Sep 102016
 
 September 10, 2016  Posted by at 9:02 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing Balancing act, John “Jammie” Reynolds, Washington DC 1917

Rate-Rise Fears Trip Up Markets (WSJ)
Surprise Fed Speech Throws Markets For A Loop (CNBC)
Stocks Sink With Bonds, Dollar Rallies as Complacency Broken (BBG)
Draghi Asset Buying Deepens the Hole in Europe’s Pension Funds (BBG)
Gundlach Puts His Finger On Bond Market Inflection Point (BBG)
VW Engineer Pleads Guilty in US Criminal Case Over Diesel Emissions (NYT)
Sweden Says No to NATO (BBG)
One “Lifelong Socialist” Norwegian’s Perspective on America (Nordmann)
Eurozone Woes Continue: German Exports Plunge, French Industry Weakens (Tel.)
Why the Eurozone Will Destruct (Mish)
EU’s Poor Nations Plot Next Move As North-South Divide Erupts (CNBC)
Greece Rejects Return Of EU’s Dublin Regulation On Reverse Migration Flow (AP)

 

 

Finally, something happened. But still: there are no markets, there’s only a faint surrogate of a market left. And that has consequences, none of which are positive.

Rate-Rise Fears Trip Up Markets (WSJ)

Major markets had one of their worst days in months, as doubts over central banks’ willingness or ability to stimulate economic growth sent stocks and bonds tumbling. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell nearly 400 points, and sinking bond prices pushed yields on government debt to their highest levels since early summer. The yield on Germany’s 10-year bund, which had been negative almost without exception since Brexit on June 23, popped into positive territory Friday. The wave of selling shattered weeks of summer torpor and was a reminder of the extent to which long-running rallies in stocks and bonds are reliant upon continued support from central banks.

The ECB damped market sentiment on Thursday by deciding to leave its bond-buying and interest-rate policies unchanged, rather than expanding them as some investors had hoped. An official with the Federal Reserve deepened concerns by suggesting Friday that the Fed still might raise interest rates even after a week of relatively weak U.S. economic data. “A reasonable case can be made for continuing to pursue a gradual normalization of monetary policy,” Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President Eric Rosengren said in a speech. [..] Mr. Rosengren, who has tended to support keeping rates low in the past, helped push markets into a deeper rout.

The Dow industrials plunged 394.46 points, or 2.1%, to 18085.45. The S&P 500 declined 53.49 points, or 2.5%, to 2127.81. The percentage drop was the biggest for both indexes since June 24. The Nasdaq Composite Index lost 133.57 points, or 2.5%, to 5125.91. Yields on 10-year Treasury notes jumped to 1.671%, their highest level since June 23. Bond yields rise as prices fall. “Once the snowball starts rolling down the hill, everybody jumps on board,” said Jonathan Corpina, senior managing partner at Meridian Equity Partners.

Read more …

“[Fed] Governor Lael Brainard will be delivering a previously unannounced speech Monday..”

Surprise Fed Speech Throws Markets For A Loop (CNBC)

Those figuring that the Fed still might hike rates in September are getting one more bite at the apple. As the week drew to a close and the Fed’s “quiet period” before meetings was about to settle in, investors recoiled over news that the central bank’s most dovish official, Governor Lael Brainard, will be delivering a previously unannounced speech Monday at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The news sent a chill through markets Friday, with major stock market averages taking a beating and short-term government bond yields and the U.S. dollar moving higher, and it set off yet another round of speculation over whether the Fed is ready to come off its historically loose monetary policy. The S&P 500 was down more than 1% Friday afternoon, on track to close with its biggest percentage move since July 8.

“When a market is quiet, it’s susceptible to rumors, whether we’re talking about a path to freeze oil production or whether the Fed is going to raise rates in September,” said Quincy Krosby at Prudential Financial. “This may be a market that has too much time on its hands right now.” Indeed, the guessing game over whether the Fed might enact its first rate rise since December and only its second tightening in more than a decade has set off a fever pitch of horse trading. At one point Friday morning, markets put the chance of a hike later this month as high as 30% before backing off. The probability had been reduced amid a week’s worth of poor economic data, including the worst services reading in six years, a contraction in manufacturing and a weaker-than-expected nonfarm payrolls report.

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You can’t keep ‘markets’ at a completely fake level forever.

Stocks Sink With Bonds, Dollar Rallies as Complacency Broken (BBG)

Tranquility that has enveloped global markets for more than two months was upended as central banks start to question the benefits of further monetary easing, sending government debt, stocks and emerging-market assets to the biggest declines since June. The dollar jumped. The S&P 500 Index, global equities and emerging-market assets tumbled at least 2% in the biggest rout since Brexit. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note jumped to the highest since June and the greenback almost erased a weekly slide as a Federal Reserve official warned waiting too long to raise rates threatened to overheat the economy. German 10-year yields rose above zero for the first time since July after the ECB downplayed the need for more stimulus.

Fed Bank of Boston President Eric Rosengren’s comments moved him firmly into the hawkish camp, sending the odds for a rate hike this year above 60%. He spoke a day after ECB President Mario Draghi played down the prospect of an increase in asset purchases, while DoubleLine Capital Chief Investment Officer Jeffrey Gundlach said it’s time to prepare for higher rates. “Dovish Fed members getting called up to bat for a hike is putting people on edge,” Yousef Abbasi, a global market strategist at JonesTrading, said by phone. “The more hawkish-leaning investors are grabbing onto that and it’s certainly one of those days where people are positioning for that September hike being back on the table.”

Calm had dominated financial markets in late summer with equity volatility and bond yields near historic lows and measures of cross-asset correlation at the highest levels since at least the financial crisis. The rise in the influence of different markets on each other has been attributed to the growing impact of central bank policy on prices, and rising concern that the era of easing may be nearing an end roiled assets from bonds to currencies and stocks on Friday.

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It will take years for people to realize what central banks and their incompetence have done to fixed income.

Draghi Asset Buying Deepens the Hole in Europe’s Pension Funds (BBG)

As he tries to jump start the economies of today, ECB President Mario Draghi is punching holes in the retirements of tomorrow. Draghi on Thursday said the ECB may continue asset buying beyond March 2017 until it sees inflation consistent with its targets. The purchases, along with low and negative interest rates from the ECB and the region’s national banks, are pushing more and more bond yields below zero, hurting European pension managers that are already struggling to fund retirement plans. “Pension funds can’t meet their future obligations if interest rates remain as low as they currently are,” said Olaf Stotz at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management. “Some sponsors will have no choice but to add more capital” to their pension plans.

Funds that supply retirement income of millions of European workers face a growing gap between the money they have and what they must pay out. To make up the shortfalls, they may have to tap their sponsoring companies or institutions, reduce or delay payouts or try to boost returns by investing in riskier assets. That mirrors the dilemma faced by pension managers from the U.S. to Japan who are also being affected by central bank monetary policy. Low yields force funds to buy a greater variety of bonds or diversify their investments to generate a long-term income for their retirees. While some are profiting now by selling bonds purchased at lower prices in the past, they will struggle to get the same kind of returns from any new bonds they purchase.

Occupational funds in Europe currently have resources to pay only about 76% of their commitments on average, according to the European insurance and pensions regulator Eiopa. “Pension funds are more liberal in their investment decisions than insurers,” said Martin Eling at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. “Regulators will need to closely watch them as they are driven into higher-return assets such as corporate bonds and emerging markets investments.” EU regulations on the industry “might underestimate the risks,” Eiopa said by e-mail. It recommends measures including improved public disclosure so more beneficiaries know how their funds are investing. While pension systems and controls differ from country to country in Europe, regulators typically approve a pension plan’s design and set limits for certain investments.

They also can intervene to make sure a fund can meet its obligations.] Eiopa’s first stress test of the industry in Europe, published earlier this year, showed that occupational pension fund assets were 24% short of liabilities, a deficit of €428 billion ($484 billion) even before applying a shock scenario. Central banks in Europe and Japan are relying on stimulus packages that include negative deposit rates to fuel inflation and revive the economy. That has pushed yields in countries such as Germany and Japan below zero, bringing the global pile of bonds with negative yields to about $8.9 trillion. Pension liabilities for the 30 members of the benchmark DAX Index in Germany rose by about €65 billion this year to a record €426 billion as interest rates declined, according to consulting firm Mercer.

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“Traders have started dumping government bonds, leading to the biggest rout in Japanese debt in 13 years…”

Gundlach Puts His Finger On Bond Market Inflection Point (BBG)

DoubleLine’s Jeffrey Gundlach indicated in a webcast on Thursday that financial markets are on the brink of turmoil, saying “this is a big, big moment.” He’s right. It is. The mood has shifted suddenly. Investors are losing faith in the efficacy of monetary stimulus, and it appears that perhaps central bankers may be, too. The BOJ and ECB have refrained from committing to additional rounds of stimulus and are quickly running out of bonds to buy under their existing programs. The BOJ may run out of bonds within the next 18 months, while the ECB may run into a wall sooner than that, according to analysts cited by the WSJ and the FT.

The Federal Reserve, meanwhile, is still planning to raise benchmark interest rates despite underwhelming economic data. This is in large part because policy makers are increasingly concerned about the threats to longer-term financial stability by keeping rates so low. Meanwhile, inflation expectations are rising on bets that government officials will embark on spending plans to stimulate growth. This multifaceted dynamic is a game changer, and markets have taken note. Traders have started dumping government bonds, leading to the biggest rout in Japanese debt in 13 years. [..] “Interest rates have bottomed,” Gundlach said in the webcast. “They may not rise in the near term as I’ve talked about for years. But I think it’s the beginning of something, and you’re supposed to be defensive.”

Read more …

So VW guys will be thrown in jail but bankers will not.

VW Engineer Pleads Guilty in US Criminal Case Over Diesel Emissions (NYT)

A Volkswagen engineer pleaded guilty on Friday to conspiring to defraud regulators and car owners, in the first criminal charges stemming from the American investigation into the German carmaker’s emissions deception. The plea by the engineer, James Robert Liang, a Volkswagen veteran, suggests that the Justice Department is trying to build a larger criminal case and pursue charges against other higher-level executives at the carmaker. Mr. Liang was central in the development of software that Volkswagen used to cheat pollution tests in the United States, which the company admitted last year to installing in more than 11 million diesels vehicles worldwide. He was also part of the cover-up, lying to regulators when they started asking questions about discrepancies in emissions.

Mr. Liang’s admissions, made in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, portray a broader conspiracy by executives, making Mr. Liang a potentially valuable resource for the developing criminal investigation. The Justice Department said Mr. Liang, who faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, would cooperate. The Volkswagen case comes at a time when the government is trying to get tough on white-collar crime and hold more individuals responsible. After being criticized for going soft on executives, the Justice Department introduced new policies last year that emphasized the prosecution of individual employees. And the Volkswagen case provides one of the first real tests of the government’s commitment.

The Volkswagen case has escalated quickly. In June, the Justice Department and other agencies secured a record $15 billion settlement in a civil suit with the company. At the time, officials were quick to note that the settlement was just a first step, saying they would aggressively pursue a criminal case against the company and individuals. “There’s considerable pressure on the Department of Justice to see how far up the chain of management the knowledge goes,” said Daniel Riesel, a principal at the New York-based environmental law firm Sive, Paget & Riesel. One way for investigators to do that was “to indict and cut deals with lower-level people,” he added. Mr. Liang is “a high enough official who is culpable on his own right, and maybe in a position to start unraveling this chain of responsibility.”

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Good on them! Still, while they do this, they still persist in terrorizing Assange for the US.

Sweden Says No to NATO (BBG)

Sweden’s government affirmed its military neutrality even as a government-commissioned report broadly sided with those in favor of joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization amid rising tensions with Russia. “Our non-alignment policy serves us well,” Foreign Minister Margot Wallstroem said in Stockholm Friday after receiving the report. Joining NATO “would expose Sweden to risks, both political and otherwise, and we don’t think that’s the right direction.” The country has been forging closer ties with the military alliance, taking part in joint military exercises that have angered authorities in Moscow.

A stable, geographically strategic democracy such as Sweden would be a welcome addition for NATO as it struggles to contain a more assertive Russia on its eastern flank. The review released on Friday in Stockholm refrained from making a formal recommendation. While NATO membership would “increase common conflict-deterrent capabilities,” it would also spark a political crisis with Russia and possibly lead to a regional arms race, the review concluded. And although Russian attacks on Sweden or its Baltic neighbors are considered “unlikely,” being a part of NATO would help “remove uncertainty in case of conflict.”

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Zero Hedge has an interesting ‘alternative’ view from Norway. Tyler calls it a view of Trump, but it’s definitely wider than that.

One “Lifelong Socialist” Norwegian’s Perspective on America (Nordmann)

I find it interesting that the very wealthy are suddenly vocal, vigorously opposing Donald J Trump’s presidency. Mark Cuban, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and George Soros have all made statements against “The Donald.” Buffet, Gates, and Soros are avid supporters of Hillary Clinton. Goldman Sachs top management are not allowed to donate to Trump’s campaign. As an average seventy-something Norwegian farmer, looking at American from the outside, I find the vigorous billionaire opposition “interesting.” Moreover, this is amplified by CNN (which we get here in Norway as part of our standard cable package). CNN used to be fact based news only. Now they morphed into the Clinton News Network, attempting to shape public opinion, garnering support for globalism.

Perhaps the billionaire’s enterprises benefit from bloated government spending (this is speculation and worthy of investigation)? These Billionaires are so rich that the interest earned on their idle cash and investments amounts to tens of thousands of dollars per day. What do they have to lose either way? Why is this so important to them? Maybe it’s to their advantage that the ladder (better known as the American Dream), where people can ascend through the rungs, achieving different levels of success through hard work, is broken? Don’t Americans find it strange, despite technological advancements and increased productivity, that medical care, education, and housing costs are rising. I thought technology was supposed to make things cheaper, easier and more abundant.

Remember when people went from horse and buggy to the Ford Model T – what happened? (A middle mobile middle class was born). Based on what I read about American life, it seems like now, when there is a new technology or innovation to make life easier, things get worse. Jobs become less stable than decades earlier. People are working longer hours for less. The housing standard is now a cramped condo instead of a house with a yard. It appears a lot of people are on edge. American’s need to ask themselves, reflecting back one generation (20 years), how billionaires have made their lives better? Billionaires have substantially increased their wealth in the past 20 years, have you? American’s have a history of being rebellious, unpredictable, self-reliant and wild, rooting for the underdog. In this case, the underdog is Trump.

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Europe’s core will take this out on the periphery.

Eurozone Woes Continue: German Exports Plunge, French Industry Weakens (Tel.)

German exports fell at the fastest pace in more than a year in July as French industrial production shrank for a third straight month, fuelling fears of a wider eurozone slowdown. Exports in Germany fell 2.6pc in July compared with June, according to Destatis. This was the biggest fall since August 2015, and compares with expectations for a 0.4pc rise. The decline was driven by a drop in sales outside the EU, including China and the US, while demand from the UK also fell. June’s month-on-month rise of 0.3pc was also revised down to 0.2pc. Separate data showed French industrial production declined by 0.6pc in July on a monthly basis. Analysts had expected French production to bounce back following declines in May and June when activity was hit by strike action.

Chantana Sam, an economist at HSBC, said: “This is a bad sign for the prospects of a rebound in business investment. Recent manufacturing surveys also point to a deteriorating outlook and persistent weak demand. “All in all, this bad start to the third quarter of industrial production and puts some downside risks on our expectations for a rebound in GDP growth in the third quarter, after flat growth in the second quarter.” Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German finance minister, said Europe’s largest economy had no intention of reining in export growth. Critics, including ECB chief Mario Draghi, say the country’s current account surplus, which includes trade, has contributed to imbalances and hindered growth in the 19 nation bloc. “Even before the ECB decided its policies of unusual monetary policy, which also led to the euro exchange rate falling significantly, I said that we will increase German export surplus,” Mr Schaueble told reporters.

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Love mish, but I’ll write an article on where he goes off the rails on the issue.

Why the Eurozone Will Destruct (Mish)

No discussion of eurozone problems would be complete without a discussion of Target2, an abomination created by the eurozone founders and one of the fundamental flaws of the euro. Target2 stands for Trans-European Automated Real-time Gross Settlement System. It is a reflection of capital flight from the “Club-Med” countries in Southern Europe (Greece, Spain, and Italy) to banks in Northern Europe. Pater Tenebrarum at the Acting Man blog provides this easy to understand example: “Spain imports German goods, but no Spanish goods or capital have been acquired by any private party in Germany in return. The only thing that has been ‘acquired’ is an IOU issued by the Spanish commercial bank to the Bank of Spain in return for funding the payment.”

Monetary policy can help external balances but it cannot fix internal target2 balances. Germany will pay one way or another for the massive imbalances between the creditor and debtor Eurozone countries. Eventually Spain, Greece, or Italy will realize it is impossible for them to pay back what is owed. Once that realization sets in, some country will default on their euro-denominated liabilities. Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement in Italy is on board with that idea already. There are only three possible paths at this point: 1) Germany and the creditor nations forgive enough debt for Europe to grow; 2) Permanently high unemployment and slow growth in Spain, Greece, Italy, with stagnation elsewhere in Europe; 3) Breakup of the eurozone.

Germany will not allow #1. It is unreasonable to expect #2 to last forever. The only door left open is door #3. The best move would be for Germany to leave the eurozone. Germany is in the best shape to suffer the consequences. Unfortunately, the most likely outcome is still a destructive breakup of the eurozone, starting in Italy or Greece.

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Any ‘subversive’ moves from the south will be crushed by the north.

EU’s Poor Nations Plot Next Move As North-South Divide Erupts (CNBC)

In order to tame the euro zone sovereign debt crisis over the last seven years, the richer countries of Northern Europe have called for austerity measures and budget cuts, coupled with stronger EU sanctions for countries that do not adhere to this policy. In practice, this economic recipe, led by Germany, proved economically and politically disastrous, as it fueled the recession and nourished populism. In some cases it has become increasingly difficult for political parties to pursue an economic agenda that deviates from these fiscal norms without questioning EU membership. Tspiras and his colleagues believe the current situation in southern Europe makes this a good time to address austerity issues and its effect on long-term growth throughout the region.

The stars may be aligning, considering in Italy a referendum on constitutional reform will take place between Nov. 15 and Dec. 5 and the first round of the presidential election in France next April. This may help the Greek prime minister’s cause, which is to convince its lenders that the targeted 3.5 percent primary surplus for 2018 is too high and would negatively affect crisis-stricken Greeks. Terms of the Greek bailout program assumed that tax revenues would exceed program spending, ex-interest on outstanding debt. But within the southern EU bloc, many believe this is an unrealistic target for an aching economy that for seven years has been in a recession and austerity mode. Tsipras does not want to give the impression that he does not respect the agreements with Greece’s creditors.

In an informal government meeting held on September 6, Tsipras asked his ministers to progress rapidly with the fiscal and structural measures that Greece’s lenders set as a prerequisite last June. This effort comes ahead of a mandated second review of its current international bailout, which the Greek government is expected to start in October and which includes controversial reforms. In turn, lenders have promised that the European Stability Mechanism, the EU’s bailout fund, will outline how it will offer Greece debt-relief measures. The austerity measures in southern European nations create the conditions for dividing the EU further, as the Germans and their northern allies insist on tight budgets, despite the persistent deflation in the region and weak growth.

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This is the craziest European idea yet. Merkel suspended Dublin, and now she wants to flood already severely overburdened Greece with the people she invited to Germany last year? Note: Greece is overburdened because Europe refuses to help out.

Greece Rejects Return Of EU’s Dublin Regulation On Reverse Migration Flow (AP)

The Greek government is adamantly opposing the revival of a European Union rule that would allow the forcible return to its territory of asylum-seekers who entered the bloc via Greece – a path followed by more than a million people in the past two years. Immigration is high on the agenda of a meeting Friday in Athens of southern European leaders. The group includes Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, whose country, with Greece, is Europe’s main immigration gateway. Ahead of the talks, a government spokesman on immigration said Athens rejects reactivation of the so-called Dublin Regulation, which would allow other EU members to send asylum-seekers back to Greece.

“A country such as Greece which receives a large number of refugees from Turkey, and also hosts a large number of refugees – practically without any outside help – cannot be asked to receive refugees from other European countries,” Giorgos Kyritsis told The Associated Press. “That would be outrageous.” The Dublin Regulation that governs the Schengen passport-free area stipulates that people wishing to apply for asylum must do so in the first member country they arrive in. In most cases that was Greece, whose eastern islands were overwhelmed last year by migrants packed into smugglers boats from Turkey. But even before last year’s migration crisis, many of its EU partners had stopped enforcing the rule because Greece’s asylum and migrant reception systems were below standard.

Now, however, both Germany and the EU executive are pressing for the rule to be restored, with EU officials saying that Greece must meet the Dublin standards by the end of this year.

Read more …

Sep 052016
 
 September 5, 2016  Posted by at 9:44 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle September 5 2016


DPC Sternwheeler Mary H. Miller in Mississippi River floating dry dock, Vicksburg 1905

China, US Commit To Refrain From Currency Wars (R.)
China’s $3.9 Trillion Wealth-Management Product Boom Seen Cooling (BBG)
China Banks Play Catch Up With Capital Raising As Bad Loans Soar (BBG)
Stiglitz: “Cost Of Keeping Euro Probably Exceeds Cost Of Breaking It Up” (LSE)
Hanjin Shipping Shares Drop 30% As It Seeks Stay Orders In 43 Countries (BBG)
Japan’s Long-Term Bonds Add To Worst Rout Since 2013 (BBG)
BOJ’s Kuroda Says Room For More Easing, Including New Ideas (R.)
EU Finds Volkswagen Broke Consumer Laws In 20 Countries (R.)
The Greater Depression (Quinn)
The Ultimate 21st Century Choice: OBOR Or War (Escobar)
EU Will Not Release More Bailout Money For Greece This Month (R.)
Hungary Police Recruit ‘Border-Hunters’ To Keep Migrants Out (BBC)
Overnight Clashes At Lesvos Refugee Center (Kath.)
9,000-Year-Old Stone Houses Found On Australian Island (G.)
World’s Largest Gorillas ‘One Step From Going Extinct’ (AFP)

 

 

Sure. We believe you.

China, US Commit To Refrain From Currency Wars (R.)

China and the United States on Sunday committed anew to refrain from competitive currency devaluations, and China said it would continue an orderly transition to a market-oriented exchange rate for the yuan. A joint “fact sheet”, issued a day after U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping held talks, also said the two countries had committed “not to unnecessarily limit or prevent commercial sales opportunities for foreign suppliers of ICT (information and communications technology) products or services”. While China and the United States cooperate closely on a range of global issues, including North Korea’s disputed nuclear program and climate change, the two countries have deep disagreements in other areas, like cyberhacking and human rights.

Both countries said they would “refrain from competitive devaluations and not target exchange rates for competitive purposes”, the fact sheet said. Meanwhile, China would “continue an orderly transition to a market-determined exchange rate, enhancing two-way flexibility. China stresses that there is no basis for a sustained depreciation of the RMB (yuan). Both sides recognize the importance of clear policy communication.” China shocked global markets by devaluing the yuan in August 2015 and allowing it to slip sharply again early this year. Though it has stepped in to temper losses in recent weeks, the currency is still hovering near six-year lows against the dollar.

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Only when Beijing can locate another bubble to blow.

China’s $3.9 Trillion Wealth-Management Product Boom Seen Cooling (BBG)

China’s multi-trillion dollar boom in wealth-management products, under scrutiny around the world because of potential threats to financial stability, is set to cool as yields fall on tighter regulation, according to China Merchants Securities analyst Ma Kunpeng. Ma cited a “significant slowdown” in the products’ growth in the first half and said that WMPs may shrink in the future, with money flowing elsewhere. Banks have started to lower yields on WMPs in preparation for requirements for funds to be held in third-party custody, the analyst said, adding that such a change may be implemented over six months to a year. Currently, lenders can use newly invested money to pay off maturing products. The Chinese government and agencies including the IMF are focused on potential risks from WMPs that rose to a record 26.3 trillion yuan ($3.9 trillion) as of June 30.

Read more …

Have investors, who are mostly domestic, buy your banks’ bad debt. This is just shifting the rotten fish from the right pocket to the left.

China Banks Play Catch Up With Capital Raising As Bad Loans Soar (BBG)

China’s banks, which dialed down fundraising efforts this year even as bad debts swelled, are making up for lost time. Both lenders and the companies set up to acquire their delinquent assets are bolstering their finances. China Citic Bank last month announced plans to raise as much as 40 billion yuan ($6 billion), while Agricultural Bank of China, Industrial Bank and China Zheshang Bank are also boosting capital. China Cinda Asset Management and China Huarong Asset Management are poised to tap investors. “Chinese banks are preemptively raising capital while pricing remains favorable in order to tackle higher loan impairments,” said Nicholas Yap at Mitsubishi UFJ Securities in Hong Kong.

“Additionally, the mid- and small-sized lenders also need to boost their capital levels as they have been growing their asset bases rapidly, largely through their investment receivables portfolios.” Chinese banks have strained their finances with the busiest first-half lending spree on record, despite having the highest amount of bad debt in 11 years. Still, completed offerings of hybrid capital declined 38% after two consecutive years of record fundraising. A rule change in April that requires lenders to make full provisions for loan rights they have transferred is also encouraging the fundraising. BNP Paribas said Chinese lenders may be assessing the right time to approach investors.

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You have to specify who’s going to pay that cost, Joe.

Stiglitz: “Cost Of Keeping Euro Probably Exceeds Cost Of Breaking It Up” (LSE)

Can the euro be saved? In an interview with Artemis Photiadou and EUROPP’s editor Stuart Brown, Nobel Prize-winning economist and bestselling author Joseph Stiglitz discusses the structural problems at the heart of the Eurozone, why an amicable divorce may be preferable to maintaining the single currency, and how European leaders should respond to the UK’s vote to leave the EU. Your new book, The Euro: And its Threat to Europe, outlines the problems at the heart of the euro and their effects on European economies. Can the euro be saved?

The fundamental thesis of the book is that it is the structure of the Eurozone itself, not the actions of individual countries, which is at the root of the problem. All countries make mistakes, but the real problem is the structure of the Eurozone. A lot of people say there were policy mistakes – and there have been a lot of policy mistakes – but even the best economic minds in the world would have been incapable of making the euro work. It’s fundamentally a structural problem with the Eurozone. So are there reforms that could make the euro work? Yes, I think there are and in my book I talk about what these reforms would be. They are not that complicated economically, after all the United States is made up of 50 diverse states and they all use the same currency so we know that you can make a currency union work. But the question is, is there political will and is there enough solidarity to make it work?

There is an argument that even if the euro was a mistake, the costs of breaking it up may be so severe that it is worth pushing for a reformed euro rather than pursuing what you call an ‘amicable divorce’. Are the benefits of a properly functioning euro worth the costs to get there? You are right. The question of whether you should form the union is different from whether you should break it up: history matters. I think it’s pretty clear now that it was a mistake to start the euro at that time, with those institutions. There will be a cost to breaking it up, but whichever way you look at it, over the last 8 years the euro has generated enormous costs for Europe. And I think that one could manage the cost of breaking it up and that under the current course, the cost of keeping the Eurozone together probably exceeds the cost of breaking it up.

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Chapter 11.

Hanjin Shipping Shares Drop 30% As It Seeks Stay Orders In 43 Countries (BBG)

South Korea’s financial regulator said Hanjin Shipping will seek stay orders in 43 countries to protect its vessels from being seized, after its court receivership filing last week roiled companies’ supply chain before the year-end shopping season. Applications in 10 countries will be made this week and the remainder soon, the Financial Supervisory Commission said in a statement Monday. Hanjin Group, owner of the shipping line, should also take more action to account for the “chaos” caused to the shipping industry, FSC Chairman Yim Jong Yong said. Vessels of Hanjin – the world’s 7th-largest container carrier with a 2.9% market share – are getting stranded at sea and ports after the box carrier sought protection, hurting the supply of LG televisions and other consumer goods ahead of the holiday season.

Hanjin Shipping shares resumed trading Monday limit down 30% and later erased losses to rally as much as 18%. Any optimism may be misplaced, said Park Moo Hyun Hana Financial Investment in Seoul. “Retail investors are hoping for the best on false hopes,” Park said. “They think that government measures to help resolve the supply-chain disruptions could mean it’s also supporting Hanjin Shipping. They don’t seem to realize that that’s the wrong conclusion.” The commission said 79 of Hanjin’s vessels, including 61 container ships, have had their operations disrupted. Hanjin Group Chairman Cho Yang Ho and Korean Air Lines, the shipping company’s largest shareholder, should take steps to ease the disruptions, Yim said.

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Keep digging!

Japan’s Long-Term Bonds Add To Worst Rout Since 2013 (BBG)

Japanese long-term bonds fell, with 30-year debt adding to its biggest weekly loss in almost 2 1/2 years, as investors prepared to bid at an auction of the securities Tuesday. The rout is being driven by speculation the Bank of Japan will reduce its bond-buying program at its next policy meeting Sept. 20-21 now that it owns a third of the nation’s government debt. BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said Monday he doesn’t share the view there’s a limit to monetary easing. PIMCO said last month the central bank has pushed monetary policy as far as it can. “Unless Governor Kuroda directly rules out scaling back bond purchases, the market will continue to hold that as a possibility,” said Shuichi Ohsaki, the chief rates strategist at Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch unit in Tokyo. “Selling of longer-dated debt is likely ahead of tomorrow’s 30-year auction.”

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The whole notion that you’re going to try out ‘New Ideas’ kills off confidence, the one thing you know is needed.

BOJ’s Kuroda Says Room For More Easing, Including New Ideas (R.)

Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda signaled his readiness to ease monetary policy further using existing or new tools, shrugging off growing market concerns that the bank is reaching its limits after an already massive stimulus program. He also stressed the BOJ’s comprehensive assessment of its policies later this month won’t lead to a withdrawal of easing. But Kuroda acknowledged that the BOJ’s negative interest rate policy may impair financial intermediation and hurt public confidence in Japan’s banking system, a sign the central bank is becoming more mindful of the rising cost of its stimulus.

“Even within the current framework, there is ample room for further monetary easing … and other new ideas should not be off the table,” Kuroda told a seminar on Monday. “There may be a situation where drastic measures are warranted even though they could entail costs,” he said, adding that the BOJ should “always prepare policy options.” Under its current framework that combines negative rates with hefty buying of government bonds and some riskier assets, the BOJ has gobbled up a third of Japan’s bond market and faced criticism from banks for squeezing already thin profit margins.

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Slap that wrist!

EU Finds Volkswagen Broke Consumer Laws In 20 Countries (R.)

The European Commission has found that Volkswagen broke consumer laws in 20 European Union countries by cheating on emissions tests, German daily Die Welt reported, citing Commission sources. Among them are the Consumer Sales and Guarantees Directive – which prohibits companies from touting exaggerated environmental claims in their sales pitches – and the Unfair Commercial Practises Directive, both of which apply across the EU, the paper said. The European Commission said Industry Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska has repeatedly invited Volkswagen to consider compensating consumers voluntarily, without an encouraging response, and that it was for national courts to determine whether consumers were legally entitled to compensation.

To ensure consumers are treated fairly, a Commission spokeswoman said, Consumer Commissioner Vera Jourova had written to consumer associations across the EU to collect information. “She will meet relevant representatives in Brussels this week,” the spokeswoman wrote in an emailed response. Jourova has been working with consumer groups to pressure Volkswagen to compensate clients in Europe as it has in the United States over the diesel emissions scandal. Volkswagen has pledged billions of euros to compensate owners of VW diesel-powered cars, but has so far rejected calls for similar payments for the 8.5 million affected vehicles in Europe, where different legal rules weaken the chances of winning a pay out.

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Jim makes a good point: today’s food lines have turned digital.

The Greater Depression (Quinn)

It’s the black and white photographs of disheartened men and hungry children from the 1930’s that define the Great Depression for present day generations. Of course after years of government run social engineering disguised as education, most people couldn’t even define when or what constituted the Great Depression. These heart wrenching portraits of average Americans suffering and in despair capture the zeitgeist of the last Fourth Turning crisis. Apologists for the status quo contend the last eight years couldn’t possibly be classified as a depression. The narrative of economic recovery has been peddled by corporate media mouthpieces, feckless politicians, Too Big To Trust Wall Street bankers, Federal Reserve puppets, and government apparatchiks flogging manipulated data as proof of economic advancement. They point to the lack of soup lines as proof we couldn’t be experiencing a depression.

First of all, if there were soup lines, the corporate media would just ignore them. If they don’t report it, then it isn’t happening. Secondly, the soup lines are electronic, as the government downloads the “soup” onto EBT cards so JP Morgan can reap billions in fees to run the SNAP program. Just because there are no pictures of starving downtrodden Americans in shabby clothes waiting in soup lines, doesn’t mean the majority of Americans aren’t experiencing a depression. If the country has actually been experiencing an economic recovery for the last seven years, why would 14% to 15% of all Americans be dependent on food stamps to survive? When the economy is actually growing and employment is really below 5%, the%age of Americans on food stamps is below 8%.

If the government economic data was truthful, there would not be 43.5 million people living in 21.4 households (17% of all households) dependent on food stamps. More than 100 million Americans are now dependent on some form of federal welfare (not including Social Security or Medicare). If the economy came out of recession in the second half of 2009, why would 6 million more Americans need to go on welfare over the next two years?

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I don’t know, it’s an ambitious dream and all, but… Reading that $40 billion has been pledged for a $1.4 trillion project doesn’t help, I guess.

The Ultimate 21st Century Choice: OBOR Or War (Escobar)

The G20 meets in tech hub Hangzhou, China, at an extremely tense geopolitical juncture. China has invested immense political/economic capital to prepare this summit. The debates will revolve around the main theme of seeking solutions “towards an innovative, invigorated, interconnected and inclusive world economy.” G20 Trade Ministers have already agreed to lay down nine core principles for global investment. At the summit, China will keep pressing for emerging markets to have a bigger say in the Bretton Woods system. But most of all China will seek greater G20 backing for the New Silk Roads – or One Belt, One Road (OBOR), as they are officially known – as well as the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

So at the heart of the G20 we will have the two projects which are competing head on to geopolitically shape the young 21st century. China has proposed OBOR; a pan-Eurasian connectivity spectacular designed to configure a hypermarket at least 10 times the size of the US market within the next two decades. The US hyperpower – not the Atlanticist West, because Europe is mired in fear and stagnation — “proposes” the current neocon/neoliberalcon status quo; the usual Divide and Rule tactics; and the primacy of fear, enshrined in the Pentagon array of “threats” that must be fought, from Russia and China to Iran. The geopolitical rumble in the background high-tech jungle is all about the “containment” of top G20 members Russia and China.

Shuttling between the West and Asia, one can glimpse, in myriad forms, the graphic contrast between paralysis and paranoia and an immensely ambitious $1.4 trillion project potentially touching 64 nations, no less than 4.4 billion people and around 40 per cent of the global economy which will, among other features, create new “innovative, invigorated, interconnected and inclusive” trade horizons and arguably install a post-geopolitics win-win era. An array of financial mechanisms is already in place. The AIIB (which will fund way beyond the initial commitment of $100 billion); the Silk Road Fund ($40 billion already committed); the BRICS’s New Development Bank (NDB), initially committing $100 billion; plus assorted players such as the China Development Bank and the Hong Kong-based China Merchants Holdings International.

