Nov 032018
 


Winslow Homer Cloud shadows 1890

 

The World Has Two Years To Secure A Deal To Halt Species Extinction – UN (G.)
US Wage Growth Hits Nine-Year High (BBC)
America’s Wealth Bubble Is Boosting Consumer Confidence (Colombo)
Inside The Trump Gold Rush At CNN (VF)
Who’s Really ‘Undermining’ US Democracy? (Stephen Cohen)
Perpetual Hysteria ( Kunstler)
Trump Will Grant 8 Waivers To Buy Iranian Oil (CNBC)
Europe Vows To Defy US Sanctions Against Iran (RT)
Europe’s Top Banks Ease Past ECB’s Latest Stress Tests (CNBC)
Erdogan Says ‘Highest Level’ Saudi Officials Ordered Khashoggi Murder (RT)
Public Prosecutors Charge Catalan Independence Leaders With Rebellion

 

 

The actual headline of this Guardian piece is “Stop Biodiversity Loss Or We Could Face Our Own Extinction”. Mine is better, because it illustrates, providing it’s accurate, how hopeless the situation is. If only because of what’s already in the pipeline. The prospect of 2 more years of meetings doesn’t change a thing.

The World Has Two Years To Secure A Deal To Halt Species Extinction – UN (G.)

The world has two years to secure a deal for nature to halt a ‘silent killer’ as dangerous as climate change, says biodiversity chief

The world must thrash out a new deal for nature in the next two years or humanity could be the first species to document our own extinction, warns the United Nation’s biodiversity chief. Ahead of a key international conference to discuss the collapse of ecosystems, Cristiana Pasca Palmer said people in all countries need to put pressure on their governments to draw up ambitious global targets by 2020 to protect the insects, birds, plants and mammals that are vital for global food production, clean water and carbon sequestration.

“The loss of biodiversity is a silent killer,” she told the Guardian. “It’s different from climate change, where people feel the impact in everyday life. With biodiversity, it is not so clear but by the time you feel what is happening, it may be too late.” Pasca Palmer is executive director of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity – the world body responsible for maintaining the natural life support systems on which humanity depends. Its 196 member states will meet in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, this month to start discussions on a new framework for managing the world’s ecosystems and wildlife. This will kick off two years of frenetic negotiations, which Pasca Palmer hopes will culminate in an ambitious new global deal at the next conference in Beijing in 2020.

Conservationists are desperate for a biodiversity accord that will carry the same weight as the Paris climate agreement. But so far, this subject has received miserably little attention even though many scientists say it poses at least an equal threat to humanity. The last two major biodiversity agreements – in 2002 and 2010 – have failed to stem the worst loss of life on Earth since the demise of the dinosaurs. Eight years ago, under the Aichi Protocol, nations promised to at least halve the loss of natural habitats, ensure sustainable fishing in all waters, and expand nature reserves from 10% to 17% of the world’s land by 2020. But many nations have fallen behind, and those that have created more protected areas have done little to police them. “Paper reserves” can now be found from Brazil to China.

Read more …

3 days to midterms.

US Wage Growth Hits Nine-Year High (BBC)

Wages in the US grew at their fastest pace for nine years last month, the latest official figures show. The US Labor Department said wages grew at an annual rate of 3.1% in October, accelerating from a rate of 2.8% the month before. The economy also added 250,000 jobs last month, beating expectations, while the jobless rate remained at 3.7%. The report quickly became fodder for political debate ahead of next week’s high stakes congressional election. President Donald Trump celebrated the figures on Twitter as “incredible” and urged his followers to “Vote Republican”. In an unusual move, the White House also organised a briefing call for reporters to promote the gains.

The top Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, issued a statement of his own, aiming to redirect voter attention. The latest numbers “may look good” but should be considered alongside other economic policies, he said. “When the average family sees their health care costs go up because of Republican actions, these numbers will mean little,” he said. Among economists, there was wider agreement that the jobs report pointed to strength in the US economy, despite recent worries that weakness may be emerging in some sectors such as housing and trade.

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There’s something wonderfully ironic in this. Getting your confidence from hot air.

America’s Wealth Bubble Is Boosting Consumer Confidence (Colombo)

ZeroHedge posted an interesting chart a few days ago showing how affluent Americans (those making over $50,000 a year) have not been more confident since the dot com bubble. While strong consumer confidence may seem like a good thing when taken at face value, the contrarian in me sees it as a warning of the kind of over-exuberance seen during bubbles like the dot-com bubble and housing bubble.

Unfortunately, I believe that the U.S. is experiencing an unsustainable, artificial household wealth bubble that is causing affluent consumers to be over-optimistic despite the fact that our economic boom is largely driven by cheap credit and is going to end in a painful bust. As I explained in a recent presentation, U.S. household wealth has surged by approximately $46 trillion or 83% since 2009 to an all-time high of $100.8 trillion. Since 1951, household wealth has averaged 379% of the GDP, while the Dot-com bubble peaked at 429%, the housing bubble topped out at 473%, and the current bubble has inflated household wealth to a record 505% of GDP (see the chart below):

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As I’ve said numerous times, Trump sells better than sex, and he’s keeping CNN alive. The suggestion that CNN allows both sides into teh debate is ludicrous, though.

Inside The Trump Gold Rush At CNN (VF)

Zucker was on the phone talking about why Trump sucks up so much of CNN’s oxygen. “People say all the time, ‘Oh, I don’t want to talk about Trump. I’ve had too much Trump,’ ” he told me. “And yet at the end of the day, all they want to do is talk about Trump. We’ve seen that, anytime you break away from the Trump story and cover other events in this era, the audience goes away. So we know that, right now, Donald Trump dominates.” Zucker, the guy who first brought our president to the small screen when he green-lighted The Apprentice in 2004 while running NBC, had arguably schooled Trump in the art of reality television.

Halfway through Trump’s first term, his instincts remain just as acute. If Fox News represents Trump’s base and MSNBC has become a friendly platform for the resistance, CNN is the arena where both sides show up for cantankerous battle. “On Fox, you rarely hear from people who don’t support Trump,” Zucker told me. “On MSNBC, you rarely hear from people who do support Trump. We want to be home to both those points of view.” He continued, as if rebuking a common critique of the network. “It is true some of these folks are not very good with the facts, but that’s O.K. in the sense that it’s our job then to call them out.”

[..] Even though CNN still trails Fox News and MSNBC in prime-time audience size, its ratings have never been better. The average number of people watching on a given day has been above 700,000 each year since 2016, compared to around 400,000 in the pre-Trump news cycle. That’s also considerably larger than any other time over the past 25 years, an astonishing feat given the ubiquity of news and the decline of cable.

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Russiagate undermines democracy.

Who’s Really ‘Undermining’ US Democracy? (Stephen Cohen)

Even though still unproven, charges that the Kremlin put Trump in the White House have cast a large shadow of illegitimacy over his presidency and thus over the institution of the presidency itself. This is unlikely to end entirely with Trump. If the Kremlin had the power to affect the outcome of one presidential election, why not another one, whether won by a Republican or a Democrat? The 2016 presidential election was the first time such an allegation became widespread in American political history, but it may not be the last. Now the same shadow looms over the November 6 elections and thus over the next Congress. If so, in barely two years, the legitimacy of two fundamental institutions of American representative democracy will have been challenged, also for the first time in history.

And if US elections are really so vulnerable to Russian “meddling,” what does this say about faith in American elections more generally? How many losing candidates on November 6 will resist blaming the Kremlin? Two years after the last presidential election, Hillary Clinton and her adamant supporters still have not been able to do so. We know from critical reporting and from recent opinion surveys that the origins and continuing fixation on the Russiagate scandal since 2016 have been primarily a product of US political-intelligence-media elites. It did not spring from the American people – from voters themselves. Thus a Gallup poll recently showed that 58 percent of those surveyed wanted improved relations with Russia. And other surveys have shown that Russiagate is scarcely an issue at all for likely voters on November 6. Nonetheless, it remains a front-page issue for US elites.

Indeed, Russiagate has revealed the low esteem that many US political-media elites have for American voters – for their ability to make discerning, rational electoral decisions, which is the bedrock assumption of representative democracy. It is worth noting that this disdain for rank-and-file citizens echoes a longstanding attitude of the Russian political intelligentsia, as recently expressed in the argument by a prominent Moscow policy intellectual that Russian authoritarianism springs not from the nation’s elites but from the “genetic code” of its people.

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Certainly looks like the Democrats need to hit some kind of bottom before they can rise again. If that ever happens.

Perpetual Hysteria ( Kunstler)

Back in the last century, when this was a different country, the Democrats were the “smart” party and the Republicans were the “stupid” party. How did that work? Well, back then the Democrats represented a broad middle class, with a base of factory workers, many of them unionized, and the party had to be smart, especially in the courts, to overcome the natural advantages of the owner class. In contrast, the Republicans looked like a claque of country club drunks who staggered home at night to sleep on their moneybags. Bad optics, as we say nowadays. [..] The Republican Party has, at least, sobered up some after getting blindsided by Trump and Trumpism. Like a drunk out of rehab, it’s attempting to get a life.

Two years in, the party marvels at Mr. Trump’s audacity, despite his obvious lack of savoir faire. And despite a longstanding lack of political will to face the country’s problems, the Republicans are being forced to engage on some real issues, such as the need for a coherent and effective immigration policy and the need to redefine formal trade relations. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has become the party of bad ideas and bad faith, starting with the position that “diversity and inclusion” means shutting down free speech, an unforgivable transgression against common sense and common decency. It’s a party that lies even more systematically than Mr. Trump, and does so knowingly (as when Google execs say they “Do no Evil”).

[..] I hope that Democrats lose as many congressional and senate seats as possible. I hope that the party is shoved into an existential crisis and is forced to confront its astounding dishonesty. I hope that the process prompts them to purge their leadership across the board. If there is anything to salvage in this organization, I hope it discovers aims and principles that are unrecognizable from its current agenda of perpetual hysteria.

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Overreach. America’s anti-Iran stance hinges to a large extent on Saudi interests. Which have taken a huge hit.

Trump Will Grant 8 Waivers To Buy Iranian Oil (CNBC)

The Trump administration will grant eight jurisdictions special exceptions to continue importing oil from Iran after U.S. sanctions on the country snap back into place on Monday, according to cabinet members. President Donald Trump gave oil buyers 180 days to wind down purchases of Iranian crude when he pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal in May. The eight waivers will allow the jurisdictions to more gradually reduce their purchases after the Nov. 4 deadline. Oil market watchers have been closely monitoring the situation to determine how forcefully the Trump administration will enforce the sanctions.

State Department officials initially said importers must cut their purchases to zero by November, but administration officials subsequently telegraphed that some exceptions would be made. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday declined to name the eight jurisdictions during a conference call with reporters. The officials said all of the countries or territories have significantly reduced their purchases and will be given more time to further reduce their imports. [..] Japan, India and South Korea are among the countries, and China is still negotiating a waiver, Bloomberg News reported earlier on Friday, citing a senior administration official. Pompeo confirmed on Friday that the EU is not one of the jurisdictions that will receive a waiver.

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Russia and China will stand by Iran. Europe may as well.

Europe Vows To Defy US Sanctions Against Iran (RT)

European countries have vowed to maintain “effective financial channels” and to keep trading with Tehran after the US announced that the EU is not among those spared from its sweeping sanctions against Iran. European countries suddenly discovered that they were not on the list of the ‘lucky ones’ that their ally, the US, decided to exempt from the new wave of all-encompassing sanctions it plans to unleash on Iran. The sanctions, targeting Iran’s shipping, finance and energy sectors, which come into force on November 5, are also designed to punish those countries that dared to do business with the Islamic Republic in defiance of the US pressure.

