Jan 132016
 
 January 13, 2016  Posted by at 9:01 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle January 13 2016


Jimmy King Bowie last photo on last birthday Jan 8 2016

Beware The Great 2016 Financial Crisis, Warns Albert Edwards (Guardian)
Chinese Exports Post First Annual Decline Since 2009 (WSJ)
China’s Hefty Trade Surplus Is Dwarfed by Outflows (WSJ)
China Predicts Painful Year In 2016 As Trade Slumps (Guardian)
Behind Chinese Yuan’s Tiny Drop, Indications of True Crisis Lurk (BBG)
Chinese Shipyards Vanish With Appetite for Consuming Iron Ore (BBG)
China’s Banks Could Be The Next Big Problem (MarketWatch)
Yuan Jolt May Prompt Looser Policies in Australia, Singapore (BBG)
In Rush to Exit Yuan, China Traders Buy Sinking Hong Kong Stocks (BBG)
OPEC Considering Emergency Meeting On Oil Prices (CNN)
Saudi Arabia Says It Remains Committed to Dollar Peg (WSJ)
Saudi Debt Risk on Par With Junk-Rated Portugal as Oil Slides (BBG)
What Market Turbulence Is Telling Us (Martin Wolf)
UK Industrial Output Plunges Most in Almost Three Years (BBG)
California Air Resources Board Rejects VW Engine Fix (BBG)
First Lady’s Box Should Be Empty At State Of The Union Speech (USA Today)
Population Growth In Africa: Grasping The Scale Of The Challenge (Guardian)
3.7 Million Brazilians Return To Poverty Due To Economic Crisis (Xinhua)
Smugglers Change Tactics As Refugee Flow To Greece Holds Steady (DW)

“Deflation is upon us and the central banks can’t see it.”

Beware The Great 2016 Financial Crisis, Warns Albert Edwards (Guardian)

The City of London’s most vocal “bear” has warned that the world is heading for a financial crisis as severe as the crash of 2008-09 that could prompt the collapse of the eurozone. Albert Edwards, strategist at the bank Société Générale, said the west was about to be hit by a wave of deflation from emerging market economies and that central banks were unaware of the disaster about to hit them. His comments came as analysts at RBS urged investors to “sell everything” ahead of an imminent stock market crash. “Developments in the global economy will push the US back into recession,” Edwards told an investment conference in London. “The financial crisis will reawaken. It will be every bit as bad as in 2008-09 and it will turn very ugly indeed.”

Fears of a second serious financial crisis within a decade have been heightened by the turbulence in markets since the start of the year. Share prices have fallen rapidly and a slump in the cost of oil has left Brent crude trading at barely above $30 a barrel. “Can it get any worse? Of course it can,” said Edwards, the most prominent of the stock market bears – the terms for analysts who think shares are overvalued and will fall in price. “Emerging market currencies are still in freefall. The US corporate sector is being crushed by the appreciation of the dollar.” The Soc Gen strategist said the US economy was in far worse shape than the Federal Reserve realised. “We have seen massive credit expansion in the US. This is not for real economic activity; it is borrowing to finance share buybacks.”

Edwards attacked what he said was the “incredible conceit” of central bankers, who had failed to learn the lessons of the housing bubble that led to the financial crisis and slump of 2008-09. “They didn’t understand the system then and they don’t understand how they are screwing up again. Deflation is upon us and the central banks can’t see it.” Edwards said the dollar had risen by as much as the Japanese yen had in the 1990s, an upwards move that pushed Japan into deflation and caused solvency problems for the Asian country’s banks. He added that a sign of the crisis to come was the collapse in demand for credit in China. “That happens when people lose confidence that policymakers know what they are doing. This is what is going to happen in Europe and the US.”

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Some confusion stems from counting trade in yuan vs dollars. But remember these are all still official Chinese numbers.

Chinese Exports Post First Annual Decline Since 2009 (WSJ)

Chinese exports declined for the year, marking their worst performance since 2009, as weak demand continued to weigh on the world’s second-largest economy. Exports, however, fell less than expected in December thanks to a favorable comparison with year-earlier figures. The improved monthly results don’t signal a major recovery this year despite a weaker yuan, economists said. “In the next few months, the comparative price effect will fade out and export growth will recover,” ING Group economist Tim Condon said. “But it’s not going to be as strong as in 2013 or 2014.” According to the General Administration of Customs, China’s exports fell 1.4% in December in dollar terms from a year earlier, after a drop of 6.8% in November.

This was a more modest decline than the 8.0% fall forecast by 15 economists surveyed by The WSJ In yuan terms, exports rose last month. Imports last month fell 7.6% from a year earlier, compared with an 8.7% decline in November. The country’s trade surplus widened to $60.1 billion in December from $54.1 billion in November. Last year’s weak Chinese exports and even weaker imports led to a record $594.5 billion annual trade surplus, compared with $382.5 billion in 2014, the agency said, as full-year exports fell 2.8% and imports fell 14.1%. Despite the decline in exports last year, the Asian giant managed to increase its share of global trade. “China’s declining exports in 2015 were mainly due to sluggish external demand on the back of slowing global economic recovery since the financial crisis,” Customs spokesman Huang Songping told reporters Wednesday.

“But China’s export performance is better than other major economies in the world.” Few economists see a huge export turnaround ahead, however, with exports no longer as important for China as they used to be. December’s improved outbound data may reflect a one-time boost as companies rushed to meet year-end orders. While business sentiment in Germany picked up recently, confidence surveys in the U.S. have weakened. And on the import side, domestic demand and global commodity prices remain weak. “Demand may not be a big driver,” said Standard Chartered Bank economist Ding Shuang.

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“..there was roughly $750 billion of capital outflow in 2015. No wonder the currency is under pressure.”

China’s Hefty Trade Surplus Is Dwarfed by Outflows (WSJ)

China’s fat trade surplus should be a source of comfort. But juxtaposed against falling reserves, it actually sends an alarming message about the degree of capital flight. The surplus swelled by 55% in 2015, to $595 billion, figures released Wednesday showed. This news isn’t as good as looks. For one, it doesn’t reflect a boom in exports, which for the full year actually fell by 2.8%. The surplus widened because imports fell even more, by 14.1%. Moreover, it raises a question: How did China manage to post a decline of $513 billion in foreign-exchange reserves last year? Since a trade surplus brings foreign currency into the country, and most exporters turn that currency over to the central bank, it should boost reserves by a corresponding amount. That reserves fell suggests fund outflows large enough to overwhelm even that trade surplus.

To get a full picture, more variables must be accounted for. Full-year data isn’t yet available for China’s foreign direct investment, overseas direct investment and services trade deficit. But based on numbers currently available, and adding the trade surplus, a rough estimate of total net inflows from trade and direct investment in 2015 comes to about $379 billion. This must be compared with the fall in reserves. In fairness, this decline was exaggerated by the stronger dollar, which makes China’s holdings in other currencies less valuable when they are reported in dollar terms. Taking these valuation effects into account, and based on estimates of the composition of its mostly secret portfolio, China may have sold a net $375 billion of reserves in 2015. Putting these two figures together, it appears that there was roughly $750 billion of capital outflow in 2015. No wonder the currency is under pressure.

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“It’s just a shame they had to go to such lengths to achieve this. The question is what asset class will be the next target for the speculators?”

China Predicts Painful Year In 2016 As Trade Slumps (Guardian)

Weak demand for Chinese goods will continue to hurt the country’s economy in 2016, according to officials, despite better than expected trade figures that helped shore up stock markets in Asia Pacific. China’s trade volume fell 7% in 2015 compared with the previous year, Chinese customs said on Wednesday, as slowing growth in the world’s second-largest economy and plunging commodity prices took their toll. Although imports slumped 13.2% and exports were down 1.8%, the numbers surprised the markets where economists had been forecasting a much weaker reading. Helped by further action from Beijing to stabilise the yuan and dampen fears of a devaluation, equity markets in the region initially bounced back after days of volatile trading.

The Shanghai Composite index was up slightly at 4am GMT while the Australian ASX/S&P200 index looked set to snap eight straight days of losses by surging more than 1%. In Japan, the Nikkei was up 2.4% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was also up more than 2%. However, customs spokesman Huang Songping warned at a news conference that China’s trade faced “many challenges” in 2016 due to weak external demand. One of the main reasons for China’s lower exports in 2015 was weak external demand, he added. The 5% fall in the value of the yuan since last August had helped support exports but the impact would begin to fade, he said. Earlier, the People’s Bank of China held the line on the yuan for a fourth straight session on Wednesday while putting the squeeze on offshore sellers of the currency.

The central bank has also used aggressive intervention to engineer a huge leap in yuan borrowing rates in Hong Kong, essentially making it prohibitively expensive to short the currency. The result has been to drag the offshore level of the yuan back toward the official level, closing a gap that had threatened to get out of control just a few days earlier. Confusion about China’s policy had stoked concerns Beijing might be losing its grip on economic policy, just as the country looks set to post its slowest growth in 25 years. Chris Weston at IG Markets in Melbourne welcomed a more stable day of trading but cautioned that Beijing may have delayed another outbreak of volatility by driving up funding costs in Hong Kong and making it impossible to short the yuan.

“What counts is the fact Chinese authorities have achieved their goal of converging the onshore and offshore yuan, with stability in the ‘fix’ and they have even seen a positive session in the equity markets,” he said. “It’s just a shame they had to go to such lengths to achieve this. The question is what asset class will be the next target for the speculators?”

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Objects in mirror are bigger than they appear.

Behind Chinese Yuan’s Tiny Drop, Indications of True Crisis Lurk (BBG)

The Chinese yuan’s 6% decline over the past five months is hardly anyone’s idea of a crisis. On average it comes out to a drop of less than 0.04% a day. But behind the scenes, Chinese policy makers are unleashing a torrent of measures to stabilize the currency and prevent it from tumbling. Added up, these efforts rival some of the biggest currency defenses seen in emerging markets over the past two decades. Here’s a quick look at the central bank’s most aggressive steps. Hong Kong has become a key focal part for policy makers. Over the last two days, they bought enough yuan there to push overnight borrowing costs for the currency to a record 67% on Tuesday from just 4% at the end of last week. These rates, designed to discourage speculators, are even higher than those at the peak of Russia’s defense of the ruble in 2014 and Brazil’s intervention in 1999.

In propping up the exchange rate, the People’s Bank of China also burnt through more than half a trillion of dollars in foreign reserves in the past 12 months, cutting them to $3.3 trillion. The draw-down was almost equivalent to the entire stockpile of Switzerland, the world’s fourth largest holder. Regulators also went to great lengths to tighten capital controls, cracking down on illegal money transfers and restricting lenders from conducting some cross-border transactions. Among its emerging-market peers, the yuan remains one of the top-performing currencies over the past year against the dollar, yet Chinese policy makers are acting with an increasing sense of urgency. At stake is the financial stability of the world’s No. 2 economy – disorderly depreciation could fuel more capital outflows, which already approached $1 trillion in the 12 months through November. “They are really trying to stop the panic,” said Lucy Qiu at UBS Wealth Management said.

By intervening in the Hong Kong market, the PBOC is forcing the offshore rate to converge toward the stronger onshore rate in an effort to anchor expectations among overseas investors. Officials also stressed that the aim is to keep the yuan basically stable against a basket of currencies, rather than pegging it against the rising dollar. Deterring speculators and attracting investors with off-the-chart rates can help contain a currency crisis, but it can also send an economy into a tailspin by cutting companies and consumers off from credit. That is unlikely to be the case in China. The yuan loan increase in Hong Kong would have less impact on the mainland’s economy, where the benchmark seven-day interbank rate remains stable at about 2.4%.

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Job losses will be a major China issue in 2016. Beijing will try and force companies to hire large groups of people, but that’s sure to backfire.

Chinese Shipyards Vanish With Appetite for Consuming Iron Ore (BBG)

The weakening yuan and China’s waning appetite for raw materials have come around to bite the country’s shipbuilders, raising the odds that more shipyards will soon be shuttered. About 140 yards in the world’s second-biggest shipbuilding nation have gone out of business since 2010, and more are expected to close in the next two years after only 69 won orders for vessels last year, JPMorgan analysts Sokje Lee and Minsung Lee wrote in a Jan. 6 report. That compares with 126 shipyards that fielded orders in 2014 and 147 in 2013. Total orders at Chinese shipyards tumbled 59% in the first 11 months of 2015, according to data released Dec. 15 by the China Association of the National Shipbuilding Industry.

Builders have sought government support as excess vessel capacity drives down shipping rates and prompts customers to cancel contracts. Zhoushan Wuzhou Ship Repairing & Building last month became the first state-owned shipbuilder to go bankrupt in a decade. “The chance of orders being canceled at Chinese yards is becoming greater and greater,” said Park Moo Hyun at Hana Daetoo Securities in Seoul. “While a weaker yuan could mean cheaper ship prices for customers, it still won’t be enough to lure back any buyers. Chinese shipbuilders won’t be able to revive even if you try breathing some life into them.” The Baltic Dry Index, which measures the cost of transporting raw materials, dropped 39% last year and hit a historical low Dec. 16.

Aggravating the situation is Chinese shipyards’ heavy reliance on bulk carriers, which are used to haul commodities from iron ore to coal and grain. Bulk ships accounted for 41.6% of Chinese shipyards’ $26.6 billion orderbook as of Dec. 1, according to Clarkson, the world’s largest shipbroker. That compares with a 3.5% share at South Korean shipyards, which have more exposure to the tankers and gas carriers that are among the few bright spots in a beleaguered shipping industry.

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How is Xi going to save his banks? Hard to see.

China’s Banks Could Be The Next Big Problem (MarketWatch)

While China’s equity turbulence appears to have temporarily paused, its main equity indices are now 15% lower since the start of the year, despite Beijing remaining committed to its policy of market intervention. In some ways the government’s hands are tied from last year’s stock buying as it now has a substantial position to protect. Added to this, the original reason the party could not let its bull market die remains due to the potential political fallout from losses after it effectively orchestrated the bubble. But in attempting to solve one problem, are policy makers just sowing the seeds of another? Attention is now turning to the collateral damage from official intervention to support stocks, in particular to the banks. Analysts are questioning the cost to China’s state-owned yet overseas-listed banks, which have once again been called up for national service.

The concern is that by acting as a buyer of last resort to prop up the stock market, this sets up China’s banks to be the next fault line in the economy. In a new report, rating agency Fitch warns of a clear conflict between banks struggling to manage state strategic roles and their profit goals. How much intervention has come this year is still unknown, but last July after the initial stock market rout 17 banks, including the big five, were reported to have lent $200 billion. There is also a pattern here. Last summer state-owned banks had to play another strategic role as they were strong-armed by the central government into a 3.2 trillion yuan debt-for-bond swap to help bail out local authorities. The list of troubled assets needing help is unlikely to end there. The central government has prioritized cleaning up struggling state-owned enterprises, which, according to SocGen, includes some 30% that are bankrupt with 23 trillion yuan in liabilities.

Given this accumulation of questionable assets at the behest of the state, investors might feel somewhat anxious in case there ultimately is a reckoning. While Fitch notes these initiatives will harm profits, it does at least expect the central government rather than non-sovereign shareholders will be the banks’ main source of funds if they do need additional capital. If investors suspected that they would be forced to repeat the scenario from the global financial crisis when Western banks raised fresh capital from shareholders with deeply discounted share issues, stock prices would be vulnerable to steep falls. Fitch’s sanguine assumption of the central government stepping in depends on how much capital China’s banks may need.

Analyst Charlene Chu at Autonomous Economics, estimates this figure could be as high as $7.7 trillion of new capital in the next three years. Such a figure would send the government debt-to-GDP ratio skyrocketing, which at around 22% is usually used to reaffirm China’s robust financial position. Another issue is that in China the overlap between corporates and the state can often make it difficult to get a true financial picture. For instance, hugely profitable state banks in recent years have by some estimates accounted for 50% of the net profits of all listed Chinese companies. This could mean if China’s banks had to recognize a substantial increase in bad debts, another wild card is the impact on the central government’s fiscal position through lost tax revenue.

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The yuan can shake the entire region.

Yuan Jolt May Prompt Looser Policies in Australia, Singapore (BBG)

The extreme jolt financial markets received this year from a weakening yuan is spurring speculation that central banks from Singapore to Australia will be forced to loosen policy. The Monetary Authority of Singapore may widen the band within which it guides the local dollar if the currencies of its major trading partners and competitors become “extremely volatile,” said Mirza Baig at BNP Paribas. Central banks in Australia, Taiwan and India are most likely to respond by cutting interest rates, said Mansoor Mohi-uddin at RBS. Weaker-than-estimated yuan fixings last week heightened concerns that China’s economic slowdown is accelerating and triggered a global market rout. About a year ago, foreign-exchange markets were hammered when Switzerland surrendered its three-year-old cap on the franc against the euro and nations from Canada to Singapore unexpectedly eased monetary policy.

“The depreciation of the RMB is clearly creating large financial shocks,” said Baig, who is based in Singapore. “One thing that we are considering – although this doesn’t enter into our forecast – is that the RMB becomes more of a free-floating, more volatile currency. Then local central banks are also likely to adopt a more laissez-faire kind of approach towards currency management.” China stepped up its defense of the yuan, buying the currency in Hong Kong on Tuesday, according to people familiar with the matter. Betting against the yuan will fail and calls for a large depreciation are “ridiculous” as policy makers are determined to ensure the currency’s stability, Han Jun, the deputy director of China’s office of the central leading group for financial and economic affairs, said Monday in New York. The State Bank of Vietnam has already moved this year to a more market-based methodology in setting a daily reference rate versus the dollar.

“They’re now forced to change their currency regime to make it more in tune with day-to-day fluctuations in markets,” Baig said. While BNP Paribas expects Singapore’s central bank to maintain its monetary policy, there is a risk that it may widen its band ”in response to elevated financial market volatility,” Baig said. The Monetary Authority of Singapore guides the local currency against an undisclosed basket and adjusts the pace of appreciation or depreciation by changing the slope, width and center of a band. It refrains from disclosing details of the basket, the band, and the pace of appreciation or depreciation. The yuan probably has the third-highest weighting in the basket, exceeded only by the U.S. dollar and Malaysian ringgit, Baig said. A JPMorgan gauge of currency volatility rose to 10.42% Monday, the most since September. “The more volatile and weaker yuan is set to be more of a risk to regional central banks’ outlooks than higher Fed interest rates this year,” RBS’s Mohi-uddin said.

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But just how low can the yuan go?

In Rush to Exit Yuan, China Traders Buy Sinking Hong Kong Stocks (BBG)

Chinese investors are so desperate to shift their money out of yuan-denominated assets that they’re piling into some of the world’s worst-performing stocks. Mainland buyers purchased Hong Kong shares through the Shanghai stock link for a 10th week last week, even as the Hang Seng Index tumbled 6.7%. Chinese traders held 112.5 billion yuan ($17.1 billion) of the city’s equities by Monday, the most since the bourse program started in 2014, and up by 23.7 billion yuan since late October. With the yuan weakening, investors are looking for a way out, according to Reorient. “By buying Hong Kong stocks, it’s like buying the Hong Kong dollar,” said Uwe Parpart, chief strategist at the brokerage. Mainland investors are expecting “further depreciation and when that’s the case it’s a good idea to get out. If you buy at a certain rate and then the yuan goes down, even when the stock market goes down, you may still be getting ahead in the game.”

Hong Kong and mainland markets are at the epicenter of a global stock slump fueled by concern about China’s sliding currency and economic management. The Hang Seng Index was down 9.2% this year through Monday, while a rout in Shanghai and Shenzhen wiped out more than $1.3 trillion in value. With forecasters expecting the yuan to weaken further against the dollar and restrictions on capital outflows whittling down investment options, the exchange link offers a government-sanctioned way for Chinese traders to own assets in a strengthening currency. “Channels for outflows from mainland China are currently limited,” said Cindy Chen at Citigroup. “I expect the flow to continue.”

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Result will be zero.

OPEC Considering Emergency Meeting On Oil Prices (CNN)

After watching the price of crude oil collapse by more than 65% to a 12-year low, there are signs that OPEC may have had enough. Nigeria’s top oil official and OPEC President Emmanuel Kachikwu said the cartel is considering an emergency meeting, perhaps as soon as next month. At issue is whether OPEC would agree to cut production, a move that could help stop the crude price freefall. “I expect to see one. … There’s a lot of energy currently around that,” he told CNN. “I think a … majority in terms of [OPEC] membership are beginning to feel that the time has come to … have a meeting and dialogue again once more without the sort of tension that we had in Vienna on this.” When OPEC last met in the Austrian capital in December, it was bitterly divided and refused to cut output.

The next ordinary meeting is scheduled for June 2. Led by Saudi Arabia, OPEC decided in 2014 to wage a price war with low cost producers in the U.S. and elsewhere in a bid to defend market share. Since then, oil companies have sacked hundreds of thousands of workers, and slashed investment budgets. But the global supply glut continues, thanks in part to China’s slowing economy, and prices have continued to tumble. A strong dollar, which makes oil more expensive around the world, has fueled the slump. Oil prices fell toward $30 a barrel early on Tuesday, having plunged by 16% in 2016 alone, but steadied later to trade little changed on the day. Many OPEC countries are still making money at these prices but others are losing – Nigeria’s production costs are estimated at about $31 a barrel, for example.

And all, including Saudi Arabia, are suffering a huge squeeze on government revenues. Kachikwu said most OPEC members were watching their economies “being shattered,” and something had to give. “We need to… see how we can balance the need to protect our market share with the need for the survival of the business itself, and survival of the countries.” An emergency meeting is no guarantee that OPEC will act to restrain supply, however Iran is eager to boost production this year as soon as Western sanctions are lifted – expected imminently – and it’s hard to see Saudi Arabia working with its big Mideast rival to support oil prices. Saudi Arabia broke off diplomatic relations with Iran last week after its embassy in Tehran was attacked. That attack followed Saudi Arabia’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.

Still, the OPEC president believes an agreement of some form is possible. “I think ultimately for the interest of everybody some policy change will happen,” Kachikwu said. “Now will the amount of barrels that you can take out because of that policy change necessarily make that much of a dramatic difference? Probably not, but the symbolism of the action is even more important than the volumes that are taken out of the market.”

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Lots of private debt in foreign currrencies. The confidence starts to look out of place…

Saudi Arabia Says It Remains Committed to Dollar Peg (WSJ)

Saudi Arabia will maintain the riyal’s peg to the U.S. dollar, the governor of the country’s central bank said Monday, while criticizing bets against the currency. In a statement posted on the website of Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency, as the central bank is known, governor Fahad al-Mubarak said speculation was driving volatility in the forward market for the Saudi riyal, but the country’s financial and economic fundamentals remained stable. “I would like to reiterate our official position that Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency will uphold its mandate of maintaining the peg, “ the governor said.

The riyal is fixed at roughly 3.75 to the dollar, but one-year forward contracts have hit multiyear highs in the past days—reflecting speculation on a weaker riyal—after the kingdom ran a record budget deficit of nearly $98 billion last year, forcing it to announce late last month spending and subsidy cuts for 2016 to cope with a fall in the global price of oil, the kingdom’s main revenue earner. A sharp fall in the price of oil since the middle of 2014 has put immense pressure on Saudi Arabia’s petrodollar-dependent economy, with some investors betting in recent months that the kingdom would let go of the nearly 30-year old peg as foreign-exchange reserves decline. These have fallen to $635.5 billion at the end of November, down 15% from a peak of $746 billion in August last year, according to the latest central bank data.

Analysts say the central bank has spent billions to maintain the currency peg; in the past, the has worked well for Saudi Arabia, giving it stability as it enjoyed a decade of high-price oil. But income from oil sales has slumped, adding strains to Saudi Arabia’s finances. Abandoning the peg would stretch those dollars as the riyal would weaken. Backing away from peg pledges isn’t unprecedented, however. Officials at the Swiss National Bank, for instance, publicly backed the franc’s link to the euro mere days before the bank stunned markets by abandoning it a year ago. Still, most analysts don’t see Saudi Arabia abandoning its peg in the near- to midterm, as repayment costs for households and corporates that have borrowed in foreign currencies will rise in local-currency terms. Consumer price inflation is likely to accelerate due to a rise in import prices, which the government can ill-afford after cutting subsidies.

And even if the peg were adjusted rather than abandoned, this would add uncertainty about future adjustments, and ultimately make it more vulnerable to speculative attacks. “The peg is a key policy anchor,” said Paul Gamble, senior director for sovereigns at Fitch Ratings. “There is a huge capacity to defend it and a strong political commitment to it.”

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… where confidence really stands.

Saudi Debt Risk on Par With Junk-Rated Portugal as Oil Slides (BBG)

Investors wanting to take out insurance on Saudi Arabia’s debt have to pay as much as they would for Portugal, a nation still saddled with a junk credit-rating five years after an international bailout. The cost of insuring the kingdom’s debt more than doubled in the past 12 months to a 190 basis points, or $190,000 annually to insure $10 million of the country’s debt for five years, the highest since April 2009. That’s almost identical to contracts linked to debt from Portugal, whose rating is seven levels below Saudi Arabia’s Aa3 investment grade at Moody’s Saudi Arabia’s finances are under pressure as it fights a war in Yemen at a time when crude prices are languishing at the lowest level in almost 12 years.

The country, which counts on energy exports for 70% of government revenue, sold domestic bonds for the first time since 2007 last year to help fund a budget deficit that may have been the widest since 1991. Net foreign assets dropped for 10 straight months through November, the longest streak since at least 2006, to $627 billion. “They have huge reserves and extremely low debt, but the question is, how long are oil prices going to stay at this level?” said Anthony Simond at Aberdeen Asset Management. Brent crude, a pricing benchmark for more than half the world’s oil, sank below $35 a barrel last week. It advanced 0.8% to $31.82 a barrel today, rebounding from the lowest level in almost 12 years. The Saudi government, which doesn’t have any outstanding international bonds, said it will choose from options including selling local and international debt and drawing from its reserves to finance an expected 2016 budget deficit of 326 billion riyals ($87 billion).

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“Global investors withdrew about $52bn from emerging market equity and bond funds in the third quarter of 2015..” Otherwise, Wolf gets lost in his own growth story.

What Market Turbulence Is Telling Us (Martin Wolf)

Bull markets, it is said, climb a wall of worry. There are certainly plenty of reasons to worry. But markets are no longer climbing, which indicates the bull market is dead. Since markets are already highly valued, that would not be surprising. Standard & Poor’s composite index of the US market has in effect marked time since June 2014. According to Robert Shiller’s cyclically adjusted price/earnings ratio, the US market has been significantly more highly valued than it is at present only during the disastrous bubbles that burst in 1929 and 2000. Professor Shiller’s well-known measure of value is not perfect. But it is a warning that stock market valuations are already generous and that a continued bull market might be dangerous. Still more important, a portfolio rebalancing is under way.

The most important shift is in the perceived economic and financial prospects for emerging economies. As a result, capital is now flowing out of emerging economies. These outflows are driving the strong dollar. Given that, the US Federal Reserve’s decision to tighten monetary policy looks like an important blunder. In its new Global Economic Prospects report, the World Bank brings out the extent of the disillusionment with (and within) emerging economies. It notes that half of the 20 largest developing country stock markets experienced falls of 20 per cent or more from their 2015 peaks. The currencies of commodity exporters (including Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, Russia, South Africa), and of big developing countries subject to rising political risks (including Brazil and Turkey), fell to multiyear lows both against the US dollar and in trade-weighted terms.

Global investors withdrew about $52bn from emerging market equity and bond funds in the third quarter of 2015. This was the largest quarterly outflow on record. Net short-term debt and bank outflows from China, combined with retrenchment in Russia, accounted for the bulk of this; but portfolio and short-term capital inflows dried up elsewhere in the third quarter of 2015. Net capital flows to emerging and frontier economies even fell to zero, the lowest level since the 2008-09 crisis. An important feature is not just the reduction in inflows but also the sheer size of outflows from affected economies.

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The ‘healthy’ British economy has become a mere narrative.

UK Industrial Output Plunges Most in Almost Three Years (BBG)

U.K. industrial production fell the most in almost three years in November as warmer-than-usual weather reduced energy demand. Output dropped 0.7% from the previous month, with electricity, gas and steam dropping 2.1%, the Office for National Statistics said in London on Tuesday. Economists had forecast no growth on the month. The data highlight the uncertain nature of U.K. growth, which remains dependent on domestic demand and services. After stagnating in October and falling in November, industrial production will have to rise 0.5% to avoid a contraction in the fourth quarter. The pound fell against the dollar after the data and was trading at $1.4486 as of 9:35 a.m. London time, down 0.4% from Monday. Manufacturing also delivered a lower-than-forecast performance in November, with output dropping 0.4% on the month.

On an annual basis, factory output fell 1.2%, a fifth consecutive decline. The data follow other reports of weakness in the manufacturing sector. A survey published by Markit this month showed growth cooled in December, suggesting it made little contribution to the economy in the fourth quarter. According to manufacturers’ organization EEF, companies are feeling increasingly pressured by issues such as the strength of the pound. It said on Monday that only 56% of manufacturers say the U.K. is a competitive location, compared with 70% a year ago. Bank of England officials will probably keep their key interest rate at a record-low 0.5% this week. Minutes of the meeting released Thursday may reveal their thinking on the fall in oil prices and worries about China’s economy.

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CARB is one organization you don’t want to do battle with.

California Air Resources Board Rejects VW Engine Fix (BBG)

Volkswagen’s work to overcome the emissions-cheating scandal was set back after the California Air Resources Board rejected its proposed engine fix, just a day before Chief Executive Officer Matthias Mueller meets regulators to discuss ways out of the crisis. California spurned the automaker’s December recommendation for how to fix 2-liter diesel engines as “incomplete.” VW said it will present a reworked plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at a meeting in Washington on Wednesday. Europe’s largest automaker is in the midst of complex technical talks with the California board and counterparts at the EPA about possible fixes for 480,000 diesel cars. The EPA said Tuesday it agreed that VW’s plan can’t be approved. Volkswagen set aside $7.3 billion in the third quarter to help pay for the crisis and has acknowledged this won’t be enough.

“The message from the regulators to VW couldn’t be more clear – you need to come up with a better plan,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, a Washington environmental group. “VW has mistakenly thought it could resolve this on the cheap.” On its website, the state said it determined that there was “no easy and expeditious fix for the affected vehicles.” “Volkswagen made a decision to cheat on emissions tests and then tried to cover it up,” Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the state board, said in an e-mailed statement. “They need to make it right.” Volkswagen responded that it had asked California last month for an extension to submit additional information and data about the turbocharged direct injection, or TDI, diesel engines.

“Since then, Volkswagen has had constructive discussions with CARB, including last week when we discussed a framework to remediate the TDI emissions issue,” VW said in an e-mailed statement. The California board said it and the EPA will continue to evaluate VW’s technical proposals. The rejection closely followed a bumble by CEO Mueller on Sunday, the eve of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. During an interview with National Public Radio, he appeared to dismiss the crisis by saying Europe’s largest automaker “didn’t lie” to regulators about what amounts to a “technical problem.” When the interview aired Monday morning, VW asked NPR for a do-over, where Mueller blamed a noisy atmosphere for his earlier comments. He apologized on behalf of the automaker, hewing more closely to comments he had made in a Detroit speech on Sunday night.

[..] Fixes prescribed for Europe haven’t translated into U.S. approval because of the tougher emissions standards in North America, which is why Volkswagen had begun cheating in the U.S. in the first place. In Europe, the company’s proposed fix on 8.5 million diesel engines was approved a month ago. For most vehicles in Europe, software upgrades will suffice, while others will get a tube with mesh on one end to regulate air flow. VW estimated that repair would take less than an hour to complete. Germany took the lead on signing off on the technical fix, which encompasses a range of engine sizes including the 2-liter variant now contested in the U.S. In the U.S., beyond developing an effective fix for each of the three types of non-compliant 4-cylinder engines, VW must document any adverse impacts on vehicles and consumers.

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If you have to look at USA TOday for some sanity….

First Lady’s Box Should Be Empty At State Of The Union Speech (USA Today)

The White House announced that there will be a seat left vacant in the gallery during Obama’s State of the Union Address “for the victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice.” This old stunt is part of Obama’s campaign for new federal restrictions on firearms ownership, but if he really wanted to provide a voice for those who’ve lost theirs, at least in part, due to his own administration’s policies, he’d have to empty all the seats in the gallery reserved for the first lady and her guests. While trumpeting the private death toll from guns, Obama on Tuesday night will likely ignore the 986 people killed by police in the United States last year according to The WaPo’s database. Many police departments are aggressive — if not reckless — in part because the Justice Department always provides cover for them at the Supreme Court.

Obama’s “Justice Department has supported police officers every time an excessive-force case has made its way” to a Supreme Court hearing, The New York Times noted last year. Attorney General Loretta Lynch recently said that federally-funded police agencies should not even be required to report the number of civilians they kill. To add a Euro flair to the evening, Obama could drape tri-color flags on a few empty seats to commemorate the 30 French medical staff, patients, and others slain last Oct. 3 when an American AC-130 gunship blasted their well-known hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. The U.S. military revised its story several times but admitted in November that the carnage was the result of “avoidable … human error.” Regrettably, that bureaucratic phrase lacks the power to resurrect victims.

No plans have been announced to designate a seat for Brian Terry, the U.S. Border Patrol agent killed in 2010. Guns found at the scene of Terry’s killing were linked to the Fast and Furious gunwalking operation masterminded by the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agency. At least 150 Mexicans were also killed by guns illegally sent south of the border with ATF approval. The House of Representatives voted to hold then-attorney general Eric Holder in contempt for refusing to disclose Fast and Furious details, but Obama is not expected to dwell on this topic in his State of the Union address. On a more festive note, why not save some seats for a wedding party? Twelve Yemenis who were celebrating nuptials on Dec. 12, 2013, won’t be able to attend Obama’s speech because they were blown to bits by a U.S. drone strike.

The Yemeni government – which is heavily bankrolled by the U.S. government – paid more than a million dollars compensation to the survivors of innocent civilians killed and wounded in the attack. Four seats could be left vacant for the Americans killed in the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya – U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith, and CIA contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. But any such recognition would rankle the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, who has worked tirelessly to sweep those corpses under the rug. It would also be appropriate to include a hat tip to the hundreds, likely thousands, of Libyans who have been killed in the civil war unleashed after the Obama administration bombed Libya to topple its ruler, Moammar Gadhafi.

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Welcome to Europe.

Population Growth In Africa: Grasping The Scale Of The Challenge (Guardian)

The last 100 years have seen an incredible increase in the planet’s population. Some parts of the world are now seeing smaller increments of growth, and some, such as Japan, Germany, and Spain, are actually experiencing population decreases. The continent of Africa, however, is not following this pattern. Now home to 1.2 billion (up from just 477 million in 1980), Africa is projected by the United Nations Population Division to see a slight acceleration of annual population growth in the immediate future. In the past year the population of the African continent grew by 30 million. By the year 2050, annual increases will exceed 42 million people per year and total population will have doubled to 2.4 billion, according to the UN. This comes to 3.5 million more people per month, or 80 additional people per minute.

At that point, African population growth would be able to re-fill an empty London five times a year. From any big-picture perspective, these population dynamics will have an influence on global demography in the 21st century. Of the 2.37 billion increase in population expected worldwide by 2050, Africa alone will contribute 54%. By 2100, Africa will contribute 82% of total growth: 3.2 billion of the overall increase of 3.8 billion people. Under some projections, Nigeria will add more people to the world’s population by 2050 than any other country. The dynamics at play are straightforward. Since the middle of the last century, improvements in public health have led to a inspiring decrease in infant and child mortality rates. Overall life expectancy has also risen.

The 12 million Africans born in 1955 could expect to live only until the age of 37. Encouragingly, the 42 million Africans born this year can expect to live to the age of 60. Meanwhile, another key demographic variable – the number of children the average African woman is likely to have in her lifetime, or total fertility rate – remains elevated compared to global rates. The total fertility rate of Africa is 88% higher than the world standard (2.5 children per woman globally, 4.7 children per woman in Africa). In Niger, where GDP per capita is less than $1 per day, the average number of children a woman is likely to have in her life is more than seven. Accordingly, the country’s current population of 20 million is projected to grow by 800,000 people over the next 12 months.

By mid-century, the population may have expanded to 72 million people and will still be growing by 800,000 people – every 18 weeks. By the year 2100, the country could have more than 209 million people and still be expanding rapidly. This projectionis based on an assumption that Niger’s fertility will gradually fall to 2.5 children over the course of the century. If fertility does not fall at all – and it has not budged in the last 60 years – the country’s population projection for 2100 veers towards 960 million people. As recently as 2004, the United Nations’ expected Africa to grow only to 2.2 billion people by 2100. That number now looks very out of date.

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Got to keep wondering what the Olympics will look like. An international podium for protests?

3.7 Million Brazilians Return To Poverty Due To Economic Crisis (Xinhua)

Around four million Brazilians have returned to poverty as a consequence of the country’s ongoing economic crisis, local media reported on Monday. The news daily Valor Economico cited data from a recent study carried out by Banco Bradesco, one of the largest private banks in Brazil, which found the crisis pushed around 3.7 million Brazilians back to poverty. The middle class dropped by two%age points to 54.6% during the period of January to November, 2015. Meanwhile, the number of those in the lower class increased to 35%, according to the report. The study also indicates a drop in salaries, with the middle class receiving a monthly income of $407 to $1630 US and that of the poorest stands at $233. Brazil is in the depth of a recession as it grapples with rising unemployment, stagnant growth and soaring inflation. Brazil’s Central Bank has changed its previous prediction for the country’s drop in GDP for 2016 from 2.95% to 2.99%.

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“Boat captains are now forcing refugees to jump out and swim ashore before steering the dinghies back to Turkey.”

“These people will travel around the whole world just to find an open door.”

Smugglers Change Tactics As Refugee Flow To Greece Holds Steady (DW)

Looking over pitch-black waters, Pothiti Kitromilidi smokes a cigarette with her eyes fixed on distant streetlights along the Turkish coast. Aside from the stars, little else is visible. It is Friday night, and Kitromilidi, a coordinator for the FEOX Rescue Team, is standing on the southeastern shore of Chios, a Greek island where asylum-seekers have been arriving under the cover of darkness ever since the Turkish Coast Guard increased its presence. Only a few refugees made the crossing in recent days, but Kitromilidi credits bad weather over the authorities, who she says “pretend to work during the week and take weekends off.” Now the seas are calm again and Kitromilidi’s expecting a long night out. She radios back and forth with team members spread out over the area on ATVs and Vespa scooters.

Everyone is waiting as Kitromilidi shines a light into the dark water below. “We don’t see them, we have to hear them,” she said. Then the call comes in: “Boat landed! Boat landed!” Kitromilidi jumps in her car and speeds to the arrival site where 45 Afghans are standing, dripping wet and shivering. The rescue team gets to work, providing dry clothes and emergency thermal blankets with help from a Norwegian humanitarian group, Drop in the Ocean, while Spanish doctors from Salvamento Maritimo Humanitario (SMH) attend to the injured. Amidst screaming children and aching bodies, the chaotic process seems almost streamlined: Wet clothes off, dry clothes on, plastic bags replace wet socks and everyone gets filed onto a bus while volunteers pick up any trash left behind in an impressive display of cross-organizational coordination.

Yet after months of refining their procedures, humanitarian workers in Chios continue facing new challenges as smugglers change tactics under new pressures from Turkey and the European Union. Whenever the flow seems to slow down, large backlogs of refugees arrive in short bursts of time, overwhelming humanitarian services. This past weekend, more than 3,000 people arrive in Chios alone. “The numbers have been stable since the fall and now we are thinking they will stay the same until March,” said Edith Chazelle, Camp management coordinator for the Norwegian Refugee Council. “We are all surprised they are still coming with the cold weather and the rough water.”

Rescue workers also noted most dinghies are no longer being abandoned on Greek beaches. Boat captains are now forcing refugees to jump out and swim ashore before steering the dinghies back to Turkey. On Friday night, FEOX volunteer Mihalis Mierousis swam out to save a baby that was tossed overboard. The infant was less than one year old and survived the ordeal, but Mierousis said the practice might be due to a shortage of dinghies. “Unfortunately, this is not unusual,” he said. “Many people get thrown into the water, and we have to save them this way.” Other rescue workers said smugglers are taking families hostage and forcing fathers to steer dinghies to Chios and back as ransom. Rumors abound.

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Jan 102016
 
 January 10, 2016  Posted by at 10:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Levee, Ohio River at Louisville, Kentucky 1905

The US Economy Is Dead In The Water (Stockman)
America, Your Credit Rating Stinks (BBG)
Up To A Million Americans Will Be Kicked Off Food Stamps This Year (HuffPo)
How Debt Conquered America (Thacker)
Saudis Told To Prop Up Currency Amid Global Devaluation War Fears (Tel.)
Could Saudi Aramco Be Worth 20 Times Exxon? (WSJ)
Saudi Arms Sales Are In Breach Of International Law, Britain Is Told (Observer)
China Heightens the Contradictions (BBG)
Germany’s Sparkassen: Banking On Capital Exports (Coppola)
VW Proposes Catalytic Converter To Fix US Test Cheating Cars (Reuters)
‘Tax Wall Street,’ Trump Pledges After Worst Market Week Since 2011 (BBG)
Heavily Armed Men Offer ‘Security’ For Oregon Militia At Refuge (Guardian)
Two-Thirds Of Tory MPs Want Britain To Quit European Union (Observer)
EU Eyes Start Of Greek Reforms Review January 18 (Reuters)
‘Greek Government Has Solid Majority To Pass Pension Reform’ (Reuters)
Anger Over Fate Of Child Refugees Denied UK Asylum Hearing (Observer)

Seasonable adjustments strike again.

