Jun 142017
 
 June 14, 2017  Posted by at 9:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  17 Responses »
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Fred Lyon San Francisco cable car turnaround 1946

 

A Record 60% Of Americans Disapprove Of President Trump (ZH)
Age Is The New Dividing Line In British Politics (YouGov)
UK Low Income Families Forced To Walk ‘Relentless Financial Tightrope’ (G.)
Gundlach Says DC Establishment Wants to ‘Wait Trump Out’ (BBG)
Trump Administration Welshes on “Repeal Dodd Frank” Promise (NC)
Tillerson Says Allies Pleading With US To ‘Improve Russia Relations’ (RT)
Are Public Pensions A Thing Of The Past? (CNN)
Death Of The Human Investor: Just 10% Of Trading Is Regular Stock Picking (C.)
OPEC Oil Production Jumps In May Despite Output Cuts Deal (CNBC)
China Defaults Feared as Firms Confront Short Debt Addiction (BBG)
Greeks Promised Economic Boost Despair of Ever Seeing Debt Deal (BBG)
Schaeuble Promises Greece Deal With Lenders On Thursday (R.)
Foreign Buyers Snap Up Greek Property (K.)
State Of Emergency Declared On Lesvos As 800 Left Homeless (AP)
‘Impossible And Risky To Take In More Migrants’ – Rome’s Mayor (RT)

 

 

A nation divided.

A Record 60% Of Americans Disapprove Of President Trump (ZH)

Despite record high stock prices, 43-year lows in jobless claims, and near record-high optimism among small business owners, Gallup reports the percentage of Americans who disapprove of the job President Trump has risen to a record 60% this week. As Gallup details, despite the president’s claim on Monday at a Cabinet meeting that “Never has there been a president, with few exceptions – in the case of F.D.R. he had a major Depression to handle – who’s passed more legislation, who’s done more things than what we’ve done,” his administration has been roiled by controversies. Most recently, Trump ran into a buzz saw of criticism with his decision, announced June 1, to withdraw the U.S. from participation in the Paris climate accord.

He has also been under significant political scrutiny over the June 8 testimony of former FBI Director James Comey before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Those events coincided with the lower averages seen in the past two weeks. But, given that his averages were almost as low in the weeks leading up to them, it is difficult to establish direct causality between specific events and the president’s ratings.

The highly polarized nature of Americans’ views of Trump (and Obama before him) have been well-documented, and that pattern continues: Trump’s 8% average approval rating among Democrats last week is right at his 9% average to date; His 83% approval among Republicans is three points lower than his average among that group; Among independents, his approval is 31%, five points lower than his average among that group; Notably the spread between Republican ‘confidence’ and Democrat ‘confidence’ (via Bloomberg) has not been this wide since before Barack Obama was elected…

Trump’s job approval ratings are the worst of his administration so far, and Trump continues to have the lowest ratings for a newly elected president in Gallup’s history of approval ratings. The previous low first-year approval rating in June for an elected president was Bill Clinton, with a 37% approval June 5-6, 1993. The approval ratings of all other presidents since 1953 in June (May in the case of Eisenhower) of their first year after being elected were above 50%.

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Another nation divided, but not along the same lines. Older people, especially pensioners, vote Conservative, and a much higher percentage of them actually vote.

Age Is The New Dividing Line In British Politics (YouGov)

Since last week’s election result YouGov has interview over 50,000 British adults to gather more information on how Britain voted. This is part of one of the biggest surveys ever undertaken into British voting behaviour, and is the largest yet that asks people how they actually cast their ballots in the 2017 election. The bigger sample size allows us to break the results down to a much more granular level and see how different groups and demographics voted on Thursday. In electoral terms, age seems to be the new dividing line in British politics. The starkest way to show this is to note that, amongst first time voters (those aged 18 and 19), Labour was forty seven percentage points ahead. Amongst those aged over 70, the Conservatives had a lead of fifty percentage points.

In fact, for every 10 years older a voter is, their chance of voting Tory increases by around nine points and the chance of them voting Labour decreases by nine points. The tipping point, that is the age at which a voter is more likely to have voted Conservative than Labour, is now 47 – up from 34 at the start of the campaign.

Despite an increase in in youth turnout, young people are still noticeably less likely to vote than older people. While 57% of 18 and 19 year-olds voted last week, for those aged 70+ the figure was 84%.

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Corbyn growth territory.

UK Low Income Families Forced To Walk ‘Relentless Financial Tightrope’ (G.)

Low-income families are going without beds, cookers, meals, new clothes and other essential items as they struggle to cope with huge debts run up to pay domestic bills, according to a survey highlighting the cost-of-living crisis experienced by the UK’s poorest households. Clients of the debt charity Christians Against Poverty (CAP) had run up an average of £4,500 in debts on rent or utility bills, forcing them on to what the charity described as a “relentless financial tightrope” juggling repayments and basic living costs, leaving many acutely stressed and in deteriorating health. The pressure of coping with low income and debt frequently triggered mental illness or exacerbated existing conditions, with more than a third of clients reporting that they had considered suicide and three-quarters visiting a GP for debt-related problems.

More than half were subsequently prescribed medication or therapy. “The crippling reality of living in poverty and debt is still unashamedly evident in every home we visit, and year on year we see financial difficulty taking a tighter grip,” said Matt Barlow, the UK chief executive of CAP. Experts said the survey highlighted the extreme hardship faced by the “new destitute” – people on low incomes who might in the past have been able to rely on a welfare safety net to help them through financial shocks but who now were forced to go into debt to survive, leaving them struggling to afford even the basics. Debt had a crushing effect on living standards, the CAP survey found, with one in 10 clients unable to afford to buy or repair a bed, washing machine, TV, sofa or fridge. Roughly the same proportion could afford to acquire furniture only on punitive rent-to-buy terms, for example paying £6 a week to acquire a bed and mattress over a set three-year period.

The impact on family life was severe, with a quarter of clients saying debt caused relationship breakdowns, and more than two-thirds saying they felt unable to cater for their children’s needs. A sixth said they could not afford to feed their children three meals a day. A third feared eviction. A tiny handful of clients – predominantly single mothers – reported that they had turned to prostitution to make ends meet. Prof Suzanne Fitzpatrick, of Heriot Watt University, the co-author of groundbreaking research into destitution, told the Guardian: “The new destitute are citizens who would previously have managed to avoid absolute destitution with the help of the welfare safety net. But the level of working age benefits is now so low that people barely managing to get by can easily find themselves in a position where they can’t afford even the basic essentials to eat, stay warm and dry, and keep clean.”

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“If you’re a trader or a speculator, I think you should be raising cash today, literally today..”

Gundlach Says DC Establishment Wants to ‘Wait Trump Out’ (BBG)

DoubleLine Capital’s Jeffrey Gundlach said the establishment in Washington is trying to undermine President Donald Trump by running out the clock on his administration. “They’re really just trying to wait Trump out, trying to obstruct his agenda as much as possible,” Gundlach, one of the few money managers to predict Trump’s election, said during a webcast Tuesday. “Small change is what they’re looking for.” Gundlach, manager of the $53.9 billion DoubleLine Total Return Bond Fund, spoke during televised Senate testimony by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which the money manager called “a sideshow or entertainment.” He called the U.S. political conflict “rope-a-dope,” a strategy used by boxer Muhammad Ali to wear out opponents.

