain, threaten them with worse? How can that possibly be the best we can do? And how much worse would you like to make it? If a flood of suicides and miscarriages, plummeting birth rates and doctors turning tricks is not bad enough yet, what would be?

If you live in Germany or Finland, and it were indeed true that maintaining your present lifestyle depends on squeezing the population of Greece into utter misery, what would your response be? F##k ‘em? You know what, even if that were so, your nations have entered into a union with Greece (and Spain, and Portugal et al), and that means you can’t only reap the riches on your side and leave them with the bitter fruit.

[..] Please circulate this post widely and tweet it, using #GreekLivesMatter. If you live in a city where a central bank is located, get this idea in front of organizers. They can no doubt adapt and improve upon it. And above all, send it to all the Greeks you know, even those in Greece who might send it on to friends and family in the diaspora. If you are in the US, please contact your Congressman and express your dismay that the Fed is tacitly supporting the ECB in its reckless and destructive Eurozone policies and has the stature and the leverage to weigh in. Remember, many Republicans are as unhappy with the lack of transparency and undue concentration of power at the Fed. Even a small step supporting this effort is a step in the right direction.

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“We didn’t even agree to disagree from where I’m standing..”

Greek Leaders Return Home for Rethink After Rebuff From Germany (Bloomberg)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is preparing to set out the most detailed account yet of his plans to revive the Greek economy after a diplomatic push ended with a rebuff from Germany and a warning shot from the ECB. Tsipras was greeted by the rare sight of a pro-government demonstration in downtown Athens on Thursday night after he vowed to stick to his anti-bailout campaign pledges, despite their rejection by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble. The prime minister will lay out his policy plans on Sunday, in the opening speech of the three-day-long parliamentary debate leading up to a confidence vote to confirm his government.

Ministers met in Athens on Thursday to discuss the policy program and may reconvene on Saturday to assess Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis’s feedback from his meeting with Schaeuble in Berlin. The first direct talks between Greece and Germany since Tsipras took power yielded no agreement on how to narrow their differences over Tsipras’s determination to end the German-led austerity regime. “We agreed to disagree” Schaeuble said after meeting Varoufakis on Thursday. “We didn’t even agree to disagree from where I’m standing,” the Greek responded.

A few hours before the Berlin encounter, the ECB heaped pressure on Tsipras by restricting Greek access to its direct liquidity lines, citing concerns about the country’s commitment to existing bailout pledges. The Greek government opted to “stop cooperating with the troika,” ECB Governing Council member Jens Weidmann said in a speech in Venice on Thursday. The move leaves Greek banks reliant on €59.5 billion of Emergency Liquidity Assistance, extended by the Bank of Greece, which is subject to review by the ECB Governing Council every two weeks. Undeterred by the ECB reaction, which triggered a sell-off in Greek bank shares, Tsipras told lawmakers from his party, Syriza, that he intends to stick to his campaign promises. “The government will negotiate hard for the first time in years, and will put a final end to the troika and its policies,” Tsipras said.

As Tsipras was speaking, hundreds gathered outside the parliament building to protest against the ECB’s decision, labeling it “blackmail.” Unlike the riots which rocked the Greek capital in 2011 and 2012, the march was peaceful and evening news bulletins dedicated more time to the fact that Syriza lawmakers opt not to wear ties than to the market declines, which saw bank stocks lose 10%. Sakellaridis said that Tsipras’s visits to Nicosia, Rome, Paris and Brussels this week had yielded results and the government isn’t alarmed about the potential impact of the ECB decision. Central bank governor Yannis Stournaras said the ECB decision “can be reversed” and the outflow of banking deposits is “under control.” “It was a very quiet day today,” he said, after meeting Deputy Prime Minister Yannis Dragasakis.

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Allow?! If it walks feudal, and quacks feudal…

ECB Said to Allow Greek Banks €59.5 Billion Emergency Cash (Bloomberg)

The European Central Bank will allow the Greek central bank to provide as much as €59.5 billion in emergency funding for the country’s lenders, a euro-area central-bank official familiar with the decision said. The measure is needed after the ECB shut off a key avenue for Greek banks’ funding on Wednesday, citing doubts that the country’s newly elected government will conclude its aid program. Greek stocks and bonds fell on Thursday after the ECB’s decision to end a waiver on the quality of Greek debt it accepts as collateral. The offer highlights how ECB officials are warning Greek politicians to keep to euro-area rules while striving to avoid a crisis in the financial system.

