Oct 162016
 
 October 16, 2016  Posted by at 11:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


‘Papa says they won’t hurt us’

 

RBS ‘Dash For Cash’ Scandal: 500 Firms Suing Bank Turn On Regulator (Herald)
Scrambled Brexit Communications Worry UK Bankers (BBG)
Fresh British Veg ‘Could Be Wiped Out By Brexit’ (Sky)
Athens Protests Victoria Nuland Statement On Treaty Of Lausanne (Kath.)
Trump’s Refusal To Accept Intelligence Briefing On Russia Stuns Experts (WaPo)
Russia Slams ‘Unprecedented’ US Threats Over Cyber Attacks (AFP)
Builder-in-Chief: Erdogan’s Real-Estate Dream Drifts to Syria (BBG)
Amy Goodman Faces Prison for Reporting on Dakota Access Pipeline (Nation)
On The Brink, But Africa’s Reviled Vultures Vital In Fight Against Disease (G.)

 

 

“..the bank and its senior executives had no scruples about effectively looting cash and assets from business customers..”

RBS ‘Dash For Cash’ Scandal: 500 Firms Suing Bank Turn On Regulator (Herald)

A group of almost 500 businesses suing the Royal Bank of Scotland for allegedly destroying their firms and seizing their assets is threatening legal action against the Financial Conduct Authority if it does not immediately publish its long-awaited report into the scandal. The central allegation of the so-called “Dash for Cash” scandal was that firms – in some cases healthy ones – were preyed on by RBS which effectively bankrupted the companies, bought the assets and made a profit from their suffering. RBS denies the allegations. David Stewart, spokesman for the RBS GRG Business Action Group, said:“Unless the FCA gives an immediate commitment to publishing the Section 166 report, we will initiate judicial review proceedings against them.” The FCA, the financial regulator, launched a probe into the Dash for Cash scandal in January 2014.

The report, produced by consultants Promontory and Mazars, was handed to the FCA in late summer but the regulator only confirmed receipt on October 5. “We understand the S166 report recommends a compensation scheme for affected firms,” said Stewart. “It is essential that this scheme is independent and judicial, with full redress for consequential losses, and that it is not overseen by the FCA. We have no confidence in the regulator, given its previous compensation schemes have failed so many victims.” The FCA stated: “There are a number of steps for the FCA to complete before we are in a position to share our final findings, which will include an assessment of all relevant material, of which the skilled person’s report is one. This has been a complex and lengthy review – it is therefore important that we do not rush the final stages of this process.”

[..] Kalvin Chapman, a partner at lawyers Muldoon Britton, said the Dash for Cash email sent out by RBS regional director Rhydian Davies on October 9, 2008 proves that the bank and its senior executives had no scruples about effectively looting cash and assets from business customers of RBS, NatWest and Ulster Bank. “It only cared about scalping customers and bleeding them dry,” said Chapman.

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Yay! More finger pointing opportunities. Blame thy neighbor!

Scrambled Brexit Communications Worry UK Bankers (BBG)

A British bank executive recently approached Prime Minister Theresa May’s office with a question. The Treasury said it was the point of contact for discussing Brexit issues. The Department for Exiting the European Union said the same thing. Who was right? Neither, he was told. Talk to us instead. That story, retold by a banker who asked to remain anonymous, is symptomatic of industry complaints about engaging with May’s government as it begins pulling Britain out of the European Union. May has already put financiers on notice that they’re losing their privileged perch in policy making considerations, so the communications confusion only serves to deepen their anxiety.

“The government needs to develop a more strategic and joined-up approach around financial services,” said Andrew Gray, head of Brexit for U.K. financial services at PricewaterhouseCoopers in London. “There are a number of different government departments seeking to get their voices heard on Brexit, and that’s resulting in some rather mixed messages being delivered.” The portrait of bungled communications, which could prompt banks to accelerate the movement of highly paid jobs from London, emerged from interviews with government officials, bankers and lobbyists. Financial services account for almost 12% of the economy, more than 1 million jobs and over 60 billion pounds ($73 billion) of annual tax revenue.

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In case you still weren’t clear on what’s wrong with Britain: “This is good work, normal work for us,” he said with a smile. “It is not hard.” but “It’s unskilled labour so [locals] do not want to do that kind of work.”