Among Gundlach’s other observations:
• There’s a low probability of a recession.
• The days of low volatility markets are probably numbered.
• Expect higher bond yields and lower stock prices this summer.
• Yields on 10-year Treasuries are likely to end 2017 roughly in the 2.7% to 2.8% range, from about 2.2% currently.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 Index closed at record highs Tuesday prior to Gundlach’s talk. Futures trading implies a 98% probability the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates by 0.25% when it meets Wednesday. “If you’re a trader or a speculator, I think you should be raising cash today, literally today,” Gundlach said. “If you’re an investor, I think you can sit through a seasonally weak period.” The Total Return fund was up 2.7% this year through June 12, beating 84% of its peers, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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Yves Smith’s piece is too long and comprehensive to do justice here. Click the link.

Trump Administration Welshes on “Repeal Dodd Frank” Promise (NC)

After having promised banks to get rid of Dodd Frank, which was never a strong enough bill to have a significant impact on profits or industry structure, Trump didn’t even back the House version of the bill to crimp Dodd Frank. But you’d never know that from the cheerleading from bank lobbyists upon the release of a 147 page document by the Treasury yesterday, the first of a series describing the gimmies that the Administration seeks to lavish on banks. As we’ll touch on below, the document repeatedly asserts that limited bank lending post crisis to noble causes like small businesses was due to oppressive regulations. We wrote extensively at the time that small business surveys showed that small businesses then overwhelmingly weren’t interested in borrowing and hiring. Businessmen don’t expand operations because money is cheap, they expand because they see a commercial opportunity.

But the even bigger lie at the heart of this effort is the idea that the US will benefit from giving more breaks to its financial sector. As we’ve written, over the last few years, more and more economists have engaged in studies with different methodologies that come to the same conclusion: an oversized financial sector is bad for growth, and pretty much all advanced economies suffer from this condition. The IMF found that the optimal level of financial development was roughly that of Poland. The IMF said countries might get away with having a bigger banking sector and pay no growth cost if it was regulated well. Needless to say, with the banking sector already so heavily subsidized that it cannot properly be considered to be a private business, deregulating with an eye to increasing its profits is driving hard in the wrong direction.

[..] So if it wasn’t Dodd Frank, what was led the banks to focus so much on high FICO score borrowers? It was mortgage servicing reforms, which made it hard to foreclose due to stopping abuses, like dual tracking (continuing to foreclose even when supposedly considering a mortgage modification). To look at the bigger picture, it’s hard to take bank complaints about oppressive regulation seriously in light of this:

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But the domestic echo chamber makes that hard to do.

Tillerson Says Allies Pleading With US To ‘Improve Russia Relations’ (RT)

All of America’s allies and partners have been calling on Washington to improve its relations with Russia, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged after the US Senate reached a bipartisan deal to boost sanctions against Moscow. “I have yet to have a bilateral, one-on-one, a poolside conversation with a single counterpart in any country: in Europe, Middle East, even South-East Asia, that has not said to me: please, address your relationship with Russia, it has to be improved,” Tillerson said on Tuesday during testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Foreign Operations. Tillerson added that the countries urging the US to review its Russian policy “believe worsening this relationship will ultimately worsen theirsituation.” He added: “People have been imploring me to engage and try to improve the situation, so, that was our approach anyway.”

Earlier, Tillerson warned that the US Senate’s bipartisan deal on new set of restrictive measures against Moscow might further worsen relations with Russia and hinder existing efforts on joint US-Russia progress to fight terrorism in Syria. “There are efforts under way in Syria specifically, those are, I would say, progressing in a positive way,” America’s top diplomat said on Tuesday during testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Despite the relationship between US and Russia being “at an all-time low,” according to Tillerson, the “objective is to stabilize that” rather than deteriorate it further. Washington is “engaged” and working with Moscow “in a couple of areas,” including on such issues of international importance as the Ukrainian and Syrian crises. “We have some channels that are open, where we are starting to talk, and I think what I wouldn’t want to do is close the channels off,” Tillerson told the Senate committee, warning that to establish “something new… will take time.”

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Yes, they are.

Are Public Pensions A Thing Of The Past? (CNN)

New teachers and state workers will no longer get a traditional pension in Pennsylvania. Governor Tom Wolf signed a bill Monday, making it the ninth state to replace the pension with a “hybrid” retirement plan. It goes into effect in 2019. The new plan combines elements of a traditional pension and a 401(k)-style account. Overall, new workers will contribute more of their salary, work longer, and likely receive a smaller payout in retirement than under the current system, according to a report from the state’s Independent Fiscal Office. But Pennsylvania’s pension system is currently one of the most underfunded in the country and is in need of reform. The bill had bipartisan support. “It’s a win for Pennsylvania taxpayers and fair to Pennsylvania’s workforce,” Wolf said at a press conference Monday.

The reform will build upon previous legislation to help fully fund the pension system and preserve a path to retirement for public workers, said Greg Mennis, a director at Pew Charitable Trusts. “Our research indicates that this would be one of the most – if not the most – comprehensive and impactful reforms any state has implemented,” he wrote in a letter urging state lawmakers to pass the bill. Over the past 10 years, Rhode Island, Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia have created plans similar to Pennsylvania’s. They require workers to contribute some of their salary to a pension-like plan that guarantees a certain payout based on their salary. Workers also contribute to a 401(k)-style plan that they can take with them if they leave public service. The state will make contributions to both plans on their behalf.

In Pennsylvania, workers will be defaulted into a hybrid plan, but there will be two other versions they could opt into. Under the default, workers will have to contribute a total of 8.25% of their salary. (Teachers currently contribute 7.5% and other public workers pay 6.25%.) Most will have to work until 67, instead of 65, in order to get their full payout in retirement. A state employee who works for 35 years and earns a final salary of $60,000, currently receives an estimated $40,000 a year in retirement. Under the reformed system, that same worker would receive $34,1048, according to the Independent Fiscal Office report. [..] Like pension plans in other states, Pennsylvania’s was badly hurt by the Great Recession. It also took a hit because of retroactive benefit increases made before the market took a dive. The pension fund went from a nearly $20 billion surplus in 2000 to a $70 billion deficit in 2015.

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ZIRP machines have taken over.

Death Of The Human Investor: Just 10% Of Trading Is Regular Stock Picking (C.)

Quantitative investing based on computer formulas and trading by machines directly are leaving the traditional stock picker in the dust and now dominating the equity markets, according to a new report from JPMorgan. “While fundamental narratives explaining the price action abound, the majority of equity investors today don’t buy or sell stocks based on stock specific fundamentals,” Marko Kolanovic, global head of quantitative and derivatives research at JPMorgan, said in a Tuesday note to clients. Kolanovic estimates “fundamental discretionary traders” account for only about 10% of trading volume in stocks. Passive and quantitative investing accounts for about 60%, more than double the share a decade ago, he said.

In fact, Kolanovic’s analysis attributes the sudden drop in big technology stocks between Friday and Monday to changing strategies by the quants, or the traders using computer algorithms. In the weeks heading into May 17, Kolanovic said funds bought bonds and bond proxies, sending low volatility stocks and large growth stocks higher. Value, high beta and smaller stocks began falling in a rotation labeled “an unwind of the ‘Trump reflation’ trade,” Kolanovic said. “Upward pressure on Low Vol and Growth, and downward pressure on Value and High Vol peaked in the first days of June (monthly rebalances), and then quickly snapped back, pulling down FANG stocks” — Facebook, Amazon.com, Netflix and Google parent Alphabet, the report said.