The ECB approved €50 billion in ELA as a replacement for its regular funding, plus an extra €9.5 billion, the official said, asking not to be identified because the proceedings aren’t public. German newspaper Die Welt reported earlier on Thursday that the ECB would allow the Greek central bank to offer about €60 billion in ELA. Under the measure, a nation’s central bank can provide liquidity to lenders at its own risk. The ECB will review ELA every two weeks to check whether the funds are being used in a way that doesn’t interfere with monetary policy. Should the ECB object, “the bank concerned cannot fund itself and that the bank concerned the same day or in the next couple of days would miss a payment and the counterpart will call a bankruptcy,” Governing Council member Klaas Knot said at the Dutch parliament in The Hague on Thursday. “So you have a credit event,” he said, while declining to comment specifically on Greece.

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“Everyone wants to live in fairyland and none of us want to go back to real economies [..] This is nice theater, but it’s not going to solve anything.”

Greek Debt Drama Is ‘Theater,’ But Stakes Are High (CNBC)

The ongoing drama surrounding Greece’s efforts to drum up support for a new debt deal is just “theater,” according to one analyst, who warned that Europe needs to wake up. Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis met his German counterpart Wolfgang Scheuble in Berlin on Thursday, after a week of travelling across Europe to try and bolster support for a new debt deal and bailout conditions. The talks were a mixed success, however, with Scheuble saying that the ministers had “agreed to disagree,” but Varoufakis denying that this was the case. Satyajit Das, author of “Traders, Guns & Money” told CNBC Friday that the talks were symptomatic of a “make-believe world.”

“Everyone wants to live in fairyland and none of us want to go back to real economies,” he said. “This is nice theater, but it’s not going to solve anything.” With no apparent progress over a debt deal for Greece, despite a week of high profile meetings between Varoufakis and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and their fellow euro zone ministers, there is growing speculation over the eventual outcome. Das, an expert on financial derivatives and risk management, went on to stress that Greece’s “underlying dynamics” hadn’t changed. “They still can’t pay back their debt and we haven’t fixed anything. We still have to fix the basic economy,” he said. “The fundamental thing is that the Greeks want to be in the euro, they want to get this relief. The Germans want to save the German banks and the French want to save the French banks –they don’t want to have write-offs.” [..]

Panicos Demetriades, former governor of the Central Bank of Cyprus, told CNBC Friday that a “game of chicken” was being played out between the Greeks and Germans. And he added that an agreement over Greece was needed sooner rather than later in order to maintain confidence in the Greek financial system. “The Greeks have done everything possible to gain support for their positions, which are not unreasonable as the program doesn’t seem to be producing what was expected of it,” he told CNBC. “But they really don’t have the time that they think they do – that time isn’t there.” Demetriades, professor of financial economics at the University of Leicester, said that the ECB move was a symptom of deposit outflows in Greece. “Depositors are getting nervous. Even a small chance of the euro area breaking up would leave them in a mess,” he said. “It is important that the Greek government understands that if there is no agreement soon things will progressively get worse for them.”

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“Varoufakis’s plea for “space for all of us to come to an agreement” sounds no more than common sense.”

Greece and Varoufakis Need Supporters Not Sympathisers (Guardian)

What has Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s finance minister, achieved during his grand tour of European capitals this week? Not much. He has collected a few rave reviews for his dress sense and sounded a model of sweet reasonableness in his press conferences. But on the substance? Yesterday in Berlin Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister, said Greece’s European partners had already gone as far as they would go on debt relief. He invited Athens to help itself. Varoufakis was left in the odd position of disputing Schäuble’s assertion that the pair had agreed to disagree. Over in Frankfurt, the ECB cranked up the pressure on Greece by yanking its banks’ access to cheap funding: Greek government bonds will no longer be accepted as collateral.

The banks can still get emergency liquidity by going through Greece’s central bank. But they will pay a higher rate of interest for that dubious privilege. What’s more the central bank’s ability to keep the funds flowing is not endless because the ECB can impose limits. The message behind the ECB’s decision seemed clear: we will play hard; we are not about to change our rules of engagement; the time for Greece’s new Syriza government to face reality is fast approaching. Indeed, the end of this month now looms as a real, and dangerous, crunch-point. Syriza has said it wants to exit the bailout programme and argues for a three-month bridging loan to allow time for negotiations. The message from Shäuble was a firm no to the loan. A stand-off between Syriza and the eurozone powerhouses was always in the offing but the positions are now stark. Something has to give here – and quickly.