The US Economy Is Dead In The Water (Stockman)

Here’s a newsflash that CNBC didn’t mention. According to the BLS, the US economy generated a miniscule 11,000 jobs in the month of December. Yet notwithstanding the fact that almost nobody works outdoors any more, the BLS fiction writers added 281,000 to their headline number to cover the “seasonal adjustment.” This is done on the apparent truism that December is generally colder than November and that workers get holiday vacations. Of course, this December was much warmer, not colder, than average. And that’s not the only deviation from normal seasonal trends. The Christmas selling season this year, for example, was absolutely not comparable to the ghosts of Christmas past. Bricks and mortar retail is in turmoil and in secular decline due to Amazon and its e-commerce ilk, and this trend is accelerating by the year.

So too, energy and export based sectors have been thrown for a loop in the last few months by a surging dollar and collapsing commodity prices. Likewise, construction activity has been so weak in this cycle—-and for the good reason that both commercial and residential stock is vastly overbuilt owing to two decades of cheap credit—–that its not remotely comparable to historic patterns. Never mind. The BLS always adds the same big dollop of jobs to the December establishment survey come hell or high water. In fact, the seasonal adjustment has averaged 320,000 for the last 12 years! For crying out loud, folks, every December is different—–and not just because of the vagaries of the weather. Capitalism is about incessant change and reallocation of economic activity and resources.

And now the globalized ebbs and flows of economic activity have only accentuated the rate and intensity of these adjustments. Yet the statistical wizards at the BLS think they can approximate a seasonal adjustment factor for December that at +/- 300k amounts to just 0.2% of the currently reported 144.2 million establishment survey jobs, and an even smaller fraction of the potential adult work force which is at least 165 million. But that’s a pretentious stab in the dark. The December seasonal adjustment (SA) could just as easily be 0.3% of the job base or 0.1%, depending upon the specific point in the business cycle and structural trends roiling the economy.

[..] So what happened to the non-seasonally adjusted (NSA) job count in December at similar points late in the course of prior cycles? Well, in December 1999 about 140,000 jobs were added and in December 2007 there was a NSA gain of 212,000. This time we got the magnificent sum of 11,000, and by the way, last year was only 6,000. The real news flash in the December “jobs” report, therefore, is that even by the lights of the BLS’ rickety, archaic and virtually worthless establishment survey, the domestic economy is dead in the water. We are not on the verge of “escape velocity”, as our foolish monetary politburo keeps insisting; the US economy is actually knocking on the door of recession.

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Here come your tax hikes.

America, Your Credit Rating Stinks (BBG)

They are home to the nation’s credit elite, and they have another thing in common: the tech industry. Certain neighborhoods on the West Coast boast residents with some of the best credit, according to a new report by free credit score site Credit Sesame. Those zip codes1 include the main stomping grounds of Microsoft, Yahoo!, and Google. Between the coasts, and certainly away from the tech plutocracy, the story is different. The average score for all U.S. states combined is a lowly 604, considered subprime by many lenders, said Stew Langille, Credit Sesame’s chief strategy officer. The highest credit score possible is 850, although only a rare few have reached it. Those close to it reside in zip codes of Seattle (Redmond, Wash., to be precise), with an average score of 719 under TransUnion’s FICO rival, VantageScore. They also populate parts of Mountain View, Calif., (748) Sunnyvale, Calif., (730) and San Francisco (707).

[..] While credit scores are supposed to be based on how you manage your credit, Credit Sesame stats show a strong correlation with income. In Mountain View, Calif., median household income is $92,125, the Census Bureau says, and the percentage of people living below the poverty line is just below 11%. Among the lowest-scoring zip codes in Chicago and Detroit, median income is $19,5483 and $26,648, respectively. The percentage of people living in poverty in Chicago’s Southside is 47.4%; it’s 42.8% for Detroit. Those with the top credit scores in the study benefit from a virtuous cycle. They have high incomes and work in growing industries. More money means you can enter more transactions, such as taking out and repaying loans, which strengthen your credit score. Homeowners showed higher overall credit scores than renters, for example.

The highly educated citizens of Silicon Valley are probably more credit savvy, too. “Potentially part of the problem is that if you don’t have a high level of education, and you’re busy working and managing your life, it’s hard to know what to do to get the optimal credit score,” said Langille. You won’t know, for example, that how much of your credit line you use makes up about 30% of your credit score. And speaking of credit usage, whether on a credit card or home equity line of credit, Credit Sesame looked at that too. It graded the pool of 2.5 million users on a scale of A to F, with those using the smallest percentage of available credit getting the best scores. That leaves less than 19% of Americans with an A, using zero to 10% of available credit. And it leaves 57% of Americans with an F, meaning that they use 70% or more of available credit. [..] Many credit experts recommend that people use less than 30% of the credit available to them to avoid having their credit score dinged.

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For not finding work…

Up To A Million Americans Will Be Kicked Off Food Stamps This Year (HuffPo)

As many as a million Americans will be kicked off food stamps this year thanks to the return of federal rules targeting unemployed adults without children. That’s according to a new analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal Washington, D.C. think tank, which finds that no fewer than 500,000 people will lose benefits. “The loss of this food assistance, which averages approximately $150 to $170 per person per month for this group, will cause serious hardship among many,” the Center on Budget says. New Jersey, North Carolina, Georgia and 20 other states will allow able-bodied adults without dependents to receive food assistance for only three months unless they work at least 20 hours per week.

Though states are carrying out the policy, it’s a requirement of federal law that had been waived for the past several years because of widespread joblessness. With unemployment rates tumbling, the rule is returning. Several states brought it back ahead of schedule last year, and by the end of this year, only a handful of states will qualify for waivers from the rule. “It’s inexplicable how anyone could call compliance with a federal policy a punitive action by the state,” a spokesman for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) told AP last week in response to criticism that the policy punishes poor people. The three-month limit has traditionally been called a “work requirement,” but the Center on Budget quibbles with that characterization because work or qualifying “work activities” are not necessarily available.

“Because this provision denies basic food assistance to people who want to work and will accept any job or work program slot offered, it is effectively a severe time limit rather than a work requirement, as such requirements are commonly understood,” the Center says. “Work requirements in public assistance programs typically require people to look for work and accept any job or employment program slot that is offered but do not cut off people who are willing to work and looking for a job simply because they can’t find one,” it adds.

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A great history lesson.

How Debt Conquered America (Thacker)

The tragedy of the Spaniards’ devastation of untold millions of native lives was compounded by seven million African slaves who died during the process of their enslavement. Another 11 million died as New World slaves thereafter. The Spanish exploitation of land and labor continued for over three centuries until the Bolivarian revolutions of the Nineteenth Century. But even afterward, the looting continued for another century to benefit domestic oligarchs and foreign businesses interests, including those of U.S. entrepreneurs. Possibly the only other manmade disasters as irredeemable as the Spanish Conquest – in terms of loss of life, destruction and theft of property, and impoverishment of culture – were the Mongol invasions of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth centuries.

The Mongols and the Spaniards each inflicted a human catastrophe fully comparable to that of a modern, region-wide thermonuclear war. Unlike Spaniards, Anglo-American colonists brought their own working-class labor from Europe. While ethnic Spaniards remained at the apex of the Latin American economic pyramid, that pyramid in North America would be built largely from European ethnic stock. Conquered natives were to be wholly excluded from the structure. While contemporary North Americans look back at the Spanish Conquest with self-righteous horror, most do not know the majority of the first English settlers were not even free persons, much less democrats. They were in fact expiration-dated slaves, known as indentured servants.

They commonly served 7 to 14 years of bondage to their masters before becoming free to pursue independent livelihoods. This was a cold comfort, indeed, for the 50% of them who died in bondage within five years of arriving in Virginia – this according to “American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia” by the dean of American colonial history, Edmund S. Morgan. Also disremembered is that the Jamestown colony was founded by a corporation, not by the Crown. The colony was owned by shareholders in the Virginia Company of London and was intended to be a profit-making venture for absentee investors. It never made a profit. After 15 years of steady losses, Virginia’s corporate investors bailed out, abandoning the colonists to a cruel fate in a pestilential swamp amidst increasingly hostile natives.

Jamestown’s masters and servants alike survived only because they were rescued by the Crown, which was less motivated by Christian mercy than by the tax it was collecting on each pound of the tobacco the colonists exported to England. Thus a failed corporate start-up survived only as a successful government-sponsored oligarchy, which was economically dependent upon the export of addictive substances produced by indentured and slave labor. This was the debt-genesis of American-Anglo colonization, not smarmy fairy tales featuring Squanto or Pocahontas, or actor Ronald Reagan’s fantasized (and plagiarized) “shining city upon a hill.”

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“The S&P 500 endured its worst start to a year since 1928, while European equities suffered their biggest opening year losses for over 45 years.”

Saudis Told To Prop Up Currency Amid Global Devaluation War Fears (Tel.)

Saudi Arabia should use its massive foreign exchange reserves to defend the riyal, amid fears the world is descending into a new phase of global currency wars, the World Bank has said. The kingdom’s shaky currency peg with the dollar has come under record pressure this week as the price of oil has plummeted to near 12-year lows at $32-a-barrel. With the global stock markets in turmoil, analysts fear a Saudi devaluation could spark a new wave of deflation and competitive “beggar-thy-neighbour” policies in a fragile global economy. But the world’s largest producer of Brent crude should continue to defend its exchange rate by drawing down on its war chest of reserves, according to Franziksa Ohnsorge, lead economist at the World Bank. “For now they have large reserves, and reserves can be used during an adjustment period”, Ms Ohnsorge told The Telegraph.

Oil accounts for more than three-quarters of Saudi Arabia’s government revenues. But a record supply glut has led to the kingdom burning through its reserves at a record pace in order to defend its 30-year-old exchange rate regime. Central bank reserves have dropped from a peak of $735bn to around $635bn this year – a pace of spending which will exhaust the kingdom’s fiscal buffers within five years, Bank of America Merrill Lynch calculate. A fresh round of conflict with rivals Iran and a sustained low oil price world would reduce this cushion substantially, said David Hauner at BaML. The monarchy has vowed to stick by the exchange regime and is instead planning to strengthen its coffers through the unprecedented flotation of its state-owned oil giant, Aramco.

Concerns about the Saudi peg come as fears that China was engineering on its own covert currency devaluation rippled through global markets this week. The S&P 500 endured its worst start to a year since 1928, while European equities suffered their biggest opening year losses for over 45 years. More than £85bn was also wiped off the FTSE 100 in a torrid start to 2016 trading. Investment bank Goldman Sachs has warned Beijing may soon abandon its support for the renminbi and engineer a full-blown devaluation. “Just as the US and European phases of the financial crisis were eventually curtailed by currency devaluation and quantitative easing, the fear is that emerging market economies and even China might need to do the same”, said Peter Oppenheimer at Goldman.

Faced with declining revenues, the Saudi monarchy has been forced to unveil a radical programme of government austerity to compensate for the 70pc decline in Brent prices over the last 18 months. Markets are now betting the kingdom will have to abandon its exchange rate regime – which has fixed the riyal at 3.75 to the dollar since 1986. Forward contracts for the riyal have soared to their highest levels in nearly 20 years – a sign that investors no longer believe in the viability of the peg.

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Depends how far Exxon plunges?!

Could Saudi Aramco Be Worth 20 Times Exxon? (WSJ)

Saudi Arabia’s potential sale of shares in its state-owned oil giant could lead to a publicly listed company valued in the trillions of dollars, more than 10 times Apple’s peak of about $756 billion. Saudi Arabian Oil Co., better known as Saudi Aramco, on Friday held out the prospect of an IPO on the Saudi stock exchange. Aramco said it was considering “the listing in capital markets of an appropriate percentage of the company’s shares and/or the listing of a bundle of its downstream subsidiaries.” That potential drew attention because the company produces more than 10% of the world’s oil supply every day and controls a large chain of refineries and petrochemical facilities to complement its exploration and production operations.

Taken together the business could be valued at more than $10 trillion by some estimates. Exxon, the largest non-state-controlled oil company, has a market value of $317 billion. Mohammad al-Sabban, an independent oil analyst and former senior adviser to the Saudi oil ministry, said it was unlikely the Saudi kingdom would list shares in the parent. That could open it up to scrutiny about financial controls and lift a veil on information that the royal family regards as state secrets. More likely is a Saudi Aramco listing of parts of its refining and chemical operations, Mr. Sabban and others said. That would still be significant given the size of those businesses. A person familiar with the national oil company said Western banks likely are months away from hearing what the Saudis’ decision will be.

There hasn’t been serious discussions with banks about the particulars of any stock offering, that person added. One clue to the scale of Aramco’s domestic refining operations is its Sadara Chemical complex in the eastern city of Jubail. It will be the largest petrochemicals project ever built at one time when it starts full operations in 2017. Built in partnership with Dow Chemical, it has already been earmarked for an IPO this year to raise the funds to pay its $20 billion price-tag.

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As if they care.

Saudi Arms Sales Are In Breach Of International Law, Britain Is Told (Observer)

The government has been put on notice that it is in breach of international law for allowing the export of British-made missiles and military equipment to Saudi Arabia that might have been used to kill civilians. The hugely embarrassing accusation comes after human rights groups, the European parliament and the UN all expressed concerns about Saudi-led coalition attacks in Yemen. Lawyers acting for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) have stepped up legal proceedings against the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which approves export licences, accusing it of failing in its legal duty to take steps to prevent and suppress violations of international humanitarian law.

In a 19-page legal letter seen by the Observer, CAAT warns that the government’s refusal to suspend current licences to Saudi Arabia, and its decision “to continue the granting of new licences” for military equipment that may be destined for use in Yemen, is unlawful. The letter cites article two of the EU Council Common Position on arms sales, which would compel the UK to deny an export licence if there was “a clear risk” that equipment might be used in a violation of international humanitarian law. Lawyers for CAAT have given the government 14 days to suspend licences allowing the export of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, pending the outcome of a review of its obligations under EU law and its own licensing criteria.

A failure to comply would see proceedings against the government, which would force it to explain in the high court what steps it has taken to ensure that UK military hardware is not being used in breach of international law. “UK weapons have been central to a bombing campaign that has killed thousands of people, destroyed vital infrastructure and inflamed tensions in the region,” said Andrew Smith of CAAT. “The UK has been complicit in the destruction by continuing to support airstrikes and provide arms, despite strong and increasing evidence that war crimes are being committed.”

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Beijing just ordered a new magic wand.

China Heightens the Contradictions (BBG)

Another tumultuous week for China’s stock markets has dealt yet another blow to global confidence in Beijing’s policy makers. Each tripped circuit-breaker and policy reversal has underscored the inherent contradiction China faces — between the leadership’s desire for the certainty of state control and the benefits of free markets. This contradiction has been part of the Chinese economic system since pro-market reform began in the early 1980s. The government’s model encouraged private enterprise, foreign investment and international trade while keeping the “commanding heights” of the economy – the financial sector, critical industries – firmly in state hands. The system may have run counter to classical economics, but it was effective, transforming China from an impoverished basket case to the world’s second-largest economy, and earning Beijing’s policy makers a reputation for sagacity and infallibility.

The problem is that this tension between state and market becomes more dangerous as an economy advances. We know this is true from the experiences of Japan and South Korea, which both used systems similar to China’s, produced similar results and then suffered similar problems. China’s current woes of high debt, excess capacity and a strained financial sector are all creations of the state-market conundrum. The only way to solve it is for the state to allow the market to hold more and more sway over the economy. That allows resources to be allocated more wisely, productivity to improve and entrepreneurship to flourish. Yet it also requires the party to relinquish control. China’s leaders are not unaware of the need for such change. That’s why they’ve promised to free up capital flows, liberalize the currency, reform the state sector and slash red tape. But that sticky contradiction remains firmly in place.

The Communist Party plenum in 2013 that drew up a long-term road map for economic reform enshrined the state-market conflict as a core principle of Chinese policy. The plenum’s communique declares the twin goals of creating an economy “centering on the decisive role of the market” but “with public ownership playing a dominant role.” That conflict is at the heart of the stock-market fiasco. Setting the expansion of capital markets as a priority, the government made the mistake of propagating equity investments on a wide scale. Then, when prices began to tumble last summer, the government, terrified by the instability, jumped in to “fix” the problem. Now policy makers have trapped themselves – attempting to control a market too big and complex to answer to bureaucrats. Instead of developing a respected stock exchange, the state has undermined its credibility.

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A complicated mess.

Germany’s Sparkassen: Banking On Capital Exports (Coppola)

German households save a very high proportion of their earnings. Unlike the UK and Ireland, where households save principally in the form of pensions and property, German savers like to keep their money in banks. The success of the public savings banks stems from their role as principal savings vehicle for the famously thrifty German savers. In fact, they are a little too successful. Savings banks have excess deposits. Ordinarily, an excess of deposits over lending opportunities would drive down interest rates to zero or below. Interest rates have fallen at Sparkassen, but not as much as might be expected, given Germany’s dismal record of both private and public sector investment. So how do Sparkassen manage to maintain positive returns to savers?

Simple. They place their excess deposits with larger institutions – the regional public banks (Landesbanken), and the Frankfurt-based asset manager Dekabank Group. Landesbanken provide wholesale banking services both within Germany and cross-border, while Dekabank manages an asset portfolio of about 155bn Euros, some of it in Luxembourg and Switzerland. In other words, Sparkassen export their excess deposits. The Sparkassen model depends on there being a tier of compliant larger banks that will find profitable investment opportunities both inside and outside Germany to generate the returns that Sparkassen want to provide to savers. The Landesbanken and Dekabank together act like a giant sump.

The sump used to work well. Landesbanken pooled liquidity for the Sparkassen and lent to larger enterprises, while Dekabank invested excess deposits. But then the Landesbanken over-extended themselves, loading up on – among other things – American subprime MBS, risky investments in the Balkans and Irish property loans. In the 2008 financial crisis, several of the Landesbanken had to be bailed out. Since then, the Sparkassen’s equity stakes in the Landesbanken have gradually shrunk, replaced with municipal government ownership. Without this, the Sparkassen would have taken heavy losses. In 2011, the German Savings Bank Association (the Sparkassen’s umbrella organisation) bought out the Landesbanken’s stake in Dekabank. The Landesbanken are still too damaged to deliver the returns that Sparkassen want, and their new prudent lending model is not going to deliver much in the future either.

So Dekabank, not Landesbanken, should now be regarded as the asset management part of the Sparkassen empire. The sump has changed its nature. But it doesn’t generate the returns that it used to – asset managers have to “reach for yield” to make respectable returns these days, and after their experience with the Landesbanken, the savings banks are understandably not too happy for their asset manager to do anything too risky. So the result is a profits squeeze for Sparkassen. They aren’t getting the returns, either on their own lending or on their assets under management at Dekabank, that they need in order to give positive returns to savers.

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Only interesting question that remains: can US risk bankrupting the company?

VW Proposes Catalytic Converter To Fix US Test Cheating Cars (Reuters)

Volkswagen engineers have come up with a catalytic converter that could be fitted to around 430,000 cars in the United States as a fix for vehicles capable of cheating emissions tests, German daily Bild am Sonntag reported. The converter would be fitted to cars with the first generation of the EA 189 diesel engine, the paper reported on Sunday, without providing information on its sources. A source familiar with the matter told Reuters that the proposal for a technical solution VW has drawn up includes a new catalytic converter system made in part from new materials.

Volkswagen has struggled to agree with U.S. authorities on a fix for vehicles fitted with the emissions test cheating devices, Reuters reported this week, showing how relations between the two sides remained strained four months after the scandal broke. The fix would need to be approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Authority, and Volkswagen CEO Matthias Mueller hopes to convince EPA officials at a meeting on Wednesday in Washington, Bild am Sonntag further added.

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“I’m really good at that stuf..”

‘Tax Wall Street,’ Trump Pledges After Worst Market Week Since 2011 (BBG)

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump pledged to “tax Wall Street” as he sought to use a severe stock market selloff to plant new seeds of fear among voters during a campaign rally Saturday in Ottumwa, Iowa. At times, the real estate mogul sounded more like Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, a constant critic of Wall Street, than a billionaire candidate running for the Republican presidential nomination. “There’s a bubble,” Trump told his audience in southeastern Iowa, noting the nation’s high level of debt. “You see the stock market is starting to, you know, see what’s going on,” he said. “It’s starting to have some very bad weeks and some very bad numbers.”

Volatility skyrocketed in financial markets last week as anxiety about global growth increased. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index tumbled 6 percent on the week, the biggest drop since September 2011 and the steepest slide over five days to begin a year on record. Trump said his financial experience was right for such troubled times. “I’m really good at that stuff,” he said. “I know Wall Street. I know the people on Wall Street. We’re going to have the greatest negotiators of the world, but at the same time I’m not going to let Wall Street get away with murder. Wall Street has caused tremendous problems for us. We’re going to tax Wall Street.” Trump also highlighted his independence from campaign contributions. “I don’t care about the Wall Street guys,” he said. “I’m not taking any of their money.”

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How is this not a third world country, private armies, warlords and all?!

Heavily Armed Men Offer ‘Security’ For Oregon Militia At Refuge (Guardian)

A large group of heavily armed men showed up to the wildlife refuge occupation in eastern Oregon on Saturday, further escalating tensions and causing internal conflicts at the protests. Just as a number of the regular occupiers at the Malheur national wildlife refuge were finishing up a morning press conference, a fleet of more than a dozen vehicles drove up to the site. Men armed with rifles got out of their trucks and began stationing themselves along a road. The men said they were with a group called the Pacific Patriot Network and were a “neutral party”, there to provide security and protection for everyone at the refuge.

LaVoy Finicum, a regular spokesman for the armed militia, which has occupied the federal land since last Saturday, told the men they were not welcome or needed and that the militia was trying to minimize conflicts – not bring more guns to the compound. Ammon Bundy, the leader of the militia, had no idea a new group of armed men would be coming, according to Todd Macfarlane, who said he was acting as a liaison between the militia and the public. “Ammon felt blindsided,” Macfarlane said. “This was not a welcome development. We are trying to de-escalate here – then boom, they all show up.” Many of the men with the so-called Pacific Patriot Network declined to speak to reporters, saying they had orders to abide by a “media blackout”. Some were carrying semi-automatic rifles.

Joe Oshaughnessy, with a group calling itself the North American Coalition of Constitutional Militias, said his organization and the Pacific Patriot Network were trying to provide a “buffer zone” between government officials and the occupation, meaning they could help diffuse any conflicts that might arise. “They do not want to cause any trouble,” he said, adding: “Some of these guys are unarmed.” But the presence of yet another armed group only seemed to create further concerns and disputes as the occupation entered its second week with no end in sight. “We’ve got this image with long guns – that is not what we want,” said Jon Pratt, a Utah resident who has been at the occupation since Friday. “These guys are a third party. They do not represent the Bundys … and if they’re coming to keep the peace, I would’ve left the guns behind.”

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Clear enough?

Two-Thirds Of Tory MPs Want Britain To Quit European Union (Observer)

Two-thirds of Conservative MPs now support Britain’s exit from the European Union, despite David Cameron’s clear preference for staying in, according to senior sources within the party. Key figures in Tory high command say analysis of public statements and private views expressed by their 330 MPs shows that at least 210 now believe that the UK would be better off “out”. The surge in support within the parliamentary party for leaving will greatly encourage “out” campaigners, who believe many people will take their lead from local MPs when they decide which way to vote. However, party managers say the total number of Tory MPs who will join the campaign to leave could turn out to be significantly fewer – around 110 – if in the next few months opinion polls begin to point towards a close result or a win for the pro-EU side.

“Certainly at least two-thirds want to leave as it stands,” said a senior party figure. “But if things are very tight some will be bought off by offers of patronage and will be reluctant to take a different line to the prime minister. Plenty will not want their careers blighted by being on the wrong side of such an important debate.” The Observer has also been told that soundings taken by MPs show the “vast majority” of grassroots activists now want to quit the EU – and that most will not be swayed by whatever deal Cameron achieves in his attempt to renegotiate UK membership. Last week Cameron, in effect, conceded that his party was split from top to bottom over Europe when he agreed that members of his government, including cabinet ministers, would be allowed to speak out against the official line during the campaign, which is expected to be later this year.

While the holders of the top offices of state – including the chancellor, George Osborne, the foreign secretary, Philip Hammond and the home secretary, Theresa May – are likely to back staying in, other senior ministers, including the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, the leader of the House of Commons, Chris Grayling, and the Northern Ireland secretary, Theresa Villiers, want to campaign to leave. The spotlight will inevitably now turn to Boris Johnson, who attends cabinet in his role as mayor of London and sees himself as a future leader of the party. A longstanding critic of the EU, Johnson has yet to indicate whether he will campaign to stay in or leave.

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What would happen if pensions were cut along ‘Greek lines’ in countries like Holland, France? A two-tier union will not survive.

EU Eyes Start Of Greek Reforms Review January 18 (Reuters)

European creditors have penciled in Jan. 18 as the start of a review of reforms agreed under Greece’s latest bailout and aim to finish it in February, opening the door to talks on debt relief, euro zone officials said on Friday. “The first review mission is tentatively to start in the week beginning on Jan 18th. In practice, it might probably be a bit later,” one senior official said. A Commission spokesperson confirmed the EU executive expected the review mission to start later in January, but not the exact date. The formal review, the first since the euro zone and Greece agreed on a third bailout package in August, is to include controversial reforms like changes to Greece’s pension system, a plan for which Athens sent to Brussels this week.

Euro zone officials said the broad outline of the Greek pension reform was acceptable, but it was still unclear if the measures would bring the desired fiscal effect. For European creditors, one of the key aims of the reform is to increase incentives for Greeks to work longer. “We don’t have a problem with the broad architecture of the reform. But does it add up? We need to get more numbers and technical data from Athens to be able to tell,” a second official said. The official said that while there was no real urgency to closing the reform review, a pre-requisite for further loan disbursements and for the start of promised talks on debt relief, Greece’s liquidity situation was tightening. Greece will have to pay around €1.4 billion in interest in February, around €470 million of which would be on loans from the euro zone bailout fund EFSF and the rest on other bonds, a third official said. The country’s government also owes around €7 billion to various companies in unpaid invoices, putting some on the edge of bankruptcy.

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SYRIZA and Europe’s main problem: Democracy can pass swiftly from the booth to the street.

‘Greek Government Has Solid Majority To Pass Pension Reform’ (Reuters)

Greece’s leftist government will be able to push through a crucial pension reform in parliament, part of measures the country has agreed to under its international bailout, the deputy prime minister said in a newspaper interview released on Saturday. Greece has drafted a proposal to overhaul its ailing pension system, which envisages merging all six pension funds into one and a possible cut of future main pensions by up to 30 percent. It plans to submit the proposal to parliament by the end of the month and to hold a vote on it in early February. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government has a parliamentary majority of just three seats and the reform, which opposition parties and many pensioners and workers oppose, will test its resolve to implement actions agreed with international creditors.

Asked whether Tsipras’ ruling coalition has secured enough support from lawmakers for the reform, Deputy Prime Minister Yannis Dragasakis said in an interview with Avgi newspaper: “The government has a strong and solid (parliamentary) majority.” “But passing the relevant law won’t be enough,” he said, adding that the government should also secure backing from workers and political parties to implement the changes. Hundreds of Greek pensioners and workers marched in central Athens on Friday to protest against the plan, which is part of a package of reforms Athens needs to implement to conclude the first review of its €86 billion bailout and start debt relief talks.

A representative of the country’s international lenders said on Saturday that the review could be wrapped up within a reasonable time frame as long as Greece stuck to its reform program. “The Greek government demonstrated a certain degree of commitment to delivering on its mandate to implement the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which was agreed last August with the other euro area governments,” the ECB’s Monetary Policy Strategy division head Rasmus Rueffer said in an interview with Proto Thema newspaper.

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This is France, Britain.. What on earth have we become? “Every unaccompanied child the Observer spoke to testified to alleged police brutality. All claimed to have had either pepper sprays, water cannon or truncheons used on them. …”

Anger Over Fate Of Child Refugees Denied UK Asylum Hearing (Observer)

Under a clause in the EU’s Dublin Regulation covering hearing of asylum claims, refugees who have close family members in a particular EU country can claim asylum there. But according to campaigners, the Home Office has in numerous cases chosen to ignore that right. Masud was among a group of children listed in a legal challenge against the Home Office that will be heard in London on 18 January. Lawyers had handpicked the young Afghan as one of the most desperate cases in Calais – a vulnerable and lonely child who deserved to be urgently reunited with a family member. “Masud was a 15-year-old boy in need of protection, a boy in need of his sister here in the UK,” said the Bishop of Barking, Peter Hill, a spokesperson for campaign group Citizens UK.

“Every single night, desperate children are climbing into lorries and jumping on to train tracks to try and reach their families. Our government must act to honour its obligations and help these children.” On Saturday, Citizens UK launched an online petition demanding that David Cameron act to stop more teenagers from dying as they attempt to reach their relatives. Shadow immigration minister Keir Starmer, who visited the Jungle on Friday, announced that he would be writing to the home secretary, Theresa May, on Monday, asking why pledges she made last year to implement the Dublin Regulation and help the most vulnerable migrants – unaccompanied children – had led to so little action on the ground.

Aid charities have reported a surge in the volume of unaccompanied youngsters living in tents in Calais with no support from the French state. Others warn they are vulnerable to traffickers, describing the child protection issues as enormous. “We are aware that there is an increasing trend for unaccompanied minors to be facilitated into and across the EU,” a Europol spokesman said, adding that about 7,000 had been reported among the flow of refugees – a figure they said was rising. Liz Clegg, who runs an independent women’s and children’s hospital in the Jungle, estimates that there are hundreds of unaccompanied children in the camp at any given point. [..] Provisional work to identify Jungle migrants who have a clear legal right to live in Britain under the Dublin Regulation has tentatively identified 200, scores of them unaccompanied children.

“They all have the right to transfer their claim to Britain, so what is going on? It’s disgusting,” said Clegg. Charities warn that many unaccompanied minors simply disappear from the Jungle, often mysteriously. “We’ve even had siblings who don’t know where the other has gone,” added Clegg. “Sometimes we never hear of them again.” Of the seven refugees who once shared a tent with Masud and Nabi, four are believed to have made it to England, one is in Paris, the youngest is dead and Nabi remains in the Jungle. Elizabeth Fraser, whose charity Miracle Street provides a generator for refugees to use in the Jungle, said: “So many unaccompanied children seem to go missing. I remember once there were three Afghan brothers aged 10, 13, 16, and after a few days they also went. Nobody knows where to.”

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Jan 082016
 
 January 8, 2016  Posted by at 9:50 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Unknown Charleston, SC, after bombardment. Ruins of Cathedral of St John and St Finbar 1865

Slowing Productivity Fast Becoming A Global Problem (Lebowitz)
Dow, S&P Off To Worst Four-Day Jan Start Ever As China Fears Grow (Reuters)
US Stock Markets Continue Plunge (Guardian)
China Has Not One Insolvable Problem, But Many Of Them (Mish)
Capital Flight Pushes China To The Brink Of Devaluation (AEP)
China Stocks Rebound as State Funds Said to Buy Equities (BBG)
China’s Yuan Fixing Calms Markets as Asian Stocks Rally With Oil (BBG)
The Decline Of The Yuan Destroys Belief In Central Banking (Napier)
One Big Market Casualty: China Regulators’ Reputation (CNBC)
China Orders Banks To Limit Dollar Buying This Month To Stem Outflows (CNBC)
Yuan Depreciation Risks Competitive Devaluation Cycle (Reuters)
China’s Forex Reserves Post Biggest Monthly Drop On Record (Xinhua)
China’s Stock Market Is Hardly Free With Circuit Breakers Gone (BBG)
Iran Severs All Commercial Ties With Saudi Arabia (Reuters)
Saudi Arabia Considers IPO For World’s Biggest Energy Company Aramco (Guardian)
VW Weighs Buyback of Tens of Thousands of Cars in Talks With US (BBG)
Human Impact Has Pushed Earth Into The Anthropocene (Guardian)
Europe’s Economy Faces Confidence Test as Borderless Ideal Fades (BBG)
Turkey Does Nothing To Halt Refugee Flows, Says Greece (Kath.)

We’ve reached the end of a line. Not even the narrative works from here.

Slowing Productivity Fast Becoming A Global Problem (Lebowitz)

In “The Fed And Its Self-Defeating Monetary Policy” we focused our discussion on U.S. productivity, but weak and slowing productivity growth is not just an American problem. All of the world’s leading economies are, to varying degrees, exhibiting the same worrisome pattern. And slowing productivity is something investors across asset classes should pay attention to in 2016. The graph below compares annualized productivity trends from three time periods – the 7 years immediately preceding the financial crisis, the 5 years immediately following the crisis, and the 2 most recently reported years (2013 and 2014). The black dots display the change in trend from pre to post crisis.

In all cases the black dots are below zero representing slowing productivity growth. More troublesome, the world’s largest economies are most recently reporting either negligible productivity growth or a decline in productivity. Assuming that demographics are already “baked” and debt has been over-used to produce non-productive growth since well before the crisis, good old-fashioned productivity gains are what the global economy requires to produce durable organic growth in the developed world. Central bankers, politicians and investors are well advised to understand this dynamic.

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Jobs numbers today will be big.

Dow, S&P Off To Worst Four-Day Jan Start Ever As China Fears Grow (Reuters)

U.S. stocks sold off further on Thursday, giving the Dow and S&P 500 their worst four-day starts to a year ever, dragged down by another drop in Chinese equities and oil prices at 12-year lows. China allowed the biggest fall in its yuan currency in five months, adding to investor fears about the health of its economy, while Shanghai stocks were halted for the second time this week after another steep selloff. Oil prices fell to 12-year lows and copper prices touched their lowest since 2009, weighing on energy and materials shares. Shares of Freeport McMoran dropped 9.1% to $5.61. All 10 S&P 500 sectors ended in the red, though, and the Nasdaq Biotech index fell 4.1%. “People see the weakness in China and in the overall equity market and think there’s going to be an impact on corporations here in the United States,” said Robert Pavlik at Boston Private Wealth in New York.

“When you have a market that begins a year with weakness, people are sort of suspect anyway. The economy isn’t moving all that well, the outlook is modest at best, and they don’t want to wait for the long term. China creates more uncertainty.” The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 392.41 points, or 2.32%, to 16,514.1, the S&P 500 had lost 47.17 points, or 2.37%, to 1,943.09 and the Nasdaq Composite had dropped 146.34 points, or 3.03%, to 4,689.43. The Dow has lost 5.2% since the end of 2015 in the worst first four trading days since the 30-stock index was created in 1928. The S&P 500 is down 4.9% since Dec. 31, its worst four-day opening in its history, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices, while the Nasdaq is down 6.4%.

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Serious losses and serious jitters.

US Stock Markets Continue Plunge (Guardian)

US stocks continued to fall on Thursday as fears of an economic slowdown in China spooked investors around the world. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 392.41 points, or 2.32%, capping its worst four-day start to a year in more than a century. The S&P 500 posted its largest daily drop since September, losing 47.17 points, or 2.37%, to 1,943.09 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 146.34 points, or 3%, to 4,689.43. The falls followed another day of turmoil on the world’s stock markets amid more signs that the Chinese economy is slowing. China moved early to try to head off more panic, scrapping a new mechanism that Beijing had initially hoped would prevent sharp selloffs.

Beijing suspended the use of “circuit breakers” introduced to halt trading after dramatic selloffs. The circuit breakers appear to have exacerbated the selloffs, as would-be sellers waited for the markets to open again in order to sell. The decision came after the breaker was tripped for the second time in a week as the market fell 7% within half an hour of opening. Signs of problems in the world’s second largest economy triggered selling in Europe. The German DAX was the worst performer, falling 2.29%, as manufacturing firms were hit by fears about China’s impact on the global economy. In London the FTSE 100 staged a late rally but still ended the day down 119 points, or 1.96%, at 5,954. That’s a three-week low, which wipes around £30bn ($43.86bn) off the index.

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Well put.

China Has Not One Insolvable Problem, But Many Of Them (Mish)

Yuan and Capital Flight
• China needs to prop up the yuan to slow capital flight.
• China needs to let the yuan drop to support exports.
• China needs to float the yuan and remove capital controls to prove it really deserves to be taken seriously as a reserve currency.
• If the yuan sinks, capital flight will increase and China risks the ire of US congress and those play into protectionist sentiment, notably Donald Trump.
• Artificial stabilization of the yuan will do nothing but create an oversized move down the road as we saw in Switzerland.

SOEs and Malinvestments
• China needs to write off malinvestments in state owned enterprises (SOEs).
• If China does write off malinvestments in SOEs it will harm those investing in them, generally individual investors who believed in ridiculous return guarantees.
• If China doesn’t write off malinvestments it will have to prop up the owners of those enterprises, mainly the ruling class, at the expense of everyone else, delaying much needed rebalancing.

Property Bubble
• China needs to fill tens of millions of vacant properties, but no one can afford them.
• If China makes the properties affordable it will have to cover the losses, or builders will suffer massive losses.
• If China subsidizes losses for the builders, there are still no real jobs in in the vacant cities.
• If China does not subsidize the losses, the builders and current investors will both suffer massive damage.

Jobs
• China is losing exports to places like Vietnam that have lower wage points.
• Property bubbles, the overvalued yuan, SOEs, and capital flight all pose conflicting problems for a government desperate for job growth.

Stock Market
• China’s stock market is insanely overvalued (as are global equity markets in general). Many investors are trapped. A sinking stock market and loss of paper profits will make overvalued properties even more unaffordable.
• Propping up the market, as China has attempted (not very effectively at that), encourages more speculation.

Pollution
• Curtailing pollution will cost tens of millions of jobs.
• Not curtailing pollution will cost tens of millions of lives.

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“Our new base case is that the Chinese government will simply let the debt party go on until it eventually collapses under its own weight..”

Capital Flight Pushes China To The Brink Of Devaluation (AEP)

China is perilously close to a devaluation crisis as the yuan threatens to break through the floor of its currency basket, despite massive intervention by the central bank to defend the exchange rate. The country burned through at least $120bn of foreign reserves in December, twice the previous record, the clearest evidence to date that capital outflows have reached systemic proportions. “There is certainly a sense that the situation is spiraling out of control,” said Mark Williams, from Capital Economics. Mr Williams said the authorities botched a switch in early December from a dollar currency peg to a trade-weighted exchange basket, accidentally setting off an exodus of money. Skittish markets suspected – probably wrongly – that it was camouflage for devaluation. The central bank is now struggling to pick up the pieces.

Global markets are acutely sensitive to any sign that China might be forced to abandon its defence of the yuan, with conspiracy theories rampant that it is gearing up for currency war in a beggar-thy-neighbour push for export share. Any such move would send a powerful deflationary impulse though a world economy already on its knees, and risk setting off a chain-reaction through Asia, replicating the 1998 crisis on a larger and more dangerous scale. The confused signals coming from Beijing sent Brent crude crashing to an 11-year low of $32.20. They have also set off a parallel drama on China’s equity markets. The authorities shut the main exchange after the Shanghai Composite index plunged 7.3pc in less than half an hour, triggering automatic circuit-breakers. The crash wiped out $635bn of market capitalisation in minutes.

It was triggered by a witches’ brew of worries: a fall in China’s PMI composite index for manufacturing and services below the boom-bust line of 50, combined with angst over an avalanche of selling by company insiders as the deadline neared for an end to the share-sales ban imposed last year. Faced with mayhem, regulators have retreated yet again. They have extended the ban, this time prohibiting shareholders from selling more than 1pc of the total float over a three-month period. The China Securities Regulatory Commission said the move was to “defuse panic emotions”. The freeze on sales is an admission that the government is now trapped, forced to keep equities on life-support to stop the market crumbling. The commission said its “national team” would keep buying stocks if necessary, doubling down on its frantic buying spree to rescue the market last year.

[..] Jonathan Anderson, from Emerging Advisors Group in Shanghai, said the latest burst of stimulus – led by an 18pc rise in credit – is clear evidence that Beijing is unwilling to take its medicine and deflate the country’s $27 trillion loan bubble. “The debt ratio is rocketing upwards. China is still adding new leverage at a massive, frenetic pace,” he said. “The authorities have clearly shown that they have no intention of addressing leverage problems. Our new base case is that the Chinese government will simply let the debt party go on until it eventually collapses under its own weight,” he said.

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Light. Tunnel. Oncoming freight train.

China Stocks Rebound as State Funds Said to Buy Equities (BBG)

Chinese stocks gained in volatile trading after the government suspended a controversial circuit breaker system, the central bank set a higher yuan fix and state-controlled funds were said to buy equities. The Shanghai Composite Index rose 3% at 1:34 p.m. local time, after falling as much as 2.2% earlier. Regulators removed the circuit breakers after plunges this week closed trading early on Monday and Thursday. The central bank set the currency’s reference rate little changed Friday after an eight-day stretch of weaker fixings that roiled global markets. State-controlled funds purchased Chinese stocks on Friday, focusing on financial shares and others with large weightings in benchmark indexes, according to people familiar with the matter.

“The scrapping of the circuit breaker system will help to stabilize the market, but a sense of panic will remain, particularly among retail investors,” said Li Jingyuan, general manager at Shanghai Bingsheng Asset Management. “The ‘national team’ will probably continue to buy stocks significantly to stabilize the market.” While China’s high concentration of individual investors makes its stock-market notoriously volatile, the extreme swings this year have revived concern over the Communist Party’s ability to manage an economy set to grow at the weakest pace since 1990. The selloff has spread around the world this week, sending U.S. equities to their worst-ever start to a year and pushing copper to the lowest levels since 2009.