Chinese state companies and funds are relentlessly buying up ports and tech companies in Western Europe – from Greece to the UK. Cargo trains are now plying the route from Zhejiang to Tehran in 14 days, through Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan; soon this will be all part of a trans-Eurasia high-speed rail network, including a high-speed Transiberian. The $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has the potential to unblock vast swathes of South Asia, with Gwadar, operated by China Overseas Port Holdings, slated to become a key naval hub of the New Silk Roads. Deep-sea ports will be built in Kyaukphyu in Myanmar, Sonadia island in Bangladesh, Hambantota in Sri Lanka. Add to them the China-Belarus Industrial Park and 33 deals in Kazakhstan covering everything from mining and engineering to oil and gas.

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Greece gets punished for not inflicting more misery on its people fast enough.

EU Will Not Release More Bailout Money For Greece This Month (R.)

The euro zone will not release additional bailout money for Greece at a meeting in Bratislava this month, Germany’s Handelsblatt Global reported on Sunday, citing European Union diplomats. The online edition of the German business daily quoted the diplomats as saying that Athens had only implemented two of 15 political reforms that are conditions for the bailout money. Above all, they said, Greece had been slow to privatize state assets. Under a deal signed last year with the Troika, the ESM will provide financial assistance of up to €86 billion to Greece by 2018 in return for the agreed reforms.

The debt relief is due to be granted in tranches, including short-term measures to extend Greece’s debt, with a further reduction due after 2018 including interest deferrals and interest rate caps. Handelsblatt Global said the Eurogroup had approved a tranche of €10.3 billion for Greece in May from the overall package. An initial €7.5 billion of that sum had been transferred to Athens with the rest scheduled to arrive in the fall. The diplomats said the Eurogroup will only discuss a progress report on Greece at the Bratislava meeting. The comments came just days after the head of the euro zone’s bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) on Saturday said Greece could secure short-term debt relief measures “very soon” if it implements remaining reforms agreed under its bailout program.

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Civilized Europe.

Hungary Police Recruit ‘Border-Hunters’ To Keep Migrants Out (BBC)

The Hungarian police are advertising for 3,000 “border-hunters”, who will reinforce up to 10,000 police and soldiers patrolling a razor-wire fence built to keep migrants out. The new recruits, like existing officers, will carry pistols with live ammunition, and have pepper spray, batons, handcuffs and protective kit. The number of migrants reaching Hungary’s southern border with Serbia has stagnated, at fewer than 200 daily. The new guards will start work in May.\ The recruits will have six months’ training, they must be over 18, physically fit and must pass a psychological test, police officer Zsolt Pozsgai told Hungarian state television. Monthly pay will be 150,000 forint ($542) for the first two months, then 220,300 forint.

Hungary is in the grip of a massive publicity campaign, launched by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s right-wing government ahead of a 2 October referendum. Voters will be asked to oppose a European Commission proposal to relocate 160,000 refugees more fairly across the 28-nation EU. Under the EU scheme, Hungary has been asked to take 1,300 refugees. The relocation programme is for refugees from Syria, Iraq and Eritrea. Currently 30 migrants are allowed into Hungary each day through official “transit zones”.

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Inevitable when far too many people are forced into far too few places, over prolonged periods of absolute uncertainty about their fate. Though children assaulting children is a new depth. Our friend Kostas says these things originate almost always in a lack of food. The solution is simple: EU countries should live up to their promises regarding refugee relocation.

Overnight Clashes At Lesvos Refugee Center (Kath.)

Authorities say clashes have broken out between rival ethnic groups of refugees and other migrants at a detention camp on the eastern Aegean Sea island of Lesvos. The trouble at the Moria hot spot started shortly after midnight in a wing of the camp where minors are held and then spread, authorities said, adding that child refugees from Syria had been assaulted by a group of Afghan children. An unspecified number of children were injured while about 40 of them escaped into nearby fields. Order was restored around 4 a.m. after intervention by riot police. Authorities were trying to locate the missing children. Nearly 5,000 migrants and refugees are currently sheltered on the islands of Lesvos. Local authorities are demanding immediate government action to decongest overcrowded migrant facilities.

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Australia’s ancient civilizations were way ahead of anyone else.

9,000-Year-Old Stone Houses Found On Australian Island (G.)

Archeologists working on the Dampier archipelago off Australia’s north-west coast have found evidence of stone houses dating back 9,000 years – to the end of the last ice age – building the case for the area to get a world heritage listing. Circular stone foundations were discovered in a cave floor on Rosemary Island, the outermost of 42 islands that make up the archipelago. The islands and the nearby Burrup peninsula are known as Murujuga – a word meaning “hip bones sticking out” – in the language of the Ngarluma people. Prof Jo Mcdonald, director of the Centre for Rock Art Research and Management at the University of Western Australia, said the excavations showed occupation was maintained throughout the ice age and the period of rapid sea level rise that followed.

“Around 8,000 years ago, it would have been on the coast,” McDonald told Guardian Australia. “This is the time that the islands were starting to be cut off and it’s a time when people were starting to rearrange themselves.” The sea level on Australia’s north-west coast rose 130 metres after the end of the ice age, at a rate of about a metre every five to 10 years. “In people’s lifetimes they would have seen loss of territory and would have had to renegotiate – a bit like Miami these days,” McDonald said. The placement of the stone structures indicated how that sudden space restriction was managed, she said. “The development of housing is really significant in terms of understanding how people actually divided up their space and lived in close proximity to each other in times of environmental stress.”

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“..we are wiping out some of our closest relatives..”

World’s Largest Gorillas ‘One Step From Going Extinct’ (AFP)

The world’s largest gorillas have been pushed to the brink of extinction by a surge of illegal hunting in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and are now critically endangered, officials said Sunday. With just 5,000 Eastern gorillas (Gorilla beringei) left on Earth, the majestic species now faces the risk of disappearing completely, officials said at the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s global conference in Honolulu. Four out of six of the Earth’s great apes are now critically endangered, “only one step away from going extinct,” including the Eastern Gorilla, Western Gorilla, Bornean Orangutan and Sumatran Orangutan, said the IUCN in an update to its Red List, the world’s most comprehensive inventory of plant and animal species. Chimpanzees and bonobos are listed as endangered.

“Today is a sad day because the IUCN Red List shows we are wiping out some of our closest relatives,” Inger Andersen, IUCN director general, told reporters. War, hunting and loss of land to refugees in the past 20 years have led to a “devastating population decline of more than 70%,” for the Eastern gorilla, said the IUCN’s update. One of the two subspecies of Eastern gorilla, known as Grauer’s gorilla (G. b. graueri), has drastically declined since 1994 when there were 16,900 individuals, to just 3,800 in 2015. Even though killing these apes is against the law, hunting is their greatest threat, experts said. The second subspecies of Eastern gorilla – the Mountain gorilla (G. b. beringei) – has seen a small rebound in its numbers, and totals around 880 individuals.

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Aug 022016
 
 August 2, 2016  Posted by at 9:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Lewis Wickes Hine ‘Hot dogs’ for fans waiting for gates to open at Ebbets Field 1920

Asia Stocks Fall as Japan Awaits Stimulus (BBG)
Japanese Bonds Are Plunging, Australia’s Surge To Record (BBG)
China Debt Situation Gets Worse And Other EMs Start To Struggle (VW)
China Set For Special Drawing Rights Bond Issues (SCMP)
China Regulator Shutters 10,000 Funds (R.)
Student-Loan Defaulters in a Standoff With Federal Government (WSJ)
The State Of Europe’s Banks Is Far From Steady (CNBC)
UniCredit Shares Fall Sharply After European Bank Stress Tests (G.)
UK PM May Revives Industrial Policy Killed Off By Thatcher 30 Years Ago (R.)
Home Ownership In England At Lowest Level In 30 Years (G.)
South Korea Halts Sale of 80 Volkswagen Models Over Emissions Scandal (AFP)
Aid Workers Try To Convert Muslim Refugees At Greek Camp (G.)
New Greek Bailout Finds IMF In A Political Bind (AFP)
Let the Games Begin! (Jim Kunstler)

 

 

With the BOJ running out of playing field, what goood can Abe do?

Asia Stocks Fall as Japan Awaits Stimulus (BBG)

Asian stocks fell for the first time in seven days, retreating from an almost one-year high, as Japanese shares slid ahead of the announcement of a $274 billion stimulus package and a slump in oil weighed on energy and commodity companies. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index dropped 0.4% to 136.85 as of 9:03 a.m. in Tokyo after closing Monday at the highest since Aug. 17. Material and industrial shares led losses on the regional gauge, while energy producers also retreated, after crude sank into a bear market and sank below $40 a barrel for the first time since April on Monday. Japan’s Topix index lost 0.8% as investors weighed earnings and the government was poised to give details on steps to bolster an economy threatened by a strengthening yen and weak consumer spending.

Asian equities have extended their July rally, which was the best month since March, on the prospect of more global stimulus. The regional gauge has now shrugged off the fallout of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and is up 3.7% for the year. Still, oil’s fall of more than 20% from its June high is muddying the waters and raising concerns about the recovery of the global economy. Crude’s decline “will probably weigh on sentiment a little bit and we may see some risk-off moves associated with that,” James Woods, a strategist at Rivkin Securities in Sydney, said by phone. “We’ll have an update from Shinzo Abe in Japan today, just running through the measures of the 28 trillion yen stimulus package. It’s really what’s going to dictate risk sentiment today.”

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Yikes.

Japanese Bonds Are Plunging, Australia’s Surge To Record (BBG)

Japanese bonds are plunging. Australia’s surged to a record. Blame it all on central banks. Benchmark sovereign notes in Japan headed for their biggest loss in three years on speculation the central bank will amend its unprecedented debt-purchase plan as soon as September. Australian yields tumbled to levels never seen before as the Reserve Bank cut interest rates in response to inflation running below its target. The divergence highlights the potency central banks have over their bond markets, even when analysts are questioning the limits of monetary policy. The Reserve Bank of Australia, with a benchmark of 1.5%, still has room to cut. PIMCO said the Bank of Japan – which is buying 80 trillion yen ($780 billion) a year of bonds and uses negative interest rates – has pushed policy as far as it can.

“The financial markets are being driven by what the central banks are doing,” said Roger Bridges at Nikko Asset Management in Sydney. “The central bank here has room to cut if necessary. In Japan, the policy options are deemed to be running out.” [..] Japanese policy makers fueled speculation they’re running out of options when they finished a meeting last week and opted against extending their two main tools, the bond purchases and negative interest rates, even as the inflation rate falls further below zero. They also announced a review of the effectiveness of the central bank’s policies. “We have probably seen the low of the yield of the super long JGBs,” Tomoya Masanao, Pimco’s head of portfolio management in Japan, wrote. “The BOJ hit its limit,” he wrote in a report on the company’s website last week.

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Let’s see the NPLs in the shadow system.

China Debt Situation Gets Worse And Other EMs Start To Struggle (VW)

One article this month pretty much summed up the overbuilding issue in China. In aggregate, Chinese cities are planning for 3.4 billion people in 2030. That’s three times the existing population and forecast population growth is minimal. Peak urbanisation may have arrived for China, the substantial slowdown in wage inflation is a strong indicator that the demand for labour is flat at best. This aligns with recent reports of a substantial increase in the unemployment rate. The city of Tieling is one example of what happens when a construction and manufacturing bubble pops. Remember that local governments earn most of their revenues from property development activities, which would fall flat if urbanisation stops.

A collapse in revenue would make debt servicing problematic, which is particularly concerning as local governments have seen an enormous increase in their debt issuance in 2015 and 2016. This includes continuing to build coal fired power plants when the existing plants are running at low capacity. Local governments are blocking lenders from withdrawing credit in order to protect jobs at zombie companies. 7.5% of companies in China are believed to be economically unviable, with medium and large state owned entities the worst.

Last month I wrote about the first non-performing loan securitisations in China and it looks like this process is ramping up. The Agricultural Bank of China is planning to sell a US$1.6b securitisation of non-performing loans which includes the underlying loans being marked down to 29% of face value. The other big way that banks are planning to clean up their loan books is debt to equity swaps, which are expected to start soon. There’s plenty to worry about with peer to peer lending and a crackdown is coming for wealth management products. In order to reduce fraud in these areas executives are being given tours of prisons, as a reminder of what might happen to them when investors lose money.

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I talked about this yesterday in Why Should The IMF Care About Its Credibility? I don’t see it becoming a major issue any time soon, if at all.

China Set For Special Drawing Rights Bond Issues (SCMP)

China might take another big step forward this month in its long-term aim to forge an IMF money system into the world’s dominant currency. Mainland media group Caixin reported that the World Bank planned to issue bonds denominated in Special Drawing Rights in China as early as the end of this month. It said policy bank China Development Bank was also planning an SDR bond issue. The SDR is a unit of money created by the IMF and defined by a weighted average of various convertible currencies. Market traders questioned the real purpose of such bonds, saying the SDR had little use in investment and trade. China has long had an obsession with the IMF’s SDR and wants to reduce the global reliance on the US dollar.

The IMF agreed last November to add the yuan to its SDR basket of currencies and offered the weighting as the third-biggest in the group, which Beijing saw as a triumph in its push for the yuan to have greater global influence. But the yuan later came under heavy depreciation pressure amid massive capital outflows, raising doubts about its credibility as a global currency. Beijing then began to publish its foreign exchange reserves, overseas investment and payments denominated in SDR. Central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan said in April that the People’s Bank of China was studying the feasibility of issuing SDR bonds in China. If the World Bank issue went ahead, it would be one month before the yuan was formally included in the currency basket.

Bank of China researcher Zhao Xueqing said the timing was proper because the IMF was looking for ways to expand the use of the monetary unit. However, one Shanghai-based trader at a major bank said the issue would be more symbolic than meaningful. “It’s more like China wanting to show it has a big role in the global financial market”, she said. “But who will buy them? How will they be priced and transacted? … Even yuan-denominated bonds issued by foreign institutions are not actively traded.” An in-house economist at a Shenzhen-based domestic bank said:“I doubt there is any meaningful use to the issuing of such bonds. If such bonds were worth investing in, why hasn’t there been any active issues or transactions in much more mature countries before?”

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China’s financial world is still Wild East. Lots of abuse and losses for grandma’s.

China Regulator Shutters 10,000 Funds (R.)

China’s funds regulator said on Monday it has canceled the licenses of over 10,000 funds, amid a crackdown on the country’s poorly regulated fund management sector, which has been dogged by runaway managers and misappropriation of investments. The move comes after the hedge fund industry was thrown into disarray earlier this year as managers rushed to comply with stringent new rules. “Some funds registered in reality had no intention of getting into the business,” the Asset Management Association of China (AMAC) said. “Some engaged in illegal fundraising for illegal and criminal activities under the guise of funds, cheating the public,” the note added. New rules introduced by AMAC that took effect in July require fund managers to fully disclose their investment risks, review the identities of investors, and set up special accounts to manage capital.

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Something will have to give. The numbers are getting out of hand.

Student-Loan Defaulters in a Standoff With Federal Government (WSJ)

The letters keep coming, as do the emails. They head, unopened, straight into Jason Osborne’s trash and deleted folder. The U.S. government desperately wants Mr. Osborne and his wife to start repaying their combined $46,500 in federal student debt. But they are among the more than seven million Americans in default on their loans, many of them effectively in a standoff with the government. These borrowers have gone at least a year without making a payment—ignoring hundreds of phone calls, emails, text messages and letters from federally hired debt collectors. Borrowers in long-term default represent about 16% of the roughly 43 million Americans with student debt, now totaling $1.3 trillion across the U.S., and their numbers have continued to climb despite the expanding labor market.

Their failure to repay—in many cases due to low wages or unemployment, in other cases due to outright protest at what borrowers see as an unfair system—threatens to leave taxpayers on the hook for $125 billion, the total amount they owe. The Osbornes say they are the victims of a for-profit school that made false promises and a predatory lender—the government. “Do you think I’m going to give them one penny I’m making to pay back the loan for a job I’m never going to hold?” said Mr. Osborne, 45, who studied to be a health-care worker but can’t find a job as one. The rising number of borrowers in default weakens the economy as underwater homeowners did after the housing crash: by damaged credit, an inability to spend and save for the future, and a lack of resources to move to better jobs.

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“..the 34 listed banks in the latest stress tests results have lost on average 33% of their book value since the last stress tests were done less than two years ago..”

The State Of Europe’s Banks Is Far From Steady (CNBC)

Bank investors rejoice! The European Banking Authority declares stress tests should no longer be about pushing fresh capital into the system, as they were five years ago, or drilling down in to asset quality, as in 2014. Nope. The good news is that we are now in a world where “steady-state monitoring” is what’s needed. So will this “steady state’ policy pronouncement provide the confidence and assurance investors need? I hate to say it but I’m not convinced. Even if the stock prices overall bounce a bit this week, the banking sector did not get off to a good start Monday. I fear the market will continue to apply their own version of stress tests and find both the banks – and the regulators for that matter -lacking.

I asked European Central Bank President Mario Draghi at the last policy meeting if investors were over-exaggerating the risks. His response was cautious but positive. ”I don’t want to underplay the situation, to say it’s not a solvency problem, it’s a profitability problem doesn’t mean that one underplays but figure wise, we see from a solvency viewpoint, our banks are better off than years ago but our banks do have profitability issues, especially those with a high share of NPLs (non-performing loans), but not only those with high share of NPLs, some of it has to do with weak growth performance of the past few years. Draghi added that he was pretty confident that “strong supervision, robust regulation and better communication by supervisory authorities will still improve the situation and the perception in the rest of the world’s eyes.”

Call me cynical but I’m not sure the EBA’s “steady state” monitoring communication is quite what investors are looking for. Especially when you have a panel of respected academics including ZEW’s Sascha Steffen suggesting this month that European banks need €900 billion ($1 trillion) of fresh capital to convince investors they are robust. Who knows? But just compare that to the €280 billion the EBA says has been pumped in since 2011. Plus the report’s authors also point out that the 34 listed banks in the latest stress tests results have lost on average 33% of their book value since the last stress tests were done less than two years ago. A clear sign in my mind that the market still had significant concerns about the health of bank balance sheets and their ability to make profits.

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Can Renzi bail out his biggest banks too, like he trying to do with Monte Passchi?

UniCredit Shares Fall Sharply After European Bank Stress Tests (G.)

Italy’s biggest bank, UniCredit, has borne the brunt of lingering anxiety about the country’s banking sector, seeing its shares fall sharply following the EU-wide banking health checks. The 9.4% drop in UniCredit shares, which were being closely monitored by the Italian Borse on Monday amid heavy trading, followed Friday’s publication of stress tests on 51 banks across the EU. In the European Banking Authority tests, UniCredit recorded a capital ratio of more than 7% after the stress test applied a hypothetical shock to global growth, interest rates and currencies. Although well above the legal minimumof 4.5%, it left Unicredit as one of the five weakest out of the 51 banks tested.

The deterioration in its capital ratio was not on the scale of Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS) – Italy’s third largest bank – which announced a rescue package on Friday aimed at funding at least €5bn worth of capital, after the stress test showed that its entire capital base would be wiped out under the adverse scenario. MPS was the worst-performing bank of any bank tested. Shares in MPS, regarded as the world’s oldest bank, were among the few to rally after the stress test results as its rescue operation appeared to alleviate pressure on the Italian government to intervene. Even so, questions remained about how easily MPS could find investors willing to stump up €5bn when its existing stock market value was less than €1bn.

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In itself, not a bad idea. Just don’t push it all towards exports. Make your own stuff. It’s the way of the future.

UK PM May Revives Industrial Policy Killed Off By Thatcher 30 Years Ago (R.)

Prime Minister Theresa May will on Tuesday outline her bid to reshape the British economy for a post-Brexit world, reviving the once unfashionable concept of industrial policy 30 years after Margaret Thatcher killed it off. May will chair the first meeting of the “Cabinet Committee on Economy and Industrial Strategy” in her Downing Street Offices, bringing together the heads of 11 other ministries to set out her vision for a state-boosted industrial renaissance. “If we are to take advantages of the opportunities presented by Brexit, we need to have our whole economy firing,” May said ahead of the meeting in a statement released by her office. “We also need a plan to drive growth up and down the country – from rural areas to our great cities.”

After a referendum campaign that revealed dissatisfaction in many of Britain’s struggling post-industrial regions, May is pitching a plan to reunite the country by raising the prospects of those who she casts as “hard-working people”. The June 23 vote to leave the EU has raised serious questions about the future of the world’s fifth largest economy, with some surveys indicating a recession, a hit to consumer confidence and a possible fall in investment. “We need a proper industrial strategy that focuses on improving productivity, rewarding hard-working people with higher wages and creating more opportunities for young people so that, whatever their background, they go as far as their talents will take them,” May said ahead of the meeting.

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This is the kind of pain that takes a long time to heal. But how predictable would you like it? “According to Nationwide, the UK average had risen to £196,930 in February – a 60% increase in 13 years.”

Home Ownership In England At Lowest Level In 30 Years (G.)

Home ownership in England has fallen to its lowest level in 30 years as the growing gap between earnings and property prices has created a housing crisis that extends beyond London to cities including Manchester. The struggle to get on the housing ladder is not just a feature of the London property market, according to a new report by the Resolution Foundation thinktank, with Greater Manchester seeing as big a slump in ownership since its peak in the early 2000s as parts of the capital, and cities in Yorkshire and the West Midlands also seeing sharp drops. Home ownership across England reached a peak in April 2003, when 71% of households owned their home, either outright or with a mortgage, but by February this year the figure had fallen to 64%, the Resolution Foundation said.

The figure is the lowest since 1986, when home ownership levels were on the way up, with a housing market boom fuelled by the deregulation of the mortgage industry and the introduction of the right-to-buy policy for council homes by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government. The Resolution Foundation’s analysis highlights the scale of the job faced by the prime minister, Theresa May, who has pledged to tackle the housing deficit. May warned last month that unless the issue was dealt with “young people will find it even harder to afford their own home. The divide between those who inherit wealth and those who don’t will become more pronounced. And more and more of the country’s money will go into expensive housing.”

The report, based on analysis of the latest Labour Force Survey, showed that in early 2016 only 58% of households in Greater Manchester were homeowners, compared with a peak of 72% in 2003. In outer London, the peak in ownership came earlier, in 2000, but the fall was also from 72% then to 58% in February. The West Midlands and Yorkshire have also seen double-digit drops, driven by declines in Sheffield and Leeds.

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VW had already suspended sales July 25. BTW: 80 different models?!

South Korea Halts Sale of 80 Volkswagen Models Over Emissions Scandal (AFP)

South Korea is suspending sales of 80 Volkswagen models as part of a widening investigation into the German carmaker’s emissions cheating scandal. The environment ministry said most of the models had been showcased for sale until recently, and added that the problem vehicles had fabricated documents for emissions and noise-level tests. “As of August 2 we have revoked the certification of 83,000 vehicles of 80 models,” said a ministry statement. In July South Korean prosecutors arrested an executive of Volkswagen’s South Korean unit as part of their investigations.

The world’s second-largest automaker faces legal action in several countries after it admitted to faking US emissions tests on some of its diesel-engined vehicles. In November 2015 Seoul ordered Volkswagen Korea to recall more than 125,000 diesel-powered cars sold in South Korea and fined the firm 14.1bn won ($12.3m). Foreign carmakers, especially German brands like Volkswagen, have steadily expanded their presence in South Korea’s auto market, long dominated by the local giant Hyundai and its affiliate Kia. Sales of foreign cars account for about 15% of total auto sales, compared with 10% in 2012. Around 70% of foreign auto sales in South Korea are diesel-engined vehicles.

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One of many things that are going wrong in Greece vis a vis refugees.

Aid Workers Try To Convert Muslim Refugees At Greek Camp (G.)

Christians working in Greece’s most notorious asylum detention centre have tried to convert some of the Muslim detainees, who have been held under the terms of the EU-Turkey migration deal. On at least two occasions in recent months, aid workers have distributed conversion forms inside copies of Arabic versions of the St John’s gospel to people held at the Moria detention camp on Lesbos. The forms, seen by the Guardian, invite asylum seekers to sign a statement declaring the following: “I know I’m a sinner … I ask Jesus to forgive my sins and grant me eternal life. My desire is to love and obey his word.” Muslim asylum seekers who received the booklet said they found the aid workers’ intervention insensitive.

“It’s a big problem because a lot of the people are Muslim and they have a problem with changing their religion,” said Mohamed, a detainee from Damascus. “They were trying this during Ramadan, the holiest Muslim month.” A second Syrian, Ahmed, said: “We like all religions, but if you are a Christian, and I give you a Qur’an, how would you feel?” Detainees alleged that the forms were distributed by at least two representatives of Euro Relief, a Greek charity that became the largest aid group active in Moria after other aid organisations pulled out in protest against the EU-Turkey deal. The camp is overseen by the Greek migration ministry, but aid groups perform most of the day-to-day management.

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As I wrote yesterday in Why Should The IMF Care About Its Credibility?, the IMF has a credibility problem. Multiple, in fact.

New Greek Bailout Finds IMF In A Political Bind (AFP)

The IMF can scarcely ignore Europe. Its members together hold the largest voting bloc on the Executive Board, the body which approves bailouts. The United States is still the single-largest member. The result is a complex equation for the Fund, which has pledged to make a decision before the end of the year. If it bails Greece out again, some will surely see Europes hand pulling the strings. But if it abstains, the Fund may appear to suggest the bailout is doomed to fail. “That’s the conundrum they face,” Peter Doyle, a former official in the IMF’s European Department, told AFP. ”If they go along they look like they’re caving in; if they reject, it means that they could potentially be raising new big alarms.” With its nerves already frayed by Brexit, Europe can still hardly afford a new, large-scale Greek crisis.

This latest dilemma could still offer the IMF a means of proclaiming its independence from the member countries. “Theres a need for them to rebuild their credibility,” Desmond Lachman, a former European Department official, told AFP. “By staying out of Greece, they could tell the rest of the world ‘weve realized that we were politically used.’” Doyle does not believe the IMF can be truly independent, saying the United States and Europe will still call the shots. ”That’s only what matters and that has always been the case,” said Doyle, who left the Fund in 2012. At the center of the drama and after six years of recession, Greece has seized on the latest controversy to make its views known. “The IMF has been neither useful nor needed in Europe,” said Olga Gerovassili, a government spokeswoman.

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“And so the great disaster movie of 2016 commences: Godzilla Versus Rodan the Flying Reptile.”

Let the Games Begin! (Jim Kunstler)

The distraction du jour is whether Trump has become an agent of Russia. Notice that this line of intel comes direct from the neo-con central agitprop desk. This unofficial US War Party representing the amalgamated war industries has been busy demonizing Russia throughout the current presidential term. Not all Americans are so easily gulled, though. Those who know history understand, for instance, that the Crimea has been a province of Russia almost continually for hundreds of years — except the brief interval when the ur-Ukrainian Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev one drunken evening gave it away to the then-Soviet region of Ukraine in a fit of sentimentality, assuming it would remain a virtual property of Greater Russia forever.

Notice, too, that since Russia annexed it in 2014 (being the site of its only warm water port and major naval stations) not even the US neo-con war party has been able to make a credible case for fighting over it. Instead, they’ve resorted to name-calling: Putin the “thug,” Putin the “worst political gangster in the world.” This is exactly the brand of foreign policy that Hillary will bring to the Oval Office. Not that Donald Trump offers a coherent alternative. The reasonable suspicion persists that he doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground vis-à-vis how the affairs of the world actually work. For him it’s all same as tough-talking the sheet-rocker’s union. Then, of course, Trump had to immediately step in dog-shit by bad-mouthing the mother of an American army hero who-just-happened-to-be of the Mohammedan persuasion.

Trump for practical purposes is a child and a reasonable case is not hard to make for denying him presidential power. And so the great disaster movie of 2016 commences: Godzilla Versus Rodan the Flying Reptile. Which one will survive to completely destroy the sclerotic remains of our nation? The good news is that voters are moving to the Third and Fourth party nominees, Gary Johnson (Libertarian) and Jill Stein (Green) in droves, herds, flocks, porpoise pods, and stampedes. Perhaps both of these relatively sane candidates will show enough polling strength to make it into the Great Debates. Won’t that be fun?

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Jul 162016
 
 July 16, 2016  Posted by at 9:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Jack Delano Main street intersection, Norwich, Connecticut 1940

Brexit Or Not, The Pound Will Crash (EvBB)
BOE Chief Economist Haldane Calls For Big Post-Brexit Stimulus (G.)
Philip Hammond Promises ‘Whatever Measures’ To Stabilise Economy (Ind.)
Dow Extends Record Streak as US Stocks Post Weekly Gains (WSJ)
EU Plays Catch-Up on Swaps Collateral Under US Pressure (BBG)
$35 Billion Pension Bomb Shows Who Really Has Power in Poland (BBG)
EU Commission Has Known for Years about Diesel Manipulation (Spiegel)
Economics Is For Everyone! (Chang)

 

 

“Few have lived as high on the hog as the Brits have.”

Brexit Or Not, The Pound Will Crash (EvBB)

Status quo, as our generation know it, established in 1945 has plodded along ever since. It is true that it have had near death experiences several times, especially in August 1971 when the world almost lost faith in the global reserve currency and in 2008 when the fractional reserve Ponzi nearly consumed itself. While the recent Brexit vote seem to be just another near death experience we believe it says something more fundamental about the world. When the 1945 new world order came into existence, its architects built it on a shaky foundation based on statists Keynesian principles. It was clearly unsustainable from the get-go, but as long as living standards rose, no one seemed to notice or care. The global elite managed to resurrect a dying system in the 1970s by giving its people something for nothing.

Debt accumulation collateralized by rising asset values became a substitute for productivity and wage increases. While people could no longer afford to pay for their health care, education, house or car through savings they kept on voting for the incumbents (no, there is no difference between center left and right) since friendly bankers were more than willing to make up the difference. It is clear for all to see but the Ph.Ds. that frequent elitist policy circles that the massive misallocation and consumption of capital such a perverted system enables will eventually collapse on itself. Debt used to be productive, id est. self-liquidating, but now it is used for consumption backed by future income projections based on historical experience.

However, one should not extrapolate future income streams from a historical regime when the new one is fundamentally different. The promised incomes obviously never materialized and the world reached peak debt. The credit Ponzi is dead. Consider the following chart that depicts decennial change in average real earnings for the UK worker. It shows an unprecedented development. Not since the 1860s have the UK worker experienced falling real earnings over a ten-year period. Such dramatic change obviously does something to the so-called social contract people have been tricked into. People no longer believe in a brighter future and there is nothing more detrimental to a human being than that.

No longer vested in the status quo, people opt for radical change, hence; Brexit, Trump, Le Pen, Lega Nord, M5S. Old rules does not apply anymore. Over the next couple of years, we will experience a torrent of sea change, a lot of it unpleasant, but it will come nonetheless. In the social contract, immigration is OK when jobs are plentiful and people’s houses are worth more every year. Not so much when they are unemployed and without a house or even prospects of ever owning one. Corruption in the higher echelons of society is grudgingly accepted when the elite allegedly runs a system where incomes and productivity constantly moves upwards, but will not be tolerated as blue collar jobs are moved offshore.

[..] So what does this mean for the UK specifically? Few have lived as high on the hog as the brits have. Their current account deficit at 6 per cent of GDP is reminiscent of countries heading into depressions. In the mid-1970s, the IMF had to bail them out and in the early 1990s, the infamous ERM regime collapsed as Soros made his billion. The pound got a pounding on the Brexit vote, but it was destined to fall anyways. The adjustment needed to correct this imbalance is not over and we should all expect a far weaker pound in the months and years ahead. Brexit only triggered what was already baked into the cake in the first place.

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Stuck in BAU.

BOE Chief Economist Haldane Calls For Big Post-Brexit Stimulus (G.)

The Bank of England’s chief economist has called for a big package of measures to support the UK’s post-Brexit economy, stressing the need for a prompt and robust response to the uncertainty. Andy Haldane made it clear the Bank’s monetary policy committee would do more than merely cut interest rates from their already record low of 0.5% when it meets in August. The Bank’s chief economist used a speech to warn that decisive action was required at a time when confidence had been dented by the shock referendum result. “In my personal view, this means a material easing of monetary policy is likely to be needed, as one part of a collective policy response aimed at helping protect the economy and jobs from a downturn.

“Given the scale of insurance required, a package of mutually complementary monetary policy easing measures is likely to be necessary. And this monetary response, if it is to buttress expectations and confidence, needs I think to be delivered promptly as well as muscularly. By promptly I mean next month, when the precise size and extent of the necessary stimulatory measures can be determined as part of the August inflation report round.” The Bank surprised the City when it left interest rates on hold at its July meeting held this week, but the minutes of the MPC’s discussions said most of its nine members thought an easing of policy would be required in August.

The tone and content of Haldane’s speech suggest that the MPC will use public appearances to make the case for strong action in August. Options include cutting interest rates to 0.25% or lower, restarting the Bank’s £375bn quantitative easing scheme and providing cut price loans to banks under the funding for lending scheme. [..] In a reference to the prison movie The Shawshank Redemption Haldane said: “I would rather run the risk of taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut than taking a miniature rock hammer to tunnel my way out of prison – like another Andy, the one in the Shawshank Redemption. And yes I know Andy did eventually escape. But it did take him 20 years. The MPC does not have that same ‘luxury’.”

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This headline somehow seems to perfectly capture UK politics today. Whatever.

Philip Hammond Promises ‘Whatever Measures’ To Stabilise Economy (Ind.)

Philip Hammond, the UK’s newly appointed chancellor of the exchequer, said the vote to leave the EU had “rattled confidence” and that he will take “whatever measures” needed to shore up the British economy. “The number one challenge is to stabilise the economy, send signals of confidence about the future, the plans we have for the future to the markets, to business, to international investors,” Hammond said in a Sky News interview. Hammond’s comments came ahead of a meeting later on Thursday of Bank of England policy makers who will debate whether to reduce the key interest rate for the first time since 2009.

The Bank’s governor, Mark Carney, is seeking to stave off further turmoil after the pound plunged and consumer confidence dropped to a 21-year low in the wake of last month’s decision to quit the EU. The chancellor, appointed to the role late on Wednesday by new prime minister, Theresa May, will meet Carney on Thursday morning “to make an assessment of where the economy is,” he said in a BBC TV interview. He added: “I think the governor of the Bank of England is doing an excellent job.”

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It’s embarrassing to watch.

Dow Extends Record Streak as US Stocks Post Weekly Gains (WSJ)

The Dow Jones Industrial Average hit its fourth consecutive closing high on Friday, rising 10.14 points, or less than 0.1%, to 18516.55. For the week, it gained 2%. The S&P 500’s rally put the index above the mean average of year-end targets from 18 analysts tracked by Birinyi Associates. Collectively, those analysts predicted, as of July 6, that the S&P 500 would finish this year at 2153. The index closed above that level on Friday, at 2161.74, despite slipping 0.1% after four record closes in a row. Analysts revise their year-end targets throughout the year. In mid-January, the average year-end target was 2198, according to Birinyi Associates.

Markets elsewhere rallied for the week. Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average rose 9.2% over five sessions, its best performance in 6 1/2 years. The Stoxx Europe 600 rose 3.2% in the week. “The market is showing us, if nothing else, its resilience,” said Jason Browne, chief investment officer of FundX Investment Group in San Francisco. Investors began to put money back into riskier assets such as stocks, an encouraging sign to those who had worried about the stream of money leaving equity funds this year. In the seven days to July 13, investors poured a net $7.8 billion into U.S. equity funds, according to data provider Lipper. It was the first weekly inflow since late April.

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I could see Brexit having a role here.