In a rational world, a bridging loan would be an excellent idea. Attempting to resolve the Greek mess via brinkmanship in the space of three weeks is madness. Remaining depositors in Greek banks will be fleeing. Varoufakis’s plea for “space for all of us to come to an agreement” sounds no more than common sense. Extending finance to Athens until the end of May would not cost much. If the ECB is restricted by its mandate, politicians could always find a pragmatic fudge; they have done so many times in the past. But that is not the way the winds are blowing. Even François Hollande in France and Matteo Renzi in Italy called the ECB’s move legitimate and said it was a way to force agreement. The eurozone’s big beasts seem determined to force a quick resolution, rather than accept Syriza’s timetable.

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Socialist punk banker.

The Lazard Banker Shaping Greece’s and Ukraine’s Financial Fate (WSJ)

Europe’s financial future may hang in the balance in an office on Paris’s Boulevard Haussmann that belongs to a French banker with a taste for punk rock. Matthieu Pigasse is a self-described pro-market socialist and fan of The Clash. The 46-year-old financier is also head of the government advisory arm at Lazard , the international investment bank hired in recent days by both Greece and Ukraine to help renegotiate their debts, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Pigasse “has been involved in some of the most important sovereign-debt restructurings in the last decade,” said Deborah Zandstra, a sovereign-debt partner at lawyers Clifford Chance LLP. “His appointment by the new Greek administration is a positive step.”

Both assignments are key to Europe’s political and economic health. Ukraine must negotiate with foreign creditors over as much as $20 billion of Eurobond debt. These efforts could be crucial in whether Ukraine is able to negotiate further loans and keep its budget afloat, bolstering an economy ravaged by the conflict with Russian-backed rebels in the east. In Greece, new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has promised to slash the country’s heavy debt burden. But other eurozone leaders have declared that any reduction in the face value of Greek debt would be unacceptable and the Greek finance minister is now proposing to swap debt for new growth-linked bonds. For Lazard, an advisory and asset management firm that listed in New York in 2005, counseling governments has become a steady and growing business.

A team of Lazard bankers, led by Mr. Pigasse, advised Greece in 2012 when it pushed through one of the largest debt restructurings of all time. Lazard has also been very active in Africa, where it has advised Egypt, Mauritania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon and Ivory Coast. Last year it helped Ethiopia with its debut $1 billion sovereign-bond issue. Advising governments is a relatively small part of Lazard’s business, with fees making up just a small fraction of total revenue. But government mandates are particularly prestigious and the work can be lucrative. In March 2012, Greece said it paid Lazard €25 million for its advice over the previous two years. The sovereign-advisory arm, run out of the Paris office, has increased head count by 50% to 30 over the past three years.

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“All their expenses are paid, and they have no capital at risk. This is as sweet as it gets.”

Banker to the Broke: Lazard Advises Greece, Ukraine (Bloomberg)

When the government goes broke, the broke call Lazard Ltd. While Lazard is best known for mergers and acquisitions, the firm has found lucrative work advising governments in two of the world’s current economic trouble spots: Greece and Ukraine.
The roles are in keeping with Lazard’s long – and not always successful – history as a top adviser to cash-strapped governments. Argentina, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Ivory Coast: all have turned to Lazard over the years. So did New York City, back in the 1970s. It’s nice work for Lazard, which gets to collect fees no matter how things play out for a government or its creditors. “This is a very high-margin business,” said William Cohan, a former Lazard banker and author of a book on the firm. “All their expenses are paid, and they have no capital at risk. This is as sweet as it gets.”

The Lazard team, led by Paris-based banker Matthieu Pigasse, advised a previous Greek government during the nation’s last major financial crisis, when an exit from the euro currency area loomed as a possibility if talks failed. Last week, the nation’s new government hired Lazard to help again as the country seeks to ease the pressure from a debt load of about €315 billion. Ukraine is also working with Lazard, according to people familiar with the situation. Based officially in Bermuda with major offices in Paris and New York, Lazard faces challenges with both of those assignments. The newly elected Greek government of Alexis Tsipras has pledged to increase wages, halt public-sector layoffs and cancel planned asset sales – all part of a package of structural reforms demanded by creditor states including Germany.

Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis is weighing plans to trade existing debt for new bonds pegged to economic growth, after a proposal to impose a loss of capital on creditors met opposition. Ukraine, for its part, was struggling to meet debt payments even before what the U.S. and European Union say is a Russian-backed rebellion in its eastern regions began last year. It’s now seeking to avert default after its economy shrank an estimated 7.5% in 2014 amid the fighting. Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March, denies involvement in the conflict. Payments to advisers are determined by the size of the debt reduction and the degree to which creditors participate, and Lazard earned as much as €25 million over two years for previous Greek work, the government said in 2012.

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it’s a pattern, not a design flaw.

Abenomics Leaves Japan’s Poor and Elderly Behind (Bloomberg)

Hiroyuki Kawanishi’s tiny two-room flat in Tokyo may not be much, but it’s home. With Prime Minister Shinzo Abe trimming benefits for the poor as he increases spending on the military and cuts corporate taxes, it may not be for long. “If the housing subsidy is cut, I’ll lose my apartment,” said Kawanishi, 42, who was born with cerebral palsy and can barely fit his wheelchair next to the single bed in his 40 square-meter (400 square-foot) flat. “I’ll have to go to a government nursing home with no freedom. There’ll be no point in living.” Since Abe took office two years ago, aggressive monetary easing devalued the yen, bolstering earnings at big companies and lifting the stock market 70%.

It’s been good for exporters and those who own shares and property, but not so good for those without assets. For them, Abenomics means higher prices and dwindling government support. “If inflation accelerates further under Abe’s policies, inequality will widen,” said Hideo Kumano, chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute Inc. “The socially vulnerable and low-income classes will be worst affected and a cut in livelihood subsidies deals them a double punch.” Abe is facing a problem that is dogging developed economies from the U.S. to Australia: how to sustain a recovery without widening the wealth gap. More than 30% of households in Japan have no financial assets, up from 26% in 2012, according to the Central Council for Financial Services Information in Tokyo.

Abe’s government is seeking to lower subsidies for housing and winter heating allowances for the poor as part of a three-step program that began in August 2013 to trim welfare costs, including for food, clothes and fuel. The move is part of the government’s efforts to contain rising social security costs as Japan’s aging society pushes up medical and other welfare expenses. The world’s third-largest economy is also the biggest debtor among the advanced economies, with borrowings projected by the International Monetary Fund to swell to more than 245% of gross domestic product in 2015.

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Every single currency is under threat.

Is Denmark Facing A Speculative Attack? (CNBC)

Denmark’s central bank is reaching for bigger bazookas to battle the speculators betting it will be forced to abandon its currency’s peg to the euro. “They’ve thrown the proverbial policy toolkit at defending the euro-Danish peg,” Kamal Sharma, a foreign currency strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told CNBC Thursday. “They will continue to intervene with the possibility of further rate cuts, even the tail risk of the recalibration of the trading range.” Bets that the krone will rise are building. Some of the flows have headed for Denmark’s stock market, with Danish-focused mutual funds and exchange-traded fund (ETFs) seeing $230 million in inflows over the past six weeks, according to data from Jefferies.

Barclays analysts called it “the slings and arrows of market speculation.” It bears similarities to the speculative attacks that led Thailand to abandon the baht’s peg to the dollar in the late 1990s — the “Lehman-moment” of the Asian Financial Crisis. Denmark’s peg is set for the krone to trade within a 2.25% band of 7.46038 to the euro, although it has been holding it in a 0.5% band. Although the euro has recovered somewhat this week, it has fallen around 17% against the greenback since the beginning of 2014.

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“The RBA (Reserve Bank of Australia) is acting as if someone slipped tranquilizers into their drink 18 months ago..”

Australia Central Bank Acting Like It ‘Just Woke Up’ (CNBC)

Australia’s record low interest rates are about to head way lower, analysts tell CNBC, as the country’s central bank scrambles to play catch up in the race to the bottom for borrowing costs. “The RBA (Reserve Bank of Australia) is acting as if someone slipped tranquilizers into their drink 18 months ago. They’ve just woken up and they’re looking [at] the world around them and they’re only gradually coming to terms with what they can see,” said Michael Every, head of Asia-Pacific markets research at Rabobank. The RBA chopped interest rates by a quarter-point on Tuesday to a historic low of 2.25%, surprising most economists but not the debt markets, which had priced in a 60% chance of a cut.