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Told you those output cuts wouldn’t go anywhere.

OPEC Oil Production Jumps In May Despite Output Cuts Deal (CNBC)

OPEC’s oil production jumped in May, despite the exporter group agreeing last month to extend its six-month deal to cap output into 2018. Production across OPEC rose by about 336,100 barrels per day to 32.1 million bpd, according to secondary sources, led by increases from Libya and Nigeria, which are exempt from the deal, and Iraq. Output from Libya surged by more than 178,000 bpd to 730,000 bpd as the country’s rival factions moved toward reconciliation, and supplies disrupted throughout years of conflict remained on line. In Nigeria, production was up more than 174,000 bpd to 1.68 million bpd as supplies sidelined by militant attacks on energy infrastructure last year came back into operation. With the gain, Nigeria reclaimed the title of largest African producer in OPEC from Angola, where output fell by 54,000 bpd, the biggest drop among the 13 members in May.

Iraq, OPEC’s second-largest producer, contributed the third-biggest increase with a more than 44,000 bpd jump. Baghdad has yet to cut deeply enough to hit its quota of 4.35 million bpd under the output cut deal. In May, it produced 4.42 million bpd. Only four countries were producing at or below the levels they agreed to in November: Saudi Arabia, Angola, Kuwait, and Qatar. Last month, OPEC and other exporters extended an agreement to remove 1.8 million barrels a day from the market in order to shrink brimming global stockpiles of crude oil. In May, inventories in the OECD, a group of mostly wealthy countries, remained 251 million barrels above the five-year average.

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More ground for shadow banks to take over.

China Defaults Feared as Firms Confront Short Debt Addiction (BBG)

China’s leverage crackdown is forcing local companies to confront their addiction to short-term bond sales that they use to roll over debt. The shock therapy is worsening the outlook for corporate defaults in the second half of this year after borrowing costs jumped to a two-year high. With yields surging, Chinese non-banking firms sold 131 billion yuan ($19.3 billion) of bonds with a maturity of one year or less in May, the least since January 2014 and less than half of the same month last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. About 87% of the short note sales last month will be used for refinancing, according to Bloomberg data.

The habit of relying on borrowing short-term money to repay maturing debt has pushed up such liabilities to a total of 5.2 trillion yuan on China’s listed non-financial companies’ balance sheets as of March 31, the highest on record, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. With no sign of an end to the government’s campaign against leverage, the average coupon rate for bonds maturing in one year or less rose to 5.5% in June, deterring issuers from raising money to roll over debt. “Small issuance of short-term bonds will be a normal phenomenon in the coming six months because cash supply will probably remain tight,” said Ma Quansheng at Fullgoal Fund Management. “Both default risks and the number of corporate bond defaults may increase.”

The loose funding environment last year helped Chinese companies raise enough money to withstand repayment pressure so far in 2017. There have been 13 onshore defaults in the public bond market in 2017, compared with 16 in the same period of 2016. The yield on one-year AAA rated company bonds averaged 4.19% this year, up from 2.97% in 2016. HFT Investment Management said more note defaults may come as the economy doesn’t look good. In the second half of this year, Chinese non-banking firms must repay 2.36 trillion yuan of bonds. “The current rising borrowing costs may have a big impact on companies’ operations and finance,” said Lu Congfan at HFT Investment Management. “What can you do when you must refinance to repay maturing debt while facing such high borrowing costs? That would be a question challenging many local companies in the second half or next year.”

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Well, well… Let’s see it.

Schaeuble Promises Greece Deal With Lenders On Thursday (R.)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Tuesday he was confident that Greece and its international lenders will reach a compromise deal this week, a step that would unleash more loans for Athens. “We’ll manage it on Thursday. You’ll see,” Schaeuble said during a panel discussion in Berlin. Officials have said eurozone finance ministers and the IMF are likely to strike a compromise on Greece on Thursday, paving the way for new loans for Athens while leaving the contentious debt relief issue for later. IMF head Christine Lagarde suggested a plan last week under which the Fund would join the Greek bailout now, because Athens is delivering on agreed reforms, but would not disburse any IMF money until the euro zone clarifies what debt relief it can offer Greece.

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Greeks don’t believe you, Wolfie…

Greeks Promised Economic Boost Despair of Ever Seeing Debt Deal (BBG)

Alexis Tsipras has spent nearly two years telling Greeks that a debt deal and inclusion in the ECB’s quantitative-easing program will unleash an investment boom that salves the pain of austerity. The prime minister’s message hasn’t convinced Panagiotis Kouinis, a 60-year-old civil engineer in Corinth who says business has steadily dwindled through all of Greece’s eight-year crisis and has now ground almost to a halt. “What I know is they tell you pensions will be cut another 20%, wages down, and what is quantitative easing?” Kouinis said in an interview in his office near the city center. “Do we have to be economists so we can understand what they’re saying?” Across the country in places like Corinth, an industrial hub 80 kilometers west of Athens, Greeks have spent years treading water as news bulletins bombard them daily with reports of meetings and decisions in Brussels and Frankfurt that will determine their economic future.

In the meantime, as the ECB’s stimulus measures – including its asset-purchase program – buoy the rest of the euro-area economy, Greece’s output has been stagnant, leaving its people the most pessimistic in the region. Yet the ECB remains unlikely to include Greek bonds in its QE program in the foreseeable future, according to a person familiar with the matter. That’s because a meeting on Thursday of euro-area finance ministers, whose electorates are leery of debt relief, looks like delivering another fudge. There may be agreement to disburse more bailout loans but without easing repayment terms enough to satisfy the ECB and IMF. That would leave Tsipras high and dry.

[..] Despite some signs of an improvement in industrial output, Greece has been heavily reliant on consumers and a booming tourist sector to keep GDP – which shrank by a quarter in the early years of the crisis – from continuing its slide. While the economy hasn’t been in a recession since 2015, and grew 0.4% at the start of the year, it hasn’t strung together more than two quarters of consecutive expansion in more than a decade. Accountancy firm PWC said in March that infrastructure investment plunged during the crisis, leaving a backlog of planned and in-progress projects amounting to more than 21 billion euros. Near Corinth, that includes rail, waste management, road and marina developments. “With taxation what it is, not only will no-one come to invest here, but they’d need to be mad to,” said Kouinis, the civil engineer. “Growth needs to start from public works, because the private sector has been killed.”

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Foreigners buy apartments in Athens to rent out to other foreigners on Airbnb. So wrong in so many ways.

Foreign Buyers Snap Up Greek Property (K.)

Property buyers from abroad are this year growing at the fastest pace in a decade, as booming Greek tourism has had a positive impact on the property market too. According to the latest data from the Bank of Greece, in the first quarter of the year the inflow of capital from abroad for real estate acquisitions increased by 61.7% on an annual basis. The March figures have signaled a further improvement, since in the first couple of months the yearly rise had come to 56.7%. If the existing growth rate is sustained throughout 2017, it is likely that by the end of the year more than 430 million euros will have been invested the Greek property market from other countries. The equivalent figure for the whole of 2016 had amounted to 270 million euros, up 45.3% on the 2015 inflow of 186 million euros.