[..] The flip-flop in the circuit breaker rule adds to the sentiment among global investors that authorities are improvising – and improvising poorly – as they try to stabilize markets and shore up the economy. “They are changing the rules all the time now,” said Maarten-Jan Bakkum, a senior emerging-markets strategist at NN Investment Partners in The Hague with about $206 billion under management. “The risks seem to have increased.” Investors should expect more volatility in Chinese markets as the government attempts to shift away from a planned economy to one driven by market forces, Mark Mobius, chairman of the emerging markets group at Franklin Templeton Investments, wrote in a blog post on Thursday. Policy makers face a “conundrum” as they seek to maintain financial stability while at the same time loosening their grip on markets, he said.

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“Global shares have lost more than $4 trillion this year..”

China’s Yuan Fixing Calms Markets as Asian Stocks Rally With Oil (BBG)

China’s efforts to stabilize its markets showed early signs of success as the yuan strengthened and regional equities rallied for the first time in five days. Treasuries and the yen fell as demand for havens eased. The Shanghai Composite Index gained 2.4% at the midday break after the securities regulator suspended a controversial circuit-breaker system. Asia’s benchmark share index pared its biggest weekly drop since 2011. The yuan rose 0.1% in onshore trading after the People’s Bank of China ended an eight-day stretch of setting weaker reference rates. Crude oil rallied, while Treasuries and the yen headed for their first declines this week. Global shares have lost more than $4 trillion this year as renewed volatility in Chinese markets revived doubts over the ruling Communist Party’s ability to manage the world’s second-largest economy.

The tumult has heightened worries over competitive devaluations and disinflation as emerging-market currencies tumbled with commodities. Investors will shift their attention to America’s economy on Friday as the government reports monthly payroll figures, a key variable for U.S. interest rates. “The PBOC may have been surprised at how badly China and global stock markets reacted to yuan depreciation,” said Dennis Tan at Barclays in Singapore. “They may want to keep the yuan stable for a while to help calm the stock market.” The PBOC set the yuan’s daily fixing, which restricts onshore moves to a maximum 2% on either side, at 6.5636 per dollar. That’s 0.5% higher than Thursday’s onshore effective closing price in the spot market and ends an eight-day reduction of 1.42%.

China’s markets regulator abandoned the circuit breaker just days after it was introduced, as analysts blamed the new mechanism for exacerbating this week’s selloff. Mainland exchanges shut early on Thursday and Monday after plunges of 7% in the CSI 300 triggered automatic halts. Chinese shares rallied after a volatile start to the day that sent the Shanghai Composite down as much as 2.2%. Producers of energy and raw-materials led the advance as investors gravitated to some of last year’s most beaten-down stocks and state funds were said to intervene to by purchasing shares with large index weightings.

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China will be exporting a crushing deflation.

The Decline Of The Yuan Destroys Belief In Central Banking (Napier)

The key failure of control is in China because that failure will overwhelm other seeming successes. In 2012 this analyst labelled one chart “the most important chart in the world”. It was a chart of China’s foreign exchange reserves. It showed how they were declining and The Solid Ground postulated that this would produce a decline in real economic activity in China and higher real interest rates in the developed world. The result of these two forces would be deflation, despite the amount of wind puffed below the wings of the global economy in the form of QE. Of course, no sooner had this report been issued than China’s grand falconer got to work by borrowing hundreds of billions of USD through its so-called commercial banking system!

The alchemical process through which this mandated capital inflow supported the exchange rate while permitting money creation in China stabilized the global economy- for a while. However, by 2014 it was ever more difficult to borrow more money than the people of China were desperate to export and the market began to win. Since then foreign reserves have been falling and the grand falconer has tried to support the exchange rate while simultaneously easing monetary policy to boost economic growth. I’m no falconer but isn’t this akin to trying to get a bird to fly while tying back its wings? Some investors, well paid to believe six impossible things before breakfast, did not question the ability of the grand Chinese falconer to fly a falcon with tethered wings.

They changed their minds briefly as the bird plummeted earthwards in August 2015 but still the belief in the ability to reflate the economy and simultaneously support an overvalued exchange rate continued. In January 2016 this particular falcon, let’s call it the people’s falcon, was more ‘falling with attitude’ than flying. This bird does not fly and if this bird does not fly the centre does not hold. A major devaluation of the RMB is just beginning and the faith in all the falconers will wane as deflation comes to the world almost seven years after the falconers first fanned the winds of QE supposed to levitate everything.

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Whack-a-mole.

One Big Market Casualty: China Regulators’ Reputation (CNBC)

The wobbles in China that rocked financial markets this week have not only cast doubts over the economy, they’ve also shaken confidence in policymakers’ ability to stem the volatility. For two decades, China’s frenetic growth has been the source of the world’s envy, with investors placing faith in the ability of policymakers to help transform China from a manufacturing-led powerhouse to a consumer-driven economy . As the economy stutters and regulators scramble to contain wild moves in the yuan and stocks, analysts are calling out what appears to be a ham-fisted approach to managing market volatility.

“Market volatility this week suggests that nobody really knows what the policy is right now. Or if the government itself knows or is capable of implementing the policy even if there is one,” DBS said in a currency note Friday. “The market’s message was loud and clear that more clarity and less flip-flopping is needed going forward.” China-listed stocks plunged this week, with trade suspended completely in two sessions after the CSI 300 index dropped more than 7 percent, triggering a circuit breaker meant to limit market volatility. The China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) suspended the circuit-breaker system, implemented for the first time on Monday, before the start of trade Friday. The quick regulatory flip-flops spurred a lot of derision among social media commentators.

“The CSRC all treated us as experiments to make history. When it failed, it concluded with ‘lacking experience,’ and that’s it,” Weibo user Li Hua posted. “I strongly call for resignation of related personnel who designed this policy! There’s no cost of failure so that decision makers can do whatever they want.” Another factor weighing on faith in China’s regulators: Policy makers at the central bank, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), have tinkered again with its currency without providing much indication to the market about its endgame. On Thursday the PBOC allowed the yuan to fall by the most in five months, to the lowest level since the fixing mechanism was established in 2011.

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Money will continue to flow out no matter what they do.

China Orders Banks To Limit Dollar Buying This Month To Stem Outflows (CNBC)

China’s foreign exchange regulator has ordered banks in some trading hubs to limit dollar purchases this month, three people with direct knowledge said on Friday, in the latest attempt to stem capital outflows. The spread between the onshore and offshore markets for the yuan, or renminbi, has been growing since the devaluation last year, spurring Beijing to adopt a range of measures to curb outflows of capital. All banks in certain trading hubs, including Shenzhen, have been affected, the people added. China suspended forex business for some foreign banks, including Deutsche, DBS and Standard Chartered at the end of last year.

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Beggar all of thy neighbors.

Yuan Depreciation Risks Competitive Devaluation Cycle (Reuters)

The depreciation of the Chinese yuan risks triggering a cycle of competitive devaluation and is causing enormous worry in the world’s financial markets, Mexican Finance Minister Luis Videgaray said on Thursday. China allowed the biggest fall in the yuan in five months on Thursday, sending global markets down on concerns that China might be aiming for a devaluation to help its struggling exporters and that other countries could follow suit. “This is one of the worst starts of the year for all the world’s markets,” Videgaray said at an event in Mexico City. “There is a real worry that in the face of the slowing Chinese economy that the public policy response is to start a round of competitive devaluation,” he said.

Mexico has been committed to a freely floating currency since a devastating financial crisis in the mid-1990s and authorities refrain from some of the more direct forms of intervention seen in other emerging markets. Mexico’s peso slumped to a record low on Thursday, triggering two auctions of $200 million each by Mexico’s central bank to support the currency. The country’s program of dollar auctions, under which the central bank can sell up to $400 million a day, is set to expire on Jan. 29. Videgaray said policymakers would announce if the plan would be maintained or modified before that deadline. He noted the program’s goal is not to defend a certain peso level but to ensure sufficient order and liquidity in the market. “We have managed to achieve this objective in a satisfactory manner,” he said. “Up until now, there has been no decision to modify the mechanism.”

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Can’t be a good sign no matter what they say.

China’s Forex Reserves Post Biggest Monthly Drop On Record (Xinhua)

China’s foreign exchange reserves posted the sharpest monthly fall on record in December, official data showed Thursday. Foreign exchange reserves fell to $3.33 trillion at the end of last month, the lowest level in more than three years and down by 108billion dollars from November, according to the People’s Bank of China. The fall in December extended a month-on-month decline of $87.2 billion registered in November. The yuan has been heading south since the central bank revamped the foreign exchange mechanism in August to make the rate more market-based. The yuan has been losing ground as the Chinese economy is expected to register its slowest pace of growth in a quarter of a century in 2015.

Meanwhile, the United States raised interest rates in December and more rises are expected in 2016. The onshore yuan (CNY), traded in the Chinese mainland, declined 4.05% against the greenback in 2015. Li Huiyong, analyst with Shenwan Hongyuan Securities, said the faster decline indicated greater pressure for capital outflow as the yuan depreciated. On Thursday, the central parity rate of the yuan weakened by 332 basis points to 6.5646 against the U.S. dollar, its weakest level in nearly five years, according to the China Foreign Exchange Trading System. “An appropriate size for China’s forex reserves should be around 1.5 trillion U.S. dollars. There is still large room for necessary operations to sustain a stable yuan,” Li said.

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They need to let it go. But won’t.

China’s Stock Market Is Hardly Free With Circuit Breakers Gone (BBG)

China’s removal of market-wide circuit breakers after just four days still leaves investors facing plenty of restrictions in how they trade. A 10% daily limit on single stock moves and a rule preventing investors from buying and selling the same shares in a day remain in force. Volume in what was once the world’s most active index futures market is minimal after authorities curtailed trading amid a summer rout, making it more difficult to implement hedging strategies. Officials unveiled curbs Thursday on share sales by major stockholders just a day before an existing ban was due to expire. And the activity of foreign investors is limited by quotas, given either to asset managers or to users of the Hong Kong-Shanghai exchange link.

“Although there’s more ability now for offshore participation, it’s largely a market that’s restricted the domestic users,” said Ric Spooner at CMC Markets Asia Pacific. “That means it doesn’t get the arbitrage benefits that international investors bring. It’s a work in progress.” There’s also the prospect that regulators and executives will dust off last year’s playbook as they seek to stem losses. At the height of the summer rout, about half of China’s listed companies were halted, while officials investigated trading strategies, made it harder for investors to borrow money to buy equities and vowed to “purify” the market. Chinese equities seesawed in volatile trading on Friday, with the CSI Index rising 1.3% as of 10:02 a.m. local time after climbing 3.1% and sinking 1.7%.

The gauge slid 12% in the first four days of the week, two of which were curtailed as the circuit breakers triggered market-wide halts for the rest of the day. The flip-flop on using the mechanism, which was meant to help stabilize the market, is adding to investor concern that authorities are improvising. Policy makers weakened the yuan for eight days straight through Thursday, and authorities were said to intervene on Tuesday to prop up equities. Policy makers used purchases by government-linked funds to bolster shares as the CSI 300 plunged as much as 43% over the summer. State funds probably spent $236 billion on equities in the three months through August, according to Goldman Sachs.

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Saudi rocket attack on embassy in Yemen.

Iran Severs All Commercial Ties With Saudi Arabia (Reuters)

Relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia deteriorated even further on Thursday as Tehran severed all commercial ties with Riyadh and accused Saudi jets of attacking its embassy in Yemen’s capital. A row has been raging for days between Shi’ite Muslim power Iran and the conservative Sunni kingdom since Saudi Arabia executed cleric Nimr al-Nimr, an opponent of the ruling dynasty who demanded greater rights for the Shi’ite minority. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Sudan, Djibouti and Somalia have all broken off diplomatic ties with Iran this week, the United Arab Emirates downgraded its relations and Kuwait, Qatar and Comoros recalled their envoys after the Saudi embassy in Tehran was stormed by protesters following the execution of Nimr and 46 other men.

In a cabinet meeting chaired by Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Thursday, Tehran banned all imports from Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia had announced on Monday that Riyadh was halting trade links and air traffic with the Islamic Republic. Iran also said on Thursday that Saudi warplanes had attacked its embassy in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, an accusation that Riyadh said it would investigate. “Saudi Arabia is responsible for the damage to the embassy building and the injury to some of its staff,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari was quoted as saying by the state news agency, IRNA. Residents and witnesses in Sanaa said there was no damage to the embassy building in Hadda district.

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Aramco is so big, it may be impossible to value.

Saudi Arabia Considers IPO For World’s Biggest Energy Company Aramco (Guardian)

Saudi Arabia is considering a stock market listing for its national oil group – the world’s biggest energy company and probably the most valuable company on the planet. Saudi Aramco is a highly secretive organisation but is likely to be valued at well over $1tn (£685bn). Any public share listing would be viewed as a potent symbol of the financial pain being wreaked by low prices on the world’s biggest crude exporting country. Prince Muhammad bin Salman, the country’s highly influential deputy crown prince, confirmed in an interview on Monday with the Economist magazine that a decision would be taken within months whether to raise cash in this way, even as oil company shares are depressed at this time.

“Personally I am enthusiastic about this step,” he said. “I believe it is in the interest of the Saudi market, and it is in the interest of Aramco, and it is for the interest of more transparency, and to counter corruption, if any, that may be circling around.” The sale via an initial public offering (IPO) of any part of Saudi Aramco would be a major change in direction for a country, which has jealously guarded its enormous – and cheaply produced – oil reserves. Aramco’s reserves are 10 times greater than those of Exxon, which is the largest publicly listed oil company. The prince, considered the power behind the throne of his father King Salman, is keen to modernise the largely oil-based Saudi economy by privatisation or other means but it also needs to find money.

The country is under pressure, with oil prices plunging to their lowest levels in 11 years and more than 70% below where they were in June 2014. This has put huge strain on Saudi public spending plans, which were drawn up when prices were much higher and pushed the public accounts into deficit.

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A long way from salvation.

VW Weighs Buyback of Tens of Thousands of Cars in Talks With US (BBG)

Volkswagen may buy back tens of thousands of cars with diesel engines that can’t be easily fixed to comply with U.S. emissions standards as part of its efforts to satisfy the demands of regulators, according to two people familiar with the matter. Negotiations between the German automaker and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are continuing and no decisions have been reached. Still, a buyback would be an extraordinary step that demonstrates the challenge of modifying vehicles that were rigged to pass emission tests. VW has concluded it would be cheaper to repurchase some of the more than 500,000 vehicles than fix them, said the people, who declined to be cited by name.

One person said the number of cars that might be bought back from their owners totals about 50,000, a figure that could change as talks continue. “We’ve been having a large amount of technical discussion back and forth with Volkswagen,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said Thursday, when asked about the possibility of VW having to buy back some vehicles. “We haven’t made any decisions on that.” McCarthy told reporters after an event in Washington Thursday that VW’s proposals to bring its cars into compliance with emissions standards have so far been inadequate. “We haven’t identified a satisfactory way forward,” McCarthy said. The EPA is “anxious to find a way forward so that the company can get into compliance,” she said.

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“..the presence of isotopes from nuclear weapons testing..”

Human Impact Has Pushed Earth Into The Anthropocene (Guardian)

There is now compelling evidence to show that humanity’s impact on the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and wildlife has pushed the world into a new geological epoch, according to a group of scientists. The question of whether humans’ combined environmental impact has tipped the planet into an “anthropocene” – ending the current holocene which began around 12,000 years ago – will be put to the geological body that formally approves such time divisions later this year. The new study provides one of the strongest cases yet that from the amount of concrete mankind uses in building to the amount of plastic rubbish dumped in the oceans, Earth has entered a new geological epoch.

“We could be looking here at a stepchange from one world to another that justifies being called an epoch,” said Dr Colin Waters, principal geologist at the British Geological Survey and an author on the study published in Science on Thursday. “What this paper does is to say the changes are as big as those that happened at the end of the last ice age . This is a big deal.” He said that the scale and rate of change on measures such as CO2 and methane concentrations in the atmosphere were much larger and faster than the changes that defined the start of the holocene. Humans have introduced entirely novel changes, geologically speaking, such as the roughly 300m metric tonnes of plastic produced annually. Concrete has become so prevalent in construction that more than half of all the concrete ever used was produced in the past 20 years.

Wildlife, meanwhile, is being pushed into an ever smaller area of the Earth, with just 25% of ice-free land considered wild now compared to 50% three centuries ago. As a result, rates of extinction of species are far above long-term averages. But the study says perhaps the clearest fingerprint humans have left, in geological terms, is the presence of isotopes from nuclear weapons testing that took place in the 1950s and 60s. “Potentially the most widespread and globally synchronous anthropogenic signal is the fallout from nuclear weapons testing,” the paper says. “It’s probably a good candidate [for a single line of evidence to justify a new epoch] … we can recognise it in glacial ice, so if an ice core was taken from Greenland, we could say that’s where it [the start of the anthropocene] was defined,” Waters said.

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It’s all become a joke.

Europe’s Economy Faces Confidence Test as Borderless Ideal Fades (BBG)

Here’s the latest in a long line of threats to Europe’s economy: the border guard. Danish officers checking travel documents on the boundary with Germany this week aren’t out to stymie trade or hinder tourism – they’re under orders from politicians anxious to stem the flow of refugees. Even so, analysts are beginning to worry about what could happen to the already-embattled region when the free movement of people is called into question. Like the euro, the single currency used by 19 of the European Union’s 28 nations, the Schengen Agreement has long been touted by politicians as an irrevocable pillar of a multi-national union, allowing unimpeded travel between states for business or pleasure. So with an already fragile recovery, monetary policy stretched trying to fend off deflation and companies deferring investment, the mere threat that Schengen could unravel may be hard to shrug off.

“If in the migrant crisis Schengen were to disintegrate, this would send a disastrous signal to markets: the European project would be seen as in fact reversible,” said Wolfango Piccoli, managing director of Teneo Intelligence in London. “Nobody could blame investors if against that backdrop, they would suddenly start to re-evaluate the reliability of promises made by European institutions in the euro-zone crisis.” The EU says Europeans make over 1.25 billion journeys within the Schengen zone every year, which comprises 26 countries from the Barents Sea to the eastern Mediterranean. It also includes countries such as Iceland and Norway that aren’t part of the EU. Signed in 1985, Schengen took effect 10 years later. In normal times, it means travelers within the bloc aren’t subjected to border checks, and external citizens holding a visa for one country may usually travel without restriction to all.

These aren’t normal times and now the edifice of carefree travel across the continent is cracking. During 2015, the arrival of people fleeing wars and persecution in Asia, Africa and the Middle East exceeded 1 million, sparking political tension and public debate over how, and where, to settle the newcomers. Denmark’s decision to establish temporary controls seems, according to the EU, to be covered by Schengen rules that allow such curbs in emergencies. But it’s not the first; that move came hours after Sweden started systematic ID checks at its borders, while Germany was forced to take similar action in September along its frontier with Austria. Hungary erected a fence at its borders with Serbia and Croatia last year.

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€3 billion, Angela.

Turkey Does Nothing To Halt Refugee Flows, Says Greece (Kath.)

Turkey has not taken any action to clamp down on human traffickers and between 3,000 and 4,000 migrants and refugees are reaching Greece every day, Immigration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas said Thursday. Mouzalas suggested in an interview on Skai TV that Ankara has not lived up to its pledges to stem the flow of people traveling across the Aegean to Greece. “It has not done anything to stop human trafficking, as is evident from the migratory flows.” The minister said that the high level of arrivals has continued because the news that some migrants are not being allowed through European borders has yet to filter through but, at the same time, refugees waiting to cross from Turkey are concerned that if they do not do so soon they will be prevented from reaching Central and Northern Europe.

“The high rate has to do with refugees’ fear that the borders will close for everyone,” he said, adding that he thought this possibility is “very likely.” “When the message reaches Morocco that Moroccans are not being allowed to cross into Europe but are being held and repatriated, the flows will drop.” Mouzalas said that around half of the people arriving in Greece over the last two months have been undocumented migrants.

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Jan 062016
 
 January 6, 2016  Posted by at 10:48 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


William Henry Jackson Eureka, Colorado 1900

Contracting US Industrial Output Associated With Onset Of A Recession (WSJ)
“We Frontloaded A Tremendous Market Rally” Former Fed President Admits (ZH)
“It’s A Really Messy Start To The Year” For Markets (BBG)
Saudis Slash European Oil Prices as Middle East Tensions Grow (WSJ)
Saudi Arabia Hikes Domestic Gas Prices By 50% Amid Budget Cuts (CNN)
Spread Between Onshore, Offshore Yuan Widest Since September 2011 (Reuters)
Dow Futures Off 170 Points, Yuan Falls To 5-Year Low, PBOC Loses Control (ZH)
China’s Terrible Start to 2016 Has Beijing Fighting Market Fires (BBG)
China’s Strategic Reserve Board Is Buying Up More Copper
Foreign Banks In China Could Face Curbs If They Snub Gold Benchmark (Reuters)
UK Consumer Lending Growing At Fastest Rate In A Decade (Ind.)
Sanders Vows To Break Up Banks During First Year In Office (AP)
Note To Sanders: Forget The Octopus Arms … Go For The Head (Rossini)
Volkswagen Struggling To Agree On Fix For US Test Cheating Cars (Reuters)
Volkswagen’s American Nightmare (BV)
My Financial Road Map For 2016 (Nomi Prins)
December 2015 Was Wettest Month Ever Recorded In UK (Guardian)
Refugees In Lesbos: Are There Too Many NGOs On The Island? (Guardian)
Refugees: EU Resettles Just 0.17% Of Pledged Target In Four Months (Guardian)
Turkish Authorities Find Bodies Of 34 Refugees, Search For Survivors (Reuters)

Not all numbers lie.

Contracting US Industrial Output Associated With Onset Of A Recession (WSJ)

When the Federal Reserve announced in mid-December that it would begin raising short-term interest rates, Fed officials characterized domestic spending as “solid” and the risks to economic growth as “balanced.” They also said they were “reasonably confident” that inflation would move back up to the Fed’s 2% target over the next several years. Data released the past few weeks, however, underscore concerns about the economic outlook that were apparent even before the Fed’s announcement.

The same day it announced its monetary policy decision, the Federal Reserve released its latest measure of industrial production. As the chart below shows, the industrial sector contracted 1.2% in November from a year earlier. That contraction was initially played down as largely reflecting the effects of warm weather on utility production. But subsequent data point to a broader and more persistent contraction. In the manufacturing survey published Monday by the Institute of Supply Managers, the index of business conditions declined further in December; this index stands at its lowest level since 2009.

Turning to domestic spending, the term “solid” implies substantial strength and resilience. Yet recent indicators paint a gloomier picture. Shipments of core capital goods (that is, nondefense items excluding aircraft) contracted at an annual rate of nearly 2% over the three months ending in November. Private non-residential construction contracted about 4%. Meanwhile, growth in real personal consumption expenditures dropped from 4% last spring to 3% over the summer and slowed further, to around 2%, over the three months ending in November. In light of those readings, the Atlanta Fed’s current “now-cast” analysis indicates that real GDP barely increased during the fourth quarter of 2015.

These data reinforce the view that the U.S. economy may be operating at stall speed. Consequently, the possibility of falling into recession poses a much more significant risk than the prospect of economic overheating. As the first chart shows, every episode of contracting industrial output since 1970 has been associated with the onset of a recession. These downside risks make a compelling case for Fed officials to refrain from further monetary tightening and, instead, refocus on contingency planning for scenarios in which such risks materialize.

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A strange confession.

“We Frontloaded A Tremendous Market Rally” Former Fed President Admits (ZH)

In perhaps the most shocking of mea culpas seen in modern financial history, former Dallas Fed head Richard Fisher unleashed some seriously uncomfortable truthiness during a 5-minute confessional interview on CNBC. While talking heads attempt to blame China for recent US market volatility, Fisher explains “It is not China,” it is The Fed that is at fault: “What The Fed did, and I was part of it, was front-loaded an enormous rally market rally in order to create a wealth effect… and an uncomfortable digestive period is likely now.” Simply put he concludes, there can’t be much more accomodation, “The Fed is a giant weapon that has no ammunition left.”

Must watch!!! A shocked Simon Hobbs (at 5:10) is a must-see… “Will The Fed come on and say ‘we’re sorry, we over-inflated the market’ when it crashes?” Fisher appears to be undertaking a major “cover-your-ass” episosde, proclaiming that he was against QE3 which is what has forced “valuations to be very richly priced.” “In my tenure at The Fed, every market participant was demanding we do more… “It was The Fed, The Fed, The Fed… in my opinion they got lazy.. and it is time to go back to fundamental analysis… and not just expect the tide to lift all boats… and as [The Fed] tide recedes we are going to see who is wearing a bathing suit and who is not”

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European markets now falling 3rd day in a row.

“It’s A Really Messy Start To The Year” For Markets (BBG)

Stocks declined around the world for a second day and the yen advanced after China’s efforts to prop up its stock market failed to quell investor misgivings over the strength of the global economy. Investor optimism in Europe proved short-lived as shares in the region erased an advance of more than 1%, while U.S. equity-index futures pointed to further declines after the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index posted its sixth-worst start to a year in data compiled by Bloomberg going back to 1927. The yen strengthened against all its major counterparts on demand for the safest assets and gold gained a second day. Industrial metals advanced after China’s authorities succeeded in stabilizing that nation’s equities.

“It’s a really messy start to the year – everyone is really on edge,” said William Hobbs at Barclays’ wealth-management unit in London. “Not much is expected of the world in terms of growth, risk appetite is biased to the downside and weak data from China to the U.S. hasn’t helped at all. Plenty of people out there believe that the next global recession is imminent.” The declines come even after China moved to support its stock market with state-controlled funds buying equities and regulators signaling a selling ban on major investors will remain beyond this week’s expiration date, according to people familiar with the matter. A 7% slump in mainland China shares on Monday triggered a trading halt, and the rout spread throughout Asia, Europe and the U.S. as a report showing the fastest contraction in U.S. manufacturing in six years.

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In more ways than one: “The Saudis are preparing for Iran’s return..”

Saudis Slash European Oil Prices as Middle East Tensions Grow (WSJ)

Saudi Arabia on Tuesday sharply cut the prices it charges for crude oil in Europe, a move that could undercut Iran as sectarian tensions escalate between the rival Middle Eastern nations. The Saudi move appears to pave the way for a competition over European oil markets later this year when Iran is expected to increase its exports after the expected end of western sanctions over its nuclear program. Italy and Spain relied on Iran for 13% and 16% of their oil imports before the European Union banned such purchases under sanctions related to its nuclear program in 2012. Although the country was replaced in the market by Saudi Arabia and other countries such as Russia, Tehran is counting on rekindling those ties when it resumes exports.

The price cut comes after a diplomatic chasm opened this week between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and by extension, the Sunni and Shiite Muslim worlds. Riyadh and a number of Sunni Muslim capitals have severed or downgraded diplomatic ties with Iran after the Saudi embassy was set on fire in Tehran following the execution in Saudi Arabia of Shiite cleric Nemer al-Nemer. Iran and Saudi Arabia are at odds elsewhere in the Middle East. In Yemen, Iran has supported militants fighting a Saudi-backed regime. In Syria, Saudi Arabia is supporting rebel groups trying to topple Iranian-backed President Bashar al-Assad. Saudi Aramco, the kingdom’s state-owned oil company, didn’t mention the conflict in its news release about the price cuts.

Aramco prices are set every month at a discount or premium to various regional benchmark prices, which go up and down based on supply, demand and other factors considered by the market. On Tuesday, Aramco said it was deepening the discount for its light crude by $0.60 a barrel to Northwest Europe and by $0.20 a barrel in the Mediterranean for February delivery. Iranian oil professionals interpreted the move as a way to compete with Iran returning to the oil markets. The European Union is set to lift an embargo on Tehran as soon as next month. “The Saudis are preparing for Iran’s return,” said Mohamed Sadegh Memarian, who recently retired as the head of petroleum market analysis at Iran’s oil ministry..

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Slash Europe prices, cut perks at home. Doesn’t even look like a short-term strategy.

Saudi Arabia Hikes Domestic Gas Prices By 50% Amid Budget Cuts (CNN)

While the world’s attention is focused on Saudi Arabia’s latest flare up with Iran, many Saudis are concerned about the “economic bomb” at home. The government is slashing a plethora of perks for its citizens. The cash crunch is so dire that the Saudi government just hiked the price of gasoline by 50%. Saudis lined up at gas stations Monday to fill up before the higher prices kicked in. “They have announced cutbacks in subsidies that will hurt every single Saudi in their pocketbook,” says Robert Jordan, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and author of “Desert Diplomat: Inside Saudi Arabia Following 9/11.” Gas used to cost a mere 16 cents a liter in Saudi Arabia, one of the cheapest prices in the world. Many Saudis drive large SUVs and “have no concept of saving gas,” says Jordan.

The gas hike is just the beginning. Water and electricity prices are also going up, and the government is scaling back spending on roads, buildings and other infrastructure. Those cuts might sound normal for any government that is running low on cash. But it’s especially problematic in Saudi Arabia because the vast majority of Saudis work in the public sector. About 75% of the Saudi government’s budget comes from oil. The price of oil has crashed from over $100 a barrel in 2014 to around $36 currently. Most experts don’t expect a rebound anytime soon. The Saudi government used its vast oil wealth to provide generous benefits to its citizens. When the Arab Spring rocked the Middle East in 2011, the Saudi king spent even more in an effort to subdue any discontent in the country.

Here are some of the perks Saudis receive:
-Heavily subsidized gas (It used to be 16 cents a liter. Now it’s gone up to 24 cents.)
-Free health care
-Free schooling
-Subsidized water and electricity
-No income tax
-Public pensions
-Nearly 90% of Saudis are employed by the government
-Often higher pay for government jobs than private sector ones
-Unemployment benefits (started in 2011 in reaction to the Arab Spring)
-A “development fund” that provides interest-free loans to help families buy homes and start businesses.

Now Saudi Arabia can’t pay for all those benefits. It ran a deficit of nearly $100 billion last year and expects something similar this year, if not worse. The IMF recently predicted that Saudi Arabia could run out of cash in five years or less if oil stays below $50 a barrel. “The Saudis have used their economic power to buy off their population,” says Jordan, who is currently serving as diplomat in residence at Southern Methodist University. He predicts Saudi Arabia may even have to start collecting an income tax or sales tax. “Part of the leverage the regime has had on their people is that they don’t impose taxes and therefore people don’t expect representation,” Jordan says. “But once they pay taxes, you’re likely to see an increase in political unrest.”

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Money flowing out.

Spread Between Onshore, Offshore Yuan Widest Since September 2011 (Reuters)

The spread between onshore and offshore yuan hit its widest level in more than four years on Tuesday after the central bank was suspected to have intervened in the onshore market to support the currency. The People’s Bank of China set the midpoint rate at 6.5169 per dollar prior to the market open, weaker than the previous fix of 6.5032 and the weakest level since April 2011. In the onshore spot market, the yuan strengthened immediately after the opening. The spot rate is allowed to trade with a range 2% above or below the official fixing on any given day. “It’s quite obvious that the central bank has intervened in the market via big Chinese banks in the morning and trading was very active,” said a trader at a Chinese bank in Shanghai. Despite the interventions, the trader said his strategy was to continue shorting the yuan given China’s weak economic fundamentals.

The trader expected the Chinese currency to fall to 6.6 per dollar by the end of the year. China struggled to shore up shaky sentiment on Tuesday a day after its stock indexes and yuan currency tumbled, rattling markets worldwide, but analysts warned investors to buckle up for more wild price swings in the months ahead. “State-owned banks were offering dollar liquidity around 6.52 per dollar,” said a Shanghai trader at a major European bank. “They were apparently trading on behalf of the PBOC to help control the pace of yuan depreciation.” In the offshore market, where the central bank usually takes a hands-off attitude, the yuan hit 6.6488 in late afternoon trade, the lowest in more than four years. It was 2% weaker than the onshore yuan midpoint. The spread between onshore and offshore yuan widened to more than 1,200 pips, the highest level since September 2011.

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“China is going to have to dramatically devalue its currency..” Dramatically. 25% just for starters.

Dow Futures Off 170 Points, Yuan Falls To 5-Year Low, PBOC Loses Control (ZH)

Dow futures are down over 170 points from the cash close, testing the lows of the day following carnage in the Chinese currency markets. Despite the biggest drop in onshore Yuan since August devaluation, Offshore Yuan has collapsed to its lowest since September 2010. What is more worrisome (or positive for Kyle Bass) is that the spread between onshore and offshore Yuan has blown out to 1250 pips – a record – indicating dramatic outflows and/or expectations of further devaluation to come.

Yuan is in free-fall… Offshore Yuan is down over 400 pips from intraday highs, testing 6.6800

 

CNH-CNY spread is now over 1320 pips – as it appears The PBOC is losing control.

And although Chinese stocks are "stable" thanks to some National Team play…

 

US equity futures are tumbling off the bounce close, trading back near the day's lows…

 

It appears Kyle Bass was right:

Given our views on credit contraction in Asia, and in China in particular, let's say they are going to go through a banking loss cycle like we went through during the Great Financial Crisis, there's one thing that is going to happen: China is going to have to dramatically devalue its currency."

And it is – sanctioned by The IMF…

 

Charts: Bloomberg

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Chinese can’t short the markets. We can.

China’s Terrible Start to 2016 Has Beijing Fighting Market Fires (BBG)

China has started 2016 in fire-fighting mode. After three months of relative calm in the nation’s $6.5 trillion stock market, a 7% rout to open the new year prompted government funds to prop up share prices on Tuesday, according to people familiar with the matter. The central bank injected the most cash since September into the financial system to keep a lid on borrowing costs, while the monetary authority was also said to intervene in the currency market to prevent excessive volatility. With Chinese shares and the yuan posting their worst starts to a year in at least two decades, the ruling Communist Party is being forced to scale back efforts to let markets have more sway in the world’s second-largest economy.

Private data this week showed the nation’s manufacturing sector ended last year with a 10th straight month of contraction, amplifying concern that the weakest economic growth in 25 years will fuel capital outflows. “There’s no doubt China wants to liberalize markets, but it’s happening at such a time that it’s very difficult to do in an orderly manner,” said Ken Peng at Citigroup in Hong Kong. While Chinese policy makers have said freer markets are integral to their plans to make the country’s economic expansion more sustainable, authorities are also concerned that sinking asset prices will weigh on business and consumer confidence. Capital outflows from China swelled to an estimated $367 billion in the three months ended November, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The stock market’s selloff on Monday was triggered by this week’s disappointing manufacturing data, along with investor worries that an expiring ban on stake sales by major shareholders would unleash a flood of sell orders at the end of this week. Those concerns eased on Tuesday as people familiar with the matter said regulators plan to keep the restrictions in place beyond Jan. 8. To support share prices, government funds targeted companies in the finance and steel sectors, among others, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the buying wasn’t publicly disclosed. The plunge on Monday triggered the nation’s circuit breakers on their first day, dealing a blow to regulatory efforts to restore calm to a market where individuals drive more than 80% of trading.

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They don’t understand. They can’t afford to buy enough copper to stabilize prices.

China’s Strategic Reserve Board Is Buying Up More Copper

China’s State Reserve Bureau is seeking as much as 150,000 metric tons of domestically produced refined copper for its stockpiles amid a collapse in prices to six-year lows, according to people with knowledge of the situation. The state agency issued the tender, which closes Jan. 10, to multiple sellers including smelters at a meeting in Beijing on Tuesday, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. The tender was reported late Tuesday by FastMarkets.com. Smelters in China, the world’s largest producer and consumer of metals, are contending with a collapse in prices as the nation’s growth slows to its weakest in a quarter century.

The SRB’s move to soak up excess supply follows industry pledges in December to cut output and sales, and lobbying of the government to step in to support the market. China’s refined copper surplus was forecast to narrow last year to 1.14 million tons as imports fell, according to state-run researcher Beijing Antaike Information Development Co. in October. At the same time, Antaike projected that domestic production would grow 7.7% to 7.42 million tons.

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Curious idea.

Foreign Banks In China Could Face Curbs If They Snub Gold Benchmark (Reuters)

China has warned foreign banks it could curb their operations in the world’s biggest bullion market if they refuse to participate in the planned launch of a yuan-denominated benchmark price for the metal, sources said. The world’s top producer and consumer of gold has been pushing to be a price-setter for bullion as part of a broader drive to boost its influence on global markets. Derived from a contract to be traded on the state-run Shanghai Gold Exchange, the Chinese benchmark is set to launch in April, potentially denting the relevance of the current global standard, the U.S. dollar-denominated London price. China needs the support of foreign banks, especially those who import gold into the mainland, but they could be wary given the global scrutiny on benchmarks following the manipulation of Libor rates in the foreign exchange market.

Banks with import licenses will face “some action” if they do not participate in the benchmark, said a source who did not want to be named as he was not authorized to speak to media. “Maybe China won’t cancel the license but we won’t give them the import quota or will reduce the amount under the quota,” the source said. Banks with licenses must apply to regulators for annual import quotas. Banks had been told China would take “some measures” if they did not participate in the fix, a banking source said. “They passed on the impression that ‘maybe your quota will be limited or you cannot be a market maker for swaps or forwards’,” he said.

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It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap, we gotta get out while we’re young…

UK Consumer Lending Growing At Fastest Rate In A Decade (Ind.)

Near-zero inflation and Black Friday discounts helped trigger the biggest pre-Christmas spending spree for nearly a decade in November, Bank of England figures showed yesterday. The Bank’s data showed consumer lending through personal loans and credit card debts up 8.3% year on year over the month – the fastest pace of growth since February 2006, back in the pre-credit crunch era. But along with another big surge in mortgage lending in November and more evidence of waning momentum among manufacturing companies, the figures fuelled concerns over the unbalanced nature of the UK recovery. In cash terms, £1.48bn in consumer credit was advanced, the most for a single month since February 2008. The data included both the Black Friday and Cyber Monday events, which ushered in a six-week price-cutting drive among retailers.

Shoppers are benefiting from cheap food and petrol, with the cost of living at just 0.1%. But recent real-terms pay increases have been largely fuelled by tumbling inflation rather than improved productivity, while the Bank has also voiced fears over the vulnerability of indebted households to an interest rate rise. The IMF has also highlighted the risk of deeply indebted people succumbing to “income and interest rate shocks”, with household debt still standing at around 144% of incomes. The pick-up in unsecured loans follows recent data from the Office for National Statistics showing that the household savings ratio dipped to 4.4% in the third quarter of 2015, equalling the lowest rate since 1963. “Consumers are borrowing more and saving less to finance their spending, which is likely a consequence of relatively high consumer confidence and extended low interest rates,” Howard Archer of IHS Global Insight said. Consumer credit lending has now topped £1bn for nine months in a row.

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Sounds noble…

Sanders Vows To Break Up Banks During First Year In Office (AP)

Characterizing Wall Street as an industry run on “greed, fraud, dishonesty and arrogance,” Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders pledged to break up the country’s biggest financial firms within a year and limit banking fees placed on consumers, should he become president, in a fiery speech on Tuesday. He coupled that promise, delivered in front of a raucous crowd just a few subway stops from Wall Street, with a series of attacks on rival Hillary Clinton, arguing her personal and political ties make her unable to truly take on the financial industry. “To those on Wall Street who may be listening today, let me be very clear: Greed is not good,” said Sanders, in a reference to Oliver Stone’s 1980s film, “Wall Street.” “If Wall Street does not end its greed, we will end it for them,” he said, as a cheering audience jumped to its feet.

Sanders has made regulating Wall Street a focus of his primary bid, with calls to curb the political influence of “millionaires and billionaires” at the core of his message. But the attacks on Clinton marked an escalation in his offensive against the Democratic front-runner. Clinton’s policies, he said, would do little more than “impose a few more fees and regulations.” “My opponent says that, as a senator, she told bankers to ‘cut it out’ and end their destructive behavior,” he said, to laughter. “But, in my view, establishment politicians are the ones who need to cut it out,” he said. Clinton responded at a campaign event in Sioux City, Iowa, on Tuesday evening, saying her policies would take on a wide range of financial actors, including insurance companies and investment houses that helped spark the 2008 recession. “I have a broader, more comprehensive set of policies about everything including taking on Wall Street,” she said. “I want to go after everybody who poses a risk to our financial system.”

[..] Sanders vowed to create a “too-big-to-fail” list of companies within the first 100 days of his administration whose failure would pose a grave risk to the U.S. economy without a taxpayer bailout. Those firms would be forced to reorganize within a year. Sanders also said he wants to cap ATM fees at two dollars and cap interest rates on credit cards and consumer loans at 15%. He also promised to take a tougher tact against industry abuses, noting that major financial institutions have been fined only $204 billion since 2009. And he promised to restructure credit rating agencies and the Federal Reserve, so bankers cannot serve on the body’s board. “The reality is that fraud is the business model on Wall Street,” he said. “It is not the exception to the rule. It is the rule.”

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…but does Bernie really get it?

Note To Sanders: Forget The Octopus Arms…Go For The Head (Rossini)

Bernie Sanders is attacking Wall Street. He’s campaigning to break up the “too big to fail” banks. It’s easy to see why such an idea would get some fanfare. After all, there are many Americans that remember the great $700 billion heist during the George W. Bush administration…the one that bailed out the most-favored banking cronies. Sanders says: “We need a movement which tells Wall Street that when a bank is too big to fail, it is too big to exist.” Again, superficially, it makes sense as to why people would hitch their wagons onto such an idea. Sadly though, Sanders is taking a swing that can only end up as a major whiff. The American banking system is like an octopus. The head of the octopus is the central bank, known as The Federal Reserve. That is where the source of our problems originate.

It all starts and ends with The Fed. The banks are nothing but appendages. They’re like the Fed’s octopus arms. Sanders wants to attack the arms. That’s a poor strategy, and the results would be fruitless. The size of a bank doesn’t matter. In fact, how does Sanders know what the “right” size would be? At what point is a bank no longer “too big”? How can he know such a thing? The truth is, he can’t, and like most government decisions, such a move would be totally arbitrary. Even if Sanders were to succeed in breaking up the big banks, were the Federal Reserve to still exist, those new banks would retain their “lender of last resort”. The banks would still operate in an environment drowning in moral hazard. They would still have a call option on our purchasing power and would continue to loot us via inflation.