Only eight nations were graciously granted exemptions by the US, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. However, Pompeo made it clear that the EU as a single entity is not on the list, sparking an angry reaction from the US’ western allies. Washington also specifically mentioned that it plans to target the special mechanism the EU has been creating to circumvent the restrictions, prompting its allies to fight back.

In response, the EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, together with the foreign and finance ministers of Germany, France and the UK, vowed to maintain “effective financial channels with Iran” and in particular to continue buying the Islamic Republic’s oil and gas. They also said that despite Washington’s pressure the EU is still committed to establishing a “Special Purpose Vehicle” for Iran-EU trade. The European nations will seek to protect its companies engaged in “legitimate business with Iran,” the statement said, adding that the EU will cooperate with Russia and China in particular to achieve these goals.

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Central banks are incapable of doing stress tests that matter.

Europe’s Top Banks Ease Past ECB’s Latest Stress Tests (CNBC)

Results of the stress test of Europe’s bigger banks released Friday revealed that all of the financial institutions in the EU wide examination passed the European Central Bank’s “adverse scenario”. The stress tests were carried out by the European Banking Authority (EBA) and the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) to gauge the health of the European banking system. The EBA said in findings published on their website that all 48 banks beat the common tier ratio of 5.5 percent under adverse stress. British bank Barclays ranked lowest in the test, scoring a common tier ratio of just 6.37 percent in the adverse scenario. Fellow U.K. bank Lloyds also performed poorly with a score of 6.8 percent.

Commenting after the results, the Bank Of England said the results showed that U.K. banks could absorb the effect of the EBA’s worst scenario. Europe’s biggest bank, Deutsche Bank, performed better than some forecasters had predicted, registering a core tier of 8.14 percent, again in an adverse scenario. EBA said under their adverse scenario, the capital depletion across the banks at the end of 2020 was 236 billion euros ($268 billion) and 226 billion euros on a “transitional and fully loaded basis respectively.” The ECB added that the EBA test showed that banks in Europe were now “more resilient to financial shocks.”

Italian banks were also under scrutiny but managed to record satisfactory scores according to banking regulators. Unicredit, Italy’s largest lender, scored a common tier ratio of 9.34 while UBI Banca scored 7.42 percent. The lowest score among Italian banks was for Banco BPM which registered 6.67 percent.

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Erdogan was insulted by the Saudi chief prosecutor visiting Ankara/Istanbul.

Erdogan Says ‘Highest Level’ Saudi Officials Ordered Khashoggi Murder (RT)

The killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was sanctioned at the “highest levels” of the Saudi government, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, trying to play kingmaker in Riyadh and bolster his credentials in the West. “We know that the order to kill Khashoggi came from the highest levels of the Saudi government,” the Turkish leader wrote in a surprise contribution to Friday’s Washington Post, vowing to “reveal the identities of the puppet masters” behind the murder. “No one should dare to commit such acts on the soil of a NATO ally again,” Erdogan wrote dramatically. “Had this atrocity taken place in the United States or elsewhere, authorities in those countries would have gotten to the bottom of what happened.”

“It would be out of the question for us to act any other way,” he added, noting that Ankara has already “moved heaven and earth to shed light on all aspects of this case.” The Turkish leader also used the opportunity to burnish his credentials in the West, saying that as a responsible NATO member, Turkey will not just leave this case uninvestigated and will act in exactly the same way as the US or any of its allies would in its place. Erdogan openly accused Riyadh of “trying to cover up the murder” by stalling the investigation and refusing to cooperate with the Turkish authorities, singling out the Saudi chief prosecutor Saud Al Mojeb, who visited Turkey earlier this week. “The refusal of the Saudi public prosecutor… to cooperate with the investigation and answer even simple questions is very frustrating,” he wrote, adding that Al Mojeb’s “invitation for Turkish investigators to Saudi Arabia … felt like a desperate and deliberate stalling tactic.”

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Franco’s still alive and kicking.

Public Prosecutors Charge Catalan Independence Leaders With Rebellion

The public prosecution on Friday morning filed its written accusation against Catalan secessionist leaders who are in pretrial detention for their role in the unauthorized referendum of October 1, 2017 and the unilateral independence declaration that followed. As expected, prosecutors are seeking a 25-year prison term for ex-deputy premier Oriol Junqueras for rebellion and misuse of public funds, and they also want the Catalan Republican Party (ERC) leader barred from holding public office for the next 25 years. Prosecutors are also seeking 17-year jail terms for Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, the former heads of civic associations that campaigned actively for independence, and for Carme Forcadell, the former speaker of the Catalan parliament.

Other defendants in the upcoming trial face penalties ranging from economic fines to prison terms of 16 years. Meanwhile, Spain’s Solicitor General, who represents the Spanish state in the courts, has not accused Catalan secessionist leaders of rebellion. Instead, the written accusation focuses on the crimes of sedition and misuse of public funds in connection with the referendum and unilateral independence declaration. In its written accusation, the Solicitor General’s Office has called for Junqueras to be sentenced to 12 years in prison and a 12-year ban on holding public office.

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Dec 092017
 
 December 9, 2017  Posted by at 10:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


MC Escher Belvedere 1958

 

The Fed’s QE-Unwind is Really Happening (WS)
2017 US Wage Growth Failed To Pick Up Despite Unemployment Rate Decline (BBG)
The Bitcoin Whales: 1,000 People Who Own 40% of the Market (BBG)
Bitcoin Futures Could Be “A Clusterf*ck Of Monumental Proportions” (Blain)
Central Banks Or Bitcoin: What’s The Greater Bubble? (Jim Kunstler)
Chinese Banks Didn’t Object to New Asset Rules, Association Says (BBG)
Enron? Citi, BofA, HSBC, Goldman, BNP on the Hook as Steinhoff plunges (WS)
CNN Corrects a Trump Story, Fueling Claims of ‘Fake News’ (NYT)
Aim Of First Greek Memorandum: Rescue Foreign Investors – Dijsselbloem (Amna)
The Most Valuable Companies of All Time (VC)

 

 

They can because other CBs have taken over. Smart move?!

The Fed’s QE-Unwind is Really Happening (WS)

The Fed’s balance sheet for the week ending December 6, released today, completes the second month of the QE-unwind. Total assets initially zigzagged within a tight range to end October where it started, at $4,456 billion. But in November, holdings drifted lower, and by December 6 were at $4,437 billion, the lowest since September 17, 2014:

“Balance sheet normalization?” Well, in baby steps. But the devil is in the details. The Fed’s announced plan is to shrink the balance sheet by $10 billion a month in October, November, and December, then accelerate the pace every three months. By October 2018, the Fed would reduce its holdings by up to $50 billion a month (= $600 billion a year) and continue at that rate until it deems the level of its holdings “normal” – the new normal, whatever that may turn out to be. Still, the decline so far, given the gargantuan size of the balance sheet, barely shows up. As part of the $10-billion-a-month unwind from October through December, the Fed is supposed to unload $6 billion in Treasury securities a month plus $4 billion in mortgage-backed securities (MBS) a month.

The Fed doesn’t actually sell Treasury securities outright. Instead, it allows some of them, when they mature, to “roll off” the balance sheet without replacement. When the securities mature, the Treasury Department pays the holder the face value. But the Fed, instead of reinvesting the money in new Treasuries, destroys the money – the opposite process of QE, when the Fed created the money to buy securities. This happens only on dates when Treasuries that the Fed holds mature, usually once or twice a month. In October, the big day was October 31, when $8.5 billion of Treasuries on the Fed’s books matured. The Fed reinvested $2.5 billion and let $6 billion “roll off.” Hence, the amount of Treasuries fell by about $6 billion from an all-time record $2,465.7 billion on October 25 to $2,459.8 billion on November 1.

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If you can get two people to work for the same price as one did before, you have job growth.

2017 US Wage Growth Failed To Pick Up Despite Unemployment Rate Decline (BBG)

This rising tide isn’t lifting many boats. Wage growth in the U.S. has failed to pick up this year despite a steady decline in the unemployment rate. The sluggishness has been relatively broad-based across the labor market, including among low-skilled workers, who might seem to be the most likely candidates for bigger pay increases as labor becomes scarcer. The bottom 20% of workers by average industry pay received a 3.9% increase in hourly earnings in October from a year earlier, marking an acceleration from a 3.4% advance in the year through October 2016. The detailed industry numbers for October were released on Friday along with the Labor Department’s main employment report for November.

However, the following chart shows that the entire pickup over the last year can be traced to a single industry: security and armored car services, which only accounts for 0.6% of private-sector employment, but has seen wages shoot up by almost 20%. Removing security and armored car services from the picture knocks the 3.9% wage growth for the bottom quintile down to 3.3%. That means it’s been more than a year since workers in the other low-paying industries have seen any acceleration in wage growth. The biggest employers of low-skilled workers are restaurants, general merchandise retailers, grocery stores, elderly care services, janitorial services and child day-care. Among those industries, restaurants are doling out the biggest pay increases (4.4% in the year through October), even though wage growth for those workers has been decelerating this year. General merchandise stores are giving out the smallest raises of the group at 1.4%.

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Creating new elites and bolstering old ones.

The Bitcoin Whales: 1,000 People Who Own 40% of the Market (BBG)

On Nov. 12, someone moved almost 25,000 bitcoins, worth about $159 million at the time, to an online exchange. The news soon rippled through online forums, with bitcoin traders arguing about whether it meant the owner was about to sell the digital currency. Holders of large amounts of bitcoin are often known as whales. And they’re becoming a worry for investors. They can send prices plummeting by selling even a portion of their holdings. And those sales are more probable now that the cryptocurrency is up nearly twelvefold from the beginning of the year. About 40% of bitcoin is held by perhaps 1,000 users; at current prices, each may want to sell about half of his or her holdings, says Aaron Brown, former managing director and head of financial markets research at AQR Capital Management.

What’s more, the whales can coordinate their moves or preview them to a select few. Many of the large owners have known one another for years and stuck by bitcoin through the early days when it was derided, and they can potentially band together to tank or prop up the market. “I think there are a few hundred guys,” says Kyle Samani, managing partner at Multicoin Capital. “They all probably can call each other, and they probably have.” One reason to think so: At least some kinds of information sharing are legal, says Gary Ross, a securities lawyer at Ross & Shulga. Because bitcoin is a digital currency and not a security, he says, there’s no prohibition against a trade in which a group agrees to buy enough to push the price up and then cashes out in minutes.

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Can’t see futures doing well, even if initially they may soar.

Bitcoin Futures Could Be “A Clusterf*ck Of Monumental Proportions” (Blain)

Crypto-‘currency’ or total carnage? Mike Novogratz doesn’t see “quick adoption” of Bitcoin as a currency, preferring to think of it as ‘digital gold’. Perhaps this is one reason why. Amid its meteroic rise, Bitcoin is now 20 times more volatile than the US Dollar… As MINT Partners’ Bill Blain exclaims, next week sees the improbable launch of Bitcoin futures:

“This looks like having the potential to be a clusterf*ck of monumental proportions when it bursts. Every bank knows BTC’s extraordinary gains are a crowd delusion fuelled by the extraordinary promise of free wealth! Yet, many will be willing to trade and settle them for their clients – largely retail. Bitcoin has become the ultimate Klondyke. Most folk don’t have a clue what BTC and the associated Blockchain ledger might be, but everyone knows what the price action has been. Where that price is going is clouded by a lack of clarity on the technological nuances, distorted by Libertarian/Geek monetary gobbledy-gook, confused by a plethora of me-too coin offerings, speculators who see the chance of a quick buck, and investors scared they are missing out.”

“I’ve spent most of this week learning more and more about the limitations of Blockchain and two things are crystal clear – it doesn’t work, and it’s an evolutionary dead end that nimbler cryptocurrencies will take the niche of. But I still don’t understand why we need them at all? If its central banks you object to, let’s have a private cryptocurrency based on gold, or oil, or something else tangible… but based on some computer babble? Not for me. On the other hand, the long-term possibilities that BTC exploits in terms of Blockchain distributed ledgers are very real. Blockchain applications are going to utterly change finance.