The central bank gave no hint that further easing is imminent, minutes from the meeting released Friday showed, although it did revise its 2015 growth forecast downwards to 1.75-2.75%, from 2-3% previously. Its less-than-dovish tone gave the Australia dollar a fillip against the U.S. dollar, rising to $0.7860. But Every believes the RBA will have no choice but the bring rates even lower, with central banks the world over going on a monetary loosening spree. China, India, Russia and Canada are just a handful of major economies that have surprised with rate cuts this year. This alongside Switzerland’s shock decision to remove its currency floor while moving interest rates into negative territory, and European Central Bank’s widely expected decision to finally embark on a bond-purchasing program, or QE, to revive the euro zone economy.

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He should just leave.

Oz PM Abbott Fights for Political Life as Colleagues Seek Ouster (Bloomberg)

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he will fight to stop party lawmakers ousting him next week after just 17 months in power, as two colleagues sought a leadership ballot. vAbbott, 57, said he and his deputy, Julie Bishop, will try to defeat the so-called spill motion when their Liberal Party meets in Canberra Feb. 10. Under party rules, a leadership ballot will go ahead if more than half of the 102 Liberal lawmakers back the motion. “We will stand together in urging the party-room to defeat this particular motion,” Abbott told reporters in Sydney. The party should back “stability and the team that the people voted for at the election.” Less than half-way through his first term, Abbott is struggling to quell disquiet over his leadership amid a voter backlash against his spending cuts and a decision to bestow a knighthood on Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, Prince Philip.

Some senior Cabinet ministers have rallied around the prime minister, saying he should be given time to reverse the government’s flagging poll ratings and reset his policy agenda. “The question now is whether or not there is a willing challenger” to Abbott, said Haydon Manning, a politics professor at Flinders University in Adelaide. “Even if Abbott keeps the leadership, he’ll still be aware he’s just buying himself time to turn around the performance of the government.” Lawmaker Luke Simpkins sent an e-mail to party colleagues earlier Friday saying they must bring concerns about Abbott’s leadership to a head by holding a vote for a spill. His motion was seconded by Don Randall. Nobody has yet said they will challenge Abbott for the leadership. Both Bishop, 58, and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, 60, tipped by local media as potential successors to Abbott, have said they support the prime minister.

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Curious deal.

Venezuela Oil Deal Hits Caribbean Hard (CNBC)

For many countries, cheaper oil is helping boost economic growth. But if you’re a struggling Caribbean nation dependent on energy subsidies from Venezuela, the crash in oil prices is not welcome news. Venezuela’s heavily oil-dependent economy has been sent into a tailspin by the collapse of crude prices, which has starved the country for cash to pay for domestic energy subsidies and imported goods. With little foreign currency reserves left, the economy is contracting, inflation has soared and the government has resorted to rationing food and other consumer staples. And with no rebound in oil prices in sight, the country’s future is looking bleak.

To finance its budget, the government needs oil prices above $140 a barrel, putting generous subsidies for education, food and housing at risk of deep cutbacks.It has also jeopardized generous financing terms extended to more than a dozen Caribbean nations that rely on Venezuelan oil to fuel their own economies. Venezuela launched the so-called Petrocaribe accord in 2005 as it sought to become a low-cost energy provider and win political favor among small island economies heavily reliant on oil imports. But as oil prices have fallen, Venezuela’s energy blessing has turned to something of a curse. Under the terms of the Petrocaribe agreement, the drop in oil prices has—paradoxically—raised members’ oil import costs.

That’s because, as crude prices fall, they lose access to extremely generous financing terms that amount to subsidies. When oil was over $100 a barrel, Petrocaribe member countries paid just 40% of the upfront costs, and Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA, covered the rest of the expense with a low interest rate loan payable over 25 years. Some have also paid their oil bills with bartered agricultural products or services. The extra cash from deferred payments helped some countries finance infrastructure projects and other spending programs. But those finance terms become much less generous as the price of oil falls, forcing member countries to pay more upfront, with payment in full when prices fall below $40 a barrel, according to RBC economist Marla Dukharan.

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Funny headline, but not entirely true.

John Kerry Rated Worst Secretary Of State In 50 Years (MarketWatch)

A new survey of scholars ranks Secretary of State John Kerry dead last in terms of effectiveness in that job over the past 50 years. Henry Kissinger was ranked the most effective secretary of state with 32.2% of the vote. He was followed by James Baker, Madeleine Albright, and Hillary Clinton, as judged by a survey of 1,615 international relations scholars. Kerry received only 0.3% of the votes cast. According to the survey, the three most important foreign-policy issues facing the U.S. are climate change, armed conflict in the Middle East and failed or failing states. The survey of 1,375 U.S. colleges and universities was conducted by Foreign Policy magazine and the College of William & Mary.