Fresh British Veg ‘Could Be Wiped Out By Brexit’ (Sky)

A leading farmer has warned that British vegetables will disappear from supermarket shelves if post-Brexit immigration controls prevent thousands of Eastern Europeans from working in the UK. Guy Poskitt, who grows 80,000 tons of carrots and parsnips a year in Yorkshire, says it is impossible to find enough British labourers to do the work. Last year the number of EU nationals in the UK rose by an estimated 180,000 but the Government is committed to reducing total immigration to the tens of thousands. “If you took migrant workers out of the supply chain you would within five days have no fresh British produce on the supermarket shelves,” Mr Poskitt claimed.

He told Sky News he pays agencies £9.50 per hour for temporary labourers and that without workers from Eastern Europe the industry would collapse. “[My business] would have to close; we could not serve our customers without the availability of migrant workers,” he said. Picking pumpkins from a nearby field for supply to major supermarkets, a group of Czech labourers said they are puzzled about why some people say they are no longer welcome. “I take home £50 or £60 a day here but just £30 for work in Prague,” said 21-year-old Patrick Dumka, as he stood in the muddy field that is his workplace for nine hours a day. He picks more than 1,000 pumpkins during each shift in all weathers, taking just an hour’s rest in a makeshift shelter, and joked that the British are too lazy to do the work.

“This is good work, normal work for us,” he said with a smile. “It is not hard.” Mark Straw whose firm Abbey Personnel Services supplies labourers to Yorkshire farms claims there is no alternative to Eastern European labour. From his office in Selby he hires and transports 200 Eastern Europeans to work each day, and says locals will not take the jobs on offer in agriculture. “It’s outdoor, it’s physical, you would say that there are little prospects for advancement,” he explained. “It’s unskilled labour so [locals] do not want to do that kind of work.”

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You do realize that a Hillary vote is a vote for Nuland, right?! Secretary of State has been mentioned for her.

Athens Protests Victoria Nuland Statement On Treaty Of Lausanne (Kath.)

Greek Ambassador to the USA Theocharis Lalacos has lodged a complaint with US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland in reaction to the US State Department’s response to a question on the Treaty of Lausanne. Questioned by a Greek journalist earlier this month about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s controversial comments on the 1923 peace pact which set the borders of modern Turkey, the State Department issued a written statement urging Athens and Ankara to work together in order to maintain good-neighborly relations and safeguard peace in the region. Diplomatic sources said the Greek ambassador protested to Nuland that the vague statement issued by the US State Department had caused unnecessary concern among the Greek public.

Lalacos suggested that US officials should instead have urged all sides to respect international law, according to the same sources. He allegedly said that the Lausanne Treaty concerns all states in the region, and not just Greece. Sources said Nuland vowed to investigate the issue further. “In Lausanne, we gave away the islands that you could shout across to,” Erdogan said on September 29, referring to Greek islands located in the Aegean Sea close to the Turkish coastline.

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CIA and NSA are not be doubted. Nobody ever did before. They don’t have to present any proof either. And they’re fully impartial at all times.

Trump’s Refusal To Accept Intelligence Briefing On Russia Stuns Experts (WaPo)

Former senior U.S. national security officials are dismayed at Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s repeated refusal to accept the judgment of intelligence professionals that Russia stole files from the Democratic National Committee computers in an effort to influence the U.S. election. The former officials, who have served presidents in both parties, say they were bewildered when Trump cast doubt on Russia’s role after receiving a classified briefing on the subject and again after an unusually blunt statement from U.S. agencies saying they were “confident” that Moscow had orchestrated the attacks. “It defies logic,” retired Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency, said of Trump’s pronouncements.

Trump has assured supporters that, if elected, he would surround himself with experts on defense and foreign affairs, where he has little experience. But when it comes to Russia, he has made it clear that he is not listening to intelligence officials, the former officials said. “He seems to ignore their advice,” Hayden said. “Why would you assume this would change when he is in office?” Several former intelligence officials interviewed this week believe that Trump is either willfully disputing intelligence assessments, has a blind spot on Russia, or perhaps doesn’t understand the nonpartisan traditions and approach of intelligence professionals.

[..] During the second presidential debate, Trump ignored what a U.S. government official said the candidate learned in a private intelligence briefing: that government officials were certain Russia hacked the DNC. That conclusion was followed by a public and unequivocal announcement by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security that Russia was to blame.

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Crazy US allegations will come home to roost. And bite.