EU Plays Catch-Up on Swaps Collateral Under US Pressure (BBG)

European Union regulators are considering ways to speed the implementation of collateral requirements for derivatives as the bloc’s failure to meet a global deadline threatens to fracture the $493 trillion market. The European Commission said last month it wouldn’t meet a Sept. 1 global deadline. In a draft letter addressed to the main EU regulators, the bloc’s executive arm is now proposing to adapt its plans to “align with the internationally agreed timelines as closely as possible.” Previously, the commission said it would finish EU technical rules on margins for non-centrally cleared over-the-counter derivatives by year-end and have them take effect before mid-2017. That prompted a backlash from regulators in Washington and Tokyo, who said they intended to impose the rules on schedule, while leaving the door open to a delay.

The regulations will apply billions of dollars in collateral demands to swaps traded by the world’s largest banks, including JPMorgan Chase, Barclays and Deutsche Bank. The financial industry has called for global regulators to enforce the requirements at the same time to avoid creating the potential for regulatory arbitrage between jurisdictions. The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, which includes regulators from around the world, helped set the international deadlines that start taking effect for the biggest banks in September and ratchet up starting in March 2017. The over-the-counter swap market is estimated at $493 trillion by the Bank for International Settlements. In the undated draft letter seen by Bloomberg, the commission proposed that the requirements would take effect one month after the EU’s technical rules enter into force.

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The age of the strongman is upon us. This one takes pensions.

$35 Billion Pension Bomb Shows Who Really Has Power in Poland (BBG)

It took up less than a minute of a one-hour speech, but led to an unexpectedly busy weekend for the Polish Ministry of Development in Warsaw. At the governing Law & Justice Party’s congress on the first Saturday of this month, leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski spelled out his vision for the country. He mentioned briefly that Poland should do more with the money parked in its retirement funds. At Kaczynski’s ministry of choice for economic policy, senior officials swiftly rounded up colleagues to work through Sunday so that at 8:30 a.m. the next day – before financial markets opened – an overhaul of the $35 billion pension industry could be unveiled. Investment companies were incredulous and the stock market dropped, though it came as little surprise to the people close to the real power in Poland.

Kaczynski, 67, holds no office beyond his role as lawmaker – he’s not the prime minister, president and doesn’t even run a department. His drumbeat of mistrust for both Russia and western Europe, the them-and-us attacks on Poland’s post-communist elite and his courting of the Catholic church give him enough of a devoted following that he needs no title. “Politically, he’s a sort of commander in chief or a first secretary we knew from the times of communism,” said Marek Migalski at Silesian University in Katowice. A former Law & Justice lawmaker in the European Parliament, he was ostracized by the party for criticizing Kaczynski in 2010. “I’d say that for his supporters, he’s even more than Moses. It’s not just a notion that Kaczynski is doing only good things, it’s the conviction that things that are done by Kaczynski are good.”

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Anyone ever doubted this?

EU Commission Has Known for Years about Diesel Manipulation (Spiegel)

Since at least 2010, the European Commission has been in possession of concrete evidence that automobile manufacturers were cheating on emissions values of diesel vehicles, according to a number of internal documents that SPIEGEL ONLINE has obtained. The papers show that emissions cheating had been under discussion for years both within the Commission and the EU member state governments. The documents also show that the German government was informed of a 2012 meeting on the issue. The scandal first hit the headlines in 2015 when it became known that Volkswagen had manipulated the emissions of its diesel vehicles. The records provide a rough chronology of the scandal, which reaches back to the middle of the 2000s.

Back then, European Commission experts noticed an odd phenomenon: Air quality in European cities was improving much more slowly than was to be expected in light of stricter emissions regulations. The Commission charged the Joint Research Centre (JRC) – an organization that carries out studies on behalf of the Commission – with measuring emissions in real-life conditions. To do so, JRC used a portable device known as the Freeway Performance Measurement System (PeMS), which measures the temperature and chemical makeup of emissions in addition to vehicle data such as speed and acceleration. This technology, which was later used to reveal VW emissions manipulation in the United States, was largely developed by the JRC.

JRC launched their PeMS tests in 2007 and quickly discovered that nitrogen oxide emissions from diesel vehicles were much higher under road conditions than in the laboratory. The initial results were published in a journal in 2008 and they came to the attention of the Commission. On Oct. 8, 2010 – roughly three years after the JRC tests – an internal memo noted that it was “well known” that there was a discrepancy between diesel vehicle emissions during the type approval stage (when new vehicle models are approved for use on European roads) and real-world driving conditions. The document also makes the origin of this discrepancy clear: It is the product of “an extended use of certain abatement technologies in diesel vehicles.”

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Wow. A feast for the eye and the mind. Don’t miss it.

Economics Is For Everyone! (Chang)

‘Economics is for everyone’, argues legendary economist Ha-Joon Chang in our latest mind-blowing RSA Animate. This is the video economists don’t want you to see! Chang explains why every single person can and SHOULD get their head around basic economics. He pulls back the curtain on the often mystifying language of derivatives and quantitative easing, and explains how easily economic myths and assumptions become gospel. Arm yourself with some facts, and get involved in discussions about the fundamentals that underpin our day-to-day lives.

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Apr 212016
 
 April 21, 2016  Posted by at 9:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle April 21 2016


G.G. Bain ‘Casino Theater playing musical ‘The Little Whopper’, NY 1920

America’s Upcoming National Crisis: Pensions (ZH)
The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans (Atlantic)
Soros: China Looks Like the US Before the Crisis (BBG)
China’s ‘Zombie’ Steel Mills Fire Up Furnaces, Worsen Global Glut (R.)
China Wants Ships To Use Faster Arctic Route Opened By Global Warming (R.)
Japan, Not Germany, Leads World in Negative-Yield Bonds (BBG)
ECB Slides Down Further Into ZIRP Bizarro World (CNBC)
Brexit Means Blood, Toil, Sweat And Tears (AEP)
Greece ‘Could Leave Eurozone’ On Brexit Vote (Tel.)
VW To Offer To Buy Back Nearly 500,000 US Diesel Cars (Reuters)
Public Support For TTIP Plunges in US and Germany (Reuters)
Italian ‘Bad Bank’ Fund ‘Designed To Stop The Sky Falling In’ (FT)
The Troubled Legacy Of Obama’s Record $60 Billion Saudi Arms Sale (R.)
More Than Half Of Americans Live Amid Dangerous Air Pollution (G.)
EU States Grow Wary As Turkey Presses For Action On Visas Pledge (FT)
Hungary Threatens Rebellion Against Brussels Over Forced Migration (Express)
Refugee Camp Near Athens Poses ‘Huge’ Public Health Risk (AFP)

What NIRP and ZIRP bring to the real economy. This is global.

America’s Upcoming National Crisis: Pensions (ZH)

A dark storm is brewing in the world of private pensions, and all hell could break loose when it finally hits. As the Washington Post reports, the Central States Pension Fund, which handles retirement benefits for current and former Teamster union truck drivers across various states including Texas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, New York, and Minnesota, and is one of the largest pension funds in the nation, has filed an application to cut participant benefits, which would be effective July 1 2016, as it “projects” it will become officially insolvent by 2025. In 2015, the fund returned -0.81%, underperforming the 0.37% return of its benchmark. Over a quarter of a million people depend on their pension being handled by the CSPF; for most it is their only source of fixed income.

Pension funds applying to lower promised benefits is a new development, albeit not unexpected (we warned of this mounting issue numerous times in the past). For many years there existed federal protections which shielded pensions from being cut, but that all changed in December 2014, when folded neatly into a $1.1 trillion government spending bill, was a proposal to allow multi employer pension plans to cut pension benefits so long as they are projected to run out of money in the next 10 to 20 years. Between rising benefit payouts as participants become eligible, the global financial crisis, and the current interest rate environment, it was certainly just a matter of time before these steps were taken to allow pension plans to cut benefits to stave off insolvency.

The Central States Pension Fund is currently paying out $3.46 in pension benefits for every $1 it receives from employers, which has resulted in the fund paying out $2 billion more in benefits than it receives in employer contributions each year. As a result, Thomas Nyhan, executive director of the Central States Pension Fund said that the fund could become insolvent by 2025 if nothing is done. The fund currently pays out $2.8 billion a year in benefits according to Nyhan, and if the plan becomes insolvent it would overwhelm the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (designed by the government to absorb insolvent plans and continue paying benefits), who at the end of fiscal 2015 only had $1.9 billion in total assets itself. Incidentally as we also pointed out last month, the PBGC projects that they will also be insolvent by 2025 – it appears there is something very foreboding about that particular year.

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“Nearly half of American adults are “financially fragile” and “living very close to the financial edge.”

The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans (Atlantic)

Since 2013, the federal reserve board has conducted a survey to “monitor the financial and economic status of American consumers.” Most of the data in the latest survey, frankly, are less than earth-shattering: 49% of part-time workers would prefer to work more hours at their current wage; 29% of Americans expect to earn a higher income in the coming year; 43% of homeowners who have owned their home for at least a year believe its value has increased. But the answer to one question was astonishing. The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47% of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew? Well, I knew. I knew because I am in that 47%.

I know what it is like to have to juggle creditors to make it through a week. I know what it is like to have to swallow my pride and constantly dun people to pay me so that I can pay others. I know what it is like to have liens slapped on me and to have my bank account levied by creditors. I know what it is like to be down to my last $5—literally—while I wait for a paycheck to arrive, and I know what it is like to subsist for days on a diet of eggs. I know what it is like to dread going to the mailbox, because there will always be new bills to pay but seldom a check with which to pay them. I know what it is like to have to tell my daughter that I didn’t know if I would be able to pay for her wedding; it all depended on whether something good happened. And I know what it is like to have to borrow money from my adult daughters because my wife and I ran out of heating oil.

You wouldn’t know any of that to look at me. I like to think I appear reasonably prosperous. Nor would you know it to look at my résumé. I have had a passably good career as a writer—five books, hundreds of articles published, a number of awards and fellowships, and a small (very small) but respectable reputation. You wouldn’t even know it to look at my tax return. I am nowhere near rich, but I have typically made a solid middle- or even, at times, upper-middle-class income, which is about all a writer can expect, even a writer who also teaches and lectures and writes television scripts, as I do.

And you certainly wouldn’t know it to talk to me, because the last thing I would ever do—until now—is admit to financial insecurity or, as I think of it, “financial impotence,” because it has many of the characteristics of sexual impotence, not least of which is the desperate need to mask it and pretend everything is going swimmingly. In truth, it may be more embarrassing than sexual impotence. “You are more likely to hear from your buddy that he is on Viagra than that he has credit-card problems,” says Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist who teaches at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, and ministers to individuals with financial issues. “Much more likely.”

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“From a credit perspective, we’d be more comfortable with China slowing more than it is. We are getting less confident in the government’s commitment to structural reforms.”

Soros: China Looks Like the US Before the Crisis (BBG)

Billionaire investor George Soros said China’s debt-fueled economy resembles the U.S. in 2007-08, before credit markets seized up and spurred a global recession. China’s March credit-growth figures should be viewed as a warning sign, Soros said at an Asia Society event in New York on Wednesday. The broadest measure of new credit in the world’s second-biggest economy was 2.34 trillion yuan ($362 billion) last month, far exceeding the median forecast of 1.4 trillion yuan in a Bloomberg survey and signaling the government is prioritizing growth over reining in debt. What’s happening in China “eerily resembles what happened during the financial crisis in the U.S. in 2007-08, which was similarly fueled by credit growth,” Soros said. “Most of money that banks are supplying is needed to keep bad debts and loss-making enterprises alive.”

Soros, who built a $24 billion fortune through savvy wagers on markets, has recently been involved in a war of words with the Chinese government. He said at the World Economic Forum in Davos that he’s been betting against Asian currencies because a hard landing in China is “practically unavoidable.” China’s state-run Xinhua news agency rebutted his assertion in an editorial, saying that he has made the same prediction several times in the past. China’s economy gathered pace in March as the surge in new credit helped the property sector rebound. Housing values in first-tier cities have soared, with new-home prices in Shenzhen rising 62 percent in a year. While China’s real estate is in a bubble, it may be able to feed itself for some time, similar to the U.S. in 2005 and 2006, Soros said.

China’s economy gathered pace in March as the surge in new credit helped the property sector rebound. Housing values in first-tier cities have soared, with new-home prices in Shenzhen rising 62 percent in a year. While China’s real estate is in a bubble, it may be able to feed itself for some time, similar to the U.S. in 2005 and 2006, Soros said. “Most of the damage occurred in later years,” Soros said. “It’s a parabolic cycle.” Andrew Colquhoun at Fitch Ratings, is also concerned about China’s resurgence in borrowing. Eventually, the very thing that has been driving the economic recovery could end up derailing it, because China is adding to a debt burden that’s already unsustainable, he said.

Fitch rates the nation’s sovereign debt at A+, the fifth-highest grade and a step lower than Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Investors Service, which both cut their outlooks on China since March. “Whether we call it stabilization or not, I am not sure,” Colquhoun said in an interview in New York. “From a credit perspective, we’d be more comfortable with China slowing more than it is. We are getting less confident in the government’s commitment to structural reforms.”

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Forget Tata.

China’s ‘Zombie’ Steel Mills Fire Up Furnaces, Worsen Global Glut (R.)

The rest of the world’s steel producers may be pressuring Beijing to slash output and help reduce a global glut that is causing losses and costing jobs, but the opposite is happening in the steel towns of China. While the Chinese government points to reductions in steel making capacity it has engineered, a rapid rise in local prices this year has seen mills ramp up output. Even “zombie” mills, which stopped production but were not closed down, have been resurrected. Despite global overproduction, Chinese steel prices have risen by 77% this year from last year’s trough on some very specific local factors, including tighter supplies following plant shutdowns last year, restocking by consumers and a pick-up in seasonal demand following the Chinese New Year break.

Some mills also boosted output ahead of mandated cuts around a major horticultural show later this month in the Tangshan area. Local mills must at least halve their emissions on certain days during the exposition, due to run from April 29 to October. China, which accounts for half the world’s steel output and whose excess capacity is four times U.S. production levels, has said it has done more than enough to tackle overcapacity, and blames the glut on weak demand. But a survey by Chinese consultancy Custeel showed 68 blast furnaces with an estimated 50 million tonnes of capacity have resumed production. The capacity utilization rate among small Chinese mills has increased to 58% from 51% in January.

At large mills, it has risen to 87% from 84%, according to a separate survey by consultancy Mysteel. The rise in prices has thrown a lifeline to ‘zombie’ mills, like Shanxi Wenshui Haiwei Steel, which produces 3 million tonnes a year but which halted nearly all production in August. It now plans to resume production soon, a company official said. Another similar-sized company, Jiangsu Shente Steel, stopped production in December but then resumed in March as prices surged, a company official said. More than 40 million tonnes of capacity out of the 50-60 million tonnes that were shut last year are now back on, said Macquarie analyst Ian Roper. “Capacity cuts are off the cards given the price and margin rebound,” he said.

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The fight over jurisdiction and fees will heat up. Just like the Arctic itself.

China Wants Ships To Use Faster Arctic Route Opened By Global Warming (R.)

China will encourage ships flying its flag to take the Northwest Passage via the Arctic Ocean, a route opened up by global warming, to cut travel times between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, a state-run newspaper said on Wednesday. China is increasingly active in the polar region, becoming one of the biggest mining investors in Greenland and agreeing to a free trade deal with Iceland. Shorter shipping routes across the Arctic Ocean would save Chinese companies time and money. For example, the journey from Shanghai to Hamburg via the Arctic route is 2,800 nautical miles shorter than going by the Suez Canal. China’s Maritime Safety Administration this month released a guide offering detailed route guidance from the northern coast of North America to the northern Pacific, the China Daily said.

“Once this route is commonly used, it will directly change global maritime transport and have a profound influence on international trade, the world economy, capital flow and resource exploitation,” ministry spokesman Liu Pengfei was quoted as saying. Chinese ships will sail through the Northwest Passage “in the future”, Liu added, without giving a time frame. Most of the Northwest Passage lies in waters that Canada claims as its own. Asked if China considered the passage an international waterway or Canadian waters, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China noted Canada considered that the route crosses its waters, although some countries believed it was open to international navigation.

In Ottawa, a spokesman for Foreign Minister Stephane Dion said no automatic right of transit passage existed in the waterways of the Northwest Passage. “We welcome navigation that complies with our rules and regulations. Canada has an unfettered right to regulate internal waters,” Joseph Pickerill said by email.

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Talk to the hand.

Japan, Not Germany, Leads World in Negative-Yield Bonds (BBG)

Europe’s central bank took the unorthodox step of cutting interest rates below zero in 2014. Japan followed suit earlier this year, and has become home to more negative-yielding debt than anywhere else, leading Germany, France, the Netherlands and Belgium.

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Crazy free money, no strings: “Banks are encouraged to extend credit to the real economy but are not penalized for not meeting their benchmark lending targets..”

ECB Slides Down Further Into ZIRP Bizarro World (CNBC)

Economists and analysts have been swooning over a new series of ultra-cheap, ultra-long bank loans announced by the ECB last month, which they believe might just kickstart the region’s fragile economy. “It’s massively positive,” Erik Nielsen, global chief economist at UniCredit, told CNBC via email regarding the new breed of “credit-easing” tactics announced by ECB President Mario Draghi. These targeted long-term refinancing operations, or TLTRO IIs, advance on a previous model announced by the central bank in 2011 and effectively give free money to the banks to lend to the real economy. They’re a series of four loans – conducted between June 2016 and March 2017 – and will have a fixed maturity of four years.

The interest rate will start at nothing, but could become as low as the current deposit rate, which is currently -0.40%, if banks meet their loan targets. This means the banks will be receiving cash for borrowing from the central bank. Banks will need to post collateral at the ECB but there’s no penalty if they fail to meet their loan targets. All that will happen is that the loans will be priced at zero for four years. Frederik Ducrozet, a euro zone economist with private Swiss-bank Pictet, called it “unconditional liquidity to banks at 0% cost, against collateral.” He said in a note last month that he expects it to lower bank funding costs, mitigate the adverse consequences of negative rates, strengthen the ECB’s forward guidance and improve the transmission of monetary policy.

Abhishek Singhania, a strategist at Deutsche Bank, added that the new LTROs “reduce the stigma” attached to their use compared to the previous model. “Banks are encouraged to extend credit to the real economy but are not penalized for not meeting their benchmark lending targets,” he said in a note last month.

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Ambrose muses on Europe: “The EU is a strategic relic of a post-War order that no longer exists, and a clutter of vested interests that caused Europe to miss the IT revolution.”

Brexit Means Blood, Toil, Sweat And Tears (AEP)

[..] The Justice Secretary is right to dismiss Project Fear as craven and defeatist. A vote to leave the dysfunctional EU half-way house might well be a “galvanising, liberating, empowering moment of patriotic renewal”. The EU is a strategic relic of a post-War order that no longer exists, and a clutter of vested interests that caused Europe to miss the IT revolution. “We will have rejected the depressing and pessimistic vision that Britain is too small and weak, and the British people too hapless and pathetic, to manage their own affairs,” he said. The special pleading of the City should be viewed with a jaundiced eye. This is the same City that sought to stop the country upholding its treaty obligations to Belgium in 1914, and that funded the Nazi war machine even after Anschluss in 1938, lobbying for appeasement to protect its loans. It is morally disqualified from any opinion on statecraft or higher matters of sovereign self-government.

Mr Gove is right that the European Court has become a law unto itself, asserting a supremacy that does not exist in treaty law, and operating under a Roman jurisprudence at odds with the philosophy and practices of English Common Law. It has seized on the Charter of Fundamental Rights to extend its jurisdiction into anything it pleases. Do I laugh or cry as I think back to the drizzling Biarritz summit of October 2000 when the Europe minister of the day told this newspaper that the charter would have no more legal standing than “the Beano or the Sun”? What Mr Gove cannot claim with authority is that Britain will skip painlessly into a “free trade zone stretching from Iceland to Turkey that all European nations have access to, regardless of whether they are in or out of the euro or the EU”.

Nobody knows exactly how the EU will respond to Brexit, or how long it would take to slot in the Norwegian or Swiss arrangements, or under what terms. Nor do we know how quickly the US, China, India would reply to our pleas for bi-lateral deals. Over 100 trade agreements would have to be negotiated, and the world has other priorities. Brexit might set off an EU earthquake as Mr Gove says – akin to the collapse of the Berlin Wall in the words of France’s Marine Le Pen – but it would not resemble his children’s fairy tale. The more plausible outcome is a 1930s landscape of simmering nationalist movements with hard-nosed reflexes, and a further lurch toward authoritarian polities from Poland to Hungary and arguably Slovakia, and down to Romania where the Securitate never entirely lost its grip and Nicolae Ceausescu is back in fashion.

Pocket Putins will have a field day knowing that they can push the EU around. The real Vladimir Putin will be waiting for his moment of maximum mayhem to try his luck with “little green men” in Estonia or Latvia, calculating that nothing can stop him restoring the western borders of the Tsarist empire if he can test and subvert NATO’s Article 5 – the solidarity clause, one-for-all and all-for-one. A case can be made that the EU has gone so irretrievably wrong that Britain must withdraw to save its legal fabric and parliamentary tradition. If so, let us at least be honest about what we face. One might equally quote another British prime minster, with poetic licence: ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat’.

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Greece is mor elikely to leave in the wake of a new refugee disaster.

Greece ‘Could Leave Eurozone’ On Brexit Vote (Tel.)

Greece could crash out of the eurozone as early as this summer if Britons vote to leave the European Union in the upcoming referendum, economists have predicted. The uncertainty following a ‘yes’ vote to Britain leaving the EU would put unsustainable pressure on Greece’s cash-strapped economy at a time when it is also struggling to cope with an influx of migrants escaping turmoil in the Middle East and Africa, according to a report from the Economist Intelligence Unit. The authors of the report say it is highly likely that Greece will be forced to leave the eurozone at some point within the next five years, but that if the UK votes to leave the EU in June, it could happen much sooner. Greece is already under a huge amount of pressure and a so-called Brexit could tip it over the edge.

The country has large debt payments due in mid-2016, while structural reforms recommended in Greece’s bail-out programme are “slow burners” and unlikely to deliver any significant growth in the short term. Greece’s true GDP contracted by 0.3pc last year, while unemployment stands at 24pc. The country’s overall debt-to-GDP ratio has hit 171pc. “While the region could probably handle a Brexit, Grexit or an escalation of the migrant crisis individually, it would be unlikely to navigate successfully a situation in which several of those crises came to a head simultaneously,” the report, entitled ‘Europe stretched to the limit’, said. “It is not impossible that this could happen as early as mid-2016, when the UK votes on whether or not to remain in the EU.”

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If they have to offer a similar deal in Europe, that’s curtains.

VW To Offer To Buy Back Nearly 500,000 US Diesel Cars (Reuters)

Volkswagen and U.S. officials have reached a framework deal under which the automaker would offer to buy back almost 500,000 diesel cars that used sophisticated software to evade U.S. emission rules, two people briefed on the matter said on Wednesday. The German automaker is expected to tell a federal judge in San Francisco Thursday that it has agreed to offer to buy back up to 500,000 2.0-liter diesel vehicles sold in the United States that exceeded legally allowable emission levels, the people said. That would include versions of the Jetta sedan, the Golf compact and the Audi A3 sold since 2009. The buyback offer does not apply to the bigger, 80,000 3.0-liter diesel vehicles also found to have exceeded U.S. pollution limits, including Audi and Porsche SUV models, the people said.

U.S.-listed shares of Volkswagen rose nearly 6% to $30.95 following the news. VW in September admitted cheating on emissions tests for 11 million vehicles worldwide since 2009, damaging the automaker’s global image. As part of the settlement with U.S. authorities including the Environmental Protection Agency, Volkswagen has also agreed to a compensation fund for owners, a third person briefed on the terms said. The compensation fund is expected to represent more than $1 billion on top of the cost of buying back the vehicles, but it is not clear how much each owner might receive, the person said. Volkswagen may also offer to repair polluting diesel vehicles if U.S. regulators approve the proposed fix, the sources said.

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It’ll be increasingly hard to push through in Europe. And in America too unless Hillary’s elected.

Public Support For TTIP Plunges in US and Germany (Reuters)

Support for the transatlantic trade deal known as TTIP has fallen sharply in Germany and the United States, a survey showed on Thursday, days before Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Barack Obama meet to try to breathe new life into the pact. The survey, conducted by YouGov for the Bertelsmann Foundation, showed that only 17% of Germans believe the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is a good thing, down from 55% two years ago. In the United States, only 18% support the deal compared to 53% in 2014. Nearly half of U.S. respondents said they did not know enough about the agreement to voice an opinion. TTIP is expected to be at the top of the agenda when Merkel hosts Obama at a trade show in Hanover on Sunday and Monday.

Ahead of that meeting, German officials said they remained optimistic that a broad “political agreement” between Brussels and Washington could be clinched before Obama leaves office in January. The hope is that TTIP could then be finalised with Obama’s successor. But there have been abundant signs in recent weeks that European countries are growing impatient with the slow pace of the talks, which are due to resume in New York next week. On Wednesday, German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel described the negotiations as “frozen up” and questioned whether Washington really wanted a deal.

The day before, France’s trade minister threatened to halt the talks, citing a lack of progress. Deep public scepticism in Germany, Europe’s largest economy, has clouded the negotiations from the start. The Bertelsmann survey showed that many Germans fear the deal will lower standards for products, consumer protection and the labor market. It also pointed to a dramatic shift in how Germans view free trade in general. Only 56% see it positively, compared to 88% two years ago. “Support for trade agreements is fading in a country that views itself as the global export champion,” said Aart de Geus, chairman and chief executive of the Bertelsmann Foundation.

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Bottom line: “..non-performing debt [..] stands at €360bn, according to the Bank of Italy. So is Atlante — with about €5bn of equity — really enough to keep the heavens in place?”

Italian ‘Bad Bank’ Fund ‘Designed To Stop The Sky Falling In’ (FT)

Atlante, a new private initiative backed by the Italian government, is designed to stop the sky falling in. The fund, which takes its name from the mythological titan who held up the heavens, will buy shares in Italian lenders in a bid to edge the sector away from a fully-fledged crisis. Last week’s announcement of the fund, which can also buy non-performing loans, led to a welcome boost for Italian banks. An index for the sector gained 10% over the week — its best performance since the summer of 2012, though it remains heavily down on the year. But Italian banks have made €200bn of loans to borrowers now deemed insolvent, of which €85bn has not been written down on their balance sheets. A broader measure of non-performing debt, which includes loans unlikely to be repaid in full, stands at €360bn, according to the Bank of Italy.

So is Atlante — with about €5bn of equity — really enough to keep the heavens in place? The Italian government has been placed in a highly unusual position. It has become much harder to directly bail out its financial institutions, as other European countries did during the crisis. Meanwhile, a new European-wide approach to bank failure, which involves imposing losses on bondholders, is politically fraught in Italy, where large numbers of bonds have been sold to retail customers. The new fund also comes in the context of an extremely weak start to the year for global markets. “In this market it is impossible for anyone to raise any capital,” says Sebastiano Pirro, an analyst at Algebris, adding that, since November last year, “the markets have been shut for Italian banks”.

The government has been forced into an array of subtle interventions to provide support. Earlier this year, details emerged of a scheme for non-performing loans to be securitised — a process where assets are packaged together and sold as bond-like products of different levels, or tranches, of risk. The government planned to offer a guarantee on the most senior tranches — those with a triple B, or “investment grade” rating.

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Support for dying empires will come at a price. The Nobel Peace Prize came free of charge.

The Troubled Legacy Of Obama’s Record $60 Billion Saudi Arms Sale (R.)

Six years ago, Saudi and American officials agreed on a record $60 billion arms deal. The United States would sell scores of F-15 fighters, Apache attack helicopters and other advanced weaponry to the oil-rich kingdom. The arms, both sides hoped, would fortify the Saudis against their aggressive arch-rival in the region, Iran. But as President Barack Obama makes his final visit to Riyadh this week, Saudi Arabia’s military capabilities remain a work in progress – and the gap in perceptions between Washington and Riyadh has widened dramatically. The biggest stumble has come in Yemen. Frustrated by Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran and the U.S. pullback from the region, Riyadh launched an Arab military intervention last year to confront perceived Iranian expansionism in its southern neighbour.

The conflict pits a coalition of Arab and Muslim nations led by the Saudis against Houthi rebels allied to Iran and forces loyal to a former Yemeni president. A tentative ceasefire is holding as the United Nations prepares for peace talks in Kuwait, proof, the Saudis say, of the intervention’s success. But while Saudi Arabia has the third-largest defence budget in the world behind the United States and China, its military performance in Yemen has been mixed, current and former U.S. officials said. The kingdom’s armed forces have often appeared unprepared and prone to mistakes. U.N. investigators say that air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition are responsible for two thirds of the 3,200 civilians who have died in Yemen, or approximately 2,000 deaths. They said that Saudi forces have killed twice as many civilians as other forces in Yemen.

On the ground, Saudi-led forces have often struggled to achieve their goals, making slow headway in areas where support for Iran-allied Houthi rebels runs strong. And along the Saudi border, the Houthis and allied forces loyal to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh have attacked almost daily since July, killing hundreds of Saudi troops. Instead of being the centrepiece of a more assertive Saudi regional strategy, the Yemen intervention has called into question Riyadh’s military influence, said one former senior Obama administration official. “There’s a long way to go. Efforts to create an effective pan-Arab military force have been disappointing.”

Behind the scenes, the West has been enmeshed in the conflict. Between 50 and 60 U.S. military personnel have provided coordination and support to the Saudi-led coalition, a U.S. official told Reuters. And six to 10 Americans have worked directly inside the Saudi air operations centre in Riyadh. Britain and France, Riyadh’s other main defence suppliers, have also provided military assistance. Last year, the Obama administration had the U.S. military send precision-guided munitions from its own stocks to replenish dwindling Saudi-led coalition supplies, a source close to the Saudi government said. Administration officials argued that even more Yemeni civilians would die if the Saudis had to use bombs with less precise guidance systems.

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Half of Europe too, no doubt. And China. And larger cities everywhere.

More Than Half Of Americans Live Amid Dangerous Air Pollution (G.)

More than half of the US population lives amid potentially dangerous air pollution, with national efforts to improve air quality at risk of being reversed, a new report has warned. A total of 166 million Americans live in areas that have unhealthy levels of of either ozone or particle pollution, according to the American Lung Association, raising their risk of lung cancer, asthma attacks, heart disease, reproductive problems and other ailments. The association’s 17th annual “state of the air” report found that there has been a gradual improvement in air quality in recent years but warned progress has been too slow and could even be reversed by efforts in Congress to water down the Clean Air Act. Climate change is also a looming air pollution challenge, with the report charting an increase in short-term spikes in particle pollution.

Many of these day-long jumps in soot and smoke have come from a worsening wildfire situation across the US, especially in areas experiencing prolonged dry conditions. Six of the 10 worst US cities for short-term pollution are in California, which has been in the grip of an historic drought. Bakersfield, California, was named the most polluted city for both short-term and year-round particle pollution, while Los Angeles-Long Beach was the worst for ozone pollution. Small particles that escape from the burning of coal and from vehicle tail pipes can bury themselves deep in people’s lungs, causing various health problems. Ozone and other harmful gases can also be expelled from these sources, triggering asthma attacks and even premature death.

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Can Brussels survive such failure? More urgently, can Greece survive the fallout? Because it’s Greece that will suffer first, and most, if the EU pact with the devil falls through.

EU States Grow Wary As Turkey Presses For Action On Visas Pledge (FT)

European diplomats are agonising over their politically perilous promise to grant visa-free travel to 80m Turks, amid strong warnings from Ankara that the EU migration deal will fold without a positive visa decision by June. The EU’s month-old deal to return migrants from Greece to Turkey has dramatically cut flows across the Aegean, easing what had been an acute migration crisis. But the pact rests on sweeteners for Ankara that the EU is struggling to deliver – above all, giving Turkish citizens short-term travel rights to Europe’s Schengen area. Germany, France and other countries nervous of a political backlash over Muslim migration have started exploring options to make the concession more politically palatable, including through safeguard clauses, extra conditions or watered-down terms.

The political calculations are further complicated by looming EU visa decisions for Ukraine, Georgia and Kosovo. Several senior European diplomats say ideas considered include a broad emergency brake, allowing the EU to suspend the visa deal under certain circumstances; limiting the visa privileges to Turkish executives and students; or opting for an unconventional visa-waiver treaty with Turkey, which would allow more rigorous, US-style checks on visitors. Selim Yenel, Turkey’s ambassador to the EU, called the efforts to water down the terms “totally unacceptable”, saying: “They cannot and should not change the rules of the game.” One senior EU official said the search for alternatives reflected “growing panic” in Berlin and Paris over the looming need to deliver the pledge.

The various options, the official added, were “a political smokescreen” to muster support in the Bundestag and European Parliament, which must also vote on the measures. The Turkish visa issue has even flared in Britain’s EU referendum campaign, forcing David Cameron, the prime minister, to clarify on Wednesday that Turks could not automatically come to the UK if they were granted visa rights to the 26-member Schengen area. The matter could come to a head within weeks. Brussels says Turkey is making good progress in fulfilling 72 required “benchmarks” to win the visa concessions and will issue a report on May 4. This is expected to say that Turkey is on course to meet the criteria by early June, passing the political dilemma to the EU member states and European Parliament.

One ambassador in Brussels said it looked ever more likely that several states would try to block visas for Turkey – a possibility that Mr Yenel also appears to anticipate. “They are probably getting cold feet since we are fulfilling the benchmarks,” he told the Financial Times. “We expect them to stick to what was agreed, otherwise how can we continue to trust the EU? We delivered on our side of the bargain. Now it is their turn.” Signs of Brussels backtracking have already prompted angry Turkish responses. “The EU needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the EU,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said recently. Meanwhile, Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s prime minister, has warned that “no one can expect Turkey to adhere to its commitments” if the June deadline was not respected.

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How is this any different from Europe’s long lamented bloody past?

Hungary Threatens Rebellion Against Brussels Over Forced Migration (Express)

The much-derided Schengen Area is on the brink of collapse after furious Hungary launched a rebellion against open borders. The country’s prime minister Viktor Orban is also angry at mandatory migrant quotas enforced by the European Union. He is now touring Europe’s capital cities, where he is rallying support for a new plan with greater protection for individual states, dubbed “Schengen 2.0.” Currently, EU countries are forced to comply with orders from Brussels to accept and settle a specified number of migrants. Orban has described these quotas as “wrong-headed” and is now leading a group of other countries determined to re-take control of their borders. “The EU cannot create a system in which it lets in migrants and then prescribes mandatory resettlement quotas for every member state.”

Orban also promised a referendum in Hungary on whether the country should accept these orders, warning that some of the settled migrants were unlikely to integrate, leading to social friction. He said: “If we do not stop Brussels with a referendum, they will indeed impose on us masses of people, with whom we do not wish to live together.” Other countries may follow suit in opposing these plans and hold their own referendums, taking the power from Brussels and putting it back in the hands of their residents. Slovakia and the Czech Republic have both threatened to take legal action against the EU’s orders to take in migrants. Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said on Sunday: “I expect the line of opposition will be wider. Let us talk about legal action against the proposal when it is necessary.”