They would still be The Fed’s instruments in creating the illusionary booms that are followed by the bone-crushing busts. That’s why they call it The Federal Reserve “System”. It’s a “system” of enriching the few at the expense of the many. Sanders isn’t going to touch the “system”. In fact, with all the free stuff and new “rights” that he’s concocted, Bernie’s going to need The Federal Reserve around to finance them. Bottom line? Tangling with the Fed’s octopus arms would accomplish virtually nothing. The only change that must occur is to End The Fed. The Eccles Building needs to be turned into a museum where future generations can walk through and learn about one of the biggest mistakes that was ever made in America. Will Sanders call for an end to The Fed? Don’t count on it.

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Goldman estimates they’ll end up paying just half a billion?!

Volkswagen Struggling To Agree On Fix For US Test Cheating Cars (Reuters)

Volkswagen is struggling to agree with U.S. authorities a fix for vehicles capable of cheating emissions tests, a VW source said on Tuesday, showing how relations between the two sides remain strained four months after the cheating came to light. The source said the German carmaker would hold further talks with the Californian Air Resources Board this week and with the U.S. Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) next week, and still hoped to reach a solution by a mid-January deadline. But finding a fix was proving more difficult than expected, in part because this involved producing new components which then required testing, said the person, who declined to be named as the talks are confidential.

The difficulties highlight the lack of progress VW has made in winning back the confidence of U.S. regulators and drivers almost four months after it admitted to cheating diesel emissions tests and promised to turn over a new leaf. On Monday, the U.S. Justice Department said it was suing Europe’s biggest carmaker for up to $90 billion for allegedly violating environmental law – five times the initial estimate of regulators. The move threw VW’s U.S. problems back into focus after it seemed to be recovering ground in Europe, sending its shares down more than 8% to a six-week low on Tuesday. “The announcement serves as a reminder/reality check of VW’s still unresolved emissions issues,” Goldman Sachs analysts said of the lawsuit.

VW Chief Executive Matthias Mueller is expected to meet EPA representatives and politicians in Washington next week after visiting the Detroit Auto Show, the VW source said, on what will be Mueller’s first trip to the United States since the scandal broke in September. VW declined to comment on the progress of talks with the EPA, on whose behalf the U.S. Justice Department filed the lawsuit, or on Mueller’s plans. The lawsuit claim of up to $90 billion is based on fines of as much as $37,500 per vehicle for each of four violations of the law, with illegal devices installed in nearly 600,000 vehicles in the United States, according to the complaint. U.S. lawsuits are typically settled at a fraction of the theoretical maximum. Goldman has estimated the likely costs at $534 million.

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“VW cannot afford to lose more time in the United States. It needs to ditch the ill-fated plan to repair the 580,000 U.S. vehicles. A swift buyback of all these would be far more effective, as it would end the extra air pollution at once.”

Volkswagen’s American Nightmare (BV)

The United States is reversing Volkswagen’s recent progress in tackling its emissions scandal. The U.S. Department of Justice on Jan. 4 issued a strongly worded lawsuit against the German carmaker, upending a six-week rally in VW shares. Wolfsburg needs something big to stop American lawmakers wielding a scarily large stick. Last year ended on a relatively positive note for the battered company. German regulators rubberstamped an inexpensive and simple fix for the majority of the 11 million vehicles sold in the European Union. Suspected manipulation of fuel efficiency data uncovered by VW’s internal investigation turned out to be much less widespread and severe than initially feared.

Yet both precedent and the lawsuit’s content suggest the United States will be tougher. The Department of Justice accuses Volkswagen of four different violations of the Clean Air Act. Most strikingly, VW’s theoretical maximum fine if found guilty has more than quadrupled to $90 billion – almost 125% of its market capitalisation. Moreover, Volkswagen has done little to win the goodwill of U.S. authorities. It admitted wrongdoing in September 2015 only after months of stonewalling. The company still lacks a technical fix to lower toxic emissions of its affected U.S. diesels to pass the country’s more demanding emission regimes and effectively reduce exhaust fumes. And the complaint filed on Jan. 4 also accuses VW of continuing to impede and obstruct its investigations “by material omissions and misleading information” after the September confession.

VW cannot afford to lose more time in the United States. It needs to ditch the ill-fated plan to repair the 580,000 U.S. vehicles. A swift buyback of all these would be far more effective, as it would end the extra air pollution at once. These benefits would by far outweigh the initial costs Evercore ISI analysts see at €5.8 billion. More sweeping changes in Volkswagen’s governance are also important. Chairman Hans Dieter Poetsch should go. The former finance director was one of Volkswagen’s most senior managers during the emissions cheating era. A credible outsider, who is unburdened by the past and embodies a new culture, could then set about trying to limit the fallout across the Atlantic.

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Do read.

My Financial Road Map For 2016 (Nomi Prins)

As a writer and journalist covering the ebbs and flows of government, elite individual, central bank and private industry power, actions, co-dependencies, and impacts on populations and markets worldwide, I often find myself reacting too quickly to information. As I embark upon extensive research for my new book, Artisans of Money, my resolution for the book – and the year – is to more carefully consider small details in the context of the broader perspective. My travels will take me to Brazil, Mexico, China, Japan, Germany, Spain, Greece and more. My intent is to converse with people in their respective locales; those formulating (or trying to formulate) monetary, economic and financial policy, and those affected by it.

We are currently in a transitional phase of geo-political-monetary power struggles, capital flow decisions, and fundamental economic choices. This remains a period of artisanal (central bank fabricated) money, high volatility, low growth, excessive wealth inequality, extreme speculation, and policies that preserve the appearance of big bank liquidity and concentration at the expense of long-term stability. The potential for chaotic fluctuations in any element of the capital markets is greater than ever. The butterfly effect – the flutter of a wing in one part of the planet altering the course of seemingly unrelated events in another part – is on center stage. There is much information to process. So, I’d like to share with you – not my financial predictions for 2016 exactly – – but some of the items that I will be examining from a geographical, political and financial perspective as the year unfolds.

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Wow! Beating ‘wetness’ records in Britain is quite the achievement. Britons might as well start walking around in wetsuits all day now.

December 2015 Was Wettest Month Ever Recorded In UK (Guardian)

December was the wettest month ever recorded in the UK, with almost double the rain falling than average, according to data released by the Met Office on Tuesday. Last month saw widespread flooding which continued into the new year, with 21 flood alerts in England and Wales and four in Scotland in force on Tuesday morning. The record for the warmest December in the UK was also smashed last month, with an average temperature of 7.9C, 4.1C higher than the long-term average. Climate change has fundamentally changed the UK weather, said Prof Myles Allen, at the University of Oxford: “Normal weather, unchanged over generations, is a thing of the past. You are not meant to beat records by those margins and if you do so, just like in athletics, it is a sign something has changed.”

The Met Office records stretch back to 1910 and, while December saw a record downpour particularly affecting the north of England, Scotland and Wales, 2015 overall was only the sixth wettest year on record. The high temperatures in December would normally be expected in April or May and there was an almost complete lack of air frost across much of England. The average from 1981-2010 was for 11 days of air frost in December, but last month there were just three days. Across 2015, the average UK temperature was lower than in 2014, though globally 2015 was the hottest year on record. Allen said it has been predicted as far back as 1990 that global warming would mean warmer, wetter winters for the UK, with more intense rainstorms.

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What happens when the -overly- well funded EU, UNHCR and Red Cross don’t do what they’re supposed to.

Refugees In Lesbos: Are There Too Many NGOs On The Island? (Guardian)

Moria refugee camp, on the Greek island of Lesbos, is full of volunteers who have come from all over the world to help displaced people. Burly Dutch men carry huge water tanks, Cypriot doctors erect a new medical tent at the foot of Afghan Hill and major organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières and Action Aid make their presence felt. But locals are anxious – they’re worried this huge influx of international volunteers is creating more chaos on their small island rather than a coordinated response, resulting in refugees being given bad information and the Greek community’s needs going ignored. At last count there were 81 NGOs operating on the island, and local media say that just 30 have registered with the local authorities.

The island has a population of about 90,000, yet saw almost 450,000 refugees pass through during 2015. The mayor of Lesbos, Spyros Galinos, says he is heartened by the outpouring of generosity but the presence of NGOs and volunteers doesn’t always have a positive effect. “I am grateful to the ones that immediately responded to our first call for help addressed to the international community to help us cope with refugee crisis,” Galinos has said. “However, more recently I have seen many NGOs and individuals coming without official registration and showing no cooperation with our municipality. This causes everyone upset and these NGOs arouse doubt and mistrust among the residents of Lesbos. I would say their presence is disruptive rather than useful.”

One local fixer says that it’s “like a party for the NGOs”: some are working closely with the municipality, but many others “have no idea and are just doing their own thing”. Hotel owner Aphroditi Vati is one resident who has witnessed first-hand the recent spike in volunteers on the ground. Refugee boats have been landing on the beach right outside her hotel in Molyvos, in the north of the island, since April, and she says it was only in mid-September that more people who wanted to help started arriving. There were often seven boats arriving each day and while the hotel was in desperate need of the assistance, she says the NGOs brought their own problems, too.

“We had all these other people speeding onto the property, not respecting where they were, not respecting that they were in a business location, parking their cars wherever they wanted – reporters and photographers, yes, but mainly a lot of volunteers and NGOs,” she says. Vati says that the newcomers would rush into the water and try to pull refugees off the boats in a way that frightened the already distressed travellers. “You would have all this commotion that was not necessary, and we had people giving out wrong information, saying there were no buses when there were and telling refugees to walk [to the registration point],” she says.

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Europe’s politicians do not care.

Refugees: EU Resettles Just 0.17% Of Pledged Target In Four Months (Guardian)

European countries have resettled just 0.17% of the asylum seekers they promised to welcome four months ago, it has emerged, in a revelation that campaigners say is the latest failure of Europe’s confused response to the continent’s refugee crisis. EU officials announced this week that just 272 Syrians and Eritreans have been formally transferred (pdf) from the countries on the frontline of the migration crisis, Greece and Italy, to countries elsewhere in the continent. It constitutes 0.17% of the 160,000 refugees that EU members pledged to share at a summit in September, and 0.03% of the 1,008,616 asylum seekers who arrived by sea in 2015. Europe’s slow response stands in sharp contrast to the accelerating nature of the crisis, with the daily arrival rate to Greece now 11 times higher than it was in January 2015.

On Tuesday, at least 34 people died in the Aegean sea between Greece and Turkey in the first such shipwrecks of 2016. Many of those who do reach Greece are nominally supposed to be shared between other countries in the EU, under the terms of the September agreement. But according to figures released this week, 19 EU countries have not relieved Greece and Italy of any asylum seekers, while those that have are largely the countries that are already bearing a significant share of the continent’s refugee burden, such as Sweden and Germany. European countries have also failed to provide the full quota of border guards they pledged to send to Greece and Italy in September – with just 447 guards provided out of a promised 775. Hungary, one of the loudest proponents of a more heavily fortified European border, has seconded just four guards to border duty in Greece and Italy.

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I have no more tears. How about you, Barack?

Turkish Authorities Find Bodies Of 34 Refugees, Search For Survivors (Reuters)

Turkish authorities said they found the bodies of 34 migrants, at least three of them children, at two locations on the Aegean coast on Tuesday after they apparently tried to cross to the Greek island of Lesvos. The flow of mostly Syrian refugees and migrants braving the seas to seek sanctuary in Europe dipped towards the end of last year with the colder weather, but the total still reached 1 million last year, nearly five times more than in 2014. The migrants died after their boat or boats apparently capsized in rough seas. It was not known how many vessels were involved or how many people were on board. Twenty-four of the bodies were discovered on the shoreline in the district of Ayvalik, the Turkish coast guard command told Reuters. Ten others were found in the district of Dikili, a gendarmerie official in the local headquarters said.

Reuters TV footage showed a body in an orange life jacket lying at the grey water’s edge in Ayvalik, lapped by waves. The nationalities of those drowned were not immediately clear. “We heard a boat sank and hit the rocks. I surmise these people died when they were trying to swim from the rocks. We came here to help as citizens,” an unnamed eyewitness said. Increased policing on Turkey’s shores and colder weather conditions have not deterred refugees and migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa from embarking on the perilous journey in small, flimsy boats. “Migrants and refugees continue to enter Greece at a rate of over 2,500 a day from Turkey, which is very close to the average through December,” International Organization for Migration (IOM) spokesman Joel Millman told reporters in Geneva. “So we see the migrant flows are continuing through the winter and obviously the fatalities are continuing as well.”

IOM said 3,771 migrants died trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe last year, compared with 3,279 recorded deaths in 2014. The coast guard and gendarmerie rescued 12 people from the sea and the rocks on the Ayvalik coastline. A coast guard official said three boats and a helicopter were searching for any survivors. In a deal struck at the end of November, Turkey promised to help stem the flow of migrants to Europe in return for cash, visas and renewed talks on joining the EU. Turkey is host to 2.2 million Syrians and has spent around $8.5 billion on feeding and housing them since the start of the civil war nearly five years ago. But it has faced criticism for lacking a longer term integration strategy to give Syrians a future there. Almost all of the refugees have no legal work status and the majority of children do not go to school.

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This little girl is one the 34 drowned refugees washed ashore on the Turkish Aegean coast. RIP sweetheart.

Jan 052016
 
 January 5, 2016  Posted by at 10:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Broadway at night from Times Square 1911

The $289 Billion Wipeout That Blindsided US Bulls (BBG)
A Stock Market Crash Of 50%+ Would Not Be A Surprise (BI)
Bank of America Thinks The Probability Of A Chinese Crisis Is 100% (ZH)
China Injects $20 Billion Into Markets, Hints At Curbs On Share Sales (Reuters)
China Said to Intervene in Stock Market After $590 Billion Rout (BBG)
China Rail Freight Down 10.5% In 2015, Biggest Ever Annual Fall (Reuters)
China Could ‘Spook’ Global Markets Again in 2016: IMF Chief Economist (BBG)
Supermines Add to Supply Glut of Metals (WSJ)
Debt Payments Set To Balloon For Detroit Public Schools (DN)
New Year Brings Financial Headache For Millions Of British Families (Guardian)
Brazil Heads for Worst Recession Since 1901 (BBG)
Volkswagen Faces Billions In Fines As US Sues In Emissions Scandal (Reuters)
Portugal’s Bank Bail-In Sets a Dangerous Precedent (BBG)
Russia Stands Up To Western Threats, Pivots To East (Xinhua)
Will US Fall For Saudi’s Provocation In Killing Of Shia Cleric? (Reuters)
Pretend to the Bitter End (Jim Kunstler)
Fortress Scandinavia Sinks Into Blame Game Over Refugee Crisis (BBG)
Bodies Of Four Migrants Found In Eastern Aegean (Kath.)
Nine Drowned Refugees Wash Up On Turkish Beach (AP)

“A report in the U.S. showed manufacturing contracted at the fastest pace in more than six years..”

The $289 Billion Wipeout That Blindsided US Bulls (BBG)

As losses snowballed in U.S. stocks around midday, the best thing U.S. bulls had to say about the worst start to a year since 2001 was that there are 248 more trading days to make it up. “My entire screen is blood red – there’s nothing good to talk about,” Phil Orlando at Federated Investors said around noon in New York, as losses in the Dow Jones Industrial Average approached 500 points. “On days like today you need to take a step back, take a deep breath and let the rubble fall.” Taking a break and breathing helped: the Dow added almost 150 points in the last 30 minutes to pare its loss to 276 points.

Still, investors returning to work from holidays were greeted by the sixth-worst start to a year since 1927 for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, which plunged 1.5% to erase $289 billion in market value as weak Chinese manufacturing data unnerved equity markets. The selloff started in China and persisted thanks to a flareup in tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran. A report in the U.S. showed manufacturing contracted at the fastest pace in more than six years added to concerns that growth is slowing.

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50% seems mild.

A Stock Market Crash Of 50%+ Would Not Be A Surprise (BI)

By many, many historically predictive valuation meassures, stocks are overvalued to the tune of 75%-100%. In the past, when stocks have been this overvalued, they have often “corrected” by crashing (1929, 1987, 2000, 2007, for example) . They have also sometimes corrected by moving sideways and down for a long, long time (1901-1920, 1966-1982, for example). After long eras of over-valuation, like the period we have been in since the late 1990s (with the notable exceptions of the lows after the 2000 and 2007 crashes), stocks have also often transitioned into an era of undervaluation, often one that lasts for a decade or more. In short, stocks are so expensive on historically predictive measures that the annual returns over the next decade are likely to net out to about 0% per year.

How we get there is anyone’s guess. But… A stock-market crash of ~50% from the peak would not be a surprise. It would also not be the “worst-case scenario,” by any means. The “worst-case scenario,” which has actually been a common scenario over history, is that stocks would drop by, say 75% peak to trough. Those are the facts. Why isn’t anyone talking about those facts? Three reasons: First, as mentioned, no one in the financial community likes to hear bad news or to be the bearer of bad news when it comes to stock prices. It’s bad for business. Second, valuation is nearly useless as a market-timing indicator. Third, yes, there is a (probably small) chance that it’s “different this time,” and all the historically predictive valuation measures are out-dated and no longer predictive. The third reason is the one that everyone who is bullish about stocks these days is implicitly or explicitly relying on: “It’s different this time.”

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At least I’m not alone in my assessment of China.

Bank of America Thinks The Probability Of A Chinese Crisis Is 100% (ZH)

Some sobering words about China’s imminent crisis, not from your friendly neighborhood doom and gloom village drunk, but from BofA’s China strategist David Cui. Excerpted from “2016 Year-Ahead: what may trigger financial instability”, a must-read report for anyone interested in learning how China’s epic stock market experiment ends.

A case for financial instability – It’s widely accepted that the best leading indicator of financial instability is rapid debt to GDP growth over a period of several years as it’s a strong sign of significant malinvestment. Based on Bank of International Settlement’s (BIS) private debt data and the financial instability episodes identified in “This time is different”, a book by Reinhart & Rogoff, we estimate that once a country grows its private debt to GDP ratio by over 40% within a period of four years, there is a 90% chance that it may run into financial system trouble. The disturbance can be in the form of banking sector re-cap (with or without a credit crunch), sharp currency devaluation, high inflation, sovereign debt default or a combination of a few of these. As Chart 1 demonstrates, China’s private debt to GDP ratio rose by 75% between 2009 and 2014 (i.e., since the Rmb4tr stimulus), by far the highest in the world (we suspect a significant portion of the debt growth in HK went to China). At the peak speed, over four years from 2009 to 2012, the ratio in China rose by 49%.

Other than sovereign debt default, China has experienced all the other forms of financial instability since the open-door reform started in late 1970s, including a sharp currency devaluation in the early 1990s (Chart 3) and hyper-inflation in the late 1980s and early 1990s (Chart 4). China also needed to write-off bad debt and recap its banks every decade or so. Banking sector NPL reached some 40% in the late 1990s and early 2000s and the government had to strip off some 20% of GDP equivalent of bad debt from the banking system between 1999 and 2005.

When the debt problem gets too severe, a country can only solve it by devaluation (via the export channel), inflation (to make local currency debt worth less in real terms), writeoff/re-cap or default. We judge that China’s debt situation has probably passed the point of no-return and it will be difficult to grow out of the problem, particularly if the growth continues to be driven by debt-fueled investment in a weak-demand environment. We consider the most likely forms of financial instability that China may experience will be a combination of RMB devaluation, debt write-off and banking sector re-cap and possibly high inflation. Given the sizeable and unstable shadow banking sector in China and the potential of capital flight, we also think the risk of a credit crunch developing in China is high. In our mind, the only uncertainty is timing and potential triggers of such instabilities.

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“The economy is poor, stock valuation is still high, and the yuan keeps sliding. The market drop is overdue.”

China Injects $20 Billion Into Markets, Hints At Curbs On Share Sales (Reuters)

The Chinese authorities were battling to prop up the country’s stock markets on Tuesday after a surprise cash injection from the central bank failed to calm jitters among investors. The unexpected 130 billion yuan ($19.94 billion) injection by the central bank – the largest such move to encourage more borrowing since September – came after a 7% crash on Monday triggered a “circuit-breaker” mechanism to suspend trading for the day. The measures initially helped Chinese mainland indexes recover quickly from a steep initial fall but the selling gained the upper hand in the afternoon to leave the Shanghai Composite index down 2.16% at 5.30am GMT. Elsewhere in Asia Pacific, Japanese stocks fell for a second day in choppy trade to their lowest point since October. In Australia the ASX/S&P200 closed down 1.6% as the outlook for China continued to drag on the country’s resource-heavy market.

However, markets in Europe and the US were expected to open higher on Tuesday, according to futures trading. Beijing’s intervention on Tuesday appeared timed to reassure Chinese retail investors, who are always sensitive to liquidity signals, that the bank would support the market with cash. The People’s Bank of China offered the liquidity in the form of what are known as seven-day reverse repos at an interest rate of 2.25%, according to the statement. China’s securities regulator said it was studying rules to regulate share sales by major shareholders and senior executives in listed companies. This would address concerns that the end of a six-month lockup on share sales by major institutional investors timed for this Friday – and scheduled to free up an estimated 1.2 trillion yuan worth of shares for sale next Monday – would result in a massive institutional evacuation from stocks.

The PBOC also published nine new financial service standards that will come into effect on 1 June, to protect consumers. The China securities regulatory commission also defended the functioning of the new “circuit breaker” policy that caused Chinese stock markets to suspend trade on Monday, triggering the mechanism on the very first day it came into effect. While some analysts criticised the design of the circuit breaker, saying it inadvertently encouraged bearish sentiment, the regulator said the mechanism had helped calm markets and protect investors – although it said the mechanism needed to be further improved. Analysts and investors warned that the success of the interventions was not assured. Repeated and often heavy handed interventions by Beijing have kept stock valuations at what many consider excessively high given the slowing economy and falling corporate profits.

“We’ve been waiting for a market drop like this for a long time,” said Samuel Chien, a partner of Shanghai-based hedge fund manager BoomTrend Investment Management. “The economy is poor, stock valuation is still high, and the yuan keeps sliding. The market drop is overdue.”

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XI didn’t sleep well last night.

China Said to Intervene in Stock Market After $590 Billion Rout (BBG)

China moved to support its sinking stock market as state-controlled funds bought equities and the securities regulator signaled a selling ban on major investors will remain beyond this week’s expiration date, according to people familiar with the matter. Government funds purchased local stocks on Tuesday after a 7% tumble in the CSI 300 Index on Monday triggered a market-wide trading halt, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the buying wasn’t publicly disclosed. The China Securities Regulatory Commission asked bourses verbally to tell listed companies that the six-month sales ban on major stockholders will remain valid beyond Jan. 8, the people said.

The moves suggest that policy makers, who took unprecedented measures to prop up stocks during a mid-year rout, are stepping in once again to end a selloff that erased $590 billion of value in the worst-ever start to a year for the Chinese market. Authorities are trying to prevent volatility in financial markets from eroding confidence in an economy set to grow at its weakest annual pace since 1990. The sales ban on major holders, introduced in July near the height of a $5 trillion crash, will stay in effect until the introduction of a new rule restricting sales, the people said. Listed companies were encouraged to issue statements saying they’re willing to halt such sales, they said.

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Was already down 4.7% in 2014. Also: “The country’s top economic planner said last month that November rail freight volumes fell 15.6% from a year earlier.”

China Rail Freight Down 10.5% In 2015, Biggest Ever Annual Fall (Reuters)

The total volume of goods transported by China’s national railway dropped by a tenth last year, its biggest ever annual decline, business magazine Caixin reported on Tuesday, a figure likely to fan concerns over how sharply the economy is really slowing. Citing sources from railway operator National Railway Administration, Caixin said rail freight volumes declined 10.5% year-on-year to 3.4 billion tonnes in 2015. In comparison, volumes fell 4.7% in 2014. The amount of cargo moved by railways around China is seen as an indicator of domestic economic activity. The country’s top economic planner said last month that November rail freight volumes fell 15.6% from a year earlier.

Weighed down by weak demand at home and abroad, factory overcapacity and cooling investment, China is expected to post its weakest economic growth in 25 years in 2015, with growth seen cooling to around 7% from 7.3% in 2014. But some China watchers believe real economic growth is already much weaker than official data suggest, pointing to falling freight volumes and weak electricity consumption among other measures. Power consumption in November inched up only 0.6% from a year earlier. A private survey published on Monday showed that the factory activity contracted for the 10th straight month in December and at a sharper pace than in November, suggesting a continued gradual loss of momentum in the world’s second-largest economy.

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If this is only halfway true, Obstfeld just labeled himself, and the IMF, grossly incompetent: “Global spillovers from China’s slowdown have been “much larger than we could have anticipated..”

China Could ‘Spook’ Global Markets Again in 2016: IMF Chief Economist (BBG)

China could once again “spook” global financial markets in 2016, the IMF’s chief economist warned. Global spillovers from China’s slowdown have been “much larger than we could have anticipated,” affecting the global economy through reduced imports and weaker demand for commodities, IMF Economic Counselor Maurice Obstfeld said in an interview posted on the fund’s website. After a year in which China’s efforts to contain a stock-market plunge and make its exchange rate more market-based roiled markets, the health of the world’s second-biggest economy will again be a key issue to watch in 2016, Obstfeld said. “Growth below the authorities’ official targets could again spook global financial markets,” he said as global equities on Monday got off to a rough start to the year.

“Serious challenges to restructuring remain in terms of state-owned enterprise balance-sheet weaknesses, the financial markets, and the general flexibility and rationality of resource allocation.” Obstfeld, who took over as chief economist at the International Monetary Fund in September, said emerging markets will also be “center stage” this year. Currency depreciation has “proved so far to be an extremely useful buffer for a range of economic shocks,” he said. “Sharp further falls in commodity prices, including energy, however, would lead to even more problems for exporters, including sharper currency depreciations that potentially trigger still-hidden balance sheet vulnerabilities or spark inflation,” he said. With emerging-market risks rising, it will be critical for the U.S. Federal Reserve to manage interest-rate increases after lifting its benchmark rate in December for the first time since 2006, Obstfeld said.

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Q: who suffers the losses on the investments?

Supermines Add to Supply Glut of Metals (WSJ)

Cerro Verde, Peru – In this volcanic desert, a dusty moonscape patrolled by bats, snakes and guanacos, America’s biggest miner is piling on to the new force in industrial resources: supermines. It’s a strategy that could be driving miners into the ground. Freeport-McMoRan is completing a yearslong $4.6 billion expansion that will triple production at its Cerro Verde copper mine, turning a once-tiny, unprofitable state mine into one of the world’s top five copper producers. As Cerro Verde’s towering concrete concentrators grind out copper to be made into pipes and wires in Asia, it will add to production coming from newly built giant mines around the world, in a wave of supply that is compounding the woes of the depressed mining sector.

Slowing growth in China and other emerging markets has dragged metals prices into a deep downturn, just a few years after mining companies and their investors bet billions on a so-called supercycle, the seemingly never-ending growth in demand for commodities. Back then, miners awash in cheap money set out to build the biggest mines in history, extracting iron ore in Australia, Brazil and West Africa, and copper from Chile, Peru, Indonesia, Arizona, Mongolia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They also expanded production of minerals such as zinc, nickel and bauxite, which is mined to make aluminum. Those giant mines are now giving the industry an extra-bad hangover during the bust.

The big mines cost so much to build and extract minerals so efficiently that mothballing them is unthinkable—running them generates cash to pay down debts, and huge mines are expensive to simply maintain while idle. But as a result, their scale means they are helping miners dig themselves even deeper into the price trough by adding to a glut. The prolonged price slump has forced miners to make painful cuts. In December, Anglo American, which recently completed a supermine in Brazil that went over budget by $6 billion, announced 85,000 new job cuts, asset sales and a suspended dividend. On the same day, Rio Tinto, which has built supermines in Western Australia, cut spending plans, while in September, Glencore suspended its dividend and raised $2.5 billion in stock as part of a plan to cut debt.

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Absolutely nuts.

Debt Payments Set To Balloon For Detroit Public Schools (DN)

The debt payments of Detroit Public Schools — already the highest of any school district in Michigan — are set to balloon in February to an amount nearly equal to the school district’s payroll and benefits as the city school system teeters on the edge of insolvency. Detroit Public Schools has to begin making monthly $26 million payments starting in less than a month to chip away at the $121 million borrowed this school year for cash flow purposes and $139.8 million for operating debts incurred in prior years. The city school system’s total debt payments are 74% higher from last school year. The debt costs continue to mount while Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature remain at odds over how to rescue Michigan’s largest school district.

A bankruptcy of the district could leave state taxpayers on the hook for at least $1.5 billion in DPS debt. The school district’s payroll and health care benefits are projected to cost $26.8 million in February — meaning the debt payments will be 97% of payroll. General fund operating debt payments that exceed 10% of payroll are “a major warning flag,” municipal bond analyst Matt Fabian said. “That’s extremely high,” said Fabian, managing director of Municipal Market Advisors in Concord, Massachusetts, who also followed the city of Detroit’s bankruptcy case. “That’s no longer, really, a normal school district. The school district has turned into a debt-servicing entity. It’s making its own mission impossible.” As a result, the Detroit district won’t have enough cash to pay any bills in four months.

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As a result of holiday spending?

New Year Brings Financial Headache For Millions Of British Families (Guardian)

More than 2.5 million families in England are being forced to cut back on essentials such as heating and clothing this winter to pay their rent or mortgage, according to housing charity Shelter. Its research also found that one in 10 parents were worried about whether they would be able to afford to meet their housing payments this month. The charity’s findings coincided with separate research from National Debtline showing that more than 5.5 million Britons said they were likely to fall behind with their finances in January as a result of Christmas spending. The two surveys underline the strain that many individuals and families are under as the new year begins, with some so worried about their situation that they sought online advice on Boxing Day.

As part of the Shelter research, YouGov questioned more than 4,500 adults during November, including around 850 parents with children aged 18 and under. It found that 27% of parents – the equivalent of almost 2.7 million people in England – said they had already cut back on either using energy to heat their home or buying warm clothing to help meet their rent or mortgage payments this winter. Around 10% of parents said they were worried about being able to afford to pay their monthly rent or mortgage, while 15% told the researchers they were already planning to cut back on buying festive food, or had used savings meant for Christmas presents to help meet their housing costs this winter. Shelter said a shortage of affordable homes had left many families struggling with “sky-high” housing costs, and was part of the reason why more than 100,000 people had sought advice on housing debt from its online, phone-based and face-to-face services in the past year.

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When will Brazil blow up? How on earth can the country host the Olympics?

Brazil Heads for Worst Recession Since 1901 (BBG)

Brazil’s economy will contract more than previously forecast and is heading for the deepest recession since at least 1901 as economic activity and confidence sink amid a political crisis, a survey of analysts showed. Latin America’s largest economy will shrink 2.95% this year, according to the weekly central bank poll of about 100 economists, versus a prior estimate of a 2.81% contraction. Analysts lowered their 2016 growth forecast for 13 straight weeks and estimate the economy contracted 3.71% last year. Brazil’s policy makers are struggling to control the fastest inflation in 12 years without further hamstringing a weak economy.

Finance Minister Nelson Barbosa, who took the job in December, has faced renewed pressure to moderate austerity proposals aimed at bolstering public accounts and avoiding further credit downgrades. Impeachment proceedings and an expanding corruption scandal have also been hindering approval of economic policies in Congress. “We’re now taking into account a very depressed scenario,” Flavio Serrano, senior economist at Haitong in Sao Paulo, said by phone. Central bank director Altamir Lopes said on Dec. 23 the institution will adopt necessary policies to bring inflation to its 4.5% target in 2017.

Less than a week later, the head of President Dilma Rousseff’s Workers’ Party, Rui Falcao, said Brazil should refrain from cutting investments and consider raising its inflation target to avoid higher borrowing costs. Consumer confidence as measured by the Getulio Vargas Foundation in December reached a record low. Business confidence as measured by the National Industry Confederation fell throughout most of last year, rebounding slightly from a record low in October. The last time Brazil had back-to-back years of recession was 1930 and 1931, and has never had one as deep as that forecast for 2015 and 2016 combined, according to data from national economic research institute IPEA that dates back to 1901.

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“..the automaker will seek to negotiate a lower penalty by arguing that the maximum would be “crippling to the company and lead to massive layoffs..”

Volkswagen Faces Billions In Fines As US Sues In Emissions Scandal (Reuters)

The U.S. Justice Department on Monday filed a civil lawsuit against Volkswagen for allegedly violating the Clean Air Act by installing illegal devices to impair emission control systems in nearly 600,000 vehicles. The allegations against Volkswagen, along with its Audi and Porsche units, carry penalties that could cost the automaker billions of dollars, a senior Justice Department official said. VW could face fines in theory exceeding $90 billion – or as much as $37,500 per vehicle per violation of the law, based on the complaint. In September, government regulators initially said VW could face fines in excess of $18 billion. “The United States will pursue all appropriate remedies against Volkswagen to redress the violations of our nation’s clean air laws,” said Assistant Attorney General John Cruden, head of the departments environment and natural resources division.

The Justice Department lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, accuses Volkswagen of four counts of violating the U.S. Clean Air Act, including tampering with the emissions control system and failing to report violations. The lawsuit is being filed in the Eastern District of Michigan and then transferred to Northern California, where class-action lawsuits against Volkswagen are pending. “We’re alleging that they knew what they were doing, they intentionally violated the law and that the consequences were significant to health,” the senior Justice Department official said. The Justice Department has also been investigating criminal fraud allegations against Volkswagen for misleading U.S. consumers and regulators. Criminal charges would require a higher burden of proof than the civil lawsuit.

The civil lawsuit reflects the expanding number of allegations against Volkswagen since the company first admitted in September to installing cheat devices in several of its 2.0 liter diesel vehicle models. The U.S. lawsuit also alleges that Volkswagen gamed emissions controls in many of its 3.0 liter diesel models, including the Audi Q7, and the Porsche Cayenne. Volkswagen’s earlier admissions eliminate almost any possibility that the automaker could defend itself in court, Daniel Riesel of Sive, Paget & Riesel P.C, who defends companies accused of environmental crimes, said. To win the civil case, the government does not need to prove the degree of intentional deception at Volkswagen – just that the cheating occurred, Riesel said. “I don’t think there is any defense in a civil suit,” he said. Instead, the automaker will seek to negotiate a lower penalty by arguing that the maximum would be “crippling to the company and lead to massive layoffs,” Riesel said.

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This can -re: will- happen all over the EU.

Portugal’s Bank Bail-In Sets a Dangerous Precedent (BBG)

As Europe belatedly gets around to repairing its weakest banks, investors who have lent to financial institutions by buying bonds face a brave new world. Their money can effectively be confiscated to plug balance-sheet holes. Recent events in Portugal suggest that the authorities should be wary of treating bondholders as piggybanks, or risk destroying a key source of future funds for the finance industry. Let’s begin with the “what” before we get to the “why.” Here’s what happened to the prices of five Portuguese bank bonds in the past few days: Picture the scene. You left the office on Dec. 29 owning Portuguese bank debt that was trading at about 94% of face value. In less than 24 hours, you lost 80% of your money. So what happened? Last year, Portugal divided Banco Espirito Santo, previously the nation’s largest lender, into a “good” bank and a “bad” bank.

If you owned any of those five bonds on Tuesday, you were owed money by Novo Banco, the good bank. On Wednesday, you were told that your bonds had been transferred to BES, the bad bank. The Portuguese central bank selected five of Novo Banco’s 52 senior bonds, worth about €1.95 billion, and reassigned them – thus backfilling a €1.4 billion hole in the “good” bank’s balance sheet that had been revealed in November by the ECB’s stress tests of the institution. At the time of those tests, the value of Novo Banco bonds rose because the capital shortfall was lower than some investors had feared, and the good bank was widely expected to be able to mend the deficit by selling assets. Instead, the Dec. 30 switcheroo means selected bondholders are footing that bill.

Here is where the shoe pinches. The documentation for senior debt typically stipulates that all such debt is what’s called “pari passu”; that is, all securities rank equally, and none should get preferential treatment. But by moving just five bonds off the healthy bank’s balance sheet, Portugal has destroyed the principle of equality between debt securities. There’s nothing inherently wrong with “bailing in” bondholders who’ve lent to a failing institution. It’s certainly preferable to the old solution of using taxpayers’ money to shore up failed banks, and it’s enshrined in the EU’s new Bank Resolution and Recovery Directive, which came into effect on Jan. 1. But the principle of equal treatment for ostensibly identical securities is a key feature of the bond market. If investors fear they’re at the mercy of capricious regulatory decisions in a restructuring, they’ll think more than twice before lending to banks.

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China’s take on Russia’s strategy document.

Russia Stands Up To Western Threats, Pivots To East (Xinhua)

Russia has updated a bunch of strategies to fight against threats to its national security, as demonstrated by the document “About the Strategy of National Security of the Russian Federation,” which President Vladimir Putin signed on New Year’s Eve. Amid ongoing clashes with the West over Ukraine and other fronts, leaders of the country have chosen to stand up to Western threats, while attaching growing importance to security cooperation across the Asia-Pacific. On the one hand, the West has shown substantial willingness, following visits to Moscow by leaders or senior representatives of major Western powers, to work with the Kremlin on a global anti-terror campaign and a political settlement of the protracted conflict in Syria.

On the other hand, one can hardly deny new friction and tensions would arise during this engagement, considering the fact that the West remains vigilant about a Russia that aspires to regain its global stature. Taking into account the enormous changes in the geopolitical, military and economic situation, the document, a revised version of the 2009 one, calls for the consolidation of “Russia’s status of a leading world power.” Russia believes it is now confronted with a host of threats, both traditional and new, such as the expansion of NATO, military build-up and deployment in its neighboring countries, a new arms race with the United States, as well as attempts to undermine the Moscow regime and to incite a “color revolution” in the country. Last year has witnessed repeated saber-rattling between Russia and NATO.

The expansion of the alliance, which saw a need to adapt to long-term security challenges with special interests in deploying heavy weapons in Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries, was blamed for the current military situation in the region and its cooling relationship with Moscow that has warned it would respond to any military build-up near Russian borders. At the same time, sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies over Moscow’s takeover of the Black Sea peninsula Crimea and its alleged role in the Ukraine crisis, together with the ongoing fall in oil prices, have once again drawn attention to Russia’s over-reliance on exports of raw materials and high vulnerability to the fluctuations in foreign markets, which the new document described as “main strategic threats to national security in the economy.”

Moreover, the daunting provocation and infiltration of the Islamic State terrorist group have just made Russia’s security concerns even graver. Domestically, Moscow has tightened security measures since Islamic extremists threatened attacks and bloodshed in the country. Globally, it has long been calling for a unified coalition, including collaboration with the United States, to double down on the anti-terror battle. As antagonism between Russia and the West currently shows little signs of receding, Moscow has begun to turn eastward, a strategic transition that is reflected by the national security blueprint. Mentioning specific relations with foreign countries, the document noted firstly that the strategic partnership of coordination with China is a key force to uphold global and regional stability. It then mentioned the country’s “privileged strategic partnership” with India.

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Can’t really discuss this without involving Russia.

Will US Fall For Saudi’s Provocation In Killing Of Shia Cleric? (Reuters)

There should be little doubt that Saudi Arabia wanted to escalate regional tensions into a crisis by executing Shi’ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr. On the same day, Riyadh also unilaterally withdrew from the ceasefire agreement in Yemen. By allowing protestors to torch the Saudi embassy in Tehran in response, Iran seems to have walked right into the Saudi trap. If Saudi Arabia succeeds in forcing the US into the conflict by siding with the kingdom, then its objectives will have been met. It is difficult to see that Saudi Arabia did not know that its decision to execute Nimr would cause uproar in the region and put additional strains on its already tense relations with Iran. The inexcusable torching of the Saudi embassy in Iran -Iranian President Hassan Rouhani condemned it and called it “totally unjustifiable,” though footage shows that Iranian security forces did little to prevent the attack- in turn provided Riyadh with the perfect pretext to cut diplomatic ties with Tehran.

With that, Riyadh significantly undermined U.S.-led regional diplomacy on both Syria and Yemen. Saudi Arabia has long opposed diplomatic initiatives that Iran participated in– be it in Syria or on the nuclear issue — and that risked normalizing Tehran’s regional role and influence. Earlier, Riyadh had successfully ensured Iran’s exclusion from Syria talks in Geneva by threatening to boycott them if Iran was present, U.S. officials have told me. In fact, according to White House sources, President Barack Obama had to personally call King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to force the Saudis to take part in the Vienna talks on Syria this past fall. Now, by having cut its diplomatic relations with Iran, the Saudis have the perfect excuse to slow down, undermine and possibly completely scuttle these U.S.-led negotiations, if they should choose to do so.

From the Saudi perspective, geopolitical trends in the region have gone against its interests for more than a decade now. The rise of Iran – and Washington’s decision to negotiate and compromise with Tehran over its nuclear program – has only added to the Saudi panic. To follow through on this way of thinking, Riyadh’s calculation with the deliberate provocation of executing Nimr may have been to manufacture a crisis — perhaps even war — that it hopes can change the geopolitical trajectory of the region back to the Saudi’s advantage. The prize would be to force the United States to side with Saudi Arabia and thwart its slow but critical warm-up in relations with Tehran. As a person close to the Saudi government told the Wall Street Journal: “At some point, the U.S. may be forced to take sides [between Saudi Arabia and Iran]… This could potentially threaten the nuclear deal.”

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“The coming crackup will re-set the terms of civilized life to levels largely pre-techno-industrial.”