The only time a similar growth rate had been recorded before was in the first quarter of 2007, when foreign investors spent 66.5% more money on property acquisitions than a year earlier. Real estate professionals say this uptick in foreign funds entering the local property market is particularly positive because it came during a period when transactions are usually sparse: Expressions of buying interest this year started in the winter months, not in the summer when demand typically peaks. This has bolstered optimism about an even better summer in terms of transactions, which may reach their high for the entire period since the outbreak of the financial crisis.

The major rise in inflows this year is due to the increase in demand for apartments in Athens, primarily in the city center and the southern suburbs. This mainly concerns flats eligible for short-term leasing through Internet platforms such as HomeAway, Airbnb and FlipKey. It also concerns luxury mansions that would fit the bill for the same type of online platforms as well as for the purpose of getting a Golden Visas (for buys of properties worth 250,000 euros or more by investors from outside the European Union). Besides those buyers aiming for the five-year residence permits, considerable buying interest is also coming from Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany and the Scandinavian countries.

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It’s a miracle there are not many more victims.

State Of Emergency Declared On Lesbos As 800 Left Homeless (AP)

Authorities in Greece have declared a state of emergency on the island of Lesvos after an earthquake left one woman dead and more than 800 people displaced. The 6.1 magnitude undersea quake on Monday occurred south of Lesvos but was felt as far as Istanbul, Turkey. Officials from the island’s regional government on Tuesday said homes in 12 villages in southern Lesvos had been seriously damaged or destroyed. The mostly elderly residents affected were being housed with relatives, in hotels or at an army-run shelter. The earthquake marked the second crisis to hit the island in the last two years, after hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees, including many fleeing war in Syria and Iraq, crossed to Lesvos on boats from Turkey as they headed to Europe.

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Brussels should be forced to take in 100,000. In their new swanky buildings.

‘Impossible And Risky To Take In More Migrants’ – Rome’s Mayor (RT)

Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi has asked the Italian Interior Ministry for stricter measures to be taken toward the influx of foreigners into the capital. A letter outlining the need for a “moratorium” on “the continued influx of foreign citizens” was sent by Raggi to Roman prefect Paola Basilone. “I find it impossible, as well as risky, to think up further accommodation structures,” she wrote in the letter, as quoted by La Repubblica on Tuesday. “This administration, given the high flows of unregistered migrants, hopes the assessments of new facilities take into account the evident migrant pressure on Roma Capitale [the City of Rome] and the possible devastating consequences in terms of social costs as well as for the protection of the beneficiaries themselves.”

In May, Raggi told RT that she was working to help accommodate refugees and asylum seekers in Rome, but also that she also has a responsibility to her constituents and other countries in the EU must do their part. “Let’s put it this way – Rome would be better off if European states didn’t build walls along their borders, but rather followed through on their obligations and respected the migrant quotas agreed upon by the EU,” she told RT’s Sophie Shevardnadze. “According to the law, the city of Rome must accept migrants, as Mayor – I have to follow the law and do everything in my power to make sure that people are granted a safe place to stay here. But if other European countries decide to finally follow through on their obligations, we will welcome that decision.” “As mayor of Rome, I have to accommodate migrants, but I am also responsible for the security of my city and its residents. We cannot ignore either issue.”

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May 252015
 
 May 25, 2015  Posted by at 10:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle May 25 2015
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Harris&Ewing District National Bank, Washington, DC 1931

Memorial Day: Our Soldiers Died For The Profits Of The Bankers (Smedley Butler)
Europe’s Biggest Debt Collector: Central Banks’ Stimulus Has Failed (Bloomberg)
“It’s A Coup D’Etat”, “Central Banks Are Out Of Control” – David Stockman (ZH)
Unemployment Is a Big Threat to Eurozone Economy, Central Bankers Warn (WSJ)
HSBC Fears World Recession With No Lifeboats Left (AEP)
Did China Just Launch World’s Biggest Spending Plan? (Gordon Chang)
G7 Finance Ministers To Address Faltering Global Growth (Reuters)
Schaeuble Expects Conflict at Dresden G-7 Over Austerity Policy (Bloomberg)
Greece Hasn’t Got The Money To Make June IMF Repayment (Reuters)
Greece’s Misery Shows We Need Chapter 11 Bankruptcy For Countries (Guardian)
Greeks Back Government’s Red Lines, But Want To Keep Euro (AFP)
The Truth About Riga (Yanis Varoufakis)
The Bloodied Idealogues vs. The Bloodthirsty Technocrats (StealthFlation)
Spain’s Ruling Party Battered In Local And Regional Elections (EUObserver)
Catalan Independence Bid Rocked by Podemos Victory in Barcelona (Bloomberg)
Auckland Nears $1 Million Average House Price (Guardian)
Monsanto’s GMO Cotton Problems Drive Indian Farmers To Suicide (RT)
‘Incredibly Diverse’, Endangered Plankton Provide Half The World’s Oxygen (SR)

Smedley Butler knew it way back in 1933.

Memorial Day: Our Soldiers Died For The Profits Of The Bankers (Smedley Butler)

Memorial Day commemorates soldiers killed in war. We are told that the war dead died for us and our freedom. US Marine General Smedley Butler challenged this view. He said that our soldiers died for the profits of the bankers, Wall Street, Standard Oil, and the United Fruit Company. Here is an excerpt from a speech that he gave in 1933:

“War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses. I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we’ll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6% over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100%. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag. I wouldn’t go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.

There isn’t a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its “finger men” to point out enemies, its “muscle men” to destroy enemies, its “brain men” to plan war preparations, and a “Big Boss” Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism. It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”

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“A rate that is too low, or a rate that many of us have never experienced, is so extraordinary that it doesn’t create any stability or faith in the future at all..”

Europe’s Biggest Debt Collector: Central Banks’ Stimulus Has Failed (Bloomberg)

The head of Europe’s biggest debt collector says the historic wave of stimulus spilling out of central banks has failed to fuel investment growth. Lars Wollung, the chief executive officer of Intrum Justitia AB, warned that record-low interest rates “don’t seem to lead to investments that create jobs,” in an interview in Stockholm. “A rate that is too low, or a rate that many of us have never experienced, is so extraordinary that it doesn’t create any stability or faith in the future at all,” he said. “Rather the opposite: one feels insecure and waits with expansion plans and to hire more people.” The comments mark a blow to central banks who have resorted to everything from negative rates to bond purchases to aid growth.

A study by Intrum Justitia shows 73% of the almost 9,000 European firms surveyed between February and April said low interest rates brought about “no change in investments.” Some even reported a decline. In Sweden, where the central bank’s main rate is minus 0.25%, 82% of companies said it made no difference to their investments. What companies need if they’re “to believe in the future” is certainty that their bills will be paid, Wollung said. That means clearer payments legislation and more incentives for borrowers to repay their debts on time, he said. Intrum Justitia has devoted resources to lobbying officials in Brussels in an effort to bring across its point, Wollung said.

In Germany and Scandinavia, where companies and borrowers can refer to clear and robust legal systems, unemployment is low and economic growth strong, he said. A German firm waits 17 days on average to get paid by a client company. In Italy, it takes 80 days, Intrum figures show. The survey indicates that about 8 million European companies would hire more people if they got their payments faster. “Late payments are a significant problem for companies,” Wollung said. Having a stable cash flow is “probably more important than if interest rates are at 1% or 0.5%,” he said.