Russia Slams ‘Unprecedented’ US Threats Over Cyber Attacks (AFP)

The Kremlin on Saturday slammed Washington for its “unprecedented” threats against Moscow over an alleged series of cyber attacks and vowed to respond. Last week, Washington formally accused the Russian government of trying to “interfere” in the 2016 White House race through cyber attacks on American political institutions. And on Friday, US Vice President Joe Biden told NBC a “message” would be sent to Russian President Vladimir Putin over the alleged hacking, with the channel saying the CIA was preparing a retaliatory cyber attack “designed to harass and ’embarrass’ the Kremlin leadership.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov immediately denounced Biden’s remarks, saying Moscow would take precautions to safeguard its interests in the face of the increasing “unpredictability and aggressiveness of the United States”.

“The threats directed against Moscow and our state’s leadership are unprecedented because they are voiced at the level of the US vice president,” RIA Novosti news agency quoted him as saying. “To the backdrop of this aggressive, unpredictable line, we must take measures to protect (our) interests, to hedge risks.” And Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov vowed Moscow would respond to any US cyber attacks, saying such threats were “borderline insolence”, the news agency said. In the NBC interview, excerpts of which were released late Friday, Biden said Washington would respond “at the time of our choosing and under the circumstances that have the greatest impact.” Earlier this week Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shrugged off the US allegations, telling CNN the hacking claims were “flattering” but baseless, with not a “single fact” to prove it.

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How Erdogan plans to conquer Kurdish land.

Builder-in-Chief: Erdogan’s Real-Estate Dream Drifts to Syria (BBG)

Turkey’s president looks at northern Syria and sees what others don’t: a massive real estate project. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose army is attempting to clear 5,000 square kilometers in northern Syria of Islamic State, talks about building entire cities when his soldiers’ work is done. In regular addresses, he describes a future in which refugees return home to Turkish-built apartment blocks supplemented by Turkish-built schools and social facilities. That may be the only way to get some of the nearly 3 million Syrians in Turkey to return home and begin reconstructing their country, he says. Erdogan’s vision points to a long-term commitment to carve out an area under Turkish influence, free from jihadists and Kurdish groups, making this operation one of its largest foreign interventions since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

To achieve it, Turkey needs to overcome daunting security risks, financing and logistical challenges, not to mention political battles with other parties including Russia, Iran and a Syrian regime hostile to Turkey’s meddling. “Erdogan has engaged the country in a very long adventure,” said Nihat Ali Ozcan, an analyst at the Economic Policy Research Foundation in Ankara. “Turkey will have to maintain its troops there for years to come if it wants to keep that area off limits to hostile groups.” If successful, the plan could offer a boon to Turkish contractors. He already has one volunteer: the state agency known as TOKI, a colossus responsible for building about 10% of Turkey’s housing units every year.

“We have a problem at our doorstep,” Ergun Turan, TOKI’s president, said in an interview in Ankara on Sept. 20. “If our state asks us to, we will do it. And we’ll do it with ease.” In a bid to drum up support for Turkey’s deeper involvement, Erdogan is making the case that resettling refugees would mitigate the politically fraught issue of migration to Europe. EU leaders turned to Turkey for help last year after almost a million people streamed across its land and sea borders into Greece. “Refugee problems will go away automatically when the Syrian people get the opportunity to live on their own lands in safety,” Erdogan said in Ankara last month.

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There’s a lot of shameful and shameless America out there.

Amy Goodman Faces Prison for Reporting on Dakota Access Pipeline (Nation)

This Monday afternoon, as the sun hits its peak over Mandan, North Dakota, the award-winning journalist, and host of Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman will walk into the Morton County–Mandan Combined Law Enforcement and Corrections Center and turn herself in to the local authorities. Her crime: good, unflinching journalism. Goodman had the audacity to commit this journalism on September 3, when she was in North Dakota covering what she calls “the standoff at Standing Rock”: the months-long protests by thousands of Native Americans against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The $3.8 billion oil pipeline is slated to carry barrel after barrel of Bakken crude through sacred sites and burial grounds of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, and tribe members fear it could pollute the Missouri River, the source not only of their water but of millions of others’, should the pipe ever rupture.

Their protests, which began in April and ballooned through the summer months, represent the largest mobilization of Native American activists in more than 40 years—and one of the most vital campaigns for environmental justice in perhaps as long. Goodman’s arrival at the main protest site, the Sacred Stone Spirit Camp, was significant. At the time, not a single one of the major broadcast networks had sent a reporter to cover the Standing Rock mobilization; none had even bothered to mention it on the air. But there was Goodman, standing at the edge of a grassy plain that was in the process of being churned into gullies of dirt, reporting on one of the most significant stories of the day. Clutching a large microphone, she captured the scene as hundreds of protesters tried desperately to stop a crew of bulldozers from tearing up the earth—the earth, they said, that belongs to nobody—only to be confronted by a force of private security contractors wielding attack dogs and pepper spray.