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Nov 222014
 
 November 22, 2014  Posted by at 9:31 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »
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Jack Delano Spectators at annual barrel rolling contest in Presque Isle, Maine Oct 1940

How low can and will oil prices go, and what will the effects of those prices be? I bet you’ll have a hard time finding even just two people who have the same opinion on that. Not that it’s merely a matter of opinion, mind you, there are a great number of real life factors that come into play. It’s not an easy game.

OPEC gets together next week, and it’s a cartel divided. Many if not most of its members are suffering some kind of losses at present prices, and the obvious choice seems to be to cut output in order to raise prices again. But that’s not easy either, because at lower prices they need more output, not less, to minimize the damage. Besides, is non-OPEC producers don’t cut their output, OPWC cuts may do very little to lift prices.

After the recent plunge in prices, WTI is in the $75 per barrel range, and Brent around $80, the playing field has already been altered significantly. Some producers are fine with oil at $60, others need $120. Many Middle East governments need high prices to keep domestic unrest at bay, even if they can produce relatively cheaply. Some, like Venezuela, are already very close to what looks like a collapse.

There doesn’t seem to be much doubt that Saudi Arabia’s decision to cut its prices has played a major role in bringing down prices. The reason why it’s done that, however, is not so clear. Weakening the economic and political power of Russia, Venezuela and ISIS is a very obvious underlying reason. That the House of Fahd would engage in some sort of battle with US shale seems less likely; the Saudi rulers don’t fight the US that has protected them militarily for decades in the volatile region they’re in.

These geopolitical reasons behind the price drop are interesting, but perhaps the purely economic background plays a far greater role than we tend to think. We know that most large economies are not doing well at all, and we also know that their leaders and central bankers do whatever they can to make us think that pig was born with lipstick on. But perhaps we lose something in the translation, perhaps things are worse than we realize.

An article at MarketWatch by ‘investment specialist’ Ivan Martchev suggests that the impact on the price of oil of the economic slowdown in China could be far greater, in the recent past as well as going forward, than most wish to acknowledge. Since a lot of demand growth comes from China, as Europeans and Americans drive less miles per capita, a significant slowing of that growth demand could be a major factor in where oil prices go in 2015. Martchev:

Cheap Oil May Be A Sign Of Bigger Problems

One thing that strikes me about this oil-price decline is how persistent and methodical it has been. Commodities trend much differently than stocks as strong trends sometimes seem almost linear in nature with very shallow countertrend moves. I have used the analogy that the zigs and zags of stocks are typically much better defined than those for key commodities in strong trends.

The other asset class that tends to show such “zagless” strong trends at times is currencies. This can easily be seen in the Japanese yen’s USD/JPY [..] The euro is also showing a weakening trend [..] Strong declines in commodity prices signify a supply-demand imbalance. You can’t quickly shut off supply, as there are many already-spent budgets and projects that need to be completed, so weakening demand can carry the oil price much further.

I think this oil situation has little to do with the U.S. and much more to do with Europe and China, much the same way in which commodity-price weakness in 1997-1998 was due to the Asian Crisis and not U.S. demand.

How low can the oil price go? [..] we know that the cash cost of shale oil is about $60 per barrel, varying among different producers, and that historically, commodity producers have been known to produce their respective commodities at a loss to keep personnel and equipment going, as well a service debts that have financed their recent expansion.

In that regard, it would be interesting to note that energy junk bonds comprise 16% of the junk-bond market, and their issuance is up 148% to $211 billion according to Fitch. So, yes, I think the oil price can decline below $60.

As to how low the oil prices can go, that depends on how much China will slow down as the number-one consumer of oil. China’s financial system is operating on record leverage at the moment. Record leverage in the financial system and a sharply weakening real-estate market suggest that their economic slowdown has the potential to carry far below Beijing’s GDP growth target of 7%.

Yes, China has had three real-estate downturns in the past seven years, but the latest one is coming at a time of debt-driven boom, which means the consequences this time can be quite different. I used to think that China was a classic savings-and-investment economic-growth model, and it was, but that was 10 years ago.