The action plan, which will be shared with the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland as well as the prime ministers of several other unspecified countries, is just the latest nail in the Schengen coffin. Last week, 2,000 soldiers in Switzerland’s tank battalion were told to postpone their summer holidays in order to be ready to rush to the border with Italy to block migrants making their way from Sicily. Austria has also begun sealing off its southern border, introducing checks on the vital Brenner Cross motorway and pledging the implementation of €1m worth of border patrols and security improvements. Brussel’s most senior bureaucrat admitted yesterday that confidence in the EU was dropping rapidly across the continent. In an astonishing confession of failure, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said: “We are no longer respected in our countries when we emphasise the need to give priority to the EU.”

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A team of our Automatic Earth-sponsored friends at the Social Kitchen prepares 1000s of meals for refugees daily at Elliniko. Your contributions are still as welcome as they are necessary.

Refugee Camp Near Athens Poses ‘Enormous’ Public Health Risk (AFP)

Five mayors of Athens’s coastal suburbs warned Wednesday of the “enormous” health risks posed by a nearby camp housing over 4,000 migrants and refugees. “The conditions are out of control and present enormous risks to the public health,” the mayors complained in a letter to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, in reference to the camp at Elliniko, the site of Athens’s old airport. A total of 4,153 people, including many families, have been held there for the last month in miserable conditions. “The number of people is much higher than the capacity of the place and there are serious hygiene problems,” local mayor Dionyssis Hatzidakis told AFP.

He and his four fellow mayors from the area cited a document from Greece’s disease prevention center KEELPNO warning of the “the danger of disease contagion due to unacceptable housing conditions” at the site which they say has no more than 40 chemical toilets. Since the migrants’ favored route through the Balkans to the rest of Europe was shut down in February, numbers have been building up in Greece, with 46,000 Syrians and other nationalities now stuck in the country. Thousands of these have been transferred from the islands they arrived at to temporary centers such as the one at Elliniko, until more suitable reception centers can be set up.

The five mayors also voiced their disquiet at the “tensions and daily violent incidents between the refugees or migrants,” calling on the interior minister to boost police numbers in the area. “We are launching an appeal for help to protect the public health and security of both the refugees and the local population,” they said in their letter. Their intervention came the day after 17-year-old Afghan woman living in Elliniko with her parents died after six days in an Athens hospital. Her death was linked to a pre-existing heart condition exacerbated by the difficult journey to Greece, the doctor who treated her was quoted as saying in the Ethnos daily. Greek island officials on Tuesday began letting migrants leave detention centers where they have been held, as Human Rights Watch heaped criticism on a wave of EU-sanctioned expulsions to ease the crisis.

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Mar 052016
 
 March 5, 2016  Posted by at 9:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Country store, Venezuela 1905

China Intervenes in Stock Markets Ahead of Annual Policy Meeting (BBG)
China’s Rebalancing Is Overrated (Balding)
China Lays Out Its Vision To Become A Tech Power (Reuters)
Jim Rogers: There’s a 100% Probability of a US Recession Within a Year (BBG)
US Watchdog To Probe Fed’s Lax Oversight Of Wall Street (Reuters)
It Begins: Palace Revolt Against ECB’s NIRP (WS)
What’s Best For UK Savers Who’ve Lost £160 Billion Of Interest In 7 Years? (G.)
Argentina To Issue $11.68 Billion In Bonds To Pay For Defaulted Bonds (Reuters)
Brazil Ex-President Lula Detained In Corruption Probe (Reuters)
Brazil’s Ruling Party To Tap FX Reserves As Policy Fight Escalates (AEP)
Giant California Pension Funds To Sue VW Over Diesel Scandal (LA Times)
BP CEO Gets 20% Pay Rise Despite 2015 Record Loss, 1000s of Jobs Lost (Ind.)
Turkey Seizes Control Of Anti-Erdogan Daily In Midnight Raid (AFP)
What The NY Times Won’t Tell You About The US Adventure In Ukraine (Salon)
The Syrian Exodus: Epic In Scale, Inconceivable Till You Witness It (Flanagan)
Athens Given Deadlines For Schengen Requirements (Kath.)
Tsipras Says Greece Can’t Stop Migrants Headed For Northern Europe (AFP)
Europe Yanks Welcome Mat Out From Under Its War Refugees (Sputnik)

Saw that coming from miles away.

China Intervenes in Stock Markets Ahead of Annual Policy Meeting (BBG)

China intervened to support its stock market on Friday, helping the benchmark index cap its best weekly gain of 2016 before policy makers meet to approve a five-year road map for the economy, according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation. State-backed funds bought primarily bank shares, while some local branches of the securities regulator asked listed companies, mutual funds and brokerages to stabilize the market during the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, said the people, who asked not to be named because the matter isn’t public. China’s biggest banks, seen as prime targets for state support because of their large weightings in benchmark indexes, paced gains in the $5.5 trillion market on Friday even as small-capitalization shares tumbled.

Authorities have been known to intervene in markets before key national events, with government funds stepping in to boost share prices last August before a military parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the World War II victory over Japan. “It looks like the national team has been buying as large caps of the Shanghai index jumped, while small caps fell,” said Steve Wang at Reorient Financial Markets in Hong Kong. China’s stock market has become one of the most visible symbols of anxiety toward Asia’s largest economy after a $5 trillion crash last summer rattled global investors. By publicly intervening to support equity prices in 2015, President Xi Jinping’s government has staked some of its credibility as a steward of the economy on the state’s ability to stabilize one of the world’s most volatile markets.

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It’s just word, really: “..by helping keep afloat those state-owned zombie companies in order to boost GDP, Chinese banks are further delaying the process of rebalancing.”

China’s Rebalancing Is Overrated (Balding)

The optimists’ case for China is fairly straightforward. Yes, the world’s second-largest economy is grinding to its slowest pace in decades. But as investment and manufacturing – traditionally the key drivers of Chinese growth – decline in importance, domestic consumption and services are playing a bigger role: For the first time, services accounted for just over 50% of GDP last year. This much-desired rebalancing should move China toward a far more sustainable growth model. New economy companies in technology, health-care, finance and retail are more productive and less polluting than smokestack industries. Robust consumption – rail traffic is growing at 10% as Chinese spend more on leisure travel, while mobile Internet traffic has doubled – is key to weaning the economy off its addiction to investment.

As unproductive coal mines and steel factories shed workers, labor-intensive services should pick up the slack. A closer look at the data, however, paints a different and decidedly gloomier picture. Take travel. While overall rail traffic is up, total passenger turnover, which accounts for the number of kilometers traveled, grew only 3.1% in 2015. Moreover, it’s important to remember that only 11% of trips are done by rail. (International air travel, which grew 34% last year, only covers 0.2% of trips.) The vast majority of travel takes place by road and highway traffic actually declined last year. If so many more Chinese are going on pleasure trips, why is hotel revenue flat? Similarly, sales at the 100 biggest retailers in China, which one would expect to be thriving if the economy were rebalancing, were down 0.1% in 2015.

Luxury brands have been hit particularly hard (in part because of the ongoing anti-corruption campaign) and sales of even basic consumer durables such as TVs, refrigerators, audio equipment and washing machines are flat or declining. Services are certainly growing faster than manufacturing and real estate. But much of that growth comes from two sectors. The first, financial services, got a major boost in 2015 from the stock-market boom in the first half of the year and from the continuing flood of lending encouraged by the government. If one strips out the contribution made by the sector, consumption continued to slow last year. The bursting of the equity bubble is sure to crimp growth, as may a souring of loans, many of which are going to loss-making heavy industries. Indeed, by helping keep afloat those state-owned zombie companies in order to boost GDP, Chinese banks are further delaying the process of rebalancing.

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By exercising more state control…

China Lays Out Its Vision To Become A Tech Power (Reuters)

China aims to become a world leader in advanced industries such as semiconductors and in the next generation of chip materials, robotics, aviation equipment and satellites, the government said in its blueprint for development between 2016 and 2020. In its new draft five-year development plan unveiled on Saturday, Beijing also said it aims to use the internet to bolster a slowing economy and make the country a cyber power. China aims to boost its R&D spending to 2.5% of GDP for the five-year period, compared with 2.1% of GDP in 2011-to-2015. Innovation is the primary driving force for the country’s development, Premier Li Keqiang said in a speech at the start of the annual full session of parliament.

China is hoping to marry its tech sector’s nimbleness and ability to gather and process mountains of data to make other, traditional areas of the economy more advanced and efficient, with an eye to shoring up its slowing economy and helping transition to a growth model that is driven more by services and consumption than by exports and investment. This policy, known as “Internet Plus”, also applies to government, health care and education. As technology has come to permeate every layer of Chinese business and society, controlling technology and using technology to exert control have become key priorities for the government.

China will implement its “cyber power strategy”, the five-year plan said, underscoring the weight Beijing gives to controlling the Internet, both for domestic national security and the aim of becoming a powerful voice in international governance of the web. China aims to increase Internet control capabilities, set up a network security review system, strengthen cyberspace control and promote a multilateral, democratic and transparent international Internet governance system, according to the plan. Since President Xi Jinping came to power in early 2013, the government has increasingly reined in the Internet, seeing the web as a crucial domain for controlling public opinion and eliminating anti-Communist Party sentiment.

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“..if markets around the world are crashing, let’s just say that scenario happens, everybody’s going to put their money in the U.S. dollar—it could turn into a bubble.”

Jim Rogers: There’s a 100% Probability of a US Recession Within a Year (BBG)

Rogers Holdings Chairman Jim Rogers is certain that the U.S. economy will be in recession in the next 12 months. During an interview on Bloomberg TV with Guy Johnson, the famous investor said that there was a 100% probability that the U.S. economy would be in a downturn within one year. “It’s been seven years, eight years since we had the last recession in the U.S., and normally, historically we have them every four to seven years for whatever reason—at least we always have,” he said. “It doesn’t have to happen in four to seven years, but look at the debt, the debt is staggering.” Most Wall Street economists see a much smaller chance of a U.S. recession within this span, with odds typically below 33%.

Rogers was not specific on what could trigger a disorderly deleveraging process and recession but claimed that sluggish or slowing economies in China, Japan, and the euro zone mean that there are many possible channels of contagion. The former partner of George Soros suggested that if investors focus on the right data, there are signs that the U.S. economy is already faltering. “If you look at the … payroll tax figures [in the U.S.], you see they’re already flat,” he concluded. “Don’t pay attention to the government numbers, pay attention to the real numbers.” In light of the economic turmoil envisioned by Rogers, he is long the U.S. dollar.

“It might even turn into a bubble,” he said of the greenback. “I mean, if markets around the world are crashing, let’s just say that scenario happens, everybody’s going to put their money in the U.S. dollar—it could turn into a bubble.” Rogers added that a strengthening U.S. dollar has historically been negative for commodities—the asset class that the investor is best-known for. While the yen is often designated as a risk-off currency, it won’t benefit in the event of a flight to safety due to the massive, continued expansion of the Bank of Japan’s balance sheet, according to Rogers, who said he exited his position in the yen last Friday.

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Don’t hold your breath.

US Watchdog To Probe Fed’s Lax Oversight Of Wall Street (Reuters)

A U.S. watchdog agency is preparing to investigate whether the Federal Reserve and other regulators are too soft on the banks they are meant to police, after a written request from Democratic lawmakers that marks the latest sign of distrust between Congress and the central bank. Ranking representatives Maxine Waters of the House Financial Services Committee and Al Green of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations asked the Government Accountability Office on Oct. 8 to launch a probe of “regulatory capture” and to focus on the New York Fed, according to a letter obtained by Reuters. In an interview, the congressional agency said it has begun planning its approach. The probe, which had not been previously reported or made public, is the first by an outside agency into the perception that government regulators are “captured” by and too deferential toward the bankers they supervise, so that Wall Street benefits at the public’s expense.

Such perceptions have dogged the U.S. central bank since it failed to head off the 2007-2009 financial crisis that sparked a global recession. The Fed’s biggest critics have since been Republicans looking to curb its policy independence, but the request by Democrats could cool its somewhat warmer relationship with the left. “We currently do have some ongoing work looking at the concept known as regulatory capture. We’re in initial stages of outlining that engagement,” Lawrance Evans, director of the GAO’s financial markets and community investment division, said in an interview. The agency will conduct “an assessment across all financial regulators, and the Federal Reserve will be one institution,” he said. It was unclear whether the majority Republicans on the House committee, including Chairman Jeb Hensarling, backed the request from the minority Democrats.

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This is how simple it is. The NIRP boomerang.

It Begins: Palace Revolt Against ECB’s NIRP (WS)

The Association of Bavarian Savings Banks, which represents 71 savings banks in the German State of Bavaria, has had it with the ECB’s negative deposit-rate absurdity, and it’s now instigating a palace revolt. In 2014, when negative interest rates first hit Eurozone banks and ricocheted out from there, Germans called it “punishment interest” (Strafzinsen) because these rates were designed to flog banks and savers until their mood improves. But inexplicably, their mood hasn’t improved. Bank stocks have gotten clobbered as their profits have gotten hit by the negative interest rate environment. Stocks of Eurozone companies in general have come down hard, and the Eurozone economy simply hasn’t responded very well though the ECB is flogging it on a daily basis with its punishment interest.

And so Bavarian savings banks have had enough. The Frankfurter Algemeine has obtained a memo by the Association of Bavarian Savings Banks that openly encourages its member banks to stash cash in their own vaults rather than depositing it at the ECB and paying the penalty interest of 0.3% to the ECB on these deposits. The savings banks therefore are asking if it might be more economical for them to keep high cash values in their safes and not -as usual- store them at the ECB, the memo said. To estimate total costs and determine which would be the better deal -hang on to the cash or send it to the ECB- the association analyzed the costs of additional insurance coverage needed for these higher levels of cash-in-vault and further discussed some options concerning this insurance coverage, or as it says, for ECB-cash protection.

According to its analysis, insurance coverage on cash costs 0.15%, plus insurance tax, in total 0.1785%. This is below the ECB’s punishment rate of 0.3%. Each additional €1,000 of cash in its vault would therefore cost the bank €1.785 per year. But if the bank deposited that €1,000 at the ECB, it would cost €3.00 per year. Multiply the difference of €1.21 by tens or hundreds of millions, and pretty soon you’re talking about some real money. Banks have a total of €245 billion deposited at the ECB. At a deposit rate of negative 0.3%, extrapolated over a year, it costs them €735 million in punishment interest. “Punishment interest is already costing real money,” is how a senior central bankers explained it to the Frankfurter Algemeine.

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More interest rate manipulation damage.

What’s Best For UK Savers Who’ve Lost £160 Billion Of Interest In 7 Years? (G.)

Not many experts thought that the “emergency” base rate cut to 0.5% on March 5, 2009 would last for long. But seven years later savers have lost around £160bn in interest, while the prospect of rate rises are slipping further into the distance. In the immediate aftermath of the cut to 0.5%, rates for savers remained relatively high. Our analysis shows how cash Isas were offering 3%, and notice accounts 3.5%, in March 2009, and for the next couple of years they hovered around this level. After all, most banks and building societies were desperate for deposits after the great financial crash, so they were willing to pay far above the Bank of England base rate. The real villain turns out to be the Funding for Lending government programme introduced in July 2012, which effectively provided cheap money for cash-strapped lenders.

The effect was almost instantaneous: banks no longer needed to attract cash from savers, so they cut the rates on offer. Susan Hannums of Savingschampion.co.uk says: “While the base rate hitting the record 0.5% was bad enough, it was Funding for Lending that had one of the biggest impacts. Almost overnight, best-buy rates for savers dropped like a stone, followed by an unprecedented number of reductions on existing rates. “Today we’ve hit over 4,000 rate reductions for existing savers, with little sign of this slowing down. This means all savers would be wise to keep checking the rate they are getting, and to switch to improve returns when they are no longer competitive. “With almost 50% of easy-access accounts paying 0.5% or less, and the best-paying 1.55%, it’s easy to see why so many need to switch.”

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Bizarro.

Argentina To Issue $11.68 Billion In Bonds To Pay For Defaulted Bonds (Reuters)

Argentina plans to return to international credit markets in April with three bonds sales totaling $11.68 billion under U.S. law if Congress swiftly approves a debt deal for holdout creditors, top finance ministry officials told Congress on Friday. Finance Minister Alfonso Prat-Gay said the bonds, which will be used to finance the payouts to investors holding unpaid debt stemming from the country’s 2002 default, would carry maturities of five, ten and thirty years. Prat-Gay and his deputy, Luis Caputo, on Friday presented a package of debt agreements brokered with creditors, including a $4.65 billion cash payout to the main holdouts suing in a Manhattan court led by billionaire Paul Singer. Argentina has now reached provisional settlements with about 85% of bondholders and says negotiations continue with the rest.

“If the deal extends to all holdout investors, the bond issue will be for $11.684 billion. That’s what we need to close this chapter definitively,” Prat-Gay said. The debate in Congress is the first major political test of President Mauricio Macri’s ability to garner cross-party support for his economic reform package, the success of which hinges on ending the festering 14-year debt battle. Legislators will also be asked to repeal two laws blocking settlement of the debt case. Macri’s government is confident it can corral the votes needed to win approval even though the opposition holds a majority in the Senate and Macri holds only the largest minority in the lower chamber. Caputo told legislators the bonds would carry an interest rate of about 7.5%. While debt brokers see healthy appetite for Argentine debt after its prolonged absence from global debt markets, the gloomy global context may weigh.

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“News of Lula’s brief detention sparked a rally in Brazilian assets as traders bet that the political upheaval could empower a more market-friendly coalition.”

Brazil Ex-President Lula Detained In Corruption Probe (Reuters)

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was briefly detained for questioning on Friday in a federal investigation of a vast corruption scheme, fanning a political crisis that threatens to topple his successor, President Dilma Rousseff. Lula’s questioning in police custody was the highest profile development in a two-year-old graft probe centered on the state oil company Petrobras, which has rocked Brazil’s political and business establishment and deepened the worst recession in decades in Latin America’s biggest economy. The investigation threatens to tarnish the legacy of Brazil’s most powerful politician, whose humble roots and anti-poverty programs made him a folk hero, by putting a legal spotlight on how his left-leaning Workers’ Party consolidated its position since rising to power 13 years ago.

Police picked up Lula at his home on the outskirts of Sao Paulo and released him after three hours of questioning. They said evidence suggested Lula had received illicit benefits from kickbacks at the oil company, Petrobras, in the form of payments and luxury real estate. The evidence against the former president brought the graft investigation closer to his protege Rousseff. She is already fighting off impeachment for allegedly breaking budget rules, weakening her efforts to pull the economy out of recession. Rousseff expressed her disagreement with the police taking her mentor into custody, saying it was “unnecessary” after his voluntary testimony. But she repeated her backing for institutions investigating corruption and said the probe must continue until those responsible were punished. News of Lula’s brief detention sparked a rally in Brazilian assets as traders bet that the political upheaval could empower a more market-friendly coalition.

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Yeah, do fear for the Olympics.

Brazil’s Ruling Party To Tap FX Reserves As Policy Fight Escalates (AEP)

The ruling party in Brazil has drawn up crisis plans to tap the country’s foreign exchange reserves to fight recession and prevent a surge in unemployment, heightening fears of a populist lurch as the economic crisis deepens. Any such move by Brazil would mark an escalation in the emerging market crisis, leading to intense scrutiny of other countries across the world facing similar difficulties following the collapse of the commodity boom and the end of cheap dollar liquidity from the US Federal Reserve. The plan is in direct conflict with the policies of president Dilma Rousseff and implies a head-on clash between the government and its own political base in the Workers Party (PT), with serious implications for the stability of the currency and Brazil’s debt markets.

It came as official data showed Brazil’s economy contracted sharply in 2015 as businesses slashed investment plans and laid off more than 1.5 million workers, setting the stage for what could be the country’s deepest recession on record. Brazil’s gross domestic product shrank 3.8pc in 2015, capped by another steep contraction in the fourth quarter. It was the steepest annual drop for the country’s GDP since 1990, when hyperinflation and debt default blighted the country’s recent return to democracy. Rui Falcão, the PT’s president, personally drafted the crisis document known as the National Emergency Plan. He reportedly has the backing of former president Lula, Luiz Inacio da Silva. It calls for a draw-down on the country’s $371bn foreign reserves to finance a development and jobs fund, as well as demanding a sharp cut in interest rates, a move that would effectively strip the central bank of its independence.

The 16 proposals together mark a dramatic shift back to the party’s Marxist roots and a rejection of its free-market concordat over recent years. While investors might be willing to accept use of the reserves to back up a stabilisation policy and radical reform, they would be horrified if it was used to finance a last-ditch populist agenda. “If the PT taps the reserves, they risk setting off a run on the currency. This is very dangerous,” said one economist, dismissing the scheme as complete madness. While the reserves are large, they are also opaque since the central bank has taken out $115bn in currency swaps, partly in order to support companies struggling to cope with dollar debts that have suddenly doubled in local terms due to the devaluation of the Brazilian real.

Lisa Schineller, a director of sovereign ratings at Standard & Poor’s, said Brazil’s safety margin on external debt is weaker than it looks, a key reason why the agency downgraded the country deeper into junk status in late February. Total external debt is $470bn, but on top of this there are $200bn of inter-company loans that have a “debt-like” character. “This is a very large order of magnitude. Brazil’s situation is not as strong as some people suggest,” she told The Daily Telegraph. “Their external assets do not exceed their external debts. They are much lower than they have been historically.”

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“There’s lots of precedent in the U.S., but I don’t think the precedent is anywhere near as well established in Germany,” he said. “It’s going to be interesting to watch where this goes.”

Giant California Pension Funds To Sue VW Over Diesel Scandal (LA Times)

Two giant California pension funds plan to sue Volkswagen in a German court, joining other institutional investors who argue the automaker should pay for losses they experienced since the revelation last year that VW cheated on emissions tests. The California State Teachers’ Retirement System, or CalSTRS, on Friday announced plans to join in a securities case against VW. A spokesman for the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, or CalPERS, confirmed that fund is separately pursuing a similar action. CalSTRS owned about 354,000 common and preferred shares of VW as of Dec. 31. Common shares fell by as much as 37%, and preferreds by as much as 43%, in the first weeks of the mushrooming scandal that began in September. Shares have since recovered somewhat.

CalSTRS said its holdings are now worth $52 million, though the pension fund has not said how much it believes it has lost. Its VW investment is a tiny fraction of the fund’s roughly $180 billion portfolio. “The emissions cheating scandal has badly hurt [VW’s] value,” CalSTRS Chief Executive Jack Ehnes said in a statement Friday. “Volkswagen’s actions are particularly heinous since the company marketed itself as a forward-thinking steward of the environment.” Ehnes said the pension fund hopes to recover money, as well as send a message to VW and the auto industry “that we will not tolerate these illegal actions.” CalPERS, the nation’s largest pension fund, with assets of $279 billion, also holds VW shares, though it has not publicly reported the number of shares since the summer of 2014.

It is not clear whether either pension fund has sold or acquired shares since the emissions scandal. It’s relatively common in the United States for investors to sue public companies following scandal-driven stock slumps, but such suits are less common in Europe, said Bruce Simon, a partner at law firm Pearson Simon & Warshaw, which specializes in class-action and securities litigation. He said the big question for the pension funds and other U.S. investors in VW is how much they’ll be able to recover under German securities law. “There’s lots of precedent in the U.S., but I don’t think the precedent is anywhere near as well established in Germany,” he said. “It’s going to be interesting to watch where this goes.”

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“The oil price is outside BP’s control, but executives performed strongly in managing the things they could control and for which they are accountable..”

BP CEO Gets 20% Pay Rise Despite 2015 Record Loss, 1000s of Jobs Lost (Ind.)

The pay package for BP chief executive Bob Dudley jumped by $3.2m (£2.1m) last year, despite profits plunging at the oil giant and thousands more staff facing the axe. His total package rose by 20% from $16.4m to $19.6m and was condemned by critics for being the latest example of a company losing “contact with reality” – after BP said a further 3,000 workers would lose their jobs on top of 4,000 gone in January. A further 4,000 went last year, with BP predicting that the oil price downturn would be long-lasting. About 250,000 jobs have been cut in the sector in 18 months. Mr Dudley’s base salary was unchanged at $1.85m but his annual cash bonus rose by $300,000 to $1.3m. Pension contributions soared from $3m to $6.5m.

But the biggest contributor to his package was $7.1m worth of vested performance shares, which he will receive during the current year. BP said one third of this award was based on total shareholder returns, one third on “strategic imperatives”, including safety and operational risk, and the final third on operating cashflow. The company added that the executive directors had “responded early and decisively to the lower oil price environment” – and said Mr Dudley deserved his extra cash because of his performance in a difficult period. “Despite the very challenging environment,” it stated, “BP delivered strong operating and safety performance throughout 2015.

“The oil price is outside BP’s control, but executives performed strongly in managing the things they could control and for which they are accountable. BP surpassed expectations on most measures ,and directors’ remuneration reflects this.” The pay boost came as the falling oil price and continuing liabilities related to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010 led BP to report a record 2015 deficit of $6.5bn.

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As talks with EU are ongoing. Too much.

Turkey Seizes Control Of Anti-Erdogan Daily In Midnight Raid (AFP)

Turkish police on Friday raided the premises of a daily newspaper staunchly opposed to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, using tear gas and water cannon to disperse supporters and enter the building to impose a court order placing the media business under administration. Police fired the tear gas and water cannon to move away a hundreds-strong crowd that had formed outside the headquarters of the Zaman newspaper in Istanbul following the court order that was issued earlier in the day, an AFP photographer said. Zaman, closely linked to Erdogan’s arch-foe the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, was ordered into administration by the court on the request of Istanbul prosecutors, the state-run Anatolia news agency said.

There was no immediate official explanation for the court’s decision. The move means the court will appoint new managers to run the newspaper, who will be expected to transform its editorial line. Hundreds of supporters had gathered outside the paper’s headquarters in Istanbul awaiting the arrival of bailiffs and security forces after the court order. “We will fight for a free press,” and “We will not remain silent” said placards held by protestors, according to live images broadcast on the pro-Gulen Samanyolu TV. “Democracy will continue and free media will not be silent,” Zaman’s editor-in-chief Abdulhamit Bilici was quoted as saying by the Cihan news agency outside its headquarters. “I believe that free media will continue even if we have to write on the walls. I don’t think it is possible to silence media in the digital age,” he told Cihan, part of the Zaman media group.

[..] The court order had already aroused the concern of the United States, which said it was “the latest in a series of troubling judicial and law enforcement actions taken by the Turkish government targeting media outlets and others critical of it.” “We urge Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold the universal democratic values enshrined in their own constitution, including freedom of speech and especially freedom of the press,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

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Somehow it’s hard to believe this still continues.

What The NY Times Won’t Tell You About The US Adventure In Ukraine (Salon)

This column has cheered for an American failure in Ukraine since first forecasting one in the spring of 2014. Brilliant that it is upon us at last. Forcing a nation to live under a neoliberal economic regime so that American corporations can exploit it freely, as the Obama administration proposed when it designated Arseniy Yatsenyuk as prime minister in 2014, is never to be cheered. Turning a nation of 46 million into a bare-toothed front line in America’s obsessive campaign against Russia is never to be cheered. Forcing the Russian-speaking half of the country to live under a government that would ban Russian as a national language if it could is never to be cheered. The only regret, a great regret of mind and heart, is that American failures almost always prove so costly in consequence of the blindness and arrogance of the policy cliques.

Readers may remember when, with a defense authorization bill in debate last June, two congressmen advanced an amendment banning military assistance to “openly neo-Nazi” and “fascist” militias waging war against Ukraine’s eastern regions. John Conyers and Ted Yoho got two things done in a stroke: They forced public acknowledgment that “the repulsive neo-Nazi Azov battalion,” as Conyers put it, was active, and they shamed the (also repulsive) Republican House to pass their legislative amendment unanimously. Obama signed the defense bill then at issue into law just before Thanksgiving. The Conyers-Yoho amendment was deleted but for a single phrase. The bill thus authorizes, among much, much else, $300 million in aid this year to “the military and national security forces in Ukraine.” In a land ruled by euphemisms, the latter category designates the Azov battalion and the numerous other fascist militias on which the Poroshenko government is wholly dependent for its existence.

An omnibus spending bill Obama signed a month later included an additional $250 million for the Ukraine army and its rightist adjuncts. This is your money, taxpayers, should you need reminding. As Obama signed these bills, the White House expressed its satisfaction that “ideological riders” had been stripped out of them. No, you read next to nothing of this in any American newspaper. Yes, you now know what the often-lethal combination of blindness and arrogance looks like in action. Yes, you can now see why American policy in Ukraine must fail if this crisis is ever to come to a rational, humane resolution.

The funds just noted are in addition to a $1 billion loan guarantee—in essence another form of aid—that Secretary of State Kerry announced with fanfare last year. And that is in addition to the International Monetary Fund’s $40 billion bailout program, a $17.5 billion tranche of which is now pending. Since the I.M.F. is the external-relations arm of the U.S. Treasury (and Managing Director Christine Lagarde thus the Treasury’s public-relations face) this is a big commitment on the Obama administration’s part (which is to say yours and mine).

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“Then something happened. Ramadan looks up. He seems 70 but is 54. “We lost track of where the children were,” Ramadan says.”

The Syrian Exodus: Epic In Scale, Inconceivable Till You Witness It (Flanagan)

“Yesterday was the funeral,” Ramadan says. “It was very cold. We make sure Yasmin always has family around her.” Yasmin wears a red scarf, maroon jumper and blue jeans. She is small and slight. Her face seems unable to assemble itself into any form of meaning. Nothing shapes it. Her eyes are terrible to behold. Blank and pitiless. Yet, in the bare backstreet apartment in Mytilini on the Greek island of Lesbos in which we meet on a sub-zero winter’s night, she is the centre of the room, physically, emotionally, spiritually. The large extended family gathered around Yasmin – a dozen or more brothers, sisters, cousins, nephews, nieces, her mother and her father, Ramadan, an aged carpenter – seem to spin around her. And in this strange vortex nothing holds.

Yasmin’s family has come from Bassouta, an ancient Kurdish town in Afrin, near Aleppo, and joined the great exodus of our age, that of 5 million Syrians fleeing their country to anywhere they can find sanctuary. Old Testament in its stories, epic in scale, inconceivable until you witness it, that great river of refugees spills into neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, and the overflow – to date more than a million people – washes into Europe across the fatal waters of the Aegean Sea. “We were three hours in a black rubber boat,” Ramadan says. “There were 50 people. We were all on top of each other.” The family show me. They entwine limbs and contort torsos in strange and terrible poses. Yasmin’s nine months pregnant sister, Hanna, says that people were lying on top of her.

I am told how Yasmin was on her knees holding her four-year-old son, Ramo, above her. The air temperature just above freezing, the boat was soon half sunk, and Yasmin wet through. But if she didn’t continue holding Ramo up he might have been crushed to death or drowned beneath the compressed mass of desperate people. Then something happened. Ramadan looks up. He seems 70 but is 54. “We lost track of where the children were,” Ramadan says.

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But how do they see this? How is this not as hollow as can be?

Athens Given Deadlines For Schengen Requirements (Kath.)

Greece was handed Friday a timeline for the improvements it has to make in its border controls by May, as the European Commission presented a step-by-step plan to implement measures, including a new EU border and coast guard, to curb the influx of refugees and migrants to Europe. “We cannot have free movement internally if we cannot manage our external borders effectively,” Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said, as he presented the report ahead of Monday’s summit between the EU and Turkey. According to the Commission’s document, Greece has by March 12 to present its action plan to address concerns about its border controls and explain what action it is taking to correct failings discovered during an inspection in November.

Exactly a month later, Brussels will deliver its assessment on the Greek action plan. A new Schengen evaluation will be carried out by EU experts, who will inspect Greece’s land and sea borders, from April 11-17. Finally, Athens will have to report to the European Council by May 12 on the steps it has taken to meet its recommendations. The report presented Friday estimates that the collapse of passport-free travel in the 26-nation Schengen zone could cost the European economy up to €18 billionß a year.

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10,000 kilometers of coastline.

Tsipras Says Greece Can’t Stop Migrants Headed For Northern Europe (AFP)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Friday his country can’t stop migrants who want to head to northern Europe, and sharply criticized Balkan countries for shutting their borders. “How can we stop people if they want to keep going?” Tsipras, whose country has faced a major refugee influx via Turkey, told Germany’s top-selling Bild daily. “We cannot imprison people, that would contravene international agreements. We can only help to rescue these people at sea, to supply and register them. Then they all want to move on. That’s why a resettlement process is the only solution.” “They have been bombed in their homes, have risked their lives to escape to come to Greece, the gateway to Europe. But the refugees’ ‘Mecca’ lies to the north.”

Tsipras’s comments came a day after Austria’s foreign minister urged Greece to stop migrants from pursuing their journey to northern Europe, saying Athens should hold new arrivals at registration “hot spots.” Sebastian Kurz told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung in an interview that “those who manage to arrive in Greece should not be allowed to continue on their journey.” But Tsipras retorted that while Greece, as Europe’s main gateway for refugees, had “met more than 100% of our obligations, others haven’t even met 10% and love to criticize us”. “What some countries have agreed and decided goes against all the rules, against the whole of Europe, and we consider it an unfriendly act.” “These countries are destroying Europe!” he charged, according to the German translation.

Athens has been seething over a series of border restrictions along the migrant trail, from Austria to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, that has caused a bottleneck in Greece. “Greece is the only country that is fulfilling its obligations,” the leftist leader said, adding that it was now hosting 30,000 refugees. While Greece can protect its land borders, it can’t do the same for some 10,000 kilometers (6,000 miles) of coastline, he said. Tsipras said that “in the end those who are now putting up barbed wire, expelling refugees by force and turning their countries into fortresses, will be isolated in Europe. “We, however, are in an alliance with the countries showing solidarity,” he added, in an apparent reference to Germany, Europe’s top destination for migrants. “And these are the countries with which we had very big problems during the financial crisis,” he said, hinting at Berlin’s tough austerity demands from Greece in return for international bail-out loans.

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Somone better stop Tusk. “..if you insist that these people are refugees then you have a duty to welcome them under all EU constitutions.” By contrast, “if you refer to them as migrants then you have no duty towards them..”

Europe Yanks Welcome Mat Out From Under Its War Refugees (Sputnik)

On Thursday, European Council President Donald Tusk, dismissing refugees fleeing war-torn Syria as “economic migrants,” stated, “Do not come to Europe.” Middle East analyst Hafsa Kara-Mustapha sat down with Sputnik’s Brian Becker to discuss the dire status of Middle Eastern refugees in Europe. What will be the impact of European Council President Tusk’s Statements? “First of all, I have to talk about the wording he used,” Kara-Mustapha told Loud & Clear. “He insisted on using the word migrant and specifically using the phrase ‘economic migrant’ when all the people presently coming into Europe are actually war refugees fleeing conflict.” Kara-Mustapha expressed concern that by rebranding the refugees as economic migrants, the EU aims to alter the requirements of member states to provide asylum.

“In effect, when he says that Europe should stop welcoming economic migrants he is actually changing the whole subject and making the issue about economy and migration when simply it is about refugees,” she noted, adding that, “if you insist that these people are refugees then you have a duty to welcome them under all EU constitutions.” By contrast, “if you refer to them as migrants then you have no duty towards them because these people are just coming for financial gain and nobody owes them anything,” observed Kara-Mustapha. In reality, however, “these people are coming to Europe for safety and to avoid the horrors of war.” She also noted that the current aim of European leadership appears to be to fundamentally change public opinion toward refugees by referring to them as “migrants.” The wording, she said, “makes the topic less acceptable to ensure people turn against these refugees… the underlying meaning is that they are coming here for the benefits, to raid the welfare system, and to make money.”