“People have gone through the fence, men, women, and children,” Goodman reported, her voice taut, then rising, louder and more intense. “The bulldozers are still going, and they’re yelling at the men in hard hats. One man in a hard hat threw one of the protesters down…!” As Goodman narrated, a security contractor, burly in a deep blue shirt, could be seen belly-flopping a man onto the ground. Protesters streamed in to help him, stumbled over mounds of newly churned dirt, faced off with contractors whose faces were hidden behind oversized sunglasses. The scene was full of movement. Overhead, a helicopter hovered, circled, while back on the ground, protesters began to report burning eyes, and dogs—dogs lurching at protesters, dogs straining against their leashes, dogs with mouths open, mouths biting.

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Mankind is a real smart species. We’ll kill everything here and then fly to Mars.

On The Brink, But Africa’s Reviled Vultures Vital In Fight Against Disease (G.)

Vultures are rarely viewed as the poster boys and girls of the natural world. They have repulsive eating habits and are strikingly ugly. Nevertheless, they play a critical role in maintaining the ecological health of many parts of the world. Vultures consume animal carcasses more effectively than any other scavengers and because their digestive juices contain acids that neutralise pathogens such as cholera and rabies they prevent diseases spreading. They act as dead-end hosts for numerous unpleasant ailments. But many ecologists are now warning that vultures across the planet are under serious threat thanks to habitat loss, deliberate and accidental poisoning, and use of the birds’ body parts as traditional medicine cures.

All these risks will be emphasised by British photographer Charlie Hamilton James in a series of images that will be shown as part of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, which opens at the Natural History Museum this week. His photographs of vultures – and the growing environmental risks that threaten to wipe them out – have won Hamilton James the exhibition’s wildlife photojournalist of the year award. “I like underdogs,” he said last week. “That is why I like vultures. The trouble is that vultures are now under such stress in the wild – for several reasons. They are facing a massive catastrophe yet they do so much for the environment and do so much to contain disease.”

Vultures are one of the fastest declining groups of animals in the world. In India, all nine species of the bird are threatened with extinction, largely through the indiscriminate use of diclofenac, a common anti-inflammatory drug administered to livestock but which is lethal for the vultures that eat the corpses of cattle. “There is now a real danger that a disease like rabies will spread because there are hardly any vultures left to clean up corpses left in the open,” Hamilton James said.


Cape vultures at their artificial nesting cliff at the VulPro facility in Magaliesburgcorrect, South Africa. Photograph: Charlie Hamilton James

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May 152016
 
 May 15, 2016  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jack Delano Brakeman H.B. Van Santford on the AT&SF line from Summit to San Bernardino 1943

Steve Keen Talks Debt, Trump and Gold (RT)
Economists Disagree With Voters Who See US Worse Off Today Than in 1960s (WSJ)
China: “It Appears That All The Engines Suddenly Lost Momentum” (R.)
Chinese Banks’ New Loans Plunge By More Than Half In April (R.)
Shell Eyes $40 Billion Non-Core Asset Spin-Off To Cut Its Huge Debt Pile (Tel.)
Moody’s Downgrades Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman (AP)
German Professors And Entrepreneurs File Complaint Against ECB Policy (R.)
The Vultures’ Vultures: New Hedge-Fund Strategy Corrupts Washington (HuffPo)
Farmland Values Fall Sharply in Parts of the Midwest (WSJ)
Cameron’s Anti-Brexit ‘Remain’ Campaign Has A Major Trust Issue (Ind.)
German Government Plans To Spend €93.6 Billion On Refugees By End 2020 (R.)

Very interesting. I’ve said it a thousand times: everyone should let sink in what Steve has to say. It’s curious to see that people like Max agree with everything Steve says -as far as they can understand him-, but disagree with him on gold.

Steve Keen on Debt, Trump and Gold (RT)

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No, really, this is a serious WSJ article. Economists claim they know better then you about your own situation, and the paper gives them the space to utter their blubber. “You’re not really hungry, you’re just imagining that, and your hospital bill is not REALLY higher than it was 40 years ago, and in student debt was this high in 1970 too, don’t you remember?!”