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The ZH graph is nice, since it only runs until BTC 11,000.

Central Banks Or Bitcoin: What’s The Greater Bubble? (Jim Kunstler)

The third round of QE was officially halted in 2014 in the USA. However, the world’s other main central banks acted in rotation — passing the baton of QE, like in a relay race — so that when the US slacked off, Japan, Britain, the ECB, and the Bank of China, took over money-printing duties. And because money flies easily around the world via digital banking, a lot of that foreign money ended up in “sure-thing” US capital markets (as well as their own ). Mega-tons of “money” were created out of thin air around the world since the near-collapse of the system in 2008. And magically, with no negative consequences! Yet. Now, Europe and Japan are making noises about dropping their batons. China’s banking system is so opaque and perverse — because it is unaccountable except to the ruling party with its own agenda — that it’s quite impossible to tell what they are really doing, though the signs of mal-investment are obvious and startling.

And the UK’s finances are tied up in its messy divorce proceedings with the EU (with the British standard of living dropping markedly meanwhile). In short, the torrent of global “liquidity” looks to be slowing to a trickle. The expectation is that this would make stock markets go down and bond interest rates to go up (fewer buyers), perhaps a lot. The dirty open secret here is that these central bank interventions are the only means for keeping the capital markets up, and that the markets are just a Potemkin false front for Western economies that are drying up and blowing away. That is certainly the experience here in the USA, where banking hocus-pocus now accounts for about 30% of GDP, and most of that activity is either out-and-out fraud or swindling, or collecting rents and dividends on past frauds and swindles.

Dem/Prog America in its Silicon Valley gourmet employee bistros and Hamptons lawn parties thinks that the flyover Trumpist Red State world of meth, joblessness, and anomie is some kind of a Netflix hallucination. But no, it’s for real. The center of the ole US of A is hollowed out. The bad news is that it probably has enough juice left in its disaffected youth, and certainly enough weaponry, to start a very serious insurrection if it continues to get dissed. Enter the joker in the deck: Bitcoin. Though it pulled back a couple of thou overnight, this strange investment vehicle blasted through $18,000-per-Bitcoin in the past 24 hours, roughly tripling from $6000 in one month. It even endured the hacking of one of its exchanges, NiceHash, where $70 million was looted without so much as a stutter in the upward thrust of the chart. Whatever else Bitcoin is — and I would suggest a “Ponzie,” a “mania,” a “con” — this thing is a message.

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They’re too scared of Xi.

Chinese Banks Didn’t Object to New Asset Rules, Association Says (BBG)

China’s banking association is organizing discussions on the nation’s proposed new asset-management rules, the group said in a social media posting, dismissing as “untrue” reports that some lenders have submitted a petition to policy makers on the subject. The statement comes after regulators last month proposed sweeping guidelines to curb risks in the nation’s $15 trillion of asset-management products, prompting a three-day drop in sovereign bonds and driving stocks to a two-month low before a late rally amid speculation state-backed funds would stem excessive losses.

The rules are scheduled to come into effect in 2019. Earlier this week, Reuters cited three people it didn’t identify as saying that some Chinese joint-stock banks had objected to the proposals, saying they would have a big impact on financial markets and possibly trigger systemic risks. The China Banking Association, in its WeChat post Friday, said it is helping formulate opinion on the draft. The new rules will be applied to the 29 trillion yuan ($4.4 trillion) of wealth-management products issued by banks, 17.5 trillion yuan of trust products, as well as asset-management plans sold by insurers, fund managers and brokerages, according to the regulators’ statement. Institutions will be required to set aside risk provisions equivalent to 10% of the management fees, they said.

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Mario Draghi and the ECB are heavily invested in Steinhoff.

Enron? Citi, BofA, HSBC, Goldman, BNP on the Hook as Steinhoff plunges (WS)

Steinhoff International Holdings – which acquired nine companies in the past two years, including Mattress Firm Holding in the US, and which presides over a cobbled-together empire of retailers and assorted other companies in the US, Europe, Africa, and Australasia – issued another devastating announcement today: It cancelled its “private” annual meeting with bankers in London on Monday and rescheduled it for December 19. This is the meeting when the company normally discusses its annual report with its global bankers. The annual report should have been released on Wednesday, December 6. But on precisely that day, the company announced cryptically that “accounting irregularities” had “come to light” that required “further investigation,” and that CEO Markus Jooste had been axed “with immediate effect,” and that it would postpone its annual report indefinitely.

This is raising serious questions about the company’s viability as a going concern. The lack of transparency doesn’t help. To soothe investors, the company announced on Thursday that it was trying to prop up its liquidity by selling some units ASAP. And it made more cryptic statements: It “has given further consideration to the issues subject to the investigation and to the validity and recoverability” of some assets of “circa €6 billion” ($7 billion). “The validity and recoverability” of assets worth $7 billion? The company is infamous for its opaque communications which equal its opaque corporate structure. It’s considering selling “certain non-core assets that will release a minimum of €1 billion of liquidity.” It also “committed” to wringing out €2 billion from its subsidiary Steinhoff Africa Retail Limited (STAR) by refinancing “on better terms” some debt that the subsidiary owes the parent company, which the subsidiary should be able to handle, “given the strong cash flow.”

With these measures, it hopes “to be able to fund its existing operations and reduce debt.” Shareholders and bondholders were aghast. The shares, traded in Frankfurt and held widely by international investors, had still been in the €5-range in June. But in August, German prosecutors said they were probing if Steinhoff had booked inflated revenues at its subsidiaries. Shares began to drop. By Tuesday, there were down 41% at €2.95. On Wednesday, after the “accounting irregularities” had “come to light,” shares crashed 64% to €1.07. By Friday, they’d dropped to €0.47. Market capitalization plunged by about €18 billion ($21 billion) since June to €2 billion.

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With every false report, more credibility is lost of the MSM. And they still don’t understand that.

CNN Corrects a Trump Story, Fueling Claims of ‘Fake News’ (NYT)

CNN on Friday corrected an erroneous report that Donald Trump Jr. had received advance notice from the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks about a trove of hacked documents that it planned to release during last year’s presidential campaign. In fact, the email to Mr. Trump was sent a day after the documents, stolen from the Democratic National Committee, were made available to the general public. The correction undercut the main thrust of CNN’s story, which had been seized on by critics of President Trump as evidence of coordination between WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign. It was also yet another prominent reporting error at a time when news organizations are confronting a skeptical public, and a president who delights in attacking the media as “fake news.”

Last Saturday, ABC News suspended a star reporter, Brian Ross, after an inaccurate report that Donald Trump had instructed Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser, to contact Russian officials during the presidential race. The report fueled theories about coordination between the Trump campaign and a foreign power, and stocks dropped after the news. In fact, Mr. Trump’s instruction to Mr. Flynn came after he was president-elect. Several news outlets, including Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal, also inaccurately reported this week that Deutsche Bank had received a subpoena from the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, for President Trump’s financial records. The president and his circle have not been shy about pointing out the errors.

[..] CNN’s erroneous scoop, about the email to Donald Trump Jr., rocketed around cable news and social media on Friday morning. But it fell apart after The Washington Post reported that the email — which included a decryption key to access hacked documents — was dated Sept. 14, not Sept. 4, as CNN initially reported. WikiLeaks publicized links to the documents in question on Sept. 13. CNN said that its report had been based on information from two sources and vetted by the network’s in-house fact-checking team. But both sources were apparently incorrect about the date of the message. [..] “Between this and Brian Ross’ Flynn mistake, the mainstream media is doing a great job of bolstering Trump’s claims about fake news,” wrote James Surowiecki, a former columnist for The New Yorker. “It’s the most obvious thing to say, but reporters need to SLOW DOWN. Being right is more important than being first.”

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Only AFTER destroying an entire economy, the EU explains why. Lock them up!

Aim Of First Greek Memorandum: Rescue Foreign Investors – Dijsselbloem (Amna)

The main aim of the first Greek memorandum, especially, was to rescue investors outside Greece, outgoing Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem admitted in the Europarliament on Thursday. “There were mistakes in the first programmes, we improvised. The way we dealt with the banks was expensive and ineffective. It is true that our aim was to rescue investors outside Greece and for this reason I support the rules for bail-ins, so that investors aren’t rescued with tax-payers’ money,” said Dijsselblem in reply to independent Greek MEP Notis Marias. Dijsselbloem noted that it had been a huge crisis because the fiscal sector had faced the risk of a total collapse that would have left many countries with a high debt. However, he pointed out that banks had only needed €4.5 billion in the third programme because the private sector had a huge participation.

Referring to the non-performing loans, he said that a private solution that did not once again place the burden on tax-payers was near. He also pointed to measures being taken in Greece for the protection of the socially weaker groups, to make sure that they were not the victims of the auctions. Referring to the early payment of the IMF loans with the remaining money of the programme, the Eurogroup chief said that this made sense financially, given that the IMF’s loans were more expensive than those of the Europeans. However, from a political point of view, the Eurogroup prefers that the IMF remain fully involved in the Greek programme, with its own responsibilities, he added. In any case, he noted that the final decisions on debt relief will be made later, when the programme is concluded and the sustainability of the Greek debt has been examined.

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Perspective. Large number of bubbles.

The Most Valuable Companies of All Time (VC)

Before speculative bubbles could form around Dotcom companies (late-1990s) or housing prices (mid-2000s), some of the first financial bubbles formed from the prospect of trading with faraway lands. Looking back, it’s pretty easy to see why. Companies like the Dutch East India Company (known in Dutch as the VOC, or Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) were granted monopolies on trade, and they engaged in daring voyages to mysterious and foreign places. They could acquire exotic goods, establish colonies, create military forces, and even initiate wars or conflicts around the world. Of course, the very nature of these risky ventures made getting any accurate indication of intrinsic value nearly impossible, which meant there were no real benchmarks for what companies like this should be worth.

The Dutch East India Company was established as a charter company in 1602, when it was granted a 21-year monopoly by the Dutch government for the spice trade in Asia. The company would eventually send over one million voyagers to Asia, which is more than the rest of Europe combined. However, despite its 200-year run as Europe’s foremost trading juggernaut – the speculative peak of the company’s prospects coincided with Tulip Mania in Holland in 1637. Widely considered the world’s first financial bubble, the history of Tulip Mania is a fantastic story in itself. During this frothy time, the Dutch East India Company was worth 78 million Dutch guilders, which translates to a whopping $7.9 trillion in modern dollars.

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Oct 162017
 
 October 16, 2017  Posted by at 8:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Marc Riboud Street seen from inside antique dealer’s shop, Beijing 1965

 

US Equities “At Most Offensive Level Of Overvaluation In History” (BI)
Yellen Doubles Down: “Valuations Are At High Levels Historically” (ZH)
Goldman Sachs: 88% Chance We’re Heading Into A Bear Market (BI)
The Mystery Of Weak Wage Growth (BI)
China Factory Prices Jump As Government Reduces Capacity (BBG)
China’s Mortgage Debt Bubble Raises Spectre Of 2007 US Crisis (SCMP)
Interest-only Loans Are A Huge Problem For The Australian Economy (Holden)
Revised Figures Reveal UK Is £490 Billion Poorer Than Previously Thought (FL)
How To Weather Brexit: Focus Less On Trade, More On Investment (Pettifor)
UK Financial Regulator Warns Of Growing Debt Among Young People (BBC)
How to Wipe Out Puerto Rico’s Debt Without Hurting Bondholders (Ellen Brown)
Catalan Leader Fails To Spell Out Independence Stance, Calls For Talks (R.)
Electricity Required For Single Bitcoin Trade Could Power Home For A Month (BI)
New Quantum Atomic Clock May Finally Reveal Nature of Dark Matter (USci)
Ai Weiwei On Art, Exile And Refugee Film ‘Human Flow’ (AFP)

 

 

John Hussman correcting Buffett.