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Feb 082016
 
 February 8, 2016  Posted by at 9:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


DPC City Hall subway station, New York 1904

Deutsche Bank Is Shaking To Its Foundations (SI)
Why A Selloff In European Banks Is So Ominous (MW)
Lending To Emerging Markets Comes To A Halt (FT)
What the Heck is Going On in the Stock Market? (WS)
Dot Com 2.0 – The Sequel Unfolds (St.Cyr)
CEOs, Venture Backers Lose Big As Linkedin, Tableau Shares Tumble (Reuters)
Record Numbers Of Longs And Shorts Are Piling Into Oil (BBG)
Prolonged Slump Sparks 2nd Wave Of Cuts To 2016 Oil Company Budgets (Reuters)
World’s Largest Energy Trader Sees a Decade of Low Oil Prices (BBG)
150 North Sea Oil Rigs Could Be Scrapped In 10 Years (Scotsman)
Iran Wants Euro Payment For New And Outstanding Oil Sales (Reuters)
Fining Bankers, Not Shareholders, for Banks’ Misconduct (Morgenson)
Volkswagen’s Emissions Lies Are Coming Back To Haunt It (BBG)
Moody’s Cuts Rating On Western Australia Iron Ore (WSJ)
British Expat Workers Flood Home As Australia Mining Boom Turns To Dust (Tel.)
Ukraine: A USA-Installed Nazi-Infested Failed State (Lendman)
Through The Past, Darkly, For Europe’s Central Bankers (Münchau)
German, French Central Bankers Call For Eurozone Finance Ministry (Reuters)

Arguably world’s biggest bank. “Deutsche Bank is now trading at less than 50% of the share price it was trading at in July last year. And no, the market isn’t wrong about this one. ..” The market will be going after Deutsche. Which is too vulnerable to save.

Deutsche Bank Is Shaking To Its Foundations (SI)

The earnings season has started, and several major banks in the Eurozone have already reported on how they performed in the fourth quarter of 2015, and the entire financial year. Most results were quite boring, but unfortunately Deutsche Bank once again had some bad news. Just one week before it wanted to release its financial results, it already issued a profit warning to the markets, and the company’s market capitalization has lost in excess of 5B EUR since the profit warning, on top of seeing an additional 18B EUR evaporate since last summer. Deutsche Bank is now trading at less than 50% of the share price it was trading at in July last year. And no, the market isn’t wrong about this one.

The shit is now really hitting the fan at Deutsche Bank after having to confess another multi-billion euro loss in 2015 on the back of some hefty litigation charges (which are expected to persist in the future). And to add to all the gloom and doom, even Deutsche Bank’s CEO said he didn’t really want to be there . Talk about being pessimistic! Right after Germany’s largest bank (and one of the banks that are deemed too big to fail in the Eurozone system) surprised the market with these huge write-downs and high losses, the CDS spread started to increase quite sharply. Back in July of last year, when Deutsche Bank’s share price reached quite a high level, the cost to insure yourself reached a level of approximately 100, but the CDS spread started to increase sharply since the beginning of this year.

It reached a level of approximately 200 in just the past three weeks, indicating the market is becoming increasingly nervous about Deutsche’s chances to weather the current storm. Let’s now take a step back and explain why the problems at Deutsche Bank could have a huge negative impact on the world economy. Deutsche has a huge exposure to the derivatives market, and it’s impossible, and then we mean LITERALLY impossible for any government to bail out Deutsche Bank should things go terribly wrong. Keep in mind the exposure of Deutsche Bank to its derivatives portfolio is a stunning 55T EUR, which is almost 20 times (yes, twenty times) the GDP of Germany and roughly 5 times the GDP of the entire Eurozone! And to put things in perspective, the TOTAL government debt of the US government is less than 1/3rd of Deutsche Bank’s exposure.

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Because it will pop the European finance bubble.

Why A Selloff In European Banks Is So Ominous (MW)

European banks have been caught in a perfect storm of market turmoil, lately. Lackluster profits and negative interest rates, have prompted investors to dump shares in the sector that was touted as one of the best investment ideas just a few months ago. The region’s banking gauge, the Stoxx Europe 600, has logged six straight weeks of declines, its longest weekly losing stretch since 2008, when banks booked 10 weeks of losses, beginning in May, according to FactSet data. “The current environment for European banks is very, very bad. Over a full business cycle, I think it’s very questionable whether banks on average are able to cover their cost of equity. And as a result that makes it an unattractive investment for long-term investors,” warned Peter Garnry at Saxo Bank. The doom-and-gloom outlook for banks comes as the stock market has had an ominous start to the year.

East or west, investors ran for the exit in a market marred by panic over tumbling oil prices and signs of sluggishness in China. But for Europe’s banking sector, the new year has started even worse, sending the bank index down 20% year-to-date, compared with 11% for the broader Stoxx Europe 600 index. So what happened? At the end of last year, banks were singled out as one of the most popular sectors for 2016 because of expected benefits from higher bond yields, rising inflation expectations and improved economic growth. That outlook, however, was before the one-two punch of plunging oil and a slowdown in China sapped investor confidence world-wide. Garnry said the slump in bank shares is “a little bit odd” given the recent growth in the European economy and aggressive easing from the ECB.

Normally, banks benefit from measures such as quantitative easing, but it’s just not doing the trick in Europe. “And its worrisome, because banks are much more important for the credit mechanism in the economy here in Europe than it is in the U.S. There, you have a capital market where it’s easier to issue corporate bonds and get funding outside the commercial banking system. We don’t have that to the same extent in Europe, and therefore [the current weakness] is a little bit scary,” he said. Some of the sector’s collective underperformance comes down to exceptionally bad performances for a number of the bigger banks. Deutsche Bank, for example, has tumbled 32% year to date, amid a painful restructuring. And Credit Suisse is down 31% for the year as it posted a massive fourth-quarter loss.

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Has long since reversed.

Lending To Emerging Markets Comes To A Halt (FT)

The surge in lending to emerging markets that helped fuel their own — and much of the world’s — growth over the past 15 years has come to a halt, and may now give way to a “vicious circle” of deleveraging, financial market turmoil and a global economic downturn, the Bank for International Settlements has warned. “In the risk-on phase [of the global economic cycle], lending sets off a virtuous circle in financial conditions in which things can look better than they really are,” said Hyun Song Shin, head of research at the BIS, known as the central bank of central banks. “But flows can quickly go into reverse and then it becomes a vicious circle, especially if there is leverage,” he told the FT. That reversal has already taken place, according to BIS data released on Friday.

The total stock of dollar-denominated credit in bonds and bank loans to emerging markets — including that to governments, companies and households but excluding that to banks — was $3.33tn at the end of September 2015, down from $3.36tn at the end of June. It marks the first decline in such lending since the first quarter of 2009, during the global financial crisis, according to the BIS. The BIS data add to a growing pile of evidence pointing to tightening credit conditions in emerging markets and a sharp reversal of international capital flows. On Thursday, The IMF’s Christine Lagarde warned of the threat to global growth of an impending crisis in emerging markets. The Institute of International Finance, an industry body, said last month that emerging markets had seen net capital outflows of an estimated $735bn during 2015, the first year of net outflows since 1988.

In November, the IIF warned of an approaching credit crunch in EMs as bank lending conditions deteriorated sharply. This month, it said a contraction over the past year in the liquidity made available to the world’s financial system by central banks, primarily those in developed markets, now presented more of a threat to global growth than the slowdown in China and falling oil prices. Jaime Caruana, general manager of the BIS, said that recent turmoil on equity markets, disappointing economic growth, large movements in exchange rates and falling commodity prices were not unconnected, exogenous shocks but indicative of maturing financial cycles, particularly in emerging economies, and of shifts in global financial conditions. He noted that, while some advanced economies had reduced leverage after the crisis, debt had continued to build up in many emerging economies.

“Recent events are manifestations of maturing financial cycles in some emerging economies,” he said. The problem was aggravated, Mr Shin added, by the deteriorating quality of the assets financed by the lending boom. He noted that the indebtedness of companies in emerging markets as a%age of GDP had overtaken that of those in developed markets in 2013, just as the profitability of EM companies had fallen below that of DM ones for the first time. Since then, leverage in emerging economies had increased further as profitability had decreased, with exchange rates playing an important role. “Stronger EM currencies fed into more debt and more risk taking. Now that the dollar is strengthening, we have turned into a deleveraging cycle in EMs. So there is a sudden surge in measurable risk; all the weaknesses are suddenly being uncovered.”

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Wolf has another nice list of plunging stocks. Tech bubble.

What the Heck is Going On in the Stock Market? (WS)

Even Moody’s which is always late to the party with its warnings – but when it does warn, it’s a good idea to pay attention – finally warned: “Don’t fall into the trap of believing all is well outside of oil & gas.” What happened on Friday was the culmination of another dreary week in the stock markets, with the Dow down 1.3% for the day and 1.6% for the week, the S&P 500 down 1.8% and 3.1% respectively, and the Nasdaq down 3.2% and 5.4%. The S&P 500 is now nearly 12% off its record close in May, 2015; the Nasdaq nearly 17%. So on the surface, given that the Nasdaq likes to plunge over 70% before crying uncle, not much has happened yet. But beneath the surface, there have been some spectacular fireworks.

Not too long ago, during the bull market many folks still fondly remember and some think is still with us, a company could announce an earnings or revenue debacle but throw in a big share-buyback announcement, and its shares might not drop that much as dip buyers would jump in along with the company that was buying back its own shares, and they’d pump up the price again. Those were the good times, the times of “consensual hallucination,” as we’ve come to call it, because all players tried so hard to be deluded. It was the big strategy that worked. But not anymore. And that’s the sea change. Reality is returning, often suddenly, and in the most painful manner.

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“Don’t wait too long on that “right price.” For if the current value of Alibaba™ is any indication – “right” is becoming more inline with “any” much faster than anyone dared think just a year prior..”

Dot Com 2.0 – The Sequel Unfolds (St.Cyr)

Once high flyers such as the aforementioned Twitter and others are crashing to Earth like the proverbial canary. Companies like Square™, Box™, GoPro™, Pandora™, and now far too many others have watched their stock prices hammered ever lower. Yes, hammered, as in representing one selling round after another with almost no respite. Some have lost 90% of their once lofty high share prices. What’s further disheartening to those still clinging (or praying) to the “meme-dream” is the ever-increasing reputation of the old “Great companies on sale!” chortles from many a next in rotation fund manager on TV, radio, or print. For it seems every round of selling is being met with ever more selling – no buying. And the lower they go with an ever intensifying pressure, so too does the value of the debutantes in waiting: The yet to be IPO’d unicorns.

Valuation after unicorn valuation are getting marked down in one fell swoops such as that from Fidelity™ and others. However, there probably wasn’t a better representation on how little was left to the unicorn myth (and yes I believed/believe all these valuation metrics were myth and fairy-tales) than the very public meme shattering experienced in both the IPO, as well as the subsequent price action of Square. Here it was touted the IPO price was less than the unicorn implied valuation. This was supposedly done as to show “value” for those coming in to be next in line to pin their tails on the newest unicorn of riches. The problem? It sold, and sold, and is still selling – and not in a good way. It seems much like the other company Mr. Dorsey is CEO of (and how anyone with any business acumen argued that was a good idea is still beyond me. But I digress.) this unicorn also can’t fly. And; is in a perilous downward spiral of meeting the ground of reality.

It seems the only interest in buying these once high flyers can garner is wrapped up into any rumor (usually via a Tweet!) that they are to be sold – as in acquired by someone else who might be able to make money with them. Well, at least that would free up the ole CEO dilemma, no? And speaking of CEO dilemma and acquiring – how’s Yahoo!™ doing? Remember when the strategy for success for Yahoo as posited by the very public adoration styled magazine cover girl articles of its current CEO Marisa Mayer was an acquisition spree? This was all but unquestionable (and much digital ink spilled) in its brilliance and vision inspired forward thinking. Well, it seems all that “brilliance” has been eviscerated much like how the workforce still employed there is yet to be.

Let me be blunt: All you needed to know things were amiss both at Yahoo as well as “the Valley” itself was to look at the most recent decision of Ms. Mayer to throw a lavish multi-million dollar costumed theme party mere months ago. As unquestionably foolish as this was – the rationale given by many a Silicon Valley aficionado that it was nothing, after all, “it’s common in the Valley” was ever the more stupefying! Now it seems Yahoo is “cutting its workforce by double-digit%ages.” And: open to the possibility of selling off core assets of its business. Of course – at the right price. However, I’d just offer this advice: Don’t wait too long on that “right price.” For if the current value of Alibaba™ is any indication – “right” is becoming more inline with “any” much faster than anyone dared think just a year prior.

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DotCom 2.0 revisited.

CEOs, Venture Backers Lose Big As Linkedin, Tableau Shares Tumble (Reuters)

LinkedIn Executive Chairman Reid Hoffman lost almost half his $2.8 billion fortune on paper Friday as shares of his social media company suffered their largest drop on record. He was not alone in taking heavy losses. Other executives at LinkedIn, some at business analytics company Tableau Software, and a number of the companies’ venture capital backers also took losses running into tens of millions of dollars as both stocks tumbled on dismal financial outlooks. It was a humbling moment highlighting the personal exposure many technology leaders and venture capitalists face as Wall Street reassesses their value at an uncertain time for the sector. Silicon Valley-based LinkedIn’s shares closed down 43.6% at $108.38 on Friday, after hitting a three-year low, following a sales forecast well short of analysts’ expectations. Shares of Seattle-based Tableau Software, a business analytics tools company, fell 49.4% to $41.33 after cutting its full-year profit outlook.

As a result, LinkedIn’s Hoffman lost $1.2 billion from his value on paper on Friday, slashing his stake to $1.6 billion, based on his holdings detailed in a filing with securities regulators from March, which the company said was the most up-to-date. LinkedIn’s Chief Executive Jeff Weiner saw the value of his stake fall by $70.9 million to $91.5 million. At Tableau, the value of CEO Christian Chabot’s stake was slashed nearly in half to $268 million, based on his holdings in a filing with securities regulators in March. Besides Hoffman and Weiner, several venture capitalists who sit on LinkedIn’s board and own stakes in the company suffered substantial losses. Michael Moritz, the chairman of Sequoia Capital who owns more shares than any individual investor besides Hoffman and Weiner, lost $56 million as his stake’s value shrank to $72.8 million. David Sze at Greylock Partners saw the value of his stake slide to $5 million after losing $3.9 million on Friday.

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“Any commodity market where inventories are at the highest level in more than 85 years is going to be bearish.”

Record Numbers Of Longs And Shorts Are Piling Into Oil (BBG)

Money managers may not agree where oil prices are headed, but they are increasingly eager to place their bets. Total wagers on the price of crude climbed to the highest since the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission began tracking the data in 2006. Speculators’ combined short and long positions in West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. benchmark, rose to 497,280 futures and options contracts in the week ended Feb. 2. WTI moved more than 1% each day in the past three weeks. U.S. crude stockpiles climbed to the highest level in more than 85 years and Venezuela called for cooperation between OPEC and other oil-exporting countries to stem the drop in prices. The slump has slashed earnings from Royal Dutch Shell to Chevron, while Exxon Mobil reduced its drilling budget to a 10-year low.

“This is a reflection of a lot of conviction on both sides,” said John Kilduff at Again Capital, a hedge fund that focuses on energy. “We’re seeing a battle royal between those who think a bottom has been put in and those who think we have lower to go.” WTI slumped 5% to $29.88 a barrel in the report week on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The March contract added 10 cents, or 0.3%, to $30.99 at 12:18 p.m. Singapore time on Monday. [..] “There’s a difference of opinion about the direction of the market,” said Tim Evans at Citi Futures Perspective in New York. “It looks like some of the high price levels offered an opening for shorts to get back into the market. The shorts were the winners on a net basis.”

In other markets, net bearish wagers on U.S. ultra low sulfur diesel increased 11% to 23,765 contracts. Diesel futures advanced 4.5% in the period. Net bullish bets on Nymex gasoline slipped 18% to 14,328 contracts as futures dropped 4.4%. The risks are weighted to the downside because of the global glut, Citi’s Evans said. U.S. crude stockpiles climbed 7.79 million barrels to 502.7 million in the week ended Jan. 29, the highest since 1930, according to Energy Information Administration. Gasoline supplies climbed 5.94 million barrels to 254.4 million, the highest in weekly records going back to 1990. “The rise in U.S. inventories is confirmation of a larger physical supply surplus,” Evans said. “Any commodity market where inventories are at the highest level in more than 85 years is going to be bearish.”

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Time for the big margin calls?!

Prolonged Slump Sparks 2nd Wave Of Cuts To 2016 Oil Company Budgets (Reuters)

Less than two months into the year, the top U.S. shale oil companies have already cut their budget for 2016 a second time as the relentless drop in oil prices continues to erode their cash flow. With oil prices firmly wedged in the low $30-per-barrel range, oil producers are deferring spending on new wells and projects. “Companies’ language has shifted towards preserving balance sheets and cash, and keeping expenditure within cash-flows, which means that budgets are going to fall further,” said Topeka Capital Markets analyst Gabriele Sorbara. 18 of the top 30 U.S. oil companies by output have so far outlined their spending plans for 2016. They have reduced their budget by 40% on average, steeper than most analysts’ expectations, according to a Reuters analysis. These 30 companies had, on average, lowered their spending plans for 2016 by more than 70% last year.

Some such as Hess Corp and ConocoPhillips, who had already planned to spend less this year than in 2015, have now further cut their capital expenditure targets. Others are expected to follow suit. But, is there room for further cuts? While reduced prices for oilfield services and increased efficiencies have helped companies scale back spending, many industry experts say there may not be room for further cuts. “It’s almost like a 80/20 rule – 80% of the cost reduction has already occurred, another 20% remains,” said Rob Thummel at Tortoise Capital Advisors. Although the reduced spending has not yet impacted shale output, production is expected to start falling by the end of the year. “The capital cuts that the industry is making should result in … a supply shock to the downside,” ConocoPhillips’ chief executive, Ryan Lance, said on Thursday.

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Looking 10 years ahead? Sure.

World’s Largest Energy Trader Sees a Decade of Low Oil Prices (BBG)

Oil prices will stay low for as long as 10 years as Chinese economic growth slows and the U.S. shale industry acts as a cap on any rally, according to the world’s largest independent oil-trading house. “It’s hard to see a dramatic price increase,” Vitol CEO Ian Taylor told Bloomberg in an interview, saying prices were likely to bounce around a band with a mid-point of $50 a barrel for the next decade. “We really do imagine a band, and that band would probably naturally see a $40 to $60 type of band,” he said. “I can see that band lasting for five to ten years. I think it’s fundamentally different.” The lower boundary would imply little price recovery from where Brent crude, the global price benchmark, trades at about $35 a barrel.

The upper limit would put prices back to the level of July 2015, when the oil industry was already taking measures to weather the crisis. The forecast, made as the oil trading community’s annual IP Week gathering starts in London on Monday, would mean oil-rich countries and the energy industry would face the longest stretch of low prices since the the 1986-1999 period, when crude mostly traded between $10 and $20 a barrel. Vitol trades more than five million barrels a day of crude and refined products – enough to cover the needs of Germany, France and Spain together – and its views are closely followed in the oil industry.

Taylor, a 59-year-old trader-cum-executive who started his career at Royal Dutch Shell in the late 1970s, said he was unsure whether prices have already bottomed out, as supply continued to out-pace demand, leading to ever higher global stockpiles. However, he said that prices were likely to recover somewhat in the second half of the year, toward $45 to $50 a barrel. For the foreseeable future, Taylor doubts the oil market would ever see the triple-digit prices that fattened the sovereign wealth funds of Middle East countries and propelled the valuations of companies such as Exxon Mobil and BP. “You have to believe that there is a possibility that you will not necessarily go back above $100, you know, ever,” he said.

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How many will be capped in for good?

150 North Sea Oil Rigs Could Be Scrapped In 10 Years (Scotsman)

Almost 150 oil rigs in UK waters could be scrapped within the next 10 years, according to industry analysts Douglas Westwood, which carries out market research and consultancy work for the energy industry worldwide, said it anticipated that “146 platforms will be removed from the UK during 2019-2026”. The North Sea has been hit hard by plummeting oil prices, with the industry body Oil and Gas UK estimating 65,000 jobs have been lost in the sector since 2014. But Douglas Westwood said that decommissioning could provide an opportunity for the specialist firms involved in the work. Later this month it will publish its decommissioning market forecast for the North Sea – covering Denmark, Germany, Norway and the UK – over the period 2016 to 2040.

Ahead of that a paper on its website predicted that the “UK will dominate decommissioning expenditure”. This is down to the “high number of ageing platforms in the UK, which have an average age of over 20 years and are uneconomic at current commodity prices, as a result of high maintenance costs and the expensive production techniques required for mature fields”. Douglas Westwood said: “The oil price collapse has been bad news for nearly every company involved in the industry, but one group that could actually benefit from it are specialist decommissioning companies. “For these companies there is an opportunity to be part of removing the huge tonnage of infrastructure that exists in the North Sea. With oil prices forecast to remain low, life extension work that has kept many North Sea platforms producing long past their design life no longer makes commercial sense.”

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Some people will try and make a big deal out of this.

Iran Wants Euro Payment For New And Outstanding Oil Sales (Reuters)

Iran wants to recover tens of billions of dollars it is owed by India and other buyers of its oil in euros and is billing new crude sales in euros, too, looking to reduce its dependence on the U.S. dollar following last month’s sanctions relief. A source at state-owned National Iranian Oil told Reuters that Iran will charge in euros for its recently signed oil contracts with firms including French oil and gas major Total, Spanish refiner Cepsa and Litasco, the trading arm of Russia’s Lukoil. “In our invoices we mention a clause that buyers of our oil will have to pay in euros, considering the exchange rate versus the dollar around the time of delivery,” the NIOC source said. Iran has also told its trading partners who owe it billions of dollars that it wants to be paid in euros rather than U.S. dollars.

Iran was allowed to recover some of the funds frozen under U.S.-led sanctions in currencies other than dollars, such as the Omani rial and UAE dhiram. Switching oil sales to euros makes sense as Europe is now one of Iran’s biggest trading partners. “Many European companies are rushing to Iran for business opportunities, so it makes sense to have revenue in euros,” said Robin Mills, CEO of Dubai-based Qamar Energy. Iran has pushed for years to have the euro replace the dollar as the currency for international oil trade. In 2007, Tehran failed to persuade OPEC members to switch away from the dollar, which its then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called a “worthless piece of paper”.

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What are the odds? If not done retroactively, how would it work out?

Fining Bankers, Not Shareholders, for Banks’ Misconduct (Morgenson)

Ho-hum, another week, another multimillion-dollar settlement between regulators and a behemoth bank acting badly. The most recent version involves two such financial institutions, Barclays and Credit Suisse. They agreed last Sunday to pay $154.3 million after regulators contended that their stock trading platforms, advertised as places where investors would not be preyed on by high-frequency traders, were actually precisely the opposite. On both banks’ systems, investors trying to execute their transactions fairly were harmed. As has become all too common in these cases, not one individual was identified as being responsible for the activities. Once again, shareholders are shouldering the costs of unethical behavior they had nothing to do with.

It could not be clearer: Years of tighter rules from legislators and bank regulators have done nothing to fix the toxic, me-first cultures that afflict big financial firms. Regulators are at last awakening to this reality. On Jan. 5, for example, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a top Wall Street cop, announced its regulatory priorities for 2016. Among the main issues in its sights, the regulator said, was the culture at these companies. “Nearly a decade after the financial crisis, some firms continue to experience systemic breakdowns manifested through significant violations due to poor cultures of compliance,” said Richard Ketchum, Finra’s chairman.

“Firms with a strong ethical culture and senior leaders who set the right tone, lead by example and impose consequences on anyone who violates the firm’s cultural norms are essential to restoring investor confidence and trust in the securities industry.” But changing behavior — as opposed, say, to imposing higher capital requirements — is a complex task. And regulators must do more than talk about what banks have to do to address their deficiencies. Andreas Dombret is a member of the executive board of the Deutsche Bundesbank, Germany’s central bank, and head of its department of banking and financial supervision. In an interview late last year, he said he was determined to tackle the problem of ethically challenged bankers.

“If behavior doesn’t change, banks will not be trusted and they won’t be efficient in their financing of the real economy,” he said. “A functioning banking system must be based on trust.” Mr. Dombret is a regulator who knows banking from the inside, having held executive positions at J.P. Morgan and Bank of America. Most companies have codes of ethics, Mr. Dombret said, but they often exist only on paper. Regulators could help encourage a more ethical approach by routinely monitoring how a bank cooperates with its overseers, Mr. Dombret said. “How often is the bank the whistle-blower?” he asked. “Not only to get a lesser penalty but also to show that it won’t accept that kind of behavior. We are seeing more of that.”

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What VW didn’t get: the key player is the California Air Resources Board. You don’t want to piss them off. “Use of defeat devices is a civil violation” of the Clean Air Act, Uhlmann said. “Lying about CAA compliance is a criminal violation.”

Volkswagen’s Emissions Lies Are Coming Back To Haunt It (BBG)

No one has died from the emissions-cheating software Volkswagen has admitted it installed in some of its cars, yet the U.S. Justice Department may treat it more harshly than two automakers whose vehicles have killed people. General Motors vehicles were fitted with faulty ignition switches linked to at least 124 deaths. Toyota cars were involved in unintended acceleration responsible for at least four deaths. Neither had to plead guilty in settling criminal allegations, but Volkswagen may be forced to if it’s charged with criminal conduct and also wants to settle, according to attorneys who specialize in environmental law. The German automaker lied to the Environmental Protection Agency and California regulators for almost a year before admitting it created a device to fool emissions tests, Mary D. Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, said in September.

Now the company faces a Justice Department that’s become more willing to push businesses across industries into guilty pleas tied to multibillion-dollar penalties. The U.S. attorney general also made it a priority last year to pursue criminal convictions against corporate executives. “We’ve had difficulty in controlling the automobile industry,” said Daniel Riesel at Sive, Paget & Riesel, a law firm that isn’t involved in the case. “Clearly the government regards this as a very serious environmental dereliction and is making a big deal of it.” [..] The U.S. civil complaint against Volkswagen alleges four violations of the Clean Air Act and cites potential civil fines that could be in the billions of dollars, according to Justice Department officials. If the BP case is a guide, criminal penalties could be less costly.

A criminal claim probably would be based on allegations that Volkswagen lied to government officials, said David Uhlmann, a law professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and former head of the environmental-crimes section of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. When confronted about excess emissions by EPA and California regulators in meetings over several months, Volkswagen engineers cited technical issues rather than admitting the engines contained the defeat devices, according to the Justice Department. The company also initially denied in November that it installed software in larger engines to alter emissions, the department said. “Use of defeat devices is a civil violation” of the Clean Air Act, Uhlmann said. “Lying about CAA compliance is a criminal violation.”

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Just getting started.

Moody’s Cuts Rating On Western Australia Iron Ore (WSJ)

Moody’s Investors Service cut its rating on Western Australia, one of the world’s major iron-ore hubs, as a sharp downturn in prices for the steelmaking commodity puts increasing strain on the state’s finances. The ratings agency said on Monday it had downgraded the long-term issuer and senior unsecured debt ratings of the Western Australian Treasury, which issues debt on behalf of the state of Western Australia and state-owned corporations, to Aa2 from Aa1, citing “the ongoing deterioration in Western Australia’s financial and debt metrics and an increasing risk that the state’s debt burden will be higher than indicated.”

Ratings agencies have put many resources-focused companies and countries on watch amid a deep fall in world commodity prices. Last week, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services said it has lowered BHP Billiton credit rating and cautioned it could cut again as early as this month. It also downgraded Glencore’s rating to just one notch above junk status. Moody’s said Western Australia’s reliance on royalty income from miners meant sharp falls in commodity prices, particularly iron-ore prices, was creating considerable pressure on its budget.

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Gives ‘down under’ a new meaning. Watch Perth housing market.

British Expat Workers Flood Home As Australia Mining Boom Turns To Dust (Tel.)

Mining has been the driving force of Australia’s economic growth for longer than anyone cares to remember – helping GDP growth average 3.6pc a year for most of this century – but the global collapse in commodity prices has led to a painful readjustment Australians have heard the warnings before – but this time, it seems, the boom is truly over. The country is repointing its economy for a new reality, and renegotiating its trading partnership with China and the wider Asia-Pacific. Australia’s mining titans – the likes of BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, whose shares have led the FTSE 100 lower in the recent market turmoil – have a huge fight on their hands. Meanwhile the migrants who answered their call for workers are considering their options. Will the mining downturn see Britons packing their bags for home?

“There is no doubt that current operating conditions in the mining sector are tough and companies are taking steps to ensure their long-term survival,” says Dr Gavin Lind, of the Minerals Council of Australia. Slowing demand in China – the world’s largest consumer of raw materials, and the buyer of 54pc of Australia’s resources exports in 2015 – has led to dizzying price falls in coal, iron ore, zinc, nickel, copper and bauxite, all minerals mined Down Under. Instead of cutting production and shoring up the price of their product, miners are taking a counter-intuitive tack, and boosting their output. Closing down mines is an expensive business and companies would rather cling on to their market share than cede ground to their rivals. Yet “the increase in volumes is unlikely to be sufficient to offset the effect of lower commodity prices”, Mark Cully, chief economist at the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, warned in December.

He calculates that Australia’s earnings from mining and energy exports will fall by 4pc to A$166bn (£81bn) this year as lower prices bite. Giant miners such as Rio and BHP believe their low-cost models will enable them to survive while higher-cost competitors go to the wall. However, in common with their peers in the FTSE 100, they have been punished by investors, with their shares tumbling 44pc and 52pc respectively in the last year. While Rio’s balance sheet is regarded as the stronger of the two, both are under pressure to cut their dividends. Analysts expect Rio to unveil a 37pc slump in operating profits when it reports its full-year results this week. BHP, which announces its half-year results on February 23, is facing a 56pc tumble in profits for the year.

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Call a spade a spade.

Ukraine: A USA-Installed Nazi-Infested Failed State (Lendman)

In February 2014, Washington replaced Ukrainian democracy with fascism in Europe’s heartland – illegitimately installed officials waging war on their own people. Fundamental human and civil rights were abolished. Police state viciousness replaced them. Regime critics risk prosecution, sentencing, imprisonment or assassination. Two years after fascists seized power, conditions for ordinary Ukrainians are deplorable. According to Germany’s daily broadsheet Junge Welt, they’re “staggering.” “Since the end of the Yanukovych era, the average income has decreased by 50%,” it reported – on top of 2015’s 44% inflation, nearly reducing purchasing power by half, making it impossible for most Ukrainians to get by. They’re suffering hugely, deeply impoverished, denied fundamental social services, abolished or greatly reduced en route to eliminating them altogether.

Ukraine’s economy is bankrupt, teetering on collapse, sustained by US-controlled IMF loans, violating its longstanding rules, a special dispensation for Ukraine. It loaned billions of dollars to a deadbeat borrower unable to repay them, an unprecedented act, funding its war machine, turning a blind eye to a hugely corrupt regime persecuting its own people. Ukraine’s GDP is in near free-fall, contracting by 12% last year, projected to continue declining sharply this year and beyond. The average pension was cut to €80 monthly, an impossible amount to live on, forcing pensioners to try getting by any way they can, including growing some of their own food in season. US anointed illegitimate oligarch president Petro Poroshenko is widely despised. So are other key regime officials.

They blame dismal economic conditions mainly on ongoing civil war – US-orchestrated and backed naked aggression against Donbass freedom fighters, rejecting fascist rule, wanting fundamental democratic rights, deserving universal praise and support. According to Junge Welt, regime critics call Kiev claims lame excuses. “What matters is (it’s) done little or nothing to prevent corruption and insider trading,” elite interests benefitting at the expense of everyone else, stealing the country blind, grabbing all they can. Complicit regime-connected oligarchs profit hugely in Ukraine, benefitting from grand theft, super-rich Dmitry Firtash apparently not one of them, calling Kiev “politically bankrupt.”

Days earlier, Ukrainian Economy Minister Aivaras Abromavicius resigned, followed the next day by his first deputy, Yulia Kovaliv, his remaining team, two deputy ministers and Kiev’s trade representative. Parliament speaker Volodymyr Groysman warned of Ukraine “entering a serious political crisis.” Resignations followed nothing done to address vital reforms needed. In his resignation letter, Abromavicius said corrupt officials blocked them, wanting control over state enterprises for their own self-interest, including natural gas company NAK Naftogaz. “Neither I nor my team have any desire to serve as a cover-up for the covert corruption, or become puppets for” regime officials “trying to exercise control over the flow of public funds,” he explained.

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Not a bad thought experiment. But having ‘populist’ Beppe Grillo as an example shows how clueless Münchau is about reality. That sort of talk itself is populist. David Cameron in a much more valid example, for one.

Through The Past, Darkly, For Europe’s Central Bankers (Münchau)

Re-reading John Weitz’s biography of Hjalmar Schacht, Hitler’s Banker , I noted some interesting parallels between the 1930s and now that I had not considered before. It is well known that Hitler relied on Schacht, his central banker, to help fund his rearmament plans. But Weitz also pointed out — and this is potentially relevant to the situation in the eurozone today – that Schacht was only able to pursue his unorthodox policies at the Reichsbank because he had the backing of a dictator. If an extremist leader came to power in a large eurozone country – France or Italy, say – what would happen if they were to appoint a central banker with the acumen of Schacht? And what would be the chances that such a team could succeed in increasing economic growth in the short term? Let me say straightaway that I am not comparing anyone to Hitler – or indeed to Schacht.

My point concerns what an unorthodox central banker can do if he or she has the political support to break with the prevailing orthodoxy. Schacht had two stints as president of the Reichsbank — in the 1920s, when he brought an end to the hyperinflation then crippling Germany, and again from 1933 to 1939. It is hard to identify him with a single economic outlook: in the 1920s he was in favour of the gold standard but then, in the early 1930s, he opposed the consensus that promoted the policies of austerity and deflation. Schacht argued, rightly, that Germany was unable to meet the reparation payments specified in the Young Plan, which was adopted in 1929. On returning to the Reichsbank, Schacht organised a unilateral restructuring of private debt owed by German companies to foreigners.

The German economy had already benefited from withdrawal from the gold standard in 1931, and Schacht piled stimulus upon stimulus. One reason for Hitler’s initial popularity in Germany was the speedy recovery from the depression, which was no doubt helped by a loose fiscal and monetary policy mix. The current policy orthodoxy in Brussels and Frankfurt, which is shared across northern Europe, has some parallels to the deflationary mindset that prevailed in the 1930s. Today’s politicians and central bankers are fixated with fiscal targets and debt reduction. As in the early 1930s, policy orthodoxy has pathological qualities. Whenever they run out of things to say, today’s central bankers refer to “structural reforms”, although they never say what precisely such reforms would achieve.

In principle, the eurozone’s economic problems are not hard to solve: the ECB could hand each citizen a cheque for €10,000. The inflation problem would be solved within days. Or the ECB could issue its own IOUs — which is what Schacht did. Or else the EU could issue debt and the ECB would buy it up. There are lots of ways to print money. They are all magnificent — and illegal.

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“..communal solidarity..” That says it all. More Europe! Not. Going. To. Happen.

German, French Central Bankers Call For Eurozone Finance Ministry (Reuters)

The euro zone needs to press ahead with structural reforms and closer integration, including an euro zone finance ministry, to deliver sustainable growth, the heads of the French and German central banks wrote in a German newspaper on Monday. In a guest article for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung entitled “Europe at a crossroads”, they said the European Central Bank (ECB) was not in a position to create sustainable long-term growth for the 19-country single currency bloc. The ECB has undershot its 2% inflation target for three straight years and is unlikely to return to it to for years to come given low oil prices, lackluster economic growth, weak lending and only modest wage rises in the euro zone.