Economists Disagree With Voters Who See US Worse Off Today Than in 1960s (WSJ)

When was America at its best? Put the question to voters and many will point as far back as the 1960s. Put the question to economists and they identify a much more recent peak in U.S. living standards. Forecasters in The Wall Street Journal’s monthly survey of business, academic and financial economists were asked to rate whether U.S. living standards were higher today or at various points in the past. Around 80% say those standards are higher today than during the 1990s or earlier. The 2016 presidential campaign has exposed worries among many voters about a U.S. in decline. The sentiment played a particular role in boosting the candidacy of businessman Donald Trump, with a campaign slogan pledging to “Make America Great Again.”

While many economists view the U.S. as not fully recovered from the recession that began in 2007 or the previous recession in 2001, that still leaves a 40-year disconnect compared to voters who see the U.S. in a half-century of decline. The Pew Research Center recently polled voters on the question “Compared with 50 years ago, life for people like you in America is better or worse?” A plurality of 46% said things were worse now. Only 34% said life today is better than in the 1960s. A Morning Consult poll asked voters whether the 1960s or 1980s were better than today. In that survey, 31% said the ‘60s were better and 37% said the 1980s were better. By contrast, 88% of economists said the U.S. is better today than in 1960 and 87% see today as better than 1980.

“Between technology and health advances, today is much better than in 1960,” said Amy Crews Cutts, chief economist at Equifax. By many of the measures economists are inclined to look at, it is not a close call. In 1960, the life expectancy of the average American was a full decade shorter than it is today, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The median personal income, after adjusting for inflation, is 55% higher today than in 1960, according to the Census Bureau. These measures of overall well-being continued to rise throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Why do so many voters put such little stock in the past 50 years? Economists point to a few culprits.

First, wages or available jobs have deteriorated for some demographic groups, particularly men without a high-school diploma and men who worked in manufacturing (two groups with some overlap). Second, we have just lived through the “first decade where the average worker lost ground,” said Joel Naroff, chief economist of Naroff Economic Advisers. Overall incomes declined during the two most recent recessions, but not enough to set people back to a 1960s standard of living. About 53% of respondents in the Journal’s survey said the U.S. today is “about the same” or “worse” than it was in 2000. About 63% said the same about 2007. The survey of 70 economists was conducted from May 6 to May 10, though not every economist answered every question.

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And these are ‘official’ numbers, which for a reason that escapes me we‘re still clinging on to. So I ‘adapted’ the title.

China: “It Appears That All The Engines Suddenly Lost Momentum” (R.)

China’s investment, factory output and retail sales all grew more slowly than expected in April, adding to doubts about whether the world’s second-largest economy is stabilizing. Growth in factory output cooled to 6% in April, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said on Saturday, disappointing analysts who expected it to rise 6.5% on an annual basis after an increase of 6.8% the prior month. China’s fixed-asset investment growth eased to 10.5% year-on-year in the January-April period, missing market expectations of 10.9%, and down from the first quarter’s 10.7%.

Fixed investment by private firms continued to slow, indicating private businesses remain skeptical of economic prospects. Investment by private firms rose 5.2% year-on-year in January-April, down from 5.7% growth in the first quarter. “It appears that all the engines suddenly lost momentum, and growth outlook has turned soft as well,” Zhou Hao, economist at Commerzbank in Singapore, said in a research note. “At the end of the day, we have acknowledge that China is still struggling.”

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The PBoC’s bizarro explanation:“..the figures don’t include new local government bond issuance to refinance debt previously issued by local government financing vehicles.” As if to say: don’t worry, we’re still borrowing like crazy, only now half of it is to refi what we couldn’t pay back.

Chinese Banks’ New Loans Plunge By More Than Half In April (R.)

China’s central bank said it has not changed its “prudent” monetary policy stance despite a disappointing release of April data showing banks had cut back sharply on new loans. Banks made 555.6 billion yuan ($85.21 billion) in net new yuan loans in April, much lower than expected and less than half the 1.37 trillion yuan seen in March, data showed on Friday. The People’s Bank of China (PBOC), in a question and answer posted on its website on Saturday, attributed the slide to seasonal and technical factors, including the fact that the figures don’t include new local government bond issuance to refinance debt previously issued by local government financing vehicles.

“If this is factored in, new loans in April were more than 900 billion yuan,” the PBOC said, in answer to a question as to whether the figures indicated a decline in the real economy. That number would match analysts previous forecasts for April. However, the bank also pointed to a decline in corporate bond financing, which came in over 500 billion less than March – while still up slightly from the same period last year, and noted that banks remain cautious given increased focus on asset quality control. “On the whole, current financial support to the real economy is still strong,” it said. “Prudent monetary policy has not changed.”