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No holds barred.

“It’s A Coup D’Etat”, “Central Banks Are Out Of Control” – David Stockman (ZH)

We’re all about to be taken to the woodshed, warns David Stockman in this excellent interview. The huge wealth disparity is “not because of some flaw in capitalism, or Reagan tax cuts, or even the greed of Wall Street; the problem is central banks that are out of control.” Simply put, they have “syphoned financial resources into pure gambling” and the people that own the stocks and bonds get the huge financial windfall. “The 10% at the top own 85% of the financial assets,” and thus, thanks to the unleashing of almost limitless money-printing, which has created a massive worldwide financial inflation, “the central banks have created and exaggerated the wealth gap.” Stockman concludes, rather ominously,

“it’s a coup d’etat, the central banks have taken over – unconstitutional domination of the entire economy.” “Everywhere, misleading distorted signals are being given to both public and private sector players about financial values… the prices have been falsified by The Fed. We can’t print our way to prosperity… The Fed is now petrified that Wall Street will have a hissy-fit when they tighten.”

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Well, they caused it.

Unemployment Is a Big Threat to Eurozone Economy, Central Bankers Warn (WSJ)

High and divergent unemployment rates in Europe pose a serious threat to the region’s long-term economic health, central bankers and economists warned during a weekend conference held by the European Central Bank. But they stopped short of offering specific advice on the best steps to take. The ECB’s seminar, the second of what it plans as an annual conference in the resort town of Sintra on Portugal’s western coast, brought together central bankers and economists from Europe, the U.S. and Asia to examine the root causes of high unemployment and persistently weak inflation in Europe. The attendees dwelled extensively on an economic concept known as “hysteresis,” a reduction in economic output brought on by weak growth that gives rise to long-term unemployment.

The remedies to such problems, however, lie partly with fiscal-policy officials and not central bankers, who don’t set labor and other economic policies. The conference largely lacked representatives from finance ministries and businesses. But ECB President Mario Draghi signaled that the stakes were too high for central bankers to keep silent, particularly in the 19-member eurozone, where diverse countries ranging from powerful Germany to recession-ravaged Greece set their own economic and fiscal policies but share a single currency and monetary policy. “In a monetary union you can’t afford having large and increasing structural divergences between countries,” Mr. Draghi said on Saturday. “They tend to become explosive; therefore they are going to threaten the existence of the monetary union.”

The eurozone is the world’s second-biggest economy after the U.S. But in recent years it has emerged as one of the global economy’s main trouble spots, having struggled through a pair of recessions since 2009 that pushed the bloc’s unemployment rate into double digits. The region has started to recover, but the damage has resulted in huge gaps in unemployment across the eurozone. “Unemployment in Europe, notably youth unemployment, is not only unbearably high. It is also unbearably different across nations belonging to an economic and monetary union,” Tito Boeri, professor at Bocconi University, and Juan Jimeno of the Bank of Spain wrote in a conference paper.

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“JP Morgan estimates that the US economy contracted at a rate of 1.1pc in the first quarter..” “China accounted for 85pc of all global growth in 2012, 54pc in 2013, and 30pc in 2014. This is likely to fall to 24pc this year.”

HSBC Fears World Recession With No Lifeboats Left (AEP)

The world economy is disturbingly close to stall speed. The United Nations has cut its global growth forecast for this year to 2.8pc, the latest of the multinational bodies to retreat. We are not yet in the danger zone but this pace is only slightly above the 2.5pc rate that used to be regarded as a recession for the international system as a whole. It leaves a thin safety buffer against any economic shock – most potently if China abandons its crawling dollar peg and resorts to ‘beggar-thy-neighbour’ policies, transmitting a further deflationary shock across the global economy. The longer this soggy patch drags on, the greater the risk that the six-year old global recovery will sputter out. While expansions do not die of old age, they do become more vulnerable to all kinds of pathologies.

A sweep of historic data by Warwick University found compelling evidence that economies are more likely to stall as they age, what is known as “positive duration dependence”. The business cycle becomes stretched. Inventories build up and companies defer spending, tipping over at a certain point into a self-feeding downturn. Stephen King from HSCB warns that the global authorities have alarmingly few tools to combat the next crunch, given that interest rates are already zero across most of the developed world, debts levels are at or near record highs, and there is little scope for fiscal stimulus. “The world economy is sailing across the ocean without any lifeboats to use in case of emergency,” he said.

In a grim report – “The World Economy’s Titanic Problem” – he says the US Federal Reserve has had to cut rates by over 500 basis points to right the ship in each of the recessions since the early 1970s. “That kind of traditional stimulus is now completely ruled out. Meanwhile, budget deficits are still uncomfortably large,” he said. The authorities are normally able to replenish their ammunition as recovery gathers steam. This time they are faced with a chronic low-growth malaise – partly due to a global ‘savings glut’, and increasingly to a slow ageing crisis across most of the Northern hemisphere. The Fed keeps having to defer its first rate rise as expectations fall short.

Each of the past four US recoveries has been weaker than the last one. The average growth rate has fallen from 4.5pc in the early 1980s to nearer 2pc this time. The US fiscal deficit has dropped to 2.8pc but is expected to climb again as pension and health care costs bite, even if the economy does well. The US cannot easily launch a fresh New Deal. Public debt was just 38pc on GDP when Franklin Roosevelt took power in 1933, and there were few contingent liabilities hanging over future US finances. “Fiscal stimulus – a novel idea at the time – may have been controversial, but the chances of it working to boost economic activity were quite high given the healthy starting position. Today, it is much more difficult to make the same argument,” he said.

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” The reason for the fall in new loans is clear. There is a fundamental lack of demand in China.”

Did China Just Launch World’s Biggest Spending Plan? (Gordon Chang)

Beijing has just initiated a round of accelerated government spending, and it will, in all probability, end up as the biggest such effort today. Wednesday, the Chinese central government announced both the allocation of 1.13 trillion yuan ($185.8 billion) for upgrading internet infrastructure and the creation of a 124.3 billion yuan fund for affordable housing. These expenditures follow Monday’s authorization of six new rail lines costing 250 billion yuan. This month, as Xinhua News Agency reports, Beijing has unveiled a “pro-growth measure” at the rate of one every two days. April was a banner month for Beijing’s spenders as well. The Ministry of Finance reported a 33.2% increase in fiscal spending compared with same month in 2014.

For the last several years, Beijing has been using fiscal stimulus in varying amounts to keep the economy humming. No one, however, thought Premier Li Keqiang, generally considered a reformer, would resort to the old-line, anti-reform tactic of massive government spending. There were two principal reasons for this belief. First, many thought Beijing had finally opted for fundamental restructuring to grow the economy. Analysts hailed the issuance of the Communist Party’s November 2013 Third Plenum decision, which promised substantial reforms, as proof of the political victory of those favoring progressive change.

Fiscal spending, on the other hand, has been considered the antithesis of reform because investment-led growth—the result of that spending—would only take China further away from the ultimate goal of reform, a consumption-based economy. Second, analysts believed just about everyone in Beijing had come to the inescapable conclusion that former Premier Wen Jiabao’s crash stimulus program, authorized in late 2008, was a huge mistake, largely because it had resulted in grossly inefficient usage of capital, large asset bubbles, and far too much debt. Yet the universally accepted view that there would be no large stimulus was premised on the assumption that the economy would respond to small-scale stimulus.