“Although monetary policy has done a lot for the euro zone economy, it can’t create sustainable economic growth,” Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann and Bank of France Chief Francois Villeroy de Galhau wrote. Instead the euro zone needs a decisive program for structural reforms, an ambitious financing and investment union as well as better economic policy framework, Weidmann and Villeroy de Galhau said. The idea of such a ministry was floated in 2011 to tighten coordination of national policy after the economic crisis had forced the European Union to fund bailouts worth hundreds of billions of euros for Greece, Ireland and Portugal. “The current asymmetry between national sovereignty and communal solidarity is posing a danger for the stability of our currency union,” they wrote.

“Stronger integration appears to be the obvious way to restore trust in the euro zone, for this would favor the development of joint strategies for state finances and reforms so as to promote growth,” they said. Specifically, they called for the creation of a common finance ministry in connection with an independent fiscal council as well as the formation of a stronger political body that can take decisions.

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Jan 302016
 
 January 30, 2016  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle January 30 2016


William Henry Jackson Steamboat Metamora of Palatka on the Ocklawaha, FL 1902

Bank Of Japan’s Negative Rates Are ‘Economic Kamikaze’ (CNBC)
Negative Rates In The US Are Next (ZH)
The Boxed-In Fed (Tenebrarum)
Central Banks Go to New Lengths to Boost Economies (WSJ)
China Stocks Have Worst.January.Ever (ZH)
China’s ‘Hard Landing’ May Have Already Happened (AFR)
China To Adopt 6.5-7% Growth Target Range For 2016 (Reuters)
Junk Bonds’ Rare Negative Return In January Is Bad News For Stocks (MW)
I Worked On Wall Street. I Am Skeptical Hillary Clinton Will Rein It In (Arnade)
VW Says Defeat Software Legal In Europe (GCR)
Swiss To Vote On Basic Income (DM)
Radioactive Waste Dogs Germany Despite Abandoning Nuclear Power (NS)
Mediterranean Deaths Soar As People-Smugglers Get Crueller: IOM (Reuters)

The essence, as Steve Keen keeps saying, is that negative rates on reserves are madness, because banks can’t lend out their reserves. Something central bankers genuinely don’t seem to grasp, weird as that may seem. Which speaks volumes, and shines a very bleak light, on the field of economics.

Bank Of Japan’s Negative Rates Are ‘Economic Kamikaze’ (CNBC)

The Japanese central bank has only dug the country deeper into a hole by adopting negative interest rates, Lindsey Group chief market analyst Peter Boockvar said Friday. “I think it’s economic kamikaze,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “Let’s tax money and hope things get better. Let’s create higher inflation for the Japanese people, who are barely seeing wage growth. And let’s amp up the currency battles, and hope everything gets better.” The Bank of Japan surprised markets on Friday by pushing interest rates into negative territory for the first time ever. By doing so, the BOJ is essentially charging banks for parking excess funds. The fact that the vote was split shows that BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda got a lot of pushback to advance the policy, Boockvar said. “If this means now that they’re out of bullets with [QE], and this is their last hope, then I think this is a mess,” he said.

In a statement released along with the rate decision, the BOJ said the Japanese economy has recovered modestly with underlying inflation and spending by companies and households ticking up. But the bank warned that increasing uncertainty in emerging markets and commodity-exporting countries may delay an improvement in Japanese business confidence and negatively affect the current inflation trend. The BOJ’s inflation target is 2%. The BOJ now forecasts core inflation to average 0.2 to 1.2% between April 2016 and March 2017. Boockvar said he believes it’s a fallacy that Japan needs inflation to generate growth. “Inflation readings are a symptom of what underlying growth is,” Boockvar said. “For Kuroda to think ‘I need to generate higher inflation to generate growth’ to me is completely backwards, especially when Japanese wage growth is so anemic. You’re basically penalizing the Japanese consumer, and I don’t know what economic theory is behind that.”

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And they will make things worse.

Negative Rates In The US Are Next (ZH)

When stripping away all the philosophy, the pompous rhetoric, and the jawboning, all central banks do, or are supposed to do, is to influence capital allocations and spending behavior by adjusting the liquidity preference of the population by adjusting interest rates and thus the demand for money. To be sure, over the past 7 years central banks around the globe have gone absolutely overboard when it comes to their primary directive and have engaged every possible legal (and in the case of Europe, illegal) policy at their disposal to force consumers away from a “saving” mindset, and into purchasing risk(free) assets or otherwise burning through savings in hopes of stimulating inflation. Today’s action by the Bank of Japan, which is meant to force banks, and consumers, to spend their cash which will now carry a penalty of -0.1% if “inert” was proof of just that.

Ironically, and perversely from a classical economic standpoint, as we showed before in the case of Europe’s NIRP bastions, Denmark, Sweden, and Switzerland, the more negative rates are, the higher the amount of household savings! This is what Bank of America said back in October: “Yet, household savings rates have also risen. For Switzerland and Sweden this appears to have happened at the tail end of 2013 (before the oil price decline). As the BIS have highlighted, ultra-low rates may perversely be driving a greater propensity for consumers to save as retirement income becomes more uncertain.” Bingo: that is precisely the fatal flaw in all central planning models, one which not a single tenured economist appears capable of grasping yet which even a child could easily understand.

[..] And here is the one chart which in our opinion virtually assures that the Fed will follow in the footsteps of Sweden, Denmark, Europe, Switzerland and now Japan. Since the middle of 2015, US investors have bought a big fat net zero of either bonds or equities (in fact, they have been net sellers of risk) and have parked all incremental cash in money-market funds instead, precisely the inert non-investment that is almost as hated by central banks as gold.

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Lots of good graphs. This one must be the scariest.

The Boxed-In Fed (Tenebrarum)

As we often stress, economics is a social science and therefore simply does not work like physics or other natural sciences. Only economic theory can explain economic laws – while economic history can only be properly interpreted with the aid of sound theory. Here is how we see it: If the authorities had left well enough alone after Hoover’s depression had bottomed out, the economy would have recovered quite nicely on its own. Instead, they decided to intervene all-out. The result was yet another artificial inflationary boom. By 1937 the Fed finally began to worry a bit about the growing risk of run-away inflation, so it took a baby step to make its policy slightly less accommodative.

Once the artificial support propping up an inflationary boom is removed, the underlying economic reality is unmasked. The cause of the 1937 bust was not the Fed’s small step toward tightening. Capital had been malinvested and consumed in the preceding boom, a fact which the bust revealed. Note also that a huge inflow of gold from Europe in the wake of Hitler’s rise to power boosted liquidity in the US enormously in 1935-36, with no offsetting actions taken by the Fed. Moreover, the Supreme Court had just affirmed the legality of several of the worst economic interventions of the crypto-socialist FDR administration, which inter alia led to a collapse in labor productivity as the power of unions was vastly increased, as Jonathan Finegold Catalan points out.

He also notes that bank credit only began to contract after the stock market collapse was already well underway – in other words, the Fed’s tiny hike in the minimum reserve requirement by itself didn’t have any noteworthy effect. On the other hand, if the Fed had implemented the Bernanke doctrine in 1937 and had continued to implement monetary pumping at full blast in order to extend the boom, it would only have succeeded in structurally undermining the economy and currency even more. Inevitably, an even worse bust would eventually have followed.

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There’s not a number left you can trust.

Central Banks Go to New Lengths to Boost Economies (WSJ)

Central banks around the world are going to new lengths to boost their economies, underscoring both the importance and limits of monetary policy in a global economy plagued by paltry growth and unsettled markets. The Bank of Japan on Friday joined a host of European peers in setting its key short-term interest rate below zero. The move, long denied as a possible course by the bank s governor, came a week after the ECB president indicated he was ready to launch additional monetary stimulus in March and days after the Fed expressed new worries over market turbulence and sluggish growth overseas. The latest moves by central banks to rescue the global economy capped a volatile month across financial markets, with U.S. stocks finishing strong Friday but nonetheless posting their worst January since 2009, and major currencies lurching lower against the dollar.

The swings highlighted the fragile mood of investors despite hopes that some economies, particularly the U.S., could lead an exit from crisis-era policies. Fresh data Friday that showed the U.S. economy had sputtered in the final months of 2015 could cloud Fed deliberations over the timing of another round of rate increases. U.S. GDP, the broadest measure of economic output, grew by just 0.7% in the fourth quarter, hit hard by shrinking exports and business investment. Despite growth in consumer spending and clear strength in the job market, the weak performance added to concerns that the sagging global economy could hit the U.S.

Markets around the world were buoyed by Japan s move, extending the earlier assurances delivered by the ECB. Japan s Nikkei Stock Average closed up 2.8% in a volatile session, while the yield on Japanese government bonds fell to historically low levels. The Shanghai Composite Index jumped 3.1% and the Stoxx Europe 600 rose 2.2%. U.S. stocks also rose, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbing nearly 400 points. Despite the day s surge, some investors remained skeptical about the lasting impact of the central banks efforts. People are starting to feel more and more that central bank action is having less and less fire for effect, said Ian Winer, head of equities at Wedbush Securities.

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Lunar New year starts Feb 7. Beijing will be so happy with the week long break.

China Stocks Have Worst.January.Ever (ZH)

Thanks to BoJ’s global “float all boats” NIRP-tard-ness, Chinese stocks avoided the headline of “worst month in 21 years” by rallying above the crucial 2,667 level (for SHCOMP). However, January’s 23% plunge is the worst month since October 2008 and is officially the worst start to a year in the history of Chinese stocks. While Shanghia Composite was ugly, the higher beta Shenzhen and ChiNext indices were a disaster…

Making it the worst January ever…

So February is a buying opportunity?

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4% over past 5 years. Could easily be 2% for 2015.

China’s ‘Hard Landing’ May Have Already Happened (AFR)

It’s the biggest question in the world of finance: how fast is China’s economy growing? And the biggest frustration is: what are the actual numbers? China’s lack of transparency – with murky data releases, opaque policy making and confusing announcements – is notorious among emerging-market watchers. But rarely do research firms or analysts use different figures to the official statistics. Until recently. The Conference Board, a widely respected and often-cited non-profit research group, used an alternate series of Chinese GDP estimates in its latest economic outlook paper. In an effort to adjust for overstated official Chinese data, the Conference Board looked to the work of Harry Wu, an economist at the Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo, to adjust its calculations.

This was a footnote of the report: “Growth rates of Chinese industrial GDP are adjusted for mis-reporting bias and non-material services GDP are adjusted for biases in price deflators. This adjustment has important implications for our assessment of the growth rate of the global economy in general and that of the emerging markets in particular – both reflecting a downward adjustment in their recent growth rates.” Macquarie Wealth Management analysts picked up on the change, adding: “We are unaware of any other reputable agency adopting anything other than official numbers as a base case, although clearly there has always been a lot of scenario analysis.” Traditionally, China has used the Soviet system of collecting information through a chain of command, where local officials reported on their states, often misrepresenting their figures to meet designated targets.

Over the past 10 years, China has gradually moved towards the internationally recognised System of National Accounts, which relies on statistical surveys to discover what people are spending their money on and where. But as Macquarie points out, that transition is far from complete. The Wu-Maddison estimates are starkly different to those issued by Chinese authorities. Whereas Chinese authorities have claimed average GDP growth of about 7.7% for the past five years, Wu suggests it is much lower, about 4%. These new figures show a much higher degree of volatility than suggested by the official numbers. While the world frets about the possibility of a “hard landing” for the Chinese economy, the Conference Board observed the new estimates “suggest that the economy has already experienced a significant slowdown over the past four years, beginning in 2011.”

Macquarie echoes this sentiment. “In our view, Wu-Maddison numbers explain the current state of commodity markets and fit into the global deflationary narrative much better than official numbers,” the analysts Macquarie said in a note. But, as the bank points out, if the “hard landing” has already occurred, there will be a range of consequences for productivity growth, overcapacity absorption and financial stress. “If Wu estimates are right, the room for stimulus and investment is more limited and the need to drive productivity [structural reforms] much more urgent. Although by the time China retroactively adjusts its GDP, it would be treated as history. “In the absence of stronger productivity rebound, China would be in danger of getting stuck in the ‘middle-income trap’ and would be unable to inject incremental demand into the global economy. Stay safe.”

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They can target what they want, and so they do. But it’s meaningless.

China Set To Adopt 6.5-7% Growth Target Range For 2016 (Reuters)

China’s leaders are expected to target economic growth in a range of 6.5% to 7% this year, sources familiar with their thinking said, setting a range for the first time because policymakers are uncertain on the economy’s prospects. The proposed range, which would follow a 2015 target of “around 7%” growth, was endorsed by top leaders at the closed-door Central Economic Work Conference in mid-December, according to the sources with knowledge of the meeting outcome. The world’s second-largest economy grew 6.9% in 2015, the weakest in 25 years, although some economists believe real growth is even lower. “They are likely to target economic growth of 6.5-7% this year, with 6.5% as the bottom line,” said one of the sources, a policy adviser.

Policymakers, worried by global uncertainties and the impact on growth of their structural economic reforms, struggled to reach a consensus at the December meeting, the sources said. The State Council Information Office, the public relations arm of the government, had no comment on the growth forecast when contacted by Reuters. The floor of 6.5% reflects the minimum average rate of growth needed over the next five years to meet an existing goal of doubling gross domestic product and per capita income by 2020 from 2010. The 2016 growth target and the country’s 13th Five-Year Plan, a blueprint covering 2016-2020, will be announced at the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, the country’s parliament, in early March.

Although the target range was endorsed by the leadership in December, it could still be adjusted before parliament convenes. “The government will not be too nervous about growth this year and will focus more on structural adjustments,” said a government economist. “Growth may still slow in the first and second quarter and people are divided over the third and fourth quarter. The full-year growth could slow to 6.5-6.6%.” A string of cuts in interest rates and bank reserve requirements since November 2014 have failed to put a floor under the slowing economy. Beijing is expected to put more emphasis on fiscal policy to support growth, including tax cuts and running a bigger budget deficit of about 3% of GDP.

China’s leaders have flagged a “new normal” of slower growth as they look to shift the economy to a more sustainable, consumption-led model. About half of China’s 30 provinces and municipalities have lowered their growth targets for 2016, while nearly a third kept targets unchanged from last year, according to local media. Guangdong and Zhejiang provinces have set a growth target of 7-7.5% this year, while Jiangsu and Shandong are aiming for growth of 7.5-8%. In 2015, growth in Chongqing municipality was 11%, the fastest in the country, while growth in Liaoning province in the rustbelt northeast, was 3%, the country’s lowest. For this year, Chongqing is eyeing 10% growth and Liaoning is aiming for 6%.

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Correlation.

Junk Bonds’ Rare Negative Return In January Is Bad News For Stocks (MW)

The U.S. high-yield, or “junk” bond market, has started the year on the back foot, which history suggests could be a very bad sign for the stock market. The asset class is showing negative returns of almost 2% for the year so far, and negative returns of 7.6% for the last six months, according to The Bank of America Merrill Lynch U.S. High Yield Index. The negative return is especially significant, given that the month of January has recorded positive returns in 25 of the 29 years that the BofA high-yield index has existed, or 86.2% of the time, according to Marty Fridson, chief Investment Officer–Lehmann Livian Fridson, in a report published in LCD. With the S&P 500 index also heading for the biggest monthly decline in nearly six years, stock investors may finally be catching on to the high-yield bond market’s bearish message.

In previous instances in which the high-yield bond market and stocks trended in a different direction, it was the high-yield bond market that proved prescient. The reason stocks have been so late to follow the high-yield market’s bearish trend, may be because of the Federal Reserve’s efforts to prop up asset prices through quantitative easing. The current bearish trend is showing no signs of letting up. The high-yield index’s option-adjusted spread widened to 775 basis points at Thursday’s close from 695 basis points at the end of December, and 526 basis points at the end of July. The OAS is now about 200 basis points wider than its historical average of 576 basis points, according to Fridson. Much of the weakness is still due to the troubled energy sector, which combined with slowing Chinese growth to spark a more than 100 basis-points widening of the BofA US High Yield Index’s option-adjusted spread in the first three weeks of January. That send the spread to a high of 820 basis points on Jan 20.

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Condemnation.

I Worked On Wall Street. I Am Skeptical Hillary Clinton Will Rein It In (Arnade)

I owe almost my entire Wall Street career to the Clintons. I am not alone; most bankers owe their careers, and their wealth, to them. Over the last 25 years they – with the Clintons it is never just Bill or Hillary – implemented policies that placed Wall Street at the center of the Democratic economic agenda, turning it from a party against Wall Street to a party of Wall Street. That is why when I recently went to see Hillary Clinton campaign for president and speak about reforming Wall Street I was skeptical. What I heard hasn’t changed that skepticism. The policies she offers are mid-course corrections. In the Clintons’ world, Wall Street stays at the center, economically and politically. Given Wall Street’s power and influence, that is a dangerous place to leave them.

Salomon Brothers hired me in 1993, seven months after President Bill Clinton’s inauguration. Getting a job had been easy, Wall Street was booming from deregulation that had begun under Reagan and was continuing under Clinton. When Bill Clinton ran for office, he offered up him and Hillary (“Two for the price of one”) as New Democrats, embracing an image of being tough on crime, but not on business. Despite the campaign rhetoric, nobody on the trading floor I joined had voted for the Clintons or trusted them. Few traders on the floor were even Democrats, who as long as anyone could remember were Wall Street’s natural enemy. That view was summarized in the words of my boss: “Republicans let you make money and let you keep it. Democrats don’t let you make money, but if you do, they take it.”

Despite Wall Street’s reticence, key appointments were swinging their way. Robert Rubin, who had been CEO of Goldman Sachs, was appointed to a senior White House job as director of the National Economic Council. The Treasury Department was also being filled with banking friendly economists who saw the markets as a solution, not as a problem. The administration’s economic policy took shape as trickle down, Democratic style. They championed free trade, pushing Nafta. They reformed welfare, buying into the conservative view that poverty was about dependency, not about situation. They threw the old left a few bones, repealing prior tax cuts on the rich, but used the increased revenues mostly on Wall Street’s favorite issue: cutting the debt. Most importantly, when faced with their first financial crisis, they bailed out Wall Street.

That crisis came in January 1995, halfway through the administration’s first term. Mexico, after having boomed from the optimism surrounding Nafta, went bust. It was a huge embarrassment for the administration, given the push they had made for Nafta against a cynical Democratic party. Money was fleeing Mexico, and much of it was coming back through me and my firm. Selling investors’ Mexican bonds was my first job on Wall Street, and now they were trying to sell them back to us. But we hadn’t just sold Mexican bonds to clients, instead we did it using new derivatives product to get around regulatory issues and take advantages of tax rules, and lend the clients money. Given how aggressive we were, and how profitable it was for us, older traders kept expecting to be stopped by regulators from the new administration, but that didn’t happen.

When Mexico started to collapse, the shudders began. Initially our firm lost only tens of millions, a large loss but not catastrophic. The crisis however was worsening, and Mexico was headed towards a default, or closing its border to money flows. We stood to lose hundreds of millions, something we might not have survived. Other Wall Street firms were in worse shape, having done the trade in a much bigger size. The biggest was rumored to be Lehman, which stood to lose billions, a loss they couldn’t have survived. As the crisis unfolded, senior management traveled to DC as part of a group of bankers to meet with Treasury officials. They had hoped to meet with Rubin, who was now Treasury secretary. Instead they met with the undersecretary for international affairs who my boss described as: “Some young egghead academic who likes himself a lot and is wide eyed with a taste of power.” That egghead was Larry Summers who would succeed Rubin as Treasury Secretary.

To the surprise of Wall Street, the administration pushed for a $50bn global bail-out of Mexico, arguing that to not do so would devastate the US and world economy. Unmentioned was that it would have also devastated Wall Street banks.

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New twist.

VW Says Defeat Software Legal In Europe (GCR)

Another week brings more new stories on the diesel-emission cheating scandal that threatens to dig Volkswagen deeper into a ditch of its own making. Following reports in German newspapers late last week suggesting that the “defeat device” software was an “open secret” in VW’s engine group, the company bit back yesterday. VW Group CEO Matthias Müller told reporters at a reception that the sources for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung report “have no idea about the whole matter.” Müller’s statement, as reported by Reuters, “casts doubt” on the newspaper’s report, which it said came from statements by a whistleblower cited in the company’s internal probe of the scandal. The CEO also suggested that the company would not release results of that probe, conducted by U.S. law firm Jones Day, any time before its annual shareholder meeting on April 21.

“Is it really so difficult to accept that we are obliged by stock market law to submit a report to the AGM on April 21,” asked Müller, “and that it is not possible for us to say anything beforehand?” VW Group’s powerful Board of Directors will hold their third meeting in three weeks on the affair this coming Wednesday. Despite PR fallout, VW Group’s German communications unit continues to allege that while the “defeat device” software in its TDI diesels violated U.S. laws, it was entirely legal in Europe. The majority of the 11 million affected vehicles were sold in European countries, helped by policies instituted by some national governments that gave financial advantages to diesel vehicles and their fuel.

In a statement to The New York Times, which published an article on the matter last week, the VW Group wrote that the software “is not a forbidden defeat device” under European rules. As the Times notes, that determination, “which was made by its board, runs counter to regulatory findings in Europe and the United States.” “German regulators said last month that VW did use an illegal defeat device,” the newspaper said, suggesting that the statement reflected VW’s legal approach to the affair. “While it promises to fix affected vehicles wherever they were sold,” it said, “it is prepared to admit wrongdoing only in the United States.” The VW view only underscores the loosely-regulated European emission testing rules, now the subject of a fight in the European Parliament.

Two issues are at stake. The first is the degree to which new and tougher testing rules continue to allow manufacturers to exceed existing emission limits The second is whether European Union authorities can, in some circumstances, overrule the testing bodies of individual countries -namely Germany- which enforce common EU limits within their own borders. And so the saga continues.

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I think that as pensions plans crumble to levels where too many elederly go hungry, basic income will come to the forefront.

Swiss To Vote On Basic Income (DM)

Swiss residents are to vote on a countrywide referendum about a radical plan to pay every single adult a guaranteed income of £425 a week (or £1,700 a month). The plan, proposed by a group of intellectuals, could make the country the first in the world to pay all of its citizens a monthly basic income regardless if they work or not. But the initiative has not gained much traction among politicians from left and right despite the fact that a referendum on it was approved by the federal government for the ballot box on June 5. Under the proposed initiative, each child would also receive 145 francs (£100) a week. The federal government estimates the cost of the proposal at 208 billion francs (£143 billion) a year.

Around 153 billion francs (£105 bn) would have to be levied from taxes, while 55 billion francs (£38 bn) would be transferred from social insurance and social assistance spending. The group proposing the initiative, which includes artists, writers and intellectuals, cited a survey which shows that the majority of Swiss residents would continue working if the guaranteed income proposal was approved. ‘The argument of opponents that a guaranteed income would reduce the incentive of people to work is therefore largely contradicted,’ it said in a statement quoted by The Local. However, a third of the 1,076 people interviewed for the survey by the Demoscope Institute believed that ‘others would stop working’. And more than half of those surveyed (56%) believe the guaranteed income proposal will never see the light of day.

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There will be no money to pay for even temporary storage, and there is no solution for permament.

Radioactive Waste Dogs Germany Despite Abandoning Nuclear Power (NS)

Half a kilometre beneath the forests of northern Germany, in an old salt mine, a nightmare is playing out. A scheme to dig up previously buried nuclear waste is threatening to wreck public support for Germany’s efforts to make a safe transition to a non-nuclear future. Enough plutonium-bearing radioactive waste is stored here to fill 20 Olympic swimming pools. When engineers backfilled the chambers containing 126,000 drums in the 1970s, they thought they had put it out of harm’s way forever. But now, the walls of the Asse mine are collapsing and cracks forming, thanks to pressure from surrounding rocks. So the race is on to dig it all up before radioactive residues are flushed to the surface.

It could take decades to resolve. In the meantime, excavations needed to extract the drums could cause new collapses and make the problem worse. “There were people who said it wasn’t a good idea to put radioactive waste down here, but nobody listened to them,” says Annette Parlitz, spokeswoman for the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS), as we tour the mine. This is just one part of Germany’s nuclear nightmare. The country is also wrestling a growing backlog of spent fuel. And it has to worry about vast volumes of radioactive rubble that will be created as all the country’s 17 nuclear plants are decommissioned by 2022 – a decision taken five years ago, in the aftermath of Japan’s Fukushima disaster. The final bill for decommissioning power plants and getting rid of the waste is estimated to be at least €36 billion.

Some 300,000 cubic metres of low and intermediate-level waste requiring long-term shielding, including what is dug from the Asse mine, is earmarked for final burial at the Konrad iron mine in Lower Saxony. What will happen to the high-level waste, the spent fuel and other highly radioactive waste that must be kept safe for up to a million years is still debated. Later this year, a Final Storage Commission of politicians and scientists will advise on criteria for choosing a site where deep burial or long-term storage should be under way by 2050. But its own chairman, veteran parliamentarian Michael Muller, says that timetable is unlikely to be met. “We all believe deep geology is the best option, but I’m not sure if there is enough [public] trust to get the job done,” he says.

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Is it the smugglers or the EU?

Mediterranean Deaths Soar As People-Smugglers Get Crueller: IOM (Reuters)

More people died crossing the eastern Mediterranean in January than in the first eight months of last year, the International Organization for Migration said on Friday, blaming increased ruthlessness by people-traffickers. As of Jan. 28, 218 had died in the Aegean Sea – a tally not reached on the Greek route until mid-September in 2015. Another 26 died in the central Mediterranean trying to reach Italy. Smugglers were using smaller, less seaworthy boats, and packing them with even more people than before, the IOM said. IOM spokesman Joel Millman said the more reckless methods might be due to “panic in the market that this is not going to last much longer” as traffickers fear European governments may find ways to stem the unprecedented flow of migrants and refugees.

There also appeared to be new gangs controlling the trafficking trade in North Africa, he said. “There was a very pronounced period at the end of the year when boats were not leaving Libya and we heard from our sources in North Africa that it was because of inter-tribal or inter-gang fighting for control of the market,” Millman said. “And now that it’s picking up again and it seems to be more lethal, we wonder: what is the character of these groups that have taken over the trade?” The switch to smaller, more packed boats had also happened on the route from Turkey to Greece, the IOM said, but was unable to explain why.

The increase in deaths in January was not due to more traffic overall. The number of arrivals in Greece and Italy was the lowest for any month since June 2015, with a total of 55,528 people landing there between Jan. 1 and Jan. 28, the IOM said. Last year a record 1 million people made the Mediterranean Sea crossing, five times more than in 2014. During the year, the IOM estimates that 805 died in the eastern Mediterranean and 2,892 died in the central Mediterranean. In the past few months the proportion of children among those making the journey has risen from about a quarter to more than a third, and Millman said children often made up more than half of the occupants of the boats.

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Jan 232016
 
 January 23, 2016  Posted by at 10:22 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Cab stand at Madison Square, NY 1900

Nearly $8 Trillion Wiped Off World Stocks In January (Reuters)
Dow Could Fall 5,000 Points And Still Not Be ‘Cheap’ (MW)
Mario Draghi Denies The ECB Bazooka Is Empty (AEP)
Felix Zulauf: The Era Of QE Is Over (FuW)
The ‘Recovery’ Was Built On Bubbles (Chang)
China’s Banking Stress Looms Like Banquo’s Ghost In Davos (AEP)
The EU Prioritizes The Old And The Rich (FT)
Will The TBTF Banks Break Themselves Up? (Forbes)
Moody’s Just Put $540 Billion In Energy Debt On Downgrade Review (ZH)
North Sea Drilling Sinks to Record Low (BBG)
Aberdeen: Once-Rich Oil City Now Relying On Food Banks (Guardian)
Oil Services Giant Schlumberger Axes 10,000 Jobs (Guardian)
UK Treasury ‘To Count £139 Million Of Made Up Money’ As Foreign Aid (Ind.)
VW Blames Emissions Scandal on EU’s ‘Vague Testing Requirements’ (Ind.)
VW Probe Finds Manipulation Was Open Secret In Department (Reuters)
DEFEAT IS VICTORY (Dmitry Orlov)
Top UN Official Says Mass Migration ‘Unavoidable Reality’ (AFP)
Europe’s Refugee Crisis Claims At Least Another 46 Lives In Aegean (AP)

And January’s not over. 11 more months like that and we might land at a nice round number.

Nearly $8 Trillion Wiped Off World Stocks In January (Reuters)

World stock market losses are approaching $8 trillion so far this year and investors last week poured the most money into government bond funds in a year, suggesting they fear the global economy could tip into recession, Bank of America Merrill Lynch said on Friday. The bank’s U.S. economists also said on Friday that the likelihood of the world’s largest economy entering a recession in the coming year has risen to 20% from 15%. While a repeat of the 2008-09 great recession “is a big stretch” and even the one-in-five chance of a normal recession remains low, they cut their 2016 growth forecast to 2.1% from 2.5%. Reflecting the increasingly bearish sentiment engulfing world markets, some $7.8 trillion was wiped off the value of global stocks in the three weeks to Jan. 21, BAML said.

“We cannot rule out a recession in the next year. Accidents will happen, and we are concerned about the lack of policy ammunition to deal with a major shock,” economists Ethan Harris and Emanuella Enenajor said in a note on Friday. “However, when markets are in such a fragile state there is a temptation to lose sight of the economic fundamentals. To us, the economy is okay and recession risks are low,” they said. Stocks around the world have had one of their worst Januarys on record, with slumping oil prices, deepening concern over China, and the Federal Reserve’s first interest rate hike in a decade all spooking investors. A recession is typically defined as two consecutive quarters of economic contraction.

The U.S. economy ground to a virtual standstill in the fourth quarter of last year, according to many estimates, and the manufacturing sector is already in recession. Earlier this week, economists at Citi said the risk of a global recession was rising, Morgan Stanley put the probability at 20% in a worst case scenario, and French bank Societe Generale said it was 10% and rising.

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Not that hard to believe at all.

Dow Could Fall 5,000 Points And Still Not Be ‘Cheap’ (MW)

Hard to believe, but the Dow Jones Industrial Average could fall by another 1,000 to 5,000 points and still not be “cheap” compared with long-term stock-valuation measures. That’s the stark conclusion from an analysis comparing current stock prices to underlying measures such as per-share revenue, earnings and corporate net worth. And it suggests that even if we are now overdue for a short-term bounce or rally of some kind, buying heavily into the latest sell-off isn’t the kind of one-way bet that value investors crave. Stocks are certainly much cheaper than they were a few weeks ago. After the worst start to a new year in Wall Street history, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down about 10% since Jan. 1. Small-company stocks are now deep in a bear market after falling more than 20% from last spring’s highs.

But cheaper doesn’t necessarily mean cheap. Even after the sell-off, U.S. stocks are valued at around 1.4 times annual per-share revenue. FactSet says the average since 2001, when it began tracking the data, is 1.3 times revenue. So the Dow could fall another 7%, or over 1,000 points, and still be no lower than its modern-day average. And the picture looks even worse when you also add in those companies’ soaring debts. According to the Federal Reserve, nonfinancial corporations have increased their total debts since 2007 from $6.3 trillion to over $8 trillion. As FactSet says, total shares plus total debts — the so-called “enterprise value” — of U.S. public companies are now 2.4 times annual per-share revenue, compared with an average of 2.1 times since 2001.

Data from the U.S. Federal Reserve, meanwhile, say U.S. nonfinancial corporate stocks are now valued at about 90% of the replacement cost of company assets, a metric known as “Tobin’s Q.” But the historic average, going back a century, is in the region of 60% of replacement costs. By this measure, stocks could fall by another third, taking the Dow all the way down toward 10,000. (On Wednesday it closed at 15,767.) Similar calculations could be reached by comparing share prices to average per-share earnings, a measure known as the cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings ratio, commonly known as CAPE, after Yale finance professor Robert Shiller, who made it famous.

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Draghi has made himself irrelevant.

Mario Draghi Denies The ECB Bazooka Is Empty (AEP)

The ECB has ample ammunition to fight a fresh global downturn and is ready to act decisively to stave off deflation if necessary, Mario Draghi has assured nervous investors in Davos. The ECB’s president sought to play down the violent market squall of recent weeks, insisting that Europe’s economic recovery is well on track and may even accelerate as the refugee crisis leads to a surge of fiscal spending. “We have plenty of instruments. We have the determination, and the willingness of the governing council to act and deploy these instruments,” he said, speaking at the World Economic Forum. Signs that the ECB is preparing a fresh blast of stimulus have halted the increasingly ominous slide in global equities, but there are fears that the bounce of the last two days may soon fade.

Monetary experts fear that the law of diminishing returns for quantitative easing is setting in and that ever-more extreme measures by central banks are creating insidious new risks. Axel Weber, the former Bundesbank chief and now head of UBS, said the balance of advantage had already turned negative. “There is a very clear limit to what the ECB can achieve. The problem is that monetary policy has largely run its course,” he said in Davos. “The side effects of the medicine are getting stronger and stronger: the curative effects are getting weaker and weaker,” he said, adding that the current turmoil in the markets is the first taste of the hangover, evidence of the price we may have to pay. Mr Weber said the ECB was likely to keep pushing interest rates deeper in negative territory but this could backfire: “There is a big risk that it may actually drive cash out of the economy.”

Benoit Coeure, France’s member of the ECB executive, insisted that the latest stimulus measures have been a success. “QE is working. We’ve seen a tremendous improvement on European capital markets. Borrowing costs for companies have come down by 80 basis points, and 140 points for Italy,” he said. “We’re mindful of the consequences of monetary policy. But we’re not going to have a conversation next month on tapering or exiting the low-rates policy because that is in the best interest of Europe.” Mr Draghi said a mix of monetary stimulus, cheap oil, and the end of fiscal austerity was finally powering a lasting pick-up in European growth. “All these drivers should ensure a continuation of the recovery. I don’t think there is any reason to think things have changed,” he said.

The great unknown is whether the refugee crisis mushrooms out of control and further destroys confidence in Europe, or whether it acts as a ‘positive economic shock’ and a catalyst for change. “It could turn out to be the largest public expenditure we’ve had for a number of years. Our society will be changed by this. In which direction, we can only guess,” he said. There are already signs of a tectonic shift. Wolfgang Schauble, Germany’s finance minister, called for a multi-billion euro “Marshall Plan” to blanket the North Africa and most vulnerable areas of the Middle East with investment. He also called for a “coalition of the willing” to confront the migrant crisis head on before it causes the European project to unravel. “We can no longer wait for Brussels,” he said.

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“China is the epicenter of the looming crisis. China in today’s cycle is what US housing was during the financial crisis in 2008.” “Since one and a half years China is doing everything wrong. It started with the government trying to prop up the stock market. China wanted to attract money from abroad in order to stem the capital outflows. However, this was contrary to the fundamentals as company earnings were falling during the entire bull market. That’s why it collapsed under its own weight in the end.”

Felix Zulauf: The Era Of QE Is Over (FuW)

According to macro strategist Felix Zulauf, founder and president of Zulauf Asset Management and Vicenda Asset Management in Zug, the almost seven-year-old bull market is over. China is to the current cycle what the US housing market was for the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. It will take years to correct the excesses that were built up in China.