US Equities “At Most Offensive Level Of Overvaluation In History” (BI)

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett made a lot of people feel better about historically stretched stock prices earlier this month. Speaking in an interview with CNBC on October 3, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway said, “Valuations make sense with interest rates where they are.” The investment community breathed a sigh of relief. After all, Buffett is arguably the most successful stock investor in world history. An all-clear from him surely gives a green light for adding more equity exposure, right? Wrong, says John Hussman, the president of the Hussman Investment Trust and a former economics professor. In his mind, Buffett only gets half of the equation right. While Hussman acknowledges that low lending rates do, by nature, improve future cash flows, he argues that they must also be accompanied by strong growth — something that he notes the US is not currently enjoying.

To Hussman, the simple idea that “lower interest rates justify higher valuations” is one that gives people false confidence. “It’s an incomplete sentence ,” Hussman wrote in a recent blog post. “Unfortunately, the convenience of investing-by-slogan, rather than carefully thinking about finance and examining evidence, is currently leading investors into what is likely to be one of the worst disasters in the history of the U.S. stock market.” Hussman calculates that stock valuations are stretched 175% above their historic norms, and predicts the S&P 500 will see negative total returns over the next 10 to 12 years. Along the way, the benchmark index will experience an interim loss of more than 60%, he estimates. As touched on above, at the core of Hussman’s bearish argument is a lack of economic growth. He specifically points to slowing expansion in the US labor force, as shown by this chart:

“Put simply, if interest rates are low because growth rates are also low, no valuation premium is ‘justified,'” Hussman wrote. “The long-term rate of return on the security will be low anyway without any valuation premium at all. This observation has enormous implications for current U.S. stock market prospects.” So where does that leave the market at this very moment? In the very near term, Hussman’s neutral, citing the continued speculative impulses of investors. Still, he stresses that traders should be hedging and using other safety nets to protect against potential downside, which he says could materialize quickly. To say he’s less than warm and fuzzy about the stock market is an understatement. And when discussing price levels, he doesn’t exactly pull any punches, saying US equities are now “at the most offensive level of overvaluation in history” — even worse than in 1929 and 2000.

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People like Yellen focus on one activity: explain away the consequences of their blindly taken actions. They grope in the dark.

Yellen Doubles Down: “Valuations Are At High Levels Historically” (ZH)

On the heels of San Franciso Fed Governor John Williams’ warning that The Fed “doesn’t want there to be excesses in financial markets… ” Janet Yellen has reiterated her concerns that markets are a bit toppy… Market valuations “are at high level in historical terms” when assessed on metrics akin to price-earnings ratios, warned Fed Chair Janet Yellen in response to a question on an IMF panel in Washington, but was careful to add that “overall financial stability risks in the U.S. remain moderate.” “Prospects for U.S. fiscal stimulus have buoyed sentiment but not yet had much impact on spending or investment,” she said. “Broader financial stability risks depend on more than just asset prices and it may also be important just why asset valuations are high. So one factor that clearly comes into play is an environment of low interest rates and central bankers like many market participants have been adjusting our notions of what” interest rates are likely to be in the longer term.

So – to sum up – The Fed doesn’t want excesses… Yellen thinks stock valuations are stretched… but don’t worry coz rates are low (although we are dedicated to raising them) and financial stability (despite record high corporate leverage and record low spreads) is not a problem. Well… The market has almost never been this expensive… As Peter Boockvar warns: “Almost there. S&P 500 price to sales ratio is just 4% from March 2000 peak.”

Additionally, Draghi and Kuroda were also said they saw little evidence of frothiness in markets. Others in Washington were less sanguine… The market “feels as benign in 2017 as it felt in 2006,” said Jes Staley, the chief executive of Barclays Plc, referencing the eve of the crisis. Yellen also added in a subtle jab at Trump that while prospects for U.S. fiscal stimulus have buoyed sentiment but not yet had much impact on spending or investment… “It is a source of uncertainty,” Yellen says of fiscal policy changes, “we’ve taken,” as many households have, “a kind of wait-and-see attitude.” Of course, The Fed head being worried about stock valuations is a nothing-burger for the mainstream. Since Janet Yellen’s first warning in July 2014: “Equity market valuations appear stretched”

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So there.

Goldman Sachs: 88% Chance We’re Heading Into A Bear Market (BI)

Goldman Sachs has circulated a fascinating but scary research note to clients suggesting that the probability of stocks entering a bear market in the next 24 months currently stands at about 88%, based on the history of previous bear markets. The note is titled “Bear Necessities. Should we worry now?” It is an exhaustive, 87-page dive through macroeconomic data and stock market activity going all the way back to the early 20th Century. It was written in September by London-based Chief Global Equity Strategist Peter Oppenheimer, and European strategists Sharon Bell and Lilia Iehle Peytavin. Most of their data focus on the US S&P 500 index of stocks – the largest and most-followed of the share indices globally. The S&P is currently the second largest and longest bull run in history.

The index is also relatively expensive, the Goldman trio says. The aggregate valuation of the S&P 500 is now in its 88th percentile, as measured since 1976, according to Goldman’s calculations. The median stock is in the 99th percentile. The trio calculated a risk index based on the Shiller price-earnings ratio (the price of S&P 500 stocks divided by the average of 10 years of earnings, adjusted for inflation), the US ISM manufacturing index, unemployment (very low), the bond yield curve, and core inflation. The resultant “GS Bear Market Indicator” is currently flashing at 67%. The indicator typically hits highs right before a bear market in US stocks appears:

Historically, when the indicator is at 67%, there is an 88% chance of stocks falling into a bear market in two years’ time, the Goldman analysts say:

However, the chance of a bear growling into view in the near-term remains low — just 35%. Bear markets are triggered in three different ways, Oppenheimer et al argue: “Cyclical” bear markets are trigged by rising interest rates and recessions; “Event-driven” bears come from negative economic shocks like war or emerging market crises; “Structural” bears come from financial bubbles. Depending on your point of view, all three of those triggers are hovering on the horizon: The Fed and the Bank of England are both signalling interest rates will rise; US President Trump is threatening military action in North Korea; and plenty of people think the low-interest rate environment of the last 10 years has inflated asset bubbles in stocks, real estate and property in Europe, and private equity tech startup valuations.

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Those for whom this is a mystery are not fit for their jobs. If you export millions of jobs to Asia, take workers’ negotiating powers away and push them into crappy jobs with no benefits, only one outcome is possible.

The Mystery Of Weak Wage Growth (BI)

Many economists say they can’t figure out why US wage growth remains so meager nine years into the economic expansion, especially given a decline in the unemployment rate to a historically low 4.4%. A new study from the IMF might help them out. It finds that shifts in the labor market toward less stable, temporary or contract jobs, including odd hours and often no health insurance, likely play a substantial role in preventing wages from rising. That’s because job uncertainty makes it harder for workers to bargain for higher wages, giving employers a strong upper hand in any salary negotiation. The trend is happening not just in the United States but also in other rich economies, the Fund says. “Labor market developments in advanced economies point to a possible disconnect between unemployment and wages,” IMF staffers write in their latest World Economic Outlook report.

“Subdued nominal wage growth has occurred in a context of a higher rate of involuntary part-time employment, an increased share of temporary employment contracts, and a reduction in hours per worker,” the report adds. That’s not the only factor. The Great Recession of 2007 to 2009, which was a global phenomenon, set labor markets back years, and suppressed wages sharply as unemployment surged, peaking at 10% in the United States. The IMF suggests the policy reaction to that global downturn was underwhelming, particularly when it came to fiscal policies, which were restrictive both in the United States and Europe.

“Whereas in many economies headline unemployment is approaching ratios seen before the Great Recession, or has even dipped below those levels, nominal wage growth rates continue to grow at a distinctly slower pace,” the Fund said. “For some economies, this may reflect policy measures to slow wage growth and improve competitiveness in the aftermath of the global financial crisis and euro area sovereign debt crisis.” [..] “To the extent that declining unemployment rates partly reflect workers forced into part-time jobs, increases in such types of employment may overstate the tightening of the labor market,” the IMF said.

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It’s all for the Party Congress: close industries so air is cleaner, and let scarcity push producer prices higher. But wait till consumers feel those higher prices. It’s just, that is AFTER the Congress.

China Factory Prices Jump As Government Reduces Capacity (BBG)

China’s factory prices jumped more than estimated, as domestic demand remained resilient and the government continued to reduce excess industrial capacity. Consumer price gains matched projections. • The producer price index rose 6.9% in September from a year earlier. • The manufacturing PPI sub-index climbed 7.3%, the most in nine years • The consumer price index climbed 1.6%, versus a prior reading of 1.8%, the statistics bureau said Monday. Aggressive cuts to capacity in industries like steel and cement, coupled with resilient demand, have contributed to factory inflation that’s lasted longer than economists expected. The drive to cut pollution and boost firms’ efficiency will probably continue as the Communist Party begins its 19th Congress this week.

“The economy has pretty strong momentum now, monetary policy remained loose ahead of the 19th Party Congress, and the environmental cleanup has cut the supply of commodities,” said Shen Jianguang, chief Asia economist at Mizuho in Hong Kong and the lone forecaster in Bloomberg’s survey to correctly predict the PPI reading. “But this is not sustainable. Deleveraging will be moving up on the agenda after the congress.” “Strong PPI shows that economic momentum is pretty robust in the second half,” said Liu Xuezhi, an analyst at Bank of Communications in Shanghai. “It was widely expected that factory-gate inflation could slow in the second half, but apparently it’s still quite resilient, which may lead to a more positive outlook.”

“China’s manufacturing industry, upstream in particular, continues to see decent demand,” said Raymond Yeung, chief Greater China economist at Australia & New Zealand Banking in Hong Kong. “This PPI figure foretells a decent growth number to be out later this week. We see GDP of 6.8% at the moment but should be prepared for an upside risk.”

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I don’t normally post 3-week-old articles, but this one (h/t Tyler) is just too good. The Chinese never borrowed much, but now they borrow more than anyone. Scary: “..a person without a flat has no future in Shenzhen.” It’ll keep the economy going until it doesn’t.

China’s Mortgage Debt Bubble Raises Spectre Of 2007 US Crisis (SCMP)

Young Chinese like Eli Mai, a sales manager in Guangzhou, and Wendy Wang, an executive in Shenzhen, are borrowing as much money as possible to buy boomtown flats even though they cannot afford the repayments. Behind the dream of property ownership they share with many like-minded friends lies an uninterrupted housing price rally in major Chinese cities that dates back to former premier Zhu Rongji’s privatisation of urban housing in the late 1990s. Rapid urbanisation, combined with unprecedented monetary easing in the past decade, has resulted in runaway property inflation in cities like Shenzhen, where home prices in many projects have doubled or even tripled in the past two years. City residents in their 20s and 30s view property as a one-way bet because they’ve never known prices to drop.

At the same time, property inflation has seen the real purchasing power of their money rapidly diminish. “Almost all my friends born since the 1980s and 1990s are racing to buy homes, while those who already have one are planning to buy a second,” Mai, 33, said. “Very few can be at ease when seeing rents and home prices rise so strongly, and they will continue to rise in a scary way.” The rush of millions young middle-class Chinese like Mai into the property market has created a hysteria that eerily resembles the housing crisis that struck the United States a decade ago. Thanks to the easy credit that has spurred the housing boom, many young Chinese have abandoned the frugal traditions of earlier generations and now lead a lifestyle beyond their financial means.

The build-up of household and other debt in China has also sparked widespread concern about the health of the world’s second largest economy. The Chinese leadership headed by President Xi Jinping has taken a note of the problem and launched an unprecedented campaign in the second half of last year to curb home price rises in major cities by raising down payment requirements, disqualifying some buyers and squeezing the bank credit available for home buyers. The campaign is still deepening, with five more cities introducing rules last weekend that will freeze some property deals.