Pretend to the Bitter End (Jim Kunstler)

Forecast 2016 There’s really one supreme element of this story that you must keep in view at all times: a society (i.e. an economy + a polity = a political economy) based on debt that will never be paid back is certain to crack up. Its institutions will stop functioning. Its business activities will seize up. Its leaders will be demoralized. Its denizens will act up and act out. Its wealth will evaporate. Given where we are in human history — the moment of techno-industrial over-reach — this crackup will not be easy to recover from; not like, say, the rapid recoveries of Japan and Germany after the brutal fiasco of World War Two. Things have gone too far in too many ways. The coming crackup will re-set the terms of civilized life to levels largely pre-techno-industrial. How far backward remains to be seen.

Those terms might be somewhat negotiable if we could accept the reality of this re-set and prepare for it. But, alas, most of the people capable of thought these days prefer wishful techno-narcissistic woolgathering to a reality-based assessment of where things stand — passively awaiting technological rescue remedies (“they” will “come up with something”) that will enable all the current rackets to continue. Thus, electric cars will allow suburban sprawl to function as the preferred everyday environment; molecular medicine will eliminate the role of death in human affairs; as-yet-undiscovered energy modalities will keep all the familiar comforts and conveniences running; and financial legerdemain will marshal the capital to make it all happen.

Oh, by the way, here’s a second element of the story to stay alert to: that most of the activities on-going in the USA today have taken on the qualities of rackets, that is, dishonest schemes for money-grubbing. This is most vividly and nauseatingly on display lately in the fields of medicine and education — two realms of action that formerly embodied in their basic operating systems the most sacred virtues developed in the fairly short history of civilized human endeavor: duty, diligence, etc. I’ve offered predictions for many a year that this consortium of rackets would enter failure mode, and so far that has seemed to not have happened, at least not to the catastrophic degree, yet.

I’ve also maintained that of all the complex systems we depend on for contemporary life, finance is the most abstracted from reality and therefore the one most likely to show the earliest strains of crackup. The outstanding feature of recent times has been the ability of the banking hierarchies to employ accounting fraud to forestall any reckoning over the majestic sums of unpayable debt. The lesson for those who cheerlead the triumph of fraud is that lying works and that it can continue indefinitely — or at least until they are clear of culpability for it, either retired, dead, or safe beyond the statute of limitations for their particular crime.

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The same people who criticized Balkan countries for doing the same.

Fortress Scandinavia Sinks Into Blame Game Over Refugee Crisis (BBG)

Gliding high above the Baltic Sea under pylons that stretch 669-feet into the air, the daily commute across Europe’s longest rail and road link was once a symbol of integration in the region. But for many of the 15,000 people who commute daily across the Oeresund Bridge between Malmoe, Sweden’s third-largest city, and Copenhagen, the trip to work and back just became a lot more difficult. On Monday, Sweden imposed identification checks on people seeking to enter by road, rail or ferry after the country was overwhelmed by a record influx of refugees. The development “doesn’t fit with anyone’s vision for the Oeresund region,” Ole Stavad, a former Social Democrat minister once in charge of Nordic cooperation, said in an interview. “This isn’t just about Oeresund, Copenhagen, Malmoe or Scania. It’s about all of Sweden and Denmark.”

He predicts economic pain for both countries “unless this issue is resolved.” If not even Sweden and Denmark can get along, that doesn’t bode well for the rest of Europe, which is now grappling with the ever-present threat of terrorism, a groundswell in nationalism and sclerotic economic growth. And the ripple effects are already starting. Twelve hours after the Swedish controls came into force, Denmark introduced spot checks on its border with Germany, threatening the passport-free travel zone known as Schengen. The move, which has yet to be approved by Schengen’s guardian, the EU, has not pleased Berlin. And mutual recriminations are flying in Scandinavia. The Danes say they were forced to impose their measures after Sweden enforced its controls.

The Swedes blame the Danes for not sharing the burden of absorbing refugees. Sweden received around 163,000 asylum applications in 2015, compared with Denmark’s 18,500. The controls are placing an unexpected burden on workers who had bought into the idea of an international business area of 3.7 million inhabitants. The Malmoe-based Oeresund Institute, a think-tank, estimates the daily cost of checks on commuters alone are 1.3 million kroner ($190,000). Denmark’s DSB railway says it costs it 1 million kroner in lost ticket sales and expenses for travel across a stretch made famous by the popular Scandinavian crime series “The Bridge.”

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“..in an advanced state of decomposition..” Makes you wonder what the real death toll is, as opposed to the official one.

Bodies Of Four Migrants Found In Eastern Aegean (Kath.)

Greek coast guard officers found the bodies of four people, thought to be migrants, in the sea near the islands of Fournoi in the eastern Aegean. The bodies, of three men and one woman, were found on Sunday in an advanced state of decomposition, according to authorities. The coast guard also rescued 160 migrants and arrested two traffickers off Samos on Sunday.

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And on and on.

Nine Drowned Refugees Wash Up On Turkish Beach (AP)

A Turkish news agency says the bodies of nine drowned migrants, including children, have washed up on a beach on Turkey’s Aegean coast after their boat capsized in rough seas. The Dogan news agency says the bodies were discovered early on Tuesday in the resort town of Ayvalik, from where migrants set off on boats to reach the Greek island of Lesvos. Turkish coasts guards were dispatched to search for possible survivors. Eight migrants were rescued. Dogan video footage showed a body, still wearing a life jacket, being pulled from the sea onto the sandy beach. There was no immediate information on the migrants’ nationalities.

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 January 1, 2016  Posted by at 10:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Unknown Gurley-Lord service station, San Francisco 1929

US Stocks Close Out The Worst Year For The Market Since 2008 (AP)
Oil Drops 31% In 2015 On Global Crude Glut (MarketWatch)
Gold Sinks 10% For 3rd Annual Loss as Platinum, Palladium Hit Hard (Reuters)
Copper Ends Dismal Year on a Low Note (WSJ)
Half a Million Bank Jobs Have Vanished Since 2008 Crisis (BBG)
China December Factory Activity Shrinks (Reuters)
Chicago PMI Plummets To Lowest Since 2009 (MarketWatch)
VW Buybacks, Payments For Hard-to-Fix Diesels Will Be Very Costly (GCR)
Keiser Report feat. Gerald Celente: ‘Bankism’, Oil Prices And More (RT)
EU’s Trillion Euro Bank Bail-Outs Are Over (Telegraph)
In Europe, 2016 Will Be The Year Of Lawsuits (Coppola)

“A very unrewarding year.” Yeah, well, brace yourselves.

US Stocks Close Out The Worst Year For The Market Since 2008 (AP)

U.S. stocks closed lower on Thursday, capping the worst year for the market since 2008. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index ended essentially flat for the year after the day’s modest losses nudged it into the red for 2015. Even factoring in dividends, the index eked out a far smaller return than in 2014. The Dow Jones industrial average also closed out the year with a loss. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite fared better, delivering a gain for the year. “It’s a lousy end to a pretty lousy year,” said Edward Campbell, portfolio manager for QMA, a unit of Prudential Investment Management. “A very unrewarding year.” Trading was lighter than usual on Thursday ahead of the New Year’s Day holiday. Technology stocks were among the biggest decliners, while energy stocks eked out a tiny gain thanks to a rebound in crude oil and natural gas prices.

The Dow ended the day down 178.84 points, or 1%, to 17,425.03. The S&P 500 index lost 19.42 points, or 0.9%, to 2,043.94. The Nasdaq composite fell 58.43 points, or 1.2%, to 5,007.41. For 2015, the Dow registered a loss of 2.2%. It’s the first down year for the Dow since 2008. The Nasdaq ended with a gain of 5.7%. The S&P 500 index, regarded as a benchmark for the broader stock market, lost 0.7% for the year. According to preliminary calculations, the index had a total return for the year of just 1.4%, including dividends. That’s the worst return since 2008 and down sharply from the 13.7% it returned in 2014. While U.S. employers added jobs at a solid pace in 2015 and consumer confidence improved, several factors weighed on stocks in 2015.

Investors worried about flat earnings growth, a deep slump in oil prices and the impact of the stronger dollar on revenues in markets outside the U.S. They also fretted about the timing of the Federal Reserve’s first interest rate increase in more than a decade. The uncertainty led to a volatile year in stocks, which hit new highs earlier in the year, but swooned in August as concerns about a slowdown in China’s economy helped drag the three major stock indexes into a correction, or a drop of at least 10%. The markets recouped most of their lost ground within a few weeks. “The market didn’t go anywhere and earnings didn’t really go anywhere,” Campbell said.

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From $114(?) to $37 in two years time.

Oil Drops 31% In 2015 On Global Crude Glut (MarketWatch)

Oil futures ended higher Thursday in the final trading session of 2015, but posted a steep annual drop for the second year in a row as markets continue to wrestle with a global glut of crude. On the New York Mercantile Exchange, light, sweet crude futures for delivery in February rose 44 cents, or 1.2%, to finish at $37.04 a barrel. For the year, the U.S. benchmark dropped 30.5% and has lost 62.4% over the last two years. Crude hadn’t dropped two years in a row since 1998. February Brent crude, the global benchmark, rose 82 cents, or 2.3%, on London’s ICE Futures exchange to settle at $37.28 a barrel. Brent fell 35% in 2015, marking its third straight yearly drop. Oil trimmed gains somewhat after oil-field services firm Baker Hughes said the total number of U.S. oil rigs fell by two this week to 536.

Oil’s bounceback on Thursday likely reflected some short covering ahead of year-end and a three-day weekend, said Phil Flynn at Price Futures. U.S. markets will be closed Friday for the New Year’s Day holiday. Flynn said traders might be nervous about maintaining short positions amid rising tensions within Iran that could threaten the implementation of a nuclear accord that was expected to result in the lifting of sanctions that have prevented the country from exporting oil. Iran’s president has ordered his defense minister to expedite the country’s ballistic missile program following newly planned U.S. sanctions, he said Thursday, according to The Wall Street Journal. With U.S. production “growing for the last few weeks and global inventories being near storage limits, this is yet another reminder that the supply glut could take a long time to clear, which may mean even lower oil prices in the near term,” said Fawad Razaqzad at Forex.com.

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Platinum and palladium are the more interesting metals when it comes to determining where economies are going.

Gold Sinks 10% For 3rd Annual Loss as Platinum, Palladium Hit Hard (Reuters)

Gold was steady on Thursday, ending the year down 10% for its third straight annual decline, ahead of another potentially challenging year in 2016 amid the prospect of higher U.S. interest rates and a robust dollar. Largely influenced by U.S. monetary policy and dollar flows, the price of gold fell 10% in 2015 as some investors sold the precious metal to buy assets that pay a yield, such as equities. The most-active U.S. gold futures for February delivery settled at $1,060.2 per ounce on Thursday, almost flat compared with Wednesday’s close of $1,059.8 and close to six-year lows of $1,046 per ounce earlier in December. Spot gold was down 0.2% at $1,061.4 an ounce at 1:57 p.m. EDT, during the last trading session of the year. Volumes were thin ahead of the New Year holiday on Friday.

“The key factor for gold remains the strong dollar and that ultimately trumps all other issues including the economy and the geopolitics,” said Ross Norman, CEO of bullion broker Sharps Pixley. The dollar was on track for a 9% gain this year against a basket of major currencies, making dollar-denominated gold more expensive for holders of other currencies. Other precious metals have also been hit by dollar strength and the gold slump, and were headed for sharp annual declines. The most-active U.S. silver futures settled at $13.803 per ounce on Thursday, down 0.3% from Wednesday and ending the year down 12%. Spot prices were down 0.2% at $13.83 an ounce. Industrial metals platinum and palladium were harder hit, notching up big yearly losses partly due to oversupply from mines and concerns about growth in demand. Platinum futures settled at $893.2 per ounce, down 26% from a year ago, while the most-active palladium futures ended at $562, down 30% on the year.

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Copper and zinc -25%, nickel -42%, palladium -30%, platinum -26%.

Copper Ends Dismal Year on a Low Note (WSJ)

Copper prices fell in London on Thursday ending a dismal year as industrial metals were battered by a toxic mix of oversupply and concern over demand from China. Analysts don’t expect much respite for copper in 2016, with the oversupply expected to continue and the macroeconomic picture still uncertain. Among other factors, commodity prices have been hit by a stronger dollar, and few economists expect the greenback to weaken in any meaningful way. “I think that the bear market is not totally complete,” said Boris Mikanikrezai, an analyst at financial markets research company Fastmarkets. “Although a temporary rally in metal prices is possible over a one-to-three-month horizon, the macro fundamental picture may warrant lower prices.”

On Thursday, the London Metal Exchange’s three-month copper contract was down 0.5% at $4,720.50 a metric ton in midmorning European trade. Other base metals were mixed. Copper has lost about a quarter of its value this year. Among other base metals, nickel has lost 42%, zinc is down 25% while aluminum fell 18% over the year. “In retrospect, 2015 will be considered a year that can be safely forgotten when it comes to copper,” analysts at Aurubis, Europe’s largest copper producer, said in a report.

Worries about the health of the Chinese economy will continue to roil metals markets in 2016, analysts said. The country is the biggest source of global demand for metals, accounting for nearly half of total global zinc consumption, 45% of global copper consumption and 40% of lead production. “It will be another challenging year for China and that will affect metals,” said Xiao Fu, head of commodity markets strategy at BOCI Global Commodities. “Still, we expect the government’s fiscal stimulus package announced this year to provide some support for demand in 2016.”

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More to come.

Half a Million Bank Jobs Have Vanished Since 2008 Crisis (BBG)

Staff reductions at some of the world’s biggest banks are far from over. Deutsche Bank, which has held employment close to its 2010 peak, plans to slash 26,000 positions by 2018, following a trend that began with the financial crisis. Announced cuts in the fourth quarter total at least 47,000, following 52,000 lost jobs in the first nine months of 2015. That would bring the aggregate figure since 2008 to about 600,000. UniCredit says it will eliminate about 18,200 positions. Citigroup, which has reduced its workforce by more than a third, plans to eliminate at least 2,000 more jobs next year.

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Not growing slower, but contracting.

China December Factory Activity Shrinks (Reuters)

China looked set for a soggy start to 2016 after activity in the manufacturing sector contracted for a fifth straight month in December, suggesting the government may have to step up policy support to avert a sharper slowdown. While China’s services sector ended 2015 on a strong note, the economy still looked set to grow at its slowest pace in a quarter of a century despite a raft of policy easing steps, including repeated interest rate cuts, in the past year or so. The world’s second-largest economy faces persistent risks this year as leaders have pledged to push so-called “supply-side reform” to reduce excess factory capacity and high debt levels.

The official manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) stood at 49.7 in December, in line with expectations of economists polled by Reuters and up only fractionally from November. A reading below 50 suggests a contraction in activity. Still, economists seemed to find some comfort that there were no signs of a sharper deterioration which has been feared by global investors. The slight pick up in the manufacturing PMI “suggests that (economic) growth momentum is stabilizing somewhat … however, the sector is still facing strong headwinds, said Zhou Hao, China economist at Commerzbank in Singapore. “In order to facilitate the destocking and deleveraging process, monetary policy will remain accommodative and the fiscal policy will be more proactive.”

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More contracting economic activity.

Chicago PMI Plummets To Lowest Since 2009 (MarketWatch)

Economic activity in the Midwest contracted at the fastest pace in more than six years in December, according to the Chicago Business Barometer, also known as the Chicago PMI. The index fell to 42.9 from 48.7 in November. Economists had expected it to rise 1.3 points to 50 in the December reading. The index has spent much of the year below the 50 mark that separates expansion from contraction. Order backlogs were the biggest drag in December, dropping 17.2 points to 29.4. That’s the lowest since May 2009 and marked the 11th-straight month in contraction. The last time such a sharp decline was registered was 1951. New orders also sank to the lowest level since May 2009. That’s bad news for activity down the road. Still, 55.1% of survey respondents said they expect stronger demand in 2016 than in 2015.

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TBTF banks will still be protected.

EU’s Trillion Euro Bank Bail-Outs Are Over (Telegraph)

Europe has called an end to the era of mass bank bail-outs as new rules to stop taxpayers from footing the cost of financial rescues come into force. Private sector creditors will be forced to take the hit for bank failures as the EU seeks to end the age of “too big to fail”, which has cost member states more than €1 trillion since 2008. The measures – which will come into force on January 1 and apply to eurozone states – are designed to break the vicious cycle between lenders and governments that bought the single currency to its knees four years ago. Senior bondholders and depositors over €100,000 will be in line to be “bailed-in” if a bank goes bust, a departure from the mass government-funded rescues seen in Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Greece in the wake of the financial crisis.

Brussels’ tough new Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive (BRRD) will require shareholders and bond owners to incur losses of at least 8pc of their total liabilities before receiving official sector aid. Britain will not be subject to the rules. The EU’s commissioner for financial stability, Britain’s Jonathan Hill, said: “No longer will the mistakes of banks have to be borne on shoulders of the many”. Struggling banks in Italy, Portugal and Greece have rushed to recapitalise themselves in a bid to avoid falling foul of the new regime. The rules resemble the bail-in of creditors first seen in the eurozone during Cyprus’ banking crash in 2013, where savers were forced to endure losses as part of the international rescue package.

More than €1.6 trillion (£1.18 trillion) has been pumped into troubled banks by member states between October 2008 and December 2012, according to figures from the European Commission. This amounts to 13pc of the bloc’s total economic output (GDP) and imperiled the public finances of Ireland and Spain. “We now have a system for resolving banks and of paying for resolution so that taxpayers will be protected from having to bail-out banks if they go bust”, said Lord Hill. A new eurozone wide insolvency fund, the Single Resolution Mechanism, will also become operational on January 1. It will build up contributions from the banking industry over the next eight years to use in cases of financial collapse. Europe’s banks have been required to beef up their capital buffers and comply with tough new regulations in the wake of the financial crisis.

The ECB has also assumed direct supervisory responsibility for 129 “systemically” important lenders in a bid to create a fully-fledged banking union in the currency bloc. However, analysts have warned Brussels’ tentative steps towards banking union remain incomplete and could cause more uncertainty for ordinary depositors after January 1. “Taking 8pc losses from creditors has never been tested in reality”, said Nicolas Veron, of think-tank Bruegel. “The first few test cases will be very important . There is the combination of uncertainty over how the SRM will work with ECB, and then additional uncertainty over how creditor losses will work in practice.”

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$10 billion in the US alone, before lawsuits?!

VW Buybacks, Payments For Hard-to-Fix Diesels Will Be Very Costly (GCR)

Hundreds of thousands of diesel-VW owners are waiting to find out how their cars will be updated to meet emissions standards, once modifications are approved by regulators. And Volkswagen Group has clearly been tarnished by the emission-cheating scandal, which affects 11 million cars worldwide. But the costs of the entire affair remain to be tallied; some analysts have said that the $7.1 billion set aside several months ago will not be nearly enough. A Bloomberg article earlier this month cites an estimate by Bloomberg Intelligence that payments and buybacks for owners in the U.S. alone could range from $1.5 billion to $8.9 billion. And those are just the damages or buyback payments that “customers should get for being duped into buying high-polluting vehicles,” it notes.

About 157,000 of the 482,000 affected 2.0-liter TDI diesel cars sold in the U.S. with “defeat device” software are already fitted with Selective Catalytic Reduction after-treatment systems (also known as urea injection). They’re likely to require no more than software updates or perhaps minor hardware tweaks to bring them into compliance. VW then might only have to pay owners for diminished value, plus some penalty. But for 325,000 VW Golfs, Jettas, and Beetles and Audi A3 cars without the SCR systems fitted, the prognosis is much grimmer. Most analysts agree that the cost and complexity of retrofitting a urea tank, a different catalyst, and all the associated plumbing could exceed the value of cars that are now as much as seven years old. Those cars, some suggest, may all have to be bought back and either destroyed or exported.

Using an average price of $15,000, that would cost $4.9 billion alone–before any civil or criminal penalties are levied. On top of the hundreds of thousands of 2.0-liter four-cylinder TDI cars, 85,000 more VW, Audi, and Porsche vehicles were sold in the U.S. with a 3.0-liter V-6 TDI engine. That engine contains several undisclosed software routines, and one of those qualifies as a “defeat device” as well. The admission by Volkswagen that it cheated makes the case close to unique, suggests Paul Hanly, a plaintiffs’ lawyer quoted in the Bloomberg article. It may point to an early settlement, he says, since culpability doesn’t have to be established first. All that’s left is to settle on the costs and penalties. That just applies, however, to more than 450 lawsuits filed by Volkswagen customers in the wake of the mid-September disclosure.

On December 8, those lawsuits were consolidated and will be heard in California, where a high proportion of the affected TDI diesel vehicles were sold. The state also has a large number of VW dealers. Volkswagen had opposed the designation of California, asking that the suits be heard in Detroit instead. That did not happen. On top of the customer lawsuits, which will lead to cash payments and perhaps buybacks, Volkswagen faces criminal investigations in several states. But no settlements can move forward until regulators agree on modifications to the various sets of vehicles to bring them into compliance with tailpipe emission laws. Volkswagen submitted its proposals for those updates to the U.S. EPA and the California Air Resources Board in November.On December 18, CARB extended its own deadline for responding to VW’s proposal until mid-January. That leaves owners in a holding pattern at least until then, and likely far longer.

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Andrew Jackson: “One man of courage makes a majority.”

Keiser Report feat. Gerald Celente: ‘Bankism’, Oil Prices And More (RT)

In this special New Year’s Eve episode of the Keiser Report, Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert talk to trends forecaster Gerald Celente of TrendsResearch.com about the upcoming trends for 2016. They recall that a few years ago, Celente forecasted on the Keiser Report that we would see currency war, trade war and hot war, and they ask whether or not this has come true in 2015. They discuss ‘bankism’, oil prices and US election insanity and what they hold for the future of the global economy.

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They should have devised a template long ago. They didn’t because the more chaos the more calls for more union.

In Europe, 2016 Will Be The Year Of Lawsuits (Coppola)

2016 is fast approaching, and with it another phase in the EU’s attempts to make creditors pay for failed banks. The European Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive (EBRRD) has been law in all EU countries since January 2015, but up till now the bail-in rules have not been fully implemented. The EBRRD provides bank regulators with four main tools for resolving a failed bank:

• Sale of the failed bank partly or entirely to another entity
• Creation of a “bridge bank” containing the good assets, which would be sold to another entity or floated as an independent business
• Creation of a “bad bank”, or asset management vehicle, which would be gradually wound down over time (to prevent state aid rules being breached, this tool must be used in conjunction with at least one of the other tools)
• Write-down of creditor claims (or conversion to equity) in order of rank.

Mergers, “bad banks” and even “bridge” banks are all familiar tools from the financial crisis. But writing down creditor claims or converting them to shares (haircut or bail in) is more controversial. During the financial crisis, creditors – and sometimes even shareholders – were made good at taxpayer expense. But these expensive bailouts have left a very sour taste, and no-one has any appetite for them anymore. These days, creditors are expected to pay. Well, some of them, anyway. In all recent bank failures (apart from Duesseldorfer Hypothekenbank), subordinated debt holders have been bailed in, leaving senior creditors untouched. This sounds straightforward: subordinated debt holders rank junior to senior unsecured bondholders and all depositors, so should expect to lose their investments first in the event of bank insolvency.

However, bailing in subordinated debt holders has proved to be anything but simple. A roll-call of recent bail-ins shows just how difficult it can be:

• In 2013, the UK’s Co-Op Bank attempted to bail in its subordinated debt holders; but the deal failed and the subordinated debt holders took over the bank, to the considerable annoyance of the Co-Op Group (the bank’s owner), which lost the majority of its stake.

• In 2014, Portugal’s Banco Espirito Santo was split in two: subordinated debt holders were left in the residual “bad bank” along with the bank’s impaired assets, while senior and official creditors sailed off into a new entity, the aptly named Novo Banco, along with all the good assets. But the Bank of Portugal now faces lawsuits from disgruntled subordinated debt holders who claim they were never given a chance to provide more capital and rescue the bank themselves, Co-Op Bank style.

• In Austria – and increasingly in Germany too – the tangled web of claims and counterclaims in the Heta mess becomes ever more complex. These days it is not even clear exactly how the claims are ranked. The settlement agreement between Heta and the State of Bavaria in October effectively converted 60% of BayernLB’s subordinated claim into a senior claim, diluting the other senior creditors – many of whom are themselves only “senior” because of deficiency guarantees from the Province of Carinthia, which the Austrian federal government has repeatedly tried (but so far failed) to repudiate.

• In the Netherlands, the government was forced to offer compensation to SNS Reaal subordinated debt holders for its expropriation of their claims.

But why should a few problems with bail-in of subordinated debt holders spoil a good directive? Undeterred, the EU is pressing ahead with the next phase. From January 2016, senior as well as subordinated creditors will be bailed in in the event of bank insolvency. Bail-in of 8% of total liabilities (plus complete wiping of equity, of course) will be required before state aid can be granted.

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Dec 022015
 
 December 2, 2015  Posted by at 9:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle December 2 2015


Lewis Wickes Hine News of the Titanic and possible survivors 1912

China Has Reached ‘Peak Debt’ (David Stockman)
Manufacturing in US Unexpectedly Shrinks Most Since June 2009 (BBG)
7 Years After The Crisis, Britain Is Still Addicted To The Drug Of Debt (Ind.)
British Workers Will Have Worst Pensions Of Any Major Economy (Guardian)
Volkswagen US Sales Plunge 25%, S&P Cuts Rating (AP)
Piketty: Inequality Is A Major Driver Of Middle Eastern Terrorism (WaPo)
Saudi Arabia Accounted For 75% Of Value Of Official Gifts To US In 2014 (ITP)
Saudi Arabia’s Campaign To Charm US Policymakers And Journalists (Intercept)
Pope Orders Unprecedented Audit of Vatican Wealth (BBG)
China Needs More Users For ‘Freely Usable’ Yuan After IMF Nod (Reuters)
A Reserve Currency Brings Boom and Busts (BBG)
‘Sound Finance’? The Logic Behind Running A Budget Surplus (Steve Keen)
Greece Threatened With Schengen Expulsion Over Refugee Response (FT)
Denmark To Vote On More Or Less EU (EUObserver)
Merkel Accused In Germany Of Kowtowing To Erdogan (EurActiv)
Turkish Military Says Secret Service Shipped Weapons To Al-Qaeda (AM)
Russia Wants To Stop ISIS’ Illegal Oil Trade With Turkey (RT)
Turkish Stream Gas Pipeline Freezes (Reuters)
Puerto Rico’s Financial Crisis Just Got More Serious (WaPo)
Human Rights Watch Demands US Criminal Probe Of CIA Torture (Reuters)
4-Year Old Girl Drowns As Refugee Boat Tries To Reach Greek Shores (Kath.)

“..China has borrowed $4.50 for every new dollar of reported GDP, and far more than that when it comes to the production of sustainable wealth..”

China Has Reached ‘Peak Debt’ (David Stockman)

The danger lurking in the risk asset markets was succinctly captured by MarketWatch’s post on overnight action in Asia. The latter proved once again that the casino gamblers are incapable of recognizing the on-rushing train of global recession because they have become addicted to “stimulus” as a way of life:

Shares in Hong Kong led a rally across most of Asia Tuesday, on expectations for more stimulus from Chinese authorities, specifically in the property sector…….The gains follow fresh readings on China’s economy, which showed further signs of slowdown in manufacturing data released Tuesday (which) remains plagued by overcapacity, falling prices and weak demand. The dimming view casts doubt that the world’s second-largest economy can achieve its target growth of around 7% for the year. The central bank has cut interest rates six times since last November.

More stimulus from China? Now that’s a true absurdity – not because the desperate suzerains of red capitalism in Beijing won’t try it, but because it can’t possibly enhance the earnings capacity of either Chinese companies or the international equities. In fact, it is plain as day that China has reached “peak debt”. Additional borrowing there will not only prolong the Ponzi and thereby exacerbate the eventual crash, but won’t even do much in the short-run to brake the current downward economic spiral. That’s because China is so saturated with debt that still lower interest rates or further reduction of bank reserve requirements would amount to pushing on an exceedingly limp credit string. To wit, at the time of the 2008 crisis, China’s “official” GDP was about $5 trillion and its total public and private credit market debt was roughly $8 trillion.

Since then, debt has soared to $30 trillion while GDP has purportedly doubled. But that’s only when you count the massive outlays for white elephants and malinvestments which get counted as fixed asset spending. So at a minimum, China has borrowed $4.50 for every new dollar of reported GDP, and far more than that when it comes to the production of sustainable wealth. Indeed, everything is so massively overbuilt in China – from unused airports to empty malls and luxury apartments to redundant coal mines, steel plants, cement kilns, auto plants, solar farms and much, much more – that more borrowing and construction is not only absolutely pointless; it is positively destructive because it will result in an even more destructive adjustment cycle. That is, it will only add to the immense already existing downward pressure on prices, rents and profits in China, thereby insuring that even more trillions of bad debts will eventually implode.

[..] When peak debt is reached, additional credit never leaves the financial system; it just finances the final blow-off phase of leveraged speculation in the secondary markets.

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Pretty much a global trend, and pretty much not unexpected.

Manufacturing in US Unexpectedly Shrinks Most Since June 2009 (BBG)

Manufacturing in the U.S. unexpectedly contracted in November at the fastest pace since the last recession as elevated inventories led to cutbacks in orders and production. The Institute for Supply Management’s index dropped to 48.6, the lowest level since June 2009, from 50.1 in October, its report showed Tuesday. The November figure was weaker than the most pessimistic forecast in a Bloomberg survey. Readings less than 50 indicate contraction. The report showed factories believed their customers continued to have too many goods on hand, indicating it will take time for orders and production to stabilize.

Manufacturers, which account for almost 12% of the economy, are also battling weak global demand, an appreciating dollar and less capital spending in the energy sector. “There are some clear signs of weakness — industries that are tied to oil and gas, agriculture or are heavily dependent on exports are all clearly slowing,” Mark Vitner at Wells Fargo Securities said before the report. “It wouldn’t surprise me if the manufacturing numbers remain soft for the next five to six months.”

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We all are…

7 Years After The Crisis, Britain Is Still Addicted To The Drug Of Debt (Ind.)

It’s seven years after the financial crisis and the banking industry is still in receipt of state support – support that will be available for two more years, and perhaps for longer. The Treasury and the Bank of England have decided to extend their Funding for Lending Scheme (FLS), which supplies banks with cheap money with the aim of keeping the supply of credit flowing. What ought, in theory, to be the scheme’s final outing will be very specifically targeted at lending to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This is a sector which is still struggling to obtain the funding it needs at a time when lending to other sectors has largely recovered. The Bank says that things are improving, and its figures bear that out. But not quickly, and the growth in small business lending pales by comparison to the growth in consumer lending.

The expansion of the latter is starting to cause concern, with the Bank’s chief economist, Andy Haldane, fretting about personal loans. He says they’re picking up at a rate of knots. Britain has long nursed an addiction to the drug of debt that it’s never really addressed and the growth in unsecured lending is an indication of a return to bad habits. Given that Mr Haldane and his colleagues are engaged in the unenviable task of walking an economic tightrope, it’s no wonder that he’s getting twitchy. But consumers are not, as yet, shooting up with the sort of wild abandon they exhibited in the run-up to the crisis. And, as Investec’s Philip Shaw points out, it wasn’t so long ago that we were still talking about the need to make more credit available.

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Not to worry: by 2050, pensions will be long gone.

British Workers Will Have Worst Pensions Of Any Major Economy (Guardian)

Workers in the UK will have the worst pensions of any major economy and the oldest official retirement age of any country, according tothe Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The typical British worker can look forward to a pension worth only 40% of their pay , once state and private pensions are combined. The Paris-based thinktank said on Tuesday that this compares with about 90% in the Netherlands and Austria and 80% in Spain and Italy. Only Mexico and Chile offer their workers a worse prospect after retirement, although Turkey is the surprise table-topper, giving its retirees an average pension equal to 105% of average wages, according to the OECD report. Britain has begun an auto-enrolment scheme that will offer millions of low-paid workers a private pension for the first time.

But with contribution rates low, the payouts will not be generous. Last week the chancellor, George Osborne, gave employers a six-month delay to planned increases in their contribution rates. Pensions expert Tom McPhail of Hargreaves Lansdown said: “This analysis makes embarrassing reading for the politicians who have been responsible for the UK’s pensions over the past 25 years. “The state pension was in steady decline for years. Even though it is improving for lower earners now, average payouts will not be rising. It is in the private sector though where the real damage has been done; the collapse in final salary pensions has not yet been replaced with well-funded alternatives.” The age at which workers qualify for a state pension in the UK will, at 68 years old, be the highest of any country in the world, equalled only by Ireland and Czech Republic.

The prize for earliest retirees goes to France and Belgium. “Workers stay the longest in the labour market in Korea, Mexico, Iceland and Japan; men exit the soonest in France and Belgium while women leave the earliest in the Slovak Republic, Slovenia and Poland,” said the OECD. While many European countries offer significantly better pensions than in Britain, the cost is now close to sustainable, said the OECD. In recent years there have been frequent warnings about the “demographic timebomb” that will wreck the finances of ageing European nations. But the OECD said that changes to taxation, contribution rates and pensionable ages means that the burden of paying pensions will rise from the current level of 9% of GDP to just 10.1% by 2050.

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Europe sales are a bigger deal. But the scandal isn’t done deepening.

Volkswagen US Sales Plunge 25%, S&P Cuts Rating (AP)

Standard and Poor’s cut Volkswagen’s credit rating to “BBB+” from “A-” on Tuesday, shortly after the automaker reported that an emissions-cheating scandal took a serious bite out of its U.S. sales last month. The German automaker said that November U.S. sales fell almost 25% from a year ago. The company blamed the decline on stop-sale orders for diesel-powered vehicles that the government says cheated on pollution tests. The VW brand sold just under 24,000 vehicles last month compared with almost 32,000 a year ago.

S&P noted the emissions scandal also contributed to its ratings cut. The agency said it expects Volkswagen to “experience ongoing adverse credit impacts.” The U.S. is a relatively small market for Volkswagen. The VW brand sold 490,000 vehicles worldwide in October, 5% below a year ago. VW has admitted that 482,000 2-liter diesel vehicles in the U.S. contained software that turned pollution controls on for government tests and off for real-world driving. The government says another 85,000 six-cylinder diesels also had cheating software.

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“We” want it that way. It’s how “we” (think we) keep control over the oil.

Piketty: Inequality Is A Major Driver Of Middle Eastern Terrorism (WaPo)

Thomas Piketty is out with a new argument about income inequality. It may prove more controversial than his book, which continues to generate debate in political and economic circles. The new argument, which Piketty spelled out recently in the French newspaper Le Monde, is this: Inequality is a major driver of Middle Eastern terrorism, including the Islamic State attacks on Paris earlier this month — and Western nations have themselves largely to blame for that inequality. Piketty writes that the Middle East’s political and social system has been made fragile by the high concentration of oil wealth into a few countries with relatively little population.

If you look at the region between Egypt and Iran — which includes Syria — you find several oil monarchies controlling between 60 and 70% of wealth, while housing just a bit more than 10% of the 300 million people living in that area. (Piketty does not specify which countries he’s talking about, but judging from a study he co-authored last year on Middle East inequality, it appears he means Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudia Arabia, Bahrain and Oman. By his numbers, they accounted for 16% of the region’s population in 2012 and almost 60% of its gross domestic product.) This concentration of so much wealth in countries with so small a share of the population, he says, makes the region “the most unequal on the planet.”

Within those monarchies, he continues, a small slice of people controls most of the wealth, while a large — including women and refugees — are kept in a state of “semi-slavery.” Those economic conditions, he says, have become justifications for jihadists, along with the casualties of a series of wars in the region perpetuated by Western powers. His list starts with the first Gulf War, which he says resulted in allied forces returning oil “to the emirs.” Though he does not spend much space connecting those ideas, the clear implication is that economic deprivation and the horrors of wars that benefited only a select few of the region’s residents have, mixed together, become what he calls a “powder keg” for terrorism across the region.

Piketty is particularly scathing when he blames the inequality of the region, and the persistence of oil monarchies that perpetuate it, on the West: “These are the regimes that are militarily and politically supported by Western powers, all too happy to get some crumbs to fund their [soccer] clubs or sell some weapons. No wonder our lessons in social justice and democracy find little welcome among Middle Eastern youth.” Terrorism that is rooted in inequality, Piketty continues, is best combated economically.

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All totlly legal, no doubt. “..an emerald and diamond jewellery set containing a ring, earrings, bracelet, and necklace, which was valued at $780,000 [was given to] Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Saudi Arabia Accounted For 75% Of Value Of Official Gifts To US In 2014 (ITP)

Three quarters of the value of all official gifts given to the US administration in 2014 came from Saudi Arabia, according to US government records. US President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, their daughters and US federal government employees received official gifts estimated to be worth a total of $3,417,559 last year. Analysis of the annual disclosure, released by the US Department of State’s Office of the Chief of Protocol, found Saudi Arabia gave the US gifts valued at around $2,566,525. It dominated the report and represented 75% of the value of all gifts received by Obama and his government employees last year.

When all other Arab countries are added to the mix the total value rises to nearly $3 million, with the Arab region accounting for 87% of the value of all gifts. The most lavish gift was an emerald and diamond jewellery set containing a ring, earrings, bracelet, and necklace, which was valued at $780,000. It was not given to Obama, his wife Michelle or his children, but Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of US Secretary of State John Kerry. The jewels were given to Mrs Kerry in January 2014 by the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud. First Lady Michelle Obama is included in the top five with two gifts of jewels from Saudi Arabia, each worth well over half a million dollars.

The president himself is further down the list, behind his children and wife, and ranked 7th with a white gold men’s watch worth $67,000. The six other Gulf states also gave lavish gifts to the Obama administration. Qatar gave Eric Holder, US Attorney General, a $24,150 gold and silver ship depicting United States and the State of Qatar flags in a case, in addition to an engraved Cartier bracelet. The UAE also gifted a gold necklace and earring set with white stones worth around $3,200 to Deborah K. Jones, Ambassador of the US to the State of Libya. The gift was presented in March 2014 on behalf of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE.

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And the Saudi’s don’t stop there:

Saudi Arabia’s Campaign To Charm US Policymakers And Journalists (Intercept)

Soon after launching a brutal air and ground assault in Yemen, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia began devoting significant resources to a sophisticated public relations blitz in Washington, D.C. The PR campaign is designed to maintain close ties with the U.S. even as the Saudi-led military incursion into the poorest Arab nation in the Middle East has killed nearly 6,000 people, almost half of them civilians. Elements of the charm offensive include the launch of a pro-Saudi Arabia media portal operated by high-profile Republican campaign consultants; a special English-language website devoted to putting a positive spin on the latest developments in the Yemen war; glitzy dinners with American political and business elites; and a non-stop push to sway reporters and policymakers. That has been accompanied by a spending spree on American lobbyists with ties to the Washington establishment.

The Saudi Arabian Embassy, as we’ve reported, now retains the brother of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, the leader of one of the largest Republican Super PACs in the country, and a law firm with deep ties to the Obama administration. One of Jeb Bush’s top fundraisers, Ignacio Sanchez, is also lobbying for the Saudi Kingdom. Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the U.S. has come under particular strain in recent years as the government has not only launched the brutal war in Yemen, but has embarked on a wave of repression. Following the appointment of Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud to the Saudi throne in January, the Kingdom sharply increased the number of people executed — often by beheading and crucifixion — for daring to protest or criticize the government or for crimes as minor as adultery or “witchcraft.” On November 17, a Saudi court sentenced Ashraf Fayadh, a famed poet, to death for “apostasy.”

There have also been reports that Saudi Arabia continues to be a leading driver of Sunni terror networks worldwide, including in Syria and Iraq. The Saudi Arabian government is currently supplying weapons to a Syrian rebel coalition that includes the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s affiliate in the region. As the New York Times has reported, private donors in Saudi Arabia have also worked as fundraisers for the Islamic State, or ISIS. And there is a renewed, bipartisan push by lawmakers to declassify the 28 pages of the 9/11 Commission Report, a censored section that reportedly relates to Saudi state support for al Qaeda’s operation.

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It’s been tried before.

Pope Orders Unprecedented Audit of Vatican Wealth (BBG)

Pope Francis, galvanized by a scandal over Vatican finances, has ordered the most powerful bodies in the city-state to launch an unprecedented audit of its wealth and crack down on runaway spending. At the suggestion of his economic chief, Cardinal George Pell, Francis has set up a “Working-Party for the Economic Future” which brings together the Secretariat of State, or prime minister’s office, the Vatican Bank and other agencies. Francis has told the panel “to address the financial challenges and identify how more resources can be devoted to the many good works of the Church, especially supporting the poor and vulnerable,” Danny Casey, director of Pell’s office at the Secretariat for the Economy, said in an interview.

The pope’s initiatives come as five people stand trial in the Vatican over the leak of confidential documents in two books published last month that described corruption, mismanagement and wasteful spending by church officials. Those on trial deny wrongdoing. Francis, 78, has pushed for more openness and transparency in Vatican financial and economic agencies but he has faced resistance from the Rome bureaucracy. On the flight back to Rome on Monday after a visit to Africa, Francis told reporters that the so-called Vatileaks II scandal was an indication of the mess that he’s trying to sort out.

The trial of two former Vatican employees alongside the books’ authors highlighted Church efforts “to seek out corruption, the things which aren’t right,” he said, according to a transcript provided by the Vatican. The working group, which held its first meeting last week, will study measures to cut costs and raise revenue as part of a long-term financial plan. “This will include comparing actual expenditure against budgets at a consolidated level, which is a new initiative,” Casey said.

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The yaun would have to be perceived as stable first. How long will that take, though?