Mr. Zulauf, the markets had a terrible start into the new year. Is the almost seven-year old equity bull market over? Yes, the bull market came to an end last spring. A new bear market has begun. The coming downturn will be proportional to the excesses that were built up during the boom years. The bull market lasted for a very long time and was primarily fuelled by monetary excesses. And these excesses will now be corrected. And bear in mind, there is no longer any backstop for markets.

What do you mean? In the past, investors could count on the Fed to bail them out – the Greenspan and Bernanke Put, if you will. Now, however, the US central bank – and it’s still the world’s most important central bank – is keen on raising interest rates. It wants to normalize monetary policy and to end quantitative easing. As a consequence, a sudden about-turn in the Fed’s policy is unlikely.

How big a correction do you expect? A typical bear market in the US since the Second World War was about 23%. However, this time around I expect a more vicious downdraft. I expect the S&P 500 to drop to a range of 1200 to 1400 – right now the index stands at about 1870. Compared to its all-time high that’s a correction of almost 50%. The German Dax could fall to around 7000, while the Swiss Market Index will see a similar down-leg. There is a real chance of a bigger correction than many investors realize. This is particularly true when there is a weak economy – which I expect.

Do you think the Fed will continue to raise interest rates? Hardly. I think that the December rate hike will remain the only increase in this cycle and that there will be no additional moves. Depending on how severe the impact of the falling stock market will be on the economy, the Fed might even reverse their rate hike. That could happen towards the end of this year or at the beginning of 2017. The US economy could cool much more rapidly than many expect.

What makes you think that? Right now, inventories both in the US but also in many Asian economies are much higher than usual. If sales do not increase materially from current levels – and that is my base case – companies are forced to slash production. As a consequence, data from the manufacturing sector are bound to disappoint in the months ahead. At the same time the Fed balance sheet is shrinking slightly, whereas in China it is falling precipitously, while in Europe we have the situation that Mario Draghi’s verbal interventions might no longer work. We are at the end of an era.

The end of the era of quantitative easing? Exactly, the era of QE is over or at least nearing its end. Central banks and economists have learned that printing money does not solve any economic problems and does not lead to stronger growth. It did not even help to push inflation higher. The Fed’s interventions during the financial crisis in 2008 were crucial and the right thing to do. Everything that followed, however, was a mistake. In light of the lessons learned over the past years, I do not expect central banks to resort to quantitative easing again anytime soon.

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“Their governments and financial sectors talked up anaemic recovery as an impressive comeback, propagating the myth that huge bubbles are a measure of economic health.”

The ‘Recovery’ Was Built On Bubbles (Chang)

Those who put forward the narrative are now trying to blame China in advance for the coming economic woes. George Osborne has been at the forefront, warning this month of a “dangerous cocktail of new threats” in which the devaluation of the Chinese currency and the fall in oil prices (both in large part due to China’s economic slowdown) figured most prominently. If our recovery was to be blown off course, he implied, it would be because China had mismanaged its economy. China is, of course, an important factor in the global economy. Only 2.5% of the world economy in 1978, on the eve of its economic reform, it now accounts for around 13%. However, its importance should not be exaggerated. As of 2014, the US (22.5%) the eurozone (17%) and Japan (7%) together accounted for nearly half of the world economy. The rich world vastly overshadows China.

Unless you are a developing economy whose export basket is mainly made up of primary commodities destined for China, you cannot blame your economic ills on its slowdown. The truth is that there has never been a real recovery from the 2008 crisis in North America and western Europe. According to the IMF, at the end of 2015, inflation-adjusted income per head (in national currency) was lower than the pre-crisis peak in 11 out of 20 of those countries. In five (Austria, Iceland, Ireland, Switzerland and the UK), it was only just higher – by between 0.05% (Austria) and 0.3% (Ireland). Only in four countries – Germany, Canada, the US and Sweden – was per-capita income materially higher than the pre-crisis peak. Even in Germany, the best performing of those four countries, per capita income growth rate was just 0.8% a year between its last peak (2008) and 2015.

The US growth rate, at 0.4% per year, was half that. Compare that with the 1% annual growth rate that Japan notched up during its so-called “lost two decades” between 1990 and 2010. To make things worse, much of the recovery has been driven by asset market bubbles, blown up by the injection of cash into the financial market through quantitative easing. These asset bubbles have been most dramatic in the US and UK. They were already at an unprecedented level in 2013 and 2014, but scaled new heights in 2015. The US stock market reached the highest ever level in May 2015 and, after the dip over the summer, more or less came back to that level in December. Having come down by nearly a quarter from its April 2015 peak, Britain’s stock market is currently not quite so inflated, but the UK has another bubble to reckon with, in the housing market, where prices are 7% higher than the pre-crisis peak of 2007.

Thus seen, the main causes of the current economic turmoil lie firmly in the rich nations – especially in the finance-driven US and UK. Having refused to fundamentally restructure their economies after 2008, the only way they could generate any sort of recovery was with another set of asset bubbles. Their governments and financial sectors talked up anaemic recovery as an impressive comeback, propagating the myth that huge bubbles are a measure of economic health.

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“A major Chinese devaluation would be a global earthquake, transmitting a wave of deflation through a world economy already uncomfortably close to a deflation-trap.”

China’s Banking Stress Looms Like Banquo’s Ghost In Davos (AEP)

Bad debts in the Chinese banking system are four or five times higher than officially admitted and pose a mounting risk to the country’s financial stability, the world’s leading expert on debt has warned. Harvard professor Ken Rogoff said China is the last big domino to fall as the global “debt supercycle” unwinds. This is likely to expose the sheer scale of malinvestment that has built up during the country’s $26 trillion credit bubble. Prof Rogoff said the official 1.5pc rate of non-performing loans held by banks is fictitious. “People believe that as much as they believe the GDP data,” he told the World Economic Forum in Davos. The real figure is between 6pc and 8pc. He warned that unexpected problems can come “jumping out of the woodwork” once a debt denouement unfolds in earnest.

Banks are disguising the damage by rolling over bad loans and pretending all is well, with the collusion of regulators, but this draws out the agony and ultimately furs up the financial arteries. Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater, said the worry is that credit in China is still growing faster than the economy even at this late stage, storing up greater problems down the road. The efficiency of credit has collapsed. It now takes four yuan of extra debt to generate a single yuan of economic growth, compared to a ratio of almost one to one a decade ago. China’s foreign reserves have dropped by $700bn to $3.3 trillion as capital flight overwhelms the inflows from the country’s trade surplus. Mr Dalio said the historical pattern is that falls of this magnitude are typically followed by 25pc devaluation.

“It is not always easy for governments to maintain clear control over the currency,” he said. A major Chinese devaluation would be a global earthquake, transmitting a wave of deflation through a world economy already uncomfortably close to a deflation-trap. Fang Xinghai, a top financial adviser to Chinese president Xi Jinping, said his country is absolutely committed to the defence of its new trade-weighted currency basket. “It is the decided policy of China,” he said. Analysts say the central bank (PBOC) spent roughly $140bn defending the yuan in December, clear evidence that they have pinned their colours to the mast. Mr Fang admitted that the switch from a crawling dollar peg to the new regime had been badly handled. “We’re learning. We have to do a better job. Our system is not able to communicate seamlessly with the markets,” he said.

Yet he insisted that the yuan has been been basically stable on basket-basis for several months and stressed that the country is a net creditor with little reliance on foreign funding.”We have a sizeable current account surplus. There really is no basis for China to depreciate the currency,” he said. Mr Fang said a devaluation goes against the whole thrust of policy and the Communist Party’s strategic switch to consumption-led growth. “China is different from other developing countries. Our growth is largely fueled by domestic savings and capital. That gives us confidence to deal with whatever risks come out of financial markets,” he said. “If China was relying largely on foreign capital, you bet, any major financial risk could derail our growth. But China is different and this is a fact that a lot of people need to pay attention to,” he said.

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The entire world does.

The EU Prioritizes The Old And The Rich (FT)

A longer-term assessment would start with the founders of (western) European co-operation in the late 1940s. They did not contemplate integration as a way to supersede nation-states; rather they welcomed the revival of nation-states and saw co-operation as a way to help them flourish. Integration was not only unprecedented but also modest in scope. Economies flourished: growth was high, unemployment low and exchange controls curtailed cross-border capital flows, enabling governments to support managed capitalism through fiscal policy and strategic investment. It was in this era, so different in its core values from today, that the political capital was laid down for Europe, which the union is now spending so fast This phase ended in the mid-1970s. In the past 30 years, European institutions and law expanded even faster than membership.

The European Communities (later the EU) acquired a flag, and began to worry about political legitimacy. New institutions such as the Court of Justice and the European Central Bank acquired sweeping powers with little public discussion. The driving events were German reunification and a new conception of democracy, in which national parliaments were carefully monitored by judges and central bankers as supposedly independent guarantors of fiscal probity. The creation of a common currency, the euro, intensified this mistrust of parliaments, but nobody cared much before 2008 because growth was good and there was enough to go round. Now the money has dried up, what can the EU’s defenders say? That it provides peace? Voters take that for granted. That the euro remains strong? A great political project will never flourish on monetary stability alone.

That the EU encourages growth? Hardly. Democracy? Not when Europe is identified with a fiscal regime enforced by constitutional lawyers and central bankers that sees millions forever consigned to joblessness: an EU with an inflation rate of 0.1% and a youth unemployment rate of over 20% is a body that, to put it crudely, prioritises the old and the rich. No dream there unless something changes fast. It is no longer in supporting the union but in proposing resistance to it that nationalist politicians see the chance to burnish their democratic credentials. The union faces a deep crisis of institutional legitimacy. It is now commonly acknowledged that monetary policy has shot its bolt. That border controls are unenforceable, too. But it is the underlying legitimacy problem that awaits a change of heart on the part of the elites.

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Interesting angle. But it begs the question who’s really in power.

Will The Big Banks Break Themselves Up? (Forbes)

[..] midway through a half-hour conversation, Thomas B. Michaud, CEO of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, begins to sound as if he’s an organizer of the Bernie Sanders campaign, not a CEO who’s contributed thousands to Jeb Bush’s Right To Rise PAC, and sees a lot of sense in (R-Ala.) Richard Shelby’s effort to give lenders relief from the Dodd Frank Act. “JPMorgan Chase is a trillion dollars bigger after the crisis than it was before the crisis. That’s almost unfathomable. You’ve got these big banks that were too-big-to-fail and their response was to get bigger,” Michaud says. He collects his thoughts and then lobs another bomb at the titans atop his industry. “My opinion is when you have a few big banks that dominate the market like they do, it can be anti-competitive. What we learned in the crisis is that the government will bail out the biggest banks… Not only is it dangerous to the tax payer, it is dangerous to the global economy,” he says.

A day earlier, it was Sanders who was in midtown Manhattan making these pronouncements, during an hour-long rally that caused #BreakEmUp to begin trending on Twitter. Sanders vowed to re-instate the Glass-Steagall Act, thus separating commercial banking from investment banking. “Within one year, my administration will break these institutions up so that they no longer pose a grave threat to the economy,” Sanders bellowed, to raucous applause. Michaud isn’t going to be stumping with Sanders on the campaign trail anytime soon. While Sanders vowed to invoke Section 121 of the Dodd Frank Act to break up the big banks, Michaud believes market forces may do that work before a new President even takes office. “The reality is we are not going to get a Glass Steagall re-enactment,” he says before adding, “the regulators are going to force the boards of directors to make that decision on their own because it is in the best interest of their shareholders.”

New rules are punitive enough that too-big-to-fail banks will have no choice but to trim down. The leverage that once gave megabanks their competitive advantage – and the ability to make money in virtually every corner of the market – is gone. CEOs are increasingly finding it hard justify many of their businesses to impatient shareholders. “The regulatory drumbeat is going to cause the biggest banks to disaggregate,” Michaud says, pointing out that General Electric divested most of its financial services operations last year because simply wasn’t as lucrative. He adds, “I have a lot of respect for Citigroup’s current management team. But they sell a business almost every few weeks I didn’t even know they owned.”

Michaud hasn’t invited FORBES to his offices just to wax about Wall Street’s biggest firms, but he sees their challenges as an opportunity for a different group of lenders – a crop of regional banks between $5 billion-to-$50 billion in assets such as Bank of the Ozarks in Arkansas, Columbia Banking System in the northwest, Pinnacle Financial in Nashville, and Eagle Bancorp in Maryland — which are taking market share and growing far-faster than the Citi’s and the JPMorgan’s of the world. “It used to be pre-crisis that the nation’s largest banks were the most profitable. That has dramatically changed,” Michaud says. The best profits and stock performance comes from mid-sized banks, not the trillion-dollar firms that get the attention of regulators, the media and presidential candidates.

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“..the effect of slowing growth in China indicates a fundamental change..”

Moody’s Just Put $540 Billion In Energy Debt On Downgrade Review (ZH)

One week ago, in the aftermath of the dramatic downgrade to junk of Asian commodity giant Noble Group, we showed readers the list of potential “fallen angel” companies, those “investment “grade companies (such as Freeport McMoRan whose CDS trades at near-default levels) who are about to be badly junked, focusing on the 18 or so US energy companies that are about to lose their investment grade rating. Perhaps inspired by this preview, earlier today Moody’s took the global energy sector to the woodshed, placing 175 global oil, gas and mining companies and groups on review for a downgrade due to a prolonged rout in global commodities prices that it says could remain depressed indefinitely. The wholesale credit rating warning came alongside Moody’s cut to its oil price forecast deck.

In 2016, it now expects the Brent and WTI to average $33 a barrel, a $10 drop for Brent and $7 for WTI. Warning of possible downgrades for 120 energy companies, among which 69 public and private US corporations, the rating agency said there was a “substantial risk” of a slow recovery in oil that would compound the stress on oil and gas firms. As first reported first by Reuters, the global review includes all major regions and ranges from the world’s top international oil and gas companies such as Royal Dutch Shell and France’s Total to 69 U.S. and 19 Canadian E&P and services firms. Notably absent, however, were the two top U.S. oil companies ExxonMobil and Chevron.

Moody’s said it was likely to conclude the review by the end of the first quarter which could include multiple-notch downgrades for some companies, particularly in North America, in other words, one of the biggest event risks toward the end of Q1 is a familiar one: unexpected announcements by the rating agencies, which will force banks to override their instructions by the Dallas Fed and proceed to boost their loss reserves dramatically. What Moody’s admitted is something profound, and which not even the equity holders of many energy companies have realized, namely that “Even under a scenario with a modest recovery from current prices, producing companies and the drillers and service companies that support them will experience rising financial stress with much lower cash flows,” it said.

This means far less value going to equity as the companies lurch ever deeper into financial distress, unless of course oil does rebound back to $100, which paradoxically can only happen – if only briefly – after a massive default wave (which ultimately will lower the all in cost of production). Worse, Moody’s also said that it sees “a substantial risk that prices may recover much more slowly over the medium term than many companies expect, as well as a risk that prices might fall further.” But the most dire warning from the rating agency which is suddenly showing far more perceptiveness than is typical, is the admission that China, as a source of global debt-funded demand, is no more: “Moody’s believes that this downturn will mark an unprecedented shift for the mining industry. Whereas previous downturns have been cyclical, the effect of slowing growth in China indicates a fundamental change that will heighten credit risk for mining companies.”

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Might as well stop altogether.

North Sea Drilling Sinks to Record Low (BBG)

The pace of drilling in the North Sea, the center of U.K. oil production for the past 40 years, has sunk to a record as crashing energy prices force explorers to abandon costly projects. Just 63% of oil and gas rigs in the U.K. North Sea were being used as of Jan. 19, according to data provider RigLogix. That’s the lowest since the Houston-based company started tracking their operation in 2000. In the Norwegian North Sea, the 71% rate is also the worst on record. Producers in the region, home of the Brent benchmark, boosted output the past two years as projects approved in the era of $100 oil came on stream. Yet crude’s subsequent plunge has forced many to shelve growth plans as they reduce spending and staff.

BP intends to eliminate 600 North Sea positions over the next two years, adding to more than 90,000 jobs the industry has cut in the area since the start of 2014. “In the U.K. North Sea, you’re looking anywhere between $15 and $45 a barrel for operating costs,” according to Kate Sloan, a Macquarie Group Ltd. analyst who said many older fields are at the top end of that range since they need specialized drilling to prolong their lives. “I wouldn’t expect anyone to be doing that kind of work so that takes quite a few of the rigs out of the market.” Drilling off Norway also has been expensive historically. A 2012 government-commissioned report showed drilling costs there were the highest in the world, as much as 45% higher than in the U.K. While companies operating off Norway can claim a portion of their costs back from the state, they’ve still put projects on hold.

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There are many towns around the world like Aberdeen.

Aberdeen: Once-Rich Oil City Now Relying On Food Banks (Guardian)

Former oil workers are queuing up to use food banks in Aberdeen, formerly one of the UK’s most prosperous cities, as 12-year lows in the price of crude this week propel the North Sea industry deeper into crisis. Hundreds of staff are being laid off every week as producers, drillers and service companies slash their spending in moves which are hurting local businesses, from estate agents to hoteliers and taxi drivers. Those claiming out of works benefits in the north-east of Scotland rocketed by 72% in December and the total number of UK oil-related jobs lost could already be 70,000, with some predicting 200,000 out of 400,000 could eventually go. Dave Simmers, who leads the Aberdeen Food Banks partnership, said demand for free access had soared in a city which is so dependent on oil and gas.

“The number of food parcels delivered in 2015 was double the number in 2014 and we are seeing increases all the time. People can be used to earning good money in the oil industry but when the pay checks stop the problems start,” Simmers added. “We had a man draw up in a Porsche outside and come in here. His house was going to be repossessed and the car was on credit and going to be handed back. Whoever you are, you can be two or three wage slips away from a hole.” Simmers said the social enterprise he runs, Community Food Initiatives North East, lead partner in the Aberdeen Food Banks partnership, has also lost a huge amount of revenue because it used to supply much more paid fruit to the industry – including to crews on offshore vessels anchored in the harbour just yards away.

Jake Molloy, a former oil worker and now Scottish regional officer for the Rail, Maritime, Transport (RMT) union said he has personally been made aware of more than 250 job losses in the last four days alone. “Every day I see HR1s [statutory redundancy notices] like these,” he said, shuffling sheets of paper and reading out: “150 at Petrofac, 90 at Sparrows, 70 at Gulfmark, 60 at ConocoPhillips … ” Molloy said that along with those actually losing their livelihoods, almost everyone is having their terms and conditions changed. “Offshore workers are being made to work an extra 320 hours a year for no extra pay, pension arrangements are being slashed and travel allowances removed in some cases.” His worst nightmare is that there is a growing backlog of maintenance work as oil companies cut spending, which could affect safety.

He is also worried that decommissioning of platforms will hasten an early end to some fields. Britain is one of the highest cost producers of oil in the world at around $60(£42) a barrel, not a good situation when the global price is about half that.

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10,000 is just a start. Schlumberger employs over 100,000 people.

Oil Services Giant Schlumberger Axes 10,000 Jobs (Guardian)

The world’s largest oilfield services company Schlumberger has lost more than $1bn and cut a further 10,000 jobs. Like others in the industry, Schlumberger has been hard hit by the fall in energy prices and the downturn in the sector. It warned on Thursday that it does not expect a turnaround in the near future. Schlumberger said it streamlined costs and cut 10,000 jobs during the last three months of 2015 to prepare for weaker business in early 2016. The company, which has principal offices in Paris, Houston, London and The Hague, had announced at least 20,000 job cuts earlier in 2015. It currently employs about 105,000 people. Amid an oil glut, crude prices are down about 38%, with natural gas prices down about 27% from a year ago.

The downturn has led energy companies to cut thousands of jobs over the past year. Earlier on Thursday, Southwestern Energy, the third-largest natural gas producer in the US, said it would cut 1,100 jobs, about 44% of its workforce. The Schlumberger chairman and CEO, Paal Kibsgaard, noted that the number of rigs exploring on land for oil and gas in the US fell to fewer than 700 at the end of 2015, down 68% from the 2014 peak. “The decrease in land activity was the sharpest seen since 1986,” he said, adding that “massive over-capacity in the land services market offers no signs of pricing recovery in the short to medium term.” Schlumberger’s fourth-quarter results were hurt by a 39% drop in revenue and huge accounting charges, producing a loss of $1.02bn.

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Gee, what a surprise.

UK Treasury ‘To Count £139 Million Of Made Up Money’ As Foreign Aid (Ind.)

The UK Treasury will count £139 million of “made up money” as overseas aid, according to debt campaigners. The UK Government enshrined in law a commitment to spend 0.7% of national income, or around £12 billion, on aid in 2015, finally meeting a target set by the UN in 1970. Under an agreement with Cuba on its debt to the UK, the Treasury is to count £139 million of cancelled late interest payments towards this target, or around 1.2% of the projected £12 billion spend. Debt campaigners have called the debt “made up money” that was never expected to be paid. The loans were backed by UK Export Finance, a Government arm that lends money to fund the purchase of UK Exports.

“British people think UK aid money should be used to reduce poverty and inequality around the world. But too often it is driven by the interests of British companies at the expense of increased poverty and inequality,” said Tim Jones, policy officer at the Jubilee Debt Campaign. The amount of interest to be written off is more aid that the UK gave to Kenya in total in 2014, according to data from Statista. Cuba defaulted on the original £42 million debt in 1987 and has since accrued £139 million in late interest payments at an annual interest rate of 11%. This money will be counted as Overseas Development Assistance in line with OECD rules over an 18-year repayment term, the Treasury said. “Debt cancellation has always been part of Britain’s development assistance and related aid targets, and is totally consistent with the internationally recognised definition of aid monitored by the OECD”, a Government spokesperson said.

Cuba reached a debt agreement with 14 Western governments last year. Under the agreement, $2.6 billion of late interest payments will be cancelled, all of which is likely to be counted as aid in the respective countries, Jubilee said. Cuba has agreed to repay the UK the £42 million that was lent originally, plus £21 million of contractual interest. If Cuba does not pay international lenders by October 31 each year, it will be charged 9% interest until payment, plus late interest for the portion in arrears, Reuters reported. “Government policy, which is the same for all countries, is to seek to recover as much debt as possible. The agreement to restructure Cuba’s debt is an important step for the Cuban economy,” the Treasury said. But debt campaigners said that the high annual interest rate charged to Cuba is higher than the interest rate the UK Government pays and that there was no expectation that it would ever be paid.

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When in a hole… Look, emissions were like 20-40 times over limit. Nothing vague about that. But if VW feels like antagonizing both Europe AND the US, go right ahead.

VW Blames Emissions Scandal on EU’s ‘Vague Testing Requirements’ (Ind.)

European carmakers have pleaded for time and understanding after the European Parliament announced a special inquiry into the Volkswagen emissions scandal that erupted last year. A cross-party committee of 45 MEPs will spend 12 months examining how VW was able to rig emissions tests with so-called “defeat devices” – software that cosmetically cut nitrogen oxide (NOx) exhaust emissions during regulators’ examinations. It will also look at whether the German car company was given political cover by the European Commission and national governments in the EU. But Dieter Zetsche, the chairman of Daimler and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, said that the industry was committed to cleaner cars.

“Let me be clear: we fully accept our responsibility to bring down emissions,” he said in Brussels. “But rushing new measures will fail to bring the intended results.” Mr Zetsche – who is also the president of the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) – blamed the scandal on the vague testing requirements. “We recognise what has gone wrong,” he added. “By definition, by physics, you get more emissions by full acceleration and a full load, at low temperatures and climbing a hill, than on a flat autobahn.” Up to 11 million VW diesel vehicles worldwide are thought to have been fitted with software to mask NOx emissions. The European Parliament’s inquiry will also look into whether governments knew about the defeat devices before the scandal emerged and why there were no defined penalties in place to deter such cheating.

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Getting hard to mount any defense.

VW Probe Finds Manipulation Was Open Secret In Department (Reuters)

Volkswagen’s development of software to cheat diesel-emissions tests was an open secret in the company department striving to make its engines meet environmental standards, Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper said on Friday, citing results from VW’s internal investigation. Many managers and staff dealing with emissions problems in the engine-development department knew of or were involved in developing the “defeat devices”, said the newspaper, which researched the matter with regional broadcasters NDR and WDR. A culture of collective secrecy prevailed within the department, where the installation of the defeat software that would cause the carmaker’s biggest ever corporate crisis was openly discussed as long ago as 2006, Sueddeutsche said.

But it said there were exceptions: a whistleblower, who was himself involved in the deception and has been giving evidence to investigators hired by Volkswagen, alerted a senior manager outside the department in 2011. This manager, however, did not react, the newspaper said. Volkswagen has said that to the best of its knowledge only a small circle of people knew about the manipulation, which Europe’s biggest carmaker admitted to U.S. environmental authorities in September last year. It has said it is not aware of any involvement by top management or supervisory board members in the affair, which toppled its chief executive last year and is likely to cost billions of dollars for recalls, technical fixes and lawsuits.

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“What they have produced is endless war financed by runaway debt which is leading to economic ruin. But ignorance helps a lot here.”

DEFEAT IS VICTORY (Dmitry Orlov)

On the wall of George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth from his novel 1984 there were three slogans: WAR IS PEACE FREEDOM IS SLAVERY IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. It occurred to me that these apply just a little bit too well to the way the Washington, DC establishment operates. War certainly is peace: just look at how peaceful Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Syria and the Ukraine have become thanks to their peacemaking efforts. The only departures from absolute peacefulness which might be taking place there have to do with the fact that there are some people still alive there. This should resolve itself on its own, especially in the Ukraine, where the people now face the prospect of surviving a cold winter without heat or electricity.

Freedom is indeed slavery: to enjoy their “freedom,” Americans spend most of their lives working off debt, be it a mortgage, medical debt incurred due to an illness, or student loans. Alternatively, they can also enjoy it by rotting in jail. They also work longer hours with less time off and worse benefits than in any other developed country, and their wages haven’t increased in two generations. And what keeps it all happening is the fact that ignorance is indeed strength; if it wasn’t for the Americans’ overwhelming, willful ignorance of both their own affairs and the world at large, they would have rebelled by now, and the whole house of cards would have come tumbling down. But there is a fourth slogan they need to add to the wall of Washington’s Ministry of Truth. It is this: DEFEAT IS VICTORY.

The preposterous nature of the first three slogans can be finessed away in various ways. It’s awkward to claim that American involvements in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Syria or the Ukraine have produced “peace,” exactly, but various lying officials and assorted national teletubbies still find it possible to claim that they somehow averted worse (totally made-up) dangers like Iraqi/Syrian “weapons of mass destruction.” What they have produced is endless war financed by runaway debt which is leading to economic ruin. But ignorance helps a lot here.

Likewise, it is possible, though a bit awkward, to claim that slavery is freedom—because, you see, once you have discharged your duties as a slave, can go home and read whatever crazy nonsense you want on some blog or other. This is of course silly; you can stuff your head with whatever “knowledge” you like, but if you try acting on it you will quickly discover that you aren’t allowed to. “Back in line, slave!” You can also take the opposite tack and claim that freedom is for layabouts while we the productive people have to rush from one scheduled activity to another, and herd our children around in the same manner, avoiding “unstructured time” like a plague, and that this is not at all like slavery. Not at all. Not even close. Nobody tells me what to do! (Looks down at smartphone to see what’s next on today’s to-do list).

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How is this not obvious? “It is impossible to stop. Those who believe in some way that we can erect fences and stop migration are living in Cloud Cuckoo Land..”

Top UN Official Says Mass Migration ‘Unavoidable Reality’ (AFP)

Mass cross-border migration is an “unavoidable reality” and it is “impossible to stop” the flow of refugees in need of sanctuary, the United Nations’ top official in charge of migration said during a visit to Bangladesh. In an interview with AFP in Dhaka, Peter Sutherland, the UN’s special representative for migration, said the world needed to accept millions of people fleeing conflicts in Syria and elsewhere and find ways to live together. Sutherland is visiting Bangladesh for the Global Forum on Migration and Development in Dhaka where he said he would discuss the plight of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. The refugees, fleeing ongoing persecution in Myanmar – which Naypyidaw denies – have been living in Bangladeshi camps or jungle hideouts, some for generations, often without access to basic food or shelter.

The forum in Dhaka takes place as Europe is facing its biggest migration crisis since World War II, with more than a million asylum seekers arriving in Germany alone in 2015 – triggereing a fierce backlash. “We must find ways to be living together. Today (migration) is an unavoidable reality, we are living in the era of globalisation,” Sutherland said in the Bangladeshi capital late on Thursday. “It is impossible to stop. Those who believe in some way that we can erect fences and stop migration are living in Cloud Cuckoo Land,” he said. Turkey is currently hosting 2.2 million Syrian refugees, while between 2,000 and 3,000 people arrive daily in the main European landing point of Greece, although many die making the journey.

Sutherland criticised world leaders who stoke xenophobia for political gain and link refugees with a heightened terror threat. “They represent the world of yesterday, a world of conflict and not a world of consensus. They represent a world which creates division rather than harmony,” he said. “Humanity demands responsibility and care for those who need sanctuary.” The European Union’s passport-free Schengen area has come under huge strain from the migrant influx, with wealthier countries including Denmark and Sweden introducing border controls to deal with the flow of people.

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No, it’s long since failed. About 800 human lives ago. “A manageable crisis has become a moral test that Europe is in danger of failing dismally..”

Europe’s Refugee Crisis Claims At Least Another 46 Lives In Aegean (AP)

The death toll in Europe’s migration crisis rose Friday when two overcrowded smuggling boats foundered off Greece and at least 46 people drowned — more than a third of them children — as European officials remained deeply divided on how to handle the influx. More than 70 people survived, and a large air and sea search-and-rescue effort was underway off the eastern islet of Kalolimnos, the site of the worst accident. It was unclear how many people were aboard the wooden sailboat that sank there indeep water, leaving at least 35 dead. Coast guard divers were due to descend to the sunken wreck early Saturday, amid fears that more people had been trapped below deck.

At least 800 people have died or vanished in the Aegean Sea since the start of 2015, as a record of more than 1 million refugees and economic migrants entered Europe. About 85% of them crossed to the Greek islands from nearby Turkey, paying large sums to smuggling gangs for berths in unseaworthy boats. Rights groups said the deaths highlight the need for Europe to provide those desperate to reach the prosperous continent’s shores with a better alternative to smuggling boats. European policy toward its worst immigration crisis since World War II has diverged wildly so far. Germany — where most are heading — has welcomed those it considers refugees. Other countries, led by Hungary, have blocked or restricted them from entering and resisted plans to share the burden of refugees.

“These deaths highlight both the heartlessness and the futility of the growing chorus demanding greater restrictions on refugee access to Europe,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia program director. “A manageable crisis has become a moral test that Europe is in danger of failing dismally,” he said. The U.N. refugee agency said daily arrivals on the Greek islands have surged to more than 3,000 in the past two days, and it cited refugee testimony that smugglers have recently halved their rates amid deteriorating weather conditions. “It is tragic that refugees, including families with young children, feel compelled to entrust their lives to unscrupulous smugglers in view of lack of safe and legal ways for refugees to find protection,” said Philippe Leclerc of UNHCR Greece.

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Jan 182016
 
 January 18, 2016  Posted by at 9:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Chicago & Alton Railroad, Joliet, Illinois 1901

Asian Shares Drop To 2011 Levels As Oil Slump Intensifies (Reuters)
Oil Slides To Lowest Since 2003 As Iran Sanctions Are Lifted (Reuters)
Hedge Funds Are Betting The Commodities Collapse Isn’t Over Yet (BBG)
Gulf Stock Crash Wipes $38.5 Billion Off Markets As Iran Enters Oil War (Tel.)
Richest 1% Now Wealthier Than The Rest Of Humanity Combined (BBG)
Stock Market Crash Could Burst UK Property Bubble (Express)
It’s Not Time For Britain To Be ‘Intensely Relaxed’ Over Household Debt (Ind.)
China’s Securities Czar Casts Wide Blame for Market Turmoil (WSJ)
China To Clean-up ‘Zombie’ Companies By 2020 (Reuters)
The Problem With Getting Money Out Of China (China Law Blog)
Gloom Gathers Over The Challenges That Germany Faces (FT)
“Everything Has Come to a Standstill”: Politics Hits Business in Spain (WS)
Canadian Officials Under Pressure to Stimulate Economy (WSJ)
Shock Figures To Reveal Deadly Toll Of Global Air Pollution (Observer)
False Emissions Reporting Undermines China’s Pollution Fight (Reuters)
Weak EU Tests For Diesel Emissions Are ‘Illegal’ (Guardian)
66 Institutional Investors To Sue Volkswagen In Germany (FT)
Obama Declares Emergency In Flint, But Not Disaster (DFP)
When Peace Breaks Out With Iran… (Ron Paul)
Syria 4 Years On: Shocking Images Of A Post-US-Intervention Nation (ZH)
The Economics Of The Refugee Crisis Lay Bare Our Moral Bankruptcy (Guardian)

China contagion spreads.

Asian Shares Drop To 2011 Levels As Oil Slump Intensifies (Reuters)

Asian shares slid to their lowest levels since 2011 on Monday after weak U.S. economic data and a massive fall in oil prices stoked further worries about a global economic downturn. Spreadbetters expected a subdued open for European shares, forecasting London’s FTSE to open modestly higher while seeing Germany’s DAX and France’s CAC to start flat-to-slightly-weaker. Crude prices faced fresh pressure after international sanctions against Iran were lifted over the weekend, allowing Tehran to return to an already over-supplied oil market. Brent oil futures fell below $28 per barrel touching their lowest level since 2003. “Iran is now free to sell as much oil as it wants to whomever it likes at whatever price it can get,” said Richard Nephew at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell to its lowest since October 2011 and was last down 0.5%. Japan’s Nikkei tumbled as much as 2.8% to a one-year low. It has lost 20% from its peak hit in June, meeting a common definition of a bear market. The volatile Shanghai Composite index initially pierced through intraday lows last seen in August before paring the losses and was last up 1%. It was still down 17% this month. On Wall Street, S&P 500 hit a 15-month low on Friday, ahead of Monday’s market holiday. “The fact that U.S. and European shares fell below their August lows, failing to sustain their rebound, is significant,” said Chotaro Morita at SMBC Nikko Securities.

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They knew Iran was coming, so that’s not the main driver.

Oil Slides To Lowest Since 2003 As Iran Sanctions Are Lifted (Reuters)

Oil prices hit their lowest since 2003 in early trading on Monday, as the market braced for a jump in Iranian exports after the lifting of sanctions against the country at the weekend. On Saturday, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said Tehran had met its commitments to curtail its nuclear program, and the United States immediately revoked sanctions that had slashed the OPEC member’s oil exports by around 2 million barrels per day (bpd) since their pre-sanctions 2011 peak to little more than 1 million bpd. “Iran is now free to sell as much oil as it wants to whomever it likes at whatever price it can get,” said Richard Nephew, program director for Economic Statecraft, Sanctions and Energy Markets at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.

Iran is ready to increase its crude exports by 500,000 bpd, its deputy oil minister said on Sunday. International Brent crude fell to $27.67 a barrel early on Monday, its lowest since 2003, before recovering to $28.25, still down more than 2% from their settlement on Friday. U.S. crude was down 58 cents at $28.84 a barrel after hitting a 2003 low of $28.36 earlier in the session. “The lifting of sanctions on Iran should see further downward pressure on oil and commodities more broadly in the short term,” ANZ said on Monday. “Iran’s likely strategy in offering discounts to entice customers could see further downward pressure on prices in the near term,” it added. Iran’s potential new exports come at a time when global markets are already reeling from a chronic oversupply as producers pump a million barrels or more of crude every day in excess of demand, pulling down crude prices by over 75% since mid-2014 and by over a quarter since the start of 2016.