[..] Government policies are also protecting the interests of homeowners. City governments have squeezed land supply to keep land prices high and made secondary market trading less attractive, with new home buyers left to compete for a few new developments. Meanwhile, there is no property tax, which encourages homeowners to hold on to appreciating property assets. The result has been skyrocketing housing prices in Shenzhen, Beijing and Shanghai, where property prices can match those in Hong Kong or London. The lesson was that “if you don’t buy a flat today, you will never be able to afford it”, Wang, 29, said. [..] “The debts are huge to me,” Wang said. “But a person without a flat has no future in Shenzhen.”

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Half of one banker’s loan books are interest-only. Most are 40%. That is an insane amount of principal that is not being paid off.

Interest-only Loans Are A Huge Problem For The Australian Economy (Holden)

I’m not normally a fan of parliament hauling private sector executives before them and asking thorny questions. But when the Australian House of Representatives did so this week with the big banks it was both useful and instructive. And, to be perfectly frank, terrifying. Let’s start with Westpac CEO Brian Hartzer. First, he confirmed the little-known but startling fact that half of his A$400 billion home loan book consists of interest-only mortgages. Yep, half. Of A$400 billion. At one bank. Oh, and ANZ, CBA and NAB are all nearly at 40% interest-only. Hartzer went on to make the banal statement: “we don’t lend to people who can’t pay it back. It doesn’t make sense for us to do so.” So did it make sense for all those American mortgage lenders to lend to people on adjustable rates, teaser rates, low-doc loans, no-doc loans etc. before the global financial crisis?

Of course not. The point is that banks are not some benevolent, unitary actor taking care of their own money. There are top managers like Harzter acting on behalf of shareholders. Those top managers delegate authority to lower-level managers, who are given incentives to write lots of mortgages. And, as we know, the incentives of those who make the loans are not necessarily aligned with those of the shareholders. Those folks may well want to make loans to people who can’t pay them back as long as they get a big payday in the short term. ANZ CEO Shayne Elliot repeated Hartzer’s mantra, saying: “It’s not in our interest to lend money to people who can’t afford to repay.” Recall, this is the man who on ABC’s Four Corners said that home loans weren’t risky because they were all uncorrelated risks (the chances that one loan defaults does not affect the chances of others defaulting).

That is a comment that is either staggeringly stupid or completely disingenuous. Messers Harzter and Elliot must take us all for suckers. They have made a huge amount of interest-only loans, at historically low interest rates, to buyers in a frothy housing market, who spend a large chunk of their income on interest payments. This certainly looks troubling. It may not be US sub-prime, but it could be ugly. Very ugly. To put it in context, there appears to be in the neighbourhood of A$1 trillion of interest-only loans on the books of Australian banks. I say “appears to be” because reporting requirements are so lax it’s hard to know for sure, except when CEOs cough up the ball, like this week. The big lesson of the US mortgage meltdown is that the risks on these mortgages are all correlated. If a few people aren’t paying back an interest-only loan, that is a fair predictor that others won’t pay back their loans either.

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From a “gated” Ambrose Evans-Pritchard article. Troubles grow fast.

Revised Figures Reveal UK Is £490 Billion Poorer Than Previously Thought (FL)

“Global banks and international bond strategists have been left stunned by revised ONS figures showing that Britain is £490bn poorer than had been assumed and no longer has any reserve of net foreign assets, depriving the country of its safety margin as Brexit talks reach a crucial juncture. A massive write-down in the UK balance of payments data shows that Britain’s stock of wealth – the net international investment position – has collapsed from a surplus of £469bn to a net deficit of £22bn. This transforms the outlook for sterling and the gilts markets. “Half a trillion pounds has gone missing. This is equivalent to 25pc of GDP,” said Mark Capleton, UK rates strategist at Bank of America. Making matters worse, foreign direct investment (FDI) by companies is plummeting. It fell from a £120bn surplus in the first half 2016 to a £25bn deficit over the same period of this year.”

The news comes on top of the OBR confessing to a miscalculation of their own last week in UK productivity potential. Not good news for the UK or pound so let’s see if it plays out as the session progresses.

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Too late? Won’t happen under Tories.

How To Weather Brexit: Focus Less On Trade, More On Investment (Pettifor)

“Strong and stable” seems of a world so far, far away. Yesterday’s Daily Mail headline “PM slaps treacherous Chancellor down” portrays a government in political chaos. Thanks to open, unresolved intra-Brexiteer warfare, ministers are unable to agree the basics of how to exit the European Union. This state of uncertainty intensifies just as the risks to British jobs and living standards are becoming starker and more potent. Ironically, just as we teeter towards the cliff, ONS data reveals that exports of goods to the EU grew over the last three months, while those to the rest of world fell back, a fact not devoid of dark humour. Yet while ministers appear obsessed by trade, net trade comprises only a small part of UK GDP. Surely, through the coming period of Brexit chaos, government priority must be to “take back control” and maintain and support the domestic economy.

This means a commitment to support not only investment technically defined as “capital” but also public investment in the health, education, and training of the British people. In that way, Britain will have some chance of weathering the storm. George Magnus highlighted the OBR’s acceptance that UK productivity growth is likely to stay much lower than previously assumed. This leads to the inevitable conclusion that—on present course—the ever-weaker economy will lead this government to continue to slash public revenues. Yet even this gloomy OBR data underestimates the dangers. For the OBR has not yet factored in the far greater damage that will flow from a chaotic, unplanned Brexit in less than 18 months.

[..] Investment in the UK has since 2007 been in the 14 – 18% range as a share of GDP. In 2016, the figure was 17%. France, by contrast, has annual investment of between 22 – 24% of GDP, and Germany around 19 – 21%. The UK in 2016 slumped to 116th place out of 141 countries in terms of capital investment as a percentage of GDP. In the EU, only Greece, Portugal, Lithuania and Cyprus were below us. Low levels of investment by the “timid mouse” that is the private sector is directly a function of low levels of aggregate demand. Firms can’t see future customers coming through the door, and are made timid by volatile financial conditions and political uncertainty. Weak demand and financial instability are exacerbated by low levels of public investment.

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More UK misery: “We should not think this is reckless borrowing, this is directed at essential living costs.”

UK Financial Regulator Warns Of Growing Debt Among Young People (BBC)

The chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority has warned of a “pronounced” build up of debt among young people. In an interview with the BBC, Andrew Bailey said the young were having to borrow for basic living costs. The regulator also said he “did not like” some high cost lending schemes. He said consumers, and institutions that lend to them, should be aware that interest rates may rise in the future and that credit should be “affordable”. Action was being taken to curb long term credit card debt and high cost pay-day loans, Mr Bailey said. The regulator is also looking and charges in the rent-to-own sector which can leave people paying high levels of interest for buying white goods such as washing machines, he added.

“There is a pronounced build up of indebtedness amongst the younger age group,” Mr Bailey said. “We should not think this is reckless borrowing, this is directed at essential living costs. It is not credit in the classic sense, it is [about] the affordability of basic living in many cases.” [..] “There are particular concentrations [of debt] in society, and those concentrations are particularly exposed to some of the forms and practices of high cost debt which we are currently looking at very closely because there are things in there that we don’t like,” Mr Bailey said. “There has been a clear shift in the generational pattern of wealth and income, and that translates into a greater indebtedness at a younger age. “That reflects lower levels of real income, lower levels of asset ownership. There are quite different generational experiences,” he said.

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Haven’t seen anything from Ellen in a while. This makes a ton of sense. But Puerto Rico’s not the only place that needs it.

How to Wipe Out Puerto Rico’s Debt Without Hurting Bondholders (Ellen Brown)

DWiping out Puerto Rico’s debt, they warned, could undermine confidence in the municipal bond market, causing bond interest rates to rise, imposing an additional burden on already-struggling states and municipalities across the country. True, but the president was just pointing out the obvious. As economist Michael Hudson says, “Debts that can’t be paid won’t be paid.” Puerto Rico is bankrupt, its economy destroyed. In fact it is currently in bankruptcy proceedings with its creditors. Which suggests its time for some more out-of-the-box thinking . . . . In July 2016, a solution to this conundrum was suggested by the notorious Goldman Sachs itself, when mom and pop investors holding the bonds of bankrupt Italian banks were in jeopardy. Imposing losses on retail bondholders had proven to be politically toxic, after one man committed suicide.

Some other solution had to be found. Italy’s non-performing loans (NPLs) then stood at 210bn, at a time when the ECB was buying 120bn per year of outstanding Italian government bonds as part of its QE program. The July 2016 Financial Times quoted Goldman’s Francesco Garzarelli, who said, “by the time QE is over – not sooner than end 2017, on our baseline scenario – around a fifth of Italy’s public debt will be sitting on the Bank of Italy’s balance sheet.” His solution: rather than buying Italian government bonds in its quantitative easing program, the ECB could simply buy the insolvent banks’ NPLs. Bringing the entire net stock of bad loans onto the government’s balance sheet, he said, would be equivalent to just nine months’ worth of Italian government bond purchases by the ECB.

Puerto Rico’s debt is only $73 billion, one third the Italian debt. The Fed has stopped its quantitative easing program, but in its last round (called “QE3”), it was buying $85 billion per month in securities. At that rate, it would have to fire up the digital printing presses for only one additional month to rescue the suffering Puerto Ricans without hurting bondholders at all. It could then just leave the bonds on its books, declaring a moratorium at least until Puerto Rico got back on its feet, and better yet, indefinitely. Shifting the debt burden of bankrupt institutions onto the books of the central bank is not a new or radical idea. UK Prof. Richard Werner, who invented the term “quantitative easing” when he was advising the Japanese in the 1990s, says there is ample precedent for it. In 2012, he proposed a similar solution to the European banking crisis, citing three successful historical examples.

One was in Britain in 1914, when the British banking sector collapsed after the government declared war on Germany. This was not a good time for a banking crisis, so the Bank of England simply bought the banks’ NPLs. “There was no credit crunch,” wrote Werner, “and no recession. The problem was solved at zero cost to the tax payer.” For a second example, he cited the Japanese banking crisis of 1945. The banks had totally collapsed, with NPLs that amounted to virtually 100% of their assets: But in 1945 the Bank of Japan had no interest in creating a banking crisis and a credit crunch recession. Instead it wanted to ensure that bank credit would flow again, delivering economic growth. So the Bank of Japan bought the non-performing assets from the banks – not at market value (close to zero), but significantly above market value.

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Set for confrontation. Combine with Brexit and Austria’s push to the right, and you get an EU with crumbling foundations.

Catalan Leader Fails To Spell Out Independence Stance, Calls For Talks (R.)

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont failed to clarify on Monday whether he had declared Catalonia’s independence from Spain last week, paving the way for the central government to take control of the region and rule it directly. The wealthy region’s threatened to break away following a referendum in Oct. 1 that Spain’s Constitutional Court said was illegal. That plunged the country into its worst political crisis since an attempted military coup in 1981. Puigdemont made a symbolic declaration of independence on Tuesday, but suspended it seconds later and called for negotiations with Madrid on the region’s future. Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy gave him until Monday 10:00 a.m. (0800 GMT) to clarify his position, and until Thursday to change his mind if he insisted on a split – and said Madrid would suspend Catalonia’s autonomy if he chose independence.

Rajoy had said Puigdemont should answer the formal requirement with a simple “Yes” or “No” and that any ambiguous response would be considered a confirmation that a declaration of independence had been made. Puigdemont did not directly answer the question in his letter to Rajoy, made public by local Catalan media. The Catalan leader said instead that the two should meet as soon as possible to open a dialogue over the next two months. “Our offer for dialogue is sincere and honest. During the next two months, our main objective is to have this dialogue and that all international, Spanish and Catalan institutions and personalities that have expressed the willingness to open a way for dialogue can explore it,” Puigdemont said in the letter.