China Needs More Users For ‘Freely Usable’ Yuan After IMF Nod (Reuters)

The IMF’s decision to add China’s yuan to its reserves basket is a triumph for Beijing, but the fund’s verdict that the currency met its “freely usable” test will have little financial impact unless Beijing recruits more users. The desire of Chinese reformers to internationalize the currency has a clear economic rationale; a yuan in wide circulation overseas would reduce China’s dependence on the dollar system and on policy set in Washington. It would also make it easier for Chinese firms to invoice and borrow offshore in yuan, reducing the risk of exchange rate fluctuations and prompting China’s inefficient state-owned banks to improve their performance or lose business. Those concerned about a potential global liquidity crisis caused by overdependence on the United States might also welcome the yuan as an alternative to the dollar, as would countries locked out of dollar capital markets by sanctions.

But to serve these purposes, there needs to be a much bigger pool of yuan outside China, which requires offshore institutions – and not just in Hong Kong – to buy and hold yuan. Few believe the IMF decision alone, which economist Alicia Garcia-Herrero called a “beauty contest”, will change investor behavior much. For that, says Swiss bank UBS, Beijing needs to continue financial reforms and capital account liberalization to improve the efficiency of capital allocation in China. Foreign investors want Beijing to provide predictable and transparent legal and taxation treatment, and drop its penchant for pilot programs and quotas in favor of consistency. They also want to know they can freely sell their yuan assets, not just buy, a concern that only grew over the summer, when Beijing stepped into its stock markets to stop a sell-off.

Foreign investors aren’t making full use of the existing channels to buy Chinese assets that Beijing allows – quotas for the two Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor programs (QFII and RQFII) and the Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect have yet to be used up. And for all the impressive trade statistics, much of the “offshore” yuan isn’t traveling the globe but bouncing to and fro across the internal border with Hong Kong, largely traded between Chinese companies. “The number one thing we would like to see changed is that the QFII and RQFII quotas are dropped, just as they dropped in July the quotas for central banks, sovereign wealth funds and supernationals. It’ll make it a lot easier for global institutional investors,” said Hayden Briscoe at AllianceBernstein in Hong Kong.

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“Over the past several decades, the U.S. dollar has been the main reserve currency, and the U.S. has experienced huge capital inflows, especially from countries such as China.”

A Reserve Currency Brings Boom and Busts (BBG)

Why would China want the IMF to put the yuan in the SDR? It may want to engineer a bump in capital inflows, at a time when money is trying to leave China. Generating some foreign demand for yuan-denominated assets might help stabilize the Chinese currency, which is expected to depreciate a bit in the months ahead. The IMF might be motivated to help China limit the moves in its currency in order to promote global macroeconomic stability, or it might want to lure China into making sovereign loans through the fund instead of on its own. Ultimately, the yuan’s status as a reserve currency will be driven by China’s further liberalization of its capital account. The easier it becomes to move money in and out of yuan, the more asset managers will be willing to put their money in.

And if China ascends to true reserve currency status, the most important effects will be in the long term – not all of them good. True reserve currency status makes it cheaper for a government to borrow, which means that – all else equal – more borrowing will happen. That will increase net capital inflows. And as many countries have learned during the last decade, capital inflows can cause trouble. That doesn’t make a lot of sense, intuitively. How could it harm a country to allow it to borrow cheaply? If countries were rational and foresighted, they would borrow no more than is healthy. But sovereign borrowing decisions are the result of government decisions not market ones, and no one would argue that governments always make wise choices. Even the private sector, though, could be harmed by capital inflows.

As economists Gianluca Benigno, Nathan Converse, and Luca Fornaro have found, large influxes of foreign money can lead to booms and busts. They can also cause a country to shift resources out of manufacturing, where productivity growth is often high, into service-oriented industries where productivity is relatively stagnant. Over the past several decades, the U.S. dollar has been the main reserve currency, and the U.S. has experienced huge capital inflows, especially from countries such as China. Those capital inflows in turn have caused a large, persistent trade deficit. Perhaps not coincidentally, U.S. manufacturing hasn’t grown very fast since the late 1990s. In the year ahead, reserve-currency status might help cushion the country’s economic slowdown. But in the long term, it might be a poisoned chalice for China.

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High time people start taking Steve a whole lot more serious. Budget surpluses kill economies.

‘Sound Finance’? The Logic Behind Running A Budget Surplus (Steve Keen)

The indefatigable Mr. Keen presents lecture no. 8 in the series. The ‘logic’ of a government aiming for a budget surplus is that the people must run a deficit.

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Not much in this FT piece is based on facts.

Greece Threatened With Schengen Expulsion Over Refugee Response (FT)

The EU is warning Greece it faces suspension from the Schengen passport-free travel zone unless it overhauls its response to the migration crisis by mid-December, as frustration mounts over Athens’ reluctance to accept outside support. Several European ministers and senior EU officials see the threat of pushing out Greece over “serious deficiencies” in border control as the only way left to persuade Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s prime minister, to deliver on his promises and take up EU offers of help. If the EU follows through on its threat, it would mark the first time a country has been suspended from Schengen since its establishment in 1985. The challenge to Athens comes amid a bigger rethink on tightening joint border control to ensure the survival of the Schengen zone.

The European Commission will this month propose a joint border force empowered to take charge of borders, potentially even against the will of frontline states such as Greece. Greece’s relatively weak administration has been overwhelmed by more than 700,000 migrants crossing its frontiers this year. Given the severity of the crisis, EU officials are vexed by Athens’s refusal to call in a special mission from Frontex, the EU border agency; its unwillingness to accept EU humanitarian aid; and its failure to revamp its system for registering refugees. EU home affairs ministers, who meet on Friday, are to make clear that more drastic measures will be considered if Greece fails to take action before a summit of EU leaders in mid-December, according to four senior European diplomats.

The suspension warning has been delivered repeatedly to Greece this week, including through a visit to Athens by Jean Asselborn, foreign minister of Luxembourg, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency. One Greek official strongly denied accusations of being unco-operative and said claims Mr Tsipras has failed to meet pledges made at a summit of western Balkan leaders last month were “untrue”. But another official acknowledged the foot-dragging. He said it stemmed from a legal requirement that only Greeks were allowed to patrol the country’s borders as well as sensitivity over the long-running dispute over Macedonia’s name and suspicions about Turkish designs on certain Greek islands, including Lesbos, point of entry for many migrants.

As Greece shares no land borders with Schengen , Greek officials point out it will have no impact on migrant flows. “There are no refugees leaving Greece who are flying ,” he said. EU officials acknowledge this but say the withdrawal of travel rights for Greeks is one of their few points of leverage over Mr Tsipras. Athens has recently turned down a deployment of up to 400 Frontex staff to immediately reinforce its border with Macedonia, complaining in a letter to the European Commission that their mandate was too broad and went beyond registration. Greek officials have yet to accept an invitation to invoke an emergency aid scheme – the EU civil protection mechanism — that would rush humanitarian support to islands and border areas.

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Very illustrative of the confusion that is an integral part of the EU. Note: Denmark is not in the eurozone.

Denmark To Vote On More Or Less EU (EUObserver)

Danes head to the polling stations on Thursday (3 December) for their eighth EU referendum since a majority voted Yes to join the club back in 1972. So far, they voted five time Yes and two times No, with a narrow lead for the No side this time around. A Gallup poll published on Saturday in the Berlingske Tidende daily showed 38% intend to vote No, with 34% Yes, and 23% undecided. You need to go back to the Maastricht treaty referendum over 20 years ago to find the reason for this week’s plebiscite. Maastricht was initially rejected by the Danes in 1992. In order to save the entire treaty, Denmark, at a summit in Edinburgh, was offered a handful of treaty-based opt-outs, preserving Danish sovereignty over EU-policy areas, such as the euro and justice and home affairs.

The Maastricht treaty was then approved together with the opt-outs in a re-run of the vote in 1993. EU legislation in the area of justice and home affairs has ballooned in the 20 years which followed. Today, it includes important areas such as cybercrime, trafficking, data protection, the Schengen free-travel system, refugee and asylum policy, and closer police co-operation on counter-terrorism. Bound by the old treaty opt-out, Denmark automatically stays out of all the supra-national EU justice and home affairs policies and doesn’t take part in EU Council votes in these areas. A frustrated majority in the Danish parliament, nick-named “Borgen” (The Castle), in August voted to call the referendum asking citizens to scrap the old arragement. They wanted permission from voters to opt in to the justice and home affairs policies over time, without having to consult people, each time, in a referendum.

The Yes parties identified 22 existing EU initiatives they want Denmark to join right after a Yes vote. They also promised Denmark won’t take part in 10 other EU initiatives – including the hot-button issue of asylum and immigration. The day after the referendum was announced, Gallup polled that a safe majority of 58% would vote Yes. But something happened during the campaign. First, the refugee crisis hardened public opinion. Liberal prime minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen promised there would be a new referendum before Denmark ever joins EU refugee and asylum policies. The move confused voters, who saw no reason to scrap the opt-out if Denmark was to stay out of key policies anyway. Then more terror attacks hit Paris in November.

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Turkey wil never be part of the EU. Any attempt to include it would blow up the union.

Merkel Accused In Germany Of Kowtowing To Erdogan (EurActiv)

The European People’s Party (EPP) has reiterated its opposition to EU membership for Turkey, despite the agreement that was reached on Sunday (29 November). EurActiv Germany reports. The deal that was struck with Ankara in relation to providing aid to tackle the refugee crisis and reopening accession talks has done nothing to quell the scepticism of the conservative EPP. “For us in the EPP, it is clear that we want a close partnership, but not full membership,” Manfred Weber (CSU), the EPP’s group leader, told Bavarian television on Monday (30 November). Although supporting the financial pledge made by the EU, he called the decision to allow Turks visa-free travel a “bitter pill” to swallow.

On Sunday evening (29 November), the EU and Turkey concluded talks that had been made necessary by the ongoing refugee crisis. Ankara committed itself to strengthening its land and sea borders, as well as stepping up its efforts against traffickers. In return, the EU pledged €3 billion to be used exclusively to care for refugees, to remove the visa-requirement for Turkish travellers and to re-energise accession talks. Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (FDP), Vice-President of the European Parliament, criticised the reopening of accession talks, given the civil and human rights situation in Asia Minor. It is not right that the EU have thrown their “values overboard” in dealing with the refugee crisis, the liberal politician said in a radio interview. Lambsdorff accused the German Chancellor of kowtowing to Turkish President Erdogan.

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Can Erdogan run afoul of his own troops?

Turkish Military Says Secret Service Shipped Weapons To Al-Qaeda (AM)

Secret official documents about the searching of three trucks belonging to Turkey’s national intelligence service (MIT) have been leaked online, once again corroborating suspicions that Ankara has not been playing a clean game in Syria. According to the authenticated documents, the trucks were found to be transporting missiles, mortars and anti-aircraft ammunition. The Gendarmerie General Command, which authored the reports, alleged, “The trucks were carrying weapons and supplies to the al-Qaeda terror organization”. But Turkish readers could not see the documents in the news bulletins and newspapers that shared them, because the government immediately obtained a court injunction banning all reporting about the affair.

When President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was prime minister, he had said, “You cannot stop the MIT truck. You cannot search it. You don’t have the authority. These trucks were taking humanitarian assistance to Turkmens”. Since then, Erdogan and his hand-picked new Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu have repeated at every opportunity that the trucks were carrying assistance to Turkmens. Public prosecutor Aziz Takci, who had ordered the trucks to be searched, was removed from his post and 13 soldiers involved in the search were taken to court on charges of espionage. Their indictments call for prison terms of up to 20 years. In scores of documents leaked by a group of hackers, the Gendarmerie Command notes that rocket warheads were found in the trucks’ cargo. According to the documents that circulated on the Internet before the ban came into effect, this was the summary of the incident:

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For now, Russia’s still trying through the UN. While likely sitting on explosive evidence.

Russia Wants To Stop ISIS’ Illegal Oil Trade With Turkey (RT)

Russia is working with the UN Security Council on a document that would enforce stricter implementation of Resolution 2199, which aims to curb illegal oil trade with and by terrorist groups, Russian ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin told RIA Novosti. The draft resolution intends to quash the financing of terrorist groups, including Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) extremists. “We are not happy with the way Resolution 2199, which was our initiative, is controlled and implemented. We want to toughen the whole procedure,” Churkin said. “We are already discussing the text with some colleagues and I must say that so far there is not a lot of contention being expressed.” US Ambassador Samantha Power said that America has “a shared objective” with Russia on this, since it is also working towards bringing the financing of terrorism to a halt.

The new document is a follow-up to Russian-sponsored Resolution 2199, which was adopted by the UN on February 12 to put a stop to illicit oil deals with terrorist structures using the UN Security Council’s sanctions toolkit. February’s resolution “has become an integral part of efforts by the UN Security Council, with Russia’s active involvement, to consolidate the international legal framework for countering the terrorist threat from ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra,” Dr Alexander Yakovenko, Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, wrote for RT. “Its urgency is prompted by the considerable revenues that the terrorists are receiving from trade in hydrocarbons from seized deposits in Syria and Iraq.” More specifically, it bans all types of oil trade with IS and Jabhat al-Nusra.

If such transactions are discovered, they are labeled as financial aid to terrorists and result in targeted sanctions against participating individuals or companies. Back in July, the UN Security Council expressed “grave concern” over reports of oil trading with IS militant groups in Iraq and Syria. The statement came after IS seized control of oilfields in the area and was reportedly using the revenues to finance its nascent “state.” While Ambassador Churkin has proposed sanctioning states trading with IS terrorists, a retired US army general, believes that Churkin should be more specific in identifying the state actors involved in the illegal oil trade. Retired US Army Major General Paul E. Vallely, who has recently been lobbying for the Syrian rebels to cooperate with Russia against Islamic State, as well as for Washington to take a more active role in the war on IS, says Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan should be singled out as a “negative force” for supporting Islamic State’s black market oil revenues.

While the rebels in eastern Syria where the oil fields are located “could align with certain forces that are there – the Russians, if they were so inclined to do so… the key is to destroy ISIS, and one of the initiatives that ambassador Churkin should be moving toward with the Security Council is Erdogan in Turkey,” Vallely told RT. “He [Erdogan] has been supporting ISIS since I was over there several years ago. I’ve met some of the black-marketeers along the Syrian border there in [Turkish] Hatay province, and so they’re alive and well. But Erdogan is a problem, he really is, and if I was ambassador Churkin, not only would I propose something in the Security Council for cutting off the finances, but also doing some kind of action against Erdogan. He is a very, very negative force in that area.”

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Looks dead. But so does ‘resetting’ the Ukraine option.

Turkish Stream Gas Pipeline Freezes (Reuters)

Russia may freeze work on the Turkish Stream gas pipeline project for several years in retaliation against Ankara for the shooting down of a Russian Air Force jet, two sources at Russian gas giant Gazprom have told Reuters. The project is to involve, initially, building a new gas pipeline under the Black Sea to Turkey, and in subsequent phases the construction of a further line from Turkey to Greece, and then overland into Southeastern Europe. Even before the row with Ankara, the project had been delayed and reduced in scale, leading some industry insiders to doubt if it would ever happen.

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Robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Puerto Rico’s Financial Crisis Just Got More Serious (WaPo)

Virtually out of cash and with its revenues fast deteriorating, Puerto Rico is moving toward default on $7 billion in loans owed by its public corporations to free up money to repay loans backed by the territory’s full faith and credit, Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla told a Senate hearing Tuesday. The move allowed Puerto Rico to make a $355 million bond payment due today. Still, the financial gimmick, which violates the terms of some of those bond deals, only provides a short-term fix for the island’s liquidity problems. With at least $687 million in payments due on Jan. 1 and others to follow, it will only be a matter of time before Puerto Rico misses large payments on its $73 billion in outstanding debt, officials said.

“In simple terms we have begun to default on our debt in an effort to attempt to repay bonds issued with full faith and credit of the commonwealth and secure sufficient resources to protect the life, health, safety and welfare of the people of Puerto Rico,” Garcia Padilla told the Senate Judiciary Committee. If Congress does not pass legislation to allow Puerto Rico to reorganize its debts in bankruptcy, Tuesday’s financial move will just be “the beginning of a very long and chaotic process” that will harm the island’s creditors and allow a budding humanitarian crisis on the island to grow out of control, the governor said.

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Obama will stall until his term is over.

Human Rights Watch Demands US Criminal Probe Of CIA Torture (Reuters)

Human Rights Watch called on the Obama administration on Tuesday to investigate 21 former U.S. officials, including former President George W. Bush, for potential criminal misconduct for their roles in the CIA’s torture of terrorism suspects in detention. The other officials include former Vice President Dick Cheney, former CIA Director George Tenet, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Human Rights Watch argued that details of the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogation program that were made public by a U.S. Senate committee in December 2014 provided enough evidence for the Obama administration to open an inquiry.

“It’s been a year since the Senate torture report, and still the Obama administration has not opened new criminal investigations into CIA torture,” Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Without criminal investigations, which would remove torture as a policy option, Obama’s legacy will forever be poisoned.” Representatives for Bush and Tenet declined comment. Representatives for Cheney, Ashcroft and Rice could not immediately be reached for comment. Former Bush administration officials and Republicans have argued that the CIA used “enhanced interrogation techniques” that did not constitute torture. They argue that the Senate report was biased.

“It’s a bunch of hooey,” James Mitchell, one of the architects of the interrogation program told Reuters nearly a year ago after the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s findings. “Some of the things are just plain not true.” In a video released in conjunction with the report, “No More Excuses” “A Roadmap to Justice for CIA Torture,” the president of the American Bar Association calls for a renewed investigation as well. In June, the ABA sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch also saying that the details disclosed in the Senate report merited an investigation. “What we’ve asked the Justice Department to do is take a fresh look, a comprehensive look, into what has occurred to basically leave no stone unturned into investigating possible violations,” said American Bar Association President Paulette Brown.

“And if any are found to take the appropriate action as they would in any other matter.” CIA interrogators carried out the program on detainees who were captured around the world after the Sept. 11, 2001 hijacked plane attacks on the United States. In 2008, the Bush administration opened a criminal inquiry into whether the CIA destroyed videotapes of interrogations. After taking office in 2009, the Obama administration expanded the inquiry to include whether the interrogation program’s activity involved criminal conduct. In 2012, the Obama administration closed the criminal inquiry. Then Attorney General Eric Holder said that not enough evidence existed for criminal prosecution, including the death of two detainees.

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And here’s your daily dose of dead children.

4-Year Old Girl Drowns As Refugee Boat Tries To Reach Greek Shores (Kath.)

A 4-year-old child was reported drowned in the early hours of Tuesday as she and 28 fellow passengers tried to swim to the shore of Rho, a small islet off the coast of Kastellorizo in the southeastern Aegean. The coast guard says it was able to rescue the other 28 passengers on board the craft that had set sail from Turkey as they tried to reach Europe, but the young girl drowned in the final scramble. Greek coast guard officers have rescued over 200 refugees and migrants from Greece’s seas since Monday.

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Nov 302015
 
 November 30, 2015  Posted by at 10:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


John Vachon Trucks loaded with mattresses at San Angelo, Texas Nov 1939

COP-21 Climate Deal In Paris Spells End Of The Fossil Era (AEP)
Oil’s Big Players Line Up for $30 Billion of Projects in Iran (Bloomberg)
India Opposes Deal To Phase Out Fossil Fuels By 2100 (Reuters)
Beijing Smog Levels So High They Move ‘Beyond Index’ (Bloomberg)
World’s Biggest Pension Fund Loses $64 Billion Amid Equity Rout (Bloomberg)
Iron Ore Falls Below $40 A Metric Ton For The First Time (Bloomberg)
Fed To Take Up ‘Too Big To Fail’ Emergency Lending Curb (Reuters)
Did the Yuan Really Pass the IMF Currency Test? You’ll Know Soon (Bloomberg)
IMF Move Would Pressure China on Management of Yuan (WSJ)
IMF’s Yuan Inclusion Signals Less Risk Taking In China (Reuters)
VW Top Execs Knew Fuel Usage In Some Cars Was Too High A Year Ago (Reuters)
BlackRock Spreads its Tentacles in Brussels (Don Quijones)
The Silk Road Affair: Power, Pop and a Bunch of Billionaires (Bloomberg)
The Strange Case Of Julian Assange (Crikey)
Saudi Arabia’s 2015 Beheadings The Most In 20 Years (Al Jazeera)
EU Split Over Refugee Deal As Germany Leads Breakaway Coalition (Guardian)
European Union Reaches Deal With Turkey on Migration (WSJ)
Tsipras Takes On Turkey’s Davutoglu On Twitter (AP)
As the World Turns Away, Refugees are Still Drowning in the Mediterranean (HRW)

Ambroses say the darndest things. This Ambrose looks through rosy glasses. Probably drinks from them too. “..both countries have come to the realisation that it is possible to decarbonise without hurting economic growth..” Oh, for Christ sake.

COP-21 Climate Deal In Paris Spells End Of The Fossil Era (AEP)

A far-reaching deal on climate change in Paris over coming days promises to unleash a $30 trillion blitz of investment on new technology and renewable energy by 2040, creating vast riches for those in the vanguard and potentially lifting the global economy out of its slow-growth trap. Economists at Barclays estimate that greenhouse gas pledges made by the US, the EU, China, India, and others for the COP-21 climate summit amount to an epic change in the allocation of capital and resources, with financial winners and losers to match. They said the fossil fuel industry of coal, gas, andoil could forfeit $34 trillion in revenues over the next quarter century – a quarter of their income – if the Paris accord is followed by a series of tougher reviews every five years to force down the trajectory of CO2 emissions, as proposed by the United Nations and French officials hosting the talks.

By then crude consumption would fall to 72m barrels a day – half OPEC projections – and demand would be in precipitous decline. Most fossil companies would face run-off unless they could reinvent themselves as 21st Century post-carbon leaders, as Shell, Total, and Statoil are already doing. The agreed UN goal is to cap the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels by 2100, deemed the safe limit if we are to pass on a world that is more or less recognisable. Climate negotiators say there will have to be drastic “decarbonisation” to bring this in sight, with negative net emissions by 2070 or soon after. This means that CO2 will have to be plucked from the air and buried, or absorbed by reforestation.

Such a scenario would imply the near extinction of the coal industry unless there is a big push for carbon capture and storage. It also implies a near total switch to electric cars, rendering the internal combustion engine obsolete. The Bank of England and the G20’s Financial Stability Board aim to bring about a “soft landing” that protects investors and gives the fossil industry time to adapt by forcing it to confront the issue head on. Barclays said ,$21.5 trillion of investment in energy efficiency will be needed by 2040 under the current pledges, which cover 155 countries and 94pc of the global economy. It expects a further $8.5 trillion of spending on solar, wind, hydro, energy storage, and nuclear power. Those best-placed to profit in Europe are: Denmark’s wind group Vestas; Schneider and ABB for motors and transmission; Legrand for low voltage equipment; Alstom and Siemens for rail efficiency; Philips, and Osram for LEDs and lighting.

But this is a minimalist scenario. While the Paris commitments suggest a watershed moment, they do not go far enough to meet the targets set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC). The planet has already used up two-thirds of the allowable “carbon budget” of 2,900 gigatonnes (GT), and will have used up three quarters of the remaining 1,000 GT by 2030. Barclays advised clients to prepare for a more radical outcome, entailing almost $45 trillion of spending on different forms of decarbonisation. “The fact that COP-21 in itself is clearly not going to put the world on a 2 degree track does not mean that fossil-fuel companies can simply carry on with business-as-usual. We think they should be stress-testing their business models against a significant tightening of global climate policy over the next two decades,” it said.

[..] Mr Jacobs said a deal in Paris is highly likely. “You can never rule out a break-down. These meetings always go to the wire. But we have gone past the turning point in the US and China, and both countries have come to the realisation that it is possible to decarbonise without hurting economic growth,” he said. It will not be a legally-binding treaty, but it is expected to have the same effect as each country transposes the targets into its own law. In the US it will be enforced through the legal mechanism of the Clean Air Act, anchored on earlier accords, without need for Senate ratification. The sums of money are colossal. Macro-economists say this is just what is needed to soak up the global savings glut and rescue the world from its 1930s liquidity trap. There might even be a boom.

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End of the fossil era, Ambrose? Not everyone agrees.

Oil’s Big Players Line Up for $30 Billion of Projects in Iran (Bloomberg)

Total, Royal Dutch Shell and Lukoil are among international companies that have selected oil and natural gas deposits to develop in Iran as the holder of the world’s fourth-largest crude reserves presents $30 billion worth of projects to investors. Total is one of the companies that have been in the forefront of discussions and Eni is also looking to invest, Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said. Shell, Total and Lukoil all specified fields they would be interested in developing in Iran, Ali Kardor, deputy director of investment and financing at National Iranian Oil Co. said in an interview in Tehran. “Many companies are interested. Europeans are interested, Asian companies are interested,” Zanganeh told reporters at a conference in Tehran on Saturday. “Total is interested, Eni is interested.”

Iran is pitching 70 oil and natural gas projects valued at $30 billion to foreign investors at a two-day conference in Tehran as the Persian Gulf country prepares for the end of sanctions that have stifled its energy production. All banking and economic sanctions will be lifted by the first week of January,” Amir Hossein Zamaninia, deputy oil minister for international and commerce affairs, said at the event. “We are interested to come back to Iran when the sanctions are lifted and if the contracts are interesting,” Stephane Michel, Total’s head of exploration and production in the Middle East said at the conference. “We have worked in this country for a long time, so we know specific fields on which we’ve worked.”

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Eh, Ambrose? “The entire prosperity of the world has been built on cheap energy. And suddenly we are being forced into higher cost energy. That’s grossly unfair..”

India Opposes Deal To Phase Out Fossil Fuels By 2100 (Reuters)

India would reject a deal to combat climate change that includes a pledge for the world to wean itself off fossil fuels this century, a senior official said, underlying the difficulties countries face in agreeing how to slow global warming. Almost 200 nations will meet in the French capital on Nov. 30 to try and seal a deal to prevent the planet from warming more than the 2 degrees Celsius that scientists say is vital if the world is to avoid the most devastating effects of climate change. To keep warming in check, some countries want the Paris agreement to include a commitment to decarbonize – to reduce and ultimately phase out the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas that is blamed for climate change – this century.

India, the world’s third largest carbon emitter, is dependent on coal for most of its energy needs, and despite a pledge to expand solar and wind power has said its economy is too small and its people too poor to end use of the fossil fuel anytime soon. “It’s problematic for us to make that commitment at this point in time. It’s certainly a stumbling block (to a deal),” Ajay Mathur, a senior member of India’s negotiating team for Paris, told Reuters in an interview this week. “The entire prosperity of the world has been built on cheap energy. And suddenly we are being forced into higher cost energy. That’s grossly unfair,” he said. Mathur said India, whose position at climate talks is seen by some in the West as intransigent, was committed to the 2 degrees ceiling as a long-term goal and was confident a deal would be reached.

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If PM2.5 is the threat, what good is staying indoors? You’d have to live in a bunker.

Beijing Smog Levels So High They Move ‘Beyond Index’ (Bloomberg)

Smog levels spiked in Beijing on Monday, highlighting the environmental challenges facing China as President Xi Jinping arrives in Paris for global climate talks. The concentration of PM2.5, fine particulates that pose the greatest risk to human health, went “beyond index” in the afternoon, according to a U.S. Embassy monitor. The PM2.5 level was 678 micrograms per cubic meter near Tiananmen Square, the Beijing government said. The World Health Organization recommends average 24-hour exposure to PMI of 25 or below. Public outrage over air pollution has been a catalyst for China’s transformation into a driving force for a breakthrough deal in Paris. Leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping are scheduled to being discussions in the French capital Monday.

Beijing on Sunday raised its air pollution alert to orange, the second-highest level in its four-tier system, for the first time in 13 months. The heavy pollution in Beijing won’t clear up until Dec. 2, according to the environment bureau. The city will ask some factories to suspend or limit production and construction sites to stop transporting materials and waste while the orange alert is active, it said. Under the orange alert, people are advised to cut down on outdoor activity, while the elderly and people with heart and lung ailments should stay inside. Severe pollution was also reported in at least 17 other cities around Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei and Shandong, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection. Shanghai’s air was also heavily polluted, the second worst level on a six-grade scale, with the PM2.5 reading at 170.4 micrograms per cubic meter as of 12 p.m..

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I warned this would happen the moment Abe pushed pension funds to prop up stock markets: they lose big. Japanese who read this will save even more, further crippling Abenomics.

World’s Biggest Pension Fund Loses $64 Billion Amid Equity Rout (Bloomberg)

The world’s biggest pension fund posted its worst quarterly loss since at least 2008 after a global stock rout in August and September wiped $64 billion off the Japanese asset manager’s investments. The 135.1 trillion yen ($1.1 trillion) Government Pension Investment Fund lost 5.6% last quarter as the value of its holdings declined by 7.9 trillion yen, according to documents released Monday in Tokyo. That’s the biggest percentage drop in comparable data starting from April 2008. The fund lost 8 trillion yen on its domestic and foreign equities and 241 billion yen on overseas debt, while Japanese bonds handed GPIF a 302 billion yen gain.

The loss was GPIF’s first since doubling its allocation to stocks and reducing debt last October, and highlights the risk of sharp short-term losses that come with the fund’s more aggressive investment style. Fund executives have argued that holding more shares and foreign assets is a better approach as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seeks to spur inflation that would erode the purchasing power of bonds. [..] GPIF had 39% of its assets in Japanese debt at Sept. 30, and 21% in the nation’s equities, according to the statement. That compares with 38% and 23% three months earlier, respectively. The fund had 22% of its investments in foreign stocks at the end of September, and 14% in overseas bonds.

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Overleveraged overcapacity will disappear no matter how powerful the interests.

Iron Ore Falls Below $40 A Metric Ton For The First Time (Bloomberg)

Most-active iron ore futures in Singapore sank below $40 a metric ton for the first time on concern that the economic slowdown in China will cut demand as supplies from the largest miners climb. [..] The raw material has been pummeled since the start of 2014 as surging supplies from low-cost producers including BHP Billiton Ltd. and Rio Tinto in Australia and Brazil’s Vale combine with faltering demand in China to spur a glut. Losses in Singapore and Dalian could presage a drop in the benchmark price for spot ore in Qingdao, which will be updated later in the day. The latest sign of new supply came from Australia, with a vessel waiting offshore on Monday to load the first cargo from Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill mine.

“Supply continues to rise while port inventories are starting to climb, weighing on iron ore prices,” analysts at Maike Futures Co. said in a note on Monday. “The overseas producers are still profitable and are greatly reducing costs.” The top miners are betting that higher output will enable them to cut unit costs and defend market share while smaller rivals shut. Mills in China, contending with overcapacity and depressed margins, will cut steel production by almost 3% next year, according to the China Iron & Steel Association.

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The Fed can elect to ignore the law, and Congress?

Fed To Take Up ‘Too Big To Fail’ Emergency Lending Curb (Reuters)

The Federal Reserve Board will consider on Monday a proposal to curb its emergency lending powers, a change demanded by Congress after the central bank’s controversial decision to aid AIG, Citigroup and others in 2008. A proposed rule, to be considered by the Fed’s Washington-based board in an open meeting, would require that any future emergency lending be only “broad-based” to address larger financial market problems, and not tailored to specific firms. The 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law instructed the Fed to curtail emergency loans to individual banks and prohibited it from lending to companies considered insolvent.

While some at the Fed worry the new rules will hamper the central bank’s response in future crises, some politicians have said the proposed regulations are too imprecise, for example in defining insolvency, to prevent the types of deals done in 2008. As the financial crisis intensified in 2008, the Fed invoked its little-used emergency lending power to stave off the failure of AIG and Bear Stearns, and help other “too big to fail” companies including Citigroup and Bank of America. The Fed also enacted a series of more general emergency programs, in all providing $710 billion in loans and guarantees. Those programs were separate from the much larger Fed asset and bond purchases known as quantitative easing.

The loans have been repaid and the guarantees ended, ultimately earning the Fed a net profit of $30 billion, according to a September Congressional Research Service review. However the effort was criticized as overreach, arguably important in limiting the crisis but also not clearly in line with the intended use of the Fed’s emergency authority. The Fed routinely lends money to banks on a short-term basis to smooth the operations of the financial system. That is part of why it exists. But since the 1930s it has had the power to lend more broadly in a crisis.

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Can’t see Lagarde crushing the expectations she herself built up. Unless there’s a dirty game going on behind the curtain.

Did the Yuan Really Pass the IMF Currency Test? You’ll Know Soon (Bloomberg)

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde and some two dozen officials on the fund’s executive board will gather Monday at headquarters in Washington for one of the most-anticipated decisions outside of actually approving loans for nations in crisis. The question inside the 12th-floor, oval boardroom: whether to grant China’s yuan status as a reserve currency by adding it to the fund’s Special Drawing Rights basket. The SDR, created in 1969, gives IMF member countries who hold it the right to obtain any of the currencies in the basket – currently the dollar, euro, yen and pound – to meet balance-of-payments needs. While there’s little suspense in the main thrust of the expected approval – Lagarde already announced that fund staff had recommended the yuan be included and that she supported the finding – the IMF is likely to give more details on how it arrived at the decision.

The IMF’s highest decision-making body is its board of governors, a group of mostly finance ministers and central bankers from its 188 member countries. The board of governors has delegated most of its powers to the executive board, made up of 24 executive directors who represent the membership. The meeting Monday has been classified as “restricted,” meaning no support staff will be allowed to attend. The executive board, which meets more than 200 times a year, usually makes decisions based on consensus, rather than formal votes. Mark Sobel, the U.S. executive director who answers to the Obama administration, wields the most power, with a 17% voting stake. Together, the Group of Seven countries control 43% of the vote, making them a formidable bloc. China, which holds a 3.8% voting share, is represented by former People’s Bank of China official Jin Zhongxia.

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Beijing’s hands will be tied.

IMF Move Would Pressure China on Management of Yuan (WSJ)

The IMF is on the verge of labeling China’s yuan a reserve currency. Now Chinese officials will have to prove they can treat it like one. The IMF on Monday is widely expected to say that next year, it will add the yuan to the elite basket of currencies that comprise its lending reserves, a status enjoyed only by the U.S. dollar, the euro, the British pound and the Japanese yen. The inclusion would represent recognition that the yuan’s status is rising along with China’s place in global finance. Now comes the hard part. The inclusion puts new pressure on Beijing to change everything from how it manages the yuan, also known as renminbi, to how it communicates with investors and the world. China’s pledges to loosen its tight grip on the currency’s value and open its financial system will come under new scrutiny.

“We will have to build up confidence in renminbi assets from investors both at home and abroad and at the same time, prevent the financial risks associated with a more global currency,” said Sheng Songcheng, head of the survey and statistics department at the People’s Bank of China, the country’s central bank. “That calls for carrying out various financial reforms in a coordinated way.” Inclusion would also put pressure on the central bank to offer the same degree of clarity and transparency that the U.S. Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank and other vital institutions strive for. That could be difficult: In the past six months alone, the PBOC shocked markets with a surprise currency devaluation, stood mostly silent during a Chinese stock-market rout and confused investors by issuing a new proclamation that turned out to be months old.

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Is the SDR Xi’s Trojan Horse?

IMF’s Yuan Inclusion Signals Less Risk Taking In China (Reuters)

When the IMF agrees on Monday to add the Chinese yuan to its reserves basket in the biggest shake-up in more than three decades, the IMF can afford itself a congratulatory nod. By acknowledging the yuan as a major global currency alongside the dollar, euro, yen, and pound, as is widely expected, IMF members will endorse the efforts of China’s economic reformers and by doing so hope that will spur fresh change in China. But Chinese policy insiders and international policymakers say reforms may not continue at the breakneck pace of recent months. In addition, Chinese sources suggest adding the yuan to the IMF basket leaves economic conservatives better positioned to resist further significant reform in a reminder of the period following China’s entry to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

A slowing in the pace has implications for those who bet that making the yuan a global reserve currency will give it a boost. The yuan has fallen almost 3% against the dollar this year, on course for its biggest annual fall since its landmark 2005 revaluation. The IMF decision will remove a key incentive – bolstering national pride – that reformers used to push otherwise reluctant conservatives to support reforms. More importantly, however, are worries in Beijing that the rickety economy can’t handle more aggressive reform that allows a freer flow of currency across China’s borders. Beijing is already rapidly losing a taste for more experimentation with capital flows, say the sources – economists involved in policy discussions who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject.

After the stock market buckled more than 40% in the summer – which many blamed on nefarious foreign capital – regulators have made it harder for money to leave China to counter yuan selling pressure and have intervened heavily in onshore and offshore currency markets. Not just conservatives, but more liberal economists are calling for a pause. “Our ability to control financial risk has yet to be improved,” said a senior economist at the China Centre for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE), an influential Beijing think-tank. “Any rush to open up the capital account completely could be unfavorable for controlling financial risks … we will definitely be very cautious.”

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Which is why former CEO Winterkorn left in a hurry as soon as the scandal first broke.

VW Top Execs Knew Fuel Usage In Some Cars Was Too High A Year Ago (Reuters)

Volkswagen’s top executives knew a year ago that some of the company’s cars were markedly less fuel efficient than had been officially stated, Sunday paper Bild am Sonntag reported, without specifying its sources. VW in early November revealed that it had understated the level of carbon dioxide emissions and fuel usage in around 800,000 cars sold mainly in Europe. The scandal, which will likely cost VW billions, initially centered on software on up to 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide that VW admitted was designed to artificially suppress nitrogen oxide emissions in a test setting. The Bild am Sonntag report contradicts VW’s assertion, however, that it only uncovered the false CO2 emissions labeling as part of efforts to clear up the diesel emissions scandal, which became public in September.

Months after becoming aware of excessive fuel consumption, former Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn decided this spring to pull one model off the market where the discrepancy was particularly pronounced, the Polo TDI BlueMotion, the paper cited sources close to Winterkorn as saying. The paper did not separately cite its sources for saying that top executives knew about the fuel usage problem a year ago, however. VW at the time cited low sales figures as the reason for the withdrawal. The paper said that VW did not inform Polo TDI BlueMotion owners of the high fuel consumption, which was 18% above the nameplate value.

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Goldman, BlackRock, they are the de facto executive rulers of the world. And it makes them filthy rich.

BlackRock Spreads its Tentacles in Brussels (Don Quijones)

Much like Goldman Sachs, Blackrock is spreading tentacles across Europe at a startling rate. In a sign of its growing influence, the firm met EU officials to discuss financial market matters more times than any other company in the seven months to July, Financial Times reported this week. During that period the firm met Jonathan Hill, European Commissioner for financial services (and former City of London lobbyist), and his team five times — one more time than HSBC and two more times than Deutsche Bank. In fact, the only institutions that met the Commissioner as many times were London Stock Exchange Group, the British Bankers’ Association and Insurance Europe.

BlackRock’s lobbying efforts have worried some investors amidst concerns that the fund house, which offers traditional active mutual funds, passive funds and alternative products such as hedge funds, could have too much influence on European policy. By pure happenstance, the growth in BlackRock’s influence coincided with a 10-fold increase in the company’s self-reported lobbying spending in Brussels: in 2012 the firm spent €150,000; by 2014 that number had catapulted to €1.5m. That kind of money gets you a heck of a lot of access and influence in Brussels, the world’s second most important lobbying hub, especially when you’re already the world’s biggest asset manager.

According to EU Integrity Watch, BlackRock held meetings with Brussels officials over issues as far-reaching as the regulatory agenda in financial services by the EU and the US – a vital issue given the looming TTIP and TiSA trade treaties – capital markets union, Mr. Hill’s plan to boost business funding and investment financing, and money market funds. BlackRock’s most audacious coup to date took place in August, 2014, when the ECB announced its decision to hire BlackRock Solutions to provide advice on the design and implementation of the central bank’s upcoming purchase of asset-backed securities. In other words, just before the ECB embarked on one of the biggest QE programs in world history, it sought the advice of the world’s largest asset manager – i.e. the company most invested in the assets it intended to buy.

To ensure that there were/are no conflicts of interest, BlackRock’s contract stipulates that there must be an effective separation between the project team working for the ECB and its staff involved in any other ABS-related activities, which, as you can imagine, is an immense relief. So too is the fact that “all external audits related to the management of conflicts of interest would be made available to the ECB,” an institution famed worldwide for its blinding institutional transparency and accountability. To put all lingering fears to bed, a spokesperson for BlackRock told FT, “BlackRock advocates for public policies that we believe are in our investors’ long-term best interests.”

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Juicy story. Let’s do a movie.

The Silk Road Affair: Power, Pop and a Bunch of Billionaires (Bloomberg)

Even in post-Soviet Uzbekistan, an ancient crossroads where torture and bribery allegations are endemic, Gulnara Karimova, the president’s Harvard-educated daughter, stood out for her ruthlessness. As the U.S. embassy noted in a secret dispatch from 2005 that was later published by Wikileaks, Karimova was viewed by most Uzbeks “as a greedy, power-hungry individual who uses her father to crush business people or anyone else who stands in her way.” These days the 43-year-old former globetrotting socialite who once publicly praised God for “my face” is confined to her homeland along the legendary Silk Road, watched over by the security services of her aging father, Islam Karimov, who has ruled for a quarter century.

Even in isolation, though, Googoosha, as she’s called herself in music videos, remains in the eye of a storm, the protagonist in a multibillion-dollar tale of alleged greed and graft unfolding across three continents. This story stretches back more than a decade, from the fringes of the czarist empire to the tidy streets of Oslo, via Gibraltar, Geneva and beyond. It touches companies owned by six of Europe’s richest men – five Russians and a native Norwegian – and thrusts the staid Scandinavian business world into a strange new light. It also offers a glimpse into a mercurial U.S. ally, a nation of 30 million that is ranked among the most repressive and corrupt in the world by Freedom House and Transparency International, even while providing occasional logistical support for American troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

[..] In Switzerland, where Karimova once lived in a Geneva mansion, prosecutors have widened their own probe into suspected money-laundering and fraud offenses related to her role in awarding telecommunications contracts in Uzbekistan. In August, they said they’d confiscated more than 800 million Swiss francs ($781 million) of assets linked to her, without elaborating, bringing the total amount seized to about $1.1 billion. Add the $900 million VimpelCom has set aside for potential liabilities and the amount tied up in the investigations is pushing $2 billion. And that’s not even counting the impact on the market values of VimpelCom, MTS and TeliaSonera or the future costs of litigation. VimpelCom’s market value has plunged 59% to $6.3 billion since March 12, 2014, when it disclosed the U.S. and Dutch probes…

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Good overview. No charges have ever been filed. No prosecutor wants to interview Assange.