The economy, unfortunately, has not. Perhaps the most indicative statistic to come out of Beijing in recent days is that, despite all the monetary loosening since the end of last year, there were only 707.9 billion yuan of new loans in April, down from 1.18 trillion yuan in March. The reason for the fall in new loans is clear. There is a fundamental lack of demand in China.

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“..a preliminary Reuters poll last week predicted adjusted Q1 U.S. GDP numbers due on Friday would be massively revised down and show a 0.7% contraction..”

G7 Finance Ministers To Address Faltering Global Growth (Reuters)

Finance ministers from the world’s largest developed economies meet in Germany this week against a backdrop of faltering global growth, scant inflationary pressures and a bond market in turmoil. High on their agenda – even if unofficially – will be Greece and how it can stay in the troubled euro zone. Figures due on Friday from the United States that will almost certainly show the world’s biggest economy contracted last quarter are also likely to feature. “With the negotiations between Greece and the rest of the euro area at an impasse, an impatient German Chancellor Merkel has warned that an agreement must be reached before the end of the month,” said Thomas Costerg, senior economist at Standard Chartered.

Greece cannot make a payment to the IMF due on June 5 unless foreign lenders disburse more aid, a senior ruling party lawmaker said on Wednesday, the latest warning from Athens it is on the verge of default. Analysts largely agree the country’s cash squeeze is increasingly acute and fresh aid will be needed sooner or later to avoid bankruptcy. Merkel and French President Francois Hollande held talks on Thursday with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on the sidelines of a European Union summit in Riga, hoping to speed the resolution of Athens’ debt crisis. With business growth slowing in the euro zone and factory activity contracting again in China, market watchers have been looking to the United States to drive a pick-up in growth.

But a preliminary Reuters poll last week predicted that adjusted first quarter U.S. GDP numbers due on Friday would be massively revised down and show a 0.7% contraction in the first three months of this year. “The poor Q1 2015 performance follows growth of just 2.2% in Q4 2014, so there has been very little growth over the last couple of quarters,” said Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank. “As a result, market participants have started to wonder again whether the U.S. economy might be in an extended period of secular stagnation.”

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And there should be.

Schaeuble Expects Conflict at Dresden G-7 Over Austerity Policy (Bloomberg)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble expects a political tussle with his partners over austerity policy when G-7 finance ministers meet on May 27-May 29 in Dresden. Germany’s advocacy of budget cuts to heal euro-zone woes will come under attack at the meeting, Schaeuble said in a pamphlet distributed Saturday. The German government will face “demand-side” opponents of its policy in Dresden, he said without mentioning France or Italy or the U.S. “’Demand-side’ advocates will make clear in Dresden that cutting public spending leads to weaker demand for goods and services,” the minister said in a pamphlet distributed in the Dresden newspaper Saechsische Zeitung.

Germany’s position is that “solid public finance” boosts investment and growth, he said. Risks to Europe’s economic outlook stemming from the unresolved Greek crisis as well concern over the U.S. trade gap may fuse an alliance of France, Italy and the U.S. in Dresden. All three states fret that Germany’s rigorous advocacy of budget austerity may be holding back economic growth in Europe. U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew urged Germany to boost public investment to spur imports from Europe and spark a cycle of economic growth that would also benefit the U.S.

The U.S. trade gap widened in March to the biggest in more than six years while Germany in 2014 again reported a record surplus. The U.S. has also called for a quicker fix of Greece’s problems in a sign that it views Germany’s unmoving insistence that Greece fulfill bailout terms as a risk. Lew said Friday that failure to reach a deal quickly would create hardship for Greece, uncertainties for Europe and the global economy. Schaeuble remains adamant that Germany’s stance on sound budgeting is the right one, if unpopular. “Further convincing needs to be done” at Dresden, he said in his pamphlet.

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Next weekend is a holiday weekend in Greece. Fears of capital controls.

Greece Hasn’t Got The Money To Make June IMF Repayment (Reuters)

Greece cannot make debt repayments to the IMF next month unless it achieves a deal with creditors, its interior minister said on Sunday, the most explicit remarks yet from Athens about the likelihood of default if talks fail. Shut out of bond markets and with bailout aid locked, cash-strapped Athens has been scraping state coffers to meet debt obligations and to pay wages and pensions. With its future as a member of the 19-nation euro zone potentially at stake, a second government minister accused its international lenders of subjecting it to slow and calculated torture. After four months of talks with its euro zone partners and the IMF, the leftist-led government is still scrambling for a deal that could release up to 7.2 billion euros ($7.9 billion) in remaining aid to avert bankruptcy.

“The four installments for the IMF in June are €1.6 billion. This money will not be given and is not there to be given,” Interior Minister Nikos Voutsis told Greek Mega TV’s weekend show. Voutsis was asked about his concern over a ‘credit event’, a term covering scenarios like bankruptcy or default, if Athens misses a payment. “We are not seeking this, we don’t want it, it is not our strategy,” he said. “We are discussing, based on our contained optimism, that there will be a strong agreement (with lenders) so that the country will be able to breathe. This is the bet,” Voutsis said. Previously, the Athens government has said it is in danger of running out of money soon without a deal, but has insisted it still plans to make all upcoming payments.

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The unbalance of global power.

Greece’s Misery Shows We Need Chapter 11 Bankruptcy For Countries (Guardian)

Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s combative prime minister, is facing yet another week of fraught negotiations as he and his team struggle to agree a shopping list of economic reforms stringent enough to appease the country’s creditors, but different enough from the grinding austerity of the past five years to satisfy the Greek electorate. And all the while, bank deposits will leach out of the country, investment plans will remain on hold and consumers hammered by years of austerity will continue living hand to mouth. Change the actors – and the stakes – and it’s a tired plotline familiar to many governments across the world. According to Eurodad, the coalition of civil society groups that campaigns on debt, there have been 600 sovereign debt restructurings since the 1950s – with many governments, including Argentina for example, experiencing one wrenching write-off after another.

Many of these countries plunged deeper into recession as a result of the uncertainty and delay inherent in this bewildering process and the punishing austerity policies inflicted on them, with a resulting collapse in investor and consumer confidence. Argentina defaulted in 2001. Fourteen years later, it is still being pursued through the courts by so-called vulture funds, which buy distressed countries’ debts on the cheap and use every legal device they can to reclaim the money. Yet while the world’s policymakers have expended countless hours since the crisis of 2008 rewriting regulations on bonuses, mortgage lending, derivatives and too-big-to-fail banks, little attention has been paid to what should happen when a government is on the brink of financial meltdown.

Sacha Llorenti, the Bolivian ambassador to the UN, is currently touring the world’s capitals trying to change that. “We’re not just talking about a financial issue; it’s an issue related to growth, to development, to social and economic rights,” he says. The UN is not the obvious forum for discussing debt restructuring: unlike the IMF, it is not a lender of last resort with emergency cash to disburse, and doesn’t have a seat around the table when countries have to go to their creditors to ask for help. Yet also unlike the IMF, the UN general assembly is not dominated by the world’s major powers: each member country has one vote.

When Argentina tabled a motion calling for the UN to examine the issue of sovereign debt restructuring last autumn, 124 countries voted for it; 11, including the UK and the US, with their powerful financial lobbies, voted against; and there were 41 abstentions. Llorenti, who is chairing the UN “ad hoc committee” set up as a result of that vote, says the 11 countries that objected hold 45% of the voting power at the IMF. He believes they would prefer the matter to be tackled there, where they can shape the arguments: “It’s a matter of control, really.”