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And this will go up as the blockchain grows.

Electricity Required For Single Bitcoin Trade Could Power Home For A Month (BI)

Bitcoin transactions use so much energy that the electricity used for a single trade could power a home for almost a whole month, according to a paper from Dutch bank ING. Bitcoin trades use a lot of electricity as a means to make verifying trades expensive, therefore making fraudulent transactions costly and deterring those who would seek to misuse the currency. “By making sure that verifying transactions is a costly business, the integrity of the network can be preserved as long as benevolent nodes control a majority of computing power,” wrote ING senior economist Teunis Brosens. “Together, they will dominate the verification (mining) process. To make the verification (mining) costly, the verification algorithm requires a lot of processing power and thus electricity.”

Comparing the amount of energy used for a bitcoin transaction to running his home in the Netherlands, Brosens says: “This number needs some context. 200kWh is enough to run over 200 washing cycles. In fact, it’s enough to run my entire home over four weeks, which consumes about 45 kWh per week costing €39 of electricity (at current Dutch consumer prices).” Not only does Bitcoin use a vast amount of electricity to complete transactions, it uses an almost exponentially larger amount than more traditional forms of electronic payment. “Bitcoin’s energy costs stand in stark contrast to payment systems that have the luxury of working with trusted counterparties. E.g. Visa takes about 0.01kWh (10Wh) per transaction which is 20000 times less energy,” Brosens notes, pointing to the chart below:

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3-dimensional quantum clocks. Much of our electronic infrastructure already relies on atomic clocks.

New Quantum Atomic Clock May Finally Reveal Nature of Dark Matter (USci)

Physicists have created a quantum atomic clock that uses a new design to achieve unprecedented levels of accuracy and stability. Its broad range of potential applications could even stretch to research into dark matter. Scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder’s JILA (formerly the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics) have developed an incredibly precise quantum atomic clock based on a new three-dimensional design. The project has set a new record for quality factor, a metric used to gauge the precision of measurements. The clock packs atoms of strontium into a cube, achieving 1,000 times the density of prior one-dimensional clocks. The design marks the first time that scientists have been able to successfully utilize a so-called “quantum gas” for this purpose.

Previously, each atom in an atomic clock was treated as a separate particle, and so interactions between atoms could cause inaccuracies in the measurements taken. The “quantum many-body system” used in this project instead organizes atoms in a pattern, which forces them to avoid one another, no matter how many are introduced to the apparatus. A state of matter known as a degenerate Fermi gas — which refers to a gas comprised of Fermi particles — allows for all of the atoms to be quantized. [..] It’s been suggested that monitoring minor inconsistencies in the ticking of an atomic clock might offer insight into the presence of pockets of dark matter. Previous research has shown that a network of atomic clocks, or even a single highly-sensitive system, might register a change in the frequency of vibrating atoms or laser light in the clock if it passed through a dark matter field.

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Ai himself grew up in miserable conditions due to Mao.

Ai Weiwei On Art, Exile And Refugee Film ‘Human Flow’ (AFP)

In the most tender moments of “Human Flow,” Ai Weiwei’s epic documentary on the worldwide migrant crisis, he is seen hugging, cooking with and cutting the hair of refugees. An ordinary filmmaker might be accused of getting too close to his subject but, as far as the Chinese dissident and internationally renowned artist is concerned, he is the subject. “When I look at people being pushed away from their home because of war, because of all kinds of problems, because of environmental problems, famine, I don’t just have sympathy for them,” he tells AFP. “I do feel that they are part of me and I am part of them, even with very different social status.”

[..] “Human Flow,” his powerful expression of solidarity with refugees around the world, demonstrates the staggering scale of the refugee crisis and its profoundly personal human impact. Captured over a year in 23 countries, it follows a chain of human stories that stretches from Bangladesh and Afghanistan to Europe, Kenya and the US-Mexico border. Ai travels from teeming refugee camps to barbed-wire borders, witnessing refugees’ desperation and disillusionment as well as hope and courage. “I’m so far away from their culture, their religion or whatever the background. But with a human being, you look at him, you know what kind of person he is,” says Ai.

“I have this natural understanding about human beings. So I try to grab them with this kind of approach, a very intimate approach. They can touch me, cut my hair. I can cut their hair. I can cook in their camp.” “Human Flow” is far from Ai’s first work on the refugee crisis. Just last week he scattered over 300 outdoor works across New York as part of a new illustration of his empathy for refugees worldwide. Ai dismisses a common criticism that his work has little artistic merit and that he is more of a campaigner, telling AFP “a good artist should be an activist and a good activist should have the quality of an artist.”

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Jan 042016
 
 January 4, 2016  Posted by at 9:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


AP Refugee carries child in freezing waves off Lesbos 2016

China Halts Stock Trading After 7% Rout Triggers Circuit Breaker (BBG)
China Factories Struggle As Weak Exports Drag Industry In Asia (Reuters)
China’s Tech Sector Likely Faces Tougher Sledding in 2016 (WSJ)
Obama Dollar Rally Is Forecast to Join Clinton, Reagan Upturns (BBG)
Global Stock Markets Overvalued And Unprepared For Return Of Risk (Telegraph)
Reserve Bank of Australia Index of Commodity Prices (RBA)
As Hedge Funds Go, So Goes The World (John Rubino)
Japan Central Bank Turns Activist Investor To Revive Economy (Reuters)
UK Set For Worst Wage Growth Since 1920s, 3rd Worst Since 1860s (Guardian)
UK High Street Retailers Feel The Pinch As Shoppers Stay At Home (Guardian)
Big Oil Faces Longest Period Of Investment Cuts In Decades (Reuters)
New EU Authority Budgets For 10 Bank Failures In Four Years (FT)
Fed’s Fischer Supports Higher Rates If Markets Overheat (BBG)
Cash Burning Up For Shipowners As Finance Runs Dry (FT)
The 20% World: The Odds Of The Unthinkable Are Going Up (BBG)
Greece Warns Creditors On ‘Unreasonable Demands’ Over Pensions (FT)
Sweden To Impose ID Checks On Travellers From Denmark (Guardian)
Refugees Hold Terrified, Frozen Children Above The Waves Off Lesbos (DM)

Great start to the year.

China Halts Stock Trading After 7% Rout Triggers Circuit Breaker (BBG)

China halted trading in stocks, futures and options after a selloff triggered circuit breakers designed to limit swings in one of the world’s most volatile equity markets. Trading was halted at about 1:34 p.m. local time on Monday after the CSI 300 Index dropped 7%, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. An earlier 15-minute halt at the 5% level failed to stop the retreat, with shares extending losses as soon as the market re-opened. The selloff, the worst-ever start to a year for Chinese shares, came on the first day the circuit breakers took effect. The $7.1 trillion stock market is starting the year on a down note after data showed manufacturing contracted for a fifth straight month and investors anticipated the end of a ban on share sales by major stakeholders.

Chinese policy makers, who went to unprecedented lengths to prop up stock prices during a summer rout, are trying to prevent financial-market volatility from weighing on economy set to grow at its weakest annual pace since 1990. “Stay short, or go home,” said Mikey Hsia at Sunrise Brokers. “That’s all you can do.” The halts took effect as anticipated, without any technical issues, Hsia said. About 595 billion yuan ($89.9 billion) of shares changed hands on mainland exchanges before the suspension, versus a full-day average of about 1 trillion yuan over the past year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Under the circuit breaker rules finalized last month, a move of 5% in the CSI 300 triggers a 15-minute halt for stocks, options and index futures, while a move of 7% closes the market for the rest of the day. The CSI 300, comprised of large-capitalization companies listed in Shanghai and Shenzhen, fell as much as 7.02% before trading was suspended. Chinese shares listed in Hong Kong, where there is no circuit breaker, extended losses after the halt on mainland exchanges. The Hang Seng China Enterprises Index retreated 4.1% at 2:12 p.m. local time. “Investors are using Hong Kong to hedge their positions,” said Castor Pang at Core-Pacific Yamaichi. “The circuit breaker may increase selling pressure further.”

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China needs a big clean-up.

China Factories Struggle As Weak Exports Drag Industry In Asia (Reuters)

China’s factory activity shrank for a 10th straight month in December as surveys across Asia showed industry struggling with slack demand even as the policy cupboard is looking increasingly bare of fresh stimulus. Uncertainty over the economic outlook was exacerbated by a flare up in tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, that has sent investors scurrying from stocks to safe havens such as the Japanese yen. Japan’s Nikkei fell over 2% and Shanghai lost more than 3%. The Caixin/Markit China Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) slipped to 48.2 in December, below market forecasts of 49.0 and down from November’s 48.6. That was the lowest reading since September and well below the 50-point level which demarcates contraction from expansion.

It followed a fractional increase in the official PMI to 49.7. There was a faint stirring of hope as PMIs in South Korea and Taiwan both edged above the 50 mark, though more thanks to a pick up in domestic demand than any revival in exports. 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 the rate of expansion slipping to around 7% from 7.3% in 2014. “Absent vibrant external demand, we think it’s a consensus view that China’s GDP growth is poised to slow further to ‘about’ 6.5% in 2016,” ING said in a research note. The drag from industry comes as China makes gradual progress in its transformation to a more service-driven economy.

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Not so smart money: “More than $60 billion of fresh capital found its way into Chinese startup and take-private deals in 2015, compared with $13.9 billion during 2014..”

China’s Tech Sector Likely Faces Tougher Sledding in 2016 (WSJ)

Investors who poured billions into China’s homegrown technology companies scored big during 2015. But increasingly it looks like the easy money has been made and this year could prove tougher as China’s tech companies face high expectations from investors. Many Chinese privately held startups rewarded investors, as valuations more than doubled during 2015 and a wave of management buyout offers buoyed investors in U.S.-listed Chinese tech companies. More than $60 billion of fresh capital found its way into Chinese startup and take-private deals in 2015, compared with $13.9 billion during 2014 according to data from CB Insights and Dealogic. Investors marked up their holdings in Chinese privately held startups during the year even as they put lower price tags on some of their Silicon Valley investments.

Most investors aren’t required to publicly disclose their valuations of startup holdings, which are often valued based on their most recent round of fundraising. But mutual fund Fidelity Blue Chip Growth Fund, which has marked down some of its Silicon Valley startup investments, instead increased the value ascribed to its January investment in the $15 billion Chinese shopping app Meituan.com by more than 20% through the end of November. Investors have seen their bet on Chinese ride-hailing company Didi Kuaidi Joint Co. nearly triple from a $6 billion valuation in February to $16 billion in September.

The higher valuations and cash-burning of many startups are giving some investors pause. In recent months, some have become more cautious about putting fresh cash into big startups, as China’s rocky domestic stock market put local initial public offerings on hold. “The huge swings in the public markets have spilled over into the later-stage venture investment market,” says Richard Ji, founder of All-Stars Investment, an investor in Chinese startups like $46 billion smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp. and ride-sharing company Didi Kuaidi Joint Co. “Valuations overall have softened and companies are offering better terms to investors.”

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Smashing US exports, emerging and commodities currencies in the process.

Obama Dollar Rally Is Forecast to Join Clinton, Reagan Upturns (BBG)

The dollar has an opportunity to make history. After three straight years of gains, strategists are forecasting the U.S. currency will be a world beater again in 2016, strengthening against seven of 10 developed-world peers by the end of the year, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey. That outlook is backed by the Federal Reserve’s stated intent to continue raising interest rates while peers in the rest of the world keep them flat or lower. The rally that started during President Barack Obama’s second term is poised to join a category defined by only the biggest, most durable periods of dollar strength since the currency’s peg to gold ended in 1971.