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Curious attempt to make deeply troubling problems look like great opportunities instead. Nobody wants to buy these assets and everyone knows they MUST sell, which is why Shell try to sell as much as $40 billion of it now, and in the way they do (IPO?!). And that would “..let Shell benefit from a sustained oil price recovery?!”

Shell Eyes $40 Billion Non-Core Asset Spin-Off To Cut Its Huge Debt Pile (Tel.)

Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell is eyeing a possible $40bn spin-off of non-core assets around the globe as it grapples with a $70bn debt pile following a takeover of BG Group earlier this year. Chief financial officer Simon Henry told analysts last week that a float of Shell’s non-core assets is “very much on the agenda”. The comments were made after the Anglo-Dutch multinational announced its intention to sell off assets totalling $30bn over the next three years in an attempt to protect its dividend, after the merger with BG left it with a stretched balance sheet. Analysts at Exane BNP Paribas are now concerned that despite its attempts to offload assets, “a dry market for asset sales leaves Shell exposed”.

Reducing Shell’s debt burden is “critical for shares to perform”, said Aneek Haq, of Exane BNP Paribas, but failure to do so may force management to “bite the bullet” and make a radical move, such as an initial public offering of the parts of Shell’s empire it wants to offload. Henry said: “There are no prima facie reasons why we would not look at such a monetisation route, if that was the best way to create value.” However, given the foundering oil price, he said it was “not obvious in today’s market” where such value would be. Unlike a divestment, an IPO of the company’s mature assets, which has been dubbed “Baby Shell” would let Shell benefit from a sustained oil price recovery. Mr Haq also believes such a move would refocus management on core assets and reduce net debt by more than $50bn over four years.

The non-core upstream assets, from markets such as the UK, Norway, New Zealand, Italy and Nigeria, are cash-generative, averaging at $4bn a year free cash flow, and adding additional assets from Kazakstan could “prove attractive for shareholders”, said Haq. Although a $40bn listing would be cumbersome, it is not unfamiliar territory. In 2014, Shell raised $920m by spinning off a pipeline of US assets, Shell Midstream Partners. Given its previous form, Henry said: “It should be clear that not only are we open to innovation, [but also] we are able to deliver such complicated deals and execute over a period of time.”

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These downgrades are expensive.

Moody’s Downgrades Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman (AP)

Saudi Arabia’s credit rating has been downgraded by Moody’s because of the long and deep slump in oil prices. Moody’s Investors Service said it also downgraded Gulf oil producers Bahrain and Oman. It left ratings unchanged for other Gulf states including Kuwait and Qatar. Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest oil exporter. Moody’s cut the country’s long-term issuer rating one notch to A1 from Aa3 after a review that began in March. Crude prices fell from more than $100 in mid-2014 to under $30 a barrel in February, although they have recovered into the mid-$40s. Benchmark international crude settled on Friday at $47.83 a barrel.

“A combination of lower growth, higher debt levels and smaller domestic and external buffers leave the Kingdom less well positioned to weather future shocks,” Moody’s said in a note. Moody’s lowered Oman to Baa1 from A3 and Bahrain to Ba2 from Ba1. The ratings agency did not downgrade Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates or Abu Dhabi, but it assigned a negative outlook to each. Oil prices slumped because of production that grew faster than demand. Surging production from shale operators in the US contributed to the glut. So did OPEC, which decided in November 2014, several months after prices began falling, to continue pumping rather than give up market share.

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Germany’s Constitutional Court has been asked for opinions on the ECB a dozen times now, but not much has come of it.

German Professors And Entrepreneurs File Complaint Against ECB Policy (R.)

A group of professors and entrepreneurs in Germany filed a complaint against the ECB’s monetary policy this week at the country’s top court, the Welt am Sonntag newspaper said. A complaint would open a new chapter in a long-running legal battle between the ECB and groups within the euro zone’s biggest economy who want to curb the bank’s power. A challenge to an emergency plan the ECB made at the height of the euro zone crisis is also back at Germany’s Constitutional Court after being rejected by Europe’s top court in June. The German court will make a final ruling this year. There has been widespread criticism in Germany of the ECB’s monetary policy in recent weeks, with politicians complaining that low interest rates are hitting the retirement provisions of ordinary Germans and could boost the right wing.