And although analysts expect Iran to take some time before being able to fully revive its export infrastructure, suffering from years of underinvestment during the sanctions, it does have at least a dozen Very Large Crude Carrier super-tankers filled and in place to sell into the market. The oil price rout is also hurting stock markets, with Asian shares set to slide to near their 2011 troughs on Monday, stoking further worries about a global economic downturn. “Growth keeps slowing … Lower commodity prices, including oil, partly reflect weakening demand itself. In addition, the downturn in mining capex and the declining income of commodity producers is weighing on exports from Asia,” said Frederic Neumann at HSBC, Hong Kong.

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Must be a crowded trade.

Hedge Funds Are Betting The Commodities Collapse Isn’t Over Yet (BBG)

The commodity meltdown that pushed oil to a 12-year low and copper to the cheapest since 2009 isn’t over yet. At least, that’s how hedge funds see it. Money managers increased their combined net-bearish position across 18 raw materials to the biggest ever, doubling the negative bets in just two weeks. A measure of returns on commodities last week slid to the lowest in at least 25 years. Metals, crops and energy futures all slumped amid supply gluts and an anemic outlook for the global economy. Market turmoil in China, the biggest commodity buyer, is adding to worries over consumption. A stronger dollar is also eroding the appeal of raw materials as alternative investments. While Goldman Sachs predicts that the prolonged slump will start to spur more supply cuts, the bank doesn’t expect prices to rebound until later this year.

“There’s fear in the marketplace,” said Lara Magnusen at Altegris Investments. People are “very concerned about slower economic growth and what’s going on with China and the contagion effect,” she said. With a strong U.S. dollar and the Federal Reserve considering more interest-rate increases, “there’s not a lot of places where you can put your money right now,” she said. “Short commodities is a pretty good place.” The net-short position across 18 U.S.-traded commodities expanded to 202,534 futures and options as of Jan. 12, according to U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission figures published three days later. That’s the largest since the government data begins in 2006 and compares with 164,203 contracts a week earlier.

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Add that to the low oil price losses.

Gulf Stock Crash Wipes $38.5 Billion Off Markets As Iran Enters Oil War (Tel.)

Stock markets across the Middle East saw more than £27bn ($38.5 billion) wiped off their value as the lifting of economic sanctions against Iran threatened to unleash a fresh wave of oil onto global markets that are already drowning in excess supply. All seven stock markets in Gulf states tumbled as panic gripped traders. Dubai’s DFM General Index closed down 4.65pc to 2,684.9, while Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index, the largest Arab market, collapsed by 7pc intraday, before recovering marginally to end down 5.44pc at 5,520.41, its lowest level in almost five years. The Qatar stock exchange, fell 7.2pc to close at 8,527.75, and the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange shed 4.24pc to finish at 3,787.4. The Kuwait market returned to levels not seen since May 2004 as it slid 3.2pc lower, while smaller markets in Oman and Bahrain dropped 3.2pc and 0.4pc respectively.

The Iranian stock index gained 1pc, making it one of the best performing markets in the world with gains of 6pc since the start of the year. The dramatic moves came following the historic report from the UN nuclear watchdog, which showed that Iran has met its obligations under the nuclear deal, clearing the way for the lifting of sanctions. The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency issued the landmark document late on Saturday evening, sparking mayhem as markets opened on Sunday, the first day of trading in the Middle East. The stock markets in Dubai and Saudi Arabia have been plunged into a painful bear market, losing 42pc and 38pc respectively, ever since Saudi Arabia decided to ramp up oil production in November 2014.

Oil prices fell below $30 for the third time last week as traders prepared for the prospect of Iranian oil flooding global markets. The Islamic Republic has vowed to return its oil production to pre-sanction levels, with estimates suggesting Tehran will add a further 500,000 barrels a day (b/pd) to the world’s bloated stockpiles within weeks. Fears that the Islamic Republic could quickly ramp up production sent Brent crude falling by 3.3pc to $29.43 on Friday – matching lows last seen in 2004. West Texas Intermediate also slipped back to $29.60, a decline of 4.5pc.

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“..the wealth of the poorest 50% dropped by 41% between 2010 and 2015..”

Richest 1% Now Wealthier Than The Rest Of Humanity Combined (BBG)

The richest 1% is now wealthier than the rest of humanity combined, according to Oxfam, which called on governments to intensify efforts to reduce such inequality. In a report published on the eve of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, the anti-poverty charity cited data from Credit Suisse in declaring the most affluent controlled most of the world’s wealth in 2015. That’s a year earlier than it had anticipated. Oxfam also calculated that 62 individuals had the same wealth as 3.5 billion people, the bottom half of the global population, compared with 388 individuals five years earlier. The wealth of the most affluent rose 44% since 2010 to $1.76 trillion, while the wealth of the bottom half fell 41% or just over $1 trillion.

The charity used the statistics to argue that growing inequality poses a threat to economic expansion and social cohesion. Those risks have already been noted in countries from the U.S. to Spain, where voters are increasingly backing populist political candidates, while it’s sown tensions on the streets of Latin America and the Middle East. “It is simply unacceptable that the poorest half of the world’s population owns no more than a few dozen super-rich people who could fit onto one bus,” said Winnie Byanima, executive director of Oxfam International. “World leaders’ concern about the escalating inequality crisis has so far not translated into concrete action.” Oxfam said governments should take steps to reduce the polarization, estimating tax havens help the rich to hide $7.6 trillion. Politicians should agree on a global approach to ending the practice of using offshore accounts, it said.

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Or the other way around?

Stock Market Crash Could Burst UK Property Bubble (Express)

Property seems to be immune from the fear now gripping the global economy, but that may not always be the case. If the share price meltdown continues and the global economy slows, eventually the UK’s house of cards may collapse as well. Chinese stock markets have plunged since the start of the year, with the FTSE 100 falling 6.5% so far. There seems no end in sight to the share sell-off, but still property powers on. The latest figures from Halifax show that property prices in the final quarter of 2015 were almost 10% higher than one year earlier. The growth seems unstoppable, with new figures from estate agency Your Move showing the average property in England and Wales has leapt £18,000 in the last year to £292,077, a growth rate of an incredible £1,500 a month.

Many Britons suspect the property market is overvalued, with the average UK home now costing more than 10 times earnings. Given that most lenders will not grant mortgages worth more than three or four times your income, this looks unsustainable. Yet few property experts are willing to say openly that the market is in peril. Most remain deaf to warnings of contagion from the share price rout, even though it has scared the life out of some investment experts. Last week, Andrew Roberts, research chief at Royal Bank of Scotland, warned investors to “sell everything except high-quality bonds” because the stock market and oil price crash has only just begun. He is worried about the growing public and company debt burden, and British households have plenty to worry about on that score.

All-time low interest rates have fuelled a borrowing spree that has seen Britons rack up a mind-boggling debt of £40billion. The latest figures show family that household debt rose by 42% in the last six months alone, according to research from Aviva. The average family now owes £13,520 on credit cards, personal loans and overdrafts, up from £9,520 last summer. Throw in a 20% increase in average mortgage debt to £62,739 over five years and households are more vulnerable than ever. Worse, family incomes are falling and many have lost the savings habit as their finances are stretched.

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The entire issue is hugely distorted by insanely elevated home prices. Take those out, and you see how bad things truly are.

It’s Not Time For Britain To Be ‘Intensely Relaxed’ Over Household Debt (Ind.)

There seem to be three main arguments against the idea we should be concerned about household leverage. The first is that the official statistics belie the claim that the aggregate debt burden of UK households is rising and the recovery has been fuelled by borrowing. Second, we’re told UK household debt is mainly mortgage debt and reflects high domestic house prices. For each of these liabilities there is an asset, so we must look at the overall balance sheets of households, which are healthy. Plus, with interest rates still on the floor, aggregate debt-servicing costs are comfortable. Finally, we’re assured that as long as the supply of new homes remains severely restricted, high debt presents no serious financial threat because house prices are pretty unlikely to collapse.

To illustrate this final point, it is pointed out that the banks failed in 2008 because of their dodgy overseas lending, not because of their dodgy UK mortgage books. There are problems with all three arguments. Let’s take them in turn. Measured as a share of household incomes, it is true that household debt has not actually been growing. Since 2008, when the debt to income ratio peaked at 170%, households have been deleveraging. Yet at 140% of gross income, debt levels are still very high, both by historic and international standards. In the G7 only Canada has a higher household leverage ratio today. There is potential fragility here if another economic shock were to hit, as the Bank of England itself admits. To point to the UK’s deleveraging in recent years as a reason for relief is akin to a mountaineer getting halfway down Everest in a vicious storm and saying “job done”.

Debt has not been rising as a share of income but the aggregate household savings ratio, excluding pension rights, has fallen from a peak of 6% in 2010 to less than zero today. That change in household behaviour has certainly helped the economy recover. So not a recovery fuelled by debt, but a recovery fuelled by a lower savings ratio. Incidentally, there was no such savings collapse envisaged by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) in 2010, reflecting how unbalanced the recovery has been relative to hopes six years ago. Moreover, the OBR today predicts that the debt to income ratio is going to race back close to pre-crisis levels over the coming five years. Why? Because the Treasury’s official forecaster expects house prices to rise faster than incomes and for people to keep buying houses. The OBR is very far from being omniscient. But that is surely one of the more plausible assumptions from Robert Chote and his team, given the dismal evolution of the housing market in recent years and decades.

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Lemme guess: anyone but Xi?!

China’s Securities Czar Casts Wide Blame for Market Turmoil (WSJ)

What’s wrong with China’s stock market? Just about everything, according to a statement from Xiao Gang, the country’s chief securities regulator, delivered at a national meeting of Chinese securities officials and posted on his agency’s website Saturday. In the statement, Mr. Xiao defended his handling of successive market meltdowns, blaming the “abnormal volatility” on “an immature market, inexperienced investors, imperfect trading system, flawed market mechanisms and inappropriate supervision systems.” The turmoil in China’s stock market—which on Friday entered “bear” territory of 20% below its recent peak—has cast a harsh light on the performance of Mr. Xiao, 57, a former central banker and chairman of the Bank of China before he was appointed chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission in 2013.

During the summer, when Chinese stocks tumbled more than 40%, Mr. Xiao oversaw a slew of measures to prop up the market that many investors criticized as heavy-handed and interventionist. Those ranged from banning certain kinds of short selling and share sales to approving the purchase of hundreds of billions of yuan in equities by government-affiliated funds. Two weeks ago, Mr. Xiao was forced to abandon a circuit-breaker mechanism he’d championed as a way to halt big trading swings, when it instead ended up fanning panic selling. In his Saturday statement, Mr. Xiao defended his efforts, saying they were a successful attempt to stave off a bigger crisis.

“The response to the abnormal volatility in the stock market was essentially crisis management,” Mr. Xiao said. Various departments “addressed market dysfunctions and prevented a potential systemic risk through joint efforts.” Mr. Xiao did admit there had been “supervision and management loopholes” and he promised to crack down on illegal activities, increase market transparency and better educate investors, although he didn’t outline specific proposals. He briefly touched on the detention of some top-ranking officials in the securities industry in relation to a police investigation on alleged violation of rules, but without naming his own agency. Mr. Xiao chastised listed companies for “exaggerated storytelling” to hype up stock prices, and urged market participants to cultivate a stronger sense of social responsibility and to “huddle together for warmth”—or cooperate in the greater interest—when times are bad.

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They want to take five years to do what should have been done already. Dangerous.

China To Clean-up ‘Zombie’ Companies By 2020 (Reuters)

China’s top state-owned asset administrator has vowed to clean-up the country’s so-called “zombie” industrial companies by 2020, the official Xinhua News Agency has reported. Zhang Yi, Chairman of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), told a central and local enterprise work conference convened at the weekend that the agency will “basically” resolve the problem of unproductive “zombie” firms over the next three years. Dealing with “zombie companies” is very difficult, Zhang said, according to the report, but “officials need to… use today’s ‘small tremors’ to prevent a future earthquake.” The central government last September rolled out the most ambitious reform program in two decades to resolve the problems at its hugely inefficient public sector companies, encouraging the greater use of “mixed ownership” while promoting more mergers to create globally-competitive conglomerates.

Zhang Xiwu, deputy head of SASAC, told a news briefing at the time that China would work to reorganize state firms to centralize state-owned capital in key industries, while restricting investment in industries not in line with national policies. Zhang said that China would use stock exchanges, property exchanges and other capital markets to sell the assets of low performing state owned enterprises. Profits at China’s state firms dipped 9.5% in the first 11 months of 2015 from a year earlier, led by profits at SASAC-controlled firms, which fell 10.4%, the Ministry of Finance said in December. On Friday, SASAC told state media that the steep decline in profits for the sector had been curtailed, and that 99 of the 106 SASAC-controlled enterprise groups achieved profitability in 2015.

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Interesting angle via ZH.

The Problem With Getting Money Out Of China (China Law Blog)

Regular readers of our blog probably know that our basic mantra about getting money out of China is that if you have consistently follow all of China’s laws, it ought to be no problem. Not true lately. In the last week or so, our China lawyers have probably received more “money problem” calls than in the year before that. And unlike most of these sorts of calls, the problems are brand new to us. It has reached the point that yesterday I told an American company (waiting for a large sum in investment funds to arrive from China) that two weeks ago I would have quickly told him that the Chinese company’s excuse for being unable to send the money was a ruse, but with all that has been going on lately, I have no idea whether that is the case or not. So what has been going on lately? Well if there is a common theme, it is that China banks seem to be doing whatever they can to avoid paying anyone in dollars. We are hearing the following:

1. Chinese investors that have secured all necessary approvals to invest in American companies are not being allowed to actually make that investment. I mentioned this to a China attorney friend who says he has been hearing the same thing. Never heard this one until this month.

2. Chinese citizens who are supposed to be allowed to send up to $50,000 a year out of China, pretty much no questions asked, are not getting that money sent. I feel like every realtor in the United States has called us on this one. The Wall Street Journal wrote on this yesterday. Never heard this one until this month.

3. Money will not be sent to certain countries deemed at high risk for fake transactions unless there is conclusive proof that the transaction is real — in other words a lot more proof than required months ago. We heard this one last week regarding transactions with Indonesia, from a client with a subsidiary there. Never heard this one until this month.

4. Money will not be sent for certain types of transactions, especially services, which are often used to disguise moving money out of China illegally. This is not exactly new, but it appears China is cracking down on this.

5. Get this one: Money will not be sent to any company on a services transaction unless that company can show that it does not have any Chinese owners. The alleged purpose behind this “rule” is again to prevent the sort of transactions ordinarily used to illegally move money out of China. Never heard this one until this month.

What are you seeing out there? No really, what are you seeing out there?

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You just wait till the German economy starts stumbling.

Gloom Gathers Over The Challenges That Germany Faces (FT)

This is going to be a difficult year for Germany, one in which the policies of the past may turn out to be unsustainable. The most unsustainable of all was Angela Merkel’s invitation to open the doors to Syrian refugees without limitation. The German chancellor must either have misjudged the effect or acted recklessly — or both. A few months and 1m refugees later, the discontent is growing inside the Christian Democratic Union, her party, and in the country at large. Gerhard Schröder, her Social Democratic predecessor, last week came out against the policy with exactly the same arguments as the right-wingers in Ms Merkel’s own party: Germany cannot absorb such a large number. More than 1m refugees arrived in the country in 2015. It could be twice as many this year and the same again next — more if you include family members who will eventually follow.

It is tempting to think of refugees and migrants as a new source of labour. But in this case this just is not true, at least not for now. The majority of those who arrive in Germany lack the skills needed in the local labour market. They will enter the low wage sector of the economy, and drive down wages, producing another deflationary shock. This is the last thing Germany and the eurozone need right now. I expect that this policy will change at some point this year. What I do not see, however, is a successful political coup against Ms Merkel from inside her own party. What protects her is the grand coalition with the Christian Social Union and the SPD. There is no majority to the right of her, or to the left for that matter.

The second challenge is the economic downturn in emerging markets. There are few large countries as dependent on the global economy as Germany, and few where there is so little awareness of that fact, at least in public debate. Germany has a current account surplus of 8% of gross domestic product. A global downturn tends to affect German industrial companies with a delay of one or two years because many operate in sectors like plant and machinery where multiyear contracts are customary. But eventually, the German and the global business cycles begin to synchronise once more. This will be the year when that starts to happen.

The third challenge for Germany in 2016 is the fallout from the Volkswagen emissions scandal. This could be the single biggest shock of all because Germany has been over-reliant on the car industry for far too long. Last week, suspicion fell on Renault, when the offices of the French carmaker were raided by the authorities. This is not the crisis of a single company, therefore, but of a whole industry. Nor is it just a German problem; it is a pan-European one. It appears that VW behaved more recklessly than the others, and it will pay a heavy price for its behaviour. Whether legal action in the US and in Germany will weaken VW or force it into outright bankruptcy is almost irrelevant, given the bigger picture.

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Political capital rules the EU.

“Everything Has Come to a Standstill”: Politics Hits Business in Spain (WS)

On Friday, Spain’s benchmark stock index, the Ibex 35, plumbed depths it had not seen since the worst days of 2013, the year that the country’s economy began its “miraculous” recovery. Of the 35 companies listed on the index, 15 (or 40%) are – to quote El Economista – “against the ropes,” having lost over a third of their stock value in the last 9 months. Only one of the 35 companies — the technology firm Indra — is still green for 2016. This doesn’t make Spain much different from other countries right now, what with financial markets sinking in synchronized fashion all over the world. What does make Spain different is that it has no elected government to try to navigate the country though these testing times, or at least take the blame for the pain.

Inevitable comparisons have been drawn with Belgium, which between 2011 and 2012 endured 541 days of government-free living. However, Spain is not Belgium: its democratic system of governance is younger, less firmly rooted, and more fragile, and its civil service is more politically compromised. To make matters worse, Spain’s richest region, Catalonia, which accounts for 20% of the country’s economy, bucked expectations last week by cobbling together a last-minute coalition government that seems intent on declaring independence within the next 15 months. Meanwhile, business confidence, the cornerstone of any economic recovery, is beginning to crumble. Spain’s leading index of business confidence, ICEA, just registered a drop of 1.3%, breaking a straight eleven-quarter run of positive results.

For the first time in almost three years more business leaders are pessimistic than optimistic about the economy’s outlook. This should come as little surprise in a country where unemployment is still firmly on the wrong side of the 20% mark, over a quarter of the new jobs created last year had a contract lasting less than one week, and public debt is higher than it’s ever been. And now that there’s no elected government in office, businesses that depend on public sector contracts, including the country’s heavily indebted construction and infrastructure giants, face weeks or perhaps even months of inertia. “Everything has come to a standstill,” a contact in a Madrid-based research consultancy told me. “No decisions are being made, no funds are being released. It’s a vacuum.”

For the moment, the political backdrop has had limited impact on the price of Spanish government debt. The 10-year yield is at 1.75%, below the 10-year US Treasury yield, though it’s up a smidgen since the general elections on December 20. In its latest update, S&P left Spain’s rating unchanged, predicting 2.7% growth for 2016, despite the prevailing mood of political and economic uncertainty. In a similar vein, Deutsche Bank has forecast growth of 2.5%, regardless of what happens within or beyond Spanish borders. In other words, every effort will be made to safeguard the economic order in Spain, including putting a ridiculously positive spin on a desperate situation. To paraphrase Europe’s chief financial alchemist, Mario Draghi: do not underestimate the amount of political capital that has been invested in the European project, in particular in the Eurozone’s fourth largest economy.

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“General sentiment is downright toxic in Canada..”

Canadian Officials Under Pressure to Stimulate Economy (WSJ)

Canadian policy makers are heading into a tough week as pressure mounts on them to revive an economy that has been among the hardest hit by the commodity rout. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet colleagues will convene in a seaside resort town on Canada’s east coast Monday amid more evidence growth may have stalled again after sputtering to life in last year’s third quarter. A recent string of dismal economic news—and a free-falling Canadian dollar—has led to calls for Mr. Trudeau’s government to move sooner rather than later on major infrastructure investments to stimulate growth.

On Wednesday, Bank of Canada Gov. Stephen Poloz will deliver his latest interest-rate decision, and economists are split not only on whether he will opt to cut rates, but whether such a move would do much to help the economy at this time. Analysts say the onus has shifted to Mr. Trudeau’s government to help mitigate the negative fallout from the oil-price rout. Last week the Canadian dollar hit near-13-year lows as prices for oil, a major Canadian export, continued to weaken. As of Friday, the currency has fallen 4.8% against the U.S. dollar since the start of the year and was down 17.8% year-to-year. The drop came as Canada’s stock market lost ground—it is now off 22.2% from its 2015 peak—and the central bank said Canadian companies’ investment and hiring intentions had recently weakened.

“General sentiment is downright toxic in Canada,” said Jimmy Jean, economist at Desjardins Capital Markets. Talk around Mr. Trudeau’s cabinet table likely will revolve around the appropriate response to an economic tailspin fueled by a fresh downturn in the price of crude. While the prime minister last week voiced optimism about Canada’s prospects despite disappointing growth, government officials have privately said they are very worried about the economy. Meanwhile, economists have told the government it should boost the amount of infrastructure spending planned for this year to help offset weak conditions.

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But we’ll keep driving along. Soon, in our new clean cars powered by coal plants.

Shock Figures To Reveal Deadly Toll Of Global Air Pollution (Observer)

The World Health Organisation has issued a stark new warning about deadly levels of pollution in many of the world’s biggest cities, claiming poor air quality is killing millions and threatening to overwhelm health services across the globe. Before the release next month of figures that will show air pollution has worsened since 2014 in hundreds of already blighted urban areas, the WHO says there is now a global “public health emergency” that will have untold financial implications for governments. The latest data, taken from 2,000 cities, will show further deterioration in many places as populations have grown, leaving large areas under clouds of smog created by a mix of transport fumes, construction dust, toxic gases from power generation and wood burning in homes. The toxic haze blanketing cities could be clearly seen last week from the international space station.

Last week it was also revealed that several streets in London had exceeded their annual limits for nitrogen dioxide emissions just a few days into 2016. “We have a public health emergency in many countries from pollution. It’s dramatic, one of the biggest problems we are facing globally, with horrible future costs to society,” said Maria Neira, head of public health at the WHO, which is a specialist agency of the United Nations. “Air pollution leads to chronic diseases which require hospital space. Before, we knew that pollution was responsible for diseases like pneumonia and asthma. Now we know that it leads to bloodstream, heart and cardiovascular diseases, too – even dementia. We are storing up problems. These are chronic diseases that require hospital beds. The cost will be enormous,” said Neira.

[..] According to the UN, there are now 3.3 million premature deaths every year from air pollution, about three-quarters of which are from strokes and heart attacks. With nearly 1.4 million deaths a year, China has the most air pollution fatalities, followed by India with 645,000 and Pakistan with 110,000. In Britain, where latest figures suggest that around 29,000 people a year die prematurely from particulate pollution and thousands more from long-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide gas, emitted largely by diesel engines, the government is being taken to court over its intention to delay addressing pollution for at least 10 years.

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Follow the money, that’s all there’s to it. All the rest is window dressing and lip service, for Beijing as much as for Volkswagen.

False Emissions Reporting Undermines China’s Pollution Fight (Reuters)

Widespread misreporting of harmful gas emissions by Chinese electricity firms is threatening the country’s attempts to rein in pollution, with government policies aimed at generating cleaner power struggling to halt the practice. Coal-fired power accounts for three-quarters of China’s total generation capacity and is a major source of the toxic smog that shrouded much of the country’s north last month, prompting “red alerts” in dozens of cities, including the capital Beijing. But the government has found it hard to impose a tougher anti-pollution regime on the power sector, with China’s energy administration describing it as a “weak link” in efforts to tackle smog caused by gases such as sulfur dioxide. No official data on the extent of the problem has been released since a government audit in 2013 found hundreds of power firms had falsified emissions data, although authorities have continued to name and shame individual operators.

“There is no guarantee of avoiding under-reporting (of emissions) at local plants located far away from supervisory bodies. Coal data is very fuzzy,” said a manager with a state-owned power company, who did not want to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media. The manager said firms could easily exaggerate coal efficiency by manipulating their numbers. For example, power companies that also provided heating for local communities could overstate the amount of coal used for heat generation, which is not subject to direct monitoring, and understate the amount used for power. “Data falsification is a long-standing problem: China will not get its environmental house in order if it does not deal with this first,” said Alex Wang, an expert in Chinese environmental law at UCLA.

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Money trumps laws.

Weak EU Tests For Diesel Emissions Are ‘Illegal’ (Guardian)

Planned new ‘real driving emissions’ (RDE) test limits that would let cars substantially breach nitrogen oxide (NOx) standards are illegal under EU law, according to new legal analysis seen by the Guardian. The proposed ‘Euro 6’ tests would allow diesel cars to emit more than double the bloc’s ‘80 mg per km’ standard for NOx emissions from 2019, and more than 50% above it indefinitely from 2021. The UK supported these exemptions. But they contradict the regulation’s core objective of progressively scaling down emissions and improving air quality, according to an opinion by the European Parliament’s legal services, which the Guardian has seen. In principle, the exemptions and loopholes “run counter [to] the aims and content of the basic regulation as expressed by the Euro 6 limit values,” says the informal paper prepared for MEPs on the parliament’s environment committee.

“The commission has taken a political decision to favour the commercial interests of car manufacturers over the protection of the health of European citizens,” adds a second analysis by the environmental law firm ClientEarth, also seen by the Guardian. “The decision is therefore illegal and should be vetoed by the European Parliament,” the ClientEarth advice says. Catherine Bearder, a Liberal Democrat MEP on the environment committee, told the Guardian that as well as being morally unjustifiable, the agreement to water down the emissions limits was now “legally indefensible”. “This was a political decision, not a technical one, and so it should have been subject to proper democratic accountability,” she told the Guardian. “MEPs must veto this shameful stitch-up and demand a stronger proposal, based on the evidence and not on pressure from the car industry.”

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Might as well close it down.

66 Institutional Investors To Sue Volkswagen In Germany (FT)

Sixty-six institutional investors are to take legal action against Volkswagen in its German home market after the carmaker cheated emissions tests in the US. The first claim will be made within the next seven days. The legal action will heap further pressure on Volkswagen, which earlier this month said its annual sales fell last year for the first time in more than a decade. Klaus Nieding, a lawyer at Nieding and Barth, the German law firm, said a capital market model claim, which is similar to a collective lawsuit in the US, will be filed “within the next week” in Germany on behalf of a US institutional investor that has suffered a “big loss”. The other 65 institutional investors are expected to join that claim.

Investors have been nursing heavy losses after the US’s Environmental Protection Agency revealed last September that the world’s second-largest carmaker had cheated US emissions tests by fitting vehicles with “defeat devices” designed to bypass environmental standards. Billions of euros have been wiped off the value of Volkswagen as a result. Nieding and Barth is working with MüllerSeidelVos, a fellow German firm, and Robbins Geller Rudman and Dowd, a US law firm, to represent investors that have contacted DSW, a German shareholder protection association. Mr Nieding said the law firms collectively represent “many foreign institutional investors, primarily from the US, with claims of several hundred million euros”. He added: “We are representing, as far as we know, the largest number of claims and of shareholders [in Germany].”

Bentham Europe, a litigation finance group backed by Elliott Management, the US hedge fund, and Australian-listed IMF Bentham, is also expected to file a damages claim in Germany. Volkswagen is facing additional legal action outside its home market. Class actions against the carmaker, which allow one person to sue on behalf of a group of individuals or companies, have already been filed in the US and Australia. Last week, the Arkansas State Highway Employees Retirement System, a $1.4bn pension fund, was named the lead plaintiff in a class action against VW in the US. “We will be prosecuting the claims on behalf of the class vigorously,” said Jeroen van Kwawegen, a lawyer at Bernstein Litowitz Berger and Grossmann. The law firm is acting on behalf of investors who put money in Volkswagen’s American depositary receipts, a type of stock that represents shares in a foreign corporation.

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Snyder should be taken to court over his decisions that led to the mayhem. Instead, Wshington sends HIM the money to solve the issue.

Obama Declares Emergency In Flint, But Not Disaster (DFP)

President Barack Obama on Saturday declared a federal emergency in Flint, freeing up to $5 million in federal aid to immediately assist with the public health crisis, but he denied Gov. Rick Snyder’s request for a disaster declaration. A disaster declaration would have made larger amounts of federal funding available more quickly to help Flint residents whose drinking water is contaminated with lead. But under federal law, only natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods are eligible for disaster declarations, federal and state officials said. The lead contamination of Flint’s drinking water is a manmade catastrophe. The president’s actions authorize the FEMA to coordinate responses and cover 75% of the costs for much-needed water, filters, filter cartridges and other items for residents, capped initially at $5 million.

The president also offered assistance in finding other available federal assistance, a news release Saturday from the White House said. Snyder, who on Thursday night asked Obama for federal financial aid in the crisis through declarations of both a federal emergency and a federal disaster, said in a news release Saturday he appreciates Obama granting the emergency request “and supporting Flint during this critical situation.” “I have pledged to use all state resources possible to help heal Flint, and these additional resources will greatly assist in efforts under way to ensure every resident has access to clean water resources,” he said. U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint, welcomed the emergency declaration and issued a statement: “I welcome the president’s quick action in support of the people of Flint after months of inaction by the governor,” Kildee said.

“The residents and children of Flint deserve every resource available to make sure that they have safe water and are able to recover from this terrible manmade disaster created by the state.” On Friday, Kildee led a bipartisan effort in support of the request for federal assistance. Kildee had long called for Snyder to request federal aid. Typically, federal aid for an emergency is capped at $5 million, though the president can commit more if he goes through Congress. Snyder’s application said as much as $55 million is needed in the near term to repair damaged lead service lines and as much as $41 million to pay for several months of water distribution and providing residents with testing, water filters and cartridges.

In what’s become a huge government scandal, garnering headlines across the country and around the world, Flint’s drinking water became contaminated with lead after the city temporarily switched its supply source in 2014 from Lake Huron water treated by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to more corrosive and polluted Flint River water, treated at the Flint water treatment plant. The switch was made as a cost-cutting move while the city was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager.

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Dr. Paul has been consistently on the case for years.

When Peace Breaks Out With Iran… (Ron Paul)

This has been the most dramatic week in US/Iranian relations since 1979. Last weekend ten US Navy personnel were caught in Iranian waters, as the Pentagon kept changing its story on how they got there. It could have been a disaster for President Obama’s big gamble on diplomacy over conflict with Iran. But after several rounds of telephone diplomacy between Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif, the Iranian leadership – which we are told by the neocons is too irrational to even talk to – did a most rational thing: weighing the costs and benefits they decided it made more sense not to belabor the question of what an armed US Naval vessel was doing just miles from an Iranian military base. Instead of escalating, the Iranian government fed the sailors and sent them back to their base in Bahrain.

Then on Saturday, the Iranians released four Iranian-Americans from prison, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian. On the US side, seven Iranians held in US prisons, including six who were dual citizens, were granted clemency. The seven were in prison for seeking to trade with Iran in violation of the decades-old US economic sanctions. This mutual release came just hours before the United Nations certified that Iran had met its obligations under the nuclear treaty signed last summer and that, accordingly, US and international sanctions would be lifted against the country. How did the “irrational” Iranians celebrate being allowed back into the international community?

They immediately announced a massive purchase of more than 100 passenger planes from the European Airbus company, and that they would also purchase spare parts from Seattle-based Boeing. Additionally, US oil executives have been in Tehran negotiating trade deals to be finalized as soon as it is legal to do so. The jobs created by this peaceful trade will be beneficial to all parties concerned. The only jobs that should be lost are the Washington advocates of re-introducing sanctions on Iran. Events this week have dealt a harsh blow to Washington’s neocons, who for decades have been warning against any engagement with Iran. These true isolationists were determined that only regime change and a puppet government in Tehran could produce peaceful relations between the US and Iran.

Instead, engagement has worked to the benefit of the US and Iran. Proven wrong, however, we should not expect the neocons to apologize or even pause to reflect on their failed ideology. Instead, they will continue to call for new sanctions on any pretext. They even found a way to complain about the release of the US sailors – they should have never been confronted in the first place even if they were in Iranian waters. And they even found a way to complain about the return of the four Iranian-Americans to their families and loved ones – the US should have never negotiated with the Iranians to coordinate the release of prisoners, they grumbled. It was a show of weakness to negotiate! Tell that to the families on both sides who can now enjoy the company of their loved ones once again!

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What they flee.

Syria 4 Years On: Shocking Images Of A Post-US-Intervention Nation (ZH)

While US intervention in its various forms has likely been ongoing for decades, March 2011 is often cited as the start of foreign involvement in the Syrian Civil War (refering to political, military and operational support to parties involved in the ongoing conflict in Syria, as well as active foreign involvement). Since then the nation has collapsed into chaos with an endless array of superlatives possible to describe the economic and civilian carnage that has ensued. However, while a picture can paint a thousand words, these four shocking images describe a canvas of US foreign policy “success” that few in the mainstream media would be willing to expose… Mission un-accomplished?

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I’m getting a bit antsy seeing people presenting arguments as new that I’ve made umpteen times in the past. We move far too slow.

The Economics Of The Refugee Crisis Lay Bare Our Moral Bankruptcy (Guardian)

The Germans want to introduce a pan-European tax to pay for the refugee crisis. The Danish want to pass a law to seize any jewellery worth more than £1,000 as refugees arrive – apart from wedding rings. That’s what marks you out as a civilised people, apparently, that you can see the romance in a stranger’s life and set that aside before you bag them up as a profit or a loss. In Turkey people smugglers are charging a thousand dollars for a place in a dinghy, $2,500 in a wooden boat, with more than 350,000 refugees passing through one Greek island – Lesbos – alone in 2015. The profit runs into hundreds and millions of dollars, and the best EU response so far has been to offer the Turkish government more money to either hold refugees in their own country or – against the letter and the spirit of every pledge modern society has made on refugees – send them back whence they came.

Turkey is a country of 75 million that has already taken a million refugees, accepting impossible and cruel demands from a continent of more than 500 million people that, apparently, can’t really help because of the threat to its “social cohesion”. Our own government has pledged to take 20,000 refugees but only the respectable ones, from faraway camps: the subtext being that the act of fleeing to Europe puts refugees outside the purview of human sympathy, being itinerant, a vagrant, on the take. Institutions and governments represent an ever narrower strain of harsh opinion. The thousands of volunteers in Greece, the Guardian readers who gave more at Christmas to refugee charities than to any appeal before, the grassroots organisations springing up everywhere to try and show some human warmth on this savage journey to imagined safety – none of these are represented, politically, in a discourse that takes as its starting point the need to make the swarms disappear, to trick them into going somewhere else.

It’s those neutral-sounding, just-good-economics ideas that give the game away: if a million people in any given European nation suffered a natural disaster, nobody would be talking about how to raise a tax so that help could be sent. We would help first and worry about the money second. When the EU wants to rescue a government, or the banks of a member state (granted, at swingeing cost for the rescued), it doesn’t first float a “rescue tax”. The suggestion that the current crisis needs its own special tax may well be an attempt to force individual governments to confront the reality of their current strategy, which is to have no strategy. Yet it sullies the underlying principle of the refugee convention: that anyone fleeing in fear for their life be taken in on that basis, not pending a whip-round.

To repudiate that is essentially to say that human rights are no longer our core business. But without that as an organising principle, the ties that bind one nation to another begin to fray: alliances must at the very least be founded on ideas you’re not ashamed to say out loud.

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