Of the two other rallies that share that distinction, during the terms of Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, neither stopped at four years. “This is the third big dollar rally we’ve had,” said Marc Chandler, global head of currency strategy in New York at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. “The Obama dollar rally, I think, is being fueled by the divergence in monetary policy.” The U.S. currency will end 2016 higher against its major counterparts except the Canadian dollar, British pound and the Norwegian krone, posting its biggest gains against the New Zealand and Australian dollars and the Swiss franc, according to forecasts compiled by Bloomberg.

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“UK shares have steadily risen for more than 70 months..”

Global Stock Markets Overvalued And Unprepared For Return Of Risk (Telegraph)

Investors face a rude awakening in 2016 as the return of risk brings an end to the era of unparalleled financial excess. Central bankers actions to save creditors by reducing borrowing costs to near zero created a Dorian Gray style economy that pursued returns without consequences. We are about to unveil the reality of those decisions after six years in a world devoid of financial responsibility.

[..] The realisation of losses is something that many in the cosseted world of investment will never have experienced. The collapse in high-yield bond prices is already causing paralysis. Third Avenue Management, a $800m high-yield mutual fund, was forced to halt redemptions in order to run down the fund in an orderly fashion as investors clamoured for the exit. The holders of certain bonds in Portuguese bank Novo Banco reacted with fury when they were informed they faced losses last week under a recapitalisation plan. The fact that an investor in the debt of a Portuguese bank is surprised that losses are even a possibility is laughable, if it wasn’t also deeply troubling. The return of risk will turn many of the investment decisions made during the past six years on their head.

Out will go unprofitable companies that relied on constant support from shareholders for stellar growth. In will come companies with solid profit track records that can generate enough cash to fund themselves. The lofty valuations in the technology sector are looking particularly exposed. When the world economy stumbled in 2008 it was only concerted action that pulled it back from the brink. The situation now is very different with the US pursuing monetary tightening, and China devaluing its currency to arrest the decline. Emerging markets have been crippled by a currency collapse and the drop in commodity prices has undermined the budgets of Canada, Norway, Australia, Venezuala and Saudi Arabia. The flow of funds out of developed Western equity markets is becoming alarming.

We enter 2016 as the bull run in the FTSE 100 is looking particularly long in the tooth. UK shares have steadily risen for more than 70 months. The goldilocks scenario of cheap debt and low wages is coming to and end and placing corporate profits under pressure. The Institute of Directors has already warned UK profits may be past their peak. This leaves investors in the FTSE 100 exposed with shares trading on 16 times forecast earnings, a premium to the long run average of 15. Even more worrying when you consider earnings have to increase by 14pc in 2016 to achieve that rating, if earnings remain flat in the year ahead the market is trading on more than 20 times earnings.

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Scary graph of the day.

Reserve Bank of Australia Index of Commodity Prices (RBA)

Preliminary estimates for December indicate that the index declined by 4.9% (on a monthly average basis) in SDR terms, after declining by 3.1% in November (revised). The decline was led by the prices of iron ore and oil. The base metals subindex declined slightly in the month while the rural subindex was little changed. In Australian dollar terms, the index declined by 6.0% in December. Over the past year, the index has fallen by 23.3% in SDR terms, led by declines in the prices of bulk commodities. The index has fallen by 17.1% in Australian dollar terms over the past year. Consistent with previous releases, preliminary estimates for iron ore, coking coal and thermal coal export prices are being used for the most recent months, based on market information. Using spot prices for these commodities, the index declined by 5.3% in December in SDR terms, to be 25.6% lower over the past year.

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John provides a slew of examples I have no space for here.

As Hedge Funds Go, So Goes The World (John Rubino)

How do you make money in a world where history is meaningless? The answer, for a growing number of big fund managers, is that you don’t. Hedge funds, generally the most aggressive species of money manager, do a lot of “black box” trading in which bets are placed on previously-identified patterns and relationships on the assumption that those patterns will repeat in the future. But with governments randomly buying stocks and bonds and bailing out/subsidizing everything in sight, old relationships are distorted and strategies that worked in the past begin to fail, as do the money managers who rely on them.

[..] Why should regular people care about the travails of the leveraged speculating community? Because these guys are generally considered to be the finance world’s best and brightest, and if they can’t figure out what’s going on, no one can. And if no one can, then risky assets are no longer worth the attendant stress. In response, a system that had previously embraced leverage and “alternative” asset classes will go risk-off in a heartbeat, and all those richly-priced growth stocks and trophy buildings and corporate bonds will find air pockets under their prices. And since pretty much everything else now depends on high asset prices, things will get ugly in the real world.

A case can be made that such a contagion is already underway but is being hidden from Americans by the recent strength of the dollar. According to Deutsche Bank, when measured in dollars the rest off the world is now deeply in recession and falling fast. In other words, Main Street is vulnerable to leveraged trading algorithms and Brazilian bonds because it’s not just exotica that is overleveraged. Virtually all governments have to refinance trillions of short-term debt each year. Corporations have borrowed record amounts of money in this expansion (and wasted much of it on share buy-backs). Pension funds (the last remaining leg of the middle-class stool for millions of Americans) are grossly underfunded and will have to slash benefits if their portfolios decline from here.

Risk-off, in short, is no longer just a temporary swing of the pendulum, guaranteed to reverse in a year or two. As amazing as this sounds, we’ve borrowed so much money that as hedge funds go, so goes the world.

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Desperation writ large.

Japan Central Bank Turns Activist Investor To Revive Economy (Reuters)

Japan’s central bank, which dominates the domestic bond market, has begun to call the shots in the equity market as well – to the point where asset managers are looking to design investment funds with the Bank of Japan in mind. The bank has blazed a trail in global central banking by becoming something of an activist investor in pursuit of economic revival, using its influence as a mainly indirect owner of shares to support firms that spend more cash at home. The bank, which owns about $54 billion in exchange-traded funds (ETFs), is ramping up its purchases but has yet to give any detailed investment criteria, beyond a preference for firms with growing capital expenditure and investment in its staff.

“We’re willing and considering to add such a product,” said Kohei Sasaki at Mitsubishi UFJ Kokusai Asset Management. “We’ve already contacted index vendors on this matter.” Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have been calling on companies to raise capital expenditure and wages to spur the economy, after repeated monetary and fiscal stimulus over the past three years failed to lift it out of a funk of weak consumption and deflation. So far, their pleas have failed to prod companies into action, despite many of them making record profits on the back of the central bank’s zero interest rates and a weak yen.

Losing patience, Kuroda said last month the bank would buy 300 billion yen ($2.5 billion) a year of ETFs, in addition to 3 trillion yen it already assigns each year to ETFs. It said the extra purchases would target funds whose underlying firms were “proactively making investment in physical and human capital”. Though he did not go into detail, the comment was an invitation for asset managers and index compilers to come up with some “Abenomics” ETFs which would be full of listed firms doing their bit to revive consumption and the broader economy. “We’ve already started trying to develop some kind of solution to the demand,” said Seiichiro Uchi, managing director for index compiler MSCI in Tokyo.

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This is a policy thing, not some freak accident.

UK Set For Worst Wage Growth Since 1920s, 3rd Worst Since 1860s (Guardian)

The 10 years between 2010 and 2020 are set to be the worst decade for pay growth in almost a century, and the third worst since the 1860s, according to new research. Research from the House of Commons Library shows that real-terms wage growth is forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility to average at just 6.2% in this decade, compared with 12.7% between 2000 and 2010. The figures show that real-terms wage growth was lower only in the decades between 1920 and 1930 and between 1900 and 1910. Wage growth averaged at 1.5% in the 1920s and at 1.8% in the 1900s. Owen Smith, shadow work and pensions secretary, who commissioned the research, said that a “Tory decade of low pay” would see “workers’ pay packets squeezed to breaking point”.

“Even with this year’s increase in the minimum wage, the Tories will have overseen the slowest pay growth in a century and the third slowest since the 1860s,” he said. George Osborne has justified cuts to in-work benefits by arguing that the government is transitioning the UK from being “a low-wage, high-welfare economy to a high-wage, low-welfare economy”, a claim that Smith said was contradicted by wage-growth figures. In the autumn statement, the chancellor abandoned plans to cut £4bn from working tax credits, under pressure from the opposition and many backbench Tory MPs. However, Labour has pointed out there will be cuts to in-work benefit payments for new claimants put on the new universal credit system – championed by the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith – which rolls at least six different benefits into one.

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Reasons given: weather and terrorism. Couldn’t be lack of spending money, could it?

UK High Street Retailers Feel The Pinch As Shoppers Stay At Home (Guardian)

Record-breaking discounts on offer in the post-Christmas sales have so far failed to attract a rush of bargain hunters to the high street, raising fears that Marks and Spencer, John Lewis and Next will be forced to report disappointing trading figures for the festive period. The number of high street shoppers from Monday 28 December to Friday 1 January was down 3% compared with the same period in 2014, according to research firm Springboard. A year ago, retailers had been celebrating a jump of 6.2%. Retail experts had predicted a stampede to the shops on Boxing day after retailers offered discounts topping last year’s average of more than 50%. They are desperate to clear cold-weather clothing that has remained on the shelves during record mild weather.

While Boxing Day had offered some hope of a pick-up in trade, the following week – which included a bank holiday – was poor. Shopper behaviour differed markedly in different parts of the country, with footfall down by almost 7% in Wales and by 5.8% in the West Midlands, but up in Scotland and the east of England by 11.3% and 4.5% respectively. In London and the south-east, the affluent engine of consumer spending, numbers were also in decline, dropping 4.5% and 3.3% respectively. But Springboard figures showed that some of this trade appeared to have migrated to shopping centres, where numbers were up 3.3% in Greater London and ahead by 8.8% in the south-east. As well as unexpectedly mild weather leaving little demand for winter clothing stock, shoppers are also thought to have been put off venturing out by heavy rainstorms and concerns about potential terrorist attacks.

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Will M&A’s be 2016 story?

Big Oil Faces Longest Period Of Investment Cuts In Decades (Reuters)

With crude prices at 11-year lows, the world’s biggest oil and gas producers are facing their longest period of investment cuts in decades, but are expected to borrow more to preserve the dividends demanded by investors. At around $37 a barrel, crude prices are well below the $60 firms such as Total, Statoil and BP need to balance their books, a level that has already been sharply reduced over the past 18 months. International oil companies are once again being forced to cut spending, sell assets, shed jobs and delay projects as the oil slump shows no sign of recovery. U.S. producers Chevron and ConocoPhillips have published plans to slash their 2016 budgets by a quarter. Shell has also announced a further $5 billion in spending cuts if its planned takeover of BG Group goes ahead.

Global oil and gas investments are expected to fall to their lowest in six years in 2016 to $522 billion, following a 22% fall to $595 billion in 2015, according to the Oslo-based consultancy Rystad Energy. “This will be the first time since the 1986 oil price downturn that we see two consecutive years of a decline in investments,” Bjoernar Tonhaugen, vice president of oil and gas markets at Rystad Energy, told Reuters. The activities that survive will be those that offer the best returns. But with the sector’s debt to equity ratio at a relatively low level of around 20% or below, industry sources say companies will take on even more borrowing to cover the shortfall in revenue in order to protect the level of dividend payouts.

Shell has not cut its dividend since 1945, a tradition its present management is not keen to break. The rest of the sector is also averse to reducing payouts to shareholders, which include the world’s biggest investment and pension funds, for fear investors might take flight. Exxon Mobil and Chevron benefit from the lowest debt ratios among the oil majors while Statoil and Repsol have the highest debt burden, according to Jefferies analyst Jason Gammel.

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Amounts look utterly useless.

New EU Authority Budgets For 10 Bank Failures In Four Years (FT)

The new EU authority that took over the job of winding up failing banks on January 1 has budgeted enough money to wind up 10 banks over the next four years, a tender sent to financial services firms shows. The tender, seen by the Financial Times, says the Single Resolution Board (SRB) is seeking €40m in “accounting advice, economic and financial valuation services and legal advice” to be used in the resolution of struggling eurozone banks from 2016-2020. Industry sources said such advice would cost between €4m and €5m per large case, so the SRB will be able to resolve eight to 10 banks. A spokeswoman for the SRB confirmed the tender’s details, but said the budget should not be interpreted as firm prediction of the number of banks the authority expects to resolve over the coming years.