Welt am Sonntag said the issue in the latest complaint filed at the Constitutional Court was whether the ECB had overstepped its mandate by extensively buying government bonds and with its plan to start buying corporate bonds. The newspaper said the professors and entrepreneurs thought the ECB was starting programs that contained incalculable risks for the German central bank’s balance sheet, and hence for German taxpayers – under the pretence of reaching its inflation target of just under 2% in the medium term. “The ECB’s current policy is neither necessary nor appropriate to directly revive the economy in the euro zone by increasing the inflation rate to around 2% in terms of consumer prices,” Markus Kerber, a lawyer and professor of public finance who initiated the complaint, was quoted as saying.

Kerber said the ECB was losing sight of the principle of the “proportionality” of its measures, according to Welt am Sonntag. In March, the ECB unveiled a large stimulus package that included cutting its deposit rate deeper into negative territory, expanding it asset buying program and offering free loans to the corporate sector to stimulate growth. German central bank governor Jens Weidmann, who sits on the ECB’s Governing Council, said on Wednesday the ECB’s expansionary monetary policy stance was “justified for now” while Bundesbank board member Andreas Dombret also said the ECB’s policy was justified by a subdued growth outlook in the euro zone.

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“They may have finally gone too far. A backlash is brewing, threatening not just their current bets, but their various tax benefits too. One senior House Republican aide who’s worked closely with the hedge funds says that members of Congress have seen enough. “I think on the Fannie stuff, they’ve hurt themselves,” he said. “We’re like, fuck em. If they’re not your friends, they’re your enemies.”

The Vultures’ Vultures: New Hedge-Fund Strategy Corrupts Washington (HuffPo)

Take Robert Shapiro. A Harvard-trained political economist, Shapiro is the head of a consulting firm called Sonecon. That business card doesn’t do it for you? He’s got a few more in his wallet: Senior fellow at the Georgetown University School of Business. Adviser to the International Monetary Fund. Director of the Globalization Initiative at NDN, a progressive think tank. Shapiro, a Democrat, has advised presidents and presidential candidates, and has held powerful government posts. It stands to reason, then, that when he has thoughts on public policy, he can find an outlet ready to publish them. Recently, he’s had ideas on how the government can address the debt crisis in Puerto Rico and how it can end the conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac by moving them into the private market.

Before that, he had a take on how to deal with Argentina’s debt crisis. For all three, he produced academic-looking papers, complete with footnotes and charts. All three situations have one thing in common: If they were resolved the way Shapiro suggested, a variety of bets placed by a select group of the most politically powerful hedge funds would pay off in a huge way. In the case of Argentina, they mostly have. Fights over how to resolve the other two issues are still raging in Washington. For this article, we called Shapiro to ask on whose behalf he has been waging these intellectual battles. His answer was surprising in its honesty: He’s working with DCI Group, a political dark arts master known to be advocating on behalf of a group of powerful hedge funds that are changing how Washington works.

Shapiro, it turns out, is but one foot soldier in the hedge fund infantry. A review of public documents, tax filings and interviews with people involved finds that in each of the three campaigns, hedge funds have enlisted the same set of lobbyists, political operatives, dark money groups and think-tank experts spanning the political spectrum. No single document or set of disclosures ties all of these groups together. They don’t put out joint press releases, parade themselves around Washington as part of a coalition, or chat together on conference calls. Finding the players in this game, instead, is more a process of deduction. For a group of firms and experts to be working for vulture funds on the issue of Argentine debt is normal Washington practice. (Vulture’s meaning here isn’t pejorative: it refers to an investment strategy that feeds off of assets the market has left for dead.)

For the exact same people and groups to be working on the next big issue that these funds care about — the Puerto Rican debt crisis — could be a coincidence. But now, the hedge funds are focused on a third issue — government-sponsored enterprise reform, which refers to the effort to establish new housing finance policy in the wake of the federal takeover of lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And it’s the same political firms and the same independent experts that are once again weighing in — coincidentally, all on the side of the hedge funds. Maybe it’s all coincidence, but let’s run the traps either way.

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Make basic human needs part of speculative financial markets and mayhem is inevitable. Some things do not belong in a casino. When will we learn? When we run out of water and food?

Farmland Values Fall Sharply in Parts of the Midwest (WSJ)

Real farmland values in parts of the Midwest fell at their fastest clip in almost 30 years during the first quarter, according to a regional Federal Reserve report on Thursday. Falling crop prices have weighed on land values from Kansas to Indiana over the past two years as farm income declined and investors who had piled into the asset at the start of the decade retrenched. Three regional Federal Reserve banks all reported year-over-year declines in farmland values in their districts and said the drops would continue, though their forecasts were based on surveys taken before the recent rally in corn and soybean prices.