The Strange Case Of Julian Assange (Crikey)

Julian Assange faces very serious allegations, politicians like to say. That was the description from UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s office three years ago, defending the UK s determination to extradite him to Sweden. And that was the description early this year from then-UK deputy PM Nick Clegg, too – he should go to Sweden to face very serious allegations and charges of rape, said Clegg, not long before leading his party to annihilation in this year’s general election. Clegg, of course, was peddling the oft-repeated lie that there are charges against Assange. But for very serious allegations -sexual molestation, unlawful coercion, sexual assault- the UK and Swedish governments have displayed zero interest in investigating them. In fact, the history of the case against Assange is a history of increasingly bizarre efforts by authorities to avoid questioning him.

When Swedish prosecutors first examined complaints about Assange by two women in 2010, the Chief Prosecutor of Stockholm dismissed all but one of the allegations, including the accusation of sexual assault, saying there is no suspicion of any crime whatsoever. After speaking to prosecutors, Assange remained in Sweden for another week to be interviewed about the one remaining allegation (of molestation). However, after an appeal by former Swedish politician Claes Borgstrom, another prosecutor, Marianne Ny, reopened the whole case. Assange remained in Sweden and offered to be interviewed again, but, in the first of what would turn out to be a long litany of excuses, was told Ny was ill and unable to speak to him. Ny’s office then told Assange’s lawyer he was free to leave Sweden, but once Assange did so, an arrest warrant was issued for him.

Assange then offered to return to Sweden to speak to Ny and gave her a full week of dates in which he would do so. These were all rejected. This was all despite Swedish police having access to the texts of one of the alleged victims of Assange saying she did not want to put any charges on JA but that the police were keen on getting a grip on him , that she was shocked when he was arrested given she only wanted him to take an STD test, and that it was the police who made up the charges . Ny’s unwillingnness to interview Assange would become the pattern for the next five years: Assange repeatedly offered to speak to Swedish authorities by phone, by videolink, or in person at the Australian embassy. The Swedes refused all opportunities to do so and demanded Assange return to Sweden, issuing a European arrest warrant for him.

Eventually the EAW would be upheld by British courts under UK laws, which since then have been amended. Under current British law, a similar case to Assange’s would now be successfully appealed and the EAW rejected. Once he had sought refuge in the Ecaudorean embassy in 2012, Assange continued to offer Swedish authorities the opportunity to speak with him, and they continued to reject them. But while they regularly rejected Assange s offer to be interviewed, other suspects were treated very differently: during the last five years, the Swedes have on 44 occasions asked to travel to the UK to interview, or asked British police to interview, other people in Britain in relation to allegations including violent crime, fraud and even murder. Assange, however, couldn’t be treated the same way – he had to go to Sweden.

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Nice company to keep: “Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, the United States, and Iraq are the top five countries with the most executions.”

Saudi Arabia’s 2015 Beheadings The Most In 20 Years (Al Jazeera)

Saudi Arabia has executed at least 151 people so far this year – the most put to death in a single year since 1995. The stark rise in the number of executions has seen, on average, one person killed every two days, according to the human rights group, Amnesty International. “The Saudi Arabian authorities appear intent on continuing a bloody execution spree,” Amnesty’s report released on Monday said, quoting James Lynch, deputy director at the Middle East and North Africa programme. It is the most people put to death in the kingdom in one year since 1995, when 192 executions were reportedly carried out. Most recent years have had between 79 and 90 people killed by beheadings annually for crimes including “nonlethal offences, such as drug-related ones,” according to the London-based rights group.

The large number of executions shed further light on what Amnesty referred to as unfair judicial proceedings, with a disproportionate imposition of capital punishment on foreign nationals. “Of the 63 people executed this year for drug-related charges, the vast majority, 45 people, were foreign nationals,” the report said. Khalid al-Dakhil, a Saudi political commentator based in Riyadh, challenged “the integrity” of Amnesty’s report, saying it failed to mention Iran’s execution record. “Iran executes far more people a year than Saudi Arabia, but it does not get the negative publicity Saudi Arabia has. This is something that must be addressed,” Dakhil told Al Jazeera. Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, the United States, and Iraq are the top five countries with the most executions. In total, 71 people executed so far in 2015 have been foreigners. The majority were migrant workers from poorer countries who are often sentenced to die without any knowledge of the court’s proceedings because they don’t speak Arabic and do not receive translations.

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These people are busy creating absolute mayhem in Europe.

EU Split Over Refugee Deal As Germany Leads Breakaway Coalition (Guardian)

Months of European efforts to come up with common policies on mass immigration unravelled when Germany led a “coalition of the willing” of nine EU countries taking in most refugees from the Middle East, splitting the EU on the issues of mandatory refugee-sharing and funding. An unprecedented full EU summit with Turkey agreed a fragile pact aimed at stemming the flow of migrants to Europe via Turkey. But the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, frustrated by the resistance in Europe to her policies, also convened a separate mini-summit with seven other leaders on Sunday to push a fast-track deal with the Turks and to press ahead with a new policy of taking in and sharing hundreds of thousands of refugees a year directly from Turkey.

The surprise mini-summit suggested that Merkel has given up trying to persuade her opponents, mostly in eastern Europe, to join a mandatory refugee-sharing scheme across the EU, although she is also expected to use the pro-quotas coalition to pressure the naysayers into joining later. Merkel’s ally on the new policy, Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European commission, said of the mini-summit: “This is a meeting of those states which are prepared to take in large numbers of refugees from Turkey legally.” But the frictions triggered by the split were instantly apparent. Donald Tusk, the president of the European council who chaired the full summit with Turkey, contradicted the mainly west European emphasis on seeing Ankara as the best hope of slowing the mass migration to Europe.

“Let us not be naïve. Turkey is not the only key to solving the migration crisis. The most important one is our responsibility and duty to protect our external borders. We cannot outsource this obligation to any third country. I will repeat this again: without control on our external borders, Schengen will become history.” He was referring to the 26-country free-travel zone in Europe, which is also in danger of unravelling under the strains of the migratory pressures and jihadi terrorism. Merkel’s mini-summit brought together the leaders of Germany, Austria and Sweden – the countries taking the most refugees – Finland, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Greece. President François Hollande of France did not attend the mini-summit because of scheduling problems, but it is understood that France is part of the pro-quotas vanguard.

The nine countries include the EU’s wealthiest. The EU-Turkey summit agreed to pay Turkey €3bn (£1.4bn) in return for a deal that would see Ankara patrolling the Aegean borders with Greece – the main point of entry to the EU for hundreds of thousands this year. Ankara is also to resume its long-stalled EU membership negotiations by the end of the year and, according to the schedule agreed, is to have visas waived by next year for Turks travelling to the EU. In response, the EU will be able to start deporting “illegal migrants” to Turkey by next summer under a fast-tracked “readmissions agreement”.

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No there there, just hot air. “..EU leaders made it clear there would be no shortcut in Turkey’s long-stalled bid to join the bloc. [..] And the Turks couldn’t say how effective the agreement would be in reducing the number of the migrants and refugees entering the EU..”

European Union Reaches Deal With Turkey on Migration (WSJ)

The EU on Sunday agreed with Turkey’s government for Ankara to take steps to cut the flow of migrants into Europe in exchange for EU cash and help with its bid to join the 28-nation bloc. EU leaders hailed the agreement as a key step toward substantially reducing the number of asylum seekers entering the bloc, while Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Sunday’s summit marked a historic new beginning in the often fraught relations between Brussels and Ankara. Yet the continued lack of trust on both sides remained evident, as EU leaders made it clear there would be no shortcut in Turkey’s long-stalled bid to join the bloc.

“The issue hasn’t changed,” French President François Hollande said after leaving the summit to return to Paris for global climate talks. “There is no reason either to accelerate or to slow it down.” And the Turks couldn’t say how effective the agreement would be in reducing the number of the migrants and refugees entering the EU via Turkey. EU officials have said cooperation with Turkey is the best way to reduce migrant flows, arguing that Ankara was very effective in previous years in preventing the outflow of refugees from the country. Alongside fresh efforts to tighten their external borders, EU officials hope the Turkey agreement can help turn the tide in the bloc’s migration crisis, the biggest since the aftermath of World War II.

[..] it appeared that substantial efforts would be required to turn Sunday’s agreement into reality. European Council President Donald Tusk said the EU will closely watch Turkey’s implementation of the deal and will review Ankara’s actions on a monthly basis. EU governments are also still at loggerheads over who would pay the €3 billion Turkey is to receive for its cooperation. Moreover, Turkey must complete dozens of EU requirements to win a recommendation for visa-free access to the bloc by autumn of 2016. Even then, a final decision will need backing of all 28 member states. Meanwhile, Mr. Davutoglu acknowledged he couldn’t promise the number of migrants heading into Europe via Turkey would fall. “Nobody can guarantee a drop,” he said of the refugees heading west from war-torn Syria.

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He’s simply right.

Tsipras Takes On Turkey’s Davutoglu On Twitter (AP)

A highly unusual online exchange took place on Twitter between the prime ministers of Greece and Turkey late Sunday before the former deleted his tweets – but only from the English version of his account. The official English-speaking account of Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras (@Tsipras_eu) posted four tweets addressed to his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu, needling him about Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet and Turkey’s violations of Greek airspace. “To Prime Minister Davutoglu: Fortunately our pilots are not mercurial as yours against the Russians #EuTurkey” Tsipras tweeted. Both prime ministers attended an EU-Turkey summit on refugees in Brussels Sunday. Tsipras did not explain whether his tweets reproduced a conversation between the two or were written especially for Twitter.

“What is happening in the Aegean is outrageous and unbelievable #EUTurkey” Tsipras continued. “We’re spending billions on weapons. You -to violate our airspace, we -to intercept you #EUTurkey” Tsipras said in a third tweet, referring to intrusions of Turkish planes into Greek airspace, which Turkey contests, and Greek and Turkish pilots frequently buzzing each other. Tsipras said the two countries should focus on saving refugees, not on weapons. “We have the most modern aerial weapons systems–and yet, on the ground, we can’t catch traffickers who drown innocent people #EUTurkey,” the Greek premier said in a fourth tweet. Davutoglu chose to respond to only the first tweet and not engage in a detailed dialogue.

“Comments on pilots by @atsipras seem hardly in tune with the spirit of the day. Alexis: let us focus on our positive agenda,” @Ahmet_Davutoglu responded. Then, the @Tsipras_EU account deleted the four tweets, which have remained posted, however, in Tsipras’ Greek language account, @atsipras. The deletion sparked further furious tweeting, with comments such as “who is handling your account?” being the most common. Then, the English account posted further tweets, but less controversial this time. “Important Summit today for the EU, Turkey and our broader region #EUTurkey” A last Tsipras tweet obliquely referred to the deleted ones: “We are in the same neighborhood and we have to talk honestly so we can reach solutions #EUTurkey.”

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But the disgrace goes on. And it’s ours, you, me, everyone. Want to protest something?

As the World Turns Away, Refugees are Still Drowning in the Mediterranean (HRW)

Her name was Sena. She was four years old. She was wearing blue trousers and a red shirt. She drowned in a shipwreck on November 18 in the Aegean Sea off Bodrum, Turkey. His name was Aylan. He was three years old. He drowned on September 2nd, along with his mother and his five-year-old brother. Like Sena, he was Syrian, dressed in blue and red, and travelling with his family on a desperate journey to reach safety and a future in Europe. The picture of his tiny lifeless body washed up on shore appeared to shake Europe’s—indeed, the world’s—conscience. Yet at least 100 more children, including Sena, have drowned in the Aegean in the weeks since. This year has seen an unprecedented number of asylum seekers and migrants—over 712,000 as of this week—crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands, most of them in overcrowded flimsy rubber dinghies.

One-quarter of those risking their lives are children. We have witnessed an unbearable death toll this year, with at least 585 people missing or lost in the Aegean, most of them since Aylan’s death. War, persecution, geopolitics, dangerous smuggler tactics, the weather – all of these factors contribute to the surge in arrivals as well as the number of lives lost. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, estimates that 60% of those coming to Greece by sea are Syrians, while 24% are from Afghanistan. The response of the European Union has to be multifaceted. It should include measures to reduce the need for dangerous journeys and tackle the root causes of refugee and migration flows in a way that respects human rights.

But the immediate imperative has to be to save lives. Turkish and Greek coast guard boats are out there every day patrolling the waters. And various EU countries have sent boats, personnel and other equipment to participate in Operation Poseidon in the Aegean, a mission of the EU’s external border agency Frontex. Combined, these actions have saved tens of thousands of lives. I’ve seen a burly Portuguese coast guard officer gently take a baby from her mother’s arms after a rescue. I’ve observed the professionalism of Norwegian police officers on patrol for Frontex. A colleague of mine was impressed by the way Greek coast guard officers handled two difficult rescues. But more needs to be done.

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Nov 252015
 
 November 25, 2015  Posted by at 10:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing F Street, Washington, DC 1935

European Banks Sitting On €1 Trillion Mountain Of Bad Debt (Guardian)
If China Killed Commodities Super Cycle, Fed Is About to Bury It (Bloomberg)
US, German Manufacturers Can’t Shake The Slowdown In China (Forbes)
China’s Latest Economic Indicators Make For Gloomy Reading (Bloomberg)
Iron Ore Rout Deepens as Rising Supply, Weaker Demand Feed Glut (Bloomberg)
Presenting SocGen’s 5 Black Swans For 2016 (Zero Hedge)
Elite Funds Prepare For Reflation And A Bloodbath For Bonds (AEP)
Russia: Ankara Defends ISIS, Financial Interest In Oil Trade With Group (RT)
Russia Ready For Joint Command Against Islamic State: Paris Envoy (Reuters)
VW Faces Fresh Probe Over Tax Violation Claims in Germany
This is The Day We Say Farewell To All That Was Good About Britain (Murphy)
UK Consumer Borrowing Binge Troubles Bank Of England (Guardian)
Consume More, Conserve More: Sorry, But We Just Can’t Do Both (Monbiot)
EU Countries Diverting Overseas Aid To Cover Refugee Bills (Guardian)
EU Refugee Numbers Drop for First Time This Year as Winter Nears (Bloomberg)
Rate Of Refugee Arrivals in Greece Picking Up (Kath.)
Greece Spends €800,000 On Migrant Healthcare With EU Funding Absent (Kath.)

All it takes is one spark.

European Banks Sitting On €1 Trillion Mountain Of Bad Debt (Guardian)

European banks are sitting on bad debts of €1tn – the equivalent to the GDP of Spain – which is holding back their profitability and ability to lend to high street customers and businesses. According to a detailed analysis of 105 banks across 21 countries in the European Union conducted by the European Banking Authority (EBA), the experience of Europe’s banks to troubled customers is worse than that of their counterparts in the US. The €1tn (£706bn) of so-called non-performing loans amount to almost 6% of the total loans and advances of Europe’s banks, and 10% when lending to other financial institutions are excluded. The equivalent figure for the US banking industry is around 3%.

Piers Haben, director of oversight at the EBA, said that while the resilience of the financial sector was improving because more capital was being accumulated in banks, he remained concerned about bad debts. “EU banks will need to continue addressing the level of non-performing loans which remain a drag on profitability,” Haben said. Banks in Cyprus have half their lending classified as non-performing while in the UK the figure is 2.8%. Capital ratios – a closely watched measure of financial strength – had reached 12.8% by June 2015, well above the regulatory minimum, as banks held on to profits and also took steps to raise capital – for instance, by tapping shareholders for cash. In 2011 the figure was 9.7%.

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“Without fail, every single industrial commodity company allocated capital horrendously over the last 10 years..”

If China Killed Commodities Super Cycle, Fed Is About to Bury It (Bloomberg)

For commodities, it’s like the 21st century never happened. The last time the Bloomberg Commodity Index of investor returns was this low, Apple’s best-selling product was a desktop computer, and you could pay for it with francs and deutsche marks. The gauge tracking the performance of 22 natural resources has plunged two-thirds from its peak, to the lowest level since 1999. That shows it’s back to square one for the so-called commodity super cycle, a hunger for coal, oil and metals from Chinese manufacturers that powered a bull market for about a decade until 2011. “In China, you had 1.3 billion people industrializing – something on that scale has never been seen before,” said Andrew Lapping, deputy chief investment officer at Allan Gray Ltd., a manager of $33 billion of assets in Cape Town.

“But there’s just no way that can continue indefinitely. You can only consume so much.” If slowing Chinese growth, now headed for its weakest pace in 25 years, put the first nail in the coffin of the super cycle, the Federal Reserve is about to hammer in the last. The first U.S. interest rate increase since 2006 is expected next month by a majority of investors, helping push the dollar up by about 9% against a basket of 10 major currencies this year. That only adds to the woes of commodities, mostly priced in dollars, by cutting the spending power of global raw-materials buyers and making other assets that generate yields such as bonds and equities more attractive for investors.

The Bloomberg Commodity Index takes into account roll costs and gains in investing in futures markets to reflect the actual returns. By comparison, a spot index that tracks raw materials prices fell to a more than six-year low Monday, and a gauge of industry shares to the weakest since 2008 on Sept. 29. The biggest decliners in the mining index, which is down 31% this year, are copper producers First Quantum Minerals, Glencore and Freeport-McMoran. With record demand through the 2000s, commodity producers such as Total SA, Rio Tinto Group and Anglo American Plc invested billions in long-term capital projects that have left the world awash with oil, natural gas, iron ore and copper just as Chinese growth wanes. “Without fail, every single industrial commodity company allocated capital horrendously over the last 10 years,” Lapping said.

Oil is among the most oversupplied. Even as prices sank 60% from June 2014, stockpiles have swollen to an all-time high of almost 3 billion barrels. That’s due to record output in the U.S. and a decision by OPEC to keep pumping above its target of 30 million barrels a day to maintain market share and squeeze out higher-cost producers. A Fed move on rates and accompanying gains in the dollar will make it harder to mop up excesses in raw-materials supply. Mining and drilling costs often paid in other currencies will shrink relative to the dollars earned from selling oil and metals in global markets as the U.S. exchange rate appreciates. Russia’s ruble is down more than 30% against the dollar in the past year, helping to maintain the profitability of the country’s steel and nickel producers and allowing them to maintain output levels.

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“..not only affecting our business in China but also in the other international operation markets outside of China because these economies are so dependent on China..”

US, German Manufacturers Can’t Shake The Slowdown In China (Forbes)

You wouldn’t know it from looking at stocks, but the US manufacturing sector came darn close to contracting in October. Readings above 50 indicate expansion in the ISM gauge of manufacturing activity, and the October reading of 50.1 was the lowest in 29 months. Overall manufacturing activity has expanded for 34 straight months, but the pace of growth in the main ISM gauge has deteriorated for four consecutive months. There is reason for optimism. Factories saw new orders come in at a faster pace and production was strong. But, other than that, the ISM details were far from impressive. Not surprisingly, the prices paid index came in below 40 for the third consecutive month, reflecting the deflationary headwinds flowing through the economy.

More importantly, the employment details showed a sharp contraction, down to 47.6 versus 50.5 in September. The market is more concerned about non-farm payroll figures, but this sure seems to be a leading indicator, especially when you consider the weakness from September’s NFP report. It’s the same story in Germany, where mechanical engineering orders slumped 13% Y/Y in September, hit by an 18% drop in foreign demand. In a sign that the weakness in September wasn’t just a blip, foreign orders from outside the eurozone were down 7% in the nine months through September from the same period a year earlier, hit by a slowdown in developing economies that account for around 42% of Germany’s plant and machinery exports. It’s clear that most of this industrial weakness is being driven by China.

Domestic orders for Germany’s mechanical engineering industry were up 2% in the nine months through September from the same period a year ago, while eurozone demand rose 13% over this period. European demand looks ok, it’s just not strong enough to offset the weakness driven by China. German car maker Audi said Monday that falling Chinese demand is forcing it to slash production of Audi models at a plant in Changchun nearly 11%. General Motors Chief Executive Mary Barra last month said the slowdown in China, the world’s second-largest economy, “is not only affecting our business in China but also in the other international operation markets outside of China because these economies are so dependent on China.”

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The divergence between the two indicators should be stunning, but we’re used to it.

China’s Latest Economic Indicators Make For Gloomy Reading (Bloomberg)

China’s economy is still showing a muted response to waves of monetary and fiscal easing as of the half-way mark for the last quarter of the year, some of the earliest indicators suggest. A privately compiled purchasing managers’ index and a gauge based on search engine interest in small and medium-sized businesses deteriorated this month, while a sentiment indicator dropped sharply from October. Combined, the reports make gloomy reading ahead of official releases, the earliest of which will be manufacturing and services PMI reports due Dec. 1. Six interest-rate cuts in a year and expedited fiscal spending have yet to revive growth as overcapacity and weakness in old drivers like manufacturing and residential construction weigh on the world’s second-biggest economy. If official data confirm the sluggishness, Premier Li Keqiang’s growth goal may be missed for a second-straight year.

Here’s a look at what the economy’s earliest tea leaves show: The unofficial purchasing managers indexes for manufacturing and services sectors both declined, snapping increases in the two previous months. The manufacturing PMI declined to 42.4 in November from 43.3 in October, while the non-manufacturing reading fell to 42.9 from 44.2, according to reports jointly compiled by China Minsheng Banking and the China Academy of New Supply-side Economics. Numbers below 50 signal deteriorating conditions. “China’s economy hasn’t bottomed yet and downward pressures are mounting,” Jia Kang, director of the Beijing-based academy and former head of the finance ministry’s research institute, wrote. “We expect authorities to step up growth stabilization measures.” The Minxin PMIs are based on a monthly survey covering more than 4,000 companies, about 70% of which are smaller enterprises. The private gauges have shown a more volatile picture than the official PMIs in the past year.

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Overleveraged overcapacity.

Iron Ore Rout Deepens as Rising Supply, Weaker Demand Feed Glut (Bloomberg)

Iron ore has taken a fresh beating, with prices sinking to the lowest level in six years as output cuts at Chinese mills hurt demand while low-cost supplies from the biggest miners expand. It may get worse. “The key problem for iron ore is oversupply: the iron ore heavyweights have overestimated China’s appetite,” Gavin Wendt, founding director at MineLife in Sydney, said after prices dropped on Tuesday to the lowest level since daily data began in 2009. “Further price weakness is inevitable.” The commodity has been hurt this year by increasing output from the biggest miners including BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Vale and faltering demand for steel in China, where mills account for half of global output. Goldman Sachs said last week that the global market is oversupplied, with steel consumption in China remaining weak. Mills are battling sinking prices that have eroded profit margins.

“We’re going through a very difficult time,” said Philip Kirchlechner, director of Iron Ore Research. “It was always expected that it would come down to the $40s again, but not over a sustained period,” said Kirchlechner, former head of marketing at Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. Ore with 62% content delivered to Qingdao fell 1.9% to $43.89 a dry metric ton on Tuesday, according to Metal Bulletin Ltd. The commodity is headed for a third annual retreat, and the latest fall eclipsed the previous low of $44.59 set in July. The steel industry in China is reaching a critical point, according to Andy Xie, an independent economist who’s been bearish for years and sees a drop below $40 before year-end. Mills will have to cut production, said Xie, a former Asia-Pacific chief economist at Morgan Stanley. Crude-steel output in China will drop 23 million tons to 783 million tons next year, according to the China Iron & Steel Association.

Last month, the nation’s leading industry group reported wider losses and noted that while official interest rates in China have been cut, mills faced higher funding costs. The biggest miners are betting that higher production will enable them to cut costs and raise market share while less efficient suppliers get squeezed. Rio’s Andrew Harding, chief executive officer for iron ore and Australia, said this month the company will keep defending market share and if it cut output, volumes would simply be taken by less efficient rivals. Kirchlechner said that the onset of winter in China may bring something of a reprieve for prices as local ore producers are forced to curtail supplies, spurring increased demand for cargoes from overseas.

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Not sure either Tyler Durden or SocGen defines ‘black swan’ right: they’re the things you’re not supposed to see coming, so how can you predict them?

Presenting SocGen’s 5 Black Swans For 2016 (Zero Hedge)

In its latest quarterly Global Economic Outlook, SocGen takes a look at five political and economic black swans that could touch down in 2016 and also warns that “high levels of public sector debt, already overburdened monetary policy, still high debt stocks and on-going balance sheet clean ups in a number of economies leave the global economy will a low level of ammunition to deal with new shocks.” Here’s the latest SG “swan chart” which is “dominated by downside risks”:

As we and a bevy of others have pointed out, QE is bumping up against the law of diminishing returns and it’s no longer clear that doubling and tripling down on monetization will do anything at all to boost aggregate demand, juice global trade, or raise inflation expectations (but what it surely will do is continue to inflate asset bubbles). In this environment, fiscal stimulus may be the only “solution.” As SocGen puts it, “in the event of a major new significant shock, our baseline scenario remains that both the US and Europe would opt first for further monetary policy stimulus. Later on, however, as this proves inefficient, we would expect fiscal stimulus to be considered.” China, of course, has already gone this route, boosting fiscal spending by 36% in Ocotber as the country’s credit impulse disappeared despite six rate cuts in less than a year. From SocGen:

• Brexit at a probability of 45%, remains our highest probability risk. At this time, a date has yet to be set for the referendum but 3Q16 seems a likely timing, based on the idea that Prime Minister Cameron will want to hold the referendum within a reasonable timeframe on concluding an agreement with his EU partners (which could come as early as the December 2015 Summit, but more likely in March 2016).

• China hard landing remains a significant risk at 30%. Medium-term, we set an even higher probability of 40% on a lost decade scenario. As opposed to a hard landing, however, such a risk scenario would manifest itself only gradually. The most likely trigger for a China hard- landing is policy error with miscalculation of how much financial risk management or structural reform the system can absorb. We identify three main triggers. In practice, a combination thereof seems the most likely cause of such a risk scenario.

• Credit crunch: An intensification of capital outflows, a growing number of non-performing loans and an insufficient response from the PBoC could result in a credit crunch. Such risks could be further exacerbated by pressure coming from Chinese corporations’ foreign exchange denominated debt and overall high level of leverage.

• Dry-up in housing demand: Should a new housing shock emerge, triggering a buyers strike, then real estate developers (also burdened with foreign currency loans) could suffer renewed stress, triggering a significant scaling back of investment.

• Capacity overhang: The still-large excess capacity in the manufacturing sector would be further exacerbated in such a scenario, weighing on corporate margins and profits. The risk is to see bankruptcies and unemployment increase in such a bleak scenario.

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We watch bemused as Ambrose continues to make his case for optimism and inflation.

Elite Funds Prepare For Reflation And A Bloodbath For Bonds (AEP)

One by one, the giant investment funds are quietly switching out of government bonds, the most overpriced assets on the planet. Nobody wants to be caught flat-footed if the latest surge in the global money supply finally catches fire and ignites reflation, closing the chapter on our strange Lost Decade of secular stagnation. The Norwegian Pension Fund, the world’s top sovereign wealth fund, is rotating a chunk of its $860bn of assets into property in London, Paris, Berlin, Milan, New York, San Francisco and now Tokyo and East Asia. “Every real estate investment deal we do is funded by sales of government bonds,” says Yngve Slyngstad, the chief executive. It already owns part of the Quadrant 3 building on Regent Street, and bought the Pollen Estate – along with Saville Row – from the Church Commissioners last year. But this is just a nibble.

The fund is eyeing a 15pc weighting in property, an inflation-hedge if ever there was one. The Swiss bank UBS – an even bigger player with $2 trillion under management – has issued its own gentle warning on bonds as the US Federal Reserve prepares to kick off the first global tightening cycle since 2004. UBS expects five rate rises by the end of next year, 60 points more than futures contracts, and enough to rattle debt markets still priced for an Ice Age. Mark Haefele, the bank’s investment guru, said his clients are growing wary of bonds but do not know where to park their money instead. The UBS bubble index of global property is already flashing multiple alerts, with Hong Kong off the charts and London now so expensive that it takes a skilled worker 14 years to buy a broom cupboard of 60 square metres.

Mr Haefele says equities are the lesser risk, especially in Japan, where the central bank has bought 54pc of the entire market for exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and is itching to go further. As of late November, roughly $6 trillion of government debt was trading at negative interest rates, led by the Swiss two-year bond at -1.046pc. The German two-year Bund is at -0.4pc. The Germans and Czechs are negative all the way out to six years, the Dutch to five, the French to four and the Irish to three. Bank of America says $17 trillion of bonds are trading at yields below 1pc, including most of the Japanese sovereign debt market. This is a remarkable phenomenon given that global core inflation – as measured by Henderson Global Investor’s G7 and E7 composite – has been rising since late 2014 and is now at a seven-year high of 2.7pc.

In the eurozone, the M1 money supply is rising at a blistering pace of 11.9pc. A case can be made that the ECB should go for broke, deliberately stoking a short-term monetary boom to achieve “escape velocity” once and for all. The risk of a Japanese trap is not to be taken lightly. Yet even those who feared looming deflation in Europe two years ago are beginning to wonder whether the bank is losing the plot. If the ECB doubles down next week with more quantitative easing and a cut in the deposit rate to -0.3pc, as expected, it will validate the iron law that central banks are pro-cyclical recidivists, always and everywhere behind the curve. Caution is in order. The investment graveyard is littered with the fund managers who bet against Japanese bonds, only to see the 10-year yield keep falling for two decades, plumbing new depths of 0.24pc this January.

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Something tells me Russia’s info ain’t lying.

Russia: Ankara Defends ISIS, Financial Interest In Oil Trade With Group (RT)

Some Turkish officials have ‘direct financial interest’ in the oil trade with the terrorist group Islamic State, Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev said as he detailed possible Russian retaliation to Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane in Syria on Tuesday. “Turkey’s actions are de facto protection of Islamic State,” Medvedev said, calling the group formerly known as ISIS by its new name. “This is no surprise, considering the information we have about direct financial interest of some Turkish officials relating to the supply of oil products refined by plants controlled by ISIS.” “The reckless and criminal actions of the Turkish authorities… have caused a dangerous escalation of relations between Russia and NATO, which cannot be justified by any interest, including protection of state borders,” Medvedev said.

According to Medvedev, Russia is considering canceling several important projects with Turkey and barring Turkish companies from the Russian market. Russia has already recommended its citizens not to go Turkey citing terrorist threats, which have resulted in several tourist operators withdrawing tours to Turkey from the market. Russia may further scrap a gas pipeline project, aimed at turning Turkey into a major transit country for Russian natural gas going to Europe, and the construction of the country’s first nuclear power plant. Turkey shot down a Russian bomber over Syria on Tuesday, claiming it had violated Turkish airspace. Russia says no violation took place and considers the hostile act as ‘a stab in the back’ and direct assistance to terrorist forces in Syria.

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Including Turkey.

Russia Ready For Joint Command Against Islamic State: Paris Envoy (Reuters)

Russia is prepared to coordinate strikes against Islamic State militants in a joint command with the United States, France and others who want to participate, including Turkey, Moscow’s envoy to Paris said on Wednesday. French President Francois Hollande is trying to rally more international support to destroy Islamic State following the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris. He visited Washington on Tuesday and is due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday. “This coalition is a possibility,” Russia’s ambassador to France, Alexandre Orlov, told Europe 1 radio. “For our part, we are prepared to go further, to plan strikes against Daesh (Islamic State) positions together and to set up a joint command with France, America and any country that wants to join this coalition,” he said, noting that this included Turkey.

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Tax cases have been easier to make for prosecutors since Al Capone.

VW Faces Fresh Probe Over Tax Violation Claims in Germany

Volkswagen is facing a new criminal investigation after publishing incorrect emissions data that gave some drivers tax breaks that may have been unjustified. Prosecutors in Braunschweig, already looking into Volkswagen diesels, are now formally examining tax issues linked to faulty carbon-dioxide readings as well, spokesman Klaus Ziehe said by phone Tuesday. A separate probe was necessary because the accusations involve other cars and other people, he said. Five suspects are being investigated, Ziehe said, without identifying them. “German prosecutors like these kinds of investigations,” said Michael Kubiciel, a criminal law professor at the University of Cologne. “It’s easier to pursue charges under German tax law than under environmental protection rules.”

Volkswagen has said the people who bought the cars won’t have to pay the difference in taxes. The bill adds to the mounting tab of recall costs and regulatory fines the carmaker faces over irregular and falsified vehicle emissions, a scandal that began more than two months ago with Volkswagen’s admission to rigging diesel engines in 11 million vehicles worldwide. The CO2 issue arose Nov. 3, after the automaker said about 800,000 cars, mostly in Europe, had emissions of the greenhouse gas that didn’t match up with the levels promised. That matters because CO2 is a key measure for setting tax rates for motor vehicles in many European countries. Improperly labeled cars with higher-than-marketed emissions may lead authorities to reclaim the tax breaks.

Volkswagen estimated the financial risk of manipulating the ratings at about €2 billion. That sum includes paying governments for missing tax revenue. The carmaker already set aside €6.7 billion in the third quarter to fix diesel cars with engine software that allowed them to pass emission tests by illegally restricting pollution during testing. European regulators have approved Volkswagen’s proposals for how to repair about 70% of the diesel engines affected worldwide, Chief Executive Officer Matthias Mueller told a gathering of executives in Wolfsburg, Germany, on Monday. Meanwhile, Volkswagen’s Audi division will resubmit a revised version of software that the EPA and California Air Resources Board has targeted in its latest probe. If approved, the fix for 85,000 Audi, Volkswagen and Porsche cars with 3.0-liter diesel engines should cost roughly €50 million. EPA and CARB will review and test the revised software.

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The man behind Jeremy Corbyn.

This is The Day We Say Farewell To All That Was Good About Britain (Murphy)

I think that today we will say farewell to all that made the UK a compassionate, decent, fair and civilised society. After George Osborne has had his way I have a deeply uncomfortable feeling that this country will be more brutal, unequal, divided and profoundly individualistic. Once Margaret Thatcher said there was no such thing as society. Today I feel like George Osborne is trying to prove it. Tax is not going to be the focus of today, I suspect. It should be: if George Osborne wants to pursue the goal of a balanced budget (which has no economic merit, at all) then tackling the tax gap and cutting tax expenditures would be the obvious thing to do and that would deliver increased economic fairness and social justice. But those will not be at the heart of today.

Today is about shrinking the state. Apart from the economic illiteracy of this (at the macro level cutting government spending is the same as cutting GDP if there is spare capacity in the economy, and so the policy Osborne is pursuing makes it harder for him to achieve his goal) there is the massive social injustice that this entails to worry about. Social inequality will increase as a result of today. The disabled will be worse off again. The young will suffer disproportionately. The education of many will be harmed. Our long term prospects will be reduced. Those in need of care will have less available. Society will be more vulnerable. And yes, some will die as a result of today. That has to be said.

Those are all choices. And none of them is necessary. The policy of austerity is a political affectation designed to increase the wealth of a few, to favour large companies and to appease bankers. It cannot work, although I think George Osborne does not realise that although the evidence is obvious. And so the question as to why it has been adopted has to be asked. And that comes down to greed, a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and a blunt indifference to others.

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First encourage them, then…

UK Consumer Borrowing Binge Troubles Bank Of England (Guardian)

Bank of England policymakers may need to take action to prevent a risky consumer borrowing binge as the economy recovers, the bank’s chief economist has warned. Appearing before the cross-party Treasury select committee alongside the Bank’s governor, Mark Carney, Andy Haldane warned that consumer credit, in particular personal loans, had been “picking up at a rate of knots. That ultimately might be an issue that the financial policy committee [FPC] might want to look at fairly carefully.” The Financial Policy Committee (FPC), created after the financial crisis, is meant to prevent a future crash by allowing the Bank to take action in particular markets without using the blunter tool of interest rates. Chaired by the governor, it has 10 members – but does not include Haldane.

The FPC has already stepped in to constrain mortgage lending but its powers to confront a credit bubble are untested. The latest data from the Bank showed the rate of growth of consumer credit picking up sharply. Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative MP who chairs the Treasury select committee, said: “The FPC has huge new powers which only small numbers of the public have so far been aware of, and it is particularly important that we hold them accountable. Many of these decisions were formerly the preserve of politicians.” Carney told MPs he was limited as to how much he could say about the FPC, as he was in “purdah”, as its next meeting approached; but he confirmed the rapid pace of credit growth was something it might need to look at.

He added that the separate monetary policy committee (MPC), which sets interest rates, has to take into account the historically high debt levels of Britain’s households as it made interest rate decisions. “Without question, more indebted households are more vulnerable,” he said. “The pressure on households because of the debt burden is significant. There is less margin for error.”

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The main focus of that worse-than-useless Paris climate summit.

Consume More, Conserve More: Sorry, But We Just Can’t Do Both (Monbiot)

We can have it all: that is the promise of our age. We can own every gadget we are capable of imagining – and quite a few that we are not. We can live like monarchs without compromising the Earth’s capacity to sustain us. The promise that makes all this possible is that as economies develop, they become more efficient in their use of resources. In other words, they decouple. There are two kinds of decoupling: relative and absolute. Relative decoupling means using less stuff with every unit of economic growth; absolute decoupling means a total reduction in the use of resources, even though the economy continues to grow. Almost all economists believe that decoupling – relative or absolute – is an inexorable feature of economic growth. On this notion rests the concept of sustainable development.

It sits at the heart of the climate talks in Paris next month and of every other summit on environmental issues. But it appears to be unfounded. A paper published earlier this year in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences proposes that even the relative decoupling we claim to have achieved is an artefact of false accounting. It points out that governments and economists have measured our impacts in a way that seems irrational. Here’s how the false accounting works. It takes the raw materials we extract in our own countries, adds them to our imports of stuff from other countries, then subtracts our exports, to end up with something called “domestic material consumption”. But by measuring only the products shifted from one nation to another, rather than the raw materials needed to create those products, it greatly underestimates the total use of resources by the rich nations.

For instance, if ores are mined and processed at home, these raw materials, as well as the machinery and infrastructure used to make finished metal, are included in the domestic material consumption accounts. But if we buy a metal product from abroad, only the weight of the metal is counted. So as mining and manufacturing shift from countries such as the UK and the US to countries like China and India, the rich nations appear to be using fewer resources. A more rational measure, called the material footprint, includes all the raw materials an economy uses, wherever they happen to be extracted. When these are taken into account, the apparent improvements in efficiency disappear. In the UK, for instance, the absolute decoupling that the domestic material consumption accounts appear to show is replaced with an entirely different chart.

Not only is there no absolute decoupling; there is no relative decoupling either. In fact, until the financial crisis in 2007, the graph was heading in the opposite direction: even relative to the rise in our gross domestic product, our economy was becoming less efficient in its use of materials. Against all predictions, a recoupling was taking place. While the OECD has claimed that the richest countries have halved the intensity with which they use resources, the new analysis suggests that in the EU, the US, Japan and the other rich nations, there have been “no improvements in resource productivity at all”. This is astonishing news. It appears to makes a nonsense of everything we have been told about the trajectory of our environmental impacts.

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Which will only lead to more refugees.

EU Countries Diverting Overseas Aid To Cover Refugee Bills (Guardian)

A report published on Tuesday by Concord, the European NGO confederation for relief and development, documents an emerging trend among member states to divert aid budgets from sustainable development to domestic costs associated with hosting refugees and asylum seekers. Some of the expenditure items EU countries report as aid do not translate into a real transfer of resources to developing countries or, ultimately, to people who are poor and marginalised, the report has found. This is not the first time that NGOs have reported that EU monies are increasingly being spent on tackling the refugee crisis and border security, rather than fighting poverty and inequality.

But this time the Concord AidWatch report contains data from the OECD CRS dataset complemented by updated national figures. In some cases, data from the European commission and Eurostat is also used. Concord says that some EU countries are misreporting some of their official development assistance (ODA) expenses by including costs which, under existing guidelines, should not have been counted. The reporting of non-eligible migration-related expenses in Spain and Malta, or the misreporting of refugee costs in Hungary, are among the examples cited. Inflated aid is calculated on the bilateral component of EU aid. Many of the components – imputed student costs, refugee costs, interest and tied aid – do not apply to multilateral aid.

The report found that in 2014, the EU28 and the European institutions inflated their aid by €7.1bn, which represents 12% of all aid flows. Some countries inflate aid more than others. While the percentage of inflated aid for Luxembourg is estimated at 0.3% of the country s total aid, and at 0.5% for the UK, it is, in contrast, 50.6% for Malta, 30.9% for Austria and 27.2% for Portugal. The EU institutions are no different from the member states, having ‘inflated’ their aid by 9.9%.

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See next article.

EU Refugee Numbers Drop for First Time This Year as Winter Nears (Bloomberg)

The number of refugees arriving in the European Union from violence-scarred regions of the Middle East and Africa is set to fall in November as traveling conditions worsen and member states looked to strengthen the bloc’s external borders. The number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach the EU this month fell to 116,579 through Nov. 23 compared with a record 220,535 in October, according to the United Nations refugee agency. The deepening chaos in nations from Libya to Syria has spawned an unprecedented wave of more than 860,000 people seeking shelter within the EU this year. The influx opened divisions within the bloc as German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted Europe must honor its asylum commitments while other leaders such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban complained of the strain on their communities.