“The SRB has made a reasonable estimation of the amount,” she said. “This estimation can be negotiated and adjusted.” In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, which saw a series of chaotic and inconsistent collapses, eurozone leaders hammered out a complex protocol for handling bank failures. The goal is to be able to wind up even one of the region’s biggest banks over a single weekend under the guiding arm of the Brussels-based SRB and national resolution authorities. The authority is chaired by Elke König, a former president of the German regulator BaFin.

Many industry insiders and policy watchers are sceptical about whether an orderly wind-down in such a tight timeframe is really possible, especially in cases as complicated as the implosion of the Greek and Cypriot banking systems. As such, the first case the SRB handles will be closely watched. The SRB wants to have the best advice money can buy. The tender, which has not yet been awarded, is only open to large international firms; those offering accountancy or valuation advice must have annual sales of at least €5m the last three years, those offering legal advice must have at least €10m.

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Yeah. What are the odds? Which markets? China’s?

Fed’s Fischer Supports Higher Rates If Markets Overheat (BBG)

Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer said it might be necessary for the central bank to increase interest rates if financial markets were overheating, though the first line of defense should be using regulatory tools to prevent bubbles from developing. “If asset prices across the economy – that is, taking all financial markets into account – are thought to be excessively high, raising the interest rate may be the appropriate step,” Fischer said in a speech at the annual American Economic Association meeting in San Francisco on Sunday. He suggested that might be particularly true in the U.S., where many of the so-called macro-prudential regulatory tools to tackle financial market excesses are either lacking or untested. Such tools would include, for example, adjusting lending rules to try to rein in borrowing.

Fischer did make clear that he thought “macro-prudential tools, rather than adjustments in short-term interest rates, should be the first line of defense” in tackling asset bubbles, while spelling out that “the real issue of whether adjustments in interest rates should be used to deal with problems of potential financial instability is macroeconomic.” Fischer didn’t address the current state of financial markets, although other policy makers, including Fed Chair Janet Yellen, have indicated that they do not see them, on the whole, as being overheated. Fischer was among three Fed policy makers who made public remarks at the AEA meeting on Sunday. San Francisco Fed President John Williams discussed estimates of long-run neutral rates, while Cleveland’s Loretta Mester delivered her outlook for the U.S. economy and explained why the Fed would not react to short-term swings in economic data.

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Baltic Drier.

Cash Burning Up For Shipowners As Finance Runs Dry (FT)

During stumbles in the market for shipping dry bulk commodities since the financial crisis, DryShips — the listed vehicle of George Economou, one of the industry’s best-known figures — has proved adept at dodging trouble. Diversification into owning oil-drilling rigs — through Ocean Rig, in which DryShips now holds only a minority stake — proved robustly profitable when oil prices were high. The company also diversified into oil tankers. However, slumps in earnings for dry bulk carriers and in oil prices have left the company scrabbling to stay afloat. On December 7, it announced an $820m loss for the third quarter after it was forced to take a $797m write-off for the value of its entire remaining fleet of dry bulk vessels, many of which it has been selling off. In October, the company announced that it was borrowing $60m from an entity controlled by Mr Economou.

The challenges facing DryShips are among the most acute of those facing nearly all dry bulk shipping companies after a slump in earnings drove most owners’ revenues well below their operating costs. Owners are haemorrhaging cash. Owners of Capesize ships — the largest kind — currently bring in around $3,000 a day less than the $8,000 they cost to operate. The losses for the many owners who have to service debts secured against vessels are far higher. Basil Karatzas, a New York-based corporate finance adviser, points out that in an industry that has already been making steady losses for 18 months, such substantial losses quickly mount up. “If you have 10 ships and you’re losing $3,000 to $4,000 per day per ship, that’s, let’s say, $40,000 per day, times 30 in a month, times 12 in a year,” he says. “You are losing some very serious money.” The question is how long dry bulk owners — and the private equity firms which have invested heavily in the companies — can survive the miserable market conditions.

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Odd take, but amusing.

The 20% World: The Odds Of The Unthinkable Are Going Up (BBG)

If you want to pick a number for 2016, how about 20%? Look around the politics of the Western world, and you’ll see that a lot of once-unthinkable ideas and fringe candidates suddenly have a genuine chance of succeeding. The odds are usually somewhere around one in five – not probable, but possible. This “20% world” is going to set the tone in democracies on both sides of the Atlantic – not least because, as anybody who bets on horse racing will tell you, eventually one of these longshots is going to canter home. Start with President Donald Trump. Gamblers, who have been much better at predicting political results than pollsters, currently put the odds of the hard-to-pin-down-but-generally-right-wing billionaire reaching the White House at around 6-1, or 17%.

Interestingly, those are roughly the same odds as the ones offered on Jeremy Corbyn, the most left-wing leader of the Labour Party for a generation, becoming the next British prime minister. In France, gamblers put the likelihood of Marine Le Pen winning France’s presidency in 2017 at closer to 25%, partly because the right-wing populist stands an extremely good chance of reaching the runoff. Geert Wilders, another right-wing populist previously described as “fringe,” perhaps stands a similar chance of becoming the next Dutch prime minister. Other once-unthinkable possibilities could rapidly become realities. America’s version of Corbyn, Bernie Sanders, whom Trump recently described as a “wacko,” is currently trading around 5%, no worse than Jeb Bush.

Plus, Sanders has assembled the sort of Corbynite coalition of students, pensioners and public-sector workers that tends to outperform in primaries. If Hillary Clinton stumbles into another scandal, the Democrats could yet find themselves with a socialist contending for the national ticket. And it’s not just “wacko” candidates; some unthinkable events are also distinctly possible. This year, perhaps as early as June, Britain may vote to leave the European Union. Bookmakers still expect the country to go for the status quo, though most pundits are less certain about this than they were about the Scottish referendum in 2014, which turned out to be an uncomfortably close race for the British establishment.

Investors are used to the political world serving up surprises. These surprises, however, have usually involved one mainstream party doing much better or worse than expected – and things continuing as normal. Not this time. With Trump in charge, America would have a wall along the Rio Grande and could well be stuck in a trade war with China. Le Pen wants to take France out of the euro and renegotiate France’s membership in the EU. It’s hard to tell what would do more damage to the City of London: a Brexit that could lead to thousands of banking jobs moving to the continent; or a Corbyn premiership, which could include a maximum wage and the renationalization of Britain’s banks, railways and energy companies.

Moreover, in the 20% world, some nasty possibilities make others more likely. If Britain leaves the European Union, Scotland (which, unlike England, would probably have voted to stay in) might in turn try to leave Britain. If Le Pen manages to pull France out of the euro, the union’s chances of dissolution increase. And you can only guess what a President Trump would do to U.S. relations with Latin America and the Muslim world.

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How much longer for Tsipras?

Greece Warns Creditors On ‘Unreasonable Demands’ Over Pensions (FT)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has said his government “will not succumb to unreasonable demands” as it prepares to send the country’s creditors proposals on crucial reforms to the pension system this week. “The creditors have to know that we are going to respect the agreement,” Mr Tsipras said in an interview with Real News newspaper on Sunday, referring to reforms demanded in exchange for Greece’s €86bn bailout agreement last year. However, he pledged that Greece “won’t succumb to unreasonable and unfair demands” for more pension cuts. Mr Tsipras said that Greece will reform its pension system through measures targeting additional proceeds of about €600m in 2016, adding that “we have no commitment to find the money exclusively from pension cuts”.

On the contrary, “the agreement provides the option of equivalent measures”, he said, admitting however, that the pension system is “on the brink of collapse” and needs to be overhauled. Greece’s proposals are due to be sent to the creditors via email on Monday. The aim is to reach an agreement when the representatives of the creditors return to Athens later in January. The proposals include increases in employer insurance contributions by 1% and employee contributions by 0.5%. Taxes on banking transactions may also be introduced to secure the targeted €600m and avoid any further cuts. But creditors have indicated that further pension cuts are inevitable.

They have already expressed their scepticism about increasing the contributions paid by employers and workers, stressing the potential wider economic impact on struggling businesses. Mr Tsipras’s comments were echoed by the finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos, who warned of forthcoming difficulties in negotiations with creditors. “There will be victories and defeats,” he said in an interview with Kathimerini newspaper. The government is rushing to finalise and submit the new pension bill to parliament for voting by January 15 so that the first review of the bailout package can be completed and discussion on debt relief can begin. Mr Tsipras’ governing majority is expected to be sorely tested by any pension reform legislation. The government’s majority has slid from 155 seats to 153, only two seats from the required minimum.

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How much longer for the EU?

Sweden To Impose ID Checks On Travellers From Denmark (Guardian)

Sweden is set to drastically reduce the flow of refugees into the country by imposing strict identity checks on all travellers from Denmark, as Scandinavian countries compete with each other to shed their reputations as havens for asylum seekers. For the first time since the 50s, from midnight on Sunday travellers by train, bus or boat will need to present a valid photo ID, such as a passport, to enter Sweden from its southern neighbour, with penalties for travel operators who fail to impose checks. Passengers who fail to present a satisfactory document will be turned back.

“The government now considers that the current situation, with a large number of people entering the country in a relatively short time, poses a serious threat to public order and national security,” the government said in a statement accompanying legislation enabling the border controls to take place. The move marks a turning point for the Swedish ruling coalition of Social Democrats and Greens, which earlier presented itself as a beacon to people fleeing conflict and terror in Asia and the Middle East. “My Europe takes in people fleeing from war, my Europe does not build walls,” Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven told crowds in Stockholm on 6 September. But three months and about 80,000 asylum seekers later, the migration minister told parliament: “The system cannot cope.”

[..] Critics of Sweden’s refugee crackdown fear it will cause a “domino effect” as countries compete to outdo each other in their hostility to asylum seekers. “Traditionally, Sweden has been connected to humanitarian values, and we are very worried that the signals Sweden is sending out are that we are not that kind of country any more,” said Anna Carlstedt, president of the Red Cross in Sweden, whose staff and volunteers have often been the first line of support for new arrivals in the country. Other Scandinavian countries have recently announced their intention to stem the flow of refugees. In his new year address, Denmark’s liberal PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen said the country was prepared to impose similar controls on its border with Germany, if the Swedish passport checks left large numbers of asylum seekers stranded in Denmark.

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The shame deepens still.

Refugees Hold Terrified, Frozen Children Above The Waves Off Lesbos (DM)

Parents were forced to hold their children above freezing January waves as they struggled to reach shore on the Greek island of Lesbos on Sunday. The group of migrants and refugees were helped to disembark by volunteers, although several were forced to wade to the beach after falling overboard. Photographs show one father struggling to reach shore as he tried to hold his tiny, terrified daughter above the waves. Another image shows a group gathered around a woman in tears, while in another photograph, a little girl cries as she sits wrapped in a giant, silver thermal blanket after the harrowing crossing from Turkey. Once on shore, the group were handed thermal blankets stamped with the logo of the UNHCR as they sat on the beach near the town of Mytilene.

It comes the day after charity workers created a giant peace sign out of thousands of life-jackets on the hills of the Greek island, in honour of those who have died while making the perilous crossing in the hope of reaching Europe. The onset of winter and rougher sea conditions do not appear to have deterred the asylum-seekers, with boats still arriving on the Greek islands daily. Elsewhere, Turkish coastguards rescued a group of 57 migrants and refugees, including children, after they were left stranded on a rocky islet in the Aegean Sea. The group was trying to reach Greece by making the perilous journey across the sea, but they hit trouble after leaving the Turkish resort of Dikili, in Izmir province.

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