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Support for Syriza is still very high. But people are afraid to.

Greeks Back Government’s Red Lines, But Want To Keep Euro (AFP)

Cash-strapped Greeks remain supportive of the leftist government’s tough negotiating style, according to a new poll published Sunday, but hope for a deal with creditors that will keep the euro in their wallets. The poll conducted in May by Public Issue for the pro-government newspaper Avgi, shows 54% backing the SYRIZA-led government’s handling of the negotiations despite the tension with Greece’s international lenders. A total 59% believe Athens must not give in to demands by its creditors, with 89% against pension cuts and 81% against mass lay-offs. The SYRIZA-led government is locked in talks with the EU, ECB and the IMF to release a blocked final €7.2-billion tranche of its bailout.

In exchange for the aid, creditors are demanding Greece accept tough reforms and spending cuts that anti-austerity Syriza pledged to reject when it was elected in January. According to reports, creditors are demanding further budget cuts worth €5 billion including pension cuts and mass lay-offs. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras made clear on Saturday however that his government “won’t budge to irrational demands” that involve crossing Syriza’s campaign “red lines”. Greece faces a series of debt repayments beginning next month seen as all but impossible to meet without the blocked bailout funds. Failure to honour those payments could result in default, raising the spectre of a possible exit from the euro. That is a scenario Greeks hope to avert, with 71% of those polled wanting to keep the euro while 68% said a return to the drachma could worsen the economic situation.

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Yanies takes aim at the media.

The Truth About Riga (Yanis Varoufakis)

It was the 24th of April. The Eurogroup meeting taking place that day in Latvia was of great importance to Greece. It was the last Eurogroup meeting prior to the deadline (30th April) that we had collectively decided upon (back in the 20th February Eurogroup meeting) for an agreement on the set of reforms that Greece would implement so as to unlock, in a timely fashion, the deadlock with our creditors. During that Eurogroup meeting, which ended in disagreement, the media began to report ‘leaks’ from the room presenting to the world a preposterously false view of what was being said within. Respected journalists and venerable news media reported lies and innuendos concerning both what my colleagues allegedly said to me and also my alleged responses and my presentation of the Greek position.

The days and weeks that followed were dominated by these false stories which almost everyone (despite my steady, low-key, denials) assumed to be accurate reports. The public, under that wall of disinformation, became convinced that, during the 24th April Riga Eurogroup meeting, my fellow ministers called me insulting names (“time waster”, “gambler”, “amateur” etc. were some of the reported insults), that I lost my temper, and that, as a result, my Prime Minister later “sidelined” me from the negotiations. (It was even reported that I would not be attending the following Eurogroup meeting, or that I would be ‘supervised’ by some other ministerial colleague.) Of course none of the above was even remotely true.

My fellow ministers never, ever addressed me in anything other than collegial, polite, respectful terms.
• I did not lose my temper during that meeting, or at any other point.
• I continue to negotiate with my fellow ministers of finance, leading the Greek side at the Eurogroup.
• Then came a New York Times Magazine story which raised the possibility of a recording of that Eurogroup meeting. All of a sudden, the journalists and news media that propagated the lies and the innuendos about the 24th April Eurogroup meeting changed tack. Without a whiff of an apology for the torrent of untruths they had peddled against me for weeks, they now began to depict me as a ‘spoof’ who had “betrayed” the confidentiality of the Eurogroup.

This morning I went on the record on the Andrew Marr television show (BBC1) on this issue. I am taking this opportunity to commit the truth in writing also here – on my trusted blog. So here it goes:

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Bruno is dead on.

The Bloodied Idealogues vs. The Bloodthirsty Technocrats (StealthFlation)

On the grave Greek question, it appears that the moment of truth is finally upon us. After nearly four months of frenetic, fruitless and often feckless high level deliberations and negotiations, both sides remain essentially at an impasse, right where they started. The technocrats in Brussels want to see their austerity driven reform program carried forward and implemented unconditionally. As for the idealogues in Athens, they have pledged to put forth their own enlightened approach to rescue their sinking society. The Technocrats hold the purse strings, but the Ideologues hold the heart strings. For what it’s worth, that is typically a highly combustible combination, tick tock. With their recent cocksure bravado, are the Technocrats entirely misreading the desperate determination of the Idealogues?

Get ready for yet another Euro Summer swoon.. Everyone agrees that Greece, under a corrupt political oligarchy, grossly abused its privileges as a Eurozone member. In fact, with the help of a few sleazy sophisticated Goldman Sachs financiers, they actually cheated on their application forms in order to join the exclusive club to begin with. The illegitimate Ionian books were cooked from the get go, and it only got worse and worse over time. The self serving political elites and their self-seeking sponsors at multinational banks and corporations ran up a massive tab, while their ill-fated nation did not have the wherewithal to pay the astronomical bills. That is essentially what happened here. Oh, and the parties specifically involved all happened to personally get rather wealthy themselves along the way.

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National elections at the end of the year could reinforce the changes.

Spain’s Ruling Party Battered In Local And Regional Elections (EUObserver)

Spain took a turn towards the new left in Sunday’s regional and local elections, putting an end to the dominating two-party system. Despite having won the most votes in the elections across Spain on Sunday (24 May), Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s centre-right PP party has lost all of its absolute majorities and will now often depend on coalitions and pacts with other parties. Compromises and coalitions between parties is new in Spain where more than 30 years of alternating power between the socialists and the conservatives is being challenged by an ncreasingly fragmented political system including anti-austerity party Podemos and centrist Ciudadanos.

The biggest changes have been the move towards the new left parties in Barcelona and maybe also in Madrid – depending on a possible pact between a Podemos-supporting coalition called Ahora Madrid and the Social Democrats (PSOE). It would be the first time the Spanish capital would have a leftwing Mayor in the last 25 years. “It is clear that a majority for change has won,” said Manuela Carmena, the 71 year-old emeritus judge of the Spanish Supreme Court who wants to become Madrid’s new mayor. She is one seat short of Madrid’s former conservative Mayor Esperanza Aguirre. However, with the support of Social Democrats – who came third – the two left-wing parties could together hold the absolute majority in Madrid. Barcelona’s new Mayor Ada Colau calls for “more social justice” and leads a coalition of left-wing parties and citizens’ organisations called ‘Barcelona en Comú’, which includes members of Podemos.

“We are proud that this process hasn’t just been an exception in Barcelona, this is an unstoppable democratic revolution in Catalonia, in [Spain] and hopefully in southern Europe,” Colau said last night after it became clear that she had won a small majority in the Catalan capital. Colau, a former anti-eviction activist, was one of the founders of a platform for people affected by mortgages – Plataforma Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH) – which won the European Parliament’s European Citizens’ Prize in 2013. The PAH was set up in response to the hike in evictions caused by abusive mortgage clauses during the collapse of the Spanish property market eight years ago. Colau herself entered politics last year calling for “more and better democracy” and a clean-up of corruption in politics.

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Curious development?!