I no longer think that, since GDP growth in the past five years has come from ever-increasing leverage ratios in the banking system. No debt-driven boom is permanent by definition, so the decline in the Chinese real-estate market has the potential to create a domino effect there in 2015. If China does decelerate well below 7% in 2015, an oil price target in the $30 to $40 range is completely realistic.

I have to agree wit that conclusion. And I think China is doing far worse than it lets on. Even if official Beijing numbers fail to reflect this, the amount of oil imported should reflect it. recently, China, has stockpiled large quantities, but it has no limitless storage facilities. One would presume its demand on global oil markets may diminish quite a bit soon.

It’s interesting to see Martchev note that both the China economy and the US shale industry are extremely leveraged, i.e. both are in dangerously deep debt positions. The kind that a slowdown can hurt badly, if not murder outright.

Back in July, Wolf Richter pointed to the Ponzi that US shale has turned into:

[..] the Energy Department’s EIA has checked into it and after crunching some numbers found:

Based on data compiled from quarterly reports, for the year ending March 31, 2014, cash from operations for 127 major oil and natural gas companies totaled $568 billion, and major uses of cash totaled $677 billion, a difference of almost $110 billion.

To fill this $110 billion hole that they’d dug in just one year, these 127 oil and gas companies went out and increased their net debt by $106 billion. But that wasn’t enough. To raise more cash, they also sold $73 billion in assets. It left them with more cash (borrowed cash, that is) on the balance sheet than before, which pleased analysts, and it left them with a pile of additional debt and fewer assets to generate revenues with in order to service this debt.

It has been going on for years. During each of the last three years, the gap was over $100 billion.

If oil prices sink further on the lack of Chinese demand, perhaps even to $30-$40, what will be left of US shale? And I’m not even talking about the 75% or so output decline rates per well, which makes shale a questionable undertaking in the first place. I’ve said repeatedly that US shale is about money, not energy, that it’s a land speculation wager and not much else.

And even at $75 per barrel, that industry is already in big trouble. Not long ago, we saw indications that shale companies would keep drilling and producing full blast with their profit margins being strangled, out of fear that investors would walk away if they showed any sign of weakness. Now, that is no longer their biggest worry:

Drilling Slowdown on Sub-$80 Oil Creeps Into Biggest US Fields

The slowdown in the U.S. oil-drilling boom spread to two of the nation’s largest fields this week. The Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico, the country’s biggest oil play, lost four rigs targeting crude, dropping to 558, Baker Hughes aid on its website today. Those in North Dakota’s Williston Basin, the third-largest and home to the Bakken shale formation, slid to the lowest level since August, according to the Houston-based field services company’s website.

It was the first time in four weeks that oil rigs dropped in the Williston. “We’ll start to see really big drops early next year if oil prices stay the same,” James Williams, president of WTRG Economics in London, Arkansas, said. Nineteen shale regions in the U.S. are no longer profitable with oil at $75 a barrel, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Those areas, including parts of the Eaglebine and Eagle Ford in Texas, pumped about 413,000 barrels a day, according to the latest data available from Drillinginfo and company presentations. Domestic oil output slipped 59,000 barrels a day in the week ended Nov. 14 [..] Hess said in a conference call Nov. 10 that it’ll cut its rig count to 14 next year in response to the lower oil prices. Apache, with headquarters in Houston, will reduce spending in North America by 25% next year, a company statement issued yesterday shows.

And that’s just a Bloomberg account. You need salt with that. What is clear is that even at $75, angst is setting in, if not yet panic. If China demand falls substantially in 2015, and prices move south of $70, $60 etc., that panic will be there. In US shale, in Venezuela, in Russia, and all across producing nations. Even if OPEC on November 27 decides on an output cut, there’s no guarantee members will stick to it. Let alone non-members.

And sure, yes, eventually production will sink so much that prices stop falling. But with all major economies in the doldrums, it may not hit a bottom until $40 or even lower. Oil was last- and briefly – at $40 exactly 6 years ago, but today is a very different situation.

All the stimulus, all $50 trillion or so globally, has been thrown into the fire, and look at where we are. There’s nothing left, and there won’t be another $50 trillion. Sure, stock markets set records. But who cares with oil at $40?

Calling for more QE, from Japan and/or Europe or even grandma Yellen, is either entirely useless or will work only to prop up stock markets for a very short time. Diminishing returns.

The one word that comes to mind here is bloodbath. Well, unless China miraculously recovers. But who believes in that?