The St. Louis Fed region that includes parts of the U.S. agricultural heartland in Illinois, Indiana and Missouri reported the steepest decline, with the average price of “quality” farmland falling 6.4% in the quarter, the biggest decline since its survey began in 2012. The Chicago Fed said prices for similar land in its district fell 4% from a year ago, the seventh successive quarterly decline. Adjusted for inflation, prices in an area that includes parts of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin fell 5%, the biggest quarterly drop since 1987. Declines in the Kansas City Fed’s district, which includes Kansas and Nebraska, were less pronounced, but the bank said prices for nonirrigated cropland fell 4% in the quarter.

Though some agricultural markets have rallied in recent weeks, prices for corn and wheat are still more than 50% lower than their 2012 peak, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has projected that net U.S. farm income will fall this year to the lowest level in more than a decade. Commodity prices have declined as farmers in the U.S. and elsewhere harvested bumper crops, adding to already generous stockpiles. U.S. farmers have also been hit by the strength of the dollar, which has stymied demand to export their crops. The drop in land values has been accompanied by deteriorating credit conditions, with more loans taken out to cover farm operations even as repayment rates fell on existing debt.

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Wow: “Boris Johnson is trusted to tell the truth about Europe by twice as many voters as trust David Cameron..” I can’t imagine anyone trusting Boris, so what does that say about trust in Cameron?

Cameron’s Anti-Brexit ‘Remain’ Campaign Has A Major Trust Issue (Ind.)

Boris Johnson is trusted to tell the truth about Europe by twice as many voters as trust David Cameron, according to a ComRes poll for The Independent. By a two-to-one margin, 45% to 21%, voters say that Mr Johnson is “more likely to tell the truth about the EU” than Mr Cameron. By a smaller margin, 39% to 24%, campaigners for Leave generally are considered “more likely to tell the truth” than campaigners for Remain.

The Referendum Campaigns
• Following key speeches this week, Britons are more than twice as likely to say Boris Johnson would tell the truth about the EU than David Cameron (45% v 21%).
• Conservative voters also say Boris Johnson is more likely to tell the truth about the EU than the Prime Minister (42% v 27%).
• Similarly, Britons tend to say the campaigners for leaving the EU are more likely to tell the truth than the remain campaigners (39% v 24%), although a significant minority say they don’t know (38%).

The EU Referendum
• The British public remain divided over whether they would be personally better off if Britain left the EU or remained part of it (29% v 33%). Around two in five (38%) say they don’t know how the referendum outcome would personally affect them.
• There has been a rise in the proportion of Britons saying national security would be better if Britain left the EU – 42% say it would be stronger if Britain left, compared to 38% who say it would be stronger if Britain remained. This represents an increase of 7 points from March in favour of leaving (35% in March 2016).
• However, attitudes towards immigration are clear; British adults are more than twice as likely to say the government could control Britain’s borders better if it left the EU (57% v 27% if Britain remains).

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Presenting it this way makes it look like the money is lost. Presenting it as an investment would be a lot fairer.

German Government Plans To Spend €93.6 Billion On Refugees By End 2020 (R.)

Germany’s government expects to spend around €93.6 billion by the end of 2020 on costs related to the refugee crisis, a magazine said on Saturday, citing a draft from the federal finance ministry for negotiations with the country’s 16 states. The figure is likely to stoke concerns, particularly among growing anti-immigration movements, on the impact of new arrivals on Europe’s largest economy which took in more than a million people last year, many from Syria and other war zones. The numbers arriving have fallen this year, helped by a deal between the EU and Turkey that was designed to give Turks visa-free travel to Europe in return for stemming the flow of migrants.

German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel said the finance ministry’s calculations included the costs for accommodating and integrating refugees as well as tackling the root causes for people fleeing from crisis-stricken regions. Officials based their estimates on 600,000 migrants arriving this year, 400,000 next year and 300,000 in each of the following years, the report said, adding that they expected 55% of recognized refugees to have a job after five years. A spokesman for the finance ministry declined to comment on the figures but pointed to ongoing talks between the government and states, saying they would meet again on May 31 to discuss how to divide up the costs between them.

The report said that €25.7 billion would be needed for jobless payments, rent subsidies and other benefits for recognized asylum applicants by the end of 2020. Another €5.7 billion would be needed for language courses and €4.6 billion would be required for measures to help migrants get jobs, it added. The annual cost of dealing with the refugee crisis would hit €20.4 billion in 2020, up from around €16.1 billion this year, the report said.

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