Catalan Independence Bid Rocked by Podemos Victory in Barcelona (Bloomberg)

Catalan President Artur Mas’s bid to win independence from the rest of Spain was gasping for air on Sunday as voters in Barcelona ousted his party from city hall. Voters in the regional capital picked Podemos-backed activist Ada Colau as their next mayor, as the pro-independence parties Mas is aiming to lead to an overall majority in Catalonia won 45% of the vote. The regional leader has pledged to call an early regional election this year to prove to officials in Madrid the support for leaving Spain. “Mas is in deep trouble,” said Ken Dubin, a political scientist at the Instituto de Empresa business school in Madrid and Lord Ashcroft International Business School in Cambridge, England.

Colau, 41, gained national prominence during the financial crisis leading a campaign to stop banks evicting families from their homes after they defaulted on their mortgages. She joined forces with anti-austerity party Podemos, an ally of Greece’s governing party Syriza, for her assault on city hall. Her coalition, Barcelona en Comu, won 25% of the vote and 11 representatives in the 41-seat city assembly, the Spanish Interior Ministry said on its website. CiU won 10 seats compared with 14 in 2011. Barcelona accounts for about a third of the Catalan economy and hosts all the major regional institutions. “This result adds uncertainty to the planning process because it wasn’t considered a possibility,” said Jaume Lopez, a pro-independence political scientist at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. “We will see whether that uncertainty becomes a problem.”

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So screwed…

Auckland Nears $1 Million Average House Price (Guardian)

Economists in New Zealand have expressed alarm at a housing market boom which could soon see average prices of property in the country’s largest city pass the $1m mark. In Auckland, the cost of an average domestic property has risen from $550,000 during the last property boom in 2007 to nearly $810,000 now. House prices increased at a rate of 14% last year, while the rest of the country’s index remained stable. Some houses are increasing in value by $1,000 every day while 36 suburbs in the city now have an average house value of $1m or more. And at current rates the whole city’s average will be $1m within a year-and-a-half.

The National government has in part recognised the boom and taken action for the first time to tackle what many believe is a housing crisis. It announced a multimillion dollar development plan to build affordable homes, a move added to a previously announced tax on property speculators. But some economists believe more needs to be done, and while growth is expected to slow, that will merely move the $1m mark back a month or two. Small, one–bedroom apartments are selling for $800,000 and delapidated wrecks in barely desirable suburbs are fetching more than $1m. Senior research analyst Nick Goodall of property analytics company CoreLogic said: “It is inevitable the average price in Auckland will be $1m.”

In the past 15 years housing has seen a phenomenal investment in Auckland, as huge demand and limited supply has increased prices at record levels. Expensive land, and restrictions on building new and denser housing, has seen limited new stock come on the market. And a strong economy, record net migration, especially to Auckland, and banks happy to lend money in a market with significant capital gains, has seen people paying over the top of each other. “The narrative goes because it has been good in the last 10 or 15 years, it must be good forever,” said Shamubeel Eaqub, principal economist at the Institute of Economic Research. But it is impossible for this to continue, he says. “Auckland is in a massive bubble.”

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“.. it’s 8000% more expensive than normal cotton seed. But normal cotton seed is largely unavailable to Indian farmers because of Monsanto’s control of the seed market..”

Monsanto’s GMO Cotton Problems Drive Indian Farmers To Suicide (RT)

Hundreds of thousands of farmers have died in India, after having been allegedly forced to grow GM cotton instead of traditional crops. The seeds are so expensive and demand so much more maintenance that farmers often go bankrupt and kill themselves. “Nationally, in the last 20 years 290,000 farmers have committed suicide – this as per national crimes bureau records,” agricultural scientist Dr. G. V. Ramanjaneyulu of the Center For Sustainable Agriculture told RTD, which traveled to India to learn about the issue. A number of the widows and family members of Indian farmers with whom the journalists have spoken have the same story to share: in order to cultivate the genetically modified cotton, known as Bt cotton, produced by American agricultural biotech giant Monsanto, farmers put themselves into huge debt.

However, when the crops did not pay off, they turned to pesticides to solve the problem – by drinking the poison to kill themselves. “My husband took poison. [On discovering him dead], I found papers in his pocket – he had huge debts. He had mortgaged our land, and he killed himself because of those debts,” one widow told RTD. “[He killed himself] with a bottle of pesticide… All because of the loans. He took them for the farm. He told our kids he was bankrupt,” another widow said. “He worked all day, but it was hard to make the field pay,” her daughter added. Farming GM crops in rural India requires irrigation for success. However, since rich farmers often distribute the seeds directly to the poorer ones, many smaller, less educated farmers are not aware of the special conditions Bt cotton requires to be farmed successfully.

“Bt cotton has been promoted as something that actually solves problems of Indian farmers who are cultivating cotton. But something that has been promoted as a crisis solution, creates even more problems,” agricultural scientist Kirankumar Vissa said. “There are many places where it is not suitable for cultivation. On the seed packages, Bt cotton seed companies say that it is suitable for both irrigated and non-irrigated conditions – this is basically deception of the farmers,” the scientist said, adding that Monsanto also spends huge amounts of money on advertising in India, with paid for publications not always clearly marked as such.

Saying that only Bt cotton is available in India, Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director of Organic Consumers Association, says this crop requires many inputs. “It is incredibly expensive; it’s 8,000% more expensive than normal cotton seed. But normal cotton seed is largely unavailable to Indian farmers because of Monsanto’s control of the seed market,” she told RTD, adding that India is now the fourth largest producer of genetically modified crops.

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Genetic diversity is huge.

‘Incredibly Diverse’, Endangered Plankton Provide Half The World’s Oxygen (SR)

After a three-and-a-half year, sometimes harrowing, sea voyage covering some 87,000 miles of ocean, a team of researchers from the Tara Oceans Consortium is revealing details of “the most complete description yet of planktonic organisms to date,” co-author of a study published in the journal Science, Dr. Chris Bowler from the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, told BBC News. Plankton is the term for a myriad of microscopic species that are at the ground floor of the oceans’ food chain. One type, zooplankton, gives sustenance to larger organisms, which are then consumed by larger animals, and so on. Without the tiny zooplankton, marine life could not sustain itself. Another type of plankton, called phytoplankton, produce their own food the same way plants do: through photosynthesis.

This process not only sucks up heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it produces oxygen upon which life on planet Earth depends. The researchers report collecting 35,000 samples from 210 sites around the world’s oceans. Their analyses reveal not only an astounding genetic diversity among the plankton—about 40 million genes, which is about four times more than are found in the human gut—but that these organisms contribute about 50% of all the world’s oxygen, according to report by Tech Times. “Plankton are much more than just food for the whales,” said Dr. Bowler, in a report by Reuters. “Although tiny, these organisms are a vital part of the Earth’s life support system, providing half of the oxygen generated each year on Earth by photosynthesis and lying at the base of marine food chains on which all other ocean life depends.”

But what worries scientists is that climate change and warming oceans are causing some plankton to die off, according several studies, including by researchers at two universities in the UK who published their 2013 study in the journal Nature Climate Change. This is because as oceans warm, the natural cycles of nitrogen, phosphorous, and carbon dioxide are disturbed—a disruption that negatively affects the plankton. Dr. Bowler and his team also found that many marine microorganisms are sensitive to variations in temperature, “and with changing temperatures as a result of climate change we are likely to see changes in this community,” he told the BBC. Because of the massive amount of DNA data now made available to scientists everywhere by the newly released study—only 2% so far has been analyzed, Bowler says—future research is sure to shed more light on the way marine ecosystems function.

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