The pressure on Merkel increased this month when jihadists who attacked restaurants and a music venue in Paris. At least two of the assailants are thought to have entered the EU as refugees. On Friday EU nations agreed to bolster controls on frontiers around the bloc. They agreed to start carrying out systematic registration, including fingerprinting of all migrants entering into the Schengen area. All travelers will have their passports checked when they arrive in Europe, extending the full-blown screening that is currently limited to non-EU passport holders. The number of people entering Hungary slowed to a trickle this month after Orban closed the country’s border with Croatia on Oct. 18. Austria overtook Croatia as the nation with most arrivals during the first two weeks of November as the number of people embarking on the journey to Europe declined.

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Betcha the Greeks know more and better than the UN.

Rate Of Refugee Arrivals in Greece Picking Up (Kath.)

After a brief dip in the number of refugees and migrants arriving on Greece’s eastern Aegean islands, an increase was noted on Tuesday in the quantity of boats reaching Greek shores from Turkey. The uptick came a day ahead of Frontex’s management board meeting in Warsaw on Wednesday, when it is expected that the European Union border agency will decide to move its operational office from Piraeus. The office has been located in the port city since 2010 and its removal would be seen as a diplomatic blow for Greece, especially given the current flow of refugees to the country. More than 60 dinghies carrying migrants arrived on Lesvos on Tuesday as Alternate Foreign Minister Nikos Xydakis and Immigration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas guided the ambassadors of European Union countries around the island so they could get a closeup view of the impact of the refugee crisis.

Greece has been under pressure to improve the registration process for arrivals and Lesvos is expected to host a so-called hotspot at the Moria camp, where authorities are hoping to register between 1,000 and 1,500 people a day. Police officials said they expect the hotspot to be ready in less than two weeks. The recent letup in the number of people reaching Lesvos allowed authorities in Athens, where migrants are transferred, to empty the sports hall in Galatsi, which is being used for temporary shelter, and move everyone to the Tae Kwon Do Stadium in Faliro. Tuesday’s arrivals on Lesvos included a yacht carrying 140 migrants who had each paid around 3,000 euros to travel from Turkey in its relative safety. Two bodies also washed up in the island pn Tuesday.

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How it this possible. Greece needs that money for its own citizens’ health care.

Greece Spends €800,000 On Migrant Healthcare With EU Funding Absent (Kath.)

Greece has so far this year spent more than €800,000 in healthcare for about 2,000 migrants and refugees, according to data from the Health Ministry. According to the data, which were presented by General Secretary for Public Health Yiannis Baskozos during a conference of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Rome on Tuesday, demand for the EKAV emergency medical assistance service has increased by 42% compared to 2014. Ambulance calls doubled between June – November – when the refugee crisis peaked – over the same period last year. “[Greece] has managed to fulfill the current healthcare needs for refugees and migrants notwithstanding the absence of EU funding,” Baskozos told the conference.

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 November 21, 2015  Posted by at 10:44 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Frances Benjamin Johnston Courtyard, 620-621 Gov. Nicholls Street, New Orleans 1937

Total US Household Debt Hits $12.1 Trillion As Subprime Auto Lending Jumps (WSJ)
US Oil Producer Bankruptcies Are Piling Up (WSJ)
Low Crude Prices Catch Up With the US Oil Patch (WSJ)
Speculators Test Saudi Currency As Oil Crisis Deepens (AEP)
Petrobras’s Dangerous Debt Math: $24 Billion Owed in 24 Months (Bloomberg)
Bank of Japan To Switch To Indicators That Show Rising Prices (Reuters)
Mario Draghi All But Announced an Expansion of ECB QE (Fortune)
The Power And The Impotence Of The ECB (Steve Keen)
Financially Engineered Stocks Drag Down S&P 500 (WolfStreet)
Volkswagen’s Emissions Scandal Is Getting Even Bigger, Again (AP)
EU Journalists Take European Parliament To Court Over Expense Accounts (EUO)
Australia Is A ‘Plaything’ Of World Economic Forces It Can’t Control (Guardian)
‘Terrible’ Public Finance Figures Heap Pressure On UK Chancellor (Ind.)
Is It Time To Close The Door To Foreign Buyers Of British Property? (Guardian)
A Nation Of Immigrants Wants To Close Its Doors (MarketWatch)
How Refugees Are Selected, Vetted, And Settled In The United States (Quartz)
EU-Turkey Refugee Talks Turn Sour As Erdogan Belittles Juncker
Merkel Slowly Changes Tune on Refugee Issue (Spiegel)
Over 900,000 Migrants Arrived In Germany This Year (Reuters)

Predators still rule. And that makes the economy look better for the moment.

Total US Household Debt Hits $12.1 Trillion As Subprime Auto Lending Jumps (WSJ)

Subprime auto lending is shifting into higher gear, raising some concerns in Washington where top financial regulators have sounded alarms about this category of loans. Over the six months through September, more than $110 billion of auto loans have been originated to borrowers with credit scores below 660, the bottom cutoff for having a credit score generally considered “good,” according to a report Thursday from the New York Fed. Of that sum, about $70 billion went to borrowers with credit scores below 620, scored that are considered “bad.” This rise in subprime auto lending comes against a backdrop of gradually improving credit across the economy. Overall household borrowing has climbed to $12.1 trillion, the highest level in more than 5 years, with rising balances for mortgages, auto loans, student loans and credit cards in the third quarter, according to the report.

But when it comes to auto loans, in particular, a rising volume of loans is going to borrowers with poor credit. The sum in that category has nearly reached the same level as in 2006, raising questions about the health of the nation’s auto-lending portfolio and drawing uncomfortable comparisons to the rise in subprime mortgages that helped fuel the housing collapse, financial crisis and recession. The comptroller of the currency, Thomas Curry, said in a speech last month that some of the activity in auto loans “reminds me of what happened in mortgage-backed securities in the run-up to the crisis.” And Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, warned in September 2014 that subprime auto-loan borrowers “may be more vulnerable to predatory practices” and that “direct oversight of their lending practices is essential.”

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2016 will be a disaster year for US oil. And the lenders that allowed the restructuring delay.

US Oil Producer Bankruptcies Are Piling Up (WSJ)

It’s been a long year for oil and gas companies. After trading at an average price of $92.91 a barrel in 2014, the U.S. oil benchmark has averaged around $50 a barrel this year. It dipped below $40 a barrel briefly this morning. 36 North American oil and gas producers filed Chapter 11 bankruptcies this year through Nov. 8, according to law firm Haynes and Boone. The cases so far involve $13 billion in secured and unsecured debt, and “industry and economic indicators suggest more producer bankruptcy filings will occur before the year is out,” the law firm says. Sixteen of this year’s bankruptcies were filed in Texas, with another six in Canada, four each in Delaware and Colorado and the rest in Louisiana, Alaska, Massachusetts and New York. The biggest, with $4.3 billion of secured and unsecured debt, was KKR’s Samson Resources in September.

Earlier this week, a judge ruled that Samson’s resigning chief executive won’t be paid his bonus outright. Even so, some investors argue that not enough U.S. oil producers have gone under to help shrink the glut of crude that is weighing on oil prices. Oil producers have gotten more efficient, keeping production higher than some expected. U.S. production has fallen from 9.6 to about 9.2 million barrels a day, but recent weekly estimates from the Energy Information Administration show that the pace of declines has slowed. “There’s been more efficiency in the space than we all expected, and that’s helped current owners hold on a little longer,” said Rob Haworth at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “We’re not seeing as much turnover in the oil patch as we’d expect, in terms of weak hands to strong hands. But things like that will need to happen at some point.”

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“Forty-dollar to fifty-dollar oil prices don’t work in this business..”

Low Crude Prices Catch Up With the US Oil Patch (WSJ)

The ingenuity and easy money that allowed American oil companies to keep pumping through a year-long price crash appear to be petering out as U.S. crude slides toward $40 a barrel. U.S. companies have stunned global rivals by continuing to produce oil—particularly from shale deposits—ever more cheaply as American crude prices plunged from over $100 a barrel in 2014. But the recent drop toward $40 a barrel and below puts even the most efficient operators in a bind. “Forty-dollar to fifty-dollar oil prices don’t work in this business,” Ryan Lance, chief executive of ConocoPhillips, the largest independent U.S. oil producer, said in an interview. The worst-case scenario most major producers have discussed in the past six weeks with investors involved a price of $50 a barrel. That is beginning to look optimistic as Saudi Arabia continues to produce near-record volumes and major exporters such as Iraq have increased output.

Many oil executives, including BP CEO Bob Dudley, expect prices to be “lower for longer.” The U.S. Energy Department is forecasting the price of oil will average around $50 a barrel next year. More than 250,000 people world-wide have lost their jobs in the industry over the past year, according to Graves & Co., a Houston consulting firm. Many companies that were hoping to weather low energy prices without new rounds of layoffs and salary cuts may be forced to slash those costs yet again, said Eric Lee, an energy analyst with Citigroup. “Who’s going to take the brunt of this? Shale has already cut back a lot,” Mr. Lee said, adding that new oil projects are being deferred around the world. In a way, he added, oil companies are responsible for the current situation. During brief price rallies, they raced back into fields to drill new wells—adding to the global glut of crude and cutting off the price rebounds.

Even as the number of rigs operating in the U.S. fell 60% so far this year, American oil production through August dipped just 3% from its April peak, federal data show. What happened was a combination of declining costs for oil-field services and equipment and impressive feats of engineering. Companies doubled the amount of sand they pumped into wells, figuring out how to better prop open rock layers to draw out more oil and natural gas. Operators moved rigs into areas where crude flowed the most freely, cut the number of days it took to drill by nearly half and extended the length of horizontal oil wells to reach nearly 2 miles. Costs for such big wells fell by as much as a third as oil explorers put extreme pressure on the suppliers that help them coax more fuel from the ground, including Halliburton. And producers became far more efficient. In the seven most prolific U.S. shale fields, they boosted oil production per rig by as much as 60% this year.

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“The Saudi strategy of flooding the world with oil in a bid to drive out rivals..” is a made-up idea. The Saudi’s simply looked at their forward contracts and thought: “Holy Sh*t!”

Speculators Test Saudi Currency As Oil Crisis Deepens (AEP)

Saudi Arabia’s currency regime is at risk of blowing up if oil prices fall further and the US dollar spikes higher, Bank of America has warned. The Saudi strategy of flooding the world with oil in a bid to drive out rivals may be hard to square with the country’s fixed dollar-peg, which is increasingly under scrutiny by currency traders as the US Federal Reserve prepares to raise interest rates. “The crucial point is what happens to the Saudi riyal. Saudi Arabia’s foreign exchange reserves still provide an ample buffer, but they have been falling fast,” said Francisco Blanch, the bank’s energy strategist. “Should Brent crude oil prices drop to $30, we estimate the foreign exchange reserve drain could accelerate to $18bn per month. Saudi Arabia may face a critical choice: cut oil supply, or de-peg,” he said.

The 12-month riyal forward contracts – watched by experts for signs that traders are betting on a collapse of the peg – has spiked violently to 535 from just 13 points in June. This is even higher than the peak after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, and is approaching extremes seen in January 1999. Credit default swaps pricing bankruptcy risk has jumped to 153, the highest since the global financial crisis. Mr Blanch said a devaluation by China would leave the Saudis badly exposed and might ultimately force their hand. “A de-peg of the Saudi riyal is our number one ‘black-swan’ event for oil in 2016,” he said. The 30-year old dollar peg is the weak link in Saudi strategy. It matters more than dissent within OPEC as the cartel prepares for a stormy meeting in Vienna on December 4. To varying degrees, Algeria, Venezuela, Nigeria, Iraq, and Iran all want production cuts to stabilize the market.

Russia has been able to cushion the effects of the oil price crash by letting the rouble fall from 32 to 65 against the dollar since mid-2014. This protects oil revenues of the Russian state in local-currency terms. Saudi Arabia is taking the blow head-on, and is facing an extra tourniquet effect as Fed tightening pushes the global dollar index to a 12-year high. The central bank’s holdings of foreign securities fell $23bn in October. They are down $90bn since February. Foreign reserves are still $647bn but not all is usable. The Saudi government has had to cancel a raft of infrastructure projects and push through drastic spending cuts to rein in a budget deficit near 20pc of GDP. It denies reports that contractors are not being paid. Bank of America warned that a break-down of the Saudi dollar-peg would send the riyal tumbling, with major knock-on effects. “Oil could collapse to $25,” it said in a client note.

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2016: Annus Horribilis for Brazil.

Petrobras’s Dangerous Debt Math: $24 Billion Owed in 24 Months (Bloomberg)

The debt clock is ticking down at Brazil’s troubled oil giant, Petrobras. Next up: $24 billion of repayments over 24 months. That’s a towering hurdle for a company that hasn’t generated free cash flow for eight years and whose borrowing rates are soaring. Annual debt servicing costs have doubled to 20.3 billion reais ($5.4 billion) in the past three years. The delicate task of managing the massive $128 billion mound of debt accumulated by Petroleo Brasileiro – 84% of it in foreign currencies – falls to the two banking veterans parachuted atop the company earlier this year, CEO Aldemir Bendine, 51, and Chief Financial Officer Ivan Monteiro, 55. The pair came from the state-controlled Banco de Brasil to contain the damage from the biggest corruption scandal in the country’s history.

While prosecutors continue to grind away at years of suspicious dealings, Act II for the boys from the Bank of Brazil will further test their mettle. The challenge of Petrobras’s runaway debt, which has grown four-fold in five years, has been exacerbated by low oil prices, a weak currency and the Brazilian government’s own fiscal travails. “If you considered them to be totally independent and there were no chance of any kind of government support, I think the risk of default would certainly be there in a big way,” said Jason Trujillo at Invesco. Petrobras is not without options, but they tend to be either politically unpalatable or unattractive to the marketplace.

Bendine is actively trying to peddle off minority stakes in the Rio de Janeiro-based oil producer’s pipeline and gas station units, among others, but that plan is behind schedule and faces fierce opposition from the oil industry’s most powerful union. Other alternatives are also running up against resistance from one interest group or another. The only source of comfort for many bondholders is the belief the Brazilian government would stop at nothing to save the country’s biggest company – though, even at that, Trujillo said markets are “lessening the amount of implied government support.”

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Inventing new accounting methods, that’ll help!

Bank of Japan To Switch To Indicators That Show Rising Prices (Reuters)

The Bank of Japan will release a new set of price indicators this month that reconfigures the way price trends are measured as the central bank seeks to show the country’s below-target inflation rate is due to volatile items such as energy. Importantly, a new consumer price index (CPI) will exclude energy costs, which have been falling, but include the costs of items such as processed and imported foods, which have been rising. The BOJ currently uses the government’s core CPI, which excludes fresh food but includes energy costs, as its key price measurement in guiding monetary policy. With core CPI now slipping due largely to slumping oil prices, the central bank began internally calculating a new index that conveniently shows inflation exceeding 1% in the past few months.

That index strips away volatile fresh food and energy costs, but includes processed and imported food prices, which are rising. The BOJ said on Friday it will start publishing this month the new CPI, as well as other indicators such as one showing the ratio of goods seeing prices rise versus those that are falling, on a regular basis each month. “The performance of the government’s core CPI (in tracking broad price trends) seems to be deteriorating, although this is probably because of the temporary effect of large swings in crude oil prices,” the BOJ said in a research paper. The BOJ’s new indicators will be released on the day the government’s CPI figures are published. The upcoming release of the CPI and BOJ indicators is on Nov. 27. Government data showed core consumer prices fell 0.1% in the year to September, a second straight month of declines, keeping inflation distant from the BOJ’s 2% target.

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Beggar all of thy global neighbors.

Mario Draghi All But Announced an Expansion of ECB QE (Fortune)

The world’s two most important central banks are going separate ways. As the Federal Reserve drops increasingly heavy hints about raising interest rates for the first time in nearly a decade, ECB President Mario Draghi all but pre-announced a new round of stimulus for a Eurozone economy that is still flirting with deflation. In a closely-watched keynote speech at a banking conference in Frankfurt, Draghi dropped his clearest hint yet that the ECB will expand its program of asset purchases, which depresses interest rates by injecting money into the financial system, and may also push its official deposit rate even further into negative territory, from its current record low of -0.20%.

The latter move would be particularly radical, and has been bitterly resisted by banks who claim it effectively forces them to make losses. But the ECB’s chief economist Peter Praet said in an interview earlier this week that the evidence suggested it hadn’t had a negative impact so far. The ECB’s governing council is due to meet next on Dec. 3, two weeks before the Federal Open Market Committee Meeting where the Fed is expected to raise its official interest rates. Draghi said: “If we decide that the current trajectory of our policy is not sufficient to achieve our objective, we will do what we must to raise inflation as quickly as possible. If we decide that the current trajectory of our policy is not sufficient to achieve our objective, we will do what we must to raise inflation as quickly as possible.”

Speculation on further easing has been growing since Draghi’s last press conference in October, when he expressed concern about fresh risks to the economy from the slowdown in China and other emerging markets, and about the stubborn refusal of inflation to come back to its targeted level of just under 2%. Thanks to low oil prices, consumer prices in the Eurozone have barely changed all year, and were up only 0.1% in the year to October. Gross domestic product, meanwhile, grew only 0.3% in the third quarter, down from 0.4% in the summer. The euro has already lost nearly 6% against the dollar since Draghi’s October press conference, and is already trading close to the 12-year low it posted back in March.

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“The King spoke, the subjects listened, and The King left. There was nothing his subjects could do about it but cope with its consequences.”

The Power And The Impotence Of The ECB (Steve Keen)

I’ve attended two conferences in two days where both the power and the impotence of the European Central Bank (EBC) have been on vivid display. Its political power is considerable, both in form and in substance. At both seminars, the ECB speaker—ECB Board member Peter Praet at the first, and ECB President Mario Draghi at the second—spoke first, and then left. In form, the ECB has no need to defend its policies because it is unimpeachable in its execution of them. In substance, it does not even considering engaging with its subjects—I use the word deliberately—in open and robust discussion. It’s not unusual for a political leader to turn up at an event, speak and then immediately leave. But even political leaders have to tolerate sometimes being savaged by fearless CNBC moderators when they speak in public.

And I expected that economic leaders would want to hang around and get some feedback—positive or otherwise—from the economic elite that gathered to hear them. Might they not learn something about why their policies weren’t working as they had expected them to? Not a bit of that for the ECB. There was plenty that could be criticised, even within the context their speeches set. Speaking at the FAROS Institutional Investors Forum, Praet acknowledged, numerous times, that the ECB had failed to hit many of its policy targets—in particular, he noted how many times the ECB had to put off into the more distant future its objective to return to 2% inflation. But there was no chance to challenge him as to why they had failed, because after a couple of perfunctory exchanges with the moderator, he was out the door.

At the more prestigious Frankfurt European Banking Congress Draghi stated bluntly that the ECB would continue to do all it takes to support asset markets via QE—in the belief that this supported the real economy. This was a declaration of the intention to use unlimited power—since there is no effective limit to the ECB’s capacity to buy assets from the private sector. A politician would have to respond to sceptics about the use of such unlimited powers. But there was not even a single question, nor even a murmur, from the audience. There was however a jolt of recognition. Draghi was going to continue supporting asset markets, and that was that. The King spoke, the subjects listened, and The King left. There was nothing his subjects could do about it but cope with its consequences.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who book-ended the EBC conference, had no such luxury of freedom from interlocution—nor did he need it. He engaged in a lively banter with his interviewer as he defended the far more limited power he has over expenditure in Germany. I doubt that Schäuble will suffer electoral defeat any time soon, but unlike Draghi he faces the prospect that it could happen. That doesn’t make him any less resolute in defending his policies; it just means that he has to defend them. This is what the originally principled concept of “Central Bank Independence” has transmuted into.

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One buybacks start failing to support stocks, there’s a big black hole looming beneath.

Financially Engineered Stocks Drag Down S&P 500 (WolfStreet)

Stocks have been on a tear to nowhere this year. Now investors are praying for a Santa rally to pull them out of the mire. They’re counting on desperate amounts of share buybacks that companies fund by loading up on debt. But the magic trick that had performed miracles over the past few years is backfiring. And there’s a reason. IBM has blown $125 billion on buybacks since 2005, more than the $111 billion it invested in capital expenditures and R&D. It’s staggering under its debt, while revenues have been declining for 14 quarters in a row. It cut its workforce by 55,000 people since 2012. And its stock is down 38% since March 2013.

Big-pharma icon Pfizer plowed $139 billion into buybacks and dividends in the past decade, compared to $82 billion in R&D and $18 billion in capital spending. 3M spent $48 billion on buybacks and dividends, and $30 billion on R&D and capital expenditures. They’re all doing it. “Activist investors” – hedge funds – have been clamoring for it. An investigative report by Reuters, titled The Cannibalized Company, lined some of them up:

In March, General Motors acceded to a $5 billion share buyback to satisfy investor Harry Wilson. He had threatened a proxy fight if the auto maker didn’t distribute some of the $25 billion cash hoard it had built up after emerging from bankruptcy just a few years earlier. DuPont early this year announced a $4 billion buyback program – on top of a $5 billion program announced a year earlier – to beat back activist investor Nelson Peltz’s Trian Fund Management, which was seeking four board seats to get its way.

In March, Qualcomm Inc., under pressure from hedge fund Jana Partners, agreed to boost its program to purchase $10 billion of its shares over the next 12 months; the company already had an existing $7.8 billion buyback program and a commitment to return three quarters of its free cash flow to shareholders.

And in July, Qualcomm announced 5,000 layoffs. It’s hard to innovate when you’re trying to please a hedge fund. CEOs with a long-term outlook and a focus on innovation and investment, rather than financial engineering, come under intense pressure. “None of it is optional; if you ignore them, you go away,” Russ Daniels, a tech executive with 15 years at Apple and 13 years at HP, told Reuters. “It’s all just resource allocation,” he said. “The situation right now is there are a lot of investors who believe that they can make a better decision about how to apply that resource than the management of the business can.”

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VW keeps flipping regulators the bird. “VW never told regulators about the software, in violation of U.S. law.”

Volkswagen’s Emissions Scandal Is Getting Even Bigger, Again (AP)

Volkswagen’s emissions cheating scandal widened Friday after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the German automaker used software to cheat on pollution tests on more six-cylinder diesel vehicles than originally thought. Volkswagen told the EPA and the California Air Resources Board the software is on about 85,000 Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche vehicles with 3-liter engines going back to the 2009 model year. Earlier this month the regulators accused VW of installing the so-called “defeat device” software on about 10,000 cars from the 2014 through 2016 model years, in violation of the Clean Air Act. The regulators said in a statement they will investigate and take appropriate action on the software, which they claim allowed the six-cylinder diesels to emit fewer pollutants during tests than in real-world driving.

The latest allegation means that more Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche owners could face recalls of their cars to fix the software, and VW could face steeper fines and more intense scrutiny from U.S. regulators and lawmakers. Audi spokesman Brad Stertz on Friday conceded that VW never told regulators about the software, in violation of U.S. law. He said the company agreed with the agencies to reprogram it “so that the regulators see it, understand it and approve it and feel comfortable with the way it’s performing.” The software is on Audi Q7 and Volkswagen Touareg SUVs from the 2009 through 2016 model years, as well as the Porsche Cayenne from 2013 to 2016. Also covered are Audi A6, A7, A8, and Q5s from the 2014 to 2016 model years, according to the EPA.

Stertz said the software is legal in Europe and it’s not the same as a device that enabled four-cylinder VW diesel engines to deliberately cheat on emissions tests. VW has told dealers not to sell any of the models until the software is fixed. VW made the disclosure on a day it was meeting with the agencies about how it plans to fix 482,000 four-cylinder diesel cars equipped with emissions-cheating software. U.S. regulators continue to tell owners of all the affected cars they are safe to drive, even as they emit nitrogen oxide, a contributor to smog and respiratory problems, in amounts that exceed EPA standards — up to nine times above accepted levels in the six-cylinder engines and up to 40 times in the four-cylinders.

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Letting politicians self-regulate their own spending?! Great idea!

EU Journalists Take European Parliament To Court Over Expense Accounts (EUO)

A group of 29 European journalists have filed complaints with the EU’s Court of Justice, demanding access to documents that will show how members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have been spending their allowances. The reporters filed freedom of information (FOI) requests with the European Parliament, asking for copies of documents that show details for the MEPs’ travel expenses, accommodation expenses, office expenses, and assistants expenses for the past four years. “We are not demanding access to records about how MEPs spend their salaries, which are intended for their personal and private use,” the group said in a statement. “We are demanding access to records that show details of how they spend all the extra payments they receive on top of their salaries, and only those extras which are paid to them solely for the exercise of their professional public mandates as elected representatives of European citizens,” they added.

In September, the parliament denied access to these documents, either because they contain personal data or, they argue, because no such records are held. A week ago, the reporters filed complaints with the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the European Union, with assistance from Natassa Pirc Musar, Slovenia’s former Information Commissioner. EP press spokesperson Marjory van den Broeke said the parliament has not yet received a formal notification from the court. “So formally, officially we cannot react to this, as we haven’t received it,” she told this website at a press conference Friday (20 November). However, she pointed out that when the EP does receive a FOI request, a balance must be struck between the EU’s rules on access to documents and its rules on personal data protection.

“Both these different aspects are taken into account when there is a proper investigation into the need to transfer personal data [to the FOI applicant],” said Van den Broeke, adding as an example of personal data that “some of these data could reveal political activities, which are the prerogative of an MEP to have, and which are their personal political convictions”. No clarification on the difference between personal political activities and public political activities was offered. According to the EP, around 27% of its almost €1.8 billion budget in 2014 was spent on MEP salaries and expenses, which include travel, office costs and assistants’ salaries. The journalists already know that there will be little information they can expect on the office costs, which are covered by the so-called general expenditure allowance (GEA), because little is recorded.

While MEPs are required to hand in receipts for their travel, accommodation and assistants expenses, they receive the GEA, which covers costs such as rent, phone bills, software, and furniture, as a monthly lump sum of €4,299 per MEP office. “The European Parliament spends €3.2 million each month solely on MEPs’ general expenditure allowance (almost €40 million per year). No one is monitoring this spending,” the journalists’ group noted.

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That’s still putting it mildly.

Australia Is A ‘Plaything’ Of World Economic Forces It Can’t Control (Guardian)

Australia is a “plaything” of forces it cannot control as the world economy heads into another phase of the global financial crisis, according to the former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. The “remarkable” flow of overseas money into the economy in recent years had created a “false sense of well-being”, he said, but the economy needed to change direction quickly to avert a crisis. Varoufakis, who quit as finance minister after a tumultuous six months in charge of the near-bankrupt Greek economy, taught economics at Sydney University for 12 years up to 2000 before he returned to Europe in dismay at Australia’s turn to the right under John Howard. The economist, who has dual Greek and Australian citizenship and whose daughter lives in Sydney, said Australia had become “complacent” about the health of its economy.

The Sydney and Melbourne housing boom, where price growth has been in double figures, was particularly alarming, said Varoufakis, who is in Australia for a short speaking tour. “Australia – especially Sydney and Melbourne – has always insulated itself from facts about the world. Aided and abetted by the remarkable flow of capital towards the property market in Sydney and Melbourne, it has created a false sense of wellbeing,” he told the Guardian. “People have always said to me that Australia is immune to the crisis because during the good times money has come as an investment. Then if things go wrong the rich Chinese will emigrate here and bring their dosh with them.” But Australia had become a “plaything of forces out of its control”, he said, and risked an economic shock as the credit bubble created by China in the wake of the global financial crisis began to deflate.

“The crisis of 2008 won’t go away. It is a unified, solid crisis, although it is metamorphisising and changing. Between the 80s and 2008 the world economy was fuelled by US debt, then financialisation [the huge increase in credit] which created a pyramid of money which collapsed in 2008. “The world economy lost its capacity to create demand for factories, but China reacted by creating a huge bubble. They were hoping the west would stabilise but it didn’t because America is ungovernable and Europe even more so.” After his bruising experience trying to face down the might of Germany, the ECB, the EU and the IMF, Varoufakis has become an outspoken critic of economic policy. He has described the settlement imposed on Greece in July as doomed to failure and will “go down in history as the greatest disaster of macroeconomic management ever”.

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And they’re thinking of making him PM?

‘Terrible’ Public Finance Figures Heap Pressure On UK Chancellor (Ind.)

The weakest set of October public finance figures for six years has given George Osborne a serious headache ahead of next week’s Autumn Statement. The borrowing figures for last month came in well above expectations, meaning the Chancellor is likely to fall short of his budget deficit reduction target set by the Office for Budget Responsibility only in July. Borrowing shot up to £8.2bn for the month – £1.1bn higher than the same month last year. Most City experts had pencilled in a £1.1bn fall to £6bn. The last time the Government borrowed more in an October was in 2009, when the deficit for the month was £9.6bn and the economy was still mired in recession. The figures are the latest in a run of disappointments in the monthly public finances. In the seven months of the financial year so far, cumulative borrowing is £54.3bn.

Although 10.9% below last year, it means the Chancellor needs a minor miracle to hit the Office for Budget Responsibility’s £69.5bn deficit target for the full year. Analysts said it was likely the OBR would revise up its full-year 2015-16 deficit forecast next month and that the deterioration would make the Chancellor’s job of mitigating his controversial tax credit cuts more difficult. “A critical question will be to what extent the OBR believes that this has implications for the fiscal targets further out,” said Howard Archer of IHS Global Insight. Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said the deficit could hit £80bn this year, adding that the “terrible borrowing figures provide a grim backdrop to the Autumn Statement”. He said: “Barring revisions, borrowing would have to be an implausible 48% lower year-over-year in the second half of this fiscal year for the official forecast to be met.”

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The horse has long bolted. It’ll take many years to repair that door.

Is It Time To Close The Door To Foreign Buyers Of British Property? (Guardian)

A global super-rich elite, some of them criminal, are snapping up property in Britain, pushing up costs for all of us and throwing the poor to the edge of the cities. Rampant landlordism is dividing Britain into a nation of housing haves and have-nots. Tax breaks for buy-to-lets are still too generous. Tenants are in despair. Many young people will never be able to buy their own home. This, extraordinarily, is not the language of some lefty academic or pressure group, but comes from the heart of the Conservative party in a new report by the Bow Group, the oldest Tory thinktank in the UK, which styles itself as the “intellectual home to conservatives”. It is a dramatic repudiation of decades of thinking in the Conservative party.

These are the people who have, until now, equated rising house prices with wealth and prosperity, and who have profited enormously from buy-to-let and billions in foreign cash. But the Bow Group now recognises that Britain’s housing market is broken – and its prescription for reform may stagger traditional Tory supporters. It turns conventional thinking on its head by saying the solution to Britain’s housing crisis is not millions of new homes, as so many argue, but cutting demand. The report’s author, Daniel Valentine, traces the phenomenal increase in house price inflation to the mid-1990s when three factors came together: a sudden surge in population growth, the explosion in buy-to-let lending, and the entry of China and Russia into the global economy, producing a global elite seeking a safe home for their cash.

These factors have corrupted the market, creating an insatiable “investment demand” divorced from the underlying needs of the people of Britain. Foreign buyers now own close to 10% of the UK’s housing stock, he claims, and, unchecked, will gobble up much more, increasingly in Manchester, Edinburgh and other regional cities. With the global financial elite numbering at least 15 million, “increasing housing supply can never bring down prices, no matter how much public land and green belt is turned into flats, because the demand for investment returns is almost infinite.” The accepted wisdom is that Chinese billionaires buying in Belgravia have no impact on Bromley or Birmingham. Not so, says the report, citing academic studies that prove that top-end buyers pull up prices through the entire market.

The Bow Group’s solution? To follow the example of Denmark, Switzerland and Australia and make it much tougher for foreign buyers to snap up homes as investment vehicles. It is astonishing that we allow, for example, millionaires in Singapore to buy land and property in Britain, but Singapore bars British and other foreign nationals from buying in their country. Denmark prohibits non-EU nationals from buying a home unless they have lived in the country for five years – and, like Finland and Malta, is allowed by the EU to restrict EU citizens from buying second homes in the country.

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“Yes, it’s happened before. (See European Jews and World War II.) It was not our finest hour.”

A Nation Of Immigrants Wants To Close Its Doors (MarketWatch)

Close the borders! Deny refugees from war-torn Syria asylum in the U.S.! Pass a bill to provide a safe haven to Syrian Christians, not Syrian Muslims! Such knee-jerk reactions to the multipronged terrorist attacks in Paris last Friday only exacerbated the growing anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump may be the loudest proponent of build-a-wall and ship-’em-back, but evidence of the expanding reach of Islamic State has won him many converts. So far 28 governors have said they will refuse to accept Syrian refugees in their states. (It’s not clear they have the legal authority to deny refugees entry to a particular state once they have been admitted to the U.S.) Another 20 are lobbying for increased screening. Congressional leaders have called for a suspension of President Barack Obama’s announced program to settle 10,000 Syrian refugees in fiscal 2016.

The 2,150 Syrian refugees that have been admitted to the U.S. so far have undergone extensive background checks, including biometric screening, a process that can take years, according to the Obama administration. To deny these victims of ISIS terror entry to the U.S. is, quite frankly, un-American. Yes, it’s happened before. (See European Jews and World War II.) It was not our finest hour. U.S. authorities do need to practice smarter security and improve screening procedures in light of the heightened risk. Have you ever wondered how many terrorists the Transportation Security Agency has nabbed asking travelers, “Did you pack your own bags?” As a nation of immigrants, the U.S. reaps considerable benefits from foreigners who come here to live and work.

Consider some statistics from the Kauffman Foundation, which focuses on entrepreneurship:
• More than 40% of the 2010 Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children;
• Between 2006 and 2012, one quarter of all technology and engineering startups had at least one immigrant founder.
• Immigrants are twice as likely as native-born Americans to become entrepreneurs;
• Immigrant entrepreneurs accounted for 28.5% of all new entrepreneurs in the U.S. last year, up from 13.3% in 1997.

Small companies, especially startups, are responsible for most, if not all, of the job growth in the U.S. To the extent that immigrants are drawn to entrepreneurship, they are a big plus. You may have heard it said that immigrants steal jobs from American citizens. (You can substitute “machines” or “automation” for immigrants.) This is one of those silly ideas that persists despite evidence to the contrary. So prevalent is the notion that immigrants and innovation steal jobs that economists have a name for it: the lump of labor fallacy. It’s based on the false idea that there is a fixed amount of work in an economy, to be divided up among the pool of workers. This discredited notion inspired France to implement a 35-hour workweek in 2000, widely considered to be a failure. While the official 35-hour workweek still exists — most businesses apply for an exemption — it has failed to reduce unemployment in France.

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Very thoroughly. The rest is all just fearmongering.

How Refugees Are Selected, Vetted, And Settled In The United States (Quartz)

Who are the refugees coming to the US? Every year, the President, in consultation with Congress, determines how many refugees should come into the U.S. In FY16, the ceiling is 85,000, up from 70,000 last year. They come from diverse areas. The largest groups of refugees the U.S. received last year came from Iraq, Burma, Somalia and Bhutan. In the past five years, the U.S. has received less than 2,500 Syrian refugees, most of whom were women and children.

How does the vetting process work? The vetting process for each refugee is highly rigorous, and usually takes two to three years to complete. Refugees first have to prove that they are actually refugee by registering and being accepted by the United Nations’s refugee agency overseas. This means they have to have a well-founded fear of persecution based on five specific grounds: nationality, race, religion, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. A small number of those registered—the most vulnerable cases—are referred to the U.S to be considered for resettlement. Only those who cannot return home or locally integrate in the country of asylum are referred for resettlement.

The US State Department’s Resettlement Support Center then collects biographical information and personal data for security clearance. The Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Department of Defense and multiple intelligence agencies then work together to carry out multiple security screenings based on biometric and biographic data, photographs, and other background information over a period that lasts on average 18 to 24 months. Any refugee who is deemed to pose a threat to our national security is denied. Syrian refugees also undergo “enhanced reviews” in which specially trained officers examine each case biography for accuracy and authenticity. In addition to these security checks, every single refugee is interviewed face-to-face by a Department of Homeland Security official and must undergo a medical screening.

How are refugees resettled in the US? Once refugees are conditionally approved for resettlement, they go through cultural orientation and pay for their own plane tickets to come to the U.S. World Relief, which is one of nine refugee resettlement agencies in the U.S, partners with local communities to help refugees get on their feet upon their arrival. This includes, partnering with local businesses and churches to assist with living arrangements, providing English classes, aiding in their job search, and much more. Refugees have been welcomed all over the country where they have become integrated, and become tax-paying, contributing members of many communities.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t carefully vet refugees, but let’s get the facts first before making generalizations and shutting down a program that has literally saved thousands of lives. To turn our backs on refugees now would betray our nation’s core values to provide refuge for the persecuted and affirm the very message those who perpetrate terrorism are trying to send.

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Nothing funnier than the truth: “Mr Erdogan at one point referred to Mr Juncker as the former premier of Luxembourg, “a country the size of a Turkish city”.

EU-Turkey Refugee Talks Turn Sour As Erdogan Belittles Juncker

The potential deal between the EU and Turkey to stem the migrant flow to Europe is floundering as Ankara pushes Brussels to deliver on a multibillion-euro aid package and other elements of the bargain. The challenge of completing the deal, hammered out in a month of negotiations, was underlined at a difficult meeting on Monday between EU officials and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. According to people familiar with the talks, Mr Erdogan balked as Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, the respective presidents of the European Commission and Council, pressed him for a timetable for measures intended to discourage migrants in Turkey from continuing their journey to Europe. These include tighter border controls and awarding work rights to 2m Syrian refugees.

One official familiar with the discussion said the meeting turned “sour” as Mr Erdogan demanded that Europe move first on its pledges. Ankara is seeking €3bn in financial support, regular Turkey-EU summits, and a clear political path to open several chapters in stalled EU membership talks. There was also disagreement as to whether a planned EU assistance package covered one or two years. According to another European official briefed on the meeting, Mr Erdogan at one point referred to Mr Juncker as the former premier of Luxembourg, “a country the size of a Turkish city”. On Thursday, Mr Juncker described the meeting as “sportive and exhausting”. German and other EU officials are convinced Mr Erdogan has the ability to sharply cut the outflow from Turkey and want to see tangible results by the end of the year. But it remains unclear how much Turkey can actually do to make that happen, even if it reaches an agreement with the EU.

Frans Timmermans, the commission’s vice-president, went to Ankara on Thursday to try to rescue the plan with Feridun Sinirlioglu, Turkey’s foreign minister. It was supposed to have been fleshed out and formally signed off at an EU-Turkey summit on November 29. Mr Juncker said the discussions with Mr Timmermans showed the will of “both sides to get closer together”. Thursday’s talks helped to steady the situation but diplomats worry that difficulties with Mr Erdogan may jeopardise the final sign-off. “We don’t want a summit for the sake of a summit,” said one Turkish official. “We have to see they are serious.” One European diplomat said the “tough exchange of views” underlined how difficult it was to negotiate with Turkey — particularly at a time when some member states are desperate for assistance with the crisis and have a weak bargaining position. “They are trying to exploit this situation in a way that some countries find unacceptable,” he said.

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Angela better stop the ugly side of Germany from rising from its ashes.

Merkel Slowly Changes Tune on Refugee Issue (Spiegel)

In early September, German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued an order to bring thousands of refugees who were stranded in Hungary to Germany. Germany’s basic right to asylum has no upper limits, she said. It was a moment of unaccustomed conviction from a chancellor who had become notorious for her ability to avoid making decisions until the last possible moment. But she went even further. She equated the refugee issue with other significant turning points in the history of her party, the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU). Issues such as West Germany’s integration into Western alliances and Kohl’s commitment to keeping nuclear weapons stationed in West Germany in the 1980s. It was as though she were elevating her refugee policy into the pantheon of Christian Democratic basic principles.

And she didn’t even bother to inform the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), before doing so. Now, though, Merkel is in the process of preparing a reversal of her refugee policy. At the G-20 summit in Antalya, Turkey at the beginning of the week, she spoke of quotas – fixed numbers of refugees that Europe is willing to accept. On the one hand, of course, introduction the idea of quotas is a concession to reality, because the chancellor knows that the ongoing arrival to Germany of up to 10,000 refugees every day is not sustainable. But the change is also a silent capitulation to her critics. Horst Seehofer, the head of the CSU, and Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière are now setting the tone in Germany’s refugee policy, and the Paris terrorist attacks have only given them more leverage.

Seehofer and de Maizière have been calling for an upper limit on immigration for months. “Quota” is simply a different word for the same thing. Merkel is in a tight spot. She made the right decision by accepting the desperate refugees who set out from Budapest for Germany on foot in early September. But in the period that followed, the dimensions of the inflow kept growing and Merkel never conveyed the message that Germany’s capacity is limited. Even the coming winter has not stopped the flow of refugees, and leading conservatives are now more openly questioning the efficacy and wisdom of Merkel’s plan to limit immigration by combating the underlying causes of migration. For many, the notion of Germany serving as an intermediary and arbiter of global crises borders on megalomania.

Even though she is still publicly sticking to her rhetoric, Merkel has been on the retreat for about two weeks. Leading CDU parliamentarians received the first signs of her change of heart in early November, when they met with her at the Chancellery. In the meeting, the chancellor clearly promised that she would support a reduction in refugee numbers, says one of the attendees. “I cannot guarantee that you will already see a change in the coming weeks,” the attendee said, quoting Merkel. But she also said that the current situation could not continue as it was.

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It’ll be well over 1 million by year’s end.

Over 900,000 Migrants Arrived In Germany This Year (Reuters)

More than 900,000 migrants have been registered in Germany since the beginning of the year, the Bavarian Interior Ministry said on Friday. “The number of 900,000 was surpassed in the nationwide registration system last night,” a spokesman for Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann said. The federal government had forecast that some 800,000 refugees would arrive in Germany this year, but senior politicians have said there could be as many as 1 million new arrivals.

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